By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 20) – If it were up to others, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke would pull the trigger on a significant deal before the NHL trade deadline to:
a) Transform his slumping team into an instant Stanley Cup contender;
b) Sustain a pattern and reputation of high-level activity involving prominent players;
c) Provide all-day Internet worms a trace of social interaction.
And, not necessarily in that order.
Mercifully for grounded followers of the Blue and White (they can be found, you just have to look hard), Burke will be influenced by none of the aforementioned. It isn’t difficult to discern what the Leafs need to augment a fairly talented roster and maintain a reasonable hope of qualifying for the playoffs: goaltending insurance; a big body in the middle and – most significantly – improved ruggedness along the boards.
Offering the sort of mega-package that might induce Scott Howson to unload Rick Nash isn’t the way to go… even if it tends to letters b and c above.
Filling two of the three requirements in smaller transactions – those that enable Burke to retain prospects – would be a fine accomplishment for the Leafs’ GM. To the credit of Burke and his scouting staff, the club has a cadre of young players it may be able to rely on in the not-too-distant future. Preserving and building upon that element to either deploy in the NHL, or to help close a deal at a time when landing a Rick Nash might truly make a difference, is far-more practical than creating false hope right now.
BRIAN BURKE, WORKING THE PHONES AT ROGERS ARENA FRIDAY AFTERNOON.
As I wrote from Vancouver on the weekend, this is the best Leaf team of the post-lockout era. But, that isn’t saying much. Though Burke has a tendency to excite the club’s frantic following with his unbridled confidence and candor, he didn’t step off the boat yesterday. Or the day before. He can see, along with others devoid of rose-colored specs, that the Leafs are very much a work-in-progress; not a team capable of being nudged over the top by a costly acquisition.
He is also savvy enough to know that rival GMs may sense vulnerability if the Leafs continue to struggle in the days leading up to the Feb. 27 deadline.
Of course, that doesn’t rule out a dice-throw. Burke has performed a high-wire act through much of his managerial career and has never been shy to play with the big boys. He is assuredly capable, though, of deciphering between a flashy gimmick and a legitimate, closing transaction, such as the one he executed on behalf of the Anaheim Ducks by obtaining Chris Pronger in 2006, leading to a Stanley Cup title the following spring.
Leaf fans dream of Burke repeating that scenario here. And, it may very well happen.
But not before a lame defensive club lacking in size and trench-toughness is upgraded.
Upon landing here in Toronto on Sunday after a four-hour flight from Vancouver, we taxied for 10 minutes at night to Terminal One. Along the way, I activated the “fireworks” function of my Nikon Coolpix camera – that which holds open the shutter for roughly two seconds, allowing light to be artfully distorted. In each of the first four images below, you’ll be able to make out the red sign atop the Pearson Airport Sheraton… and the letters that spell the hotel name. The distortion was caused by the Airbus-321 bumping along the tarmac, or by my hand moving slightly up and down. The figures that resemble heart-beats on an electrocardiogram are all single lights – either embedded in the tarmac; shining down from the top of large poles; from the front or back of service vehicles (cars and trucks); warning lights atop the airport buildings, or from other planes on the ground. The effect is quite remarkable.
Again, look for the word “Sheraton”:
THE ABOVE IMAGE IS FROM A SINGLE ROW OF LIGHTS ATOP AN AIRPORT HANGAR.
YOU CAN MAKE OUT THE INTERIOR-GREEN HUMP OF THE MAIN AIRPORT TERMINAL AT PEARSON (ABOVE). THE UNDULATING RED STREAK ACROSS THE BOTTOM IS A SINGLE RED LIGHT IN THE TARMAC, ACTING AS A DIRECTIONAL BARRIER AT NIGHT. ANOTHER IMAGE OF THE TERMINAL APPEARS AT LEFT OF THE PHOTO BELOW.
AN AIR CANADA AIRBUS-320 PARKED AT TERMINAL ONE (ABOVE AND BELOW), ITS TAIL AND WING LIGHTS EFFECTED BY THE CAMERA’S FUNCTION.
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