Burke Era Over
Last spring, a veteran GM made a keen observation about the state of the Maple Leafs under Brian Burke
"I don't know if he'll get to finish the job," said the GM. "But he's really set them up well for somebody to turn them into a winner."
Now we'll find out. The stunning replacement of Burke today by his longtime right-hand man, Dave Nonis, was and was not shocking.
Shocking in that there were no rumours it was going to happen, and the timing is downright bizarre, with the 113-day lockout having just ended and the season set to start Jan. 19. Why throw the entire organization into flux now?
But not shocking because of all the rumblings on the street.
The guess is here is Burke was fired for one of two reasons.
One, at least half of the new MLSE ownership team, Bell, was seemingly prepared to fire Burke during the summer. The boss there, George Cope, reportedly disliked Burke's management style and brash public comments, and thought he was "bad for the brand."
Two, both Bell and Rogers are keen on a deal for Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, and Burke was resisting such a move. He said repeatedly of late that he was "90 per cent" certain he wanted to go with the combination of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens in net, and had talked several times about his frustrations of dealing with Vancouver GM Mike Gillis, particularly since he wasn't sure dealing for Luongo was the right move.
Clearly, it wasn't anything Burke had done lately, because the lockout had prevented all NHL general managers from making any moves since Sept. 15th.
Only a strong season with a playoff berth was going to save Burke anyway, particuarly with the folks at Bell not on side. it's not clearly how supportive the executives at Rogers, the other half of the MLSE alliance, were of Burke.
Just as Nonis succeeded Burke in Vancouver in 2004, he now takes over a young Leaf team with substantial assets in terms of prospects and developing talent and few long-term contractual obligations, essentiall under the terms of the new NHL-NHLPA collective bargaining agreement.
He also inherits Phil Kessel, who was the signature acquisition of Burke, a controversial deal that backfired when Boston ended up with the No. 2 pick in the draft and won the Stanley Cup, as well.
Nonis, interestingly enough, acquired Luongo for the Canucks in 2006 from Florida in a deal for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld, and now will definitely make a strong push to try and land the veteran goaltender.
Nonis, however, is philosophically more committed to the slow and steady, build with youth approach. Along with Burke, he was the executive who put many of the pieces in place with the Canucks that ultimately helped that team make a run to the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
He had no idea this was coming, even earlier this week. Burke, meanwhile, returned from Russia on Sunday after attending the world junior hockey championships.
The NHL will undoubtedly be rather unhappy with the Burke decision as it upstages the ratification of the new CBA in New York.
The Leafs are saying Burke will stay with the club as a consultant, but that seems more cosmetic than an indication that he will actually fill an advisory role to Nonis.