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Burke and the status quo: really?

Recent posts you may have by-passed...but in case you're interested:

-Grading the Leafs Part I (goalies and defense) and Part II (forwards), VLM-style....

-Which Leafs would be featured on a Leaf "album" today? You should really check this out- so neat...

-Why fans will always be the weakest link in the hockey labour negotiations...


I’ll make this short today, because I’m primarily interested in your views going into training camp (I know, assuming there is one eventually) for the 2012-’13 NHL season when it comes to the Maple Leafs and their  roster.

Burke was quoted this week as saying he would “probably” go with the current roster as is.  That sounds like a change in direction from the end of last season, when it sure seemed as though he was acknowledging the need for major upgrades on a team that has missed the playoffs for almost a decade. (He did, in fairness, make the deal for van Riemsdyk this summer—though it cost us a young defenseman who, despite being heavily scrutinized and criticized here, may turn out to be a top-four defenseman on a better team….)

But Burke often changes courses, though he will then try to claim that he really didn’t.  Not sure it matters what he says at this point.  I sense most Leaf fans just want to see the promised improvement, now four years into his time here.

We probably need to make clear that going with the “current roster” can mean different things.  First of all, what is the “current roster”?  By the end of last season, it was something of a hodge-podge of names.  Wasn’t young Carter Ashton on the team?  So I don’t really know what the “current” roster is.

There is really only one goalie on the roster (Reimer) right now. If Scrivens is injured at training camp, for example, who is the other goalie? (Quick aside:  Burke says they might look for a goalie, but it's not "frantic".  He says they believe in Reimer.  But if you really and truly "believe in" your goalie, why would you look at all?  Are the Habs looking?  Are the Rangers or Kings or Buffalo or Phoenix looking?  I get that teams want to upgrade if they can, but it seems to me that you either believe you have a number-one guy or you don't....)

The defense looks set, but does that mean no Holzer?  I can’t believe that is exactly cast in stone one way or another.

We have so many third and fourth line players, I can’t conceive Carlyle and Burke really know exactly who fits where at this stage.  Is there room for Frattin or Kadri? Frattin and Kadri?

Is Colborne a given to be with the Marlies?  Would a big training camp catapult him above guys with “guaranteed” contracts?

I just have a hard time believing that this roster is “it”.  But if it is, are you satisfied with the addition of van Riemsdyk and not much else (same goaltending, same defense corps, same number-one center, though I don’t really know who it is, etc.) heading into a new season?

And is this satisfactory to you, especially given the “on paper” improvements by a number of Eastern Conference clubs?

If not, what do you believe Burke needs to do, once the CBA is settled?  For example, is the Luongo talk dead, I wonder?

I’m all ears.


  1. "If Scrivens is injured at training camp, for example, who is the other goalie?"

    Scrivens isn't even signed yet, so they will have to take care of that before training camp.

    Rather than view Burke as this guy who should be doing and saying everything perfectly...and then being disappointed when he does not....I try to look at Burke for what I think he is: an aging, imperfect human.

    Burke is on the negotiating committee so that is probably foremost in his mind right now. The team doesn't seem so bad to him at present, because presently there is no hockey season and we don't really know when one will start.

    However, if there is quick string of losses when the season does start, I guarantee that Burke will not "go with his current roster" for very long.

    He's probably going to give them some time to see what he's got. All along he will be talking up the team, even though he may privately be desperate to make a deal and working the phones.

    In those rare moments, a bit of his desperation may seep into a public statement or on camera moment and so Burke may appear to be somewhat inconsistent. But for the sake of getting a good deal and getting full value in an exchange, Burke will mostly be poker faced and not fully honest with the public.

  2. I was nodding along with your post tonight DP. Well said- thanks.

  3. MIchael,

    I guess that if we are being honest about who and what our general manager is, we would all agree with DP that he is indeed imperfect. Saw that Tyler Seguin signed a big contract this week. For more than Kessel is making per year by the way. I am pretty sure that I don't make that deal if I had a do over.

