September 6, 2010
Burke helping turn over new Leaf
By MACKENZIE LIDDELL, The Sports Network
In the past 12 months, the Toronto Maple Leafs have advocated change more than a campaigning politician.
Like a political party during election season, the Leafs are under constant scrutiny. And when the public loses faith in the abilities of the product, it's only a matter of time before an axe falls on someone's head.
First came personnel changes - out with the old and in with the new. Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White, Jamal Mayers, Vesa Toskala, Jason Blake, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Viktor Stalberg and Lee Stempniak were all victims of the winds of change.
Replacing these former representatives of the Blue and White are Dion Phaneuf, J.S. Giguere, Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Clarke MacArthur and Brett Lebda to go along with rookie hopeful Nazem Kadri.
Aside from Brian Burke's affinity for North American players, the polarizing General Manager made these moves to change the identity of a brand that was no longer feared, nor respected.
Much like the team he helped create in Anaheim, Burke's mold for success relies heavily on the pit-bull mentality of his players - a cranky, aggressive, never-say-die swagger.
Based on the moves he's made to date, there's no doubt the Leafs will be a much more formidable opponent in 2010-11.
But aside from a revamped roster, Burke's purge on all that was wrong with the club over the past five seasons underwent a cosmetic makeover as well.
Back in June, the club named Dion Phaneuf the 18th captain in team history and the first since Mats Sundin relinquished that honor after the 2007-08 campaign.
On the same day, the refurbished Leafs also unveiled new uniforms. This shrewd move not only symbolized the spawn of a new era, it buried all that remained from a punchless period where a paper-bag became a familiar accessory among fans.
To go along with a new roster, new captain and new uniforms, the Leafs also made a subtle change last week when they introduced a new paint job at center ice of the Air Canada Centre - a row of Canadian flags stretching the span of the red line.
Upon revealing the altered design, MLSE chief executive officer Tom Anselmi said, "It seemed like just another fun little way to express the patriotism of our team, our organization and our fans."
While it may be a minor nuance, it fits in perfectly with the direction Burke is steering this fledgling franchise.
The Maple Leafs have long been considered Canada's team, with all due respect to the Montreal Canadiens, and now Burke is pushing to put theory into practice.
But amidst all the patriotic posturing and restructured team values, success is only weighed in wins and losses.
If Leaf Nation is forced to endure another miserable season, the hope that was used to sell the change that has been made over the past year, could just as easily turn to pessimism and dismay.
Selling a vision is all well and good, but leaving a successful legacy is what matters most. For Burke and the Maple Leafs, this upcoming season represents the beginning of that legacy.
Although Burke is only entering his second full year on the job, if the change that has inspired excitement amongst fans fails, it will not only be devastating to the diehards, it will jeopardize a vision that has closely associated itself with Canadian culture.