MIKE TOTH

The Truth Behind the Firing of Brian Burke

Posted By: Mike Toth · 1/9/2013 4:51:00 PM

There's no question Tom Anselmi, president of MLSE, is a media savvy, fan friendly guy. But during today's media conference to announce the shocking firing of Leaf GM Brian Burke, Anselmi really let the fans down. No matter how hard he was pushed by reporters, Anselmi kep replying that he "didn't want to get into specifics" about the reason for Burke's sudden dismissal. Anselmi did mention the Leaf's late season collapse last year that saw them miss the play-offs again - a place they've never visited under Burke's watch. But that fold job was nine months ago, so why wait until ten days before a lockout-shortened schedule to bring out the axe? The lockout, by the way, is another reason why Anselmi owed the fans more answers. Like all NHL teams, the Leafs are trying to win back fed-up fans coming out of the labour war and keeping them in the dark regarding the reasons for chopping the leader of the franchise isn't exactly inspiring your most important shareholders (the people in the seats) to keep buying tickets and over-priced hot dogs.
 
So, since Leaf fans deserve more answers about why the team said bye-bye to Burkie, read on.
 
Over the summer, there were published reports that Burke was having marital problems, and a lot of hockey insiders also say he's never been the same after the death of his son a few years ago. In fact, there was talk a few months ago that Burke might step down because of all the stress in his life, although that obviously didn't happen.
 
With the above in mind, however, at today's newser I asked Anselmi if Burke's personal life or his many well-documented blow-ups with the media (including going off on our very own John Moore of "Moore in the Morning") had anything to do with the firing. The media angle is relevant, of course, because the Leafs are now owned by the Bell and Rogers media consortium. However, Anselmi claimed Burke's dismissal was not due to either of those issues.
 
Why, then, was Burke let go?
 
Well, as Anselmi said, it was "a combination of factors". But again, since he refused to get into specifics, let's fill in the blanks. The Leafs losing ways were definitely a factor, especially when you consider the team isn't much different than a year ago and there's not much hope of snapping their 8-year play-off drought this season. Meanwhile, Despite what Anselmi says, I do believe Burke's frequent media meltdowns (and based on that, who knows how he dealt with his own employees around the office?) were a factor in today's decision.
 
Another thing?
 
Don't underestimate the Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos angle. AA is a young, media friendly guy who's the toast of the town right now for building the Jays into a contender in quick and dramatic fashion, while Burke and the Leafs muddle down near the NHL basement. The Jays, remember, are also owned by Rogers and I believe they and their Bell buddies simply came to regard Burke as being more trouble than he's worth; a losing team with a crusty boss who was becoming increasingly unpopular among both the fans and media mob.
 
In Burke's replacement, former assistant GM Dave Nonis, the Leafs have a bright, young Anthopoulos-type clone whose already been a fulltime GM in Vancouver. Nonis isn't exactly "Mr. Personality", but he's not going to blow up at reporters and publicly embarrass a media-savvy company who wants to be more fan-friendly, especially post-lockout, while also icing a winning team to keep those TV rating points headed in the right direction.
 
With that in mind, Burke's firing might also help the Leafs in their rumoured quest to bring veteran netminder Roberto Luongo to Toronto. Among Burke's many adversaries? Canucks GM Mike Gillis, who Burke has a long history of feuding with, and there was no way those guys were ever going to hook up on a deal. Yes, Gillis took over in Vancouver after Nonis was fired by the Canucks in 2008. But Nonis is a lot more even-keeled than Burke and should be able to do a better job of breaking bread with Gillis to potentially get Luongo in a blue and white jersey.
 
Another guy Burke had issues with?
 
Yours truly.
 
I was upset with Burke for dressing down my good buddy John Moore on Newstalk 1010, after John asked Brian a perfectly legit question about his future as Leaf GM. In an exchange of emails with Burke, I said "Brian, you're a good hockey man but I don't like how you bullied John." Out of respect for Burke, I'll keep his reply private; suffice to say it didn't exactly express any regret for his outburst.
 
But as it turned out, John's question about Burke's job status did have merit and in the end, maybe a big bully got what was coming to him.   

