Pressure getting to Burke?

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

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

JOE WARMINGTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:02 AM ET

TORONTO - Is Maple Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke cracking under the pressure that is big time hockey in Toronto?

His latest tirade has a number of people wondering.

Perhaps when Burke described the trade deadline as “murder” he wasn’t referring as much to the players as to himself.

Maybe the whole weight of that job has become too much for him — to a point where he actually suggested creating his own trade deadline 10 days before the one the league uses.

For a man who rails against other GMs for overpaying players, imagine giving 20-goal scorer Mikhail Grabovski a five-year, $27.5-million deal with a team that looks like it will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

What kind of money would he have been paid had he ever scored a playoff goal? Grabovski has never played in a playoff game. In four full seasons in the league the likable forward has 82 goals.

“Burke will join us and tell us if his mind has come back because he lost it earlier today while signing Mikhail Grabovski to a $27-million contract. Are you kidding me?” Bob McCown of Sportsnet The FAN 590 said at the beginning of Prime Time Sports Tuesday evening.

But Burke did not show.

Earlier in the day an agitated Burke was on Moore in the Morning with John Moore on Newstalk 1010 and it did not go well.

When Moore asked him if “it was time for the general manager to be changed” Burke blew his stack.

“That is up to ownership. I wish you told me before you asked to do this interview that was going to be your last question. Your last little cheap shot before you got off the air. ... I wish you had told me that off the air before you were going to take a little swing on the way out. But that is what people in your line of work do.”

Before hanging up Burke said it was “an ignorant question and a gutless one, too.”

Blowing his top over a fair question from the always fair Moore was just the latest in a long line of away-from-the-ice battles.

There are long line of broadcasters and journalists who say Burke has gone to their supervisors to lay complaints.

Just this year he has had battles with the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons, Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star and myself, who he called a “scumbag.”

There are also well documented issues in the past with prominent commentators and writers like Tony Gallagher in Vancouver and former Hockey Night in Canada panellist Al Strachan.

His comments last year that he was going to “rent a barn” to fight Edmonton Oilers’ GM Kevin Lowe were also unusual.

But the public battle with a national icon like Cherry has a lot of people scratching his heads.

There was much amusement about the Burke and Cherry “Ontario” battle at the game Tuesday night.

And lots of discussion in the lineup at Burkie’s Dog House, hot dog stand.

“I am on Cherry’s side,” said Marc Bernardo. “He’s spot on.”

But his pal Daniel Ramnath disagreed.

“People should leave Burkie alone. He is taking this team in the right direction.”

Up in the alumni box, a member of the 1962 Maple Leaf Stanley Cup champion team, Bob Nevin, said both raise good points.

“Tell Don if you see him to remember we had 15 Ontario kids on the team in 1962,” he said. “But I don’t blame Brian for not caring where players are from. It doesn’t matter as long as they win.”

As for the battle between them, “they are both good guys but it seems like they are acting like kids in the sandbox right now.”

Burke himself told me he “quietly and professionally” talked with Cherry’s superiors about his criticisms of his team and coach.

However on McCown’s show co-host Stephen Brunt said Burke had suggested that if Hockey Night in Canada wanted the Maple Leafs on Saturday nights at the end of the next contract, they had better get control of Cherry and Ron MacLean for what he thought were “vicious” comments.

Cherry said that was his understanding — later saying “what I was told was he said he wanted to get rid of both Cherry and MacLean.”

Grapes then made the comment, “it was not the very Irish thing to do.”

Burke has not commented further on this matter but why he ever took so seriously anything said on Coach’s Corner is mystifying.

Out in Vancouver, several scribes from Burke’s day as general manger with the Canucks said it was the same kind attitude there.

“Burke spent 85% of his time managing the media and 15% of the time the Canucks,” said one writer.

“He seems so thin-skinned for somebody running a high- profile professional sports franchise where there are critics paid to critics. Eventually all of the media fights caught up to him.”

His behaviour of late has been bizarre to say the least.

“He’s panicking,” said the Vancouver writer. “He did the same thing here.”

With so much invested here in this franchise one wonders if somebody at some point will step in and ask him to tone it down. Perhaps sooner or later the new ownership of the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment may start to consider protecting both their money and their brand.

Of course, if he’s right about Grabovski and new coach Randy Carlyle and one day wins a Stanley Cup in Toronto, all will be forgiven and his statue will stand outside the ACC.


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