December 9, 2011
Burke 'willing to listen' to new Leafs owners
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
WASHINGTON - Brian Burke, his coach and his hockey team, woke up here Friday to find they’re about to get new owners.
It’s unlikely Rogers and Bell will come into 40 Bay St. with a broom. But while the general manager expects to retain the free hand given him by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan for three years, he knows he’s not operating carte blanche.
“I’m perfectly willing to listen to what they have to say,” Burke said Friday after updating the players on the sale prior to practice. “If the new owners have some ideas, as soon as they get control of the team, that’s the first meeting I have.
"Maybe there are things we can do better, from a front office standpoint or a scouting standpoint. I’m open. These are very creative, very bright people.”
Burke cautioned that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment board member Glen Silvestri, an alternate team governor, told him the $1.3-billion sale could take months to complete and Burke hadn’t spoken to anyone in the NHL as of yet to clarify the transfer of power.
But he reminded the clout of the owners’ broadcast arms TSN and Sportsnet still doesn’t mean he can spend above the NHL salary cap. Burke took that opportunity to defend the role of the Teachers' since they became the dominant force in the board room in the late 1990s.
“I know there is some relief (among fan and media) in the marketplace (that Teachers' are leaving),” Burke said. “That has not been our experience. They are a joy to work for. They have given us full support, not just not interfering, but giving us all the assets we need to be competitive.
“If this deal closes and they move on, I would say thank you for this opportunity to run the Leafs. They’ve taken a lot of criticism since before I got here and since and I don’t think that’s warranted. All they’ve tried to do is win.”
Burke said a contract extension for Ron Wilson is not any further to being resolved because Burke now knows who he is dealing above him.
Wilson joked of the new bosses: “Maybe I’ll get a break on my cable bill.”
The Leafs will likely increase an already huge footprint in the country, for better or worse.
“Obviously we haven’t enjoyed recent success,” Burke said. “But this is one of the great brands, one of the greatest teams in professional sports. What can we do better, what can we do more? But the implication there is that Teachers' didn’t hold up their end of the bargain and it’s not fair.”
After visiting the Canadian Embassy on Thursday night and meeting wounded soldiers, the Leafs play the Capitals this evening. James Reimer gets the start, Right winger Colby Armstrong will be back for the first time in 23 games on a line with Tim Connolly and Joey Crabb, with the slumping Nikolai Kulemin re-united with Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski.