Maple Leafs GM becoming an embarrassment

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency file photo)

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency file photo)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:41 PM ET

TORONTO - Brian Burke is out of control. He doesn’t just want to run the Toronto Maple Leafs. He wants to run the newspapers. He wants to tell editors what columnists and radio voices can and cannot write or say. He wants to control what you read, what you think, what you perceive to be the truth.

He wants to be the face of the Leafs, the only voice. In between, he wants to settle grudges with fist fights — fine message from a middle-aged man with a Harvard degree.

And in this season of hockey revival, where all should be smiles and chuckles, he is becoming something of a local embarrassment.

The latest Burke fight, which doesn’t include a rented barn or a rival general manager who knows nothing about it, centres around his defence of coach Ron Wilson’s most recent bout of misinformation. It is typical Burke bullying blather. In his own way, he contradicts himself by defending Wilson’s right to fudge the truth.

In fairness to Wilson, he did what most coaches do: He lied a little. So what? Everybody does it in sports. It’s part of the foolish game. Wilson announced that Jonas Gustavsson would start in goal against the Bruins on Saturday night. Then he started James Reimer.

Wilson admitted he made up his mind three days earlier about Reimer and he didn’t bother to let anyone know. Fair enough.

Which brings us back to Burke, who earlier this season said he had no interest in getting involved in the social media phenomenon that is Twitter and then pulled a 180 and became a regular Tweeter because, to paraphrase him, the media was getting the message wrong. He wanted to stand up for accuracy.

Burke, who in another voice will claim he doesn’t give “a rat’s ass about what media thinks” got involved with Twitter to clear up the media’s inaccurate portrayal of Leaf information. So when his coach told a white lie about who was starting in goal, Burke didn’t consider that misinformation.

He defended the coach — inaccurately, too, saying it was Wilson’s prerogative to change his mind.

Burke said that. Never mind that Wilson didn’t change his mind. He made the decision to start Reimer three days earlier. That’s not changing your mind. That’s doing the coach thing and keeping his decision to himself. I’ll give Wilson the benefit of the doubt on that one. That’s coach-speak in the modern world.

But in defence of his coach, Burke misrepresented the facts. And then, was defiant about it.

The atmosphere in Leaf land between Burke, Wilson to a degree, and the rather enormous press corps which covers the team, has grown more and more poisonous over time. And this is nothing new to Burke, although it’s taken more than three years for this to build to crescendo level here. In Vancouver, when he operated the Canucks he had serious run-ins with well-known columnists and radio talk show hosts, and those relationships, frankly, grew toxic over time.

Already this year, Burke has tangled with many voices of consequence in this market, feuding or cutting off columnists from the local papers for disagreeing with opinions, calling editors to complain about specific writers, questioning their methods of reporting or viewpoints he did not share. Burke is a great believer in freedom of speech — so long as he is doing the speaking.

But this role of president, general manager, sports editor, journalism school professor, bully, and social media activist, has gotten tiresome.

This is a year in which he could be taking bows for trading for two of the top four point getters in hockey and a terrific young defenceman in Jake Gardiner and for a team that finally has some kind of an identity. But instead, he chooses to fight back, against those who disagree with him, against those who broke no journalistic rules, against those who expect to be told the truth by the coach they cover every single day.

There is much to like about the way Brian Burke conducts his business. How he goes about his job with aggression and passion. How he loyally defends those in his employ. How he treats his players and supports them. But, somehow, he can’t stop being what he is, what he was in Vancouver, a bullying, control freak — who apparently does give a rat’s ass what others think and say and write, or he wouldn’t react so furiously all the time.

It’s time for Burke to calm down and take a leadership role in the ongoing spat between local media and the Maple Leafs. His adding to the poisonous atmosphere benefits no one.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonsteve


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