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Brian Burke “deeply offended” by Toronto columnist criticizing his visit with troops in Afghanistan

Jul 5, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

Brian Burke AP

There’s a saying that goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Apparently for Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke it’s one he’s gotten to be acquainted with recently. During TSN’s free agency frenzy broadcast this past Friday, Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons took Burke to task for being out of the country while the madness of free agency began at noon that day. Simmons took issue with Burke being in Afghanistan visiting Canadian troops (video).

While you’d think that those guys taking time out, especially when there’s business to be done back at home, to pay respect to those serving abroad and trying to lift their spirits would win Burke points with anyone and everyone, Simmons complained on the air and in print about Burke not being in Toronto to do Leafs business. At heart of his argument was Burke not being in town to negotiate with and convince Brad Richards to be a Maple Leaf. Richards, of course, signed with the New York Rangers and made Leafs fans disappointed they weren’t landing a #1 center.

Burke upon returning to Toronto had a few comments for Simmons criticisms of how he handled business from thousands of miles away. Michael Traikos of The National Post heard from a very upset Brian Burke.

Insults, taunts, slurs — he takes them all with a grain of salt. But when a Toronto columnist criticized the GM’s decision to visit the Canadian troops in Afghanistan on the same day that NHL free agency began last week, Burke said Monday he was “deeply offended.”

“They ask you to go,” said Burke, who was joined on the trip by Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn. “It’s not like you call them and say, ‘Hey, it would be good PR if I went to Afghanistan.’ I didn’t tell anyone I went and I didn’t talk to anyone when I got back. I did it because it was the right thing to do.”

Doing things because it’s the right thing to do is something Burke’s gotten very good at of late. Upon returning to Toronto this weekend, he marched in the city’s gay pride parade to pay respect to his son, Brendan, who died in a car accident and fought stereotypes by coming out of the closet while working as an assistant coach at Miami University.

While Simmons has a point to be made about Burke not being there on one of the biggest days of the year for a team in the NHL, choosing to pick an argument and raise hell with Burke over this situation is pathetic. If he wants to criticize Burke for not landing Richards, fine. Taking issue with him doing a goodwill mission to lift the spirits of the troops fighting abroad is ridiculous. It’s not as if the Canadian government will bend to Burke’s schedule, they tell him when he can go and then he has to make it work.

As for Simmons, he stands by what he says.

“I don’t regret anything,” Simmons said in an interview. “I made a point that a lot of people thought and weren’t willing to go forward on. I think that’s something that needed to be done.

“To me, it’s like you go to court and you hire Eddie Greenspan to defend you and then when it comes to the closing arguments of the trial he hands it off to someone else. Well, that wasn’t what you bargained for. Why didn’t Brian Burke make the pitch for Brad Richards?”

With the amount of stupid money thrown around on Friday and the insane offer Richards accepted from the Rangers, perhaps the Leafs were better served staying out of that fight. As it was, Burke’s assistants including Dave Nonis had everything locked down and even had Burke available by teleconference from Afghanistan should they need to call him in. It’s not as if Burke left the office and didn’t do his job.

In the end, Burke comes out smelling like a rose because he’s doing the right thing as a human being and Simmons comes off looking like a rather petty man with poor timing trying to brown nose with Leafs fans who might be upset about losing out on Richards. We know that it’s the job of a columnist to generate discussion and to push buttons on occasion, but taking potshots at a guy that’s doing a lot of good in the world isn’t the way to go about it. Pick on a failed trade or a bad signing, not when he’s helping people.

  1. warpstonebc - Jul 5, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    Except when you leave all the feel-good stuff out of it, you really have to wonder how many owners would be thrilled that their GM would schedule himself as unavailable on the start of free agency.

    Simmons has a valid point. I have no love for the Leafs or even their fans, but even I have to scratch my head with how they get the yo-yo treatment from their management.

    • sharksfan754 - Jul 5, 2011 at 2:12 PM

      yes, but you have to include the feel good stuff in it because that’s the whole purpose of this trip, that’s what made it more important than free agency. It’s not as if Burke decided to go on vacation to Hawaii.

