Why did the Toronto Maple Leafs fire Brian Burke?
“Oh, because he had a 128-135-42 during his tenure as president and general manager, his teams failed to make the playoffs, his personal politics got in the way of effective team building and he made some very questionable transactions that may have cost the team more than they helped it?”
Sure, fine, that all seems fairly accurate … but what about aliens?!?
OK, we won’t go that far. But there have been more than a few theories listed by the Toronto hockey media as for why Burke was fired on Wednesday by MLSE, ranging from his personal problems to his professional problems to his inability not to feud with his peers and the media.
Here are 10 conspiracy theories regarding Brian Burke’s dismissal from the Leafs …
1. Burke’s Personal Problems Had Overshadowed His Professional Life
Last June, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun dismissed “all the stories going around and around” as “not true”, which was either misguided or hasty on his part because on Wednesday he wrote that there was talk that Burke was “acting erratically” and “his life was spiraling in dubious ways.”
Were these the outrageous lies being spread last summer, which would have never manifested into his dismissal from the Leafs?
“Some false, some true,” writes Simmons some months later, i.e. Wednesday.
“They fired him because they were tired of going to receptions and hearing: Did you hear where Brian was last night, or how he acted, or that, apparently, he was in places he didn’t need to be apparent?”
2. Ownership Didn’t Like Brian Burke
Beyond the personal, the interactions between Burke and the Rogers/Bell consortium on the MLSE board didn’t exactly do anything to cement his future as Leafs GM.
By all accounts, the first impression from the famously outspoken Mr. Burke did not go well. Within days of that introductory presentation in late August, the new board of directors began building a list of names to replace Mr. Burke.
According to a source in the room, Mr. Burke offered few solid answers for why the losses on the ice kept piling up. Nor did he explain why his four-year rebuilding effort had failed to solve two key issues for the hockey team: finding a first-line centre and stabilizing the Leafs’ goaltending situation.
Executives of BCE and Rogers Communications, who together control 75 per cent of the sports franchise, found Mr. Burke defensive and brusque – difficult to work with, the source said.
Which is obviously why they kept him on as a senior adviser! Oh, wait, it’s his elephantine contract. Nevermind.
3. OK, Not So Much Ownership As Mainly George Cope
George Cope is boss at Bell, and Damien Cox writes that he’s the Big Bad that finally dropped the ax on Burke:
Burke got the axe Wednesday morning because Bell boss George Cope, after months of campaigning for Burke’s dismissal, finally wore out the Rogers suits and Larry Tanenbaum. The deal is that Rogers and Bell will vote as a bloc on all matters, and Cope is the lead actor in this stage play. It took him a while but he got his way and Rogers had to roll with the tide.
Oh, goodie, a singular villain. So much easier to loathe than a faceless “board.”
4. Burke Has a Dirty Mouth
“Sources told the Post that at least one board member complained when Burke used profanity in a board meeting, and that more than one member of the board held Burke in contempt.”
Oh for [expletive’s] sake.
5. Hence, Burke Wasn’t Corporate Enough For Ownership
The image of Burke is as a loose-tied schlub whose old school ways and curmudgeonly demeanor didn’t fit with the “corporate culture” of the new regime, so they jettisoned the slob and hired the snob.
Is this a “Caddyshack” sequel, and if so, can Sean Astin play Dave Nonis?
6. Something Specific Went Down With Ownership
Elliotte Friedman said the sentiment in New York at the Board of Governors meetings was that this sort of firing – a few days before camp, nearly a week before the season – doesn’t happen “on a lark.”
There must be a catalyst, a final straw that doomed the marriage - calling for a divorce at the weirdest possible time. Losing can't be the only reason. Raptors boss Bryan Colangelo survived a horrendous start, with angry hounds baying at the moon.
Next week, we'll find out if it really was Roberto Luongo.
Speaking of which …
7. Brian Burke Didn’t Want a Roberto Luongo Trade
Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com writes that Burke’s “reluctance to trade for star Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo” was the last straw for frustrated ownership, as several NHL executives tell him that “the rest of the Leafs' front office is pro-Luongo, but Burke wasn’t sold on him.”
Or, perhaps it went down this way …
8. Ownership Didn’t Want a Roberto Luongo Trade
Tim Wharnsby of CBC Sports writes that the Luongo trade wasn’t a factor, and that Burke wanted the Canucks goalie:
It was not, as some speculated, a difference in opinion in whether the Maple Leafs should make a serious pitch for Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
Burke wanted to make a trade for Luongo. He was upset that it had been rumoured during the lockout that a trade between the Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks already had been worked out. Whether or not he could have satisfied what Canucks GM Mike Gillis wanted in return remained to be seen.
Look, did Luongo get a GM fired or not? He’s probably like to know before he starts playing in Toronto this season …
9. His Media Feuds Were Getting Stupid and Petty
Bruce Arthur of the National Post writes: “There were rumblings of discontent about his endless media feuds, which became more and more petty and groundless on Burke’s part.”
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: “They fired him because he feuded with anyone in the media who had an opinion.”
Translation: Don Cherry works for CBC and not Rogers or Bell, and we can’t have the GM of the Leafs engaging in a publicity building feud with a non-employee every time he mentions the word “Ontarian.”
10. He Burned Too Many Bridges With Other GMs
We know Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe aren’t exactly chummy. (BARN FIGHT BARN FIGHT BARN FIGHT!) He thinks negotiating with Darcy Regier is a waste of time. So there are a few teams with whom the Leafs wouldn’t be dealing.
How many more were added to that list during the lockout when Burke was the most hawkish hawk that ever hawked when it came to contracting rights and punishing teams that circumvented the cap (and his much heralded moral code)?
Don't be surprised if he wants to rejoin the league office. The oddest thing about Burke's Toronto tenure is that he always seemed to be arguing against positions (back-diving contracts, offer sheets, etc.) that seemed to align with the advantages of a financial powerhouse.
He was a "hawk" during CBA negotiations, helping draw up a plan that would penalize teams benefitting from back-diving deals. Maybe he saw this coming and was planning an exit strategy.
As in, “Enjoy the lingering cap hit, you immoral suckers. C-ya."