June 24, 2009
Phoenix can rise again
By ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA
CAMPBELLVILLE, Ont. -- The NHL has issued a gag order on teams taking a public company line on the debacle in Phoenix, but that doesn't mean Brian Burke doesn't have an opinion on what should happen.
And the Maple Leafs president and general manager said yesterday that he believes the Coyotes should remain in the desert and be given an opportunity to succeed rather than moving to Hamilton or whatever locale NHL commissioner Gary Bettman may give his blessing.
"For every situation like Phoenix, you have to look at Washington and Pittsburgh," Burke said at Mohawk Racetrack, where he was assisting in the post position draw for Saturday's $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup.
"Three years ago, they were saying Pittsburgh was in bankruptcy and would have to move. They were saying Washington was a graveyard. Chicago was empty, Boston was empty and now they are completely sold out.
"I hope we're looking back at Phoenix in a couple of years saying: 'Remember when they were in trouble?' I think we've got to find a way to keep that team there and let them develop. They've got some good young players."
Of course, Burke's superiors at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. would echo that view, especially as it relates to having the Coyotes move to Southern Ontario and infringe on one of the most prosperous territories in professional sport.
But Burke is not so naive as to suggest that Bettman's world is somewhat more challenging today than when Burke worked as an NHL vice-president in the early 1990s.
As the Phoenix saga continues to make headlines, Bettman is in the middle of a new crisis this week.
The commissioner met with squabbling Lightning owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules yesterday. Barrie and Koules reportedly are at odds about the direction the team should be going as it struggles both financially and on the ice.
Reports out of Tampa suggest Bettman has instructed the Lightning owners to ensure general manager Brian Lawton will have the final say in hockey matters. The Lightning is in the spotlight at this weekend's entry draft for two reasons: The team owns the No. 2 pick overall and Vincent Lecavalier has been the subject of trade talk for months.
Burke said that in his dealings with Lawton, he hasn't had the impression that the owners have been interfering in his managerial business.
"I deal with Brian like I deal with the GM on every team," Burke said. "I've heard the stories, but it's nothing I discuss. When I want to talk trades, I talk with him, not ownership.
"He has never complained about any meddling and he's the guy I call."