When the NHL and NHLPA sign a new CBA there will be plenty of discussion as to the winners and losers, of rights lost, monies transferred, of reputations sullied, and reputations burnished. No matter the outcome of the next CBA -- when it’s signed or what it contains -- the single biggest winner won’t be the NHL, the NHLPA, Donald Fehr or Gary Bettman. The single biggest winner will be Brian Burke.
Brian Burke has been President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs for over four years. During his tenure, the Leafs have missed the playoffs every season. In four years in charge, his Leafs teams have managed to cross the .500 threshold only once - that's in a league where two-thirds of all teams are .500 or better each and every season.
Under his watch, the Leafs have finished in the draft lottery twice (trading away his first pick in one of those seasons). Burke's Leafs have finished 24th, 29th, 22nd, and 26th. In 385 games played under Burke, the Leafs have gone 164 168 53 for a .494 points percentage. If this was a club hoarding high draft picks and building for the future, that’s an acceptable outcome, but for a team Burke claims was a playoff contender? It’s simply not good enough. It's nowhere near good enough.
While he has swung a few beneficial trades and signed some nice RFA deals, Burke has consistently misjudged the talent and ability of his roster. He has also made a number of questionable, if not outright awful, UFA deals.
Some may point to the recent success of the Marlies as a positive outcome of Burke’s reign. The team has certainly done well the past year and a half, but I doubt there are more prospects in the Leafs' system now than when Burke became GM in 2008. Consider, when Burke arrived, players in the Leafs farm system included: Grabovski, Kulemin, Tlusty, Pogge, Stralman, Reimer, Boyce, Kronwall, Mitchell, Williams and Stalberg. Four years later, is the Leafs’ prospect pool that much deeper than 2008? Bear in mind, Burke’s had draft-lottery finishes in three of his five years to help load-up the system...
Sure Burke has done some good work, but the bottom line is he's missed the playoffs, mis-judged his roster, been unable to address shortcomings in net for nearly 400 games (and counting) and looks to still be a few years away from icing a truly competitive team.
So what makes Burke the big winner as a new CBA draws nearer?
1. It’s January and no one is calling for his head.
Looking at the Leafs current roster and their pattern of play from last season (especially their Fenwick numbers) I have no doubt that had the hockey season started in October and run for 82 games this Leafs team would be in tough-shape to make the post-season. With a starting tandem of Scrivens and Reimer and D-corps made up of Phanuef, Gardiner, Liles, Franson, Gunarrson and Komisarek I can’t imagine how many goals this team would have to score to have a Pythagorean chance at the post-season.
2. Bettman's gag-order
It’s easy to say goaltending has been Burke’s biggest issue as a GM, but his inability to find a goalie might come second place to his inability to control his bluster. Burke’s never met a microphone he didn’t love nor has he had an opinion he didn't share. Thanks to Gary’s gag order, for the first time since he arrived in Toronto, Burke isn’t spewing bullshit that he can’t live up to (start the video at 1:10 and be ready to laugh and/or weep – "I like our defence the way it is, I think it’s the best in the league" – 10 days later, Burke signed Brett Lebda).
Burke still hasn’t gotten a bona fide goalie for the Leafs. The lockout buys him that much more time to try to find one. They’re going to need one if Burke wants to keep his job.
4. A lock-out shortened season buys Burke more time
If a season happens and the Leafs don’t make the post-season, Burke will be 0 for 5 as President and GM of the Leafs. I don’t think he survives that record if the team plays five full seasons. A lockout-shortened season with a new CBA, new cap pressures and some sort of asymmetrical schedule likely buys him one more kick at the can.
I’m not sure Burke could survive five full years, 467 games, without qualifying for the post-season. Even in Toronto, that seems like a firing offense.
Four years and a lockout shortened season? That may be enough to get Burke one more kick at the can.
I don’t think keeping Burke around is warranted or deserved, but then again I’m not the type of guy who’d look at the results wasteland that is MLSE and conclude that Tom Anselmi deserves a promotion either. Accountability ain't what it used to be.