When Push Comes to Shove, Burke Will Eat A Contract But Not His Pride


(courtesy puffycoombes)

Don’t try to bully a bully.

That’s the statement Brian Burke made to his fellow hockey executives
this week while stubbornly clinging to Michael Cammalleri despite the
knowledge that the pending unrestricted free agent is almost assuredly
moving elsewhere come July.

In Burke’s mind, something is not always better than nothing. Especially
when that something means you will be perceived as weak or easily
manipulated.

Burke, who admittedly lacks a patient bone in his body, also is minus a
give-a-crap molecule when it comes to what hockey fans might think of
him versus the way other general managers—acting or otherwise—view him
and his hockey team.

“I think an organization has to have a reputation at the trade deadline
that you’re not going to give people away,” Burke told those gathered at
the Saddledome all day waiting to hear how high a pick was brought in
for Cammalleri.

“The fact we didn’t give him away is something next year’s deadline and 10 years down the road people will remember.”

They’ll remember, but will it really matter? The Flames are still stuck with an asset that depreciates by the day.

The next opportunity Burke will have to peddle Cammalleri will come
after the season ends. Maybe some team will want the opportunity to
secure his negotiating rights exclusively before July 1.
But how much will they pay at that point, with no guarantee they’ll be
able to sign the soon-to-be 32-year-old who is looking at cashing in for
maybe the final time as a free agent?

It’s a risk Burke — whose constant suggestion Cammalleri might somehow
choose to stay on in Calgary is so steadfast that some might even start
to believe it — is willing to take. Pride is more important than
practicality, apparently.

Generally I’m all for people sticking to their principles. But in this
case, in the early stages of a massive rebuild where every extra draft
pick provides the opportunity to add a prospect or the flexibility to
make a future trade to help the team, it makes no sense to swallow a
sandwich you don’t really want just to keep your frenemies from
finishing it for free.

It’s tough not to respect Burke, mostly because his gruff and inflexible
nature demand it. His live hit on TSN during which he rightly grumbled
to James Duthie that the TradeCentre host was putting words in his mouth
was absolutely priceless.

But there is a contradictory element to his post-deadline answers that
leads you to believe by reading between the lines that it wasn’t a case
of sticking to his guns with Cammalleri’s price — which dropped during
the day as the market dictated the returns on rentals to be far less
significant than years past — it was a matter of time. Caught up in
negotiations at the higher price, he was stuck without a seat in the
game of free agent musical chairs.

His belief in the importance of draft picks takes the legs out from under his argument against giving Cammalleri away.

“If you look at how championship teams are built, they are built largely
through the draft,” Burke said, going on to suggest he considered
second- and third-round picks extremely valuable, and proving it when he
picked up one of each by trading away goaltender Reto Berra and winger
Lee Stempniak, both of whom had expiring contracts.

Cammalleri would surely have fetched no lower than a third-rounder as a
starting point. The Edmonton Oilers got a third and fifth by shipping
Ales Hemsky to Ottawa. That beats the goose egg that was certain to
follow in the summer.

Burke knows that his shot of signing Cammalleri — which will mean giving
up money, term and maybe most importantly a blueprint for success
somewhere within that long-term picture that the player has confidence
in — is next to zero.

His saving grace was the unexpected return for Berra and Stempniak, and
the fact that the on-ice product is full of rookies that are so
intriguing to watch that they’re looking far into the future, well past
the summer’s certain loss of a certain winger who once scored 39 goals
in a Flames uniform who will walk away for nothing.

  • Derzie

    We’ll see who’s right in June. Until then, guess work. I’m the the “Burke is all bluster camp”. Guilty until otherwise proven.

    p.s. Jesus Christ Franchise, that news gutted me. There’s nothing to say but we’re behind you.

  • BurningSensation

    I also think failing to trade Cammi was a failure, and it is quite possible, as the author suggests, that Burke’s pride was the main reason for it. On the other hand, given the weak market for sellers, I don’t know whether this was a huge failure. If we assume that Cammi could have gotten us a return like late 3rd, it is not a big of a deal. Yes we may have picked the next Brodie, but also, more possible, picked a career Ahler from the pick. Better to have that pick, but not a deal that would break the franchise.

    The author might be right that BB’s pride was the main reason for failing to trade Cammi, but this mistake won’t cost as much as say waiting too long for Igilna. I hope BB will not miscalculate the market in the future and will make better judgement, but everyone make mistakes. And although mistakes should be pointed out, we don’t need to overreact, especially when it is about a minor mistake.

    Also on reputation, it is quite possible that the return on Berra is a result of Burke’s reputation as a hard bargainer, giving him the upper hand on the negotiation table. I’m just speculating here, but I think it is highly likely.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I love how the only explanation most people have for a trade involving cammi not happening is Burke’s ego.

    That is idiotic. Who knows what was going on and who was talking to who.

