The Hyperbolic Chamber!

The Hyperbolic Chamber!

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"No, Mr. Burke. I expect you to die trying while I COMPLAIN!"

"No, Mr. Burke. I expect you to die trying while I COMPLAIN!"

February’s losses devastated the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs! The NHL’s most arrogant coach ever couldn’t save the flailing squadron from amateur mistakes – and was fired for it! The softest forward corps in the league is totally un-truculent! Jim and Gus couldn’t do their jobs if they went out pregame and found a 600-page guide entitled “How To Tend” sitting in goal!

This team is junk, top to bottom! Fire Burke! Rebuild the rebuild! This is a SimCity nuclear meltdown, hail on summer corn crops, “I can see Russia from my house”-sized DISASTER!

Hyperbole’s way too easy, people.

This post won’t be popular with some. I’ll be called a Burke apologist. I’ll seem arrogant for pretending I’m qualified to explain NHL rebuilds to a vocal minority that prefers shortsighted debates favouring their immediate satisfaction over logical solutions.

But, I’m self-righteous fairly certain that if you’re calling for Brian Burke’s head, you need yours examined first.

There it is. Now, we can enjoy the “settle in and read his longwinded, mildly rambling commentary because it might be funny and, let’s face it, this isn’t a game day and the Leafs are basically just playing out meaningless contests so I’ve got nothing better to do” approach.

(DISCLAIMER: Thanks in advance for your patience).

Hyperbole means “obvious and intentional exaggeration,” say our dictionary friends. It’s sarcastically calling a Reimer high-glove whiff the “worst goal ever!” when, in fact, we know full well it was clearly not.

(NOTE: Honourable mention).

Hyperbole’s part of the game. The very premise of modern sport and sports media involves sensationalizing the minor and repetitive into the major and unique; more specifically, generating fresh content for an entertainment product off which multiple revenue streams are based.

Toronto is a mecca for this model in action. Pre-game line combinations set our social media aflame. The arena sells out nightly, primarily thanks to corporate commitments that have a ludicrous supply-and-demand effect on individual ticket prices (which we, fans, ignorantly and yet helplessly support). More highly trafficked, fan-run Leaf blogs exist online than even the most hardcore follower could ever realistically hope to read. Every occurrence – however major or minor – is bound to be exaggerated.

Right now, the Leafs are bad. Very bad. And Toronto, quite rightly, is letting them know it.

That’s fine. That’s fair.

But the problem I’ve taken issue with – epitomized in the last ten days – is when the “hyperbole” becomes so unintentional that we sacrifice perspective on the big picture. I am about to campaign for that picture, because the first casualty of losing our perspective is misplacing blame on targets that don’t fully deserve it.

Case in point: the slightly-more-vocal-than-usual suggestion that Brian Burke’s job security should be threatened by the team’s recent performance.

That conclusion – that logic – is just fundamentally wrong, and deliberately ignorant of context. It bears repeating if only to address why we, the fans, have turned Toronto – aka The Hyperbolic Chamber – into a torture table for the pragmatic.

Impatience is the simple answer. And some nights, I’m admittedly right there with the mob.

It baffles and frustrates me to see millionaire professionals make fundamental mistakes that I wouldn’t even commit if they let me play the game for free. And it would have to be for free, because I’m not all that good.

On the flip side, let’s not pretend there’s anything rosy about the team’s current circumstance.

Multiple failures at multiple levels have the Leafs where they are. Saying players have failed to perform up to their Schenndividual individual capabilities is fair. Saying the coaching staff has not extracted top performances from those assets is fair. Saying @LeafsBB20 himself has deployed a one-dimensional, experience-and-truculence-lacking team for the 2011/2012 season is fair.

Burke admitted as much during the Randy Carlyle press conference, “Everyone has to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m at fault.’ And I’m at fault here, there’s no question about it.”

He’s right. He erred.

But what some fans can’t or won’t appreciate is the separation between the Leafs’ recent collapse and their encouraging longterm competitive health: the difference between a smaller picture, and a larger one. And if the blame is communal – what about us?

