Brian Burke

Brian Burke

Burke seeks big bruising roster for Flames

One of the most colorful and outspoken figures in professional hockey shared his insights at a Red Deer Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday.

One of the most colorful and outspoken figures in professional hockey shared his insights at a Red Deer Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday.

And Brian Burke didn’t disappoint.

The Calgary Flames’ president of hockey operations described how his team needs to get bigger, and his affinity for players who can hit and fight. He talked about his misgivings — albeit temporary — about drafting Daniel and Henrik Sedin when he was general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. And he took a few shots at Edmonton Oilers fans, but also defended the efforts of the Flames’ northern Alberta rival to rebuild.

Burke, who joined the Flames in September after serving as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Anaheim Ducks (where he won a Stanley Cup in 2007), the Vancouver Canucks and the Hartford Whalers, said he’s pleased with the Flames’ work ethic and their willingness to follow a game plan. What the team lacks is size.

“Our junior team, the Calgary Hitmen, is bigger than our team. That’s not good.”

Burke pointed out that the St. Louis Blues, which beat the Flames 5-0 last Thursday, averages 208 pounds a player. The Ducks team that he led to the Stanley Cup had a big bruising roster, and every subsequent champion has followed suit, he said.

“I think you can really impose your will on a team if you’re physically strong enough to do it.

“We need to get bigger.”

The recent addition of six-foot four-inch, 234-pound forward Kevin Westgarth, to complement the similarly proportioned Brian McGrattan, is already paying dividends, noted Burke.

“It’s made a material difference in the amount of abuse our smaller players have to absorb.”

But size isn’t the most important factor when choosing players, he pointed out. Character is.

“We try to focus on work ethic, leadership, followership — if the guy’s not a leader we want a guy who just wants to play hockey — discipline, coachability, empathy for teammates, academic work.”

Burke pointed to former Vancouver Canucks great Trevor Linden as an example. He recalled how, as an 18-year-old, second-overall draft pick, Linden called to say he couldn’t make it for psychological and physical testing because it conflicted with branding day on his uncle’s ranch.

“I said, ‘What’s your job on branding day?’ He said, ‘Well, when (calves) come in the pen I grab them by the neck and hold them down while we brand them and cut their nuts off.’

“I said, ‘Kid, you just skip these tests.’”

Burke said the exchange showed him the strength of Linden’s family values

“That, to us, spoke volumes about the character level of the kid.”

He also recalled going out on a limb to draft the Sedins second and third overall in 1999. When Burke later travelled to Sweden to watch the twins play, he was dismayed to see a less-than-mediocre performance from the pair.

Too angry to face them himself, he ordered Canucks scout Thomas Gradin to confront the brothers in the locker-room.

“I said, you go down and talk to them, and if they both don’t have the flu, I’m going to fire you, because I’m going to get fired right after this.”

Gradin reported that Daniel and Henrik were exhausted after studying for a calculus exam most of the previous night. That was music to Burke’s ears, because it demonstrated their commitment and discipline.

Despite directing some taunts at Oilers fans during his presentation, Burke praised Edmonton for its hiring last year of Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins.

“That took courage,” he said of the promotion of an American Hockey League coach to behind an NHL bench.

He also dismissed criticism of the Oilers first-round draft picks in recent years, pointing out that they took the best players available.

Burke even acknowledged that he’s mended his relationship with Edmonton president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, after the two men had a public spat in 2007 after the Oilers signed restricted free agent Dustin Penner away from Burke’s Ducks.

Burke said he extended a hand to Lowe after his son Brendan Burke was killed in a car crash four years ago. Brendan, he explained, had criticized his father about the feud.

Asked for his thoughts on the men’s hockey competition at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Burke predicted that the host team would be tough to beat. But the general manager of the United States 2010 Olympic team also said he likes Canada’s chances.

“Canada is always a problem in international hockey.

“I think Canada is the only country that could enter two teams into most of these tournaments.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

EDMONTON — Alberta’s COVID-19-era budget made a hard landing Thursday with an… Continue reading

The expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been discussed for over a decade. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital expansion gets about $6 million in 2021 provincial budget

According to the government’s three-year plan, the project will get $59 million by 2024.

The Town of Sylvan Lake has launched a new contest to attract a new business. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell is hoping to pick up where he left off last season as the 2020-21 WHL season kicks off Friday in Red Deer against the Medicine Hat Tigers. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels set to host Tigers in WHL season opener

24-game WHL Alberta only season kicks off night Friday at the Centrium

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Team Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson reacts to her shot against Team Quebec at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

FILE - New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist reacts after a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in New York, in this Sunday, March 1, 2020, file photo. The Flyers defeated the Rangers 5-3. Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist will sit out the upcoming NHL season because of a heart condition, announcing the news a little more than two months after joining the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist posted a written statement and a videotaped one on social media Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, saying it was a "pretty tough and emotional day." The 38-year-old from Sweden was bought out by the New York Rangers after 15 seasons and signed a $1.5 million, one-year deal with Washington in October. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa holds up water collected from Neskantaga First Nation, where residents were evacuated over tainted water in October, during a rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal's Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Quebec starts COVID-19 vaccination bookings for seniors; those in Ontario must wait

Quebec starts COVID-19 vaccination bookings for seniors; those in Ontario must wait

The corporate logo of Pembina Pipeline Corp. (TSX:PPL) is shown. Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp. says it is "doing what is right for the country and fellow Canadians" by shipping unit trains full to propane to Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Pembina Pipeline posts $1.2 billion loss on petrochemical, LNG project impairments

CALGARY — Pembina Pipeline Corp. is reporting a $1.2 billion net fourth-quarter… Continue reading

Rode
Red Deer College esports league off to a good start

Red Deer College Kings hockey veteran Jacob Wozney has been involved in… Continue reading

This combination photo shows the cover of "Later," left, and author Stephen King. Readers may know him best for “Carrie,” “The Shining” and other bestsellers commonly identified as “horror,” but King has long had an affinity for other kinds of narratives, from science fiction and prison drama to the Boston Red Sox. (Hard Case Crime via AP, left, and AP)
Stephen King talks about crime, creativity and new novel

Stephen King talks about crime, creativity and new novel

Most Read