On the Burke Hiring

Kent Wilson
September 09 2013 01:52PM

 

Brian Burke

 

- pic via warwalker 2000

It's not easy to analyze the recent addition of Brian Burke. We don't know, for instance, just what his role will entail as the organization's president of hockey operations. More to the point, we don't really know how this will affect the current dynamic in the Flames front office. Rumors of an over-involved Ken King have swirled around the team for years and in fact this may be a move designed to short circuit those rumblings, either in fact or merely in perception. It's also entirely possible he has been tabbed as Feaster's replacement once the team is ready to compete again and Jay is dumped overboard (as seems to happen to so many GM's when their team goes through a rebuild).

Burke's resume in the NHL is long and storied. A former player agent, Burke has been an executive in the league since 1987 and landed his first GM position in 1992 with the Hartford Whalers. He won a cup with the Ducks in 2007 and was the architect of a Vancouver Canucks club that eventually became a dominant force in the Western Conference in the mid-2000's. The man brings a certain gravitas to the Flames org and there's no doubt he's unafraid to ruthlessly pursue players he deems worthwhile.

That said, there's reasons to be concerned: he's obstinate, apparently fixated on conventional assessment factors and his overall track record with the Leafs was rather poor.

The Good stuff

If there's any one thing that recommends Burke as a hockey executive, it's his ability (and willingness) to wheel and deal. Burke owns some of the biggest thefts in recent memory.

His greatest hits include:

The Sedin Heist

Acquiring the Sedin twins in the same draft through a series of unlikely maneuvers stands as one of the most impressive tricks by a modern NHL general manager.

In his first year as the Canucks big wig, Burke specifically targeted Henrik and Daniel Sedin in the 1999 entry draft, even though the Vancouver Canucks only had one top-5 pick heading into the first round. Both Sedins were tabbed to be chosen inside the top-5 and as most hockey fans are well aware, those sorts of picks are almost impossible to acquire.

But Burke nevertheless wanted both. Because they had played together their entire lives, The Sedins were considered a kind of a unqiue "gestalt" package - both were good, but together they were even better. He acquired 4th overall from Chicago in return for Bryan McCabe and a first round pick the following year (2000). Unfortunately, even with 3rd and 4th overall, there was no guarantee the twins would be around when Vancouver took the podium.

So instead of merely crossing his fingers, Burke moved 4th overall and a couple of third round picks to Tampa for the 1st overall pick. All that was left after that was to flip the first pick to Atlanta for 2nd and a conditional pick, with the proviso that the Thrashers pick Patrik Stefan and leave the Sedins alone. They did (to their ever lasting regret), leaving Brian and the Canucks to choose Daniel and Henrik second and third overall respectively.

It's a move that still positively impacts the Vancouver organization to this day.

The Purloined Pronger

A lot of credit for Burke's cup ring has to go to Bryan Murray, who did most of the work building the Anaheim Ducks prior to Brian taking the big chair in 2005. The core of the deep forward group up front including Corey Perry, Ryan Geztlaf, Dustin Penner, Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz, Sammy Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, etc was in place when Burke replaced Murray.

That said, Brian assembled the Ducks equally impressive cup winning blueline, the crown jewel of which turned out to be disgruntled Edmonton Oiler Chris Pronger who was had for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid and a first round pick. Edmonton immediately sunk into the mire after the deal whereas the Ducks were legitimately dominant en route to their championship run.

Finding Phaneuf

The end of the Sutter era in Calgary was more or less guaranteed when Darryl sent Dion Phanuef to Burke and the Maple Leafs for a collection of magic beans. Phaneuf never quite developed into the perennial Norris trophy candidate many expected earlier in his career, but he continues to be the top tough minute defender on the Toronto blueline to this day.

As for the Flames, the only thing remaining of the ill-fated package of players they got in return (Ian White, Jamal Meyers, Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan) is Matty franchise. And that's only because Darryl Sutter foolishly signed him to a long-term contract a few weeks after Stajan first donned a Flames jersey. His stigma as an icon of failure Calgary may be mostly bas ed on poor luck and circumstance, but Stajan remains a remarkably poor, lone remainder of a trade that involved the best Flames prospect in at least a decade at the time.

What's perhaps most amazing about that deal is the fact that Burke didn't give up a single future asset in return for what was considered one of the premier young defenders in the league at the time. In fact, Calgary was somehow the party who surrendered a prospect (2007 4th rounder Keith Aulie, whom the Leafs later flipped for former first rounder (!) Carter Ashton).

A lot of folks started taking advantage of a desperate Darryl Sutter at that point of his time in Calgary, but there's no question Burke is the one who really took him to the cleaners.

A Kingdom for Kessel

Burke's acquisition of Phil Kessel was impressive in conception if not result. The Leafs were a rebulding team desperate for talent when Burke made noise about giving the young RFA hold-out an offer sheet in the summer of 2009. A 36 goal scorer at 22 years old and former 5th overall pick, Kessel was battling with the Bruins over his next contract when Burke decided to make his move. The threat of an offer sheet was never carried out, but he convinced the Bruins to deal Kessel for a package similar to what they would have recieved as compensation for an offer sheet anyways: a first and second round pick in 2010 as well as an additional first rounder in 2011.

Of course, the move turned out to be a gross miscalculation on Burke's part. Although Kessel has indeed been the Leafs best forward since he arrived, he wasn't enough to turn the ship around single-handedly. The deal cost Toronto 2nd overall (Tyler Seguin), 9th overall (Dougie Hamilton) and 32nd overall (Jared Knight), which is an enviable collection of young talent - even in the wake of Seguin's "issues" in Boston.

The gambit - or at least, Burke's ability to target and acquire a high priority player - is worthy of some admiration, even if his reach exceeded his grasp in this instance.

A non-trivial portion of running a hockey team is the ability to negotiate trades and strong arm opponents into deals. Although Jay Feaster is still the general manager of the Calgary Flames, I don't doubt Brian will be an active participant when it comes to trade talks.

The Other Stuff - Intangibles and Leafs Failures

Aside from his candour and bluster, Burke is perhaps best known for his opposition to advanced stats.

"Everybody is looking for these ‘Moneyball’ breakthroughs. … I have yet to see anything that has value in terms of an alternative way of evaluating players." "This whole ‘Moneyball’ thing aggravates me anyway. … Nobody has ever won a championship with Moneyball," Burke said.

