One place where Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has not found support is in one pivotal fan whom he had always taken to be a friend: Don Cherry.
A week ago, Cherry – who had been extremely critical of former Leafs head coach Ron Wilson – used his Coach’s Corner segment to attack Burke for not having any Ontario players on his NHL team. And, all week long, the Toronto sports media pot has boiled over with charges Burke went behind the backs of Cherry and co-host Ron MacLean to try and bring an end to the CBC’s popular Hockey Night in Canada intermission show.
No one denies there was a meeting held around the time of the NHL’s January all-star break and no one denies Burke was vociferous in speaking out, but he denies there was any “sneaking around” to it in that the discussion took place during a meeting between league GMs and CBC sports representatives.
Several GMs expressed various concerns with the Hockey Night in Canada program. Burke also says he forewarned CBC executives the issue of journalistic professionalism would be raised and says, as well, he contacted MacLean to give a head’s up on the coming discussion.
As for Cherry’s reaction, which has raged all week in Toronto sports pages, Burke remains bewildered by both the accusations of back-stabbing and the attack on the Leafs’ demographics.
“I don’t usually watch Coach’s Corner,” he says. “But I have enjoyed my friendship with Don Cherry. I was puzzled by the outburst. I have not talked to him about it. Some time, I’ll sit down with him. I don’t know what touched that off, but I’m not going to escalate it. Not because I’m afraid of a public battle with Don Cherry. I’m a big boy. I’m very happy to feud with the media when I feel I need to. But it’s just so wrong.
“The facts are wrong. I’ve drafted more Ontario-born kids than any other GM in my three drafts in Toronto. I’ve drafted two first-rounders, Stuart Percy and Nazem Kadri. Look at my record in Anaheim [with the Ducks] I brought in Chris Pronger – pretty sure he’s an Ontario boy. I traded for Eddie Jovanovski in Vancouver [with the Canucks]
“It’s just wrong. The basis for the rant was wrong. And that’s why I’m not going to escalate it. I have enjoyed my friendship with Don and I just don’t understand it.”