TORONTO - I feel that I have the right to quote Julius Caesar in this column because I once had a dog named Brutus.
Although, to be honest, the dog was named after the bad guy from the old Popeye the Sailor Man show and not the assassin in William Shakespeare’s epic tragedy.
Hell, the only thing I knew about Shakespeare in those days was from SCTV’s production of Julius Caesar when the hideous old hag warned Bobby Bittman to “Beware the Ides of March” and Bittman replied, “Sweetheart, beware of mirrors, because with a face like that, the reflection could be fatal.”
The real Shakespeare was pretty good, too, apparently.
Later, I married a Shakespeare freak who used to drag me out to Stratford on a regular basis, just to listen to me say over and over again, “What did that guy say?” Or “Who’s that guy again”? And “When’s halftime? I need a dog.”
Shockingly, we divorced.
Anyway, in one scene in Julius Caesar, Mark Antony says, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
In that spirit, let me say that, for once, I come to praise Brian Burke, not to bury him. (Well, sort of praise him).
Big Burkie seems to be taking a bit of heat these days over the fact he told the media some months back that he wasn’t interested in “blowing up” his rebuild and getting rid of assets just to squeak into eighth place and get beat up in the playoffs (or words to that effect).
Of course, the tie-in is that the Los Angeles Kings finished eighth in the Western Conference and are now in the Stanley Cup Final — and may be the favourites to win the whole thing.
The message to Burke from disgruntled Leafs fans (are there any other kind?) seems to be: If you did pull off a move before the trade deadline to help the Leafs get into eighth, you never know what might have happened. Look at the Kings, that could have been the Leafs.
Of course, that’s absolute nonsense.
I’m not one of these hockey “insiders” you see paraded on TV like so many Highland Dancers on the old Tiny Talent Time show. But it doesn’t take a genius to know that the Kings and Leafs are on two very different levels in terms of talent and that the Leafs, no matter what happened in the playoffs, weren’t going to go deep.
The Kings largely under-performed during the regular season and managed to hold on to eighth place. Like the Leafs, they went through a coaching change, but they are a very deep side, starting from the goaltending position out. In fact, many hockey wags picked the Kings to finish near the top of the Western Conference prior to the season, and now they’ve put it all together for the Stanley Cup run.
The Leafs, on the other hand, are neither deep nor particularly talented, and their goaltending situation is, to put in mildly, in flux.
In retrospect, the last thing Burke should have done is trade away someone who is young and decent, or a draft pick, for some veteran guy who might have put them in the playoffs, but would be shot after another season or two. The Leafs have certainly done that enough times over the years. And when was the last time they won the Stanley Cup?
MLSE certainly doesn’t need the revenue a playoff series brings unlike, say, the Phoenix Coyotes or the New Jersey Devils. That’s a luxury Burke does have. So there was no pressure in that regard.
Yes, it would have been nice for blue and white diehards to have their team in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. But if Burke really does have a plan for this franchise to compete for a Stanley Cup in future years — hopefully within our grandchildren’s lifetime — the dumbest thing to do now is blow everything up.
On the other hand, if the Leafs don’t make the playoffs next season, enough is enough. By all means blow up the front office — although probably not literally.