Don’t look now, but believe it or not, the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing some pretty decent hockey. And make no doubt about it, former GM Brian Burke built this version of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are his team, he crafted them and almost every player in the organization has been brought in by Burke. Now, with the Leafs playing well and in the thick of the playoff race and in line to make the postseason for the first time since 2004, Burke is a part time scout in Anaheim.
Why did the team not come together under Burke’s watch? Well the first reason could be that Burke thought he was bigger than the Toronto Maple Leafs. He cast such a shadow over the franchise and the players from the time of his hiring to the time he was let go, that the team couldn’t get any metaphorical sunshine.
Another reason is the fact that although he brought the players in, he left Ron Wilson in place too long, and he couldn’t get the job done to craft the team to get the most out of them. Randy Carlyle has come in and has the team playing with confidence and playing well.
A third reason is that Carlyle, and GM Dave Nonis have little loyalty to those players that are not performing well. No doubt Burke made some mistakes in his tenure, but for example, forcing a Mike Komisarek to play because Burke brought him in with a big salary didn’t help things. With Burke out of the picture, Carlyle has more freedom to dress the best lineup he can every night regardless of salary or stature. That is why Komisarek and John-Michael Liles both sat as healthy scratches earlier this week despite being the club’s 2nd and 3rd highest paid defensemen respectively.
Nonis and Carlyle sat down with every player before the season and told them if they were playing well, they would play. If they weren’t they would sit, regardless of salary. This has provided incentive to the young players to know they control their own fate and that good performance will be rewarded in the new look franchise.
There is no doubt that Burke made some mistakes and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But rest assured, the current group of Maple Leafs owe more than just a little bit of credit to Brian Burke for the way they are playing. Its just unfortunate for Burke that he couldn’t get out of his own way soon enough to let the team blossom while he was still in charge.
Him being gone is just one less reason to dislike the Leafs. It is way easier to hate Burke and Wilson than Nonis and Carlyle.