Leafs failing to win? Burke still believes

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 10:04 PM ET

Brian Burke has the go-ahead to send any Leaf player to the minors - essentially burying National Hockey League contracts - without clearing it with his bosses or the board of directors of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

And that could happen as soon as this week.

“If we keep losing, that’s the next step,” said Burke, in a lengthy state of the Maple Leafs interview Monday night. “If we’re going to struggle, we’re going to struggle with kids in the lineup.

When told he made the same proclamation in April after the Leafs missed the playoffs last season and the same proclamation prior to training camp with no veteran being dispatched, Burke answered with a question of his own: “Who would you bury?”

When it was suggested that Jason Blake doesn’t exactly pay his own way with his meagre goal scoring numbers and that he would be a candidate to be sent packing, Burke said: “Does anyone on this team work harder than Jason Blake? There has to be an element of fairness in this.”

That is the difficulty Burke finds himself in.

Some of this terrible Leaf team is his. Some of it was inherited. The mix of old and new has not worked out at all. And Burke, being stubborn stands behind his free agent signings and trades of the summer. In other words, if players are buried, they won’t be his acquisitions.

“It’s a fair comment to say that many of the moves I’ve made haven’t panned out yet at all,” said Burke. “(Mike) Komisarek had a slow start. (Francois) Beauchemin had a slow start. I would go back and sign them again Wednesday knowing they’ve had a slow start. I believe in them. I know what they can do. They’ve both played their way out of it and played well. But we went 0-and-7 while they found their game.

“When you’re the guy driving the bus, you get paid to make these calls. Virtually every one of them seems wrong at this time. Yet I don’t believe they are. I still believe in the blueprint. It requires patience.”

Patience isn’t something Toronto hockey fans or Burke are famous for. Burke approaches his one-year anniversary as president and general manager in hardly a celebratory tone. He didn’t see this tsunami of a hockey season coming. You can see by his eyes that he has had too many sleepless night in the first quarter of his first full season with the Leafs and the toll that losing has taken on him.

“How am I handling this?” Burke repeated the question. “Poorly. When we’re struggling, the first casualty for me is sleep. I don’t sleep when we’re losing.

“I don’t get caught up in the public pressure or what’s said or written about us. I want to win. That’s enough for me. I put enough pressure on myself without worrying about the other stuff. Losing eats at you. I would have thought the changes we made would have made a difference yet. The key word for me is yet.“

But time is already running out.

Burke won’t wait much longer. On the weekend he thought he was close to making two trades, including this odd deal with Chicago for Brent Sopel (as if that would make a difference). By Monday, both deals were all but dead.

“Listen,” said Burke. “I don’t like losing. It’s not Toronto (pressure). I wouldn’t feel any better about this if I was losing in Anarctica.”

And while the Leafs still aren’t set in goal and struggle offensively without a big league centre on their roster, Burke will not relent to any kind of pressure and consider firing coach Ron Wilson even though a case can be made for him to do so.

“I’m amused by stories I’ve read that suggest a coaching change is imminent,” said Burke. “Let me be clear about this. We’re not losing because of poor coaching. We’re losing because of poor execution.

“We’re not changing the coach. Listen, right now we’re dysfunctional. One night it’s the D that lets us down, the next night it’s the goalie, the next night it’s the centres. Whatever it is, we have to show some results. I think it’s starting to come together.”


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