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What We Learned: Brian Burke’s catastrophes across Canada

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

Perhaps the only good thing the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing for anyone besides the advanced stats community these days is providing a distraction for their old boss.

Brian Burke may be gone, but the cronyism he put into place at Air Canada Center is the reason the Leafs are awful. For all the good he did in rebuilding that roster — and let's be fair, there's a lot of it, from trading for Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner and the drafting of Nazem Kadri, among other things — he is also the reason Randy Carlyle is behind the bench, and Dave Nonis is in the front office, and there's so many awful players on the roster.

The Leafs are cratering in a way that is very fun and exciting for everyone who is not a Leafs fan and this is directly due to their insistence on being “hard to play against,” and all that kind of thing.

The number of guys on their roster who get less than 10 minutes a night but have played 20 or more games is at three (Carter Ashton, Frazer McLaren, and Colton Orr at 20, 21, and 34, respectively), indicating that Carlyle has little to no faith in their ability to be good contributors to the team itself, but nonetheless slots them into the lineup regularly. It seems a curious way to run a hockey team, and no one on earth who's looking at things rationally can at this point defend the way in which Carlyle composes his roster or runs his bench. He plays favorites and allows some guys — typically those who are bad but tough — free reign to do more or less anything they want while skill guys make one inconsequential turnover and get benched. This is all well-known stuff at this point. It doesn't need a lot of rehashing, and is further self-evident every time the Leafs take the ice and get creamed; they have two regulation wins since Nov. 20 for a reason.

But while the rest of Canada watches helpless as the Leafs burn to the ground after their summer of inexplicably expensive signings, the team Brian Burke runs now is playing some historically futile hockey.

The Calgary Flames may not be the worst team in the league this season, but they're certainly trending that way, and Burke is being given the opportunity to craft the team in whatever image he likes. One suspects it will resemble the Maple Leafs before too long.

The Flames scored a goal against the Penguins in a 2-1 loss on Saturday, which is only notable because of how often they had been not-scoring in the previous several games. In the seven contests leading up to that (predictable) loss, Calgary had scored but five goals, four of which came in one win over the Colorado Avalanche. Put another way: They were shut out in five of their previous seven games, and the goal that broke that run came inside the final 10 minutes of Saturday's contest.

To find a team that has been shut out that often in such a short period of time, one must head all the way back to the 1928-29 season. The Pittsburgh Pirates were shut out five times in six games back then, scoring just once in that stretch, while the Chicago Blackhawks (the most shut-out team in NHL history, at 20 games in which they were held goalless) went eight straight without a goal from Feb. 7-28. That season, you'll note, was the league's last prior to the stock market crash that helped spark the Great Depression, which is something in which many in Calgary must feel themselves mired.

But people knew the Flames would be bad this season. Was it generally thought they would be THIS bad?

Perhaps not; anecdotally, most observers had them in the bottom five, but they're charging hard for Buffalo's 30th-place spot with a .355 winning percentage since Nov. 3. Just three of their nine wins in those last 31 games were in regulation. Things will, predictably, only get worse when they start selling players, mostly forwards, as the trade deadline approaches.

The real problem, though, is that Burke has the keys now. After the merciful firing of Jay Feaster, it was speculated that he would approach things aggressively when it came to finding a new GM, but most now seem to think he'll stay out of the market until around the draft this summer. Until then, he'll mold the team to his preference, and his preference is, to paraphrase his philosophy as laid out in the Feaster firing presser: “surround skill with beef.”

The Flames know they now have to play Tough Hockey to get ice time, and Bob Hartley knows he has to keep those guys in the lineup because if he doesn't, he doesn't have a job after this season. He might not anyway, but he's going out compliant; Saturday night, both Penguins goals were scored with the same five skaters out there: Brian McGrattan, Kevin Westgarth (a recent Burke acquisition), Joe Colborne (picked up in a trade after Burke was hired), Shane O'Brien, and Dennis Wideman. In theory, Colborne and Wideman are the skill guys there, but the first goal was a direct result of the latter being overwhelmed by his teammates' ineffectiveness and making a doomed clearing attempt from his knees.

Giving Burke the ability to bring in his guys is what led the Leafs to their current hilariously bad state, both directly and indirectly, and now he has the ability to make the same mistakes in Calgary. A potentially unending rebuild, misappropriation of cap resources, and unwatchable hockey for years to come because of a sad devotion to an ancient religion that will never help the team conjure up possession, goals, or the resultant wins that come with them. Maybe a smoke-and-mirrors playoff appearance mixed in.

Even when the Oilers were at their worst the last few seasons — and to be fair they're still a point behind Calgary in the standings right now — every loss was a scandal in the Canadian media. Every one, even now, is still scrutinized by the local scribes at least as to the role the team's defensive responsibility plays in the ongoing failure. It hasn't been that way in Calgary, where everyone seems to have just given up already (and who can blame them?), while the national people turn their attention to the colossal tire fire in the world's hockey capital. Thus, under cover of darkness, can the Flames continue to toil in futility with nary a question raised by anyone of import until the damage to the organization is already done, using the same methods that got the Leafs where they are today.

