Burke likely to purge Leafs of familiar bodies

The NHL’s worst-kept secret was officially revealed on Saturday with the announcement of the hiring of Brian Burke as the 13th general manager in Maple Leafs history. Burke, a former teammate of Leafs coach Ron Wilson at Providence College, inked a deal in the neighbourhood of $3 million per season that carries through to the end of the 2013-14 season.

Burke wasted no time in defining the standards by which his every day lineup will be iced. “Pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” are the pillars of foundation, according to the man whose intimidating Anaheim Ducks team claimed the 2007 Stanley Cup. The Leafs wasted no time in heeding the call of their new front man, handling Philadelphia 4-2 on the same night, in a game in which both Jamal Mayers and Andre Deveaux engaged in fisticuffs against their Flyers opponents.

It was made clear from Saturday’s announcement that Mats Sundin no longer figures in the Maple Leafs’ future plans, and vice versa. “I don’t think we fit his profile as a team,” said Burke. Citing the two-year, $20 million offer made by the Vancouver Canucks that Sundin has yet to accept, Burke observed “It’s not about the money. He has got $2 less than God.” By the same token, Burke has not only historically refused to engage in bidding wars for players’ services, but has been quite outspoken against fellow general managers for inflationary transactions. Bobby Holik and Dustin Penner are two glaring examples of signings that Burke has considered to be fiscally irresponsible. Sundin has about as much chance of re-signing in Toronto as Kevin Lowe does of receiving a Christmas card from Burke.

While Burke will use the Leafs forthcoming road trip to begin evaluations of his team, and likely wait until the end of the December roster freeze to make any moves, changes are inevitable. Forwards such as Alexei Ponikarovksy and Nik Antropov appear to be prime candidates to be put on the trading block. Neither forward has taken full advantage of his physical size when battling opponents, yet each player could return either a prospect or high-draft pick on the market.

Defenceman Tomas Kaberle, a fine puck-moving blueliner whose game lacks a physical edge may also find himself out of the mould of Burke’s team. Assuming that the 31-year-old can be persuaded to waive his no-movement clause, Kaberle could be a hot commodity, particularly during the period leading up to the trade deadline when his value would increase.

In the front office, outgoing interim general manager Cliff Fletcher will remain in a special consultant’s role while Burke is expected to ask permission of his former team the Ducks to speak with Dave Nonis. Burke’s right-hand man in Vancouver, Nonis reportedly has a 48-hour window in which he can leave Anaheim, and would be suited to serve as Burke’s assistant.

Upon his introduction to Toronto, Burke made reference to the “good, but not great” Leafs teams, which found themselves in a perpetual cycle of never being good enough to be championship contenders, but never bad enough to obtain a high draft pick.

Burke is the man to break that cycle.

Leafs fans can expect to see fewer long-time veterans, and greater potential for the long-term future, by the time the trade deadline rolls around.


Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, a regular column at TMLfans.ca