Breaking: Brian Burke fired

Bombshell city:

Fairly surprising development in the hockey world today: Brian Burke, after four seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and soon to start his fifth, was fired today, Bob MacKenzie of TSN was the first to report.

The firing takes place at an odd time in the life cycle of a sports team, at the end of the offseason rather than the beginning of it. Of course, several developments have taken place in the Maple Leafs’ corporate structure since the beginning of the summer. Most importantly, the sale of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) closed on August 22, less than a month before the lockout began.

Rogers and Bell, new owners of MLSE, which includes the Maple Leafs, Toronto Marlies, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC. Rogers, also owns Toronto’s Blue Jays: when Rogers purchased the Toronto Blue Jays, it was a year before six-year general manager Gord Ash was replaced by the younger, more personable J.P. Ricciardi, who, as a disciple of Billy Beane in Oakland was charged with the task of slashing payroll while maintaining the team’s winning percentage.

I don’t doubt that Rogers and Bell want more “hands on” management of their teams and they’ll at least try to install their own man at the helm. The Burke regime had a lot of chefs in the kitchen, bringing in former Vancouver GM Dave Nonis, former Lightning assistant GM Claude Loiselle and former Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. Darren Dreger, who is related to Nonis, didn’t break the story, which could indicate that MLSE will be looking to go outside the organization for a hire, which would probably be a good thing. A shakeup in the hockey operations department isn’t awful, since the Leafs went four years under Burke missing the playoffs in each, never winning more than 37 games.

We’ll wait to see what happens and take the steps from there. Initial reaction is that this is a positive move for the Leafs, but it obviously depends on who replaces Burke. He was primarily a business mind who found success working in small markets in Hartford and Anaheim, but is probably best known for his successful rebuild in Vancouver while the Canadian dollar was low. It’s apparent that he never got used to having a whole lot of money at his disposal, and the Leafs, the NHL’s richest team, was not one that used its money on players too often.

UPDATE There is a Leafs press conference scheduled for 1:45 for a “major announcement”. We’ll cover all that’s said in a later post. 

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