Brian Burke’s Moves Paying Dividends
The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Pittsburgh Penguins by a final score of 4-3 Saturday night, solidifying their place atop the Northeast Division. The Maple Leafs 7-2-1 record through ten games gives them 15 points, good enough for third overall in the standings.
While it is only ten games into the 2011-12 season, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has a lot to brag about, much of which can be attributed to the many moves he has made over his tenure with the Blue and White.
Burke’s rebuild started with the much maligned acquisition of Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins which saw two first round draft choices (2010, 2011) and a second rounder (2011) exchanged for the sniper.
While it is still early to award either franchise a winner in the trade it appears as if both clubs are happy with what they received. In Kessel, Toronto got a legitimate goal scorer with the potential to hit the 40-goal mark and be a consistent 75-point player, Boston got three very good players, one of which—Tyler Seguin—looks like he will be a star before long.
Not known for his defensive side of his game, Kessel looks to have found his stride in the defensive zone where he can often be found back-checking and gobbling up lose pucks which, in it’s own way, has contributed to Kessel’s offense.
If Kessel was Burke’s first piece to the puzzle, defenseman Dion Phaneuf was the second building block.
Ostracized in Calgary for what was perceived to be a poor attitude and a questionable work ethic, Phaneuf has found his groove in Toronto, demonstrating the ability to lead his team while finding the game that made him such a force in his early years in Cowtown.
It took a while for Phaneuf to find his game in Toronto, but with Phaneuf’s renewed commitment to a physical game and offensive results—Phaneuf is tied for third in scoring amongst defensemen with 12 points—the Maple Leafs finally have the legitimate number one defenseman (with apologies to Tomas Kaberle) they so sorely need.
With both Kessel and Phaneuf in hand, Burke set out to completely re-tool the Maple Leafs, cutting salary and dead weight from the roster and bringing in more skill and speed than the Maple Leafs have seen in decades.
Joffrey Lupul, Clarke MacArthur, Jake Gardiner, John-Michael Liles, Jonas Gustavsson, Tim Connolly, Mike Brown, Matthew Lombardi, David Steckel, Matt Frattin, Colby Armstrong, Philippe Dupuis, Cody Franson and Colton Orr were all brought in by Burke, completely revamping the big clubs lineup.
Burke also re-stocked the farm club, establishing a competitive environment from the bottom to the top of the organization which demands all of his troops play at their top level.
The rebirth of an otherwise dead organization has the fans of the Blue and White talking proudly about their hockey club for the first time in what feels like a decade of turmoil.
Burke’s moves—from taking a chance on Kessel, to trading for Jake Gardiner to the pick up of Joffrey Lupul—serve as evidence of just how smart a GM Burke really is. When you consider just how many deals Burke looks to have won in his short time with the Maple Leafs you have to throw him all the accolades and kudos in the world.
As happy as the fans are, you just know that Burke has had a smile on his face through the first ten games of the season. It says here success couldn’t come to a nicer guy and, given all the mud that has been thrown Burke’s way over the years, nobody deserves a pat on the back more than Burke.
Until next time,