Editor's Note: Since it looks like this Burke thing is as good as done why not take a look at where each side stands. For the dissent I present MF37 of Bitter Leaf Fan fame who will outline exactly why the Brian Burke hiring should not be a slam dunk.
Before we begin, I want to hitch up my grandpa pants, get my favourite cane and take up a seat on the front porch so I can yell at you kids.
The Leafs are hiring a new GM to help get them out of the desert and away from a plague of meddling owners. It’s a decision that needs to be entirely separate from and outside of the fact that someone needs to smite the likes of Strachan, Simmons, Cox, Berger or Kypreos (and feel free to sub-in your own favourite media target here - it's pretty much an endless list).
If hiring a GM was all about f*cking with the media, I’d be blogging about the little known hockey skills of Dick Cheney, Larry Flynt or John "Damien Cox is going to get his tits caught in a wringer" Mitchell (ok, he’s dead, but he would have been great).
But the Leafs's next hire has to be bigger than that.
It has to be about building a champion, ending a drought, transforming a culture and the restoration of hope,
The media are like flies at a murder scene - they aren't, and should never be, the focus.
Now get off my lawn.
[muttering]kids today with the hair and the music and the piercings…[/muttering]
Facts are to the mind what food is to the body - the other Burke (Edmund)
The limited success that the Leafs, and by extension we fans, have enjoyed has unarguably happened when two conditions were met:
1. A professional, veteran hockey executive was at the helm;
2. Ownership interference was minimal.
Consider this: Jim Gregory made the Leafs a pretty competitive club from 1973 to 78, bringing in some of this franchise’s most famous faces: Salming, Sittler, MacDonald, Palmateer. The Leafs had a sparkling resurgence under the stewardship of Cliff Fletcher nearly 20 years ago, resulting in Gilmour and Sundin in the Blue and White, and then there were remarkable runs with Pat Quinn not so long ago.
What do these eras have in common? They brought fans hope, restored respectability to an oft-tarnished fracnhise and they all collapsed spectacularly when ownership got too involved or brought in weak executives.
Which leads us to Brian Burke, who, according to the media, will be the next GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's no longer a matter of if, it's only a matter of when.
Burke certainly satisfies these two criteria: he has an admittedly impressive hockey resume and a reputation as someone who would never stand for, nor suffer, any interference from the likes of Peddie and Tannenbaum (although it should be noted that Peddie has stated explicitly and frequently that he will step down as President of the Leafs as part of this hiring process, so it won't be just Burke who gets the so-called Colangelo deal, it will be standard operating procedure for all the prospective candidates).
But what else does Burke bring to the table?
This ain't Anaheim
As many strides as Fletcher and Wilson have made (and really, how hard would it be to look better than the fiasco that was JFJ?) the 2008-09 Toronto Maple Leafs are not Bryan Murray’s Anaheim Ducks.
Burke is not walking into a team that’s a tweak or two away from contention and just a few years removed from a Stanley Cup run. This Leafs squad is not loaded with young talent like Getzlaf, Perry and Penner. Toskala is no Gigeure and, as far as I know, no current Leafs have a brother like Scott Nidermayer who’s a UFA and just dying to sign with the Blue and White, nor is a player like Selanne is not standing by waiting to give an (adopted) home-town discount.
Unlike the situation he inherited in Anaheim, Burke is going to have to do some heavy lifting to get the Leafs on track. In order to do so, he’s going to have to succeed at the draft, manage the cap and get a little lucky. He's one for three on that count in Anaheim and, to my mind, that's not good enough to be the next GM of the Leafs.
Burke's Draft History
Brian Burke pulled off a great draft day deal that landed the Canucks the Sedin twins. The rest of the draft can be filed under "name that ECHL player"
Burke had seven picks, they've combined for a total of 6 NHL games played with zero points.
