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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#1 bookofloob
January 01 2014, 05:52PM
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Our President of Hockey Operations and NotGM publicly said he regrets taking Bobby Ryan over Jack Johnson.

This is the guy who runs the Calgary Flames right now. That guy.

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#2 FXO
January 01 2014, 05:52PM
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Every time I read of BB's way of thinking I am reminded of a interview with Guy Lefleur saw a while back. He mentioned how the Flyers were just a bunch or 'Bullies' and how the Canadiens showed how to win with skill, speed and finesse. (From '76 to '79) At times BB is accused of having the game pass him by. I dunno? Perhaps he looks at the Flyers, or some other intense, big, truculent team[s], and sees how they won 2 cups by being brutalist's and forgets the 24 of the Canadiens.

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#3 the forgotten man
January 01 2014, 05:59PM
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bookofloob wrote:

Our President of Hockey Operations and NotGM publicly said he regrets taking Bobby Ryan over Jack Johnson.

This is the guy who runs the Calgary Flames right now. That guy.

Yeah, that should be a fireable offense right there, along with showing up at a major press conference impersonating Nick Nolte post-drug/alcohol/ hooker binge..

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#4 bookofloob
January 01 2014, 06:01PM
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@FXO

Well, I'm not going to go as far as to suggest that Burke looks at the Broad Street Bullies as a model for winning hockey games in 2014, but we're on the right track here

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#5 Thorop1
January 01 2014, 06:20PM
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Wow talk about "cherry-picking" your examples. I don't care if you love Burke or hate him but don't select and manipulate certain quotes to support your argument without considering the entire article. There are no less than three quotes in the article in which Burke acknowledges Ryan's skill! As for Yandle Burke says "he is carving teams right now". The dream comment, when taken in context is not weird at all...if you hate Burke that is fine, just don't manipulate his comments that is weak!

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#7 Clyde
January 01 2014, 06:37PM
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Thorop1 wrote:

Wow talk about "cherry-picking" your examples. I don't care if you love Burke or hate him but don't select and manipulate certain quotes to support your argument without considering the entire article. There are no less than three quotes in the article in which Burke acknowledges Ryan's skill! As for Yandle Burke says "he is carving teams right now". The dream comment, when taken in context is not weird at all...if you hate Burke that is fine, just don't manipulate his comments that is weak!

I couldn't agree more. Seems to me that Burke put together a pretty decent team in 2010. Before the Olympics he was crucified for many of his choices. Going to bat for a 26 year old defenseman who has a history of strong international and playoff performance,as well as nhl playoff performance and who has been a captain for the USA more than once does not seem moronic in anyway either from a performance standpoint or loyalty standpoint. In the end, he didn't make it this time anyway

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#8 Clyde
January 01 2014, 06:41PM
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Arik wrote:

Fun fact! Burke's dream comment was made as a sarcastic retort to Poile's, who made his seemingly in earnest. Both are remarkably dumb.

Moreover, this wasn't about Burke not acknowleding Ryan's skill, it's about the fact that he thinks a "lack of intensity" is somehow more telling about a player than the actual skill.

Also as for Yandle, that compliment doesn't take away from the moronic criticisms.

They all felt if Ryan was not a top 6 player, he didn't bring much else to the table and is a below avg skater. His lack of intensity comment was made to reinforce that Ryan doesn't have the mental make up to be a checker/energy guy or penalty killer so unless he nailed down a scoring role, avoid him

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#9 coachedpotatoe
January 01 2014, 06:52PM
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Burke being trashed and it is not even me. Just wait we will get to see Lowe and his role on Canada's team, hopefully he will keep his mouth shut. I remember a quote that could apply to both men; "better to remain silent and thought a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt."

I'm really not concerned with Burke's role on team USA as I am in the direction he is taking the Flames. I was disappointed to see Granlund sent down without getting a chance to play.

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#10 Justin Azevedo
January 01 2014, 06:52PM
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@Clyde

yeah because at this level having guys that score more goals over guys that score less goals is a bad thing

c'mon man

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#11 BurningSensation
January 01 2014, 06:55PM
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Oshie and Stastny over Bobby Ryan?

Honestly, this mystifies me. I get that there are concerns with Ryan's skating on the big ice (I have similar concerns about Tavares), but that only explains taking Oshie, because Stastny is definitely not a better skater than Ryan.

Well, the Brian Burke era is now on for the Flames.

C'thullu help us all.

