A few years ago I was talking to my dad about leadership. He asked me who I currently looked up to as a leader. The Anaheim Ducks had just won a Stanley Cup and Brian Burke was a co-arctitect of that champion team. He made some great moves and added great experience to a young and budding group of stars. Even though Brian Murray built the core of the team, Brian Burke added the finishing touches. I bought into his self praise and sanctimonious attitude and told my dad that Burke was my guy. It wasn’t until he got into his feud with Kevin Lowe that I began to realize how much he loved the sound of his own voice and really, how self important he came across.
I slowly turned from a Burke fan into a Burke pessimist. So when he got to Toronto and traded 2 first round draft picks and a second for Phil Kessel, I was ecstatic. What an incredible blunder! No-one outside of Toronto was disillusioned in thinking they were a playoff team let alone a contender. Not only did he make a move that would do little to help his team now, he also took away all Leafs fans’ hope. Those draft picks were the only things they had to mitigate the failure of their team and they had just been given away for an awkward, defensive liabitily who yes could score goals, but also had the unfortunate distinction of having the same haircut as Ralph Wiggum. Burke seemed to drink a little too much of his own kool-aide and had thought he had brought about a quick fix to a very old problem. He hadn’t. He had only exacerbated the problem. Set himself and the Leafs 2 years back. So for 3 years, his team sucked and sucked really badly. The were among the worst in the NHL year after year.
But last year, as the trade deadline approached, Burke did something very unBurke like. He dumped a bunch of bad contracts and underperforming players for draft picks and solid young prospects. He traded Beauchemin for Gardner and Lupul, two solid contributors to the Leafs current lineup (how much would the Ducks love to have those 2 guys back right now). He traded Tomas Kaberle for Joel Colbrne and a 1st round draft pick (probably a pity trade from Boston as they felt guilty for the Kessel trade). And then traded Brett Lebda for Matt Lombardi and Cody Franson. These three trades are absolute steals and are the reason the Leafs have been able to turn the corner this year. These moves had given the Leafs incredible depth and hope for the future as well.
These trades were a change in course for Burke, perhaps an admission that he had made mistakes and was willing to rectify those mistakes, that he was willing to start over. I have a great deal of respect for that. I’ve been a huge critic of Burkes over the past few years but I am happy to give him credit when credit is due.