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Columnist absolutely eviscerates Leafs coach and general manager

Feb 29, 2012, 5:21 PM EDT

Sad Leafs fan

Earlier today we linked you to a Toronto newspaper column that condemned Leafs fans for being insensitive to coach Ron Wilson’s feelings.

Meanwhile, at the National Post, columnist Bruce Arthur was feeling a little less blame-the-victimmy.

Following is an excerpt of Arthur’s scathing critique of both Wilson and Leafs general manager Brian Burke:

At [yesterday’s] morning skate, coach Ron Wilson had crowed that “all these rumours the last couple weeks have shown that they were nothing but rumours,” as if it wasn’t Burke who took to the radio last week to say he was looking for a goaltender. All these rumours, as if it wasn’t someone with the Leafs who leaked the fact the team had an offer for pending free agent Mikhail Grabovski.

Burke, of course, also claimed fans don’t like Wilson because he doesn’t kiss up to the media, which really explains those “FI-RE WIL-SON!” chants Tuesday night. And Wilson was the one strapping explosives to Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer in public, day after day. Oh, and the trade deadline stuff. You want a confidence shaker, it’s not Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie.

“I think the trade deadline is hard on players, but I think it’s murder on players in Toronto,” Burke said Monday. “And we just had a serious debate whether next year we’re going to do this 10 days earlier so the players can relax.”

The pressure of the trade deadline? Really? This is Toronto, for God’s sake. Burke knew the moment he took this job what he had to build, and what kind of players were required to build it, and four years later this is a viable excuse?

Frankly, it’s amazing we don’t read more columns like that out of Toronto. Burke’s been in charge of the Leafs since late 2008 and they still don’t have a top-line center or goalie they can trust. He signed regular healthy scratch Mike Komisarek to a big, long contract. He gave Tim Connolly $9.5 million over two years. He took Matthew Lombardi off Nashville’s hands to get Cody Franson, another frequent press-box occupant and, at 24 years old, not exactly green as grass anymore.

Yeah, yeah, the Leafs are one of the youngest teams in the NHL – doesn’t mean they’ll be any good. Anyone can put together a young team — just check IDs.

Not to mention, Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf are unrestricted free agents after two more seasons. Those are Burke’s two main building blocks. Not saying they’re bound to jump ship, but they might be tempted if things don’t get better. And if things don’t get better, it might not be Burke they’ll be negotiating with anyway.

As Arthur writes, “This organization has escaped competitive relevance for so long now, and as it happens again the excuses come to bear. Well, save it. The next 19 games are not just a referendum on the goaltending, on the defencemen, on the forwards, on the coach. They’re yet another referendum on Burke, who lords over this entire operation. This is Toronto. Nobody should act surprised.”

  1. scottfmullin - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    But I thought the Toronto press loved Burke!

  2. govtminion - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    Yeah, hard to argue with any of that. It’s interesting to look at the past four years, the rise of teams and the fall of others, and realize that the Leafs aren’t really any better off than when Burke first arrived.

  3. 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    It hasn’t been a full four years yet and Burke said he might be looking for a goalie, not that he was actively seeking one. What else do you say when you employ what have basically become two backups? If you think the media is crucifying him now just imagine what would have happened when if he said there was nothing wrong with the Leafs’ goaltending situation last week.

    My question to this columnist and everyone else: what exactly would you do differently if you were Burke?

    • Jason Brough - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:39 PM

      Burke was hired in November of 2008. It’s been over four years. And there are tons of things he could’ve done differently, starting with building through the draft right off the bat.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:47 PM

        It hasn’t been over four years, it’ll be four full seasons after this one.

        If he builds through the draft right off the bat then we would have Seguin and Hamilton instead of Kessel. Do you really believe we would be in a much better position now if we had those two players instead? Those are the only picks he’s traded away that I can remember.

      • govtminion - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:52 PM

        Not making the Kessel trade comes to mind. Not that he’s played badly, of course, but going back to what Jason said about the draft, those picks would have been awfully handy. Assuming they turn into the same players, that’s a very good forward and what could be a franchise defenseman- and wouldn’t that have been handy?

