On exclusivity, insiders and the need for agendas.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. All opinions expressed by Mike Ulmer are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Toronto Maple Leafs or its Hockey Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Maple Leafs and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NHL accredited member of the media.

If you find this man surprising you haven’t been paying attention.

As Leaf fans await the expected announcement of the team’s new goaltending coach, here’s a thought to get you to the next news day. As an unexpected bonus I have a second thought.

First: I have no first-hand knowledge of whether Francois Allaire was a good or a bad goaltending coach, a valuable sounding board to his goalies or a tragic autocrat.

The only people who know, who really know, are players and other coaches and if you take  Burke’s word that Allaire was intractable and married to an outdated style you need to remember that his goalies professed nothing, publicly at least, but love for the guy.

Everyone did what they were supposed to do. The goalies stood by their guy. The GM criticized a coach who had little success and who tossed a metaphorical grenade into the dressing room on his way out the door.

Let’s peel back a layer on this story.

The greatest misnomer in the sports business is the insider, the whistle-blower who gives you the straight goods without bias or agenda.

Everyone, everyone has an agenda. Put me at the front of the list. I want to be the first guy with a good story. I want to attract readers to the website. I like getting paid.

Reporting would be an impossible job if none of the principles had an agenda. Agendas are the bi-products of ambition. Find me an office without ambition and I will show you one in which everyone would rather not get out of bed in the morning.

Information, access, all these things are currency. An insider is not a whistle blower. An insider manages information for mutual profit as does everyone in the daisy chain of any business, be it media, hockey or hotcakes. It’s the same in business, politics, entertainment, any gig where information is a commodity. It isn’t good or bad; it’s the way it has to be.

If you sell yourself as an insider you either make it up, guess or barter your podium for access. No one purposely releases valuable information in the public sphere because he likes a reporter. They might like their kids’ teacher but they’re not going to share their draft order with her.

As for the media who complained that Burke publicly shared his dissatisfaction with mapleleafs.com, let me tell you the biggest lesson I learned in 30 years in the business: exclusivity is only objectionable when someone else has it.

Second. Anyone who understands Brian Burke knows he values loyalty above all. That includes praising Francois Allaire as the best goalie coach on the planet all the while wondering if he was the best goalie coach in the room.

There is a famous political story about Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, who ran as John Kennedy’s vice president in 1960. Bobby was JFK’s chief lieutenant.

The president needed what Johnson could bring, or at least the political capital Johnson seemed capable of delivering. Johnson had a Texas sized ego, was seen as soft on civil rights (a charge many would level against JFK, by the way) and stood out as the antithesis of the Kennedy school of Massachusetts cool like a hairy wart on a ballerina’s thumb.

“So, why is he on the ticket?” a friend asked Bobby.

I will soften the quote for family reading. “Because,” Bobby said, “I would rather have him in the tent spitting out than out of the tent spitting in.”

To Burke, Allaire spit into the tent.

This is important to remember. Loyalty is the governing principle from which Burke operates. I have never met anyone to whom loyalty was more important.

Does that make him always right? Nope. Francois Allaire didn’t work.  Neither did Ron Wilson. His critics and many Leaf fans will say Burke was wrong on a long list of players. When it comes his time to leave – and for everyone there is a time -there will be only two possible eulogies for Brian Burke’s tenure: he either won the Stanley Cup or he was too loyal to the wrong people.

That’s because loyalty is a great thing…when it’s stacked behind the right person.

Qualities can be faults, faults can be qualities. Pettiness is something transformed into something far nobler when it is used to nurture a desire to prove others wrong.

Michael Jordan didn’t make the Laney High School varsity because the coach opted for a taller friend named Leroy Smith. Jordan nursed that grudge his entire career; he even signed in at hotels under the name Leroy Smith.

Wayne Gretzky was pathologically driven to disprove critics. Perhaps Gretzky’s greatest game, his four-point, three-goal night against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the 1993 Stanley Cup semifinals came after then-Toronto Star columnist Bob McKenzie dared to posit that Gretzky’s game was graying.

That’s the thing about Brian Burke, the thing that sets him apart: his reflexive sense of loyalty, misplaced or enlightened, by rote or inspiration, out of step or absolutely in tune, that’s what you will get from him every day.

If you are surprised by that you haven’t been paying attention.

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About Mike Ulmer

Mike Ulmer has written 207 post in this blog.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. All opinions expressed by Mike Ulmer are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Toronto Maple Leafs or its Hockey Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Maple Leafs and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NHL accredited member of the media.



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