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Leaf fans likely divided over Burke firing: some reasons why it might have happened

Those interested in the latest "Leaf Matters" podcast (a discussion of the Burke firing), here is the iTunes link Leaf Matters podcast.

A mini-version is available on You Tube here-

Those who follow VLM and may want to check it out, I had the opportunity to appear on CTV's Canada A.M.  a couple of times over the past week or so.  I was invited on to discuss the lockout, and then the new CBA agreement and how fans might feel about the return of NHL hockey.  Those interested could check it out here (if the link still works!):…


I imagine Leaf fans are split over the rather sudden dismissal of Brian Burke on Wednesday.  Many have applauded his efforts to re-build the team and stock the “system” with assets.  The claim can be made that the cupboard was empty when he arrived and that Burke now leaves his right-hand man and successor, Dave Nonis, with lots to work with. 

That is a point for discussion—and perhaps even some debate.  It can certainly be argued that the Leafs are better off than they were when Ferguson Jr. was fired.  But a lot better?  Is that view based on point totals?  Results?  Playoff wins?

I’ve appreciated Burke’s efforts in the community and his support of causes that he believed in and he did so with passion. But in hockey terms, a case can be made that the firing makes sense—though the timing is certainly a tad peculiar.  (How many NHL teams would fire their GM days before a shortened NHL season was about to begin, and replace him with a guy who essentially shares the exact same vision?  MLSE lives in a very different world, indeed…)

I don’t know what happened that triggered what seems to be the unexpected dismissal of the long-time hockey executive. I won’t even try to guess.  But if we want to analyze the “fairness” of the move, (is “correctness a better term?), there is much fodder for review based on his body of work over the past four years in Toronto. On the basis of his actions as GM alone, here are some things that may have been considered by the new Leaf ownership:

  • Now four plus years into his time here, the team had a grand total of zero playoff appearances.
  • Burke came in saying over and again that he “had no patience for a five-year rebuild” and into his fifth year, the team is still not a strong roster- with uncertain goaltender, no real team toughness, no stud defensemen and no front-line center.
  • He was given (unlike his predecessors who constantly felt the meddling hand of hockey expert Richard Peddie, now departed, thankfully) absolute carte-blanche to do whatever he happened to do with the hockey team.  He had full autonomy to re-make the team. Yet success was elusive and spotty at best, witnessed mostly through the notion of an improved prospect pool and the relative success of their top farm team.
  • He made himself the face of the franchise.  Not a player or the team—Burke himself.  Some will say he did this to “protect” the players, a notion I don’t buy for a moment. He has always been a limelight seeker. It’s a fact. 
  • He spoke constantly of “me”, “my” and “I”.  Conventional wisdom has always taught that there is no “I” in “team” but Burke spoke always of how he did things, how he built his teams, etc.  Such quotes were countless, something I’ve raised in this space for years.  It did not trouble some Leaf fans.  I was not in that group.  Some fellow fans may not see this as an issue in the least, but for me, someone who has followed this proud franchise for more than fifty years, this was never the Burke Maple Leafs.  It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs. And I’m betting the new owners felt the same as I did.
  • He said he “always” built his teams from the back end.  Yet in Vancouver, he never cured what ailed the Canucks in goal, and it cost them big time.  Here, his efforts to produce elite goaltending have been an abysmal flop.  The best thing we’ve seen in Burke’s tenure, James Reimer in his first season, was a Ferguson draft pick.  Gustavsson may have had potential but the organization destroyed his confidence—not a good sign of organizational development overseen by the GM.
  • Speaking of developing players, how do you take a high first round pick (Luke Schenn), push him (and then keep him in) into the NHL, and destroy his confidence in four years?
  • In his managerial career, Burke was twice given the task of re-building teams—once in Vancouver, once in Toronto.  In his 11 seasons as GM in those two re-build projects, his teams won a total of one playoff round.  Those are the facts.
  • He traded for Phil Kessel, acquiring an instant scorer, for sure, but it was a deal that ultimately cost the franchise a shot at Tyler Seguin and defenseman Doug Hamilton. Seguin will be at least Kessel’s equal.  He may already be a better all-around player.  Hamilton could become a stud NHL defenseman.  Burke never found an elite center who could make Kessel even more of a threat.
  • Later in his tenure, Burke went from quick/instant re-build to a more slow, patient, ‘let’s get some prospects in here’ approach.  In fact, while he claimed to have a plan, I found it difficult to follow his path, because it seemed that it was changing fairly regularly.
  • By his own admission, he kept Ron Wilson here as coach for years even though the two evidently disagreed on how “tough” a team the Leafs should be. That was shocking to hear.  If you and your coach don’t agree on a foundational principle of what the team should be and should look like, you have to bring in a different coach. He pulled the trigger far, far too late with Wilson.
  • Replacing Wilson with Carlyle may have sounded great on the heels of a disastrous two months, except Carlyle does not have anywhere near the kind of roster to play the way he wants his teams to play.  Why was Dallas Eakins, a more patient teacher/motivator, passed over by Burke?  I did not agree at the time that Eakins was not ready for the “Toronto media”, as Burke suggested.
  • The hiring of Carlyle creates a scenario whereby Toronto’s two best players and most productive offensive threats may not exactly thrive under the Carlyle “system”.  Maybe it will work in the short term, but it’s difficult to project that Kessel will embrace’s Carlyle’s defensive expectations at the cost of the winger's creative offensive approach.  We already know how things went for Lupul in Anaheim with Carlyle.
  • Burke seemed to constantly engage in some nasty piece of business with a media person here or there, including, of course, Don Cherry a year or so ago.  Did Burke try to get Cherry fired?  If you listen to Cherry, that’s what happened.  Burke has a history of such run-ins, notably during his tenure as GM of the Canucks.
  • While many loved Burke’s “style”, the word that kept coming to mind for me was hubris.  Ego too often seemed to rule the day.  In fact, I believe it did.
  • His trade record was impressive.  He acquired Phaneuf and Aulie (flipped later for Ashton, not a deal I liked, as I hate getting rid of young defenseman) for relatively little, though I’ve always liked Ian White. The deal for Gardiner and Lupul was clearly a winner.  However, his record on UFA’s was abysmal.  So when people say, “Oh, he really left the team in good shape, with cap space, etc…” it is fair to ask:  where would they be if he had not signed or acquired Komisarek, Connolly, Lombardi, to name just a few?  Are we still paying for Colby Armstrong?
  • Burke had a chance to select a number of very high draft picks, based on the team's poor performance during his time here.  Rielly seems to be a very nice choice.  But beyond that, what did we do with those opportunities- in terms of selection and development?  It's early to fully assess the drafting approach, of course, but it is fair for ownership to wonder if the right moves were made.
  • We kept hearing Burke claim he didn't care what anyone (e.g. the media) thought- yet he  presented as upset and reactive when criticized.

