Can Bryan Burke Inject Some Passion Into The Habs Leafs Rivalry?


Now that Brian Burke has finally landed in Toronto and fullfilled hockey's longest lasting subliminal courting, how soon will it be before he is able to bring about a ressusitation of the old rivalry between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs.

I'm not talking Kovalev elbows Tucker passion. I'm not saying Mats Sundin burns the Habs with a killer late third period goal passion here.

What I mean to say, is how quickly can Burke get the Maple Leafs to contender status, and can he achieve that in concert with a Habs peak that sees both clubs battling it out in the playoffs for the Eastern Conference title?

I know I want it. You know you want it too. It will be a moment that both Leafs and Habs fans have been thirsting for, for years - decades even!

In all truth, the two clubs have not done rightful battle since 1967, when that year's aged Leafs crew trumped a surprised Habs team, whose survivors still wonder what the heck happened 41 years later.

Mention Johnny Bower to Jean Beliveau if you ever meet him, and watch him light up!

Apart from the Canadiens sweeping a pair of series when they were dominant in 1978 and 1979, hockey's two most storied clubs have consistently been at opposite poles for going on fourty years now. Fate (and Mario Tremblay) have made it that when the Leafs have been at their best, the Canadiens have been down, and vice versa. I still feel cheated some from 1993, when a Leafs and Habs final would have been the epitome of hockey heaven.


Brian Burke's credentialled resume not only assures that the Leafs will improve within a reasonable window of time, but it almost guarrantees that beyond this season, the Leafs should begin contending for the playoffs no later than 2009-10. The fact that Burke has been given carte blanche in Toronto ought to only expedite the process.

From the perspective of a Canadiens fan who has long wished for a cherished return of the rivalry at it's most heated sportsmanship, Burke's addition has been welcome news.

You are allowed to wonder why I'd state all this, offer me a free head check, and be totally in your right to ask which part of my brain hockey pucks have impacted in pre helmet days, but the honest truth is that the lack of one great playoff series between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs in my hockey lifetime has been a great void insofar as it is a wish gone long unfullfilled. Just imagine the cross Canada passion on the eve of a seventh game night in the series if ever it were to come to be.

The game of hockey has changed a great deal in the last twenty years, and not all of it has been for the betterment of Canadian interests. A Habs and Leafs Stanley Cup final is no longer a possible reality. It is an unfortunate shame, really.

I think that Brian Burke can help enable the next best thing, and in that light I can see the possibility on the horizon. The Canadiens look to have a very competitive club over the next few seasons at least, and the Maple Leafs, on better nights, are presently much more capable than anyone would have esteemed at this point in the season.

Burke and his counterpart in Montreal, Bob Gainey, are as different as two GM's could be. Gainey is as mysterious and plotting as Burke is brash and proclaiming. At some point, sparks just have to fly. Burke has already admitted to two trade propositions with Gainey - for Craig Rivet and Mikhail Grabovski to Anaheim - that have not yielded a deal. Traditionally, managers do not speak of failed swaps as a positional credo, but Burke's name dropping must quietly irk Gainey.

Part of the fun in all this rivalry talk will be watching it build back up into something more significant that what currently passes for a rivalry. Much of my own dreading of the Leafs at times has always had to do with respecting them as opponants. The Maple Leafs may be going through tough times since the lockout, but when it comes to playing the Canadiens, they always seem poised to create an upset no matter the teams standing.


I look forward to the day not that far off when fans of both clubs can almost agree their respective teams are evenly matched.

It will bring the best out in both organizations, and the fans will be the big winners for having seen something special that has been too long out of sight.

This morning on CKAC, I was fortunate enough to catch an interview of Burke with host Michel Langevin and former Habs and Leafs coach Pat Burns. The new Leafs boss is as charming an Irishman as there is. He was extremely cordial even on the most loaded of questions, and answered them all with a candid honesty few GM's display. There's little rhetorical with Burke, and like him or despise him, he knows his hockey, and Leafs fans should be thrilled to have him at the helm of their team.

The interview consisted of questions on Burke's hockey philosophy, his plans on rebuilding the Leafs, some Mats Sundin guesswork, no trade contracts, Europeans, his relationship with Gainey, Sean Avery and winning RFN.

Burke, like Gainey, has you hanging on every word, because he is so direct and forthright. His no nonsense approach makes for a good interview, and I won't divulge any of the content included except to say that I was quite surprised by the respect Burke showed Gainey and the Canadiens organization. Truly, in hindsight, I should not have been. Burke ended the twenty minute interview with a touch of class in apologizing to the hosts and listeners for not being able to do the interview in french. That small nod of recognition to Canada's other language is no absent gesture, my friends. The clip link loads almost immediately. Patience is required when Langevin quickly translates Burke's words for listeners, enjoy the clip.

Brian Burke on CKAC Montreal

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