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Toronto Maple Leafs & Brian Burke: Old Dogs and New Tricks

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 22:  Hockey USA General Manager and Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke (R) speaks to the media prior to the start of the Women's USA vs. Sweden  women's semifinal game on day 11 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 22, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Matt WisemanCorrespondent IIIJanuary 28, 2011

One can only speculate as to how the Toronto Maple Leafs roster would look if Brian Burke was able to sign, or trade for all the players on his wish list.  In the past, Burke was able to build winning teams through a combination of successful drafts, fair trades and free agent signings.

He drafted players such as Chris Pronger, Ryan Kesler, Bobby Ryan, as well as Daniel and Henrik Sedin.  When he took over as general manager for the Maple Leafs, Burke had a decisively different plan.  His strategy was clear and concise.

Burke claimed that a complete rebuild was not needed, even for a franchise that hadn't tasted the playoffs in the post lockout era.  He assured Leafs fans that he could build a team through the combination of trades and free agent signings, and his confident demeanour resonated positivity throughout Leafs Nation.

Unfortunately, neither trades nor free agent signings have been easy for Burke to come by within the confines of the National Hockey Leagues' latest CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement).

The new CBA implemented a league-wide salary cap, making trades for elite players all the more difficult considering their high salaries.  General managers around the league have had to manage their team cap when considering trading for players, or signing free agents.  Hence, many managers have adopted a build-through-the-draft strategy.

The Chicago Blackhawks, for example, owe much of their success to Dale Tallon. 

The former General Manager for the Blackhawks was fired prior to their winning the Stanley Cup, but it was ultimately his collective patience and draft strategy that built a core of young talent capable of winning in the playoffs with names such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Upon joining the Maple Leafs, however, Burke claimed that rebuilding a franchise through the draft was timely and unnecessary.  This notion has landed him in much hot water, especially considering the ongoing lack of success the Maple Leafs have had.   

Ironically, the success of managers around the league has hurt Burke on a few levels. First, Leafs fans have become infuriated with the lack of success their team has had compared to the winning results that have become the norm for draft-built teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They were able to build a winning core by drafting Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Stall, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

Second, the CBA details that all new players, drafted or signed, must play under an entry level contract for their first stint in the National Hockey League. 

This has given Burke much grief during his tenure as Leafs' boss because young players are finding immediate success with the team that drafted them, and as a result are opting to resign after their first three years in the league, which has in turn severely dried up the free agent waters.   

If this wasn't already bad enough for Burke, elite players that have been in the league awhile are not opting to come to Toronto. 

Although he will never admit, Burke was counting on landing the Sedin twins a few summers ago, as well as Mike Cammalleri.  You could even bet that he was hoping Rick Nash would decide to leave the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer for the chance to play in his home town.  This summer the big fish will be Brad Richards.

Will Burke be so lucky?

Burke and his managing team have quickly found out that free agency is not what it used to be.  Combine that with the restrictions of the CBA and a questionable rebuild strategy, and Leafs Nation has been left to ponder if bringing in double ‘B’ was ever the right move in the first place.   

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