Never a dull moment in Leafland: with the team in the midst of its first western Canadian road trip in almost three years, the Brian Burke saga resurfaced once again. Last Wednesday, Burke resigned as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks; a day later he was given permission to avail himself to other teams. In theory, there’re twenty-nine places he could end up. Realistically, there’s probably only one.
Barring something strange happening, Brian Burke will become the next general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs—likely sooner rather than later. It was widely assumed he’d take over at the end of the current NHL season, but his sudden availability has seemingly accelerated that timeline. Depending on who you listen to, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment might already be negotiating with Burke’s agent. The Leafs’ current general manager, Cliff Fletcher, was never seen as a permanent solution: he was brought in on an interim basis, and even when his tenure was extended through 2008/09 it was with the tacit understanding that he’d be gone if a superstar candidate became available. Meanwhile, the Leafs’ dalliance with Burke has been as subtle as a Ryan Hollweg hit from behind. He’s been their guy since John Ferguson Jr. was fired in January. And last week, a Mike Ulmer Leaf blog entry—published on the team’s official website, by the way—read an awful lot like a preemptive eulogy for Fletcher’s reign. If the team’s official site is publishing it…there’s gotta be something to it, right?
Make no mistake: Fletcher’s return was a success. He and Ron Wilson fashioned a young, energetic team that’s been surprisingly competitive so far this year. Still, he was never a long-term solution—and now, finally, the Leafs look to be getting their man, a general manager with the right credentials (including a Stanley Cup championship) and, perhaps more importantly, the right personality to succeed in one of hockey’s toughest markets. Brian Burke wants to come to Toronto; Toronto wants Brian Burke. As Don Cherry put it, “The only guy [sic] that’s gonna screw this up is the Leafs.” Don’t put it beyond them—MLSE has certainly proven its ability in that regard—but it’s becoming increasingly unlikely. Stay tuned.
Photo by Astro Guy.