    Perhaps Burke is being honest when he says he is trying to make deals and there just aren't the deals available. He has stated consistently that he will not overpay. The worst part to me is that he is constantly flip flopping, one day its 'I will be making major changes', the next is 'I believe in the lineup we have'. Not to mention making serious efforts to land Luongo, while telling everyone who will listen that he believes Reimer is the guy. He could seriously use some communication training about staying on message with the media.

    As long as we are being honest about Burke. I think it is fair to point out how dismal a job he has done in evaluating the roster he has had. And put together at various points in time. From telling everyone that he has a playoff team, and gifting the Bruins with Seguin. To every year since then, where he has put together excuses instead of winning teams. The excuses are plentiful, 'If we put together the record since Phaneuf got here, we have the fifth best record.' 'I have never in all my time seen a collapse like that' There are so many more, lets move on.

    Burke, as Michael points out, is a smart guy. If he can no longer take other teams to the woodshed via trade, because the market has changed. He needs to adapt to that change and make deals that get his team to the promised land. If you have to give up an extra third liner, or a second round draft pick to get the guy you believe will get you there. That is exactly what you do. Markets, by definition are not static. They change via, you guessed it, supply and demand. He should know this, and more importantly, shut up about the price of doing business. MLSE is wealthy, they can afford it.

    If only we could trade promises Burke makes for playoff wins, am I right? When all is said and done Burke will be judged on his record. Not on who he leaves for his successor to put on the ice. It will be his record that we will hold up and evaluate. So far it is awful, and I fear that he is running out of time to turn the Titanic around.


  4. As you know, I've made my views on Burke known many times in previous posts- I want to hear from others today. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jim.

  5. Michael,

    I forgot to respond to your last question. No, I am in no way happy or satisfied with Burkes lack of action on the trade and free agent front. The Leafs finished 14th in the conference. And we get the small market improve from the inside bs, I am not amused at all. Even Columbus is willing to make big trades, yes they may have had to trade Nash and Carter. At least they tried to make a leap into contention by getting Carter and Wisniewski in the first place.

    Burke can believe in the group he has all he wants. Sadly, we have heard this song before. We know how that turned out. People, there is no saviour on the Marlies. If there was he, or they, would already be a Leaf.

  6. Given the unknowns of the new CBA and given that Burke's best two deals came out of the blue with no prior warning or posturing I guess I'm willing to give him a qualified benefit of the doubt.

    Having said that, I still have issues with Burke. There seems to be a definite lack of direction to his moves (or lack of moves). There doesn't seem to be any set plan to his moves. He has stated in the past that he was not interested in a rebuild but yet that was exactly what was needed.

    Burke has not adequately addressed the goaltender situation as both you and DP have stated. Although I like both Reimer and Scrivens, they are not sure things and an injury to either would be disastrous. All we have to back them up are Jussi Rynnas who did not look anywhere near ready in his two games with the Leafs and Mark Owuya who played the majority of his games with the Reading Royals last year. I thought we had the position of backup/mentor solved with J.S. Giguere but Burke chose not to resign him. Wouldn't his 2.28 GAA and .919 SV% have been pretty useful here.

    Burke's track record on free agent signings has been poor to say the least. Komisarek ($4,500,000), Armstrong ($3,000,000) and Connolly ($4,750,000) are signings that have squandered $12,250,000 worth of cap space that could have been spent much more wisely. The Connolly signing totally baffled me. Anyone who saw him play in the 2010-11 season could see that his skill set had diminished greatly (after numerous concussions I think the final straw was a face meets glass hit he took from Mike Richards in the 2010 playoffs) and to expect him to be a 1st line centre was ridiculous.

