Top News

Ed Willes: Burke passes on Cherry's firing, but loves shooting from lip on camera

Brian Burke says he'll avoid talking politics on Hockey Night in Canada, but everything else is fair game in his blunt books.
Brian Burke says he'll avoid talking politics on Hockey Night in Canada, but everything else is fair game in his blunt books.

Now that he’s made the transition from hockey man to television man, Brian Burke is asked about the toughest part of his new gig.

Is it blowback from the players he criticizes?

“I’ve had players get mad at me,” he says. “I could care less.”

OK. What about self-editing, a quality that was sometimes lacking in his previous career?

“I’m going to say what I think and Sportsnet approves of that,” he says.

Figured as much. What about the hours and the interminable waiting for those few minutes on camera?

“I work hard for four days and get three days off,” he says. “It’s a different lifestyle. I also had July and August off this summer and took my kids to Africa. I haven’t had a summer off since Grade 7.”

Actually, that sounds pretty good. Still, there must be something about his new posting that irks Burke, a man who, let’s be candid here, is easily irked.

Turns out there is. And we’re going to drop the bombshell right now.

“The hardest part is when I get worked up, I can’t swear,” he says. “In our line of work profanity is expected and accepted.”


LISTEN: This week’s White Towel Podcast sees Ed Willes join Paul Chapman to talk about the recent Canucks struggles, the potential for a goalie controversy, the job security and possible moves for General Manager Jim Benning, and the furor caused by the Canucks wearing their black “Skate” jerseys and whether that’s really noteworthy or just social media fluff.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device:

via Apple podcasts | via TuneIn | via Spotify | via Stitcher

Is the player not working? Click here.


Beautiful. You’re inclined to say don’t ever change Burkie but, really, what’s the point? Good, bad or indifferent, the Rocky Mountains will change before Burke.

This day the combustible former, inhale, Whalers, Canucks, Ducks, Maple Leafs, Flames executive is in his element, speaking at the Canucks’ alumni luncheon where he’s surrounded by old friends and familiar faces. It’s a lovely scene with the old comrades swapping war stories and sharing laughs. Lies are told. Amazing feats are recalled.

Burke, one of the game’s great storytellers is eating this all up and it’s good to see him relaxed and engaged. He’s fought many battles over the years. There may be more in his future.

But, for the moment, he has a new job and given the recent events in his industry, it comes with its own brand of intrigue.

So let’s get the Don Cherry question out of the way, first.

“Sportsnet and Hockey Night haven’t decided what that segment will be and until they decide there’s nothing to discuss,” Burke answers when asked if he’s being groomed to step into the void created by Cherry’s recent dismissal. “Don’s my friend and I’m sick about what happened. Ron (MacLean) is my friend, too. I’ll leave it at that.”

New bait is put on the hook but Burke isn’t biting.

“Nothing good can come out of (talking about the Cherry decision or his future),” he says. “It’s the same as nothing good ever happens after midnight.”

Still, it says something that, 1½ years after he parted company with the Calgary Flames, Burke is now considered the presumptive heir to Cherry on Hockey Night’s marquee spot. That’s because in his short time on the air, television seems to be getting the best of Burke without the more destructive elements of his personality.

He is blunt, to be sure, and seemingly unafraid of stirring the pot. But his opinions also come from a position of knowledge and experience and that’s already helped establish his voice as one of the tube’s most authoritative.

“I try to avoid sarcasm at all costs because I think it’s a cheap way to get laughs,” he says. “Other than that, I’m going to say what I think.

“If I think it’s a bad trade, I’m going to say it’s a bad trade. I never got mad at you when you said it was a bad trade. The only time I got mad is when you went after my players.”

Yes, on that point I can assure you Burke had no problem with profanity. That’s OK. Water under the bridge.

Besides, he has this new job now and he’s in it for the long haul.

“This isn’t ‘do the playoffs and wait for a job offer,’” he said. “I made the conscious decision I’m making a career shift here. I’ve been approached by two teams since I left. I’m doing this.”

Before you ask, this doesn’t include a platform for his political views.

“I don’t think we should be political,” he said. “I don’t want a sportscaster to lecture me on politics. I’m active in my own life with different causes (most notably the You Can Play project he launched with son Patrick in honour of his late son Brendan). But on the air I’m not interested in discussing politics and never will be.”

That wouldn’t exactly make him the next Cherry. But maybe that’s the point. There’s already a sense of the persona Burke would bring to whatever comes after Coach’s Corner. He will be direct. He will be opinionated. He will be knowledgeable.

We know this because that’s the way he has always been. Back during one of the many dust-ups he initiated with the Vancouver media, I remember writing there’s one thing Brian Burke has never been asked: What did you mean by that?

That’s never changed. Just ask him.

“It’s very important to me when I get hit with that bullet, I can say I never took any s — t from anybody,” he said. “I can say it today and I’ll be able to say it tomorrow.”

Yes, the TV gods know what they’re getting. If they don’t, they haven’t been paying attention.

ewilles@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/willesonsports

CLICK HERE to report a typo.

Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email vantips@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

Recent Stories