There is more that could be added here, but suffice to say my point is simply this:  if you want to look at certain facts, there is a defense for the firing.  Those who liked Burke’s work here can defend his moves, and that’s fine.  I’m happy to hear your thoughts.  But there are some legitimate reasons that can be brought up when wondering why this happened.  And every point above is a concern I have raised in this space a number of times over the years.  It is hardly a case of taking a shot or criticizing after the fact.

You know what I don’t get about the announcement?  Not so much the timing, but why the team selected Nonis as Burke’s replacement?  Nonis has been in on virtually every Burke decision in Vancouver, Anaheim and Toronto (not all, I realize).  If you are looking to go in another “direction”, don’t you seek out the very best GM candidate in the hockey world?  This is the most important franchise in hockey, after all.  At least a few of us think it is.  It certainly has a legacy that suggests we should always seek the very best candidate we possibly can, with the demeanor that will work in this market.  Why choose the guy just because he’s already here and familiar with the operation?

This was not a successful operation when Burke arrived.  I know his supporters will try to highlight his apparent accomplishments, but I’m struggling to see how the Leafs are a much better team than when he arrived more than four years ago. 

A number of potential/if/maybe/one day  “prospects” doesn’t make the grade for me.  I expected more by now.  And we simply didn’t get it.


  1. As someone who studies business history I will try to give you some unique insight into why I think Brian Burke was fired today.

    The first thing is to drop illusions about what is right, proper and fair. These things often don't matter. It's often more about power, money, the law, corporate culture and the small time politics of those at the top.

    I don't think the new owners liked Brian Burke, but they could not fire him before mid-August as they did not own the team. The transaction closed on August 22, 2012.

    They could not fire Burke while CBA negotiations were ongoing because Burke was on the committee. If they fired Burke during negotiations and the negotiations suddenly turned for the worse without Burke, there could have been an even larger public relations disaster.

    The new owners could not wait longer to fire Burke.

    What if the Leafs started to succeed modestly? If the Leafs actually slipped into the playoffs for a round, Burke would have wanted a new contract and he would have the public support for that demand. The opportunity to fire Burke would have been lost.

    There could be many reasons why the new owners did not want Brian Burke. I suspect that they saw him and his bombastic personality as at odds with their vision of the Leafs brand. Corporations take their branding and public image very seriously. Are there any other public figures like Brian Burke among the new owners' management groups? I don't think so.

    Dave Nonis behaves more like those in the ownership group, so they probably like him and he certainly has all the qualifications.

    I think Burke said that during the summer a team wanted to interview Nonis for a job, but Burke would not give permission. It was probably during this time that the future Leaf owners realized they could lose the guy they wanted and be stuck with a guy they might even hate...for years. This is probably when the plan was hatched and it was kept quiet until today when the axe was dropped.

    Burke loyalist, Larry Tanenbaum, was probably kept out of the loop until the last minute. With only a 25% stake of MLSE, he could not do anything to stop the process and was visibly shaken with today's surprise.

  2. Interesting perspective DP. Valid points. My approach was simply to point out that there are some very practical hockey-related reasons why a decision to terminate Burke can be defended. Thanks DP.

  3. I for one have been saying Burke should have been fired at the end of last year. For all the reasons you mention Michael his firing is justifiable.

    However, in true Toronto Maple Leaf fashion the board left him in position for too long and then pulled the trigger at the exact wrong time. As my brother mentioned what this probably is the new board taking over and in true bureaucratic fashion finally arriving at it's descion today.

    I don't get what is going on here but if the rumors are true and this about the board wanting Luongo, no matter the cost then we are right back to where we were 5 years ago, a board that interferes with hockey descions to the benefit of no one. At least the two owners Rogers and Bell won't suffer. I'd guess thier ratings for tonight just went through the roof and will for the next few weeks or so.

    This whole thing is going sideways. They are going to trade for Luongo, probably giving up Gardiner, Kadri and a draft pick. They still aren't going to make the playoffs because they are not a good team, finish high enough that thier chances of first over all are near impossible, loose Kessel in a year and a half to free agency and suck for the next decade. Oh to be a Leaf fan. Yeaah.

  4. Thanks Willbur. I've always followed your comments here with great interest. DP made some interesting observations above about a possible rationale for the "timing" of this move. Whether those things are factors in this case, we can really only speculate.

    I've not been of the view that the Luongo trade disagreement was a reason for this announcement. My instincts suggest this has been in the works for some time- since the new owners took over. Maybe some day we will know the "truth".

