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Burke takes toughest assignment yet

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Brian Burke's new job doesn't leave a whole lot of room for mistakes.

After all, his tenure as general manager of the Maple Leafs will only be considered a success if he brings Lord Stanley's Cup back to Toronto for the first time in over 40 years.

Winning a Stanley Cup title is something within Burke's power, of course, as he helped build the Anaheim team that won it all in 2007, completing the process that saw the Ducks blossom from Disney-owned oddity to NHL powerhouse. Burke, an American, also broke down some barriers in making the Ducks the first-ever West Coast franchise to win a Stanley Cup.

Standing in front of the podium on Saturday, Burke called his new position a "dream job," but in reality, being the Leafs GM in recent years has been something closer to a nightmare.

If Brian Burke brings Toronto
the title its been craving, he
will become a legend.
Of course, everything hinges on success and this particular job has the possibility to go either in the direction of a dream or a nightmare. Toronto's rabid fan base is what creates the potential for extreme highs or cavernous lows when it comes to the city's beloved hockey franchise.

The expectations for Burke to succeed will be an even heavier burden than the one shouldered by recent Toronto GMs like Pat Quinn and John Ferguson Jr. After all, before Burke even took his new job (or left his old one) he was designated as the best man for the post by a large segment of Leafs fans. Combine that with the fact that the club hasn't made the playoffs in over four years, and you have a recipe for high expectations. If Burke doesn't quickly change the team for the better, impatience in Toronto could reach an all-time high.

It's easy to see why Burke was coveted as a GM by so many in Toronto. He is quite simply one of the best in the business, and over the course of his career has shown a knack for turning franchises around.

In addition to leading the Ducks to their first-ever Cup, Burke also had great success in his previous job as the GM in Vancouver. He led the Canucks from 1998-2004 and improved the club's point total in four consecutive years during the middle of his stint in British Columbia.

Burke was able to revitalize a Canucks franchise that had little success since making the Stanley Cup finals in 1994, but a great deal more will be expected in Toronto.

The Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 -- the final season before expansion increased the number of NHL teams from six to 12. Failing to win it all since then has obviously not gone over well with fans in Toronto, but the futility of the club in recent years has only made a bad situation worse.

Toronto hasn't made the playoffs since 2003-04, marking the first time in club history that the Leafs have sat out the postseason in three straight seasons. The inability to make a smooth transition after the lockout washed away the 2004-05 campaign has turned this once-proud franchise into a laughingstock.

So, does Burke have what it takes to be the savior of Leafs hockey?

One thing is relatively certain, Toronto's new GM won't be easily swayed by public opinion. Burke has a reputation as a straight-shooter who trusts his own instincts above anything else. He's traded barbs with the media, fellow general managers and just about everyone during his career. Burke has rarely shied away from critics wherever he's been, and that isn't likely to change now that he's in Toronto.

A more pressing question would be how Burke is going to get along with the front-office brass in Toronto. His predecessors often butted heads with the Maple Leafs board, and the passionate Burke is probably not going to endear himself to the group either.

The board, and primarily Richard Peddie, CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, have been criticized for being more concerned with marketing the Leafs brand than giving fans in Toronto a winning team. The business side of things certainly hasn't been a problem for the current front office, as Toronto is believed to be the most valuable franchise in the NHL.

But Burke will not stand for putting business strategy ahead of a blueprint for success on the ice. If Burke does find that the brass is hindering Toronto's shot at a championship, the situation could get ugly.

Yet the front office in Toronto surely knows Burke's reputation as a no-nonsense kind of guy and his hiring would seem to suggest that the board finally wants to do what's best for the hockey team instead of worrying mainly about the bottom line.

On paper, Burke is an excellent choice to be the new GM of the Leafs. He's had a positive effect on every team he's been with and has shown the ability to rehabilitate franchises even to the point of turning them into champions.

This time, however, the spotlight will be brighter than ever, and the margin for error will be almost non-existent. If Burke brings Toronto the title its been craving for so long, he will, of course, become a legend.

But if he fails in that quest, Burke will simply be remembered by Leafs fans as just another guy who couldn't get it done.

Some dream job.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo