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NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 13, 2008
DAVID KEON: We now have with us Brian Burke, general manager of the Anaheim Ducks.
Q. In light of what happened to Richard Zednik, should the league consider, I guess, stronger safety measures, neck guards, things of that nature, in the future? Or is it just a situation where the belief is it's an inherently dangerous sport with sticks and skate blades and so forth and everyone accepts that fact to be true?
BRIAN BURKE: That question was neck guards and the injury?
Q. In light of what happened to Richard Zednik, should the league consider stronger safety measures, neck guards and so forth? Or is it a situation where the belief has always been it's an inherently dangerous sport with sticks and skate blades and that's just the way everyone accepts it to be?
BRIAN BURKE: You can equip a player in such a way that he cannot get hurt from a stick or a skate. You can equip a player so he can't get facial cuts. You can put a football helmet on him. But every layer of equipment that you put on a player that's protective also becomes a weapon. You watch players in the National Football League with that helmet and how they block and tackle.
So we've tried to strike a balance here. It's never going to be an inherently safe workplace altogether. Not when there's no out of bounds and contact is encouraged.
So as horrific as that injury was - I think the last one comparable to it was Clint Malarchuk - I think we can live with that. If that's the incidence, we can live with that.
Q. How much of the talking that you do to other GMs and other teams coming up to the trade deadline is impacted based on your relationships with the GMs? I believe you said in the past - you can correct me if I'm wrong - that you wouldn't consider listening to any deals or making any deals with Kevin Lowe in the future.
BRIAN BURKE: I don't talk to him, so it would be hard to make a deal. I guess our right-hand man can make a deal. But, no, I have no intention of speaking to him. So it's going to be real hard to make a deal. I'm not sure how you do that.
As far as the other talking, yeah, a lot of it is based on relationships. You figure out there's 30 guys. There's 29 other guys you deal with. You figure out the guys that have your style. If you look, GMs tend to make pattern trades, repetitive trades. They seem to have success making deals with a group of guys, five or six guys and not with other guys.
I call certain guys more than I call other guys.
Q. Your team has made a couple of moves recently without having to really give up anything and bringing back Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. Are you still looking to add any major pieces? Or will what you do, if anything, just be little chinks, I guess, here and there?
BRIAN BURKE: We're trying to figure out - right now we've got one line that's been strong offensively for us all year. That's Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and then either Chris Kunitz or Todd Bertuzzi. With Teemu coming back, we'd like to leave Kuny with those guys, Chris Koonitz with the kids, and then play Todd with Doug Weight and Teemu. And now Doug Weight has a shoulder injury and is going to miss at least a week.
So we're not sure what we have. I'm going to the GM meetings really kind of groping around like a sightless person because I'm not sure what I have yet and what I'm looking for.
We're going to add if we can, our ownership. We want to win. And if we can add at the right price, we will. I've been asked the last couple of days repeatedly is the Edmonton pick in play. And the answer is, yes, it's in play. We have their first, second and third. We are going to wait until much closer to the deadline to see what it is.
They've managed to put some wins together. And it may not be as attractive as it appears today. But if it looks like it's going to be a top seven pick, we think there's seven players in this draft and then there's a drop-off. If it looks like it's going to be a top seven pick, then it's not going for a rental. It can go in a hockey deal, but it's not going for a rental.
Q. Brian, thanks for being available. Your AHL affiliation picture seems to be kind of up in the air. What can you say about that? And have you ruled out coming back to Portland next year?
BRIAN BURKE: I think it's a fair question. But given that there are other franchises involved, I would leave any discussion - I think that should emanate from the Portland Pirates if and when they think it's appropriate.
We have not ruled out anything as far as next year. Any combination of things is possible. We're looking at a broad spectrum. This sounds like a lawyer's answer, and it is. We're looking at a broad spectrum of options that could very well include putting players back there.
So I think it's premature even though it's a legitimate question and I'm not offended by it one bit. I think the right person to answer it is not on the call. And it's probably not the right time.
Q. In the past you've kind of been reluctant to be involved in a sharing situation with another NHL club. Would that be one of those options for next year?
