Monday, July 30, 2012

Back to the Future IV: Burke to the Future

It is late July 2012. The scene opens in Brian Burke's office at the ACC. The Leafs haven't made the playoffs since 2004 and have finished in the bottom third of the league in each season of Burke's three-and-a-half year reign as GM.

He is sitting at his desk, tie untied, empty bottle of whisky in the trash can, as he looks at a sheet of paper titled "Toronto Maple Leafs Roster, 2012-13". It is making him sad. The margins of the page are filled with the names Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, written over and over again in loopy handwriting, and set inside the centre of a heart. Burke also has scraps of paper on his desk with the words, "Will you be my No. 1 centre? Check yes or no. Sincerely, your secret admirer." He will be mailing them soon.

Burke takes a break from his current predicament to fondly remember his days in Anaheim. Winning. Truculence. No Mike Komisarek. Suddenly, Cliff Fletcher bursts through the door.

FLETCHER: It's your team, Burkie, something has got to be done about your team! Read this!

Fletcher hands Burke a newspaper from 2006. On the front page is a picture of Bryan McCabe and JFJ smiling and shaking hands.

BURKE: "The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed Bryan McCabe to a 5-year, $28.75 million contract, General Manager John Ferguson Jr. announced last night." Fletch, I already know about Bryan McCabe. Why are you making me read this garbage.

FLETCHER: You see, this one event starts a chain reaction that completely destroys the entire franchise. I already went further ahead into time to see what else happens. I backtracked everything to this one event, that's why we have to prevent this incident from ever happening.

Burke looks at Fletcher like he has two heads.

BURKE: Hold on, how are we supposed to stop something that has already happened?

FLETCHER: I did it. I finally did it. People have been wondering what I've been doing on the team payroll all these years, and I finally did it.

BURKE: Uh, did what?

FLETCHER: I built a time machine, Burkie—out of a Vespa.

BURKE: Wait a minute, Fletch. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a Vespa?

FLETCHER: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a vehicle, why not do it with some style?

BURKE:  I'm not riding in a side car.

[cut to a scene of Fletcher on a Vespa, wearing goggles and a scarf, while Burke sits angrily in the side car with his arms crossed]

FLETCHER: If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eight miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious shit.

Fletcher punches in the time coordinates: June 27, 2006. One day before Bryan McCabe re-signs with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Vespa lunges forward and within minutes hits 8 mph and crosses the time barrier, leaving behind a trail of fire in 2012.

[cut to June 27, 2006]

FLETCHER: Put on this tie. We have a mission to accomplish.

Burke ties up the tie. Immediately undoes it.

BURKE: Ok, now what?

FLETCHER: First, call Bryan McCabe. Tell him you are out! Whatever he says, whatever happens, say no, you're not interested.

Burke looks skeptically at Fletcher, but decides to take the phone handed to him.

BURKE: But Fletch, this is 2006, I'm not even the GM of the Maple Leafs. He already has that massive contract from JFJ, all he has to do is sign and he's here for the next five years. What can I say to Bryan to make him not want to sign here?

FLETCHER: Easy, just tell him it's over, he's dumped. Tell him you're doing it on behalf of JFJ. Didn't you ever break up with anybody in middle school? You never do it yourself. Personally, I always sent a singing telegram.

Burke wonders how old Fletcher actually is and starts dialling McCabe's number.

BURKE: Hello, Bryan? Yes, this is Brian Burke... No, no, this isn't a mistake... Yes, I know what tampering is, I only talk about it in every interview I do... God, Bryan, would you get over yourself, I'm not trying to sign you. The Anaheim Ducks have Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, there isn't any room for you... Yes, I know you just had a good season, but by my calculations I'm not going to develop an affinity for overpaid, underproductive defencemen for at least another three years...Listen, John Ferguson wanted me to call you and tell you that you're not signing in Toronto....Yup, that's right, JFJ wanted me to call you...Why? Because breaking up is hard to do, Bryan, and he couldn't bear to do it himself...No, no, he said it wasn't you, it was him...Listen, Bryan, this is better for everyone, you don't really want to sign in Toronto, trust me...Alright, you take care.

