Brian Burke termed the decision about having to leave off a number of veteran players off Team USA's roster for the upcoming Winter Olympics "agonizing," but feels confident about the group he and coach Ron Wilson will bring to Vancouver.
Joining NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for Thursday night's NHL Hour, the General Manager of Team USA and the Toronto Maple Leafs was asked how tough it was to pass on some of the standouts of past years.
"To steal the title from Tom Brokaw's book, they were our 'Greatest Generation,'" Burke said. "To turn the page on them, given what they've given USA Hockey over the years, was extremely difficult. You don't turn away from champions, from gladiators lightly."
On a happier note, Burke spoke about the universal reaction he received from the younger players who will be representing their country in an Olympics for the first time.
"When I spoke to [Anaheim Ducks forward] Bobby Ryan -- there was a pause, he was just in awe. Then he said, 'I am so proud,'" Burke said. "It was all the same reaction -- 'When do we start?' 'What's next?' 'Who else made the team?'"
While Burke ultimately decided the make-up of the team, he did budge on some issues such as carrying a 13th forward instead of an eighth defenseman. While he said he had been convinced a year earlier that a team could never have enough defense, he recognized the need for specialists and thought an extra forward could serve a role on the power-play or penalty-killing units.
Burke pointed to the team he built in Anaheim that won the Stanley Cup in 2007 -- while the most attention went to star players like Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry, guys like Todd Marchant and Samuel Pahlsson were equally important.
"We need specialists. We can't just match up our top 20 players against the top 20 from Canada and expect to win," Burke said.
He also touched on each of the three goaltenders the U.S. will bring to Vancouver -- Buffalo's Ryan Miller, Boston's Tim Thomas and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick. Burke said that with the absence of back-to-back games on the Olympic schedule, he would be shocked if most teams didn't use a one-goalie system, though he said that decision as well as which goalie will start would start fall to Wilson.
There was no hiding his praise for Miller, however.
"Ryan Miller has been the best goalie in the NHL this season. I think if the voting was today he would run away with the Vezina Trophy," Burke said, adding the selection of Thomas was easy after he won the Vezina last season. The third goalie came down to Quick or Colorado's Craig Anderson, and the team decided to go with the younger Quick to give him more experience on the international stage with a look toward the future.
Bettman and co-host Bill Clement also touched on the ratings success of the Winter Classic and took phone calls from fans, one of whom wanted to know, should the League expand the event and hold two outdoor games in the future, if the games would be held on separate days so that aspiring fans could attend both.
Unfortunately, the final seconds were running out on the show, but Bettman was able to get in a one-word answer -- "probably" -- before it was time to go off the air.
NHL Hour with Gary Bettman now airs Thursday nights at 6 p.m.