BRIAN BURKE: Sure. Long-term we're committed to our ownership group, the Samuelis are committed to growing hockey in Southern California, and long-term that would be our goal to have our farm team in Southern California. They're going to start building ice rinks following the Dallas Stars model where every time you build a rink you dramatically increase the number of kids who play, and then those become your customers down the road.
So long-term that's our goal. But there's no urgency on that and that may take several years. We might be in the very same place we're at for two or three more years before we do that. So we would share. I just gave you a 45-second answer. I could have answered with one word, yes, we would look at sharing.
Q. Brian, do you feel like you have an edge on your fellow contenders in terms of having the extra picks to dangle? It sounds like they share a lot of the contenders, they're a little reticent to make the type of deals that we saw last year for the top rentals.
BRIAN BURKE: As I've said, you guys know this, we make more mistakes at the trade deadline than we make the whole rest of the year combined. The pressure to win is so intense and unrelenting and unremitting that we as a group make horrible, horrible decisions at the trade deadline.
And I'll give you an example of what the people will say in retrospect to a decision, but I know exactly why Donnie Waddell did it last year, traded a package to get into the playoffs and then they ended up getting eliminated in the first round. But that was essential, I think, with the ownership battle that was going on and the credibility of the franchise at stake. I think that made sense for that franchise at that time.
But that's the type of pressure that goes into those decisions. Now, if you're a team - let's pick a team that's in the playoffs right now. Say Boston. And Pierre can call me and slap me with a 2-by-4 if he wants. But if he's offering his first right now today, what would that pick be?
Q. Mid-round, pretty much.
BRIAN BURKE: 16. 17. I haven't looked at the paper. Something like that. Whereas the Edmonton pick could be - again, I'm not going to put up any bulletin board materials for the Edmonton Oilers. They've managed to win some games playing real well despite serious injuries, and God bless them. They're watching us. They've got our first-round picks, so they're watching the standings just like we are. But that pick could be a considerably higher pick than 16 or 17 or 18.
So that's I think where we have an edge, if we're willing to deal that pick for a rental. But if it's high enough, I'm not dealing it for a rental.
Q. You want to make a hockey deal with it. As a follow-up, Brian, last year you were kind of singled out by a lot of us in the media for not doing well at the deadline, other than Brad May, and of course as it turns out you got the last laugh by winning the Cup. Is that sort of the prime example, if you have a good enough team, that maybe the deadline is a little overhyped by the media and fans?
BRIAN BURKE: I don't think I got the last laugh. It's a fair criticism. It's a fair criticism. And I probably poured gasoline on it by writing the column for USA Today and detailing all my failures. So it's a fair comment. I'm not a big trade deadline guy. I never have been. You can go back over my whole career as a general manager; I've never been a big trade deadline guy. I try to fix my team in the fall and try to leave it alone and grow together and solidify. Last year we had a Brad May and he was an important part of our success.
But this year we'll see what's there. We do have assets. I think we could probably use the assets we have and we've got some good, young players. We've got some picks, and I think we might be able to do something on a hockey deal basis that makes us a better team and that's what we're going to try to do.
Q. In light of the question in Atlanta regarding Hossa, kind of in general terms as a general manager, how do you balance getting something in return for a potential free agent that you may or may not be able to sign versus winning down the stretch here?
BRIAN BURKE: First off, I think people better get used to guys walking at the end of their contracts with the cap system. I remember I was in training camp with the Indianapolis Colts couple of years ago looking at the depth chart with Bill Polian and he had boxes, like squares, around four starters.
And I said, What does the box mean? He said, Unrestricted free agent. And I said, Are you going to try to get something for him? He said, No, they're good players. They're playing. We'll drive them to the airport.
That's what I did with Ruslan Salei, what I told him two years ago. You help us, you play well down the stretch, I'm not moving you at the deadline. You're going to walk and we're not going to get nothing, but you've earned that. I said, We need you right now.
So what Donnie Waddell just said I support completely. And if he does walk - let's say he does not trade Hossa, he gets the most out of him and then the guy goes somewhere else as a free agent, that frees up the assets that we have as a manager. We've got draft picks. We've got players. We've got cash. We've got cap space. We've got tagging room. That's all you have.