  5. Well, each of us could probably write a short book about Burke's tenure as the Leafs GM and how we felt about his performance. My thoughts on Burke are varied, but the cold reality of it all, is that he was unable to rebuild this team as fast as he, and many others wanted. Anything less than a playoff team in Toronto is unacceptable.

    First and foremost, the timing of this firing is absurd. Right or wrong Burke was supposedly given the chance to take the team forward into this coming season, and a chance to maybe make some additional changes to get the team back on track. A lockout basically delayed that process, but why fire him now??? The timing of the decision is typical of an organization which doesn't know how to plan, or how to run a hockey team.

    The Maple Leafs have a long history of hiring and firing General Managers. If the coach is not to blame, then it must be the GM, or better yet both. Harold Ballard had his crazy ownership legacy, which gradually evolved into the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund taking control (or lack thereof), and now the Leafs are controlled by a strange partnership of two communication giants (Bell and Rogers).

    I have no faith in this organization, the people who own it, or the people who manage the team. I've watched and supported this franchise since I was a child. Its an endless cycle of hope and despair. Lets all get back on the rollercoaster and let MLSE take us on another cycle of hope and despair.

    Good luck to you Brian, and good luck now to you Dave Nonis. Oh and Randy, don't get too comfortable the rollercoaster is just climbing uphill.

  6. Well, things have certainly gotten interesting in a hurry, and hello again, Michael.

    I was pessimistic about there even being a season once the lockout started, and while NHL coming back is purely and absolutely a positive thing, thinking about the season ahead makes me a bit wary as a Leafs fan. It's going to be 48 games in a very, very tight package, and our coach is Randy Carlyle, who is certainly not known for taking things easy on the training. Managing roster fitness and avoiding losing streaks are going to be paramount, so let's keep our fingers crossed.

    But to the actual matter at hand, Burke's firing. I'm happy it happened, and since it's Nonis who replaces him, for now at least, I'm not worried the change happened right now. Nonis knows what he has to work with, and he couldn't have done anything while the lockout was in effect. But I am still curious about the timing. Lots of rumors and speculation going on about the firing being about Burke's unwillingness to trade for Luongo. And let's face it, if Burke's lack of success and/or ownership change were the reasons, the firing would, and should, have happened once the Leafs' last season ended. If this has anything to do with case Luongo, then, in my book, Burke got fired for the one reason he shouldn't get fired for.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again; the Leafs' shoddy goaltending in the recent years has had at least as much to do with shoddy defensive work as it has been the fault of goalies themselves. Work that out first, then, if there are still too many soft goals allowed, go look for a replacement goalie. Even when Luongo was starring for the struggling Panthers, he played behind a fairly solid defensive team that was rather devoid of offensive talent. The last we've seen of the Leafs is a team that can be, on a good day, fairly dynamic on the offense, while the defensive play has ranged between satisfactory and atrocious. It's a rare goalie who can perform consistently under those conditions.

    P.S. I didn't get around to listening your podcast on the subject yet, as I don't use iTunes, but I'll look forward with great interest to it becoming available at podalmighty.

  7. I do not think anyone has peeled back the Burke persona quite as effectively as Michael has here and on “Leaf Matters” and handed down a very tough performance review to boot. Like everyone, I see Burke’s performance as less than outstanding. Still no playoff games and a middling parent club after several years, in spite of an improved prospect pool. The trading was better than average, and unfolding history is bearing out my initial fear that the Kessel trade was too risky to undertake at the time. Nevertheless, my review is not as harsh as some, with the caveat that I think we would have needed to see some playoff games soon or I too would have wanted them to pull the trigger at the end of this season.

    However, what irks me is that Burke’s firing apparently had nothing to do with his job performance. Rather, it had to do with corporate ideology and personal dislike. I mean, think about it, Brian Burke as the face of a mega-corporation in this day and age? It is almost easier to picture Michael Jackson in the Oval Office with a zoo on the White House lawn than to imagine Burke undertaking soliloquy's about “rat’s asses” and the like, all in the name of Media Conglomerate Inc, or whoever the hell owns the Leafs now. Maybe, as Damien Cox tweeted, George Cope hated Brian Burke. I sure do not know. Who knows but those inside those halls of power and I shudder to imagine the inner workings of those minds. No, I think I will crawl into bed now and re-read “Heart of Darkness” instead. At least I will be able to sleep after reading Conrad. At the end of the day, Dave Nonis may well be a sound choice for the manager job. Unfortunately for fans, listening to Dave Nonis is about as inspiring as watching a coat of primer dry. The Leafs may well have kept on losing all these years, but at least Burke entertained us in the process.

    Bottom line (which is well taken care of I am sure) is that the Burke firing fails the smell test, especially when it comes to fairness and decency, in a word: ethics. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe if you are going to fire someone, do it on their job performance, not on their personality or public persona and how those effect the corporate “brand” (please read the b-word with all the sarcasm your mind can muster). What was that joke about everyone present at the press conference working for the same corporation? Yes, those dystopian Science Fiction writers had it right all along. All I can say is that this year is testing my loyalty like no other. Between the lockout and this fiasco, ownership has gotten so bad, so dismal and soulless that I think I am beginning to feel nostalgic for the darkest days of Harold Ballard.

