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What I liked—and didn’t like—about the Leafs' activity (and inactivity) on deadline day…

Most of us have been mightily impressed with a lot of Brian Burke’s wheelings and dealings over the past three-and-a-half years when it comes to trades (UFA stuff, not so much, eh?).  He brought in Phaneuf and Aulie for a song, and the same with Lupul/Gardiner—though Beauchemin is a nice player and all. (The Kessel deal we can have fun debating for years to come...but it gave the team a much-needed offensive jolt at the time.)

So how did the Leafs do, this year, with regard to the last several weeks as it culminated in what is fast becoming the almost infamous "Trade Deadline" day? (Do you remember, before the cap, when “Deadline Day’” usually delivered on its promise of entertainment- and was a ton of fun?) Well, since the Leafs weren’t deeply involved in major deals over the past several weeks, and made only one move of some substance on Monday, there isn’t a whole lot to assess.  But let’s try, for what it’s worth.

First, on the actual  “activity” of the day...

Well, since it’s impossible (at least for me) to gauge how the young man they acquired from Tampa will turn out in two or three seasons, I can only speak to what we gave up, and that of course is Keith Aulie.

I have read (only sporadically, mind you) the views of others who follow the Marlies, who have opined that Aulie struggled mightily at times with the Marlies this season.  If that was indeed the case, was that because he was simply scuffling, like many young defensemen do, as part of their ongoing progression?  Or might it be that he was ticked that he was sent back to the farm, after playing key minutes with the Leafs at the end of last season?  Is his potential over-rated?

I can only discuss what I myself have seen in the young man.  I haven’t focused on when I’ve seen him in action with the Marlies, in part because I think it’s a mistake to make too much of how he has looked at that level, when in his heart he probably feels he should be playing in the NHL.  But we could argue this point back and forth, I realize.

When it comes to how he has performed with the Leafs, I can say that there where were times, last season, that I honestly felt Aulie was playing well enough that—as I posted here on more than one occasion—I thought it was possible that someday, we would refer to the Calgary transaction as the “Aulie trade”, rather than the “Phaneuf trade”.

Now, this season, when he has been up with the Leafs, I thought I noticed a modest drop off in his performance, but I have to wonder this:  did the Burke/Wilson decision to make an example of him (they seemingly felt he showed up last fall thinking he had a job won, and under-performed at camp as a result…) and ship him back to the Marlies impact his confidence, and therefore, his performance?

Oh yes, I know the whole meritocracy thing that the Leafs keep harping about, and by that supposed “standard”, perhaps Aulie dared to make an assumption about playing time that no young player of less than superstar status should make.  I get it, I guess. 

That said, it’s not like this organization has necessarily always been consistent in applying this principle across the board.  Otherwise, Gustavsson, based on production and performance, for example, would have been playing much more than a struggling Reimer (who I love, no e-mails, please) earlier this season.  And certain third and fourth-line forwards I shan’t name would be up in the press box (oops, I know it’s already over-loaded with millions of dollars of poorly spent money already on most game nights…) or down with the Marlies, and youngsters like Frattin or even Colborne and Kadri would have been here sooner (in Frattin’s case) or would be here now, methinks.

But that is all more debate for another day.  So I’ll just say it flat out:  I think Aulie will be a good, maybe even very good NHL defenseman.  I hate giving up young defenseman, period.  But I particularly dislike giving up a 22 year-old “D” man, who has size (which you can’t teach), a ton of upside and who was good enough, at 21, to play alongside Dion Phaneuf a year ago—and at times, help make Phaneuf’s game better.

Will Alie be an All-Star?  I’m not suggesting that.  He is hardly a gazelle on skates, but many tall, lanky defenseman take years to reach their full potential.  But those with talent, and I believe Aulie has that, well, when they do reach their ceiling, they can be imposing players- and awfully important on a good team.  Aulie won’t become Larry Robinson or Chris Pronger, but he will be pretty good, I sense.

So Burke’s rationale is, as I heard it….we have lots of defensemen in the system, so Aulie was expendable because we got back a big, young center.  Yes, that’s Carter Ashton, a recent number-one draft pick.  Now, to be honest, (and as Pat Burns once said about Bill Berg, after the Leafs acquired the annoying to play against but effective forward—and Burns coached in the league, so as a mere NHL observer I can surely get away with it, too…) “I wouldn’t know him (Berg/now Carter) if I ran over him”.  Now, as hockey assessments go, that’s a pretty poor one on my part, I acknowledge.  So, I will leave it to others who have actually seen Ashton play a lot convince me this was a good deal. (I can’t help but think of the guy we got from the Devils a few years ago, who was supposed to be somebody-Suglobov, was it, in 2006?  Yeah, yeah, different-type player, I know…)

Now, I applaud the idea (and Burke has done this well during his time in Toronto, with Gardiner and Colborne as prime examples) of acquiring a prospect that scouts have actually seen play at the pro level.  They have already got past the draft stage.  They are older, more mature and more physically advanced.  That, to me, is far better than getting a draft choice, and then guessing on an 18 year-old.

But this guy better be something, or I think we’ll be missing Aulie at some point.  Remember this:  All the hopeful talk of “all those good young guys down on the farm” is just that right now—talk.  And often times it's not based on any degree of certainty.  Until those Marlie guys show they can play in the NHL, I could care less.  Plenty of guys have great junior careers.  Almost as many look like good prospects in the minors.

I’ll take Aulie, who has shown that he can play in the best league in the world. He has a long way to go before he is an NHL regular, perhaps—and certainly many strides to take before he could ever be ready to be a “shutdown” defenseman.  But, on a modest sample size, he’s a minus 3 in 57 NHL games, playing on average about 17-18 minutes a game over that span.

And I’ll say it again.  He’s a defenseman.  And he’s still growing.  And he’s only 22.  And (that’s a lot of “and’s”…) he has already played—well, at times—in the NHL.

Two injuries on the blueline (and boy, have the Leafs been fortunate with injuries again this season…) and we may not feel so smug about our blueline “depth”.


