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Brian Burke's big boo-boos?

Brian Burke continues his attempt to rebuild the Maple Leafs into a playoff team. (Jamie Hodgson/THN)

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Brian Burke continues his attempt to rebuild the Maple Leafs into a playoff team. (Jamie Hodgson/THN)

Now that the poor people of Cleveland have been devastated and disgusted by LeBron James’ decision to abandon them for the sticky glitz of Miami, what better time for Gary Bettman to strike while the iron is hot (not to mention the pitchforks and torches) and award Northern Ohio an NHL franchise?

Call them the Cleveland Loyalists – or the Cleveland Non-Bron-Brons, or the Cleveland NeverGonnaGiveYouUps – and I’m guessing you’ve got 41 instant sellouts at Quicken Loans Arena.

Meanwhile…your questions and my answers:

Hello Adam. Big fan of your column. My question is, what do you think of Brian Burke's moves for the Leafs? He makes a lot of bad moves for a guy considered to be a great team builder – i.e. the contracts of Jeff Finger, Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek and the Phil Kessel deal. He seems to pay a lot for players who give minimal return.

And how come people bash Tomas Kaberle's contract of $4.25 million when Komisarek is paid $4.5 million and arguably contributes far less?
Travis McCallum, London, Ont.


Hello Travis,

First of all, the Finger contract was Cliff Fletcher’s doing, so you can’t blame the current administration for that one. That said, I spoke with Burke Wednesday night – for a state-of-the-Maple-Leafs story that will appear in THN’s annual Yearbook – and his feathers rankled a little bit when the conversation turned to the criticism you’ve referenced.

Specifically, I asked Burke how he responds to the ubiquitous suggestion that he is too interested in spending free agent money on veteran NHLers and doesn’t care enough about draft picks. And, as he is wont to do, the Leafs president-GM went on the counter-attack.

“That question disregards what we’ve done here in terms of adding assets outside of the draft,” Burke said. “People talk about us not having a first (round pick this season), but tell me what would people give (in a trade) for Jonas Gustavsson? What would people give me for Tyler Bozak? What would people give me for Christian Hanson or Jussi Rynnas? What would people give me for the (NHL) free agents we’ve signed – Colton Orr, (Francois) Beauchemin, Komisarek, Colby Armstrong? Ultimately, we’ve replaced about a dozen guys without costing us a penny or a player.

“It’s no different than buying vegetables. There’s hothouse vegetables, there’s farm-raised vegetables and there’s imported vegetables – meaning that you can get players a lot of different ways. So if people are going to hammer me for not having draft picks, then at least acknowledge we’ve done a better job of adding assets – without expending corporate assets – than just about anybody.”

Tough to argue with him on that front.

As for your Kaberle question, I don’t think his contract is what’s being bashed. Instead, I believe most people rightfully recognize him as the last link to a Maple Leafs era that was all about unwarranted complacency – as Burke confirmed in the interview – and, more importantly, Kaberle’s contract and his high quality of play is what makes him the team’s most valuable trading chip (other than key youngsters such as Nazem Kadri). That’s why he’s a goner.

Adam, a friend of mine recently started a Facebook page called W.H.A.C. (World Hockey Association Canada) and suggested that, with Canadian cities trying and failing to acquire NHL franchises and with the Canadian dollar being strong, it is feasible to start a new league in Canada. It would be like the Canadian Football League, only it would be our greatest national pastime instead. What do you think?
Jon Dieks, Kitchener, Ont.


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Jon,

To borrow a Burke phrase, that question disregards all the reasons why U.S. involvement in the sport is an absolute necessity for its survival and prosperity.

First of all, if you’re basing that concept on a strong Canadian dollar, what happens when the Loonie drops like it’s hot? And what about the American fan bases that have been cultivated over decades? Hockey has enough hurdles to clear in the future, so I’m fully against any move that would fracture the interest in it – especially one that indulges the absurd notion that Canada owns the game.

Adam, all the talk these days is about trades and free agents. I'd rather see more talk about the guys making the calls on the ice. When are we going to get someone other than the Stevie Wonders of hockey making calls? Many accidents could be avoided if NHL referees would call what they saw and didn't guess at what might have been! Those guys on the ice have made a mockery of the sport – brought it down the level of the WWE.
Karol Singleton, Tampa Bay


Karol,

I’ll answer your question with a question: Have you discovered a group of wild referees in the Australian outback who could do a better job than the NHL’s current crop of on-ice officials? Don’t you think the league wants people who best can do the job so that fans can focus on the game itself?

Now, that doesn’t mean officials shouldn’t be held to account for their mistakes. The league has improved greatly to that end. But no system is perfect – and if you think that video could somehow replace the human officiating perspective, just remember that humans will also be interpreting any and all video evidence.
There will always be an element of subjectivity in the sport. Good hockey teams can and do overcome blown calls every game. That’s as it should be.

Adam, why is Mike Rathje still listed as a Flyers UFA? Didn't he retire due to back issues? And if he is no longer playing, does his salary go against the salary cap?
Chris Kelleher, Toms River, N.J.


Chris,

Rathje signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract with Philadelphia after the lockout, but, yes, back injuries forced him into retirement just two years into that deal.

Well, it wasn’t official retirement, because the Flyers discovered it made more salary cap sense to leave him on the long term injured reserve list (which allows the franchise to use Rathje’s salary cap space on another player) rather than buy him out (which would have left them stuck with the cap hit).

Technically, he was still on the roster, but practically, he had no other effect on the team. And now that his contract has expired, Rathje’s official links to the organization are officially cut.

Ask Adam appears Fridays on TheHockeyNews.com. Proteau also answers readers' questions in every issue of The Hockey News magazine and on The Hockey News Radio Show on XM Radio channel 204. Send us your question or comment.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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