Brian Burke’s fingerprints were all over the Toronto Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins contest. In a 4-2 Bruins victory, Tyler Seguin – one of the first-round picks Burke swapped away in the infamous 2009 Phil Kessel deal – scored a pair of goals and added an assist. Toronto’s goals were scored by Jay McClement, the depth centre Burke snapped up when free agency opened July 1, and Nazem Kadri, the young phenom whom Burke refused to trade away despite multiple offers. Both of those Leafs have exceeded expectations this season; both are enjoying goal-scoring streaks at least three games long.
Meanwhile, in Toronto…
It was Brian Burke’s words that stole the show, as the former Leafs GM took centre stage at the annual Conn Smythe Dinner in support of Easter Seals and recounted his experience as the centre of the centre of the hockey universe.
“You have no privacy. Everybody in that city knows more about running that hockey team than you do. You’d get in a cab, and the cab driver would say, ‘Your power play sucks.’ And I’d say, ‘Drive faster,’ ” said Burke during a speech that rolled at least four good lines. “I was going to a Blue Jays game last year, and a guy who was begging for money yelled at me. Told me I was an imbecile. An imbecile. That’s a pretty good word for a bum. I said, ‘You’re a bum.’ Today is not the day of my life where I start taking shit from bums.’ ”
Before you jump to the conclusion that Burke is being hard on the homeless, consider this is a man who slept outside one night last November with nothing but a sleeping bag and a piece of cardboard as a fund- and awareness-raising initiative to support Covenant House, Canada’s largest youth shelter.
Now a part-time scout with the Anaheim Ducks, Burke’s greatest parting gift to Toronto might not be Joffrey Lupul or Nazem Kadri or Jake Gardiner or Morgan Rielly. It might be the abundance of time and money he willingly gave to various causes. Tales of Burke’s generosity are abundant; he’s as loose with the wallet as he is with his neckties.
An employee of MLSE told me that at one team-supported silent auction, few players or corporate bigwigs had bothered to bid on anything. Without making a show, Burke quietly grabbed a pen, walked the lineup of bid items – signed jerseys, framed photos of players he hired, other memorabilia he had no use for – and raised the price of everything himself.
“If you do charity work for the right reason, people don’t know about it,” Burke said during his speech at Thursday’s fund-raising dinner.
“You use position and title to generate interest. You bid on an auction item until some cheap bastard drops out at five grand, and you get stuck on a fishing trip with Eric Lindros.”
Through the laughter, Burke – a generous heart but a hockey man to the bone – promised that he would exact revenge on a Leafs that still bears his mark.