Waiting for a Blast of Burke
The Grey Cup is over, and the cold winds of November have already delivered snow and harsh reality to the city and the Maple Leafs.
Despite the best efforts of some hard-working, hopeful players, facts are facts and talent, both individual and organizational, will eventually rise to the top in a league as difficult and competitive as the NHL.
Seven losses in nine games and the NHL's third worst defensive record have sunk the Leafs in the NHL standings. No longer, one should think, will folks blithely extoll the virtues of this team as a wonderful surprise, admirable for its work ethic and enthusiasm. That, folks, is the bare minimum for any team searching for success in the NHL, and giving this team so much early season credit for trying really hard just shows you how expectations have plummeted in hockey's Centre of the Universe.
That's okay. This is what was expected, and rabid Leaf fans just got a little excited, thinking Luke Schenn and Mikhail Grabovski were good enough that the team would get to skip three or four steps on the route back to competitiveness.
But surely even MLSE understands that now, this week, is the time to crown Brian Burke. The dreams of Richard Peddie, that he could hang on to the team presidency and ride the coattails of the amazingly popular Cliff Fletcher indefinitely, are over.
Burke's not perfect, and he may not turn this team into a winner. Nobody comes with guarantees.
(Ed. Note: Burke did not fly to Toronto as expected today after arriving in Boston to find the furnace in his home broken. It's unclear whether he will make it to the GTA in the next day or so.)
But after five years of basically wandering in the hinterland, changing directions every two or three months, patching the roster here and there in a desperate attempt to convince people that this hockey club was focussed on winning, Burke will give this organization real direction. He will, finally, get Peddie's fingers out of the mix, and that was always the prime benefit of hiring a new president/GM to run the hockey club.
If this was a condo deal, the suits at MLSE would have it locked down and completed by now. It's been 10 days since Burke was cleared to talk to any NHL club, and the Leafs haven't yet sat down face-to-face with him to hammer out a deal. They seem to be labouring under the illusion that they have options, that Burke isn't the best opportunity they've had in a while to add a bold, experienced hockey man.
Larry Tanenbaum and Co. apparently figure that if they honour enough players, as they did with Wendel Clark on Saturday, maybe it'll distract people from the fact that the team has steadily deteriorated over the past five years. Hope springs eternal in the hearts of dedicated Leaf fans, but even they, when they gaze upon the NHL standings this morning, have to notice that their favorite team has fewer wins than all but two other clubs this season.
In November, 2008, they are by far the worst of the Original Six, with Boston and Chicago having risen out of their self-imposed doldrums to join the Rangers, Canadiens and Red Wings as strong clubs in the league this season.
This we know for sure. Brian Burke cannot make things worse.