Brian Burke: Is You Is Or Is You Isn’t?

As much as I hate the suits at MLSE with the white hot burning heat of a thousand suns, I can’t quarrel too much with their deliberate pace on this hiring decision to date.  It’s a tough decision, and one that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the organization.  The reason that I despise the current board is, of course, its abject failure to avoid meddling with the affairs of the hockey team over the last few years, coupled with its failure to install a chief executive Brian Burkewith sufficient vision and experience to plan for success in the post-lockout environment.  That having been said, it would appear that the board has, since the firing of John Ferguson Jr., made the right decision: to correct its mistake in that regard and hire a top-quality chief executive to whom control over the hockey operations will be ceded.  In other words, MLSE has decided that maybe they ought not to do this job themselves.  I congratulate them for making the right call at this critical first step of the decision-making process;  it is so obviously the right decision, it’s kind of like congratulating your kid for deciding (for the third day this week!) not to eat a jar of paste while at school, but it’s important to celebrate even modest successes with those who have intellectual challenges and to positively re-inforce behaviour we want to encourage.  So yay, MLSE!

Step two of the hiring process was to find the right person to replace John Ferguson Jr.  Apparently unable to locate a person with the right credentials on a permanent basis last spring, the club turned to Cliff Fletcher and asked him to act as steward of the club’s fortunes during the initial stages of the rebuilding process. In doing so, the Leafs successfully managed to put one foot in front of the other. (Again, yay!)  Fletcher has, it must be said, acquitted himself quite well since his appointment: he made a deal on draft day that got the Leafs into position to pick up Luke Schenn;  he signed Niklas Hagman and Jeff Finger; for every questionable acquisition (Ryan Hollweg), there has been a great pickup (I’m looking at you, Mikhail Grabovski); for every Jamal Mayers, a Mike Van Ryn. It is too early to say whether these players, and others (such as recently acquired Lee Stempniak ) constitute the necessary pieces of the puzzle, though it is unlikely that they form the core of a Cup winning team.  To get there, some of these assets will have to be moved elsewhere, and fresh talent added to the basic building blocks at a later date.  At this stage, as we’ve been told by team officials, it’s not about wins and losses:  it’s about changing a culture of entitlement that had settled over the dressing room – a debilitating malaise that somehow begun interfering with the players’ performance.  At step two, Cliff Fletcher earns the MLSE another passing grade.

Rigor Maurice?

Paul, we hardly knew ye.I haven’t dipped into the MSM today to check on the status of Paul Maurice’s job as Leaf head coach, but man oh man, things are not looking good for him from where I sit.  

First, let me say this:  Paul seems like a decent fellow and I have quite enjoyed listening to him speak during his press conferences and media scrums.  He seems like an intelligent guy with some very definite ideas about how to do his job, and he has a quiet confidence that I would expect to translate nicely into a leadership role in a hockey dressing room.   Second, let me say that I have always maintained that it is impossible for anyone outside of an organization to express a meaningful and informed opinion about how “good” a coach is at his job;  it has always been my contention that so much of a hockey coach’s job depends upon the personal dynamics on the team and inside the room that anybody who isn’t in possession of direct knowledge about them is necessarily uninformed about the very essence of the subject matter.   Everybody at the NHL level is a wizard with the x’s and o’s and they can all evaluate talent.  The key to the job is getting your twenty guys to want to skate through a wall for each other;  anyone who isn’t part of those conversations just doesn’t know what the deal is.  Bottom line:  for that reason, I think it is nigh on impossible for any outsider to legitimately take the position that a coach “should” be fired because he isn’t doing the job.