What I’m glad about:

  • we didn’t trade Gunnarsson, thankfully.  (That said, I’d like to see Gunner step his game up a bit.  I just feel he’s been off for a while.  Maybe it’s a team malaise thing, I don’t know. He can be better.  I keep pumping his tires here, to paraphrase Luongo...)


What I would have liked to see:

  • If Zack Kassian was on the table, and the Canucks were willing to give up Cody Hodgson, how did the Leafs not get in on the young (now former) Sabre winger?
Hodgson is an emerging young player.  We all remember his junior days and the high expectations.  An injury and a seemingly off-the-rail relationship with his first NHL employer ensued, but the kid can play.  He’ll certainly help Buffalo, if he can come to grips with being traded for the first time in the NHL.

Would Kadri have been enough to get Kassian?  Would you have made that deal?  I would have.  The Leafs desperately need a talented enforcer.  They have no one like Lucic in the system, though some have mentioned Devane to me, as a young guy with a physical dimension who can play. 

Yes, Kassian will have a particular (and likely limited) role in Vancouver, we assume, and that includes protection of the Sedins, etc.  But at only 21 (like Kadri) I believe Kassian, a former 12th overall pick, has a future.  I’m not saying he’ll be Cam Neely or Lucic, but he sure would look good in blue and white, a guy with sandpaper in his game.


For me, the most disturbing quote of the day came from Burke after the deadline, when he said something along the lines of, “When we’re playing well, skating, moving the puck, etc..., we’ve been dominant….we were the best team in the East for a while…”  (Please check against the actual quote.  I realize it is not verbatim…)

Ah, I missed that period when the Leafs were the best team in any division this season, much less Conference.  I’ve seen good moments, absolutely.  I’ve seen the speed, the good puck movement, albeit generally against teams that were letting the Leafs free-wheel.

But as some teams have turned up the heat, after the All-Star break—and most clubs are now serious about putting things into that next gear and fighting for their playoff lives (and for first place in their respective divisions, etc.)—does anyone think the Leafs look like the best at anything?

And I’m not just referring to the recent slide.  All teams struggle for a while, then they win a few games, right the ship and all that.  That’s normal.

But it’s delusional thinking, if Burke really means it, to think this team, and this roster, has, at any point, been the best team in the East this season.  C'mon.

Yes, this team is better than it was during the Ferguson years (though nowhere near what it was during the Quinn years, which also, we forget, came on the heels of some dreadful seasons and was quickly "re-built").

But to say they don’t need help, that they didn’t need to get better (as he was asked directly during the Q&A) in order to make the playoffs, well, that’s something to hear.  I guess we have to follow the bouncing ball, but, If we’re back to accepting squeaking into the playoffs (or not) and then having our hat handed to us by a good team who will be playing grinding, tough, playoff hockey, then as I’ve said here many times, yes, we can absolutely make (in the crappy East) the playoffs.  In fact, we should.  There is absolutely no excuse not to, not given the parity that exists- and given that some teams, like Montreal, Buffalo and Washington have been much worse than most expected.

Three-and-a-half years into an “I’m not interested in a five-year” re-build, if you can’t make the playoffs in the very mediocre Eastern Conference, you’ve done something dreadfully wrong.

This isn’t just being “negative”. Not at all.  We can all see that Burke has done some awfully good things.  But once and for all, I’d like the GM to say what he means and mean what he says.  (I know I’m in the minority here.  Many love his abrasive attitude and his proclamations…) I just feel as though there is so much crap flying sometimes I don’t know when I should duck.

My questions for Burke, simply, are:

Is your goal the playoffs this season or not? (Of course the simple answer is yes...)

Well, if you’re saying this roster (and its goalies) are good enough to get you there—and to play well once in the playoffs and win at least a round once you’re there, great.  But then, don’t bitch and complain (you or the coach, thanks) when the inexperienced goalies you depend on wet the bed, or the team struggles.  The team is what you have made it.  It is what it is.  Young, improving—but filled with weaknesses, especially evident against good opposition.  There is zero veteran leadership here.

I’m not suggesting Burke should have done more before the deadline, or that he had to.  But please, no need for spin.  The team is what it is.  He likes the coach?  Great. He likes the goalies (except when he and Wilson are complaining about them.).  Perfect.  I hear you.  He likes the team.  Good.

I like some of the team, too.

But while we all praise Burke for his wonderful long-term approach, and not “giving away the store” or  sending away precious assets, the team will be life and death, it appears, in his almost fourth full season on the job, just to make the playoffs—again.

I recognize that some fans don’t care, and are focused on the long-term prize of winning the Cup someday.  Which is the proper goal, yes.  But as a fan (having watched the blue and white re-building movie many, many times before, sometimes with men just as capable as Burke at the helm), there are times when I want to say, “wake me up when we’re almost there”.   Because, right now, when we play good teams, we sometimes show that, when it will finally actually matter, at playoff time, we’re not anywhere near good enough.

And after the “two month” trade deadline, as Burke referred to it, with Aulie gone, we now have one less NHL caliber player on the roster.

I know many will disagree.  Go for it.  I respect your views, so let’s chat.


  1. Holy, sounds like one of my angry rants. I actually thought I was writing it but then realized I can neither be that eloquent or that right (just ask my wife). I really don't have much to add to this Michael, it is about as spot on as any opinion I have read today.
    The one thing I will say is all the excuses this management team has is really starting to get on my nerves. Now Burke is saying he wants to put a 10 day freeze on trading at the dead line like he does at Christmas. Apparently the team has played poorly the last 3 weeks because the trade deadline upset them. To that I say Bollocks with a capital B. Is it any harder to play baseball in New York, football in Dallas or socer in Manchester? It is just another excuse and frankly that is all I have been hearing lately from the leaf brass as yet another season spirals out of control. Its never thier fault always someone elses. I'm sick of excuses, I want results. This team is not good enough, the coach is not doing a good enough job and the GM seems to be looking for stupid reasons to explain another lost year. Like you said wake me up when the credits are ready to roll because I have seen this movie before.