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#12 Clyde
January 01 2014, 07:00PM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

yeah because at this level having guys that score more goals over guys that score less goals is a bad thing

c'mon man

Justin, You pick the best team and that involves having guys who can play roles. Check out the most successful Canadian teams and you will find some interesting selections and some interesting omissions. Try 1984, 86, 91 Canada cup as well as 02, 10 Olympic team. Some guys just cannot play outside a top 6 role. You need a certain make up to be able to bring energy and positive results while only getting 6-10 minutes of ice. C'mon man, you know that from your playing days

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#13 Justin Azevedo
January 01 2014, 07:04PM
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@Clyde

no you pick the best team by picking the best players.

winning is based in skill and luck. you take more skill, you need less luck. doesn't mean that a skilled team always wins but it decreases the amount you have to rely on luck.

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#14 -30-
January 01 2014, 07:08PM
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Burke in charge of Team USA

Lowe (six cups) in charge of Team Canada

A formula for suxxess!

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#15 coachedpotatoe
January 01 2014, 07:13PM
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-30- wrote:

Burke in charge of Team USA

Lowe (six cups) in charge of Team Canada

A formula for suxxess!

Laughingly: I like the Russians or Swedes chances.

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#16 Clyde
January 01 2014, 07:19PM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

no you pick the best team by picking the best players.

winning is based in skill and luck. you take more skill, you need less luck. doesn't mean that a skilled team always wins but it decreases the amount you have to rely on luck.

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?

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#17 TRAV
January 01 2014, 07:30PM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

no you pick the best team by picking the best players.

winning is based in skill and luck. you take more skill, you need less luck. doesn't mean that a skilled team always wins but it decreases the amount you have to rely on luck.

I agree totally. It must be added though that it takes a variety of skills to be a great team. Ask Edmonton how it works out when you take a group of "same skilled" forwards.

I don't know whether Ryan should be on the team or not. I do think that management is smart to consider the kind of team that wins these tournament. I don't think that you go down the nhl scoring list and select your top twelve scorers and ice them at forward. Clearly there are more factors than that. There is no question that scoring goals is a huge part of team success though...

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#18 Baalzamon
January 01 2014, 07:35PM
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How are Bobby Ryan and Jack Johnson considered mutually exclusive? Why does choosing a bad defenseman preclude taking a goalscoring forward?

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#21 bookofloob
January 01 2014, 07:43PM
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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?

Canada went for a "players filling roles" style roster in 2006, and it ended up having guys like Kris Draper on the team.

There's nothing wrong with Kris Draper, but he's not the guy you want on the ice when the other team is deploying an all star arsenal and you can't match PvP. You take the best players. They put Draper on a line with Iginla and Mario. That is lunacy.

This sort of "identity" is not bad, but the identity I'd want for my team is "well we took the best players". They're the best, does anyone understand how this sounds? The best is the best

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#22 Clyde
January 01 2014, 07:47PM
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bookofloob wrote:

Canada went for a "players filling roles" style roster in 2006, and it ended up having guys like Kris Draper on the team.

There's nothing wrong with Kris Draper, but he's not the guy you want on the ice when the other team is deploying an all star arsenal and you can't match PvP. You take the best players. They put Draper on a line with Iginla and Mario. That is lunacy.

This sort of "identity" is not bad, but the identity I'd want for my team is "well we took the best players". They're the best, does anyone understand how this sounds? The best is the best

They actually pick guys to play roles everytime. 2006 didn't work out. 84, 87, 91, 02, 10 did.

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#23 Clyde
January 01 2014, 07:49PM
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Arik wrote:

You mean like Don Waddell? One of the worst GMs in the history of the NHL?

Yes, why not put it on him? Or Stan Bowman or dale tallon or David poile, etc? They all had input and Poile is running the show.

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#24 bookofloob
January 01 2014, 07:49PM
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They had one guy on the 2010 team I'd classify as a role player, and that was Brenden Morrow. Everyone else you could have made a case for qualifying as the best available

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#27 44stampede
January 01 2014, 08:00PM
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I am not sure about the "taking the best player" argument. Unless you are speaking about the best overall players and not just goals. I am actually surprised, especially with Justin, about looking at his goals as the main reason he should be there. Btw, I think that he should be on the team.

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#28 clyde
January 01 2014, 08:05PM
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Arik wrote:

Out of curiousity, what the hell do you think Morrow contributed to the Canadian team in 2010? (Hint: it rhymes with "smabsolutely smothing")

Serious? We left off 3 of the NHL's Top 10 Scorers!

