McKenzie: Burke deal close to reaching logical conclusion

Bob McKenzie
11/25/2008 10:04:42 PM
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The Brian Burke-Toronto Maple Leafs saga is close to reaching its logical conclusion.

It is expected that unless there is a dramatic reversal before Saturday, prior to the Maple Leafs-Philadelphia Flyers' game at Air Canada Centre, Burke will be named president and general manager of the Maple Leafs.

"It's certainly headed in the right direction," Burke told TSN in response to a published report that he was going to be named, "but it's not done yet. I anticipate it will get done but it's not done."

What is clear, though, is that the process went to the next level of commitment sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Richard Peddie, for the first time apparently, became directly involved in the negotiating process with Burke.

Until then, the dialogue between the Leafs and Burke's camp was primarily between MLSE consultant/lawyer Gordon Kirke and Burke's Vancouver-based lawyer Peter Gall and Burke himself.

That 10-day ongoing dialogue did include detailed discussions on what terms and conditions would be contained in a contract if MLSE took the formal step of offering one to Burke, but until Monday evening or Tuesday morning that had not happened. Burke had indicated to MLSE earlier in the week that he wasn't likely to be available for the balance of this week because of family commitments in Boston that are tied to U.S. Thanksgiving on Thursday and Burke's daughter's bridal shower on Friday.

Nevertheless, Peddie's arrival to the process within the last 24 hours formalized it to the extent that Burke received a "term sheet" from the Maple Leafs  detailing the terms and conditions that had been discussed, but were now in writing and being formally extended to Burke from the Maple Leafs.

It went from a "soft" negotiation to a "firm" offer as soon as Peddie became involved.

Sources suggest that term sheet includes the following:
- a six-year contract, which includes the balance of this season and five more.
- a salary of about $3 million (U.S.) per year.
- a bonus package that likely includes some form of signing bonus and performance bonuses tied primarily to playoff success.
- an autonomy clause that mirrors the one in the contract of Toronto Raptors' GM Bryan Colangelo.

But the "term sheet" should not be confused with a draft of the actual contract, and Burke stopped just short of saying he had an "agreement in principle" to become president and GM of the Maple Leafs, citing some remaining issues or clauses that had yet to be finalized with Peddie.

At this point, no one believes any of those outstanding issues are deal-breakers, but as the old saying goes: A deal isn't a deal until it's signed, sealed and delivered, and Burke's deal with the Leafs is not yet at that point.

"Maybe I'm too much the lawyer, but for me it ain't over until it's over and it's not over," MLSE lawyer Kirke said in an email message to the Canadian Press.

It is expected that the outstanding issues will be resolved in short order and that Burke's unavailability due to family/holiday reasons will give the MLSE lawyers time to draft the wording of the actual contract before any announcement is made. By the end of this week, though, there should be nothing to prevent Burke from formally being named and sources close to MLSE say there are tentative plans for a Saturday afternoon news conference.

It's also expected that former Vancouver Canucks GM Dave Nonis will be coming in as Burke's right-hand man for hockey operations in Toronto. Burke and Nonis were a team in Vancouver and Nonis inherited Burke's job as GM there when Burke was fired by the Canucks. After Nonis was fired by the Canucks last season, Burke hired him as a consultant in Anaheim, a position Nonis still holds.

Nonis has a standing offer to join the Ducks' front office under new GM Bob Murray but sources suggest he's likely to follow Burke to Toronto, although any contract Nonis is likely to sign in Toronto or anywhere else will have escape clauses that would allow him to leave if offered a GM's job elsewhere.

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