Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Life of Brian

“You’re talking about the Vatican, if you’re Catholic.”

This is how Burke described the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2008 when asked by the media if he would be interested in running the Leafs during the search for a new Leaf GM at the time. So now that Burke is in charge of the Vatican I guess he considers himself to be a Pope.

I think Brian Burke is a great hockey executive but he also has a pretty big ego. His success as Leaf GM will not only depend on his management skills but also his ability to manage his own ego. He needs to behave more like a GM and less like a Pope.

The Toronto Sun recently levelled unfair criticism of Burke over his decision to be in Afghanistan on July 1st visiting Canadian troops instead of pitching Brad Richards and other free agents. Look Burke has a very large and competent team around him including Dave Nonis, Claude Loiselle, Dave Poulin, and Rick Dudley – two are former GMs. Clearly his delegates are capable of pitching free agents and in fact most of the free agent signings over the past two year were probably completed by Nonis. And everyone in hockey knew that Brad Richards was going to re-join his former coach, John Tortorella, in New York. The other teams’ offers only served to keep the Rangers’ offer at a suitable term and amount. Yet the optics of Brian Burke in Kandahar were very bad. The Pope was off doing on a mission while his staff was at home doing the regular work.

More disturbing to me is his “holier than thou” attitude regarding long-term contracts and the collective agreement. The Leafs’ pitch to Brad Richards was inadequate and they knew it because the term was too short. Burke doesn’t believe in front-loaded contract because he feels it undermines the collective agreement. However, the NHL has accepted Brad Richard’s contact and all the other front-loaded contracts because, in fact, they are within the collective agreement. Burke’s view is about as relevant as the Pope’s view on how to decorate your Christmas tree.

The problem for the Maple Leafs is that they will not be a major player during free agency as long as their GM takes this approach. In fact, I can foresee Burke losing one of his own star players to free agency over his refusal to structure a contract similar to other star players. I can understand not making an offer because the economics of that contract would weaken rather strengthen the Leafs. But to refuse to improve the team because of his views are more important than winning a championship is just plain arrogance we can’t afford here after 44 years without a Cup.

Pope Brian, it’s time to get off your throne.

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