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Monday, November 24, 2008

Ducks Gameday—Burke Week #5: Finale

Colorado Avalanche (9-10-0, t-12th in west) at Anaheim Ducks (11-8-3, t-4th in west)

Ah, we finally arrive at the conclusary installment of Burke Week, a five-day gander back at the Anaheim legacy of Brian Burke.

Part I: Defending three "bad" Burke moves that I don't think were that bad.
Part II: Criticizing three Burke moves that I don't think get enough flak.
Part III: Nothing but shout-outs.
Part IV: What I like about Burke the roster-builder.

And now we arrive at Part V: Scattered final thoughts, where I squeeze everything I've missed into a final post for the series. We'll start with some counterpoint: Two things that I didn't like about Burke the roster-builder.

Regret One: Europe, Where Art Thou?

Since Brian Burke's second year in Anaheim, there has been a fairly rigid three-player maximum on players from Europe -- Teemu Selanne from Finland, Sammy Pahlsson from Sweden, and the back-up goalie (first Ilya Bryzgalov from Russia, now Jonas Hiller from Switzerland), but before Burke arrived, Anaheim used to be a melting pot. Burke rid the team of Vitaly Vishnevski (Russia), Ruslan Salei (Belarus), Niclas Havelid (Sweden), Sandis Ozolinsh (Latvia), Petr Sykora (Czech Republic), Sergei Fedorov (Russia), and Ladislav Smid (Czech Republic), among others. Think about this: in 2003 the Ducks went to the Stanley Cup Finals with zero Canadians on their blueline. In 2007 the Ducks won the Stanley Cup with zero non-Canadians on their blueline.

It became very clear over Burke's tenure what sort of player he was building around -- skilled or not, he wanted North American skaters in nearly every roster slot. Now I don't want to attack this mindset too badly -- you can still make an impressive team from mostly one continent. However, one only had to look at the success of Swedish forwards on Detroit or the Finnish forwards on Dallas (or really, the European contribution to any team's success) to see that Burke's one-continent focus was biased against plenty of world-class talent.

It's one reason that I'm not upset to see Brian Burke leave -- he certainly did very good work while he was here, but I don't think too many years of Europe-phobia is good for an NHL franchise. By artificially limiting the available talent pool, the Ducks seemingly ignored a source for creativity and puck control -- and I think that they would be well-served to reintroduce that intercontinental element into their post-Burke philosophy. I just hope that Bob Murray has an open mind to the contributions of overseas players; I think it's an element the Ducks have been missing.

Regret Two: How Bad is Burke at the Entry Draft?

I don't follow prospects that well, so I can't really tell you how much more barren Anaheim's prospect pool is compared to when Burke arrived, but I assume it's been rather depleted. One of the problems, I assume, is Brian Burke's draft record, which will have to be judged in future years, but based on reputation and what I have seen looks unimpressive thus far.

I guess the indicting argument against Burke's draft record is that I believe Bobby Ryan and Brett Festerling represent the only players that Burke has drafted that have tasted NHL ice, and Ryan was selected in a high-expectation slot (2nd overall, one spot behind Sidney Crosby). I'm definitely not an expert here, but I'd expect that a draft-savvier GM would have accumulated more NHL-ready players by now (though granted, a lot of Anaheim's top picks were sent to Edmonton in the Pronger deal). I think it's premature for any hard criticism here (and a lot may be based on Bobby Ryan alone), but so far, it's tough to spot where Burke's draft record has served the Ducks very much.

Of course, there is a flipside to this criticism, which is that Burke has demonstrated that it's possible to build teams almost entirely outside of the draft -- the 2007 cup squad had very few players who were actually drafted by Anaheim (I believe Getzlaf, Perry, and Bryzgalov). Also, with Dave McNab finding lots of talent outside the draft (Anaheim's undrafted talent includes Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Shannon, Ryan Carter, and Jonas Hiller), perhaps the importance of the draft is overstated. Still, the entry draft is a definite source to replenish talent, and it may prove that Burke's draft mediocrity hampers the Ducks in the near future.

But let's not overlook the upside.

I don't want to end Burke Week on all sour notes, though. Even with his drawbacks, Burke did transform the team's image from a Disney sidestory into one of the west's top teams. Burke became a source for franchise legitimacy -- I don't know if the team lands a Scott Niedermayer or a Chris Pronger without the presence of Brian Burke, and I don't know if a Mathieu Schneider or a Brendan Morrison even seriously considers the franchise as a signing option. Burke had the clout to trade away a high-priced Sergei Fedorov and a high-priced Mathieu Schneider for spare parts, and the bravery to stand behind moves like the waiving of Ilya Bryzgalov.

Basically, no matter his flaws and strengths, Burke was a high-profile GM and hockey personality, and he added relevance to the Anaheim Ducks. His coming to SoCal legitimized the franchise and fixed its focus on winning, and without that, the team's fortunes could have gone in a very different direction -- probably one without a Stanley Cup. There's definitely been some baggage to Brian Burke, but the upside has been pretty spectacular.

