Brian Burke: Is You Is Or Is You Isn’t?

As much as I hate the suits at MLSE with the white hot burning heat of a thousand suns, I can’t quarrel too much with their deliberate pace on this hiring decision to date.  It’s a tough decision, and one that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the organization.  The reason that I despise the current board is, of course, its abject failure to avoid meddling with the affairs of the hockey team over the last few years, coupled with its failure to install a chief executive Brian Burkewith sufficient vision and experience to plan for success in the post-lockout environment.  That having been said, it would appear that the board has, since the firing of John Ferguson Jr., made the right decision: to correct its mistake in that regard and hire a top-quality chief executive to whom control over the hockey operations will be ceded.  In other words, MLSE has decided that maybe they ought not to do this job themselves.  I congratulate them for making the right call at this critical first step of the decision-making process;  it is so obviously the right decision, it’s kind of like congratulating your kid for deciding (for the third day this week!) not to eat a jar of paste while at school, but it’s important to celebrate even modest successes with those who have intellectual challenges and to positively re-inforce behaviour we want to encourage.  So yay, MLSE!

Step two of the hiring process was to find the right person to replace John Ferguson Jr.  Apparently unable to locate a person with the right credentials on a permanent basis last spring, the club turned to Cliff Fletcher and asked him to act as steward of the club’s fortunes during the initial stages of the rebuilding process. In doing so, the Leafs successfully managed to put one foot in front of the other. (Again, yay!)  Fletcher has, it must be said, acquitted himself quite well since his appointment: he made a deal on draft day that got the Leafs into position to pick up Luke Schenn;  he signed Niklas Hagman and Jeff Finger; for every questionable acquisition (Ryan Hollweg), there has been a great pickup (I’m looking at you, Mikhail Grabovski); for every Jamal Mayers, a Mike Van Ryn. It is too early to say whether these players, and others (such as recently acquired Lee Stempniak ) constitute the necessary pieces of the puzzle, though it is unlikely that they form the core of a Cup winning team.  To get there, some of these assets will have to be moved elsewhere, and fresh talent added to the basic building blocks at a later date.  At this stage, as we’ve been told by team officials, it’s not about wins and losses:  it’s about changing a culture of entitlement that had settled over the dressing room – a debilitating malaise that somehow begun interfering with the players’ performance.  At step two, Cliff Fletcher earns the MLSE another passing grade.

NaNoReMo Project Update

Mike, I haven’t abandoned the project.  There’s something going on at work this week that demands my full attention.  I probably won’t have an update until Friday night/Saturday morning.

Hang in there.  Meantime, get ready for the Brian Burke era in Toronto by reading this excellent review of Brian Burke’s resume to date.  Can’t spare the time to read it?  Here’s a hint about the thesis:  “Canucks” and “Ducks” both rhyme with “sucks”.

A Place Of Its Own

Mike posted this in my little article about Gord Kirke’s busy, busy schedule:

Hello Mr.B.Burke.

Am Mr.G.Kirke, I work with a HOCKEY TEAM here in CANADA as an SEARCHING officer. I have just found out that a foreign customer with us WAS FIRED last year without leaving a next of kin to his PLAYERS and he has no known family. The HOCKEY TEAM will keep the PLAYERS if it remains unclaimed which will only favor the HOCKEY TEAM, so I decided to look for a foreigner that will agree to inherit the PLAYERS while I prepare grounds for the claim.

I deem it important to assure you that this is legal and genuine and will be carried out officially too. The claim itself is overdue and will be given prompt attention by the HOCKEY TEAM upon your payment request while I’ll give you exclusive details and support from here. I am ready to give you 25% of the HOCKEY TEAM for your support and I also guarantee the safety of your name and details.

I’ll furnish you with more details upon getting your immediate response.

Thank you.


Obviously, this is waaaay funnier than what I wrote. It deserves a post of its own.  Voilà.

Breaking News: Leafs Hire Coach / General Manager

TORONTO (JP) – Sources familiar with the inner workings of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment today confirmed that Alvin Fitzgibbons, 28, has been hired to replace recently fired Paul Maurice and interim G.M. Cliff Fletcher as Coach and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Fitzgibbons – until recently the Assistant Manager of a McDonald’s Restaurant at 2936 Finch Ave. E. in Toronto – was widely regarded by experts as an unlikely candidate Fitzgibbons trains to deal with Muskoka 5for either post as he has no prior coaching experience of any kind whatsoever and has learned everything he knows about the NHL by playing EA Sports’ NHL’04 on his Playstation 2. Prior to working with McDonald’s, Fitzgibbons (pictured at right) was employed by Eaton’s Canada on a “seasonal basis”.

According to a source close to the team, Fitzgibbons had submitted an application seeking a position in the concessions and guest services division of the hockey/basketball/condo building conglomerate; through administrative inadvertence, the Fitzgibbons application was mis-filed along with the credentials of some more conventional candidates for the Leafs coaching job, and an interview was scheduled as a result. Fitzgibbons was evidently initially hired as coach only, but impressed the MLSE board so much that they have bestowed upon him both portfolios effective immediately. The source notes that prior to being hired as the new coach of the Leafs, Fitzgibbons’ application for the position of Part-Time Deputy Assistant Popcorn Concession Manager had been rejected, as it was felt that Fitzgibbons lacked sufficient experience and a proven track record of successful results in the food service industry.

