Brian P. Burke (born June 30, 1955) is an American executive who is currently the President of Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames, and is a member of Rugby Canada’s Board of Directors. He most recently served as the president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs from November 29, 2008 through January 9, 2013. Burke was also the general manager for the United States national men's ice hockey team for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Early life and playing career
Born in Providence, Rhode Island and raised in Edina, Minnesota in a family of 10 children, Burke graduated from Providence College in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. While attending Providence, he played for the Friars Division-I ice hockey team, where, during his senior year, he served as captain. The team was coached by Lou Lamoriello. He was a teammate with Ron Wilson at Providence.
In 1977, Burke played seven games with the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League (AHL). He then proceeded to play one full year in the AHL with the Maine Mariners, who won the AHL Calder Cup Championship that year. After one year in the AHL, Burke attended Harvard Law School, where he graduated with a Juris Doctor in 1981.
Early career and GM of Hartford Whalers
After graduating, Burke became an NHL player agent. In 1987, he was hired by Pat Quinn to be the director of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks. In the 1992–93 season, he left that job to become general manager of the Hartford Whalers. Burke stepped down after one year in Hartford, so he could join the NHL front office as executive vice president and director of hockey operations, under league commissioner Gary Bettman.
In 1998, he became general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. With the Canucks, he was credited with reviving the ailing franchise and increasing attendance, with the drafting and signing of several key players such as Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, as the team won a playoff series and captured a division title. Following the 2003–04 NHL season, Canucks ownership chose not to renew Burke's contract for the GM position. Burke then briefly worked as an analyst for NHL games on both CBC and TSN. Burke's total record with the Canucks was 219-181-68-24.
GM of the Anaheim Ducks
Burke won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks as the GM in the 2006–07 NHL season. It was his second year as an executive with the club.
Burke stepped down as GM of the Anaheim Ducks on November 12, 2008. The Ducks management submitted papers to the NHL, releasing him from contractual commitment.
President and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs
On November 29, 2008, Burke was introduced as the president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, replacing interim general manager Cliff Fletcher. He became the 13th non-interim general manager of the club and the first to be American-born. He reportedly agreed to a six-year deal worth $3 million annually. Soon thereafter, on December 4, 2008, Burke offered Dave Nonis the position of senior vice-president and director of hockey operations for the Maple Leafs; Nonis accepted, marking the third time he has held this post under Burke; he had done so previously in Anaheim and Vancouver.
On January 9, 2013, Burke was fired by the Leafs as President and General Manager, and given a role as Senior Advisor to MLSE's President and C.O.O. Tom Anselmi, and the MLSE Board of Directors. The advisory role would not relate to hockey matters. Burke was fired principally by team director George A. Cope, who coerced the team's new ownership to make a change in team leadership. During Burke's tenure with the Leafs from November 2008 to January 2013, the team consistently failed to make the post-season and remained the only team in the League that was unable to do so following the 2004 lockout. With the Leafs, Burke amassed a record of 129-135-42.
During his time in Toronto, Burke was notably criticized for a controversial trade in 2009 with Boston, when he acquired sniper Phil Kessel for two first-round draft picks and a second-round selection. The Bruins used the picks to select star forward Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight. Burke was also criticized for taking personal leaves to visit troops overseas during prime free agency dates on multiple occasions.
In December 2011, Burke drew criticism in the media for his mid-season extension of head coach Ron Wilson, with whom he was notably friends. Despite Wilson's three consecutive losing seasons, Burke renewed Wilson's contract with a $2 million extension. News of the contract broke on social media site Twitter, where Wilson posted that "This Xmas could be better if Santa stuffs a certain piece of paper in my stocking." and "'He came! He came!' [...] I got a new Red Ryder BB gun and a contract extension!", to which Burke replied, "Congratulations to Ron Wilson on his contract extension! Merry Christmas Ron!" Later, Burke defended his decision in the media, stating “This is a coach who’s earned this, a coach who’s earned this extension,” and “It’s not charity. It’s not a gift.” However, Wilson was released with full pay three months later following mounting losses and jeers from fans. “Every coach has a shelf life,” Burke said. “After the last home game, it would be cruel and unusual punishment to let Ron coach another game in the Air Canada Centre.”
On September 5, 2013, Burke was named the President of Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames; a role not held by any other NHL club except the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Edmonton Oilers. A President of Hockey Operations is not to be confused with a team's President. A President of Hockey Operations sits between President (or Owner) and General Manager within a club's hierarchy. It is strictly an advisory position assuming little to no direct responsibility for team decisions. After firing Jay Feaster and John Weisbrod, he became the acting General Manager during the search for a permanent GM. On April 28, 2014, Burke hired Brad Treliving as the permanent GM of the Calgary Flames.
A dual citizen of the United States and Canada, Burke has two daughters with Jennifer Mather Burke, an anchor at CTV News Channel.
Burke also has four children from a previous marriage, including Patrick, a former scout for the Philadelphia Flyers and as of 2015 a director in the NHL's Department of Player Safety. Burke is a strong supporter of gay rights and attended the 2009 Toronto Gay Pride Parade with his son Brendan Burke, who was gay. On February 5, 2010, Brendan died, aged 21, from injuries suffered in a car accident in Indiana. Brian Burke also participated in the 2010 and 2011 Toronto Gay Pride Parades. On March 4, 2012, Burke and his son Patrick launched the You Can Play project in honor of Brendan, which is targeted at ending homophobia in sports.
Defamation lawsuit filed against anonymous posters
On April 26, 2013, Burke filed a lawsuit against 18 individuals who anonymously posted on websites claims that the actual reason he was fired from the Leafs was for allegedly having an affair with a female sportscaster and fathering her child. Burke said the claims were false and defamatory and, despite the costs which deter most victims of false statements on the Internet, he would seek court orders to disclose the names of those involved.
While the anonymity of the defendants has proved bringing the lawsuit to a civil trial problematic, Burke was able to achieve a minor victory at the BC Supreme Court when they ruled anonymous defendants could be served notice of the proceedings through the private messaging on the message boards with which they made slanderous statements. As of April 2014, Burke and his legal team have made some progress in tracking down the identities of several of the individuals and have forced them to make retractions.