Bryan Colangelo Is a Tough Act to Follow for Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke
It worked for the Raptors.
But can their NHL sister franchise, the Toronto Maple Leafs, expect as quick a turnaround with the hiring of Brian Burke as the Raptors saw with the arrival of Bryan Colangelo?
There are many similarities between the signings of the two GMs.
Both are considered to be very capable GMs in their respective sports. Both are excellent evaluators of talent, and both have been described as independent thinkers and great deal-makers.
Both came in after the rebuilding process had been started by an interim GM. Colangelo took over from basketball sage Wayne Embry, and Burke is taking the reins from Cliff Fletcher. Both of whom were enlisted to weather the storm until the right man for the job could be found.
Like Colangelo, Burke is being given complete control over the franchise's hockey operations—insofar as that that is possible within the corporate structure that is Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.
When the Raptors hired Colangelo three seasons ago, a wave of fan excitement and anticipation erupted across the city of Toronto—similar to the one that we are witnessing now, with the arrival of Burke to take the helm of Toronto`s storied hockey franchise.
Raptors fans' expectations were rewarded with one of the more remarkable turnarounds of a sports franchise in recent memory, as the Raptors went from Eastern Conference basement dwellers to the third seed the conference in Colangelo's first full season as GM.
But is it fair to place these same kinds of expectations on Burke?
Hockey and basketball are very different games. Most NBA teams are just a player or two away from contending, as one player can have such a huge impact on the game.
Not so much in hockey. The road from laughing stock to contender in the NBA is generally much shorter than it is in the NHL.
Bryan Colangelo also had a clear point from which to start rebuilding. He had Chris Bosh, a bona fide star to build his team around. Burke isn't so lucky in Leafland. Unlike Colangelo with Bosh, there isn't a single player on the Maple Leafs roster that Burke can really use as a starting point.
Sure, there are the Hagmans and the Schenns currently playing in Leafs' system who look to be bright spots in the future—but there is nary a Maple Leaf that could right now be considered part of a core nucleus to build around.
Colangelo quickly went into rebuilding mode and overhauled the Raptors' roster, bringing in nine new players to compliment Bosh in his first offseason as Raptors GM, including 2006 first-overall draft pick Andrea Bargniani—who, despite last year's dismal performance, did post decent numbers as a rookie in that turnaround year, placing second in Rookie of the Year votes.
Having a top-five draft pick when you are starting out as a new GM is handy, and it appears as though Burke may end up with just that by season's end. Ending up with the first-overall pick next year, as Colangelo did the year he took over, wouldn't be a bad thing for Burke at all.
John Tavares, whom many talking heads say will be the next Sidney Crosby, will go first overall next year. Should the Leafs be fortunate enough—or bad enough—for the rest of this season, they have a legitimate shot at owning that first overall pick come next year. John Tavares could easily become Burke's Chris Bosh, should he end up in a Leafs uniform.
Knowing Burke's history, Leaf fans can safely expect Colangelo-like roster changes this season. However, it would be unfair to expect Burke to have the same kind of first-year success Bryan Colangelo saw with Raptors, given the nature of the game of hockey and the current state of the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise.
A new GM can't put points on the board in games, nor can they make saves or block shots. What they can do however is change the culture of a franchise, and acquire the appropriate personnel to help that culture thrive.
Bryan Colangelo definitely had a tall order in front of him when it came to instituting a new culture within the Raptors organization. For Brian Burke, however, this is doubly so. The culture of mediocrity that has plagued the Maple Leafs franchise has become entrenched over the last 40-odd years—a much deeper rut than Bryan Colangelo had to dig the Raptors out of.
Brian Burke's task in terms of fan expectations definitely isn't going to be made any easier by the success that Bryan Colangelo saw when he was given pretty much the same task with the Raptors three seasons ago.
Fans have every right to be excited with Burke at the helm. He is as capable and astute a hockey mind as there is. However, sports fans in Toronto may have higher expectations than normal in terms of the impact a GM can have after seeing what Colangelo did with the Raptors.
What Colangelo accomplished in turning the Raptors around in so short a time was nothing short of incredible. To expect lighting like that to strike the same city twice might be expecting a little much.
The blueprint worked with the Raptors, and now we'll see if it will work for the Leafs. Brian Burke most likely won't have the Leafs in the top half of the NHL's Eastern Conference by next year.
But with his arrival, the road to get there is already shorter.
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