December 02, 2011
In 2007, GM Kevin Lowe of the Edmonton Oilers signed 24-year-old restricted free agent Dustin Penner(notes) of the Anaheim Ducks to a five-year, $21.25 million contract after Penner earned the league minimum of $450,000 in the previous season.
It was a move that targeted the Ducks' salary cap challenges.
It was also a move that sparked a tirade by then-Ducks GM Brian Burke at his then-friend Lowe, whose move he called "gutless" and "an act of desperation for a general manager who is fighting to keep his job."
One year later, with Penner on the Oilers, Burke accused Lowe of escalating salaries for young players, which Lowe vehemently denied in a radio interview. He returned fire on Burke in an interview, calling him a "moron," a "media junkie" and that he "destroyed" the Vancouver Canucks during his time there.
In July 2008, Gary Bettman stepped in and held a conference call with the two GMs, telling them to end their public feuding.
But that wasn't the only advice he gave Brian Burke with regard to that feud: Bettman also informed him that renting a barn in Lake Placid with the explicit intent of having a fist-fight with another NHL general manager is generally frowned upon.
The Score's Sophia Jurksztowicz has an interview with Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke that covers a wide variety of topics, including the fact that "Irish people are vindictive and ill tempered," as Burke notes. The rest of it will appear next week, but this teaser (via Backhand Shelf) is rather wonderful, detailing the Greatest Barn Fight That Never Happened.
Our theory: Burke grew that mustache just to tell that story, because the "ill-tempered" Irishman certainly looked the part.
For the video impaired, here's the story from the mouth of Burke:
[The feud] got to the point where Kevin challenged me to a fight on a radio interview. So I'm like, that's not really how you challenge a guy to a fight. If you wanna challenge a guy to a fight, you pick a place and a time and you show up.
So I called Glen Sather and I say look, this guy went on the radio and challenged me to a fight. I'm gonna be at Lake Placid at the U.S. Junior camp. I gave him three dates. I told him I'd rent a barn. I picked the address and the time and I'd fight Kevin Lowe.
Q. And you're serious?
Dead serious. It got to the point where Gary Bettman called me and said 'I heard you guys were thinkin' about having a fight. If you do, I'm going to suspend you both indefinitely.' That's how crazy it got between me and Kevin. He's as stubborn as I am. There's no doubt in my mind that if we bumped into each other right around then, we would've fought. No question. He's not afraid of me. We would've fought, for sure.
Anyway, my wife overhears this. I think I'm in privacy in a backyard in California and my wife said, 'You idiot. You're going to fight this guy? You're a general manager.' So it never came to that."
As you heard on the video, the story has a bittersweet and sad side to it: Burke's late son Brendan, an inspiring figure who died in a car accident in 2010, overheard his father calling Lowe "a no good bastard" during a phone call and planted the seeds for reconciliation.
When Oilers GM Steve Tambellini was one of the first to call with condolences for Burke, the Leafs GM said he wanted to mend fences with Lowe.
The profound effect Brendan Burke has on his father, from compassion to politics, is really one of the greatest stories in recent hockey history. We can add the Burke/Lowe Barn Fight That Wasn't to that list as well.