By now everyone has heard that Brian Burke was fired as General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and has been replaced by his long-time friend and assistant GM Dave Nonis. For Brian Burke and most Leaf fans this move came as a major shock- sure the Leafs hadn't made the playoffs under Burke, but he preached patience and everyone seemed to buy-in. Most knew Burke's days in Toronto were numbered and thought he may get the axe if the Leafs failed to make the playoffs again in 2013, but to fire the GM a week before training camp? All speculation over why Burke was let go aside- Burke is out and Nonis is in, eerily similar to what happened in Vancouver no?
The legacy Brian Burke has left on the Leafs may be a legacy that lasts forever- He took over the laughingstock of the NHL, was able to get rid of the"Muskoka 5" who held the team hostage, brought in some solid prospects, landed both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf and turned the Leafs from a joke into a respectable team. But despite all Burke's wheeling and dealing the Leafs still fell short of the playoffs during his 4 year tenure and that is why he is no longer the GM of the Maple Leafs. There may be things now that Burke is kicking himself for doing while GM, but Brian Burke's biggest mistake was jumping the gun and trading the future for the present.
Part of Burke's philosophy was patience, he told Leafs management he would need time to "gut" the 2008
Leafs and would need to rebuild their prospect pool before they become an elite team. He told fans that he would need to re-build the team and it would take time, but once he had top notch prospects the Leafs would be a force to be reckoned with. While fans and Leaf brass bought into his system and patiently waited Burke decided things weren't moving fast enough.
Burke sent 2 first round draft picks and a 2nd rounder to the Boston Bruins in exchange for the streaky Phil Kessel. Those draft picks turned out to be Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight. Burke believed that the addition of Kessel would help propel the Leafs into the playoffs, he was wrong. Instead of patiently waiting and perhaps ending up with Seguin and Hamilton Burke jumped the gun attempting to put a bandaid on a leak. All that talk about saving prospects and building for the future, got wiped away when the future was traded to Boston- problem was the Leafs weren't ready to make a run when the deal was made.
By trading away draft picks for a proven player, there is an expectation that the playoffs are within reach, but the Leafs were still far away from a playoff birth. Fans began to get impatient seeing who the Bruins drafted with the Leafs picks and seeing the Bruins succeed while the Leafs still failed to make the playoffs. The re-build that Burke had preached time after time was in a sense over- Next came Phaneuf, Komisarek, Lupul, and Giguere and instead of patience and re-build fans were fed with truculence and hard work. I remember a press conference before the season where Burke stood up and declared "This will be the hardest working team in the league". Yet they still couldn't work their way into the playoffs.
If Burke had followed his own advice and remained patient there's no telling where the Leafs could be right now. They'd likely have Seguin and or Hamilton in the organization if not on the roster and maybe they would be able to make the playoffs. Bottom line Brian Burke jumped the gun by trading the future for the present when the Leafs weren't ready for present success- and that was ultimately his biggest mistake as Toronto Maple Leafs GM.