December 15, 2010
Burke is a company man
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
EDMONTON — Tell us where you have heard this line before.
“If I had to make that deal all over again, I’d make it in a heartbeat,” Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke insisted Tuesday morning as he was surrounded by a cluster of microphones, notepads and cameras at Edmonton’s Rexall Place.
Oh no. Not another stance defending the Phil Kessel deal, is it Brian?
On this particular snowy Edmonton day, no, that was, in fact, not the case.
In this instance, Burke was referring to the blockbuster deal he pulled off last Jan. 31 that brought Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrik Sjostrom to the Leafs for Matt Stajan, Ian White, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers.
What else would Burke be talking about on this trip, given all the hype and hoopla surrounding Phaneuf’s return to Calgary on Thursday night at the Saddledome?
Sure enough, even the Edmonton media was abuzz about Phaneuf, the local boy who faced his hometown Oilers for the first time in a Leafs uniform on Tuesday night.
So, too, was the crowd in the building when Phaneuf opened the scoring for the Leafs at 5:55 of the first period, blasting a shot from the point that sailed past Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
While the several thousand Leafs fans in the building cheered the goal, there also was a loud chorus of boos that echoed throughout the rink, something Phaneuf can expect to hear again when he steps onto the ice in Calgary.
Check that. The jeers likely will be much louder at the Saddledome, a potential reaction Burke does not understand.
This isn’t the first time Burke has come to the defence of his captain. Back on Nov. 2, he slagged the handful of Leafs fans who had been razzing Phaneuf at the Air Canada Centre.
“Ten games into the season was wrong (to boo Phaneuf) and I still think it was wrong,” Burke reiterated Tuesday. “I don’t blame fans for (booing) but picking on Dion that early was wrong and I still think it is.”
“Dion’s got big shoulders, but I went to bat for him because I felt it was wrong. If you know Dion, he doesn’t need help from me.
“(Dion) didn’t ask to be traded out of Calgary. They made the trade and came to us. So, I have no idea why there should be backlash (Thursday night), but that’s the nature of the beast.
“He played good hockey there and he should be treated fairly.”
Burke was asked about allegations that the controversial defenceman allegedly was a bad influence in the Flames dressing room.
“We know exactly what was going on in that dressing room,” Burke said, referring to the Flames. “We heard all the stuff that was in the media, but we have ways of getting into the dressing room and whatever disagreements there were, we were satisfied Dion Phaneuf was a player who was could help our team.”
It’s one thing for Burke to back the Phaneuf trade which, arguably, is one of the better moves he has pulled off in his two seasons at the helm of the Leafs.
Where he opens himself up to more second-guessing, however, is his insistence that he still believes in this team, this coach, this roster, so much so that the post-season remains the club’s top priority.
That claim might ignite a few cackles among the disgruntled members of Leafs nation, but Burke stands behind his words.
“Every time I get passed by on the street, I get ‘1967’ all the time,” he said. “The guy on the subway, those (fans) have been living with it for 40 years now and I can’t do anything about the 38 years I wasn’t here. That’s what I tell them. But those fans have been patient and loyal like no other. They want to see results but that can’t change our blueprint for putting a team together.
“Our plan is to make the playoffs. It was our goal to begin the season and it still is.”
Phaneuf or no Phaneuf, that might be easier said than done.