    It wasn’t just Burke waiting till the end of the deadline to make deals. It was all the players in the bigger names. It could be Burke almost had a deal but maybe it was complex and they just ran out of time. These things happen when the player you are offering isn’t one of the top rentals. Everybody is in the hunt for the other guys and time just runs out when those options disappear.

    Just love how the armchair GM’s would just order another team to give up assets for our guy. No idea there are things called negotiations and calling back and forth between other gm’s to see if they are still in the running for this guy or that guy and more back and forth. You guys have no clue what goes on.

    • Skuehler

      I think Sven is injured, as is Elson now to. They dressed nine defence men today and played three of them as forwards. Abby is in shambles with all the call ups and injuries and dropping like a rock in the standings…

      Too bad, they had a great season going up until recently. As much as it’s fun to see the kids get a shot at the NHL level part of me would rather they stayed in the AHL and had a deep playoff run. Maybe they still will…

  • mattyc

    I think people are way overrating Cammalleri and the return we “should have”. I think I’m one of the only ones who thinks Stempniak would give us a much better return than Cammi. Outside of a playoff run 4 years ago, Cammi hasn’t necessarily been a game changer. This year he also got a nasty concussion and outside of that, his numbers are underwhelming. If I was a playoff team, I don’t think I would offer much for an undersized player who hasn’t shown much finish in the last 2-3 years, especially for a cap hit that could hinder callups if the team falls into a situation like we did in 2009. Not just looking at his +/- but he really doesn’t lend to a 200 foot game either. I think Flames fans and the media might be guilty of the same thing as Oilers fans brewing up fantasy trades for Hemsky and Gagner (a 3rd and a 5th could have even been an overpayment for Hemsky as well if he doesn’t re-sign).

    I’m not surprised that Cammi wasn’t dealt. I think I would have been upset if Stempniak wasn’t dealt however. Much more consistent numbers. And getting a 45-50 pick for Berra was a steal.

    • Skuehler

      This isn’t really about Cammi and any specific return. It’s about Burke – his experience, reputation, expectations, organizational objectives, actions so far here in Calgary, the less than spectacular results so far and the disconnect between these aspects.

  • Skuehler

    I believe Burke should have shipped Cammy for a 3 rd, if that in fact was the best offer he got. While the pick might not ever pan out, it could be packaged with a 2nd for a late 1st or with another 3 rd for a 2nd. Plus Moving him would create playing time for the kids down the stretch, one less guy playing on the 4th line with McGrattan.

  • beloch

    My condolences to the Stajan’s. My parents had a still-born child before I was born who they still grieve for. All I can say is that they didn’t give up and that’s why I’m here.

  • BurningSensation

    this is NOT a massive failure in not dealing Cammi. Geez, boohoo we don’t have an extra 3rd rounder oh the failings of Burke! Leaving the franchise teetering on a bottomless abyss pffff

  • RedMan

    OK, I think for the most part we all agree that Cammy has been “a good soldier”, that he has provided a good example of attitude and professionalism, conditioning and commitment to the young prospects.

    But with injuries that made it hard for him to prove his trade value, we either take underwhelming returns because that’s “something” or we keep him, sign him and play him. That is “something” too.

    By Keeping him, we have a player who can play #1/#2 RW (or center if needed). Is there a player currently in the system whose progression is blocked by Cammy holding this spot? If not, I prefer him staying for the value he adds to the rebuild by staying.

    Of course, Cammy has a say in it now – and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    Cammy’s tough season and recent decline in production (from injury or general decline?) will affect his own ability to attract interest and drive value up when he hits free agency as much as it affected Burke’s at the trade deadline.

    Like it or not, Cammy’s best value may, for both parties, be in Calgary.

    YES – A first round pick I’d of liked, a second and b-prospect, OK. A 3rd? not me.

    I’d rather see him signed, mentor the little guy coming up on how to play in the big league, and in three years, he’ll still be worth a 3rd if he is at least average or better, but if he has a great 2.5 years, may actually get the good return we hoped for this season as a rental to a contender.

    • piscera.infada

      I’m not entirely sure about the Cammy situation. I vehemently don’t believe it’s the “large failure” or “absolute failure” many people seem to bill it as. I also don’t see him resigning here. The truth is, I’m largely indifferent about it.

      Sure, we can say “take anything” and “Burke misread the situation”. I agree with that to an extent. However, I’m fairly certain that if Burke took a third-round pick an hour before the deadline approached he would have been pilloried by people saying “you hold out longer for bigger return”. I imagine this is where he ran in to trouble. He probably did have an offer for pocket change at some point but assumed he could do just that – he (literally) failed in that degree.

      @Chillout wrote: ” Everybody is in the hunt for the other guys and time just runs out when those options disappear… Just love how the armchair GM’s would just order another team to give up assets for our guy…”.