  8. I agree with your assessment of Burke's tenure with the Leafs. Pro hockey is about winning, and his failure to deliver a winning team for the wealthiest franchise in the league is unthinkable, really. Maybe we're stronger at the prospect level, as Nonis referenced today, but who knows? In the here and now of the big team, we're a bust - and have been for most of the Burke era.
    I agree with Wilbur about when Burke should have been fired - and I appreciate DP's insights into corporate culture. I worked for the government at one time, and this smells of the worst kind of office politics - a terribly timed decision made by people who value their positions of power more than the well being of the team.
    If, as some have said, this is about getting Luongo, it will simply bode worse for the Leafs. I've said before I don't believe an ownership group of corporate investors can deliver a winning team, and particularly not when they interfere in hockey decisions. And please - if I have to hear one more time about protecting the Leaf "brand", I'm going to toss my Phaneuf bobblehead into Lake Ontario.
    It's been another bewildering day for Leaf fans. The ghost of Harold Ballard apparently stills haunts the Leaf boardroom.

  9. Mike, I wonder if the answer to your final question is simply the new ownership, like you, didn't like Burke's attitude. As you've pointed out he's made a slew of trades some good some bad some completely up for debate. But he has consistently been hypocritical. If the new owners have no drastic change in strategy in mind (and why would they? The Leafs are a money tree regardless of how appallingly bad they're playing on the ice) but want to shift attention back to the players - perhaps to enhance their sense of accountability - the why not sack Burke for Nonis?

    As for timing, I know a lot of people are finding this weird, but it's almost bang on 6 months since the new owners took over (August 2012 if I remember correctly) and 6 months is about right for a Board to shake loose of a CEO they don't like - this is definitely an analogous situation.

  10. i think DP's explanation is fantastic! very logical, and most likely the truth. i HIGHLY doubt that after all of burke's crazy trades in the past, that leafs owners would fire him, over him not acquiring luongo.

  11. Michael, you have certainly done your homework in documenting te legitimate reasons for letting Burke go. I can't dispute any of those reasons either, whether there is unanimous agreement or not, a case for dismissal for cause can certainly be made.

    That said, the timing of all this is what really bothers me and makes me believe other things. Do I give MLSE too much credit by saying that they simply cannot be that incompetent to not know this is the worst possible time to do this? The only reason I can find that this would happen in such dramatic fashion is that MLSE has certain things they want to see done right now (Luongo among others), a heated argument ensued, and they pulled the plug.

    I do believe that MLSE is incompetent enough to keep Burke around until after this season, not because they believe in him, but because they were too short-sighted to make the change months ago. My instinct tells me that they resisted firing him before, then held their collective breath hoping they could get through this year. Then something happened the other night.

    Nonis' demeanour at the press conference was telling. He was visibly freaked. A lot more that a person of his stature and experience at this level should ever be. I do not believe he was expecting this either. He looked the part of someone who had been in an all-night boardroom brawl over this, probably because he too knows right now is the worst time to do this.

  12. Well, according to today's news, it's widely reported that it was Burke's style/personality that got him moved from the GM job. Apparently the top guy at Bell is not a fan.

    It may be semantics, but he is not fired outright, we should remember he is still an employee of the organization. I think DP has the timeline down right. In fact, I think this was the earliest possible time to fire Burke. Rogers/Bell did not own the team until late summer. And I can't see firing Burke during a lockout, although they already had a guy in place apparently in Nonis.

    The bottom line seems pretty simple to me. Employers are willing to put up with someone's shenanigans while they get results. The new owners of the most valuable team in hockey have already missed out on 1/2 a year's worth of gate receipts. Burke had not addressed key issues he himself spoke of (upgrade to goaltending and team toughness). And even in a 48 game schedule, the Leafs are certainly no lock for playoffs, which means no playoff revenues. That is pretty easy to describe as a lack of performance and results.

    I see Cox this morning is on the "3 and a half years is not sufficient time to evaluate a GM" bit, and I know there are those who agree. But Burke was his own worst enemy from the start and I've said that before. He came in promising immediate changes, and almost immediate results. He did not deliver. In time, some of what he did may pay off. But this isn't the 1950s and 60s anymore... GMs don't generally get a decade to turn things around anymore.

  13. All fair observations about the organization/ownership, Don (TML_fan). Will we ever know (besides the issues I raised above) what triggered this?

  14. I well remember your views on this subject before, CGLN. While I'm npt a fan of Nonis just sliding in again (as he did in Vancouver when Burke was fired) I will acknowledge, as you mentioned, that he knows what;'s going on and in that sense, the transition should be seamless.

    Regarding the podcast, I believe this is the MP3 link-
    MP3 …

    Thanks for checking in, CGLN. Good to be in touch again!

  15. MIchael,

    This certainly is an interesting turn of events. Many articles have devoted time today to the culture of Corporate America. Everyone has bosses, when bosses change, sometimes the people who report to them do as well. This is not new, we have all individually been through a scenario like this.

    The problem I have in all of this is. Some things need to be less about how much others like a persons demeanour. I have read a lot today about the new board members specifically, Mr Cope of Bell, not liking the way in which Mr Burke conducted himself. They get rid of Mr. Burke while paying him for two more years, because he was sometimes gruff and occasionally swore. It is a good thing that I don't work there. They wouldn't like me either.

    You have made excellent points in the above article as to why there is a case to fire Mr. Burke based solely on his record. We have discussed all of these points before. I agree with almost all of them. The problem is, that is not why they fired him. He apparently was fired because some uppity guy in a suit didn't like him.

    All this speculation about the real reasons for this dismissal is doing nothing good for the brand called The Maple Leafs. The board members are entitled to 'no comment' their way around making reasons known. I think that this makes them look terrible. You get another man fired, or acquiesce to it. Be a man and stand behind your decision. Mr Burke certainly would have stood up and been counted, if the situation was reversed.

    Do we now get to talk about how this isn't really Dave Nonis' coach and team? Does he get a mulligan for the abysmal record that the team may just produce? This organization, from top to bottom, hasn't changed one bit since the days Yolanda was pushing our 'Pal Hal' in a wheelchair to the Gardens entrance. It is not a surprise to me that they continue to struggle to attract top end talent, as well as in the accumulation of victories and Cups.

