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Burke preaching patience with Flames

by Aaron Vickers

By his own admission, Brian Burke isn't the most patient of individuals.

With his Calgary Flames working on the ground floor of a complete renovation, the newly minted president of hockey operations has no option but to find some.

"We get paid to stay patient," said Burke, who joined the organization in early September. "It's not fun, but that's what we're paid to do. As long as you believe the blueprint is going to work and the plan is a sound one. I'm not saying it's my long suit. It certainly isn't. Patience really isn't in the first or second part of my vocabulary, but that's what we get paid to do."

After failing to qualify for a playoff appearance in each of the past four seasons, Flames general manager Jay Feaster began selling off assets to kick-start a rebuild.

It started when Calgary traded longtime captain Jarome Iginla and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in advance of last season's trade deadline. It continued when Miikka Kiprusoff announced his anticipated retirement in September.

With a noticeably younger roster, Burke suggested it's time to exercise that patience and see what can grow in Calgary.

"It's a lot like farming," he said. "Sometimes you've got to plant the field and you've just got to sit and wait. You can weed if you want. You can do some other things, but basically you've got to wait and you've got to see what that crop is, you've got to see if the weather cooperates and sometimes you've got to wait and see.

"What do we have? What are we going to have? What are some of these young guys going to turn into? I think it's a fair question, but we get paid to be patient. That's sometimes what you have to do. If you think it's not fun for a fan when the team is struggling, it's no fun for anyone that works for the team. We're not prepared to concede we're going to struggle yet. We'll see. These guys have worked their tails off."

Calgary's 2013 NHL Draft crop has already started to yield some results. Sean Monahan, the Flames' top selection last June has stuck, for now, in Calgary.

But at just 18 years old, Burke uttered the p-word again in tempering expectations for the No. 6 pick.

"I'm very impressed with our first round pick," he said. "I had nothing to do with Mr. Monahan being selected so when I say that, I'm obviously not taking any ownership of that, but I'm very impressed with him.

"I've been a guy who's always sent guys back to junior after their draft year. If you look at my record on it, it's pretty clear: Bobby Ryan, Nazem Kadri, those guys go back. I think this kid's going to make it a real difficult decision for Jay as far as whether he goes back or not.

"The reason that why I send players back is the coach would never guarantee me he'd give them enough minutes or enough situational ice time to get better," Burke explained. "Morgan Rielly last year, it was a lockout year, poor example. He goes back and he plays 28, 30, 31 minutes some nights, all first power play, first PK. He's getting an incubator to learn in in all different man-power situations on every inch of the ice surface that he's not going to get if he stays with the Toronto Maple Leafs and plays seven or eight minutes.

"The challenge to (coach) Bob (Hartley) is going to be if you guarantee Jay that this kid is going to play so many minutes and he can stay and in these situations, power play time and so on. If not, going back to the CHL, it's almost never hurt a player to go back."

"I think they're two good outcomes and I think Sean is going to dictate which one with his play early, and whether he can justify the minutes and situational ice time that we would need to keep him here."

Burke would have liked to see another former first-round pick better dictate his destination.

Though he remains in Calgary on the Flames' opening-night roster, Sven Baertschi -- taken at No. 13 in the 2011 NHL Draft -- has underwhelmed through training camp to the point that Burke isn't sure what he has yet in the 20-year-old with 25 games of NHL experience under his belt.

"All I've seen so far is flashes of brilliance," he said of Baertschi, who remains on Calgary's opening-night roster. "Flashes of brilliance are fine if you're working in the university, but they're not much good to people in an NHL building.

"He's got to learn to play. There's three zones on the ice surface in this League. I don't see that he's learned to play and compete in two of them. He's got to learn there's a clock in this League and that there's so many minutes in the game, and you've got to compete through all of them. I see this is a guy right now that is focusing on one area, and even then sporadically.

"I don't know what we have. I'm not ready to quit on a young kid and I'm not ready to throw him under the bus here today and rip him, but I think you can tell from my comments that I see big holes and a lack of commitment that is not going to get him anywhere in my books. I've seen kids that age with those holes that turn into players."

The patience required with Baertschi is the same that could be required with Calgary's on-ice product.

A young contingent without a marquee name or a spectacular puck-stopper to band-aid the team through the initial stages of a rebuild, few, if any, are expecting the Flames to challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

But Burke wasn't willing to join in on the prognosticating; instead preaching patience over results in what has been the club's mantra through camp.

"Predictions for the season, I don't make those. We're going to do the best we can and see where it goes. From my perspective, this is a transition that had to take place and it's well underway."

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