Monday, February 27, 2012

Brian Burke: Woe is Me

I remember my Grade 12 prom; weeks of anticipation and excitement all leading up to the big night. Who would I end up dancing with? Would Stacey the head cheerleader totally make out with Karl in the Limo? How long would it take grunge kids get wasted in the bathroom and demand the DJ play nothing but Nirvana?

Yes, prom was supposed to be a night of great memories and classic stories to be retold happily to future generations. Instead, I had just over 1 beer, sitting with my best friend at one of the back tables for the majority of the night. Stacey got in a fight in Karl and left at 8pm, and the grunge kids decided Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” wasn’t mainstream synthesized crap after all.

Needless to say, prom was a disappointment. However, that pales in comparison to the rotting despair stewing in my stomach as I sit here at the close of Trade Deadline, with nothing.

We made a minor deal, shipping out Keith Aulie to Tampa Bay for Carter Ashton. By all accounts Ashton is a good prospect, possessing the size and draft pedigree that will certainly bolster our prospect pool moving forward. Aulie was a nice piece too, but our blueline had become crowded this year and change was inevitable. My frustration doesn’t stem from the merits of our one and only deal; it’s due to Brian Burkes comments at the post-deadline press conference.

For those of you that missed it, below are some of the notable words from Burke on deadline day:

"I'm debating starting our own trade freeze 10 days before the deadline, much like I do prior to Christmas … that's how distracting it is."

"It's amazing. Clarke MacArthur was traded 10 times (before the deadline), Mikhail Grabovski 12 times, (Nikolai) Kulemin and Luke Schenn was traded 50 times. I think it's remarkable that the players have kept their focus through this. The trade deadline is hard on players, but murder on players in Toronto -- so we've had serious debate whether we would do this 10 days earlier so that our players can relax."

"it reminds me of the '24/7' (HBO) series. It's '24/7' here now; I don't know how the players can ignore it"

It appears, from the statements above, that Burke believes a large part of the Leafs recent struggles can be attributed to the media and fan scrutiny in Toronto. He`s insinuating that the players have been so bombarded with a myriad of daily trade rumours that they just can`t focus on the game at hand. And somehow, he believes this is so much worse than what’s faced by players in rival markets.

There is no denying that Toronto is a hockey-mad market. We love our frozen puck and we enjoy debating, analyzing, and critiquing the actions, or in this case, inaction, of our favourite team. As a veteran of the hockey world, I`m surprised, maybe even a little stunned, that all of this is new to Brian Burke.

We can understand that he is frustrated, I`m sure that it was a long day working the phones and trying to get something done. And other than the Kassian-Hodgson deal there really wasn`t a ton of blockbuster deals going down. So Burke can be forgiven for not necessarily landing a big fish. What is unforgiveable, is the bullish bravado and unfounded criticism he`s placed at the feet of the fans.

I can imagine that in Anaheim trade deadline day is an afterthought, nestled safely on page 8 of the California Sun, somewhere between Justin Bieber's newest hair style and an update on last night’s Bachelor episode (Don`t pick Courtney, Ben. She’s no good for you!). But this is Toronto, Burkie, and we care about our Franchise. You were well aware of this when you agreed work here, and we pay you handsomely to take on the responsibility of leading the Maple Leafs.

Maybe I`m overacting, maybe I`m just a disappointed fan who got all doe-eyed at the thought of Rick Nash, James van Riemsdyk, or Bobby Ryan coming to Toronto. Maybe I do owe Brian a heartfelt apology for putting too much pressure on him and the team. I suppose a playoff spot, any spot, after 8 years of irrelevancy might be too high of an expectation to heap on the boys.

Burke has made it clear that if we truly want to have success in this market, we must leave the team be, and give him and his staff the time and space they so desperately need. We, as fans, must band together and at least temporarily forget our team; don`t read newspapers, magazines, or your favourite blogs. Hang that $200 authentic Leaf jersey deep in your closet and hide your son's Kessel mini-stick. Don`t talk about the team over a cold beer at the local pub and stay away from the water cooler lest some co-worker try to discuss the current state of the team.

The fact is, if you want to work or play in a hockey-mad market then you've got to embrace the media circus that surrounds the team during those critical junctures in the season.  If nothing else, Burke needs to find a better way to manage it.  And no, creating some sanctimonious, self-imposed trade deadline is not the way to do it.

You want to be the blustery GM?  Fine.  But you'd better be prepared to deal with the reprecussions of your actions and the frustration at your inaction.

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