TORONTO – Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli says he wouldn’t stand in Brian Burke’s way if his general manager chose to jump to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Burke says he’s not interested in leaving the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
“I have no intention of going anywhere else,” says Burke. “I’ve said this repeatedly to anyone who will listen.
“I’m not sure which part of it I’m not saying in English.”
The Toronto job would be great, he said, but he and his wife are happy in California.
“We really love it in Anaheim,” Burke said. “We work for special people there. We want to stay.”
Burke is on a four-year contract through 2008-2009. If Burke had a change of heart and opted to explore other opportunities, he’d give him permission, Samueli said.
“I would never stop anyone from doing what they felt was right for their career but hopefully we’ve provided the environment in Anaheim where Brian wants to spend the rest of his career because he’s certainly earned that privilege and that right by winning the Stanley Cup in only his second year as general manager,” Samueli said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s got a job for life in Anaheim if he wants it.
“We’ll certainly move very aggressively to extend his contract and hopefully he can continue this winning tradition in Anaheim.”
Talk about Burke possibly considering the Toronto job doesn’t bother him, said Samueli.
“No, because I’m very comfortable that Brian is happy with the Anaheim Ducks organization, and we’re thrilled with him. It’s a natural part of sports. People move around all the time. It’s not surprising to me that any other team in the league would love to have Brian as part of their organization, but hopefully we can entice him to spend the rest of his career in Anaheim.”
The Samuelis were at the Hockey Hall of Fame to present a 2007 Stanley Cup ring to the hockey shrine. Anaheim is the first team to do so. It was put on display alongside a ring from 1893, which was the first year a team gave its players championship rings. The Samuelis, Burke and other club executives were on their way to Atlanta for all-star festivities this weekend.
Burke, 52, was president and GM of the Vancouver Canucks from 1998 to 2004, and there have been suggestions in the media he’d jump at a chance to move back to Canada at the helm of the Leafs, who are being managed on an interim basis by Cliff Fletcher after the firing Tuesday of John Ferguson.
“I’m flattered by all this,” he said, standing in the HHOF two blocks from the Leafs’ Air Canada Centre. “It’s a great job.
“If you’re Catholic, this is the Vatican.”
Toronto is the epicentre, along with Montreal, of the hockey universe, Burke said.
“I’m flattered by all the attention and that someone would think I’m the right guy for this, but I have a job that I love and I work for special people in the Samuelis,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Burke had glowing words for Ferguson and for Richard Peddie, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
“This past year, to watch the slow disembowelling of John Ferguson, it’s something no one should go through,” said Burke. “John Ferguson is a good guy and history will look back more kindly on him than they are now.
“A couple of years from now people will say, ‘Geez, that was one of Fergie’s drafts.’ He’s a great guy. To watch him endure that fate was difficult. So, everyone assumes then that Richard Peddie must be a bad guy. He’s not a bad guy. I really believe that John Ferguson would have been in trouble last summer except for Richard Peddie.
“Working for Richard Peddie would be an honour for me. It wouldn’t be a problem. It would be just the opposite. I think he’s a good guy. That is not a stumbling block at all for me. I don’t think it’s going to be for anyone. They’re not going to have to beg anyone to take this job. You’re talking about one of the plum jobs in all of pro sports.
“I’m sure they’ll get a great guy to do this, but we’re happy where we are.”
Burke said he first contract negotiations with the Ducks “took about four minutes” and when it comes time for an extension “I think it’ll take about four minutes this time, too.”
Burke conceded that it is tough to be general manager of a Canadian NHL team but said he doesn’t know anyone who is afraid of the challenge.
“There’s constant, unrelenting pressure to excel,” he said. “It’s on the manager, and it’s on the coach and it’s on the players, and I think that’s good.
“I think it helped us improve in Vancouver. We’ve had to in the short term in California to manufacture that internally through team pressure. Now we’ve got the extrernal pressure, we’ve got the building full. But I think the external pressure working in Canada is a blessing as much as a curse. Everybody says the Toronto media is tough. Well, there’s a couple of jerks here. By and large, most of the people here are fair. The team plays well and they write that. The team plays poorly and they write that. That’s their job.
“So, I don’t know why anyone would be afraid of taking this job just because of the media. I think that’s ridiculous.”
Burke runs things by Ducks CEO Michael Schulman but, otherwise, has a free hand to do as he pleased in running the Ducks.
“I’ve got a dollar limit in my contract as far as what I can spend or acquire,” he explained. “I have to run it by ownership, but we’ve violated that about 20 times in 2 1-2 years.
“I don’t have to call Mike and tell him about trades because we involve him early on. There’s no interference. They just want to know what’s going on.”
On the Samuelis, Burke said the couple’s philanthropic endeavors include giving away $150 million to charities in Orange County in the last five years.
“They’re unbelievable people,” he said. “I’ve got the best gig in pro sports, I think, to have owners that really care, want to win and leave me alone from a decision making process.
“We’re not going anywhere unless the Samuelis don’t want us.”
It was Henry Samueli who suggested donating the ring. Teams do it at the Baseball Hall of Fame, so he felt hockey teams should be doing it, too.
“This is something I hope other teams follow up on,” said Burke. “Maybe even a couple teams that won in the last couple of years.
“They keep those molds forever, so maybe Tampa Bay will donate a ring, or maybe Carolina. This building recognizes and immortalizes greatness. I think our players were great last spring and now they’ll be immortalized that way. I hope more teams follow suit. This was Henry’s idea, and it was a great one.”