    I would also take issue with Burke over his handling of the coaching situation. I felt Wilson's time should have been up after the 2010-11 season. Instead of placing the blame for 3 straight missed playoff years where it belonged, Burke chose to make two assistant coaches the scapegoats. Then he gave Wilson a 3 year extension just before firing him (I guess he wanted to make sure he took care of his old college roommate). I'm not convinced that Carlyle is the answer (although I have my hopes) but I feel that Burke passed on the logical and best choice in Dallas Eakins. Eakins was successful with the Marlies and knew and had worked with most of the players on the Leafs roster. Burke's reason for not hiring Eakins was that he would not put a rookie coach in the Toronto pressure cooker atmosphere. I guess you have to do an apprenticeship in San Jose or Anaheim and then be fired before you can be hired by the Leafs.

    That brings me to a situation that both you and Jim commented on yesterday, namely that Burke, through his arrogance, seems bound and determined to operate under his own set of rules to the detriment of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has imposed a trade moritorium around the Christmas holidays, possibly missing out an deals that could help the team. He has also refused to tender offer sheets. If I am not mistaken, if he had offer sheeted Kessel it would have cost the Leafs a 1st, a 2nd and a 3rd round choice instead of the two 1sts and a 2nd that he gave up in the trade. If I owned the Leafs I would not tolerate a GM who is more interested in his image than in bettering the team.

    I had high hopes when Burke was hired but those hopes are eroding. His inconsistencies have made it extremely difficult to keep the faith.

  7. Hi Michael,

    Quite frankly, I'm pissed. I am sick of hearing "I like the team that we have". It has grown old. As you say, we are a decade out pretty much with no end in sight.

    Yes we have added van Riemsdyk, but he has averaged slightly less than 20 goals per year on a very good team. He may be a pleasant surprise but he may just as likely be another interchangeable part on a below average team.

    We are nowhere near where we need to be in net or in team toughness.

    Burke seems to have the attitude that if you disagree with what he is doing then you are obviously an idiot. This guy should be apologizing for the lack of success of his team. Instead we get condescension and bluster. The ESPN poll that listed the Leafs as the worst value in pro sports was bang on. We pay Porsche prices for a Lada experience.

    I am so tired of his act.


  8. You've covered all the bases, Pete Cam. Not much I can add. Now we need to see results. As we keep hearing, "this is a results-oriented business". That requires actual results.

  9. I hear you loud and clear, Brad (cbh747).

    I get that GM's and coaches always feel the need to put on a brave face and say things that they know aren't quite accurate. They want to inspire the troops and their individual players.

    I'm just not sure that Reimer, for example, feels any "better" knowing the Burke really did go after Luongo this summer. Burke obviously did try to make a deal with Vancouver, which is fine. But then to claim that they're happy to move ahead with Reimer sounds like he is trying to save face after not being able to upgrade at that position. (As I've said before, I happen to like Reimer...)

    It's a bit like Harbaugh in San Francisco trying to say they turned Peyton Manning down, that they wanted Alex Smith all along- when it was clear Manning did not choose them. (The New York Jets tried to say much the same thing...) Really? C'mon, who believes this stuff?

    I, too, am weary of the GM's hubris. I just want to see results, not empty, ever-shifting talk.

  10. PETE CAM:
    As far as draft picks go for an RFA, it does depend on salary earned (=quality of player)and that is why Burke gave up what he had to. He is not THAT stupid and when he made that deal you can't honestly say we were bound for 29th place. Knowing what you know now.. obviously not but we had nothing to give and we needed a high scoring top winger BADLY. That is also why signing an RFA for a non playoff team is plain dumb. Philly can do it all day.

  11. Hi Michael,

    I think it's fair to say 2 things...

    1. The roster has been changed. There's a number of players who are not coming back... Schenn, Gustavsson, Armstrong, Rosehill (probably), Crabb. So that's 1/7 of the blueline, 1/2 the goalie tandem and 3/7 or 8 bottom-6 guys. In are van Riemsdyk and McClement, and I think it's decided Holzer makes the team if he does not complete fail at camp. And, in fairness, the Leafs do have a number of young forwards in Ashton, Kadri, Colborne, Frattin who will compete for an open spot or 2, and we could see a guy like Matthew Lombardi released or retire.

