Allow me to begin this by making a few things clear: I am a Calgary Flames fan. I have never cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs in my life. However, that is about to change, and it all begins and ends with Brian Burke.
Growing up in Western Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs were always that "goddamn team we had to watch every f*cking Saturday, because all the CBC cares about is Toronto." They were a team that was forced down our throats. As such, I had no love for the Blue and White.
Then Brian Burke was hired.
There are plenty of people who hate Burke; call him a "blowhard", accuse him of "riding coattails to a Stanley Cup title" or "leaving Vancouver with nothing." Bollocks.
In any organization, pro sport or otherwise, leadership starts at the top. When Brian Burke was hired in Toronto, it sent a clear message to the rest of the hockey world that things were about to change. A Barack Obama moment, if you will. There was hope in Leafland that soon all could be well.
In less than two years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have undergone a face-lift the likes of which I have never seen. Without a painstaking amount of research, it's one I would venture to say the NHL has never seen.
It's been like watching a fantasy hockey league manager shape a team and it's been absolutely fascinating.
The turning point for me was the Dion Phaneuf deal. I remember seeing the headline on TSN and saying, "What the fuck?! We just traded Dion? Who did we get?" Then I saw the return and wanted to smash a wall. We got fleeced. Then, he moved Toskala and Blake. And again, I was amazed. Then Versteeg. He must have spent summers with Bobby Fischer as a kid.
But Burke's most important move comes this week in the form of Tomas Kaberle.
It's been interesting watching the debate about Kaberle throughout his trade window. His value, running the gamut depending on the who you were talking to. I tend to believe however, without bias, that he is of exceptional value to the rest of the NHL.
The way the game is played today: quicker, faster, more emphasis on the power play; a player like Kaberle is in a small group. In terms of pure offensive skill he is certainly top 10. Granted, he is not a physical player, but that is not his game. There are very few players who bring to the table what Kaberle does.
The question now is, what is he worth? We will soon have that answer and with it (and perhaps a few more minor moves) the transformation of the Toronto Maple Leafs should be complete. Gone is a team stuck in the muck and mire and in it's place a franchise with a true sense of hope for the first time in a long time.
When the Kaberle deal is announced, I have a feeling once again I will be left shaking my head in awe.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, my second favourite NHL team. I never, ever thought I would be saying that.