Brian Burke Should Not Be Fired, Even If the Leafs Do Not Make the Playoffs
You may think the statement is a bad idea.
Why keep a guy who has overseen a team that has not made the playoffs for the five years he has been in charge? This is a terrible record and is just awful. I agree, but this is not entirely Brian Burke's fault.
Brian Burke has made some errors in his time as Leafs GM. But then again, who has never made an error? The question is whether they made more correct decisions than bad ones, and Burke has accomplished that. Let's see what he has accomplished.
We can all harp on the Phil Kessel trade. That was bad. Really bad. The Leafs gave up the chance to draft Tyler Seguin, or maybe even Taylor Hall as they may have had a higher draft pick without Kessel. The Leafs also gave up Dougie Hamilton, who looks like an outstanding defenceman, and Jared Knight.
So yes that was a horrible move by Brian Burke, but in his defence no Leafs team built by John Ferguson Junior had drafted higher than seventh, so with Kessel they should improve. However, the overall effect of this trade was bad. Boston won in a big way. Even Brian Burke admitted this later.
So we have one bad decision. But then you look at the way Burke has stolen Dion Phaneuf and you may be inclined to forgive him. The trade was Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie for Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Ian White and Niklas Hagman. Only Stajan is left on the Flames from that deal but he plays on their third line.
Many argue Phaneuf sucks nowadays, but I beg to differ. Last year he had 12 goals and 44 points. Not bad for a defenceman. In fact that is more goals than Ryan Suter though two points behind him.
To be fair to Phaneuf, Suter's partner was Shea Weber. So that might have helped. Also defensively, Phaneuf was a minus-10, but this is the most misleading statistic.
Plus/minus depends on the team you play with, especially the goaltender, and we all know about the goaltending woes the Leafs have had. So perhaps we should wait for a legitimate goaltender before we say he is terrible defensively. As a result I think the Phaneuf deal was outstanding.
When would you fire Burke?
Even if you didn't like the Phaneuf deal, you had to love the Francois Beauchemin trade.
Here Burke traded a player he had signed as an unrestricted free agent. You may not have liked the signing but when he traded Beauchemin for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner you had to say he did a great job.
The reason I say that is because Lupul was supposed to be a salary dump and Gardiner maybe a year or two away. Instead Lupul became a top line winger getting a point per game and improving Kessel while Gardiner made the team immediately and may have proved to already be better than Beauchemin. This deal was amazing and a true steal. Burke gave up nothing for those two key assets.
Now we all know about the bad free agent signings.
We know about the Mike Komisarek and Tim Connolly signings. We even know about Brett Lebda, but that was a cheap contract that was quickly dumped for a worse contract and Franson. So it seems he's been bad at free agency for the most part. Even with all these bad deals, the only one left on the books that are bad are Komisarek, Connolly and of course Matthew Lombardi.
The only real problem here is Komisarek as Burke gave him too many years on the contract (five). Lombardi was picked up so that Lebda could be dumped and Franson could be acquired and Connolly was only given two years. So there's only one bad contract left even if he made a few bad deals.
Now, where does this leave the Leafs? They are still near the bottom of the league. The reason for that is goaltending problems.
Burke has failed to acquire a legitimate netminder. If he gets Roberto Luongo, he will have gotten one, or if James Reimer is the real deal then he has one. But right now that is the main mistake here: lack of a legitimate goaltender.
You may say he has had a long time to get one, but nobody really gives up a legitimate goaltender anymore, so it may be that he has to spend time developing Reimer. Otherwise he should acquire Luongo. Another avenue that may become available is if goaltenders are bought out with the amnesty clause because of their large contracts, then he may be able to sign one.
Normally goaltenders want too much, but in this case they can only get a maximum of seven years. Why give him another year if he's had five?
The reason is that this lockout shortened season is not really a full season. Also keep in mind that at last year's trade deadline everyone thought Dean Lombardi should be fired and Dustin Brown should be traded. And yet, they won the Stanley Cup!
So perhaps we do not know which GMs are good or bad. Perhaps we should judge them based solely on the improvement of the roster. Or perhaps we should trust the teams to do the right thing. Hard to say because of course we are emotionally invested, and also I may be biased and giving Burke more time than he deserves. But I do not think he's had a fair shake in Toronto.
Part of that is his fault in that he kept making bold proclamations. He's got to stop doing that. That works for almost nobody. The only exception was Muhammad Ali and he was the best, so he had a right to talk. So give Burke this season and next to make the playoffs. I think he will build a contender.
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