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Burke proves genius again, plus Sens' Emery dilemma
Posted: Wednesday January 30, 2008 12:30PM; Updated: Wednesday February 6, 2008 1:35PM
Brian Burke, then the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, and a man as neutral as Switzerland although considerably more fractious, was wandering around the belly of Detroit' s Joe Louis Arena prior to Game 5 of the 2002 Stanley Cup final.
"Hey, why are you here?" someone wondered.
"It's the Stanley Cup Final," answered Burke. "Why wouldn't I want to be here?"
The unspoken reply was that your 29 colleagues - preparing for the draft, shampooing their carpets, doing something, anything -- wouldn't have been caught dead, if at all possible, at the NHL's marquee event.
Now fast forward to January 2008. Before flying to the All-Star weekend in Atlanta, Burke, now the GM of the Stanley Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks, stopped at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto along with Ducks owner Henry Samueli to present a championship ring to the Hall and urge future Cup-winners to do the same.
The point is that Burke, for all his infamous bluster, really understands the roots of the sport that has provided him with a nice living. He gets it.
While at the Hall of Fame, Burke also told hovering reporters that he had informed Don Baizley, Teemu Selanne's agent, that if the quasi-retired right wing made his decision to return to the Ducks during the weekend and took away any of the luster from the All Star event, he would wring the player's neck.
Maybe Selanne should have defied Burke's threat if only for the purpose of distracting the hockey world -- has there ever been a more muddled, cringe-worthy skills competition than the one offered in Atlanta? -- but the most popular player in the history of the Ducks franchise dutifully waited until Monday to re-sign with Anaheim after a half-season-plus sabbatical. No neck wringing. No hand wringing, either. Selanne signed a pro-rated $1.5 million deal that will cost the Ducks a little less than $600,000. There is also a $1.2 million cinch bonus in the contract.
But the best news for Anaheim is not that a top-six forward is coming back -- Selanne's return had been a slam dunk for weeks -- but that the Ducks still have salary cap room to add another one. At the Feb. 26 trading deadline, they will have well in excess of a $5 million and can chase a high-end rental. Maybe Burke, who kicked the tires on Keith Tkachuk and others last February but was shut out of the deadline sweepstakes, will take a dramatic plunge in the constipated trade market in the next four weeks. Maybe not. But in a year in which the Ducks could have suffered a massive year-long Stanley Cup hangover and dropped off significantly, he worked the system like a maestro. Burke managed to repatriate a pair of reluctant stars -- defenseman Scott Niedermayer and Selanne -- tweak his team and future salary structure (by trading Andy McDonald for Doug Weight and his expiring contract), and give the Ducks a chance to play into June.
Detroit GM Ken Holland, no slouch himself, calls Burke the best manager in the game, something that even the high foreheads at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment surely have noticed.
While visiting the Hall of Fame, Burke was also peppered with questions about his interest in being the next president/GM of the Maple Leafs. He demurred, presumably happy in Anaheim and with the apparently model ownership of Samueli and his wife, Susan. Samueli said that day that Burke can be the Ducks' GM for life if he wants, but added that if Toronto wanted to approach his general manager, he would not stand in the way.
As much as Burke understands the totemic importance of the Leafs and the unique opportunity to win a Cup in a city that hasn't seen one since 1967, and as much as he could bask in the hockey atmosphere and pick really entertaining fights, he also understands loyalty. Even if MLSE were willing to offer him the absolute autonomy it gives to Toronto Raptors president Bryan Colangelo, Burke, whose four-year deal in Anaheim expires after the 2008-09 season, likely will sign an extension with the Ducks, formally taking his name out of play.