Brian Burke On The Hot Seat

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By Dave Cunning

If I were Brian Burke, I wouldn't want any device capable of cinching around my neck either---not even a Double Windsor knot. The guy must be feeling a little hot around the collar these days.

Bet_On_Hockey_Burke_Interview.jpgBurke's never been confrontational, but he's never been to afraid to voice what he really thinks upon being confronted (see: Don Cherry), and that's something I've always admired about him. I feel that his no BS attitude as a GM can be, at least in part, credited for his chunk of the success that the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks had while Burke was at their reigns. 

Coming off Anaheim's Cup victory prior to surfacing in Toronto in 2008, the Leafs (and their fans) suddenly received an injection of optimism that a new era was on the horizon for their team, after struggling to regain their championship luster since the 60's--- a new era that may include things like winning games, perhaps even making the playoffs again, and maybe, just maybe, an actual, legit crack at the Stanley Cup again. 

However, in four years at Toronto's helm, the only thing legit about the Leafs is that they're still bad.

Burke hasn't changed his formula much  from what he did in Vancouver and Anaheim --- draft well, pick up and develop underrated players, make the odd notable trade (Kessel, Phaneuf), and hire his buddies to work/play for him (see: Dave Nonis, Joffrey Lupul, Ron Wilson, Randy Carlyle, JS Giguere, etc) --- so what's gone wrong this time around? 

As respectable of a trait as loyalty is, this "hire who you know and defend them no matter how bad they perform" theory of his might have become his tragic flaw. The Ron Wilson situation is absolutely inane --- I get giving your friend and former college teammate (Wilson) the benefit of the doubt and a chance to turn things Bet_On_Hockey_Burke_Carlyle_Leafs.jpgaround, but Toronto's never been good or made the playoffs with him behind the bench. Did it really take three and a half years to figure that out? After constantly backing Wilson in the media upon attacks, and even extending his contract, firing Wilson was the most sensical thing Burke has done in a long time. This is pro hockey, and the highest level of it --- players get cut, dealt, traded, and reassigned all the time after underperforming because it's bad for the team to lose games, and it's bad for business if fans don't want to watch your team because you're terrible --- so why wouldn't coaches too?

After finally coming to his senses, Burke's next move was unfortunately to go with his gut again --- hiring Randy Carlyle, who coached the Ducks while Burke was residing at The Anaheim Pond. This at least makes sense from the standpoint that Anaheim won the Cup under Carlyle, but let's be honest here --- Burke's hired his buddy again. With 15 games to go, Toronto is 5 points and 5 spots out of the playoff picture, and instead of starting with a clean coaching slate, Burke proves again he's stuck in his stubborn old ways, and unwilling to compromise.

Bet_On_Hockey_Maple_Leaf_License.jpgBurke decided to hang up on an interviewer and call him "gutless" after Burke was asked whether he thought his own job might be at risk if the Leafs continue to dive. Clearly Burke didn't appreciate the notion, but for the first time in Burke's management tenure, it may be a
very valid query. I thought the Canucks were idiotic to have let him go in 2004 (Burke orchestrated the Sedin twins arrival together as Canucks, and other moves that are undeniably responsible for their current success), but if the MLSE powers that be decide that Burke's time as a Leaf has concluded, I can't say that it wouldn't be justified this time around, nor that I would be surprised to hear it. No one is more aware than Burke that Toronto plays under a pressure cooking microscope, but at the end of it all, if Burke can't deliver the goods, he can't expect the Leafs' higher-ups to extend the same grace to him that he has dolled out so often before. Twitter: @davecunning Twitter: @CunningAthletix



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