I returned home from my eye doctor appointment and was somewhat shocked to learn that the Toronto Maple Leafs have fired Brian Burke as general manager. Longtime second in command Dave Nonis will take over on a permanent basis. As a result, my Twitter stream has blown up with rumors as to why “Burkie” was let go – I mean, kicked upstairs to become a senior advisor.
I say somewhat shocked because I saw this coming. It’s the timing that caught me off guard. I was expecting a “playoffs or else” edict coming down from Rogers/Bell, the two giant telecommunications companies that own the Leafs, once the season got underway. But I wasn’t expecting this before the start of training week. (I refuse to call it a camp this season.)
Is this a good move? While his salary dumps on the Anaheim Ducks were great moves, in retrospect I’d say this had to happen sooner or later for the following reasons:
- March 4, 2009 – Leafs trade Nik Antropov to the New York Rangers for a 2009 second round pick. Kenny Ryan, whom the Leafs selected with that pick, is with the AHL Marlies and projects to become a third or fourth-line defensive forward at best. Ouch.
- Mike Komisarek – One of Burke’s first free agent signings, Komi has proven in the past three seasons not have a sufficient amount of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence or belligerence. At the end of last season, he was told to lose 10-15 pounds and there’s a chance he’ll be a buyout candidate under the new collective bargaining agreement.
- Nazem Kadri – Burke’s first Leafs first round pick is a bust. Not only has he had issues with his skating and defensive play, but his poor showing in fitness testing at this year’s Marlies training camp now have people questioning his maturity and drive. Especially since he spent the summer training with Leafs legend and fitness nut Gary Roberts to get in shape. He’s only 22 years old, but potential top-six NHL forwards his age normally would be in the league to stay and show more maturity than the one they now call #FatKadri on Twitter.
- July 1, 2009 – Burke trades Pavel Kubina and Tim Stapleton to Atlanta for Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart. You don’t trade a top-four defenseman for a turnstile and someone I’ve never heard of and expect to make the playoffs. Not even for a salary dump.
- Phil Kessel – While Kessel is a legit first-line right wing, he is not a franchise player or a leader. Would I rather have Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight? Dumb question and an even dumber trade.
- Dion Phaneuf – At first this looked like a genuine fleecing of the Calgary Flames. The Leafs gave up Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Niklas Hagman and Ian White for Phaneuf and spare parts. But was it a fleecing? Phaneuf, who was named Leafs captain, does a lot of yapping. But yapping does not equal leadership and I feel he’s not worthy of wearing the “C”. Phaneuf is not a unique talent. There are other comparable players in the NHL with more leadership skills that could easily take his place. Like for example, Ian White.
- Colby Armstrong – I liked Army as a player and person, but pay him $9 million for three years to play a third-line role? After two injury-filled seasons, Burke bought out this contract and it will live on as a $1 million salary cap hit every year until 2014. Just like Darcy Tucker’s buyout from 2008.
- First Line Center – In Burke’s tenure the Leafs never signed or developed a first-line center to play between Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. That failure falls squarely on Burke’s shoulders.
- Goalie – While James Reimer had his moments two seasons ago, there’s no guarantee the Leafs are better off with a Reimer/Ben Scrivens combo in net this season compared to the 190-foot missed save Vesa Toskala/ancient Curtis Joseph/on his way out of the league Martin Gerber/who the hell is Justin Pogge? mess Burke inherited five seasons ago.
As much as I love Brian Burke for being a stand up guy, a great father and for his work with the You Can Play team, this was the right move for the Leafs regardless of the excuses they give in the coming days.