Sunday, October 18, 2009

Careful jumping off the Maple Leaf bandwagon

The Maple Leaf organization became obsessed in early 2008 with Brian Burke. He was literally anointed their messiah and pursed despite the fact he was under contract with Anaheim. It seems no other candidates were seriously considered. The day he was actually hired, he became the face of the franchise. He also created quite high expectations in Leaf Nation. He declared the Leafs would not be rebuilding and would make the playoffs this coming season.

So what’s with Toronto’s obsession with Brian Burke?

Now I understand that the Maple Leafs haven't provided much to cheer about on the ice and haven’t for a while. I know that fans of the team have turned their teary eyes toward this blustery native New Englander with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger in the hope that he can bring them out of the wilderness after 42 years of futility. It's also well known that Burke never saw a microphone he didn’t like and the Toronto news media is malnourished when it comes to good hockey news so this was a perfect marriage. Just look at what occurred in the past week when the Leafs played no games for 5 days. The media began reporting the score of dodgeball games played during a practice in the week.

His credo, stated upon his hiring — “We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That’s how our teams play,” said Burke — has been aped by so many Leaf followers that everyone can now recite the requirements by heart. Those qualities may describe Burke as well, but all the pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence has thus far gotten the Leafs is the most fighting majors and the worst penalty killing percentage in the NHL and chances of immediate improvement or an overhaul could be iffy.

In all his maneuvering for John Tavares, then Brandon Schenn, and finally Phil Kessel, Burke failed to secure a good first string goalie. No team in hockey can succeed without a great goalie between the pipes. You build a winner from the net out. Truculence won't stop pucks from going in the net.

So with each loss more and more fans are jumping off the Maple Leaf bandwagon. There are stories circulating in the media that tickets are no longer hard to come by - at any price. And the messiah has become strangely silent. So after 42 years of wandering in the desert, we seem to be farther than ever from the Promised Land.