Brian Burke: 6 Incredible Things About the Toronto Maple Leafs GM
Brian Burke is often criticized, second guessed, questioned and even interrogated about what he is doing as a general manager. One of the hardest jobs in the world has to be general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sure, it would be a lot of fun and challenging to be an insider, but your also on the hot seat, being watched by the fans of Leafs Nation.
Quietly, or sometimes not so quietly, Brian Burke has done some great things as a general manager. He is building an incredible team, slowly over time.
Here are six things that may have been overlooked.
6. Hiring Francois Allaire as the Goaltending Coach
Brian Burke worked with Francois Allaire as a goaltending coach with the Anaheim Ducks. Allaire joined the Leafs as the goaltending consultant in 2009.
You can not win championships without great goaltending. With Patrick Roy under his watch, Francois Allaire practically invented the drop-and-block-butterfly style of goaltending, the style in use by the majority of goalies in the NHL.
In this style, the goalies are bigger and leaner. They stay down in the butterfly rather than transition back up after the shot in the older stand-up style of goaltending. In the Allaire system of goaltending, being 6'0"-plus matters as well as being lanky like Potvin, Reimer and Gustavsson.
Hiring Francois Allaire says the Leafs are very serious about goaltending and that your're going to get the best training in the world. Jussi Rynnäs, Ben Scrivens and Jonas Gustavsson are three free-agent goalies who have said that Francois Allaire was part of the reason they chose Toronto.
Hiring Allaire means Toronto gets top selection of the best free-agent goalies in the world.
5. Hiring Dave Nonis—Again
Hockey is big business. There is so much going on every day that it requires a small management team to just keep track of all of the opportunities. The hiring of Dave Nonis tells us a few things about Brian Burke.
He is not fearful of his job. When Burke was let go in Vancouver, Nonis, who was Burke's second-in-command, replaced him. Nonis then went on and made the Luongo deal. This was good. If Burke was worried, he would of not of hired an easy replacement.
He trusts Nonis and you have to trust your team. Hockey deals range from your garden variety "we will swap two minor leaguer's with a tag on," to a six- or seven-player deal with complex buyouts like the one from Calgary. You have to know what and how to get things done to achieve the big trades.
Your team must be able to know how to build teams, manage hockey and execute deals. Dave Nonis is experienced at all three.
Vancouver and Anaheim are both proof these guys know how to work together to achieve results.
4. Building the Team Consistently for the Long Term
Love the trades or hate the trades? Phil Kessel, yes or no? Brian Burke has been building the team for the long term. He has had spurts of "this player will help us right now..." but he is creating a team to make a run at the Cup every year for a long time.
To do that you have to build depth through the entire organization, through management, coaching and player personnel. Everyone from the owners, to the building crew, to the associate trainer and the minor league system all need to be working toward the same consistent goal.
It is hard to think of a trade or a signing where you say "Leafs lose" on that deal.
Even the Phil Kessel trade looks like a win. Kessel is a 23-year-old sniper on the verge of breaking 50 goals. And when he does, he will be a 40- or 50-goal scorer for 10 years.
Last year, Kessel scored 32 goals and 32 assists for 64 points. Last year, Tyler Seguin scored 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points.
Granted, in five years, Seguin might be the better player—but who knows for sure. If Lord Stanley is going to be raised, a Phil Kessel-like player is necessary.
Throughout each year, Burke has been making every position stronger and deeper. This consistent approach will eventually produce championship teams.
3. Supporting the Coaches
No matter how you feel about Ron Wilson and the coaching staff, it is the GM's job to support the coaching staff.
This is not a love or hate Ron Wilson slide. This is how to act professionally towards the most critical cogs in the Leafs' wheels.
Ron Wilson has one of the hardest jobs in all of sports. It is like being the manager of the New York Yankees. He has to walk on hockey's most famous ground and not let it get to him every day. He has to be ready to answer the vicious press hounds. He has to coach with millions of eyeballs second-guessing his every move.
If Brian Burke started the year and said that Ron Wilson needed to get the job done or he is out, he would have created chaos. The team might start a mutiny. Other lesser GM's make that kind of mistake.
The best way to handle critical people is to give them full support everyday.
Brian Burke does that day in and day out.
2. He Hired Rick Dudley as a Team Builder
Rick Dudley is a team builder. Many people may have remember Rick Dudley as the coach of the Sabers from 1989 to 1992.
Since then, he has been one of the most well-known team builders in the IHL, AHL and the NHL.
As the GM in Ottawa in the '98-99 season, his team finished third overall with a 103 points.
He then moved onto the Tampa Bay Lightening where he played a critical role in building the 2004 Stanley Cup Champions, acquiring such players as Dave Andreychuk, Nikolai Khabibulin, Martin St. Louis and Fredrik Modin.
Before he actually received the Stanley Cup ring, he moved onto the Florida Panthers and was GM from 2002 to 2004.
After the lockout, he worked at building another Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks as director of player personal from 2004 to 2006 and then assistant general manager from 2006 to 2010. He then joined Atlanta as the GM and shortly after was wooed over to the Leafs.
Hiring life-time hockey men like Rick Dudley shows Brian Burke is serious about winning games.
1. Brian Is a Talent Hound
Brian Burke is unconventional by all means, and he hunts talent at all levels from anywhere. Whether it be management, players, scouting, front office or the people in the background.
Burkie must be one of the few Leafs managers that when he was out of options, he went to the broader free agents in Europe and colleges. He picked up players like Gustavsson, Hanson and Bozak. These types of moves might be a total surprise to most Leaf fans. But talent is talent, and Brian Burke had to fill the cabinet when he was very short of first- and second-round draft choices.
Being a master of the trade, Burke also seems to get high-quality guys as part of the deal.
For example, in the Phaneuf trade, he took Sjostrom and Aulie. Who-lie? Aulie, who is a big defenseman that will bear fruit and be a great player in the NHL very soon.
This pursuit of talent is why he has Allaire, Nonis and Dudley on the team. This is how he has filled up the Marlies with a not only draft choices, but with trades and free agents. He finds and keeps top-notch guys like Reimer and Bozak.
It might be the best thing about Brian Burke.
Brian Burke Team Builder
Brian Burke is a team guy. He lives and breathes hockey and is assembling on of the best teams in hockey.
History has proven in the past that he is capable of building teams that win championships and finish at or near the top of their division year after year.
He might seem a bit gruff, but who cares if that leads us to the ultimate goal—Lord Stanley's Chalice!