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Burke "absence" controversy overblown

I remember years ago the Toronto media was all over General Manager Pat Quinn because Pat was spending part of the summer in Vancouver, and leaving some of the free-agent negotiations work to his top assistant, Bill Watters.  Many seemed to feel he should have been on the ground in Toronto, making the pitches to the available players himself.

Similarly, Burke is taking some heat from fans and media because he was/is in Afghanistan with Canadian troops for Canada Day.  My thought?  As with Quinn before him, in this day and age, deals get done by phone, fax, e-mail, etc.  You are in constant contact with your own people, so it’s not as though you are ever out of the loop.  You’re still driving the bus—it’s just that others may make some of the phone calls, etc..  Face-to-face contact is important, but not necessarily a difference-maker.  (It can be, I realize, in certain cases.  Like new Sabres’ owner Terry Pegula hoping on a private plane to convince Robyn Regehr to sign on with the Sabres—but there are no guarantees with that approach, either.).

Burke is a persuasive guy and the phone is just fine.  If Brad Richards doesn’t sign with the Leafs because Burke is doing something that has real value (visiting the troops) rather than spending his time in a line-up with other GM’s trying to woo the 31 year old center, then Richards never wanted to come here in the first place.  In any event, the Richards scenario was laid out by the agent:  interested teams were invited to come and make their case in person (or not) at the agent’s offices in Mississauga.  The Leafs made their pitch and Richards is well aware of Burke’s interest.

Anyone who knows Burke knows he works hard at his job.  They know he is totally committed to building the Maple Leafs.  And they know that, for the right players, he will invest the money he needs to spend to continue the process of turning the Leafs into a competitive team.

So I don’t quite buy that Burke’s “absence” is making a difference in whether Richards—or anyone else— will sign here.  If the money is close, Richards knows what kind of hockey market this is, if he really wants to play somewhere where hockey matters for the first time in his career.

As far as the Leafs “not doing anything” on the first day of free agency, I’m not sure there was a lot to do. There seemed to be a lot of “OK” players being signed for contracts that would have been reserved for superstars just a few years ago.  (On that note, I’m becoming more and more confused about what the NHL lockout was really all about a few years ago.  We have teams paying guys who haven’t been in the league millions of dollars, and clubs like Florida signing guys just because they have to get to the NHL cap “floor”.  It’s all very odd.)

If Brad Richards needs/wants 25 million dollars in the first two years of a long-term contract, well, the Leafs or anyone else who has the cap space can do it if they want, I suppose.  But as nice a player is Richards is, he is not worth, at 31, that kind of money.  I don’t believe anyone in hockey is, or should be.  And as far as the Leafs are concerned, we are being a bit too hopeful if we think adding him will make the team a true contender in the next two seasons. Better, yes, but a Cup contender?

If the league really wants to keep costs under control, they simply can’t be paying out that kind of dough just because someone is a UFA (or in the case of Stamkos, an RFA).  This is a league with half a dozen teams that are struggling to survive, that need new owners—and no one wants to buy the teams.  What does that tell us?

(On this subject, I will vent a bit.  I truly dislike the idea that a player at 21 is already facing free agency, even “restricted” free agency.  I don’t think it’s healthy and I don’t see a league like the NHL thriving if teams can’t plan to have their players around for more than three years without being ambushed by an offer sheet.)

As I post this, the Leafs have indeed, to the best of my knowledge, “done nothing” on Day One of free-agency.  As much fun as it is for fans (and I’m glad for the fans in Buffalo, who have seen their team hand-cuffed for so long, and are finally able to spend some money, though I question how they are spending it…) in Toronto when the Leafs sign someone, I’m not sure it is a disaster that they haven’t gotten anyone.  A Joel Ward might have been nice, but at what price?  And what guarantee is there that he would have performed as he did in the recent playoffs for Nashville?  Erik Cole?  Maybe five years ago, if the Leafs played in Raleigh, where Cole played his best hockey—sometimes.

It is frustrating at times to listen to the Burke bluster about things he will do (move up in the draft, etc.) when they don't actually happen, but his "absence" on Canada Day is not an issue for me.

Anyway, Saturday is another day, and there are more possibilities for Burke and the Leafs to consider.





  1. Hey man,
    I always appreciate your opinion and always like reading your blog. I have to respectfully disagree with your opinion that Burke's absence was insignificant. You are missing the point--yes, in this day everything is done electronically (heck I don't even know you and we are communicating right now), but business relies on face-to-face contact as it shows the parties true intentions and interest. If Burke was there in person to meet Richards, as the LA Kings CEO amazingly was, it would have shown a great deal of seriousness and interest in his services. By being away, doing something that could have been done at any other time if the summer, signaled he wasn't as interested as those other teams.

    This media outcry against Burke's absence wasn't about whether he could communicate with Richards or not--of course he could have. It's about signaling interest and seriousness.

    If you were interviewing for a job and your boss didn't bother to show up, would you think the company is serious about hiring you?

  2. Peter, thanks for the tone of your comment. As I've said here many times, we all have the right to disagree.

    You make great points. I can't argue that an in-person chat is always better than any other approach, in business and in life in general. In this case, I don't know (I guess we'll never really know) if Burke not being available in person had any impact at all on Richards' ultimate decision. I'm guessing New York was a front-runner from the get-go.

    Burke was doing something that was important- for himself and for our troops, on Canada Day. I just have a hard time finding fault with that.

    Thanks for your post.

  3. Peter I have to say that if Burke's message that the happiness and well being of our soldiers is more important than face to face contact with a prospective free agent signee irked them the wrong way then I do not want that player on my team.

    The soldiers who bravely fight our wars are far more important than professional athletes EVERY single day of the year, and that order of importance doesn't change because Athlete X is getting a new, overpriced contract on one of those days.

    Again, from my point of view a free agent would have to be so idiotic, conceited, and self absorbed to avoid realizing his lack of importance relative to our soldiers that I'd rather not have a person of that character on my team.

  4. Peter, for your information, New York was the only team who didn't show up at all -- their entire "presentation" and negotiations were done over the phone. Get over it! lol

  5. Honestly, I think Burke should have been here but specifically regarding Richards - I think Burke, like many others, had inside information and knew that Richards was going to the Rangers and figured why waste his timme.