Brian Burke is the Best General Manager in Sports. Brian Burke is the Worst General Manager in Sports

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by Puck

Hockey Correspondent and Occasional Shakespeare Character

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The Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs in 2013. It’s not guaranteed, but let’s call it right now. We’re saying ‘Heads’, but we’ve already seen the coin do three rotations on the table.

Toronto sits in fifth place in the tightest Eastern Conference in years, eight points clear of ninth place with only nine games to play (for the Leafs and the ninth-place Devils). New Jersey may make the playoffs, but Toronto definitely will.

It would be easy, then, to lay the blame for the past decade on Brian Burke.

Sure, el heffe leaves town and T.O. makes the postseason for the first time since 2004, and four of those seasons included Burke at the helm.

It would also be easy, though, to give Burke credit for Toronto’s post-exodus success (and Burke certainly will be proud of his accomplishments, as he always is). Toronto’s best and most noticeable players this season have been guys like Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul (when healthy), James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, and goalie James Reimer.

Every single one of them owes their placement in Toronto to Burkie.

Of course, White Cover Magazine has always come down on Big Double B’s side, so we have to admit that.

But, in this case, it’s not a clear-cut call. Burke was responsible for the bones of this team, but there’s no denying their success in his wake — and their success under replacement GM and longtime Burke crony, Dave Nonis.

Here’s the lay of the land, the way I see it…

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The Good

Sure, Burke signed a lot of WTF players to a lot of WTF contracts. Mikhail Grabovski’s $5.5 million per season is one that will crush the Buds in its remaining four years, and the team is just now trying to part ways with Mike Komisarek’s disastrous $22.5 million experiment. Tim Connolly is also getting paid $4.75 million to play in the American Hockey League this year.

So yeah, Burke screwed some things up, but don’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. (Don’t worry, there’s a more cliched analogy below.)

Brian Burke has always had an eye for talent, and especially for predicting chemistry between his talent.

A lot of people are still grumbling over the Phil Kessel trade that saw the Boston Bruins eventually draft super-stud Tyler Seguin with the eventual No. 2 overall draft pick.

However, I’d much rather have Phil Kessel on my team than Tyler Seguin, and when Burke made that deal, there was no guarantee the pick would be the No. 2. It could have been No. 15 for all we know.

Then, Burke brought in his old Ducks cast member Joffrey Lupul, whose chemistry with Kessel has been exemplary and, quite frankly, the only reason the Air Canada Centre wasn’t destroyed at the end of 2012 along with Burke’s employability.

Cody Franson is one of the more underrated defencemen in the league, the Burke worked a wonder shipping off Luke Schenn (who really wasn’t doing much of anything) to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk. (*The trade worked out for both teams, really, because Schenn has excelled defensively for the Flyers in 2013.)

And, say what you will about Toronto’s goaltending situation — and the failed tenure of Jonas Gustavsson — but there are far worse goaltending tandems in the National Hockey League than James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, both of whom have outplayed similar situations in Calgary, Florida, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Colorado (although Semyon Varlamov deserves props for holding the Avalanche in for so long).

I didn’t even mention Toronto’s captain, Dion Phaneuf, whose career has taken a serious turn north since he flew east.

Then, there’s Kadri. He didn’t necessarily get the chance to shine while Burke was in town — although that could easily be due to Ron Wilson — but the former London Knight was one of Burke’s more prolific — and publicly scrutinized — draft picks, and he’s responded by leading the Leafs with 40 points in 39 games this season.

In my mind, there’s simply no denying it: when Brian Burke’s at his best, there’s nobody better. In all of sports. Period.

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The Bad

It’s pretty simple, but I’ll confuse it for you.

You’ve heard of a Bull in a China shop, right? (That was the second cliched analogy.) Well, now imagine that the Bull owns the store. It doesn’t matter how much fun the Bull is having or how nice his store is, or even if there are customers in the place while he’s jumping around and bucking. Eventually, his possessions — his players, yes — are going to pay. And, even if they’ve been organized properly and they look all shiny and spiffy on the shelves, the Bull will eventually ruin their day.

He’ll break them.

Burke’s Leads had potential. They always did. But, potential counts for sh*t.

Potential is the excuse for an eight-year playoff drought. Potential is the difference between Alex Daigle and John Tavares. Potential is what Nazem Kadri had under Burke. (Points are what he has now.)

It’s been much more fun to watch the Leafs in 2013 without Burke grumbling in the press box. It’s been much more fun to see Dave Nonis haphazardly manage the team he inherited with a guiding hand then to see Burke hit the IMPLODE button every time they lost on back-to-back Saturdays.

It’s been fun to watch the Leafs without having to care about what Don Cherry says.

Forget what the Coyotes tell you. Owners aren’t distractions.

General managers are, and Brian Burke was a hell of a distraction in Toronto. Now that he’s gone, well… you’ve seen the standings.

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The Ugly

There’s really no reason for this category. It’s simply in here to fill my quota for a third shi*ty cliche and to reference a Spaghetti Western we all love and quote but that few of us have ever seen.

What’s ugly about Brian Burke?

Well, stuff like this got old real fast, even though he was rarely wrong: