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After taking in all of the coverage of Brian Burke's official arrival in Toronto on Saturday afternoon, I was hard pressed to think about what else there was to write about it. That was, until I saw the above photo of Burke at Saturday's press conference seated beside Richard Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Now, I'm not going to pretend to be able to peer into the mind of Brian Burke, but it was hard not to think that in this moment -- one captured so expertly by Brad White of Getty Images -- that Burke was coming to grips with the enormity of the task in front of him. After all, MLSE isn't going to be paying him $18 million over the next six years to be a caretaker.
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Even in his first few moments on the job, Burke seemed eager to get to work first on managing expectations:
"Changing the general manager doesn't change the team. It is going to take some time and some patience. Changing the general manager does not change the roster we are going to dress tonight. It doesn't change the record of our team and it doesn't change the chapters of history with unfulfilled expectations that preceded today. What it does represent is the turning of the page."
So what exactly is Burke going to have to contend with? ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun put it into the proper perspective over the weekend:
It's also the job that comes with the most media scrutiny in the NHL. Three Canadian sports networks, four daily newspapers, one all-sports radio station, the head office of the national news agency -- you name it and it's in Toronto. Now mind you, Burke dealt with some of that in hockey-mad Vancouver, but at least in sheer numbers, it still doesn't compare to Toronto.
Between Burke and his coach, Ron Wilson, there will be plenty of 30-second video clips to go around. There won't be many boring days for my Toronto media colleagues, which is a good thing because the team is beginning to stink like we all thought it would.
And as you might be able to surmise, there are few jobs in big time sports media that are more agonizing than having to cover a team that's out of the running with months to go in the season. And, if LeBrun's instincts are correct and the Maple Leafs begin to settle at the bottom of the standings in the next couple of weeks, the media beast will need to be fed, and they're going to expect Burke to be serving up the raw meat in large portions.
And don't think for a second that as much as that same media mob has been clamoring for Burke's hiring over the past year or so -- and that would include me, I guess -- that the man hasn't already made some enemies who are gleefully getting ready to paint a large target on his back. Cliff Fletcher, the man who is being moved aside for Burke -- and a man who pointedly was not at Saturday's press conference -- has his defenders.
Chief among them is Al Strachan, a man who will undoubtedly use his perch on Hockey Night in Canada's Hot Stove segment to gleefully snipe at Burke whenever he's perceived to have made a misstep. In the past few weeks Strachan has already made his support for Fletcher pretty clear. But what was even more interesting to me was the moment when Strachan pulled the xenophobe card a few weeks back, helpfully reminding everyone that both Burke and Wilson were Americans, and couldn't MLSE find any Canadians to run the league's premier franchise?
Did I forget to mention that Burke will also be serving as GM of the U.S. Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team that will compete in 2010 in Vancouver, and that now Wilson, an old friend from his days at Providence College, now has to be considered the leading candidate to coach the team? You'd think that reviving the Maple Leafs would be enough of a challenge, wouldn't you?
So congratulations to Burke, who as he noted in Saturday's press conference, is now firmly ensconced in hockey's equivalent of the Vatican. And while he isn't the Pope, he is chief defender of the faith. Unfortunately for him the latter job doesn't come with papal infallibility, something the locals will be reminding him of early and often in his tenure.