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Leafs relieve Burke of GM duties; Nonis takes over

by Dan Rosen

Dave Nonis spent Tuesday night watching the Toronto Marlies in person with Brian Burke.

On Wednesday morning, Nonis was told he would be replacing Burke as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Burke was relieved of his duties as general manager and president of the Leafs on Wednesday. Burke will stay on as a senior adviser to MLSE president and COO Tom Anselmi, but Nonis assumes the title of Toronto's senior vice president and general manager.

Nonis was previously under Burke as the senior vice president of hockey operations.

The Maple Leafs made the announcement in a press conference Wednesday afternoon at Air Canada Centre.

"At the end of the day it was looking for a different voice, a different leadership approach," Anselmi said.

"Dave has full authority over this hockey club," Anselmi later added.

Burke's dismissal comes four days before training camp is expected to begin for the 2012-13 NHL regular season. He was in the fifth year of a six-year contract, but the Maple Leafs have not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since Burke took over as president and GM on Nov. 29, 2008. In fact, the club has not been to the postseason since 2004.

Burke was the 13th general manager in franchise history, and its first American-born general manager.

Nonis also took over for Burke in Vancouver in 2004 after the Canucks' ownership group decided not to renew Burke's contract as general manager. The Canucks went 130-91-25 with Nonis as the GM from 2004-08, but they missed the playoffs twice in his three seasons.

"I was informed of the ownership group's decision [Wednesday] morning after they had spoken to Brian," Nonis said. "Yes, I have had a brief conversation with Brian. We go back a long ways. He pledged to help me as much as he can, as he always has. I expect I'll talk with him again in the next day or two."

Anselmi said the decision to relieve Burke of his duties is the result of ongoing dialogue he and the Maple Leafs ownership group have been having for several months.

The Maple Leafs went through an ownership change during the summer as the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan sold its stake of the team to a partnership comprised of Rogers Communications and BCE Inc. The sale closed in August.

"This was a decision that the board and myself collectively made," Anselmi said. "It's a product of a conversation that has been going on for some time. It's not the product of any one incident or any one thing. … Once the decision was made we felt it was only fair to deal with it.

"There's no good time to do this," he added. "Once you get to a decision on something like this it's really only fair to act upon it. It's fairest for our fans. It's fairest for the people involved. It's fairest for everybody. You can't fake it. The relationship between the general manager and ownership is a very complex and different relationship. It has to work long-term and if it is decided that it is not going to work long-term you're best to deal with it."

The Leafs went 128-135-42 during Burke's tenure. They never finished higher than 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Burke's early transactions, including the trade for Phil Kessel and the five-year contract he gave defenseman Mike Komisarek in July 2009, did not help the Leafs.

The Kessel trade will likely be what Burke is remembered for most in Toronto. He acquired the goal-scorer from the Boston Bruins in Sept. 2009 in exchange for the Leafs' first- and second-round draft picks in 2010 and their first-round pick in 2011.

The Bruins parlayed those picks into Tyler Seguin, who helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2011  then put up 67 points last season, Jared Knight and top defense prospect Dougie Hamilton, who was the No. 9 pick in the 2011 draft.

Hamilton played for Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championship and is expected to compete for a roster spot with the Bruins starting next week.

Kessel, 25, has produced three 30-goal seasons for the Leafs.

Komisarek is a minus-30 in Toronto and was often a healthy scratch last season.

"I can tell you our ownership wants to win," Anselmi said. "The singular focus here is all about winning. Dave and his staff are looking at continuing a process here that has been under way."

Nonis said he and Burke have similar views on how a team should play, but their approach is different.

"The one difference, and it may be positive or negative, depending on how you look at it, is I would say I'm a little more patient in how I approach things," Nonis said. "I evaluate things a little bit longer. But at the end of the day, how the team should play and expectations, those are very similar."

Burke is staying on in a senior-adviser role because, Anselmi said, "Brian has extraordinary expertise, and that is something that can be valuable to me and valuable to the board."

Anselmi added that upon being told of his dismissal, Burke was still quick to point out the building blocks that are already in place for the Maple Leafs.

"His reaction was as you would expect; one of class and one of disappointment, but one of acceptance," Anselmi said. "He understands this is part of the game, part of the industry, part of the industry that none of us like. His reaction was just one of class."

Toronto coach Randy Carlyle will remain in place, as will the executive staff, including vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin, assistant GM Claude Loiselle and special adviser Cliff Fletcher.

"The group of people [Burke] put in place made the succession easy and seamless despite having to deal with the change," Anselmi said.

Carlyle was hired by Burke to replace Ron Wilson late last season. The Leafs went 6-9-3 under Carlyle, who coached the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup championship in 2007, when Burke was the general manager.

"Randy is a quality, quality coach and we're fortunate to have him," Nonis said. "The youth of our players and the direction we want to head requires a coach like Randy Carlyle.

"You're not going to see a massive turnover," he added. "It's impossible to do so in today's game and actually improve your team. We're going to continue to try to add building blocks and pieces. In terms of how the team should play, we need to have players to play a certain style. As a group we have to be more difficult to play against. We need a coach like [Carlyle] to push players a little bit outside their comfort zone."

Nonis, however, said the Leafs will have a short window to make some difficult decisions once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is ratified and teams are allowed to make transactions.

The new GM was specifically asked if potentially trading for Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo is in his plans, but Nonis, who as the Canucks' GM in 2006 brought Luongo to Vancouver, would not comment largely because Luongo remains under contract with the Canucks.

"We never discuss any transactions," he said. "First of all it doesn't help get a deal done, and second of all we're not permitted to do so."

Anselmi said the potential to add Luongo in Toronto did not play a role in the decision to dismiss Burke and promote Nonis.

"This is really about a change in leadership, voice, leadership direction," Anselmi said.


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