The National Hockey League's worst-kept secret is finally out of the bag, as the Toronto Maple Leafs introduced Brian Burke as their new president and general manager on Saturday.
''You're talking about the Vatican if you're Catholic, you're talking the centre of the hockey universe, you're talking about one of the most important jobs in hockey running the Toronto Maple Leafs,'' Burke said. ''It's a dream job.''
Burke will reportedly earn $3 million annually on a six-year deal. He replaces Cliff Fletcher, who was hired as interim general manager following the firing of John Ferguson in January.
''I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Cliff Fletcher for his professionalism and commitment over the last 11 months,'' President and Chief Executive Officer of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Richard Peddie said. ''I'm delighted that he is going to stay on board with the team as a consultant.''
Burke, the 13th general manager in the club's 92-year history, became available after the veteran NHL executive stepped down from his post as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 12.
''I'm extremely honoured to join the Toronto Maple Leafs,'' said Burke. ''This is one of the most prestigious jobs in our game.
''This is an opportunity of a lifetime to work for a team in a world-class city with passionate fans, solid ownership and a rich history. I can't wait to get started.''
Burke's first course of action will be to spend time getting to know his roster and staff, saying that a personal trade freeze of Dec. 9 means no dramatic changes will be made right away.
''I don't think players should get traded at Christmas time unless they ask to get traded,'' Burke said. ''So for me to evaluate this team, make some judgments and do something before Dec. 9, probably going to be hard to do. So anyone who's waiting with baited breath for that first deal, might wait past that deadline. Because I believe players deserve to spend the holidays with their families.''
Burke wouldn't offer any timeline for turning the club around but offered fans his three pillars of running a team.
''No. 1 is we play an entertaining style, we want to justify the price of the ticket every night whether the team is successful that night or not,'' Burke said. ''We believe in aggressive pursuit of the puck in all three zones, or possession of it desirably. We believe in answering physical challenges and playing a style that allows your younger players to play and develop in a fear-free environment.
''No. 2, we believe in financial and fiscal prudence. At the end of the day it's the fans' money and the sponsors' money, we try to spend it intelligently.
''And third is community service. It's not optional, you want to play in a great city like Toronto, you'll give back to this community or we'll find you somewhere else to play.''
Burke was hired by the Ducks in 2005 and helped build the club into Stanley Cup contenders upon his arrival.
With a promising young core of players that included Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, he added veterans Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne, Francois Beauchemin, Todd Marchant and Sean O'Donnell and hired head coach Randy Carlyle. In 2005-06, the Ducks finished sixth in the West and advanced all the way to the Western Conference Final.
The following summer, Burke swung a blockbuster trade deal with the Edmonton Oilers, acquiring former Norris and Hart Trophy-winning defenceman Chris Pronger. The Ducks went on to win the Pacific Division and defeated the Ottawa Senators to capture their first-ever Stanley Cup.
While making it clear that he enjoyed his years in Anaheim, Burke covetes his new position in Toronto, saying he welcomes the scrutiny.
''I like the pressure that's put on the team,'' said Burke. ''The pressure that's on the players and the coach and the general manager to me is a positive thing. I'm thrilled to be back in Canada working.''
Burke began his career in the front office as assistant general manager of the Vancouver Canucks from 1987 to 1992. He spent the 1992-93 season in Hartford as general manager of the Whalers before joining the NHL as vice president and director of hockey operations.
After five seasons of working in the league offices, Burke re-joined the Canucks as President and General Manager in 1998.
Under his leadership, the Canucks increased their point totals in four consecutive years from 1999 to 2003. He also pulled off one of the most memorable draft day trades in recent history, acquiring the second and third overall picks in 1999 to select Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Since the 2001-2002 campaign, Burke's teams have qualified for the playoffs all six seasons, playing in 12 total postseason series. He was named The Sporting News 'Executive of the Year' in 2001 and was named The Hockey News 'Executive of the Year' in February.