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As predicted here earlier, we've reached the Burke and "untouchables" time frame

“There are not too many untouchables.  There can’t be.”

It was noteworthy to pick up on the above comment that Leaf GM Brian Burke made to the Fan 590 in Toronto on Saturday, when discussing possible trade activity in the days to come.

Those who follow this site on a fairly regular basis may recall that, back in early December, I wrote (click on the link to see the story) a  column here entitled “How long before Burke plays the untouchable card?”.

My point at the time, in part, was that if the season didn’t go as hoped, he may eventually be reduced to using the classic line about “no one being untouchable”.  Why?  Well, he had/has already turned over almost the entire roster.  He must remain steadfast in his loyal support of Wilson as his coach going forward.  That’s how Burke operates.

So, if your team was expected to be better (and the Leaf brass made it clear months ago that it was going to be) and your coach is not the problem— and you have already had Dave Nonis go inside the room and say you believe in the team—what else is left to say, if things don't get better, other than to proclaim "the players aren’t untouchable"?

To me, the other interesting thing Burke said recently was his point that it’s ridiculous for GM’s to fire coaches (see the New Jersey situation) without first trying to improve the roster.  That’s a fair point, of course, but the truth in Toronto is that Burke has done nothing but continue to shuffle the roster from the day he got here, to give Wilson more to work with.

Now, on the heels of two wins, an optimistic perspective could be that the team is now poised, with game 41 on the season set for Monday in LA, to turn the proverbial corner. (As I posted a few days ago, this must be the world’s longest and most winding corner, three years into the most recent ‘re-build’…)  But if the team does not continue to win on a pretty regular basis, I’m not quite sure what the excuse will be.

The coaching is good, we’re told.  The GM has turned the roster over almost completely.  The team’s best and most consistent offensive and defensive performers are players who came here before Burke arrived (Grabovski up front, Schenn and Kaberle on the blueline). But it’s not the GM’s fault.  Peddie has made it clear Burke has done a great job.

We’re told the team is working hard.  So there’s not much left to say.  What are we fans complaining about?

If you read Wilson’s comments to Star reporter Vinay Menon (a piece worth reading, providing as it does perhaps a different perspective on Wilson) this weekend, you get the sense that the expectation 'bar' has subtly dropped as the season has progressed.  At least that’s how I felt when reading Wilson’s comments.  I’m not a fan of using youth as an excuse, and it sounded as though that’s what the claim was, that the fans are expecting too much from a team that is so young.

And the forwards are indeed young, with no one over 30 on the roster.  Fair enough.  But Giguere is no kid.  Neither are Beauchemin, Kaberle or Komisarek.  Gustavsson is young in NHL terms, but is 26.  Kessel is in his fifth NHL season, albeit at only 23.

Wilson alluded to how people talk so positively about Edmonton, another "young" team.  Well, the reason that observers think Edmonton will be better than the Leafs in the long run is that their young kids are absolute can’t miss players.  Each of Pajaarvi, Eberle and Hall will be full-fledged stars in this league, if they stay healthy, for years.  Each one is a game-changer.  Hall and Eberle will go to the dirty areas.  Of all of Toronto’s 'kids', they really don’t have anyone in that category.

In any event, is this trade-talk, as I’ve mentioned before, simply a smokescreen to keep forever hopeful Leaf supporters from focusing on that rather than on the team’s place in the current NHL standings?  It’s not that I believe the Leafs aren’t trying to make moves, just that talking about is creates conversation, which is fine, but is not really useful in terms of making the team better.

(One thing:  isn’t it funny how Burke, like seemingly every other GM’s, always says, “we’re not shopping guys, teams are contacting us…”.  How can this be?  If no one ever contacts anyone else, how do any of these trades ever get made.)

Bottom line is, we’ve now reached the “(almost) no one is untouchable” time of the season.  What’s next?        

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