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  1. Victor posted on 01/10/2013 11:49 AM
    I have to agree with one of your guests saying that the timing of this is awful. When it was realized that this NHL lockout was going to go on for a while, that was the time for an announcement like this. I have a feeling that the powers that be might have thought that maybe doing this now would create a lot of noise now, with the season starting soon, and that maybe that noise would sell more tickets.
    1. Geoff posted on 01/11/2013 01:38 PM
      @Victor Well, Victor - they don't need to sell tickets - sellout every game since the 40"s I believe...
  2. RonNasty64 posted on 01/10/2013 02:30 PM
    It sounds like Burkie was too "Old School", and the timing was right. Before any new trades get done, let's right the ship.

    ps. somebody needs to come up with a name for the Rogers/Bell partnership.e.g. Begers, RBMLS, etc.
  3. Kate posted on 01/10/2013 06:26 PM
    If feel bad for Mr. Burke and what could have been going on in his personal life . coupled with perhaps insecurity about his keeping his position as GM and coach..
    Coping with the lost of his son, and the constant pressure and stress he must have had, then being fired from The Leaf Management, I sincerely hope he has some personal councelling (*) to help him over this rough time. I would hate to turn on the CFRB, one morning and discover he is no longer with us....
  4. Ken senter posted on 01/10/2013 08:18 PM
    Mike-
    Why would Anselmi owe it to the fans with a detailed explanation for firing Burke when the fans are already disgruntled with the Leafs' performance under his leadership and would be asking for Burke's head on a stick shortly.
  5. peter posted on 01/11/2013 05:23 AM
    Toth

    You're sooooo out of the loop as a 'sports' person. You have been fired from every media outlet. Anything you say is just a dart on the wall...a pure guess.

    Your next stop is Ryerson radio.
    1. Danny Chang posted on 01/13/2013 01:19 PM
      @peter Yeah, like you know. You're so out of the loop as a wannabe "sports" person. Who have you interviewed lately, beside maybe yourself in the mirror in your home in your Momma's basement?
  6. Gary posted on 01/11/2013 05:46 AM
    If Burke had a winning record for the Leafs, do you think that Rogers/Bell would care about whether he had a bristled association with the media? Nonsense! Most of the media are nothing more than self-absorbing prima donnas.
  7. SteveB_10 posted on 01/11/2013 09:26 AM
    Good points Mike, and your thoughts also point out how selling 1010 to Bell is a bad idea. This kind of stuff would never make it past corporate
  8. Greg posted on 01/12/2013 07:27 PM
    Brian Burke is not just a stubborn, impatient, fiery Irishman as he loves to portray himself - he is a narcissist, pure and simple. Having had a couple of days to digest the shock of being unceremoniously canned, and purporting to want to continue in some advisory capacity with the Leafs, as soon as he got away from his written script today, he showed exactly why he was deemed redundant... his unwillingness or inability to conduct himself with even a modicum of respect, a touch of humility, maybe even the odd instance of humility, when dealing with the media while working for a partnership formed mainly of the 2 largest media companies in the country forced their hand. He may have been a fit for Larry Tannenbaum as an individual, but he is ill-equipped to lead and be the face of the crown jewel of a media conglomerate. I hope for the sake of those who love him that in this day and age of media proliferation he doesn't hold his breath waiting for his "next GM position that I would take tomorrow". It's obvious after that this old dog has no intention of learning any new tricks.
  9. Dylan posted on 01/16/2013 12:00 AM
    From a personal source I heard Burke's Martial problems may have been more of an issue then let on. Him being caught cheating with his secretary didn't help his chances I'd say.
  10. PETER DOYLE posted on 01/16/2013 11:48 AM
    hey Mike

    i didnt know how else to get this to you

    i would be interested in your comments on this

    I am a born and raised in Canada 100% red and White canadian, however i truly believe that they should stop playing o' canada at all leaf games and start playing The maple Leaf forever

    considering the number of players on the team who were not born in canada - i cant see how the playing of O' Canada could motevate them to play better

    i could however see the players taking ounership of the Maple Leaf Forever song much the same way as philidelphia has taken to God bless america

    also it would help when Toronto is playing Ottawa or any other Canadian team by giving toronto our own song

    Toronto has been in such a huge rutt for the past several years - maybe this could change there fortunes
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