When a general manager is hired it is usually the case that they try to put their stamp on the team early. To build in the image and fashion that fits with their philosophy of a winning franchise. It is one of the most interesting sides of professional sports in the contemporary information era due mainly to the fact that, let's be serious, we all think we could do this job as well, or better, than they do.
After beginning to write this post it just kept growing and will need to be divided into two distinct parts. Today we will give the introduction to the background of the GM situation and tomorrow proceed with our predictions on how we see the Leafs roster evolving.
A couple of years ago Brian Colangelo breezed into Toronto with a revolutionary new team concept that he had invented in Phoenix. The idea was to have an up-tempo fast paced team that Sam Mitchell promised would take “mo shats” and enthuse the fans. Big Papa Colangelo shipped out the old junk quickly. Exiled were the pets of the old regime like Charlie Villanueva, Eric Williams, Matt Bonner and Hoffa.
In came a new team of high character players that could shoot and who would be reinforced by a European supporting cast. In the short-term it was hugely successful. The mid-term results have been less positive – yet still too early to fully judge. It should also be mentioned that the off-court stability and confidence he has brought to the franchise is an added bonus sorely lacking since their birth in 1995.
Contrast that with the Leafs side of things. John Ferguson came into the General Manager position just after the NHL had been re-tailored to encourage offense and bring the fans back after the lockout. Being the visionary that he was (sarcasm) he began to sign big, strong, over the hill players like Eric Lindros and Jason Allison who were now dinosaurs in the new league. He furthered this brilliant (more sarcasm) plan by re-signing fan favourites like Kaberle and Tucker to big contract extensions that included no-trade clauses. Let’s not recount the rest of his steps. The downward spiral has been too painful.
Now quickly jumping to the present. Regarding the Leafs of December 2008, we should ask ourselves, what do we expect from Brian Burke?
He has stated “We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.” I’m not normally much of a fan of Don Cherry, but I think Grapes said it best on Saturday night when he said “I don’t know exactly what that (Burke’s quote) means but I think we can expect him to put together a tough team.” Since I don’t have a dictionary handy, I’m going to guess that Cherry’s translation into the vernacular is correct. Thankfully, unlike Cherry, the new GM does not have any inherent misconception that all Europeans are soft or that Kingston is the center of all civilization.
In spite of our eagerness to see the new regime make some moves, we must also respect the fact that Burke has a self-imposed ban to not make trades during the Christmas season. This period will begin December 9th or 10th. It is too tough on their families he believes, which to me sounds noble. In any case, it looks unlikely he will pull the trigger on any big moves before January rolls around. Or do I speak too soon?
Even if he does make a move, we have few more weeks to watch the current incarnation of the Leafs get out-muscled and out-talented more often than not as they slowly fall further out of playoff contention. Or does a Toskala hot-streak coupled with the fire lit by the Burke regime redirect the blue and white back into the playoff hunt? One of the more interesting sub-plots to the season for me will be how much longer they can stay ahead of the uber-disappointment who make their home in our nation’s capital. Go Sens!
Come back for part two tomorrow when we break down the roster!