Brian Burke Talks John Tavares

And there you have it. Tavares mania has hit Toronto. As expected the papers and airwaves are full of talk of Burke going after expected number one pick, John Tavares. Here is a quick summary of who is saying what:

First off, the Toronto Sun has the story on the front cover! A tad over the top, but hey it’s the Sun. Rob Longley starts his column off with this :

“It likely couldn’t happen in any other city, in any other pro sport or from many other general managers. But few are like Brian Burke either, and the Maple Leafs president is playing his cards face up with little concern who sees them. ”

Longley has a pretty good wrap up of Burke’s day yesterday, the only new thing you may learn from the piece is this:

” – Burke acknowledged talks with the agent for Leafs rookie Mikhail Grabovski “have not been successful” and he wouldn’t be surprised if arbitration was required. “He’s a guy who has benefitted from ice time that he hasn’t earned,” Burke said of the Belarusian, who becomes a restricted free agent this summer. “But he’s also grabbed that ring and made himself a better player.”

Gotta love the backhanded compliment. Well done Brian.

Steve Simmons has a very good piece, one that is worth the time to read:

“Whether he talks a better game than he trades will be determined over the next two months, having placed himself in a position for possible ridicule after announcing yesterday morning that he was going after John Tavares and going after the first pick in the National Hockey League draft.”

As I wrote last night, Burke has clearly marked his territory and by saying he wants to hit a home run has availed himself of guaranteed ridicule if he doesn’t come through. Again, maybe it doesn’t matter. I for one give him serious kudos for sticking his neck out there and delivering the right message. The thing that is good about the piece by Simmons, is that there is actually some meat on the bones; he does some analysis:

” Pick No. 1 is owned by the New York Islanders, with neophyte general manager Garth Snow in charge. The Islanders, for the record, have issues, like a lack of money, a bad building, ownership that may be looking to move the franchise and absolutely no identity. Who knows how Snow might react to a full-court press from Burke: But from this vantage point, the Islanders have no choice but to utilize the pick. The question is: Do they pick Tavares first or do they settle for the big Swedish defenceman, Victor Hedman? The Leafs have little to offer the Islanders other than money: Burke might want the first pick but getting it from the Isles seems a long shot at best. ”

I think that is fair game. I have said it too many times now though, I can’t see the Isles moving the pick for anything less then a song. Simmons then discusses the potential of dealing with the Bolts, who, I think are going to do what they can to trade down to get rid of bad contracts and better priced defencemen:

” And in the current economy, the only real advantage Burke has is working for a team that doesn’t have money issues of any kind. The betting here is, if Burke could somehow wind up with the second pick, he’d wind up with either Tavares or Matt Duchene of the Brampton Battalion, one of the two best forwards available in this draft. If the Islanders pick first and take Tavares, and the Leafs move into the second spot, they would likely take Duchene.”

Ah yes, the JT debate. I think this is going to be an interesting topic of discussion as we approach the draft. Who is the best player for the Buds to target should they get close enough to the top? I am not an expert, so i am not going to pretend to know. Pierre McGuire was on the Fan this am and was gushing about Matt Duchene (imagine McGuire gushing over a prospect!).

Simmons then discusses the Av’s and the potential benefit of a totally raw new GM, should the current GM hire his son as many expect. Simmons however ends the column on a high for the TML, something we haven’t seen to often around these parts of late:

“It was no accident that Burke came out and said what he did yesterday. What seems off the cuff in public is actually well planned out. Without saying so, he was hoping to make people nervous. And damn, they have a plan and don’t seem to care who knows about it.”

Perhaps a tad bit too psychological for the topic at hand, however, one gets the feeling of respect. So while JFJ couldn’t or wouldn’t confirm that he had a pulse, you get the sense that Burke is, if nothing else respected for being up front and honest. In the world of sports, who would have guessed?

Over at the Star Damien chimes in:

“It wasn’t just that he made bold draft moves to land Chris Pronger in 1993 and the Sedin twins in 1999. It’s that he correctly projected those players to be the best talents of their draft class, a more difficult process by far than playing chess with draft picks. So when Burke says he has his eye on getting the No.1 pick in the 2009 entry draft and using it to acquire John Tavares, well, there’s evidence to suggest the man knows what he’s talking about.”

Respect. Burke may not get every move right but he will be respected by those who cover his team. In this town that is a big deal and worth keeping an eye on. Collangelo gets because of his pedigree, his work in AZ and because no scribe considers themselves any smarter. J.P. doesn’t get it because of his arrogance, his inability to succeed in past years and because he leaks info to American media outlets. JFJ didn’t get it because he spoke like an idiot and made critical errors out of the gate. Burke, at least so far clearly has it from the right guys.

