Brian Burke as Maple Leafs GM: The good, bad, and ugly
It was never boring with Brian Burke in Toronto, and while the team never found success on the ice there were a number of big moves that significantly altered the direction of the Maple Leafs franchise. Some worked out better than others.
|In his four years on the job, Brian Burke made some good moves ... and he made some bad moves. (Getty Images)|
Brian Burke's four-year run as Toronto Maple Leafs general manager came to an end on Wednesday when he was relieved of his duties and replaced by Dave Nonis, the same man that replaced him in Vancouver back in 2004.
Burke will remain with the team as a senior adviser but will no longer have complete control over hockey operations, ending a run that saw the team compile a 128-135-42 record and never record more than 85 points in a single season. The Leafs never made the playoffs.
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This was clearly not what the Maple Leafs had in mind when they hired him back in November of 2008.
It was never boring with Burke in Toronto, and although the team never found success on the ice there were a number of big moves (and non-moves) that significantly altered the direction of the Maple Leafs franchise.
Some worked out better than others.
For all the on-ice struggles the team had, he actually made at least three pretty strong hockey trades.
Jan. 31, 2010: Toronto acquires defenseman Dion Phaneuf , Keith Aulie , and Fredrik Sjostrom from the Calgary Flames for Matt Stajan , Ian White , Niklas Hagman, and Jamal Mayers
Burke acquired his team's captain and best overall defenseman for what amounted to a pile of spare parts.
Although Phaneuf seems to have his share of critics in Toronto (when you're the captain of the Maple Leafs and one of their highest-paid players and the team fails on the ice, you're going to have a target on your back. It comes with the job), he's their best defenseman and still one of the better ones in the league.
Since joining Toronto he's scored 20 goals and has 84 points in two-and-a-half seasons. The only player that still remains in Calgary from that trade is Matt Stajan, and he's been such a bitter disappointment that he's now a likely buyout candidate under the new CBA.
Stajan still has two years and $7 million remaining on his contract and has scored fewer goals than Phaneuf since the trade. As a forward.
Feb. 9, 2011: Toronto acquires Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner from the Anaheim Ducks for Francois Beauchemin
Francois Beauchemin is an excellent defenseman capable of playing big minutes (and playing them well), but Burke ended up buying low on Joffrey Lupul as he returned from some health problems and also managed to pick up a top defense prospect in Jake Gardiner.
I wouldn't call it a steal, but it still seems like a trade that Burke and the Maple Leafs came out on the winning end of. Lupul went to Toronto and excelled, averaging more than a point-per-game and scoring 25 goals in his first full season with the Leafs.
Gardiner, 21, had an impressive rookie debut in 2011-12 playing alongside Luke Schenn and tallied 30 points in 75 games, tops among all rookie defenseman.
June 23, 2012: Toronto acquires James van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers for Luke Schenn
I thought this was one of the best trades any team made over the offseason leading up to the lockout.
Luke Schenn was Burke's first draft pick as Maple Leafs general manager, selecting him fifth overall in 2008. That was the draft class that was loaded with defensemen at the top, including Drew Doughty , Alex Pietrangelo and Zach Bogosian . After a promising start to his career as a shutdown defenseman, Schenn seems to have regressed a bit the past two seasons.
Van Riemsdyk hasn't yet consistently played like the No. 2 overall pick he was back in 2007 (though he has flashed that potential on more than one occassion) but he still has a huge upside. Even if he never quite reaches it and continues to play as he did as a member of the Flyers, he will still be an upgrade for the Leafs.
His ceiling is higher than Schenn's, and so is his floor.
Sept. 18, 2009: Toronto acquires Phil Kessel from the Boston Bruins for two first-round draft picks and a fourth-round pick
This will be the trade that forever defines Brian Burke's time as general manager in Toronto.
The problem isn't that Phil Kessel is a bad player, because he's most certainly not. The issue with Toronto the past couple of seasons hasn't been Kessel. It's that Toronto doesn't have enough players like Kessel), it's simply the price they paid to get him (two top-10 draft picks, including a No. 2 overall pick, and a second-round pick) was pretty outrageous.
The two first-round picks that went to Boston turned out to be Tyler Seguin and top prospect Dougie Hamilton.
Seguin has already established himself as a top-line player in the NHL and gave the Bruins All-Star level production last season on an entry level contract -- though that will soon change once Seguin's new contract extension kicks in at the start of the 2013-14 season. He also made some contributions early in the Bruins' Stanley Cup run during the 2010-11 season.
The positions that were never addressed
A top-line center and a clear No. 1 goalie being chief among them.
After missing out on Brad Richards last offseason, the Maple Leafs ended up getting two centers in Matthew Lombardi and the oft-injured Tim Connolly . They combined to record 54 points (21 goals, 33 asssists).
The goaltending situation has been a revolving door of mediocrity and disappointment and has been one of the biggest reasons for the on-ice failures of the team over the past several seasons. How bad has it been? The Maple Leafs finished 30th, 30th, 21st, and 29th in save percentage since the start of the 2008-09 season.
The signing of Swedish free agent Jonas Gustavsson a few years ago was greeted with much hype but produced terrible results on the ice. Heck, let's forget about adding a No. 1 goalie, even a league average goalie would have been a step up from what Maple Leafs fans have had to watch over the years.
Just because it's worth pointing out, one of the first moves Dave Nonis made when he replaced Brian Burke in Vancouver back in 2004 was to acquire goaltender Roberto Luongo , something that seems to be a real possibility to happen once again in 2013. Yes, everything is coming full circle in Toronto.
The record and failure to reach the playoffs
Toronto's final record under Burke's watch: 128-135-42.
Playoff appearances: Zero.
As you no doubt already know, the Maple Leafs were the only team in the NHL to not qualify for the playoffs in the seven seasons that came between the lockout of 2004-05 and 2012-13, and although Burke wasn't soley responsible for all of those seasons, he was brought in to end that postseason drought.
And it never came close to happening.
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