Life of Brian stinks

ROB LONGLEY

, Last Updated: 3:04 AM ET

On the off-chance that any Maple Leafs feel inclined to take a shift off during the remaining games in yet another lost season, here's a sure cure:

Catch the highlights of Brian Burke's latest public message yesterday delivered, as always, loud and clear.

The Leafs president and general manager let it be known that even when it is expected and predicted, missing the playoffs will not be acceptable under his watch.

And in doing so, Burke set the tone for an off-season that promises to be volatile and void of guarantees for many who happened to be wearing blue and white against the Philadelphia Flyers last night at the Air Canada Centre.

"(Having) 17 guys under contract doesn't bother me," Burke said of the team's payroll heading into the off season. "If I have to ship guys out, if I have to trade guys, buy guys out ... I'm not going to be bound by the contracts I inherited.

"We will figure out a way to move ahead."

The big Irishman was in no mood to be cracking jokes about Slap Shot yesterday, even though the son of a Hanson brother, Christian Hanson, arrived in time for the morning skate. It didn't get better later in the day when the team was informed it was being sanctioned for improprieties in its signing of defenceman Jonas Frogren last summer.

The real irritant was the failing grade that arrived late Tuesday night when Burke's team officially was eliminated.

"Any day that you have to talk about not qualifying for the playoffs should be a kick right in the groin to everyone in the organization," Burke said. "I take it personally and professionally.

"This is a day that represents failure. My teams have been in the playoffs for seven straight years and (missing) ... it burns my butt."

While there's probably a cream for that, there won't necessarily be any quick fixes for a team that has missed the post-season for four consecutive years, a record run of ineptitude for the franchise. Don't expect him to bail out on the process, but Burke sees no reason why that streak shouldn't end a year from now.

"We want to be in the playoffs next year, it's that simple," Burke said. "That's the yardstick, the first measure of success in our league."

Burke said his team could have been in the thick of the race this morning if it weren't for injuries and shoddy goaltending for much of the season. He may have a point on that latter, especially considering the half dozen or so games thrown away by Vesa Toskala before his season was shut down for hip surgery.

"If we hadn't had devastating injuries on defence and we had more consistent goaltending, I think we would have been a playoff team," Burke said -- and yes, it was with a straight face.

"I think we played better than our record showed. I think we deserved better than we got."

Leafs fans have all summer to debate that one, while Burke and his management crew have a long enough to-do list, one that holds few surprises. Starting with the draft, now that the hype of having a shot at London Knights' phenom John Tavares has passed, Burke says fans can take a deep breath.

"We're picking where we think we have a chance to get a real good player for a long time," Burke said. "Not a guy who can play right away and maybe not a star, but we think there's talent there in the 10-12 (spot in the draft)."

Beyond that, and in no particular order, Burke said the defence has to find a way to be more durable and goaltending has to elevate itself to minimum major-league standards.

"And up front, we've got to get bigger," Burke said. "I'm tired of watching teams come in here and push us around."

And that may be the loudest message of all.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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