I’m quite confident saying that this past week the Toronto Maple Leafs made a bigger headline than the moment the lockout ended. Brian Burke was fired, Dave Nonis hired in his place, and now here we go.
The reasons for Burke’s firing probably had something to do with the team being 13th in the conference last year, no clear direction on where things were going, and a number of huge decisions coming up in the next year that I guess MLSE didn’t trust him with.
The reasons for Burke’s firing RIGHT NOW are somewhat unclear, but it sounds like it can be chalked up to him basically pissing off the wrong people (also known as the people who just paid over a billion dollars to own the franchise.)
It may not have been the right time to fire Burke. That should have been done last April after the team imploded down the stretch, or perhaps this upcoming summer. Though, if you don’t like the guy, you don’t like the guy, and no one wants to work with someone they truly don’t want to deal with. The owners didn’t like the performance and didn’t want to deal with Burke, so they canned him.
Fans seem split on the situation. Many have considered Burke as sort of a dead man walking anyway, believing he’d get the hook later this year, or hoping he would. Others are outraged. To be honest, I don’t really care much.
Burke is a great human being. I like Brian Burke the person. Actually, he’s probably one of my favorite personalities in all of hockey. But that doesn’t excuse him from the product on the ice, and the product on the ice still stinks because of holes he still hasn’t filled. You can say a fair amount of blame should fall on the players, and I can see where that comes from.
"The players didn’t live up to their end of the bargain"
Well, to be honest, neither did Burke. His idea was to build the team from the net out, but he actually somehow worked backwards and still, to date, in 2013 had not addressed problems on the blue line and most importantly in goal. Good goaltending brings the entire team up a notch, and Burke turned a blind eye to it over and over. Now Nonis has to avoid doing the same, or he’s probably out on his ass in a year, same with Carlyle.
Burke also didn’t build up a stable of prospects like everyone says he did. He’s drafted players (every team does that every summer) and has some good looking prospects, especially Kadri and more importantly Reilly, but for four years of getting killed in the standings, he should have more.
What’s also interesting is that I don’t think this season can really unfold in a way that makes Burke look good. Nonis could add Luongo and the Leafs crack the playoffs, and he’d get credit for finally doing what Burke couldn’t. Or the current team could tank again under shaky goaltending and poor penalty killing, and it would just be considered more of the same from the house Burke built. Even if the team stayed as is and somehow made the playoffs, it could be argued that Burke was a distraction. There are tons of ways to spin the story, and I think if Burke is to get credit, it would be well down the road, similar to the way things worked out in Vancouver.
But again, that happens with literally every other team. Burke owes a lot of his success in Anaheim to Murray before him, just as the current Leafs are reaping the benefits of players like Frattin, Kulemin, and Gunnarsson, who John Ferguson Jr. drafted.
Going forward I’m not too worried about the team. Nonis is his own guy, but he’ll stay on course with players that the organization views as key pieces, and now will make his own moves to hopefully get this thing on some sort of path. And unlike Burke, he’ll probably be a lot quieter doing so, which is a pretty smart approach to take considering how the losses have been piling up in recent years. It isn’t as if some new guy is going to jump in and just start throwing good players out the window, so there’s no need to panic.
It didn’t seem as though Burke had a real plan, or at least not a good one. The majority of the skaters on the team are reaching their prime, but he’s still missing key pieces. Is this a now team without a goalie? A team built for four years down the road? If the latter is the case, where are the elite prospects?
My guess is Burke couldn’t explain to the owners whether this was a team that was a piece or two from winning now, or one that’s supposed to win down the road. I still can’t really figure it out myself.
As it’s been pointed out, MLSE felt they needed a new approach. Nonis apparently goes about things in a patient, more reserved manner, and that seems to be what they’re seeking. Hopefully it works out for him.
The Leafs will look different on the surface without Burke blaring, and I think they’re in good hands going forward with a guy that won’t undo some of the good work that’s been done, but will hopefully address issues in the roster that he’s seen over the past couple years.
If the Leafs were a radio, this isn’t really like changing the station, but more like they’re trying to tune in and get rid of the noise.