After watching his Toronto Maple Leafs crash out of playoff position under coach Ron Wilson, the general manager finally decided to fire his college roommate.
”This was not an easy decision for me to make,” Burke said Friday night in a statement.
Randy Carlyle took over as coach with 18 games left in the season. Burke and Carlyle were in charge of Anaheim when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
Burke remained loyal to Wilson until the end – continuing to defend the coach after fans chanted ”FI-RE WIL-SON!” at Air Canada Centre to conclude a recent homestand. But eventually he was forced to move in another direction.
”The talk in town doesn’t really matter,” Wilson said earlier Friday. ”We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to try to rectify some things and get points on the board.
”That’s where the focus is.”
He won’t have the chance to see the job through. Starting with Saturday’s game in Montreal, Carlyle will be tasked with getting the Leafs into the postseason for the first time since 2004.
As recently as late January, the Leafs appeared to be well on their way to ending that playoff drought. But a 1-9-1 skid starting Feb. 7 sent them tumbling down the standings to 12th place, five points out of a playoff spot, and sealed Wilson’s fate.
The 55-year-old Carlyle coached Anaheim for seven seasons and led the team to five playoff appearances. Only Detroit’s Mike Babcock has more playoff wins than Carlyle’s 36 since 2005-06.
Carlyle was fired by the Ducks in December after a rocky start to the season.
Wilson compiled a 130-135-45 record with Toronto.
It was clear last summer that Wilson’s hold on the job was weakening. In June, Burke fired assistants Keith Acton and Tim Hunter, a long-time Wilson ally, and replaced them with Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon, who held past head coaching experience with the New York Islanders.
Even though Wilson and Burke share a long history dating to their time at Providence College in Rhode Island, Wilson was hired in 2008 by interim GM Cliff Fletcher.
The 56-year-old Wilson signed a contract extension in December and will be paid through the end of next season. In 1,401 career games with Anaheim, Washington, San Jose and Toronto, he has a 648-561-91 record with 101 ties.