      • hystoracle - Jul 5, 2011 at 2:42 PM

        I think it was incredibly bad timing. He couldn’t go visit the troops the next day? Visiting the troops is great and helps raise morale. For the gesture, I commend him. But the timing was ludicrous. He is not an important cog in the war machine. If he went a day or two later it would have the same effect. If Claude Julien had been invited the same day as game seven of the Cup final should he have gone? That’s what this is for a GM. The draft and the start of Free Agency are the two biggest dates on your calender. It’s what you are paid to do. If he had told the military that he would love to but he has to work, I feel they would have accommodated him. The criticism of the timing is fair.

  2. bcjim - Jul 5, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    Honestly, I cant fault the columnist. In principle, a trip to visit the troops can be made at anytime.

    If this was organized as part of a larger troop visiting thing that had lot of non-hockey people involved (and I assume this was the case), the Burke should have simply said “I’m sorry, at any other time I’d be happy to go, but I cannot make that date, Perhaps you can take so-and-so in my place.”

    • bcjim - Jul 5, 2011 at 12:43 PM

      Well, I see a lot of folks want to “thumb down” those of us with an opinion, but none want to make a reasonable argument.

    • hystoracle - Jul 5, 2011 at 2:44 PM

      I agree – the timing is the issue. People go to visit the troops on a year round basis. He couldn’t reschedule for late July?

  3. cshearing - Jul 5, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    Sorry, but I see Simmons’ point (which is a shocker, because I disagree with him on almost everything). I know you Yanks are especially fearful of not “supporting the troops”, but such a visit is not a panacea that absolves one of every other responsibility. There are approximately 360 other days of the year that would be fine to Burke to do this. I am not questioning what he did, it is an honourable thing. He is, however, paid millions to do a job, and this was one of the 3-4 most important days of the league year in that role. It has nothing to do with Richards, really; who knows what may have come up? We can speculate that Nonis and the others had things “locked down”, but Burke is not paid to simply delegate.

    • sharksfan754 - Jul 5, 2011 at 2:10 PM

      Correct me if I’m wrong but July 1st is Canada Day, the anniversary of Canada becoming a country. So the historical significance of the day isn’t the same on many other days of the year, which I’m assuming is why Burke made the trip on July 1st. Yes I know, it coincided with the first day of free agency and that is crucial to his job description but I still imagine they had their free agency agenda all sorted out way ahead of time

  4. andrewfbrowne - Jul 5, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    Wow, only in Canada do troops fighting for Canadians right to play hockey come in second to Hockey Free Agency.

    Either you believe Burke that he went as a guest of the Canadian government at a time of their choosing or you don’t. I love how Leafs fan are criticizing Burke for being an absentee landlord at the beginning of FA when their ownership group is the biggest absentee landlord in all of sports. Burke misses a day to do some good, the Leafs ownership misses the rest of the year every year as a matter of course.

    Go Leafs Go, fish rots from the head.

    • hystoracle - Jul 5, 2011 at 2:47 PM

      The Canadian government asked him to go? Wow the criticism should be levied on them. American government I could see not realizing the start of Free Agency in the NHL. But not the Canadian government?! That’s blasphemy for the canadian religion of that is hockey. It’s born in the blood from what I understand.
      I guess someone in the Canadian government doesn’t like the Leafs. Must have been a Habs fan!

  5. firemarshal1 - Jul 5, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    Now, I see the Brad Richards free agent pick up was an excellent one. By all counts initially from Canadian columnists, the NY Rangers pick up was a stupid one, but now the truth comes out. Great job Glen Sather!

  6. whatagreatfootballmind - Jul 5, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    Most teams do have something called an assistant GM. Being that the Leafs haven’t played a meaningful hockey game since you know March. I know the season ended in April, but I said meaningful. I’m guessing Burke and the assistant GM may have spoken once or twice. After all they allegedly prepared for the draft a week and a half ago. I’m sure Burke may have mentioned he was going out of town and said something along the line of “hey if you think we can get Richards, call his agent and make an offer of no more than x amount of year for x amount of millions.” Besides your all full of crap if you think GMs and agents don’t talk “off the record” before July 1. Your naive if you think that doesn’t happen.

