By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (July 31) – For passionate hockey fans, these are the so-called “dog days of summer”, when perpetual news and opinion about the game slows to a trickle. In this city, of course, even the most banal dispatch pertaining to the Maple Leafs is reason for non-stop Internet chatter: the website HF Boards, as of this morning, had generated 64 comments and 2,569 page-views about the earth-shattering development yesterday of the Leafs re-upping with minor-leaguers Mark Fraser, Mike Zigomanis, Will Acton and Dylan Yeo. My pal Kevin McGran – whose vacation allotment at the Toronto Star appears to be roughly five days per-anum – had to write a side-bar on the “story” for today’s newspaper. Pity the hapless wretch.
It should therefore come as no surprise that any paragraph – in any forum – incorporating the name “Brian Burke” engenders fascination. Both the Star and Toronto Sun featured the Leafs president and general manager today – the Sun’s intrepid reporter, John Kryk, snapping a photo (below) of Burke at the New York Giants training camp in Albany. Exactly why double-B took time to visit his friend Kevin Abrams – the Giants assistant GM – is a point of contention among Leaf fans, given the February-to-April calamity on Bay St. As one reader grumbled beneath Kryk’s story: “I sure wish [Burke] had a [cell]-phone to his ear in this picture.”
BRIAN BURKE (ABOVE-LEFT) WATCHES THE NFL GIANTS PRACTICE AT THEIR TRAINING BASE IN ALBANY, N.Y. JOHN KRYK QMI AGENCY/TORONTO SUN
It’s unlikely that anyone has to remind the Leaf boss of his club’s “18-wheeler” last season, or the amount of reconstruction necessary to stop the bleeding and mend the gash. Only once that is accomplished can fans of the Blue and White reasonably expect any sort of upward trend. Which brings to mind the most quarrelsome and contradictory matter pertaining to Burke this summer: How much leeway will the club’s new ownership provide him? The prevailing sentiment among observers – that Burke should be fired if Leafs again miss the playoffs next spring – has some impulsive merit, but is technically and strategically absurd.
To wit: If the Rogers-Bell conglomerate has chosen to give Burke one more season, it may as well fire him now. Under only the most fanciful scenario could the GM be expected to surmount a 12-point playoff deficit in the Eastern Conference this summer – or at any stage during the 2012-13 season. The Leafs, by all objective standard, are the worst team in the NHL since the lockout of 2004-05… the only club, during that span, not to partake in the Stanley Cup tournament. Moreover, Toronto appeared to be the most incompetent side in the league as last season concluded; at no time in re-callable memory has the club collapsed and perished in such a manner. Though stability in goal appears to be the prime deficit, it doesn’t account for the absence of leadership and character during the death-spiral in February and March. How can Burke be expected to solve such inadequacy over the next eight months?
Response to this conundrum is typically two-fold: a) Burke made the mess and should therefore be held accountable for a five-season playoff drought (next spring). And, b) even more typically among the team’s despondent following: “let’s not get ahead of ourselves… anything can happen.” From the standpoint of Mother Nature, the latter may be true. As I sit in my home-office, writing this blog, a savage thunderstorm – accompanied by teeming rain – is lashing the Toronto area. Such an episode is hardly unheard of during the July-to-August transition, yet there’s been more precipitation in the Mojave Desert through the warm months of 2012.
So, yeah, anything can happen.
As it pertains to the the Leafs, however, variety has long-been dormant; the same thing keeps happening, over and over. And that leads to a second contradiction: innumerable Leaf fans are convinced Burke has stocked the club with viable prospects – though it’s a mystery why a veteran hockey observer in this city would assume such achievement. Still, many of these same individuals contend that Burke should be deep-six’d if the Leafs are again a playoff bystander next April.
One train of thought cannot accompany the other.
This convoluted theory was voiced, in today’s Toronto Star, by an esteemed educator: Richard Powers, assistant dean at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business. Powers is highly regarded in his field, yet a remark he made to Kevin McGran proved that a fan’s emotion will nearly always supersede logic. “I don’t know if it’s realistic for the Raptors to make the playoffs, but their performance is going to have to improve,” said Powers, when discussing what he believes is the fate of Bryan Colangelo. “The [new ownership] deal bought Burke another year. If the Leafs don’t make the playoffs [next spring], you know his head’s going to go.”
There you have it: fan first; dean second.
