Friday, April 20, 2012

An open letter to Brian Burke, GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Robert Mitchell
New Castle, PA

Mr Burke:

     I am a Maple Leaf fan, and I am fed up.  This is now the 8th consecutive spring (the lockout year + 7 seasons) that I have had to endure the Stanley Cup Playoffs without my favorite team being in them.  For the past 8 days I have watched some of the best hockey in a long time, and sadly not one of the players I've watched is wearing the Maple Leaf crest on his sweater. 

     Yes, I am aware that you are not responsible for all of the 8 years, since you've only been the GM for the past 4.  I was very excited when you were hired, because of your track record with teams such as Vancouver and Anaheim, and was looking forward to what could be built in Toronto.  I also am aware that you inherited a mess, which had to be torn down and built back up again, which you did very quickly.

     I was one of the few who would defend your trade with Boston that saw the Leafs acquire Phil Kessel.  For me, your track record of trading since you became Leafs GM from where I sit is quite good.  Your track record for signing free agents on the other hand, is horrible.

     Mike Komisarek, 5 years at $4.5 million per year for a guy who has never scored more than 4 goals in a season?  Yes, I am aware that he adds some "truculence" to your blue line, but when your coach ends up making him a regular healthy scratch, or sticks him on the 3rd defensive pairing, then you have to say it is a poor signing.

     Colby Armstrong, 3 years at $3 million per year for one 20 goal season.  Oh yes, he's truculent.  This year, he played on the 4th line, and was a healthy scratch on a few occasions.  I shook my head last year when you signed him to that contract.  Over paid?  You better believe it.

     Tim Connolly, 2 years at an average of $4.75 million for a guy who has a history of injuries, has never scored 20 goals in a season, and was considered by many to be the runner-up "prize" for the teams that failed to sign Brad Richards.  Oh, and by the way if you didn't notice, Tim finished the season on the checking line. 

     Three straight seasons, 3 horrendous free agent signings.  I now point you to this season.  The team was in an absolute free fall in February, and it was obvious that they were looking for a boost to get them back into the thick of things.  You actually made a trade for a guy who was invisible for most of the month that he played with the team. 

     The biggest mistake that nobody really talked a lot about was leaving Ron Wilson as coach for the past 4 years.  It was obvious from the beginning that Ron's method of coaching definitely did not sync up with your style of building a team.  Ron preferred a fast, up tempo game, while you would have the team play more of a rugged, physical style.  That's all well and good if you want to build your team that way, but get yourself a coach that believes in the same thing.  You let your friendship and loyalty to Ron get in the way of the development of the team that you wanted to build, and we fans have now suffered for it.  You now have your coach, but is there going to have to be another tear down of the team to now get the players who play the rugged style that Randy Carlyle prefers?  If so, how long is that going to take?

     I know what you're thinking.  Who in the hell is this guy, a sports card blogger trying to give you some lip over the job you're doing.  Who am I?  I am a Maple Leafs fan, someone who has suffered over the past 35+ years with crazy ownership, horrible management choices over coaches and players, horrible refereeing in one season that cost my beloved team a trip to the finals, and now what is nearing a decade of futility.   I am a Maple Leafs fan who has grown tired of the crap I'm hearing.  I am a Maple Leafs fan who can't believe that you were more worried about what a 70+ year old man had to say about your coach than what you were doing about the mess to begin with.  Turns out the old guy was right, wasn't he? 

     Finally, I am a Maple Leafs fan who has grown tired of the excuses, tired of waiting for this team to become the contender it was starting to be this year, but instead watched as the contender status disappeared in a 20 game span. 

     I am giving you one more year Mr. Burke, to show me that there will be significant improvement in this club.  I will attend the draft, and watch very carefully what you do over the summer.  I will watch the play of my favorite team over the 2012-13 season, more intently than I probably ever have.  If I don't see any improvement, I will be even more vocal than this, and start the call to have your job given to someone else. 

     You cannot rest on your laurels anymore.  Your successful past doesn't give you a pass with Toronto fans. 

      I would like to be able to collect a card, in my lifetime, that has "Stanley Cup Award Winner, 20xx", with the Maple Leafs logo emblazoned on it.  

      Respectfully yours, Robert Mitchell