Yes, Brian Burke is a graduate of Harvard Law and has the fancy haircut and all that, but underneath, he really is an old-school hockey grunt.
The Maple Leafs GM showed that side of his persona again on Saturday at the NHL Draft Combine.
When asked what he looks for in a prospect, other than the kid’s VO2 score or the stuff that appears on paper, Burke said he looks to see just how hard a kid is willing to push himself.
“The kid who gets off the bike and pukes, that’s more impressive to me than the kid who gets off the bike and he looks like he still has something left,” Burke said.
So there you go kids. It might be a little late, but if you want to impress Burkie, don’t be afraid to let it fly.
Burke was certainly in good form at the Toronto Congress Centre, site of this year’s draft combine. He looks fit and trim — “a little bit” he said, when asked if he’s lost weight — and he went out of his way to rag on the media or, at least, a certain member of the Toronto media, who arrived unfashionably late while Burke was giving interviews.
“You can’t show up late,” Burke snapped. “I’m done. I’m %^&*$# done here.”
Later, when approached by the same media guy for a second interview, the Leafs GM laid out one of those famous Burkesonian scowls and growled: “Now what? What the $%^& is going on now?”
And when the media guy was finally through, Burke said: “Are we done? Can I get to work now?”
But it was all in good fun. Old Burkie seems pretty content these days. And he has reason to be. His young team came on strong in the second half of the 2010-11 season, and he has two firsts and one second round pick in this year’s draft. And while none of those picks are in the top 20, at least it gives the Leafs’ GM a chance to look for a diamond or two in the rough, or even use the picks to trade up in the draft.
“We’re going to try to move up, but you’re not going to get a top-10 pick with the picks we have,” he said. “If we can trade up into the teens using one of those firsts and 39, which is our second round pick, that’s what we’re trying to do. But right now, I’d say it’s probably unlikely (to trade up), and we’re going pick three times. And we’re fine with that.”
As for the other questions about his team, Burke said he hasn’t ruled out a place on the roster next season for goaltender J.S. Giguere, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Giguere underwent surgery for a sports hernia a few weeks ago and is said to be recovering well, though, with younger goaltenders James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson under contract, Giguere’s spot with the Leafs is undetermined at this point.
“We’re going to wait and see. He had surgery, he thinks it went well and we haven’t ruled out a role for him,” said Burke, who values Giguere’s willingness to be a mentor for younger goaltenders in the organization. “He’s the hardest working goalie I’ve ever had, he’s a character guy, we’ll have to see if there’s something there.”
As for restricted free agent forward Clarke MacArthur, who is coming off a career season, Burke said he has had one meeting with the MacArthur’s agent, but hasn’t began negotiating a new contract as of yet. Nor would he comment on reports that the Leafs are one of the teams considered in the running to bag free agent centre Brad Richards.
Burke’s priority at this time is the draft, which will be held later this month in St. Paul, Minn. And one the toughest parts of the draft is getting a psychological read on the prospects — even though the teams sit down and interview kids at the combine. The problem, said Burke, is that the prospects are often coached by their agents on what to say when they’re asked specific questions.
“And so, you get cookie cutter answers, you get stock answers,” Burke said. “Like, we ask, ‘Who’s your favorite player?’ It’s never Eddie Shack, or a colorful guy. They’re going to say Sidney Crosby or someone that we respect and we hope that they will emulate. They’re never going to say a flake. So, some of it’s coached.”
“But it all has value,” Burke added of the combine.
All except, perhaps, the media part, though Burke did seem to enjoy that part of it on Saturday.