Where's the truculence, Burke?

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals at the ACC Feb. 25, 2012. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals at the ACC Feb. 25, 2012. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:31 PM ET

Back in 2008, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said he wanted a team that played with “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.”

Talk about a lot of hot air.

Do you see proper levels of any of that stuff on this season’s Leafs? Other than Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Brown, there’s very little indeed.

And that’s one of the problems with this season’s Leafs. There’s no identity.

They’re certainly not a tough team, or big team, which is supposedly Burke’s trademark.

They’re not a shut-down defensive team.

And they’re an inconsistent offensive force.

Throw is some incredibly inconsistent goaltending and you’ve got an outfit that looks to be heading to the golf course early again.

This is the fourth full year of Burke’s rebuild. When he was hired, The new GM said he was rebuilding with an eye on eventually challenging for the Cup. And that’s great. The problem is, how great can the rebuild be going if, after four full seasons, they still can’t even make the playoffs? (They still might, but almost need a miracle).

Yes, there are some good young pieces on this club — Jake Gardiner, Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, perhaps Cody Franson and Matt Frattin.

But after four years, there are still far too many holes — the biggest being between the pipes, which just happens to be arguably the most important position in hockey.

Burke said on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night that he’s not going to blow up his rebuild just to “squeak” into the playoffs.

On the surface, that’s the right thing to do. But, again, this is the fourth year of the rebuild. If you can’t finish eighth after four years, how many more years will it take to challenge for all the marbles?

The Leafs finished the 2007-08 season in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, the last season before Burke took over.

Following Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday the Leafs were sitting in 10th in the East. Yes, you go young in a rebuild, but two spots after four years is not particularly impressive.

Burke’s lucky in one respect. His head coach Ron Wilson is so disliked in this town that he gets most of the blame for the club’s woes. Calls for his dismissal intensified after the loss to Washington on Saturday. For sure, if the Leafs lay an egg again and fail to make the playoffs, Wilson deserves criticism. But Burke deserves, at the very least, equal blame. He’s the guy that provided Wilson two incredibly inconsistent goaltenders in James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson. And as noted hockey minds like to say, a great goaltender makes any coach look like a genius.

Burke’s going to have to go back to the drawing board to figure out what to do about the organization’s goaltending. After four years, it’s apparent he still doesn’t have an answer.

Another problem with this team, besides the goaltending and inconsistent scoring, etc, they’re not very tough. If can’t dazzle teams, you’ve got to inflict your will physically. And the Leafs don’t, can’t, do that. Not even close.

As for leadership, Wilson and Burke have said that Phaneuf is a great leader. Phaneuf’s teammates have echoed that sentiment. But you have to wonder: Do the Leafs look desperate? Are they fighting tooth and nail to get into the playoffs every night? Watching this Leafs team game in and game out, there appears to be a lack of leadership. Who stands out as a leader? Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Dave Keon ... when you watched them play, you could see the leadership qualities. Do you see those qualities with anyone on this Leafs side?

So what’s Burke’s move now? In a perfect world, it would be to trade for a player (goaltender, big scoring forward) who helps the club make the playoffs, and is a useful cog for the future. But Burke has hinted that nothing might not happen on the trade front before Monday’s deadline. My guess is, his next move will be to scold Leafs fans for giving Reimer the Bronx cheer after the goalie made some easy saves in the first period after the Leafs fell behind 2-0.


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