Brian Burke hired as president, will Calgary go up in Flames?

Calgary takes a gamble by hiring Brian Burke as president of hockey operations. Photo: Jeff McIntosh

MUNICH, August 6, 2013 — With the announcement that Brian Burke will be the Calgary Flames’ new president of hockey operations, many Flames fans are unsure how to react. The club already has a general manager, Jay Feaster, who after a disastrous 2013 season, finally committed to a rebuild. Speculation is rampant whether the two men can work together to quickly turn the wayward franchise around.

Burke adds an interesting component to the Flames front office. He brings a resume which includes a 2007 Stanley Cup championship in Anaheim, but also an erratic history of short, tumultuous stints with several other clubs.

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Throughout these, Burke has overseen roster moves and hockey operations decisions with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. It will be interesting to see how his all or nothing approach goes over with the Flames, which has traditionally been a conservative organization.

Brian Burke’s success or failure with Calgary will ultimately be decided on the ice and in the standings, where the Flames finished out of the playoffs last season. For Feaster, the future is not as clear. How much decision making power will he retain? He is the club’s general manager, but with Burke entering the picture, most hockey people feel Feaster has now been relegated to a position of helplessness.

Both men have said all the right things publicly concerning their ability to work together, but Burke’s history shows that he typically makes most, if not all, hockey decisions unilaterally.

Burke’s latest post was as president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs where, from 2008 to 2013, his teams consistently failed to make the playoffs. His time in Toronto was punctuated by poor trades, acquiring Phil Kessel from Boston for Toronto’s first round picks from now until eternity, for starters, lackluster drafting and an intransigence when it came to allowing Toronto’s younger players to step up. 

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In Toronto, Burke, who was born in the U.S. but has dual U.S./Canadian citizenship, consistently added U.S. born players to what many feel is Canada’s team. Had the Leafs performed better, the nationalities of the roster would have been of small importance, but as their ongoing ineptitude drew the ire of Toronto’s ultra critical media and fan base, Leaf nation began to question Burke’s American-heavy roster moves.

With Burke taking over another Canadian team, the questions have already begun regarding how quickly he will start adding American players. While the spotlight in Calgary is not quite as bright as Toronto, there is tremendous pressure to win. While Flames fans understand that an aging and ineffective core of players had to be blown up, they must see signs from the new regime that there is a plan in place to move the club forward.

The Flames current depth chart is riddled with needs, from goaltending to the top six forward spots. There are a few bright prospects in the Flames system, but not as many as the team or its fans would like. Burke will not only need to hit the ground running with some savvy roster moves in the next few months, he must also lead his hockey operations staff toward a strong draft in June. 

Brian Burke is one of those people who sucks all the air out of a room. He has a big personality, which attracts attention wherever he goes. Unfortunately, his bold moves are not always for the better. Will Calgary soon be winning a championship like Burke’s 2007 Anaheim Ducks, or are they doomed to suffer the fate of the Maple Leafs of the last five years?

Furthermore, will Burke allow Feaster to participate in the day to day operation of the club? Both men have a Stanley Cup to their name and have been around the league enough to know what it takes to build a champion. Anxious Flames fans are hoping they will.

Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

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Russ Rankin

Raised in the decidedly non-traditional hockey region of Santa Cruz, California, Russ Rankin fell in love with the game as a kid while watching the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He began playing recreationally as an adult when the Sharks joined the NHL in nearby San Jose and regularly attends Sharks home games. His favorite NHL team is the New Jersey Devils, which he has been following since the 1987-88 season. In 2007, with more and more U.S. born players (particularly from California) making an impact in the WHL, Rankin pursued his passion and knowledge of the game into a job scouting California for WHL clubs. He can be seen at rinks all over the state searching for the next great crop of players.

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