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Ducks Gameday—Burke Week #4: GM Lessons from a Cup Champ

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Anaheim Ducks (10-8-2, 7th in west) at St. Louis Blues (6-8-2, 15th in west)
Ducks had better have a better start or somebody's going to the dentist!

So for Part IV of this series, I thought I'd take a look at some of the ways that Burke was a very good general manager -- things that worked for the Ducks not only on their Cup run but also looking forward. Think of these as a bit of a primer for good ol' Bob Murray, or more accurately, Part IV: What I like about Burke the roster-builder.

Lesson One: If you want depth, don't acquire depth players; instead insert talent at the top of your roster.

While I've stated before that I’m not overly impressed that Burke had the "wisdom" to acquire Niedermayer, Selanne, or Pronger, I don’t want to take away from the fact that Burke knew what he was going after – a superstar. His focus wasn’t on filling in his roster with supplementary depth players, though he certainly put those pieces in place as well; he was looking to acquire top-flight players for the top end of his roster and let his existing roster form the depth. Not only was a superstar able to drop players down to more manageable roles, but Carlyle could even form a legitimate pairing with Scott Niedermayer and a league-minimum Francois Beauchemin, for example, and further benefit from an all-star's abilities. In a nutshell, if you ask me how Burke was able to build a cup winner, the answer is that he took a franchise with a lot of supporting parts and inserted talent at the top. By doing so, he made everyone more effective.

Lesson Two: Shelter your kids – It’s good for them and it’s good for you.

I think the way Getzlaf and Perry were brought into the league was phenomenal. Their rookie year they were played as fourth-liners, with Todd Fedoruk watching their backs – a very no-pressure environment to learn the ropes of the NHL. To effectively remove them from Calder consideration, they were even demoted for a month or so to the AHL Pirates, but played together throughout. Their sophomore year they moved up to second-liners, still sheltered from top defenders (Selanne drew those matchups) and top scorers (Pahlsson of course got those). That year was of course the cup year, so needless to say it worked out well. Then finally last year, their contract year, they were given responsibilities as top-liners, and having been groomed for the role they delivered. The payoff to the Ducks was two well-prepared top-liners who not only proved their abilities but also signed at reasonable rates ($5.6 million apiece, which certainly could have been worse). That salary in part has to do with their limited time on the top line – by holding them back not only were they better prepared but also had less career points come contract time. This also holds true for Bobby Ryan, who I can only speculate on his worth, but will certainly have limited NHL exposure come contract time two summers from now. It will be interesting to see how good Bobby Ryan becomes, or how prepared for NHL duty he is, and how much his sheltering pays off in his next contract for Anaheim.

Lesson Three: Be true to your players and they’ll be true to you.

I can't think of one time Brian Burke didn’t righteously stand up for one of his players in Anaheim – no matter how stupid or how idiotic it was. It’s one reason Brian Burke is as hated as he is by rival fans, but probably one reason why players seem so loyal to him. Whether it’s Bertuzzi’s suckerpunch, Pronger’s elbows or skateblade, Selanneidermayer’s semi-retirements, or even softer stuff like Giguere dealing with his baby’s health – Burke is front-and-center deflecting criticism and supporting his guys. He’s done seemingly honorable things in waiving Bryzgalov and proving Giguere with a no-movement clause, and I think there's payoff to those moves -- I know players are loathe to say anything controversial, but I haven't heard any player critical of Burke, even guys who have left under tough circumstances (Penner, McDonald, Schneider, Bertuzzi). Whether or not fans like or dislike what Brian Burke has to say, it does seem that players do respond favorably to it, and I think that perception is helpful in luring free agents to sign or players to re-sign.

Lesson Four: No Long-Term Deals ... Flexibility = Positivity!

This is a big one for me, too. Brian Burke has committed to two 5-year deals (Getzlaf and Perry), four 4-year deals (both Niedermayers, Kunitz, and Giguere), and only a few 3-year deals (McDonald and Carter, notably). He’s also acquired two deals with 4 years remaining (Marchant and Pronger). He’s stayed away from mammoth-year contracts, though, and I’m glad he’s done so. Burke hasn’t crippled rosters seven or eight years from now, and that has to be the wise move -- with a changing NHL landscape and a newly-implemented salary cap, it's tough to foresee what player values will be five years down the road. Now don't get me wrong -- I'm not against all long-term deals (I once advocated a fifteen-year deal for Getzlaf), but I'm glad it's not a crutch that Burke used to lure players to Anaheim. I think GMs who do that are selfish -- they are trying to win now while risking their franchise's ability to win in the future (partially it's because of mixed motivations -- the roster seven years from now is likely going to be a replacement GM's problem). So while many like to say that Burke has ruined the Ducks, it doesn't seem a long-term problem; in two or three years there will hardly be any Burke contracts on the books at all.


So that's some of the positive GM lessons that Burke has demonstrated; if you feel like I've missed anything, feel free to add your own lesson from Burke in the comments. Part V I'll try to do a wrap-up; some GM lessons I didn't like, what I'll miss most and least about the guy (first in both categories: his mouth), and a conclusion.

Prediction: Bob Murray's Ducks 5, Andy Murray's Blues 2. Goals by Perry, Ryan, Morrison, Pahlsson, and Montador.

Go Ducks.