Burke-Leafs contract details could provide challenges

SCOTT MORRISON

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

So the window of opportunity is finally wide open.

Permission for any of the other 29 NHL teams to speak with Brian Burke was granted yesterday by the Anaheim Ducks, about a week earlier than most expected.

But just before Maple Leafs fans watch for a private jet to land at the island airport, for puffs of white smoke to emerge from the Air Canada Centre, and for Burke to walk across Lake Ontario to save the day, there is still some work that has to be done before the inevitable becomes reality.

It is called a contract negotiation.

Mutual desire is a great and wonderful thing but, like a marriage, at the end of the day there has to be more to the relationship than just pure lust. Now, it's hard to fathom the deal not getting done. Toronto is tops on Burke's list and Burke is tops on the Leafs' list. He is the right man for the job. But there are still land mines that could muck the works.

For starters, and Burke has made it abundantly clear, there are the key elements of the job, any job, that have to be worked out, beginning with control and independence. The powers that be in the Leafs board room have insisted they aren't meddlers, but how willing are they to guarantee that autonomy, with contract out-clauses and financial penalties if that policy changes?

That will be a big part of the negotiation.

And then there will be the ability to remove and add to the organization's staff. How freely can that be done? One would assume, if Burke gets the job, that he eventually might bring Dave Nonis in as his right-hand man. None of that should be an issue, however.

Then there is the matter of contract term. How many years are they willing to guarantee Burke? Most would agree the rebuilding job likely requires three to four years, at least. Then there is the fine-tuning time once the pain has been eliminated. This is a long-term project.

There is the money and the perqs. Are they prepared to pay the type of money the Raptors are giving Bryan Colangelo, or to make Burke one of, if not the highest-paid executives in the league, if that is what is required? You can argue that anyone taking on the Leafs job deserves a boatload of cash because of the magnitude of the role and the attendant pressures. But there is a limit and the NHL does not like inflationary triggers.

Finally, there is the matter of potential competition. As good as Burke is, we're not convinced the line will be long, effectively because of his location requirements. That limits the field. Boston management has said it is content with its front office, and it should be, based on early returns. How many others will enter the fray, though?

But there will be calls and conversations.

Anyway, the Leafs and Burke are right for each other and a deal should happen. It has to happen. But it may take some work and maybe even some time, though it makes so much sense it should be an easy process, one neither side can afford to mess up.

HEAD SHOTS

Just the like the hits, the discussion and outrage over hits from behind and hits to the head in the NHL are not about to go away any time soon. If at all.

Fact is, there always will be these horrible hits, just like the Tom Kostopoulos pancaking of Mike Van Ryn on Saturday night, or the elbows to the head we've seen in the past week, because there are no absolutes, meaning there are no deterrents that will guarantee change or eliminate bad decisions. Not education, not injury, not suspension.

You might reduce the number of incidents, but you never will get rid of them entirely. None of that is terribly comforting, of course, but it is the reality. Every year the hits happen, the debate is renewed, it won't go away. One thing the league could do is change the supplemental discipline process and determine that any hit to the head, any hit from behind that requires additional punishment, gets a set minimum number of games, say 10, and leave room for more games depending on the severity.

And perhaps you adopt the idea Leafs coach Ron Wilson suggested, of having teams play a man short for the duration of the suspension.

It can't hurt. The hits can.

TAMPA BAY WATCH

Yikes, things really aren't getting any better in Tampa, where the Lightning has lost three games in a row and coach Barry Melrose has been fired. Melrose, after a heated meeting, left his team on its own to practise with the assistant coaches earlier in the week, but the players clearly didn't respond positively to that. Next game they stunk in losing 4-0 to Florida, though they were better the other night against Detroit.

Lightning GM Brian Lawton has said he was going to take the past six games, which included a five-game trip, to evaluate his team. If there wasn't an appreciable improvement?

"At that stage the process is really simple for me," Lawton told reporters earlier. "You ask people if they want to be here; if they want to be a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning."


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