The prevailing opinion seems to be that once Brian Burke takes over the Toronto Maple Leafs, all the Europeans on the team might as well call a real estate agent because they’ll quickly be replaced with big North American guys who can crush skulls with the best of them.
Even Canada’s biggest windbag last Saturday night was lauding the possibility of Burke coming to Toronto so the Leafs could finally get some good Canadian kids in the lineup.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Burke is like just about every GM in the NHL. He has an affinity for trying to assemble good players who have character and grit and who can help him win. The place line on their birth certificate makes little difference in the equation.
If it did, do you think he would have traded Donald Brashear to get Jan Hlavac when he was GM in Vancouver?
If you look at Burke’s three previous stints as a GM, the suggestion that he has a bias against European players simply doesn’t hold water. Yes, he traded for Chris Pronger and signed Scott Niedermayer, good Canadian boys to be sure, but those were transactions that only about 29 other GMs in the league would make.
Let’s examine his record, shall we?
In his short time in Hartford, Burke presided over a 1992 draft in which the first three picks – Robert Petrovicky, Andrei Nikolishin and Jan Vopat – were European. He acquired Robert Kron in a trade and later dealt for Sergei Makarov, whom he flipped in a trade a week later. He also traded Bobby Holik to the New Jersey Devils for Sean Burke and Eric Weinrich.
In Vancouver, one of his early moves as GM was to trade Pavel Bure, but that was because Bure had made it crystal clear he would never play for the Canucks again. He also traded Alexander Mogilny, but Mogilny had become a dog in Vancouver and Burke was forced to trim payroll.
Along the way with the Canucks, all Burke did was give his blessing to Markus Naslund being captain and traded up in 1999 to get the Sedin twins, working under the premise the team would be built around the talented Swedes. He traded R.J. Umberger to get Martin Rucinsky and dealt Peter Schaefer to get Sami Salo.
Aside from the Sedins, the Canucks’ top two picks in each of the 1998 and 2002 drafts were Europeans.
In Anaheim, one of Burke’s first signings was Teemu Selanne, one that looks brilliant now, but not so much when the Finnish Flash looked broken down after scoring 16 goals for Colorado and taking the lockout year off. And he waited most of last season while Selanne decided on his future, which went a long way toward screwing up the Ducks’ salary cap situation. He also traded Andy McDonald, in part to make room under the salary cap for Selanne’s contract. He also placed European goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers, but replaced him with another European in Jonas Hiller.
Yes, he traded Sergei Fedorov to Columbus, but he didn’t trade players such as Fedorov and Sandis Ozolinsh because they were Europeans. He traded them because they weren’t producing. He also traded fringe players such as Vitaly Vishnevski and Stanislav Chistov, but also acquired fringe European players such as Jani Hurme and Maxim Kondratiev (for fellow European Petr Sykora).
There’s almost no doubt that once Burke arrives in Toronto, he will quickly set about to putting his personal stamp on the roster. That’s what he does. But whatever Burke does will be motivated by how he thinks he can make the team better and not by what kind of geographical makeup the roster has.
Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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