    So what I am saying is we could possibly see a number of new line combinations dependent on how camp goes. I know that some guys would have to have great camps to knock out some of the veterans, but after wrist surgery maybe Colborne could win the 1C job, Kadri may impress, who knows.

    2. Burke has failed to accomplish the changes he wanted to with the roster. He talked specifically about upgrading at goaltender. No disrespect to Ben Scrivens, but there is no upgrade in net. And while JVR is a big body, and Colborne may make the team, there is no really 'size' addition in terms of bangers and crashers or increase in team toughness.

    I think though that it's time for the final test in terms of Burke and this team. I don't have a big issue with the roster now, other than saying maybe Connolly and Lombardi and a couple others could go and not be missed. But one thing Burke defenders always say is how he's added tons of developing talent. I think it's time to see if Burke has actually properly evaluated the talent he was left (Reimer, Holzer, Frattin, Kulemin) and added guys who can now play. We all acknowledge Gardiner is a keeper... can Kadri, Colborne, Ashton, and later D'Amigo, Percy, Biggs, etc, be players on this team... I think we'll see this season.

  12. My assumption hearing Burke proclaim "as is" is that it does not mean the same roster that took the ice the last couple months of the season last year, plus the transactions that have already taken place this off-season. I have posted before that I believe Burke is now ready to cash in his chips with a large stable of prospects, and the hope is that many of these prospects can make the jump full-time to the Leafs this year and make an actual impact.

    It's kinda hard to get too excited about the upcoming season with a belief that Kadri, Frattin, Holzer, and maybe the likes of Colborne or Blacker can take over roster spots and produce wins this year, but other than van Reimsdyk and Reimer proving their worth as bona fide top level players, that's all we have to work with.

    I can't blame Burke for not pursuing the mega-contracts on free agents. As much as he has been vilified for the Kessel trade, I also don't think it's fair to criticize him now for not pulling the trigger on another big trade like that now for Luongo. As much as Burke has already had a long time to turn things around, let's be honest, this has not been a particularly deep off-season of free agents and players available for trade. And maybe that's too bad on Burke, maybe he should have made a big trade earlier.

    Here's one thing I hate. Talking out of both sides of his mouth with the goaltending. As if Reimer and Gustavsson weren't screwed up enough last year by the votes of confidence followed by benchings on a seemingly constant basis, he now says Reimer is his guy while trying to land Luongo. Goaltending more than any position in sports is confidence, so how about letting Reimer know he's number one, and if he's going to pursue Luongo, SHUT UP PUBLICLY ABOUT IT!!

  13. For me the top 6 seems relatively set.
    Lupul, Grabovski, Kessel
    JVR, Bozak/Connolly, Macarthur/Kulemin

    With the addition of JVR a winger will be bumped down to the 3rd line (my guess is Kulemin.

    And I believe Bozak will once again beat out Connolly for a top 6 job.

    So the Bottom "6" could look something like this...

    1. Kulemin, 2. Connolly, 3. Lombardi,
    4. Steckel, 5. Mclement, 6. Brown,
    7. Frattin (1 way contract) 8. Kadri, 9. Kamarov

    So by my estimation there are 9 forwards vying for 6 bottom 6 spots. Somethings gotta give.



    I realize that compensation for an RFA depends on salary earned!
    In 2009 Phil Kessel signed for $5,400,000.
    The 2009 compensation figures were:
    2009 Compensation
    •$994,433 or below: No compensation
    •$994,434 to $1,506,716: A 3rd round draft pick.
    •$1,506,717 to $3,013,434: A 2nd round draft pick.
    •$3,013,435 to $4,520,150: A 1st and 3rd round draft pick.
    •$4,520,151 to $6,026,867: A 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft pick.
    •$6,026,868 to $7,533,584: Two 1st’s, a 2nd and a 3rd round draft pick.
    •Over $7,533,584: Four 1st round draft picks.