Seriously. What about the fans? The self-appointed arbiters of this whole show?  Why – beyond the momentary frustration – are we screaming at our televisions? Because we fear the slow, painful road to eventual success, or because we just need the bleeding to stop?

What do we want?

It’s an honest question. And I’m not looking for a “The Leafs to win!” kind of answer. I’m talking context.

LOGIC: Do you want them to win now? Or do you want them to compete for a longer window with better overall chances of success thanks to organizational depth?

“THE FAN”: Well, longterm – obviously. But –

LOGIC: And you are aware that in a cap system, with contractual factors in the current CBA implying a sequence of inflationary raises for players on ELC  vs. RFA vs. UFA contracts, that the process of building a successful team necessitates a foundation of talented youth?

“THE FAN”: Sure, but -

LOGIC: And that moving those assets (if you even have them!) for immediate, non-elite help shortens the competitive window and does not at all provide a guarantee of actual success?

YOU: But I-

LOGIC: There is no but. No team can instantly assemble a contender without an insane amount of luck, let alone one that had literally zero prospect inventory as recently as three years ago. They can win with moderate success now, if you like. But it comes at a cost of future competitiveness and almost certainly will prevent them from ever assembling a true champion.

YOU: But I want b….(long silence)…

LOGIC: Both?

YOU: (longer silence)….

LOGIC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIX0ZDqDljA

YOU: (longest silence, some sobbing)….but Chiarelli-

LOGIC: Peter Chiarelli is talented, lucky, and a God. Get over it.

Only in this city would a prudently-run and deceptively conventional rebuild be so maligned for its lack of immediate success (a standard which, by the way, northern Canadian cities seem strangely absolved from). Only here would an experienced, successful General Manager with a track record of prudent player transactions and unquestionable work ethic take heat for a slight, “would actually be surprised if it didn’t happen”-type hiccup in the rebuilding process.

Only in this cesspool of frustrated fandom would we let our own unfortunate history impact the efforts of those actively trying to help us move forward.

“In all seriousness, the image that the public has of my father is not accurate. He takes on a lot of heat for himself in order to save his team or coach the hassle, and people seem to judge him by that. He sees that as part of his job.” – Patrick Burke (sourced via today’s awesome AmAA, from which he specifically requested media-types not quote him, but we’re a blog-type, so – Happy Loophole!)

More locally, MLHS’ own Mislav Jantoljak summed it up in three Tweets Tuesday night, better than I’m able to do in a couple thousand words. “To all that are screaming fire Burke – I’m not going to say it again, but a cap system makes certain players available at certain times. Burke doesn’t have a magic wand to make Tavares, Parise, Stamkos magically appear in a Leafs uniform. If you’re frustrated with this team, if proper management of our team (majority of his time here) makes you mad, you’re part of the problem.”

Burke’s a rhetorical master, and the fans’ playoff-starved attitude wasn’t lost on him during the Carlyle PC. His words went out of their way to address it: “Did I give [Ron] the right players quick enough? Do we have the right goaltenders? You can ask those questions.”

Let’s be clear about one thing, Burke-maligners: it’s not that he’s not giving you what you want. It’s that he’s not giving you what you want fast enough.

Assuming – for argument’s sake – that we’re all rational, patient fans who want Toronto to win a championship, it seems to me there’s a set process required for that to happen:

  1. Team acquires high-ceiling, young player assets (NOTE: Draft, college FA, trade).
  2. Young player assets mature, the team improves. (NOTE: Time required).
  3. Team identifies which young player assets won’t be good enough. That’s why they call up “prospects” and not “certainties”. (NOTE: Time and patience required).
  4. Isolated free agent signings and occasional prudent transactions bolster organizational weaknesses where young player assets are not in place, in hopes of quickening the process as much as possible. (NOTE: Extremely difficult, and not guaranteed).
  5. Remember Step 2? Yeah, that’s still happening. And it will be for a bit yet.
  6. What are we, less than five years in? Yeah, Step 3 is still happening, too.
  7. Team wins championship.

Oversimplified junk science? You bet. Let’s try another way!

BURKE-INSPIRED ANALOGY BREAKOUT BEGINS!

