The Calgary Flames hired Brian Burke as their president of hockey operations, which is a new position in their front office specially created for someone to usurp Jay Feaster without having to fire him.
It was a hiring that had some wondering what Burke’s role will actually become for the Flames and others just declaring that an NHL with Brian Burke is a more interesting place.
In watching the press conference and reading the reactions to it, a few questions kept bubbling up in my brain.
Why wasn’t Gary Bettman’s name mentioned?
Flames co-owner Murray Edwards was Bettman’s lieutenant during the lockout bargaining with the players. He’s one of the commissioner’s biggest allies; so is Burke, who worked for Bettman in the NHL front office from 1993-98 and calls him the smartest man he’s ever worked with.
So Burke needs a job after a humbling dismissal in Toronto, and it’s a Bettman loyalist that gives it to him. OK.
Oh, right: The other people mentioned for the job Burke was given were NHL employee Brendan Shanahan and NHL employee Colin Campbell.
We’re not saying Gary Bettman’s the reason Brian Burke got hired in Calgary. Just that the NHL can be a very chummy place sometimes.
Brendan Shanahan, a player personnel novice, might have gotten this gig over Brian Burke?
This assumes that the position Shanahan, the NHL’s VP in the Department of Player Safety, was speaking with the Calgary Flames about was the president of hockey operations job that Burke was given. Reading the Calgary Sun’s coverage of the talks, and Shanahan’s subsequent bowing out, it would seem that way: Shanahan would have come on board with Feaster and assistant GM of player personnel John Weisbrod remaining in their positions.
This obviously leads one to ask: What was the motivation for pursuing Shanahan, and what was the motivation for not making a deal with Burke earlier? The team’s hesitation? Burke’s hesitation?
The two share an undeniable camera-ready star power. So were the Flames looking for someone to run the show or for someone to give the appearance that the show is being run?
Which brings us to …
Why is Brian Burke insisting that he won’t do the best thing that Brian Burke does?
From the Calgary Herald, quoting Burke from his presser:
“The day-to-day guy, the guy that you talk to every day, is the coach. Played last, day off today, what about line combinations, what about injuries. That should be the coach.
“The transactional guy, if you make a trade, whether it’s a big trade or a little trade, the guy that explains it is the guy that pulls the trigger. That’s Jay (Feaster). So I don’t think there’s any way this works unless the guy in my position takes a lesser role. To me, it’s not protecting Jay. Jay’s a big boy. He’s got as many rings as I do. It’s more: This is how it has to work.
“So, no, I don’t intend to be front and centre. Actually, it’ll be a nice break after being front and centre, getting in a lot of little scraps with the media.”
Forgetting for a moment how wonderful the “Jay’s a big boy” line plays in print, let’s briefly consider why one hires Brian Burke.
Is it for his ability to fill out a scouting report? Is it his ability to work outside the spotlight, tinkering on transactions like a clockmaker, instead of boasting like a ringmaster?
Of course not. You hire Brian Burke to be the face of your front office, to throw elbows in the media, to be the lightning rod that absorbs criticism so a rebuilding team can properly gestate.
Maybe he needs to say this to give Feaster a public vote of confidence, and it’ll still be the same ‘ole Burkie when the media comes calling. Otherwise, hiring a Background Brian Burke is like hiring Will Smith for your action movie and not getting him to perform a terrible song for your soundtrack. (We’re looking at you, “Hancock.”)
Why would this managerial structure work, like, ever?
Jay Feaster should probably be out of a job now, given the Flames’ fortunes and the road ahead of them. But Calgary never sought to replace him; rather, they sought to demote him below a hockey operations boss.
"This is a relatively new structure in professional hockey," Burke said. "There are two teams in the NHL that have this type of management structure. There are a number of teams in the National Football League that do, a number of teams in Major League Baseball that do, and a number of teams in the NBA that do. And it works effectively. And it's going to work here.
"This is new for both of us, but I'm determined to make it work and I think it will work and I think I add value. I don't think I'm coming to this as some green guy that's never run a team."
The Colorado Avalanche are attempting a variation of this structure with Joe Sakic as head of hockey operations, Patrick Roy as VP of hockey operations and head coach, and Greg Sherman inexplicably still the general manager.
The Columbus Blue Jackets also briefly had this structure, with John Davidson hired to run the show over GM Scott Howson, who was fired in February.
Despite their declaration of friendship, it’s hard not to see the Burke/Feaster dynamic ending up like the latter scenario. On a day where the Flames were looking toward the future, there was a sense of delaying the inevitable.
Finally: Hey, where did all that speculation about Brian Burke’s personal life go?
Remember when Toronto was marinating in gossip about Burke’s personal problems, with Steve Simmons writing about his marital issues and later writing that “they fired him because they were tired of going to receptions and hearing: Did you hear where Brian was last night, or how he acted, or that, apparently, he was in places he didn’t need to be apparent?”
Then he gets hired in Calgary for a front office job and … not a peep about any of it from the Toronto echo chamber.
Oh, right: He made an example of ‘Poonerman’ and 17 other Internet message board users who posted salacious rumors about why Burke was fired by the Leafs, suing them for defamation.
Hey, it’s not beating up the biggest guy in the cell block on your first day in prison, but it’s apparently going to keep the heat off of him -- if he even deserved it in the first place.