It's going to be an abysmal few years.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks have given up the first goal in four of their last five games, and won all of them anyway. You get the feeling they're doing it on purpose at this point, just to see how hard they can make it on themselves.

Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask now has five shutouts on the season, giving him the league lead, but this was the first one against a Western Conference opponent.

Buffalo Sabres: Mikhail Grigorenko really doesn't want to go back to juniors, and who can blame him? The cool thing that's great about this situation is it effectively burns the second year of his entry-level deal for a grand total of 43 games of NHL service. This is the Buffalo Sabres in a nutshell, really.

Calgary Flames: The way the crowd and Jim Hughson react after this admittedly nice Mikael Backlund goal, you'd think it was that phantom goal from the 2004 Cup Final come back to life.

Carolina Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner has points in six straight games, and 17-7-24 in 19 since the start of December. He's also got 4.3 shots per game during that stretch, which is pretty good I guess.

Chicago Blackhawks: Filed under "wishful thinking."

Colorado Avalanche: Saturday's game was Ryan O'Reilly's first appearance in three contests, and his return was marked by two goals. He's got 10 points in his last 13 games.

Columbus Blue Jackets: This is just a very nice story.

Dallas Stars: Antoine Roussel, Ryan Garbutt, and Shawn Horcoff take an absolutely absurd number of penalties in their offensive zone. They should really cut that out.

Detroit Red Wings: Tomas Tatar's father died a few days ago, and the young Red Wing scored a goal in his honor. Jonathan Quick kicking the puck right to him helped as well.

Edmonton Oilers: Kevin Lowe is and has been bad at his job. Weird that everyone is only just now figuring it out.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers can spend to the cap. Every new player they sign has to build a casino in their backyard though.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings put 45 shots on Jimmy Howard Saturday night, but only scored once, so what Mike Richards' reaction? “I've got to start getting back to shooting first and looking for second options later.” Mike, dude, you put EIGHT on goal.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild returned to Nashville last night, with their two former Preds on the blue line. Mike Yeo joked he might put Jonathan Blum out there with Ryan Suter so they can both be booed at the same time.

Montreal Canadiens: Owned.

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Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Maybe not the best clearing attempt by Mattias Ekholm.

New Jersey Devils: Shaquille O'Neal, three years retired from the NBA at 41 years old, drove the Zamboni, wore a comically undersized Alexei Ponikarovsky jersey, and dropped the ceremonial first puck at the Devils game on Saturday. Jaromir Jagr, who's 19 days older than Shaq, played 23:21 and set up the game-winner.

New York Islanders: The Islanders have played five different rookies for at least 18 games this season. Boy I wonder why they're so bad.

New York Rangers: It appears as though Rick Nash is finally starting to put it together a little bit. Maybe. I don't know. Probably not really.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators are about to extend Bryan Murray, which is a smart thing to do when your team's record is in the toilet. At least they're ahead of the Leafs.

Philadelphia Flyers: Steve Downie a healthy scratch because of... you guessed it, “intensity.” What a fun world hockey is.

Phoenix Coyotes: Shane Doan on the Coyotes: “Right now, we're not very good.” Yes that is correct Shane.

Pittsburgh Penguins: You can't see it too well in this video but here's Marc-Andre Fleury making a save on Mikael Backlund with the back of his head.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks probably just don't want to play the Bruins any more this season. Fortunately, they don't have to unless they meet in the Stanley Cup Final. At that point they might not feel so bad about a 1-0 loss on Saturday, and the 2-1 game they lost with 0.8 seconds left in October.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues lead the NHL in goals per game? That seems like it would be impossible, but here we are I guess.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning put five past Steve Mason on just 17 shots. Mason's save percentage of .895 since December, and the Bolts were the beneficiary here tonight.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Don't worry about it, Randy. You're doin' fine.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks held their annual SuperSkills competition on Saturday and the runaway winner was the Cooperalls on Ryan Kesler's kid. Eddie Lack has to do better there.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are already working on an extension for Mikhail Grabovski because hey what do you know he's really good.

Winnipeg Jets: Worse than Mason's numbers, Ondrej Pavelec's save percentage since Dec. 1 is .860 — EIGHT SIXTY — and is the reason Claude Noel got fired.

Play of the Weekend
Man what a stop by Corey Crawford. Totally worth that extension.

Gold Star Award

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Dustin Byfuglien you are the Jets' best defenseman but you Weren't Bad on Saturday when you were strangely moved to forward. Congrats to you.

Minus of the Weekend

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Paul Maurice this was a bad idea for you.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “mhstudios” has a blockbuster in mind.

To Islanders:
RNH
Jordan Eberle
Darnel Nurse
2014 1st Rounder

To Oilers:
John Tavares

One of the rare trades that solves neither team's problems.

Signoff
Is this an ad for side by side bathtubs? I want one!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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