Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField
The timing of the Brian Burke firing by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was curious at best, but the numbers back up the organization’s decision.
The former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs was gruff with the media, had no idea how to keep a neck tie tied, was constantly spitting in a Tim Hortons cup through all Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts and actually made the team worse by three points than the regime before him.
Only one of the above got him fired.
Burke was hired in November of 2008. To determine if he made the Leafs better during his tenure, compare the seasons of 2007-08 (the last one of the pre-Burke era) and 2011-12 (the last of the Burke era).
In terms of record, the Paul Maurice coached squad of ’07-08 finished the season with a record of 36-35-0-11. The ’11-12 version coached by Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle ended up with a mark of 35-37-0-10. The Leafs were slightly worse last season under Burke than the final season before his arrival. For all the bluster and talk, the Leafs are a very similar club to the one he took over. There’s only a differential of four points in terms of the team’s top scorer from each season (07-08 Sundin: 78; 11-12 Kessel: 82).
Each team had one 30-goal scorer. The top scoring defenceman in 07-08 was Tomas Kaberle with 53 points while current captain Dion Phaneuf was the top point-getter on the blue line last season with 44.
The pre-Burke era team had four players score more than 50 points while the ’11-12 version had three.
The only area on the offensive side that showed improvement under Burke was in terms of point-per-game players and 20-goal scorers. Joffrey Lupul and Kessel averaged a point-per-game last season while Sundin was the only one to do so in ’07-08. The Leafs of last season had four players score more than 20 goals, only two guys did that in the final season of pre-Burke Toronto.
On the team statistics side, the Leafs scored the exact same amount of goals in both seasons, but surrendered four fewer in ’07-08. Last season’s power play was just over half a percentage point better than pre-Burke, but the penalty kill was worse by about three-quarters of a percent.
While the Leafs did get younger under Burke’s tenure and acquired several prospects, the numbers at the NHL-level show virtually no improvement during his time as GM. All of this wouldn’t have mattered had the Leafs made the playoffs under his direction, ultimately that’s all that matters.
Unfortunately for Burke and Leafs fans, that stayed the same as well.