Toronto general manager Brian Burke publicly apologized to fans for a disappointing Maple Leafs season and vowed to address the team’s goaltending and size heading into the off-season.
Burke addressed the media Tuesday after the Leafs finished 26th overall in the NHL and failed to make the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
Burke said he didn’t plan to change the style of play he feels wins games. He said he wanted the Leafs to be able to dictate the game and that means more size and strength, including finding a centre to play on the top line.
“My view on how hockey teams are built and how hockey games are won has not changed,” said Burke. “I still believe that big physical teams win hockey games and if you have two evenly matched teams from a skill perspective, the bigger team’s going to win. We need to get bigger.
“That’s my top priority as far as an overall priority.”
The GM echoed a mea culpa by the Leafs organization, which posted a letter to the fans on their website and in newspapers asking forgiveness. They sent a similar letter to season ticket holders.
Tom Anselmi, the team’s chief operating officer, has pledged to speak with every single ticket holder that has concerns.
“This is about winning, this is about doing right by your fans, this is what we’re all into this for,” said Anselmi. “Sports is a business, yeah, but it’s a business based on emotion and passion and caring. These fans they care, they give a shit. They’re paying with after-tax dollars.
“You owe them a great product and when it isn’t good enough that’s not good enough.”
The Leafs were in sixth place in the Eastern Conference in February, but went on to win just two of their next 17 games in a collapse they couldn’t recover from. They now hold the NHL’s longest playoff drought.
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle spoke before Burke, challenging his players to improve their work ethic. He says his parting message to his players was that the level of work ethic, accountability, and the conditioning must improve.
Burke replaced head coach Ron Wilson with Carlyle in March, but the damage was already done by then.
“Confidence was the No. 1 thing that I would say this team did not have,” said Carlyle. “We were not a confident group. …
“It’s our job as a coaching staff to force, coddle, kick — whatever word you want to use — to get them to believe that they can do it.”