  16. Ah, Conrad. "The horror, the horror." Your literary reference triggered a flood of old-time memories for me, Bobby C. Was the author Joseph Conrad, or has time dulled my memory regarding the well-known writer's first name?

    As always here, you have well captured the hard-to-follow inner workings (though none of us truly knows what goes on behind the curtain...) of MLSE. Tom Anselmi has a job, after running TFC into the ground. In fact he was promoted. Go figure. He must say "yes" well.

    I have no answer, Bobby. Today, I just tried to think of "rational" hockey-related reasons why the firing can be defended after four years on the job. The timing? I'm clueless.

  17. Your post made me smile, Gerund O'. Did old Harold leave a curse on us all as he left the door?

    Yes, the suddenness of this move raises more questions than it answers. Everyone here has raised good points today. We all see things a bit differently, not surprisingly. I don't sense any of us knows for sure what is going on down at MSLE.

    I don't believe this is about disagreement over a Luongo trade. I could be wrong. But if that were so, it would indeed be a case of meddling- something Burke did not ensure under the previous Pension Plan ownership.

  18. It may well be as simple as that, KiwiLeaf- new ownership didn't like the way Burke put himself in the limelight. None of us can know for sure. My guess is details will trickle out in the days and weeks ahead. On that basis, it's not a surprise at all- though the timing of it, days before a new, shortened season, can certainly be debated.

    Thanks KiwiLeaf- good to connect again.

  19. I agree- DP's assessment provides some insight into how these things can happen, and why. Of course we don't know if that applies in this case, but it's an interesting perspective.

    Thanks Alex C. - hope you're well and ready for some NHL hockey!

  20. A Sensfan here, ill add my two cents.

    You've all discussed at length the various reasons for his firing, so in that I have little to add.

    His greatest sin (especially if Biggs/Percy/Reily dont pan out), will be leaving the Maple Leafs as he found them. They still no have no No.1 Center, suspect goaltending (Reimer needs to last an entire year playing well) and a sub par defence.

    The balance of the divsion, though fluid has not really changed. Ottawa is the firm no.2 in the division and despite blowing up their core have managed to successfully rebuild large aspects of their team on the fly . Buffalo remains the consistent bubble team, the same with Montreal. Boston won the cup and became an annual contender since he was hired.

    Final note: If Kessel walks after next year, I do not see how any of the Burke era can be considered a success.

  21. You make a really good point about Nonis's public response yesterday, Pete. Clearly caught by surprise.

    This is one of the intriguing things- was this a case of personality conflict, ideology, or one major blow-up?

  22. Well said, Mark. Burke set up high expectations from the get go. When you don't meet those expectations, it's tough.

    And you're right about GM's nowadays. We've all noticed, in different professional sports, GM's are not quite as insulated in a lot of cases as they used to be. Traditionally several coaches would get the axe before the GM was finally let go by ownership. It's a bit different nowadays, at least it seems so.

  23. What can I say, Jim. You've covered the bases. There are legitimate reasons that this move could be made, based on Burke's hockey work. It is possible the actual reason for the firing had little to do with his hockey decisions.

    This is MLSE, after all. Or, as I alluded to above, triggered by Gerund's comment- is Harold still around?

  24. I appreciate hearing a view outside of those of us who inhibit Leaf world, Sensfan90. You may well have the clinical detachment we struggle to achieve. Thank you.

  25. The sensationalized "Relieving Burke of his duties" granted me an unusual experience during the 'realization' of the story. My initial reaction was shock (not too surprising when you don't expect something, at least not right now - when hope for a new season had finally 'budded') and then, quite surprisingly, 'DEVASTATION' at the sense of loss.

    I was was actually quite surprised at the emotional level of my feelings. They were well-summed-up by others who related that their feelings almost (but, not quite for me) matched their experience with the unexpected departure of Wendel Clark.

    I had to ask myself, how could Burke's departure evoke any such level of feeling in any of us?

    Over the remainder of the day, little comments in the media and on blogs helped me to consolidate and develop some ideas in this regard.

    Burke, to me, is an intelligent and frustrated hockey player at heart. He is a Colton Orr-Mike Brown hybrid that never made the NHL as a player. He is the kind of guy who would go through a wall for his guys. A guy whose actions create loyalty amongst his team. He is a bit of a father-figure, captain, player's coach, magician and entertainer rolled up into a player's GM.

    He has become a master at substituting his IMAGE of REALITY for the actual hope of its realization. So, those of us who have been long-suffering hopefuls for pending Leaf success, have been 'captured' (to varying degrees) by the messianic idea that Burke can take us to the promised land of 'Lord' Stanley.

    I have little doubt that there are some good pieces available in the organization as a result of Burke's tenure, but would suggest that the remaining management team is likely responsible for much of the good that has been accomplished for which many have given their complete and blind allegiance to Burke-in-whom-they-trust, alone.

    It may well be that Burke is actually responsible for the worst of the issues this team faces and that the rest of the management team was responsible for the best of what remains from Burke's time with us.

    Given the media frenzy that would have hounded the Leafs last Fall OR should the announcement have come AFTER ratification of the CBA, it strikes me as a wise corporate decision to wait for this particular timing - especially since another element is present in my thinking.

    Burke was on the negotiating team and his personal hobbie-horses are present in the new CBA, therefore, the restrictions he helped impose will probably help all GM's to be more restrained with their use of 'Ownership's' funds going forward. Even if this helps from the overall league perspective, and may lead to a role in the League Office (Commissioner-in-training, as I've suggested before) it does not solve the 'face of the team' problem that has developed with the Leafs.

