Leave it to the media to make the Leafs GM search their main headline, when we are on the verge of one of the best series in a long time is about to begin. Detroit and Dallas should be an epic series, both teams very evenly matched. But here we are (including myself), wrapped up in the saga that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
First, the Leafs contacted the Vancouver Canucks about the possibility of talking to their former GM Dave Nonis. Their request was granted, and the Leafs have already talked to him. Next, they asked the Sharks to speak to GM Doug Wilson, a man who a lot of people in the industry believed would be fired by the Sharks. Apparently, Wilson's job is safe, as the Leafs were denied their request to speak to him. Who's next?
If the Leafs are going to do their search right, Jim Rutherford and Doug Risebrough will be contacted in the next 48 hours. If you listen to Eklund (which I don't recommend), Jay Feaster is also on that list. Neil Smith and Doug Armstrong will also be contacted. Bob Gainey, well, I don't think so but his name is worth throwing out their, along with Glen Sather.
Then there are the four remaining teams. Detroit's Ken Holland, and possible Jim Nill and Scotty Bowman, could all be contacted at the end of their playoff run. Bobby Clarke, who is still employed by the Flyers, could be talked to following their playoff run. I don't believe anyone on Dallas or Pittsburgh (Craig Patrick isn't an option from what I've been told) will be contacted following their exits. So if the playoffs go as I think they will (Dallas/Pittsburgh final), all candidates will be available within a three week period. So with all the candidates on the table, who gets the job?
The Answer: Brian Burke. I've been talking to a lot of people over the last 24 hours, and a lot of them still believe Burke is the guy. Some say the Leafs will wait it out, with Fletcher or Nonis or both running the show until 2009 when Burke is available 100%, but some believe Burke will be in place for the 2008 UFA season, and maybe even the draft. If the Leafs stick with Fletcher, or hire Nonis, Burke will still be in media, with everyone predicting he ends up in Toronto after his contract expires. Burke has told Ducks' management that he will move east once his contract expires. So in the end, it makes sense for Ducks ownership to let Brian go now, and avoid not only the fact that he's leaving anyways, but the media shadow that would follow the Ducks all season long. Burke is the guy that Toronto wants, and Toronto is where Burke wants to be. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.
If Burke isn't the guy, then I hope the Leafs stay clear of Nonis. The Leafs need to start re-building now, and I don't believe they could do that with a "temporary" GM. As a Leaf fan, I'm disapointed that Doug Wilson isn't an option. This guy has made San Jose a very dangerous team, both through trades, free agency, and especially through developping young talent. I've always felt he was the best man for the job, maybe even ahead of Brian Burke. Being based out of Toronto, having Burke here would be the most fun, as this guy really knows how to play with the media. He wouldn't fold under pressure, and he would do what it takes to bring Toronto back to the top third of the league. That said, if he's not available for this summer, I truely believe it's time for the Leafs to move on and to get a guy who can start building now. Looking at realistic choices, Doug Armstrong is near the top of my list. Doug Risebrough is another guy, who if the Leafs can get him, should be in the top three. I'd avoid Jim Rutherford, Bobby Clarke and Neil Smith, as I just don't feel they are what Toronto needs. Yes, all have had success, but not in the new NHL. Carolina won the cup, but with a team assembled pre-lockout. Since, Rutherford has struggled, making deals that have hurt the team more than they've helped. The one move I'll give him was taking a chance on Samsonov, which has turned out brilliantly.
The Leafs now also have an open coaching slot. One name I've heard a lot about is Doug Gilmore. This doesn't make sense to me. Doug Gilmore would love to coach, but you can't throw this guy right into the biggest pressure coaching job in the league. The Leafs have one coach right now, Keith Acton. The other two assistants were either fired or given a new title. The theory by some is that Nonis will be GM, Gilmore will be coach, and then Burke comes in next year, with his own coach. Bad Idea. Bring in a solid GM now, and make Gilmore an assistant coach. Down the road when it comes time to fire the new coach, then bring a more experienced Doug Gilmore in to coach your team. If I'm Toronto, there are three coaches I talk to, and only three. Bob Hartley, Pat Burns, and Larry Robinson. Hartley has won a Stanley Cup and Calder Cup as a head coach, Burns has won three Jack Adams trophys (Coach of the Year), while Robinson won two cups with the Devils, one as a head coach, one as an assistant (Robinson still employed by the Devils as an assistant).
I'd love to hear your thoughts on my ideas, so reply to this on the forums, or email me at email@example.com. It will be an interesting six weeks in Leaf Land, without a doubt.