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Gold Standard For Press Conferences

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Video: Burke/Wilson Press Conference


The season-ending press conference given by Brian Burke on Tuesday has become the gold standard for press conferences in this corner of the sporting world.

I have seen Butch Carter at his most incomprehensible. Marion Jones lied to my face. Pat Quinn was rhapsodic. Ken Hitchcock suddenly stripped off his microphone and stormed off. The hostility between John Ferguson Jr. and the media was once so tenable that it seemed fisticuffs were only a moment away.

But for the whole gamut of emotions, impatience, anger, frustration, honesty, Brian Burke delivered a grand slam.

You could have set the press conference to music. It would have been entertaining had it been delivered solely in sign language. It was a symphony and every letter in the alphabet was brought into play.

To that end here is the A-Z of the Burke presser. We started with the alphabet. Had it gotten any better, we would have needed a book. The words of the man are in quotation.

Anger: “There is a real simple yardstick in our business. Sixteen teams make the playoffs. On a day where a team is eliminated that should be a shameful day, that should be a day of infamy, that should be where we acknowledge failure. It was a non-event when our team was eliminated. It set me off and I’m still sour about it.”

Bemusement: “It was noted with some amusement that they (the Leafs) cost us several places in the standings (by winning at season’s end). That’s OK. I think players have to try to win every night. The group did not quit and I’m proud of that.”

Canada and Hockey: “It’s a religion here, it’s a cult. It’s not a sport.”

Draft: “We will immediately attempt to move up (to draft John Tavares). Once we figure out who has the top couple of picks, we’re going to go after them and see if we can move up.”

Everybody can be happy at the draft. “When I did this before (to grab Chris Pronger), everybody down to number six, where we were, got the guy we wanted. When we did the deal for the (Sedin) twins, everybody got the player they wanted.”

Free Agents: “We are in on two free agents that you’ve all read about. I thought I had cleverly disguised my trip to Copenhagen to meet with Johan Gustavsson’s agent. As usual, you folks were ahead of it. We had a good meeting. This goaltender is the best goaltender outside the NHL in most people’s opinion. The other player is Matt Gilroy of Boston University who is a righthand shooting defenceman. We have made an offer, a number of teams have. We’ll see where it goes today.”

Guys, some advice: “The buyout option kicks in on July 1. I will tell you categorically if guys come in and think they have this team made and play poorly and the coaches want them on the Marlies, they’re going. Any player who counts himself among them had better rethink that position.”

How it could have gone: “We could have made the playoffs this year. There was an incredible number of games that could have been decided by a bounce or a puck going in off someone’s ass. If we had better goaltender and found a way of winning those games, we could have been in.”

In the wrong business: “Our goal for next year is to make the playoffs. That should be the goal of every general manager at the start of the year and if it’s not their goal they should get out of the goddamned business.”

Job, is, the: “My job is to create competition. If I can go get a centre or a right winger am I going to worry about the psychological effect of the guys we have. For about a microsecond. I’m going to make the deal.”

Keeping it real: “My viewpoint with Dominic Moore and Mikhail Grabovski, they’re both good players but they both benefitted from situational ice time on teams that weren’t that competitive. You’ve got to never confuse those things. I think players who play here for a long time confuse the media passion and attraction for this team with being a good hockey player. They come off the ice and think ‘I must be a good hockey player. No, they are waiting because you are a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Players here and players who have played here before have confused those two things.”

Lowe, Kevin and the importance of being earnest: “Ask Kevin Lowe if I have any problem with the English language.”

My way or the highway: “Either these players will see the world as Ron and I see it or they will play elsewhere.”

No, No: “Players confuse their role on a team that’s struggling with being a good hockey player. ‘I’m on the second power play unit. I must be a good hockey player.’ No. We don’t have a very good team and so you get that ice time.”

Over the shoulder: “We have some good young players all of a sudden. What we have tried to do with Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson, we’ve tried to create some pressure from underneath. Your players have to be looking over their shoulders a bit. They have to be looking at the Marlies and say ‘so and so is playing well with the Marlies. I had better pick it up.” Players have to be looking over their shoulders. These young men add pressure.”

Provocateur: “When I took Vesa on as far as his work habits, he was very angry and felt it wasn’t fair because he had medical issues. Obviously it was born out that he was right. I saw a competitive side of him that I really liked where he was basically telling me to stick it. I don’t mind when players tell me to stick it.”

Quote: Pick one.

Respect for the C: “The issue of a legitimate captain is true on any team. This isn’t any team. This is the Toronto Maple Leafs. You are talking about a special group of people, historically that have worn that C. This is not some run of the mill decision about having a captain or not. That decision has to be made with great care. If that means we have to operate without a captain, then that’s fine.”

Schenn: “Trust me, we could have traded Luke Schenn and made the playoffs. Trust me, I got offers.”

Tavares, John, the target: “He’s excelled at every level. He scores goals. He pays an awful price to score. I think he’s a hell of a hockey player.”

Untradeables: “I think we’ve got some good young players. No player is untradeable. The closest is Luke Schenn.”

Vesa: “I echo what Ron has said. We are confident Vesa having been surgically repaired can be the guy here. It’s my job to add assets to push guys whether they like it or not. If we can add this goaltender we will add him.”

What he’s here for: “I want to make the playoffs, I want to win hockey games and I want to have a parade here.”

X marks the box: “There are four boxes a goaltender has to fill to be a starting NHL goalkeeper. I’ve had this discussion with Justin. One is size, second is athletic ability. He’s got that. Three is compete level. He’s got that. Every starting goalie in the American League has those things or if he doesn’t have that he’s exceptional in every other area. What keeps most guys back is that fourth box, the mental stamina and stability you need to carry a team on your back…in Canada. That fourth box is the trap. We don’t know if he can establish that in the playoffs. He has not yet, I can tell you that.”

You will know it when you hear it: “If you’re a good guy, a nice guy with the media, that’s been enough. You think Ronnie’s taken on a player here. You will know when we go after a player.”

The Z team: “The worst team in the history of the NHL was the Washington Capitals. Guess what, they had a leading scorer.”

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