Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pope Brian I

“If you are Catholic, this is the Vatican.” Brian Burke speaking about Toronto’s significance in the world of hockey.

Ask anyone in the NHL, or the media types who cover the league, for their opinion on “current” Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke and you are likely to hear him characterized with words like “arrogant, authoritarian, bold, brash, cocky, controlling, creative, defiant, no nonsense, old time hockey, a throw back, tough, unforgiving, unpredictable” and some other less than flattering terms – but you will never hear anyone characterize him as dumb; quite the opposite.

While those covering the league aren’t quite ready to join yours truly in bestowing the title of “Hockey God” on Burke, they will (somewhat grudgingly) acknowledge that he is one of the smarter men in the game.

Last Friday, the Anaheim Ducks donated a Stanley Cup ring to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Toronto media was not going to allow Brian Burke to slip out of town without asking him about his interest in taking over the reins of our (counting Hazel in here) beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

Burke’s response was classic – he said all the things that the Ducks ownership wanted to hear AND a lot of things that Leaf Nation wanted to hear – once again demonstrating the true genius of this man. On one hand, reiterating his commitment to the Anaheim Ducks; while on the other hand, leaving the door unlocked (if not slightly open) to the possibility that he would one day be interested in being Toronto’s top dog. And in classic Burke fashion, there was also some harsh criticism for the media.

Burke was at his defiant best in denying he had any interest in moving to Toronto – citing his family’s love for the city of Los Angeles, as well as his respect and commitment to the Ducks “great” owners. Step one in Burke’s plan was to reassure his current employers that he is committed to staying there – let the contract extension talks begin.

Burke quickly switched gears to chastise the media and Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment for what he called the slow and torturous disembowelment of former Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. Brian always calls them like he seem them – and he wasn’t afraid to put the majority of the blame at the foot of MLSE, saying that the donkeys running the show there should have let Ferguson go before the season if they knew they weren’t committed to the guy. (That is where I respectfully, and very humbly, disagree with Hockey God).

The media continued to press about the job in Toronto – again, Burke was bold, bordering on combative, as he stated that he would have no problem working with MLSE and Richard Peddie. Burke’s soliloquy was almost hypothetical – talking about how important it is for Toronto to be relevant in the NHL, how it is a shame that an original six team is struggling, and how Toronto (along with Montreal) were the epicenter of hockey.

While it would be foolhardy to question Burke’s integrity and honesty in his commitment to the Ducks – Leaf Nation can only hope that Burke’s words were not intended to jump start extension talks with the Ducks, but rather a thinly veiled list of demands that would have to be met in order for Hockey God to lead Leaf Nation.

No one can say for certain what Burke is thinking – but if you are a member of Leaf Nation, you have to go with what you know about the man. The obvious thing is that he is “old-time hockey” personified – he has too much respect for the game and those in the game to throw anyone under the bus (in this case, interim GM Cliff Fletcher, MLSE or the Ducks) in stating his interest in hockey’s “plum job” – so let’s dispense with that.

First off, he understands the significance the Maple Leafs – they are THE most important franchise in the NHL, period. Burke’s words should be heeded by the donkeys in Detroit and Ottawa who like to think of themselves as “Hockey Town” or “Hockey Country”. Breathing life and bringing hope to this franchise is important to the NHL – the league’s leading revenue generator MUST be a playoff team and a contender for the ultimate prize.

Second, he is very well aware of what leading the Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup would mean to his legacy in the world of hockey – he would be crowned “Modern Day Hockey God”. Like any great GM, he has an ego – and what better way to have it stroked than to bring the dream to millions of rabid hockey fans who are waiting for the ultimate prize. Burke has never shied away from a challenge, and the Leafs would present the ultimate challenge – one that he would certainly relish taking on.

Third, he doesn’t bow to anyone – he sets the tone for the way things go. His words and tone last Friday set the ground rules for him taking the job in Toronto. First, it would be his show – he could work with Richard Peddie…the operative word is “with” – he isn’t going to work “for” Richard Peddie or MLSE. Second, he put the media on notice that he wouldn’t or couldn’t be bullied or brow-beaten by the media. Where JFJ would retreat and ramble on in politically correct “legalese” about the state of the team – Burke would handle things much differently, putting the media on notice that a new sheriff had taken over and things would be done HIS way.

A lot of good things were said last Friday – does it mean that Burke unofficially stated his interest in the job? Leaf Nation would like to think so. Would he be the perfect man for the job? Without a doubt; Leaf Nation knows it and so does he.

“We” would like to take it as Burke effectively put the ball in the court of MLSE – its up to the suits to return the ball with an offer of $30 million for five years and complete control of hockey operations at the ACC. Leaf Nation can only hope – hey, how about nominating Hazel as a representative of Leaf Nation to act as a mediator and broker this deal to bring Burke to Toronto?

On behalf of Leaf Nation, we would welcome Pope Brian I to the Vatican of the hockey world.

The NHL starts up again tonight after a less than spectacular (actually more of a crap-tacular) All-Star Weekend. Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher has said that this team has two weeks to play itself into playoff contention or risk being gutted (to the extent possible with some of the ridiculous contracts JFJ left the team with).

The weight of the world is on Mats Sundin with everyone speculating/suggesting that for the good of the organization he must/will waive his no trade clause in order for the team to move him for prospects. Totally unfair to put the fate of the franchise on a guy that has done right by these donkeys for more than a decade. Mats is the only guy on the team that should get to call his own shot.

Last week ended being a break-even week – it gets turned around this week. Tonight’s suggestions:

San Jose over Edmonton – the Sharks have been road warriors this year, picking up 35 of their 31 points on the road; expect them to get it done tonight against the Oilers. Lay $100 on the Sharks – $145.

Dallas over Vancouver – the Stars weren’t great going into All-Star weekend, but they catch a break tonight as Roberto Luongo won’t play tonight. Lay $100 on the Stars + $115.

Columbus over Phoenix – you have to like the Blue Jackets at home against a team that is only two points behind them in the conference standings. Lay $100 on the Jackets - $145.

That’s it for today gang – thanks for taking the time to check in. Special thanks to Tilt, who is recovering from a horrible beat at the poker table, for posting this. Have a great one peeps.

Hazel, here’s hoping things are groovy in your world.



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