Welcome to my semi-successful campaign to fire Brian Burke as General Manager of the Leafs. I have done my best to evaluate every move he has made since he arrived here and I have tried to be as fair as possible, but as far as I’m concerned, the results speak for themselves. Here you can find everything I’ve written on the subject, in roughly chronological order (of the deal discussed).
Here is what I said in November of 2010 when I decided to begin this “campaign”. It includes a summary of why I think his reputation exceeds his actual record and why I was upset that he was hired by acclimation.
You can read about this in more detail in my book, Rebuilding on the Fly.
Two years later: An evaluation of the trade for Brad May.
Nearly two years ago Brian Burke made his first hockey move (having only hired front office personnel in his first month on the job): he traded a conditional sixth round pick to the Ducks for Brad May.
Now, this move reeked of nepotism, but what move doesn’t in a league with 700+ players and 30 GMs? May and Burke are friends. And we may well criticize Burke for this move on that basis alone. Or on the basis of trading a pick for a veteran. I can in no way judge what kind of impact May’s “leadership” had on the locker room.
I can, on the other hand, judge the trade: Burke gave up a conditional pick – the condition being that May re-sign. May did not resign and, though I might criticize that condition (it would be much more of a sure thing to keep the pick if the condition had been the Leafs making the playoffs, and then it is tied to performance too, which makes it better in my eyes), I can’t criticize the trade even though I want to.
Burke got May for free. May left in the summer. There’s nothing bad about this. And if May’s “work ethic” rubbed off on a young player or two (not that there are many left from back then) then all the better.
Two years later: An evaluation of the Robbie Earl trade:
Around two years ago Burke traded Robbie Earl, the team’s first real college prospect (187th overall, but subsequently a real star at Wisconsin) in some time (ever?) for Ryan Hamilton, an undrafted career minor leaguer. Those of us who bemoaned the Leafs’ old scouting practices had been happy about Earl, as he represented a new direction it seemed (which has born some minor fruit in Bozak).
However, Earl didn’t really turn into much, doing very little with his brief time on the Leafs – though given nowhere near as much as an opportunity as Bozak – and having a couple decent-to-mediocre seasons with the Marlies. During his last, worst season he was traded.
Hamilton’s numbers were even less impressive. Their ages are the same.
Earl is having a better year with the Aeros than Hamilton is having with the Marlies now but in terms of the fates of the franchises the trade seems to have meant nothing. So, for the second time in as many posts, I have nothing critical to say of Burke.
Two years later: An evaluation of the Kronwall waive.
Two years later: Waiving Mark Bell:
Oops, forgot to analyze the all important waiving of Mark Bell on Feb 25, 2009. He was picked up by the Rangers.
Bell was acquired by the Leafs as punishment for getting Toskala for one each of a 1st, 2nd and 4th round pick. At least that’s what we all pretended when we hoped that Toskala was the Leafs goalie for the next half-decade and we couldn’t figure out why the Leafs would trade for a DUI guy who had scored 21 points in 71 games the previous season. Now of course we can look at that trade with hindsight and say yuck, even if the picks haven’t amounted to much.
Burke was absolutely right to waive Bell and it’s amazing nobody had done it sooner. Since getting waived by the Leafs he played the rest of that season for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate. Now he plays as a third liner in the Swiss A-Leauge. That’s the punchline of a joke, I’m pretty sure.
Two years later: Reflections on Burke’s mixed first Trade Deadline with the Leafs.
Two years later: Jeff Hamilton signing:
Signed because we needed a body, I guess nobody could get called up (I know that rules prevent more than 4 callups at the moment). Not re-signed. Nothing to say about this one.
Two years later: Christian Hanson signing:
Hanson was signed out of college.
He hasn’t turned into a NHLer though he did make the AHL all-star team last year. He has been a disappointment but this was a no-risk proposition. His contract is up this summer I believe. He will not be resigned.
No harm no foul.
Two years later: Tyler Bozak. Where I inadvertently predict the Tim Connolly disaster.
Two years later: Rynnas signing:
Signed Jussi Rynnas as another free agent goalie. Has been the backup for the Marlies this year. Nothing to say really.
