Brian Burke is headed back to Western Canada, but not for a third stint with the Vancouver Canucks.
Burke, who served as the Canucks' director of hockey operations in 1987 and later general manager, joined the Calgary Flames' front office Thursday in the newly created position of president of hockey operations.
"It’s a very proud day for me to join the Calgary Flames," Burke, who sported a red tie and his trademark game face, told a news conference that included his daughter Molly. "It’s a great city, it’s a great hockey market, great ownership group and I couldn’t be more pleased to be here.
Kinder, gentler Brian Burke in Calgary?
Brian Burke kindly welcomed the media to his news conference Thursday in Calgary, where the Flames named the former Vancouver, Hartford, Anaheim and Toronto general manager to the newly created position of president of hockey operations.
In his more than 25 years in the NHL, Burke has never turned down a chance to spar with a reporter if he believes his players or head coach, or both, have been attacked.
"Management, almost never, starts those fights," he said. "I felt my whole career I had to protect my players and ninety-nine out of a hundred times when I get into a scrap it's someone going after one of my players or my coach, not something they write about me because frankly I don't care."
So, under the Flames' new management structure, head coach Bob Hartley will be the spokesperson for the club on a daily basis, while GM Jay Feaster discusses transactions, including trades and draft picks. Burke will attempt to step away from the spotlight, even though he said Thursday he likes "being part of the group."
Burke admitted not being front and centre with the media would be a nice break and he's content with taking a back seat.
"I intend to have a background role," he said. "I think people will believe that when they see it but, trust me, you'll see it."
— Doug Harrison, CBCSports.ca
"I'm not the general manager of the Calgary Flames. Jay Feaster is. Jay and I have been friends for a long time … and we’re both committed to winning. 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."
Most recently, the 58-year-old Burke served as a part-time scout in Anaheim, where he led the Ducks to a Stanley Cup title as GM in 2007.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hired Burke as GM in November 2008 but his expedited rebuild didn’t result in a playoff berth during his three-plus seasons at the helm. He was fired in January after compiling a 128-135-42 regular-season record.
The take-charge Burke made some bold moves in Toronto, including trades for right-winger Phil Kessel and one-time Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf, and many expect the same in Calgary.
"There was a lot of work that needed to be done in Toronto that took longer than I thought, in terms of getting some assets out of there," said Burke. "I think Jay [Feaster] has already taken some of the major steps to rebuild."
While the Flames have some decent prospects in left-winger Sven Baertschi, centre Sean Monahan and defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon, it promises to be a longer rebuild in Calgary.
"It's hard in a [salary] cap system to turn your team around," Burke said. "You have unrestricted free agency, but in a cap system it's a slower process sometimes than it is in a non-cap system."
Prior to last season's trade deadline, Feaster traded longtime captain Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh for the rights to left-winger Kenneth Agostino, forward Ben Hanowski and a 2013 first-round draft pick that Calgary used to select left-winger Morgan Klimchuk from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
On April 1, Feaster dealt defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis for two draft picks, defence prospect Mark Cundari and goalie Reto Berra, who is expected to battle for the starting job at training camp.
Burke admitted he needs to speak with Feaster and Flames head coach Bob Hartley to learn the team better.
"We play a physical brand of hockey and that's something I think people in Calgary appreciate and we're going to stay that course as far as getting bigger and getting more physical."
Calgary doesn't resemble a Burke outfit, one with size and truculence and pugnacity. Right-winger Tim Jackman led the team in penalty minutes last season with 79 in 42 games, but noted pugilist Brian McGrattan is in town after re-signing for two years and $1.5 million US in July.
Bigger, but better?
Feaster did add size on June 27 when he traded winger Alex Tanguay and defenceman Cory Sarich to Colorado for six-foot-two, 210-pound right-winger David Jones and six-foot-three, 230-pound blue-liner Shane O'Brien.
Calgary's current payroll is a little more than $57 million US, according to capgeek.com. Burke expects ownership to spend to the league-enforced cap of $64.3 million, down from $70.2 million last season.
"The issue is we want to spend the money wisely," he said. "Until we see value, we're going to stay where we are."
The Flames, coming off a 19-25-4 mark in the lockout-shortened season of 2013, have missed the post-season in each of the past four seasons and not advanced past the first round since 2004, the summer before the first lockout.
In June, veteran goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff told his Flames teammates and reportedly management that he wouldn’t return for training camp, which opens Sept. 11.
Burke likes building from the goalie out but he wouldn’t have a bona fide starter at the position if the soon-to-be 37-year-old Kiprusoff retires. Journeyman Joey MacDonald probably isn’t the answer but the Flames liked him enough after he arrived off the waiver wire in February to give him a raise to $925,000 for the upcoming campaign.
He would likely battle former Kontinental Hockey League netminder Karri Ramo and Swiss goalie Reto Berra at camp. Leland Irving, who filled in for an injured Kiprusoff last season, is an unrestricted free agent and expected to try out for Finnish club Jokerit.
Defensively, Calgary isn’t deep and not big, while veteran winger Mike Cammalleri was the Flames’ top scorer last season with 32 points in 44 contests. Curtis Glencross’s 15 goals also led the team.
After Burke’s first stint in Vancouver, he joined the Hartford Whalers for one season as GM before leaving for the NHL office in New York as executive vice president and director of hockey operations.
He returned to Vancouver four years later to become GM, a position he filled until 2004 when he went south to Anaheim.
In another front office move Thursday, the Flames also promoted John Bean from senior vice-president, finance and administration to chief operating officer. Ken King will remain as president and chief executive officer.