By any measure, especially his own, Leafs’ GM Brian Burke did not have a good year.
But in one element, Burke has been in front of the curve.
Big and bad is the new black.
In January, Burke reluctantly sent Colton Orr to the minors and publicly fretted the era of the fighter was over.
At the Leafs season-ending press conference Burke stressed the need to be bigger and stronger. “We need to address the size of the group and the compete level of the group,” he said.
“I like teams that go into buildings and dictate how games are played, not get dictated to. That’s going to change.”
The podium has hardly been put back into storage and the landscape has already been revolutionized. The goon is back. Look no further than Ottawa where Senators pug Matt Carkner pummelled the Rangers Brian Boyle and then began a skate that will take him merrily back from whence he came: the press box. Boyle earned the going-over by speed-bagging prized defenceman Erik Karlsson.
On Sunday the Penguins’goonish Arron Asham cross-checked the Flyers Brayden Schenn in the face and then punched him as he lay on the ice.
It’s often skill players who are smashing each other in the head. Chicago Blackhawks Andrew Shaw, all five-foot-ten of him, drove through the noggin of Phoenix’s star goalie Mike Smith. Noted not-tough guy Carl Hagelin inexplicably tried to cave in the cranium of his childhood idol, Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson.
Pittsburgh Penguin James Neal ran Flyers’ rookie Sean Couturier from behind. Shea Webber smashed Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass.
Fighting, once absent from the playoffs, is so prevalent that the league’s most skilled players, Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux are dropping the mitts.
So what does it all mean to the Maple Leafs?
Well, maybe the future looks an awful lot like 2009.
Colton Orr and his $1 million contract seems like a good-fit on the team’s fourth line or at the very least in and out of the lineup as a deterrent (or maybe a purveyor) to mayhem.
Burke and ideological soulmate Randy Carlyle seem ready to return to the blueprint of two scoring lines and six guys who keep everyone else honest. Keeping a small, skilled, sometimes-timid group, something of an option a week ago, looks suicidal today.
That means the price of tough is going up.
The Leafs have some home-grown muscle ready for prime-time in the shape of nasty defenceman Korbinian Holzer who is finishing what will no doubt be his final season with the Marlies. Bradley Ross is a noted and skilled agitator who should see time with the Marlies should his Portland Winterhawks fall in the post-season. An erratic prospect who brings a big body such as the Marlies’ Marcel Mueller should garner more scrutiny.
If the Penguins move six-four Jordan Staal to financially accommodate Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Stall’s price will be stratospheric. The Kings’ industrious and physical centre Jarret Stoll, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, should garner more attention in the new- look NHL. Even players with size but little inclination to use it, Kings hulking seven-goal soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Dustin Penner come to mind, may find themselves a little richer in a few months.
So while Brian Burke will invest in muscle it looks like finding it will be tougher than ever.