Flames' Brian Burke determined to succeed in new role
Former NHL GM is club's president of hockey ops
There might not be a trade proposal in all of his years as a National Hockey League general manager that had Brian Burke weighing the pros and cons as much as when he pondered his latest job offer.
The 58-year-old former GM of the Vancouver Canucks, Hartford Whalers, Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs stood before the Calgary media Thursday as the Flames president of hockey operations, "a newly minted" position as team president and CEO Ken King called it.
Burke admitted to politely turning down King’s offer when first approached about the job, which the former described as "an advisory guiding role" and "a committee of guys, not one GM. You’re pooling expertise, pooling experience."
Accepting a long-term role as something other than "being part of the group" of NHL GMs didn’t seem right at the time.
Burke will report directly to King and Flames GM Jay Feaster will report directly to Burke, who re-joined the Ducks in February as a part-time scout after the Leafs fired him the previous month.
It’s a relatively new structure in professional hockey, said Burke, adding Calgary is one of two teams in the NHL with it along with several teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association.
"This is a different job," said Burke, whose non-GM jobs in the NHL include serving as director of hockey operations with the Canucks in 1987 and working at the NHL offices in New York as executive vice president of hockey operations.
"I talked to my [friends] in the other sports that have honoured this [management] scenario and watched it work. This job allows a guy of my seniority to do less of the grunt work and day-to-day stuff but still be involved. I had to get my head around that and Ken [King] did a good job of selling that."
King, who met with Burke in Toronto several weeks ago in a "quasi-secret location," understood his new hire faced a difficult decision.
King said the search for a GM began with a list of 60 potential candidates and noted Burke "was always in the top group of that list," and quickly emerged as "the clear, top" candidate.
"Brian has had a storied … and venerable hockey career. He’s won [a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007] and had a huge impact on our sport, not only on the ice but in many, many other ways.
"Both Jay [Feaster] and I feel very strongly that Brian will bring an added dimension – experience, guidance and membership – that will add greatly to the progress that Jay’s already made to improve our team, get us more wins and move us closer to championships."
The Flames, coming off a 19-25-4 mark in the lockout-shortened season of 2013, have missed the playoffs in each of the past four seasons and not advanced past the first round since 2004, the summer before the first lockout.
Burke called Feaster a longtime friend and is confident the working relationship can thrive if they both want to succeed.
"It’s a work in progress," he said. "This is new for both of us but I’m determined to make it work. I think I can provide some help but I think Jay’s got great ability and he’s already made some very important steps towards fixing things here. I’ve been able to fix just about every team I’ve worked for, [some] quicker than others."
In Toronto, where Burke compiled a regular-season record of 128-135-42 in three-plus non-playoff seasons, he said the required rebuild took longer to complete.
But Burke feels Feaster has already taken the major steps to rebuild in Calgary.
Burke said the first item on his to-do list is meeting with Feaster to perform an organization overview to review personnel and the Flames’ scouting structure, in terms of coverage and putting the right people in the correct roles.
"There’s a system and science to it," he said, adding Feaster shares the same view. "We’ll collaborate daily. I have talked to executives in other sports about how this works and it’s going to work if Jay and I both want it to work, and we both do.
"This has great appeal to me. It’s a great city, it’s a great hockey market, great ownership group. And I like working in Canada. I’m a Canadian citizen, have been since 1993.
"I know people think I need to be driving the bus all the time," added Burke, who was born and raised in the United States, "but I’m actually a pretty good teammate, too."
Feaster must think so, given his public endorsement on Thursday of the Flames’ new management structure.
"To be able to bring in somebody who’s won a Stanley Cup, who has taken a team to that lofty level and who has been in the game in as many capacities as Brian, to be able to tap into that wealth of knowledge on a daily basis, it’s a great thing."
It appears to be a good start to the marriage.
But soon, all Flames fans will care about are wins.