FLETCHER: What did he say?

BURKE: There was some crying, but then he told me his Olympic buddy Wade Redden

Burke can't keep a straight face and bursts out laughing.

BURKE: Oh, man, I totally forgot that Wade Redden and Bryan McCabe were Olympians. No wonder Canada finished seventh.

FLETCHER: I remember the Olympics back in my day. Of course they were in Greece and we had to take the ferry to get there. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. Give me five bees for a quarter, you'd say

Burke cuts off Fletcher before he describes tying an onion to his belt, which was the style at the time.

BURKE: Anyways, McCabe says that he's thinking of playing with his buddy Redden. Word is the Ottawa Senators are going to offer him $6 million a year to replace Zdeno Chara if he makes it to July 1st. Redden told McCabe they were going to be the best top-pairing in the league. Says it's been really easy playing defence in Ottawa the past four years for some reason. McCabe actually sounded pretty excited.

Fletcher looks down at the newspaper from 2006. The picture of Bryan McCabe shaking hands with JFJ is slowly fading.

FLETCHER: Great Scott! According to my theory you interfered with JFJ's blunder. McCabe doesn't sign, doesn't destroy the team's cap space, and if everything works, the Muskoka Five should never exist. This is the first step to fixing the team!

BURKE: This sounds pretty heavy.

FLETCHER: Weight has nothing to do with it. Now comes the hard part.

[cut to JFJ's office]

Burke is watching JFJ try to give Chad Kilger a No Movement Clause in NHL 06.

BURKE: Hey, John, I know I told you I wanted to come over and play video games,  but there's something else I wanted to talk to you about.

JFJ: Hold on, Burkie, can't you see I'm close to creating a dynasty. This is good practice for when I go to sign players on July 1st. Everything I know about being a GM came from this game.

BURKE: Jesus, John, it was a wonder this team wasn't relegated to the AHL.

JFJ: Ha! The AHL, that's a good one, Burkie. Says the guy with a team in Anaheim. Are you sure you're even part of the NHL? Don't try to mess with me, Burkie, my Leafs are one piece away from the Stanley Cup.

BURKE: Well, who are you thinking about signing? I promise I won't try to sign them.

JFJ looks skeptically at Burke, and then looks around the room to make sure nobody else is around.

JFJ: Promise?

BURKE: Promise.

JFJ: Pinkie swear?

Burke sighs and extends his pinkie. The two men shake and JFJ looks as if he just fleeced the Edmonton Oilers out of Wayne Gretzky. He whispers to Burke...

JFJ: Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina. They're perfect. Big and slow. Everything that has worked for defencemen in the NHL. Except for this season for some reason. Hmm...

BURKE: Have you thought about someone else? Say someone like Zdeno Chara? He's big.

JFJ: Um, Zdeno Chara played for the Ottawa Senators and they are our rivals. If I signed him our fan base would never let me forget it. Plus, if I sign him I surely can't sign both Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina. What sort of GM would I be if I signed one player instead of two?

BURKE: The type of GM that finds himself scouting in some backwoods town.

JFJ: Ha! Good one again, Burkie. Don't forget, you're talking to a five-time Stanley Cup champion.

Burke looks confused until he realizes JFJ is talking about his video game accomplishments. Burke turns off the game and JFJ looks angrily at him. JFJ stands up and stomps towards his desk. He rustles around for something in the top drawer.

BURKE: John, buddy, let's talk more about Zdeno Chara, this is serious. Hey, what are you doing.

JFJ looks up from his colouring book, puzzled.

BURKE: Ah, nevermind. So anyway, John, now Zdeno, he really likes you and the Maple Leafs. He told me to tell you that he wants you to ask him to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance, errr, I mean he wants you to sign him.

JFJ: Really?

BURKE: Oh ya, all you've gotta do is pick up the phone and ask him.

