Toronto Maple Leafs Fire Brian Burke

By Tomy Ambrogio (@SNTonyAmbrogio)

 

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Why was Brian Burke fired?

Plenty of reasons are out there, such as:

- He was reluctant to acquire Roberto Luongo in a trade with Vancouver, as Sportsnet has reported?
- The team has a large payroll, and have never been in the playoffs during Burke’s time as GM?
- The Phil Kessel trade haunts the Leafs and will continue to do so for years?
- New ownership wanted a GM who was less vocal/confrontational?
- New ownership wanted the players to be the face of the franchise, not the loose tie wearing GM?
- A combination of all of the above?

Whatever the reason, Brian Burke’s time has GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs is over.

When he was hired in 2008, Burke called Toronto the Vatican of hockey cities – if one is a Catholic – and that running the team was “one of the most important jobs in hockey on the planet.”

Now less than 5 years later Burke is out of a job.

Burke’s hiring November 28, 2008 was met by enthusiasm. After all, he won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim just a year prior. But when the bombastic Burke took the job, he warned it wouldn’t be easy to turn a franchise – one that last made the playoffs in 2004 – around.

“Rebuilding this team is not going to be easy,” said Burke at the time of his introduction (he signed a six-year, $18-million US deal). “Changing the general manager doesn’t change the team. It is going to take some time and some patience. Changing the general manager does not change the roster we are going to dress tonight. It doesn’t change the record of our team and it doesn’t change the chapters of history with unfulfilled expectations that preceded today. What it does represent is the turning of the page.”

On the day he was hired, Burke talked about having a tougher team “We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That’s how our teams play.”

But at the end of the day his teams were more finesse than physical and while he always said he would build the team from the net out, he never has his goaltending situation settled.

That leads us to all the Roberto Luongo trade speculation, and while rumours persist that his reluctance to bring in Luongo was the last straw for the new ownership contingent of Bell and Rogers media, it is fair to say the Leafs problems run deeper than just questionable goaltending. (It should be noted new Leafs GM Dave Nonis acquired Luongo from Florida when he was in Vancouver)

Since Burke was hired in Toronto, the Leafs have a record of 129-135-42, tied for 26th among the 30 NHL teams during that stretch. They have not made the playoffs and during Burke’s time, the Leafs rank 30th in goals against per game and 30th on the penalty kill.
It was Burke who made the bold (you could say franchise altering) move of acquiring Phil Kessel for draft picks (who have turned out to be Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, two players who have star written all over them.)

Burke’s critics will say his inability to be patient (the Leafs haven’t won a Stanley cup since 1967) and his desire to make a push now has cost them a chance to rebuild in the mode of the Pittsburgh Penguins and/or Edmonton Oilers.

He also was quite indignant about the matter when he was asked about taking a more patient approach and building the Leafs through the draft when he barked at the media, “What’s the Pittsburgh model? They got a lottery. They won a goddamn lottery and they got the best player in the game (Sidney Crosby). Is that available to me? Should we do that? Should we ask the league to have a lottery this year, and maybe we pick first? Pittsburgh model, my ass. I mean, they got the best player in the game in the lottery. Ray Shero’s done a good job. He’s an excellent GM and he’s a friend of mine. But I love when people talk about the Pittsburgh model. The simple fact is, they got the best player in the draft. We came in second that year in Anaheim. We got Bobby Ryan out of that — impact player, good player. They got Sidney Crosby in the lottery.”

To be fair to Burke, he has been able to get some top quality young players via trade and free agency and drafts. Among them, defenceman Jake Gardiner, Matt Frattin and Nazem Kadri. (Although Burke’s reluctance to include any of these players in a trade for Luongo may have resulted in his firing)

Did Burke have a fair shot in Toronto? To be a GM for four-plus years suggest yes. But the timing of the deal is odd, just days before training camp is to start.

But the Leafs haven’t shown much improvement and while the minor league team (Toronto Marlies) are better (in the AHL final a season ago) does that mean players from that team will be able to step in and help the Leafs anytime soon? Most likely no.

Apparently ownership felt it was time for a new voice (one less bombastic).

You get the feeling this was a decision made weeks ago and not even another season would have made a difference in the eyes of Leafs ownership.

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