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What I don’t get about the Brian Burke firing (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert
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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

Okay so you're the Maple Leafs board of directors or whatever, and you're brand new to the scene having just bought the team a few months ago.

This can't have been the start they wanted, what with the lockout stretching on and on and costing you a lot of money and, potentially, whatever goodwill fans might have had for you. Plus there is the fact that your new team is an international punchline and a towering symbol of futility in the face of towering budgets that, despite all the losing, are still somehow dwarfed by your incomes.

The question I've seen from a lot of people regardng the firing of Brian Burke as Toronto’s GM is, simply, "Why now?"

The team's baffling presser came the same day the NHL's Board of Governors ratified its new CBA, and two or three depending on who you ask before the Player's Association does the same. Camps are scheduled to open Sunday. It sure doesn't seem like the most opportune time to give your GM his walking papers. Why wouldn't you give your new guy the time to get all his Ducks in a row. If you took over the team in August, for instance, why not can the old guy then-ish?

I understand the sentiment, but at the same time, it's not like they then immediately brought in some guy who was new to the organization and couldn't pick Morgan Rielly out of a lineup. Dave Nonis has been with the team for some time, and could be viewed as the Good Cop to Burke's Bad Cop by the ravening Toronto media members (who have pretty much embarrassed themselves by dancing on Burke's grave, though some have come off as far more petty than others, especially with regard to getting into things that may or may not be going on in Burke's personal life that are certainly not in any way any of their business).

Nonis was by all accounts Burke's close friend, coworker and confidant, meaning that he know the ins and outs of the organization better than pretty much every person on earth who wasn't just fired by the Maple Leafs. The sudden shuffling of deck chairs may have come as a big surprise to him, but it's not as though that surprise in any way robs him of the vast experience he has in dealing with this organization front to back.

"Why now?" as in "why at this specific point in the run-up to the abbreviated season?" Not the best question. There's not qualitative difference between telling Burke to pack his stuff Wednesday than there was in August, September, October, November, or December.

Though I will say it's odd that it took this long to arrive at the decision. Burke never looked long for the job under a new ownership team that wanted to make an impact and a statement that it was no longer business as usual for the Leafs. Business as usual being losing a whole bunch, obviously. But even if it took awhile to decide to can him, it's not the timing that's puzzling, it's that it took awhile at all.

Anyway, I don't know if "Why now?" really covers it so much. I think the better question is closer to, "Why now, since this is a CBA specifically designed for Brian Burke?"

That's the thing, right?

Brian Burke was so involved in CBA negotiations, and at the end of this long uncomfortable period in NHL history, the new deal more or less bears out all the things it seemed like he hated about the last one.

Super-long-term deals? Gone. Can't go more than eight these days. Back-diving contracts? Gone. Variance has been reined in big-time (though perhaps not as big as Burke might have wanted). This was a CBA built by and largely for men like Brian Burke who saw all the wiggle room the last one provided and said, "We all know this is bull[expletive], right?" He was Gary Bettman's biggest backer in getting these types of contracts under control and, in point of fact, all but eradicated save for the handful of lingering hangers-on that can't be phased out by anything save for the passage of time or, teams willing, compliance buyouts.

It's enough to make you wonder just how truthful Tom Anselmi was being when he said it had nothing to do with a potential deal for Roberto Luongo. Whether the pressure existed internally or not, there was certainly plenty of it being heaped on the organization from the outside to acquire Roberto Luongo. It's tough to say what the guy could be got for, of course, but it probably would have cost the Leafs something at least semi-substantial, and perhaps central to Burke's plans going forward. But it always seemed odd to me that there was a belief that Burke would go out and trade for a goaltender who, while still very good, was both 33 years old and signed to the kind of deal the most famous GM in the sport so publicly reviled. And obviously, since I couldn't see him making that kind of deal under the old CBA that kinda-sorta allowed those contracts to exist, I sure couldn't see him doing it under the new one that unequivocally did not.

We probably won't ever know for sure if Burke putting his foot down on the perhaps-inevitable Luongo deal was the reason he got canned (boy can we ever speculate though!), but a pretty good indicator of whether that happened is obviously if Nonis pulls the trigger instead. Burke was clearly not so tractable on the issue, perhaps his replacement will be.

So for MLSE to give Burke the axe now, right when he got everyone else to play by the rules he set up for himself, seems really stupid, doen't it? Fire him before the offseason began — so he can't draft players that fit whatever mold he wanted, and can't spend millions of your dollars on free agents, or trade for James van Riemsdyk — or fire him before the CBA was all boxed up and ready to go for the next eight or 10 years. But don't fire him when he got everything he ever wanted.

The playing field was more or less leveled. All the things Burke said he would never do — save for the longer Christmas roster freeze stuff — are now things no one can do, and seeing Burke play the game on his terms seems like it wouldn't have been such a bad idea if even for the one season. Let the guy who built many of the parameters of the new CBA take it out for a test drive. If he drives off a bridge, you fire him in four months. No big deal, right?

Nick Cotsonika said yesterday that you don't want people who aren't hockey guys making hockey decisions, and that's certainly true. But no matter what the reason for 86ing Burke, it all comes off as being a little desperate, doesn't it? If the board didn't think the Leafs could make the playoffs under Burke, then the only logical answer is to get Luongo and kind of try to force your way in.

But if Burke didn't want him, then that's the end of him. Maybe.

On the other hand, if they canned him for non-hockey reasons which have nothing to do with his personal life — that seems pretty evident, since the board retained and promoted his guys and said they were fine with the team's "direction" — then that's just as confusing, if not moreso.

It really isn't a question of, "Why now, since we're so close to the season and you had ample opportunity before this?" It's more like, "Why now, just when he got everything he ever wanted?"

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on the bright side: "It sucked losing half an NHL season, but it is pretty cool being in the hunt for the Hart, Art Ross, and Rocket Richard trophy in January."

If you’ve got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He’ll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you’ll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you’re so inclined.

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