  7. Mark - Jul 5, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    Simmons is a joke of a writer. But this is a pretty pathetic article, even for him.

  8. goforthanddie - Jul 5, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    Has the columnist in question taken the time to go visit troops himself? No? Then he should shut his puckhole.

  9. 89seminole - Jul 5, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    You Leaf fans are all assuming you had a chance at Richards and you never did!

  10. nhlbruins90 - Jul 5, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    I trust that the Leafs organization was fully prepared for free agency. We have cell phones now too. Pretty handy things. Go out and get one.

    As for people complaining about the timing? Are you people serious? They’re not running a tour group. You go when they say, and you consider it an honor. The families of those soldiers have more on their minds than hockey right now. Consider yourself lucky.

  11. habsman - Jul 5, 2011 at 10:27 PM

    Not only does this guy: 1) Manage the Leafs, 2) Offer advice on discipline in the playoffs, 3) Advocate on behalf gay rights, his services are urgently required to end the war in Afghanistan. I have no doubt in my mind that the Taliban were shaking in their sandals at the thought that Brian Burke was flying in from Toronto. Congrats TO, you have the clown you so deeply deserve. And with a head like that, he could get a job stretching football helmets.

    • nhlbruins90 - Jul 6, 2011 at 12:41 PM

      He didn’t go to Afghanistan to end the war, he went to show his support to the soldiers (and their families) who are making enormous sacrifices. These soldiers don’t make a lot of money, nobody knows their names or wears a jersey with their number on it. They do a job most of us could (or would) never do, and for the most part, all they ask is that they’re not forgotten half-way around the world.

      Watching an NHL game on TV is probably one of the few ways they can still feel connected to home in that remote and hostile place. When someone affiliated with the NHL makes the long and difficult trip over there to offer support, the effect is magnified. I suspect the Stanley Cup will find its way to a veterans hospital or two this summer for the same reason. It’s not that difficult to understand.

      If you believe that Brian Burke marching in a gay rights parade is motivated by ego, then you are just this side of crazy. He’s marching in the parade because his son can’t be there. It’s one way he can still tell his son how proud he is of him. It’s a heart-wrenching display of familial love and pride. If you can’t relate to that, then I pity you.

      Your problem seems to be Brian Burke’s performance as GM. It’s every fans right to bitch about their team, that’s what makes sports fun. What you are complaining about has nothing to do with the GM’s (or the Leafs) performance. Your comments are small-minded and juvenile. You’re an Habs fan? Probably one of those goons who boo the American national anthem. Stay classy, habsman.

  12. ynotflyers - Jul 7, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    OK, Now this is just my opinion but, this Guy is a fool, and even if it’s part of his job to get people to take notice of situations like this there where several other approaches. I love my hockey and even though I’m a die hard Flyers Fan I love my teams from Canada…….I can’t see Toronto paying out stupid money like they seem to do with ease in New York….If I thought Toronto was interested in my playing there I would have made an effort to find out what was holding things up on their end (or had my”people” find out). When are people going to realize that these KIDS are risking their lives so we can sit at home and watch Hockey Games…With the way of the world today, This Freedom some of us Enjoy can be a memory in a split second…..This Goon is a Dirt Mark on a neighbor I love and a bunch of people who if not instigated would not have given the situation more then 5 minutes of thought…Just my opinion though !!……Tony C.

  13. hooockey - Jul 8, 2011 at 1:20 AM

    He should have gone July 3 or so.

    You have to blame the military for the mess, why ask a guy who you know won’t say no, to do something noble, but on the most important day of the year for someone in his job. Why not avoid any controvery and say, Mr. Burke, can you come and help us on July 3.

  14. birdsnblues - Jul 8, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Please….Richards already knew where he was going.

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