Puckin' Around With Spector
by Lyle Richardson on 03/07/12 at 12:45 PM ET
Whether you love Don Cherry or hate him, there’s no denying he’s a master of self-promotion, and ratings gold for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.
Cherry, the so-called “Prime Minister of Saturday Night”, uses his Coach’s Corner bully pulpit to educate, engage, enrage and generally entertain those who regularly tune in to his first intermission segment.
He knows how to get folks talking about him – no, the irony isn’t lost on me - and doesn’t give a damn what others think of his opinions.
His March 3rd Coach’s Corner was no different, as Cherry launched into a spirited tirade against Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, sparked by an ongoing feud between the two over Cherry’s frequent criticisms of former Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, to the point where the Leafs GM apparently complained to Cherry’s bosses at the CBC.
“If he wants my job, if he wants to get me fired, like he tried to do, go behind my back with my bosses and try to get me fired,” Cherry roared, “not only that he went to the governors and said it too. You want to get me off? You want to take me on? ‘Oh Brian Burke, I’m shaking in my boots.’
“Do your best.”
Cherry would’ve been a natural at shooting pro wrestling promos.
His criticism of Burke didn’t stop there, pointing out the Maple Leafs had no Ontario-born players in their roster, insinuating this was a deliberate oversight on Burke’s part.
“Every team in the National Hockey League has a guy from Ontario except one: Ontario’s Toronto Maple Leafs,” said Cherry.“If you want Americans, you got the team. It’s the only organization in Canada that cheers when Canada loses and it’s an absolute shame.”
“There’s 40,000 kids in the GTHL. Seguin, Skinner, Spezza, they all come from the GTHL. This guy has none. He has all Americans, he has American college guys who play for him right now and I could go on and on.”
“And here’s another thing that bugs me. We pay his salary from Ontario. We are the fans from Ontario. We are the only ones who would put up with going four years ... to not make the playoffs three years, probably not four, and not have one guy from Ontario, that’s a crime as far as I’m concerned,”
Following Cherry’s rant, his supporters flocked to Twitter and message boards to give their hero a thumbs-up for “telling it like it is” and “standing up for Ontario players”.
But do Cherry’s comments bear up under scrutiny?
At the time of his rant, he was correct in saying the Maple Leafs current roster contains no Ontario-born players.
There are also eight Americans- Phil Kessel, Tim Connolly, John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner, Joey Crabb, Mike Komisarek, David Steckel, and Mike Brown – on the Leafs roster.
Not an unusually high number for a 22-man roster, and they’re outnumbered by the combination of Canadians (9) and Europeans (4) also in the lineup.
As Leafs GM, Burke has had three NHL drafts under his belt, selecting eight Ontario-born players, the most (according to Burke) of any NHL team over that period. Two of his three first round picks – Nazem Kadri and Stuart Percy – were Ontario-born. Percy is a product of the GTHL.
Leafs fans were overjoyed when Burke selected Kadri with his first round pick at the 2009 entry draft. He’s the only one of Burke’s picks thus far to make the NHL, but has yet to play up to expectations, spending considerable time with their AHL farm team.
Looking over the remainder of the 2009 draft, none of the Ontario-born players available to Burke have out-performed the non-Ontario born players he ultimately drafted. Ditto the 2010 and 2011 drafts.
Yes, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner and Jason Spezza were products of the GTHL, but Skinner and Spezza weren’t available by the time the Leafs got to pick in those respective drafts.
Of course, Burke could’ve had Seguin if he hadn’t traded away his first round pick in 2010 as part of the return for Phil Kessel, but at the time, Burke was seeking an impact scorer for his club right away, and part of the asking price for Kessel was that first round pick. It wasn’t some nefarious plot by Burke to add more Americans to the Leafs lineup at the expense of a “good Toronto boy”.
It’s one thing to be critical of Burke’s draft picks, though it’s still too early to fully evaluate how those he selected will pan out. It’s another, however, to insinuate he’s deliberately ignoring Ontario-born prospects, or snubbing the GTHL, when there’s no evidence to support that claim.
Cherry conveniently overlooked Burke’s attempts to move up in the 2009 draft in order to select John Tavares (another GTHL alum), as well as his efforts to woo Richmond Hill’s Mike Cammalleri when he became a UFA that July.
Burke was also rumored in hot pursuit of Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash at this year’s trade deadline, and is expected to chase Nash again in the off-season.
The Leafs continue to struggle under Burke’s stewardship, so calling him out on it is fair game, but claiming he’s snubbing Ontario-born, GTHL players is baseless.
Cherry knows this, of course, he’s just stirring up his followers, many of them Leafs fans impatient and angry over Burke’s inability thus far to turn their mediocre team into a winner. The old coach wasn’t going to let facts get in the way at whipping up the faithful. He should apologize to Burke for his wild claims, but in Cherry’s mind, apologies are a sign of weakness, so Burke probably isn’t holding his breath waiting for one.
The bombastic Cherry is simply using the frustration of Leafs fans to win support in his personal battle with Burke.
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About Puckin' Around With Spector
I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.
I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.