Tuesday, February 10, 2004

An unwanted sideshow

What exactly is going on in the Orca Bay offices these days? The management of the Vancouver Canucks are creating a controversial issue and media feeding frenzy, by their non action regarding the Brian Burke situation. While the players were resting over the all star break, whispers and hidden agendas were apparently being hatched in the back rooms at Orca Bay, or so the reports have it. Over the last three or four days, the newspapers, radio stations and television sportscasts have been full of ominous rumblings of a Brian Burke departure. Tony Gallagher of the Province, got the ball rolling on the weekend with a column detailing the various missed opportunities to get Burke signed to a new deal. Today Gary Mason let lose with an article, which suggested that Vancouver Canucks may not want Burke back. Mason's take on the situation is that there is much animosity between Burke and Orca Bay right hand man Stan McCammon, with McCammon apparently feeling slighted that Burke has received much of the credit for the teams turn around. So this is a reason to turn your team into a soap opera?

There are some things one has to wonder about in all of this. Why would the Canucks sign Marc Crawford to a new contract, if they were going to replace his boss at the end of the season. Most organizations let the GM pick his coach, if Burke indeed is gone as the media is reporting, then why sign Crawford?

Why are they letting this issue fester, just as their team gets set to go into the all important stretch drive and then onto the playoffs? It seems counter productive to have signed your key players, keep your coach and then create a circus like atmosphere to distract the players from the job at hand.

One rumour being floated around Vancouver, is that the Orca Bay group have found a buyer for the team and are merely waiting for the due diligence and such to take place. Then the new owner can take care of the Burke situation. If indeed this is true, then get the lawyers moving at warp speed, sell the team, introduce the new owners and get the hell out of the way.

It's hard to believe that the Canucks are going to get rid of Burke. He may be loud, gruff and hard to get along with at times, but no can deny he's turned the franchise around. Stan McCammon might not like hearing that too much, but it has to be said. Burke took over the nightmare that Mike Keenan had created with his stay in Vancouver, rebuilding a team that was in serious trouble.

When Burke arrived on the scene the Canucks were a mess, the players were lost on the ice, the fans lost on the way to the stadium. The team was bleeding red ink in the balance statement, bottom feeders in the Western standings. Burke got down to work and changed all of that. He brought back Vancouver favourite Trevor Linden, banished and berated under the Keenan regime. He rebuilt Marcus Naslund's confidence, after he suffered under the reign of terror that was Keenan. He's been fairly successful in the draft, not as much as he'd like, but there's potential on the farm. His trades over the years, have for the most part worked out very well, strengthening the squad from past years. The team in 2004 is a much more cohesive squad, playing with a purpose not seen since the early Quinn era.

John McCaw and Stan McCammon need to keep that in mind. Perhaps the current state of the team has blinded them from the past. The dark days of this franchise are not that far behind them, the half full rink, the massive debtload, a fan base that was losing interest fast. Burke has created this team in his image to a fashion, the players respect his hockey knowledge and his loyalty, for management to basically hang him out to dry at this time just baffles the mind. With night after night of sell outs, and money coming in from a number of sources, it's hard to understand where this supposed animosity is coming from and why.

The recurring theme in the various conspiracy theories, is that Burke overstepped his authority when negotiating with Todd Bertuzzi. McCaw and McCammon, the stories go, are annoyed that Bertuzzi got the contract that he did, feeling that Burke publicly embarrassed them in order to get Bertuzzi signed. If the braintrust that runs the Canucks is upset that they signed one of the key ingredient to this teams success, then there's deeper trouble at GM place than we think.

Orca Bay had best solve this issue as fast as possible. If they don't want him anymore, they should come out and tell him, the team and the fans what is what. If Burke is playing them, angling for a dream job offer from back east, then tell it like it is. Regardless, this situation is quickly getting out of control. There are an awful lot of GM's that have been re-signed and rewarded in the league this year, many of whom are running teams that are just going through the motions. If the gang at Orca Bay misjudges this situation, all the hard work of the last three years, will come unraveling before their very eyes.

Burke is no doubt a valuable commodity on the market right now, you can't tell me that the likes of Boston, Chicago or New York wouldn't jump at the chance to hire him. Just look at the difference between the Canucks and the Rangers or the Hawks, if you were an owner which team would you rather have today.

Stan McCammon said last week on the radio, that they didn't want to negotiate with Burke during the season. His rationale was that they didn't want to create a distraction for the players. Well, by handling this whole thing as badly as they have, it's no longer a distraction. It's a sideshow, a bloated, overexposed, festering sideshow. One that not only is unnecessary but unwanted.

Sign him now, sign him fast and get this mess behind you before it is too late...

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