Johnson: Burke’s open for business as “seller” Flames aim to add pieces to help rebuilding process
Acting GM up for anything that would help Calgary squad get “bigger” and “better”
That fascinating study in calculated dishevelment, Brian Burke, was busy firing warning flares up into the crisp, blue southern Alberta sky Tuesday.
The big man with the steely gaze, slightly askew tie and cascading grey back-comb is clearly itchy. Restless. Looking, like Sky Masterson of Guys and Dolls fame, for action.
“We could use upgrades on forward and defence,” Burke replied during a pre-trade-deadline media availability, marvellously deadpan, when asked in what areas exactly the Calgary Flames would most like to improve before Wednesday’s 1 p.m. bartering moratorium.
Waiting for the tittering to die down, he added as an aside, with a borscht-belt Catskills comedian’s timing:
“Otherwise I think we’re . . . fine.”
Hold onto your butt-cheeks. Wednesday could be a wild ride. At least, Burke was dropping hints the size of manhole covers that he’s up for a dance or two.
He has the cash to splash, in any number of creative ways. All he’s looking for now are interested partners.
“We are budgeted as a full cap team,” the President of Hockey Ops and ‘interim’ general manager was explaining. “There’s no scrimping by ownership here. We have cap space, several million dollars ($10.3 million, according to the invaluable capgeek.com). I’ve been authorized to utilize those dollars if I can. If that means taking on a contract that comes with a couple of picks and using some of that cash, I’m authorized to do that.”
And perhaps retain current salary to acquire something of more value?
“It’s absolutely within the realm of possibility. We’ve made that clear. We can be a banker at this deadline. We can take contracts people don’t want. We can retain salary on players that people want.
So, as the old Cole Porter tune intones: Anything Goes.
Everyone’s in play. Nothing’s verboten. Not only are the pending UFAs such as Michael Cammalleri and Chris Butler to be plucked for an agreeable price, but virtually anyone on the roster, under negotiable circumstances.
The abundantly skilled Jiri Hudler, as a hypothetical example, might fetch something interesting in return if the Flames were willing to absorb a chunk of the $8 million he’s owed over the next two years (A far harder sell would be fobbing off defenceman Dennis Wideman, at $5.25 million per for three more seasons).
That widens the net considerably.
“Yes,” said Burke, “I think we are in good position to improve our team moving forward. Probably more in the long term.”
Untouchables? He’ll leave that to Eliot Ness.
“I think it’s a really overused term. I mean, Wayne Gretzky got traded. So how can you have untouchables? The closest we have are Sean Monahan and Gio (Mark Giordano). It’s that simple for me. But if someone offers me 10 first-round picks for those players, I think those are deals we’d have to take.
“When you’re in the place we are in the standings, your list of untouchables should be non-existent or tiny. I love the way our team works, I really respect the group, I like the buy-in to the team system, I think the coaching staff has done a marvellous job in that.
“But, let’s fact it, we are where we are for a reason.
“We need to get bigger. We need to get better.
“If we can make a hockey deal to get better, that’s always preferable to a rental or a sale. But I’m not close on anything that makes sense to us.”
Not as of then, as of 12:45 p.m. MST on Tuesday, anyway.
“I think our group, general managers, make more mistakes at the trade deadline than at any time throughout the year,” Burke continued. “Because the math doesn’t work. Twelve teams are going to try and improve themselves and there’s only one parade.
“So the math doesn’t work. There’s an expectation from your fan base that you’re going to upgrade and you overpay for assets that don’t make an appreciable difference or don’t get the jobs. Multiple teams do the same thing and there’s one parade. I think there’ll be a lot of activity but I think a lot of it will end up being misguided. But that’s what we do. The pressures on to improve your team. If you think you’re in the hunt, or you think you’re close, that one piece can be the difference.”
The Flames aren’t in the hunt. They aren’t even close. Which should, in a way, work to their advantage.
Depending on the deal, Burke would prefer tangible assets to draft picks. He’s actively seeking to off-load the UFAs, but if nothing strikes his fancy, he’s quite willing to try and re-sign them before the July 1st deadline. And while he continues to insists a new general manager will be in place by the summer, what happens over the next few hours will in no way be influenced by that uncertainty.
“There can’t be a vacuum when you’re running a pro team. You can’t be waiting for the next guy. No vacuum here. We’re going to do what we can to improve and if that means a few less decisions for the next guy, that’s fine.”
The one decision that most preoccupied Calgarians, as the hours ticked away, was the fate of Cammalleri.
“I think,” reasoned Burke, “it’s a prioritization issue. It’s not that this player doesn’t have value, it’s that teams are focused on players they think might have greater value or a greater impact. And that’s what’s holding this up.”
As he said and repeated Tuesday: They Calgary Flames are sellers.
“If we can turn our cap space into assets we’re going to do that. So it could be a very important day for the franchise, the next 24 hours.
“But it’s not the same as when you’re adding to try and make a push.
“I hope to be up here next year as a buyer, not a seller.”
Invariably, in most cities, the NHL trade deadline is hockey’s annual equivalent of opening Al Capone’s vaults: Empty upon inspection.
You get the feeling that if that does wind up being the case again here Wednesday it won’t be from a lack of trying.
Hold onto your butt-cheeks. Brian Burke is clearly open for business. Antsy, restless, ready for action. And they’ve all got the number.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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