Huge payday may await Burke in Toronto

With the Anaheim Ducks eliminated from the NHL playoffs, speculation about Brian Burke's future can...

With the Anaheim Ducks eliminated from the NHL playoffs, speculation about Brian Burke's future can begin. (Sun Media file/Brian Donogh)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:47 AM ET

There may be 23 million reasons Brian Burke is seriously contemplating leaving his post with the defending Stanley Cup champions for the crazy challenge of running the Maple Leafs.

That's the figure kicking around the hockey world that is expected to lure Burke from the Anaheim Ducks for the opportunity to rebuild the moribund Maple Leafs.

Five years and $23 million. Although some are saying that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. will go as high as $25 million with perks if need be to get the man at the top of their wish list to take over the club's hockey operation.

For now, Burke isn't saying a word. Which for him, a man full of verbiage, can't be easy. Numerous Sun Media calls to his personal cellphone went unreturned yesterday.

And calls and messages left for lawyer Gordon Kirke, who is the key sporting figure in the two-man search committee to hire the Leafs next president and general manager, also were not returned yesterday.

In fairness to Burke, who returned home to California yesterday after the Ducks were knocked out of the playoffs Sunday night in Dallas, it may be too soon for him to focus on anything but a season that ended prematurely.

It should be noted that both Burke and Kirke are well known for their media availability in most instances and their combined silence yesterday may speak volumes about the direction both appear heading in.

"Don't expect this to happen overnight," said a source familiar with the Leafs apparent wooing of Burke. "These kind of things don't tend to happen quickly."

For the Leafs to hire the under-contract Burke, they must first attain permission from Ducks ownership. Co-owner Henry Samueli has been on record that he will not stand in the way of Burke leaving. Kirke has been on record as saying the Leafs won't ask for permission until the team involved has been eliminated from the playoffs.

After the Ducks were eliminated by the Stars in six games, the speculation about the quest for the 51-year-old Burke was almost immediate. Burke has had numerous opportunities to quash the rumours that have followed him but carefully has chosen to keep all options open.

He also has chosen not to sign a contract extension that was offered to him to remain in Anaheim.

At the same time, the appeal of the Toronto job is vast, beginning with the largest executive salary in hockey history. For a man who considers himself a hockey giant -- and many believe him to be just that -- this becomes a mammoth task for a mammoth man.

There has been much attention given to Burke's family situation, with older children from an earlier marriage living in Boston, his younger children living in Vancouver with his broadcaster wife and the family all but separated for much of the winter. A move to Toronto would alleviate the Vancouver-Anaheim commute and it is not just coincidence that MLSEL operates two television networks and the most powerful television man in Canada, Ivan Fecan, is a member of the board of MLSEL, which would all but insure employment for Burke's wife, Jennifer Mather.

To date, the two-man search committee, which is mostly a one-man committee, charged with finding a successor to the fired John Ferguson, has held numerous information sessions with hockey people, but not officially interviewed anyone for the job. The committee has been in the process of compiling an appropriate list of candidates, which always begins with Burke and Detroit general manager Ken Holland. The official list will be presented to the MLSEL board in the coming days.

Holland has distanced himself from any interest in the Toronto position. Burke has not. And until he does, he will remain the executive of choice for MLSEL. Perhaps, a very wealthy executive in the very near future.


Videos

Photos