"Our goal is to make the playoffs next year, we're going to have to make some changes to do it. We're going to be a different team.'
"I like a lot of hitting. I like a lot of fighting. We have a passive group. All year long, when a trainer was on the ice - it was always our trainer- that really bothered me.
"It will be a more hostile group in the fall."
When he took over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the end of November, Brian Burke promised to rebuild the franchise his way. His way, of course, being a team that will win every physical battle, intimidate and wear down an opponent. It was the blueprint he used when he led the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup in 2007. And for the moment, Burke is putting his fingerprints all over the current Toronto team, one that he believes should be a contender within the first few seasons of his reign.
There was the first move bringing Brad May(notes) in. Then the deals that sent Nik Antropov(notes) to New York and Dominic Moore(notes) to Buffalo brought back two second-round picks in last month's entry draft. Burke also creatively acquired a fourth-rounder by taking on $450,000 in salary consisting of the contracts of Olaf Kolzig(notes), Jamie Heward(notes) and Andy Rogers(notes) from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The trade was so odd that the NHL got involved to make sure things were on the level.
During the spring, Burke raided the NCAA ranks, signing Christian Hanson from Notre Dame and Tyler Bozak from the University of Denver, two highly touted undrafted collegiate free agents. By the time the regular season had ended, it was becoming crystal clear that the 2009-10 Leafs were going to look drastically different.
The opening of the free-agency period saw Burke begin to morph the Leafs into a "Broadstreet Bullies" clone with the signings of Colton Orr(notes), Francois Beauchemin(notes) and Mike Komisarek(notes), and the acquisition of Garnet Exelby(notes) from Atlanta in exchange for Pavel Kubina(notes). It's safe to say that the Leafs won't be pushovers, physically at least, next season.
With all the changes Burke has made to improve a team that led the NHL in goals allowed last season, he has yet to acquire a proven goaltender. To help in the goals-allowed department, he brought over highly regarded goaltending consultant Francois Allaire. How much of a difference will he make? Allaire was able to help turn around J.S. Giguere's career and Leafs Nation is hoping he can do the same in Toronto with the current goaltending corps.
Vesa Toskala(notes) has been inconsistent since he arrived from San Jose. The Justin Pogge(notes) experiment is slowly fizzing out and newly acquired Jonas Gustavsson(notes) is an unknown factor at the moment. "The Monster" has plenty of hype that is following him to Toronto and it will be interesting to see how he handles the loud response to his first bad game and reacts to it.
Now that Burke has toughened up the defense and possibly found his goaltender, there's still the question about who's going to put pucks in the net. Toronto would still like a top-six forward to go along with Mikhail Grabovski(notes), Niklas Hagman(notes), Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) and Jason Blake(notes). The Leafs haven't had a 30-plus goal scorer not named Mats Sundin(notes) since the 2002-03 season, when Alexander Mogilny(notes) potted 33 goals. Speculation over the past few weeks about the Boston Bruins sending Phil Kessel(notes) to the Leafs in exchange for Kaberle may have cooled, but expect rumors to resurface in the days leading up to Aug. 15, when a no-movement clause kicks in in the defenseman's contract.
We're almost eights months into the Brian Burke era in Toronto and after four straight quiet springs at the Air Canada Centre, there's a sense of hope in the air. Much like the New York Islanders, but at a faster pace, the Maple Leafs are turning the corner thanks to the aggressive style of their new general manager.
- Brian Burke