Monday, April 06, 2009

Saturday's Sweet Win

Earlier this season, I expressed my almost complete indifference to the current Leafs. I noted there was little to hate about Kaberle, Toskala, Blake, Stajan and Antropov. They are faceless players to me. I can't say I lamented the loss of a despised rival, but I admit it did feel odd.

Ever since Brian Burke has returned I have reason to abhor again. Perhaps it's because I was taught at a very young age that being a braggart was one of the worst things you could do, that winning with grace was just as important as shaking the hand of the winner after a loss.

During our long and thorough beating of the Leafs on Saturday, I found some time to relish beating Brian Burke the GM.

Is there a man in hockey more smug and full of himself than Brian Burke?

To my mind, the answer is no. The guy just can't resist an opportunity to brag. In that regard he seems peerless among NHL GMs. Funny given that his achievements over more than a decade have been matched and surpassed by so many.

Public apology

The impetus for this article for me came mid last week. Brian Burke stood in front of his media hangers on and apologised for the Leafs missing the playoffs:
"Today is a sombre day here. We were eliminated from the playoffs. This is a day that represents failure. I'm not happy. My teams have been in the playoffs for seven straight years. … It burns my butt. If I don't seem like I'm in a great mood, I'm not."

Did you catch that his teams have been in the playoffs for seven straight years? That was relevant...

Has an apology ever been more disingenuous. Burke should be apologising for not being able to coax his coach and team into losing more, not for missing the playoffs. He did everything in he could conceive in his brilliant little mind to miss the playoffs, didn't he?

1) He traded two of his top scorers at the trade deadline for draft picks
2) He tried to trade anyone else with any value too
3) He did nothing prior to the deadline to bolster a roster that looked on track to miss the playoffs by an even wider margin

Damien Cox says it well when he describes it thus:
Burke offered many reasons for missing the playoffs this season, but he left out the part that he traded away the team’s two best forwards for draft picks a month ago because it was the right thing to do even if it meant making the team less competitive in the short-term.

So why the sob story now? Why blame the goaltending?

Maybe just because he is full of it. Probably nothing more. It certainly wouldn't suit his self-styled genius tag to take the blame himself, would it?

Toronto still in awe of the myth

From what I've been reading recently on Burke, it seems like his blustering and boasting has been paying dividends, at least in Toronto. That Cup victory (courtesy of Bryan Murray and Rob Niedermayer) seems not to have lost its shine yet.

His stint in Anaheim can generously be viewed as fleeting success. The other extreme view is that he came in, took advantage of some nice work by his predecessors, had some fun and left behind a pretty big managerial mess. Incidentally, his other team – the Ducks, with the core we were to believe should be coveted by the world and its sister could very well miss the playoffs too (though Burke probably won't take blame for that either if they do).

Even if you look at his years in Vancouver, which obviously did wonders for his ego boost, the team ultimately just played out the top of the cycle that the team had been slumping years to attain. They had some good regular seasons on the backs of Naslund and Bertuzzi (both inherited) but only played in 7 playoff games beyond Round 1 – one might remind Burkie of that the next time he spews his 7 straight season malarkey. His record there is epitomised by the goalies he needed to get, couldn't get and ultimately blamed as he did at this latest press conference. This Vancouver fan (Wetcoaster – post 5) gives a better recap than I could. I have to say, it doesn't really read like the egomaniac would want it to.

In another summary back in November (in a column that has apparently been purged from Fox archives), Al Strachan put to paper what all of us who have been cynics on Burke for a while have been thinking:
[Brian Burke] started off as GM of the Hartford Whalers, a team that had just made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons. Once Burke got there, they missed.

But he was much better in Vancouver. There, he won a playoff round. Granted it took six seasons to do so, but geniuses can’t be held to the same standards as everyone else. In those six seasons, he missed the playoffs twice and went out in the first round three times.

Ultimately, Toronto fans must now be in shock. They resigned themselves to a season of losing to do the rebuilding properly – to avoid the round-about that is 7th to 10th to 7th to 10th in the NHL. They now find themselves right back on the round-about. They definitely will not have the playoffs, they most likely won't get a top draft pick either.

If I was a Leafs fan, I would be irate. I certainly would not have taken the bluster from the loudest GM in the room. Coming in to rebuild, he has made a hash of losing, tossed players away for draft picks and dressed it up with a lie about the way he feels about the whole disaster.

I might feel sorry for the fans, if it weren't for Burke maybe I would. As it is, to be able to go to Toronto and claim two points when we needed them most and further humiliate the GM's GM, what could be sweeter?

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