That's via the MIT Sloan sports analysis conference from 2012, to which both Burke an Mike Milbury were (bizarrely) invited. As Katie Baker put it when she covered the event for Grantland at the time: 

It was a nuanced discussion about the iterative processes through which huge, hundred-million-dollar franchises select, analyze, project, and develop the assets that are the cornerstone of their businesses. The panel explained how, given the advances in all aspects surrounding the sport — ranging from training equipment to camera technology to the rise in statistical analytics — they've been able to add all sorts of new tools to the work they do in evaluating their players' performance on (and off) the ice.

Oh wait, no it wasn't! It was an hour of phrases like, "You can't measure heart," and, "I only needed to see him play one shift," and the money line, "Statistics are like a lamppost to a drunk: useful for support, but not for illumination." At times it was impossible not to flash to the scene in the Moneyball film with the old scouts sitting around the table.

Burke has been very public in his opposition to so-called "new" analysis methods, although he has admitted he's "open" to anything that helps. I'm rather dubious of his self professed amiability since it's almost impossible to claim there hasn't been any breakthroughs in terms of data analysis and hockey theory in the last decade or so. At least for anyone who is honestly paying attention.

One of the issues with long established professionals who boast big imposing resumes is there can be a tendency to stop learning to improve. That is, to rest the entirety of their current value on past accomplishments. Like the 40-year old who wears his lettered high school jersey to work every day.

Glen Sather is perhaps the most obvious current day example of this. Made an NHL legend through his days with the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, Sather parlayed that credibility into the New York Rangers GM job - where he's mostly relied on enormous budgets and name brand player recognition to do his job. If Sather played fantasy hockey, he'd be the guy in your pool who consistently picks players because they have names he knows from highlight packages. The guy you always try to trade with because you understand he's not paying attention to the guts of the game. 

That's not to say Burke is Sather yet, but a sustained disinterest in new methods of analysis could very well be the mark of a man whose momentum in the league is more inertia than forward motion. The NHL has changed drastically since Burke broke into the league more than 20 years ago. The technology surrounding it, and the subsequent ability to analyze large swaths of data, has grown exponentially and already teams at the junior and NHL level are starting to realize the advantages these advances confer. Burke is by no means a stupid man, but if he's willfully ignorant there will be little functional difference between one and the other for the Flames organization.

On this point, there is a sliver of a chance that Burke isn't being entirely honest with the public. Teams and executives don't tend to share their analytical habits too freely with the fans or press, preferring instead to hold their cards close to their vest. Back in 2010, there were some hints that Burke directed clubs were dabbling in proprietary stats programs at the AHL level. It's hard to say what came of those efforts or even if Burke was the mind behind them since there's a few degrees of separation, but it's interesting nonetheless. 

Going The Wrong Way in Toronto

On the other hand, there is Burke's unremarkable tenure at MLSE. Despite the Phaneuf and Kessel trades, Burke didn't really manage to move the needle in his five years with Toronto. When he took the reins in 2008, the Leafs were coming off a 13th place, 83-point performance. They were a capable possession club in 2007-08, but suffered from lousy percentages, particularly due to terrible goatending. Mats Sundin, Alex Steen, Matt Stajan, Alex Ponikarovsky, Jason Blake, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle couldn't quite make up for the dreadful duo of Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft in net. 

Between 2008 and Burke's ouster this past year, the Leafs hung around the eastern Conference basement. Their high water mark (ignoring the lock-out shortened 2012-13 season) was an 85 point finish back in 2010-11 (good for 10th in the East). More worrying is the fact the club's underlying numbers cratered with Burke at the helm.

Sundin and company were eventually ushered out of town in various ways and for various reasons. As the previous core of the team fell apart, so too did their possession rates. in 2008-09, they dropped to a middling score close fenwick rate of 49.8. By 2010, the Leafs were at 46.39% by the same measure, good for 5th worst in the league. They dropped to third from the bottom the next season and were second last at 44.01% in 2012-13 (the club was saved from another mid-season collapse by high percentages and the fact the season was only 48-games long).

That is entirely the wrong direction for the richest club in the league to head during a rebuild. The table was set for Burke to suffer through hard times when he took over from JFJ given where guys like Mats Sundin and Jason Blake etc. were in their career at the time, but the truth is in spite of his myriad moves and high profile trades, the fundamentals of Burke's club eroded rapidly during his time there, rather than bottoming out and rebounding.

Although Burke ventually managed to firm up Toronto's greatest area of weakness (the goaltending), the roster as a whole stumbled. Burke's focus on toughness and grit resulted in a lot of questionable moves, including the signing of Colton Orr, acquiring a grossly overpaid Mike Komisarek, trading for Garnett Exelby, etc. As mentioned, Burke isn't only a toughness guy - he also added guys like JM Liles, Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Clarke MacArthur as well, but overall the correct balance of possession, scoring and toughness completely eluded him during his stay in Toronto.

This should be somewhat disconcerting for Flames fans since the Maple Leafs are perhaps the ultimate test case for hockey management - unencumbered by any sort of budget restraints (aside from the cap), Burke had every opportunity to steer the Leafs in the right direction and build them into a powerhouse.

It didn't happen - quite the opposite in fact. Although the club made the playoffs last year, they'll need another generous heap of percentage driven fortune to remain competitive this year given how badly they struggled at controlling shots the last few seasons. Phil Kessel, one of the Leaf's lone bright spots, may flee for free agency after this season. Grabovski is gone, MacArthur gone and Phaneuf is a season removed from free agency as well.

The Leafs were rebuilding when Burke arrived. They're still more or less rebuilding now and there's no obvious date for when they'll ascend to the league's upper echelon.

The Cynical Take

 

There is also the possibility that adding Burke is mostly a Flames PR stunt; the actions of team desperate for credibility since they will be unable to sell on-ice success for an indeterminate amount of time in the near future. If you can't point to wins on the ice, at least you can point to the long CV's in the front office.

In the throws of their (still ongoing) rebuilding efforts, the Edmonton Oilers desperately tried to stack resumes in order  to seem relevant. Aside from chasing whales in the off-season (Heatley, nylander, Vanek, Penner, etc) there was also the ill-fated hiring of Pat Quinn, a man who even at the time had a far longer history with the game than future in it. I noted at the onset of this article that Burke brings a certain personality and presence to the organization - this, of course, is almost entirely beside the point when judging his merits as an executive, but it's possible his idiosyncratic brand of charisma is at least one of the reasons he was considered for the position.

