Burke will be next Leafs GM

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Brian Burke will be the next general manager of the Maple Leafs.

He can't say that for publication. And he won't say that as he continues to protect his situation. But it is absolutely and certainly clear.

This is the job he desires. There is no Boston in the mix. There is no Chicago. There is no other team or option that he cares about.

This is the place. This is where he wants to live and work. Now it's only a matter of when.

"This," a source said, "solves all of (his) problems."

The Leafs can't begin to discuss the general manager position with Burke until the Anaheim Ducks send a letter informing the National Hockey League that any team is free to discuss employment with their former GM. That letter is expected to be in the league office no later than Wednesday.

By next weekend, barring contract snags of any kind, Burke could well be in charge of the Leafs in time to watch the honouring of Wendel Clark's jersey number. Much will depend on how quickly a contract arrangement can be negotiated between Burke and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

"Nothing can happen until the Ducks file that letter," Burke said in a brief telephone interview yesterday. "I really can't say much. Things have already moved quickly (around here). I expect them to move quickly (afterward).

"I'm not interested in taking time off. I'm not interested in golf."

What he is interested in is getting back to work in a Canadian environment, where hockey matters, where the game is central, where he doesn't have to travel much anymore, where he can be part of the buzz rather than have to create it. What he is interested in and challenged by is taking on the largest market in hockey, with a struggling team, and a contender to build.

Last season, when it became apparent that Ken Holland, GM of the Detroit Red Wings, had no interest in leaving his position, Burke became the popular choice to take over the Leafs.

In fact, when independent search committee leader Gordon Kirke made his presentation to the MLSEL board of directors months ago, Kirke identified the then-working Burke as the No. 1 candidate to run the Leafs.

In truth, both the Leafs and Burke had hoped they would be able to work something out earlier that would have allowed him to join the club in the summer. But when it became apparent that Anaheim wouldn't necessarily co-operate, the Leafs kept consultant Cliff Fletcher in place for another season.

What's interesting now is that Fletcher has done some nice things in his short time running the Leafs, in spite of all the no-trade roadblocks put in front of him. If anything, the desperation to hire Burke in the summer may have been tempered somewhat by the pseudo-success Fletcher has had. But all indications remain from the Leafs that once Burke is cleared to be wooed -- and they remain careful and respectful of the legal process involved -- they will initiate the process of bringing him to Toronto.

While Burke certainly has his critics -- and being a general manager leaves one always open to debate -- he has been among the league's most successful team builders post-NHL-lockout. This is an important distinction. The rules of managing teams were altered greatly after the year-long lockout with a salary management system and more difficulty in trading players: But this is where Burke has thrived in Anaheim.

In the three seasons prior to the lockout, the Ducks averaged 80 points. In the three post-lockout seasons, they are 23 points a season better than that.

By comparison, the Leafs averaged 100 points in the three seasons prior to the lockout and haven't made the playoffs in any of the three post-lockout seasons.

Burke officially turned down a contract extension from the Ducks on Nov. 1, but had no idea the club would force his hand this quickly, elevating his assistant, Bob Murray, to general manager. Burke had dinner in Toronto on the Hall of Fame weekend with Fletcher, Harry Sinden and Glen Sather and told none of them of what was to come a few days later. The reason: He didn't himself know.

And now, after a few days of relaxation and hunting in the Vancouver area, Burke should be clear to work elsewhere by mid-week. The elsewhere, in this case, is Toronto.


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