November 20, 2010
Last week, reporter Howard Berger of FAN 590 in Toronto blogged about Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke looking "somewhat beaten and haggard" and acting "subdued" at a press conference, leading Berger to remind Leafs Nation and the media that Burke is "still very much in the grieving process for his son, Brendan" who was killed in a car accident in February.
Berger wondered if Burke's many detractors and critics understand his personal pain. "[It's] important to occasionally consider the real pain that is never far from the surface with Brian," he wrote, "a heartache that no person should have to endure."
Berger spoke about his theories during the Andrew Krystal radio program on FAN 590 this week, prompting the host to wonder if Burke's focus could truly be on the Leafs: "Following the tragic death of Brian Burke's son, can his heart still really, really still be in hockey?"
The next day, Krystal admitted he sometimes found criticizing Burke difficult in light of his son's death. Bruce Dowbiggin of the Globe & Mail then asked if the media should "mitigate the barbs" and back off of Burke, whose Toronto Maple Leafs travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens on Saturday night.
Canadian Readers: Click here to watch Hockey Night in Canada on Y! Sports Canada, featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m.) and the Chicago Blackhawks at the Vancouver Canucks (10 p.m.).
With the debate raging about her family's grief, Brian Burke's daughter Katie decided to respond publicly with an open letter to the Globe & Mail that published on Saturday; hoping that "experts and radio hosts alike can stop discussing whether or not to go easy on my dad."
Katie Burke, the Leafs GM's eldest daughter, wrote about her father's intense desire to win and how he "hates losing a bet, and he really hates losing hockey games."
I do however, take issue with [Andrew] Krystal's implication that my dad can't "take the heat" and [author] Todd Kays' assertion that the world doesn't stop when you experience a personal tragedy. The truth is, if anyone had taken the time to engage someone who knows my dad in this conversation, they would tell you that in this time of incredible loss, hockey is my dad's respite. Since Brendan's death he has not slowed his travel, his calendar, or his passion for improving the team, and the rink continues to be, as it has been for years, his haven.
She later continued:
Turning around a losing franchise is a considerable challenge, one that takes time, patience, and a willingness to accept ebbs and flows. In that regard, it is similar to grief-a long, non-linear process with significant uncertainly and considerable stress. I can confirm for everyone involved in this conversation that my brother's death has had a profound impact on my dad, but to speculate that his heart isn't in the game is incorrect. In fact, the long hours he spends at the Air Canada Centre, scouting players, calling fellow GMs, and strategizing with his team, are the best way he knows to move forward.
In one way, Katie Burke's words amplify the sympathy for Burke: If managing the Leafs is his respite from grief, it's been as frustrating a diversion as one could imagine.
But her larger point is the essential one: That hockey is Burke's constant, his normalcy. His professional life is "the best way he knows to move forward" from his unimaginable grief; to have fans or media or critics treat him differently, to pull their punches, would be to undermine that normalcy.
Katie Burke said it best: "Like any gritty hockey veteran, he doesn't need people to go easy on him, he just wants to focus on the team and the game he loves."
In other Hockey Night In Canada action:
The Vancouver Canucks host the Chicago Blackhawks (10 p.m. EST) on Saturday night. Chicago eliminated them from the playoffs, won the Stanley Cup and then said goodbye to a good portion of its lineup in the offseason. Which means no Dustin Byfuglien(notes) crowding Roberto Luongo's(notes) crease any more for the Blackhawks.
Luongo told the Vancouver Sun that Chicago's turnover in talent doesn't matter:
"No, it doesn't," he said. "The crest is still the same. That's what you look at and we obviously know they have beaten us the last couple of years. We have played them once already in their building and it will be nice to hear the crowd tomorrow when those guys are on the ice."
The first meeting of the season between the teams was a 2-1 Chicago victory over the Canucks in the Windy City, with five goals scored in the shootout between the teams.