Burke used his first round draft pick to land R. J. Umberger who was traded before he ever laced them up for the Canucks for 13 games of Martin Rucinsky. Burke also drafted Kevin Bieksa, who was looking all sorts of good before getting injured last year. The rest of his picks have played a combined total of 67 NHL games
Burke traded the Canucks’ first round pick (Alexander Semin) to the Washington Capitals for Trevor Linden. A move that makes him the perfect man to run the Leafs, I can picture the 2015 Mclean's article now. Hockey’s Future sums up Burke's 2002 draft day performance best:
With one NHL appearance between the 11 former prospects, the Canucks take home the 2002 Futile Draft Award with an appalling average of just 0.09 games per prospect. And if you want to look at it closer, the only selection to appear in any NHL uniform was goaltender Rob McVicar whose NHL experienced totals less than three minutes from a brief appearance during the 2005-06 season against Edmonton. This equals approximately 15 seconds of NHL ice time per pick.
The last draft for Burke in Vancouver, he grabbed Ryan Kesler at the 23rd spot with their first pick. Not a bad pick-up (Mike Richards went 24th and Corey Perry went 28th). The rest of the players Burke drafted have played a combined 23 NHL games.
As for his drafting history with the Ducks, it’s way too early to tell what sort of talent Burke has been able to compile. But his prize draft pick, Bobby Ryan (drafted one spot behind Sidney Crosby) has yet to make the NHL, most likely because Burke doesn’t have the cap space for him.
Which leads me to the other half of building a solid contender in a hard cap environment: salary cap management.
Salary Cap Management
As we’ve seen across the NHL, it’s not spending to the cap that matters - it’s the price to quality ratio that counts. As MC79 has pointed out, the NHL has really become an efficiency contest. Successful teams have a core of young developing players that can contribute to the team’s success without depleting the budget. UFA signings should only be utilized to fill-in the gaps or to put a team over the top. $4MM for 15 goal scorers never seems to be a good thing.
In Anaheim, Burke has stumbled with the cap, losing Dustin Penner, signing Todd Bertuzzi to a head-scratching 2 year deal at $4 Million per and then buying him out 10 month later, and signing Schneider to a whopping $5+M deal only to ship him off for spare parts when cap space ran out.
Desperate for cap space, he also waived Ilya Bryzgalov (think about this: Wade Belak was worth more) and dealt Andy McDonald (who provided much needed second line scoring, disciplined play and 14 points in 21 playoff games during the Ducks’ run to the Cup) to St. Louis for Doug Weight, who was a healthy scratch in the playoffs. MacDonald outscored Weight in the regular season 2:1.
Clearly, cap management has not been Burke’s strong suit to the point that the franchise's top prospect remains in the AHL awaiting Anaheim to clear the salary space so he can play with the big club.
Meaningless Stat That Doesn't Quite Fit into this Post but I'm Cramming it in Anyway
While Burke headed up the Canucks and some combination involving Pat Quinn ran the Leafs, the two clubs put up the following records:
Canucks 1999 to 2004: .538%, 4 for 6 post-season appearances, won 1 playoff series
Leafs 1999 to 2004: .597%; 6 for 6 post-season appearances, won 7 playoff series
This may seem like a curveball coming 1,500 words into a badly-in-need-of-an-edit piece but I’m not completely opposed to Burke.
Yes, he mangled the cap in Anaheim, soiled the linens on draft day, and won all of a single round of playoff hockey as GM of the Canucks; but, the man has won a cup, is passionate about the game and isn’t afraid to roll the dice, make a gutsy move or correct a mistake. I just think when you really examine Burke's record there are better options out there.
David Poile and Darcy Regier both have contracts that are expiring at the conclusion of this season. Poile's Predators have never found post-season success but he's managed to build and maintain a strongly competitive club using little more than old water bottles and sock tape. Regier is unparalleled in terms of drafting and developing talent and taking new approaches to scouting. It would be fascinating to see what these men could do with MLSE's resources.
Doug Wilson’s contract status seems to be a bit of a mystery but he told the Globe and Mail this past June that he can listen to offers from other clubs in the summer of 2009. His Sharks haven't been able to get over that final hump but he's pulled off the big deals, drafted well and managed the Sharks cap pretty nicely.
After looking at Burke’s long record and considering the importance that drafting and development will have if the Leafs are to ever field an elite squad that can challenge for the cup, I’d rather the Leafs wait six more months to see if they can land one of Poile, Regier or Wilson.
If the Leafs miss out Burke as a result, so be it. I’m sure there are plenty of GMs looking for work that have enough talent to yell at the local media types and chronically strike out at the draft table.