The Burkean Age Begins

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    Brian Burke’s exact intentions with the Toronto Maple Leafs will be the source of much speculation likely until after the Christmas season, but there may just be one tweak made in shorter order: locating a genuine heavyweight pugilist as a bottom six “hardhat” in his roster.

    In this afternoon’s press conference, Burke was obviously unimpressed with Luke Schenn having to interpose on his teammates’ behalves this season. A team-wide sense of loyalty, togetherness and willingness to stand up for one another are certainly staple characteristics of Burke-led squads, but he also believes in designated roles. He described in detail the composition of a “Burke” roster: a skilled top six supplemented by bottom six “plumbers.” Everyone plays a role, and it was obvious that Burke sees an empty position that requires immediate filling in this Leafs’ roster: an enforcer.

    Andre Deveaux and Jamal Mayers made their cases as able hand-throwers tonight against Philadelphia, but we will have to see if this will be a regular feature, not just an attempt to gain a favourable first impression from the new guy in the executives box. Before a move is made, I certainly would like to monitor Deveaux for the next few games. Myself, I don’t think there’s really a place anymore for the designated enforcer in today’s game. Between the innumerable powerplays and penalty kills, and the stronger emphasis on icing four lines that can all play, it’s increasingly difficult to find ice-time for a player that just fights, while its certainly handy to have one at your disposal should a game get feral. An enforcer that can play the game is very advantageous in this landscape and Deveaux seems as though he can also offer some offensive ability. At the same time, you want a player that the opponent doesn’t want to fight and as a result makes the opposition hesitate when taking liberties on your players. Deveaux fared well in his bout this evening.

    Everyone was expecting to see a “Burke effect” tonight in the form of a more inspired performance and it appeared to play a role in the Leafs’ first win in half a month. What played a more significant role was the improved play of Vesa Toskala, who closed out the game for the Buds tonight. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall that Toskala began to hit his stride around this juncture last year after a similarly slow start.

    The Leafs’ league-worst penalty kill impressively stymied the Flyers’ fifth ranked power play, preventing the Flyers from gaining the zone and maintaining a strong box when they did, assuring that Toskala dealt mostly with peripheral shots. Later on in the tilt the Leafs struggled to clear the zone but were bailed out by some impressive pad saves from the Toskala of old.

    Dominic Moore, Nik Antropov, Deveaux and Schenn left strong first impressions, while Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky likely left Burke feeling underwhelmed. Kaberle was absolutely out to lunch on the Flyers’ short-handed marker while Poni seemed physically and mentally disengaged.

    Lee Stempniak’s inaugural goal in a Leafs uniform wasn’t anything to write home about but was an important one to get under the belt. I still haven’t fully reconnoitered his game but he seems very likenable to Andy McDonald.

    There’s definitely the sense that some Leafs are playing for the right to remain a Leaf at the moment, and it’ll be interesting to see if that translates into an extended winning streak on the upcoming road trip.

    ***

    Burke was typically self-assured and straight forward in explaining his intentions and philosophies in today’s press conference. I’ve had my trepidations about his hiring, but it’s certainly hard to feel the organization isn’t in good hands when you listen to the man speak with such poise and conviction.

    It seems to me that we’re not about to see a scorched-earth purging of anything of value and stockpiling of draft picks, as some anticipate. David Johnson at Hockey Analysis provides a great evaluation of his past re-building tendencies that indicate that Burke leans more towards the Cliff Fletcher approach in that he targets players he sees as “fitting the mold.” When he went to initiate the re-build in Vancouver by moving both Alex Mogilny and Pavel Bure, he opted for young players he liked (Ed Jovanovski, Brendan Morrison) not draft picks, in return. While he traded for both the first and second overall draft picks in 1999, it was with two clear targets in mind, the Sedin twins.

    Speaking of Fletcher, I like that Burke showed appreciation for the tremendous grunt work Fletcher performed in overturning the roster and club culture despite some tall obstacles he had to surmount along the way. Fletcher provided a tremendous service to this club. It was dirty work he had to do that wasn’t a whole lot of fun for anybody involved. He also appears to have imported some pieces that could be useful to Burke going forward. On this [American] Thanksgiving, there’s plenty of gratitude north of the 49th parallel that should be sent Cliff Fletcher’s way. It sounds as though Fletcher will assume a backroom role now that his front office work is done, which is fantastic. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, this organization is miles better off with than without him.

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