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Brian Burke and the “I” in team

It would be hard to argue that Brian Burke is anything but a dedicated, determined and talented hockey guy.

He cut his teeth as a respected player agent, got his first pro “hockey” job with the Vancouver Canucks, was GM in Hartford before working for the NHL league office.  He took over the Canucks and was in charge of some pretty good teams there for years. He drafted the Sedins, for example, now mainstays with the Canucks.

He was the GM when Anaheim won their only Cup in Anaheim.  While that was largely Bryan Murray’s team, Burke put on the finishing touches. They were a hard team to play against—something he’s trying to create in Toronto.

In Toronto he has built, as I’ve alluded to in recent posts, a very seasoned management team around himself.

Where Burke may be different than some others in his line of work is that he is unafraid to take, let’s call it… full ownership of—and credit for— “his” team.

We’ve all heard the expression:  there is no “I” in team.  That is certainly true in the sense of the literal spelling of the word “team”.  And it is true that successful teams absolutely must be made up of players who think beyond themselves and convince themselves to be, to some extent, team-oriented.  While virtually all elite athletes have ego—some remarkably big— not everyone can be the “star”, whether you’re in high school, college or the pro ranks.  Some people will play more than others.  Some will get more “glory” and credit.  That’s just the way it is.  Successful teams rely to a certain extent on guys setting aside their own selfish agenda. (The fact that some guys are only real “team players” if they are happy with their own role and their team is winning—and far from it when things don’t go their way— is a subject for another day.)

Typically, though, the public doesn’t like it when players, for example, talk “I”, and “me” all the time.  Entertainment value aside, we usually prefer a bit of modesty in their public comments, even if we don’t believe those comments are necessarily genuine.  It just seems like proper “form” to pass credit on to others, for example, and not always talk about “I” and “me” and “my” when describing one’s efforts.

So it was interesting, in reading the recent Toronto Star series on Brian Burke, just how much and how often Burke, in his own words, refers to himself in the first person, and uses the word “I” or “my” as in, “When I build a team” or “what I want from my teams”.

By my very unofficial count, in “Part I” of the Star series alone, Burke used “I” or “me”, and “my” well over 70 times.

Now, in fairness, there are times when using “I” or “my” is the only way any of us can make a point, right?  Some of those references to ‘self’  in the article were Burke simply being humorous and self-deprecating.  But it was fascinating to see just how often Burke referred to himself the way he did.

Hey, Burke is a proud, successful guy.  He can quite rightly speak with pride and ownership about the way he builds “his” teams.  And he’s more than prepared to give credit to others who have influenced him, including individuals such as ex-Islander GM Bill Torrey and former Vancouver and Toronto GM Pat Quinn, as well as Indianapolis Colts (and former Buffalo Bills)  GM Bill Polian and many others.

You just don’t hear that kind of approach from many in the management level of the sports industry.  Maybe I’m wrong, but individuals like Nashville’s David Poile, also a successful, respected and experienced NHL GM, just don’t project that way, it seems to me.  Ken Holland with Detroit, same thing.  Most are more apt to talk in broader terms, with less emphasis on their own personal role in the creation of a team.

But if it works for Burke in Toronto, and the players respond, I’m sure Leaf fans will be quite happy, regardless of the language he uses. 

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