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Boston Bruins left wing Steve Begin, left, tackles Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Colton Orr (28) during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Thursday, March 4, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Krupa)

Charlie Krupa

He arrived, as is the custom, amid fanfare, pomp and grandeur, feted as the Stanley Cup-toting saviour of a franchise sorely in need of one.

Sixteen months later, however, Brian Burke's returns as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs haven't been good.

Regardless of what happens tonight against the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs will finish second last in the NHL - 29th overall - this season, the lowest rung they've occupied since placing 20th of 21 teams in 1990-91.

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Even with a win, the Leafs will exit 2009-10 with only 74 points, seven fewer than a year ago, a remarkable regression given how weak the Eastern Conference is this season and the fact Burke had nine months to evaluate and rework his roster leading up to training camp.

Tuesday will mark the 501st day of his tenure as Leafs GM, and it's a day that could well be remembered as one of his worst. That night, at 8 p.m. EST, broadcast across North America, the draft pick Burke dealt to the Boston Bruins last September for Phil Kessel will finally have a number - either one, two or three - and come June, a teenaged face to go with it.

Nineteen years after the New Jersey Devils used the Leafs' top-three pick to draft future Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Niedermayer, history could repeat itself with either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin.

With four years remaining on his contract in Toronto, Burke's well-earned reputation in Vancouver and Anaheim may now be in jeopardy as early as next season, and it rests with an unorthodox plan to fast-track the Leafs' rebuild, eschew the draft and use his team's financial advantages whenever possible.

While there have been positive signs the past two months, there's also a long way to go and a salary-cap crunch this summer as tight as any in the league. The Leafs will again be a work in progress next season and, quite likely, be a long shot to make the postseason.

But how did we get from there to here - from Burke's optimistic hiring to a humbling, horrible second season in Toronto? And how does a man who won the Cup three short years ago end up without a first-round pick until 2012 and a team in the Eastern Conference basement?

Read on: The mistakes Burke made

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