Brian Burke interviews rarely tend to disappoint in terms of entertainment value, and Monday morning was no different.
Burke, who was in town for and was promoting the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference and Trade Show, appeared on Toronto’s TSN 1050 with Michael Landsberg and Mark Roe.
Burke is never shy to rip the media in this market when given the chance, and he shared his perspective when asked about the treatment of Mitch Marner this season through his struggles.
“I watched Mike Babcock do an interview a week or two ago when they lost a couple of games,” began Burke. “And unlike you two, we are not all about the Leafs in other parts of Canada. There are other teams. Like, there are seven Canadian teams. I know you guys don’t know that, but there are other teams in Canada.
“So he did an interview. Mike said, ‘We’re not as bad as everyone says we are right now. We’re not as good when we’re winning.’
“That’s the issue in Toronto. When things are going well, they’re picking out a parade route. They’re like, ‘Should we go on Bay Street or Yonge.’ And when things are bad, it’s like, ‘We got to get rid of these guys. We’ve got to change 10 players. We got to get rid of the coach, get rid of the GM.’
“That’s the nightmare of working in Toronto. But it’s one of the attractions of working in Toronto too. It is the Vatican.”
Burke is the president of hockey operations for the Flames, and was asked for his thoughts on Calgary’s version of morning sports talk radio compared with Toronto.
“I’d like to say they’re more positive, but that’s not your job. Your job isn’t to be cheerleaders,” considered Burke. “The problem here is there are 100 people in the dressing room after practice and when the team loses, 80 of them are picking up the biggest rock they can find. That’s the problem here, is it’s actually a significant chunk of the media that want you to fail.
“We don’t have that in Calgary. We don’t have that in Edmonton. So it’s a different vibe. It’s a different tone.”
Burke agreed with the notion that it’s “easier” to do an interview in Calgary because the media appears to be more positive.
“Now, I don’t do much media,” noted Burke. “This is the first interview I’ve done in probably two months. The beauty of my job is that Tre has to do all of that. Everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re a great interview.’ This and that. I never liked that part of it. I tolerated that part of it. I’m in the back seat of it now, and I don’t mind being in the back seat of it.”
With the Calgary-Toronto comparison having been drawn, Burke was then asked if he was glad that Flames forward Sam Bennett is in the market he is.
“Yes. If he were in Toronto, they’d have traded him 70 times, shot him six times, condemned his parents four times,” said Burke of the 21-year-old forward, who finally picked up his first point of the season last week.
“Sam has had a tough start. We really think the world of this young man and he’s going to be fine. But yeah, it’s a better market. If he was going through that here, he’d be getting crucified.”
Earlier in the interview, Burke was asked which players on the Leafs that he had a hand in bringing in, either via draft or trade, that had impressed him with where they’ve taken their game.
“I think Naz last year probably. Nazem Kadri with 61 points or 60 points last year, I don’t know what he ended up with,” said Burke. “But he had a pile of goals. This is a guy who is belligerent and truculent and obnoxious, and still put up 60 points, so I think – last year I remember watching him and taking great pride in watching him. He’s a bit of a project… kind of cocky. Dallas Eakins had to whack him upside the head with a two-by-four a few times. But I thought last year the guy I took the most pride in was Naz. Morgan Rielly has turned into a really good player.
“But this is what happens when you leave. Kevin Bieksa – I hate playing against him now, but I signed him in Vancouver. Now he’s still playing in Anaheim. I take great pride in those guys that I gave a chance to.”
Burke was pressed for more thoughts on Kadri, including if he projected him as a two-way player.
“Yes. You go back to draft day, that’s what we said,” recalled Burke. “Two-way player with hostility, but upside too.”
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have captured the attention of most fans across the league, and sit second in the Pacific division with a 10-5-1 mark.
“They’ve blown everyone’s expectations away,” marvelled Burke. “They’ve got two injured goaltenders, they keep winning. They’ve got a quality GM… Someone asked me last night, ‘Are you surprised how well the Maple Leafs are doing?’ They’ve got a quality GM, quality coach, quality players.
“The expansion rules were amended much in their favor. We should have done this back with Nashville and the Minnesota Wild. We gave them crappy teams, and then we complained that we couldn’t sell tickets when they came to our buildings. So I think this is the right way to do it. They have seized the opportunity. I think they’ll level off. But they’ve been wonderful so far. It’s I think the best story in the league.”
Burke sees the appeal of being the general manager of an expansion team, too.
“When I was a rookie GM – so my first year as a GM was 1992 – I had three goals when I got into this business. One was to work for an Original Six team, one was to win a Stanley Cup, and one was to run an expansion team because you get to build it brick-by-brick.
“So obviously I didn’t get to do the expansion team, and I won’t. And that’s fine. But I think it’s part of every GM’s dream to build an expansion team.
“Okay, I’ve been gone from the Leafs for four-and-a-half years now. There’s still eight, nine guys there that I left there. There’s still two guys in Vancouver – I left there in 2004 – the twins are still there. Anaheim there’s still seven or eight people. So you leave your thumb print on these teams. But with an expansion team, every single guy there is a guy you brought in. So it’s a really cool thing.
“George is a great guy. He’s done a really good job.”
Source: TSN 1050