By: Jeff Lingard
In a stunning development, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired General Manager Brian Burke after just over four years on the job. Burke was tasked with making the Leafs Cup contenders after his role in winning a Stanley Cup as the GM of the Anaheim Ducks. His most noteworthy trade happened in September, 2009 where Burke traded 2010 and 2011 first round draft picks plus a 2010 second round draft pick to the Boston Bruins for Phil Kessel and then signed Kessel to a five year $27 million contract. Burke was expecting the Leafs to contend for the playoffs in 2009-10 but instead finished 29th in the league and allowed the Bruins to select Tyler Seguin in 2010 and then top prospect defenceman Dougie Hamilton in 2011. Kessel has been a very good offensive player but he is not a franchise player.
It was widely rumoured that Burke would be fired if the Leafs didn’t make the playoffs this year. The timing to this move is curious. If there was no lockout, would Burke have been fired in September of 2012? Is there a disagreement over whether the Leafs should make a move for Roberto Luongo? I’m sure details about this will leak out over the next few weeks. For now we will probably see a lot of Brian Burke on TSN as a studio analyst and I’m sure he will get a front office job in the next couple of years.
My first impression of this firing is that Burke deserved one more year since the core of the team that he has drafted have finally established themselves as NHL players. His 2012 first-round pick, Morgan Rielly looks like an elite defensive prospect. If the Leafs get good goaltending this year they should challenge for a lower playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Ultimately though the Kessel trade hampered and did not accelerate the rebuilding process as Burke had hoped. He overestimated college signings like Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson as replacements for high first round picks. The funny thing with the Kessel trade was it seemed like for the first time the Leafs were satisfied with a Washington/Pittsburgh rebuilding plan through the draft with high picks over two to three years. It is going to be interesting how Leafs fans react to this and to find out about the details of the firing.