Two years later: Re-signing Reimer:
Good, solid deal. Low number compared to what he would demand when he goes unrestricted (provided of course he continues to play well). Not a terrible number even if he shits the bed.
Now, the question is: will they let him play all the time?
Two years later: Gustavsson Signing:
Well it clearly hasn’t worked out. But I guess it was worth a try given the slew of mediocre goalies to have played for the Leafs in recent years. I don’t really know why they would hold on to him at this point but, like the college players, it wasn’t much of a risk.
Two years later: The (first) Grabovski re-signing:
Burke re-signed Gabrovski two summers ago to a three year deal. It is looking very smart as Grabovski has turned into a quite good #2 centre. I don’t understand people who think he is going to get even better (he is 27) or think he is a legitimate #1 (he doesn’t pass enough).
It was a smart re-signing.
Two years later: Tim Brent.
Two years later: A summation of the pretty bad Leafs’ Free Agent Frenzy of 2009.
My initial reaction to trading Stralman to the Flames. My thoughts appear to have been borne out by history as Stralman was, last season, an important if flawed piece of the Rangers while Primeau is out of the league.
My initial, overly kind reaction to the disastrous Kessel trade:
- “Leafs get: Kessel
- Bruins get: 3 picks: 2 1sts, 1 2nd
Kessel looked pretty great last year. The good thing is that he is barely 22. The bad thing is that he has health issues. Another bad thing is that he scored more goals than he assisted on last year. I have always been wary of those folks. I don’t think they can keep their scoring up, unless they have centres. Incidentally, on the Leafs, he doesn’t yet have one of those.
The Bruins get both our next 1st rounders, leaving the Leafs (provided another trade doesn’t happen soon) to rely on Kessel and Kadri as the future at forward. I’m not overwhelmed. If the Bruins take two good players out of these picks I will probably be upset. Hopefully they draft badly. Hopefully Burke can trade junk for picks at the deadline. (Though I’m sure he’s decided we’re competitive now, the moron.)”
Dealing with the diminished expectations that resulted after nearly a year of big promises and little results from Burke. The Leafs’ record was then 4-9-4:
- “Maybe keeping Pogge wasn’t such a bad idea…
- The worse this team is, the more disastrous the Kessel trade is.
- Fights don’t score goals.
- Fights don’t even turn the puck over.
- Just because two guys on the team fight doesn’t mean the rest of the team hits.
I’m trying to wait until a year is up, but if Burke does anything else to improve this teams “toughness” at the expense of things like talent, scoring, defense or goaltending I think I will throw in the towel for the next five years (or at least until he quits / is fired). Unless Kessel is way better than I think he is, unless these young players are way better than I think they are, unless the Leafs find a goalie, unless, unless unless…”
Two years later: The Tlusty trade.
One year later: January 31st, 2010; a day that should live in infamy: Burke trades away most of the Leafs’ offense for Phaneuf and a few disposable parts.
One year later: On acquiring Jamie Lundmark off waivers:
A year ago Burke claimed Lundmark off waivers (what he should have done this year if he really was so eager acquire somebody like Voros).
Lundmark played 15 games for the Leafs as their #6 defenseman. He had been playing slightly more for the Flames. His numbers for both weren’t impressive. The Leafs let him go at the end of the season. He was signed by Nashville but is now in the Swedish Elite League.
It’s worthwhile taking chances like this on the chance that they could work out. This one didn’t. I see no reason to criticize.
My brief observations about Trade Deadline Day 2010:
- Who is Chris Peluso? I don’t like giving up any picks when we’re this bad, even if it is a sixth rounder.
- Joey MacDonald wasn’t really needed at this point, I guess, so it’s nice to get a pick for him, even if it is really low.
- I don’t know Matt Jones, but a player and two picks for Stempniak isn’t bad given his lack of production this year.
- I like the Ponikarovsky deal in that they moved Skoula after it was done, otherwise I wouldn’t have liked it. I still think they should have got more for him. After all, he’s a consistent 20-goal scorer, which can’t be said for anyone else on the Leafs, or anyone else moved on deadline day.
But all in all it’s pretty much the best day of Burke’s existence as a Leaf. It’s too bad he fucked up the team so much already that he can’t repair it with a good day like this.
One year later: Reflections on the generally positive 2010 Trade Deadline moves.
One year later: Trading for Jay Rosehill. Why?
Jay Rosehill acquired for future considerations.
All I can say is if they got him for anything more than whatever it was they got him for, it was too much. He’s waiver trash. Which is why he was later waived.
One year later: Signing Brayden Irwin:
I like Burke’s regular (now annual) signings of college seniors. It is the only part of his “strategy” that I wholeheartedly (or even partially) agree with. It’s basically no-risk. If the player turns into an NHL player, you basically get a mulligan on a draft pick – as you can afford to make one more bad choice in the draft – and you don’t have to overpay to trade for or sign a professional NHLer. If he doesn’t work out, then all you did is blow a (relatively) small amount of money on a minor leaguer.
It works for the college players too. It gives them a job right out of college and gives them a chance after they matured too late for the draft. I think the strategy of signing CHL players who are through their eligibility is equally sound.
So I have to say that I like this despite Irwin’s lack of success to date: 15 points in 45 AHL games. It’s worth the risk over and over, at least until the team is out of the rebuilding stage (if it ever gets that far). As I said, it’s pretty much the only thing Burke does consistently that I like. He did it again yesterday.
I realize the last few entries haven’t really indicted him, but that’s because he has made some reasonable post-deadline moves, that’s all.
My happiness at not reacquiring Cammalleri the summer before despite his current performance in playoffs:
I’m glad the Leafs didn’t break the bank on Cammalleri last summer even though he’s lighting it up for the Habs this playoff.
I’m more glad now that I know that we had him. Well, we didn’t have him. We had his pick. The Leafs might not have picked him, but it is one of the endless pieces of evidence against trading draft picks for veterans.
Because on March 13th, 2001 (i.e. as the Leafs were beginning yet another furtive playoff run and trading away all their picks for players, as per usual) the Leafs traded Adam Mair and a supposedly insignificant second round pick (49th overall) to the Los Angeles Kings’ for every Torontonian’s favourite Finn, Aki Berg. The Kings then selected Cammalleri that summer.
So, even though Burke wasn’t in charge at the time and had nothing to do with this, I still would have regarded it as pretty ridiculous to be throwing money at a guy we could have drafted had we only been smarter. Why? Because multi-million dollar contracts rarely (if ever) makeup for past mistakes.
The moral: players like Cammalleri and Berg are common (more common than large contracts I should say) and it is really dumb to give up the potential to get a player like the former in order to actually get a player like the latter to get you a little bit more playoff revenue.”
This turned out to be quite prescient as Cammalleri has not exactly lived up to his deal as of late.
My thoughts on the Leafs acquiring Hamhuis, Sharp or Horton. In retrospect, I would have loved the Hamhuis move, had it occurred.
My sarcastic elation on Burke’s trade for Mike Brown in June of ’10:
He has traded another pick for a goon. Mike Brown. Don’t know him, but he doesn’t score much and has lots of penalty minutes, so I wonder what kind of player he is…
It was a really low pick, but that’s not the point. In a way, maybe it is. Certain notable franchises (Detroit, NJ) find lots of diamonds in the rough with low picks. The Leafs don’t. But then the Leafs seem to always have fewer picks.
Hooray for Brian! We’ll win the cup in two years, mark me.
One year later: the (first) Versteeg trade:
I can’t say I liked this trade at the time:
I thought Stalberg was on the cusp of being a top 6, I thought DiDomenico was the only legitimate forward prospect left in the Leafs’ system (who had yet to play in the NHL) and
I was maddened by yet another example of giving up more assets for less.
So far it seems that I was dead wrong:
Stalberg is a top 9 still at this point,
DiDomenico doesn’t appear to have rediscovered his form after his career-threatening injury and is now playing in the ECHL, and
Paradis has yet to play much in the AHL.
Versteeg, on the other hand, had a comparable season to his previous years (minus the minus) and
Sweatt had a pretty good season in the AHL
So it was looking like Burke was right and I was wrong
That is, until he traded Versteeg, a 24-year-old soon-to-be three time 20 goal scorer, for a low first round pick and a third round pick. That is something I don’t get. But I will get to that when I get to that.