      • blomfeld - Mar 1, 2012 at 12:07 AM


        About the only thing I’d give Burke credit for, was coming within “12 hours” of signing the Sisters two summers ago … however, Gilles unfortunately got on a plane at the last hour and beat him to the punch … but apart from that, Brian Burke is a “complete and utter” failure … and he’s a “human” disservice to the fair city of Toronto !

        ps: the fine city of Toronto was originally founded as Fort York in the late 1700’s by the British Army and Canadian militia, designed as a haven for the protection of the “people” against the wild & demented savages and the waring & blood-thirsty French and Yankees …

    • Jason Brough - Feb 29, 2012 at 6:01 PM

      You’re right about the math, sorry. Changed.
      If he had Seguin and Hamilton, wouldn’t there be more optimism?

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 6:24 PM

        @govtminion – “not that he’s played badly” is a bit of an understatement. 5th in scoring and 3rd in goals, not to mention a guaranteed 30+ goals every year, is pretty damn good. As for Hamilton, he could be a franchise defenseman, but that’s what we were told about Schenn. You just never know with prospects.

        @Jason – if we had Seguin and his 11 goals there would be people in Toronto questioning what kind of 2nd overall pick this kid is. I’m not saying that’s right of them to do, but that’s probably what would be happening. Expectations are unrealistic in Toronto and chances are people would have been expecting 20 – 25 goals right away. So I can’t say with any certainty, all other things being equal, there would be more optimism. If anything it would be about the same.

      • bcisleman - Feb 29, 2012 at 7:49 PM

        Speaking of correcting math, Seguin has 20 goals to date and 28 assists. Not sure where the 11 goal figure comes from. By comparison, Kessel had 19 goals and 18 assists in his second season & Seguin still has about a quarter of the season to play.

        No, we don’t know how good Hamilton will be, but we do know that Schenn has been a bit of a disappointment to date and that Phaneuf could walk in a few years. Having Hamilton in the system would, at the very least, be good insurance.

        And that was not all of the damage. Jared Knight’s name never gets mentioned in these discussions, but he is already a fan favorite in Boston and has been compared to Ryan Callahan. Ask NYR fans how they feel about Ryan. Heck, for that matter, ask Brian Burke.

        Mr. Truculence came into town as the big hero who had brought the Sedins to Vancouver and a Cup to Anaheim. He acquired the second of his Sedin picks by trading Brian McCabe, a player he had not acquired.

        The same pattern held in Anaheim. The “genius” added a few key players to an already solid core by trading away players and prospects others had acquired and so took on the undeserved aura of genius.

        A good GM will always be looking for ways to improve his team by trade and free agency, but the only proven way to build a championship core is via the draft. Of course, a Toronto GM who tries to do this is going to face the wrath of the fans, but that doesnt excuse not trying. If you are looking for a good read on how a good GM should operate with special attention to the Toronto situation at the end, read Jimmy Devellano’s book “The Road to Hockeyville”. For any hockey fan, its a page turner.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:10 PM

        My bad, didn’t realize I was looking at totals from his rookie year.

        Still, aside from that trade, Burke has been building through the draft but he hasn’t exactly been choosing from the best draft classes. I’m sure he’s tried to trade up to draft better players but it just hasn’t happened. Also, Seguin is on one of the league’s best teams. I’m not so sure he’d be putting up the same numbers in Toronto right now but there’s now way of knowing.

        Aside from the Kessel trade, which was not the disaster for the Leafs everyone else likes to make it, Burke has been doing about as well as anyone could with what he’s had to work with. Bottom line is I don’t think there’s any point in crucifying Burke for making a mistake or two when he’s done a lot to move this team in the right direction. Two weeks ago I doubt anyone would be arguing that’s exactly what he’s done.

      • bcisleman - Feb 29, 2012 at 9:44 PM

        Seguin’s a stud who was going to put up numbers wherever he went. I would compare the Kessel trade with Milbury’s decision to trade Luongo and Jokinen and draft RDP instead of Heatley. That led to the trading of Chara and the Spezza pick for Yashin.

        Instead of three stud players who would have been the core of a possible champion, you have one fairly one dimensional player who apparently was disliked in the Boston room and does not seem like the sort of team leader who makes everyone around him better. In other words, he may put up some gaudy numbers, but he isnt the sort of player I’d want to build a champion around.. Burke had one chance to quickly build a championship nucleus and he blew it.

