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Three years in, Burke has Leafs beginning to deliver

Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 2:59 PM / NHL Insider

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Three years in, Burke has Leafs beginning to deliver
As Burke celebrates the third anniversary of his being hired, the Leafs lead the Northeast Division and with 30 points, they're two points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins.
When Brian Burke was hired by to be the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Richard Peddie, the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, let it be known exactly what he expected from his new employee.

"He will be charged with the task of leading the Leafs to their 14th Stanley Cup," Peddie said.

No pressure there, eh?

That was Nov. 29, 2008. As Burke celebrates the third anniversary of his being hired, the Leafs currently look closer to that goal than ever before.

"Changing the general manager doesn't change the team. It doesn't change a lot of things. It's going to take some time and some patience. What it does represent, though, is a turning of the page. For me, we're turning the page and now we get to write on blank pages and make changes and get this team to where it needs to be." -- Brian Burke

Entering Tuesday's games, the Leafs lead the Northeast Division and with 30 points, they're just two points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.

It hasn't been an easy ride for the Leafs. Just one year ago, on his second anniversary on the job, the Leafs were 8-11-3, and their 19 points placed them 13th in the East and 27th in the League.

Burke and coach Ron Wilson were getting slammed, and it looked like the Phil Kessel trade, which had cost the Leafs two first-round draft choices, would again mean another lost lottery pick.

However, Burke never flinched and continued on the path he felt was the right one. He continued rebuilding the roster, jettisoning most of the players on board when he was hired.

"Changing the general manager doesn't change the team," Burke told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "It doesn't change a lot of things. It's going to take some time and some patience.

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"What it does represent, though, is a turning of the page. For me, we're turning the page and now we get to write on blank pages and make changes and get this team to where it needs to be."

It looks he's writing some pretty entertaining stuff on those pages right now.

The Leafs went 18-9-6 to close the 2010-11 season and raise hopes for a playoff spot, and that finish has led into this season's strong start. In fact, since the 2011 All-Star break, Toronto is 32-17-8, with their 72 points tying for the third-most in the League in that span.

And Burke's biggest acquisitions are a major reason why. Kessel, the explosive scorer Burke landed in a September 2009 trade, leads the League with 16 goals and 31 points. Dion Phaneuf, who Burke acquired from the Calgary Flames in January 2010, has 18 points in 24 games, putting him on pace for a career-best 61. He's matured into a strong captain, and is a plus-2 after going minus-4 in his first 92 games with the Leafs. He's playing that well while averaging a team-high 25:43 of ice time per game.

Those aren't the only key players Burke has brought in. Joffrey Lupul, Clarke MacArthur, Tim Connolly and John-Michael Liles have made big impacts.

Burke also has helped make the team younger, acquiring youngsters Joe Colborne, Keith Aulie and Jake Gardiner in trades, and drafting Nazem Kadri.

Work remains before the Leafs can start selling playoff tickets, but as Burke celebrates his third anniversary on the job, he's closer than ever to achieving Peddie's goal.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

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