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Brian Burke Week Part 1: Sleek defends three "bad" moves

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Hey, everybody! Welcome to Burke Week, where I'll take a scattered look back on what I take to be Brian Burke's legacy in Anaheim. I do have a lot to say about the guy, and rather than cram it all into one post I thought I'd break it into semi-coherent parts throughout the week.

Part I: Defending three "bad" Burke moves that I don't think were that bad. For better or worse, opposing fans love to criticize Brian Burke's management style, and at times, the desire to call out Burke for a "bad" move ignores a lot of important context. Burke's first few years, of course, are now left alone because the Ducks won a cup, but since then it seems that critics are all-too-ready to point out where Burke has made his supposed mistakes.

There's really two things to keep in mind when discussing some of these debatable moves, though: (1) Thanks to salary cap mechanics, it's always going to be difficult, if not impossible, to keep a championship team together. I hold little expectation that any cup-winning roster could or should be fully retained -- there's always got to be adaptation and prioritization after a team experiences success. (2) Behind every one of these moves is the decision to allow Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne to semi-retire. I'll certainly talk more about this later, but basically if you disagree on giving players that freedom (and would rather Burke forced retirement on them), then probably you won't agree with the validity of these moves, but it is important to understand Burke's underlying motivation.

Lastly, I don't want to overstate things in this post -- I'm not saying that these moves were ideal, by any means. My main point is that they are more tolerable to me than people suggest -- I'm not angry with Burke for making them, at any rate.

1. Waiving Ilya Bryzgalov

Sleek's initial take: It seems absolutely amazing to me that a goaltender with the lowball salary and highball postseason success couldn't be traded in today's league, but I've had low expectations ever since the seemingly poor returns for Tomas Vokoun or Vesa Toskala last summer. As much as it might pain rival fans to admit it, I think the departure of Bryzgalov has very little to do with Scott and Teemu, and really has more to do with Bryzgalov trying to be a #1 and Hiller being promoted to the big leagues.

On paper this sounds horrible, because Breezy was definitely a proven playoff performer, given away to a divisional rival for free. And generally, I’m not in favor of losing assets for nothing. However, you also have to consider the Ducks were locked into J.S. Giguere for four years (including a no-movement clause), and had signed a promising netminder in Jonas Hiller as well. Not only was Breezy prevented from upward movement in the organization, but he was even in the youngster’s way, plus he was due for a raise the next summer. Burke claims that the move was done for Bryzgalov’s benefit, and it’s tough to disbelieve him on that statement, and for sure the goalie-trade market was thin (that’s the inherent irony in goalie salaries: they are no doubt the most important player on the ice, yet there are more than 60 players who could play in the NHL). So Burke ensured that Breezy gets picked up by a bottom team while publicly keeping his word to his netminder – there’s definitely payoff in being a "player first" GM like that, and while there was no trade return, you have to remember that Hiller cost the Ducks nothing either. It seems a relative wash to me, with some good PR on the side.

2. Trading Andy McDonald to St. Louis for Doug Weight

Sleek's initial take: Of course, it's sort of a mistake to look at this just as a McDonald-for-Weight trade, as context is huge for this deal. In return for trading away Andy Mac, the Ducks get Doug Weight, the right to play Scott Niedermayer, the right to keep Mathieu Schneider, and the possibility to sign Teemu Selanne. Even if DeadWeight turns out to be a bust, there's still a lot of trade return there.

Yes, this was salary-necessitated, and yes, I’d rather have Andy Mac than Doug Weight on my team any day. Still, this needs context more than anything. As my quote above suggests, it wasn’t just a one-for-one trade; Andy McDonald was traded for Doug Weight + the tag space to keep Mathieu Schneider + the room to welcome back Scott Niedermayer + the room to later sign Teemu Selanne. The salary side sucked, I guess, but the Ducks by the end of that season had more than $24 million tied into three defensemen plus a goalie – a more expensive team than they could have afforded for a full season. As for success, yeah, there was no Stanley Cup, but in the 48 games after the McDonald/Weight trade (Scotty's return), the Ducks dropped nearly a full goal-against-per-game, and played on a pace that would have won them the President’s Trophy and the Jennings Trophy. Hard to be overly critical of a trade that transformed a .500 team into a top-tier contender.

3. Signing Mathieu Schneider

Sleek's initial take: Brian Burke certainly acted as if Niedermayer's retirement is a sure thing. Think about this: if Scott were to play his contract next year, that would mean that the Ducks' goalie and top four defensemen would cost roughly $26 M next year; that's more than half the salary cap. And then the logical move, oddly enough, would probably be to trade away the newly-signed Schneider.

It’s really tough for me to get angry with Burke for this signing, as it seemed a logical reaction to Scott Niedermayer’s effective retirement. It didn’t pan out, obviously, and did put the Ducks in a heck of a salary cap crunch at the end of last summer, but I think the signing made sense in its context and Schneidermayer certainly knew what a potential salary mess he was getting himself into. What clouds this issue somewhat is the poor start that Schneider has had in Atlanta -- certainly his numbers suggest that he is washed up. However, I'd guess that he's being mis-used on the Thrashers; for the past few seasons Schneider has been an extremely effective weapon in easy minutes, playing behind a Nick Lidstrom or a Chris Pronger. In Anaheim, Schneider certainly had a solid year: At even-strength in the regular season, Schneider was on the ice for 50 GF, 23 GA, a better than 2-to-1 ratio. On the power play, he was on the ice for 34 GF, 5 GA. While certainly the team would have been easier to manage last season without Schneider's salary on the books, Burke saw a gaping hole on his blueline and reacted to it. In retrospect, the signing proved excessive, but at the time when Niedermayer's retirement seemed believable enough, I think Burke got a decent replacement option off the UFA market, and that's not something I'll spend too much time criticizing.

So there you have it, three moves that I don't criticize Burke for (at least, not to the extent that others do). Agree or disagree with my assessments, or do you have another example of your own? Feel free to leave it in the comments. Then stay tuned for Burke Week Part II (possibly tomorrow?), where I'll point out some moves where I am more critical on Burke's decision-making.

Go Ducks.