Will T.O. get its Christmas wish?

SCOTT MORRISON, FOR SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Christmas has come early for Brian Burke. Or at least the first wave of it.

Now, to see if it also will come early for the Maple Leafs.

Or should that be, when it will arrive for the Leafs?

It was Burke, you might recall, who said a few weeks ago he would decide closer to Christmas whether to accept the contract extension from the Anaheim Ducks that had been sitting on his desk for several months.

That decision actually was made at the start of this month, as it turned out, Burke choosing to not stay in southern California beyond this season. The announcement that he was relinquishing his general manager duties as a result followed yesterday.

That Burke stepped down after the decision was made, replaced by long-time assistant Bob Murray, was not a surprise and also was a no-brainer. Some observers had issues with Burke running a franchise amid all the speculation that he would be headed to the Leafs the minute his contract expired, even though there was no "proven" evidence of any tampering, just a lot of, ah, coincidences.

There was simply no way, then, once that contract decision actually was made, that he could remain as general manager knowing he was 100% not returning to Anaheim. Imagine the tremors that would have inspired.

But now the bigger question is: Will Burke be under the Maple Leafs tree by Christmas?

It almost has to happen, but it's also not entirely a lock.

Indeed, it was indicated yesterday that the Leafs, no matter how interested they are in Burke, and a few others in the hockey world, weren't aware of his decision (which he applauded himself for keeping quiet) despite the fact he spent the past three or four days in Toronto attending the Hockey Hall of Fame festivities and a sports management conference.

Once the Ducks file the paperwork and give Burke permission to talk with other teams, the Leafs will call. And they had better be first given all that has happened in the past year.

What makes the scenario even more intriguing, though, is whether there will be other calls.

Right now, the Leafs are the only team with a vacancy of sorts at the general manager position. Cliff Fletcher was anointed full time until further notice, but the plan was never to make that long, long term regardless of the fact Fletcher has done a good job. Everyone else, though, has a permanent GM, though that is fast becoming an oxymoron.

The mystery is whether other teams, knowing Burke is available, either make a play now themselves or if he even waits to see how the season unfolds anticipating other openings to materialize.

As much as working in Toronto would be a plus for Burke because of the proximity to his family in Boston and his wife's ambitions in Canadian television, there are other cities that are close to Beantown and that would make her commute to work less challenging than the thrice weekly trips she was making from Anaheim to Vancouver last season.

What about the New York Rangers? Might Glen Sather be thinking of being just the president, not the GM? Or, despite the early success of the Bruins, does owner Jeremy Jacobs believe he can upgrade and bring Burke home to his kids? That kind of speculation is exactly what Burke said he hoped wouldn't happen, but knows will happen.

Realistically, there aren't many teams with the wherewithal to hire Burke, but owners do curious things when there is a free agent available.

There is one team that has to make the pitch for Burke, unless he isn't the Plan A after all. Even then, can the Leafs afford to not pay the king's ransom they will to sign him and risk waiting for someone else?

Of course not.

Expect another early Christmas.

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THE DEAL WITH BRIAN BURKE

Born: June 30, 1955, Providence, R.I.

Education: Harvard Law

Playing career: Played seven games with the AHL Springfield Indians in 1977 and the entire following year with the Maine Mariners, winning a Calder Cup.

Coaching/management career: After working as a player agent, was hired by Pat Quinn in 1987 as Director of Hockey Operations for the Vancouver Canucks; In 1992, was hired as GM of Hartford Whalers and became NHL Sr. vice-president and director of hockey operations after being fired the next year; GM of the Vancouver Canucks from 1998-2004; Hired as VP an GM of Anaheim Ducks in June, 2005.

Accolades/awards: 2001 NHL executive of the year; 2007 Stanley Cup.


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