Brian Burke confidently taking heat
Growing up, Brian Burke and his nine siblings had to come to the dinner table not just with their appetites but a new word. It had to be defined and used in a sentence before everyone could break bread.
"A different kid every night had to bring one," says the Toronto Maple Leafs GM, who took a time out from his summer vacation for a brief chat with SI.com.
What word would Burke bring to a table full of critics who want him to explain why he has been too quiet for their liking on the trade and free agent markets this summer?
"One word: Dion," he replies.
"We're 45-36-11 since the trade in games he has dressed," Burke says.
Granted, Phaneuf has yet to help the Maple Leafs reach the playoffs. Toronto has missed the postseason for six straight years, in fact. But here's a word:
Burke showed smart restraint this summer by not caving in to the desires of rabid Leafs fans and demanding media for a big, knee-jerk trade or signing. Not that the blustery GM has ever been shy about making moves, but this year's free-agent crop was nothing to get too excited about.
Center Brad Richards was the biggest name available, and the Leafs
Otherwise, there were a lot of, well...let's just call them
Now the hockey 24/7 crowd in Hogtown wants Burke to tender some ridiculous offer sheet to Steven Stamkos or pull some desperate trade with Colorado for Paul Stastny. Neither will happen, and -- breathe now, Toronto, breathe -- that's OK for the Leafs.
Toronto had the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference after the All-Star break (18-9-6) and has seen no significant departures from the roster. In fact, Burke made a nice pickup in defenseman John-Michael Liles from Colorado, signed a reliable double-digit goal-scorer in Tim Connolly, and drafted big, rugged forward Tyler Biggs, who will be a good player at some point soon.
The same critics who wanted Burke to do something big are the same ones who -- and reasonably so, perhaps -- jumped all over him for dealing what turned out to be two top-10 picks to Boston for Phil Kessel. True, that deal deserves some tough scrutiny, but let's not forget that Kessel has scored at least 30 goals in each of his two seasons in Toronto and has started to look more comfortable in a Leafs uniform as time has gone along. And he's still only 23.
With James Reimer signed to a nice new three-year contract worth $5.4 million after his promising rookie season (20-10-5, 2.60 GAA, .921 save pct.), Toronto looks good again in what has been its biggest problem area in recent years -- goaltending.
Yes, the Leafs could use another marquee-type scorer, but who couldn't? Otherwise, this is a younger team that is gradually getting there. Shortcuts via free agency rarely work in hockey. There are many more examples of big signings that have blown up in GMs' faces (Bobby Holik, anyone?).
Burke is a man who loves action, but as he relaxed on a summer day in early July, he sounded perfectly content with his team's relative inaction.
"We believe in this group," he said.
In a word, Brian Burke's attitude can be summed up as confident.