|MICHAEL STUPARYK/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO|
|The Great Eye be focused on Brian Burke for a while.|
Poor Mats Sundin. He’s going to have to put up with a little less attention from the Toronto media for a bit.
This Brian Burke story’s going to take up everybody’s time.
Sundin, of course, couldn’t care less, and probably would welcome less scrutiny. But the compelling pre-season question - what will happen first, Burke to Toronto or Sundin back in the NHL? - seems about ready to be answered, with Burke’s move east from Anaheim the answer.
If Burke’s half the negotiator I think he is, he’s going to drum up a market for his services as best he can, no easy chore partway through an NHL season. Theoretically, after all, 30 jobs are filled with executives doing their jobs, and Burke’s good friends will pretty much all of ‘em.
But friendship is friendship and business is business, and Burke knows the market for his services, with the scent of a championship in Anaheim still in wind, will likely never be greater.
So are there really other teams out there that might be willing to dump their current GM and hire Burke now?
Maybe. None will say so, of course. The candidates, purely theoretically, would be Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Ottawa.
Boston has the second best record in the East and would seem to be unlikely to unseat GM Peter Chiarelli. Ottawa is spinning its wheels at 6-7-2, but dumping Bryan Murray for Burke would be drastic even for Eugene Melnyk, and that move might tale Burke more north than he’d want to go, and to a very small market.
Philly? The Flyers haven’t played well this season. Paul Holmgren got them a long way last spring, but remember Burke was once a Flyer farmhand and his brand of blood ‘n guts hockey would play well in a city where the Phillies have raised the bar for everybody.
Then there’s Chicago. This is purely a guess, but if there’s a team that might go aggressively after Burke right now, it might be the new-look Hawks. This is a team that dumped local hero Denis Savard as head coach four games into the season simply because they understood that Joel Quenneville, who was in the organization, was a better coach.
President John McDonough, hired away from the Chicago Cubs by Rocky Wirtz as one of his first acts after the death of his father, Dollar Bill, is an aggressive executive who has turned the Hawks into a hot ticket in the Windy City, a team that has sold out every game this season. All Chicago’s games are now on local TV, the team has a franchise-record 14,000 season tickets and will host the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field this January.
Ambition is back in the air in Chicago, and without putting too fine a point on it, McDonough didn’t hire current GM Dale Tallon, and after the Savard firing, clearly wouldn’t hesitate to upgrade if given the opportunity.
At the end of the day, the Leafs still address more of Burke’s needs/wants than Chicago or any other club. But Burke will want to quickly construct alternative scenarios to improve his negotiation position. And make no mistake about it, this is going to be one heckuva negotiation.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
While it's hard to consider any Leaf "underrated" the way things go around here, I'm surprised more isn't said about Nik Kulemin's play. I'd say his rookie campaign is going at least as well as Luke Schenn's, and even though he's the third best player on his line he shows a lot of smarts, above average ice vision, and is among the most physical of the Leafs forwards. Am I overrating him? What's your take on Kulemin? Any chance you could rank the Leafs rookies 15 games into the season?
John Bastedo, Oakville
A: It’s so early, and the challenge of the NHL, particularly for newly arrived Europeans is the length of the season and the sheer grind of it all. Kulemin has shown some flashes, and I love the release on his shot. Clearly, he’s still becoming acclimatized to the NHL and North America, and language is an issue in that record. It makes sense that as he gains a comfort level he’ll be more productive. I’m not sure I see him as a physical player as you do, but he doesn’t seem to shy away.
Based on their play so far, if I were to rate the Leaf rookies I would give Luke Schenn the highest marks, followed by Mikhail Grabovski, Kulemin and the now injured John Mitchell. It’s a promising group.