In retrospect, it certainly seems like Burke’s assessment of Stalberg was correct. Provided Paradis doesn’t turn into anything, this deal is a win for the Leafs…you know, provided they held on to the Versteeg.
One year later: The not too embarrassing 2010 Free Agent Frenzy.
My sarcastic response to the Colby Armstrong signing, which worked out oh so well for the Leafs.
One year later: the completely irrelevant Lashoff trade.
My initial predictions for the season where I mis-guessed the lineup and slightly underrated the Leafs’ finish (the Leafs finished in 10th when I guessed 12th).
My reaction to some typical Burkian egoism at the beginning of the 2010-11 season:
ESPN.com quotes Burke as saying that the playoffs is “what this game is all about, and that’s our goal and intention. I think we’re finally getting to a Brian Burke-type team…We’re not there yet, but we’re closer.” But I don’t want the Leafs to be a playoff team, or a Brian Burke team, I want them to be a Stanley Cup winner and they’re different things. The Leafs had playoff teams for the better part of 40 years and what did that get them? Nothing. The game isn’t about making the playoffs. The game is about winning the Cup. Not the same thing at all. I can’t wait until we’re Burkeless.
An alternative view to my own on the second anniversary of Burke’s hiring:
Hopefully by the end of the day I will have my comments about Burke up in this space (it is the second anniversary of his hiring). In the meantime, here is an article that I mostly disagree with:
http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/nhl/mapleleafs/article/898220 – “Team Burke Still Under Construction”
Who can accuse me of not being fair and balanced?
One year later: the Brunnstrom trade:
Leafs got Fabian Brunnstrom, LW, Stars got Mikhail Stefanovich, C
The infamous Brunnstrom, who was signed to the NHL based on a YouTube video, finally came to Toronto. Burke had previously pursued him and fortunately lost out. Brunnstrom’s NHL totals to date: 41 points in 104 games.
Sure, he hasn’t been given a full season, but his AHL numbers are not exactly mind-blowing either. If the Leafs were going to acquire this incredibly over-hyped player, at least they gave up nothing, literally.
Stefanovitch has been playing in the KHL since midway through last year and the Leafs merely gave up his rights. Presumably Burke knew he wasn’t coming here and let the Stars believe what most NHL teams want to believe about Russian snipers in the KHL: that they want to come over to the NHL, surround themselves with players (and fans) who speak another language, and pay taxes on their lower salaries.
As much as I want to criticize Burke for going after Brunnstrom in the first place, I can’t really since they got him for nothing.
Brunnstrom is now playing for the Wings’ AHL team (he signed with them this off-season) and is producing at around 0.5ppg, which is astoundingly mundane.
On the Leafs’ then surprising and gratifying win streak:
I must admit that I was getting a bit excited by the win streak. Given my anti-Burke stance this may come as some surprise but I am still a Leafs fan, I still want them to win, and I still want them to win now – given that they don’t have a first round pick to lose for. I started thinking, maybe all this Burkeshit (that’s right) about character really is meaningful.
Before he took over, previous Leaf teams always went on win streaks in March, when it didn’t matter. Burke has virtually cleaned house since then and maybe I’m wrong: maybe the character players he is overpaying to be dressing room voices are having a visible impact (i.e. in January win streaks).
But then the win streak ended and I remembered something: character may stand for something but when character comes up against talent + character (and sometimes even just talent alone) character will lose most of the time.
On acquiring Aaron Voros for seemingly no reason whatsoever:
Burke trades a 7th rounder for Aaron Voros
This is the second trade of the day. It’s been a busy day for the Leafs. The February Frenzy continues, as my writers’ group would say (plug, plug).
This is an atrocious trade, albeit a minor one. A pick, even a 7th rounder, is like a lottery ticket. It is a chance, in this case a very, very, very slim chance, of drafting a decent NHL player. There are few 7th rounders who have actually made and prospered in the NHL, but there are some…I could probably count them on my hands.
But Aaron Voros will never, ever, ever, ever turn into a decent NHLer. He can’t even score in the AHL (okay, I’m exaggerating, since he played 2 games this year, but still, the man’s NHL totals are 18 goals and 19 assists in 162 games…). Toughness may help win championships, but it is a poor substitute for talent and hard work. A guy who can fight but can’t score, can’t pass, and probably can’t skate will not help win a championship.
