Brian Burke “deeply offended” by Toronto columnist criticizing his visit with troops in Afghanistan

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There’s a saying that goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Apparently for Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke it’s one he’s gotten to be acquainted with recently. During TSN’s free agency frenzy broadcast this past Friday, Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons took Burke to task for being out of the country while the madness of free agency began at noon that day. Simmons took issue with Burke being in Afghanistan visiting Canadian troops (video).

While you’d think that those guys taking time out, especially when there’s business to be done back at home, to pay respect to those serving abroad and trying to lift their spirits would win Burke points with anyone and everyone, Simmons complained on the air and in print about Burke not being in Toronto to do Leafs business. At heart of his argument was Burke not being in town to negotiate with and convince Brad Richards to be a Maple Leaf. Richards, of course, signed with the New York Rangers and made Leafs fans disappointed they weren’t landing a #1 center.

Burke upon returning to Toronto had a few comments for Simmons criticisms of how he handled business from thousands of miles away. Michael Traikos of The National Post heard from a very upset Brian Burke.

Insults, taunts, slurs — he takes them all with a grain of salt. But when a Toronto columnist criticized the GM’s decision to visit the Canadian troops in Afghanistan on the same day that NHL free agency began last week, Burke said Monday he was “deeply offended.”

“They ask you to go,” said Burke, who was joined on the trip by Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn. “It’s not like you call them and say, ‘Hey, it would be good PR if I went to Afghanistan.’ I didn’t tell anyone I went and I didn’t talk to anyone when I got back. I did it because it was the right thing to do.”

Doing things because it’s the right thing to do is something Burke’s gotten very good at of late. Upon returning to Toronto this weekend, he marched in the city’s gay pride parade to pay respect to his son, Brendan, who died in a car accident and fought stereotypes by coming out of the closet while working as an assistant coach at Miami University.

While Simmons has a point to be made about Burke not being there on one of the biggest days of the year for a team in the NHL, choosing to pick an argument and raise hell with Burke over this situation is pathetic. If he wants to criticize Burke for not landing Richards, fine. Taking issue with him doing a goodwill mission to lift the spirits of the troops fighting abroad is ridiculous. It’s not as if the Canadian government will bend to Burke’s schedule, they tell him when he can go and then he has to make it work.

As for Simmons, he stands by what he says.

“I don’t regret anything,” Simmons said in an interview. “I made a point that a lot of people thought and weren’t willing to go forward on. I think that’s something that needed to be done.

“To me, it’s like you go to court and you hire Eddie Greenspan to defend you and then when it comes to the closing arguments of the trial he hands it off to someone else. Well, that wasn’t what you bargained for. Why didn’t Brian Burke make the pitch for Brad Richards?”

With the amount of stupid money thrown around on Friday and the insane offer Richards accepted from the Rangers, perhaps the Leafs were better served staying out of that fight. As it was, Burke’s assistants including Dave Nonis had everything locked down and even had Burke available by teleconference from Afghanistan should they need to call him in. It’s not as if Burke left the office and didn’t do his job.

In the end, Burke comes out smelling like a rose because he’s doing the right thing as a human being and Simmons comes off looking like a rather petty man with poor timing trying to brown nose with Leafs fans who might be upset about losing out on Richards. We know that it’s the job of a columnist to generate discussion and to push buttons on occasion, but taking potshots at a guy that’s doing a lot of good in the world isn’t the way to go about it. Pick on a failed trade or a bad signing, not when he’s helping people.