Brian Burke in Afganistan Is Farther Than the Maple Leafs Will Go in 2012

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIJuly 3, 2011

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 06: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates in on Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on April 6, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Respect for Brian Burke for visiting beleaguered Canadian troops in Afganistan won't be diminished, but the credibility for the Toronto Maple Leafs took another hit.

A franchise whose very motivation for a desire to win a championship is doubtful, and for whom the title "major league" has at times in the past 44 years had all the value of a farce, has to have its credibility questioned again.

At a time when Burke was doing his duty thousands of miles away in Afganistan, his other duty as general manager of the Maple Leafs was being handled by subordinates on a day which most Maple Leaf fans regard as the only day where the status of their team could be instantly turned around.

Burke was absent on July 1, when NHL free agency starts. The Leafs' attempt to upgrade the team to playoff status after being absent in the postseason for over half a decade has netted the grand total of Tim Connolly, formerly of the Buffalo Sabres whom that team never made an effort at re-signing.

The Leafs have paid nearly $5 million for a player nearing the end of his prime years, who is seldom healthy for a full season.

There wasn't much of a marquee crop of free agents this year, but when the dust settles, the Leafs are probably further away from a playoff spot than before the morning dawned.

Almost all the teams the Leafs will have to beat out for a playoff spot are more improved than they are.

The only consolation that Leaf fans have is knowing that if the Leafs finish near the bottom, they'll actually be able to keep their own draft choice next year after watching the last two go to Boston as payment for Phil Kessel.

If Connolly stays healthy, he's already being designated as Kessel's new center. 

Burke had vowed to Leaf fans that the team would be active on the free agent market, but the net result of Connolly, coupled with Burke's absence in Afganistan, makes one wonder if he had already thrown in the towel long before July 1.

It didn't help that the best free agent forward available, Brad Richards, had privately written off the Leafs, no matter what they would have paid him, long before July 1.

Unless Burke has a trade up his sleeve, he's failed to land the big name star forward the team desperately needs.

The only hope for the Leafs is that one of their new drafted players, or a matured member of the farm team, or the much hoped for Nazem Kadri, have an impact this year like goalie James Reimer had last year.

The other eastern team with a long streak of missing the playoffs, Florida, made a rash of signings in a desperate attempt to save the team.

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 25:  General manager Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs answers questions after day two of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 25, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

But in Toronto, where the public mindlessly pays money to watch a team no matter how bad it is, fans hopes and dreams can be put on hold indefinitely.

The main owners, the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund, known more for caring for profits than the team's on-ice fortunes, are already rivaling Harold Ballard as the worst owner in the team's history.

The team has yet to make the playoffs since they became owners, and they now have the record of being the owner of the longest streak of years without making the playoffs in the club's history, going back over eight decades.

Look for another year to be added to that streak.

The Vancouver fans who rioted when their team failed to win the Stanley Cup Final should be brought to Toronto to run a muck against a franchise that consistently fails to make the playoffs.

At least in Toronto, they would have good cause.