It superficially makes sense to collect as many established pros and recognized executives as possible, but the truth is most organizations can only sustain so many visions and loud voices at the top of the ladder before things start to disintegrate and splinter. Resume stacking looks good in the investor package, but it can eventually cause operations side of the business to fall apart.

Here's hoping none of that is true in this instance.

Conclusion

Brian Burke has spent a lot of time in the league, much of it as a high level executive who could pull off incrediblely beneficial trades for his organizations. That's the good news. On the other hand, he was unable to meaningfully improve the Leafs in his last front office job, he apparently has little use for new methods of analysis and it's unclear how well he will fit in to an increasingly crowded Flames font office.

Flames fans have to hope Burke's strengths will win out over his weaknesses and the various personalities heading the Calgary organization will be able to work harmoniously together.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 Lordmork
September 09 2013, 02:20PM
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I really hope that Burke's role really is going to be limited to upper management, and that he's not going to be looming over Feaster's shoulder. Sure, I wouldn't mind if Feaster & co decided on player trades, and then we sent Burke out to actually drive the (hopefully) hard bargains, but I'm worried that Burke doesn't seem to subscribe to advanced stats. I can do without five years of spinning our wheels while trying to fill up on players with toughness and heart but who can't drive puck possession.

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#2 mattyc
September 09 2013, 02:26PM
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I think Burke is a full of it when he used those quotes at MIT conference. He's a super competitive guy, and not a chance would he want to give away any information to competitors or whatnot, so instead deflects and hijacks the conversation with a bunch of over-the-top quotables. Brian Burke isn't a dumb guy, and maybe I'm giving him too much credit, but I have trouble believing his 'truculence' is just Don Cherry 2.0.

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#3 Clay
September 09 2013, 02:26PM
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Na-cho Na-cho hat... I get to eat, a nacho hat.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl3XfeAPsvA

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#4 Parallex
September 09 2013, 02:29PM
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I think our one hope is that this ends up a collaborative approach where any bad moves that Burke would make never get past Feaster and any bad moves that Feaster would make don't make it past Burke.

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#5 vowswithin
September 09 2013, 02:36PM
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Clay wrote:

Na-cho Na-cho hat... I get to eat, a nacho hat.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl3XfeAPsvA

heh, indeed when can I watch said hat eating?

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#6 Parallex
September 09 2013, 02:42PM
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mattyc wrote:

I think Burke is a full of it when he used those quotes at MIT conference. He's a super competitive guy, and not a chance would he want to give away any information to competitors or whatnot, so instead deflects and hijacks the conversation with a bunch of over-the-top quotables. Brian Burke isn't a dumb guy, and maybe I'm giving him too much credit, but I have trouble believing his 'truculence' is just Don Cherry 2.0.

Why would you have trouble believing that? It's not like his actual actions contradict his words, if anything they mirror them perfectly.

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#7 beloch
September 09 2013, 02:51PM
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You simply don't "win" trades in the NHL if you don't appraise the talent involved with more accuracy than the other guy. It is worrying that Burke is dismissive of advanced stats, but his body of work suggests he has a knack for accurately evaluating individual players.

His past also shows that you can't build a champion team simply by winning trades. My biggest concern about Burke is that he has a mental image of a championship team that he's going to mold the Flames into, and it hasn't changed since he was with the Leafs. "Truculence", "grit", etc.. Stanley cup winning teams are more than the sum of their parts, but Burke's understanding of what makes champion teams work may be outdated. This is where he could benefit from an about face on advanced stats. They offer a way to identify players who may not score goals or punish bodies, but nevertheless let everyone else do their job better.

As for the notion that the Burke hire is just a PR stunt, I think that's ridiculous. Burke is well respected enough that he would have been tapped for a GM job sooner or later with some NHL club. He didn't need to take a figurehead job. Undoubtedly he is going to be hands on. Feaster and Burke have deliberately made it clear they're drinking buddies, but there will be tension between them. I expect Burke will handle some of the big deals directly, but Feaster is still GM. The best we can hope for is that B&F have a more collaborative relationship, Feaster challenges Burke's champion mold, and Feaster's policy of trusting his staff to do their jobs rubs off on Burke just a tad. If there is respect and a balance of power between B&F, Burke may shore up some of Feaster's weaknesses.

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#8 BurningSensation
September 09 2013, 02:53PM
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The reason I have optimism for Burke's hiring is two fold;

1. I don't think he's here to gas Feaster, I think he's here to keep King's hands off the team. For Feaster nothing has changed, he still has to report to somebody who can veto whatever it is he is doing, but at least it is now a hockey person overseeing him.

2. His family life has reduced how much time he can actually spend on the road and doing 'GM' things. I think he is serious about stepping back and working less directly with the small picture to focus on the overall processes and big picture.

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#9 Clay
September 09 2013, 02:59PM
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vowswithin wrote:

heh, indeed when can I watch said hat eating?

I'll see if I can track down one of these things.

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#10 Tach
September 09 2013, 03:12PM
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A reasoned if decidedly non-committal take. A few quibbles:

1. I would not describe the return on Phaneuf as "magic beans" which is a phrase I associate with hockey as meaning "a bunch of draft picks or prospects that may or may not turn out to actually contain NHL level players". I would have called it "cowbells" or "Darryl Sutter cowbells" meaning "players who are veterans in the league with an overrated ability to actually help your team win hockey games".

2. I was surprised this article didn't mention what I consider to be the biggest problem with Burke, in that he has vocally and repeatedly avowed to not use legitimate tools at his disposal to improve his team. Particularly his refusal to use long-tail contracts or sign players to offer sheets. While the former may have worked out for him in that he is not now stuck with a Luongo or Kovalchuk under the new CBA, these contracts were also used to pretty good effect by various teams in getting players with cap hits lower than their actual salary out. I have a big problem with a guy who will admittedly refuse to use tools at his disposal that could improve his team in favour of some kind of personal code of honour.

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#11 Parallex
September 09 2013, 03:13PM
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@beloch

"but his body of work suggests he has a knack for accurately evaluating individual players."

Like how he accurately evaluated Komisarek? Or Connolly, or Orr? Or Exalby?

