By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 9) – Brian Burke’s post-season address to the media is being anticipated around here much like the fireside radio chats of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II. FDR had an uncanny ability to comfort American citizens in the wake of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and Burke is being counted upon to somehow offer embattled fans of the Maple Leafs similar reassurance – his address to be live; in person, and on TV.
Were a poll conducted among any appreciable number of Leaf supporters, Burke would be declared a failure. Haunted incessantly by the florid comments made in his introductory press conference – those proclaiming truculence and a quick reversal of team fortune – the Leafs GM is today considered a “blowhard” by a majority segment of the fan-base. Failure, however, is a finite term and one that cannot properly be used in mid-task. If Burke, for example, were to be fired before the NHL draft in June, his reign as Leaf boss would overwhelmingly be disparaged. Given the fact he has two seasons remaining on his contract with the team, however, failure is a speculative appraisal.
Burke’s approach simply requires amendment. Jaws will hit the floor at the Air Canada Centre if the Leafs GM talks brazenly about plans for the hockey club later this week. Any comment resembling his “missing-the-playoffs-is-like-a-kick-to-the-gut” mantra will induce an avalanche of eye-rolling. A vow to trade up with the winner of tomorrow night’s draft lottery will similarly be dismissed. Anything, in fact, that sounds embellished, overly convincing or bombastic will lack credibility and fall on countless deaf ears.
BRIAN BURKE: HE NEEDS TO LEVEL WITH ACHING FANS OF THE MAPLE LEAFS.
Far-more appealing and sincere would be an attempt to level with fans of the Blue and White; to emphasize, with a trace of humility, what is commonly known: that Burke’s best intentions for the Maple Leafs were ambitious and have yet to bear results. No reasonable person would accuse him of lacking work-ethic or a desire to juggle the multitude of tasks inherent in his role. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions – and will continue to stress – whatever challenge Burke encounters as GM of the Leafs is dwarfed and complicated by the tragic death of his son, Brendan, in a car accident 26 months ago.
Burke has brilliantly and courageously spoken on behalf of acceptance among gay individuals in amateur and professional sport – Brendan’s timeless legacy. He has frequently extolled the warmth and softness of his late son, oddly suggesting – in fact, almost boasting – that he could never assume such a posture. Those, like myself, that have seen Burke in the company of Leaf fans, or those battling physical and emotional pain, would take umbrage with that self-assessment. Though he revels in the “tough-guy” image, Burke has a disarming quality that draws people toward him. He urgently needs to show more of that side in his much-anticipated address to Leafs Nation.
Though times certainly appear desperate, all is not lost here in Toronto. Burke knows the game and has experienced the ultimate achievement. On his watch, the Leafs have assembled what scouts believe is a cadre of prospects that can stand alongside any in the league. Had Burke accentuated that approach – still, the most common and fruitful – from the start, chances are he wouldn’t find himself in such a pickle today.
That he stoked the anxiety and hunger of Leaf fans – and has yet to follow through – consigned him the notion of failure.
He can still win back his supporters… starting with a genuine, down-to-earth message this week to troubled fans of the Blue and White.
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