    One last thought, I felt the Leafs would be fighting for 8th place this year. This is right where they are so why does this year feel like yet another lost year? For the simple reason that I didn't expect the rest of the Eastern Conference to basicall implode. If you had told me before the season the Montreal, Buffalo, Winnipeg, Islanders, and espicially Washington would all have bad to horrible seasons, I would have placed a very large wager on the Leafs being in the playoffs. To be in 10th with 20 games left in such a season feels like a giant step backwards to me. It is a giant wasted oppurtunity wasted. If only it wasn't for those terrible goalies(according to Wilson) and that pesky trade deadline (according to Burke) the Leafs might be in the cup final. Oh what a cruel fate.

  2. Do you think the Leafs tried to get Ben Bishop?

  3. 27leafs....Good question. I don't know. Some seem to love the kid, others aren't as excited. Ottawa keeps making moves to improve their club- or at least try to.

  4. Not to sound like I'm trying to blow smoke back at you, but I couldn't agree more with your post, Willbur. (I guess we all enjoy like-minded people and opinions, eh? If only our wives understood!)

    I'm sure you remember the much-quoted Burke expression, "no complaints, no excuses". Lately (ever?) that is so far from the truth. For me, just another example of the public "crap" we're being sold.

    Again, I'm not unhappy with a lot of what Burke and company have done, but let's not build statues just yet. We've already had a bouncing ball kind of year it's this, the next year it's that. "I have no patience for a five-tear re-build...". Well, we are well into year four. Now, he is all about "patience". Which is fine. But then admit you were wrong. Say it. Don't skirt around the issue, as he has. No one will care. Just acknowledge. But it gets annoying when a GM tries to make it sound like has all these principles and philosophies he goes by (as though he invented them...) and then you don't really see it in action.

    Burke built from the back in Vancouver? Really? He is credited with doing such a fine job there. How many playoff series did his team win there in six seasons?

    I love your comment about the Yankees, Cowboys and Man U. Exactly.

    The Leafs have been very fortunate these last two seasons when it comes to injuries. (I look around and see other teams have been decimated by injuries, yet they are competing for playoff spots, too.)

    And you know I concur with your last point. It's not that "just" barely making it into the playoffs would a failure. It's that so many other teams have fallen off the map, and we will still just only, it seems, get into 8th place.

    Oh well...

  5. I am a little disappointed that Aulie was traded.

    He seemed a blue chip prospect with size. He will have long NHL career. Not Pronger but maybe like another tall guy, Kjell Samuelsson, who played 14 seasons, 123 playoff games and won a Stanley Cup

    Though I didn't mention him on my list, but Aulie was one I wanted to keep. He is still developing. I thought Aulie could replace Schenn if Schenn was traded in blackbuster deal...or when Komisarek's deal expires or he gets traded near the end of his deal, Aulie could easily take Komo's place.

    The only way this trade works out is if Carter Ashton plays well and soon. I actually saw Ashton play a live NHL preseason game and he scored a goal and looked quite good.

    However, I am not sure that Ashton will turn out to be as valuable as Aulie. Only time will tell. I have a bad feeling on this one. I wish they had traded another asset.

  6. Thanks for a good post, DP. Having seen Ashton in action yourself, you have more insight than I do as to what he may potentially bring to the table.

    You well echo my concerns a bout letting Aulie go.

    Obviously, Toronto's NHL scouts like what they saw in Ashton. But plenty of scouts like plenty of players who don't end up having an impact in the NHL.

    As always, we won't know how this one will pan out for years....

  7. Well, much as I like Aulie, I think this trade will work out OK. I was sorry he didn't make the team last fall, but the fact is - he didn't. Gardiner did, and that was that. Now, I like big, hitting, stay-at-home defencemen as much as anyone, but we've got Gunnarsson, Schenn, Komi, Franson (who's been hitting more) and some prospects on the Marlies that many seem to feel are ready for the A squad. What we don't have is power forwards, and Ashton seems to fit that bill, from what I've read. For all the negative things one might say about Burke, and you've said them well in this post and others, he does seem to find gold in them thar prospects. I'll be interested to see how this trade pans out.
    The other minor leaguer trade may also be interesting... but I don't know enough about either player to comment.
    One thing's for sure - I know you, Wilbur and I (amongst other VLM'ers) are on the same page about Burke and Wilson's "meritocracy". So the Leafs better play really well from hereon in, or we can all wonder why management is so attached to a bunch of underachievers, and why someone like Kassian - who seems to be the kind of player we lack - wasn't attractive to us. And please don't tell me we couldn't afford to have given up Kadri in some creative deal there.

  8. Now as for the rest of Burke's performance:

    He didn't do something rash like trade a first round draft choice for Paul Gaustad...imagine if Paul doesn't sign with Nashville...a first rounder for renting Gaustad! That puts the Kessel deal in a much better light.

    However there were good players out there.

    Instead of trading Aulie, I am actually somewhat disappointed that the Leafs didn't take this opportunity in a sellers market to trade away some veteran guys to make future places for the younger guys.

    If the Leafs had traded a Lombardi or Armstrong for second rounders to make more space for Kadri and Frattin or Colborne and given them a chance... I would have been ok with that.

    Dominic Moore, Gill, Kubina, Johnny Oduya, Grossman...all those guys got their teams at least one second round pick.

    Carter Ashton was a second round pick!

    Let's hope standing pat gets them into the playoffs.

    At least Winnipeg and New Jersey lost tonight.

  9. The Aulie trade put a foul taste in my mouth for the rest of the day. OK, so he'd fallen to eighth or ninth on the depth chart. Heaven forbid a young defenceman take some time to put his game together! Would Ken Holland and the Red Wings move a young prospect, especially one who's shown anything at the NHL level, just because they also had other young prospects on the farm and 50 quality games of another young guy on the big team? Of course not.

    Then again, it could have been worse. The Oilers traded Tom Gilbert, their best defenceman, for a minute-eating, shot-blocking physical defenceman in Nick Schultz - who plays less minutes, blocks less shots and hits less than Gilbert, who can also lug the puck. Why? Because the Oilers got 50 quality games out of young Jeff Petry this year, and there are some decent-looking kids on the farm. At least Burke is dealing from the BOTTOM of our depth chart, not the top.

    Ashton feels like a very "Brian Burke" player, in the sense that he has some size and is a little tough. You know, the whole "truculence" gimmick. He also has the TSN-approved pedigree as a former first round pick. To me, Ashton projects as a bottom six winger, the kind who are a dime a dozen every year in free agency (or $3 million for one if you decide Colby Armstrong is the one you want, I guess?). A poor man's Zach Kassian, if you will! I don't really see how that's worth a potential Hal Gill type. Oh well. At least everyone else stayed.

    I completely agree with both Michael and Wilbur when you two say this season feels like a waste. To me, the worst thing is that I'd finally started believing things would be different this year and then the wheels have seemingly come off again.

    I don't think all is lost and who knows, maybe the team will put together a nice few games and be right back in it. But after years of just expecting the worst, having this year's team finally sell me on themselves midway through the year and then win one game in three weeks in the middle of the playoff hunt, it feels like cruel and unusual punishment.

  10. I enjoy reading your blog everyday. Thanks.

    Good point on possibly trading Kadri for Kassian. My first thought was yes, but upon further thought I think we need the offensive potential of Kadri more. He has the creative ability that is very rare in our system while we have several young agitating players similar (but weaker versions?) to Kassian.

  11. Thanks Gerund O'. Can't argue with your point on the trade. My only other point is with regard to (which I briefly touched on in the post) is injuries. It feels like we have a lot of depth on the blue line now, but that might be an illusion, given a) how the team plays some nights and b) how fortunate we have been in terms of injuries.

    But as you said, the new guy is a power forward, by all accounts, and we sure need that, sooner than later.

    As for meritocracy, well, let's agree that a lot of os are confused...

  12. DP...I hear you on Gaustad. But let me say this (and you may disagree, of course!): I like that Nashville is going out on a (small?) limb. They want to win- and convince their own fans and players that the care.

    Nashville will probably pick 25th in the draft. I'm not saying there aren't a wide range of nice young players to choose from at #25 or thereabouts, but plenty of guys picked at that level don't even make it.

    I'm one of those (out of touch, I guess) observers who loved that the Leafs for example, went after Owen Nolan years ago. They actually thought they could win a Cup. When was the last time any of us felt that way?

    They gave up lots, but when you actually see who has done what in the NHL, was it really that much? Not for a shot to bring in a determined, tough player like Nolan was at the time, in a shot at winning what really is the thing that matters- a Cup. (And not just "making the playoffs....that's a pretty low bar.)

    For me, there is a big difference between trading a top 3 or 4 overall pick, and a late first-rounder.

    Anyway, just my perspective.

    As to your point on not trying to get first-rounders for the guys you mention. If we are to believe what Burke is implying, they did receive first-round offers on a bunch of guys. (His informers were no doubt pitching that notion to the media, to make Burke look good in the eyes of the fans, that we wasn't giving up on the season...)

    So yes, they maintain the status quo, and feel they will make the playoffs. So do I. But to me, this team still has about 8 fourth-line players on the roster or up in the press-box every night (or at least they are playing that way).

    Thanks DP.

  13. Dave S.- great post, top to bottom.

    Yes, I'm not sure what the Oilers were doing on that move. I've always liked Gilbert. Flawed, like most defensemen, but seemingly a productive, talented, hard-trying player, no? Of all the things they could have tried to do (like move Hemsky a few weeks ago to help with the "re-build" and save some cap space) they swapped two defensemen straight up. They must know what they're doing, I guess.

    I nodded (and smiled) throughout your third paragraph.

    And yes, they should make the playoffs. Everyone continues to fall all over themselves in the East, so it should be very do-able.

    I just want less smoke and mirrors.

  14. Thanks for the kind comment, Unknown.

    You make a very fair point on Kadri. Let's hope he gets the chance to deliver on his promise next season.

  15. Michael - yesterday & todays blogs were spot on.

    I agree, Aulie will be missed but I remember being impressed with Ashton at the World Juniors held in Buffalo.....unfortunately we will have to wait 2/3 years for the real results.

    I think the Leafs can make the playoffs if they can figure out how to defend from the centre-line back in short order. I'm also of the opinion that Burke said what he said yesterday to motivate his players; do some damage control from the feeding frenzy comments Wilson has showered the press with lately - I really do not like his style.

    In our current situation, my dream next BIG signing would be acquiring Ken Hitchcock.......

  16. Agree. If the team is not winning the cup and going to be tossed out of the first round then make trades to improve the future of the team.
    Burke did not improve today and did not improve the team in the future (swapping aulie for carter was a sideways move). He should have made more effort to improve the team in the near future by trading non-core players (players that won't be on the leafs in the next few years) for near prospect (or picks) and either turn those picks/prospect into NHL player or near NHL players. That is, Kaberle for 2nd + prospect + 1st. Then turn 2nd into liles.

    Instead he did nothing to improve today or improve the future.

  17. Thanks David...

    You are no doubt right that Burke was pumping up the troops.

    The reality for me, on that note is, is he can no longer keep playing the game that he hasn't given Wilson a "good enough" team to move up in the standings. If he played that card any longer, people would (quite rightly) be looking past his blustery words and at his own track record...Florida has made major strides since Tallon took over, and he's been in Florida nowhere near as long as Burke has been here.

  18. You know I think I've figured out what my problem with Burke is. It is the sense that he thinks he is smarter than the rest of us. The fact the he has won a stanley cup means the rest of the world doesn't know squat. The sense that despite the lack of results here in Toronto he is still never wrong and us fans are just dumb little sheep that should fall in line with his brilliance.

