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Burke ready to put his stamp on Maple Leafs

by Phil Coffey /
One of the worst-kept secrets in the hockey world is now official.

Welcome to Toronto, Brian Burke.

Burke is the new president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a move that had been predicted in North American hockey circles for quite some time.

"This is like a dream come true me," Burke said. "Coming to Toronto is like coming to the Vatican if you're a Catholic, it's one of the most prestigious jobs on the planet. It's a dream job, the crown jewel of the NHL. The Leafs are a brand know world wide, so it is a dream come true.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime to work for a team in a world-class city with passionate fans, solid ownership and a rich history," Burke continued. "I can’t wait to get started.”

Burke was officially introduced Saturday afternoon at Air Canada Centre prior to the Leafs' game with the Philadelphia Flyers. Toronto enters the game with a 7-9-6 record. Burke succeeds Cliff Fletcher, who was the team's interim GM since John Ferguson Jr. was replaced last season. Fletcher will remain with the team as a consultant and Burke said Fletcher would have a job with the team for as long as he wishes.

“I’m extremely pleased to announce the appointment of Brian Burke as president and general manager of the Leafs,” said Richard Peddie, president and chief executive officer of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment.  “We all agreed that our hockey team needed an experienced, established decision-maker who will make the Leafs a winner. We know Brian possesses the necessary qualities to meet the challenges ahead for our organization and in this market."

Peddie said the criteria for the new general manager was a "long-term builder who was comfortable with the intense scrutiny that comes with being in a Canadian hockey market.

"I'm confident Brian will be that long-term build charged with winning our 12th Stanley Cup."

No terms of Burke's contract were released, but it likely is a long-term deal that gives Burke total autonomy to run the Leafs as he deems necessary.

With the move to the NHL's crown jewel comes more than a little responsibility. The Leafs are widely considered "Canada's team" and that means an awful lot of eyes and experts watch and comment on every move. No one is more aware of the scrutiny than Burke.

"I'm aware of the tremendous responsibility and the burden to be the guy who decides how the next chapter is written. It is exciting and humbling."

The former general manager of three NHL clubs -- the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks -- comes to Toronto with a daunting mandate -- lead the Maple Leafs to their first Stanley Cup since 1967. Others have been crushed under the epic expectations, but Burke is a man who thrives under such pressure, although he pointed out that anyone dreaming of a quick fix will be disappointed.

"Rebuilding won't be easy," Burke said. "When you change the general manager, you don't change the team. It will take some time and some effort. Changing the general manager doesn't change the roster."

Step No. 1 will be to get familiar with the current roster.

"I have to familiarize myself with the team," Burke said. "I have all sorts of scouting reports on the Leafs, but you don't really know what you have until you watch practice and interact with the players."

Burke indicated that people expected to see a whirlwind of changes immediately will be disappointed. Burke pointed to the NHL-mandated Dec. 19th trade freeze and pointed out that he extends that freeze by another 10 days, so the Leafs won't be making any changes after Dec. 9 because Burke believes the players should be with their families at Christmas. And by then, Burke figures to have a pretty good handle on the first moves he wants to make.

Burke also said he will be watching the Leafs' AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, to see the players there and then will begin to work with the scouting staff to get everyone on the same page there.
"I identify character people, useful people," he said of his draft philosophy. "It isn't always the fastest skater or the hardest shot. I want work ethic and a high hockey IQ. Guys that will help us win."

So, while there will be a period of assessment as Burke takes command, he was quick to point out that things are going to be done his way.

"It represents the turning of the page," Burke said. "We're writing on blank pages."

And Burke already has begun writing, saying the Leafs will be built around three pillars. He said the Leafs will play an exciting, physical style, one that will justify the fans' faith and investment. Burke also said the Leafs will be financially prudent under his stewardship, making sound business decisions and spending intelligently. Burke noted that he is well aware it isn't his money that is being spent.

He also pointed out that the Leafs of the Brian Burke era will be more involved in the community that ever before and said bluntly that those player who don't buy into that idea will soon be playing elsewhere.

Burke also said he was thrilled to be reunited with Leafs coach Ron Wilson, his former teammate at Providence College.

"I couldn't be happier to have Ron in place," he said. "If I had to hire a coach today, I'd have hired Ron Wilson."

Burke, 53, is the 13th GM in Leafs history and takes the position with a wealth of previous experience. As GM of the Anaheim Ducks from 2005 to 2008, Burke assembled the club that won the 2007 Stanley Cup, in addition to a Pacific Division title (2007), and two 100-plus point seasons (2006-07 & 2007-08). The Ducks also qualified for Stanley Cup Playoffs in all three seasons, and won six-of-eight playoff series over that span.

After a career as a player agent, Burke was named the vice president and director of hockey operations by the Canucks in June of 1987. Burke left Vancouver to become Whalers GM in 1992. He then moved to the NHL front office as senior vice president and director of hockey operations in September of 1993. Some of his duties with the NHL included acting as chief disciplinarian by ruling on violations for on-ice player conduct, and working closely with Commissioner Gary Bettman on league direction and collective bargaining matters.

Burke returned to Vancouver in 1998 as president and general manager of the Canucks. There, Vancouver blossomed into a strong club, posting consecutive 100-plus point seasons and the 2004 Northwest Division title. Under Burke’s leadership, the Canucks improved their point total in four consecutive years from 1999-2003.

Burke received two prestigious honors in the summer of 2008. On June 6, he was chosen by USA Hockey as general manager of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, and was named a recipient of the 2008 Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States on August 7.

Burke was ranked No. 1 by The Hockey News in the magazine’s Annual GM Rankings in March of 2008, and was a finalist for The Hockey News “Executive of the Year” in 2006. He was named the Sporting News “Executive of the Year” in 2001, and was a runner-up for the same award following the 2005-06 season.

Since the 2000-01 season, Burke’s teams have qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs all seven times, playing in 13 total postseason series. In addition, all seven of those clubs recorded at least 90-plus points, including four 100-point seasons.

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