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George Johnson: Burke talks about life in the bunker for NHL trade deadline

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Slotted into a metal railing attached to the wooden double-doors leading into a conference room is a small sign of occupancy, and caution:

Meeting in Progress.

Has been in progress, actually, for the entirety of two days already. And will be ongoing through Wednesday, 1 p.m. MTN, and perhaps beyond should something happen at the witching hour and hurried, late paperwork require attending.

Video: Flames TV's Ryan Leslie talks to Brian Burke


"Hey,'' says Calgary Flames' GM Brad Treliving by way of greeting, heading back into that conference room adjoining the offices at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday, post-morning-skate.

Holding up a partially-gnawed burrito, he shrugs.


Yes, the NHL's trade deadline approacheth.

"Our phones are ringing,'' says president of hockey ops Brian Burke, an old hand at the inner workings of D-Day. "We're trying to do a couple of things.

"I think Tre has added a couple of pieces that are very important for us to make the playoffs in the two defencemen (Matt Bartkowski and Michael Stone). But we're still looking to see if there's anything else we can do.

"You just never know."

Holed up in the corporate bunker with the Meeting In Progress to shoo away the curious on Wednesday will be a battalion of 10:

Treliving, Burke, assistant general managers Craig Conroy and Brad Pascall, hockey analytics director Chris Snow, hockey administration director Mike Burke as well as the organization's four pro scouts - Derek MacKinnon, Don Maloney, Steve Leach and Steve Pleau.

"I hope,'' jokes Conroy, "we're all fond of pizza."

Monday, as the final countdown to the deadline commenced, the Flames' management/scouting team arrived at the rink at 7:30 a.m. and left for home around 9:30 p.m.

Being a game day, Tuesday's pivotal 2-1 OT victory against the division-rival L.A. Kings broke up the routine.

Wednesday, it was back to the bunker, at the crack of dawn.

Video: Flames TV's Ryan Leslie talks to GM Brad Treliving

"They're long days,'' acknowledges Burke. "It's quiet for awhile, then you get a call, a team asking if you'd do this or that, and you get excited again.

"I enjoy it. I think the trade deadline and the draft are the two most fun days for a general manager, for different reasons.

"Tre's the guy working the phone. He's the GM. he'll get off the phone and say, as an example: 'I just talked to Seattle, and they offered us Brad Treliving for Brian Burke.' We toss it around, chew it up, look at the money, where the contacts are in terms of years left.

"In a hard salary-cap system it's much more difficult to make deals. Simple as that. Donny Maloney and I were laughing the other day - when you were a GM in the pre-cap system and you lost two games in a row, you'd shuffle a guy out, make a small deal and change the deck a bit.

"That's hard to do now."

Trade Deadline is all about moving parts, of dominoes falling this way and that, of points and counterpoints,

"As guys change places,'' says Burke, "it affects the price tags on the guys remaining. You say: 'OK, we want a veteran defenceman. The prices on that commodity is already pretty high. And they're only going to go up on Deadline Day.'

"So then you've got to decide."

Deals can happen in an instant.

"I remember a trade deadline in Anaheim,'' Burke recalls. "We'd had no action on Sandis Ozolinsh and 20 minutes before the deadline we got a call from the Rangers and were able to move him for a third-round pick.

"Sometimes, something comes together at the last minute. Sometimes there are deals you've been working on for 60 days that finally come to fruition at the deadline.

"First off, you have to decide if you're a seller or a buyer. You're one or the other. If you're a seller and you've got three or four expiring contracts, your phone is ringing off the hook. The advice I got early on from Glen Sather was: Slow play that. The prices go up, not down.

"But the best advice I think I ever received on the deadline was from Pat Quinn. One year, we had the chance to make two or three deals and Pat - I'll always remember this - said we, GMs, make more mistakes at the trade deadline than we do at any other time of the year.

"He said: 'There'll be 15-16 teams add guys and there's only one parade.'

"My feeling is, if you're looking to add you usually overpay and you give up assets - second-, third-round picks - that haunt you for years.

"I tried to make my deals a week, two or even three before. And if I liked my team I tried not to tinker too much at the deadline.

"The year we won the Cup (in Anaheim, 2007) we added Brad May three weeks before the deadline. That was it and we obviously had a parade

"There are GMs adding guys to try and make the playoffs or ensure that they can stay in a playoff spot. But the prices that have already been paid, if you check, are steep."

Burke - "a pretty early-morning guy anyway" - plans on being at the 'Dome by 6 a.m. on Wednesday. When SportsNet goes on the air, the TV will be blaring, the coffee pot gurgling and the push/pull of executive gamesmanship on the clock.

A 9-2-1 run has the Flames now very much in charge of their own playoff destiny. In beating the Kings on Tuesday, they moved to within two points of the Anaheim Ducks for the third automatic playoff berth out of the Pacific Division.

"Does it change things that the guys have come together nicely and the goaltending has been really good?'' says Burke of February's impact on any further tweaking Wednesday.

"Yes. It changes things.

"I could see us doing nothing now. Adding the two defensemen we did and doing nothing further.

"But we're going to turn every stone, see if there's a way to improve the team and go from there.

"I just offer my guidance.

"I think we have a helluva GM. It's fun watching him work that phone. He's making lots of calls, initiating lots of discussions.

"Whatever happens or doesn't happen, he's gonna have sore fingers after tomorrow."


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