Takes and trash talk from both ALL sides of the NHL's most obscure PATHETIC* rivalry

* Thanks, Kevin Lowe!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Is Brian Burke a Be-Leaf-er?

Now I'm not normally a guy who likes to speculate on rumors very much, but I guess Toronto journalists are salivating at the thought of Brian Burke filling the Maple Leafs GM vacancy when he's done in Anaheim. To my understanding, Burke has committed to this season as GM for the Ducks, but hasn't signed to any extension beyond that.

Ken Armer is a solid Ducks blogger that I've just found out about (I added The Puck Drop in the Ducks sidebar, which features a breaking M.A. Bergeron trade!), and at Bleacher Report he gives a solid enough rundown of what's basically a "wait and see" situation. Tom Benjamin is a bit more pessimistic, and suggests that the Ducks should trade Burke's contract to the Leafs if he doesn't sign a long term deal.

I can't speak that well about what Brian Burke wants, nor should I be a credible advisor about what he should want, but even so I haven't really been stressing about these rumours (hint: use a "u" when the rumours come from Canada). If Brian Burke really does covet the Toronto spotlight and spending budget, if he really does bleed Maple Sap, I'll wish the guy well. Burkie has been a pretty awesome GM for the Ducks, and if he seeks bluer pastures, at least he'll have left the team in manageable shape.

Two things I want to express about Brian Burke:

1. He's gotten lucky at times. Obviously Burke does deserve praise for combining the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, and Teemu Selanne into the nucleus of a cup-winning team, but in saying that there was also an element of luck in acquiring any of them. When Scott became a free agent during the lockout, Burke was fortunate enough to have signing rights to his brother Rob. When Selanne was signing for pennies that same summer, Burke obliged, but couldn't have foreseen the dramatic resurrection of the Finnish Flash. When Pronger forced Kevin Lowe to make a trade, Burke was fortunate enough to have the cap room and the assets to swing a deal while other teams tied their own hands.

While Burkie does get kudos for that trio of moves, I really don't consider them indicative of hockey genius -- really, these types of decisions are almost no-brainers. When an all-star opportunity falls into your lap, there shouldn't be a lot of inner deliberation. Instead:

2. Still, Burke's a solid roster planner. Burke's real genius move may turn out to be the ticking time bomb roster he's constructed in Anaheim. He's built a payroll that expires with a bang next summer, sort of a clean slate. Six notable players are signed past next year -- Pronger, Giguere, Getzlaf, Kunitz, Ryan, and Carter. Whenever tagging rules allow I expect Corey Perry to get added to that list also.

As of now, everyone else's contract runs out next summer, including GM Burke, Coach Carlyle, and the occasionally-retiring Niedermayer brothers. This roster timebomb is the result of what I think Burke has done really well as a post-lockout GM: in the face of impending rule changes and a brand new salary cap, Burke refused to commit long-term to an uncertain future. He assembled a championship team with some gutsy trades, and he built in an "out clause" after the fourth year, a good point to reassess and reload the roster.

Sure it would be nice to have certain players tied up longer, but really the key is flexibility. Having seen plenty of new-rules enforcement and salary cap management, Burke or even a replacement GM can assess and reassemble a roster with freedom: plenty of spending money and lots of positions to fill. Burke's smartest strategy may have been restraint, and it's the reason I think if he wants off to Toronto or elsewhere, I won't be panicking. The notion of an unknown replacement GM certainly has its scary side, but at least there is plenty of spending room -- no need to wait for Burke's signings to expire. (Note: this is why I keep calling this offseason "boring" for the Ducks. It's not really a valid label, as there certainly are some meaningful storylines, but next summer is when things will be really interesting for the Ducks, especially if Burke seeks Canadian employment.)

I don't want to sell the point of this post wrong -- overall, I'm a huge fan of Burke, not only in the way he runs a competent team but in the snark he brings to dealing with the media as well. He's done a stellar job in complementing his stars and sheltering the emergence of young kids Getzlaf and Perry. Still, I think his reputation has gotten a bit overblown by hockey media. Burke has his downsides also -- I wish there were more Europeans in the Ducks' system, I think he could have gotten something for Bryzgalov, and he has yet to draft anyone of value -- but those are minor gripes. On the whole he is a level-headed hockey mind, which is certainly a needed element in Toronto and an appreciated aspect from his work in Anaheim. He's free to leave next summer if he wishes, but I'd sure like it if he stayed.

