Look, I’m not the most attentive employee around here in Leafs Nation, I’ll admit it.
I’m almost always running a few minutes late, I don’t always put a loonie in the jar when I take a coffee, and I've been known to run-up long distance phone bills on the company dime.
I leave the sports section in the executive washroom, which drives the poor guys at Cox Bloc batty. I’m the one that keeps raiding the supply cabinet leaving PPP with the really crappy pens, Sean without post-its and Jared and Navin fighting over a the remaining scrap of bubble wrap. I was also the one that had that totally boss paper airplane competition with Greener and Moose and we used up all the good paper, leaving poor Loser Domi to print her final term papers on the back of the bulk fax adverts.
But I like to think I have my ear to the ground around here. That’s why I occasionally bring in treats on Fridays – it’s not so you guys can enjoy the bag of day-olds and the cheap Coffee Time muffins that smell oddly of old cigarette smoke and broken dreams - it's so I can try to keep track of what's going on.
Clearly, given what went down this past week, I missed a memo or slept through a meeting. As a result, I have a question that I’m almost scared to ask.
When did Brian Burke become the anointed one?
No, I’m not kidding.
What’s with all of Leafs Nation pining for Burke?
As GM of the Canucks, Burke’s teams missed the playoffs two of six years, went out in the first round three times and were eliminated in 7 games by the Wild in their lone second round appearance in 2003.
True, that's a record that JFJ would really like to stand by, but it's not the stuff dreams are made of.
Yeah, Burke may have won the Cup last year, but not too long ago Jay Feaster was sipping from Lord Stanley’s chalice too and I wouldn’t even let that guy make my grocery list, let alone run my hockey team (So let me get this straight Mr. Feaster: you spent our entire monthly food budget on three Delmonico rib-eyes and for the rest of our meals we’re going to have to make do with some old lentils, a couple of cans of dented tuna and a bunch of bruised fruit that you found in the neighbour’s yard?)
As I see it, there are two traits that are essential to winning in today’s NHL: drafting/development and cap management.
If you think Cliff Fletcher got his fair of bad “draft schmaft” jokes after his return to the Leafs earlier this year, the Toronto media must be salivating (no, I mean more than they normally do – to the point where they'll need their favourite Habs bib) over Burke’s draft history.
Burke's Draft History
Brian Burke pulled off a great draft day deal that landed the Canucks the Sedin twins. It was quite the coup and enough to give Mr. Burke a break on what went down the rest of that day, namely a game I like to call “name that future ECHL player” With his remaining picks, Burke selected:
Burke followed-up his 1999 draft day prowess by stocking the Canucks cupboard with, well, pretty much a whole pile of meh. This group sounds like the taxi squad of a north eastern liberal college lacrosse team:
Burke made up for the dreadful 2000 draft in 2001, using his first round draft pick to land R. J. Umberger – a guy who’s having a whole lot of success this post-season with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Yeah, the Flyers.
You see, Burke traded Umberger for Martin Rucinsky - a move that just reeks of JFJ/ MLSE level incompetence: a first round prospect exchanged for an oft-injured mid-pack vet who played all of 13 games for the Canucks.
If the Leafs made that trade, Damien Cox would be on his office floor dictating his column while having a grand mal seizure/wet dream.
That said, the Canucks did hold on to Kevin Bieksa who was looking all sorts of good before getting injured this year.
The rest of the Canucks’ 2001 selections? Like the Thamesmen, they’re currently residing in the “where-are-they-now file?”
Fedor Federov (18 NHL games over four years)
Evgeny Gladskikh (0 NHL games)
Jason King (0 NHL games)
Konstantin Mikhailov (0 NHL games)
An all around great draft year - a class that produced the likes of Nash, Semin, Stoll, Greene, Bouchard, Lupul, Pitkanen and Lombardi. Heck, even my beloved Maple Leafs (The Team that StinksTM) cleaned up at the draft table in 2002, landing Steen, Stajan, White and Kronwall.
Burke and the Canucks on the other hand didn’t get to take a player until the second round.
Further demonstrating that he really is a natural fit for MLSE, Burke traded away the Canucks’ first round pick to bring Trevor Linden back to Vancouver. And what became of that first round pick? The Caps used it to select a guy by the name of Alexander Semin. That’s the sort of trade you’d almost expect to read about in a Maclean’s magazine side-bar.
