Brian Burke began his post-firing press conference with a rarity: he apologized for the words coming out of his mouth.
Not the content, mind you. That's never been Brian Burke's way and it was clear just seconds into his press conference Saturday that the only thing that had changed in the wake of his surprise dismissal as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs was his employment status.
His voice was hoarse, he explained to the throng of reporters, because he caught a cold in Russia that he's been unable to shake.
"It would have been nice to get this notice before I went to Russia," he said. "But I didn't."
And with that quip, he was off. Brian Burke was in fine form Saturday -- blustery, compelling, and direct as ever.
He took a long drink of water. "So let's talk about how we got here today," he said. "I did not accomplish what I set out to accomplish. That's clear. Absolutely clear."
Burke admitted he was "stunned" by the firing, likening it to a two-by-four upside the head, even, but as for the why, he hammered home the simple explanation throughout. Was the firing based on some personal issue? Was it related to rumours and innuendo overheard at late-night receptions? Or did it have something to do with Roberto Luongo? According to Burke, it was nothing so juicy. "We didn't win enough. Had we won more games I wouldn't be standing here today. It's that simple."
Neither was he biting on any excuse for why the Leafs didn't win enough that didn't begin and end with him. Asked about the core when he arrived, Burke took a long pause to craft his answer, then began.
"We didn't win enough games. I think people stand up here when they get let go and they say 'well, you have to look at the mess I inherited.' Which is not fair to John Ferguson. The players John left me, we managed to turn into some pretty god players, so it's not fair to him. I don't expect Dave Nonis to stand up here in five years or whenever he gets the axe and say 'well look what I started with.' That's another excuse. I knew what the roster was when I came here. There's no secrets about it. I'm not ducking that one."
Burke wasn't interested in looking to the future for vindication either. Did he believe the core he'd assembled could improve his legacy in Toronto in years to come, in the way he often gets credit for the current core of the Vancouver Canucks? He said he'd leave that up to the media.
As for his personal future, Burke was more candid. He's not done with hockey management, and he'd like to find a new job soon. "Tomorrow, if I can," he said.
But what impact, if any, would this dismissal have on how he conducted himself in his next job, whenever that comes? Would he soften his approach? Maybe tone down the gruffness?
"I'd like to go to work for a team that doesn't get sold next time," Burke said.
"The people that hired me hired Brian Burke," Burke said. "Maybe the new guys don't like that brand. Maybe they want someone who's a little more conventional, and they're entitled to that. That's fine. I'm not changing. I'm not gonna change how I do things. That's not possible. I'm Irish, I'm stubborn. Gonna find someone who likes that brand, I guess."
Burke's trademark bluster was visible all throughout the brief press conference, maybe even cranked up a notch because he was no longer the GM of the Maple Leafs, and because, clearly, he was angry about it. When asked by Steve Simmons about whether he'd have a hand in assembling the next U.S. Olympic team," Burke looked right at the Toronto Sun columnist and said, "That's the best part about today, Steve, is that I probably don't ever have to talk to you again."
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And, of course, Burke fielded questions about goaltending, since it's been a question mark ever since he took over in Toronto in 2008.
"The good news is that's not my problem anymore," he said. "As of 48 hours ago, that's someone else's problem."
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