Brian Burke is Too Confusing

Dion Phaneuf is just one in the long list of disappointments for the Toronto Maple Leafs

It might be a bit generous to describe what Brian Burke has done with his Toronto Maple Leafs as two steps back and one step forward. In just over 2 years as General Manager, Brian Burke has been unable to dig the NHL’s most important franchise out of its deep, dark hole. After another confusing trade today it is apparent that Burke is guiding the Leafs down a pathless wood.

The Tomas Kaberle saga is finally over in Toronto. Kaberle waived his no-trade clause and has been dealt to the Boston Bruins in exchange for prospect Joe Colborne, their first round pick in 2011 and a conditional 2nd round pick in 2012. This is the Leafs 3rd deal in a little over a week. Coincidentally, in a little over a week Brian Burke has changed the direction of this team around 180 degrees.

While not conceding that his initial decision as GM to win right away was wrong, Burke’s dealings over the past week have done the talking for him.

He traded away Francois Beauchemin back to his former team the Anaheim Ducks for Joffrey Lupul who have both had disappointing seasons. Both teams are hoping that the solution is a new environment for their overpaid underachievers. He also traded away off-season acquisition Kris Versteeg to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 1st and 3rd round pick. Versteeg was had by the Leafs for a number of prospects including Viktor Stalberg.

Right now it would seem that a headless chicken would have a better sense of direction than this Toronto Maple Leafs team. Win now? Go young?

The Leafs have an interesting mix of veterans and young players, but nothing that is near ready to compete at a high level.

Their franchise player, Phil Kessel, who they paid a pretty penny for (2 first rounders and a 2nd rounder) has simply been a disappointment for Leaf fans. Lack of production and effort have highlighted the season of the supposed franchise. Inadequate line mates could partially be responsible for this but it’s clear that Kessel is not worth the value that Brian Burke initially placed on him.

Captain Dion Phaneuf who they received from Calgary approximately a year ago is also not performing close to the level that they hoped he would.

However, Toronto is witnessing breakout seasons from their 3 leading scorers. Young guns Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin are all having career seasons. The issue here is that trade speculation has surrounded these guys as MacArthur and Grabovski are restricted free agents at the end of the season.

What to do? At some point you have to pay your young up and comers, but are these guys the ones you want to move forward with? Going even younger is exactly the opposite of what Burke says he wants to do, but with his recent trades who the hell knows what the Leafs front office wants anymore.

Regular readers of mine will know my thoughts on rebuilding and in June I wrote how the Maple Leafs had set themselves up for a future of mediocrity. As of right now I can’t see how this has really changed despite these last two trades that look to signal rebuilding. The Leafs are still facing a number of bad(ish) contracts so in actuality they are not even starting from scratch at this point, rather they are restarting from a hole that has been dug by Brian Burke trying to win with an unwinnable roster. Rebuilding, a slow process in itself, will likely take a greater length of time for the Maple Leafs.

It looks like Burke is finally taking the proper route in rebuilding this team, but the drastic change in the appropriate direction could also mean that another 180 degree turn isn’t out of the question. With this always entertaining drama in full motion and the pieces of the puzzle still scattered, is it possible that the Toronto Maple Leafs situation is even more confusing than it was on November 29, 2008 when Brian Burke was appointed General Manager?

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at I’m on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favor.

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9 Responses to Brian Burke is Too Confusing

  1. R.J. says:

    I like how Burkie is acquiring assets. I have a gut feeling none of those draft picks will be used to pick a player. Burkie has a history of trading picks to move up in the draft and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what happens. Unless he signs Brad Richards on July 1st. Then those picks will be used as compensation.

