Like many of you, as well as media and people around the NHL, I was surprised to hear the news yesterday that Brian Burke had been fired by MLSE. Not so much by the fact that he was let go, but rather the timing of the announcement only a week after a new CBA was agreed upon and a week before the start of the season. However, is the timing really as strange as it seems?
There are plenty of rumours out there about the reason for Burke’s firing, none more prevalent than his refusal to trade for Roberto Luongo as per ownership’s request. To me that is absolutely ridiculous, but in that, a difference of philosophy with ownership may have led to his demise. In an article at the Globe and Mail by James Mirtle and Grant Robertson, the main issue appears to be that Burke was unable to explain how the team got to where it is and how things were going to get better. If this is the case then it is no surprise that we are where we are.
If ownership does not fully support its general manager then there is no way they could continue to let him hold the reigns and make decisions that could affect the organization for years going forward. There was no explanation as to why this was done now and not sometime during the lockout. It is quite possible that Burke may have had something in his contract that stated he could not be fired during a lockout or since Burke was heavily involved at times with the league on the negotiations, ownership may not have wanted to disrupt that.
Does it really matter that he was fired less than two weeks before the season starts rather than back in October? I am going to suggest that it probably doesn’t matter as much as people are making it out to be. His replacement, Dave Nonis, has been Burke’s right hand man since December 2008, shortly after Burke’s arrival in Toronto. Nonis has been intimately involved with the building of this hockey club and knows the organization as well as anyone. In the short term there should not be much of a drop off in terms of the management of the club.
Long term? Now that is a different story. Whether Nonis is truly the man that ownership sees taking this team going forward is up for debate. As the Globe and Mail article suggests, the new owners started their search for a replacement for Burke back in August and whether Nonis is the guy they came up with, only they know. Although he has not been given the “interim” tag, it is possible that Bell and Rogers only see him as a stop gap until they identify the appropriate person to lead the organization.
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