Monday is an important anniversary in the evolution of this Maple Leafs team, although we shouldn’t expect any press releases or pregame ceremonies. Instead, the team will let the date quietly slip by, without mentioning that it marks four years since Brian Burke’s reign as general manager came to an end.
Burke’s firing, announced shortly after the end of the 2012-13 lockout, came as a surprise. It’s rare to see a GM stay on the job throughout an offseason, only to be dismissed days before opening night. It eventually became clear that Burke’s relationship (or lack thereof) with new ownership had been the factor that sealed his fate.
Burke’s Toronto tenure was picked apart in the days after the firing, and in the years since. No doubt they will be again in the days to come. In short, Burke was a failure as Leafs’ GM. He drafted poorly. He mismanaged the cap, especially when it came to free agency. He refused to take advantage of various CBA loopholes that seemed tailor-made for big-money teams like Toronto. And he consistently misjudged his own roster, always believing he was almost there, as if we’d all wake up one morning and realize that what looked like a last place team was actually a contender.
So yes, Burke deserved the criticism, just as he deserved to be fired. All of that was fair. All of it was true.
But all of that also makes it easy to forget one other key trait of the Brian Burke years: When it came to trading, the man was freaking brilliant.
Not “good” or “above average”. He was ridiculous. During his time in Toronto, he put together one of the best trading records in the entire league.
That mattered. And it’s worth remembering today, as the league plods through an era where few teams use trades to build their roster, including the current iteration of the Leafs. While it’s still relatively early in the Lou Lamoriello era, the team has only made three deals of any real significance – Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa and Frederik Andersen from Anaheim.
That’s not a lot, but it’s three more than some teams have made. That’s the way it works in today’s NHL, where trading is a dying art. It’s too hard, we’re told. The salary cap is too complicated, we’re reminded. You just can’t make trades anymore, whines a generation of risk-averse GMs.
Bullshit, replied Brian Burke. Hand me the phone.