I don't mean to be flippent but Burke's "body of work" doesn't suggest that he has has a aptitude for accurately evaluating individual players. He's had hits and he's had misses.

I'll grant that he has chutzpah but I don't see any real underlaying evaluation skill. I mean... has BUrke ever uncovered a hidden gem? Pronger, Sedins, Phaneaf, Kessel... all the big fish he's reeled in were all known to be big fish when he hooked them. I think if he had a knack for accurately evaluating individual players he'd be better at finding previously unknown talent.

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#12 RexLibris
September 09 2013, 03:27PM
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Thanks Kent, a very even-handed take on the addition of Burke.

The moment I heard of his hiring I was curious as to your take on the issue.

From where I sit, I can't help but think that this effectively spells the end of Feaster.

There is the small chance that Burke goes the way of Neil Smith in Long Island, fired after five weeks because he wouldn't bend to ownership's will. Remember the coaching hunt after Brent Sutter when it was suggested that management was looking for a coach who was more amenable to their point of view? Burke's time in Calgary may come down to an arm-wrestling contest between he and Ken King.

And it has been mentioned here before, but just to reiterate, Burke and Lowe buried the hatchet at his son's insistence.

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#13 ChinookArch
September 09 2013, 03:34PM
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"a sustained disinterest in new methods of analysis could very well be the mark of a man whose momentum in the league is more inertia than forward motion."

Beautifully written.

Also, to add to what Tach said, not using all the tools at your disposal to improve your team is a disservice to those who depend on you.

I only hope his actual actions and personality are far less contrarian than his public image.

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#14 the-wolf
September 09 2013, 03:34PM
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Very good article and I agree with all those commenters who are more less saying that if Burke's good points and Feaster's good points complement each other well it'll work, but that's true of any organization.

Burke's biggest mistake in TO was trying to shortcut the rebuild and it's my biggest fear now, that ownership brought him in to get back to where Calgary was 5-8 years ago and TO was last year: in the playoffs, but with no chance to win a Cup, selling hope.

Only time will tell.

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#15 the-wolf
September 09 2013, 03:38PM
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RexLibris wrote:

Thanks Kent, a very even-handed take on the addition of Burke.

The moment I heard of his hiring I was curious as to your take on the issue.

From where I sit, I can't help but think that this effectively spells the end of Feaster.

There is the small chance that Burke goes the way of Neil Smith in Long Island, fired after five weeks because he wouldn't bend to ownership's will. Remember the coaching hunt after Brent Sutter when it was suggested that management was looking for a coach who was more amenable to their point of view? Burke's time in Calgary may come down to an arm-wrestling contest between he and Ken King.

And it has been mentioned here before, but just to reiterate, Burke and Lowe buried the hatchet at his son's insistence.

Except that KK is so far up the owner's @$$es that he'll never be let go. If anything, distancing himself to the new arena project and CEO-only side of things only serves to insulate him further. Had he stayed as Feaster's direct boss the heat on him would've only grown had things gone wrong.

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#16 EugeneV
September 09 2013, 03:45PM
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What is the problem with Burke's ideal team?

I bet everytime he watches the Bruins play he is sporting a tremendous "woodie", just like most of you would if the Flames had the Bruins roster.

Advanced stats are "great" and all but what you need to realize is that they are just math.

When some people do an math equation, they need 2 blank pages to work it out. (advanced stats)

Some people can look at the equation and see the answer.

Both are ok at the end of the day.

Of course people who use those 2 blank pages(advanced stats) will always claim to know better, because they used "something tangible" to get their answer.

When the hockey people who don't require the 2 blank pages look at a player they still get the same answer as "one of you stats geeks". As a matter of fact they may not even realize what they are looking at, just that they have arrived at the answer.

The same answer to the equation or what the player is achieving or even capable of achieving

Get my drift?

Not meaning to insult any "geeks" but there is a place in the world for both, and I hope that between Burke, Feaster, Weisbrod and co. that the Flames arrive at the right answers.

Go Flames.

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#17 EugeneV
September 09 2013, 03:47PM
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Parallex wrote:

"but his body of work suggests he has a knack for accurately evaluating individual players."

Like how he accurately evaluated Komisarek? Or Connolly, or Orr? Or Exalby?

I don't mean to be flippent but Burke's "body of work" doesn't suggest that he has has a aptitude for accurately evaluating individual players. He's had hits and he's had misses.

I'll grant that he has chutzpah but I don't see any real underlaying evaluation skill. I mean... has BUrke ever uncovered a hidden gem? Pronger, Sedins, Phaneaf, Kessel... all the big fish he's reeled in were all known to be big fish when he hooked them. I think if he had a knack for accurately evaluating individual players he'd be better at finding previously unknown talent.

Lupul? Twice.

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#18 EugeneV
September 09 2013, 03:49PM
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Parallex wrote:

"but his body of work suggests he has a knack for accurately evaluating individual players."

Like how he accurately evaluated Komisarek? Or Connolly, or Orr? Or Exalby?

I don't mean to be flippent but Burke's "body of work" doesn't suggest that he has has a aptitude for accurately evaluating individual players. He's had hits and he's had misses.

I'll grant that he has chutzpah but I don't see any real underlaying evaluation skill. I mean... has BUrke ever uncovered a hidden gem? Pronger, Sedins, Phaneaf, Kessel... all the big fish he's reeled in were all known to be big fish when he hooked them. I think if he had a knack for accurately evaluating individual players he'd be better at finding previously unknown talent.

Also, GM's are not the ones who uncover previously unknown talent. That is what scouts are for.

Yeah, yeah, GM's hire the scouts. blah blah blah

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#19 mattyc
September 09 2013, 04:37PM
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@Parallex

I'm by no means a Burke apologist, but just because he's made some bad bets doesn't mean he wholly disregards analytics. I'm not convinced analytics should be the sole driver of team-building anyways. While there's certainly things, like CORSI or zonestarts that are important, they're hardly the silver bullet. My hope is there is/was proprietary data that he's worked with (I bet most teams have some proprietary stuff they look at), but we'll see I guess...

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#20 ChinookArch
September 09 2013, 04:49PM
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mattyc wrote:

I'm by no means a Burke apologist, but just because he's made some bad bets doesn't mean he wholly disregards analytics. I'm not convinced analytics should be the sole driver of team-building anyways. While there's certainly things, like CORSI or zonestarts that are important, they're hardly the silver bullet. My hope is there is/was proprietary data that he's worked with (I bet most teams have some proprietary stuff they look at), but we'll see I guess...

