Burke not ready to panic

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

For now, Brian Burke will not react. The key words being: For now.

He won't trade from a position of weakness. He won't fire anybody. He might not even rant in public as can be his custom. He worked too hard in formulating this Maple Leafs roster, carefully and methodically plotting which pieces to put where, believing he was beginning to build something special, to do anything drastic just yet.

TRAIN WRECK

The truth is, he didn't see this train wreck of a season coming. In fact, he's so startled by it and so steadfast in his belief in so many of these Leaf players that he isn't about to anything desperate to a team that looks like it needs some desperate.

What's so wrong with Burke's Leafs? A better question might be: What's right with the Leafs? The answer: Next to nothing.

Of all that is confounding, though, in this early season dive is the play of the Leafs defence. That was supposed to be the strength of the club. Francois Beauchemin, the veteran, at $4.2 million US a year. Tomas Kaberle, the puck mover, at $4.25 million a year. Mike Komisarek, the hit man, at $4.5 million a year. Luke Schenn, the rock solid kid, at $875,000 a year. Ian White, underpaid and underappreciated, at $950,00 a year. And after that, the collection of Jeff Finger, Garnet Exelby and Mike Van Ryn, the extras and the injured at $8.5 million.

An expensive, experienced NHL defence at more than $23 million for the season. One of the highest-paid bluelines in hockey. Good enough for Beauchemin to get a Team Canada summer invitation. Good enough for Kaberle and Komisarek to be considered sure things for the Olympics come February, although the Komisarek ballot has to be in some doubt now. Good enough to not lose by tennis scores most nights.

Bad enough to have the Leafs in last place in just about every defensive category in hockey.

"I believe in the group," Burke said yesterday. But it is getting harder to believe, though.

It's harder when Beauchemin gets walked around not once, but twice, by Colorado rookie Matt Duchene.

It's harder when Kaberle backs up, and backs up some more, basically allowing some guy named David Jones, a career 12-goal scorer, to make him look silly on a Tuesday night goal.

It's harder when Komisarek takes dumb penalty after dumb penalty, followed by putting himself out of position to make a hit, followed by pinching when he shouldn't, and after the game says that the team has to play a simpler game. A good place for Komisarek to start: Himself.

And those are the Top Three.

Luke Schenn might have been in that group had someone not kidnapped him and replaced him with an inferior model. Last year, what made him so impressive was his poise, his physical presence, his ability to handle any challenge, and his uncanny skill to make tape-to-tape passes. So far this year, including the pre-season, not much poise, some physical presence, slow feet, slow reaction, and passes thrown with all the accuracy of JaMarcus Russell.

And when you add that kind of erratic play from the defencemen who are supposed to make a difference, with goaltenders who can't make stops or control rebounds, well, it's not hard to see why the Leafs have yet to win a game. What's still hard to believe is how badly, both individually and as a team, this group is performing.

It's up to Ron Wilson and his coaching staff now to fix the most fixable part of this Leafs roster. If they can't do that, they can't do their jobs much longer.

LIKES DEFENCE

This team was built from the back end out. Still, Burke likes this defence, hates how they're playing. He is also well aware that the goaltending is terrible and the coaching staff can't do a lot to change that except wait to see what Jonas Gustavsson serves up next.

For now, it is status quo for the worst team in hockey, with the time bomb that is Burke not yet ticking.

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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