Hockey’s Future does a really nice job summing up the rest of the day for Vancouver, so I’ll turn it over to them:
Unfortunately for the Canucks, the draft was an unmitigated disaster despite the abundance of selections. With one NHL appearance between the 11 former prospects, the Canucks take home the 2002 Futile Draft Award with an appalling average of just 0.09 games per prospect. And if you want to look at it closer, the only selection to appear in any NHL uniform was goaltender Rob McVicar whose NHL experienced totals less than three minutes from a brief appearance during the 2005-06 season against Edmonton. This equals approximately 15 seconds of NHL ice time per pick.2003 Draft
The last one for Burke in Vancouver as he was relieved of his duties in May of 2004. The Canuckleheads grabbed Ryan Kesler at the 23rd spot with their first pick. A nice little pick-up (Mike Richards went 24th and Corey Perry went 28th). The rest of the Canucks picks have played a combined 23 NHL games:
Brandon Nolan (6 games in the NHL)
Nathan McIver (17 games in the NHL)
With those five years of drafts under his belt, it's no wonder the Canucks have continued to struggle and don't have much in the way of prospects.
As for his drafting history with the Ducks, it’s way too early to tell what sort of talent Burke has been able to compile.
In 2005, the Ducks were one pick away from winning the post-lockout Sidney Crosby lottery and with the second overall pick Burke took Bobby Ryan (you might recall him from the great NHL trade deadline day feature film starring Troy MacLure: “Trading Mats Sundin: The fantabulous made-up deals that never were or never will-be”).
Salary Cap Management
The other half of building a solid contender is proper salary cap management.
As we’ve seen across the NHL, it’s not spending to the cap that matters - it’s the price to quality ratio that counts. Successful teams have a core of young developing players that can contribute to the team’s success without killing the budget. UFA signings are reserved to fill-in the gaps or to put a team over the top. $4MM for 15 goal scorers never seems to be a good thing.
Speaking of which...
In Anaheim, Burke stumbled this year when he had to deal with the quasi-retirements of Neidermayer and Selanne and when he failed to properly address Dustin Penner’s contract situation.
This was seriously compounded when he elected to sign UFA, chronically injured and rather litigious Todd Bertuzzi to a head-scratching 2 year deal at $4 Million per. Five years removed from his last 30+ goal season, Bert has only managed to play 15 games in the previous regular season and went on to score 3 goals in 16 playoff games for the Red Wings.
The Bertuzzi contract caused a number of salary cap issues for the 2007-08 Ducks.
First of all it limited Burke's options when it came to matching the qualifying offer tendered by Edmonton to RFA Dustin Penner (never mind that Burke could have, and likely should have, signed Penner mid-season or qualified him for arbitration - either step would have removed the threat of an RFA offer sheet. Burke did neither and Edmonton stepped up the plate with a $4M+ deal for Penner that the Ducks declined).
Then, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Selanne and Niedermayer returned, putting the Ducks into cap trouble for the following 2008-09 season. With Corey Perry as an impending RFA, Kunitz and Getzlaf signing extensions, and the ridiculous Bertuzzi signing hanging over his head, Burke had to clear salary space.
Burke responded by waiving Ilya Bryzgalov (think about this: Wade Belak was worth more) and dealing Andy McDonald (who provided much needed second line scoring, disciplined play and 14 points in 21 playoff games during the Ducks’ run to the Cup) to St. Louis for Doug Weight.
McDonald put up 52 points and played in all 82 games this season, while Weight went on to score 25 points and was a healthy scratch in the playoffs.
Bertuzzi and Weight would combine for three assists against the Stars in the opening round, with Bertuzzi’s 14 penalty minutes leading to several key goals by the Stars.
Who knows if things would have been different with McDonald in the line-up, but he certainly represents a far greater offensive threat than Bertuzzi.
This is the handiwork of the guy Leafs Nation has turned to?
Brian Burke may be voted as the best GM by far greater hockey minds than yours truly.
He has won a cup and built several 100+ point clubs.
But he has a horrifically bad track record at the draft table and has made more than his share of questionable trades and signings.
He may be a master with the media, great with a quote and wonderful at communicating his analysis of the game, but so is Paul Maurice. And how did that hire work out for Leafs Nation?