October 07, 2009
"These players have families, too" is the hockey equivalent of "think about the children" in a political debate: a sign that the concerned party needs to ratchet up the rhetoric in order to create a heightened sense of outrage.
This isn't to say that Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis is entirely wrong when he claims that the leaking of trade bait by Toronto Maple Leafs President Brian Burke affects players' personal lives. But does that indicate a calculated bit of tampering on the part of the Leafs GM?
To reset the issue at hand: The Leafs faced charges of tampering earlier this season when Coach Ron Wilson lusted after some Swedish twins on the radio. Last week, more tampering was alleged involving the No. 2 pick in last summer's draft that turned out to be Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman(notes); as the Globe & Mail explains:
Vancouver's latest complaint stems from a video on the Maple Leafs website, entitled Behind the Draft, where general manager Brian Burke discuss the possibility of trading up into the top five slots.
"Vancouver has made a major effort to get the second pick out of Tampa Bay," Burke tells his scouts at a pre-draft meeting. "We heard they offered - again, this is all second-hand, so we're not sure - [Alex] Burrows, [Kevin] Bieksa and their own pick. Those are two pretty good players."
"Pretty good players?" Wake up Bettman and grab the torches! Burke's gone rogue again!
Somehow, it appears Gillis has gotten the NHL to investigate this name-dropping as tampering, and he justified his concerns in an interesting radio interview this week. We think this is just the latest pissing match between Burke and a fellow GM; perhaps Gillis can convince you otherwise.
Here's Gillis on Team 1040 in Vancouver (audio .mp3) with Dave Pratt and Jason Botchford this week. Note that he never denies the trade package, as he had in the past:
GILLIS: "I think that, um, there are certainly some issues that the League needs to take control of when players names are thrown around. It isn't just Toronto where it happens; I know a number of people that have spoken to me about ... you're talking about lives and families, and those things should and need to be kept confidential when you may be discussing a transaction of that type.
"As Jason accurately reported, there was a mention of players' names, which is very upsetting for them. It doesn't make me feel very good."
Q. What do the Canucks plan to do?
"Dave, we'll do what we think is necessary and I don't think at this point we need to discuss it publicly, because that's the very issue that we have. So we'll just keep it to ourselves."
Q. Brian Burke yesterday went on AM 640 in Toronto saying he's already been contacted by the NHL, and that his lawyers are going to look into what he referred to as sort of slanderous statements by [HNIC's Al] Strachan, suggesting this story ... is untrue. Do you see some sort of a fight down the road between the Leafs and the Canucks in this situation?
"I don't know. I have no idea. Jason was the one who reported it, I went on and saw the Web site piece. I thought Jason reportedly it accurately. ... Listen, I don't anticipate a fight with anybody but we're going to protect the integrity of this organization and its players. If anybody wants to take a shot at them, inappropriately, we're going to do what it takes to protect our interests. We'll just see where this goes."
Q. What does that entail?
"Are you sure you're not a golden retriever or something?" (Ed. Note: That's what passed for humor in this conversation.)
Q. I'm just trying to get a sense of where this is going.
"Well, like I said a moment ago (Ed. Note: Gillis sounding like a patronizing parent here), the League is the watchdog and the police officers for this League, and they will do what the see fit. After a certain point, it doesn't really include us. We made our feelings known, and it's up to the League to protect everyone's interests and I think they will."
Q. This has been going on for quite some time and this isn't new for the people in a position of control here. It seems to just go into some sort of little black hole in New York and then just disappears. ...This is the third time that it's happened, and nothing has been resolved. I just don't see a point of resolution here.
"I understood that's what you were trying to get five minutes ago. As you can tell, I've been trying to avoid answering that question for a variety of reasons. So I guess we're at the point now, Dave, where I saw 'I really don't want to answer that question.'
"Once the League becomes involved, in a very serious matter, it isn't prudent for us to talk about it. It isn't prudent for us to threaten or do anything or escalate a situation. The League is the watchdog here, and it's up to them to deal with these issues as they see fit. Obviously, as a member of the League, our owners want protection from anything that would be adverse to their interests. I think that would be common in the League, and every owner would expect that. That's what we expect."
Brian Burke was on TSN's "Off The Record with Michael Landsberg" for a series of entertaining chats, but the tampering charges weren't a topic of any importance.
The League will look into this out of deference to the Canucks, but honestly: What a waste of time.
Burke wrote more revealing things in a trade deadline diary for USA Today two years ago than he said in that clip on Leafs TV. It's the passing around of scuttlebutt, and the story's breaking months after it happened.
Maybe he spoke out of turn for an NHL executive, but tampering? If that's the case, Gillis should be on a 24/7/365 campaign to ferret out sources who leak trade talk to the NHL rumor mill. Think about the families, will you people!?
As for Burke, this latest situation makes us think that "tampering" should join "testosterone" and "truculence" in the Many T's of the Brian Burke Maple Leafs.