Asked why Fitzgibbons – who has never attended a National Hockey League game – would be hired as coach of the Maple Leafs, one source pointed to the urgency to do something to keep the media wolves at bay on Bay. “Alvin is available immediately,” said the source “except that he has to cover the Saturday night midnight to 8 a.m. shift on the drive-thru for the next 16 weeks. We think that works out well for us.” In addition to the convenience factor, Fitzgibbons is said to have wowed the Board during the interview process as a fresh thinker unburdened by preconceptions about his role and imbued with a novel perspective on the job. One board member who participated in the interview but who has asked to remain anonymous said, “Alvin had these mind-blowing ideas – for example, he’ll be instituting a system where every month he’s going to identify the one member of his team who has performed the best, and put that guy’s name and picture up on a plaque on the wall. Talk about accountability on the bench!” MLSE directors felt that Fitzgibbons’ coaching record was comparable to that of other rumoured candidates; for example, both Fitzgibbons and soon-to-be ex-San Jose Sharks’ coach Ron Wilson have each won zero Stanley Cups.

Board members were also reportedly so excited by Fitzgibbons’ plan to offer “smiles” for free to all patrons that they conferred the G.M. portfolio upon him, though jit should be noted that the MLSE Board, while stressing that Fitzgibbons will have complete autonomy over the team’s operations, has nevertheless slightly modified his plan – smiles will now be offered free at Air Canada Centre to fans who have paid the applicable yearly up-front licensing fee of $6000.

MLSE Board members also reportedly found that they were personally more compatible with Fitzgibbons than they were with many of the other potential candidates.  They attributed this easy camaraderie to Fitzgibbons’ non-traditional background. “So many of the other candidates we interiewed reminded us of the problems we’ve had in the past with some of our hires,” said the source, “talking about ‘forechecking scheme this’, ‘defensive system that’ and things like ‘salary cap room’ or ‘no movement clauses’- all this technical hockey mumbo jumbo that, frankly, the Board finds boring and confusing. That’s why we hired John Ferguson Jr. – he didn’t know fuck all about any of those things either, but I guess he went off track and tried to walk the walk and talk the talk of other hockey executives. We all know how that worked out. Fitz assures us that he couldn’t care less about any of that stuff and that he feels he isn’t capable of learning; we understand him and he is able to take very clear direction from above, so we’re pretty convinced we’ve found our man.”

Reached at his Etobicoke home, Fitzgibbons was unable to discuss his plans for the NHL club at length, as he had promised his mother he would wash the dishes following dinner and was hoping to take in the new episode of “Lost” airing on ABC before turning in for the evening.  Asked whether he was concerned about the pressure associated with the job, Fitzgibbons indicated that he was used to working in a high-stress environment.  “Trying to do a cash reconciliation, doing prep for the morning menu and keeping an eye out for the occasional shotgun-toting armed robber, that’s pressure,” Fitzgibbons quipped.   As to how he proposes to deal with the so-called “Muskoka Five” players with no-movement contracts, Fitzgibbons indicated that in the past, he had enjoyed a certain amount of success by simply promising to deliver a toy train and handing out a couple of candy canes.

Fitzgibbons is expected to commence work with the Maple Leafs as soon as he can make arrangments to borrow his brother-in-law’s car.

The Book of Burke 1:01

With the Anaheim Mighty Ducks eliminated from playoff contention last night, cue the Toronto media hype about Brian Burke, incoming General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Part Time Saviour of All Mankind. Details remain unclear concerning His Holiness’ expected time of arrival here in the GTA; it is also unknown whether he will be flying in through Pearson, teleporting, or merely decreeing out of existence all space and time between His current location on the left coast and the foot of Bay Street (heads up, Idaho!). I give you exhibit A, the babbling prattle of Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox:

It begins today. Officially, that is. Unless Gord Kirke has presented the MLSE board with an entirely different game plan, Burke has been the No.1 target of the Leafs since John Ferguson was fired in January and he’s still the No.1 target.

This thing is now going to heat up quickly.

“It’s going to go from 33 1/3 rpm to 45 rpm in a hurry,” one source said.

Is that quotation really to be taken seriously? First, am I to believe that someone [the source] said “33 1/3 rpm to 45 rpm”? Ignore, for a moment, the astonishingly anachronistic (and not particularly compelling) metaphor. Even back in the old days (when people read newspapers, for example), if and when people made reference to long playing records, nobody added the “rpm” part in to the sentence, which means it’s likely that Cox just dropped it in there. How the heck am I supposed to rely on a quote that I’m fairly certain has been monkeyed with? Okay, you can stop ignoring the astonishingly anachronistic metaphor now: evidently , Cox couldn’t find anyone under the age of seventy willing to discuss the situation. “It’s going as rapidly as ye olde prunes through the digestion of King Henry,” quoth one scribe. Finally, I assume that in using this figure of speech the “source” (demanding anonymity for obvious reasons, given the incredible sensitivity of this most highly secret information) meant to suggest a sudden and substantial increase in the pace of activity. Is that sense of frenetic acceleration truly conveyed in this sentence? Would you be left with the impression of a sudden frenzy if the “source” had spelled out the metaphor in more arithmetic terms: “The lazy revolution of this LP is going to increase in frequency by somewhat less than 40%“?

