Maple Leafs fire Burke; Nonis takes over as GM

Brian Burke has an extensive history in rugby.
January 9, 2013, 12:26 PM

The Toronto Maple Leafs fired president and general manager Brian Burke Wednesday morning, sources told Sportsnet.

Nick Kypreos confirmed the news during Hockey Central at Noon.

Dave Nonis will assume Burke’s role and become the 14th general manager of the club.

Burke will retain a senior advisory role with the club.

The decision came after MLSE’s new ownership group conducted an exhaustive review of all the company’s properties and concluded it was time for a change in the Leafs front office.

“I’ve worked for Brian for most of my adult life and he’s always been a great friend and mentor,” Nonis said.

Nonis, who grew up in Burnaby, B.C., previously replaced Burke as GM of the Vancouver Canucks back in 2004, after six years of working closely under Burke as senior vice-president and director of hockey operations for the Canucks.

Nonis’s most significant move as Canucks GM was acquiring Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers.

Burke turned down an interview request from Sportsnet earlier this week, but did offer this tweet following the end of the lockout on Sunday:

“I’m thrilled we will be back on the ice. I regret what our fans have had to sit through. We are grateful for their loyalty and patience.”

During Burke’s tenure with the team, which began on Nov. 29, 2008, the Leafs have failed to make the playoffs.

The firing comes in the midst of rampant rumours that the Leafs could be trying to orchestrate a trade for Canucks goaltender Luongo.

A source tells Kypreos that Burke’s firing does not mean that a Luongo-to-Toronto deal will not be made.

“Not liking deal, Burke would not come close to matching Canucks requirements to move Luongo. Canucks adamant: They’re not giving goalie away,” Sportsnet’s Mark Spector tweeted. “Canucks fans just saw their largesse for Luongo improve. Nonis will deal for him.”

The firing comes just 10 days before the abbreviated 2012-13 season is set to begin on Jan. 19.

Burke leaves the Maple Leafs with a record of 128-135-42.

Burke was supposed to fly to the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting this morning.

During Burke’s tenure with the team, which began on Nov. 29, 2008, the Leafs failed to make the playoffs. The team now has the longest playoff drought of any club in the NHL.

At the time of his hiring, the American-born Burke agreed to a six-year deal worth $3 million per year.

Prior to joining the Leafs, Burke, 57, won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks as GM in 2007. He has also served as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks and Hartford Whalers.

Nonis will have some salary-cap space with which to play. Toronto has only $41,515,833 committed to salaries for the 2013-14 season, which will see a cap ceiling of $64.3 million.

Did the Toronto Maple Leafs make the right decision by firing GM Brian Burke? | Related story

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    In December, Burke offered his take on the Leafs’ young prospects to Sportsnet.

    “There’s a couple guys here that you expect to play well,” Burke said.

    “Jake Gardiner’s been excellent, Matt Frattin. But I think the guy that really didn’t get heralded much, that has been not a revelation to us because we loved him last year, is Mike Kostka. He’s so smart, so intelligent and he’s just been a real boost for our team,” Burke said of the Toronto Marlies’ standouts.

    “(Paul Ranger) has been terrific. He’s a known quantity to us. He left hockey for a while. This is a guy who played well at the NHL level, should be a dominant player down here and has been. He’s a really steady veteran presence in the room, too. The Leafs have a number of upcoming free agents on their current NHL roster and could decide to replace the veteran players with some of the younger ones that they have on the Marlies.

    “Randy (Carlyle) has watched the team play a lot, but a guy we certainly counted for us being a factor this year was Korbinian Holzer, a John Ferguson draft by the way,” Burke explained. “And he hasn’t disappointed down here, he’s playing good.”Whether Joe Colborne gets a look, he’s had a slow start but we believe in him. Jesse Blacker, who’s played some good games for us. Naz certainly would be in the hunt.”

    Nonis and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president and COO Tom Anselmi held a press conference Wednesday.

    “We have some work to do. We have some good building blocks,” said Nonis. “Some of those building blocks aren’t ready to play here yet.”

    Nonis would not address speculation that the team is trying to acquire Luongo. Anselmi denied that a pending trade played a part in the decision by the board and Anselmi himself to replace Burke.

    “We’re going to have a very short window in order to make some decisions about this hockey team,” said Nonis. “We’re going to focus on that right now.”

    “Our ownership wants to win,” Anselmi said. “Singular focus.”

    (with files from CP)

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