  4. rob1986s - Feb 29, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Bruce Arthur spits hot fire.

  5. lameasish - Feb 29, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    Not sure why everyone thinks Hamilton is going to be a franchise d-man. Yes he looks good but people need to settle down on him.

  6. habsman - Feb 29, 2012 at 6:37 PM

    Leaf fans (and head office personnel) have been over estimating the talent level of their players for over 40 years. This year is no different. What I don’t understand is their affinity for Burke and his testosterone, and pugnacity, and beligerence, and truculance. How did all that work out for you Brian?

    Poor trades (other than the Beauchemin) and poor signings. Especially extending his college buddie Wilson.

    Now a days, he cries to the bosses of media outlets complaining when reporters hurt the teams feelings.

    He’s the Rex Ryan of the NHL, loud, rude, and obnoxious. Perfect fit for the Leafs.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 6:55 PM

      That made me laugh. Especially the part about poor signings. How does that saying about throwing stones from glass houses go?

      The only bad trade that comes to mind is the Kessel one, and the only bad trade was the one that netted as a perennial All Star who’s going to lead the team in scoring every year I think I can live with that.

      • habsman - Feb 29, 2012 at 7:10 PM

        Yes the Habs have made some terrible signings. The difference is Hab fans aren’t defending their GM like you are.

        There’s another old saying, ignorance is bliss. How many pairs of rose glasses do you own?

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 7:28 PM

        That’s because I can’t think of any really terrible signings he’s made. The Connolly one wasn’t great, ditto Komisarek. But neither of those are huge cap hits and certainly aren’t handcuffing the franchise.

      • habsman - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:07 PM

        I hope you and Brian have many, many team building years together.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:12 PM

        Great retort. I don’t know why I was expecting you to actually back up what you’re saying.

      • habsman - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:46 PM

        Burke has been there approximately four years. As of today the Leafs are in tenth and falling.
        Enough said. Easy win for you on Saturday, right?

      • drewsylvania - Feb 29, 2012 at 11:13 PM

        Hey, cut habsman some slack. He definitely knows a crappy team that makes crap trades when he sees one.

  7. mydadyourmom - Feb 29, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    Burke is a tool. It’s about time Leafs fans figured that out, since the rest of the fans have known for years.

  8. bcjim - Feb 29, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    Maybe Leaf fans should drop the entitlement shtick.

    Canadiens fans too. Wow, you won a bunch of Cups when all you had to do was beat five other teams. GREAT JOB!!!

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 7:44 PM

      What are you talking about?

  9. pavelfitzgerald - Feb 29, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    Spot on Jason. Burke’s been awful. He was “rebuilding” & then gave away (what turned out to be) Seguin & Hamilton for Kessel as a quick band aid that didn’t push them to the playoffs. His veteran contracts have been awful (Connoly, Komiserak, etc)

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:19 PM

      JFJ was awful. Burke has not been awful. I wouldn’t call Kessel a band-aid, the guy’s only 4 years older than Seguin. That certainly wasn’t as bad as the Rask-for-Raycroft disaster. We also don’t know if Dougie is gonna be the player everyone says he will.

      This is the same team that was headed to the playoffs two weeks ago, but because of one bad stretch (understatement) Burke is suddenly the worst GM in Leafs history. I honestly don’t get it.

  10. taytay099 - Feb 29, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    Burke so far hasn’t be “awful.” I thought the Phaneuf trade was great. Not only did he get rid of Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan, but he got Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie from that trade. The only good player he gave up was Ian White, but I’d take Phaneuf over White any day. His Bauchemin trade for Lupul and Gardiner was another great trade. His Kaberle trade to Boston was pretty good as well. Not only has Kaberle sucked, but he got Colbourne and a 1st and 2nd round pick from it. He also traded Versteeg for a 1st and 3rd so it’s not like they’ve had a lack of draft picks.

    What he really needs to do is make a big trade for a goalie like Bernier or Schneider.

  11. elguapo12 - Feb 29, 2012 at 9:26 PM

    It’s 9:30. Are the Leafs losing yet?

    • drewsylvania - Feb 29, 2012 at 11:14 PM

      OTL baby.

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