Hey Brian Burke: Where’s The Beef?
When it comes to Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke there are only two types of people he attracts, those that hate him with a passion, and those that are equally enamored with the hard nosed Irishman.
Burke’s wars with the media have been well documented over the years, as was his verbal punching match with the beloved Don Cherry. As much as the media may dislike Burke at times (and for the record I happen to like the man) nobody can deny that he is fiercely loyal to those in his employ, sometimes to a fault.
Since taking over the reins as GM in Toronto, Burke has continually promised to build a tougher/bigger team. “We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That’s how our teams play,” said Burke at his inaugural press conference way back in November of 2008.
Looking back at the Maple Leafs roster the past few seasons nobody ever confused them as a team with a high level of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. Putting all the big words aside, the Maple Leafs have played small since the day Burke arrived, which has had fans scratching their collective heads for four straight seasons and has some questioning their own loyalty to Burke.
It would have been one thing for Burke to come out and say we’d like to get bigger and stronger, but to come out and all but set the expectation that the Maple Leafs were going to become the second coming of the Broad Street Bullies was foolish and all but set the sometimes irritable GM up for failure.
Let’s face it, the rules in today’s NHL would never allow for any roster to emulate anything close to what the Broad Street Bullies were. And with the enforcer quickly becoming extinct, fewer players bring the level of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence that Burke expects from his bottom-six forwards.
Burke is on the record as labeling his players under two areas skilled or sandpaper. While Burke has done a nice job of bringing in a fair amount of skill in the form of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Reimsdyk and Clarke MacArthur to play within his top-six, Burke has failed to assemble a suitable bottom-six that brings anywhere close to the level of toughness Burke set on that faithful day in 2008.
Sure, Burke went out and got Colby Armstrong, but he was ineffective due to injuries. Former Anaheim Ducks forward Mike Brown was brought in to man the third and fourth line, and while he is a serviceable player, he puts the fear of God in nobody.
Jay Rosehill has had a few cups of coffee with the Maple Leafs, but he simply cannot play well enough away from the puck to be a consistent producer, while David Steckel (who admittedly is great in the face off circle) is just alright in the physical department.
Joey Crabb did an admirable job as the Maple Leafs key shutdown guy and part time agitator, but Burke allowed him to walk, which might just be a move he regrets down the road.
Outside of Armstrong, Brown, Steckel, Rosehill and Crabb, Burke has brought in a few other players in an attempt to toughen up his roster, but he has had little success.
Now, with the 2012-13 season just a few months from beginning (A new CBA agreement not withstanding), Burke’s roster continues to look void of the toughness he promised.
Sure, Burke added two-way forward Jay McClement this off-season and there is hope that one of Matt Frattin and/or Carter Ashton could fill one of the bottom six roles, but there are no guarantees and Ashton did not impress in the physical department when he was up with the Maple Leafs last season.
The fact is, Burke may not be here when the Maple Leafs finally have the toughness Burke supposedly desires. Prospects Brad Ross, Jerry D’Amigo, Tyler Biggs and Leo Komarov have the collective makeup Burke is looking for in his bottom-six forwards, but most of these kids are a few seasons away from making a contribution to the Maple Leafs.
Perhaps this is why Burke continues to voice his displeasure over the size of his team? “We’re not big enough to play my way. That has to be addressed. That’s not optional. We can’t play the way Randy (Carlyle) wants to play with this group, Said Burke at a recent press conference.
But yet, Burke’s roster fails to look anything like a team that is going to be tough to play against next season.
Burke would be the first one to admit the Maple Leafs lack of size cost him in the points department last season. When you consider Carlyle likes to play a robust style of hockey, Burke will have to find a way to augment his roster with additional toughness or once again be forced to face the music once playoff time arrives next season.
There is no sense in Burke arming Carlyle with a knife if he is expecting a gunfight. Simply put, if Burke does not find the right mix of players for Carlyle to coach the upcoming season will be another heart breaker for the fans of the Blue and White.
So I ask you Mr. Burke, where’s the beef? Or better yet, when is it coming?
Until next time,