Ex-Ducks GM Brian Burke is tailor-made for the Maple Leafs
Burke declined a contract extension with the Ducks and paved his exit
Ducks are in fine shape with new GM Bob Murray and assistant David McNabb
Toronto will provide Burke with a grand stage for his talent and colorful bluster
The premier NHL free agent hit the market on Wednesday, a potential franchise-changer who will rattle cages on his next team -- likely the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Imagine: the biggest of NHL markets meets the biggest of NHL schemers.
Brian Burke stepped down as president and general manager of the Anaheim Ducks, reassigned as a senior advisor to new GM Bob Murray, his former top aide. But Burke's role as a sounding board is unlikely to last long. He is free to look elsewhere in the NHL for work, which means the long-rumored move to Toronto should be smooth sailing -- unless another and better opportunity suddenly materializes that will take him even closer to some family on the East Coast.
When Burke declined to sign a contract extension with the Ducks last week, a piece of paper that seems as old as the Magna Carta, Anaheim realized nothing could dissuade him from leaving when his four-year deal expires after the season. Rather than have Burke's lame-duck status hang over the team the entire season -- he insisted on ground rules during Anaheim's trip East last month: only one question about his contract per interview -- the Ducks moved to make the split as warm-and-fuzzy as possible.
Murray, a former GM in Chicago who was hired by Burke as a scout when Burke ran the Vancouver Canucks, will be backed by a solid organization that includes assistant David McNabb. Anaheim should be in good shape, despite the strain of the salary cap issues it has felt because, in part, of the dithering of veterans Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer, who returned in the middle of last season.
But the sexy part of the story is what figures to be Burke's imminent departure, especially if interim GM Cliff Fletcher slides over and Burke takes over daily operations of the Maple Leafs.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment can be a viper's nest, but Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has a non-interference clause in his contract that allows him to walk if there is meddling by the board. Burke, who has a thicker portfolio than Colangelo did when the basketball GM left the Phoenix Suns, should demand nothing less. He has the 2007 Stanley Cup in his pocket and clearly defined ideas of how hockey should be played. For all his bluster, there is a secure intellectual underpinning to his approach, something that should help the Leafs, who have been drifting despite the periodic playoff noise they made when Pat Quinn was their coach.
Toronto should be a perfect fit for Burke, who can ride into town as the white knight. The coach, Ron Wilson, was Burke's old college teammate at Providence. There will never be problems about spending to the salary cap. While there is a paucity of talent, Wilson has Toronto playing with an uncommon verve, maxing out on a combination of sheer industry and shots on the net. The road back to respectability might not be especially tortuous, especially if a GM with Burke's flair could make a culture-changing deal like he did in offloading an indifferent Sergei Fedorov to Columbus en route to building a feisty, gritty team in Anaheim.
And Burke's infamous feuds (Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe, various hockey writers) would have a grander stage in a city where it is hockey 24/7. At least, he would have the appropriate stage for his theatrics. (Who can forget his "Sedin is not Swedish for punch me or headlock me in a scrum" during the playoffs when he was the Canucks GM?)
The marriage is too perfect for even MLSE to screw it up. At last, the Maple Leafs have a high-end free agent that really wants to be a part of the organization.