    Even his arguments are infatile. For instance he argues that the last 15 games the penalty kill has been really good. This means that his coach was always right and the players just started to listen so the last 15 games trump the first 285 under Ron Wilson. Fine lets take his argument the power play is in the top 10 this year after 3 years of bottom 3 in the league. Well since January the powerplay is deadlast in the league.So by his own argument this trumps the first 2 months of the season. You can't have it both ways.

    Second for all the supposed depth we have in the minors how much is blue chip can't miss prospects? I would argue none at all. There are a couple maybe top 6 forwards in Colbourne and Kadri, if everything goes right although neither will be a top 3 forward. The top 1-2 defenseman, not likely. What we have is a whole bunch of guys who might be solid third liners, some like Frattin whom maybe fitted for short time second line duty. My point is this, the farm team looks a whole lot like NHL team. A lot of decent parts with a couple of good pieces but no superstars. I'm not sure I really see what Burke has stocked that deserves the praise and adulation he gets. It is an average job at best in my opinion.

    As for Nashville trading a late round first rounder. That is a whole different kettle of worms than a top 5 pick like we gave up for Kessel. In fact the team that has traded thier first round pick the most in the last 15 years is Detroit. The late round first round pick is the most overrated pick in hockey. A top 5 pick is is the mosty valuable pick in hockey.

  19. said it well, and way more succinctly than I did.

  20. Willbur- You are absolutely correct. It is clear to me that his behaviour with the media is yet another smokescreen. He is not just forever putting them "in their place" for daring to tiptoe around the halls of MLSE and ask impertinent questions, but he is telling the rest of us: "you people have no clue. None. I won a Cup."

    Well, my answer is simple- as I posted in some detail recently here, he has, yes, 1 Cup in his 13 years as an NHL General Manager. That one was won on the back of Bryan Murray's outstanding work in Anaheim. (I wonder if he was offered a ring, as Tallon should have been in Chicago...) Did Burke help the process? For sure. But again, I'm not building any statues here.

    Some love his attitude. Fair enough. We all have the right to our own views.

    For me, it's reached the point where he and his coach are simply un-watchable.

    I mean, did this guy invent the position of General Manager or something?

    Deliver a championship, by all means. But could you do it a bit more quietly, please?

    To your important other observations, yes, your second paragraph is "checkmate". We're being hit with more obfuscation daily.

    Depth? Yes, we have plenty of that.

    But as a close friend used to say to me, when I was a much younger Leaf fan in the '70s, and I kept trumpeting this notion that we had all this great young depth...he would simply say, "Mike, there's a difference between having young players, and having really good young players."

    Of course, he was a smug Montreal fan. But while it was annoying to hear it was- and still is - true.

    And I agree, as I posted earlier, about trading a late first-round pick. That's partly why I never got myself bent out of shape when the Leafs traded the 18th or whatever overall pick to bring in an Owen Nolan. Hell, aren't we trying to win a Cup? If we miss out, it doesn't mean it was a mistake. We went for it.

    But if you take a risk and you do "win", wow. It's a feeling for a lifetime. We say we "won" the Kaberle deal with Boston. And yes, we did. But Boston got what they wanted- an experienced defensemen (as mediocre as Kabby played there, and has since...) who made at least a modest contribution to a Cup. A CUP.

    Even if Burke wins a championship here, he will only equal what he already helped the Bruins achieve, via Seguin and Kaberle. And we haven't even seen Hamilton at this level yet, as a young stud, "D" man.

  21. an entry full of passion/emotion! i love it!

    i think i'm okay with aulie leaving town. i get the feeling leafs fans really become obsessed with our own talent-pool (from the big leagues down through the prospects). you admitted not knowing much about carter... i sure hadn't heard of him... but we both are very familiar with aulie (have any bruins-fans heard of aulie?).

    i am breathing a huge sigh of relief that burke didn't strike-out like casey at the bat yesterday. a HUGE sigh of relief. i was fully expecting to want to blow my brains out with a story like 'brian burke has acquired rick nash with his huge contract, in exchange for our first round pick every year through 2015, nazem kadri, joe colborne and mikael grabovski. he also traded for veteran (ie. old) goalie in exchange for luke schenn.'

    the thing that bothers me about burke, and you alluded to in your entry, is how he bloviates to the media. living in the states, i kind of see a bit of newt gingrich in him... someone who's very intelligent and knows what to say/when to say it... but is he being honest? i don't get that feeling from either newt or burke. leafs management is probably worried (rightfully so) that an honest appraisal of the team to the public is going to sink the morale of the team/fans etc.

    wilson... probably needs to go. hopefully burke will hire someone to coach who isn't just his 'buddy,' in the future. i'm convinced his friendship with wilson is the only reason he's lasted this long.

    so to sum up...
    i'm happy burke didn't do something totally insane yesterday, butttttttt i'm a little disappointed he didn't make a move for kassian (as you pointed out), or make a splash of SOME sort. ah well. and yeah, i would've traded kadri for kassian STRAIGHT UP. maybe i'm nuts.

    by the way... from the buffalo perspective, my sabres friends are VERY happy to have kassian gone (he 'underperformed' they say). these guys have fallen into a fallacy/bias... hodgson's upside may be great, but his team has been VANCOUVER! kassian has been playing (ONE year) for... the sabres! talk about LACK OF PATIENCE (with kassian). i AM impressed they got a 1st round draft pick for paul gaustad though.

  22. Well Michael the most disappointing thing about the deadline is that we had[according to Burke] an opportunity to pick up FOUR! firstt round picks and didn't get one. As Burke himself has stated in the past he didn't want to squeak into the playoffs and get their butts kicked so if we get in it will be just that. If the Leafs had played .500 hockey in the past 9 games we could still look at this team as currently constructed and come to the conclusion that it wasn't ready to win a championship. The foundation is laid but is still wanting. As I mentioned in a previous post I would have taken the picks and called up some of the Marlies to fill out the roster.And the talk of having our own deadline in order to spare the players of the recent trauma, pleaseeeeee give me a break. If you are not up to hearing your name mentioned in rumours you should get out of Dodge. What a lame excuse for the recent poor performance. We must be a laughingstock in the league! I wish someone would pay me millons of dollars to do something I love, I would gladly hear my name over and over. I hope their feelings are healed up enough to play against Floida tonight. I felt we should let Wilson go but after Burkes press conference perhaps he should go to.

