Burke conspiracy theory torpedoed by Leafs, NHL

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

Many theories have been put forth about the abrupt halt in the Maple Leafs' pursuit of Brian Burke, including a rumour that the National Hockey League interceded to keep him in Anaheim for the final year of his contract.

Sports Illustrated.com writer Jim Kelley suggested that the NHL short-circuited Toronto's aggressive attempt to land Burke as its new general manager, fearing it would set bad precedents. Kelley wrote on SI.com this week that the league had problems with a projected $5-million US annual salary the Leafs were expected to be offering, as it could once more give rich teams the balance of power in the post-lockout NHL and cost 29 other teams dearly as their executives' contracts were redone.

Many observers also had wondered why Burke seemed fair game for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., despite his existing deal for 2008-09. MLSEL lured sitting GM Bryan Colangelo from the Phoenix Suns two years ago, but used a head-hunting firm as the middleman first to gauge Colangelo's interest in leaving for the Raptors.

Both MLSEL president and CEO Richard Peddie and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said there was no league involvement in Burke's about-face, a day after he'd left the door open to a move east.

"We have followed the league rules regarding tampering to the letter," Peddie said. "We had wondered about this very thing and I had talked to (commissioner) Gary Bettman."

Daly said the league would stir up a hornet's nest if it started influencing contracts and management personnel issues that could strengthen or weaken a team.

"Both clubs and employees have a right to rely on contracts," Daly said via e-mail. "That matter is between the club and the employee -- it's not an issue for the league."

It is also believed Bettman has over the years championed the cause of Burke, Colin Campbell and others, rather than hinder their post-NHL office careers with the best jobs with individual teams.

As for setting the salary standard too high, Peddie played down talk that he'll break the bank for a top-flight GM. The annual pay for a league GM is in the $1-million range now.

"It started out that we'd pay $3 million, went to $5 million and I read somewhere (yesterday) that it's $6 million," Peddie said with a laugh. "Someone is doing a good job of negotiating through the media.

"We haven't interviewed any candidates yet, but we will be paying in accordance with the responsibilities the job includes."


Videos

Photos