Toronto Maple Leafs fans will see a familiar face at the Air Canada Centre tonight as they watch their favourite team fight to keep its fading playoff hopes alive.
Brian Burke will make his unceremonious return to Toronto as the new keeper of the Calgary Flames – his latest rebuild project. As Leafs fans know, Burke was general manager of the team for four seasons before getting the axe just prior to the start of the shortened 2013 season.
Burke is largely responsible for the group of players who wear the Leafs jersey today, bringing cornerstones Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and James van Riemsdyk to town. He was also instrumental in drafting Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly.
Some of these moves proved controversial at the time (and some remain controversial today), but on the whole, it can be argued that Toronto came out on top in every one of them. The trades that saw Lupul, Gardiner and Franson join the Leafs standout as particularly one-sided.
Despite his best intentions to improve the team, however, Burke’s bombastic personality gradually alienated fans and management. In other words, the more he promised Leafs fans, the less he delivered.
Dave Nonis – a Burke hire and friend – replaced him as general manager to start the 2013 season. Initially, there was a strong sense of continuity between the two general managers, but that changed after Nonis had a real opportunity to alter the face of the team at the start of this season. Under Nonis’ direction, the team added David Clarkson, Dave Bolland and Jonathan Bernier.
If there have been important changes to the Leafs since Burke left, the team’s penchant for late-season collapses continues. This is a problem that Nonis has not been able to escape.
We’ll see if the Leafs are able to disappoint Burke one more time by defeating the Flames. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine them disappointing Nonis once again.
Who’s the biggest loser in all this? The fans.
Look at the mess these two suits have left at our feet.
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