    Wendel was such a face, but how did Burke become that face?

    And that, in a nutshell, is the problem in my view.

    Whether 'acquiring Luongo' is the actual 'ignition' point that lit the fuse of Burke's departure (or is merely the convenient excuse thereof) is immaterial. The real problem was the need to present a new (and less bombastic) face for the implementation of the franchise plan that is still possible/workable under Nonis.

    I have agreed with your proper usage of the word 'hubris' in association with Burke (and that it is not 'my cup of tea' either), I had become willing to overlook that exterior and, instead, look to the horizon he had crafted for my viewing pleasure - especially given that we did not have an alternative.

    NOW - the hubris is gone from the Leafs, as is the volatility and the showmanship.

    Perhaps, however, the league office will need someone who loves the game and the players and can provide a 'greater vision' for the league than Gary Bettman was able to present to the public - and, therein, might his best role be found 'realized' in the future.

  26. Mr Burke is a contradiction. He is smart and actually wise. Most everything he SAID was accurate, but he did not carry out much of it. He would build teams with strong goaltending, tough defence and belligerence. He did not do it. He is a team guy with a core group and he likes to listen to folks - but it was always 'his' team and he did things his way. He ran 'big blue' the most important team in the NHL and when I saw him speak to a large, formal, executive event I attended, he constantly cursed worse than a truck driver...totally out of context and demeaning for someone in his position and representing Bell and Rogers. He is a slick speaking, intelligent person who actually delivers little on what he says. There are too many examples to count the end, an arrogant ego that did not deliver and constantly jumped back and forth in his strategies and his words. If he had acted respectfully, kept the blather to a minimum and delivered on few words, he'd likely still be running the ship.

    In the end, his bosses did not want him representing them in words or action. Goodbye. And so ends the self-written legend of Brian Burke, Leaf Boss. Now he can go back to being Brian Burke, the guy. I am sure that's a much more comfortable fit for him.

    Thanks for your efforts Brian. While we heard from you endlessly, we hardly knew ye.

  27. Outstanding post, InTimeFor62- you've covered many of the possibilities, and some of the range of emotions Leaf supporters are likely feeling today.

    Yes, you've mentioned Burke as a possible league guy here in the past. Perhaps that possibility rings even more likely today.

    Thanks InTimeFor62.

  28. Thanks for posting, Fran and Kukla (your handle did not come through clearly; sorry).

    You touched on something that connected with me- Burke was here for years, said many things, but maybe we never really knew or understand him. (I posted on that very subject here just a few weeks ago...)

    He supported important causes, and had a social conscience. Somehow that contradiction you cited may have got in the way. Thanks.

  29. This discussion has made me foresee an inevitable arising conflict between the Leaf “Nation” and the new corporate ownership which views the team as a possession, an asset, and perhaps most ominously a “brand” (at once a reflection of corporate ideology and profitable consumption).

    I see lines of conflict now clearly drawn between the Bell Rogers Hydra Monster and the fan base, which at its core sees the Leaf team as an important part of our fabric and culture. To that end it will be important that the remaining journalists not working for Bell Rogers and therefore subject to their control, “out” the executives responsible for this decision. Again, not for the “what” of dismissing Burke, but for the “why” of dismissing Burke.

    It is important that these decision makers are not allowed to hide behind the cloak of corporate anonymity, simply because the Toronto Maple Leafs are more than an asset or “brand”. As a significant part of our culture and history, they are more important than a mere possession.

    Needless to say, fan-based media is the rallying point from which the corporate power players must be brought under control. Simply put, hire qualified hockey people and get out of the way. If they want to be meddlesome, then they had best be outed and prepared to face our wrath.

  30. You raise an important point, Bobby C.- the Bell Media/Rogers joint conglomerate "owns" the team, but the fans "own" the history, heritage and legacy. We have pride in what has come before us. Not sure the new owners could say the same- or much care.

    If this will be another bunch of owners who are "invisible" to the fan base, credibility around any and all decisions will be severely tested.

  31. Some interesting "hockey" news:

    Ben Scrivens, Jake Gardiner, Mike Kostka, Korbinian Holzer, Mark Fraser, Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri were left behind on the Marlies trip to St. John's so they could join the Leaf's camp.

    Notables not coming to the Leaf camp are forward Joe Colborne... and Paul Ranger

  32. Fran, Kukla and now, OllieJanuary 10, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    Maybe something worth thinking about in terms of understanding Burke's persona - is his background: he was a hockey enforcer and a Harvard-trained lawyer. His persona was to lead the fight, and stand up for his buddies. He was always looking for a fight, because in this mind, that was his role. He was constantly spinning good verbage, because that will stand in stead of actions in the world of legal representation. Spin for $. In the end, his ability to deliver results, to represent a substantial corporation both personally and professionally and to be measured by his words, and to get along with his new superiors didn't add up. He'll find another gig - maybe where being truculent and bombastic will fit the market and the organization. I still think he'd be the new Don Cherry to sell hockey to the US on NBC. A perfect, national bully pulpit to spin his yarns and fight his windmills. Gary? Are you listening.

  33. Fran, Kukla and now, Ollie- Interesting. InTimeFor62 above has long said in this space that Burke could be destined to be the next Commissioner or something along those lines. He may become a GM again, and the U.S. hockey market, as you suggest, would enjoy his views on a range of subjects, no doubt.

  34. When I was writing my earlier post, the thought occurred that Don Cherry and Brian Burke clashed like the 'immovable object' meeting the 'unstoppable force' - Fran, Kukla and now, Ollie, may have just found the perfect 'training ground' for BB's eventual place with the league! The two have very similar personalities, in my view - great call!

