Brian Burke knew exactly what to do. Didn’t even need to think about it for more than a second.
As soon as he learned he had been relieved of his duties as general manager of hockey’s most scrutinized team, he bolted from the Air Canada Centre to pick up his two youngest daughters, aged 7 and 8, at school.
“I called the older kids on the way, but I wanted the little ones to hear it from me first,” Burke told the Star today in an exclusive interview.
“They were okay. They just wanted to know if we’d have to move again. I said no.”
This morning, 48 hours after being dismissed in shocking fashion by the Maple Leafs and then agreeing to become a senior advisor to the team, the 57-year-old Burke walked into his preferred neighborhood coffee shop wearing a grey Providence College sweatshirt and a leather jacket.
No ball cap, no sunglasses. No attempt to hide, no sense of wanting not to be seen or recognized.
“I was floored, and I still am stunned. I’ve never been fired before,” he said about Wednesday’s announcement. “How am I doing? I’m doing okay.
“I’m so grateful I had a chance to run the crown jewel franchise of the NHL. I’m grateful to have been given the chance to live in Toronto. I love this city and I am grateful for the support of the fans.”
This was his second visit to his favourite Starbucks of the morning — he was up at 4:30 a.m. to work out, then out for his first coffee at 5:30 a.m. — and came after a neighbour had pointed out to him that the back window of one of his cars had been smashed in.
“I don’t know if it was a disgruntled fan or not,” he said in his first interview since being dismissed. “But they didn’t steal anything.”
Burke was driving to the airport on Wednesday to catch a 10:30 a.m. flight to New York for an NHL board of governors meeting when he answered a phone call from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chief operating officer Tom Anselmi. Anselmi asked Burke to instead come to the team’s offices at the Air Canada Centre where he was told he wasn’t in charge of the Leafs anymore.
When the late Pat Burns was dismissed as Leaf head coach 17 years ago, he immediately left for the Eastern Townships.
Burke, however, has no intention of going anywhere, at least not yet.
“My daughters need me around for a few days,” he said. “This is not a time to get out of town.”
He gave his older children tickets to the New England Patriots home playoff game this weekend, and may join them for that. On Thursday, without the responsibilities of running the Leafs any longer, he went to an afternoon matinee of the film Jack Reacher, choosing that movie over Hyde Park on the Hudson and Lincoln.
“It was great,” he smiled. “First time in my life I’ve ever been to a midweek matinee. First time I’ve ever gone to a movie alone.”
Otherwise, he’s still digesting his dismissal, still at a loss to explain why he isn’t running the Leafs anymore. Burke is under contract to the Leafs for the rest of this season and next, and he fully intends to help his former assistant, Dave Nonis, as a consultant, a job he suggested to chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Anselmi when they relieved him of his GM duties.
“I think I can help,” he said. “I’ve been at this for a while. I have my name on the Stanley Cup. I’ll do whatever I can.”
Burke, grateful for the dozens of calls of support he has received from NHL people and other friends over the past two days, will hold a press conference at the ACC on Saturday morning to discuss the events of the week and his future plans.
“I wish Dave (Nonis) and the Toronto Maple Leafs all the success in the world,” he said. “I’ll do my best to help them win.”
Which begs the question, was he actually fired from the Canucks? Or was he needed in Anaheim to win a cup for them after the lockout, and therefore released?
I believe the official record is that the Canucks fired him.