On Brian Burke and the USA Hockey Team

Arik
January 01 2014 05:16PM

Image via Michael Dorausch and licensed under Creative Commons

 In case you missed it today, the USA Olympic Men's Hockey Team of Future Gold Medal Winners was announced after the Winter Classic. The selection itself has minimal relevance for the Flames, given that no Calgary player was even remotely in consideration (really, like Chris Butler's gonna go?), but as most readers here can imagine, Brian Burke played a fairly significant part in the selection process, and it's an ugly reminder of how adherence to a philosophy other than "take the best players" can be a poor method for team selection.

Burke's MO has been fairly consistent over the years: bigger, grittier, and- for lack of a better word- intenser. None of these are inherently bad, but at the exclusion of objectively better players, it becomes something of a drag. This is hardly a new subject of discussion here- Kent's posted about it rather recently, in fact. Still, there was always a bit of hope that Burke was smarter than he let on— that when push came to shove, he'd go with the objectively better player. While the acquisition of Westgarth was an indicator that that may not be true, it was Scott Burnside's article on the selection of the USA Olympic Men's Hockey team that dashed all hopes of that.

Bobby Ryan is a consistent 30 goal scorer. Goal scoring is something that is a bit of an issue on this team. So choosing to leave him off the team for some perceived lack of emotional depth would be nonsensical, right? Not if you're Brian Burke.

 

"I think we have to know what we're taking with Bobby," says Burke, who had him in Anaheim when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007.

 "He's a passive guy," Burke says. And over 82 games, yes, Saad and or Pacioretty might be more attractive than Ryan. But Ryan's a game-breaker.

"He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary," Burke says. "It's never going to be in his vocabulary. He can't spell intense."

 

There's certainly a debate to be had on whether Bobby Ryan is actually good enough for the team (his fancy stats are rather underwhelming), but the debate should hardly center around perceived emotional states.  In fact, let's just repeat the most inane part of that statement.

"He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary," Burke says. "It's never going to be in his vocabulary. He can't spell intense."

There's no critical analysis of skill here, at most it's mentioned that he's a bit of a slow skater, but that bit of knowledge is glossed over for Burke's non-analysis (it's mentioned at an earlier meeting that an unnamed person described Ryan's skating as "sleepy", but that's nearly as moronic as the intensity quote).

This is, unfortunately, a symptom of hockey culture— whether it's American or Canadian. There's a certain mysticism involved with picking the "right" players (read the entire section in the Burnside article on dreams— whether or not they were being hyperbolic, it's utterly absurd), regardless of actual skill level. Burke's argument against Keith Yandle is almost as bizarre as his screed against Bobby Ryan's lack of intensity.

Dean Lombardi- who watches a lot of Yandle on the rival Coyotes- makes a strong argument for him: that his coaches are more worried about Yandle on the ice than almost any other Phoenix player, and that he's the highest scoring American defenseman over the last four years. Burke's response is making a quip about Lombardi making a romantic speech a la Gone With the Wind and implying that Lombardi is simply wrong in his analysis. Again, there's no real analysis or discussion from Burke, just soundbites that back up his pre-formulated opinions.

This is the issue Burke is beginning to present. There's nothing wrong with a general preference for larger or grittier players, and there's nothing wrong with not liking Ryan or Yandle's game. The issue that we're left with is an insistence that worn platitudes about size or heart are more important than actual skill- that Burke's gut on a player is more indicative of quality than stats or tape. And that's not a good thing for the Flames going forward.

Of course, the most amazing takeaway from the Burnside article is that anyone still listens to Don Waddell.

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Arik works in Search and Rescue in the United States Coast Guard and is a former managing editor of the SBN Flames blog, Matchsticks and Gasoline.
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#51 Skuehler
January 01 2014, 10:50PM
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I sure hope one of the editors at FN circles the date where Brian Burke meets the same tenure mark that Feaster achieved. By BB's own impatient expectations, the organization should be much further along the rebuild at every stage throughout the org. He has more experience, blusters harder and has more authority so the results/expectations should be higher. I for one don't see it happening. I don't think sustained success comes from reactively swinging for the fences under the guidance of a larger than life leader. Hope I'm wrong. I think we're heading south for a while yet and there will be significant casualties along the way. The opportunity and resources are there to build a great team but we could get stuck trying too hard to be a good team.

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#52 Derzie
January 01 2014, 11:19PM
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The scary part is that there re really and truly people on this site thinking Brian Burke has a clue what he is doing. Really? Do you watch hockey? Are the Leafs the team you want? The 90s Ducks? I'm flabbergasted. I see a smart comment and then half are trashes. Oh my.

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#53 TRAV
January 01 2014, 11:40PM
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Arik wrote:

Haha what? Have you even looked at Edmonton's roster? The issue is not that they have too many skill guys.

