TORONTO - After weeks out of the spotlight while his team tumbled from the playoffs, Brian Burke stepped into the ring with the media on Tuesday morning.
The general manager absorbed some verbal punches, delivered some one-line zingers of his own, but said he was sticking to his general blueprint as he enters what could be his last season in the fight of his career. Burke was facing a packed house at the Air Canada Centre in his post-season wrap-up.
“We haven’t made the right personnel decisions,” Burke said to the first blunt question about why the high-profile Leafs have missed the playoffs each of the four years on his watch.
“Our jobs are always on the line,” he shot back at a question about security. “You want to be a GM in the NHL, that’s a fact of life.”
After echoing a public apology the team issued to fans in an open letter earlier in the morning, Burke said he was tired of his team providing half-seasons results, either good starts and flat finishes or vice-versa.
“It’s time for this team to play a full season. Combining seasons is not going to fly anymore.”
To the question of major changes, he said the firing of Ron Wilson and arrival of Randy Carlyle on March 3 constituted a major shift in his mind. As to the ability of a Wilson team to play the more physical, defensive Carlyle style, Burke said the current team would just have to work harder and “bring it up a notch” to satisfy the new coach.
He said there were assets to trade to fill other positional holes this summer, though at this stage, that doesn’t mean his first-round pick will be dangled.
“We put some building blocks in place and it’s easy to lose sight of that when you have a disastrous finish as we did,” Burke said. “(Stability) appeared so near, it appeared within our grasp. It was the perfect storm of a lot of things (after Feb. 6 when the Leafs were 28-19-6). Special teams, our lack of size showed up ... it was a lot of things.
“But if you’d asked me what I didn’t have to worry about coming into the season, I would have said the second line. (Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski) were invisible for a good chunk of the year.”
Burke repeated that he stayed out of the trade deadline frenzy and didn't bulk up for a playoff run because he saw no value in sacrificing a lot of resources to get creamed in the first round.
He said he still believes in James Reimer as “the real deal” in goal, but that a search for veteran help will also be a summer project.
Carlyle spoke before Burke and said he planned to keep hammering the Leafs all summer and at camp about three tenets, “accountability, work ethic and conditioning”. There will likely be a change of assistant coaches to reflect that. Carlyle said he was in “assessment mode” with the bench staff he inherited, Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin.
Carlyle also has no plans to change captain Dion Phaneuf’s station, but hinted that addition of veteran leadership would help Phaneuf be more effective.
Burke said “the real work” begins right after Tuesday night’s draft lottery when he knows if the Leafs will be moving from their current fifth position all the way to first, or down one to sixth. Burke said he’d taken time to scout some juniors who were in playoff competition the past couple of weeks, but doubted any would be ready for next season.