GM Burke Barks in Calgary
In a week of Twilight Zone moments, it was the capper.
We didn't expect Dave Lowry to be relieved of his captaincy last week and there were a few eyebrows raised when Mike Vernon passed through waivers.
But the strangest moment of all might have been the sight of arch-enemy Brian Burke, GM of the Vancouver Canucks, helping the Flames sell season tickets Friday night.
Unimaginably, Flames GM Craig Button returned the favour in Vancouver the following evening.
If that wasn't enough to spin you in circles, Burke and Oiler GM Kevin Lowe will be doing the same exchange in coming months.
Yes, it's a darned small world out there when crumbling fiscal walls cause the Flames, Canucks and Oilers to come together for a group hug. But such is the force of the disintegrating Canadian dollar and American owner's hell bent on committing group suicide that desperate measures are indeed required.
The bombastic Burke, who never saw a fight he couldn't start, was the main feature and didn't disappoint the select crowd of about 60 Flames season ticket holders prior to the Canucks game at the Saddledome on Friday night.
This wasn't a true media event and I was actually there for target practice on my wallet (season ticket renewal campaign) so I'll generously delete the more colourful comments which might have cost the loose-lipped Burke a few long-time friends, gotten him fined by the league, or raised the eyebrows of a few of his own players.
Maybe he'll slip me some trade rumours as a return favour.
The Readers Digest version is as follows:
ON THE WAIVER WIRE - With Button being grilled by a season ticket holder over the Mike Vernon situation, Burke piped up to say he never - using the word four or five times - reveals to a player when waivers are being used. Further, Burke insisted the Cone of Silence is a common practice around the league. Burke added the reason for secrecy is a forewarned player will immediately phone his agent who in turn will actively solicit interest from the other 29 other teams around the NHL. Burke says he tries to do the waiver wire deed late on a Friday in hopes other GM's around the league are asleep at the switch. The waiver wire process, in theory, is intended to be confidential, thus a player should technically never know he's been exposed and therefore, technically, should never know enough to be offended. In the real world, however, there are 30 NHL locations offering 30 opportunities for that confidentiality to be breached. With a name player like Vernon, it was almost inevitable the news would leak out. Whether or not Vernon should have been offended or not is another question. It is also a bit of a stretch to presume rival GM's lack the organizational skills to ensure someone takes a few minutes to come in and check the fax machine on weekends.
ON THE BANISHMENT OF THE CENTRE RED LINE - Burke says college hockey has provided the NHL with all the evidence it should need to determine elimination of the red line is the "crappiest rule in hockey." Burke blames the banishment of the red line for the complete deterioration in the quality of young defencemen coming out of college ranks. Brian Leetch, he said, is the last great defenceman U.S. colleges have produced (19-year-old rookie for the Rangers in 1987 from Boston College). Pretty good observation. Prior to the 1990's, Leetch, Chris Chelios, James Patrick, Rob Blake, Gary Suter, Eric Weinrich and Gary Galley were the best-known defencemen produced by U.S. College hockey. Since 1990, the best would be Bryan Rafalski, Tom Poti, Dan McGillis and Brett Hedican - not exactly a list of greats. Of late, only Poti sticks out as interesting and even he has a lot of warts as Oiler fans might attest. It was a comical observation in a room full of Flames season ticket holders considering Calgary holds the rights to one of the great prizes in college hockey, Jordan Leopold, a defenceman.
BURKE REINFORCED A POINT I'VE BEEN MAKING for several years, that people are dreaming if they think a wider ice surface will create more offence. He believes, as does LA King coach Andy Murray and Columbus Blue Jacket mentor Dave King in Columbus, that the wide ice simply makes it easier to play defence by allowing defenders to push the attack to the perimeter. Burke advised anyone who wants to see boring hockey to make a trek to Europe where one game he was involved in with the Canucks ended with shot totals of 12-11. As to myself, I'm sticking with my prediction, reinforced by the Nagano Olympic results, that games in Salt Lake City, where the top six teams play each other, will generate offensive statistics similar to or below an average NHL game, in spite of the unprecedented concentration of talent.
BURKE WENT ON TO SAY CRAIG BUTTON is doing a bang-up job for the Flames, that he had far less to work with than Burke did when he started with the Canucks in 1998. It was somewhat amusing, however, in light of Flames fans clamouring to have Calgary resurrect the current season with massive changes, to hear Burke launch into a dramatic and detailed description of how a slow start this year forced him to identify Canuck shortcomings and immediately proceed to systematically solve his problems through an aggressive bout of trading, the very thing Flames season ticket holders have been panting to see in Calgary.
ON THE HURRY-UP FACEOFF - Burke advised people to watch carefully the application of the hurry-up faceoff rule in Salt Lake City. He feels it will be coming to NHL rinks shortly and may cut the time of an average game by a very significant 15 minutes. That's about the same amount of time the NHL added to an average NHL game the last 20 years via longer intermissions for television as well as commercial time-outs.
BURKE ON SPORTS REPORTERS - "They're all dumb-asses." Well. . . . . who could argue with that?
"THAT PUCK WAS KICKED IN," yelled Burke, catching sight of Joel Otto entering the room with Jim Peplinksi not far behind. That drew a loud guffaw from the audience who knew exactly what Burke was referring to, the 1989 Game 7 overtime goal by Otto, assisted by Peplinski, that eliminated a feisty Vancouver squad and allowed the Flames to go on to a Stanley Cup championship.
FANS WILL BE HAPPY TO KNOW FLAMES PRESIDENT KEN KING agrees the best marketing the Flames can do is field a winning team. No kidding. King used the Burke talk to test-pilot a presentation his marketing group will make to season ticket holders at 76 Flames practices, breakfast and luncheon meetings between now and the end of March. King forecast Flames ticket prices will be rising approximately 11% next year, although current season ticket holders can reduce that increase to 4% by signing up early. Getting large quantities of season tickets committed before this potentially sorry season can be fully analyzed by the loudmouth local press is one smart idea, even if you may not agree with it philosophically. As to the percentage increase itself . . . . . ouch. The potential to limit the increase to four per cent will tempt many to re-up early and should give the team a good handle on what their potential season ticket base might look like before this season even ends. A cynic might suggest the re-ups generated by the early bird bonus simply gives ownership ample time to consider if they want to continue in Calgary – although I don't see that as being the reason myself.
AMONG KINGS MORE INTERESTING FACTS AND FIGURES was the $26 million Flames owners say they have lost over the last seven years. King estimated the Flames loss for the current campaign appeared to be coming in around the $6 million area, a number he said "was within the tolerance limits" of Flames owners. The latter point should be a relief as Calgarians wonder if this team can make it in this location through to 2004, the summer when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and the point where the economics of the league might be altered sufficiently to allow small market Canadian teams to continue in business. King pointed out the Oilers generate about $5.6 million more in revenues than the Flames, primarily because the Oilers have about 2000 more season tickets than Calgary. A full building would eliminate that competitive imbalance. Lastly, King indicated Calgary's revenue from television is actually comparable to that received in Edmonton, although the Oilers are on TV about three times as much. This has much to do with the way the two teams have structured their TV agreements but King said his goal was to get the Flames on TV more often next season.