It’s a question that will take days, months, or perhaps even years to answer. Three and a half seasons into a 5.5 year commitment made by the Toronto Maple Leafs, president and GM Brian Burke is no longer steering the wheel. Why relieve the boss just days before training camp is set to open up?
Though it is unclear, here are some potential answers:
1. New management wanted a change: Ok, that’s understandable. MLSE president and COO Tom Anselmi says the Board of Directors had been discussing this as far as months back. If they felt he wasn’t the right face for the franchise, they certainly didn’t give a reason as to why that was. But why do you make this decision days before training camp is set to begin on a shortened NHL season?
2. Brian Burke didn’t want to acquire Roberto Luongo: If there is one thing we’ve grown to learn about Burke, is he is set on his principles. He was one of the most outspoken personalities against extended long-term contracts that circumvent the salary cap. Burke went so far as to testify against his mentor when Ilya Kovalchuk’s initial contract with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was deemed a circumvention. Burke was certainly aware of what the optics would look like if he went ahead and acquired a contract that was constructed based on one of the principles he was so against. Still, it seems as though Burke was willing to explore the opportunity but wanted to wait on a better price. Is this cause for a dismissal? What does it say about your management structure? There is no guarantee that the Leafs were going to get him right away?
3. Reported personal issues: Brian Burke had to endure the loss of his son which was an unbelievable tragedy. Nobody ever fully recovers from a loss like that. I will certainly never judge his job performance based on that, nor should anyone. There were other reported issues that would follow. Anselmi dismissed the notion of personal issues being a reason for the change in management. How is that not a factor?
4. Job Performance: In his 3.5 seasons the Leafs never managed to make the post-season. Burke overhauled the entire roster and changed the managerial structure during that time. He promised a physical team, but changes to the game forced him to deviate. The trade that will continue to sum up his tenure was the first big trade he pulled off, in acquiring Phil Kessel for two first-round picks which turned out to be Bruins centre Tyler Seguin and top prospect Dougie Hamilton. Burke had two years left in his deal. Didn’t management owe it to Burke to at least let him see through his vision? They agreed with it to the point to keep the managerial structure the same as it is minus Burke. How does this not get overhauled?
It is all perplexing. But you can bet all four of the aforementioned reasons play a part in this. If the Board has indeed contemplated this for months, why did they wait until now? The new ownership structure took over on August 22, 2012. There was plenty of time to change course if the board felt it was needed. Does Burke get dismissed earlier if Sept. 15 came and went without a lockout? Why Now?! Hopefully we can get some prospective into this from Larry Tanenbaum on Thursday.