“My teams don’t get run, we run people,” Brian Burke said Saturday after being announced as Toronto’s new president and GM.
Burke’s teams, he said, play with “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence…a North American game…black and blue hockey.”
But Burke was also quoted saying the notion that he doesn’t like Europeans is “a crock” and challenged people to look at his draft record for proof.
So that’s exactly what I did.
Burke was the GM of the Hartford Whalers at the draft in 1993. He selected Chris Pronger – a Canadian – second overall and with the Whalers’ other seven picks, three more Canadians, an American, a Czech, a Russian and a Ukrainian. That’s five North Americans and three Europeans in Hartford.
In Vancouver from 1998-2004, Burke presided over six drafts – though he was on the job for only five days prior to the 1998 draft – and the Canucks selected 36 North Americans and 18 Europeans, including Daniel and Henrik Sedin, two Swedes, second and third overall respectively in 1999.
That’s 41 North Americans and 21 Europeans for Burke in seven drafts.
In Anaheim, Burke had the final say at four draft tables. In that time, the Ducks selected 25 North Americans and just four Europeans, bringing Burke’s grand totals to 66 North Americans and 25 Europeans selected in 10 entry drafts; about 72 percent North American.
Considering league demographics today — approximately 71 percent of players are North Americans — Burke’s draft record is actually pretty much in line with the rest of the league.
But there’s a couple of points to be made: Taking the Sedins out of the equation, Burke has never selected a European player higher than 31st overall and has only had four make it to the NHL.
While poring over past drafts, I got to thinking about Cliff Fletcher’s famous “draft, shmaft” quote from the early 1990s — I now have a greater appreciation of why Fletcher wasn’t taken with the draft — and decided to look at the demographics of Burke’s best teams.
The Canucks averaged a little more than 99 points from 2001-02 to 2003-04. The team’s captain — Markus Naslund — was Swedish, as was one of its key performers on the blueline, Mattias Ohlund.
According to the NHL Guide and Record Book, the Canucks had an average of 12 Europeans play at least one game for them in each of those three seasons. Good for about 20 percent of all players who suited up for them per season.
The 2006-07 Stanley Cup-champion Anaheim Ducks are considered by many to be the prototypical Burke team. From 2005-06 to 2007-08, Anaheim averaged 103 points and won six playoff rounds. A total of 17 Europeans played at least one game for the Ducks in those three seasons, accounting for 18 percent of all who played for them; further under the league average than during Burke’s days in Vancouver.
So while Burke’s draft record is in line with league demographics, the makeup of his best teams is North American-heavy, and more so recently.
What that says for the Maple Leafs and their 11 Europeans — or 45 percent of all players who have laced them up for the Blue and White — remains to be seen. But assuming Burke’s patterns stay the same, expect a few to be shipped out and then expect him to draft three or four Europeans in June.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.