Leafs GM Brian Burke fired, replaced by Dave Nonis
Published Wednesday, January 9, 2013 12:51PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 9, 2013 3:38PM EST
Just days before the NHL is expected to return to on-ice action, the Toronto Maple Leafs have fired general manager and president Brian Burke.
Replacing Burke, who was entering the fifth year of a six-year deal, is assistant GM Dave Nonis.
Burke was relieved of his duties on Wednesday morning, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president Tom Anselmi told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. He said Burke will stay on with the Leafs’ organization as a senior advisor to the MLSE board.
Anselmi said the franchise has seen much change in the last 18 months with new ownership and new priorities.
“There’s no good time to do this,” said Anselmi, explaining that the decision to fire Burke was the product of a conversation that’s been ongoing for some time. “Once you get to a decision on something like this, it’s really only fair to act upon it.”
Incoming GM Nonis said he was made aware of the leadership change Wednesday morning.
Speaking of the short hockey season ahead, he said the team already has some strong “building blocks” in place.
“Looking back on this team four, five years from now, I think people will say some of the things Brian Burke did were very positive and helped this team become successful,” Nonis said.
He added that while decisions must be made on certain players and contracts, changes won’t be made overnight.
“To turn around and gut the franchise now would set it back a long way and it’s not something that I think anyone has any interest in doing.”
Anselmi said several factors went into the decision to fire Burke, including the team’s performance.
“The evaluation was about a bunch of things, including how the team was doing and how last year finished up,” he said. “A lot of different things ultimately went into coming to a conclusion.”
Burke was Leafs GM for four years, during which time the team has missed the playoffs every season. Before he took over from interim GM Cliff Fletcher, the Leafs had already failed to make the playoffs for three years.
After the team lost 12 of their last 17 games to end the 2012 season as the 13th-placed team in the Eastern Conference, Burke issued a public apology for the team's "failure to deliver."
Talking to reporters at a news conference in April, Burke nevertheless vowed to stay the course on his plan to deliver a "big, physical" team that can win games.
"That's my top priority," he said in comments that came hot on the heels of an open letter to fans from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tannenbaum.
"We have fallen short of everyone's expectations, and for that we are sorry. We take full responsibility for how this team performs on the ice, and we make no excuses," Tannenbaum wrote in the letter, published as a full-page newspaper ad.
"The way this year ended was unacceptable. Results are the only measure of success in sports and the results speak for themselves."
Before starting with the Leafs in 1998, Burke had served as GM with the Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks and Hartford Whalers.
The Providence, Rhode Island native was also GM of the U.S. men's hockey team at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Commenting to reporters in Toronto, Leafs forward Mike Brown said he's heard the rumours and read the reports, but had yet to hear official word from the team.
Nevertheless, he was prepared to accept whatever official word is coming down the pipe.
"It's part of the business... teams do what they have to do," he said, adding that he wishes Burke "the best and thank him for everything."
In addition to the Maple Leafs, MLSE also owns the Toronto Raptors basketball team and the Toronto FC soccer team, as well as several TV channels including Leafs TV, Gol TV and NBA TV Canada.