The Life of Brian: Not All Firings Have To Make Sense

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by Puck

Hockey Correspondent, White Cover Magazine

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Everyone wants an explanation.

Absolutely everyone. They can’t just let it be. Brian Burke’s been fired and they just have to know. Why was he fired? Why now? What are the Maple Leafs thinking? What’s their plan without Burke? Can Dave Nonis handle the load? Was it about Roberto Luongo?

Do the Maple Leafs really think they’re better off now than they were yesterday?

The answer?

They don’t need to tell you.

“If there was ever a moment that called for Brian Burke to be the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was the day the big, loud, blustery Irishman got fired by them,” wrote Sportsnet‘s Michael Grange on Wednesday, in an online article titled “Explanation Needed”.

“It would have been great to have someone actually say why the man who arrived to lift the Leafs out of the ooze they’ve been rotting in for most of the last 45 years got axed with a year still remaining on his contract, if it’s not just because they remain in the ooze.”

If you think the Leafs owe their fans an explanation, a reason, or a rhyme, this is naive thinking. There seems to be some kind of human desire to treat every coach and every general manager like they’re more than who they are… they’re an employee. That’s it.

Nobody knows that better than Dave Nonis, the new Toronto GM who succeeded Brian Burke at the job in Vancouver, as well. In the spring of 2008, Nonis was fired after an injury-plagued Vancouver Canucks squad missed the playoffs in 2008. He was canned and everyone else cried foul. Why? Well, because that season wasn’t Dave Nonis’s fault.

But, to see what the Canucks organization saw is a luxury fans aren’t privy to.

The fact is, Nonis didn’t have the gusto or the jam to lead Vancouver down the right path. The Canucks knew that, but the fans couldn’t.

Nonis made that deal for Roberto Luongo, sure, but then he slunk away and waited for it all to work out. He rested on his first laurel, his only good move. He became entitled to the Luongo deal. Everyone in Vancouver made excuses for Nonis, but only until Mike Gillis came in and immediately changed the way the Canucks and their fans approach a season.

Since Gillis replaced Nonis, the Canucks haven’t missed the playoffs, have made the Stanley Cup Final, and have won two straight President’s Trophies.

There can’t be a more perfect example of the difference between the styles of Gillis and Nonis (and, actually, the styles of Burke and Nonis, too) than when the Canucks’ new GM offered Mats Sundin $10 million a year for two seasons on the first day of the 2008 Free Agent frenzy. It was way too much money for Sundin, sure, but Gillis showed more balls in that move than any Canucks GM had shown since 1969… and they didn’t even have a team in 1969.

The same goes for Lovie Smith, who was one of seven NFL coaches canned on Black Monday, December 31. Smith led the Chicago Bears to a 10-6 record, but they missed the playoffs. He was fired and everyone — including former Bears coach Mike Ditka — whined and sobbed at the news.

Did Lovie Smith deserve to get fired?

No.

But, should he be the coach of the Chicago Bears?

No.

Look, most people don’t deserve to get fired. They’re too good at their job and they can do a lot better than the evidence shows.

Brian Burke didn’t deserve to get fired, either.

But, the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t think he’s the man for the job. They don’t think he’ll win a Stanley Cup. They don’t want Brian Burke to be their GM. They’re just not interested.

Do they have to explain themselves?

Hell no.

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