Early Wednesday morning, we found out about a massive mess left behind in Switzerland by Tyler Seguin. It was an amusing little story about a 20-year-old kid unaccustomed to living on his own. It was quickly overshadowed by another mess, this time created by Tom Anselmi and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, as they fired Brian Burke as the Maple Leafs General Manager.
The Leafs were a mess when Burke was hired and they’re a mess now. That’s not to say that Burke didn’t make some good moves as GM for the Leafs – he definitely did – but the overall results have remained the same, missing the playoffs in all four seasons of his tenure. it could even be argued that the Leafs have gotten worse, as their goal differential has been worse every season since 2007-08 before Burke took over. The Leafs won 36 games that season. They’ve only bettered that total once, winning 37 games in 2010-11.
So who left behind the bigger mess: Seguin or Burke?
In my favourite part of Blick’s report on Seguin, they claimed “the hockey player was ‘not versed in appliances’ and as a result tried to wash his clothes in the dryer.” Gold.
Burke’s best quality as a GM is his ballsiness – his willingness to make big, risky moves to improve his team. He’s the kind of guy who will skip the washer and go straight for the dryer, just to see if it’ll work and make his laundry process that much better.
That ballsiness netted him the Sedins in Vancouver via a convoluted series of trades and bluffs. It got Chris Pronger as the final piece for the Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks. And it got Dion Phaneuf into a Leafs jersey for the cost of what essentially amounted to spare parts.
That ballsiness also led to trading two 1st round draft picks and a 2nd round draft pick for Phil Kessel. Burke’s biggest mistake with that trade wasn’t the trade itself: it was his assessment of the talent level of his team. Those two 1st round draft picks became a 2nd-overall and a 9th-overall pick. Tyler Seguin has already played two full seasons with the Bruins, scoring 29 goals and 38 assists as a 20-year-old.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but a big part of a GM’s job is talent assessment, not unlike assessing whether a washer or dryer is best suited to getting your clothes clean. Trading 1st-round draft picks is risky and ballsy, but it’s generally only worth doing if your team is on the cusp of a Cup run, not when it hasn’t made the playoffs in four straight seasons.
There are some, including our own Jake Goldsbie, who would argue that Burke wasn’t given enough time to turn the Leafs fortunes around. The consensus appears to be that he should have been given at least 5 years before his progress was judged. Burke is done in by his own words, unfortunately, as he repeatedly said that he wasn’t interested in a “five-year rebuild,” believing he could turn a team around more quickly, as he felt he did in Anaheim.
The report on Seguin continued, saying “The parquet floor was littered with coins worth 220 francs [$238].” Incidentally, this is a parquet floor.
Burke has a bad habit of throwing money around when things start to go sour. When it looked like both Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer might retire in 2007, Burke overspent on Todd Bertuzzi, giving him a 2-year, $8-million contract, and Mathieu Schneider, signing him to a 2-year, $11.25 million contract. He eventually bought out Bertuzzi and traded Schneider to the Atlanta Thrashers.
With the Leafs, he overspent badly on Mike Komisarek, signing him to a 5-year, $22.5 million contract. It has not turned out well. To Burke’s credit, he hasn’t overspent since. Of course, he hasn’t really spent at all, which is another matter entirely.
Seguin reportedly left “Coca-cola bottles, garbage and dirty linen…scattered across the floor….”
In Burke’s case, he wasn’t afraid to air the Leafs dirty laundry in public. I’m specifically referring to how he handled the firing of Francois Allaire, throwing the goalie coach under the bus for the poor performance of the Leafs’ netminders. Speaking of…
“…while rotten bananas were left on a table.”
The one area where Burke shows little to no ballsiness is when it comes to goaltenders. He tends to hang on to goaltenders well past when they’ve gone bad and need to be thrown out. He did it with Dan Cloutier in Vancouver and he did it with Jonas Gustavsson in Toronto.
That said, Burke did very well to turn Vesa Toskala, along with Jason Blake, into J-S. Giguere in a trade, as Giguere was a decent stop-gap measure. James Reimer may recover from his poor performance last season as well, particularly considering how it was interrupted by injury, but he doesn’t seem to be the right fit as the number one goaltender in Toronto.
Rumours are currently swirling that it was Burke’s unwillingness to acquire a new top banana, Roberto Luongo, that was the final straw that led to his firing. Those, however, are just rumours at this point. And I apologize for “top banana.”
“He also did not know how to operate the dishwasher…when he ran out of clean plates, glasses and cutlery, he bought plastic tableware.”
I’m not sure if there is a better metaphor for how Burke handled the Leafs’ lack of a first line centre.
“You could tell it was the first time a young, single man had an apartment.”
Burke simple didn’t have that excuse. He was brought into Toronto as one of the best GMs in the league and was expected to get results as such. He didn’t. That wouldn’t have been a problem had he tempered expectations in the first place, but he didn’t.
Seguin reportedly left the bathroom “a shambles and the cleaning company spent a full day tidying the apartment.”
Poor Dave Nonis. This is the second time he’s had to come in and clean up after the messy firing of his friend. He’s essentially the polar opposite of Burke and suffers from being too timid to make the moves necessary to build a winning franchise. You have to give him credit for acquiring Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, but this time around he doesn’t have a Todd Bertuzzi to send out the door. On the plus side, Nonis has already been doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the Leafs. It’s just now he’ll have final say, as long as the MLSE boardroom stays out of the picture.
The timing of the firing is what makes this a real mess. The current state of the Leafs is certainly salvageable and it seems truly odd to fire a GM just before the start of a new season after allowing him to make off-season changes and put the lineup together. You could argue that the biggest mess is being left by Tom Anselmi. But I won’t.
So who left the bigger mess? Seguin, obviously. Seriously, rotten bananas on the table? Gross.