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Look for Burke and Wilson to change their tune


Look for Burke and Wilson to change their tune
Three in, three out. In Edmonton, they sent the underachieving, playoff-missing lads off to the golf course the other night with a nice ovation. In Ottawa, they have bought into the Cult of Coach Clou, the fan base apparently mollified by the quasi-resurgence of the Ottawa Senators under Cory Clouston.

(Owner Eugene Melnyk is so excited he has decided to give general manager Bryan Murray what Melnyk called a "mulligan" for hiring Clouston's predecessor, Craig Hartsburg, as if Murray were some fuzzy-cheeked, 39-year-old general manager.)

In Toronto, meanwhile, the postmortem for the Maple Leafs' 2008-09 season started the day Brian Burke was hired as general manager, and both Burke and head coach Ron Wilson have already served notice that next year's team is going to be even more callow than this year's edition.

But don't be surprised if the tone of their presentation changes during the off-season - possibly as early as this week - because the guess here is that from this point on, the focus will be on building up egos rather than shredding them. By next season, it's possible at least half the Leafs' roster will be players both Burke and Wilson believe are of some long-term use, and that's important because it is those two men who set the tone for hockey discussion in the city.

It's not that they have neutered the media in Toronto. But Burke is unafraid to take to the airwaves, turning the GM's office into a bully pulpit. Wilson buttressed that approach, because in a dressing room bereft of personality - none of the players who figure to be around next year are particularly outspoken - his was very much the final word. He refused to play the usual games with the hankering hockey media, in the process playing his own game.

Conventional wisdom was that Leafs fans wouldn't handle rebuilding. Rubbish. What they couldn't handle is trying to decipher messages delivered through back channels. Burke and Wilson know full well that the best way to deliver a tough message is to ensure it isn't distilled by someone else. That's why they've sold it.

GARBAGE TIME

Remember Jeff Zimmerman? He's the native of Carsland, Alta., who pitched in the 1999 All-Star Game for the Texas Rangers and has been out of the majors since 2001. Last week, at 36, he signed a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners. ... Frank Isola of The New York Daily News says sources have told him the Phoenix Suns would honour any request by Victoria's Steve Nash for a trade, although they still want to sign him to an extension. We're already being told Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani want Jay Triano, a Nash admirer, to return as Toronto Raptors head coach, so I wonder if these dots can somehow be connected. ... Since Gary Carter and the New York Mets won the 1986 World Series, the highest-paid player in Baseball in any given season has appeared in the World Series just once: Manny Ramirez of the 2004 Boston Red Sox. With Alex Rodriguez holding that title this year, it won't happen in 2009. ... The Buffalo Bills' Donte Whitner was tasered and arrested by police outside a Cleveland nightclub Saturday, and Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News is right when he wonders how this jibes with the Bills' three-year commitment to "character and intelligence." Whitner's the third Bills player this off-season to be arrested.

***

Monday 2 Monday

The kid starters have shown unexpected gumption. Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill and Vernon Wells are healthy, and Adam Lind and Travis Snider, well, you can't say I haven't been warning you about them all spring. The only real annoyance for the Toronto Blue Jays in this 5-2 start (other than idiot fans) has been the nightmare scenario of closer B.J. Ryan and the blogosphere's favourite to replace him, Brandon League, both being racked around.

So let's do a little spring dreaming, shall we? Heck, it's not as if there's anything else for a sports fan in Toronto to do except queue for Marlies playoff tickets. Let's think ballparks.

I mean, I know I started thinking about ballparks when Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth mentioned there was a 20th-anniversary shindig planned for the Rogers Centre (n?e SkyDome) this summer. And I'll be thinking about it again tonight when the Blue Jays play the first game of a four-game series in their only visit this season to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, since the Minnesota Twins will move to a spiffy new outdoor park next year. (Outdoor Baseball in Minneapolis in April. Geez.)

Anyhow, next season, the Rogers Centre will be the eighth oldest major-league ballpark, behind Fenway Park (1912), Wrigley Field (1914), Dodger Stadium (1962), Angels Stadium (1966), McAfee Coliseum (1968, Oakland), Kauffman Stadium (1973, Kansas City) and Dolphin Stadium (1987).

Minnesota's new ballpark will be the 23rd opened since the Rogers Centre. The Florida Marlins are getting a new facility and will vacate Dolphin Stadium. McAfee is a dump. Fenway and Wrigley are considered romantic, especially by fans who make one visit in their lifetime to get drunk. Angels Stadium and most recently Kauffman Stadium have undergone extensive renovations. Dodger Stadium still has the best view in Baseball. And Alyssa Milano. Which leaves the Rogers Centre as ...

Look, I'm just throwing this out. I'd rather extend subway lines, get the sewage out of the house safely and keep swimming pools and libraries open. But the debate's a-comin', at a time when it appears we won't be able to prevent the NFL from imposing the Buffalo Bills on us, and at a time when politicians are musing about grand schemes and shovels in the ground. Paul Godfrey, whom I like immensely but who was joined at the hip with the SkyDome, is no longer the Blue Jays president, so you wonder if Paul Beeston and The Guy Who Will Replace Him(TM) might not move the dossier forward?

Winnipeg's getting a new football stadium. Ottawa's having a debate about two new facilities for teams that don't even really exist. (That's a case-study in bad economics waiting to happen, no?) And my guess is there are people in Toronto who have already been scratching out designs on cocktail napkins behind closed doors. That's only a guess, but one thing I know for certain is none of them factored in a successful 2009 Blue Jays team as part of the equation.

Jeff Blair

jblair@globeandmail.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 13, 2009

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