Brian Burke is a fervent believer that when fans purchase a ticket to a sporting event, those fans are entitled to boo or cheer or express themselves in any way they see fit, so long as it's not vulgar or racist.
That said, the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager is also a big believer in freedom of speech and he said it is "disgraceful" that some fans at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night booed Leafs' captain Dion Phaneuf.
"Are they entitled to do it?" Burke said, "Sure, they are. And I honestly don't believe it was a lot of them. It doesn't take many fans booing to be heard so I think we're talking about a very small number, but my opinion is that it's disgraceful to boo Dion Phaneuf for everything he has done for this franchise, on and off the ice, in a very short period of time."
Burke said the biggest difference between this year's 5-4-1 team and last year's team that started the season 0-7-1 is "cultural" and the most significant factor in that "culture change" has been Phaneuf.
"I don't think some of our fans realize the extent of what Dion has done for this organization, on and off the ice," Burke said. "Off the ice, he's done tremendous charity work and more than any other individual has gone out of his way to change the attitude in our dressing room with our players. On the ice, we're extremely happy with his play. Sure, he could have some more points but we are not scoring as a team right now and Dion's point totals reflect that. The bottom line is that Dion has wrought a considerable culture change with our team and he's done it almost singlehandedly. His leadership has been outstanding in every way. Outstanding. So, yeah, when I hear some of our fans boo him, it bothers me. I think it's disgraceful."
Burke said he's generally pleased with how the Leafs are playing, even though they've lost back to back games after a strong start to the season. He's well aware that the Leafs' appear to have reverted to a pop-gun offence but believes that's a temporary situation and if it does turn out to be a longer-term issue, then he'll do something about it.
"There are no panic buttons being pushed here," Burke said. "We really like the way the team is playing. Our goaltending has been good, we're happy with our team defence and while we haven't scored as much as we would like, guys are getting chances and some of those have to start going in. If they don't, we will look to do something but I'm not going to blow the cap space we have available to us just 10 games in to force something that isn't there right now. I'm not going to make a move for a veteran free agent because we think we have younger players here who can get the job done. Let's give this some time to see where we're at. I know we have players who can give us more (offensively) than we've seen so far. So let's give them a chance to prove it. If we need to make a big move, and we've got enough cap space to make one big move, we'll do it, but for now, I'm preaching patience."