And what that does right away, if Hossa does walk, is it puts Donnie right back in the market to sign the next available best free agent. So I think people better get used to that. I remember telling my owner, We're going to get nothing for Ruslan Salei. Now, Rusty Salei is a good player. He's been good for Florida and he's a good guy. But we needed him to get into the playoffs that year, and ended up playing in three rounds. And we absolutely needed him.
I think people better get used to it. It's not take the best offer at the deadline. It's exactly what Donnie Waddell said: See what this guy can do to get you in. If he walks, he walks, then you've got that cash back to spend.
Q. Do you think it matters if you think you're a bubble team versus a team that you think can go all the way and win a Stanley Cup?
BRIAN BURKE: Sure. The character, if you look at the Islanders trade last year, look at the Atlanta trade, that quality of trade that you make to try and make sure you get in, again, in both cases, not being critical of either team, because I think for the Islanders I think it was critical to try and get in. So it changes your outlook as far as what you're trying to do. Doug Wilson or Les Jackson have very different wish lists and very different priorities probably than a guy that's in that eighth or ninth spot. I look at Dallas, how strong they've been. They're probably figuring what piece do we need to add to win it.
And that's different than saying what piece do we need to add to get in.
Q. Do you have any confidence after the prices paid by last year and seeing what happened to the teams in the first round - I've heard you mention why those teams made those deals - but have you any confidence that GMs this year will show restraint because of what happened to those three teams last year in the playoffs?
BRIAN BURKE: Well, it's not just GMs showing restraint. A lot of times it's an owner barking at you, too. Owner's saying we have to make the playoffs or we have to do this. When you see the GMs get blamed for some of these deals, it's not that simple. When you see some of the long-term contracts and you want to blame the general manager, it's not that simple.
But the pressure in our job doesn't change. You guys aren't going to let a guy sit there for three or four years and not do much with the deadline and go out in the first round and say, well, he's husbanding his assets wisely. He's marshalling his assets wisely. This is a sharp guy. You're all going to say, put him on a rail and throw some tar on him and get him out of town.
So the pressure on the manager doesn't ever change. Our job is to win. Get up in the morning you're trying to figure out a way to win. And go to bed trying to figure out a way to win. If you can't you get canned. So, no, I think you'll see a whole slew of deals.
It was a pretty big deal yesterday. And that to me is when you see a guy - it's like the ice on the lake in the spring: The first big piece goes out, then the other pieces start to move. Usually a trade like that triggers a chain reaction. And Carolina and Ottawa's deal I think will produce a flurry, especially when all the GMs are going to be at one place on Sunday night.
Q. I'm not sure how many people foresaw this phenomenon we're seeing right now where teams are paying essentially unrestricted money to restricted free agents to prevent predatory offers on them. Does that impact what teams do at the deadline?
BRIAN BURKE: Absolutely. I mean, what happened last summer - people have to understand this. I know Matty's on the call and I've had the conversation with him. I didn't pull an Irishman last summer and just fly off the handle. We got the offer sheet on Thursday. I didn't speak to the media until Friday. My comments were very carefully measured and considered and I stand behind them 100 percent today.
What Edmonton did last summer was eliminate the second contract in the NHL. And you typically have a guy in the entry-level system, he's capped, the mandatory two-way, he comes out of entry-level and he's got no arbitration rights. So you still have some control over what he's paid, and then he gets arbitration rights and then you hand him the hammer. And he's got the hammer for the rest of his career. And that's fine. Now we're all paying the guys right out of entry-level. We're paying them that third contract right away because one team extended two offer sheets in one summer.
So, again, I know you guys think I have a horrible temper, but I slept on that and thought about it very carefully. Stand by every single word I said last summer.
Q. I know you were asked before about returns of Niedermayer and Selanne, that if that has made you less likely to now go out and make a bigger deal. But I was thinking the return of those guys, being that they have a short window left in their career, do you feel any kind of balance you have to keep with your young players but also trying to go for it now with guys that you're not going to have for too much longer?
