Brian Burke has never been so happy to have a headache.
The general manager of the U.S. Olympic team anticipates having several difficult choices ahead of the 2010 Games in Vancouver. To him, that’s a sign of progress for a national program that is producing more top-notch players.
It just makes his job a little tougher.
“That’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful headache to have,” Burke said Thursday on a conference call. “Thank you USA Hockey for making this difficult. I’d much rather have a deeper pool to choose from.
“It creates a headache, but pass me the Aspirin. I’m very happy to have it.”
One of the more intriguing questions Burke and his management staff will face is whether this is the Games to move completely beyond the old guard. Stalwarts like Keith Tkachuk and Mike Modano are still being considered but might find themselves watching when the Games are played next February.
In their place will be younger guys like Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown.
Most of the high-end skill players that are likely to suit up for the U.S. are relatively small. The general manager wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that fact.
“I predict that we will be the smallest and youngest team in the tournament,” said Burke. “And I predict that not one cent is going to be bet on Team USA in Vegas. But we’re going there to win anyhow.
“I don’t mind going in (as an underdog).”
Like Canada, the U.S. will be looking to improve on a disappointing result in Turin. The Americans went out in the quarter-finals in 2006 and only registered a victory over Kazahkstan during the event.
Don Waddell helped assemble the squad that went to Italy and will be back again as part of Burke’s management group. Part of his job is reliving the disappointment of the last Olympics.
“We’re going back and second guessing and nitpicking and trying to figure out what went wrong in the selection process,” said Burke. “You can’t learn from your mistakes unless you examine them. Once you examine them, you put them behind you and move on. …
“(Don’s) experience is invaluable to us.”
The experience goes well beyond that.
David Poile is the U.S. team’s associate GM and Paul Holmgren and Ray Shero are also part of the selection group. Dean Lombardi is also lending his hand as a scout.
One of the trickier decisions that lies ahead for the group is deciding on a coach. Some have suggested that Burke almost has to choose Ron Wilson because the two currently work together in Toronto and are longtime friends.
He dismissed that notion.
“One, I think we’re better friends than that,” said Burke. “But two, this decision isn’t going to be made by Brian Burke. This team’s going to be put together by this group.”
There will also be decisions to be made on players.
The management team has already narrowed its candidate pool down to 50 players and only plans on inviting 30 of those men to the team’s summer orientation camp in Chicago. Burke expects the second-guessing to start right away.
“There’s a lot more than 28 good hockey players in the United States,” he said. “There’s going to be some disappointed people and there’s going to be some people yelling and screaming and pointing fingers. That’s the beauty of selection. …
“It’ll be an interesting time.”