You hire a baker (call him, “Brian”) to make you an apple pie (call it, “The Stanley Cup”). He requires, for this, 23 ripe apples (screw off, it’s a big pie). But he has nothing – not even apple seeds! So, he has to go out and buy some apple seeds.

Now, apple seeds in your town are scarce and difficult to find. And even when he does, not all of these seeds will sprout – cost of gardening. But some of them will turn into beautiful, ripe apples that can be made into a delicious pie! (Yes, I’m aware seeds turn into trees that provide apples. Again, for the sake of the story, screw off).

Now, the baker can’t make those seeds grow any faster, and even once they have, the apples still have to ripen on their own. All he can do is put them in the best position to do so. One or two apples may fall on the floor and be bruised during the process – rendering them useless. You can yell at the baker, sure – but do you fire him? He’s an accomplished baker! You’d be crazy not to want him on your side for the kind of epic pie you’ve got planned.

Eventually, he has 23 ripe apples (mostly thanks to his own apple-growing, and a few because he tricked Sutter’s Deli into exchanging them for some potato peelings). He uses these apples to make an amazing pie, and you eat it, and love it, and feel stupid for ever having doubted him.

BURKE-INSPIRED ANALOGY BREAKOUT ENDS!

In case you’re missing the metaphor, the Leafs’ organization was completely apple seedless prior to Luke Schenn’s first round selection in the 2008 draft.

Burke-apologist as it may be to still blame John Ferguson Jr. (and as an individual, how extra cruel!), the MLSE mentality of “always trying to compete, and never properly” may be the definitive example of how a lack of patience and respect for the building process in the post-lockout cap system can have damaging longterm ramifications.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana, some Spanish poet. Did you know that? I sure didn’t.) We, the vitriolic fans, drove Fergie out of town with unanimous cries of “Hey [censored]hole, why don’t you rebuild?” – and now some are actually blaming Brian Burke for doing exactly that?

When Burke arrived, he suggested that Toronto fandom would not accept a conventional five-year rebuilding plan. His assertion was met with much eye-rolling and guffawing – “Of course we would!” from the same crop of people who condemn him for trying it, even though he’s disguised it verbally behind the promising mirage of a quick turnaround.

Burke led us to believe – intentionally – that this process wouldn’t be painful. Such rhetoric sells season tickets, preserving the business case while rather blatantly stockpiling young talent in almost exactly the same way as the conventional approach would.

From four NHL Entry Drafts since 2008, 7 first round player selections are currently part of the Maple Leafs’ organization (Schenn, Gardiner, Colbourne, Kadri, Ashton, Biggs, Percy). Which is completely discounting the impact college FA signings (Bozak, Frattin) and three All Star-calibre players (Phaneuf, Lupul, Kessel) Burke’s brought in outside of that. For the first time in years, the Leafs are positioned to be perpetually better than they’ve been.

We, as fans, have that same opportunity.

We’ve suffered. We’re owed much by a large, and sometimes largely inept, corporation. But the fresh mental start Burke implores upon his players post-November 2008 is one we must also adopt. Evaluate Burke based on his eventual success, sure – but dismissing timeframe and basic reasoning as metrics is shortsighted, and impractical.

(I feel like those last three paragraphs probably could have been the entire article.)

You know why that scene in Goldfinger is so iconic? Why the tension reaches an almost-unbearable point as the villain taunts 007 before Bond finally bluffs his way off the torture table? Why it’s become a cultural meme mocked by Austin Powers or, for that matter, anyone referencing the setup?

Because the laser’s moving so slowly.

Goldfinger doesn’t just want Bond dead. He wants it to hurt.

Pain is one thing, but slow, torturous suffering is one of the most difficult things we, human beings, can dream of having to bear. We want relief. We want resolution.

But – as many of us have realized and the rest must eventually accept – the price of achieving those things is sometimes the suffering itself.

BURKE-INSPIRED ANALOGY BREAKOUT BEGINS!

If you find yourself standing in a deep pile of shit, odds are – you’re going to have to walk through some shit to get yourself out of it.

BURKE-INSPIRED ANALOGY BREAKOUT ENDS!