LONDON--Brian Burke doesn't have to be in Afghanistan today.
Heck, there's undoubtedly hardcore Maple Leaf fans who probably think he shouldn't be, but instead should be at home manning the phones and getting ready to knock on Brad Richards' front door on Friday when the NHL free agent season opens.
Instead, the Leaf president and general manager is with our Canadian troops in Kandahar, and that's where he'll be when Richards and other unrestricted free agents officially become available looking to make themselves extraordinary rich, or richer.
That Burke will be overseas spending time with Canadian men and women serving for anything but personal wealth, well, that's a intriguing contrast.
Burke was asked some time ago if he would be part of a group visiting Kandahar Airfield in the final days of the Canadian military withdrawal to visit with the troops as many Canadians have done in recent years. Even when he realized the trip would overlap July 1st, he agreed to go anyway. He just believes in this stuff, believes in supporting the Canadian military in all its efforts even though he is an American citizen, believes you can't just talk about supporting the troops but have to make actual concrete efforts to do so.
Indeed, he also travelled to Afghanistan in March, 2010, just weeks after the death of his 21-year-old son, Brendan, in a tragic car accident.
This won't be the first time Burke hasn't not been at his Toronto office when free agency opened. Two years ago, he was in Sweden on a clandestine mission to try and sign the Sedin twins for the Leafs. When Vancouver GM Mike Gillis beat him to the punch, Burke stayed on anyway, did some work on getting free agent goalie Jonas Gustavsson signed, all the while staying in touch with his right hand man Dave Nonis, who signed UFA defencemen Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin, along with enforcer Colton Orr.
With email, Skype and other communication devices and techniques making it so much easier to communicate from anywhere around the world. It's not like Burke will be out of touch, or won't be available to make tough decisions.
It's also part of the reason he has so much depth and experience in the Leaf front office. Nonis has more responsibilities than most assistant GMs, while Dave Poulin, Claude Loiselle and newly hired Rick Dudley will all be part of the team's decision-making process on deadline day while staying in touch with Burke in Kandahar. It will be Nonis making the direct pitch to Richards, Christian Ehrhoff, Max Talbot and whatever free agents the Leafs try to sign.
Burke's "war room," meanwhile, will be in an actual combat zone in what remains one of the world's most dangerous countries, a country that has claimed the lives of more than 150 members of the Canadian military during our country's mission there.
So good for the Leaf hockey boss. Conn Smythe, founder of the Leafs and an officer in the Canadian military who served in both world wars, certainly established this tradition with the hockey club long ago.
It's not like Burke's on vacation, or golfing at a resort. He's supporting the Canadian military in a meaningful way at a critical and still dangerous time, still able to do his job and make multi-millon dollar decisions while doing an important job on behalf of Canadians.
Could be that some free agent on Friday might think it would be cool to play for a GM with those kind of ideals.