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Burke, Nonis Blueprint On Display

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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It is the nature of the sports business that someone else might hang the picture you painted.

Ask Brian Burke and Dave Nonis, architects of the Vancouver Canucks team that is seeking to end Canada’s run of undeclared Stanley Cup parades at 18.

The Canucks, of course, were largely assembled by Burke and Nonis, now the Leafs’ Vice President of Hockey Ops. With no team currently in the playoffs (perhaps you’ve heard), it falls to Leaf fans to figure out how Burke and Nonis plan to levitate the club into the post-season.

The Canucks are built on seven pillars: The Sedin twins, goalie Roberto Luongo, forwards Alexandre Burrows and Ryan Kesler, coach Alain Vigneault, as well as defencemen Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa. Six of those were installed by Burke and Nonis.

The Sedins were famously acquired by Burke at the 1999 draft. It took trades with Tampa and Atlanta to do what seemed impossible, bring the brothers to North America while accommodating their demand to play together. Burke drafted the Sedins after Atlanta took Patrik Stefan as one of the all-time worst number one picks. Obviously, the Canucks needed some luck, but history has long since validated the decision to take the twins. The only other impact players from that draft were two late rounders: Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg.

Luongo, the lightning rod for these playoffs and the gold medal winning goalie at the 2010 Olympics was acquired on Nonis’ watch. The Canucks basically swapped the freefalling Todd Bertuzzi to Florida for Luongo in a deal no one in Vancouver would redo, despite Luongo’s sometimes erratic ways.

Burrows was a wild card, an undrafted free agent who Nonis signed. It was a terrific find. Sprung from the ECHL, Burrows brought grit, attitude and goalscoring ability to the table. He has been a standout for Vancouver in the post-season.

Burke drafted Kesler in the first round, 23rd overall in 2003 and while that was an excellent choice, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Loui Ericksson and Shea Weber were taken after. That draft had staggering depth. Jeff Carter, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf and Brent Seabrook were taken before Kesler. In retrospect, it would have been hard to miss.

Vigneault was a Nonis hire who had been cashiered in Montreal. He immediately established a presence in Vancouver.

That leaves Ehrhoff, a shrewd acquisition by current GM Mike Gillis.

Now consider Burke’s impact on the 2007 Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.

Much of the groundwork for that team was pieced together by Bryan Murray who was wintering in Ottawa by the time the Ducks enjoyed their parade in 2007.

The championship came in Burke’s second year but he nonetheless made a handful of key personnel moves that directly impacted the team’s Stanley Cup run.

First, he landed Chris Pronger, the linchpin of the Cup victory from the Edmonton Oilers. It has become a favorite bromide from Burke that he overpaid for Pronger but had a parade.

When it was said and done, Edmonton would have the services of Joffrey Lupul, defenceman Ladislav Smid and Jordan Eberle for Pronger.
Burke’s masterstroke with Anaheim was in signing free agent defenceman Scott Niedermayer. To do so he leveraged the one asset no one else had, Scott’s brother Rob. The two ached to play together.

Burke also divined that Teemu Selanne, who seemed washed up after a series leg injuries, would rebound and signed the Finnish star to a one-year free agent deal. Selanne would deliver 40 and 48 goal seasons.

No surprise then that Burke made the Phil Kessel trade. Dealing instead of drafting talent contributed to one Stanley Cup in Anaheim. It might yet produce one in Vancouver as well. Burke says he rarely worries about what he is giving and concentrates instead on what he is getting. It seems to work.

You can argue about Burke’s impact on the Canucks and Ducks. What is beyond dispute is the staggering range of methods he will use.
Signings for potentially burned out free agents, complicated draft day deals, unique negotiations to snare players like Pronger who are getting out of Dodge and looking for a place to land, even an understanding of the importance of familial love.

Brian Burke has used these devices before. Who knows, he might do so again.
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