No, advanced stats are not a silver bullet. On the other hand, if GM's looked simply at Team and player PDO a lot of very expensive mistakes would be avoided.

Advanced stats have there place, and used in conjunction with someone who properly interprets that data, and balances the numbers with proper scouting ought to be the goal. Ignoring them as some kind of voodoo with no value makes no sense.

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#21 Hunter.murphy
September 09 2013, 04:51PM
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Clay wrote:

I'll see if I can track down one of these things.

and here is a recipe for one

http://www.instructables.com/id/edible-party-hat/

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#22 beloch
September 09 2013, 05:29PM
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@EugeneV

If you have the Bruin's core, building around that core in the image of the Bruin's will give you, not surprisingly, the Bruins. If you have the Penguins' core, building around them as if they were the Bruin's core might not give you what you want. It might not even be very good, especially if you ship out any Penguins that don't fit the Bruin's team philosophy!

Ideals have to be adapted to suit reality but, with the Leafs, Burke tried to make reality fit his ideals. It didn't work because he wasn't able to get the right players. I'd rather Burke spent his time in Calgary trying to build a championship team that utilizes the resources available instead of chasing an ideal he'll never reach except by blind luck!

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#23 Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea
September 09 2013, 05:31PM
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While I would have wholeheartedly agreed a few years ago that the Leafs were shafted, my take on the Kessel deal has reversed. So far what I see is a top 10 forward who is a consistent point and possession star for the Leafs, compared to a handful of potential for the Bruins. You cannot blame Kessel for the performance of the rest of the team, any more than you can credit Seguin for two trips to the finals.

The Sedin heist was positively sublime, especially when you consider that the 1999 set of first rounders is, aside from the Sedins, arguably the worst batch in a generation.

Not sure about his attitude toward advanced stats, but Burke has proven to be one of the smarter and cagey GMs over the years so let's hope he pays attention to the underlying numbers.

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#24 RexLibris
September 09 2013, 05:36PM
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The intriguing thing for me with the addition of Burke is that the Flames are currently collecting the basic assets of a new core. Monahan, Backlund, Baertsci and Brodie appear to be the first pieces put in place. Perhaps in three years' time we'll substitute one of those names for someone else, but the basic premise is that the Flames are in the acquisition process.

Now, if Burke were being added when the core was set and NHL-ready, one could suggest that he need only be consulted on the complementary pieces to help finish the project. But he's in Calgary during the very first few steps. Meaning that Burke will have some say in the Flames new core players.

I remain undecided on whether that is a benefit or hindrance during this process. Either way, it makes for an interesting plot twist in an already-unclear storyline.

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#25 exsanguinator
September 09 2013, 06:04PM
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Lordmork wrote:

I really hope that Burke's role really is going to be limited to upper management, and that he's not going to be looming over Feaster's shoulder. Sure, I wouldn't mind if Feaster & co decided on player trades, and then we sent Burke out to actually drive the (hopefully) hard bargains, but I'm worried that Burke doesn't seem to subscribe to advanced stats. I can do without five years of spinning our wheels while trying to fill up on players with toughness and heart but who can't drive puck possession.

I hope for the same things that you do. Feaster and Weisbrod find a guy they like and then Burke goes and gets them.

I like Feaster's apparent preference for the types of players he targets but I don't think, despite all of his lawyering, that he has the skills at the bargaining table to get them.

Burke is an old hockey guy and old hockey guys respect other old hockey guys. If Feaster can get Burke to agree with him on which players to target then Burke is nothing but an asset at the bargaining table.

On the other hand, if Burke takes over this team as a whole, the Flames will be more than screwed until he's fired.

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#26 please cancel acct
September 09 2013, 06:42PM
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I found it interesting listening to Brian's speech at his introductory press conference.He stated that he would be looking at the present process for doing business and that would be the catalyst for any changes he might suggest.

That statement is what puts me on the skeptical side,as Brian has in the past stated that analytical data was of little use in evaluating talent.

Data is the building blocks of process.The more data you have ,better process.

SO THAN What is process? How does information play a part?

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#27 Greg
September 09 2013, 07:15PM
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@beloch

Good point about using what you've got. But I doubt anyone in the flames org looks at burke's time in TO as having not worked and needing to learn from it. They make the playoffs right after he's let go, so I'd bet most people view it as simply being fired to soon. Could well be if they revert this year on percentages, people will interpret that even more in his favor... "1 year later the team falls apart again because Burke wasn't there to manage the cap reduction problems".

I highly suspect his success is only being reinforced, so here's hoping his approach does include some more room for new methods of analysis then he lets on publicly.

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#28 Greg
September 09 2013, 07:27PM
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@Tach

I actually agree with your second point - it's great to have principles and I'm sure that's what garners a lot of the respect he gets in NHL management circles, but unwillingness to do what's practical and/or a competitive advantage concerns me too. He always refuses to ask guys to waive their no trade clauses - which on one hand means players feel they can trust him - but makes me wonder if we'll leave some rebuilding assets on the table now with guys like Stajan this year.

On the other hand, he did use his financial assets in getting Franson (took on lombardi's contract), and I can't remember the details but I seem to recall him pulling off a trade one year with either Tampa or Washington that was essentially just buying a draft pick and MSM types where surprised the league allowed it.

I guess my take on him in short is:

1. He has a strong, and entertaining, personality (duh)

2. He's smart and a great negotiator

3. He's very principled (even if I disagree with some of those principles)

4. His public distaste for new methods of analysis means he's either not-telling-the-truth or he's a potential liability on player evaluations.

5. I (we all) hope 1-3 outweigh #4 during his stay here.

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#29 beloch
September 09 2013, 09:03PM
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@Greg

I don't have any axes to grind against the Leafs, but their underlying stats were actually *worse* than the Oilers last season. They snuck into the bubble on league-high PDO (i.e. luck), and they've likely gotten worse in the off-season. They are a long-shot to make the playoffs again this season. Burke wasn't fired without reason. Who knows though, perhaps Toronto's ownership interferes even more than Calgary's? Seriously, any Leafs fans out there who know?

