Don Cherry’s bizarre feud with Brian Burke

Don Cherry has never taken issue with being the centre of attention. With his weekly appearance on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada’s first intermission segment, Cherry takes to his soapbox to discuss his own personal appearances, vendettas and politics in front of a large national audience forgoing any quality analysis from the first two periods.

Cherry has very traditional views about hockey, favouring toughness and size over the speed and skill that progressive fans now associate with the game. He’s been very vocal, in his criticism of the Leafs’ penalty-kill, in lobbying for Mike Zigomanis to be called up to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s never been shy in his own importance, suggesting at one point that “I’m killing the kid telling him to come up,” as if Cherry’s endorsement is what’s keeping Zigomanis in the American Hockey League.

(Full disclosure, I write a weekly column at the Vancouver Province chronicling the crazy things Cherry says each week. Mike Zigomanis appears in commercials for Cheetah Power Surge, an energy drink that runs its advertisements at the beginning of each Coach’s Corner segment)

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The feud turned personal this week, after Toronto general manager Brian Burke reportedly complained to the higher-ups at CBC for Cherry to tone down his criticism of Burke and Leafs coach Ron Wilson. Cherry took issue with this in an interview with the Toronto Sun:

“Brian Burke does not like what I say about the Leafs. But what am I supposed to say about them? They haven’t made the playoffs in (seven) years. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I guess he doesn’t like it. But I am what I am.”

“I don’t wanna even talk about it,” Cherry said on a special All-Star Game edition of Coach’s Corner, paying lip service to the alleged complaints, seconds before rambling about Brian Burke and Ron Wilson’s tenuous record at the helm of the Toronto Maple Leafs, although what apparently set off Wilson was the fact that Cherry “showed he ‘couldn’t care less’ about the Canadian troops because he was not clapping when they were introduced in a game earlier this month on military night.”

“For a guy that hasn’t made the playoffs three years in a row and teetering now, he’s got an awful lot to say about a guy that talks.”

Cherry’s beef has been the Leafs’ penalty killing, and Wilson’s treatment of players. “I don’t like the way he treats the players… like [Nazem] Kadri,” Cherry told the Sun. “When some reporter… [goes] to a player and [asks]: ‘What do you think of Ron Wilson?’ What do you think the kid is going to say? I don’t like the way he throws his players under the bus.”

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Burke admitted on Monday that he has taken an issue with CBC’s criticism of the Leafs, though not directly related to Cherry or Ron MacLean. The straw that broke Wilson’s back, the crack about the military, was not said on Coach’s Corner (I go through these weekly) and was likely said on the time Cherry spends with MacLean between the early game and the late game on Hockey Night, which aren’t archived online. If Cherry used the words “couldn’t care less” about Wilson’s appreciation of the military, that’s a pretty stern indictment of the coach. Burke’s a big military guy (he was in Afghanistan on July 1) and has always emphasized the importance of giving back to the community. He’s also a defender of Wilson, giving him a one-year extension in December.

Burke claimed that he rasied the issue “quietly and professionally” with CBC brass and “they leak it.” He said “this is nuts.” It’s not fair of CBC to try and sort out that kind of complaint publicly, particularly on a weekend where it would take Burke another day to respond. You have to bet that as soon as the segment aired this week that Burke was on the phone with QMI to request a rebuttal in the Sun, rightfully so. This is a distraction Burke doesn’t need surrounding the Leafs, but it was Cherry and the Leafs who made the criticism public.

What is also nuts about this is MacLean’s answer to the whole ordeal. Usually the saner of the two opponents on Coach’s Corner, MacLean suggested during the first intermission of the All-Star broadcast that Burke was “hot at [Cherry]”. (“I don’t dislike either of them”, Burke is quoted as saying). MacLean follows up Cherry’s reasonably-enough one-sided explanation with a wild theory:

“I have a theory. I think with Bell and Rogers owning the Toronto Maple Leafs, he wants to get you. He was going to get you off CBC, and then one of the other two could pick you up for a song, I think it’s a clever move by Brian. What do you think of that?

Cherry’s response, “what did you say?” captured my own thoughts perfectly.

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  • Danny Gray

    1. Your title could be Burke’s feud with Cherry 🙂
    2. Cherry has granted on a very few issues sided with Wilson and Burke. When asked about the kessel trade or Wilson being the coach players would least like to play against or Burke’s bear hug rule etc he does side with them here.

    I’m not saying Cherry is faultless (he gleefully points some issues about the team) but rather trying to put a bit more perspective and balance to Cherry’s senile rabble rabble.

    Personally I think Burke is a bit mad about being called out by Cherry for waiving Orr and not playing Rosehill.

  • Danny Gray

    Let me get this straight:

    Don Cherry is upset with Burke because the Leafs quietly made a complaint about a comment of his – through the proper channels – and Cherry’s employer (CBC) chose to publicly spin it as a feud?

    Have to say I love Ron MacLean as a conspiracy theorist. CBC should just go all the way with this and have wardrobe dress him in a trench coat and fedora. Would offset Don’s suits brilliantly.

    • Danny Gray

      Yeah, and the offending comment, that Wilson doesn’t respect the military because he didn’t clap, was pretty insane itself. If I were Burke I would have complained too.

  • Danny Gray


    4Cherry is at best a has been, all be it one with a very large mouth…..where he usually manages to to insert his foot. I think the self professed greatest coach in hockey showed his talent when he tried coaching his junior team, he wasn’t all that successful as I recall. Anyone who thought the Leaf teams in Wilson’s first 3 years as coach should have made the playoffs with the talent they had is smoking something that is not likely legal. Wilson has been coaching in the NHL for about 20 years. How long did Cherry and his big mouth last?