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Burke Has Re-Made Leafs Roster

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
The trade deadline has passed and the Leafs roster, if anything, is weaker today than yesterday.

When Brian Burke first sat down in the Big Chair on November 29, 2008 everyone knew what they were getting.

Burke would follow his vision with the zeal of an evangelist. He would do things his way and since that had resulted in a Stanley Cup in Anaheim and a revival in Vancouver, his way looked awfully good.

He has not strayed, not in committing two first-rounders and a second to land a player he considered a sure thing in Phil Kessel nor in landing Jean-Sebastien Giguere, an expensive goalie who had lost his job in Anaheim but who had a Stanley Cup ring.

There’s no denying that things look very dark indeed right now. The Leafs are last in the East with a shot at finishing last overall and gifting the rights to Taylor Hall or Tyler Sequin to Boston.  And while the team has accrued a stable of young players: Luke Schenn, Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Jonas Gustavsson, Carl Gunnarsson, Christian Hanson, Viktor Stalberg, Dion Phaneuf and now, 21-year-old Luca Caputi, few save for Phaneuf will be stepping up and grabbing the reins of the team soon.

Until the Leafs become competitive again, the focus of the Leafs  limitless fandom will settle on the shoulders of the guy pulling the levers.

Now you may argue with the Burke’s decisions, particularly the one that brought Kessel here. Bear in mind, that’s a beef raised mostly in hindsight since the airwaves were not filled with people complaining about the cost when the deal was made.

You may quibble with devoting a roster spot and a $1 million to Colton Orr, the kind of one dimensional enforcer from which the game seemed to be moving away.

Maybe you wanted to keep Matt Stajan or think Burke should have hardballed Tomas Kaberle.
But there is one fact beyond dispute. The guy never lied.

He said he would rebuild from the crease out. Vesa Toskala will report to his third team of the season today.

He said he wanted a bigger and tougher defence. In came Mike Komisarek and then Phaneuf.

He said the captaincy of the Toronto Maple Leafs was one of the most important positions in sport and he would not move to fill it until he found the right man. Still no guy.

He said he would move players.  Gone from the beginning of the season are seven regulars: Nik Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Matt Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak and Vesa Toskala.

He said he would use every avenue to find talent. He signed Gustavsson out of Sweden and mined the U.S. collegiate systems for free agents Hanson and Bozak. He ponied up the draft choices for Kessel.

You can argue that while the Leafs are bigger, they aren’t the man-eating tribute to truculence Burke promised.  Burke says he will keep moving players until he gets 20 guys who want to win as much as he does. He has been on the job about 15 months.

And while Burke has never cottoned to the idea of a five-year rebuilding plan, he never said it would take a season and a half to turn the corner.

So here is what you are left with. The moves have been about what was expected. The immediate results are still meagre, a golden future of Kadri goals and Gustavsson saves, well over the horizon.

But there is one more indisputable fact: the guy has never failed. Not as a GM in Anaheim and Vancouver, not as a league official, not at Harvard Law.

It comes down to a question of faith governed by cold math. When calculating the future with no real data available, bet on what you know. Put your money on the guy who has never failed.
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