    Brian Burke would be a perfect 'talking head' for the US(TV) market and could well become the Don Cherry of the the south...

    Bring on 'GM's Corner on NBC Hockey Night' - he is interesting and controversial... made for TV kinda' guy - wonder who could be his Ron MacLean?

    Given that Gary Bettman has stated his desire to continue in his present role, it remains to be seen what the NHL Board of Governors will do. Perhaps Gary will shortly be just as shocked as Brian (in the coming 6 months - if the above corporate observations have any bearing in all this). In the meantime, Brian might be exactly what an NBC producer ordered!

    Then... a short or long-term progression into the league office, depending upon the owners' level of satisfaction with Bettman vs. Burke.

    This season could provide some very interesting theatre for the masses!

  35. This does present a rather fascinating scenario that could indeed unfold, InTimeFor62.

  36. I have to chime in here Michael and say I was a huge fan of the Burke 'Style.' He became the face of the team during a time when no player was able to step up and do so. I am too young to remember the Conn Smythe era, but Burke's bombast seemed to have a similar larger than life quality which will be badly missed. Having been fortunate enough to speak with him in person a few times, I can say that he was one of those posessed of a Clinton-like charisma that could draw the attention of the whole room, and in individual conversation came across as genuine and surprisingly soft-spoken. I have to agree that his hockey legacy here will be forever questioned, due in large part to overestimating talent, bad luck and hubris...but his community and charity work will be lasting and the city is poorer without him.
    As yet TBD is the reality of the new ownership situation, but it is not looking good. Someone posted somewhere that Burke was fired because the board felt they couldn't control him and were a little afraid of him. Burke was the first GM with true authority and autonomy since Jim Gregory reported to Stafford Smythe, and if this is true, woe to us all indeed if this signals a return to the bad old days of 1972-2008.
    As for the timing of this, it stinks to high heaven. Not so much from an organizational standpoint as Nonis was more or less a tandem GM with Burke, but distracting the fanbase from the fact that we have received no real apology from MLSE, nor any news on free tickets, concessions, online streams etc that should be the BARE minimum as an apology for this lockout travesty. If the lockout was a slap in the face, to me this feels like a kick to the nuts.
    And yes, you can probably guess, I would love to see him replace Bettman.

  37. I sincerely appreciate and respect your views on Burke, Sean. I would not try to counter those feelings in any way. I, too, respect the way he moved the needle on important social issues.

    I think we are all reduced to "speculation" when to comes to the motives for the firing- and the timing of the move. I tried to capture in this post a rationale for why the move can be supported from a hockey standpoint. Beyond that, I have no clue.

    To your point on owner interference: yes, that has been an issue since Ballard took over ownership in the very early 1970s. I'm not sure it has ever gotten a lot better but Burke did, finally, have full autonomy. Whether the new owners tried to inhibit that, again, I don't know.

    Thanks for taking the time to post, Sean.

  38. Mike, nope, that link ain't it. That's the one talking of (non)merits of bringing Rielly up. Of which, by the way, was a good conversation, even if the subject is a no-brainer on principle.

    But the conversation has gotten interesting, to say the least. BB as the new commissioner? I'd say no. Not that anyone would ask me, but if NHL, the owners that is, want someone who has seen both sides of top level of professional hockey, Wayne Gretzky would be my nomination. Of course, if the Harvard degree makes you somehow the better man, Burke is a good candidate. For me, it just makes him a lawyer who presents himself as a hockey man, even though his basic understanding of the game itself is stuck back to the days of the Broad Street Bullies.

    His history as an enforcer in nameless leagues gave him a certain respectability as someone who sticks by his team come hell or high water, especially as he stood by Wilson, whose obviously outdated understanding, of how hockey should, nay, has to be, played became apparent.

    Once it was obvious that either Wilson goes, or he goes with Wilson, Burke deftly threw his buddy under the bus. And that is exactly what the much-lauded Harvard degree is worth in hockey.

    As commissioner, he would simply replace Bettman. I don't believe for a second he would ever be anything more. Well, maybe he would have basic understanding of the rules, unlike Bettman, but that's just about it.

  39. Hi Michael
    Brian Burke is controversial whether in-place or on the way out. The last time you questioned his performance, I responded that he had made his own bed and now he had to sleep in it. It was my feeling that his lack of performance would not pass muster in most corporations and his ouster should happen immediately. I believe DP has hit the nail on the head. His combination of performance and personality are likely the primary culprits. The reality is that the man with the gold calls the shots, and his performance probably did not justify putting up with his bombast on a daily basis. This situation is not unusual - John Scully fired Steven Jobs at Apple. While this decision turned out badly, not convinced Burke decision will prove similar.
    - They will not be holding any tag days for Mr. Burke and he will likely find another GM job. I like the idea of him joining NBC Sports as voice of the USA. Hopefully, to replace Mike Milbury.
    - Senior Advisor for Leafs - No way. He needs to move on for everyone's sake.
    - I do not see him as replacement for Buttman. He would likely tick off players even more.
    - Question? Will other GMs rather deal with Nonnis? Trades should be win-win, and I got the feeling Burke was so adversarial that some GMs were concerned about looking bad.

    Maybe we will get the Maple Leafs back, rather than Burke-Leafs.

  40. Harsh, but I know what you are saying, CGLN. I'm likely closer to your thinking than not, though I respect the views of those above who see Burke differently and well-positioned to take on that kind of wider league responsibility.

    Sorry about the link...I'll try to find the right one and post it!

  41. I well remember your earlier posts on this subject, RLMcC.

    Yes, I'm not a fan of Burke staying on as an advisor. If you're fired, especially under these circumstances, I believe you have to move away from the person who had been in charge, in my view.

