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Maple Leafs Usher In New Era With Burke

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo Gallery | Burke-Fletcher Similarities News Conference | Leafs TV Interview | Burke In Conversation | Top 5 Leafs GMs

Brian Burke is not going home.

He is going to the Vatican.

In introducing the 53-year-old Burke as the Leafs new General Manager, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President and CEO Richard Peddie said “he (Burke) will be charged with the task of leading the Leafs to their 14th Stanley Cup.”

Other than that, no pressure.

“You’re talking about the Vatican if you are a Catholic,” Burke said. “You are talking about the centre of the hockey universe. This is one of the crown jewels in the National Hockey League. It’s an iconic brand worldwide and for someone to turn to you and say we want you to run this team…I can’t really put it in words.”

And then, being Brian Burke, he did.

The 13th general manager in Leafs history is more like the first, Major Conn Smythe, than any other. Smythe was the father of the axiom “If You Can’t Beat Them In The Alley, You Can’t Beat Them The Rink.”

“We require as a team proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence,” said Burke.

And he will get it. The architect of a successful team in Vancouver and a Stanley Cup winner in Anaheim, Burke outlined his guiding philosophy to a media throng at Air Canada Centre.

He restated his central pillars, an aggressive, entertaining style and clear delineation between the first two lines of skill players and two more lines of fighters, shot blockers and penalty killers. On defence, he advocates two skill pairings and one set of plumbers.

He believes in fiscal prudence and, interestingly, delivered his most pointed remarks when discussing the lower-case issue of community involvement.

“Community service is not optional. You want to play in a great city like Toronto, you have to give back or find somewhere else to play,” he said. “The players will be more active than they have ever been here and the players who don’t like it won’t be here long.”

As for the notion of moving players, Burke said he would need time to properly evaluate personnel. The league has a December 19 moratorium for trades but Burke has a personal policy of not making trades 10 days before that. “I don’t think a player should be traded (at Christmas) unless he asks to be traded,” he said.

That will probably mean disappointment for fans looking for an immediate overhaul of the 7-10-4 Leafs. Burke will address the team before Saturday’s date against Philadelphia and begin travelling with the club on the Leafs’ west coast road trip.

Burke had lavish praise for outgoing GM Cliff Fletcher and revealed that the Ducks had tried and failed to pry Mikhail Grabovsky from the Montreal Canadiens. Luke Schenn, Burke said, had bettered his expectations and should get consideration for rookie of the year.

Burke said he would ask to talk with Dave Nonis, Burke’s longtime consort in Vancouver and Anaheim. With Nonis gifted with a clause in his contract that would allow scant notice to leave, it looks like Nonis could be Toronto bound.

As for Mats Sundin, Burke said Leafs’ fans should not hold their breath.

“I don’t think we profile as a team he’s going to sign with. If it was just for money… he’s already turned down $20 million. I think this guy’s got $2 less than God already. He doesn’t need the dough. He’s going to go somewhere where he’s got a chance to win.”

The Leafs, of course, are not that team and won’t be for a while. Burke and everyone else who watches the Leafs, will be counting the moments until they are. Clearly, the new guy knows what is at stake.

“The guy who turns this team around and wins a championship,” said Brian Burke, “they’re going to name schools after him.”

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