      I completely agree with this sentiment, it’s great to say “Burke didn’t get anything”, “he wasn’t able to leverage a return”. But they are contradictory statements. Yes, he literally “failed” (literally, as in he failed to do it), but everything we’ve heard about the whole situation is that he failed to because he was trying to leverage better assets.

      All tolled though, I am extremely skeptical that a third, fourth, fifth round pick would have enough of a bearing on the rebuild to claim that Burke’s inaction “failed the rebuild”, “failed the organization and the fans”, or is some sort of harbinger of terribleness to come. Sure, that third round pick could turn in to a great player, but if he deals Cammy at the draft for a sixth rounder, that pick could turn in to a player… It’s all relative. We’re all disappointed that the fantasy scenarios we all thought would (or could) be out there weren’t out there. I’m not sure we as a fanbase could have been satiated by a third round pick.

      • Parallex

        “I’m not sure we as a fanbase could have been satiated by a third round pick.”

        Given how the market shaked out I think getting that third would have fallen under the catagory of “understandable”. It would have demonstated that Burke isn’t the “wizard of trades” that his more ardent boosters try to make him out as (but then failing to trade Cammy demonstrates that anyways).

        Something is better then nothing. The only way this isn’t a fail on Burke’s part is if he somehow manages to resign Cammy to a short-term deal (Two or Less Years) prior to Free Agent Frenzy.

        Also: I would like to add my name to those extending their deepest condolances to the whole Stajan family. That is such heartbreaking news.

      • mattyc

        That’s about how I feel. A third round pick etc. is small change in the bigger picture. No one flipped out when we traded a 4th for 0 NHL games from Lane McDermid. The difference between a 3rd from a contender and the 4th from the Flames is like 5-10 spots.

        Not ideal, but hardly a catastrophe.

  • Parallex

    Also speaking of how things sometimes fall apart and teams run out of time. What about Anaheim? Do we really think all they wanted to do was ship Penner out of town? Pretty sure they ran out of time when the Kesler deal they were gunning for fell through.

    • Parallex

      Yeah, I was surprised by that too… although at the time I thought they were going after Vanek.

      Incidentially, I know a lot of people are blaming Snow for the market bottoming out on UFA’s at the deadline, but listening to various sports radio programs I more get the impression that it was Gillies (via Kesler) that did that.

      • piscera.infada

        Hockeycentral in Toronto had an interesting interview with Snow a few days after the deadline, and he said the same regarding Kesler. I could see how that could freeze a whole bunch of teams. If Pittsburgh’s deal for Kesler works out, thus (by all indications) Philly gets Edler (as apparently those two deals were dependant on each other), then I’m sure suddenly a lot of teams in the east (and to a lesser extent, the west) are in the sweepstakes for Vanek, Moulson, and Cammy.

        • Parallex

          Yeah, it makes sense.

          Gillies dangling Kesler removes the most motivated buyers (either directly or as part of a domino effect) from the marketplace and all of a sudden the supply largely outstrips the demand.

    • Skuehler

      If the nhl trade deadline is such a gong show than why not set your own internal deadline for the org. Have meaningful talks with the parties that are involved and seriously interested and hammer things out. Once your main objectives are reached than have some fun on deadline day and pull off trades like the Berra one. It just doesn’t wash to blame Gillis. Burke needed to take control of the situation. He certainly had options and experience to be able reach the organizations goals. It seems like Burke was either unprepared, too passive, got called on his bluff, or didn’t have the ear of other GMs. While we can only speculate about what happened the outcome is clear for all to analyze.

  • piscera.infada

    I agree with Burke over the writer of the article. Cammi is not worth so much that the Flames couldn’t afford to lose him vs coming across as a pushover. More trades for futures will come, the team can’t just take the best offer and call it a day.

    It was one of Feaster’s faults. He was seen as an easy mark. You cant play hardball and then cave in to market pressure. Or else people will stop believing you will hold the line and wont take negotiations seriously.

  • Parallex

    I see this as pretty simple really. The draft overall was decent because of the great return for Berra and solid return for Stemp. The Berra move was an example of getting a above average return for a player who has been very average to below average thus far. I think that if anyone on here as asked what they would take or expect for Berra a 5th would have been widely accepted as a solid return. A second is a steal.

    Not getting a good return for Cammy is disappointing Not an epic failure but disappointing. Burke wanted to trade the asset and was unable to achieve this goal. Plain and simple is it a failure… Yes. We have know a ll season long that Cammy was an asset who they wanted to move for a return. At some point in the season it would have been ideal if he could have been moved for a mother asset as I think that there is an above average chance that we lose him for nothing.

    In the scheme of things I think that the Berra trade and the Cammy non trade sort of balance each other out. Our trade deadline was okay. I don’t see this as anything that I will waste much energy losing sleep over.

    Finally it’s tough to really know the whole story unless we are in the room. As WW pointed out we are all just speculating on what the offers actually were . Tough to accurately evaluate when we are guessing at the scenarios. I