The questions, via phone, e-mail and tweet, came one after another.
Brian Burke was available, for an hour, to talk to his constituents – some of whom didn’t sound all that excited about the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs.
Two days before the regular season opens against the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs GM was in the position of defending his almost three-year tenure on Toronto television station CP24.
“We are well on our way towards fixing this,” he said.
For those who have been along for the ride, the vast majority of what Burke said Tuesday wasn’t new information. This is a team that’s been broken from Day 1, back on Nov. 29, 2008, when he was hired to begin the fix.
In the 1,040 days since, he’s burned almost three years off of his six-year, $18-million contract, gotten rid of all but three players on the roster and the team has won 94 of 224 games.
According to Burke, head coach Ron Wilson and everyone else affiliated with the team, however, this is the year things turn around.
“We’re a better team now, so I don’t even think about that,” Wilson said of the squad’s tendency to start seasons slow. “We’re a much better team than we’ve been the last three years. Before that, I have no idea. I wasn’t paying attention to the Leafs.”
The fan base didn’t have that luxury. Their memory is longer, their drought is bigger and that’s the main reason why there’s now more pressure to make the playoffs – something Wilson acknowledged Tuesday.
“It seems I’ve always been under heat here,” he said. “No matter what we do, there’s going to be pressure. I’m used to that now.”
Where the Maple Leafs brass feel they’ll be better, meanwhile, is in three key areas.
One, is goaltending, as James Reimer played extremely well in 35 starts a year ago.
Two, is offensively, with Wilson pointing to increased depth as reason to believe Toronto can add at least another 20 goals and move into the top half of the league in goal production.
And finally, on special teams, where the Maple Leafs have been an unmitigated disaster throughout this group’s tenure.
Fix all three areas, and this team just might finally sneak into the postseason for the first time since 2004.
Wilson will walk the plank, either during the season or at the end, and Burke will be facing far tougher questions from fans and media a year from now.
(The first on the list: Why has the GM who stated he was “not interested in a five-year rebuild” not produced a playoff team in four seasons?)
Exactly which way the Maple Leafs season will go isn’t all that easy to forecast. At the high end, they’re likely an eighth place team in the Eastern Conference. On the low end, it could get ugly.
Reimer’s one wild card, but there are plenty of others, from centre Tim Connolly’s health to the fact defenceman Mike Komisarek remains in the team’s top six.
That’s partly why there’s skepticism aplenty at this point from many pundits and fans, the latter of whom have tired of hearing “this is the year” from those in charge only to see the team flop out of the gate.
But until the puck finally drops Thursday, and the Leafs show what they can do, those are the type of questions that will keep coming.
Burke heard more than a few on Tuesday. The first he faced was: If, without adding a marquee talent such as Brad Richards or Steve Stamkos, he had done enough this summer?
“Do you think you made enough moves and do you think the team will be better?” a fan named Brian asked the other Brian.
“Well we’re going to find out,” Burke said.
And we will. Starting on Thursday.Report Typo/Error