Brian Burke’s Only Problem Is Losing

Jonathan Willis
10 years ago
There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of ‘in the victor, all manner of errors are forgiven; in the loser, no imperfection ignored.’ I doubt that’s the exact line but the gist is there.
It’s probably something that Brian Burke can relate to at this point.
Burke’s a born showman, a gruff but charismatic fellow who has always been short and controlling with the media and has never hesitated to state an opinion. He was like that in Vancouver, he was like that in Anaheim, and somehow he’s raised the bar in Toronto to the point where he’s almost a caricature of the guy he used to be.
At first, Toronto embraced that.
After all, Burke wasn’t an easy guy to catch. He’d won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks and was enjoying a pretty successful time as the team’s G.M. Prior to being hired, there was no shortage of Leafs fans pining away for his services, particularly after the team suffered through half a decade of mismanagement under John Ferguson Jr.
So, when Burke came in with the implicit promise that he’d do for the Maple Leafs what he’d done in Anaheim (winning the Cup) or what he’d done in Vancouver (turned around a perpetually moribund franchise) and started tossing around words like “truculence” and saying “the team with the most real men wins” that was fine. Despite the lowbrow statements, Burke was an educated guy and more importantly a guy with a track record to run on. A guy like that gets away with things that someone like John Ferguson Jr. would get pilloried for.
As we’ve mentioned, Burke was a showman in Vancouver and Anaheim. He got away with it there, because his hockey teams were, broadly speaking, successful. There’s no problem with a loud, flashy, general manager when his team is winning.
Toronto has not, by any definition, been successful under Burke’s watch.
So, when someone criticizes Burke’s flashy style, his melodramatic press conferences for demoted fourth liners, his rolled up sleeves, loosened tie and unbuttoned shirt, that’s not really what they’re criticizing. They’re criticizing Burke’s inability to turn the Leafs into a contender. Burke’s insistence on showing off makes him an easy target. But he’d be a target either way.

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