Brian Burke would’ve been rooting for the Leafs in Game 7, if he was watching


Brian Burke, right, and his son Patrick Burke, spoke to attendees of the Sports Management Worldwide Hockey Career Conference on Saturday in New York.

NEW YORK — Brian Burke was a shortened-season removed from his tenure as the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs when the club made its first playoff appearance in seven seasons. But that didn’t stop Burke from throwing his support behind the organization that fired him one day after the 2012 lockout was lifted. The further the Leafs went, Burke said Saturday at the Sports Management Worldwide Hockey Career Conference, “the better it would’ve looked on my resume.” After all, it was Burke who assembled the Leafs squad that had the eventual Eastern Conference-champion Boston Bruins on the ropes in Game 7.

Still, Burke wasn’t watching when the Leafs squandered a 4-1 third-period lead before ultimately losing 5-4 in overtime. When asked about his immediate reaction to the collapse, Burke explained he was in Europe at the time for the IIHF World Championship following a visit to the Canadian troops in Afghanistan. At the Mercy of Swedish and Finnish hotel television, he missed most of the first round, including all of the Leafs’ games.

When he finally caught the recording of the last fifteen minutes, Burke said he couldn’t help but feel for his former players.

“That’s going to haunt them forever,” he said.

Visors, Hybrid Icing and the Ringette Line

Burke said it’s about time that visors and hybrid icing made their way into the game, moves he claimed to have been championing for years. During his time as the Leafs’ GM, Burke “begged” his players, especially defensemen, to wear visors

Still Burke isn’t 100 percent satisfied with the NHL’s on-ice product. Although Burke acknowledged removing the red line and eliminating two-line passes was a success, he believes the move has led to a sacrifice of skill in favor of speed.

“When teams in our league are breaking out by hammering the puck to the blue line, we’ve taken too much skill out of the game,” Burke said after comparing the back and forth stretch passes to a game of tennis.

Burke has been a proponent of the ringette line, which would extend across the top of the face-off circles. If implemented, players would have to carry the puck across the ringette line in order to avoid being called for a two-line pass. Burke recalled that when he first suggested the ringette line in 1993, people said “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Then when Scotty Bowman suggested it a few years later, it was ‘We should look at this.'”


Islanders Missed the Boat on Bernier


After spending years stockpiling talent both up front and on the blueline, the Islanders’ biggest need this off-season is an answer to the goalie question. Any arguments?

Moving on, then.

It was a one-man show between the pipes for the Islanders in 2013, as head coach Jack Capuano put the team on Evgeni Nabokov’s 37-year-old shoulders. “Nabby” didn’t disappoint in the regular season; his 23 were one shy of the league lead.

But the Nabokov formula for success over 48-games didn’t carry over to the playoffs, won’t cut it in an 82-game season and certainly isn’t the long-term answer in net. Neither is Kevin Poulin, the 23-year-old who Patrick Roy once called the best goaltender in Canadian Junior Hockey, but has yet to prove his worth in Bridgeport or in limited action with the big club.

Bringing in former Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Bernier, 24, would have at least offered the Islanders a sense of direction and, at best, could have provided the biggest piece of the puzzle since the 2009 selection of John Tavares, a goalie to build around for years to come. Instead, general manager Garth Snow sat idly, while Toronto acquired Bernier at a shockingly reasonable price.

Many hockey enthusiasts, this writer included, have praised Snow for his patience and dedication to the rebuild. But with success to build on and a buyer’s market created by a reduced salary cap, it’s time for Snow to roll the dice in hopes of bringing in players to turn the Islanders’ collection of stockpiled assets into a serious contender. Without giving up much, as Toronto showed, the Islanders could have added a goalie with serious potential to make an impact at the NHL level. The Kings would have had to consider any package built around Nino Niederreiter, who has reportedly asked to be traded, or any of several other top prospects.

As outstanding as Bernier has looked in limited NHL action, there’s certainly no way of knowing whether or not he has what it takes to be the franchise goaltender. That said, he would have had a far better chance of filling that role than anyone the Islanders have under contract. If the Islanders opted to bring back Nabokov, the two could have split time with Nabokov serving as a veteran mentor to his younger half.

Missing out on Bernier isn’t the end of the world by any means, but hopefully isn’t a sign of things to come from Islanders management. For a team that has been lacking a true build-your-team-around goaltender since Rick DiPietro’s body turned to glass, it’s time to stop sitting around and start kicking the tires when top-tier talent becomes available. There’s a solid group of free agent goalies out there for the taking.

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