Two Sides of Brian Burke
Impetuous? Or patient? Uber-aggressive? Or willing to let the game come to him?
Twenty-two months into his reign as boss of all that is the Maple Leaf hockey empire, it's still debatable whether Brian Burke is an executive who believes in immediate action at all times or prefers to sit back and wait.
Which probably means he's a bit of both.
His detractors, naturally, will point to the Phil Kessel trade as an example of Burke being unnecessarily aggressive in terms of trying to turn the Leafs into a competitive team. There's no shortage of critics who would have preferred a slow, gradual approach, taking high draft picks rather than grabbed a proven young goal-scorer like Kessel. It's still not exactly clear why Burke felt he had to make that move at that time, rather than waiting a year or two before the Leaf rebuild was further along.
That debate will probably be going on a decade from now.
That Burke's underrated ability to be patient has paid off multiple times in recent months, however, is less discussed. The most recent example would be his decision not to pull the trigger on a deal with Boston that would have given him a bona fide front line forward in Marc Savard.
The Leafs wouldn't have had to give up much, if anything, for Savard, and the fact he's now on the shelf indefinitely suffering from post-concussion syndrome certainly suggests there were reasons why the Bruins were looking to unload him and his contract, which has seven years left to run and more than $28 million owing.
It's a tragedy, really, that a fine player like Savard was injured so badly by a hit for which Matt Cooke received no suspension. The NHL has changed the rules, but that won't help Savard, who might have come back too early in the playoffs last spring.
The Leafs could have had him at any time during the summer, despite denials from Boston GM Peter Chiarelli that Savard was being shopped, and certainly if Burke had made the deal, there would have been no shortage of people who would have applauded him for acquiring the top six forward his team so desperately needs.
But he didn't, deciding instead to wait and see how Savard played through the pre-season. Today, he's undoubtedly thankful he didn't.
He showed that similar patience last season swinging deals for goalie J.S. Giguere and defenceman Dion Phaneuf. Giguere could have been had before Christmas, but the Ducks weren't willing to take back heavy contracts. When the deal finally happened, Anaheim accepted the contracts of both Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake, two players many believed were untradeable.
On Phaneuf, the Flames went back and forth on whether they wanted to move the backliner for weeks, months really. The Leafs were persistent and stealthy in their approach, with no internal leaks, and when the deal came down it was a surprise to the industry, both in the Leafs getting Phaneuf and for what little they had to get him.
None of these deals, of course, have completely played out yet. Phaneuf and Giguere could bomb in Toronto, and Kessel could flourish, or the other way around, or all three may pan out. Savard may return healthy soon and be back to the player he was.
But it's clear Burke has more than one way of doing business. That some see him as always unnecessarily bold verging on rash doesn't jive with the record.