If your first exposure to Brian Burke was his dismissal press conference as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, you received a good snapshot of the man.
Burke was forthright and dogmatic (he disguises this as being honest). He was loyal to his supporters. He was a bully right to the end.
Some poor soul's mobile phone rang as Burke talked. He glared. The Maple Leafs TV cameraman had his intercom system turned up too loud. Burke stared down the guy until he disconnected the nuisance.
When Burke's not-so-favourite member of the local fourth estate, Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons, asked Burke if he would continue in his GM role with the USA Hockey's Olympic team, he ended his answer with bluntness.
"The best part of today is that I don't have to talk to you again, Steve," Burke said.
Simmons' crime was that he criticized Burke for being with the Canadian troops in Afghanistan on July 1st a couple years ago rather than stay at home to focus on the opening day of NHL free agency.
Even though Burke admitted on Saturday that during his four years at the helm of the Maple Leafs he simply didn't win enough, he didn't like his team being criticized.
Take a hike, Peter
A few weeks ago, a bunch of creative members of cbcsports.ca had this amusing idea of showing what Peter Puck was doing during the lockout. One of the scenes was set in a coffee shop near the Air Canada Centre. Burke happened to be there.
When one of the CBC staffers approached Burke about posing for a photo with old mascot, Burke grumbled, "No. I'm not happy with the way CBC has treated the Maple Leafs, and you can tell the boys downtown."
That's Burke. He can be compassionate and charitable one moment, bombastic and a bully in the next.
There is no denying that 48 hours after his sacking, there still are more questions than answers. Burke admitted he deserved to be fired on his record alone. He also hinted that the new ownership group was not fond of his brusqueness.
"I'd like to go work for a team that doesn't get sold next time. I've got a pretty poor track record on that. Vancouver and then here. Someone buys the team, they have the absolute right to have their guy. I've got to pick better next time," said Burke, referring to the fact that twice he has been dismissed as a GM after ownership changes.
'I'm not changing'
Burke would not discuss the exact reasons why the new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) board of directors waited seven months to dismiss him and only 10 days before the start of the 2013 NHL lockout shortened season.
"The people that hired me hired Brian Burke," he said. "And maybe the new guys don't like that brand. Maybe they want someone who's a little more conventional. And they're entitled to that. That's fine.
"I'm not changing. I'm not going to change how I do things. That's not possible. So, I'm Irish. We're stubborn. We've got to find someone who likes that brand, I guess."
Pat Quinn is Irish. He was stubborn, too. But he was classy. Ditto for Brendan Shanahan.
Maybe the new MLSE board didn't like way they were treated in meetings with Burke since the new ownership group took over last August. Maybe Burke did not share details of his blueprint. Maybe he was downright cantankerous with his group of new bosses.
The board has not divulged the reasons, either. Although, word has been Burke clashed with the new MLSE board members and they didn't like it.
Interesting, among Burke's thank-yous on Saturday were reserved for former MLSE CEO Richard Peddie and board chairman Larry Tanenbaum and his wife Judy. Mr. Tanenbaum had to be convinced that firing Burke was the right move. But MLSE COO Tom Anselmi was not included and neither was holdover board member, lawyer Dale Lastman.
So where does Burke go from here? He wants to be a GM again. For now, he will stay in Toronto and work as a consultant to the MLSE board, but not the hockey operations department. He went from becoming the highest paid NHL GM (believed to be $3-million a year) to the highest paid adviser.
He will no doubt continue his outstanding charity work in the community and no doubt will continue to be his definition of Irish.
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