Brian Burke is his own man, a down-to-earth farming kind of guy. His loose-collar-red-in-your-face-goddamn-it style actually makes him one of the few people who can handle the pressures of running the most demanding hockey franchise in the world. And although he has certainly done well for the Maple Leafs, his style has also taken the franchise down a couple of ugly blind alleys that he needs to be called on.
There is no denying the good. The acquisition of Phaneuf was outstanding, as were the signings of Gustavvson, Bozak and Stalberg. Last summer’s signings of Komiserak, Beauchemin and Orr bode well, as do the additions of Kadri, Caputi and Aulie. This is an outstanding group of young players who give the Maple Leafs real promise for the future.
Kessel, certainly promising in his goal-scoring abilities and intensity, is good, but the price was not. Surrendering three top picks (this year’s overall No. 2 & No. 32, as well as next year’s No. 1) was a devastating mistake. As much as Burke would like to save face on this one—his examples of Daigle and Stefan are a nice curve—he knows that he lost badly.
However the real problem is the ugliness that Burke has allowed to foster behind the bench. Ron Wilson might very well be the worst coach in Maple Leafs history—and that includes Ballard’s cronies of the ‘80s—establishing historically awful records in the penalty kill, power play and goals against, as well as grounding the Leafs to their worst start in franchise history. This isn’t just a matter of playing the wrong players in the wrong combinations or lacking strategies in odd-man situations; this is a matter of someone who does not accept the responsibilities of his position. He does not know how to coach.
As good as Burke’s call-it-like-it-is style sounds, he needs to take control of the situation. He lost on Kessel, and that is a tough one to swallow. But there is no need to die of embarrassment. Move on. Sign the kids. Take care of the Canada Day business. And change the damn coach. Otherwise, Burke just may end up the farmer in his parable, watching his bean sprouts wilt.