    Thus if Burke had offer sheeted Kessel my contention that we would have given up a 1st, a 2nd and a 3rd round draft choice is correct. I was not debating the merits of the trade, only that Burke's refusal to use the offer sheet made it costlier.

  15. Pete Cam:

    While you have many valid concerns in regards to Burke, I feel you're not being entirely fair.

    No one saw the leafs coming in 29th when they traded for Phil Kessel. We had just signed Gustavvson (The best goalie outside the NHL!)We had signed Beauchemin, and Komisarek two gritty shutdown defencemen (one competent defenceman and a pylon). My point is, that the leafs went from 12th I believe, and then added Phil Kessel, Beauchemin, Komisarek, Gustavvson, the logic would dictate that we would get better. Not bottom out.

    And as far as good Burke trades, Beauchemin for Lupul, and Gardiner.

    Kaberle for Colborne and a 1st...

    Anyway my points are the no one saw us bottoming out, and despite Burke's obvious flaws, there is some good in there too.

    And I would dispute Burke's philosophies are meant to promote his image, rather he is hesitant to use offer sheets because it can ruin trade talks in the future. His early Christmas break for example is meant to be a little bonus of playing for the leafs. Players want to play for management that treats them well.

    - Phillip

  16. I think, Anon, the issue that Pete Cam refers to is that Burke, as a supposedly outstanding talent evaluator, should have known the team that first year was not strong. No, we fans did not anticipate it would lead to the team losing the second overall pick, but Burke should have known it would be a high pick.

    No one here has ever said Burke was not a smart GM. But we have questioned particular moves. We have the luxury of second-guessing, but his job is to get it right more often than not.

    Thanks Anon.

  17. I think Burke must read Vintage Leaf Memories. I mention it and he gets on it the next morning:

    "The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed backup goalie Ben Scrivens to a two-year contract."

    Now I just need to think of what else I would like Burke to do.

  18. Great post, Mark. I agree that we are at a time when it is fair to evaluate things.

    The thing I feel is that all (or at least most) NHL teams have "prospects", no different than the Leafs. Prospects always look good at first. Who makes it through is what will determine whether Burke's "asset acquisition" approach has been truly successful.

    Thanks Mark. I appreciate your contributions here a lot.

  19. Tremendous post, Pete (Davies). Your last paragraph in particular resonates with me. Those who follow this space know I was hugely displeased with how Monster was handled. The faux "public" commentary and "support" from the GM was not helpful at the time. Your comment rings so true. It's happening again.

    We need the GM to talk less and just deliver results.

  20. Something indeed has to give Anon (Phillip). Too many third and fourth line guys.

    I guess part of the guessing game is whether Connolly will look good in camp and earn a "top six" spot?

    Thanks Phillip. Good breakdown...

  21. I guess you and I differ Anon (Phillip) when it comes to Burke caring about his image.

    He has spent way to much time talking about "on my teams", "how I do things" (way too much "my", "my" and "I") to make me believe he is anything other than a guy who indeed cares mostly about how he is seen. (Of course he wants to win- everyone in that business does...he's no different...)

    We are to believe he is this tough guy who doesn't care what anyone thinks, yet he constantly complains about and attacks any media people who dare criticize his moves.

    If he didn't care, why does he comment about that so much?

    I respect what you are saying in broad terms- and I have said here many times (so has Pete Cam) that Burke has done some good things. But I'm not building any statues yet.

    Thanks Phillip. You're always welcome to chat here.

  22. Well here is my suggestion for tonight:

    Game 2 of the 1987 Canada Cup on TSN at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt.

    Gretzky, Lemieux and Gilmour actually play on the same line during one point in the game.

