Toronto Maple Leafs: The 6 Biggest Soap Operas of Brian Burke's Tenure

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs: The 6 Biggest Soap Operas of Brian Burke's Tenure

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    Everything is magnified in Toronto.

    This is the team that Forbes Magazine recently valued at $1 billion, making the Leafs the most valuable team in the locked-out NHL.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won 13 Stanley Cups—second to the Montreal Canadiens—but none of them have come since 1967.

    The Leafs are also in a long playoff drought. They have not even qualified for the postseason since the 2003-04 season.

    Brian Burke is the man in charge and is responsible for much of the team's current state. Nearly every decision that he makes is scrutinized heavily.

    That makes him quite controversial.

    Here are six of the biggest soap operas during his run with the Leafs.

It's July 1, So Where's Brian?

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    July 1 is the start of free agency in the NHL. That should be a key date for any NHL general manager.

    Yet each of the last two years, Brian Burke was not front and center for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    In 2011, he was with Canadian troops in Afghanistan. In 2012, he was marching in the Pride Parade to honor the memory of his son, who had been killed in a car crash.

    Nobody is saying that either cause was not worth Burke's time, but there are questions about whether he should have been more available as the front man of the Maple Leafs.

    Burke said that he was fully involved both years through modern communications, but it seemed a bit odd that he was not at his post on one of the key dates on the hockey calendar.

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    The Maple Leafs got off to a solid start in the 2011-12 season and were in the playoff mix for a majority of the season.

    However, the team went into a dreadful tailspin following the All-Star break and failed to make the playoffs for the seventh straight year.

    At the end of the season, the Leafs placed a full-page advertisement in the Toronto newspapers apologizing for the team's showing and collapse.

    Fans were not buying the apology, saying that it meant little and indicating that they would have preferred a discount on future ticket prices rather than the mea culpa (source: Toronto Star).

Ron Wilson

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    Ron Wilson was the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs from the start of the 2008-09 season until the final 18 games of the 2011-12 season.

    Many general managers would have given their head coach a second season after failing to make the playoffs the first year. Some might have given the coach a third year after failing to make the playoffs in the second year.

    But how could Brian Burke have given Wilson a fourth season when his team didn't make the playoffs for three straight years?

    Burke was stubborn in his support of Wilson and didn't make a coaching change until the collapse of the 2011-12 season was nearly complete.

Phil Kessel Trade

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    Phil Kessel is one of the best goal scorers in the NHL. He has scored 30 or more goals in each of the last four seasons.

    However, when the Leafs acquired Kessel from the Boston Bruins, they paid a big price. They gave the Bruins their first- and second-round choices in the 2010 draft and their first-round draft choice in 2011.

    The Bruins used those selections to pick Tyler Seguin (2010 first), Jared Knight (2010 second) and Dougie Hamilton (2011 first). Seguin is on the cusp of superstardom and the Bruins expect Hamilton to become a legacy defenseman shortly after the lockout ends. Knight is a talented prospect as well.

    Kessel is a key cog for the Leafs, but they appear to have overpaid for him. Leaf fans wonder how Seguin and Hamilton would look in Toronto's blue and white.

Conditioning

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    When the Maple Leafs lost their way in 2011-12, they seemed to be on the short end physically.

    When it came to winning battles for the puck, racing down the ice or holding onto leads late in the game, the Leafs failed.

    Conditioning was an issue for this team. Much of that was on the coaching staff, but Burke has to take some of the blame for not putting more of an emphasis on offseason, preseason and in-season conditioning that would have likely resulted in more late-season wins and an appearance in the 2011-12 playoffs.

Goaltending

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    There have been many things wrong with the Leafs since they last made the playoffs in 2003-04, but one of the most obvious issues is deficient goaltending.

    This team has not had goaltenders who can stop the puck in game-deciding situations. The big save in Toronto is a rarity.

    When the lockout comes to an end, the Leafs could make a strong bid for Vancouver's Roberto Luongo.

    Luongo may not be a savior, but he is much better than what the Leafs have on hand.

    If Toronto has to play the upcoming season with James Reimer, Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas as its goaltenders, another season on the outside looking in is quite likely.