Perhaps reread my comment. I suggested that the Oilers had too many "same skilled" players. This is quite different from having too many skilled guys. The key part here is the word same. I am suggesting that a team needs players with a variety of skills. I want all of my players to be highly skilled but I do not want them to all be skilled in the same area.

I appreciate that you don't subscribe to this notion and believe that it is a poor exemplar by your "HaHA What" response. Nonetheless I am pleased that my post brought some laughter to your day.

And yes, in response to your question, I have looked at their roster. I am sorry that my post left this in doubt.

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#54 smith
January 01 2014, 11:54PM
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Derzie wrote:

The scary part is that there re really and truly people on this site thinking Brian Burke has a clue what he is doing. Really? Do you watch hockey? Are the Leafs the team you want? The 90s Ducks? I'm flabbergasted. I see a smart comment and then half are trashes. Oh my.

Agreed completely. This is the guy who wants 2 or more dedicated face punchers on the team. Is there any other team in the league that has two dedicated face punchers?

I am scared he will get a collection of goons for the bottom six (while chasing out any skill), spend money on iffy free agents, find a good goalie and fight for a bottom playoff spot with the good drafting the flames have done in the last three years and their available cap room. Completely wasting a few years of pain for all of us fans.

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#55 ?
January 02 2014, 12:09AM
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""He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary," Burke says. "It's never going to be in his vocabulary. He can't spell intense."

Is Burke a psychologist or something?

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#56 gingersnapchat
January 02 2014, 12:37AM
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I read the ESPN article, and this is nothing but out-of-context click bait. He's not saying there's no place for skill on his team, he's saying there's no place for a slow player who can't defend on a team that already has Kane, Parise, Kessel, etc. Never mind that everyone else on the committee, including the GMs from 4 of the last 5 cup winners, came to the same conclusion. Here's some of his other quotes on Ryan:

""He's been there," Burke points out. Yes, he was just OK in Vancouver, "but he won't be intimidated,""

"If he's not going to be put in a role in which he can score an important goal, use his skills as a sniper, he shouldn't go, Burke says."

"Pacioretty and Saad are both better 60-minute players, Burke says, "But neither can do what Bobby can do.""

"As for Ryan, Burke goes back to Lombardi's earlier point about ignoring the top American scorer at his position and what kind of dangers there are in leaving Ryan off the squad."

And just for fun, here's some quotes to back up the narrative that he's always plotting to be in charge and impose his rule:

"Not present ... the GM of the 2010 team, Brian Burke, who sits out the initial meeting, later telling ESPN.com that he purposefully avoided it because he wanted this to be Poile's meeting"

"If the group were to decide, it would be Wheeler and Saad, although Burke brings up the point that the coaches really like Oshie ... Given that, Burke would vote Wheeler and Oshie"

As to his comments on Yandle, do you honestly believe that the only contribution he made to the discussion was a joke? ESPN published an article for entertainment, not a transcript.

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#57 the forgotten man
January 02 2014, 12:47AM
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Long, long time Flames Fan...remember my dad and grandfather taking me to my first Flames games back in 1981 seeing Guy Chouinard pot a nice goal and Kevin LaVallee roofing a slapshot into the upper deck of the Corral. The 80s were fun, great hockey as a Flames Fan...obviously the Club has felt adrift since the early 90s. Some can be blamed on the economics of the Game, but my general sense over the years is that the Club has lacked focus in a bigger context. Even when the economics sucked for free agency, you would think the Club would have doubled down on its commitment to Scouting to compensate for the prior? Instead, the 90s and 2000s produced some of the worst drafting of the entire league. There has been a revolving door of GMs and coaches, each bringing their unique outlook on the a Game, but no sense of continuity...one always gets the impression that the Club's Strategic Plan is hashed out every few years on the back of a cocktail napkin. This brings me to Arik's article regarding Burke. I am sure Burke will produce, in the short term, a competitive club, but I have my reservations on the longevity and sustainability of his approach to the a Club. Essentially already having suffered for some 25 years to date cheering for the Flames, I am always looking long ball, hence I am content to suck/indirectly tank for a couple more seasons to put the Club in the best position to pick up 3-4 more legit prospects. With some exciting young talent that one can typically underpay til UFA status, the Flames can then overpay for some veteran free agents to round out the Club and push for a Cup. Winning Cups is all about timing and aligning your resources for that 3-4 season window most Clubs have before reloading...I would rather hear Burke preaching this to the choir than grit chart/truculence. Burke strikes me as rushed, when really what is needed is patience. He strikes me as a talker, when what the club needs is a deliberate listener...wasn't Fletcher's nickname the 'Silver Fox'? He wasn't Burkean bellicose or prone to kabuki/zany Feasterisms...quiet, deliberate with his words and a composed demeanour.

