Defiant Until the End

William Wilson January 12, 2013 5
Brian Burke addresses the mediaPhoto by Stan Behal Photo/QMI Agency

Brian Burke finally delivered on his promise to bring some truculence. Unfortunately, it came after the expiration date.

The former frontman of the Leafs entertained fans to one last news conference earlier today. His replacement, Dave Nonis, will now assume the title as Public Enemy #1 in Toronto.

(I’m sure Burke won’t miss his many friends in the press.)

After four years at the helm, Burke was fired earlier this week in a move that caught many people off-guard, including the big man himself.

“I was stunned by this turn of events,” he said. “This one here was like a two-by-four upside the head for me.”

Burke was travelling to the airport at the time when it all unfolded. The the phone rang. Tom Anselmi, COO of MLSE, was on the other end. Management wanted a special meeting. His fate was sealed.

“We didn’t win enough, and that’s why we’re here today,” Burke conceded.

Despite the freshness of his wounds, Burke continued to express confidence in his team. He admitted that goaltending proved an ongoing problem, but argued that the team would have enjoyed a better record last season if James Reimer was healthy.

(You can thank Habs captain Brian Gionta and his errant baby-sized elbow for that one. Merci.)

Over the short-term, Burke’s legacy will probably attract a lot of criticism. The Kessel trade continues to upset many fans and his undying loyalty to Ron Wilson remains unexplained. At the same time, Burke did right the ship after John Ferguson, Jr.‘s disastrous reign and he leaves the Leafs in a fairly enviable financial position. He also brought a host of talent young players to town – led by the likes of Jake Gardiner, Joe Colborne and Morgan Rielly - which bodes well for the team’s future.

When the dust finally settles, a mixed record probably awaits Burke.

Asked about the timing of the decision and the reason behind it, the spirited American admitted that he was left unsatisfied in both respects. Media speculation, however, has pointed to personality differences between Burke and the new ownership group at MLSE.

If true, it didn’t seem to faze Burke. He respected the new ownership group’s right to leave their mark on the team.

“The people that hired me hired Brian Burke,” he said. “Maybe the new guys don’t like that brand, maybe they want someone who is a little more conventional. They’re entitled to that, that’s fine.”

Whatever their true motive, it didn’t seem to bother Burke: “I’m not changing. I’m not going to change how I do things, that’s not possible.”

Personality differences, however, are no excuse for how the team performed under his watch.

“I can stand here and say it’s my personality, they didn’t like my personality, but those all become pretexts and excuses later,” he offered. “If you’ve won enough games, you can be as obnoxious if you want to be.”

Was the “Don Cherry Rule” actually behind Burke’s dismissal? We’ll likely never known.

During his time in Toronto, Burke was voice of the Leafs. Now they’ve gone silent.

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