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Brian Burke: ‘The Pittsburgh model? My ass’; Toronto Maple Leafs stuck in hockey limbo

Greg Wyshynski
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"What's the Pittsburgh model?"

Brian Burke snapped that question back to the media during a postseason press conference on Tuesday, examining the carcass of the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs' season.

The initial question had been about preaching patience to the fan base and a form of long-term rebuilding that's been foreign to the Leafs: Collecting high draft choices through years of unsuccessful hockey, only to have a franchise resurrected as a Stanley Cup contender.

"They got a lottery. They won a god damn lottery and they got the best player in the game. Is that available to me? Should we do that? Should we ask the League to have a lottery this year, and maybe we pick first?" he said.

"The Pittsburgh model? My ass."

Burke continued: "They got the best player in the game in a lottery. Ray Shero's done a good job. He's an excellent GM and he's a friend of mine. But I love when people talk about the Pittsburgh model. The simple fact is that they got the best player … we came in second that year in Anaheim. We got Bobby Ryan. Impact player, good player. They got Sidney Crosby in the lottery."

(Anyone want to wager what percentage of Burke's ire here is based on the premise that he'd still be living in California if the Ducks had landed Sidney Crosby?)

"I'm not a patient person. I was born impatient, I'm going to die impatient," he said. "I don't like what's happened here. I don't like our lack of progress. I thought we'd be farther ahead than we are right now."

The combination of Burke's lack of patience and a city that, frankly, hasn't shown an appetite for a total rebuild have left the Leafs in limbo. They stink, but they're not putrid. They're in the lottery, but they don't have the balls.

They're a team that's just good enough to contend, not bad enough to rebuild. And all Brian Burke can do is hope the foundation he's laid since taking the gig is strong enough to support the necessary additions to Randy Carlyle's team next season.

That's the Burke model: a collection of young players, big players and a refusal to traffic in cap-circumventing contracts or restricted free agent quick fixes that could help this team.

To wit: The goaltending was a problem this season. But it wasn't James Reimer's problem, according to Burke, because the young netminder that showed promise in 2011 was "blindsided by Brian Gionta," injured his neck and wasn't the same. (Fourteen goals in six games for Reimer, by the way.)

Yet he's still the "real deal," and Burke all but said he'll be the starter next season with a new goalie supporting him.

Dion Phaneuf has been singled out as a problem. Not so, said Burke, who said the Leafs "need to support Dion, not in anyway replace him. We've got the captain we were hoping to get."

The most frustrating thing to come out of the presser on Tuesday: The team's needs. Still a goaltender, still a top-line center, same it at it ever was. Still more size, still more truculence, same as it ever was.

The one revelation: That Burke and Wilson had deep disagreements on style of play, and that affected the roster.

"I'd say the one place where Ron Wilson and I weren't on the same page is how we play the game. What type of player … I like to dictate how we play the game, and I don't like it dictated to me," said Burke.

So out go the Ron Wilson players, and in come the Randy Carlyle players: Bigger! More hostile! Able to dictate play rather than being told how to play by opponents!

Where will these players arrive from? Through trades. Through the assets Burke refused to move at the trade deadline, because stockpiling draft picks would be a step back for the franchise.

It's not seen as a step back for the Tampa Bay Lightning, of course, who have a war chest of draft picks with an eye toward improving their roster this summer for a return to the playoffs. (And getting the goaltender they need, perhaps winning an arms race over the Leafs in the process.)

They have these picks along with Steve Stamkos (first overall) and Victor Hedman (second overall) to build around.

The Lightning model … my ass …

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