THE WONDROUS SCENE HERE IN NORTH TORONTO THIS AFTERNOON, PROVING THAT – YES – ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. BUT, THOSE ARE LEAVES, NOT LEAFS.
As we sit here today – with the Teachers-to-Rogers/Bell transition still not finalized – it is purely speculative as to which direction the new owners will follow with Burke. If, however, the in-coming conglomerate hungers to distance itself from the prevailing treadmill, it will make either an immediate change… or assure the incumbent GM of at least the remaining two years on the contract he signed in November 2008.
Anything in-between will only prolong the travesty at Bay and Lakeshore.
IT IS SO QUIET ON THE HOCKEY FRONT THAT I’VE TAKEN TO PHOTOGRAPHING YELLOW-JACKETS BUILDING A HONEYCOMB OVER MY GARAGE DOOR (ABOVE AND BELOW). PLEASE SEND ME AN EMAIL IF YOU KNOW HOW TO SAFELY LIQUIDATE THE VARMINTS.
HOME FOR 11 NIGHTS…
AFTER SPENDING NEARLY TWO WEEKS WITH THE FAMILY IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, I FLEW HOME FROM LOS ANGELES ON THURSDAY TO TEND TO SOME BUSINESS. I HEAD BACK TO THE COAST NEXT MONDAY FOR ANOTHER FORTNIGHT. MEANTIME, THE TRUSTY NIKON WAS BUSY, AS USUAL:
ROUGHLY 35 MINUTES AFTER DEPARTING LOS ANGELES, MY AIR CANADA FLIGHT SOARS OVER THE SPRING MOUNTAINS (ABOVE) AS THEY DESCEND INTO LAS VEGAS, NEVADA.
FIFTEEN MILES NORTHEAST OF THE “STRIP” SITS LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY (ABOVE) – SCENE OF TRAGEDY ON OCT. 16, 2011 WHEN DRIVER DAN WHELDON DIED AFTER HE BECAME AIRBORNE (BELOW) DURING A MISHAP AT THE IZOD INDY-CAR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP.
CANYONS, RIVERS AND LAKES (ABOVE AND BELOW) BETWEEN UTAH AND NORTHERN COLORADO ON A SPECTACULARLY CLEAR AFTERNOON.
BEGINNING OF THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE (ABOVE) IN COLORADO.
I LOVE CALIFORNIA SUNSETS (ABOVE AND BELOW).
CRESCENT MOON ABOVE LOS ANGELES – JULY 2012.
SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS NORTHWEST OF L.A. REFLECT MORNING SUNRISE (ABOVE). BUSY TOPANGA CANYON IN THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY (BELOW) AT MID-DAY.
THE SOUTHBOUND 405 (SAN DIEGO FREEWAY), ABOVE, ON THE MORNING COMMUTE.
THE JETLINERS OF L-A-X…
A QANTAS BOEING-747, BOUND FOR AUSTRALIA, DEPARTS SOUTH RUNWAY AT L-A-X (ABOVE).
MY FLIGHT ARRIVES FROM TORONTO (ABOVE AND BELOW): AIR CANADA AIRBUS-321.
RUNWAYS OF LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT ARE VISIBLE (ABOVE) AS AIR CANADA PLANE TURNS LEFT OVER PACIFIC OCEAN, MOMENTS AFTER DEPARTING.
UBIQUITOUS SMOG-LAYER OVER THE LOS ANGELES BASIN (ABOVE AND BELOW) ON CLIMB-OUT FROM L-A-X. IT DISSIPATES ONLY DURING THE COOLER WINTER MONTHS.
PALOS VERDES, CALIFORNIA (ABOVE): PENINSULA 30 MINUTES BY CAR SOUTH OF L-A-X THAT JUTS INTO PACIFIC OCEAN. THE COAST-LINE WINDS NORTH THROUGH REDONDO, MANHATTAN, VENICE, SANTA MONICA AND MALIBU BEACHES.
THE HARBOR OF LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA (ABOVE).
SAN DIEGO FREEWAY BORDERS LONG BEACH AIRPORT (ABOVE) TO THE WEST.
CLIMBING OVER THE SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS (ABOVE AND BELOW), EAST OF L.A.
NEARLY-FULL MOON OVER NORTH TORONTO (ABOVE AND BELOW) – LATE-JULY 2012.
EVEN THE CLOUDS ARE BREATHTAKING IN A CALIFORNIA SUNSET.
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