ANAHEIM, Calif. – Brian Burke turned down a contract extension to remain general manager of the Ducks on Wednesday, citing the need to spend more time with his family and the strong state of the team he helped turn into a Stanley Cup champion as reasons for leaving.
He was replaced by Bob Murray, who has spent the past three seasons in the Ducks’ front office.
“People leaving a job tend to want to leave a monument and talk about what a great team they left – and the guy coming in wants to point out all the holes in the hull. But I believe I have delivered here and that I’m leaving Bob a pretty good team,” Burke said at a hastily called news conference at Honda Center.
“The way we look at it, we have as good a defence as anyone in the National Hockey League, we’ve got the best money goaltender, the best checking line, and two of the best young players (Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry). So that’s part of my decision. If I felt a major overhaul was needed here, then it would be harder to leave.”
The Ducks are 9-7-1 and in second place in the Pacific Division this season.
The 53-year-old Burke explained that he wants to spend more time with his six children and that 11 years of commuting coast to coast was enough for him.
“This is the toughest decision I’ve ever had in my life, professionally, as far as what to do next,” Burke said. “I’ve been wrestling with the decision. I’ve got four older children on the East Coast and two little ones (4 1/2 and 2 1/2), and I don’t see any of them enough. So I felt if I can get a chance to get in the same time zone with them, I’m going to take it.”
Burke and Ducks CEO Michael Schulman have been discussing this possibility for the past 11 months and Burke made his decision Nov. 1. Schulman said he was disappointed at first, but insists their relationship is “stronger than ever.”
“The reason for a mid-season change is simple: We wanted to give Brian all the time he needed to make a sound decision. After everything he’s done for the franchise, he deserved that,” Schulman said. “We accept his decision as being in the best interests of his family. We are a family first organization.”
One of the factors that made the decision easier for Burke was the 2007 Stanley Cup championship.
“There wouldn’t have been any decision without that,” Burke said. “I would have continued to do the flying and the commute. There’s no way I would have had the nerve to ask to go back somewhere if I hadn’t have won a championship here. So that Stanley Cup justified my asking – because if I hadn’t delivered, it would have been a real different equation.”
For now, Burke will remain with the club as a special consultant to Schulman through the transition period – which he hopes with be a short one.
“I’m going to try to get off the payroll as quickly as I can once I’m told it’s the appropriate time frame,” Burke said. “Mike Schulman’s been very generous with me, and I don’t want to draw any pay here after I no longer have a useful roll. But that’s their call, too.”
Murray has spent 33 seasons in the NHL, and was a two-time all-star during his 15-year playing career – all of them with the Chicago Blackhawks. They named him general manager in 1997 after two seasons under Bob Pulford, then fired him in 1999.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Murray said. “The day I was let go in Chicago, one of the first phone calls I got that day was from Brian Burke. He called me again the next day, telling me that he would hire me immediately. His goal was to get me back in the saddle. There’s only 30 of these jobs available, and it’s an honour and a privilege for me to come here and take over. I’m excited and I can’t wait to get started.”
Murray also will carry the title of executive vice president. He has spent the last three-plus seasons with the Ducks, who have made the playoffs every year he has been with the team.
“We all knew that Murph was the guy that should take the job,” Burke said. “There are other qualified people on the staff, but Murph has been my right hand man here and has been involved in every decision. He’s going to be the guy to step behind the wheel, anyhow, than the sooner the better. We’ve got lots of important decisions facing this hockey club.”
Suddenly, Burke has emerged as one of the top candidates for teams looking to snag a GM with a marquee name and an impressive track record. But he’s uncomfortable talking about it, even though he has to find another job eventually.
“There’s no fun for GMs who are in trouble when there’s a guy out there that’s available,” Burke said. “I remember when I was a rookie GM in Vancouver and Glen Sather got let go (by Edmonton). It was like being on a beach and knowing there was a great white shark out there. So I hope that this situation doesn’t change any other GM’s situation.”
Burke has been strongly linked to the Toronto Maple Leafs GM position, which Cliff Fletcher is currently filling on a temporary basis.