    Other GM job? NBC? Sure.

    Thanks RLMcC.

  42. CGLN...hopefully this episode link will work for the latest "Leaf Matters" podcast MP3
    ‪ … …

  43. I know I'm harsh with Burke, Michael, but Burke says a lot of things himself, and suaevely (is that even a word?) changes his stance whenever it seems convenient. And I don't feel like I should be apologetic towards someone who keeps getting paid big money without getting any semblance of results to back his consistently big talk up with.

    As Leafs GM, Burke was pretty much a big windbag. I can see, in my worst hockey-related nightmares, much use for such a man if I'm a franchise owner.

    I mean, over the last half of a decade, show me someone who has spoken of winning more while accomplishing less than Burke has. Speaking hockey, of course. I have about zero knowledge of MLB, NFL and NBA, so I don't know the deal about the big North American team sports leagues as a whole. But dammit, I love hockey, and I don't want to see its historically premier stage ground onto the mud any more than this lockout did.

    After this lockout, the talented European players are no longer taking NHL draft as much more than a marketing chip. They might go overseas for a shot, but the agents have made it clear that KHL teams are willing to pay. Drafting Russian players from now on will be as much of a long shot as it was back on the Soviet Union days. Drafted players from other countries will feel the effect, as KHL will be paying initially more than NHL, progressively as well if you succeed over there, and it's an easy choice for a European young gun.

    So NHL needs a very strong and convincing face to present across the hockey-playing globe. Presuming the top-tier European talent is still desired. Burke's presence would mean nothing. Take #99 and you'll have everyone's attention.

  44. There is no reason to back away from your comments, CGLN. I always enjoy hearing your views. I've often said myself that I was not among those who appreciated or enjoyed Burke's public grandstanding. If you live in that world (saying what you want whenever you want and claiming not to care what anyone else thinks), you can expect those who assess your career to feel just as free to express opinions.

  45. That link worked, thanks.

    And no, I'm absolutely not backing away from any comments I've made. I'm harsh on Burke, yes, but I don't feel I'm ever undeservedly harsh. I don't even think he was ever a particularly good GM. What he did for his SC ring was spot a leak and plugged it. Ducks were a small step away from the prize, Burke got Pronger. Doesn't take a genius, but trading Lupul for Pronger back then took some gamesmanship on Burke's part. Even though we've seen later, that Lupul can be a damn good winger when he's on his game, back on the day Pronger was already the stud defenceman and Lupul was on the cusp of being either a good scorer or a broken-down nag.

    To be completely honest, I think we've been getting more out of Lupul than we ever could have gotten out of Pronger. And by the way, I'm ever so excited to see what Nik Kulemin will bring out this season. He finally got a decent role in Russia, and he dominated. Hopefully he found the confidence to do the same for the Leafs while at it.

    But I digress. Burke is big enough a character to find his way out of these shadows of the maple leafs falling, and back into the limelight he so much enjoys.

    Maybe he'll win the Stanley Cup with Columbus, who knows, and I don't care. Although I would feel a slight bite of irony if it happened in finals against the Maple Leafs, but even the gods of hockey irony couldn't believably make that happen. So I'll listen the "Auld Lang Syne" for BB. I'd love to say I miss you, but I really don't.

  46. Fans have a right to express their views honestly, CGLN. And it's important that readers feel free to express themselves on this forum.

    Thanks for the update on Kulemin. I loved his career arc in his first three seasons. Hopefully 2011-'12 was an aberration.

  47. In case you hadn't noticed, and let's face it, Nik's not the kind of guy you notice unless he's playing either very well or really bad.

    Metallurg Magnitogorsk GP 36 G+A=Pts 14+24=38. 26 minutes in the box. Datsyuk played 31, scored 11+25=36. Of course, expectations shouldn't be based on these statistics, but if Carlyle has been following what his players can do, this should be a thing worth noticing. Send Nik to the corner, get another forward in front of the net. Things will happen, sooner or later.

    He's never been a natural goalscorer, but he can dig with the best of 'em in the corners.

  48. For me with all the experts he surrounded himself with outside of Rielly he did relatively little with the high draft choices. His free agent signings were nothing to write home about, but his persona and demeanor in front of the media was really good. As Micheal has stated he was never a team player with all the I's in any of his comments.
    My question would be, is Nonis much different from Burke? Will the team be built a little differently with Nonis or just a quiet Burke?

  49. Those who "know" Nonis, Hoogy, seem to suggest that while he has worked with Burke in Vancouver, Anaheim and Toronto, he is very much his own man.

    Now, as you say, whether that translates into simply being a quieter version of Burke, I don't know. Nonis' record in three years as GM in Vancouver was mixed. The Luongo trade (however one rates that) and some draft picks that worked out - and many that didn't. A few tidy signings that helped a bit.

    In short, like a lot of other GM's out there- OK but nothing special.

    Thanks Hoogy.

  50. Hi Michael,

    I thought when I dig a bit I will find something.

    Intresting and true what you wrote about Kessel and the center.

    I agree with the things you said about Burke all fair observations.

    I have one thing to add, whatever we ma y think about Burke, the new ownership wanted him out of the way because they had things in mind that where only in their and not the Leafs intrest. And they suceeded in doing these things and they have Canadas hockey flagship in hand and they can play with it whatever they like. And I doubt Burke had accepted a concept to please Rogers that puts HIS team (I couldn't resist) in a big disadvantage. He had fought them tooth and nail for what is going on this season. The Leafs have 18!!! back to back's this year and only because to fullfil the TV agreement and to give Rogers good numbers because Canadas most loved team plays.
    Burke had never accepted that without a fight.

    Now I know what you think about Burke.