Brian Burke Fired: Initial Thoughts

Brian Burke Fired

By Alec Brownscombe & Declan Kerin

Shocking, is the only way to put it.

No, this wasn’t a move that was waiting in the wings. Last night, Dave Nonis and Brian Burke were taking in a Marlies game expecting to be the assistant GM and President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, for the upcoming 2012-13 season. It came as a bombshell to absolutely everybody short of Tom Anselmi and some board members. If that’s not raising red flags in your head already, it should be.

The good news is that Burke and Nonis were a two-headed monster. There’s continuity here and the direction of the team changes as minimally as possible. Nonis played a crucial role in the building that has taken place, particularly with the Marlies. Head coach Randy Carlyle, meanwhile, has worked under Nonis before (Manitoba Moose, Anaheim Ducks); in fact, Nonis’ working relationship with Carlyle dates further back than Carlyle and Burke’s.

The bad news is that – whether you liked Burke the man, his work in his five seasons here, or whether or not you thought the results should’ve been there by now – this is not a decision you should get behind. The timing isn’t fair, with the team already scrambling to hastily prepare for a new season. Worse, the reasons for it are terrible and the implications are damning.

He refused to get into specifics, but Anselmi made no attempt to hide the fact that this was a decision made based on the relationship between Brian Burke, himself and the new ownership group. He referenced “leadership style” more than once (if you missed it, check out the press conference here). For reasons beyond the rational mind, Anselmi had recently been promoted to President of MLSE, and of course Rogers and Bell begin their takeover of the Leafs and all of MLSE’s sporting assets this season. Clearly a clash of some sort came about in the process of this transition.


Take it for what it’s worth, but remember Anselmi’s joke about the only media members in that conference room who weren’t working for Bell or Rogers were the Star employees.

Forget the last four years and remember back when Brian Burke was first hired. We celebrated the introduction of an accomplished GM with ample experience and the personality and credibility to demand total autonomy over hockey operations. After years of failure, Richard Peddie seemed to have finally understood what was needed: less of him and more of the best in the business running the Leafs and the rest MLSE’s teams. Not to suggest Nonis is a puppet, but my worst fear is that we’re back to square one in terms of that understanding within the MLSE board and team ownership (note: Burke had a contractual clause guaranteeing him final authority on hockey decisions).

Rogers and Bell are in the wrong business if there’s a need to “make good” on the investment in the first month on the job. If you take the line that this was about a difference of opinion on whether or not to trade for Luongo, the value of players and how they are perceived on the market is something that an experienced GM, and one with a record of pulling off more wins than losses in the trade department, should have the ultimate say on. Interference from non-hockey people into hockey operations is a recipe for disaster, as it has been in the past.

There will be more to come as we try to digest what’s happened today. No matter your opinion on it, the Toronto Maple Leaf organization more or less parted ways (the appointment of Burke to the role of senior advisor strikes one as PR face saving) with a really good man today. A man with that much pride will not stand on the sidelines flagwaving. With a salary of $3 million dollars a year, he was kind in taking the position as “senior advisor” and not an enormous severance package. Burke was a quality ambassador for the team and the community and MLHS wishes him the best.

It’s the logo on the sweater over the man in the front office, I suppose, but this one’s hard to swallow.

Dave Nonis and Tom Anselmi talk about what this means for Randy Carlyle and the direction the team is heading.