Burke’s Most Crucial Summer.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have shown few signs of improvement under GM Brian Burke, making this summer the most important of his tenure.

Burke under pressure to improve Leafs.

Of all the current general managers in the National Hockey League, none is more entertaining to me than Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He’s brash, outspoken, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and wears his heart on his sleeve. He means what he says, especially regarding the players on his team. What you see from Burke is pretty much what you get.

Burke also isn’t shy about taking on his critics in the media, which probably came as a surprise to some of the Toronto pundits who praised his hiring by the Leafs, only to experience a Burkian broadside over something they wrote or said about the team he didn’t like.

He has his critics, but there’s no denying he’s had varying degrees of success as a general manager, particularly in his previous stops in Vancouver and Anaheim.

In a sports league nearly devoid of genuinely entertaining personalities, Burke shines out as a rare exception.

As entertaining as Burke is, however, and despite his prior success, the only entertainment the Maple Leafs have provided while he’s been their GM is fodder for hockey fans who enjoy successfully tormenting “Leafs Nation” over the club’s lengthy playoff and even lengthier Stanley Cup drought.

Burke did set himself up for this. Upon his hiring, he was heralded as practically a saviour for the Maple Leafs, the one man – nay, the sole one! – with the attitude to thrive in the fishbowl existence of a Leafs GM. He blunted stated his intentions were to build the Leafs from the net out, to bring “truculence” to the lineup, and promised to turn the Leafs into a contender without resorting to a roster rebuild.

Three and a half years later, the Leafs are a better team offensively, rising from 26th overall in goals-per-game in 2009-10 to 10th last season, but still aren’t a playoff club.

The reason is obvious: their goaltending and defensive play, to be blunt, sucked.

Since 2009-10, the Leafs have regularly ranked among the worst of the league in goals-against and penalty-killing, while their shots-against/per game average over the same period went from 13th fewest to seventh most.

The results is a team which can score, but struggles to keep the puck out of its own net.

Burke now finds himself facing what most Toronto pundits and bloggers agree is his most important summer, not just as Leafs general manager, but of his entire management career.

Leafs Nation has run out of patience with Burke, with the consensus being if he fails to make the right moves this summer to turn the Maple Leafs into a playoff team next spring, he’ll be joining the ranks of unemployed NHL executives.

Burke’s biggest issue is his lack of a quality starting goaltender, which explains his rumored interest in Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo.

The problem for Burke is trying to pry away a goalie carrying a contract he detests away from a team whose GM he is rumored to despise.

Unfortunately for Burke, Luongo seems his only viable option. This summer’s UFA market lacks goaltending stars, and there’s little else available on the trade market. Canucks GM Mike Gillis knows this, and will try to squeeze Burke to give up assets he’d prefer to retain to land Luongo.

Burke boldly proclaims if he can’t find a goaltending upgrade, he’s prepared to return next season with a tandem of youngsters James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, pointing out how well Reimer played prior to suffering an early season whiplash injury.

Perhaps Reimer can regain his promising form, and maybe Scrivens can turn into a quality NHL netminder, but it’s a helluva gamble banking on this pair of inexperienced youngsters to carry the Leafs to its first playoff appearance in nine years.

Maybe over the course of the upcoming season (provided it’s not lost to another lockout), Burke’s chances of improving his goaltending could improve. Provided, of course, a decent goalie becomes available in time to ensure the Leafs don’t miss the playoffs again.

At this point, Burke’s options appear limited.

He can make do with a lack of depth at center if need be. A full season with Randy Carlyle as head could should improve the defense and reduce those shots-against totals.

If Burke can’t improve the goaltending, however, it won’t matter how many goals Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski and the recently-acquired James van Riemsdyk scores.

It won’t matter how much the defense corps improves its performance in its own end.

It won’t matter how much Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Joe Colbourne or Jake Gardiner improve.

Another season of lousy goaltending, and the Leafs will once again be on the outside looking in come playoff time.

The only question then will be if Burke will still be in the general manager’s chair at that point.


  1. Great post. It’d be sad if Burke ended his legendary GM career with 3 consecutive playoff misses. Also, it’s no wonder leafs nation is fed up; goaltending has been the number 1 issue with the Leafs since Burke was hired, and although mgmt has improved the depth at that position, they still havent brought in a number 1 guy since theyve taken over the front office.

  2. Leafs issue with goaltending came before Burke, with a dumb trade called Tuuka Rask for Andrew Raycroft stating that Justin Pogge was the future of Toronto!

    Where they are now?

    Rask -> Bruins starter
    Raycroft -> Career Back up
    Pogge -> Not even in the NHL

    I feel bad for Burke cause I think he can look and know that one of his young guys is the future. There is a lot of netminding promise in TO, but he is now running out of time to develop them because of his bold claims. I still do think that he is just going to try and sign a veteran and put his faith in Reimer.

  3. Bringing in a guy like Marty Biron could add stability in net. Aside from being a capable backup goaltender, he’s been really good with the young guys on the Rangers. It was painfully obvious during his tenure in Philly that he lacks the stuff of a starter, but he brings a calming presence to the room which is beneficial to everyone, especially Riemer.

    It’s hard to pin the blame on goaltending alone when the defense is terrible. Trade for a defensive defenseman who can block a couple shots every game. Go after Suter. Make a play for Garrisson. Defense wins games and Toronto’s is embarassing.

  4. To me, their best strategy should be continue to rebuild with youth and talent. This means another top-5 pick in the upcomming draft.
    Stop Winnin’ for Mackinnon!

    But this will ultimately cost Burke his job- which I also beleive is the wrong decision. I’d rather have him at the helm of the continuing rebuild than anyone else available to bring in (sure, if you can get Lou out of NJ).

    The biggest mistake by Burke was not holding on to draft picks and stocking the farm with high end talent from the CHL. Look at hte value you can get for a top-5 pick like Schenn if he is in your system. That being said, the first game plan went awry (wrong coach, wrong system, wrong group of players, no goaltending). the recent dedication to acquiring young talent and drafting in the 1st 2 rounds is what they should continue to do.

    It might be Burke Round 2, but at least it is in the right direction.

  5. For the sake of the leafs, I hope the team is competitive this year. Look at what happened when Burke came in here he got rid of every player that wasn’t his. What is going to happen when Burke gets fired and they bring in another guy? I would hate to go through this again, especially when I feel they are starting to show progress.

    Now you can debate the kessel trade to death but I’m not here to do that.

    Look at each position, defense deep, goaltending better then when he got here, forward well when Burke got here the best forward was nik Andropov, first line centre Matt stajan, I think they are miles ahead now.

    And lastly bruke got to hire a coach, one in which he shares the style of play he feels the team needs to play.

    So I guess I hope we get luongo?