Brian Burke’s Bluster: Fans Booing


Brian Burke is an outsized personality in a business in which the majority are content to hide any shred of personality behind rote answers to questions. Burke is always willing to make his point loudly and memorably. From "proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence, and belligerence" to his rant against the rats’ takeover of the NHL when the big guy speaks, people kind of remember what he says and assume it’s always true and consistent. 

But should they? Well, I’m not sold.

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Here he is on November 2, 2010 after Leafs fans had expressed some displeasure with Dion Phaneuf:

"Are they entitled to do it?" Burke said, "Sure, they are. And I honestly don’t believe it was a lot of them. It doesn’t take many fans booing to be heard so I think we’re talking about a very small number, but my opinion is that it’s disgraceful to boo Dion Phaneuf for everything he has done for this franchise, on and off the ice, in a very short period of time."

While Burke does think that fans have the right to boo, he also mentions that it’s bullshit. Now, it was mostly bullshit because while Phaneuf had only four assists in eleven games (to go along with a -6 rating) it was just eleven games into the season. But he uses the fans’ booing for a slightly different purpose after firing Ron Wilson:

"After the last home game it was clear to me that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to let Ron coach another game at the Air Canada Centre. I wasn’t going to put him through that. And I don’t fault the fans. If you want to buy a ticket and boo, you can boo," Burke said. "I would obviously prefer that fans not boo, but I think they’re buying the ticket, that’s the right you have. As long as you’re not saying something racist or homophobic or obscene, you can say what you want. I felt at that point, I wasn’t going to put Ron through that again. It was hard to listen to, it was hard to watch, but also to me it was clear at that point that the team wasn’t listening. Watching the bench, they weren’t paying attention, they weren’t buying in and it was time. Every coach has a shelf life, that day comes for every coach."

In both cases Burke believes that fans have the right to boo. In the first, he’s using it as a reason to defend Phaneuf which is his prerogative as general manager of his team. In the second, he’s using it as a smokescreen for the decision he was going to make for what he considers legitimate reasons. Suddenly, booing isn’t a disgrace but it’s a reason for moving out the coach that he inherited.

Ron Wilson, despite what people will have you believe, did a lot of good in the community (not that it matters but it’s nice) and with the team. I would sure have liked for someone to ask Burke why he thinks that a team that was in a playoff spot and looked poised to break the embarrassing streak of never playing in the post-season since the lockout would suddenly stop listening to a coach that most of the roster has only had for two years. I mean, it couldn’t possibly be because the general manager had built a flawed team and failed to mitigate the biggest risk that was clear to every observer of the Leafs prior to the beginning of the year? I wonder if making fans’ think they had something to do with Wilson’s firing could be disingenuous? Naw.

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  • Danny Gray

    Could we see a link to a posted article you did BEFORE the season started where you called the team “flawed” and said that going with Reimer and Gus was a mistake? Didn’t think so.

    Fact is, too many “fans” like you are playing Monday morning quarterback and insisting that you knew the goalies would fail when you really didn’t. The truth is most of us had confidence in Reimer going into the season and he was proving us right up until the moment he got concusssed. Then everyone started getting concerned and wished we had a veteran, but no one said it was a mistake to go with Reimer and Gus until the Feb streak started.

  • RexLibris

    My recollection of Leafs’ goaltending woes over the past twenty years is that Toronto is one of the few teams in the league that can, in a single season, both elevate a goalie to near-legendary status, and then annihilate him with biting criticism and media analysis.

    I’m sure a lot of that has to do with playing under a proverbial spotlight, however, it seemed disingenuous to most outsiders when it was repeated that Burke liked to build his teams from the net out and then in the same breath someone from NHIC or TSN would mention Reimer and Gustavsson as an NHL-appropriate goaltending tandem.

    I write this from Edmonton, so I am well aware of what subpar goaltending can get you.

    I would agree with much of what you say PPP, in that Burke often seems to say one thing only to have to turn around and either do another or at the very least mask his movements so as not to appear to do the other. Too often it seems that there is backtracking and rationalizations coming from the Leafs GM as in the case when Brad Richards signed in NY instead of Toronto. Burke’s decision to openly criticize the contract rather than just saying “we were in the negotiations but Brad decided that New York had more to offer him” seems like a feint to deflect criticism.

    Would it have been so difficult for Burke to simply say that Toronto wasn’t at the top of Richards’ wish list? I know some fans don’t want to believe that, fans in a city never want to hear that a player wouldn’t choose to live and play there, but had Burke been more honest (my opinion) the fans of the Leafs might have been better served by hearing that.

    P.S. As for fans booing, I know I’m going to be in the minority here but I disagree that it is a fan’s right. A local sports media personality here in Edmonton, John Short, used to say that when he took his kids to any game the rule was you can cheer as loudly as you want (within reason) for any team or person you want. But if you boo, we go home. It’s disrespectful and debasing. As I’ve said, I’m an Oilers fan and I have seen some very, very bad hockey. I have never booed. Laughed in frustration and self-medicated at times, but never booed.