Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tom Anselmi made the move official during a news conference at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Wednesday, and also named Dave Nonis the team's new general manager.
"We've decided to make a leadership change and move in a different direction for the general manager role," Anselmi said.
Anselmi also confirmed that Burke will serve as a senior adviser to the team.
The decision to remove Burke from his two roles wasn't sparked by a key moment or "incident," Anselmi said.
"The news is coming as a shock but I don't think the decision has happened overnight," Anselmi told a packed, hastily assembled news conference at the Air Canada Centre. "It's a conversation that's been ongoing and we came to a decision. Once we got to that decision I'm a firm believer it's only fair to make the decision and move forward."
Nonis next up
Nonis, 46, previously served as general manager with the Vancouver Canucks, following Burke's tenure with that team. The Leafs' new GM — the 14th in team history — was the man who orchestrated the deal that brought Roberto Luongo to Vancouver from the Florida Panthers.
Nonis confirmed that Randy Carlyle would remain the Maple Leafs' head coach. Carlyle was hired by the Leafs under Burke in March to replace the fired Ron Wilson.
"We need a coach like that to push players out of their comfort zone," Nonis said.
Nonis's first priorities will be to sort out the Leafs' goaltending situation. Reports that the Leafs are in discussion with the Vancouver Canucks to acquire netminder Roberto Luongo have been floating around for months. There was talk Wednesday that a potential Luongo deal may have been a factor in Burke's dismissal.
Anselmi denied those reports.
"No, no, not at all," he said.
Nonis said he couldn't discuss any pending transactions.
"First of all, it doesn't help get a deal done and second of all we're not permitted to do so," said Nonis. "Players that under contract to other clubs remain off limits in terms of commenting."
No playoffs under Burke
Burke's record with the Leafs over three-plus seasons was 128-135-42. Last season the team finished 13th in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto has missed the playoffs every season since Burke joined the organization in November 2008.
Never one to back down from making big changes, Burke made a couple of blockbuster deals that received mixed reviews.
He acquired Dion Phaneuf in a seven-player deal with Calgary back in 2010 and the defenceman was named team captain.
Burke's most controversial trade came in a 2009 deal with Boston, when he acquired sniper Phil Kessel for two first-round draft picks and a second-round selection.
The Bruins used the picks to select star forward Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight.
Burke was heavily criticized for what many believed to be mortgaging the team’s future for a goal scorer.
Burke didn't return an email from The Canadian Press. But there's no doubt the outspoken GM's dismissal came as a shock to the hockey world.
"I know Burkie well. We were talking yesterday about hunting," said Washington Capitals GM George McPhee. "I don't know what happened. It is too bad."
Burke's son, Patrick, also spoke about his father on his Twitter account.
"Brian Burke did more charity/community work than any GM in NHL history. And the Burke family will always, always be proud of that fact," Patrick Burke tweeted.
Anselmi wouldn't say exactly what ownership didn't like about Burke's leadership style, but admitted the working arrangement was a complicated one.
"The relationship between the GM and owners is a complex, multi-faceted, unique kind of relationship," he said. "It's a very symbiotic kind of relationship.
"We talked to Brian [on Wednesday] morning and his reaction was, as you would expect, one of class, one of disappointment but one of acceptance. He understands this is part of the game and part of the industry that none of us likes but he respected the fact ownership gets to decide who its general manager is."
MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum, in New York attending the NHL board meetings, said it was "a decision of the board."
When asked if he had a role in it, he said, "Well I'm on the board."
Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul said the players bear some responsibility for Burke's demise.
“It means we're not getting the job done," Lupul told reporters outside the team’s practice facility.
Nonis won't have time to ease into the new role as the lockout-shortened NHL season is expected to start on Jan. 19.
"We're going to have a very short window in order to make some decisions about this hockey team," Nonis said. "We're going to focus on that right now."
Burke, 57, has two years remaining on his contract with Toronto and had previously served as general manager with the Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks and Hartford Whalers.
The news also came as a shock to Nonis.
Burke, Nonis and most of the front office staff attended Tuesday night's game between the Leafs' AHL farm club, the Toronto Marlies, and the Hamilton Bulldogs in Hamilton.
"I came in [Wednesday] morning and was informed of the decision," a solemn Nonis said. "This is a shock for a lot of people."
The Maple Leafs were officially taken over by Rogers and BCE on Aug. 22.
While Nonis has worked with Burke for a number of years, there are differences in their working style.
"I would say I'm a little more patient in how I approach things, maybe evaluate things a little bit longer," Nonis said. "But at the end of the day how the team should play and expectations, those are very similar.
"You're not going to see a massive turnover, it's impossible to do so in today's game and improve your team. We've been fairly fortunate to add players mostly through trade that have been upgrades and helped our team. We're going to continue to add building blocks and pieces like we have in the last 18 months or so where we've had some success doing that."
But Nonis said Burke's fingerprints will remain on the Leafs' franchise.
"Four or five years from now I think people will say a lot of the things Brian Burke did were very, very positive and helped this team become successful," he said.