Toronto GM Brian Burke takes a lot of guff from detractors who claim he’s overrated and has inherited every good team he’s ever managed. Sure, his Anaheim Ducks squad was largely in place when he arrived, but to ignore Burke’s acquisition of Chris Pronger is to ignore the one common denominator of three recent Stanley Cup finalist rosters.
Which brings us to this year’s No. 1 team, the Vancouver Canucks. Where would they be right now if Burke hadn’t been his bold self at the 1999 draft and shrewdly shuffled picks to land Daniel and Henrik Sedin? Would Vancouver have ended up with Pavel Brendl or Tim Connolly or even Patrik Stefan? Burke has a knack for pulling off big deals that work out and he beat every other GM to the punch for Pronger. The fact is, Burke has built a couple of strong teams in his time. Anyone calling for his job in Toronto at this juncture should take a Valium: Burke gets five more years from today with the Maple Leafs from my perspective.
Remember when O-K Tollefsen was traded from Philadelphia to Detroit for Ville Leino? Even the best make mistakes – it’s all about how you recover.
CATS GROW THEIR CLAWS
The Michael Frolik-Jack Skille trade before the deadline looks like a head-scratcher for a Panthers team attempting to build a core of young skill, but this deal goes beyond the numbers.
Frolik has struggled in Chicago so far and now finds himself on the third line, while Skille wasn’t producing in Florida before getting hurt. But the deal isn’t about immediate gains. What the Panthers get out of the move is something the franchise has really lacked since its playoff days: blunt character. This is a team whose all-time points leader is Olli Jokinen and all-time games played leader is Radek Dvorak.
Frolik, sometimes referred to as “little Jagr,” may go on to have a fruitful NHL career, but he’s also showed the potential to be a streaky player a la Miro Satan. Skille, on the other hand, has a relationship with GM Dale Tallon from their Chicago days and the 23-year-old re-signed for less money this summer because his previous contract was preventing the cap-strapped Hawks from calling him up.
Skille wants to play and when he does, he plays with a lot of drive and determination. This deal may come back to bite the Panthers one day, but this team is starving for a little heart and soul. It needs players like the ones who steered the ship during Florida’s trip to the 1996 Stanley Cup final: Scott Mellanby, Rob Niedermayer and Robert Svehla.
LOSSES NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN
So the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the East’s best teams throughout the season and are considered a Stanley Cup favorite. But now there is a sense of worry seeping in because of a four-game losing streak? Crazy knee-jerk reaction? Yes.
The Chicago Blackhawks went through a stretch losing eight of 11 in March last season before winning the Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins lost seven of eight in late-December and early-January and went on to win their Stanley Cup. And the Detroit Red Wings lost 10 of 11 in February 2008…then won the Stanley Cup in June.
WHO HAS THE HART?
The Hart Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the player most valuable to his team. This doesn’t necessarily mean it should go to the player with the most points, the goalie with the lowest GAA or any other award winner.
The tough part about this year’s race is most of the top contenders have a partner in crime: Steven Stamkos has Martin St-Louis; Daniel and Henrik Sedin have each other. Tim Thomas may not play enough games to earn enough votes, but what about Jonathan Toews? It’s hard to believe the Hawks were a playoff bubble team at one point: They have won nine of their past 10 and Toews has 15 points in that span. ‘Captain Serious’ does it all and will soon eclipse his career best in points. Is there anyone else more valuable to his team’s success right now? Ilya Kovalchuk?
CALL IT BY THE BOOK
Finally, I’m old-school and I like everything roughhouse about hockey. But a penalty is a penalty. Give me a break, Trevor Gillies rammed Cal Clutterbuck’s face into the glass fist-first. Never mind Clutterbuck’s transgression (which he could have been suspended for), there is no excusing Gillies’ blatant infraction. It boggles my mind how anyone can deny he didn’t hit him in the head or that he didn’t lead with his fist. Is anyone taught to hit like that? Silliness.
SAY GOODNIGHT TO THE BAD GUY
Finally, Part 2: That said, Gillies isn’t bad for the game. As they say, any press is good press and Gillies has certainly stirred the pot. How many more eyeballs will be watching the Islanders take on the Flyers March 26, when Gillies is eligible to return, than would have if he had received a lifetime ban? All he’s bad for are the people who want emotion and rivalries out of hockey.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His blog appears Tuesdays only on THN.com.
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