Brian Burke's Work: The Road Ahead for the New Leafs Boss
In the Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin was the man science would make "better, stronger, faster." The accident that would propel him (no pun intended) as the world's Bionic Man was a catastrophic event that, in the hit TV show, left him near dead where only technology, money, and a miracle or two could save him.
Fast forward 30 years from its last episode, and the NHL could be witnessing a real-life analogy to the show.
The most anti-climatic news story in the NHL—after the Tampa Bay Lightning's signing of Steve Stamkos—is the report that former Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke has signed a six-year, approximately $18 million dollar contract as the new GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Using the Six Million Dollar Man analogy, the accident and subject in question is the Leafs over the last decade. The money is there. The technology, well, let's just refer to that as Burke's vision. And a miracle or two? Perhaps even having Burke as the GM is miracle enough.
The former player agent, Whaler-Canucks-Ducks GM, and League exec will also have more power as a GM than anyone else in his position, answering only to the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment board of directors.
If you're Burke, this is an incredible deal.
While the signing of a new GM is in itself an interesting event, the fact that it involves the outspoken Brian Burke gives it a little more punch (again, no pun intended) than others. The fact it involves the Leafs makes it a major NHL news story, despite its status as a fait accomplit months ago.
The reasons are several.
First, there is the matter of his total autonomy as the boss of the Leafs. Not having to answer to Richard Peddie gives him considerable room to re-shape and re-tool the Leafs into something he believes can deliver a Cup to this championship-starved franchise.
This new deal could become the new benchmark within the NHL for coveted GMs.
It is also noteworthy that he was able to capture such a deal before a more accomplished GM did (i.e. Scotty Bowman). Makes you wonder what kind of deal Bowman could put together, should he enter full-time hockey life again.
Second is the obvious implications it has on the Leafs, a listless, benign franchise for the last 15 years, still suffering to some extent from the failures of nice-guy GM, John Ferguson Jr.
It is no secret how Burke likes his teams. Big, tough, mean, and uncompromising (Sedin twins notwithstanding). It can be argued who is really responsible for the Ducks' Stanley Cup win two years ago—Burke or Bryan Murray—but what can be safely said is that his vision for what the team should look like did not change much from when he assumed the post.
Enter the Toronto era, and what could happen. His signing is sure to bring about a plethora of changes on the Leafs squad. Much has been said regarding his penchant for having teams heavy on North American talent. His Cup-winning Ducks are prime examples of this. These Ducks were, for the most part, also a gritty, hard-hitting bunch that punished every team they met.
If this continues to be the pattern for Burke, expect sweeping changes on the Leafs squad. Specifically, the following players could find themselves playing in new home arenas over the next 12-18 months:
Jason Blake, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Vesa Toskala.
Most are high-priced veteran players, and it might take time to move them. Buyouts or trades for prospects/draft picks might be the easiest course of action in a master plan that may take several years to play out. It is clear, though, that such players do not fit the "Burke Pattern."
Finally, there are the implications that a house-cleaning by Burke will have in the Northeast Division and likely throughout the Eastern Conference.
When the Ducks won the Cup two years ago, the consensus opinion was that this was going to be the blueprint for aspiring teams to follow. Clearly, a number of teams (Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, etc.) have made moves since then to become bigger and stronger, with mixed results.
A Duck-style Leafs squad will likely spur divisional opponents like the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres to toughen up considerably more. In addition, the consequences within the Eastern Conference could be far-reaching, given its consideration as being a "weaker" conference relative to the west.
As should be understood, much of this is speculation. When an event is current, all one can really do is examine past behaviour to predict future behaviour.
With Brian Burke, the past is plain for everyone to see. The future may as well.
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