Can Brian Burke really deliver in Toronto?

December, 1, 2008
On Saturday afternoon (a fitting time for a wedding of sorts), the Maple Leafs and Brian Burke finally tied the knot with a six-year deal worth a reported $18 million. The team responded to the news by beating the Flyers 4-2 in a game that included a pair of fights. That had to make the new boss happy.

Burke certainly will have a nice honeymoon period in his new gig. I figure most everyone understands there's a lot of work to do to turn the Leafs into a legit Cup contender. At some point, though, the expectations of all concerned (ownership, fans and Burke) will be for a championship.

So, the logical question is: Can Burke deliver?

Well, sure, he can do it … eventually. But, obviously, it won't be easy. Stanley Cups just don't come easily.

After previous managerial stints in Hartford (remember the Whale!) and Vancouver, Burke was able to lead Anaheim to a title in 2007. Burke is quick to admit he walked into a pretty good situation in that case. The club had already drafted future stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They already had Conn Smythe-winning stopper Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Plus, they had an ace in the hole (Rob Niedermayer) on the roster when it came to signing free-agent stud Scott Niedermayer.

I thought Burke's best moves in the O.C. were defining the way in which he wanted his Ducks to play, dealing Sergei Fedorov to create much-needed salary-cap flexibility and working quickly to acquire defenseman Chris Pronger from Edmonton.

On the downside, his post-Cup decision to sign free agent Todd Bertuzzi turned out to be an expensive bust that pushed a capped-out roster to the brink. If nothing else, the Bertuzzi signing proved that Burke can be loyal to a fault. (Bertuzzi played for Burke in Vancouver.)

In Toronto, the American-born GM will face tougher challenges. When the honeymoon ends (and we know it will at some point), execs within Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment might quietly push another agenda. That has been part of the problem in Toronto -- too many conflicting agendas.

Burke isn't inheriting any young offensive studs like Getzlaf and Perry, and he doesn't have a proven goaltender or any future Hall of Fame defenders like Niedermayer and Pronger on the current roster.

I don't think Burke will have an easy time in Toronto, but he's an energetic guy who seems up for the challenge. More importantly, he does bring championship experience and smarts. That's a good start. He'll probably need every ounce of both commodities to get the Leafs to where he wants to take them.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.



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