The Burke era in Toronto’s been rough — but so was the one preceding it

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After James van Riemsdyk was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, he expressed his enthusiasm by calling the team the  “Yankees of the NHL.”

A better comparison might be the Blue Jays.

That’s a joke, mind you. Toronto’s MLB team has actually won something worthy of mention in the last 25 years.

Mean spirited? Perhaps, but the Leafs are something of a punchline. The big difference between the Leafs and Yankees is that fans of other teams don’t look at Toronto with jealousy. They can barely keep a straight face.

Meanwhile, people within the city are directing their frustration and ire at the club.

Brian Burke, the man they talked about being their GM back when he was still under contract with the Anaheim Ducks, is now a villain. If the Maple Leafs don’t finally end their seven-season long playoff slump this season, he probably won’t be back for 2013-14.

And that’s a shame, because this really isn’t his fault, not entirely. When Burke assumed command in 2008, they were a team without direction. Before interim GM Cliff Fletcher took over a little under a year prior to Burke’s eventual hiring, the Leafs were one of those clubs that strive for eighth place at all costs, and fail at even that.

Since then, Burke’s tried turning a barren wasteland into a tropical forest.

That’s not an easy thing to do and it’s not like everything he’s touched as turned to gold. As good as Phil Kessel has been, it’s hard to look at that deal and call it a win for Toronto and that’s not the only move he’s made that hasn’t worked out. For example, you could argue that his decision last season to not secure a veteran goaltender to help out James Reimer in 2011-12 was a misstep.

Still, Toronto has a young core of already established NHLers and a number of youngsters from their 2011-12 Calder Trophy Finalists Toronto Marlies could step up and play big roles for the Maple Leafs within the next couple of years. That, of course, includes Nazem Kadri.

Toronto still might not make the playoffs in 2012-13 and if you just compare the Toronto Maple Leafs record from the pre-Burke lockout era to the post-Burke lockout era, it’s hard to really see why he should stay around. However, the difference is that the Leafs have a direction now and eventually that will be to their benefit.