JFJ: What, right here, right now? What if he said no? I don't think I could take that kind of rejection. Besides, I think I'd rather sign Bryan McCabe as my No. 1 defenceman.

BURKE: Yeah but John, Chara wants to sign with you. Give him a break.

JFJ: Well, you're a lawyer, help me out. Isn't there a law against importing Wookies? I don't want to get in trouble for bringing that thing to Toronto. I think I'll keep it safe and sign McCabe.

BURKE: Ya, about that...

JFJ: Bryan McCabe scored 68 points last year and I've convinced him to sign for $5.75 million a season. It really is a steal, I'm just waiting on him to sign the papers, but for some reason he isn't calling me back. I hear Zdeno Chara wants someone to pay him $7.5 million!!! And he only scored 43 points last season.

BURKE: Look, John, I'm telling you John, if you do not sign Chara, I'm gonna regret it for the rest of my life.

JFJ: Look, Burkie, I appreciate your concern, but I've spent days crunching the numbers and I've come to the conclusion that 68 is bigger than 43. It's math, Burkie! This is the move that is going to make my legacy in Toronto, I can feel it.

BURKE: Listen, John

JFJ cuts him off.

JFJ: Look, I'm just not going to sign Chara, and not you, nor anybody else on this planet is gonna make me change my mind.

Burke narrows his eyes and mutters under his breath, "nobody, eh?"

[the next day]

JFJ: Burkie. Burkie. Burkie.

BURKE: Hi, John.  You weren't at your house when I stopped by this morning, what have you been doing all day?

JFJ: I woke up at the crack of dawn and went into the office. Look I need your help. I have to sign Chara but I don't know how to do it.

BURKE: Alright, okay listen, keep your pants on, I've got his phone number right here. What made you change your mind, John?

JFJ: Last night, Wendel Clark came down and told me that if I didn't sign Zdeno Chara that he'd pummel my brain.

[cut to July 1]

BURKE: Fletch, Fletch, Fletch, look at this, it's changing!

The newspaper headline changes from "McCabe, Leafs agree to 5-year deal" to "Chara, Leafs agree to 5-year deal".

FLETCHER: Why yes, yes of course! Future history has now been altered and this is the proof! Burkie, we've succeeded! Let's go home!

[cut back to an angry Burke sitting in the sidecar of the Vespa]

The Vespa gets up to 8 mph and breaks the time barrier, sending the two men back to the present day.

Present day Toronto has changed considerably since Burke and Fletcher travelled to the past. The streets are clean, people are cheerful, and the mood of the city is no longer bleak and depressive. There are Maple Leafs jerseys everywhere you look. Burke has been in the city for seconds and nobody has told him he sucks.

Burke looks around and is amazed by what he sees.

BURKE: This has to be the wrong year.

Burke crosses the square and walks to the ACC. To the right of the main entrance is the JFJ Museum. There's a TV screen playing. Burke goes to watch it.

NARRATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the John Ferguson Jr. Museum, dedicated to Toronto's number one citizen, and Canada's greatest living folk hero, the one, the only, John Ferguson Jr. Of course, we've all heard the legend, but who is the man? Inside you will learn how JFJ became one of the smartest and most successful GMs in the NHL.

Burke's eyes go wide.

NARRATOR: See JFJ's humble beginnings, and how a chance signing of Zdeno Chara turned him into a genius overnight.

The TV screen shows a gigantic Zdeno Chara and a beaming JFJ backing a dump truck full of money onto his front lawn. Afterwards a copy of the Toronto Star appears on screen - "JFJ Wins Big in Free Agency".

NARRATOR: Share in the excitement of a fabulous winning streak...

The TV screen shows the Toronto Star - "Leafs Win Stanley Cup Again".

NARRATOR: ...that earned him the nickname, "The Smartest GM On Earth".

The TV screen shows the Toronto Star - "JFJ: The Smartest GM On Earth".

NARRATOR: Learn how he parlayed that winning streak into a lifetime contract as the President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs...

BURKE: No!!! This can't be happening! That's my job...