  23. To be fair to Burke, there was a point early in the season in early november when we were first in the conference. There was a period actually for a week or two where we were first or second in the conference along with pittsburgh. In fact, on the fifth day in november:
    the leafs were first in the entire NHL.

    Ah...remember, remember, the fifth of november.

    Anyway, I was definitely a tad disappointed with Burke. I do understand the thinking that maybe the confidence he showed the locker room by standing pat may provide enough of a spark to get us into the playoffs. It may be enough to right the ship with Reimer. I remember after the loss to the Caps, Phaneuf was particularly vocal in the post-game interviews about how he believes in the team and the players in the room and not-so-subtly hinted at his desire to not see anyone go.

    That said, I'm absolutely appalled that the Leafs were unable to make any kind of trade with any significance whatsoever. I think I'm ok with the lack of acquisitions, but not even being able to dump off even a single junk contract is pretty disappointing. If there were allegedly 3 teams interested in Armstrong, I simply can't understand how we don't have a now-expiring contract or even a 4th round pick.

    The most disappointing thing however was Burke's lack of movement on the goaltending front. I think Reimer is still the future, and I understand Burke's affirmation that Gustavsson may have saved the season. Gus did that, but the combination of Reimer and Gustavsson in the last month have without doubt sent this season directly to hell. If this team doesn't make the playoffs, one need look no further than the absolutely abysmal goaltending over the last month in order to find the catalyst for the Leafs' late season collapse.

    I think that Burke has pretty much set himself up for a do-or-die offseason. Had the Leafs made a first-round exit this year thanks to a couple moves made by Burke, he would be hailed as the season-saver. This off-season however, *when* the Leafs are home early in April, Burke will really have heightened expectation for the time leading up to and including the draft.

    If the Leafs do not do most if not all of these things:
    a) Fire Wilson (right or wrong, it must happen)
    b) Acquire one of Harding/Schneider/Lindback
    c) sign at least one of Suter or Parise
    d) resign Grabovski
    e) get rid of the contracts of Armstrong/Komisarek and likely one of Lombardi/Connolly
    f) resign Kule *VERY* cheaply and resign Franson

    I think people are going to begin to seriously call Burke's credibility as GM in Toronto into question. The fans are tired of partial rebuilds going nowhere. If Burke has given the team his vote of confidence now and Wilson fails to get the job done, I cannot see how Burke can possibly justify keeping Wilson around.

  24. Thanks Alex C. Tremendous post. I enjoyed it a lot and you covered some important stuff.

    I hear you on Aulie. Yes, we have seen him and I don't know anything about the new guy. Obviously the Leaf brass likes Ashton.

    I will say, again, though, I think Aulie can play (and well) in this league. We'll see. I'd like to think I'm not one of the Leaf fans who always "over-rates" the locals.

    Interesting comparison with Newt. (I'm not a big fan of bluster or condescension, in politicians or sports executives...)

    As I said earlier, at some point Burke has to stop blowing smoke and saying "I haven't given Wilson a good enough team". After three and a half years, you better have built a good team. That's his job.

    And yes, I'm not surprised by the Kassian talk in Buffalo. Of course, I don't have to think back too hard to remember the Canucks, in the '80s, giving up on a former first-rounder in Cam Neely. That didn't work out too well for Vancouver. Neely went on to become a Hall-of-Fame quality player, a bruising, talented forward.

    Not suggesting that is Kassan's future. But at 21, he has time to get better. (As does Hodgson, of course!)

    A first-rounder for Gaustad will depend on who the Sabres actually pick. If the young player has an impact some day, good. If not, well, I guess they were going to lose Gaustad anyway in the summer.

  25. Hey Derek. Well said.

    I'm not necessarily a proponent of having dealt off four guys for four number-ones in return (though I'd like to know who was giving away first- rounders for some of our guys...that has to be Maple Leaf "spin". How many of our guys are really worth that?)

    That said, it would have depended on what teams were offering picks. If it gave us a 29th overall, big deal.

    I guess what I see as key in your comment, Derek, is Burke's continued inconsistency. He goes on about not wanting to squeak into the playoffs and getting hammered in the first round, but that is precisely what this team is built to do and have happen.

    So since the "end game" is being a serious contender every year, starting next season, maybe it would have made sense to grab more picks/assets in return for under-performing roster players. (I don't have a strong opinion on that one; again, so many variables). I'm more interested in following the bouncing ball in Burke's world.

    We keep being sold on the notion that the future is bright. It better be. But we are NOT two pieces away from being a Cup team, unless those pieces are Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr in their primes.

    With regard to your reference to Burke's creating "our own deadline" talk. You said it perfectly. They have to be kidding. While I have loathed the singling out of fragile, inexperienced goalies as a "tactic", this latest thing just smacks of yet another excuse when the mantra was supposed to be "no complaints, no excuses...".

  26. Clearly articulated Darryl. I can't add anything. But a lot of things to ponder.

  27. good call on cam neely michael... can you imagine if the leafs had a bruiser like neely in his prime? actually wendel clark seems like the quintessential brian burke player... can he come out of retirement? haha.

    burke... made the mistake when he was first hired saying all the nonsense about NOT doing a rebuild, and making a run for the playoffs within the first year or two of taking the helm. he should have just followed the advice my dad gave me.... 'keep... your mouth.... shut.'

    my sabres fans are convinced that their newfound confidence in GM darcy regeir is going to lead them to trade BOTH of their 1st round-picks, in an attempt to score a quality-player before (or on) draft-day. ::sigh:: bon chance!

  28. Alex C...I'm with you re following your Dad's advice. Partly why I respect David Poile, for example. He did a brilliant job in Washington and now for years in Nashville- with little money and ownership issues. No false promises. No excuses. He just does a great job, doesn't talk like he's the second coming or boast about it. He just does it.

