ANAHEIM, Calif. — Brian Burke had been out of work for over a year when he heard the Anaheim Ducks were interested in interviewing him for the general manager position.
“After I went through the interview process I desperately wanted the job,” said Burke at the Ducks 2007 Cup reunion on Sunday. “Fortunately it worked out. They brought me in and things went really from the start.”
Burke was hired in July 2005. He inherited a good, but not great, roster from former general manager Bryan Murray. Before he started making changes to the roster, Burke brought in help in the form of now-Ducks general manager Bob Murray.
“We brought Bob Murray in,” said Burke in an interview with Puck Daddy. “Bob Murray is the key part of everything I did here, or we did here.”
Together, Burke and Murray got to work.
“We evaluated the roster, said we’ve got to totally upgrade the [defense],” said Burke, “the goaltending is fine with [J.S. Giguere] and [Ilya Bryzgalov]. Forwards there’s some pieces there that make sense, some that don’t. But No. 1 was that we had to upgrade the D.
“Bryan [Murray] left some marvelous pieces, but there’s not one defenseman whose name is on the Cup that was here when I took over.
“We brought in a whole new group: [Chris] Pronger, [Scott] Niedermayer, [Kent] Huskins, [Sean] O’Donnell. We brought in [Francois] Beauchemin.”
During the pre-game ceremony honoring the Cup winning team, Burke told a story about the team acquiring Beauchemin.
The Ducks were trying to get a deal done with Sergei Fedorov at the time but it was going nowhere. Bob Murray came to Burke pushing the idea of trading for Beauchemin. Burke recalled when Murray gave him Beauchemin’s name, the then-GM replied with, “Who the hell is that?”
So, Burke gave then-Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug Maclean a call. The way Burke tells it, the second he said he was interested in trading for Beauchemin, Burke said MacLean cut him off with “DONE.”
Fedorov, along with a fifth round pick in the 2006 draft, went to Columbus. In return, Anaheim received Francois Beauchemin and center Tyler Wright.
It took a while for Beauchemin to get a hang of things.
According to Burke, head coach Randy Carlyle wasn’t entirely sold on the defenseman for a good month or two. Finally Beauchemin found his stride. Burke added, “He was a key part of this organization.”
Beauchemin, along with Chris Kunitz and Shawn Thornton, could not attend Sunday’s ceremony because they’re still active in the NHL. They sent along their well wishes via video.
(Is it just us or is Beauchemin blinking ‘SAVE ME’ in Morse Code?)
“I think the distinguishing characteristic that people will remember even fifty years from now is the quality of the [defense],” said Burke. “That was the biggest characteristic of a Cup team.”
It helps to have two Norris Trophy defensemen on the blueline.
As he is known to do, Burke didn’t mince words when talking about the impact made by Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.
“The two big pieces were obviously signing Scotty and trading for Chris Pronger,” said Burke. “Everyone mentions the Chris Pronger trade as the one that got us over the top. I don’t think that’s fair to Scott. I think those two deals collectively, one a year before the other, were the difference for the Cup.
After Burke’s comments, the two defensemen turned college professors on tenure gave each a quick hug.
The sole reason Scott Niedermayer came to play in Anaheim was his brother, Rob.
Rob Niedermayer was acquired by the then-Mighty Ducks in 2003 right before the team went on their Cinderella Cup run. He and his brother faced off in the Stanley Cup final that summer.
Following the lockout, Burke signed Niedermayer to a team-high $6.75-million contract.
Before hockey resumed again, Burke had one more player looking to join his new team. Beloved local legend, Teemu Selanne.
Prior to the lockout, Selanne teamed back up with Paul Kariya in an experiment of sorts with the Colorado Avalanche. It didn’t go well and by the end of the season his knee was shredded. The speed that made him the Finnish Flash wasn’t there.
For Selanne, the lockout came at the perfect time. He had massive reconstructive knee surgery and wasn’t forced to rush his rehabilitation.
When it was time for the NHL to return, his camp reached out to Burke and the Ducks. Selanne had to do some convincing to get the team to take a chance on him.