Anyway, this post has gotten a bit longer than anticipated, but as long as Burke keeps the 2009-10 roster pretty clean and doesn't make any suspicious trades this year with the Leafs, I'm cool with him GMing wherever he wants next summer, best wishes and no hard feelings. But hey, maybe that's just my California optimism and I'm not taking this seriously enough; what do you think? Do you believe that Burke craves to be the GM the Leafs (and that they'll hold the position open specifically for him)? And other than the presumption that the Leafs vacancy is automatically more coveted than the Anaheim position, how much does the possibility of Burke bolting bother Ducks fans?

Burkie or no, Go Ducks.

(Side note: Today I stopped procrastinating and finished updating my player spreadsheets -- later this week we'll take a glance at some familiar-feeling Niedermayer and Selanne retirement decisions that are due pretty soon. Feel free to guess on those outcomes, too.)


Mr. Plank said...

Do you believe that Burke craves to be the GM the Leafs (and that they'll hold the position open specifically for him)?

Ah, the grassy knoll. Honestly, the Leafs are holding the position for him- I think that is readily apparent. By not signing a GM (who they have had ample time to find) and leaving Fletcher in the role, I think that speaks volumes.

Usually you hire a GM before you find your coach. The GM has a plan of action, and he finds a coach that buys into the plan and will execute that plan. With Wilson inking his deal today, it is completely obvious to me that they are leaving the role open for Burke. And why wouldn't they? The franchise is one of the laughingstocks of the league, and really has no place to go but up. Burke would provide credibility and smarts that are hard to find.

Burke is also Wilson's daughter's Godfather (that's sort of confusing so envision it for a bit). That would usually mean jack squat to me, but considering the circumstances, it brings a little credibility.

Personally I think he's headed to Toronto in 09.

Mr. Plank said...

And another thing- the longer Fletcher stays as GM in Toronto, the more confident I feel in my previous assertion.

Okay. I'm off to watch "JFK" (1991). What a pathetic attempt at a joke.

Earl Sleek said...

Ken Armer has also sent me a link to his MA Bergeron trade reaction. He projects, among other things, "Doug Weight will either retire or try his hand at free agency come July."

Or there's always option C: he could try to sign with Anaheim and I could intervene with a blunt object. Dead Weight better not be in any Anaheim plans.

Personally I think [Burke]'s headed to Toronto in 09.

Burke's a good GM, but I'm not sure it's a good strategy to wait a year for anybody. Oh well, I guess Leafs fans will be faithful through any farce.

Mr. Plank said...

I'm not sure it's a good strategy to wait a year for anybody.

I agree with that Sleek, but I've seen stupider things done in Toronto.

In fact, that's probably half the reason I believe Toronto management will go this route.

Alexander Dubcek said...

The Leafs current management structure is notoriously slow to make any major decision, so it'd probably take them the better part of a year to decide to bring in Burke anyway, which makes the timing entirely plausible for an '09 departure.

And I'm with you on the significant element of luck that Burke fell into, especially when it comes to acquiring not one but two Norris-caliber defensemen in two seasons. There's an element of foresight in having the cap space or assets to make those moves, but I don't think you can give Burke credit for a previous regime acquiring Rob Niedermayer, or for Chris Pronger's rumoured (with a "u"!) philandering up in Edmonton. I know two players do not a champion make, but I bet there are a lot of teams out there that could get the needed push over the top by adding those two guys to log almost half your minutes on the blue line.

Still, this is another example of why Earl is the rare Ducks fan I can respect, between clearly knowing a lot about hockey (and delving deeper into the statistical analysis than I have the time, training or patience for), plus being capable of saying stuff like this, or acknowledging Pronger is really a prick. Kudos.

Earl Sleek said...

To his credit, I think Burke himself has been pretty realistic when talking about some of his successes -- I don't recall him bragging excessively at his ability to land a Niedermayer or Pronger, and he has come pretty clean on the fluke acquisition that was Beauchemin.

Still, this is another example of why Earl is the rare Ducks fan I can respect.

Thanks for the compliment, Dubcek. Yeah, I carry a fairly heavy Duck bias, but generally I try to keep a sensible head. Except, of course, when it comes to my man-crush on Sammy Pahlsson.

Note to Burke: even if you are leaving next summer, I'll authorize a Pahlsson extension before your exit interview. Do it.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

We look forward to welcoming Mr. Burke to Toronto with open arms...he is the savior

Earl Sleek said...

I believe in Canada, he is actually termed the "saviour", but my letter-u-grammar isn't the strongest.

For sure, I think Leafs fans should be excited at the prospect of competent leadership, especially considering what they've put up with in recent history. Whether Burke is really the pinnacle of hockey GMing or not, he's still a step forward from traditional Leaf ineptitude.

