Friday, November 28, 2008

Burke to Leafs: huge news for legacy franchise

By Rick Morris

If you believe as we do at FDH that the NHL still comprises part of the "big four" of the American sports landscape (with allowances for NASCAR and perhaps college football and college hoops on that level as well), then one of the more significant long-term stories of the year -- which materialized in the past 24 hours -- is sliding under the radar. Brian Burke has agreed to a six-year contract to take over as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

We have followed this developing story the past two weeks on the FDH hockey program THE GOON SQUAD, which airs Wednesday nights on (presently from 9-10 PM EST, to change on December 10 to a "show within a show" from 9:30 to 10 PM EST when THE FDH LOUNGE takes over the Wednesday prime time block on the network). It is manifestly huge news for the entire hockey world.

In most sports, the question of what constitutes a "legacy franchise," one of the most historic and special of all teams, is somewhat open for debate. But in the NHL, it seems a bit more clear-cut than most, as the "Original Six" that were around before 1967 have special historical clout. Ironically, '67 was the last year the Leafs won Lord Stanley's Cup, although they have 13 in all! I'd compare them to the Cleveland Browns, who last won an NFL title in 1964 (yes, there were titles before they were called Super Bowls, Squeeler fans!), but won eight championships in all and boasted such names as Paul Brown, Otto Graham and Jim Brown -- all of whom were easily in the top five all time at what they did. The Leafs and Browns haven't done much for 40-plus years -- but what came before that keeps them in a special place and adds to the glory that will accrue to the men who lead them out of the wilderness.

The Leafs are followed with a fervor in all corners of Canada, much like how the Browns are followed worldwide by the largest geographic network of fan clubs in sports. The passion is almost impossible to put into words, and Toronto fans today feel that they got their crown jewel. Burke helped to restore Vancouver's fortunes when he got his first GM job a decade ago and then he led Anaheim to their first Stanley Cup in '07. There was nobody with a similar resume that Toronto could have hired and as soon as he began subtly wiggling out of his contract with the Ducks (by refusing to sign an extension, thus forcing their hand in terms of promoting his successor and easing him into the "consultant" role that would allow him to sign elsewhere immediately), speculation has been building to a fever pitch.

He inherits a team that has cleared out most of its bad contracts of the past few years and he'll have the cap room necessary to augment a good young roster with the superstars he'll need for the team to take the final steps. An ownership committed to winning and a fanbase that will accept nothing less will both help in terms of establishing the proper expectations and lay on some additional pressure. But Burke has won with substantially fewer resources than he will have in what is Canada's cultural capital (a city often referred to as the Canadian equivalent of New York and Los Angeles put together). Today, for the Toronto Maple Leafs, all things seem possible and I believe that they are. We will see the Cup paraded through the streets of that city within five years.

No comments: