Is this Brian Burke’s moment?
Every great team is built on one or two spectacular decisions perched atop countless years of smaller ones.
For the champion Los Angeles Kings, the future crystallized in the acquisition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
For the Boston Bruins it was the free agent signing of Zdeno Chara. Brian Burke’s bold move to draft the Sedin twins provided the Vancouver Canucks with an elite cornerstone tandem. The Rangers made the jump when they signed Brad Richards.
For the first time in his tenure, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been presented with the chance, just a chance, to once again be the man of the moment.
Yes, another window beckons July 1 when forward Zach Parise and college defenceman Justin Schultz debut in the free agent marketplace.
But no entry draft in memory has been held with so much front-end talent potentially available.
Start with Jordan Staal, a superb 23-year-old centre who turned down a reported $60 million, 10-year contract tendered by the Pittsburgh Penguins. If he plans on staying in Pittsburgh as the game’s greatest third-liner, Staal has a funny way of showing it.
As the interminable Rick Nash sweepstakes roll on, Columbus GM Scott Howson has his best set of circumstances in which to move forward.
Bobby Ryan and James van Riemsdyk, long the subject of trade rumors, are once again believed to be in play. The Canucks need to move Roberto Luongo.
There is, of course, the small matter of the draft as teams mine for diamonds amongst the fool’s gold.
Which brings us back to the Maple Leafs.
Over his three-and-a-half year tenure, Burke has positioned the Leafs with an eye toward this kind of night.
From the ether he has brought forward two first-line gunners in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, a stud defenceman in Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner, a player of limitless possibilities.
He has assets that will take longer to develop: defencemen Jesse Blacker and Stuart Percy. The number five choice in tonight’s draft is in his pocket.
Tonight is the real NHL trade deadline, a night where every team brings all its chips to the table. Showtime.
We have become so keenly accustomed to Brian Burke’s persona that we take his unique stature for granted. You don’t necessarily think of Bryan Murray when you consider the Ottawa Senators nor the masterful Ken Holland when you look toward Detroit.
Brian Burke made himself the face of the franchise, 1,301 days ago by design –the team was without a true star- because he has a great man’s two dominant characteristics: an unfailing optimism grafted on to a limited regard for consequences.
He was hired with the belief that a giant franchise needed a personality built to that same scale. It was a fascinating choice, the embrace of the superstar executive.
Pat Riley is recognizable in every corner of America. They made an Oscar-winning movie about Billy Beane. Cliff Fletcher retains his cachet in Toronto thanks to moves he made nearly two decades ago.
Once you position yourself at the front of the line, as Burke did, you stick until you acquire a collection of players who will put you back in the middle of the deck.
Of course not a single player mentioned above is sure to be moved. It is the nature of things that the facts rarely if ever match the anticipation.
In a business propelled not so much by the prospect of winning but instead an intolerance of defeat, Brian Burke bears losing particularly poorly. He couldn’t care less about who sees that; no public scorn could be worse than the toll of losing he willingly embraces.
If he does not make a big move tonight, it’s because he has given in to reason. Thinking does not make a person less of a gambler but instead a more proficient one.
To walk away from the table and a move that would restore his luster as a brash-talking savant would demand enormous strength of character and clarity of purpose. It would be, in fact, much harder than grabbing the headlines with a reckless deal.
A gun-toting outdoorsman who campaigns for gay rights, a hard-ass GM who spares his players any suspense over a Christmas trade, Brian Burke has resisted every definition.
Today he has a new chance to supply his own… by going all in or by folding and walking away.