Soon after Brian Burke was hired on Nov. 29, 2008, Leafs fans were promised they wouldn’t have to suffer through an all-out rebuild. The new general manager would be active in the trade and free-agent markets while also stocking the organization with prospects. It would be a rebuild on the fly, not a tank for the future. Making the playoffs was the goal right off the bat. Contending for the Stanley Cup would start, well, right about now.
Burke was still preaching the same message in April of 2010 after watching his team miss the playoffs for the second time.
“As I said to you guys a year ago, I wasn’t interested, and I’m still not, in a five-year rebuild like some of these teams have done,” he said. “Maybe because of my age, maybe just because I know it doesn’t have to be five years, because it wasn’t in Anaheim.”
Now, with Toronto on the verge of missing the playoffs for the fourth time with Burke looking on from up high, patience is understandably wearing thin with fans.
With that in mind, you have to wonder how Leafs Nation feels about the club’s V.P. of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, saying it’s going to take time.
“We’re making the product better, but it’s not all going to show today,” Poulin told NHL.com. “When I was 12, I wanted to be 13. When I was 15, I wanted so badly to drive. I couldn’t. I had to wait. Certain things just take time.”
Except it’s already taken time. Over 1,000 days have passed since Burke was hired. The 12-year-old kid that wanted to be 13 will be off to college soon.
“You’d love to say we’re going to start something three and a half years ago, but you have to undo before you can do,” said Poulin. “It’s not as simple as saying, ‘OK guys, clean slate, let’s go.’ [Burke] had to undo contracts, roster spots, a lot of things. That was a much more complicated piece than you would think.”
But is it any less complicated now? Maybe a bit, but there are still bad contracts on the books – Mike Komisarek, Colby Armstrong, Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi comprise $15.75 million in cap space. Plus there’s still no top-line center or goalie that can be trusted. And while the prospect pool is deeper, is there a franchise player among it?
Patience, Leafs fans.