In an ideal world, here's how it would have gone.
Okay, in an absolutely ideal world, Brian Burke would have been dismissed in October, if that was the intention of the MLSE ownership group.
But if it HAD to happen last Wednesday, here's how it should have gone.
MLSE's chief executive officer would have recommended Burke's firing to the MLSE board, then offered a detailed game plan how it was to happen, being cognizant of the obvious media explosion that would follow.
For starters, Burke would have been told exactly what his future role was going to be without any confusion. His successor, David Nonis, would have been either clearly defined as the interim GM or as the new GM with a new multi-year contract. The press conference featuring Nonis would not have been executed hurriedly, but rather after giving Nonis at least 6-8 hours to get over the shock and deliver a strong and convincing all-is-well message. At that press conference, the CEO would have made it clear the change was his choice, and had been supported by ownership.
So that's how it should gone. It would still have been a huge story, but much of the ugly fallout would have been avoided, and the Leafs might have appeared hasty or even unfair in their dealings, but not dysfunctional.
So why didn't it happen? Well, because MLSE doesn't have a CEO right now.
At a time when momentous decisions are being made, the new ownership group has not managed to find someone in the past six months to fill that role.
The name of NHL chief operating officer John Collins is again popping up as a possible successor to Richard Peddie as the CEO of MLSE. Multiple reports out of the U.S. during the lockout suggested Collins was desperately unhappy with the league's strategy and might be looking to leave.
Whether it's Collins or somebody else, it needs to happen sooner than later.
Yes, Tom Anselmi is the COO of MLSE, and he shepherded the Burke ouster. But those in the corporate world would tell you there's an enormous difference in structure between the CEO position and that of the COO, and Anselmi has been thus far denied the CEO title, although he has said he is a candidate. The CEO job comes with a different set of responsibilities and a different set of skill requirements. One suspects if ownership wanted Anselmi in that role, he'd have the job title by now. Instead, a search committee is still combing the frontier for candidates.
So instead of the scenario in which an experienced CEO would have guided the process of relieving Burke of his duties, here's how it went:
--Everyone involved on Wednesday, including Anselmi, appeared to be in a state of shock. There was no sense this was business as usual. All involved looked like it was the last thing they wanted to happen.
--Burke was allowed to leave the meeting at which he was fired without a clear sense of any future role he might have. Ultimately, he was told he would be an advisor to only the board, not the hockey office, which left the former Leaf GM embarrassed after talking openly about his eagerness to pitch in and help Nonis in several possible ways.
--It was completely unclear, and still is to some extent, exactly where Nonis sits for the future, whether he's the GM beyond this season.
--Nonis, clearly in a state of shock over what had happened to his good friend Burke, was forced into a quickee press conference that was, to put it mildly, a public relations disaster. Given time to gather his thoughts, he gave a much more confident presentation on Sunday.
--Anselmi delivered the news in such a way as to make it clear that ownership, specifically the Bell/Rogers unholy alliance, wanted Burke out, and so the finger of blame naturally zeroed in on ownership. Bell chairman George Cope, in particularly was identified as the person who desired Burke's firing the most.
In the end, the name of Harold Ballard was invoked by more than one media organization, and the Leafs were generally viewed as completely dysfunctional.
This was never a simple problem, and it was going to be an enormous hockey story no matter how it went. But the Leafs pretty much delivered a textbook display of how not to handle something like the firing of the team's GM.
This is fixable. Get a CEO in place. After the way in which both Bell and Rogers bore the brunt of criticism after last week's debacle, you can bet both Cope and Nadir Mohamed have this at the top of their hockey agendas this week.