“Wang and Islanders GM Garth Snow won’t surrender this opportunity easily. Burke got the right to draft Pronger 16 years ago from San Jose for a package that included Sergei Makarov, the sixth overall pick, a second rounder and a third rounder. Given the added value of entry-level contracts in a salary cap world, the cost to get Tavares is likely to be much, much heavier.”

I think that is 100 accurate. Getting to number one is not going to be easy.

“The second problem is that gunning for Tavares and being willing to sacrifice a chunk of talent and futures to get him just doesn’t feel like the right play in this particular draft. In fact, it feels kind of like the football drama played out a decade ago when the 6-10 New Orleans Saints traded all their picks on draft day for the right to choose Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ricky Williams.”

Ah yes, betting on the wrong horse. As I have said before, I am not Mike Toth, so I cant tell you whether or not Tavares is the guy. All I can say is that if you are going to be overpaying you can’t be wrong.

The good think about Damien’s piece is he looks at the big picture and provides an alternative thought:

“No, this seems the right year for the Leafs, if they can, to hold on to their pick, and try to acquire another top-10 selection. Get two blue-chip prospects instead of one.
Let’s say the Leafs can draft Brayden Schenn, brother of Luke, at the seventh slot, then persuade one of the next three teams in the draft – Dallas, Ottawa and Edmonton – to surrender their pick. With that, Burke could grab gritty Peterborough winger Zack Kassian, Swedish defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Russian-born blueliner Dmitry Kulikov or even University of Minnesota speedster Jordan Schroeder.Doubling up with a Schenn/Schroeder combination, or Schenn/Kassian, seems as productive a draft day harvest as Tavares, and more doable.”

These moves would certainly be safer. I think we would all be thrilled if he somehow emerged with 2 top 10 picks as opposed to one. However, Damien is smart enough to smell the roses and asses the situation:

“But Burke has his own grand plan. If he really believes Tavares is a franchise player worth sacrificing a package that might have to include defenceman Tomas Kaberle, the No. 7 pick, next year’s first rounder and promising winger Chris DiDomenico, or something roughly equivalent to that, well, he should go for it. Perhaps he believes that through more college free agents and a big name on the NHL free agent market this summer – Jay Bouwmeester? – he can quickly replace the assets sacrificed to acquire Tavares. It wouldn’t be the safe play. But you know he’s one of those who believes safe is death.”

Almost a blessing don’t you think? Damien’s proposed price is even steeper then I imagined. Kaberle, this years #1, next years #1 and a prospect??? WOW-

I am hoping people who read these guys regularly start asking them if they would make the deal they are proposing…

Damien’s colleague Dave Feschuk has perhaps the quote of the day with respect to Burke:

“Brian Burke is the Leafs president and GM, a Harvard-educated lawyer and a Stanley Cup champion. He’s also the best columnist in the city. And the crushing thing for the rest of us typists is that he’s dominating the sports pages without even trying.”

While Feschuk is joking, does anyone reading this disagree with the statement???? 🙂

“Seriously, if you saw yesterday’s season-wrapping press conference at the Air Canada Centre, you’ll know Burke reeled off more eloquently phrased, funnier-than-thou, cut-to-the-bone opinions in a half-hour than this slow wit will likely conjure in the coming quadrennial. It was beautiful to behold and it had to be historic – a Leafs honcho actually acknowledging that something’s been amiss in Leafland. Imagine.”

No seriously, is Burke the best columnist in town? This article also screams of respect. Something that has been amiss for so long.

“Just when you thought there still might be room to stick the knife into the slothful jocks – the pampered collection of 24th-placers who’ve become household names for house-league feats – Burke grabbed the shiv and turned the post-mortem into a bloodbath. “A player’s here long enough, he starts thinking, `I’m special, because there’s 20 people who want to talk to me.’ No. They’re there to talk to whoever comes off the ice with a Maple Leafs uniform on. And I think players confuse their role on a team that’s struggling with being a good hockey player. `Oh, I’m on the second power-play unit. I must be a good hockey player.’ No. We don’t have a very good team, and so you get that ice time.”

The reason it’s such good material??? IT’S THE TRUTH!! The truth as we all know shall set you free… 🙂

“It brought back memories of the glory days, when scribes actually had to point these things out. It’s funny how yesterday’s rile-up-the-rabble heresy is today’s company line. Or, rather, it’s not funny: Rile-up-the-rabble heresy was a decent niche. Still, if this team ever gets good, you wonder how long Wilson can keep the gig. The Burke-Wilson tandem is good cop-bad cop, only without the good cop. It’s American Idol judged by four Simon Cowells. When the GM’s a truth-telling ball-buster, somebody’s got to balance out the negativity with some level-headed perspective, and Burke understands the game well enough not to leave it to the sports columnists.”

Funny how that point is echoed by so many of the comments and emails I get in response to stories about Burke/Wilson. This, by the way may be Feschuk’s best column ever….

Over at the Globe Jeff Blair continues to prove to be the most steady, dependable scribe in town:

“Given Burke’s track record in landing defenceman Chris Pronger for the Hartford Whalers in 1993 — it took two trades on the draft floor — and coming out of the 1999 draft with both Henrik and Daniel Sedin after dealing with four teams and essentially bullying then Tampa Bay Lightning GM Rick Dudley, it is a statement that is more than just empty bravado. Just look at the way the Leafs are constructed. Before Burke took the dais yesterday, it was telling that head coach Ron Wilson rattled off Mikhail Grabovski, John Mitchell, Nikolai Kulemin and Schenn as core players. He quickly added that now healthy goaltender Vesa Toskala was not an entire waste of space, either. (Burke said he liked the fact that after he called Toskala out, “he told me to stick it.”)”

Again you can tell that there is a matter of respect and oh my god, he actually did some homework before putting finger to keyboard (a novelty in this town).

“Burke went on from there, noting that even the worst team in the history of the NHL, the 1974-75 Washington Capitals, “had a leading scorer.” Grabovski, he said pointedly, benefited from “situational ice time on a team that wasn’t very competitive.” Zing! “You can never confuse those things when you’re a player,” Burke said. “I think players who play here for a long time confuse the media passion and attraction for this team with being a good hockey player. They come off the ice and there’s 20 people want to talk to them. ‘I must be a good hockey player.’ No … they’re waiting because you are a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “There are players on this team — and who have played here before — who confuse their role on a team that’s struggling with being a good hockey player. ‘I’m on the second power-play unit … I must be a good hockey player!’ No, we don’t have a very good team, and so you get that ice time. We’ll find out where that balance comes in, and whether a player’s realistic about that assessment.” This is more than just bluster or good showmanship. Burke has a great deal of currency in these parts.”

What a great piece. The stories of the guys who used to play for the leafs, sitting in corners of the locker-room yapping up to no good is the stuff of legends. Good teams have good players that play hard as a team. This team has long suffered from, if nothing else a toxic environment. Burke is going to fix that.

“He’s spat in the face of conventional wisdom that said the team’s fan base wouldn’t handle a garroting of the club. He’s had the stones to back up his talk, and don’t think the powers that be at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment haven’t noticed. He wants a bigger team, yet he has also made it clear he will keep this club light on its feet financially. The biggest strength of this franchise is its financial resources, and even if the salary cap bites hard, the Leafs are still going to be strong relative to every other team. Maybe even stronger. So good on Burke. It’s about time this franchise started tossing its weight around. Nobody has much liked the Maple Leafs around the NHL for years because they were viewed as underachieving, smug whiners and yappers. They were the rich kids on the block who kept cracking up daddy’s Bimmer. If Burke has his way, there will be a whole new reason to hate this team in the next few years. The right phone call here. The proper whisper there …
So, John Tavares. How badly do you want to be a Maple Leaf?”

Opinion I would actually pay for! Good stuff Jeff, it’s nice to read someone who puts in the extra effort and calls it like he sees it. I am also impressed that Blair is willing to go where others haven’t, writing that which has been unprintable before.

Howie in his blog raced to talk to Tavares (remember when Maurice got fired….the famous drive to pick up the kids?) To be honest that angle of the story isn’t very relevant to me. However Berger does discuss what it may take to land the number one pick:

“As such, it’s unlikely Burke will put restrictions on particular assets a team would seek in pursuit of Tavares — whether he makes a deal before or after the entry draft. That means Luke Schenn has to be in the mix… perhaps unavoidably if Burke truly wishes to land the No. 1 prospect in the hockey world. Burke is also likely praying that the New York Islanders win tonight’s draft lottery. Tavares has cryptically made it known he not enthused about playing for the team with the best percentage chance to land him, and Burke will be very active in dealing with the club that owns the top pick. Would the Islanders, for example, trade that choice to Burke for the Leafs’ first-round pick [No. 7 overall]; at least one second-round pick; Schenn, and a wad of cash [i.e. taking an existing contract off the Islanders’ roster]? Schenn is certainly shaping up to be a dominating blue-liner, but is he in the “can’t miss/franchise-player” category of Tavares? If Burke really wants Tavares — and it sounds like he does — that’s the sort of package he’ll have to offer.”

I think Howie is more in line with what the asking price may be then others I have seen. Question I have for Howie is, would he make the deal?

Jim Kelley has similar points on his blog today:

“Burke said what he said because that’s what he wants to do and that’s what he intends to do. He might not get it done, but it won’t be for a lack of trying. It also won’t be because he’s good at slight-of-hand or pulling wool toques over rival GMs’ eyes. It will happen only if he can construct the deals and deliver the assets that other teams want. That’s not easy. It requires hard work, a gifted ability to convince others that it might be in their best interest to see things in a different reality. It might even involve a little fiscal muscle and some creative roster moves not to mention the power of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment in the NHL boardroom, but it is doable. Not likely I might add, but doable and Burke has the track record to prove it. The odds and the sentiment among today’s GMs (Rule No. 1 Thou Can Keep a Job for a Long Time Waiting for a No. 1 to Reach Full Potential) say no, but you’ve got to respect a man who is willing to try.”

The best article of the day goes to Bruce Arthur in today’s National Post (Blair comes a close second).

“On Tuesday, after a season in charge of what was basically somebody else’s team, the president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs put forth a more complete and muscular mission statement. This was not quite Burke at his least filtered – not like his broadsides with Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe, or his playoff defence of the Sedin twins – but it was a more revealing glimpse at just what kind of man is in charge of the local hockey team.”

Exactly, I don’t think Burke was putting on a show. I think now that the season is over, this is really his team and he is going to make it as such right away.

“Yesterday Burke spent more than half an hour communing with the flock, via the media. It was a tour de force of intensity, intent, and ambition. It was a show. When Burke threatened the job security of every single Leaf under contract, you believed it. When Burke savaged the culture of entitlement for hockey players in this city, you nodded along.”

Not to mix politics with sports but I was asked recently what I thought of the new US president and the job he has done. I think that with him in the oval office at least there is hope. I feel the same way with Burke. He has a big job in front of him (Burke) and he is going to work his tail off to get it right. What more can we as fans ask for? (no, I am not comparing Burke to Obama in anyway….)

“Burke was not just sending a signal to his fellow GMs, or to the Tavares camp – just say you won’t play for whoever’s in the top slot, John, and we’ll come for you – he was issuing a statement of ambition to the long-suffering fans of this misbegotten franchise.We are not fooling around here, he was saying. We are not shooting for the middle, or even the upper-middle class. No guarantees, but we are aiming at the top.”

Why do you think this has more credibility then say Paul Maurice saying his team was the most talented he had ever coached? Burke has the presence. He speaks and you want to believe. Maurice said it and you were embarrassed for the guy (good luck in the playoffs by the way).

“If you tell me we can have a parade in a year, but I can’t do one interview, and I can’t put my name on one thing. Where do I sign? Where do I sign? I’ll do it right now. I just want to win.” If talking were winning, he would need new fingers for all the rings. But Burke seems to have the right idea on how to change the culture in this town. Sure, he knows talent is necessary, that youth is critical, that patience is king. Besides those basics, there is a culture to remake. The blind worship from the fans – and the omnipresence (and occasional obsequiousness) of the media – have had a hold on too many players’ minds for too long. Burke and his people even called it “blue and white disease” when he was back in Vancouver. He has no more important task than to eradicate it.”

You can feel the passion jumping off the page, you can see why Arthur felt the way he did. Burke is saying what so many of us have wanted for so long…Hope and the truth. We can live with a rebuild, just call it one and do it right….

“For far too long, the Leafs organization has been a breeding ground for comfort, for cronyism, for the indifference to unrequited love. But Burke is different. He liked it when an angry Vesa Toskala, after Burke criticized the goaltender over work habits that turned out to be related to injuries, “was basically telling me to stick it.” He was angry when he came to the rink the day the Leafs were officially eliminated this season to find “it was like the leaves are turning, a non-event … I’m still sour about it.” And if you think he and coach Ron Wilson have started breaking down the entitlement thing this season with press-box benchings, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Good! It’s about time the room got fumigated. Maybe Wilson isn’t the long term solution, maybe just long enough to instill the proper foundation.

“You guys think that Ronnie’s taking on players this year?” asked Burke. “You’ll know when we go after a player. Trust me. Ask Kevin Lowe if I have any problem with the English language. I don’t.” Amen, brother. The Leafs have long been more investment vehicle than sports team, but Burke seems to care like the fans care. Believe or don’t believe, but however it ends, it promises to be one hell of a ride.”

The Lowe quote is brilliant, easily the quote of the day! What a great read too.

Michael Traikos tracked down Rick Dudley, frequent guest of Rumack’s to talk all things Burke:

“To be honest with you, it wouldn’t surprise me,” said Rick Dudley, the assistant general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks. “There’s not a lot of bull— with Brian. If I said I had interest in his player, he would tell me what it would take to get him. He gets a lot of deals done because of that.” Dudley, who essentially helped Burke draft brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin in 1999, speaks from experience.It was a very complicated deal,” said Dudley. “There was a lot of trust involved. You had to know exactly who was going to be picked at each spot. But it worked out for everybody in that we all got what player we wanted.”

That my friends is a recap of all things Burke and Tavares!


Longley is here
Simmons is here
Damien is here
Feschuk is here
Blair is here
Berger is here
Kelley is here
Arthur is here
Traikos is here

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