  23. Here's how I see it.

    We all know that the team Burke inherited was a complete and utter joke. Also, the prospect pool was completely decimated. I don't think I've ever seen an organization so decimated from top to bottom. This was never going to be an easy road back to health and frankly I'm not surprised it has taken this long.

    Teams nowadays are propelled to elite status by their young stars on affordable deals making big contributions. For the Leafs those young players are Gardiner, Rielly, Kessel, Kadri, JVR, Reimer. If the team is going to be respectable in the coming years it is going to be on the backs of these players. But first they all have to become the players we need them to be - there's a lot riding on them.

    Sadly Kessel and Phaneuf will both be nearing the end of their prime years by the time our prospects bloom. It is for this reason alone that I would today go back on the Kessel deal if I could. Better to have a young Seguin or Hall who will be entering his prime roughly in sync with the other high upside prospects we have, than a sniper who's burning his prime years on a team stuck in neutral.

    As for sticking to the status quo, all I can say is simply: What does it matter? The window for this team does not open for another 2-4 years anyway in my eyes. What happens between now and then is just passing time. Frankly, I'd rather the team be poor and continue to stockpile some future stars than have absolutely everything go right and still only have aspirations of a hard-fought 1st round exit.

  24. I guess this is the dilemma, Mills. Just getting to the playoffs should not be the acceptable "high point" or goal. Fans expect much more.

    While I probably expected us to be further ahead at this point, I hear what you're saying.

    I think, as I've mentioned here before, the issue is more Burke building undue expectations in his early years here. (Every year we were supposed to be a "playoff team".)

    My concern is that, while the players you have cited are certainly nice players, I'm not sure we are really close to having the a) kind of truly elite talent or b) anywhere near the depth required all over the roster, to compete for anything close to a championship in the foreseeable future.

    Other teams have good young players, too.

    Thanks Mills. Good stuff.

  25. Long Suffering TML FanSeptember 13, 2012 at 9:35 PM

    Simple - Burke is a diplomat and salesman. He is great with the media, the league and selling private boxes. He is no longer a hockey ops guy, his judgment on players has been questionable at best (free agent signings, trading Versteeg, Stahlberg and the Kessel trade looks worse every day), and he is likely shut out dealing with half the teams in the league. It is time Nonis is named GM and given the room to build a team, and let Mr B shake hands and talk shit, which is his best suit...tie loosened of course, because of all that hard email he's been shovelling.
    PS - this is likely very close to what is happening already, but it's time to make it official and give Mr N the reins.

  26. I just wonder, Long Suffering TML Fan, if Burke would give up the decision-making post? As much as he respects Nonis, would he really be prepared to hand over the reins to someone else? What would Burke's job be, now that Anselmi is the new Peddie and overseer of the whole sports operation?

  27. Long Suffering TML FanSeptember 13, 2012 at 11:53 PM

    Burke would become President of the Leafs and governor to the NHL. Anselmi is President and COO of MLSE. Burke and Colangelo report to him...for now. Looks like they will bring in a new CEO of MLSE to run the show on behalf of Rogers and Bell. Look for Keith Pelley to take over MLSE Presidency within five years.

  28. Pelley is a name to watch for, sore sure, Long Suffering TML Fan. Makes sense.

  29. Long Suffering (did I mention exasperated?) TML FanSeptember 14, 2012 at 2:08 PM

    My only hope is we can stop listening to Burke's BS - flip flopping between 'we are upgrading', to 'we are fine as we are' etc. It is clear as day. Top tier free agents are not interested in this market and top tier trade prospects are not interested either. That leaves high draft picks (maybe like Tyler Sequin and Dougie Hamilton?...oops), and years of patience to develop them. Which is questionable given BB's age and his expiring contract. It's time to get a younger GM and coach to build and develop the core. Sorry BB - your bluster was so attractive, but the they say, is far from pretty.

    As a result, you get promoted to a level where you can do less damage, and let the next generation start doing the heavy lifting.

    Until then, I am afraid we'll be spinning our wheels in a pile of BB BS.