Leafs GM Brian Burke is facing a lot of criticism these days in Toronto. After reading Mark Spector's recent article on Sportsnet.ca, I felt compelled to lend my two cents on the controversial figure's tenure in the NHL. Normally I don't do this, but I felt the need to rant.
When Brian Burke was the GM of the Vancouver Canucks,I felt he did a good job. But as a Vancouverite, I'd been used to sub-par hockey for the majority of the Canucks' existence.
In Vancouver, Burke inherited a team in disarray, but, he also inherited a young Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Mattias Ohlund, and others. As others have come to learn, Mike Keenan can leave a team in ruins, but he has served as the setup man in numerous organizations, acquiring a lot of talent and growing them before departing. Vancouver was no different, but despite Brian Burke's big move to get the Sedin twins to Vancouver (which was great - let's give credit where credit is due), his tenure here was largely a failure.
For his entire reign, Burke failed to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs. This occurred largely because he failed to obtain a quality winger for the Sedin twins, instead resting upon the Trent Klatt option for far too long. It took GM Dave Nonis no time at all to finally get Anson Carter who enjoyed a 30 goal campaign with them.
Burke also sat back and watched Dan Cloutier collapse season after season between the pipes, most notably in 2002 against the Red Wings. Many critics accurately felt that if only the Canucks could have obtained a better goalie, they would have been legitimate Stanley Cup threats. Burke did nothing. Dave Nonis pulled the trigger on the Luongo deal.
He never got a bonafide #1 center (with all due respect to Brendan Morrison), and chased some quality players (Trent Klatt) or draft picks (RJ Umberger) out of town only to keep less valuable players like Brad May for more money. The entire Brian Burke era in Vancouver was predicated upon patience and not 'selling the farm' to try to win a cup, but that mindset grew old with Canucks fans, who now find GM Mike Gillis' approach of trying to win NOW quite refreshing.
Burke's years of preaching this long-term philosophy went out the window though when he went to Anaheim. He traded away assets to get Chris Pronger, and geared up for a Stanley Cup without hesitation. Of course, he inherited former Anaheim GM Bryan Murray's hard work in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and JS Giguere.
Burke's time in Anaheim - and his growing ego - can be best characterized by his vitriolic disdain for then Edmonton Oilers' GM Kevin Lowe. Burke's anger over an offersheet extended to restricted free agent Dustin Penner ignited a feud between the two. The feud was largely one-sided, with Burke dragging Lowe's name through the mud for over a year until Lowe finally snapped and fired back.
That story has been beaten to death, but was just a sample of the Brian Burke 'tough guy' image he loves to produce for the media. Once in Toronto, Burke quickly made a spectacle of himself, declaring a quick turnaround in Toronto. "Failure would not be tolerated". Of course, before the trade deadline when the SS Toronto was sinking yet again, he dealt Nik Antropov and any assets worth a draft pick away- leaving the cupboards bare - only to come before the media when they were mathematically eliminated and rant about what an unacceptable failure the season was and that missing the playoffs was not the objective. So after saying for weeks he wasn't going to pack it in, he trades his assets away and complains he didn't make the playoffs or throw the towel in? He could have had an Oscar for that performance.
As if that weren't enough, the Tomas Kaberle situation is beyond ridiculous. Second to Brett Favre's 'retirement', I can't think of another more farcical saga in North American Pro Sports. His insistence on endlessly raising the Tomas Kaberle trade debate is only matched by his simultaneous vehement refusal to discuss the topic. Most recently, after a 4-0 start, the Leafs have lost six in a row and cannot buy a goal. Burke and Ron Wilson have had strong words for their top line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and Kris Versteeg, throwing them under the proverbial bus. Now, I'm not suggesting that line does not deserve a wake up call, but Burke is also criticizing Leaf fans in the same breath for booing Dion Phaneuf.
So let me get this straight, no one can express their dissatisfaction with the Leafs performance but him? Unfortunately for Leaf fans, Burke is the man with the microphone, so they'll have to resort to booing rather than clever quips from the 15th row.
I can understand having a temper, or being a fiery character, but Brian Burke needs to practice what he preaches. Whether in Leaf Nation or not, he has always enjoyed being in front of the microphone and hearing his own voice, but methinks he is a fairly desperate man at this point. Yet another season appears to be slipping away unless he makes a few more bold moves. The Phil Kessel 'deal' hangs around his neck like an albatross and the Dion Phaneuf deal may soon follow. Before all is said and done, if Burke fails to recognize his mistakes, own up to them and correct them, his ego may get the better of him again as it did in Vancouver years before, and Toronto fans may drive him to the airport.
There - I'm done. Let the flaming begin.