A great deal of the coverage of Brian Burke's firing has focused on the odd timing of the move. It is a little perplexing that MLSE decided to get rid of the GM a few days before the shortened season starts. True. For me, the strange part is that there was absolutely no media leaks, innuendo, whispers or veiled/blatant threats that a move was in the cards. It was so secretive it is as if Anthopoulos was running things or something. Regardless, it was clear that someone at the top of the food chain wanted Burke out and they made sure it happened. The media speculated about the possible reasons. Stubbornness, prickliness, personal problems, personality problems, lack of a plan for the future, poor performance in the past...whatever, he was in the cross hairs. This to me is the surprising thing, that Burke was walking on thin ice and that nobody really new about it.
Now that we have been told that the ownership was considering a change, the timing actually makes perfect sense to me. If they wanted Burke gone, do it now. To illustrate why, here are a few scenarios that could have played out that would have clarify why the time was now. The bottom line, you have to assume that MLSE wanted to make the change, so the timing is the only thing to question.
If the Leafs stumble out of the gate, potentially dooming the chances of the playoffs, fabulous. You can get rid of him and all will be well. As frightening as it is to admit it, the odds of this happening could be pretty good. If the team only wins four of the first ten games, Leaf nation will panic. Let's face it, we are conditioned for this, and fans will start raving and drooling like Pavlov's dog. Light the torches and grab your pitchfork and get yourself to the ACC as soon as possible!
But what if it doesn't happen? You are stuck with Burke if the team is even mediocre. You can't justify a firing, even in a shortened season, if the team is .500 after ten or twelve games. And if they start off hot? Well, Burke is here for the season. You have to live with that, and maybe even more. Can you fire Burke the year after he makes the playoffs? No.
And what about player movement. Everyone has said that Burke needed to make a big trade to save his job so the fans were expect something big. If Burke makes a trade that works out well for the team, how can you fire the guy after that? Let me just pull a name from out of a hat....um...Roberto Luongo. Let's pretend Burke traded for Luongo and your new shiny goalie gives hope to Leaf fans for better things to come. You can't get rid of a GM that pulls something like that off, can you? What if the trade back fires? Well, could you fire Burke if he traded for Luongo and he plays terribly or he got hurt a couple weeks later? Don't you have to let this play out a little before you fire Burke? What would it do to Luongo's ego if the GM that traded for you gets canned two weeks later? Would you feel good about playing out the remaining years of your contract (of which there are many) playing for a team that was so impressed by your acquisition that they dump the man that pulled the trigger? To sum things up, if you want to fire your GM and make your fans happy, you can't let him make a trade of any magnitude first.
So, what happens now that MLSE had dumped the GM before the season? Is the timing really strange? I think MLSE has done something that is actually very clever (minus the way they handled the communications and PR of the move, admittedly that sucked. Nonis looked like he had been dry heaving prior to the press conference). MLSE have set Dave Nonis up to succeed, regardless of what happens. Isn't this what you want to do? Any way you want to spin things, Nonis is going to look great. Won't this take some pressure off of him and the team?
If the Leafs stumble out of the gate, the heat doesn't fall on your new GM (or if you kept him, the circus side show that would have followed your old one). Sure, Nonis was part of the old regime, but it was not him that had the final say on the guys on the ice. Those are Burke's mistakes (just like Burke had a couple years grace period with JFJ's guys that were mistakes). If the team starts off .500 or, even better, go on a tear...well that is fantastic! Nonis is in charge of a team on the rise. Sure he inherited all the players, but he had a hand in shaping that team! Spin is fun! We are in good shape!
What about a big trade. If you let your new GM make the trade that was going to happen anyway, and suppose all goes well, Nonis gets all the credit. If Luongo, or any other newly acquired player, leads you to the playoffs, Nonis is a hero. If you trade for Luongo and he stumbles this year (or he gets hurt), he still has many years to make you look good. He will be motivated to make you look good as well, because Nonis showed faith and traded for you. Again. More importantly, you are not the former GM's guy (which brings a new level of pressure to impress). If you don't think that mentality exists, type in "should Nonis trade Kessel" into Google and tell me what happens. Let's be honest, the trade that killed Burke is the acquisition of Phil Kessel. Admit it, you would rather have Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton wearing the Blue and White today, right? You probably didn't feel that strongly about it when those picks were more abstract and Kessel was putting up 30 goals in 2009-10.
You can argue that Burke deserved another season, a short one at that, to right the ship. You can argue that he would have. You can also argue that MLSE lacked class when they ousted Burke (as Damien Cox did). If you are an optimist and you want to look forward to the new Leaf regime (strange concept in Leaf land, I know), you can argue the opposite point. Nonis will be a hero if the Leafs make the playoffs this year. MLSE showed some class setting Nonis up to succeed instead of hiring him mid-year when things were in total disarray. Since they wanted Burke gone, this was the only time that they could have done it.