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Always Something To Talk About

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
What you need to know about Brian Burke is that Admiral Horatio Nelson, who he greatly admires, once chased his prize, a collection of French ships, from Southern Italy to the West Indies. And then he chased them back.

You also need to know the legendary English sailor was famous for his unconventional tactics which sometimes included slipping out of order to engage enemy ships, even though his designated spot was well in the back.

I think you know where I am going with this.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing going on with the Maple Leafs right now. The NHL playoffs are in the second round and the Leafs aren’t involved. The draft is a little less than two months away. Free agency comes after that.

And yet…

Hockey Night in Canada’s in-between-period coverage recently focused on the possibility of the Leafs’ GM somehow obtaining the rights to uber prospect John Tavares. This speculation has been fed, more like intiated by Burke’s public pronouncement that he was going to move heaven and earth to land Tavares who is the consensus but not unanimous pick for first overall. The Leafs hold the seventh pick.

The widely read website reviews the Hockey Night piece and offers fresh analysis. No one says Burke’s dreams come in technicolour.

We ran a Leafs live chat last Friday. Interest in the club, particularly the draft and free agency, was off the scale.

Now, people loved the hockey team before Brian Burke. Fans want to talk about the Leafs all the time. But I have written about this team for a good 15 years, and this feels different.

Do you know what they are talking about in Ottawa and Calgary right now? The weather. Talk is good.

I have never seen a general manager blithely announce he is seeking the number one prize in the draft. It’s like saying you are going to marry a woman you’ve barely spoken to, a woman who is, by the way, already engaged to someone else. You’ve got to love the ambition. You’ve also got to wonder about the advantages of declaring your intentions in front of a room full of people with cameras and digital recorders.

There is a possibility, a very real one, that the rest of the hockey world might not fancy being managed so the Leafs can get their coveted number one choice.

What we have here is a spotlight that has been reflected from Toronto to distant points.

And it’s for the better. Do you think the Islanders, who are waging an endless struggle in an outdated building dislike the buzz? The question of who they want, Victor Hedman or Tavares, is now of importance somewhere other than Long Island. How about the Lightning, owners of the second choice who stand to land either Hedman or Tavares or perhaps Matt Duchene. There are more possible scenarios than blades of grass. Could either team pry Luke Schenn free from Burke?  The reasonable price would be Schenn, the Leafs’ first round pick and defenceman Tomas Kaberle. Would you do it? Weigh in. Everyone else is.

But there is a reason hockey men wear grey and speak in clipped sentences. It’s a whole lot safer to try and operate in quiet. Burke assessed his chances and decided to start his campaign with the shot of a canon. Nelson would have approved.

But Horatio Nelson was mortally wounded by a sniper installed in the rigging of an enemy ship. He insisted on being up front. There’s a hair-thin line between hero and martyr. Some don’t care which side of the line they fall on and it’s that recklessness, that rejection of conventional thought that defines them. Nelson was such a man. That means we can name at least two.
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