February 18, 2011
Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear Internet instead?
Brian Burke is often criticized as being a not-very-good general manager. He traded two first-round picks for Phil Kessel(notes) and then had his team finish 29th in the league, and he signed Brett Lebda(notes), so clearly he is an idiot, according to most people in the hockey world.
First, during the summer or whenever it was, he says he'll never ask a player to waive his no-trade clause. Doesn't think it's fair to the guy. That contract shows he earned the right to not be dealt unless he wants it. And as far as we know, he never asked Kaberle to do so until today. But, boy, did he ever lean on him to do it.
Further, he claimed to have made a verbal agreement with Kaberle and his people to never ever, ever discuss any dealings related to the star defenseman (who by the way is fourth in the NHL in assists from the blue line despite Toronto's offense that is, shall we say, horrendous). But he did not mention how often he would talk about his inability to talk about the player, and indeed, seems to have broken-but-not-really-broken even that agreement as the days have worn on.
Think about how well-crafted this plan to get what turned out be a max return -- for a guy everyone on the planet knew would be dealt -- even with only one real suitor ever discussed. The Leafs were playing the Bruins in Boston a little less than two weeks before the trade deadline. He goes on a popular Boston drive-time show, ostensibly to be asked the same eight questions about Phil Kessel he's been answering for two years.
Then, in the middle of a conversation about whether he would have any trepidation making a deal with Boston again, he says something along the lines of, "The player you're talking about is Tomas Kaberle, and I have an agreement not to publicly discuss any deals involving him."
"Whoa there Burkie!" said every hockey fan on Twitter at the exact same time. "No one brought up Tomas Kaberle! Just what in the heck are you doing here?!?!?"
What he was doing, of course, was running 10,000 volts through the long-dead corpse of those Kaberle-to-Boston rumors we'd all nearly forgotten about for about a calendar year. Now fans in Boston would be excited to acquire a defenseman of Kaberle's caliber, and there would be greater outside pressure on the organization to pull out any number of stops to get him. Not that the Bruins weren't looking to acquire Kaberle before Burke went on the radio, but it took what should have been a relatively mundane late-season game between a division leader and also-ran and ratcheted the intensity up several notches.
In fact, it led to the Boston media, which dove on this loose ball like an offensive lineman with four linebackers next to him, to walk the extra 100 feet or so down the hall to the visitors' dressing room at TD Garden and ask Kaberle directly, "Would you want to be traded to Boston?" And Kaberle had to answer. No, he wouldn't mind it at all. Sheer giddiness ensued on Causeway St.
Hell, there was talk the deal would be done before the game, then immediately after (though to everyone's disappointment, it was just the underwhelming Chris
Neil Kelly trade, which no one cared about). And from then on, it was all anyone in either city or indeed the entire hockey world could talk about. Hey Peter Chiarelli, when is Kaberle coming to Boston? Is it now? OK it wasn't then but is it NOW? The Bruins GM might have been tempted to make the deal just so everyone shuts up about it.
Burke was smart. He knew he would certainly deal Kaberle, almost certainly to the Bruins. The only hole in the plan, if there was one at all, is that the Leafs are still just six points out of a playoff spot, so there was perhaps a little incentive to keep him around until deadline day. Doing so would have only increased Boston's demand for him, especially if the losing ways of the last little while had continued (game against the Islanders notwithstanding).
But the play that was probably most impressive came Thursday, when Burke told another radio show (clever!) that even squeaking into the playoffs didn't really interest him if they were just gonna get thumped as an eight-seed. And would they ever.
That probably shows that no matter what, he was going to deal Kaberle, and never to anyone besides the Bruins. He got a big-time return when no one really could have expected him to. And it was almost certainly because he only talked about a player he couldn't talk about.
What a puppetmaster.
Media gets it wrong, no one cares
It's a well-worn axiom that bloggers have been known to make things up because they don't have any accountability and no one to fact-check their claims. And inevitably one of these fabricated trade rumors is picked up, and carried to all the corners of the world until it is inevitably disproved.
This causes some media members, who consider themselves the last centurions on the beleaguered walls of respectability as hordes of basement-dwelling barbarians crash the gates, will issue stern rebukes of both those who issued and fell for these falsehoods. And yet, when the same thing happens with rumors started by people in the Legitimate Media, those same admonishments from behind clucking tongues and well-stroked beards of prodigious length don't come rushing from on high as though someone had opened a faucet.
Case in point: Brad May, a former Canuck, went on Hockey Night In Canada Radio and said that Hurricanes defenseman Ian White(notes) was being shipped to Vancouver to bolster the Canucks decimated blue line (whereupon he would be inevitably involved in a prolonged hostage crisis that kept him out of the lineup for awhile).
This was likely based on a report from 'Canes beat reporter Chip Alexander who noted that White wasn't on the ice for the morning skate and indeed had a "situation pending." Quotes from a man on the scene and a coach himself. White would have almost certainly been on the move. Now to which team? Well, Vancouver seemed an obvious destination given their rather tenuous defensive depth.
So May, in short, made up some crap about White being traded to Vancouver. But because this took place on the widely respected HNIC Radio, and not, say, May's own Twitter account, it was taken as gospel by hockey fans and got pretty much everywhere.
That is, until someone actually bothered to call Mike Gillis and ask about this situation, which is when it was revealed that Gillis had never even talked to Jim Rutherford about White.
If I or any other parent's-house pundit had cooked this one up, hellfire would certainly rained down upon us in the form of angry columns and perhaps even scolding emails so hard that we'd need an umbrella and galoshes. Despite all this, I did not see one criticism of Brady May, crap trade rumor maker-upper, from any of those Protect The Media types on the Internet or in print.
How very curious indeed.
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