Leafs add to front office

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

When Gord Kirke first was approached to identify the next general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he had more than Brian Burke's name in mind.

Privately, he talked a lot about the Leafs building an organization and not just hiring the right leader. And at times throughout the search, he focussed on two operations he had become quite familiar with.

One was the Detroit Red Wings, who under Ken Holland's leadership, had amassed as deep an array of hockey minds in the front office as any in the game. The other was more familiar to Kirke. Over the years he had acted as lawyer, consultant and negotiator for the Blue Jays and had served as Pat Gillick's agent. Kirke was well aware of the type of operation Paul Beeston and Gillick ran in the championship Blue Jays years.

He saw that Gillick and Beeston were the perfect dance partners: At different times, and under differing circumstances, either man could lead, both men could follow. One could do what the other couldn't or wouldn't, and surrounding them were wise old baseball minds such as Bobby Mattick and Al LaMacchia and trusted scouts such as Moose Johnson and Bob Engle and Gord Lakey.

Gillick, the baseball man, and Beeston, the number-cruncher with the human touch, came to rely on the voices around them. Which is not unlike how Burke is running and building the Leafs.

The announcement yesterday that Dave Poulin was joining the Leafs as vice-president of hockey operations is not insignificant. It is another credible name for an organization building in the manner in which Kirke envisioned.

Burke is essentially the CEO. Dave Nonis is general manager without portfolio: He oversees everything. Poulin, the former Philadelphia captain and Notre Dame head coach, is responsible for pro and amateur scouting, the lifebloods of any organization. (In fact, in today's salary-capped National Hockey League, the role of pro scouting has taken on a far greater importance than ever before.) Jeff Jackson, a former practicing lawyer, is GM of the Toronto Marlies and salary cap expert and contract negotiator.

"The way it works is, Dave Poulin reports to Dave Nonis, and Dave Nonis reports to me," Burke said. "I think one of my strengths is I don't know what I don't know. That's why you hire good people, rely on their expertise, and listen to them."

It paid off for Burke when he was general manager of the Anaheim Ducks. His assistant GM was Bob Murray, who now runs the Ducks. Burke was negotiating to trade Sergei Fedorov to Columbus for Todd Marchant. Murray told Burke unequivocably: Don't make the deal without also receiving minor-league defenceman Francois Beauchemin.

Long after the deal was made, and after Beauchemin, now a Leaf, had become an integral part of Anaheim defence, Burke wasn't shy about telling anyone: "I didn't know anything about Beauchemin. Murph insisted we get him in the deal. He deserves the credit for that."

The same way Gord Ash deserves a lot of the credit for doing the leg work that ended up with Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter coming to the Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, a franchise-changing trade Gillick's wife never wanted to make.

But this is how the best organizations operate. With trust and belief. Burke wants to build a championship front office and says he would put the current Leafs front office "up against anybody's."

Poulin made every team he ever was associated with better. It didn't matter if he was player, captain, coach, or scout. He always has been a difference maker.

"We've already lost Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas," Burke said. "That's a compliment to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dave Nonis will be at risk next summer. We'll have to deal with that. I marvel at the New England Patriots The guys they've lost every year and they keep on winning. And that's what we want to do here. We want to be an incubator of front office talent and we still want to win and be competitive."


Photos