Saturday, November 13, 2010

Here is what a Leafs General Manager looks like

No, Brian Burke is not looking at Mason Raymond's winning goal for the Canucks against the Toronto Maple Leafs through a pair of binoculars. For one, Raymond was so far away that there is no way that the two would fit into the same frame, and for two, the gap in JS Giguere's legs was large enough to be easily seen from the press box.

Rather, this is Brian Burke looking at his team in probably their best game of the season, yet losing to a far superior opponent, one which his fingerprints are all over. He's watching his team's 8th loss in nine games, a streak where they've scored, where they haven't, where they've played great, where they haven't. If your club consistently find ways to lose, even the most consistent of Burke defenders will start critiquing the way you've put your club together.

The Kessel trade was right for the Leafs. It brought them in a bonafide, developed superstar for two could-bes, but Burke has failed in any way to surround him with offensive talent, instead focusing on filling gaps with players like Tim Brent and Colton Orr, who offer a lot of 'heart' and 'grit' and whatnot, but no scoring ability.

Throughout the game, CBC frequently panned up to the press box wherein sat a depressed-looking Dion Phaneuf, another superstar victim to Brian Burke's beliefs in a game that has passed him by. Phaneuf needs to play on an up-tempo team that won't notice his blatant giveaways so much, that can knock in loose pucks created off of his shots and where he can be in the spotlight. Even when healthy, the guys in front of him were, other than Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur on a hotstreak.

It doesn't really get better for the Leafs this season, and why should it? Burke's attempts to methodically build his way out of the John Ferguson Jr. era the way he rebuilt the Canucks will go in vain in a salary capped era, where a five-year plan ends with a one-year window because that's when your top forward hits the last year on his UFA deal. Instead of using the Ontario Teacher Pension Plan money wisely on Moneyball players, Burke instead tried to sew straw into gold in his 11 forwards behind Phil Kessel, and his four defensemen behind Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn.

The Mason Raymond goal, a weak slap shot that went right through the legs of Giguere late in the game for the eventual winner, is the final straw. The Leafs were terrific against Vancouver Saturday night, but found another way to lose, the way its always been since Canada's centennial year. The silly basement numbers prove that.

There's really no looking up for Toronto. Losing streaks are losing streaks, but the Leafs have been in the middle of a huge losing streak since the start of the damn JFJ era, and it will clearly take more than JS Giguere, Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel to get out of.

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