Burke is the man to pick up fallen Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Brian Burke finally got what they both wanted - each other. But will it be a date with a long-awaited Stanley Cup destiny, or just another doomed chapter in the Leafs history? Burke, introduced as the 13th general manager of the struggling National Hockey League franchise, takes over a team that hasn't won the cup since 1967 or qualified for the play-offs since 2004.
With a six-year deal - worth upwards of a reported $18million (Dh66m) - the ice hockey veteran, 53, will have the time he needs to mould a contender. He has a track record of rebuilding rosters and turning around team fortunes - and the Harvard-trained lawyer, former player agent, one-time NHL vice-president and four-team GM will rely on all of his extensive background to revive a franchise that hasn't even returned to the final in the past 41 years. The Leafs' cup-less drought is the second-longest in the league - the Chicago Blackhawks haven't won since 1961 - and if Burke can build a championship team in hockey-mad Toronto, his legacy would be sealed.
It won't be easy. The Leafs' line-up has a few serviceable players, but is bereft of big-name stars and only Luke Schenn, a 19-year-old defenceman drafted fifth overall last June, qualifies as a top-flight prospect. Worse still, Toronto have little in the way of impact youngsters in the pipeline. Burke isn't starting at ground zero, but he can see it from where he's standing. The good news is, Burke, who has also served as GM of the Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks and Hartford Whalers, has been in a similar position in the past. As an executive, he's confident, vocal and decisive, and is not afraid to go his own way. His manoeuvring at the 1999 draft allowed him to select both Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, second and third overall for the Canucks, and, in his only season with Hartford in '92-93, he had the foresight to trade a raft of players and draft picks for an 18-year-old Chris Pronger.
Most significantly, he won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007 after taking over the club in '05. While the team already boasted superstar Teemu Selanne and up-and-coming Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, among others, when Burke came aboard, he signed all-world defenceman Scott Niedermayer (whose brother, Rob, was already with the Ducks) and pulled off a trade for Pronger, giving Anaheim perhaps the two most dominant defenceman in the NHL.
They they won the Cup with another hallmark of Burke's teams: toughness. "We require as a team proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence," said Burke, when asked what kind of team he wants to build in Toronto. "That's how our team plays." That brings us to another Burke quality: his ability to handle the media, sometimes with a great quote, sometimes with a shout-down. At his introductory press conference in Toronto, he was more than ready for the "how does it feel to be the Leafs GM" question.
"This is one of the most prestigious jobs in our game," he said. "You're talking about the Vatican if you are a Catholic. You are talking about the centre of the hockey universe. This is one of the crown jewels in the National Hockey League. It's an iconic brand worldwide and for someone to turn to you and say we want you to run this team? I can't really put it in words." Of course, ultimately there's only one result that Leafs fans will accept: a Stanley Cup championship. The person who delivers the next cup to the city will be forever revered in Leafs Nation.
And Burke knows it. "The guy who turns this team around and wins a championship," he said, "they're going to name schools after him". email@example.com
Updated: December 2, 2008 04:00 AM