BRIAN BURKE: General manager, you've generally got a window on a team where you can look at your team and say, In this period of time, we have a shot at winning. And if you're realistic, there's never more than three or four teams, maybe five in the window that have that window, that are close. And your job, when you get in the window and when you're in your window and you've got the assets and you have the ability to win, you've got to try to win. Because you might not be in the window for 10 more years, depending on drafting and what happens.
So that is the tightrope you walk. And this is why I say people say, Well, would you trade the Edmonton pick? Let's assume it's a high pick. Again, not disparaging Edmonton one bit. But let's assume it's a fourth pick or fifth pick overall in what we consider to be a very deep draft, and you're talking about a 10-year guy. You're drafting a guy who is going to play 10 years in the league. Do you trade that for a rental?
And to me that's where the other part of your job is, to not leave the cupboard bare. Because when you do come out of your window, usually you have to strip it down right down to the chassis and rebuild it. And I don't think it's fair to your successor to leave that cupboard empty either.
That's the balancing act. You have to try to go for it. You've got to spend the assets. We paid a horribly high price for Chris Pronger. We traded Ladislav Smid, who is an excellent young player. We traded Joffrey Lupul, another fine young player. Both good guys, both the kind of players we really try to find, and two first-round picks. And everyone says, well, you know, it paid off because you guys won. If we hadn't won, I would have had a meeting with the owner saying, What the hell were you doing?
That's the tightrope. There's a gambler's mentality to it. You have to be willing to gamble a sizable amount of organizational assets, a sizable amount of playoff revenue. You've got to be willing to gamble and go for it when you get close, if you're in the window.
Q. Do you feel your window changed in that it got smaller when Niedermayer and Selanne returned?
BRIAN BURKE: Scotty is in a contract for another year. I don't know yet what that means, but he's under contract for another year. And Chris Pronger is under another contract for another year beyond that. Giguere is under contract for two more years. So we've got most of the core assets on our team under contract for at least next year, including all of the defensemen, virtually.
So the core group - we won last year with, in my opinion, you guys might differ - we won last year with I think the best starting defense in the NHL and with quality goaltending and a big menacing team. We have virtually all those blocks back.
So, yes, I think if we can get into the playoffs, and obviously we had a successful road trip and put us in a little better position than we were the start of the road trip, if we get in I think we're a team that other teams are going to look at and say, man, that's a good team.
So I don't think our window is just this year. It might be for Teemu. It might be the last we see of him. But we haven't built this team to be competitive for one season.
Q. You've answered the one question, but I was just wondering have you seen a change in the attitude of owners towards the trade deadline since the lockout? Are some of them a lot more cautious now because of the way some of these deals have turned out and the expense involved?
BRIAN BURKE: Again, I think if you ask Garth - I don't mean to speak for him, but I think if you ask Garth would he do those deals again, he would say yes. In terms of what that franchise needed at that time. And I wouldn't disagree with him. If you ask Donnie Waddell, the major ownership dispute, your season ticket base, all the things you're trying to preserve, would you make that deal again, I think he would say yes.
And I think from your question as far as where the owners are on this stuff, that varies from team to team. I don't sense - I think people are viewing this deadline as saying, well, a lot of guys touched a hot stove last year and got burned, they won't do it again. I don't sense that. I think there will be a lot of activity. Because the pressure doesn't change on us. If you say to the owner, I want to make a silly deal at the deadline, I want to keep all of our top young players and then you miss the playoffs, owners tend to forget those conversations.
Q. Are you trying to get Peter Forsberg? Is that an option for you?
BRIAN BURKE: Yeah, we've been informed by Don Baizley that we are not one of the teams that Peter Forsberg is considering.
Q. He told you that?
BRIAN BURKE: I got an e-mail from Don Baizley saying we're not on the short list.
Q. How important is Samuel Pahlsson to your team?
BRIAN BURKE: Sammy Pahlsson, we joke about it here, he's from Ornskol, Sweden, but he thinks he's from Red Deer. He thinks he's Canadian. He's tougher than a night in jail. He's smart. He's an indispensable part of our team.
DAVID KEON: Thank you very much, Brian, for your time.
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