In other news, Cory Pronman just released his top 100 prospects for 2013. He listed four Flames:

12. Sean Monahan
25. Sven Baertschi
50. Johnny Gaudreau
67. Corban Knight

I'm a little surprised Corban Knight ranked this high but hey, cool beans! Four in the top 100 is above average, and no team has more than 2 in the top 25.

7 in the top 100: Anaheim and Tampa Bay
6 in the top 100: Buffalo
5 in the top 100: Detroit,Florida, and NYI
4 in the top 100: Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver
3 in the top 100: Boston, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, New Jersey, New York, Ottawa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Winnepeg
2 in the top 100: Carolina, Chicago, Colorado, Edmonton, L.A., Philadelphia, San Jose, and St. Louis
1 in the top 100: Toronto

Toronto isn't doing too hot if this list is used as a standard, although they could have plenty of good prospects outside of the top 100. Another strike against Burke?

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#30 If Only HIs Name Was Olli Postandin
September 09 2013, 09:15PM
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Kessel was had by threatening an offer sheet, so I don`t know why people are complaining he doesn`t peruse of all the tools at his disposal.

Another solid trade nobody has mentioned was the Schenn for Van Reimsdyk transaction. Took an overrated d-man and secured the services of a bona-fide top-six winger who produced in the playoffs a year earlier before major injury.

Very under-rated trade.

IMO, when Burke is not handed the key to the city with a mandate to return to the post-season asap, he patiently builds or complements contenders through shrewd trades. When he is under pressure to accomplish the former, he makes hasty off-season signings that are perhaps bigger gambles than he would have taken if patience was the modus operandi.

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#31 If Only HIs Name Was Olli Postandin
September 09 2013, 09:19PM
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beloch wrote:

I don't have any axes to grind against the Leafs, but their underlying stats were actually *worse* than the Oilers last season. They snuck into the bubble on league-high PDO (i.e. luck), and they've likely gotten worse in the off-season. They are a long-shot to make the playoffs again this season. Burke wasn't fired without reason. Who knows though, perhaps Toronto's ownership interferes even more than Calgary's? Seriously, any Leafs fans out there who know?

In other news, Cory Pronman just released his top 100 prospects for 2013. He listed four Flames:

12. Sean Monahan
25. Sven Baertschi
50. Johnny Gaudreau
67. Corban Knight

I'm a little surprised Corban Knight ranked this high but hey, cool beans! Four in the top 100 is above average, and no team has more than 2 in the top 25.

7 in the top 100: Anaheim and Tampa Bay
6 in the top 100: Buffalo
5 in the top 100: Detroit,Florida, and NYI
4 in the top 100: Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver
3 in the top 100: Boston, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, New Jersey, New York, Ottawa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Winnepeg
2 in the top 100: Carolina, Chicago, Colorado, Edmonton, L.A., Philadelphia, San Jose, and St. Louis
1 in the top 100: Toronto

Toronto isn't doing too hot if this list is used as a standard, although they could have plenty of good prospects outside of the top 100. Another strike against Burke?

It`s just one man`s opinion. Once you get past the top 50 or so, it becomes very, very subjective, as is evinced by his listing of Knight.

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#32 Colin.S
September 09 2013, 09:25PM
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I made my comments known in the previous Brian Burke topic: http://flamesnation.ca/2013/9/4/presidential-rumour-is-brian-burke-a-calgary-flame/page/3#comments And I don't just want to re-type those here. From what I gather most people just seem to be happy we got a big name guy, I still for the life of me don't get it.

Feaster is for all purposes useless, no decision Feaster wants to be made can be made unless Burke likes it. So if Feaster has been chopped at the knees, is Wisebrod ready to step up a bit, cause Feasters days are numbered(Or will any Feasters guys be around in three years in favour of Burkes cronies).

I don't think Burke is any sort of savior, in fact I think he may add years of rebuilding onto the Flames. During the press conference and subsequent interviews a point was brought up that Burke could shorten the rebuild time, which means stupid trades and signings, which was working out REALLY good in Toronto.

A lot of people keep pointing out that Toronto made the playoffs this year, sure, in a lockout season where they had 2010/2011(I think) early season Minny luck, had the season been a full season, Toronto may have done slightly better than Minny ended up that year.

I would like to be wrong, but this hiring to me looks like the Pat Quinn hiring in Edmonton, he's a big name guy who had a shimmer of success in a small stint(his world junior win vs Toronto's one playoff appearance). This just screams to me an Owner/King wanting a guy to try and do a better job and get faster back to the playoffs at whatever cost.

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#33 clyde
September 09 2013, 09:42PM
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Parallex wrote:

"but his body of work suggests he has a knack for accurately evaluating individual players."

Like how he accurately evaluated Komisarek? Or Connolly, or Orr? Or Exalby?

I don't mean to be flippent but Burke's "body of work" doesn't suggest that he has has a aptitude for accurately evaluating individual players. He's had hits and he's had misses.

I'll grant that he has chutzpah but I don't see any real underlaying evaluation skill. I mean... has BUrke ever uncovered a hidden gem? Pronger, Sedins, Phaneaf, Kessel... all the big fish he's reeled in were all known to be big fish when he hooked them. I think if he had a knack for accurately evaluating individual players he'd be better at finding previously unknown talent.

Gardiner, Franson look to show a great deal of promise and he got them lately.

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#34 Colin.S
September 09 2013, 09:47PM
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If Only HIs Name Was Olli Postandin wrote:

Kessel was had by threatening an offer sheet, so I don`t know why people are complaining he doesn`t peruse of all the tools at his disposal.

Another solid trade nobody has mentioned was the Schenn for Van Reimsdyk transaction. Took an overrated d-man and secured the services of a bona-fide top-six winger who produced in the playoffs a year earlier before major injury.

Very under-rated trade.

IMO, when Burke is not handed the key to the city with a mandate to return to the post-season asap, he patiently builds or complements contenders through shrewd trades. When he is under pressure to accomplish the former, he makes hasty off-season signings that are perhaps bigger gambles than he would have taken if patience was the modus operandi.

