Alexandre Burrows plays career game No. 755 at Edmonton Friday night — every one of them as a proud Vancouver Canuck. That’s about 755 more National Hockey League games than anyone thought Burrows would get, back when he was toiling for the Baton Rouge Kingfish or the Columbia Inferno of the East Coast League in the early 2000’s.
There is some debate whether Burrows would ever have advanced beyond the ECHL, had the lockout of 2004-05 not cancelled the NHL season — but more importantly allowed the AHL Manitoba Moose a couple of extra roster spots, one of which became Burrows’. He became beloved on the Canucks farm team for his work ethic, and the rest is history for a greasy winger who is rounding out a notorious but excellent NHL career.
“I’ve never forgotten where I came from,” Burrows said Friday morning. “Undrafted (in the NHL). Undrafted in junior. Two years in the Coast, started the third year there…
“I remember making $425 a week in the East Coast League, eating Subway and burgers before games. Getting on the bus for 16, 18 hours,” said Burrows, who senses the end could be near with him and the Canucks. “For me, even if I’m not scoring as many goals or playing as well as I once was, I’m still trying to be a good teammate and have fun.”
Burrows has one year left on his contract at $3 million in salary, with an Annual Average Value (AAV) of $4.5 million. Vancouver may buy him out this summer, with the youth movement in full gear. The soon-to-be 35-year-old’s ice time has dipped to around 12 minutes per game on a lot of nights since the Canucks realized they wouldn’t make the playoffs, as coach Willie Desjardins focuses on the team’s future.
“Trevor and Jim (club president Linden and GM Benning), they have a plan … to try and identify the younger core. And I fully get that — it’s probably the way to go if you want to get back to the Stanley Cup finals,” said Burrows. “It’s part of the cycle. I took some older guy’s spot when I came in. And now these young guys are coming in and fighting for jobs and contracts next year.”
Burrows could be like a Shawn Horcoff, who aged in Edmonton and moved along as the team got younger, but finds himself as a role player on a genuine contender in Anaheim. Burrows isn’t bitter. In fact, he sounds more appreciative for what the Canucks have done for him over the years, and if this is his final year he wants to pay them back with a strong, respectful conclusion.
“I’m just trying to finish strong, be a good leader and a good teammate. An older guy that the young guys can count on,” he said. “Whatever happens after this year…? We’ll see.”
Our take: It’s no secret that I wasn’t always a big fan of Burrows’ tactics as a pest and drawer of penalties. I thought he reached the point where he was a good enough player that he didn’t need to dive, or snap his head back so much to draw calls. He’s let most of that go since about 2011, though he’ll probably never catch up with the officials, who Burrows fooled plenty over the years.
But Burrows earned his stripes as a solid teammate and a stand up guy — both with his teammates and with us media types. I’ll always shake his hand, and he’s always shaken mine.
And maybe a buyout would be the best thing. At about $1.25 million, couldn’t Burrows play third- or fourth-line minutes for a lot of very good teams, kill some penalties, and maybe even win that Stanley Cup that eluded him on the West coast?
Wouldn’t that be a nice end to the tale of the kid from Pincourt, Quebec who came through the ball hockey wars, the East Coast League and into the hearts of Canucks fans?
CROSSING ENEMY LINES
Speaking of fan favorites in Vancouver, from far away Zack Kassian always seemed more coveted by Canucks fans than his play deserved. Maybe it was a residual of being traded for another wayward first-rounder in Cody Hodgson, but in the end Kassian’s lifestyle was too much for the Canucks and they moved him to Montreal.
There he imploded, ending up in the NHL/NHLPA’s Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program. As he spoke on the morning before his first meeting with the Canucks, the Edmonton Oilers winger couldn’t wait to take on his old club.
“There are no regrets (about Vancouver), but a part of me wishes I could have figured it out before what happened,” said Kassian, 25, who was slated to skate on the Oilers fourth line. “Now it’s a blessing … for where I am now. You look around the room at all the skill in here, the new rink (opening next season). The future’s so bright here. I’m excited to get the opportunity.
“Everything happens for a reason. I came here with a completely different mindset, I’m happy. It’s a blessing, honestly, to get to play with this group. I think I fit in really well. If I can keep my head on straight and stuff, I think we have something special moving forward.”
In Vancouver Kassian was still looked upon as a first-round draft pick (chosen 13th by Buffalo in ’09) — especially after being swapped for the Canucks’ first-rounder, Hodgson. In Edmonton, Kassian is simply the big, burly winger the Oilers so dearly need, jumping between lines two, three and four. The expectations are far lower, and as such, more easily attainable.
“With Patty Maroon, (Adam) Pardy, (tough, physical play) is something this team has been missing for a long time,” Kassian said. “It makes your eyes light up. If I do my job I can play here for a long time.”
Nashville defenceman Roman Josi has the advantage of knowing Team Europe head coach Ralph Krueger fairly well, heading into the fall’s World Cup of Hockey. Josi is from Bern, Switzerland, of course.
“He was coaching in Switzerland for a long time. Great coach, good guy. I’m excited to play for him,” Josi said.
GM Miroslav Satan’s team is expected to have players from nine different countries on its roster. How’s that going to work, you ask? Josi’s not worried.
“Even the other players, they all play for different teams. So they all have different systems,” Josi said. “At the end of the day it’s still hockey. We’ve got a training camp before. It won’t be a problem to build that chemistry.”
Josi has blossomed into, quite possibly, the best No. 2 defenceman in the game, playing 25 minutes per night alongside Shea Weber in Nashville. And his contract — $28 million over seven seasons, in its third year — is in the running for the most team-friendly contract in the entire NHL.
Don’t look now, but Nashville was just three points behind Chicago heading into Friday night’s games.
The Blackhawks lugged a four-game losing streak into Winnipeg Friday, and have dropped five of their last six. The Predators, meanwhile, have points in 15 of their past 17 games, chipping away at Chicago’s seemingly insurmountable lead in the Central.
The Preds play seven of their final 11 at home, while Chicago plays five of 11 at home. The two clubs don’t meet again this season.
The prize: whoever finishes higher stays in the Central and likely plays the second place team, either St. Louis or Dallas, in Round 1. The loser heads to California, where it is likely that the Los Angeles Kings await.
Can you imagine Chicago and L.A. in Round 1? They’ve won five of the past six Stanley Cups, and one would be done before April is over.