What I'll miss most about Brian Burke:
What I'll miss least about Brian Burke:

The answer to both of these is his mouth, which has definitely been a regular source for amusement, but also has diverted many of my blogging man-hours to defending the guy's often-malicious quotes. For better or worse, there is no topic in hockey that Brian Burke is too timid to discuss, usually with the spirit of antagonism. There's no doubt that I'm going to miss that mouth -- it sure beats the usual media-timidness that most hockey personalities have, but I won't lie. It's also going to be nice to have a little less controversy coming from the GM's mouth, as well.

Entertaining quotes occasionally do come at a price, not only in terms of franchise perception but also with burnt bridges as well. Anyone want to put an over/under on the number of months before we see another Anaheim-Edmonton trade?

A classic example of Burke's mouth making headlines.

Bottom Line: Overall, I'm a huge Burke supporter, even though over Burke Week I've split my positives and negatives pretty evenly. The upsides to having a strong-willed GM far outweigh the drawbacks (though it's important to remember those, as well). As a Ducks blogger, I've never had much desire to interview Ducks players (though nobody's really given me any opportunity) -- generally, I am disgusted enough with bland cliches that I don't think I'd do very well in that setting. That said, I would have loved to have an opportunity to interview Brian Burke -- even though the interview would have been generally awful (I'd probably conduct it at a bar and wouldn't write or record anything), I imagine shooting the shit with Burke would be ten times as entertaining as doing the same with any player.

Ultimately, Burke built a Stanley Cup Champion team in Anaheim, and nothing should take away from that. We'll miss you, Burkie, and wish you limited success in Toronto/wherever.


So that's the scattered last chapter of my Burke Week -- I definitely had a lot to say about the guy and what he did in Anaheim. For the comments, what's your final analysis? What grade would you give Brian Burke for his GM job in Anaheim, and how much do you think he will be missed? Any final thoughts are welcome in the comments.

Prediction: Ducks win 4-2. Goals by Ryan, Getzlaf, Pahlsson, and Pronger.

Go Ducks.


Mike in OC said...

My Final analysis is:
I like the guy, I am bumbed he is

His grade: A+
He delivered a cup, enough said, but he also put us in the top of the western conference. I also like the product.

Anaheim is a hard hitting, gritty team that has skill. He said from day one that his goal was to ice a team that win or lose would be entertaining to watch. I think he acomplished that.

I HOPE he is not missed too much, I hated it when we were a first round playoff team AT BEST. Those were long seasons, and having been where we have been, it would be tough to go back there.

Alexander Dubcek said...

It's worth noting that the draft is important, but not the end-all, be-all for an NHL team. One of the key's to Detroit sustaining its success has been the ability of Ken Holland and Co. to find good players from late in the draft or outside the draft. I'm too lazy to look this up, but I think several of their core guys were drafted late or not at all. And you basically have to be good at finding players who aren't going in the first round if you want to sustain success, because Cup-caliber teams just don't draft very highly.

That said, Pittsburgh is a fine example of how several consecutive years of shittiness, when combined with good luck and a knack for drafting the best guys in a draft class, can position a franchise to be very good for many years.

But, I think you're right to suggest that Burke's generally non-existent record in the draft isn't the biggest black mark on his tenure as GM. Though you might revise your assessment in a year or two when most of the current roster turns over and Bob Murray has to try to plug some holes from within the organization. Maybe the cupboard isn't barren, I just don't know enough about the Ducks prospects to speculate.

Earl Sleek said...

I hated it when we were a first round playoff team AT BEST.

Ironically (I suppose), only 1/3 of Anaheim's playoff qualifying teams have exited in the first round, and that number is identical if you look at just Burke's rosters. Still, I hear you -- the last three years have definitely had a higher success rate. Before Brian Burke, Anaheim had never made the postseason in consecutive years.

But, I think you're right to suggest that Burke's generally non-existent record in the draft isn't the biggest black mark on his tenure as GM.

Yeah, it's definitely survivable, and frankly it's still too early to say anything too concrete about his draft success. Still, it is one thing that definitely should be judged later about Burke's time in Anaheim -- how many NHLers will he produce, and how much will it matter? The jury will be out on this one for a while.

SK eleven said...

I can't argue.

He gets an "A" for sure in my book. The cup was huge, and I think the moves he made were vital to that success.

I personally love the "mouth". I'd rather get straight answers than have someone dance around the subject. I also appreciate his motives in letting the young guys develope before coming up to the NHL. I think it's going to prove very successful for all of those guys.

Overall, I'm going to miss him, but there is no point in dwelling...time to move on. Peace Burkie!!!! And I agree...we are wishing you LIMITED success!!!

Earl Sleek said...

Unrelated to any of this, our buddy Kyle has added a new Ducks comic based on last week's match-up with the St. Louis Blues.

As always, with a shining BoC endorsement.

Good Kyle said...

Thanks Earl. I'm gonna missed Burke.

samsonkristen said...

Anyway I can't argue..
Thanks Earl. I'm going to miss Burke.The Burke grate is A in my point of view..Finally miss you Burke..All the best..