Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke should have been given until the end of the season before new owners Rogers and Bell determined his long-term future with the club, but the team decided to fire him on Wednesday instead, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie.
Toronto Maple Leafs have apparently fired Brian Burke as general manager. Working on official confirmations.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 9, 2013
McKenzie has also reported Burke's immediate replacement:
Dave Nonis is the next GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unclear whether that is interim or unconditional appointment.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 9, 2013
The decision to fire Burke is another in a long list of horrible moves made by Leafs ownership over the last few decades. This will be a major distraction for management, the coaching staff and the players to deal with as the new season approaches.
Toronto has now had six general managers since Ken Dryden succeeded Cliff Fletcher in 1997, which has prevented the team from having any stability at the most important front-office position. The Leafs have also hired four head coaches in that time.
You cannot build a Stanley Cup winner overnight, and until the Leafs give a general manager enough time to properly build a well-rounded team, their Stanley Cup drought (which is now 44 seasons long) will continue.
The timing of this firing is a bit curious since the team is moving in the right direction.
Regardless of your opinion on Burke's performance, the Leafs are in a much better situation in terms of NHL talent and quality prospects than they were when he arrived in Toronto in November of 2008.
The team was a complete mess when he took over, and now the Leafs have a solid foundation to work with thanks to the roster moves that he made. Were there some bad moves? Yes, one of them being the Phil Kessel trade, but Burke has done more to help the Leafs' future than to hurt it.
Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and James Van Riemsdyk are three good young forwards for the team to build around for the future, and the blue line includes a solid No. 1 defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, as well as two promising young players in Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly.
With nine contracts set to expire at the end of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (including four that have a cap hit of $3 million or more), Burke was going to be in a prime position to add a big-name star(s) to his roster in free agency despite the salary cap ceiling going down to $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season.
Burke's refusal to sign players to back-diving contracts that circumvented the cap during the previous CBA has set up the Leafs to have immediate success because of their cap flexibility in the next few summers.
The two biggest free agents expected to hit the free-agent market this summer are Anaheim Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, two players who Burke knows very well from his tenure as the Ducks GM. Getzlaf is a No. 1 center and would satisfy the Leafs' biggest need aside from goaltending.
Burke's relationship with these players, in addition to the financial resources at his disposal, could have given the Leafs an advantage over other teams that may try to sign these superstars in the summer.
Toronto will come out of the lockout with a bright future, and it was wrong of management to fire Burke before he had an opportunity to complete his vision and long-term plan.
His vision was to make the Leafs a Stanley Cup contender for an extended period of time, and not a playoff team that loses in the first or second round as the eighth, seventh or sixth seed.
One thing that we have learned is that the new ownership group isn't afraid to make an incredibly difficult decision. However, this is a decision they will regret.
You don't fire a general manager right before the start of the new season, especially when he has the team positioned to build a contender in the near future. If the team struggled this season and certain players didn't develop as expected, then you fire him.
There are a lot of questions surrounding this situation right now, but one thing is certain. Burke will not be out of a job for long. He is a good general manager and his knowledge of the game is impressive. Any team looking to make a GM change would be foolish not to consider him.
Leafs fans have waited too long to see a yearly contender skate at the Air Canada Centre, and with this latest front-office decision, people in Toronto might have to wait even longer to see a Stanley Cup team.
The Leafs finally had a general manager in Burke who was starting to make progress toward building a real winner, and now he's gone before finishing the puzzle.
Toronto has been the laughingstock of the league for a few years now, and Burke's firing will do nothing to change that.