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Burke a good fit for Maple Leafs

by John McGourty / NHL.com
The speculation was right on the money. The Toronto Maple Leafs Friday announced that Brian Burke will be introduced as the team's new general manager at a Saturday press conference. According to media reports, Burke agreed to a six-year contract to serve as general manager.

Burke is well qualified for the position. This is the fourth NHL team he will direct, and his two previous teams dramatically improved under his leadership.

Expect the Maple Leafs to get bigger and tougher, hallmarks of Burke's teams. The Ducks lead the NHL with an average of 19.8 penalty minutes per game this season. They led the NHL last season with 18.1 penalty minutes, and the season before that with 17.8 penalty minutes. His first Vancouver team finished second in the League with 21.5 penalty minutes per game, but trended back toward the middle of the standings over the next few seasons.

Burke, 53, resigned Nov. 12 as executive vice president and general manager of the Anaheim Ducks after holding that position since June 20, 2005. The Ducks won the 2007 Stanley Cup in Burke's second year directing the club.

"Resigning from my post with the Ducks was the toughest decision that I ever had to make in my life," Burke said Nov. 12.
"I've been wrestling with this decision on what to do next, career wise, based on some family factors. I want to make it known that I had no issues with my job. I have children that I don't see very much anymore and I told (Ducks CEO) Mike Schulman on Nov. 1 that it was not my intention to sign a contract extension. It was my decision that held this process up."

Burke has four children on the East Coast from a previous marriage and travels back to see them two weekends a month. It's something he has done since his days as president and GM in Vancouver in 1998.

"The Ducks have been absolutely marvelous people to work for," Burke said. "I support everything that is happening here and I look forward to continuing good things with the Ducks. Right now, I need to sort things out because, really, I don't know what's next."

Enter the Maple Leafs.

Burke also was president and general manager of the Vancouver Canucks from 1998-2004, and the Canucks won the Northeast Division in 2004.

"I was representing Brett Hull, Dave Poulin and Pete Peeters and a bunch of other guys," Burke said. "Pat Quinn asked me to go to Vancouver with him and I had a tremendous amount of respect for Pat. The agent business was a great learning curve for someone who wants to work for a team. I wanted to be involved in the wins and losses and I jumped at it."

This has been a dramatic year in Burke's life, who also is the GM for the 2010 United States Olympic hockey team. He was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for meritorious service to hockey in the United States in October.

Burke grew up playing hockey in Edina, Minn., and was a right wing for four seasons (1973-77) at Providence College, where one of his teammates was Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. The coach of that team was Lou Lamoriello, the president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils.

He then played one season in the American Hockey League with the Maine Mariners, winning a Calder Cup, and then attended Harvard Law School. He spent six years practicing law in Boston and served as a player agent. Burke got his first NHL executive position with the Canucks in 1987 as vice president and director of hockey operatons. He left in 1992 to become General Manager of the Hartford Whalers. That team slumped seven points from the year before he arrived, although it won the same number of games.

In 1993, Burke was asked by Commissioner Gary Bettman to join the NHL front office as senior vice president and director of hockey operations, where he worked on collective-bargaining issues and player discipline.

"I initially said no," Burke said. "We were on a rapid rebuilding program and I think I did my best rebuilding job there, better than Vancouver or Anaheim. But Gary asked again. I went and it was like getting a free MBA. He's a genius, a brilliant man, a good guy and a tough little bugger."

"My great mentors were my dad, my older brothers, (youth hockey coach) Bob O'Connor, Lou Lamoriello, Pat Quinn and Gary Bettman. I owe these mentors so much. Pat Quinn was a wonderful teacher and he taught me patience, something that is still not my strong suit. Lou Lamoriello is one of the finest men I've met in my life and Gary Bettman has high intellect, high integrity and high intensity, all the things that I hope are true about me."
-- Brian Burke

Burke left the League to rejoin the Canucks and direct their fortunes in 1998. The team missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his first two seasons, despite an impressive 25-point improvement the second season. The Canucks had four-straight seasons of increasing point totals, culminating in his last two seasons of 104 and 101 points. The Canucks led the NHL with 254 goals in 2001-02.

"My great mentors were my dad, my older brothers, (youth hockey coach) Bob O'Connor, Lou Lamoriello, Pat Quinn and Gary Bettman," Burke said. "I owe these mentors so much. Pat Quinn was a wonderful teacher and he taught me patience, something that is still not my strong suit. Lou Lamoriello is one of the finest men I've met in my life and Gary Bettman has high intellect, high integrity and high intensity, all the things that I hope are true about me."

Burke moved to the Ducks in 2005-06 and the team improved 22 points to finish third in the Pacific Division after missing the playoffs in four of the five previous seasons. The Ducks then caught fire in the playoffs behind the strong play of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, in relief of Jean-Sebastien Giguere. They beat the Calgary Flames in seven games and swept the Colorado Avalanche, before falling in five games to the Edmonton Oilers.

Nothing could stop Burke's Ducks the next season as they won the Pacific Division with a 48-20-14 mark, and their team-record 110 points left them behind conference leaders Buffalo and Detroit. They beat the Minnesota Wild and the Canucks in five games each to advance to the Western Conference Finals, where they downed the Red Wings in six games.

In the Stanley Cup Final, the Ducks beat the Senators twice in Anaheim before Ottawa won Game 3 at home. But Anaheim took Game 4 and wrapped up the Stanley Cup with a 6-2 victory at the Honda Center in Game 5.

Mike G. Morreale contributed to this story.


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