Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is different from a lot of other NHL general managers for a wide variety of reasons – not just because he’s one of the sport’s great executive showmen.
His fierce – some might say stubborn – loyalty stands out among those qualities. While neighboring GM Bryan Murray seems to shed head coaches like snakes lose skin, Burke has allowed Ron Wilson to stay despite increasing pressure to remove his beloved bench boss.
Burke and Wilson were born a month apart, were college roommates and teammates on the Providence College Friars hockey team in Rhode Island in the 1970s and have been friends ever since.
(If more details like that aren’t enough for you to follow the link, go there for the mind-blowing photo of Burke and Wilson as co-captains at Providence College.)
Sports front offices base a lot of their decisions on loyalty and familiarity – just look at how wildly predictable Darryl Sutter’s hiring was in Los Angeles – but even with that in mind, Burke and Wilson’s roots go deep.
It’s not like that’s the only instance when Burke’s been a man of his word almost to a fault, either. Personally, his handling of Ilya Bryzgalov in Anaheim was particularly memorable. Instead of holding onto the talented (then) backup, he allowed Breezy to get a real chance to start with another team. He ended up putting outstanding numbers with the Phoenix Coyotes and earning that huge contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in the process.
If you ask me, Burke’s moving the Maple Leafs in a solid direction. There’s the instinct to believe that the two might go off the cliff Thelma & Louise-style if Toronto’s playoff drought continues this season, but it might just come down to Burke firing his friend and coach.
Don’t expect it to be an easy leap, though.
Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)
Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.
Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.
McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).
The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.
They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.
The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.
Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.
The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.
The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.
Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style
It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.
Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:
Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
Bruins: 82 points in 73 games
This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.
The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too. They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.