January 5, 2011
Is Leafs GM's job safe?Reasons Peddie won't fire Burke
By BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
TORONTO - No arrival short of The Second Coming was awaited with keener anticipation and fanfare then Brian Burke's ascension to the throne of the centre of the hockey universe.
When he arrived in Toronto in November of 2008 the media and fans looked at him as a modern-day Moses. Richard Peddie's Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment sang the Hallelujah Chorus.
Okay, so some of the same thing happened surrounding Ken Dryden's hiring, but while he could write stuff, he didn't have the right stuff. It was kind of like hiring Hemingway to actually fight the bull. Besides, he didn't have Burke's experience.
And, don't even get us started on the train wreck otherwise known as John Ferguson.
No, Burke was different. Brusque. Demanding. A man who suffered no fools. A man supposed to be immune to political infighting, a drafting wizard who could find Sedin's where before there were only Hammarstroms, a wheeling-dealing demon who could turn a sow's ear into Duck Soup fit for sipping from a Stanley Cup.
He had the ring to prove it. Never has an entire city and its hockey culture been so infatuated and besotted with the arrival of a potential saviour.
And, going on three years later, like the Second Coming, the dawning of that better Burkian Era has yet to arrive. A Leafs' Nation awaits. It wonders. It vacillates. It weeps; for the imagined saviour has morphed into mere mortal.
In other words, he's human. Smart hockey guy maybe. But human. No miracle worker. For as much as he won that Cup ring, he also had six teams in Vancouver and one in Anaheim that proved to be somewhat Leafian. People forgot that. For a while.
Everybody recalls the Chris Pronger coup. Few remembered he also referred to Kevin Weekes in 1999 as the Canucks' "goalie of the future." He didn't say when that future might be, though, so perhaps it could still happen. You know. About the same time as the Second Coming.
But maybe it explains why he could bring Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek for too-many millions and believe them to be the Leafs' defence of the future. A real steal. For Francois and Mike.
For the Leafs? Not so much, unless you include all the times they cough up the puck in their own end.
So maybe the issue isn't coach Ron Wilson. Maybe Richard Peddie should be coughing up Burke. Not that he will.
Burke thought Vesa Toskala was the problem. Jason Blake brought bad vibes and Alex Steen and Matt Stajan were deposed and Fredrik Sjostrom would goose the penalty kill statistics. Burke got it half fixed. The vibes might be better, the penalty killing? Not so much.
It was supposed to be about pain now for later gain. So Alexei Ponikarovsky begat Luca Caputi and Sam Carrick. Yawn. Like that looks like it's going to work out well. This team has Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf and it is now playing with a worse record than it had last year. A worse record than before Burke began throwing caution and Nik Antropov to the winds.
Last year after a horrid start with one win in the first 13 games the Leafs had 34 points after 38 games. This year they have 36 points but three more losses. Caged hamsters make more headway. Suddenly the Burkian Adoration Society has awakened to the awful truth that Burke is going to take longer to turn this around than it takes the good ship Hal Gill to shift out of neutral.
But there is no way back now; no way Peddie will fire Burke. This is so, because:
1. Burke's recent run has been so dubious everyone is forgetting the guy they really wanted to tar and feather not long ago was Peddie himself. You know. For hiring John (Banana Peel) Ferguson. So why mess with a good thing. This is called a silver lining.
2. The Leafs don't care about any stinkin' draft picks. So what if Burke traded them. It's tradition, draftschmaft! You know, like propping poor Johnny Bower up on the blueline a half dozen times a year to wave and remind people what a real goalie looked like. Anyway, those draft picks everyone's moaning about don't matter. With or without them, this team is like stink on a skunk. Burke's got this team right where he needs them -backslipping all the way to the first overall pick in 2012.
3. Burke has (ahem!) pictures? Or maybe he opened the MLSEL closet and found where Peddie keeps the skeletons. You think?
4. Sun sleuth, Joe Warmington, has heard speculation that the Teachers Pension Fund plans to hand the keys to the MLSEL empire to Burke once Peddie steps down next year. Who knows; sometimes rumour becomes fact. First rule of a good executive: If you want to keep the keys to the corporate washroom, don't be spittin' into the wind. If Burke is going to be the Teachers' pet, don't expect Peddie to be yanking his chain.
5. Don't fix what isn't broken. The Leafs aren't really bad. Just misunderstood. They didn't become the most profitable franchise in the NHL by winning Stanley Cups. The worse they seem to get on the ice the more protective and fanatical the fan base. No one can explain why this is. It just is.
6. Winning is over-rated. Darn inconvenient for a business type like Peddie. Once you win the fans and media will expect it all the time and anything less than a long playoff run or a championship is deemed a failure. Revenue, attendance could suffer. (For confirmation see Red Wings. Ditto, Atlanta Braves). Better to stay in humble Burkeville and sell hope rather than create expectations.
7. I'm leaving. Peddie, who intends to step down at the end of the year, doesn't need the headache. Best to hand the mop to a successor and let him clean up. No point jumpin' into the muck and spoiling a perfectly nice farewell tour.
8. Peddie recognizes dollars from when they were just pennies. Burke is less than halfway through a six-year, $18 million contract and firing him wouldn't be fiscally prudent. If nothing else, the Teachers' Pension Fund, knows prudence. Besides, as long as Burke is in charge, dealing away draft picks there's no need to invest millions of dollars into the scouting department.
9. Firing Burke would be like kicking NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the shins. Burke was to Bettman during the owner-player dispute in the '90s what Robin was to Batman when the phone rang in the Bat Cave. It was Bettman who recommended him for the Leafs' job. Not that we would ever suggest that as long as Burke remains in charge of the Leafs, Bettman would hardly entertain the idea of a second NHL franchise locating in the GTA. But you might.
10. And, finally, there's self-preservation. If Peddie did fire him, Burkie could punch out his lights. Hey, it's hockey. These things happen. Fade (ouch!) to black.