So why give up an opportunity, no matter how slim, to acquire a NHL player, for such a player? Fighters have no abilities beyond fighting, whereas a pick could produce a player who has abilities.
If Voros helps the Leafs win a Stanley Cup, I will eat my shoes. Burke, you suck.
On the Kaberle deal, which looked good as long as the Bruins didn’t win the Cup, but then somehow looked better after the Bruins won the Cup, since Kaberle was horrible in the Cup run.
My reaction to the Leafs’ lack of moves on trade deadline day but really some thoughts on Burke’s inability to judge talent:
Burke didn’t do anything reprehensible today, quite the opposite. Somehow he managed to convince Glen Sather (not all that hard, it seems) that a guy who only plays in the NHL when someone is hurt is worth a 7th round draft pick, i.e. about what the same as 14-goal-scorer (and super expensive) Kovalev. Kudos to Burke. But this player, Mitchell, is the same player he once called one of the three untouchables on the roster.
It’s fine if a GM makes a mistake. They all do. But Burke never seems to admit to any of his publicly. He trades guys which is I guess as much of a concession as we can expect. But what does it say about the man who is in charge of our franchise that he once thought Mitchell untouchable; a player who, without Sather, would be waiver trash?
I have great concerns around Burke’s ability to judge talent. I think there is ample evidence (Komisarek, Kessel, etc) to suggest that Burke is one of these GMs who see potential where others don’t. Like Ferguson, like Thomas, like Rob Babcock, and others, Burke thinks he can get more out of a player than someone else. He even calls his teams “Brian Burke teams,” as if players are born into this world to fit his teams. That is disturbing.
Mitchell’s transition from untouchable to near-waiver-trash is more proof that Burke’s idea of his abilities in assessing talent doesn’t correspond to his actual abilities to assess talent and it is yet another reason for him to be fired by MLSE.
On signing Tyler Brenner out of College:
So yesterday Burke signed Tyler Brenner, a winger and the leading goal scorer with Rochester in the NCAA. It is yet another attempt to grab an NHLer from the college ranks. Though all it has produced to date is Bozak, it isn’t a bad strategy. I think it’s a reasonable pursuit, especially given the Leafs’ notorious lack of draft picks prior to this year’s deadline.
Brenner was over a point a game player with RIT, but this isn’t all that impressive given that he was a Junior. What’s more impressive is that he has been around a point a game player for his entire college career. So it’s possible – possible – that he will turn into an effective player at the NHL level. It’s virtually a no-risk proposition so really there’s nothing negative to be said about it.
Further to my last post, I have so little confidence in this half-assed rebuild that I am willing to bet anyone a 2-4 – of good beer, not Canadian or Blue – that a Leafs team featuring Kadri, Kessel, Schenn and Phaneuf as four of the five top skaters (in minutes) will never win a Stanley Cup. It doesn’t matter who the centre is (well, unless of course it’s Crosby, then maybe I’d have to back up a bit).
Take me up on it. I’m good for it.
On the Leafs missing the playoffs as predicted…again:
I have been saying for at least a month (perhaps more) that the Leafs had no hope of making the playoffs. I said at the beginning of the year this was not a playoff team and, fortunately, Burke made deals near the deadline that made it less of a playoff team on paper (despite the fact that the team then played better). So I’m right. Lah-di-dah.
There is good in this. Hopefully the “brain trust” will not look at this season as a near-success. Hopefully they will see the Leafs as still not being very good – with a bottom six defence and a bottom third offence, after the winning streak – and see the light as to what needs to be done. We will know for a fact come July 1st. We might even know sooner, if trades are made around the draft.
Coming Soon: What I think they should do this summer and next year, version 2-3? I can’t keep track.
Your 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs. Wherein I don’t quite predict the future.
A post-2010-11 season update of the Kessel trade:
As of last night, the Phil Kessel deal is now:
- 2010 #2 overall pick (Tyler Seguin),
- #32 overall pick (Jared Knight),
- 2011 #9 overall pick (TBD)
Phil Kessel. His to-date stats:
- 28G, 25A for 53P per 82 games.
- 30G, 27A for 57P per 82 games at average minutes for Top 6 forward.
