Fan Fuel: Brian Burke’s 10 defining moments as Maple Leafs GM

The Toronto Maple Leafs have returned to the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2004 and former GM Brian Burke deserves a lot of the credit.


1. November 2008: Truculence

Brian Burke’s much anticipated arrival in Toronto started off with heightened expectations. The Leafs were going to be a hard-hitting team to play against, Burke said, when he delivered his now famous line during his introductory press conference:

“We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That’s how our teams play.”

Fail: While Burke promised hard-nosed team, he never quite delivered.

2. June 2009: We’re going to take him

While presiding over his first entry draft as the Leafs’ general manager, Burke was recorded telling his counterpart on the Ottawa Senators that he will select Nazem Kadri with the 7th pick overall. The video does the moment much better justice.

Win: Purely for the comic relief, and for getting the player he wanted while giving it to a division rival.

3. September 2009: The Kessel Trade

The plan from the get go was for the Leafs to rebuild through the draft. But when Burke traded the club’s 2010 1st rounder (Tyler Seguin), 2011 1st rounder (Dougie Hamilton), and 2010 2nd rounder (Jared Knight) in exchange for Phil Kessel, that plan appeared to go out the window.

Fans and media alike questioned the move, and it has remained one of the more contentious acts as general manager for Burke during his tenure in Toronto.

“Bringing Phil Kessel aboard, it’s a statement to our players that we intend to be competitive right away, and I think he gives us a dimension that we need.”

Win: While many objected to his acquisition, Phil Kessel has become the Leafs’ leading scorer with 30, 32, and 37 goals over his three years in Toronto.

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4. February 2010: A grieving father

In the first press conference after the death of his 21-year-old son, Brendan Burke, in a car accident Burke was emotional and visually shaken. But the ever professional Irishman still had a job to do, both with the Leafs and as the general manger of the 2010 US Olympic hockey team.

“Lincoln lost a son in the White House. So did Jefferson Davis in the Confederacy. They didn’t go home. They finished the job. USA Hockey didn’t ask me to do this on the basis of, Will you do this if your personal life allows it?”

Win: Burke handled this tragic situation with class and dignity, never running away from discussing the loss of his son with the media nor his high profile jobs. Taking up his son’s fight for equality and tolerance in sports was also a very admirable move.

5. January 2010: The Phaneuf Trade

Perhaps Burke’s finest trade was the deal he swung with the Calgary Flames that brought Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and prospect Keith Aulie to Toronto in exchange for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Ian White. The trade was hailed as a win for the Leafs by virtually everybody in the hockey world, including Flames fans.

“From my perspective, it adds a vital building block to our blue print with Dion Phaneuf. And I think it adds a couple of other useful parts. It provides the structure we need to have in the goaltending position.”

Win: Even though Sjostrom and Aulie didn’t really work in Toronto, Phaneuf was named the club’s captain, a role that he seems to grow into with each passing year. His contributions on the ice are also far superior to what the Flames received from the players they received in the deal.

6. January 2012: Rats taking over the game

On the day he sent enforcer Colton Orr to the American Hockey League, Burked bemoaned the fact that players with “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” are no longer needed in the National Hockey League.

“I wonder about the accountability in our game and the notion that players would stick up for themselves and for each other. I wonder where we’re going with it, that’s the only lament I have on this. The fear that if we don’t have guys looking after each other that the rats will take this game over. You see guys that run around and start stuff and won’t back it up and it makes me sick to my stomach.”

Fail: Burke never managed to build the hard-nosed team he said he wanted when he was hired. Playing in and around five minutes per game just wasn’t enough for Orr to make any sort of positive impact on a game. Orr was proving to be a liability to the team every time he stepped onto the ice.

7. March 2012: Burke vs. Cherry

The Coach’s Corner Don Cherry has had an ongoing feud with the Burke pretty much since he took over as general manager. Among other things, Cherry accused Burke of not having enough Ontario-born players on the Leafs. Burke’s response:

“We drafted eight Ontario kids [in his three drafts at the helm of the Leafs] – the most of any team in the NHL.”

Win: Burke’s response says it all.

8. March 2012: Burke vs. Hockey Night In Canada

“We don’t care where players are born. We try to identify good players. I think hockey fans in Toronto are more interested in seeing a winning team then they are at looking at the passports and seeing where guys are born.”

Win: Hockey fans in Toronto do want to see a winning team, and they don’t care where the players that make it happen are from.

9. April 2012: Second-half Collapse

The Leafs found themselves in 4th place in the Eastern Conference, before a second-half disaster that saw the club slide into 13th place and out of a playoff position.

“I’ve never had a team fall off a cliff like this before, I’ve had dips, slumps, rough patches, but this is akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff, I don’t know what happened.”

Fail: Going from 4th to 13th. Fourth season out of the playoffs. Not being able to bring in any reinforcements at the trade deadline. Enough said.

10. March 2012: Firing Ron Wilson

After a disappointing latter-half to the season that saw the team drift away from a playoff spot, Burke decided that it was time to relive long-time friend Ron Wilson of his head coaching duties.

The chants of “Fire Wilson!” emanating from the fans made the decision easier for Burke.

“After the last home game, it would be cruel and unusual punishment to let Ron coach another game in the Air Canada Centre.”

Fail. The move was too little, and came too late, to repair the Leafs’ slump.

Alin Mateescu is a full-time Front-end Web Developer with a passion for Online Marketing, Digital Media, and Web Development. Web Strategist. Sports junkie. Creator of iTalkHockey blog network. Managing Editor at and Find out more about me at

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