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#58 KetchupKid
January 02 2014, 04:21AM
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Personally I don't put much stock in the public statements of GM's or selection committees. Most of the time they seem like manipulations of the media or challenges to players - especially from Burke. He's become the Don King of the NHL, but if he's going to get results then he can be as dramatic as he likes.

Having said that, the Yandle decision boggles my mind. He seems like a clear cut, no-brainer, absolute lock to make the team, and to defend the omission by attacking Lombardi's praise is just more media manipulation - without any reason or logic.

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#59 the-wolf
January 02 2014, 08:05AM
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smith wrote:

Agreed completely. This is the guy who wants 2 or more dedicated face punchers on the team. Is there any other team in the league that has two dedicated face punchers?

I am scared he will get a collection of goons for the bottom six (while chasing out any skill), spend money on iffy free agents, find a good goalie and fight for a bottom playoff spot with the good drafting the flames have done in the last three years and their available cap room. Completely wasting a few years of pain for all of us fans.

@Derzie and Smith - and yet, he' shere to stay for the forseeable future. There's no point in getting worked up about moves he hasn't even made.

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#60 jonahgo
January 02 2014, 08:07AM
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Clyde wrote:

Maybe one day some group of general managers will pick on stats alone. Until then, I guess they will decide on a style/identity and pick the best players to fit into the making of a team. Take a look at some of the other hockey people in that article who ALL left Ryan off the team. Why put it all on Burke?

Look at Chicago. They put young, skilled guys in bottom six, checking roles last year (Frolik and Kruger), and that worked out pretty well for them. Just because the majority of GMs think that you need 'grit' above all else on your checking lines, doesn't make it logically sound.

The teams that reject the lazy, baseless assumptions of tradition are and will be the successful teams. This is why Chicago is the class of the NHL. This is why Toronto is not.

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#61 Kenta
January 02 2014, 08:15AM
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the forgotten man wrote:

Long, long time Flames Fan...remember my dad and grandfather taking me to my first Flames games back in 1981 seeing Guy Chouinard pot a nice goal and Kevin LaVallee roofing a slapshot into the upper deck of the Corral. The 80s were fun, great hockey as a Flames Fan...obviously the Club has felt adrift since the early 90s. Some can be blamed on the economics of the Game, but my general sense over the years is that the Club has lacked focus in a bigger context. Even when the economics sucked for free agency, you would think the Club would have doubled down on its commitment to Scouting to compensate for the prior? Instead, the 90s and 2000s produced some of the worst drafting of the entire league. There has been a revolving door of GMs and coaches, each bringing their unique outlook on the a Game, but no sense of continuity...one always gets the impression that the Club's Strategic Plan is hashed out every few years on the back of a cocktail napkin. This brings me to Arik's article regarding Burke. I am sure Burke will produce, in the short term, a competitive club, but I have my reservations on the longevity and sustainability of his approach to the a Club. Essentially already having suffered for some 25 years to date cheering for the Flames, I am always looking long ball, hence I am content to suck/indirectly tank for a couple more seasons to put the Club in the best position to pick up 3-4 more legit prospects. With some exciting young talent that one can typically underpay til UFA status, the Flames can then overpay for some veteran free agents to round out the Club and push for a Cup. Winning Cups is all about timing and aligning your resources for that 3-4 season window most Clubs have before reloading...I would rather hear Burke preaching this to the choir than grit chart/truculence. Burke strikes me as rushed, when really what is needed is patience. He strikes me as a talker, when what the club needs is a deliberate listener...wasn't Fletcher's nickname the 'Silver Fox'? He wasn't Burkean bellicose or prone to kabuki/zany Feasterisms...quiet, deliberate with his words and a composed demeanour.

Amen. I would also credit coach Badger Bob Johnson who also was quite vocal but always in a positive, upbeat manner and about the team, not himself (or his hair). He wasn't insecure nor did he feel the need to impress everyone with his superior intelligence/vocabulary (truculence indeed). A true gentleman who knew his craft - it is a shame that they don't seem to make them like that anymore.

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#62 the-wolf
January 02 2014, 08:48AM
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RexLibris wrote:

Never!

Ha, seriously though, of course I do. Everyone does. But were I in charge of selecting a National Olympic Team I might have prepared more compelling arguments for my decisions that those offered by Burke.

On another note, quantifying Best Player - thank you.

This is a massive annoyance for me. The standard Best Player Available cliches that get thrown around every draft year drive me nuts. Who determines which is the best player? What is the criteria? Fans who simply say "oh, we should just take the best player available" are intellectually checking out of the conversation.

The term "Best" is already somewhat subjective when assessing talent and incredibly so when discussing potential.

Exactly. Define BPA. Should Kovalev have been on every Russian entry the last 20 years? Based on talent, yes. But if you don't display that talent consistently or there's a chance you won't display it all, then why take take that player?

