Is Burke ready to tip?

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:01 PM ET

The clock is ticking on another lost and losing season and, as we have seen in the past, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke does have a rather flamboyant tipping point.

Burke and the rest of his management team havent reached that spot yet, nor are they prone to panic. But once the holiday break wraps up, dont be shocked if patience is soon at a premium.

As incredible as it might seem after a promising (if somewhat misleading) start to the season, the Leafs are actually in worse shape points-wise than they were after 33 games in the historically inept 2009-10 campaign.

Sitting in 28th place with 28 points, the Leafs have three points fewer than they did at the same point in that frustrating season, a fifth consecutive year outside of the playoffs.

It wasnt much later, you will recall, that Burke had seen enough and blasted apart as much of the roster as he possibly could, well before the trade deadline.

Projections can change dramatically with even a modest winning streak, of course, but the Leafs are currently on pace for a hair fewer than 70 points this season. Another implosion isnt likely, but changes cant be far away, either, if significant strides forward arent seen in the busy stretch that begins on Boxing Day.

The rebuild of the Maple Leafs was never intended to be done overnight, but Burke has made it known its time that the foundation gets a little sturdier.

Its a work in progress and were going to continue to work at it and evaluate, Leafs vice-president of hockey operations, Dave Poulin said this week. Were struggling, flat-out, but you want to make sure you have an accurate impression of what you have before you make any major moves.

Few would argue that these Leafs have more promise than last years bunch and there are mitigating circumstances to the woeful output. (But arent there, always?) There were plenty of games that could have easily gone the other way and lengthy injuries to Dion Phaneuf, Colby Armstrong and, most recently, Mike Brown havent helped. But again, rare is the team that doesnt have to battle injuries.

Even with a young group, though, its dangerous to believe too strenuously in empty rationalizations. The lack of scoring has become epidemic, for example, as only five Leafs players have more than four goals.

Were not satisfied at all with where we are, Poulin said. I dont think the players are and certainly management isnt and nor should we be.

Inexcusable lapses have cost them too many games and too many points. A putrid start here, a late goal to blow a lead there and the Leafs have squandered opportunities to ease their way into a respectable spot in the standings.

Its a bottom-line business, however, and in their past 29 games, the Leafs have won just eight times. Wilson said the other day that his team is somewhere in between the one that is struggling to win a game right now and the one that reeled off four in a row for an unlikely start to the season.

You can look at specific games and specific moments and you see thats how fine a line there is, Poulin said. We look at it the same way as the players do. You have to look at those mistakes and not look back.

So what to do now? Once the Christmas break is over, the Leafs will be put to the test immediately with back-to-back games twice in the following nine days.

Regardless of what the standings math shows at that point, Burke will actively be canvassing his fellow general managers to begin the latest phase of what he had hoped would be more accelerated improvement.

At the top of his wish list will be a big power forward that might be able to fill the Leafs most glaring offensive need. For the most part, the current crew up front spends far too much time on the perimeter making the few goal-scorers the team does have far too easy to stop.

What will be on the market when Burke goes shopping? Much to his frustration, since he arrived in Toronto two-plus years ago, its been tough finding serious dance partners to make a deal, but Poulin has a theory that could lead to that easing well before the trade deadline.

The tightness of the (Western Conference) probably helps us right now, Poulin said. There are teams that wont wait until the trade deadline because they will want to make a push much earlier.

Burke, as usual, will be listening. Probably is already.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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