When Wasting Time Might Be Worth It
In the final analysis, these were 10 wasted months in the history of the Maple Leafs.
Of course, within the context of 41 years without a Stanley Cup, it seems like a momentary lapse of attention.
It all, the "transition" from the final dying moments of the John Ferguson Jr. regime to the Brian Burke era took all those months, killed thousands of trees to support the newspaper speculation rumour mill, permitted dozens of talking heads to claim "breaking" news and included more gruelling scrutiny of an incoming Leaf hockey boss than most U.S. judicial appointments.
You heard it here first - Burke will wear a red tie for his coronation tomorrow. Will it be the same red tie he wore when Anaheim won the Cup? Should he be wearing a red tie? Was Lou Lamoriello the first to get him to wear a red tie? How will Ron Wilson feel about the red tie?
All this is vital stuff, of course. Unless he goes with the blue tie.
Still, it's been fun, better than that summer that Ken Dryden went searching for a Leaf GM and came up with himself.
So were these 10 months worth it? After all, the team itself really only went backwards, although last night's final effort with Cliff Fletcher at the helm was a memorable one in which Vesa Toskala dazzled, the Leafs hit as much as they were hit and the new tough guy, Andre Deveaux, actually looked like he might be a decent hockey player.
But was it all worth it to end up with Burke, one of the most highly regarded managers in the sport?
Probably. See, at the end of the day, this was probably less about the actual team and more about the way in which this team is owned, or more accurately, controlled by a group of executives who for the most part, represent large companies but themselves own nothing.
When the inexperienced Ferguson was hired five years ago and and forced to accept the very experienced Pat Quinn as head coach, it was an effort by Leaf ownership to manipulate the structure of the club rather than actually affect positive change. Putting Ferguson in place, as awkward as it was, allowed Richard Peddie and the MLSE board to meddle and have their say on all the important hockey matters. It kept them in control after several years of having Quinn report directly to Steve Stavro and no one else. After four mostly competitive years, it was their chance to participate more fully in the success they believed would continue.
But Ferguson couldn't learn or function effectively in such a climate. He didn't bring in his own people and he tried to get along with one and all inside the byzantine MLSE corporate structure rather than stand up and fight. That just got him steamrolled in the end.
So now that process, and the process of three years outside the Stanley Cup playoffs with a fourth consecutive non-playoff season at hand, has forced the MLSE brass to take their mitts off the operation and give Burke total control.
He'll bring in his buddy, ex-Vancouver GM Dave Nonis, and all the suits will be cut out of the process, although Burke will surely be canny enough to make friends in high places.
But rather than a 10-month process, this was really a five-year process, from Quinn losing his power through a lockout that revolutionized the industry in many ways to Burke getting all of his authority.
Ten months you can probably live with. Five years, in retrospect, was a terrible waste of time.