Will parting hinder Burke's pursuits?

Updated: May 6, 2004, 11:40 PM ET
By Jim Kelley | ESPN.com

Available: Highly respected National Hockey League general manager with a talent for recognizing and acquiring emerging talent. ... Well-schooled in building a team on a budget. ... Previously served as a league vice president responsible for hockey operations and discipline. ... Background also includes player representation, a Harvard law degree and minor-pro playing experience. ... A skilled contract negotiator and business manager. ... Resuscitated the Vancouver Canucks as a competitive hockey team, business entity and community asset. ... Affable, personable and strong-willed, although bombastic at times and prone to go looking for a fight. ... Excellent media skills, including the ability to defend corporate and personal interests in the face of unrelenting public pressure. ... Playoff record is a bit spotty, but performance was better than budget restraints seemed to allow ... plus, you go try and find a good, cheap goalie in this league.

Where does one go with a resume like that?

If you're Brian Burke you should be able to go anywhere you darn well please -- if you can get around one ticklish little item:

Reason for leaving previous employment: terminated, reason unknown.

It would have been nice had the Canucks filled in the blank. Instead, by not offering a reason why Burke wasn't retained by Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, the team's parent company, team chief executive Stan McCammon did Burke a disservice.

McCammon, who's name was noticeable in its absence from Burke's departing statements, said offering up reasons "puts one in a position of having to make comments that could be misinterpreted or put different people in negative lights and I don't think there's any productivity to that."

Nice thought, but McCammon is a lawyer and likely knows that the laws of public perception are congruent to the laws of physics in matters like this. When a vacuum is created, nature says it must be filled. And when it comes to public perception, if you don't fill it, someone else surely will.

As a result, there are several reasons circulating in the rumor mill.

One is that there was a clash of styles between upper management (read: McCammon) and Burke. Another is that it was a financial decision and Burke's asking price had become too high. A third, scuttled a bit by the hiring of Dave Nonis as Burke's replacement, is that the parent company, headed by Seattle-based John McCaw, is close to selling the team and leaving the door open for new ownership to bring in its own manager is likely to be a term of sale. Though no one from either side is openly talking about a sale of the team, the club has long been rumored to be on the block and several Canadian media outlets have reported that there are suitors.

A fourth, told to ESPN.com by a source close to the team, was that some members of the organization felt Burke wasn't a team player and took too much credit for the on-ice and, especially, the off-ice success the organization has enjoyed in recent seasons.

Burke did not return a phone call this week seeking comment, but in a previous interview he told ESPN.com he didn't think money was impeding a new deal. In his press-release statement, Burke made a point of thanking McCaw by name, a transparent ploy to deflect any finger-pointing away from the team's owner.

None of that favors Burke, however. So unless someone comes forward with some hard and cold reasons for his dismissal, Burke has little choice but to swallow hard and move on.

It won't be easy.

Sources close to Burke told ESPN.com that he had compelling professional and personal reasons for wanting to stay in Vancouver. The source also said the parting was not mutual, which will hurt Burke in the always-closed circles of the NHL. No one knows of any on-the-record reason why Ted Nolan was fired by the Buffalo Sabres a month after winning the 1997 Jack Adams Award for leading the the team to the Northeast Division title, but everyone knows he hasn't worked in the NHL since.

Burke, 48, does not appear to be in that much disfavor and it's likely he'll be courted by several teams. There is an opening of sorts in Chicago, a franchise in dire need of a extreme makeover, and one New York-based source said the league would smile on the Wirtz family should they opt to employ Bettman's former VP. Several other organizations are reported to be considering a change simply because their fans or their business situations demand it. There's also a possibility that Burke could return to the league offices, either to reprise his role as part of the NHL's team to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement or to assume his old job, should Colin Campbell opt to return to coaching or take a general manager's job.

It's possible that Burke, an American, could take on a role with USA Hockey -- assisting the current tandem of Larry Pleau and Don Waddell the upcoming World Cup of Hockey or overseeing the 2006 Olympic Games entry, which may eventually include amateurs instead of professionals depending upon the outcome of CBA negotiations.

Though the money pales in comparison to that of a GM, Burke might consider hitting the airwaves. Electronic media analysis has long been the job of choice for ex-players and temporarily out-of-work coaches, the majority of whom bring little in the way of new or interesting views. The perspective of a former agent, general manager, director of hockey operations and CBA architect who can relay a lawyer's insight and an insider's knowledge to a viewing audience in laymen's terms would be unique.

Still, people close to Burke say he still wants to be a GM, especially of the Vancouver Canucks.

The problem is they don't want him.

Unfair as that may seem in light of his accomplishments there, Burke has to deal with that.

One suspects that his former bosses in Vancouver want it that way.

Jim Kelley is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Submit questions or comments to his mail bag.

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