This time around Dave Nonis is the No. 1 man. And he's ready to stare down Brian Burke or anyone else that gets in the way.
The new general manager of Canada's entry at the upcoming IIHF World Hockey Championship made it clear where his allegiance lies after officially taking the position Thursday.
He'll find himself going head-to-head with Burke, his boss with the Toronto Maple Leafs and a longtime friend, who will be part of the U.S. management team.
"This isn't anything to do with myself against Brian or any kind of side bets or anything like that," said Nonis. "The fact is that there's a number of good teams — the U.S. will have an excellent team in this tournament, the Czechs always do, the Russians are the No. 1-ranked team in the world.
"It's about putting the best Canadian team together and beating whoever we play."
The first opportunity he's received from Hockey Canada is a big one. Nonis and assistants Rob Blake, Brad Pascall and Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray — another friend of Burke's — will assemble a team looking to avenge the country's embarrassing seventh-place finish from a year ago.
With playoff races around the NHL so tight, they plan to proceed with caution. A coaching staff likely won't be put in place until the last week of the regular season and the first player announcements will come after that.
Nonis has attended previous world championships while working for various NHL teams and knows what to expect.
"You have to respect the tournament," said Nonis, the Maple Leafs' senior vice-president of hockey operations. "There's a lot of good players that come. It's a major event for a lot of European countries."
Hockey Canada made changes to the way it approached the event after the experience last year in Germany. A training camp will be held in Paris and Prague featuring two exhibition games before Canada opens the tournament in Kosice, Slovakia, with a game against Belarus on April 29.
The U.S. will also start the event in Kosice. A source told The Canadian Press on Thursday that USA Hockey will announce a management staff next week that includes seven NHL general managers — Burke, Atlanta's Don Waddell, Nashville's David Poile, Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren, Pittsburgh's Ray Shero, Florida's Dale Tallon and Dean Lombardi of the L.A. Kings.
Burke has long seen value in the world championship and is glad to see Nonis given a role in the tournament.
"I am very proud of Dave, and pleased that he was honoured in this manner," he said in an email.
Nonis has already started compiling a list of which players he might invite. Last year, Hockey Canada decided not to phone players who won gold at the Vancouver Olympics but they will be hoping for some of those veterans to come to Slovakia this time around.
"We started talking about that today, looking at players that were on the Olympic team and hey, we're certainly going to ask them," said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. "A lot of them have been there before for us and hopefully they'll look at coming again."
Following a long list
Blake follows a long list of former NHLers to get management experience at the world championship.
Steve Yzerman was the GM of two world championship teams before assembling the Olympic squad in Vancouver and Joe Nieuwendyk and Luc Robitaille have each been assistants in recent years. Blake appears ready to follow in those footsteps.
"He's got the vision, he's got the feel and he's got the details," said Nicholson. "What amazes me with all of our elite players is how good they are with detail. I look back to Wayne [Gretzky] and Steve, and now Rob, it's amazing.
"They come in and they've never done this and it's like they've been in this for years."
Even though the Maple Leafs are still vying for an Eastern Conference playoff spot, Nonis isn't concerned about having his attention divided.
The majority of his responsibility ended when the NHL's trade deadline passed last month and he's already shifted focus to the world championship. He's prepared to face any team in Slovakia.
"If [it] ends up being the U.S., we have to be prepared for them, or whoever else gets in our way," said Nonis. "At the end of the day, it's about putting the best team together.
"There won't be any personal issues at all in this one."