NARRATOR: ...and how he earned full majority ownership of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.

Fletcher has joined Burke and puts a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

FLETCHER: I'm afraid it is happening Burkie, all of it! It appears that we were so successful in the past that there is no more room for us in the future.

Burke looks down and sees his 2007 Stanley Cup ring has vanished.

BURKE: My ring!

Fletcher looks at the replica Stanley Cup banners that are hanging in the front window of the JFJ museum.

FLETCHER: According to this, the Ducks didn't win the 2007 Stanley Cup... the Toronto Maple Leafs did.

Burke's face looks like it might explode.

BURKE: I have to see JFJ immediately.

[Cut to JFJ's office]

JFJ's office has changed considerably since Burke was in it in 2006. There are framed newspaper cut-outs on the walls praising JFJ. There is a giant portrait of JFJ hanging above his desk. He looks powerful and imposing. Most importantly, there is no copy of the latest NHL game lying around.

As Burke approaches JFJ's desk he realizes there is a completely different aura surrounding the man. JFJ has a calm, cool demeanour about him and exudes confidence when he speaks to Burke.

JFJ: Ah, Brian, what a pleasant surprise.

BURKE: This is my office. This is my job

JFJ: Well, I guess we'll just skip pleasantries.

BURKE: You were supposed to be fired in January, 2008. I was supposed to take over the Leafs the following November. What are you still doing here.

JFJ: Haven't you seen the shrine they've erected for me outside? This isn't just my job, this is my city.

Burke sounds stunned.

BURKE: This wasn't how it was supposed to happen...

JFJ: I've seen Back to the Future, Brian. I figured out what you were trying to do on our "chance" encounter that faithful day. I really put all the pieces together when Bryan McCabe drunk dialled me late one night crying about playing in Ottawa. He spilled the beans. Told me you convinced him he wasn't signing in Toronto. At that point I realized that one day either you or that crazy, wild eyed GM would show up asking questions.

JFJ laughs as he reaches inside his suit jacket. Burke flinches, he too has seen Back to the Future and knows what comes next.

JFJ hands Burke a piece of paper.

BURKE: What's this?

JFJ: A contract. You get to be my assistant. Fitting, isn't it. You assisted with my greatest signing, and now I can repay you.

BURKE: Your assistant?

JFJ: I thought it was the least I could do. Get you out of that embarrassing situation you're in now.

BURKE: If I'm not the GM here then I'm still the GM in Anaheim. It may not be a true hockey market, but it's not embarrassing.

JFJ: Oh, now this is really embarrassing for me. You don't know. Wow. The Ducks fired you.

BURKE: What!?

JFJ: They figured if you couldn't win a Cup with two Hall of Fame defencemen then it just wasn't going to work with you. But don't worry, you still have a job in hockey.

Burke sits down and stares blankly ahead.

JFJ: You're working with TSN in a very special role. So as a thank you for your help with Zdeno, I'm giving you an escape. If you accept that contract you'll be back in hockey. And someday somebody might even take a chance and give you another shot as a GM. I could put in a good word for you.

Burke looks down at the contract, momentarily considering the offer.

JFJ: What's the matter? You chicken? 

Burke's eyes flare and steam practically pours out through his ears. He rips up the contract and throws it at JFJ.

BURKE: Forget it, nobody calls me chicken. I don't need to work for you and I certainly don't need your help getting a job in hockey. You're JFJ for god's sake. I watched you bungle your way into and out of the greatest job in hockey. I'll take my chances at TSN.

[cut to TSN's playoff preview show 2013]

JAMES DUTHIE: And Maggie the Monkey is about to make her pick for the 2013 Stanley Cup champion. Brian, what's the verdict?

An angry Brian Burke watches Maggie the Monkey spin the wheel, waiting to announce the team's logo that the ball lands on.

He thinks to himself, "I should have never meddled with the space-time continuum."


Ted said...

Fletcher ALWAYS has that damn onion on his belt!

Anonymous said...

While he's back there can he undue the Raycroft-Rask trade as well?

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