I don't know, I don't think much of Luke Schenn either, but comparatively this year on Philly, he had not a completely terrible season and was not bad. But it wasn't like JVR was much better this year either. He started in the offensive zone about 49% of the time, but ended up in the defensive zone 56% of the time, which meant that the puck was going the wrong way. His counting numbers also benefited from being on the same team with a bunch of guys who had career SH% numbers as well as just silly PDOs, which they are going to have a hard time trying to do again. His own personal PDO was not bad, so there is good hope there, but this was not a trade to judge lockout shortened season, though I do think Burke was able to take advantage of a team in a tough defensive situation with an asset the fans had turned again.

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#35 Jeff Lebowski
September 09 2013, 10:09PM
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With Edwards, Feaster and Burke you have three lawyers who think like lawyers addressing issues the organization faces.

Feaster has already delegated to highly skilled talent. Weisbrod, Conroy, Snow, etc. He has invested ownership's money. These are tools, like PUCKS that help make decisions. That is what this is about. Making good decisions. You need good thinking. Burke has a similar skill set (he can make arguments) plus he has experience.

My brother thinks Burke is ownership's backstop for a fickle fan base. Edwards will not watch another 7 year of fruitless hockey. He thinks like a businessman. Could be true too.

-by the way, if Burke sees no value in advanced stats why did he go to MIT Sloan in 2012 and 2013? Why go back, even if invited to speak? He can speak anywhere.

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#36 Parallex
September 09 2013, 10:33PM
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@Jeff Lebowski

Because the thing Burke loves most is the sound of his own voice?

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#37 mattyc
September 09 2013, 11:41PM
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@Parallex

C'mon. If all he wanted was that, he could pick up the phone and call any reporter in Canada - he could go sit on the TSN panel. I'm a little skeptical he'd "waste" a couple days at some conference if he really did t see any value in what was going on. That's a lot of time to waste just to listen to your own voice.

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#38 JayD54
September 10 2013, 06:47AM
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The premise for the article is based on Brian Burke's performance as a General Manager in the NHL.

That record stands for itself.

But the job that Mr. Burke now holds with the Flames organization is not that of GM, but President of Hockey Operations. Yes, its a new role. Yes, we keep hearing that its a new governance model that a number of professional sports teams have adopted.

I would like to see an analysis, if that is possible, of the relative overall health of the franchises that Mr. Burke has worked for, pre- and post- the respective "Burke eras". I think that would speak more to his executive abilities than that of being a GM. My submission would be that, in each case, the organization was much stronger at the end of his tenure than it was at the beginning. As a GM, you are held accountable more directly for performance on the ice, your ability to assemble the potential for a coach to mold. As a President, he will be held accountable for the performance of the GM. Burke has the qualifications to evaluate a GM and the overall operations of the franchise. My reservation of his hire is that his 'truculent' and 'belligerent' (aren't those his by words?) manner does not lend itself to staying out of the media, to staying out of daily and detailed meddling with Mr. Feaster's role.

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#39 Michael
September 10 2013, 07:45AM
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Over the years, the Flames ownership group has taken a lot of pride in the stellar reputation of the Flames organization. Over the past number of seasons this reputation has declined significantly, with the organization often being seen one of the leagues laughing stocks; the Iggy almost trade to Boston, the ROR fiasco, off the chart drafting, lack of leadership, lack of a credible plan, over interference from King / Edwards to name a few. You also have to suspect that Feaster is out of step with ownership. Clearly, the ownership group wants a competitive team now, and want to make the playoffs this season, a proposition put forward by Edwards himself. Feaster moved Iggy and JBO (and failed to return any impact or elite players in the deal) and wants the team to begin a long rebuild. Burke has been added firstly to restore the reputation of the front office / organization, and secondly to kick start the drive to field a competitive team now. Feaster seemed reluctant to use the extra cap space, Burke will be pushing to add NHL level talent to fill the multiple holes in the lineup. Feaster is now a dead GM walking, waiting for the axe to fall. Over the next year or two, Burke will gut the front office, the coaching staff and revamp the scouting department. Real change is finally here.

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#40 meat1
September 10 2013, 08:09AM
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I like the Burke hiring.

We can debate all day long the good moves he has made, the bad moves, whether he likes to hear himself talk, etc.

However, he is a hockey man who definately rides for the brand. We now have somebody in upper management that will not tolerate any of the perceived Ken King interference, and more than likely won't let his GM spout off with the silly words he has in the past.

This move alone does not turn our team into contenders, but it does strengthen our core.

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#41 Derzie
September 10 2013, 08:44AM
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Peter Loubardias as color commentator? Gibert Godfried was otherwise engaged? There are 2 requirements of color. hockey experience and pleasing voice. Peter has neither one. Rebuild has extended to the radio ranks as well I guess.

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#42 the-wolf
September 10 2013, 09:57AM
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@Derzie

Loubo on the Fan.

Kerr on Sportsnet.

How am I ever going to listen to a Flames game again?

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#43 Tach
September 10 2013, 10:29AM
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@Greg

This is very fair. He also came up with a similar type of deal with Tampa Bay (I can't remember the details) that ended up getting slapped down as being a trade that was effectively buying draft picks.

Frankly, I don't mind if my team gets tagged on one of these situations as long as they are trying. If Burke comes up with creative ways to use the Flames high revenues and cap space to accelerate or raise teh ceiling on this rebuild I am all for having him on board.

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#44 Colin
September 10 2013, 10:43AM
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@Michael

I think you hit the nail on the head on several points, but I think you knocked it out of the park on this one:

"Burke has been added firstly to restore the reputation of the front office / organization, and secondly to kick start the drive to field a competitive team now. Feaster seemed reluctant to use the extra cap space, Burke will be pushing to add NHL level talent to fill the multiple holes in the lineup. Feaster is now a dead GM walking"

I think if Burke was hired SOLELY for the first purpose I'd be more than accepting of his hiring. It's a big problem that he was hired for the second one. As has been explained and evidence has shown, going out and signing big money free agents has very little chance of making a significant impact(like say if B. Richards signed here, we'd be contemplating buying him out). Just because we have cap space is no reason to just use it, I like that Feaster wasn't going to use it, gets us a potentially better draft pick while giving a couple kids oppurtunity in the NHL instead of signing guys to contracts that will be albatross's later on(Like Horcoff in Edmonton).

You can't magically make a rebuild go faster, they require patience and skill. Mostly skill, especialy in drafting.

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#45 piscera.infada
September 10 2013, 11:07AM
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@Colin

What evidence are you referring to? Why don't we wait and see what happens and judge him based on what he does as president of hockey ops for the Calgary Flames, not what he did as GM of the Leafs.

