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After Brian Burke firing, details emerge of internal 'war' at MLSE

The firing of GM Brian Burke is the first of several changes at MLSE, as the new Maple Leaf owners continue to enact change in Toronto.

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Bruce Bennett

The firing of Toronto Maple Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke last Wednesday caught the hockey world by surprise, coming just days before the start of NHL training camps. Since the move by Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment to fire Burke and promote Dave Nonis, details have emerged of an even greater shift in the management of the biggest hockey franchise in North America.

According to a comprehensive report in the The Globe & Mail, the personnel decision was the first of a likely number of changes being made after BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. completed their purchase of a 75 percent stake in the franchise. The new owners will be much more proactive in the operations of the Maple Leafs, who had long been at the mercy of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, and been accused by fans of only caring about finances and not building a winning franchise.

The move was also the first salvo fired at minority owner Larry Tanenbaum, who owns 25 percent of the company. Per the report:

Facing off against Mr. Tanenbaum is another key shift. At most corporations, his smaller ownership stake would limit Mr. Tanenbaum's influence. At MLSE, he has enjoyed unusual sway in many aspects of the sports company over the years. "He thinks he runs the business," said a former MLSE director who declined to be identified.

Sources said Mr. Tanenbaum was surprised when Rogers and BCE proposed jettisoning the GM. "There is a war going on at MLSE right now," said a person familiar with the decision.

The Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967 and were the only team in the NHL to not make the postseason between the 2004-2005 lockout and the lockout that was just lifted. The last postseason series win for Toronto came in 2004, a 4-3 series win over the Ottawa Senators.