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Burke's plan beginning to show success for Maple Leafs

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TSN.ca Staff
11/29/2011 8:25:04 PM
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In a hockey market like Toronto, criticism comes with the territory and since being named the the Maple Leafs president and general manager in 2008, Brian Burke has heard his fair share.

However, now in his third year with the team, Burke is seeing his hard work pay off as the Leafs sit in second place in the Eastern Conference.

"I think it starts with the coach," said Burke on Cybulski and Company. "There is no question that we've benefitted from great performances from Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul and from James Reimer early on, but the fact is we went on this road trip and we had six regulars out of the lineup the other night and still found a way to win. I think that's a tribute to [Ron Wilson] and I think he gets surprisingly little credit for that."

Toronto roster has gone over a massive overhaul under Burke's guidance, as 23 of the 29 players dressed in the Leafs' lineup are players Burke has brought in.

"The turnover here in Toronto has been huge as far as within the organization, the players on the ice, management, coaches, everything," explained defenceman Luke Schenn. "He's brought in a lot of his own guys, and he's definitely been a key reason for our turnaround."

Although building a team with truculence was Burke's initial model, the current 14-8-2 squad is built primarily on speed.

"I still think big teams and physical teams win more games as long as they can meet the other team's skill level. I still think that's an area where we could get bigger and a little more hostile, but the game has evolved and general managers can't be the last ones to figure that out," stated Burke.

"The whole NHL is evolving into what a team should be," said Wilson. "You're seeing different ways to win and at the moment for us we've built our team around maybe a little bit more speed than what we thought we would end up with."

Just as he was in his previous NHL destinations, Burke has been fearless when it comes to making trades.

His seven-player deal with the Calgary Flames brought in Phaneuf, who is now the Leafs captain and his acquisition of Kessel cost the team two first round draft picks. While both trades have been met with criticism at one point or another, the rewards are being reaped on the ice this season.

"I've made lots of mistakes in my career. I'd be the first to admit it. I've made some awful trades, but it doesn't matter if you make enough good trades and your team gets better and you draft well," said Burke.

"You're gonna make mistakes and the people that have success are the people who ignore the mistakes or fix them, but aren't afraid to make deals because they're afraid they're going to make a mistake."

Kessel leads the league in both goals (16) and points (31) and looks every bit the part of the franchise player Burke thought he would be. Burke refers to Kessel as a 200-foot, 60-minute player, which is a player you can use anywhere on the ice at any point in time.

"With his shoulder surgery and his cancer, he had two summers where he wasn't able to prepare properly," explained Burke. "Last year was the first year where he was able to put in the time he needed to come in in proper condition. I think the rest of what you're seeing is just the maturation of a young player with exceptional ability starting to figure it out."

"He made a major commitment late in the season to being that player and we think just he's come back this season and built on that."

As it stands, the Maple Leafs are on pace to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and despite struggling the past two seasons under his direction, it appears Toronto is now trending upwards thanks to Burke.

-With files from TSN's Sheri Forde.

 

Brian Burke (Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
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