The firing of Brian Burke in Toronto should serve as a clarion call to other executives and coaches in the NHL, alerting them to the fact that the natives are restless. As bizarre as the timing of the Leafs removing Burke is, it only serves to reinforce the heightened sense of urgency that many franchises have, not just the Maple Leafs. However, in the case of the Leafs, the questions will not revolve around why Brian Burke was let go, but when. The potential answers to the question of why are evident; multiple seasons out of the playoffs, player personnel moves that didn’t bear the expected fruit, etc. But if you’re fully buying the explanation that was given at the press conference, you might be the only one. They didn’t like his “style.” Really? Who does? Brian Burke has the personality of #4 sandpaper, but he was the same miserable cuss before coming to Toronto, and was the same miserable cuss for his entire tenure in Leafland. When ownership changed hands last summer, I’m sure their people did their due diligence examining the Leafs front office staff, and Brian Burke had the same style, offered the same leadership then. Multi-billion dollar companies don’t make personnel decisions based on whether or not they like a guy. They would work with a cornered badger, as long as the results were there. The real mystery here has two facets. The first is why MLSE chose this moment to pull the plug on the Brian Burke era. The timing is just plain weird, but doable, given the organization has, like, 7 ex GMs on staff. The second is what really precipitated the move. If the new ownership didn’t like Burke, he would have been given his pink slip long before this.
The front office of another team that might want to be paying close attention to this situation is Calgary. Jay Feaster was brought in to right the ship that Daryl Sutter was supposed to have run aground. Sutter may not have been the best GM, but he simply went into LA as coach and took an 8 seed to a Stanley Cup. In many ways, the Flames are a bit of a Leafs-west. High priced talent was brought in to make the Flames a playoff team, and the signings and trades that Feaster made haven’t met the mark, for whatever reason. The market is hockey mad, craves a winner, and exhibits far less patience than Toronto. And the clock in Calgary is ticking. Calgary’s two marquee names, Kiprusoff and Iginla, are aging. Jerome Iginla is looking at becoming an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and it stands to reason that he would garner some interest from other teams looking to make a run at a Cup, both at the trade deadline, and in the summer. The Flames went out and got guys like Hudler and Wideman, so it’s somewhat of a make it or break it season, and I doubt that Jay Feaster would be around to preside over a rebuild in Calgary. The time is now for Calgary to make a run, and merely making the playoffs is hardly the sort of standard Flame fans are going to be content with. I don’t think the Flames are quirky enough to take their cue from the Leafs and turf their people in the next week, but don’t expect the status quo if they miss the playoffs this year. Only time will tell if the Flames have the horses to stay in the race in an ever improving Western Conference.