    As for the Sabres now, well, if the new owner (or fans) wants/want to believe this has saved an otherwise stunningly dismal season (given their off-season spending and big expectations) well, OK. Leaf fans have seen that "promise of later success" movie more often than I care to recall....

  29. I have not read the comments yet, as there is a lot to read, but I found a lot to agree with in Michael’s post, although I do see a logjam on defence, and am hopeful about the scouting of Carter Ashton. I would compare the Leafs’ recent performance to watching Humpty Dumpty fall off a wall. My instinctive reaction is to avert my eyes. I have not been able to look at what has been written in the past week or so, which I assume was largely (present company excluded) typical goaltender scapegoating, when, in reality, the team play from crease to crease has been abysmal, and the source of the problem lies with management error. Please excuse me for not following the debate, and at the risk of being repetitive, I would give my take on Humpty’s abrupt fall.

    At the beginning of the descent, I fretted about the decision to force Reimer back into first string duty when Gustavsson was on a roll. My reasoning was simple, Reimer did not appear ready; he looked like he needed more time to fully recover from his “undisclosed upper body injury”. Trying to will Reimer back to peak performance was a head coaching and/or management error, presumably based on past performance and contractual status as a relatively cheap, yet high performance part. I must sound like a broken record, but a hockey team performs more like an organism than a machine, you cannot just slot in and out parts at will, irrespective of the entire organism. Reimer’s struggles affected the entire team, and the management decision to reward performance (except if you are a goalie on an expiring contract) almost certainly upset Gustavsson’s rhythm and concentration. Indeed, Wilson displayed an almost uncanny ability to start the wrong goaltender on the wrong night, or at least that was my gut feeling for a now long stretch. I am not sure if these bollocks came from Burke or Wilson. If it was Wilson, it shows a stunning lack of understanding of goaltending as a team position. If it was Burke, it was overreach, bad management in directing the coach’s hand.

    At the end of the day, you have a confused and de-concentrated Gustavsson, who as a Swede with their, let’s face it, inbred sense of leadership, muddled and thrown out of his rhythm by our ham-fisted goaltender management. On the other end, you have Reimer, whose confidence and psyche has become thrown off due to a snowball effect of not being fully recovered and willed to perform beyond his present ability. What happens when the goalies are mismanaged so egregiously? We have all seen the result, the entire organism stops working as well as it can. Can you blame the Monster for believing that superior performance would be rewarded? That is what all hockey players want. So, was the meritocracy idea a guiding principle or just convenient rhetoric at the time?

    Where does that leave us? Sadly, with the Leafs’ soap opera beginning to sound like the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    Sadly for everyone concerned, all the king’s horses and all the kings men are going to have a difficult time putting Humpty Dumpty together again.

  30. Bobby C....that's so well-stated I won't ruin it by trying to add much! (But let me just slip in...the line "it means just what I choose it to mean..." fits the current Leaf management communication style perfectly.)


  31. Lots of great comments and views on a very thought provoking post, Michael.
    One statement by Wilbur got me thinking. He said we have no future first line players on our Marlies AHL team. OK, that may be so.
    But, are there ANY future first line players in the AHL at this point in time? If so, who are they and who has them?
    If there are no such players in the AHL now (although I think there must be SOME), where are they going to come from - the junior draft? I can see Taylor Hall, Stamkos, Crosby, etc. all arrived this way but were all first line players now in the NHL all able to move from junior/college direct to the NHL? Which NHL first line players now playing did not play in the AHL but came directly from Junior/College or Sweden/Russia to the NHL?
    Lots of questions but no answers from me. Just wondering if we are selling our prospects in the AHL a little short - including Carter Ashton?

  32. Fair questions, Ed.

    There are so many routes to the NHL. Some guys are instant "first-liners". Some take years to build to that. Some jump from junior. Most play in the minors at some point.

    While you raise a very good point about possibly selling our prospects short, the other side of the coin, I guess, is that, as fans, we tend to build unrealistic hopes around all these guys with "potential". And often, we end up with just that- prospects who once had potential, not NHL players.

    Good post. Thanks, Ed.

  33. I couldn't wait for the game to end this evening as I feel a sense of hopelessness with this team. They are still making excuses on the broadcast for this team,now they need to get out on the road away from everything. It is obvious to me that they need to change the coach or they may not win another game this year. I feel the year is lost I hope I am wrong

  34. Hi Derek,

    The "need to get on the road" thing has always been used by teams when they are struggling. To a certain extent there is truth in this, but it's also a camouflage, covering up deeper issues...

    Thanks. Hang in.

  35. First, I have no interest whatsoever in having Kassian on the Leafs. I've seen him play here in PTBO and he has an even higher capacity for mayhem/destruction (both self and to others) than another PTBO head-case, Steve Downie, did. Vancouver will regret this trade in a bad way when Hodgson thrives and turns into a long-term 1st liner in Buffalo and Kassian costs his team so dearly with the wrong fight or dirty hit at the wrong time that Gillis will be desperate to get rid of him. Regier had to have blown out a huge sigh of relief not only at unloading him, but at getting a 1st for him AND Hodgson. Kassian is not now, nor will he ever come close to being a Milan Lucic. Period. The only caveat is that Gillis seems to like signing the dirtiest, most revolting players in the league, and the league seems to like having teams like that succeed all the way to the SCF.

