CALGARY — Raise your hand if you were buying what Brian Burke was selling when he said this, back in September of 2013, upon joining the Calgary Flames as president of hockey operations: “I don’t intend to be the spokesperson for the team. I intend to have a background role.”
How about this one? “I know people think I need to drive the bus all the time. Well, I’m a pretty good teammate too.”
Or what about then-GM Jay Feaster, when he said, “I love the concept (of Burke’s new position). And I think, in Brian Burke, we got the right person in spades.”
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Well, it turns out Burke was serious. And Feaster was the only one talking through his hat. He was fired by Christmas in a move that was wholly inevitable.
You’ve got to admit that since coming out west Burke has made about as much noise as his Calgary Flames. Or for that matter, the team he ran before that, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“This is the first interview I’ve done, probably since the draft,” he says Tuesday afternoon, standing in a doorway on the dressing room level at the Saddledome. “Look — this (situation) works as long as the president of hockey operations doesn’t have a big ego. I want it clear to the fans: Brad (Treliving) is the GM here.”
Brian Burke’s next birthday will be his 60th, and his barber still charges by the acre. He is still one of the NHL’s prime interviews, even if Burke is out of practice.
It must be hard for a guy who used to hold court in the press box at Air Canada Centre to stay away from the cameras, no?
“I’ve never craved the spotlight,” Burke said. “It’s funny: Guys like you ask me for interviews, and then accuse me of wanting the spotlight. I never called anyone up and said, ‘Hey, let’s do an interview.’ But I gave colourful comments, and I think, thoughtful answers. But that was part of the job.
“I’m very happy to be in the background. The face of the franchise is, and should be, Brad.”
Treliving is as bombastic as a glass of milk. He is all about drafting and developing; a professional scout-turned-GM whose rebuild will be conducted high in the corner of junior rinks, and on draft floors across the NHL.
It seems dubious to think that Treliving’s rebuild could occur within the same timeline as the man who once dealt away all of those choice draft picks for Phil Kessel.
“It’s a new management structure, so I’m giving Brad a lot of rope, offering my guidance where I think it’s appropriate. But Brad is the GM, and he’s going to make these calls.
“I’ve always believed, you’ve got to give people a chance to succeed,” Burke continued. “I think people will agree I gave Ronnie Wilson a chance to succeed (as the Leafs head coach). A lot of people think I stayed with him too long. I’m patient where patience is appropriate. With Marc Crawford (his head coach in Vancouver), until our team got to a certain point, I didn’t expect performance. So until we can get the group that can be what we want it to be… I didn’t bring him here short term.”
Burke’s best prospect is the chiseled Sean Monahan. His second best? Likely the tiny college product Johnny Gaudreau, who at somewhere around 5-foot-8, 160 pounds is anything but truculent.
“That’s the myth,” spat Burke, “that I don’t like small, skilled players. I was there when (Vancouver) drafted Pavel Bure. I had Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison. I drafted the (Sedin) twins. I have no problem with a Top 6 guy who is undersized. Your beef should come in your Bottom 6 anyway.”
That’s another area that’s going to require some patient work here. Calgary finished 27th overall last season and doesn’t have much reason to believe it will be a whole lot better this year. Perhaps even for the next couple of seasons.
Completion of the job Burke began with Toronto back in 2010 is still TBA, and Burke has been gone for two seasons now. Surely this project can’t be completed in less time, can it?
“The best thing is, we don’t have any grossly inflated contracts (in Calgary),” said Burke. “The biggest problem in Toronto was shoveling out the stable. Trading all those guys who had big money and term, who people didn’t really want. That took two years. There is none of that here.”
None of that, and not enough of this: The World According to Burke.
It could be a long, quiet stretch in Calgary.