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#29 clyde
January 01 2014, 08:06PM
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bookofloob wrote:

They had one guy on the 2010 team I'd classify as a role player, and that was Brenden Morrow. Everyone else you could have made a case for qualifying as the best available

Serious? We left off 3 of the NHL's Top 10 Scorers!

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#30 clyde
January 01 2014, 08:09PM
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Arik wrote:

Because they're not making inane statements about intensity? Did you even read the damn article?

No need to throw a temper tantrum. You find it inane because you don't understand what he was getting at. I get that.

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#31 MichaelD
January 01 2014, 08:24PM
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bookofloob wrote:

They had one guy on the 2010 team I'd classify as a role player, and that was Brenden Morrow. Everyone else you could have made a case for qualifying as the best available

Bergeron?

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#34 RexLibris
January 01 2014, 09:24PM
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Hockey Canada left off Poirier and Nurse. Decided Paterson and Fucale would be good tournament goalies for the WJCs.

Burke wanted to take J. Johnson ahead of Ryan in '05.

There are dozens of numbskull decisions made by hockey executives in any nation's development program every time a selection process is carried out.

What I find interesting about Burke's comments and the Burnside article as it relates to the Flames is that Burke ended up listening to his scouts in Anaheim (who have a pretty impressive draft record).

Another item that stands out for me is that it reinforces the narrative that Burke will look past skill if it isn't accompanied by various other characteristics that have not been statistically proven to impact productivity.

As well, there is the perception from the article that Burke is an abrasive personality within the selection group, and this raises questions about his eventual hire for the GM position and that individual's executive autonomy in that role.

Either way, lots of grist for the Flames fan's anxiety mill.

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#36 FlamesRule
January 01 2014, 09:39PM
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Looks to me that the FN writers have taken a NY resolution to bash Burke for no legitimate reason.

I'd rather have him running the show right now over pretty much anyone else. He's outlined his vision, taking charge and will have a positive impact on the future - that's leadership the Flames organization has lacked for years. I'm glad to be seeing it!

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#37 RexLibris
January 01 2014, 09:40PM
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Arik wrote:

You get me, Rex. You really do.

You complete me.

Wait. Is that the right response? I'm so bad at these...

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#38 44stampede
January 01 2014, 09:43PM
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RexLibris wrote:

Hockey Canada left off Poirier and Nurse. Decided Paterson and Fucale would be good tournament goalies for the WJCs.

Burke wanted to take J. Johnson ahead of Ryan in '05.

There are dozens of numbskull decisions made by hockey executives in any nation's development program every time a selection process is carried out.

What I find interesting about Burke's comments and the Burnside article as it relates to the Flames is that Burke ended up listening to his scouts in Anaheim (who have a pretty impressive draft record).

Another item that stands out for me is that it reinforces the narrative that Burke will look past skill if it isn't accompanied by various other characteristics that have not been statistically proven to impact productivity.

As well, there is the perception from the article that Burke is an abrasive personality within the selection group, and this raises questions about his eventual hire for the GM position and that individual's executive autonomy in that role.

Either way, lots of grist for the Flames fan's anxiety mill.

I don't understand how guys like Burke keep getting jobs. He just seems so universally disliked from those who deal with him. Maybe it is just a perception that comes across to the media and thus that is what we see. Maybe he is a great guy behind the scene but I just don't see it.

Whenever you throw people under the bus like he does, how do you gain trust?

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#39 Clyde
January 01 2014, 09:53PM
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RexLibris wrote:

Hockey Canada left off Poirier and Nurse. Decided Paterson and Fucale would be good tournament goalies for the WJCs.

Burke wanted to take J. Johnson ahead of Ryan in '05.

There are dozens of numbskull decisions made by hockey executives in any nation's development program every time a selection process is carried out.

What I find interesting about Burke's comments and the Burnside article as it relates to the Flames is that Burke ended up listening to his scouts in Anaheim (who have a pretty impressive draft record).

Another item that stands out for me is that it reinforces the narrative that Burke will look past skill if it isn't accompanied by various other characteristics that have not been statistically proven to impact productivity.

As well, there is the perception from the article that Burke is an abrasive personality within the selection group, and this raises questions about his eventual hire for the GM position and that individual's executive autonomy in that role.

Either way, lots of grist for the Flames fan's anxiety mill.

