Defending Brian Burke

Brian Burke's plan to rebuild may have taken longer than expected, but he would have been in position to make positive additions very soon. (Damien D./Wikimedia Commons)

Brian Burke’s plan to rebuild may have taken longer than expected, but he would have been in position to make positive additions very soon. (Damien D./Wikimedia Commons)

By: Danny Amodeo


Before diving into the issue at hand, discussing my thoughts on the Brian Burke firing, I just have to say, leave it to the Toronto Maple Leafs to continue to be the most entertaining NHL franchise.

Shortly after it was announced that Brian Burke was fired as the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Twitter, Facebook, TSN, and seemly everyone in Southern Ontario began to give their analysis of the firing. For most people, it appears that they wish Brian Burke was fired a long time ago, that he was a horrible GM and this firing was a very positive thing. I see it completely different.

The firing of Brian Burke was a horrible move. Now to be fair to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, the firing of Burke was directed from the corporate bosses of new owners Rogers and Bell media. It appears Burke was fired due to one corporate executive within these two companies not personally liking Burke, and this executive was able to rally up support to remove him from office.

There are so many reasons why his firing was not the right move for the organization.

Let’s look at the corporate reasons. Burke is an old-school hockey man, not afraid to say his mind, not afraid to get into it with media members, stands up for what he believes in and walks to the beat of his own drum. His colourful comments to media outlets are part of his larger than life personality. Apparently, the type of person Burke is ruffled too many feathers with the new owners, which lead to his dismal, as James Duthie’s reported on TSN 1050AM radio Thursday evening.

I believe in Duthie’s analysis which makes it scary. Burke was fired for non-hockey related reasons. Sure, it’s easy to fire him because the Leafs are a laughing stock and finish at the bottle of the standings year after year, but he was fired due to a vendetta against him due to his bold personality? I understand that this is part of today’s society and everyone needs to be more of a corporate person, but to seriously fire Burke from the largest and most important position within the Leafs organization is a complete joke.

Now, if these executives fired him for hockey reasons I wouldn’t have been so skeptical of the decision. However this sets a bad image for the team. If they can fire Burke for non-hockey related reasons, who’s to say that if new GM Dave Nonis says something wrong he will be fired? Who’s to say that these executives may force the Nonis to not sign a free agent due to his image, or to trade a current player because of his image? In the game of hockey RESULTS are the only thing that matters, not an image.

I’ll give you somewhat of an extreme example. If Sean Avery was a Toronto Maple Leaf, he would have been gone the second that Rogers/Bell became owners. Even if Avery was producing on the ice, putting up points and being an effective penalty killer and keeping his mouth shut off the ice, would the executives ditch him because of his past and the image he portrays being on your team? I think this current ownership group would do so. That is a scary thought because that makes anyone in the Leafs organization on the chopping block.

Now plenty can argue that Burke should be gone for hockey related reasons. Fair enough there is a case to be made here. Yes, he has made some horrible signings (Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly, Colby Armstrong, Francois Beauchemin, etc.). He has also made some questionable trades (acquiring Phil Kessel from Boston for two first rounder’s that ended up being Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton). However Burke has done so many positive things for the Leafs that will continue to help the organization even with him being fired.

Burke has hit some homeruns in the trade department. He was able to unload a bunch of deadweight and dead salary to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf, who would become Leafs captain. He was able to trade underachieving Luke Schenn to Philly for James van Riemsdyk last summer. He was also able to trade Francois Beauchemin back to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner. Burke was even able to unload Jason Blake’s horrible contract that previous GM John Ferguson stuck the Leafs with!

Burke has also been able to get some prospects in Toronto’s AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies including Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton, Paul Ranger, Jesse Blacker and Jussi Rynnas. Burke was also able to draft well, drafting Nazem Kadri, Tyler Biggs, Stewart Percy in previous years draft and Morgan Rielly in last year’s draft. Burke was also able to restock the organization through the American College route, signing current Leafs Matt Frattin and Tyler Bozak straight out of college.

More importantly, Burke set his team up for this offseason. Going into this offseason he would have set himself up with around $22 million to play with in cap space room, with several players coming off the books. He could have used two buyouts that would have not affected the Leafs cap to free up even more cap room (a provision included in the new NHL CBA). Burke set the team up to make a huge splash, possibly going after Ryan Getzlaf, Alexander Semin, Corey Perry, Ron Hainsey, Travis Zajac, Ryane Clowe, Jimmy Howard or Jarome Iginla, all who would have been welcomed additions to the Leafs. He gave himself a perfect setup moving forward, only to have it taken away from him.

Overall, Burke has been good for the Leafs from a strictly hockey perspective. Sure, he has swung for the fences and missed a few times, but he has done more positives for the Leafs then negatives. If the new Leafs ownership was to have fired him for hockey related reasons, that would have been a mistake.

Also, for all those who say that Burke’s image deserved to get him fired, let me remind you of all of the work that he has done for charity in Toronto. He has been very outspoken in favor of Gay and Lesbian rights after his son’s death, which has led to massive amounts of praise from everyone in Toronto. He has donated countless hours to other charity events as well, and has spread as much goodwill as he possibly could throughout his time as Leafs GM. Sure he gets into arguments with the media, sure his language is colourful, sure he may not be everyone’s favourite cup of tea, but firing him over his so called negative image is ridiculous. Even if the same decision would have been made but having fired Burke over his hockey decisions, I still believe that would have been a mistake.

I wish that I could wrap up this article saying that there is hope in Leafs land moving forward. I wish that I could say that the new GM Nonis is going to fix all of the Leafs hockey problems. I wish I could say that even with all the money the Leafs have this coming offseason that they will be able to make a huge splash and re-vamp their roster. However, with the Leafs new ownership anything is possible and I predict that ownership will be more focused on making money and acquiring a certain image, rather than focusing on results on the ice. If ownership was focused on the on ice results, Burke would not have been fired and the Leafs would be in better shape today.


Coincidental Minors Archives


  1. I think that Burke deserved to be axed. Yes it’s true the trade for Lupul and Gardiner was a fantastic move, but the Phaneuf deal the jury is still out. If he gets back to being the player he was earlier in his career then it’s a slam dunk win for the Leafs. If not he’s making a lot of money under a cap that is coming down for the next couple of seasons.

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