With free agency set to begin on the morning of July 1, 2009, Brian Burke was in Sweden. According to the Maple Leafs, he was there to recruit goalie Jonas Gustavsson. But nobody believes that – why would the GM who claims "July 1 is our draft" be recruiting backup goalies on the most important day of the year?
So what was he up to? The assumption is that he was there to sign the Sedin twins, the two best players available in the free agency class. Burke had drafted the brothers in 1999, and coach Ron Wilson had all but told a Toronto radio station that the Leafs would be bidding on them.
He never got the chance – the twins resigned with Vancouver mere minutes before the noon deadline. But what if he had? Where would the Leafs be today if Brian Burke had been able to land the Sedins?
With the Canucks in town tonight, it seems like a good time to imagine how history might have played out.
July 1, 2009 - Brian Burke opened free agency with a splash today, signing the Sedin brothers away from the Vancouver Canucks with a pair of matching 5-year, $35M deals.
"We loved playing in Vancouver and this is a very difficult decision," said Daniel Sedin. "But when Brian rang our doorbell at 12:01 we had to give him a chance to make his pitch. After listening to him outline his strategy for the Maple Leafs, we were sold."
July 6, 2009 - The Maple Leafs signed defenceman Francois Beauchemin to a three-year, $11M deal today, marking the likely end of their free agency haul for this year.
The Leafs had been rumored to be interest in defenceman Mike Komisarek, but could not afford to sign the former Hab after spending heavily on the Sedin brothers.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had been rumored to be bidding on the young star, but backed out when the price got too high.
"Look, we love Phil Kessel and think he's going to be a great player," Brian Burke told reporters. "But giving up that many draft picks would be a tough pill to swallow for a team as young as ours. With the Sedin brothers already in place, we didn't feel the need to panic and overpay for a forward."
January 31, 2010 - Brian Burke continued to shake up the Maple Leafs with a paid of blockbuster trades today. The first deal sends struggling goaltender Vesa Toskala and winger Jason Blake to the Ducks for JS Giguere. The second trade saw the Leafs add Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie in exchange for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayer, defenceman Ian White, and the Maple Leafs first round pick in 2011.
"Giving up the pick hurts," Burke admitted. "But we had to sweeten the pot, since it's not like Hagman and Stajan are playing on our first line this year. Still, we're comfortable that we can give up next year's pick since this team is clearly headed in the right direction."
April 10, 2010 - The Maple Leafs ended their season tonight with a win in Montreal, concluding a year that saw the team fall short of the playoffs but make noticable progress towards their goal of contending.
While the Leafs could never overcome the disastrous goaltending of Vesa Toskala, the team was competitive most nights and featured an exciting attack lead by the Sedin brothers.
"We thought both Sedins were fantastic this season," Brian Burke told reporters. "Heck, with a little more talent around him Henrik could have had an MVP-type year."
The Maple Leafs, picking 10th, were thrilled to find defenceman Cam Fowler still available and didn't hesitate to pick the highly regarded Spitfire.
In other draft news, the Boston Bruins picked winger Austin Watson with the 18th overall pick, acquired from Nashville in the Phil Kessel deal.
October 6, 2010 - With opening night approaching, general manager Brian Burke took time to give an assessment of the state of his rebuilding Maple Leafs today.
"We feel good about where we are right now," Burke told reporters. "Our offence is solid with the Sedins up front, our defence is balanced and not overpaid, and Nazim Kadri and Cam Fowler are being given plenty of time to develop. We really feel like we're on the right track,"
Burke then added. "Hey, at the very least, it's certainly not a complete fucking disaster, I'll tell you that.