But I guess I do have to warn -- he does have his drawbacks, too. Be wary of his Bertuzzi loyalty.

In some ways, I equate the Leaf-Burke excitement to what the Kings fans must be feeling about a coach-not-named-Crawford. Hopefully in each case the expectations don't get radically high, though. Burke certainly hit his home runs in Anaheim, but as I said, he did have some good fortune here as well. For Leafs fans, here's hoping he can find that magic another time.

Earl Sleek said...

Score one for the comments, the Leafs are indeed waiting until 2009 to appoint "the luckiest man in sports":


Alexander Dubcek said...

When it comes to switching from American to the Queen's English, Word's spelling dictionary is helpful to make sure you've inserted all your u's, converted -ize to -ise and caught all the other quirks (like "cheque" instead of "check," though I'm not sure if this means you write about a "hip check" or a "hip cheque"). I had to learn all this to Britishize an article I submitted to a Scottish journal. Yeesh.

Earl Sleek said...

I had to learn all this to Britishize an article I submitted to a Scottish journal. Yeesh.

"The Colourful Aurt of the Hip Cheque" -- by Alexaunder Dubceque

An aside: I really like the ambiguity of the second graphic I made. On the one hand, it seems like the Duck clock signifies the ticking time bomb, but on the other hand, it's clearly got a fuse.

Ah, blessed mixed messaging!

Earl Sleek said...

Whoa, breaking news!

It probably deserves its own post, but I imagine I'll talk about it later also. If you recall, at the end of the Ducks' postseason, I put together a list of five offseason issues, and now it seems that Issue #5 is no more!

The reason? Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller has signed a two-year extension.

Nice work, Burke. A good name to add to that 2009-10 list. Heil Hiller!

Doogie2K said...

Or there's always option C: he could try to sign with Anaheim and I could intervene with a blunt object. Dead Weight better not be in any Anaheim plans.

Nice line.

I'm waiting for the first Edmontonian to phone in and suggest that "Dougie" have one more kick at the can, just like old times. Because God knows there's not enough nepotism in the Oilers organization. Hopefully, call-in show people have gotten smarter over the summer, or at least realized that there's not enough room for the people we've already got, never mind a past-his-prime old-timer from the Good Old Days of 1997-98.

And I have never seen it spelled "saviour" or "hip cheque" in my life. JSYK.

Earl Sleek said...

Man, I pity the team that woos Weight this summer. Pretty much the only two features that made him stomachable last year were:

a) He enabled Scott's return.
b) His contract was coming to a close.

I like the guy all right (he's a pretty good interview), and I even hoped he could mirror the '03 acquisition of another old passer -- Old man Oates -- but sadly, he's a shell of the Duck-killer he once was.

Maybe he just needs some of Selanne's magical knee surgery, but I don't want to be the team that takes the next Weight-gamble.

And I have never seen it spelled "saviour" or "hip cheque" in my life. JSYK.

Ah, good ol' BoC, always expanding that language barrier. Now I know better (and knowing is half the Battle)!

Mr. Plank said...

Signing Hiller = Solid move.

Bryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan said...

I'm pretty mixed on Burke. In his first 2 years everything he touched turned to gold. Very gold obviously. He also inherited as you said Rob Niedermayer and Getzlaf and Perry.
Last year, everything he did absolutely sucked. So if Burke goes, I'll be fine with that. He delivered a cup and you can't ask for too much more but his work here is done.

Earl Sleek said...

Last year, everything he did absolutely sucked.

I think that's a pretty strong statement.

I for one am very happy that Teemu and Scott weren't strong-armed into retirement. I like signing Schneider as a stop-gap move to deal with Scott's indecision. I like how he wouldn't pay Penner $4.25 M for the foreseeable future. I like how he resigned UFA d-men O'Donnell and Huskins for cheaper than their cup year collectively.

Mowers, Weight, and Bertuzzi certainly sucked, but I don't know if I was against the acquisitions at the time (well, Bertuzzi had me scratching my head). Bryzgalov was a tough one, too, but I don't mind Burke keeping his word for a player.

I dunno--I think of a lot of last year's moves as reactionary to Scott & Teemu, so it's tough to gauge them as unrelated events. And even though this team lost in the first round, I think it was a pretty good squad when on all cylinders. Perry's injury and Pronger's suspension I think derailed things at the end.

Between Scott's return and the start of Pronger's suspension, the Ducks went 25-10-4, outscoring opponents 96-71. Had that team rolled into the playoffs, I don't know if you'd be complaining as hard today.