Burke’s Law: A Life in Hockey is the memoir of “the gruffest man in hockey”, Brian Burke.
I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I first came to appreciate Brian Burke when he took over my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs as general manager in 2008. Like many other Leafs’ fans, I saw him as a potential franchise savior. I mean, the man won a Stanley Cup the year before! Surely he would end the drought and bring respect back to the NHL’s punching bag!
While things didn’t pan out like we had all hoped, I still enjoyed Burke’s time at the helm of The Buds. He brought a no-nonsense approach to dealing with the ruthless Toronto sports media that I wish more people would. There are some scummy reporters that cover the Leafs – Steve Simmons being the absolute worst. I was glad to see Burke call him out on more than a few occasions.
I guess I should talk about the book, right? This was an absolute joy to read. It’s no secret that I tend to prefer hockey books that cover a specific event or time in the sports history rather than a player’s memoir. The memoirs of hockey players usually end up becoming these weird play-by-play recaps like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s insipid DVD commentary on Total Recall where he just describes what’s happening on the screen. With this book, it’s akin to sitting down with Burke and having a few beers while he tells you about his life. The conversational tone is the book’s biggest asset and the best reason to read it, by far.
Unlike other hockey personalities, Burke has done it all – he was a player, a player representative/agent, an assistant GM, a member of the NHL’s disciplinary committee, a GM of several teams, a president of hockey operations and now a broadcaster on Hockey Night in Canada. He has more than enough to talk about in the book’s brisk three hundred plus pages. Burke is a master storyteller using just enough colorful language to add some spice to some of his biggest moments. A few highlights include having to talk one time Vancouver Canucks GM Pat Quinn down from fighting a referee, the insane trade he pulled off to draft the Sedin twins, and challenging Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe to a fight in a barn in upstate New York.
There are, of course, a few tragic moments including the untimely passing of Burke’s son Brendan following a horrific car accident. He also gets candid about his divorces – which he takes full responsibility for given his workaholic personality that led to him alienating his spouses. Despite the combative way in which he comes across in dealing with the media, Burke has no problem in admitting mistakes or when he was wrong, which is refreshing.
Burke’s Law is one of the best hockey memoirs I’ve ever read. I give a lot of credit to co-writer Stephen Brunt for managing to perfectly capture Burke’s voice; just outstanding work. I cannot recommend this enough.
Burke’s Law: A Life in Hockey is scheduled for release on October 13, 2020.