If BB knows Ryan and thinks he lacks drive/heart, whatever...how would that not come into play? Sure, you can say you can't quanitfy heart, but anyone on this forum who had to pick a team that was to be built around short term success and personally knew a player that you thought was lazy or dispassionate wouldn't put that player on the team either.

People who were so willing to be patient with Feaster and even defended him over something as horrific as the ROR debacle seem to have already made up their minds on a guy who has a better track record than Feaster and is yet to pull any real moves for the Flames.

Makes me think that the criticism is being centered solely around personal ideologies than anything of substance.

I too wish we could just transplant Detroit's management group over to Calgary, but that's not going to happen. Lets see what moves Burke makes for the Flames, including his GM hire, before convicting him. He's not the sole decision-maker on Team USA anyways, so frankly, I could care less what that team does.

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#63 the-wolf
January 02 2014, 08:57AM
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@Kenta

I'd love to return to those days. Of course, it actually took Cliff a long time to find any real success. Frankly, nowadays, he would've been fired from the Flames org years before they ever moved to Calgary and that's part of the problem. There's no long term patience anymore. You either start producing within 2 or 3 years or you're gone, regardless of what you inherited.

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#64 Kenta
January 02 2014, 09:10AM
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the-wolf wrote:

I'd love to return to those days. Of course, it actually took Cliff a long time to find any real success. Frankly, nowadays, he would've been fired from the Flames org years before they ever moved to Calgary and that's part of the problem. There's no long term patience anymore. You either start producing within 2 or 3 years or you're gone, regardless of what you inherited.

Spot on. Remember Fletcher also had to deal with the success of the Oilers for most of those years so our lack of success was even more difficult to stomach.

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#65 SmellOfVictory
January 02 2014, 11:23AM
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jonahgo wrote:

Look at Chicago. They put young, skilled guys in bottom six, checking roles last year (Frolik and Kruger), and that worked out pretty well for them. Just because the majority of GMs think that you need 'grit' above all else on your checking lines, doesn't make it logically sound.

The teams that reject the lazy, baseless assumptions of tradition are and will be the successful teams. This is why Chicago is the class of the NHL. This is why Toronto is not.

In fairness, Chicago still has a lot of guys who are strong checkers, and of decent size, playing in their top roles. Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson are all 6'1+ and playing in the top 6 or top 4 of the Hawks, as well as Saad. Outside of the dmen none of those guys exactly goes around running people through the boards, but they all have strong boardwork, and are excellent fore/backcheckers. It could be argued that they play a somewhat "gritty" game, even if it wouldn't be considered a "truculent" game.

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#66 BJ
January 02 2014, 04:57PM
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If it were me picking Id leave Ryan off... but for different reasons... for this tourney speed and skating should be looked at above all else for the forwards.

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#67 BJ
January 02 2014, 04:59PM
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Canada made similar mistakes in 2006... No way a player like Bertuzzi should be there no matter how much he scores...

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#68 Resolute
January 02 2014, 06:18PM
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Derzie wrote:

The scary part is that there re really and truly people on this site thinking Brian Burke has a clue what he is doing. Really? Do you watch hockey? Are the Leafs the team you want? The 90s Ducks? I'm flabbergasted. I see a smart comment and then half are trashes. Oh my.

What Toronto has become scares the hell out of me. And while you said 90s Ducks, I think you meant 90s Canucks, but most of his tenure with Vancouver was also in the 2000s.

I've always felt that Burke is one of the most overrated general managers in hockey. He did acquire some of Vancouver's current core, but his legacy has been built on taking advantage of his predecessor's work in Anaheim while being fortunate enough to step into the job there right as Scott Niedermayer decided playing with his brother was more important than the larger contract New Jersey offered and Teemu Selanne decided that the grass isn't always greener and returned to where he was comfortable. Even with the Pronger acquisition. Burke was incredibly lucky in Anaheim and succeeded due to a perfect storm of opportunity that not even Rick Bowness would have screwed up.

Burke may be a better option than Feaster, but he is still not a guy I really want managing this team. And he will be managing this team. We're heading right down the Oilers route of employing puppet GMs who do their master's bidding. Decisions and comments like those Burke made with respect to Ryan does not instill the slightest bit of confidence.

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#69 Rick Cloutier
January 02 2014, 07:15PM
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What a classless way to handle a situation. It's obvious Burke is making this a personal attack for his firing in Anaheim. Ryan is the second leading US goal scorer in the NHL in the last three years. The 2010 Olympic game could have gone either way. Ryan was a key part of that team. In Canada, we hold our hockey management to a higher standard. Good Luck Team USA in the Olympics, in spite of Burke! What has he won anyway. He took someone else's work in Anaheim to a cup. The team he built was in Vancover. What have they won?

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