I know he’s not in his prime yet but seriously. Three players for a guy who doesn’t score 60 points in a given season.
Comments about the Sedins’ success and the Kaberle trade:
Yes, I am very hard on the Leafs’ GM. But I must acknowledge that he has done the odd good thing. (Remember, in my on-going campaign I am claiming he is average to mediocre, not terrible.)
Clearly, drafting the Sedins was one of those things. It took years and years, and he had long since left the organization, but they have finally turned into the pair he thought they would.
Another was his trading of Kaberle for 2-3 assets even though his contract was expiring. Yes, Kaberle has been playing better lately, but for most of the playoffs he has been pretty much horrible and the Leafs got back a lot in return.
And so I must acknowledge both these things as being good ideas. Al I can is ‘hopefully he is as right about Kessel as he was about the Sedins.’
On Burke telling everyone what he is going to do before the draft…again:
Well, earlier this spring Burke said there was no chance in hell that they would be trading up. This made little sense to me – despite the lack of quality in the draft – because the Leafs clearly still need a franchise player.
Now most press reports are saying they are absolutely doing their best to trade up.
Now, some GMs might have done this deliberately, to try to reduce their costs, but I am not sure our GM is one of those people. He seems far more emotional than strategic. I think instead that this is one of his moments where he is demonstrating he really isn’t fully aware of the failure of his original plan…in this case until it is almost too late.
The Liles Trade and the Leafs 2011 Draft:
It’s getting harder and harder for me to outright ridicule Burke as he makes decent movies.
First of all:
Picking up Liles for a second round pick is a steal. How a top 4 D is worth only a second rounder one day and then a #1-#2 D goes for multiple players (including a former 30 goal scorer) the next is beyond me. Good pickup
This makes the Kaberle trade look like this: Kaberle for Colborne, Liles and the 30th pick in 2011 (later traded away).
Great, given how badly Kaberle played in the playoffs (though he has now won a cup).
Note: this is not to say that I generally approve of trading away draft picks for 30-year-old blue-liners.
Second, about Draft Day 2011:
The Leafs get the 15th ranked prospect in the draft at 22nd, having only to give up the 30th and 39th to move up that far.
The Bruins somehow get the 6th overall ranked player (and 2nd best D) of the draft with their 8th (or was it 9th?) pick, the player the Leafs selected at 15 may only be a good, the player the Leafs picked at 25 (who impressed me this winter when I saw him play) was ranked much lower by everyone but then: 34th, 50th and 70th by three separate organizations, so they went WAY off the board (very risky).
The disastrous Tim Connolly signing as a reaction to not signing Brad Richards.A summary of the beginnings of the Leafs’ 2011 Free Agent Frenzy.
On trading for Steckel:
Toronto trades their 4th round pick in 2012 for David Steckel
Steckel for a 4th round pick? Exactly why? The Leafs have more of these types of guys than most teams so why trade the potential to draft something else (I know, it is just potential) when you have so many of these dime-a-dozen guys?
I don’t get it and I will never get it.
Steckel last year: 1G for 1P in 18 games. He is 29 so he is in his “prime.”
Wow that was worth it.
“Don’t plan the parade just yet”:
For those of you who have watched Kessel’s early season magic and think that he is born-again (and, therefore, that the Leafs are a much better team) should note something:
Currently Kessel is scoring 1.5 goals per game.
Additionally he is potting 0.75 assists per game
Giving him a ridiculous league leading 2.25PPG (pardon the poor sample size but this is of course the problem with getting excited about early season success).
So how does this compare with his career to date?
His career GPG is 0.35.
His career APG is 0.31.
Making his PPG 0.66 (less than a third of what it is this season).
At some point there will be regression towards the mean. Sorry.
The Aulie trade. I hate it even more now than I did last year.
On Burke being a giant dick while at the same time basically demonstrating to those of us who want to see advanced metrics utilized in hockey that he doesn’t belong as a General Manager of an NHL team:
Burke attended the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference as a guest speaker just so he could tell everyone he doesn’t like analytics.
Your 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs! (including an attack on Burke’s “plan” and a comparison with the Edmonton Oilers’ alternative approach)
Brian Burke was fired on January 9th.