  2. Chris, good Blog!
    I totally agree with you on Burke, he is confusing, and has done a 180! I wish he realized that when he got here that he had time to build this team, even today at the press conference he said he is not gone get into the playoffs to get his ass kicked in first round, that is 180 from his comments first year when he pushed a non play off team trying to make the playoffs, and said in Toronto you can’t pack it in, instead of tanking it when the team had no chance, at least they were no closer then this year. That year they ended up with pick # 7 and drafted Kadri, but have drafted much earlier and we know the players that were available! And now hopefully he is going about it the right way, a little late, but they say better late then never! Anyway I am glad to see more leaf fans doing this (websites), as it is a venue to express our frustration!! I mean its not only the leafs! it is depressing to be a Toronto sports Fan!! 🙂 —

  3. Zebster says:

    Chris, very well written. Even though I’m a Bruins fan, we can still get along, just ask RJ. Maybe Burke will actually use those picks to surround the good young nucleus you speak of. Kessel has to go and, no, we won’t take him back.

  4. falcons999 says:

    Versteeg was acquired on the cheap and just didn’t turn out to be a first or second line player and was somewhat disappointing. Fixing your mistakes quickly by admitting a mistake is not generally done by sports executives. Kudos to Burke for that….Versteeg will fit better with the Flyers and will be good. A win/win deal.

    Dion has been horrible and was also acquired on the cheap. The key to that deal is Keith Allie. He is the real deal and a great acquisition and is already doing a better job replacing Beauchemin..

    Kaberle is just terrible defensively but is good offensively and is a real class act. He wasn’t coming back and they did get a lot for him.

    They brought in a lot of assets and didn’t give up anything special the past two weeks.

    Now getting Kessel was a real overpay. Petulant and immature.

  5. caniacwiz says:

    Not a Leafs fan, but sometimes I really don’t understand Burke myself. One moment he pulls off what seems like a genius move (i.e. shipping out Beauchemin), the next he does something like acquiring Aaron Voros. It really is a shame because the Leafs actually have some good players (Grabovski, Kulemin, MacArthur), but Burke is doing quite the opposite of giving them some help.

    Now with Kaberle gone, how will it affect the rest of the team knowing who once was the longest serving Maple Leaf is no longer with them? Don’t forget Ron Wilson, who I’m sure isn’t exactly earning the praise from all his players (cough cough Kessel).

    It’s a tricky situation in Toronto, and unfortunately, I really don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon.

  6. Jeff Zeffer says:

    Yes, Brian Burke I think has made a lot of moves that make it look like the Maple Leafs team will be improving down the road. But I think before we make an overal perspective of what Brian Burke has recently done. I believe we all have to wait until the 28th trade deadline day has passed, to even grade what this team is like for a short and long term perspective. But I also believe that what Burke has done and will do in this month is just the tip of the ice burg. His has a couple of more high draft picks, and from a recent interview I saw of Burke. He said that 1st round draft picks are Gold and everyone wants some Gold. I do expect more significant moves come July 1st, where after the fact we can honestly make a good judgment on how good this Leafs team can be in the short and long term.

  7. Wanna buy a headless chicken?


  8. Ben F says:

    Nice breakdown of the situation the Leafs currently find themselves in. However, I’ve never fully understood this great divide whereby teams have to identify themselves as buyers or sellers. While the trades, themselves, can be disputed, Burke seems to have rid himself of a few guys that weren’t part of his plans for the team (Beauchemin, Versteeg, Kaberle) and tried to compile assets in return. When your core is fairly young (Kessel, Phaneuf, Grabovski, Kulemin, MacArthur and Schenn are all 27 or younger), you are afforded the chance to take time to let complementary players, like Kadri or Colborne, develop rather than either going all-in or entering fire sale mode.

  9. Dave Hollier says:

    Nice comments on the Leafs’ situation. I think you’re right. This isn’t really a team they want to move forward with. I think it’s extremely unfortunate that Phil Kessel is considered the team’s “top player” right now and that they continue to be a building team. Your title hits the nail right on the head. Brian Burke IS confusing and he needs to be shown the door if the Leafs want to see any kind of success. They have made a playoff push since this was posted, but they have lost some key games. This will probably be their downfall come April. Great blog, Chris. Keep up the good work.

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