Brian Burke, very likely to be named the next GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, talks with the media at the Lester Patrick Awards Luncheon Oct. 22 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)
Some pairings were destined to be.
The fashion world and exhausting pretense, for instance. Or Gary Bettman and the inability to acknowledge any negative aspect of his hockey league. Or borderline criminal awfulness and Kate Hudson movies.
Or Brian Burke and Toronto.
When Burke is named president and GM of the Maple Leafs sometime in the next few days, team ownership will have the man it wanted all along, and the man it wanted will ascend to claim the title of what still can be – if performed properly – the best off-ice job in the game.
You think LeBron James going to the New York Knicks in a couple years makes sense? That is more akin to the Leafs’ legendary idiocy in refusing to sign Wayne Gretzky compared to the natural, mutual, gravitational pull that exists between Burke and Toronto.
And immediately after Burke’s signature lands on the contract offer, the first noise Toronto residents will hear is the near-orgasmic rejoicing of local reporters and sound-bite junkies as all their dreams start coming true.
The sound that follows those joyful yelps will likely be one of the growl jobs Burke has become famous for over the years. But don’t think Burke is coming to Leafs Land with any degree of reticence or regret. He is as thrilled to work in one of hockey’s ultimate Meccas as Leafs fans are to have a proven winner running the Blue and White show.
Toronto fans certainly should be excited. When it comes to an advocate and an architect for a hockey team, there’s none more passionate, none more proud, none more dissatisfied with losing, than the Irishman who always looks like someone swiped the fourth leaf from his clover.
That’s not to diminish the contributions of outgoing Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher, who did yeoman’s work in clearing the deadwood and zeppelin-sized egos out of Toronto’s dressing room – and more importantly, paring down the payroll to give Burke as clean a financial slate as possible.
Unfortunately, Fletcher is at the wrong end of his Hall-of-Fame management career. Burke, on the other hand, is smack-dab in his prime and will be completely in his element as up to 400,000 cameras, microphones and Internet-stained wretches follow him daily with the Leafs.
There’s no doubt he could run into some of the same issues – ownership’s unwillingness to trust completely in their top hockey man; and some area opinion-makers holding blatant personal grudges against him – his predecessors have faced.
But Burke’s situation is fundamentally different, because he arrives in Toronto at an odd point in the history of the Leafs franchise.
The team’s current ownership conglomeration has tried just about every road to a Stanley Cup championship (including the one mapped out by veteran GM Pat Quinn and the one traveled by neophyte boss John Ferguson), but all they’ve had to show for it are frustrating stumbles and aborted endings inside complex mazes that bring to mind Jack Nicholson’s freezing to death scene (spoiler alert!) from The Shining.
Because Burke’s new corporate patrons have demonstrated they haven’t the slightest clue how to put together a perennial contender, they at last seem prepared to surrender every inch of control to him. There will be no further power grabs or learning curves, at least at the hockey operations level, as long as he’s in charge.
Naturally, there’s no assurance Burke won’t fail with his first major trade or free agent signing. But at least he has the confidence in himself and his staff to place some big-time bets.
You can call that attitude cockiness if you want; I call it self-esteem – and if you look at the GMs who win Cups on a semi-regular basis (e.g. Lou Lamoriello, Burke’s mentor, and Ken Holland), you can see that’s a personality trait mandatory for success in the NHL.
Brian Burke and Toronto. Toronto and Brian Burke. It’s got a certain ring to it.
And if one particular ring winds up being placed on the fingers of Leafs players under the incoming administration, Burke’s next job title will be His Holy Highness, Eternally Infallible Emperor of Ontario’s capital city.