What a great load of bollocks, I say. What is the story here? What is it, exactly, that is gathering such profound momentum that only an obsolescent metaphor will suffice to describe the massive approaching wave of Burke-mania speeding towards the parched hockey desert of Hogtown, at last joyously quenching the insatiable thirst for the Hockey Wisdom that only He (Praise be his Name) can bring?

Well, if you read the “story” closely, here’s what it actually reports: Brian Burke is the General Manager of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. He has been for a couple of years. It is generally believed that the Leafs are interested in hiring him as their General Manager. They became interested in January, when they fired the last unfortunate idiot who held that job. Burke’s team finished losing its playoff series last night. So now they can pick up the phone and call him. Y’know, to find out if he’s interested. Unless, of course, the source is wrong and Gord Kirke has a different plan. [Pause: sound of crickets chirping.] To be more concise: having thought about it since January, the Maple Leafs might call Brian Burke soon.

Invigorating, isn’t it, the chilling rush that comes with just being associated with the breakneck pace of this unstoppable coronation? Thank God – er, I mean, “Thank Brian Burke” that Damien Cox had that anonymous source willing to go out on a limb and share with him – and by extension, us – the thrilling and lightning-fast unseen front office machinations of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the National Hockey League.

By Almighty Burke, I’m glad to be alive!

I’ll Have the Egg Salad…and a Penalty Killing Scheme, Please.

Cliff Fletcher apparently met with the media fletcher_cliff_getty_260today to give a horrible season by a bad team the uncomfortable (but not overly time-consuming) eulogy it needed. Wisely preferring not to point fingers at under-achieving players (which might lead to some uncomfortable moments among the pallbearers while interring the corpse), Fletcher further stipulated that the future of Leaf coach Paul Maurice is up to the incoming General Manager. According to the Globe and Mail’s account of Fletcher’s remarks, Fletcher appears to have quite appropriately assumed the hushed tones and comforting countenance of a caring and compassionate funeral director. He offered re-assurance for Leaf fans that time heals all wounds, and that the Leafs are going to a better place.

“The message is simple,” says the interim general manager. “The team is going to get better.

“It’s going to be a team starting next October that the fans are going to get excited about and be able to become proud about again.”

HiR:tb sources deep inside Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment confirm that the “there, there, it will get better in time” theme underlying Fletcher’s remarks to the media was selected after several board meetings characterized by boisterous debate between opposing management camps; in the end, the board decided this approach would be superior to the “don’t worry, the 2007-2008 Maple Leafs went to live on a farm” message that reportedly tested very well in focus-groups composed largely of six-year olds, hardcore Tie Domi fans from Woodbridge, and CBC budget planning executives.

In the “No Shit Sherlock” Department, please note that Fletcher isn’t saying that the turnaround will come quickly:

“Back when I was in Calgary and we looked up the road at the Edmonton Oilers . . . I had lunch with a rancher one day,” Fletcher recalled. “I said, ‘Boy, we’ve got to straighten this thing out in a hurry.’

“He said, ‘Cliff, the corral is full of horses but you can only bring one into the barn at a time.’

Couched as it is in folksy wisdom terms involving things like barns, horses and corrals, this observation must indisputably be both pithy and truthful. As compelling as all agricultural reasoning may be, however, I think that it would have been better for Uncle Cliff to quote Robert Duvall’s character (Officer Bob Hodges) from the film Colors, which would have had the obvious advantage of referring to bulls and fornication instead of barns and horses (which are, no doubt, a rather “girly” animal). Perhaps it’s just a matter of personal preference, but I think that this reference, delivered with the appropriate amount of non-Michael Jackson-like crotch grabbing would have a salutary effect upon Fletcher’s overall machismo and might well intimidate other general managers and scare them into making a stupid trade with the Leafs, such as Andrew Raycroft for – well, anybody.

The real news in this article, however, concerns neither the public grieving for a stillborn season, nor the relative merits of colourful rural parables. Rather, the incredible news in this item concerns the nature of an NHL general manager’s job duties: to run a team based upon the received wisdom of sandwich-gobbling cowboys. All these years, I thought that general managers were executives who functioned much like management in other business organizations: setting goals, objectives and priorities, evaluating personnel, devoting scarce institutional resources towards certain needs and doing things like, well, managing (generally) their organization’s attempts to achieve an objective. I guess I just sort of assumed that the decisions the manager made would be based upon his own assessment of the correct organizational response to the particular challenges faced at any given point in time. It would appear, however, that the evidence runs much to the contrary: if the Calgarian renaissance in question was indeed sparked by an aphorism-spouting farmer, the key to success does not come from within, but is instead received as a fait accompli from without.