I'm assuming you weren't in the room when this hiring was hashed out with the powers that be, and neither was I - no sense in getting so worked up about what might happen (yes, might - you have no idea what he's actually going to do).

As I recall you were one of the people pining over the fact that Feaster is an idiot and management has no "hockey guys" with big enough balls to stand up to ownership. Looks like you got your wish and now that it's not the guy you apparently assumed would fall from the sky, you're panicking.

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#46 Kevin R
September 10 2013, 11:10AM
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Colin wrote:

I think you hit the nail on the head on several points, but I think you knocked it out of the park on this one:

"Burke has been added firstly to restore the reputation of the front office / organization, and secondly to kick start the drive to field a competitive team now. Feaster seemed reluctant to use the extra cap space, Burke will be pushing to add NHL level talent to fill the multiple holes in the lineup. Feaster is now a dead GM walking"

I think if Burke was hired SOLELY for the first purpose I'd be more than accepting of his hiring. It's a big problem that he was hired for the second one. As has been explained and evidence has shown, going out and signing big money free agents has very little chance of making a significant impact(like say if B. Richards signed here, we'd be contemplating buying him out). Just because we have cap space is no reason to just use it, I like that Feaster wasn't going to use it, gets us a potentially better draft pick while giving a couple kids oppurtunity in the NHL instead of signing guys to contracts that will be albatross's later on(Like Horcoff in Edmonton).

You can't magically make a rebuild go faster, they require patience and skill. Mostly skill, especialy in drafting.

I too think Michael nailed several points. But the team forced the rebuild by their play on the ice. The rebuild train is already chugging down the track. If I was Edwards, I would have zero interest in losing for 5 years patiently building a team Oiler style. A guy like Burke has probably convinced Edwards that like it or not, Flames are rebuilding but with cap space & the decent drafting these last few years, good hockey moves can probably shave some time off of becoming relevant again. Personally, what's wrong with that?? So, as much as Feaster lost credibility on RoR offer sheet, the Janko pick, the underwhelming trades for most of our core players(perceived underwhelming by many anyways), Feaster will probably get a few years before he see's the security team start getting packing boxes for his office. The only thing that can maybe save Feaster is if in the next 2 years, Janko looks like a star & many of his other picks start to look like elite players & this team rebounds in a cinderella scenario. Not fair but that's life in the big leagues.

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#47 Colin
September 10 2013, 03:52PM
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piscera.infada wrote:

What evidence are you referring to? Why don't we wait and see what happens and judge him based on what he does as president of hockey ops for the Calgary Flames, not what he did as GM of the Leafs.

I'm assuming you weren't in the room when this hiring was hashed out with the powers that be, and neither was I - no sense in getting so worked up about what might happen (yes, might - you have no idea what he's actually going to do).

As I recall you were one of the people pining over the fact that Feaster is an idiot and management has no "hockey guys" with big enough balls to stand up to ownership. Looks like you got your wish and now that it's not the guy you apparently assumed would fall from the sky, you're panicking.

Evidence that signing big money free agents for the most part does nothing but waste money? How about the last 10 years of the NYR, or the signings of Bouwmeester, Richards, Erhoff, Komiserak, Redden, Bryzgalov or Gomez or the many many more UFAs that get salaries that are much hirer on free agent frenzy day than they are close to worth. Can getting a UFA help, sure, look at the Hossa signing in Chicago. They had a great young core and found some UFA help to supplement that core. Building a core through UFA is another story entirely.

So the fact we have a lot of cap space means nothing. Unless people think we are going to get significant assests to take on bad cap space, and what, we take on the disgruntled player(s)? But I thought we were suppose to building a winning culture? Which is what a lot of people have as a reason as to why we shouldn't be okay with drafting first or second overall.

Cap space is a great assest, but only when used wisely and effectively. Spending to the cap for the sake of spending to the cap and "winning free agency" are about some of the dumbest moves a GM can make IMO. Look at the last 5 cup winners, all of them boast a core of guys that drafted or used their assests to acquire peices to make their cup runs. We haven't yet drafted guys that are equivilant to the guys those cup teams drafted nor do we have the assests to make those kinds of trades to make significant upgrades, all we'd be doing is moving assests for assests.

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#48 piscera.infada
September 10 2013, 05:20PM
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@Colin

Evidence of what? The fact that some free agents work out, and others don't? Thanks for that.

I'm not a proponent of signing free agents to get back into the playoff race, that much is obvious. So, I'm not arguing for even a millisecond that we should be out there trying to sign the Brad Richard's of the world.

Your original post however assumed that Burke was brought here to go free agent whale hunting, and that everyone knows it (a large assumption). I asked for evidence of that fact. We actually have no idea if his goal is to forgo a rebuild, nor do we know if that was the reason he was hired vis-a-vis management's unwillingness to undergo a rebuild.

I'm fairly sick of the notion that somehow bringing Brian Burke in to the fold clearly signals management's intent to run contrary to everyone and scrap a rebuild. It's a completely baseless assumption because we haven't seen a single thing he's done as president of hockey ops for the Flames yet.

While one can surely argue that they're skeptical of Burke's image of a team (which he is not in complete control of here), it is quite a jump to believe that he was hired as a big, solid middle finger to the fans, who have already come out in support of a rebuild. Edwards knows this, King knows this, hell, Burke probably even knows it.

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#49 ubermiguel
September 10 2013, 05:47PM
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@Kent; well written piece, fantastic summary of Burke's hockey management career. Is he a good hockey executive? The jury is still out, this stint in Calgary will be the one that decides it for me. One thing's for sure: he never fails to entertain when a camera is on. For that reason alone I'm glad he's back.

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#50 Captain Ron
September 10 2013, 09:50PM
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the-wolf wrote:

Very good article and I agree with all those commenters who are more less saying that if Burke's good points and Feaster's good points complement each other well it'll work, but that's true of any organization.

Burke's biggest mistake in TO was trying to shortcut the rebuild and it's my biggest fear now, that ownership brought him in to get back to where Calgary was 5-8 years ago and TO was last year: in the playoffs, but with no chance to win a Cup, selling hope.

Only time will tell.

Your biggest fear = my biggest fear exactly. In fact I'm scared sh!tless of that possibility.

Just stay the course that has been set and don't screw with it.

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