He has no goaltender, his leading scorer is a milquetoast, Tom Thumb guy who shrinks even further in front of the cameras and nobody knows for certain whether his team captain has credibility in the dressing room.
The better part of four years in the bag and who is the face of the franchise in the centre of the hockey universe? Brian Burke. Who does Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment run out to thank season ticket-holders, to spear-head its renewal campaign? The general manager who hasn’t made the playoffs. Him, and Randy Carlyle, the head coach of a month or so who seems to be in charge of a dressing room full of misfit toys. Four years, and the Leafs don’t even have a player worth putting front and centre; they don’t even have the type of modestly-talented plugger that Toronto fans will lavish with praise. Four years, and it’s still Brian Burke they’re selling. Four years, and it’s still Brian Burke in your face. How’s that working for you?
What is clear is that there’s a vacuum at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment right now – a lack of adult supervision that will unfortunately be the new norm until the sale of Teachers' stake in MLSE is finished. Tom Anselmi is more or less the ranking guy under Larry Tanenbaum but there’s no sense that either of them are in a position or have the inclination to relieve Burke of his job, which for most franchises would be the next move given the mess that has become 2011-2012. But, really: what else does this franchise have but Burke? It’s pathetic – but it’s true. No other Canadian team puts it’s G.M. front and centre. Few teams in sports do it. There are times when this franchise – I swear, I believe this – is the Chicago Cubs (minus the lovable nature.) It will never win. Ever. Somehow, some way, they’ll screw it up.
There were ‘Fire Burkie’ chants at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night, as the Maple Leafs embarrassed themselves yet again in a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders in a game that ended with acres of empty seats and nasty, braying remnants. Matt Moulson’s first of two third-period goals, with Matt Frattin in the penalty box serving a delay of game penalty, broke open a 2-2 tie in a game in which the Leafs managed 14 shots, 24 hours after firing just 13 shots on goal in an 8-0 loss to the Boston Bruins. The dressing room was closed for 20 minutes after the game, which gave the Leafs ample time to practice their blank stares and shrugs.
“It was just a heart to heart,” said goaltender James Reimer, who was unable to rescue his team while facing 34 shots. “Some words were said. Let’s keep it that way.”
Carlyle said later that he sat in on the meeting. Normally he talks to the team after every game, but this time he lingered in his words “a little longer.” He heard the chatter. He asked some questions. Carlyle was asked if this team still lacked confidence, something he referred to in his first days on the job.
“Very much so. Very, very much so,” he responded. “Their goals came off of pucks that were easily manageable, and we didn’t manage them properly.”
Burke is going nowhere. Not with negotiations on a new collective agreement coming; a bad time if ever to bring in somebody and expect them to hit the ground running. The only way that changes is if sometime this off-season, Burke gets rid of one of his many assistant general managers. That will be a sign that the game has changed, that somebody in the new ownership group has the ear of somebody else. Much like a head coach being ordered to get rid of an assistant coach, if Burke is told to divest himself of, say, a David Nonis or two it will be a sign that the suits have awakened; that the guys who actually do up their neckties instead of letting them hang on either side of the collar have awakened and want to take back their team.
Truth is, more and more of Burke’s supporters will tell you they do not care whether or not Burke’s back. They’re all talked out; tired of the made-up, personalized trade deadlines and desire to meddle in the affairs of other teams and the league in general. Bored of the broad pronouncements, the sappy attachments to the Colton Orrs of the world; the tiresome tilting at windmills and the flippant “I could have traded for four first-round draft picks,” stuff. ‘Fire Burke,’ they started to chant loudly enough in the third period that the P.A. system at the ACC seemed a little louder than usual during stoppages. Really, at this stage the only response is a shrug and a ‘whatever.’