Exciting news today came out of Toronto. The beloved Toronto Maple Leafs have signed the biggest name General Manager in 30+ years and maybe the biggest GM name to join the Leafs of all time. Brian Burke, who stepped down as GM of the Anaheim Ducks last month by (ahem) coincidence just happened to land a job in the mecca of hockey.
The question is – are we any closer to a chance at a championship with him?
I could give you my short answer to that, but I like to talk alot so let me dissect the hockey situation that has been before us Toronto fans since the 1970’s just to understand the different era’s we have been living in.
The Harold Ballard Era
The trouble with the sad sack Leafs really began when Harold Ballard (who bought out the majority of shares in the team) in the early 1970’s orchestrated one of the worst examples of hockey management in the history of the sport throughout the next 2 decades. With the dollars being more important then the hockey product, he managed to disenchant both the tradition of the team, and the players that played on it. But somehow – not the fans who came out in ever increasing numbers and at every increasing ticket prices.
Steve Stavros Arrives on the scene
When old ‘Pal Hal’ passed away, Steve Stavros bought the control of the team and this really was the time that Toronto should have shined. Why? With Ballard out of the way, ticket prices at an all time high and a system that rewarded the high spending team the Leafs had the opportunity to be the New York Yankees of hockey.
From 1990 to 2003 the NHL had no salary cap, which meant that once players were free agents, the highest bidding team could simply buy the best players. Since the highest ratio of NHL players are from Toronto and the city is also considered the centre of the hockey universe this was really the time to dominate.
Instead the Leafs crept along throughout the 90’s choosing to simply stay in the top echelon of salaries but not doing what the Yankees have done. Which is buy the best team. The result? Two semi final finishes.
The Ontario Teachers Pension?
Yup, they (OTPP) took majority control of the team when Stavros passed in 2003. Luckily, this was also the same time that a salary cap came in along with the new era of NHL hockey. Why do I say lucky? Well lets face it, without a motivated owner, we certainly could have never anticipated a profit driven teachers pension fund stepping up and buying the best players.
Now, however, the league is much more equal. Dynasties we will not see. The winners will change from year to year. This means that everyone has a chance and a strong GM will play a big part in that process.
Do I think that Brian Burke coming to town is going to raise our chances? (which is why I started this blog in the first place) Yes I do. While I think the man is slightly over rated, I do think he has some good hockey sense and understands the new NHL.
What can we expect? If history plays any indication, we can expect a mobile defense core, a game based upon speed and a very North American team.
I do applaud the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund. They did go out and get the ‘perceived’ best man for the job. 6 years and 17 million is a pretty nice contract and I think that Burkey is going to put his best game on the line to bring it to Toronto.
Let’s just hope that the Anaheim cup a few years ago wasn’t fluke.