  36. Second, I find this stirring of the entrails of every single word, sentence, pronouncement and thought of Burke's to be kind of.......I don't know- like a lot of people are much more determined to see themselves "right" by being convinced the GM is a failure than they are encouraged by where the team is going. I don't particularly care much what Burke says unless it's amusing or interesting, as that is it's only value. I can't imagine a position where every single word you ever said would be combed over, and over and over, by so many people who want you to fail or "prove" that they are smarter. A lot of whom are totally dependent on the Leafs for their occupation (media), and many others that are fans who seem to be desperate to able to see the one person who can bring about success for the Leafs as a failure. Just weird. I know for a clear and unarguable fact that Burke is, in fact, much, much smarter and tougher than I am, with a volume of experience in hockey and hockey circles that is vast. Whether he's smarter enough and tough enough to bring us a Cup, well, we'll see about that. All of us would last about a single day in his position before either snapping outright or quitting in terror, I think. I don't think Burke is above criticism or incapable of making a mistake, but the fact that vast sections of the Leafs faithful are ready to chop him at the block is......insane. With simply average goaltending and better team execution this year, we're not even having this discussion.
    As far as Wilson is concerned, fire him, don't fire him, whatever. I think Burke may as well let him go now, to see if we can get a little boost for the end of the season with Carlyle or someone else. I don't think Wilson has a future here beyond this season for sure, but I think it's both that's his time is over AND that he's just fed up. I know I would be, unless everyone else has been watching some other last 10 games than the ones I've seen. Horrible, horrible game execution by our goalies and defense, who have been trained all year that we're playing fast, attack hockey and yet we go down 2-0 in the first 5 minutes, on miserable excuses of hockey play and saves. And yet they don't quite quit, but the hole is just too deep night after night. And this is the day after your GM just gave you the biggest gesture of support he possibly could have. It's inexcusable. My brother reminded me of Pat Burn's first game as the Leafs' coach vs. the Habs after Montreal tarred and feathered him out of town and Killer and Wendel said to him- "don't worry, coach, we got this." And then went on to put it all out there and beat the Habs for him.
    And when the Leafs went to SJ this month or had a critical game vs. the Caps, or, like tonight, RW's 1400th game? Flat on their faces. They simply can't, or won't, play for Wilson anymore. Who knows which it is, but his time is over.
    Harding won't cut it. Schneider? Maybe, maybe not. People better than I am at goalie assessment can figure that one out. Lindback is no more proven than Gustavsson is. We need a top ten NHL goaltender, period.
    Last thought- if Aulie ever does become a top-4 shutdown D-man, guess what? We can trade for him again or sign him when he becomes a UFA. See, Quincey, Kyle and the Red Wings. Aulie cost us nothing and we got yet another 1st rounder back, who might turn out to be a great 2nd line minute-chewer with an edge. Sift, sift, sift, until you find the gold. Trade deadline priorities-
    1. Don't hurt your team.
    2. If you can't make a big help trade for your team, make any number of small help ones.
    3. Don't hurt your team.

  37. Thanks KidK. I hear you. While I agree with much of what you say, we see things differently on Burke. But I've said my piece, as you have.

    Thjs is, as they say, a results-oriented business. Three and a half years in, the results are poor in Toronto.

    As for Kassian, again, we'll see. You don't like what you saw of him as a junior. Time will tell. Sometimes players mature and get their heads on straight and become impact players. Many don't. We'll see.

    Thanks as always.

  38. A little late to the party, but...

    I also liked Keith Aulie. I remember him from World Juniors, and when Burke had acquired him I remembered liking him. Seeing him play the last half of 2010-11, I thought that he could indeed be a solid, shutdown guy. Certainly, he still could... probably will. It is very difficult with young defencemen to sort out who/what they will become.

    Still, I like this deal. As much as I say sometimes we're guilty of overrating what we have, I try to guard against underrating what has been traded away. In terms of Keith Aulie, a thought enters my mind: here's a big-body kid, fairly highly regarded, and he's now in his 3rd organization. That does happen, it's not always an indictment of a kid (look at Versteeg, now in his 5th organization). Yet, Calgary felt comfortable enough to move him along. And now the Leafs saw him as somewhere around 8th-10th on the depth chart, and moved him again.

    We do have to remember something. We'd all like to see Komi moved out, but reality is, he's a $4.5M player with a NMC. Some would like to see Dion or Schenn gone. But these guys are going to play, they are going to figure in the top 7, no matter who is in the prospect pool.

    The thing with Aulie is, he slipped under Gardiner, and from all reports, Holzer and Blacker also (I have a feeling if Lashoff wasn't hurt, he'd have slipped further down). Maybe he would have won a spot on the NHL roster next year. Not to devalue Aulie, but I wonder about him, in that you see Schenn and Gardiner, and management decides that they can live with the mistakes those 2 will make as they develop with the NHL team, yet Aulie is sent down. Does that make sense? What Luke and Jake can do makes up for the issues you know you'll have as they learn the game. With Keith, he's not at that level, not this season.

    But, the Ashton deal presented itself, I think you have to make that move.

    Funny enough, (and I don't follow junior all that closely) Carter Ashton is another kid I recall seeing and really liking during the WJHC. From what I have read, he's a big body forward, and he's actually better defensively than offensively. You can't teach scoring, but maybe he can be taught how to pick up garbage in front of the net. I'm not salivating at the thought of it, but let's imagine 3 years from now, if everyone develops as we hope, the Leafs could have a top-9 that includes Kessel, Colborne, Ashton, Kadri and Frattin - a decent mix of size, skill and grit.

    Admittedly, Ashton is a late-first-round pick, and that means he has holes in his game. But, my honest thought is Aulie and Ashton are on a similar level in terms of NHL-readiness. Given the Leafs' blueline, next season is fairly automatic I think: Phaneuf, Schenn, Gardiner, Gunnarsson, Franson, Liles, Komisarek... and if one of them is moved, Holzer, Blacker, Mikus, Gysbers are in the mix. Aulie could end up being a solid guy in a few years, but he might have been on the outside looking in for a year or 2 in Toronto anyway.

    Sounds quaint, but I hope both Aulie and Ashton turn out to be good NHLers. This could turn out to be a good 'hockey deal'.

  39. Glad you added your thoughts on this one, Mark.

    I agree on the whole Aulie question...while I certainly, as I posted, like his "potential" and what I've sometimes seen, we don't really know what he will be. Might be a solid, stay-at-home guy. Might, on the other hand, be a 7th defenseman. So hard to project.

    And yes, there is the hope that the Leafs, with Ashton in the fold, will indeed have a nice mix of skill, size and grit.

    I second the notion of it being a deal that works for both clubs.