Depends on what stats are valued Rex. Nowhere have I seen. 50/50 battle stats being taken yet I know of coaches and teams who take them. No stats on offense generated through work in the kill zone or offense defeated in that zone yet there are teams who take those.

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#40 Burnward
January 01 2014, 10:00PM
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How do you quantify "best player"?

Seems as if that would differ from person to person.

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#41 Burnward
January 01 2014, 10:07PM
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@RexLibris

I'm sure you would never make a decision others would deem as a "numbskull" move.

Everyone views the game differently. Burke has his vision and a solid track record behind him. Let's just see what he actually does.

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#42 ChinookArch
January 01 2014, 10:09PM
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Funny thing about cognitive dissonance, Brian Burke is in good company. It's uncomfortable when one's personal, strongly held beliefs are challenged.

I've often wondered how much group-think happens here at FN, but the adamant responses on both sides of this debate illustrates how varied the perspective are of the game is here.

Nice to see.

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#43 RexLibris
January 01 2014, 10:15PM
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@44stampede

Burke never throws his employers under the bus. Colleagues perhaps, players once in awhile.

He gets jobs because he is perceived as a winner. He's won once with a team that many outsiders credit as being a roster principally built by his successor and then gifted with one of the best defensemen in the game at the time on account of a working relationship with the other GM and that organization's very narrow list of asset needs.*

Feaster won once with a team that frankly lucked out one year. He was hired on reputation, a reputation that was built partially on the false perceptions of his peers when he won Executive of the Year in 2004. (The Sporting News)

I think that in the business world people can confuse being abrasive or aggressive with being effective. Confidence is seen as an asset even when there is no basis for it.

Burke is also something of a management brand. People will buy brands regardless of their actual quality so long as their is the belief and the perception that they are.

Think back to when Yzerman was looking for work as a GM. He hadn't spent any time as an actual GM but had worked under Ken Holland and Jim Nill, and was widely believed to be the next great hockey executive. His reputation as a player and association with the Red Wings influenced many peoples' perceptions of his unproven abilities.

I don't specifically know how Burke gets GM jobs, but it seems to me that it echoes the psychology of "if it walks like a duck (read: winner) and it quacks like a duck, it must be a duck". The opposite side of this train of thought, though, leads to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrzMhU_4m-g

*The Oilers targeted Joffrey Lupul specifically in that trade in part to bring in a scoring winger but also to help salve the municipal pride after Pronger's departure.

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#44 Burnward
January 01 2014, 10:20PM
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@RexLibris

"I don't specifically know how Burke gets GM jobs..."

You sure seem to think you have it figured out.

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#45 RexLibris
January 01 2014, 10:21PM
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Burnward wrote:

I'm sure you would never make a decision others would deem as a "numbskull" move.

Everyone views the game differently. Burke has his vision and a solid track record behind him. Let's just see what he actually does.

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.

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#46 RexLibris
January 01 2014, 10:23PM
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@ChinookArch

I'm not arguing that Burke is the best or worst GM in the league.

My point is that I believe his reputation is a matter of perception ahead of record.

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#47 RexLibris
January 01 2014, 10:23PM
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Burnward wrote:

"I don't specifically know how Burke gets GM jobs..."

You sure seem to think you have it figured out.

"specifically"

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#48 Burnward
January 01 2014, 10:25PM
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@RexLibris

You're not crazy...I edited it. Missed it the first time around.

Point still stands though. Ha!

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#49 wot96
January 01 2014, 10:38PM
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2006 Olympic team was sunk by its defence, not the forwards. Pronger was hurt and was less mobile than Phaneuf with an ego pull.

Poirier appears to have been chosen because of a lack of discipline. Sutter benched McDavid for taking penalties less egregious than several of those taken by Poirier in the Subway Series. Nurse can't skate as well as the others on defence that were.

Choosing Jack Johnson over Bobby Ryan would have been stupid. I fear for the Flames if that is how BB thinks.

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#50 wot96
January 01 2014, 10:41PM
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wot96 wrote:

2006 Olympic team was sunk by its defence, not the forwards. Pronger was hurt and was less mobile than Phaneuf with an ego pull.

Poirier appears to have been chosen because of a lack of discipline. Sutter benched McDavid for taking penalties less egregious than several of those taken by Poirier in the Subway Series. Nurse can't skate as well as the others on defence that were.

Choosing Jack Johnson over Bobby Ryan would have been stupid. I fear for the Flames if that is how BB thinks.

edit - Poirier was "not" chosen...

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