First of all, Bobby Ryan would be able to play for my team anytime. He’d certainly be able to play for my U.S. Olympic team in 2014 because, with or without him, this team is going to have trouble creating offense. Ryan’s tumultuous upbringing is well documented and anyone who can endure that and make the NHL, let alone be a contributing member of society, has more than enough intensity in my books.
That being said, nobody owes Bobby Ryan an apology for the rather public and unfortunate way his exclusion from the U.S. Olympic team unfolded. USA Hockey and Olympic team GM David Poile, as decent a man as you’re going to find in this industry, have been falling all over themselves apologizing for war room comments made by Brian Burke, comments that made their way into the public forum because respected espn.com journalist Scott Burnside was embedded with the U.S. Olympic team brain trust during its selection process.
For those of you who might have missed it, Burke said the following about Ryan, a player he drafted second overall in 2005 when he was GM of the Anaheim Ducks: “He’s a passive guy. He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary. It’s never going to be in his vocabulary. He can’t spell intense.”
There were hundreds of quotes in the piece from 12 of the most powerful men in the game and that was really the only one that was inflammatory, so perhaps Ryan has reason to wonder why he was singled out and other players who didn’t make the cut, such as Dustin Byfuglien and Keith Yandle were spared such harsh words. But Burke lives to say things like this the way most of us rely on oxygen, so nobody should be surprised.
But there are couple of things to remember here. The first thing is that Burke was simply pointing out what he believed to be a flaw in Ryan’s game – that he doesn’t play with intensity. He didn’t say Ryan was a bad player, a bad person, a bad fit on the team, or even a player who didn’t deserve to make it. In fact, Poile pointed out later that Ryan was indeed on Burke’s version of the roster. Burke basically pointed out that if Ryan wasn’t going to be in USA’s top six forwards, he probably shouldn’t be in their bottom six either. In fact, later in the conversation, Max Pacioretty and Brandon Saad came up and Burke acknowledged both were worthy players, “But neither can do what Bobby can do.”
Ryan later said he thought is was “gutless” of Burke to make the comments. In fact, the opposite is true. This corner has been pretty hard on Burke of late, but one thing he cannot be accused of being is gutless. In fact, by besmirching Ryan, Burke was opening himself up to criticism. After all, taking him second overall was ultimately Burke’s call, so either he made a mistake or the scouts he hired made a mistake. Could the Ducks have picked a better player? Well goalies Carey Price and Jonathan Quick went after Ryan, as did skaters Anze Kopitar (11th), James Neal (33rd) and Kris Letang (62nd). But Columbus took Gilbert Brule sixth and Chicago Jack Skille seventh, so the Ducks certainly weren’t alone in undervaluing those players.
But most of all, this was said in a war room, not a news conference. If USA Hockey was going to include Burke in the process and grant unfettered access to a reporter for the proceedings, what did it expect was going to happen? When Burke said those words about Ryan in the presence of a media person, did everyone around the room think they were not going to make it into the public domain?
So the next time you wonder why hockey people are so bland and guarded with their words all the time, remember what happened here. You can bet USA Hockey will never, ever do something like this again. You can bet that players watched Ilya Bryzgalov on 24/7 and decided they didn’t want that to happen to them. You can be rest assured that coaches throughout the league watched Bruce Boudreau’s profanity-laced tirade in another 24/7 and either toned down or kicked the cameras out of the room the way Mike Babcock did this season.
And that doesn’t help anybody. If you’re going to sell your game on giving all-access to people, then give them all access and don’t make any apologies for it. If you’re David Poile or Brian Burke, there is certainly no need to tell anyone you’re sorry.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com Post-To-Post Blog. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.