November 12, 2008
Listening to Brian Burke speak today -- and this is in no way intended to be an indictment of his dedication as a parent -- you get the feeling that he'd almost rather have fresh ink on a new contract with the Anaheim Ducks than relocate back east to be with his family. That said, his message was clear: Blood is thicker than the desire to fit Beauchemin and Pahlsson under the cap next season, evidently.
I believe him when he says it's "the toughest decision of his life" to begin the process of leaving the Ducks, because a professional comfort level is difficult to maintain when you've got kids three time zones away. I believe him when he says there "are no job issues here," because I imagine the Ducks would have cracked open the Wild Wing piggy bank to keep him.
(I don't believe him when he says he'd rather that today is new general manager Bob Murray's day, rather than have the media focus on his decision. Because this is Brian Burke we're talking about here.)
So now Burke will serve at the pleasure of Ducks' CEO Michael Schulman, whom he told at the start of the month he wouldn't be signing a contract extension. The parties agreed that Murray should get the gig ASAP; Burke is turned into super special senior advisory whatever, and waits until Schulman and the ownership give him the nod to formally leave.
What's the legacy for Brian Burke in Anaheim? Are the Toronto Maple Leafs finally going to get their man; if they still even want him, that is?
Mark Whicker is a columnist for the OC Register, and had a good take back in October on Burke's legacy with the Ducks and future employment:
Let's get one thing out of the way. Burke owes us nothing at this point. The Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007. A lot of people had a lot to do with that - Pierre Gauthier, Bryan Murray, the coaches, the scouts and the players - but Burke is the one who got Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, and there's no Cup without them.
You can quibble with some moves after that. You can question Burke's management of the salary cap. You can voice a lot of opinions after the fact. But the fact is that if I'm Burke, and the Maple Leafs offered me the job of czar, and if my wife would be able to better promote her career in Toronto than here, I'd be fishing for my passport.
During the summer, when Burke's motivations and intentions were their own Sundin-like cottage industry, Earl Sleek of Battle of California had a warts-and-all look at his effectiveness as a general manager:
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.
That said, he's still BRIAN BURKE in the eyes of teams that are seeking someone with that type of credential, and for fans who openly hope for a champion-builder in their front office.
Say, for example, fans who haven't seen a Cup since 1967.
The assumption that Burke will join the Toronto Maple Leafs is basically gospel now. Do they need him? Ron Wilson (a Burke guy, not incidentally) is working miracles with that roster right now, but it's going to take an infusion of other talent to turn Toronto into a serious contender again. Truth be told, they might actually be two years away from prime Brian Burke territory: He's much better at making a great situation outstanding than making a good situation great.
(For example: Leafs fans should be praying that Phaneuf gets married, the girl hates living in Alberta and the Flames are forced to trade him. Burke's pretty good in those spots.)
I was tempted, at times, to make the argument that Burke turned in his chips because he didn't want to deal with an Anaheim roster that has well over a dozen UFAs next season (and likely won't have Scott Niedermayer or Teemu Selanne next season). But that argument is pointless when you consider he's not exactly leaving for greener, easier pastures. He'll be leaving for the Maple Leafs -- the single most thankless challenge for an NHL manager in the game.
(Ed Note: As has been pointed out in the comments, Teemu inked a two-year deal with the Ducks and could/should/will be back.)
But hey: Maybe Burke's the right guy for the gig? Down Goes Brown gets as close to optimism as a Leafs fan can:
Cliff Fletcher has done a generally good job rebuilding the Leafs, but he's not the long-term answer at GM. And as much as I like Cliff, he doesn't get the Colangelo Treatment from MLSE. That means that Peddie and his minions still have their grubby claws on this team.
With Burke in town, that will end. Peddie will go back to selling condos, and Burke will have full control of the hockey side. If he doesn't, we've been told over and over again, he's not coming. So let him come.
Brian Burke will be the guy who kills off Richard Peddie once and for all. That's good enough for me.