“I [said] to Brian, I’m in better shape than ever,” said Teemu Selanne to Puck Daddy. “I got my wheels back. I’m more excited than ever.”
Initially it was a no-go.
“They didn’t have any room in the budget,” said Selanne. “Lucky I didn’t do anything stupid between that.”
By ‘stupid,’ he means sign with another team right away.
“We were collecting a couple other teams as to how they were interested, but I didn’t have to rush anywhere,” added Selanne. “I just wanted to see. We had a home [in Orange County] and everything. I wanted to come back here if it’s possible. I was willing to wait a little bit.”
From Burke’s perspective, Teemu was seen as a risk.
“He’d had major knee surgery,” said Burke, “and in a hard-cap system, I can’t make that gamble.”
Selanne believes his former teammate with the Winnipeg Jets, and then-new coach of the Ducks, Randy Carlyle had some influence over Burke that led him to take a leap of faith in Selanne.
“When I talked to [Teemu] he was like, ‘I think I can still score big,'” Burke said. “I think you’re right, that’s why I’m bringing you back, but you’re going to have to come back and play and do it and then you’ll get paid. Which he did! The year we won the Cup, what did he have? 48 goals? Something crazy.”
For the 2005-06 season, Burke gave Selanne a $1-million contract with the guarantee he’d get more the next season if he performed.
It was a magical homecoming for the adopted son of Orange County. Selanne rejuvenated his career with a 40 goal, 90 point season.
The following season, Selanne received his raise making $3.75-million, and as Burke questioned, Selanne did have 48 goals on the way to his first Stanley Cup.
To Burke, the benefit of Selanne was far more than just goal scoring.
“He was great,” said Burke. “One thing Teemu does for a team is he’s always happy. He comes in with a smile. That positive outlook has great value for a team. He brought that here.”
The friendship between Burke and Selanne was on display during the reunion.
The team aired a highlight video of the team’s run to the Stanley Cup. Selanne was featured often reflecting on the team’s success.
The ‘Affliction’ shirt Selanne was wearing during the interview answered the age old question: can Teemu Selanne wear anything and look bad in it? The answer is yes.
After the video, a question was posed to Burke on a completely different topic. Before answering, the truculent GM went out of his way to call out Selanne’s shirt and asked him where he got it.
“My shirt was free,” said Selanne as he defended himself. “If you look at Brian Burke’s tie, that was in in Finland 30 years ago.”
Selanne is referencing Burke’s traditional un-tied tie, seen here with Bob Murray.
The 2005-06 team with Selanne and the Niedermayer brothers went on to lose in the Western Conference Final against the Chris Pronger-led Edmonton Oilers.
In the offseason, players met with Burke to talk about what they thought the team needed. The Niedermayers, Selanne and others told Burke they were a little weary from getting pushed around by the opposition.
The team was tough, but not tough enough. So why don’t they bring in the guy that was beating up on the most: Chris Pronger.
When the opportunity arose for Burke to trade for Pronger he had concerns, mainly those centered around money.
A year after the lockout, the salary cap remained relatively low at $44-million. Niedermayer was already on the books for $6.75-million. If Pronger joined the fold, it was adding another $6.25-million to the hard cap. He’d have $13-million (or 32-percent) of his cap space locked up in two defenseman. That gave Burke pause.
Burke turned to then-Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian for advice. To which Polian said, “It’s all right to do so, provided they’re the right two players.”
That was all the convincing Burke needed. The deal for Pronger was made in July. The team added enforcer George Parros the following November.
There was some subtle tinkering with the roster through the team’s Cup win, but not much. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Anaheim Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators to win the first Cup in California.
To sum up the ’07 Cup team roster as a whole, we turn not to Burke, but to master wordsmith Ilya Bryzgalov who was on hand for the festivities.
“A couple guys on the podium talk about this team and I want to add something, said Bryzgalov to Puck Daddy, “During the summer Olympic games usually they call the men’s basketball team, USA Dream Team.
“That’s what I can say about this team: it’s a Dream Team.”
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