On Tuesday night, during another pathetic Toronto Maple Leafs performance in a loss to the New York Islanders (5-2 on the scoreboard, 7-0 in Good Ontarian Boys on the roster), fans at the ACC targeted GM Brian Burke in the same way that they targeted former coach Ron Wilson. And now that the chant has gotten play in the media, the one at the next home game will be louder. The next one, louder still.
Burke created this monster, quite admirably in fact. When he fired Wilson, he acknowledged that the "Fire Wilson!" chants at home games helped necessitate it. Thus, he bestowed upon the mortals the power of influence, and they're now attempting to weaponize it against their Creator.
So Burke started this fire, and it's either going to consume him and his well-compensated Cabinet or he's going to be the one that extinguishes it by turning the Leafs around.
But the chant is as much as symbol of pessimism about that mission as it is about frustration at season's end.
The chants coincided with a season-ticket renewal video message from the Leafs and Burke that will go down with Dan Gilbert's Comic Sans tirade about LeBron James as one of professional sports' great miscalculations of fan empathy.
Set to U2's "Desire" (what, no "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"?), it features Burke putting over the Leafs to season-ticket holders like he's giving a quarterly report at Dunder Mifflin. Then some charismatic android pretending to be Randy Carlyle comes on to talk about the team's speed. Then it's back to Burke to talk about the Winter Classic and how he helped the Marlies at the trade deadline.
Yes, the Marlies.
When he sums up a pathetic failure like this ongoing season, which continued on Tuesday night with a 5-2 loss to the inert New York Islanders, suddenly he's wishy-washy? Perhaps it's no coincidence that the Air Canada Centre crowd, when it wasn't booing the home club on Tuesday, was breaking into a couple of weak but audible chants of "Fire Burke! Fire Burke!"
To put the tenor of the evening in perspective — the Leafs have now won three games in 10 starts under coach Randy Carlyle — there was also an upper-bowl outbreak of another mantra: "Re-hire Wilson! Re-hire Wilson!" So routine is the futility, much of the anger has already given way to comedic apathy.
Which won't lead to Burke's dismissal this summer, mind you. Jeff Blair at the Globe & Mail writes:
Burke is going nowhere. Not with negotiations on a new collective agreement coming; a bad time if ever to bring in somebody and expect them to hit the ground running. The only way that changes is if sometime this off-season, Burke gets rid of one of his many assistant general managers. That will be a sign that the game has changed, that somebody in the new ownership group has the ear of somebody else. Much like a head coach being ordered to get rid of an assistant coach, if Burke is told to divest himself of, say, a David Nonis or two it will be a sign that the suits have awakened; that the guys who actually do up their neckties instead of letting them hang on either side of the collar have awakened and want to take back their team.
That's not to say Burke doesn't care, because he cares more about winning than most care about breathing. It's just that he wants to win on his terms, under his conditions, while other GMs in the NHL attack the trade deadline and play hardball on no-trade clauses.
To paraphrase The Joker, "The only sensible way to live in this League is without rules."
Look at this roster. If the last two months have shown us anything about the Leafs, it's that they're far from a few tweaks away from being off the bubble. They need an aggressive offseason that remakes a good portion of this roster. And they need Burke to be that aggressor.
The Toronto media will continue its sorties against Dion Phaneuf's captaincy and the nerve of Phil Kessel not to be as personable as they demand their stars should be, but much like the fans their ire will eventually focus on Burke.
(Check out this Hunter Crowther rant on the Leafs fans and Toronto media, by the way.)
He'll have this offseason and then next season, but it's becoming increasingly harder to envision he'll survive beyond that if the Leafs don't make the playoffs in 2012-13.
Maybe coming close with a cadre (or Kadri) of young talent in '13 would suffice — especially if the stars align and they earn a top two pick. Maybe he and his team get another year to show the plan worked. Maybe being a dependable source and the most quotable GM in hockey earns him another stay of execution from the local media.
Of course, by then, the "local media" will also own the team ...
- Toronto Maple Leafs