Have some Pride: In Defence of Brian Burke

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Updated: July 2, 2012
Brian_Burke_Gay_Pride_Parade

Lets get one thing straight before we start; for those who either follow me on twitter or read my articles on our site, you know I am no fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  You also know that I’ve been highly critical of the work Brian Burke has done in Toronto.

To me, the man makes a lot of statements in the media and doesn’t follow through on them.  He’s a blowhard with a huge ego, and he’s not as good of a GM as most of the Toronto media paint him out to be.   That said, I’m going to do an about-face and defend Brian Burke today.

As every hockey fan knows, July 1st is the opening of the NHL’s free agent frenzy.  It is a day to add pieces to a franchise, to fill holes, and to plan for next season.  Now at first glance it appears that the Toronto Maple Leafs have been rather inactive on July 1st.  Granted, they have re-signed a couple of their own minor league players, but to date their major acquisition is Jay McClement, an underrated 3rd line centre from Colorado.

Toronto fans hoping for a bigger haul are probably upset about this.  And in this criticism I agree, Burke needs to do more to improve his team.  But let’s be clear, its only July 1st and there is plenty of summer left for Burke’s plan to come together.

However there is a ton of outrage I am seeing from Leaf fans on twitter, Facebook, and on Internet message boards right now that disgusts me.  You see, in addition to July 1st being Canada Day, it also marks the date of this year’s Gay Pride Parade in Toronto.  And Brian Burke took a couple of hours out of his day to march in that parade, as a tribute to his son Brendan, who passed away a few years ago.  This is obviously a cause that is near and dear to Burke’s heart, to his family, and to his personal life.  I don’t think anyone should have a problem with it.  This is a man who is honouring the memory of his lost son.

Not ever having to endure losing a son myself I can only imagine the pain associated with losing a child.  I do believe it is every parent’s worst nightmare and I don’t even want to begin to imagine the emotions that have haunted Brian Burke since that fateful day when Brendan passed away in a car accident on a snowy highway thousands of miles away.   Burke has every right to take a couple hours away from the office to take care of this bit of personal business.

But what about the complaints that Burke is putting his personal life ahead of the team?  Isn’t this the selfish act of a General Manager who asks his players to give it all for the Maple Leafs Sweater?  Isn’t he needed in the offices of the ACC, wooing Free Agents?  In a word, NO! For shame.

Burke and the Leafs staff have been preparing for free agency for weeks.  At 12:00 noon the team made offers to the players that they wanted.  If further negotiations are necessary during the short time he is out of the office, he has a capable staff including Dave Nonis (former canucks GM), Dave Poulin (a long time NHL executive), Claude Loiselle (another long time executive and someone described as a contract and salary cap expert), Cliff Fletcher (an advisor and longtime NHL GM), and Randy Carlyle (an experienced head coach).  I’m sure these men are capable of holding the fort at the office and negotiating with agents for a couple of hours during the day.

Besides all that, come on, its 2012. Brian Burke did not abandon his team.  I’m sure the man has a cell phone while he is out at the parade.  If a major situation develops and he is needed, he can be on the phone and handling business at a drop of a hat.  It’s not like this is 1960 and he is completely unreachable outside the office except by way of carrier pigeon.  Its 2012, the age of smartphones, data plans, tablet computing, laptops and rocket sticks.

In 2009 Brian Burke was in Sweden in an attempt to lure the Sedins to Toronto.  When that attempt failed, and the Canucks re-signed the twins, Burke was still able to ink Mike Komisarek and Colton Orr to deals from half way across the world.  Now while Komisarek may not have worked out as hoped, in July 2009 he was a highly sought after free agent.  Burke could even have landed Mike Cammalleri that day as the winger was sitting with Dave Nonis at the Air Canada Centre.  When Montreal made a 6 million dollar per year offer to the winger, Burke was contacted to see if he would match.  If he had Cammalleri would be a Leaf today, but Burke declined.

In 2011 Brian Burke was widely criticized for a lack of July 1st moves as he was in Afghanistan on a mission with the Canadian troops.  However on July 2nd, while still in Afghanistan, Burke was able to sign Tim Connolly, and on July 3rd he was able to complete a trade with Nashville acquiring Cody Franson and Matt Lombardi for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney.

While the ultimate success of those moves is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that the Leafs were able to carry on the business of July free agency while Brian Burke wasn’t physically sitting at his desk in Toronto.  He was able to make decisions and sign players to contracts through the use of various media in the electronic age.  The moves were made while Burke was on the other side of the world, and their success or failure was not dependent on Burke’s physical location at the time they were made.

Let’s be real here Leaf fans, it’s past time to stop criticizing Burke over the Pride Parade issue.  Lets stop with the silliness, and the disgusting homophobic tweets and facebook posts.  The reason the Maple Leafs were inactive on July 1st had nothing to do with Burke marching in the Gay Pride Parade, and everything to do with the contracts they offered, the Toronto market and media, and the fact the team will need to overpay free agents due to missing the playoffs for seven straight seasons.  Burke did not abandon his duty and is not putting himself ahead of his team.

Besides all that, it’s July 1st, not October 6th.  Burke may not be done getting his team ready for next year, and many of the top UFAs are waiting for the Parise and/or Suter dominoes to fall before they sign with teams.  Seven of our top 10 UFA forwards are still available.  There are also trades that will still be made.  The off-season has just begun, and there is plenty of time for Burke to change the look of his roster.

… and that is the Last Word.

Feel free to leave comments below and follow me on twitter @LastWordBKerr.

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