Moving Forward with Fists Clenched
If there's a plausible explanation for MLSE's leisurely approach to finding a new man to run the hockey operation - no candidates interviewed to date, no haste in doing so, leaving Cliff Fletcher in charge indefinitely - it may be that the top candidate has already been identified.
That person would most likely be Anaheim GM Brian Burke, and certainly the absence of a contract extension for Burke with the Ducks has raised many suspicions.
For now, we'll put aside the logic of waiting for just one person. Instead, it's worth wondering how Burke's approach would be welcomed in Toronto.
Specifically, his affection for smashmouth hockey.
Clearly, it's an approach that has worked in Anaheim, and the Ducks again lead the NHL in fighting this season. It's a mix of skill and muscle to be sure, and without Scott Niedermayer the Ducks are probably no better than most of the playoff teams in the west.
But is this really the style of hockey that Toronto would embrace?
For starters, to be accurate, it's an approach that has worked exactly once since the Flyers punched their way to Cups in the 1970s. Anaheim's immediate championship predecessors, Tampa Bay and Carolina, were hardly muscle teams, and the Hurricanes didn't even bother carrying an enforcer. Generally speaking, the toughest teams haven't usually won in the end.
The Leafs, it's fair to say, have been intermittently tough over the decades. There was the mid-1970s with Tiger Williams et al, the bizarre Paul Higgins experiment, the early 1990s with Ken Baumgartner and the teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s when Tie Domi, Gary Roberts, Shayne Corson, Darcy Tucker and others made the Leafs one of the more ornery NHL squads.
Enforcers have always been popular in this town, often far more popular than their actual abilities dictated. The late John Kordic, for example, drew many an ovation for his antics, and it was only recently that ACC crowds chanted Wade Belak's name.
But there's a big difference between that and the Burke approach, which is to use force first, second and third, then follow up with a touch of skill.
You can't criticize it too much because, in the end, it worked, and at least the man is honest about the type of hockey he prefers. He's not trying to fool anybody, and has also worked hard to protect the prospects the Ducks have and keep more coming, which is certainly more than has been the case with the Leafs.
But still, it's worth asking that if Burke were to come and the Leafs were the team leading the NHL in fighting in two years with a roster that might or might not be a playoff team by then, would it be a popular approach locally?
Or would the GTA respond more to a team built on speed and skill, like the Detroit Red Wings or Montreal Canadiens? The Leafs, after all, have never really tried that, have they?