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Burke says 'We're all nuts'

by Phil Coffey
"Anything happening?"

That phrase has replaced "Hello" in the hockey world these days.

The next few days will see some of the most intense interest of the entire season as fans, general managers, coaches, players, reporters and just about anyone who has an interest in hockey checks for developments prior to Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

For fans, this is an exciting time. For players, it is a time of apprehension. For general managers, it makes them question their sanity.

"There's horrible math involved here," Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke said. "Any mathematician will tell you that we're all crazy. Collective pronoun again. We're all nuts. Because there's 30 teams, there's one parade. After the first round there's only eight teams playing. So that's in the first round, you know, you get 22 teams on the sidelines. The math is horrible.
"The notion that you're going to add to your team and hope you win a round, the math defies that," Burke said. "But the human element is, first off, there's that optimism we all share, that belief we're missing that one piece. Second, your team expects it. Your players are looking to you to add weapons for this last part of the race. so we all get sucked in. We all make poor decisions and brilliant decisions.

"Some guys have made brilliant decisions at the trade deadline that have won them rounds, carried them farther than they should go. But for every guy that makes a brilliant decision, there are five or six of us that made poor ones that same day. It's an awful day, it's an exciting day, it's a day full of magic, and a day full of very poor decision making."

Hence the reason we all love it. Even Burke knows the lead-up to the deadline heightens interest in the game.
"I think trade rumors, as long as they're not untruthful and doesn't spook a player that doesn't deserve to be spooked, as long as there is something to them, I think they're helpful to our business," Burke said. "For people to be able to stand around a water cooler, coffee area in an office, talk about, 'Hey, did you hear about this guy might be going here,' I think it sells tickets and generates a buzz. That's one of the things, of course, not getting on a stump here, but my proposal to a lot of teams to retain salary and trades is based on that. I think that speculation is helpful to our business and does sell tickets."

But for all the chatter we enjoy about swapping Player A for Player B, remember the general managers are the ones sweating blood trying to make the right deals.

"I don't think the pressure on our group changes from year to year," Burke said. "Like there's a pressure on our group to win; it doesn't change. That's why I've said repeatedly, we -- and I'm using a collective pronoun -- we make our mistakes as a group more on the trade deadline than we do the rest of the year. That's historical and I don't think it will change.

"Trades might be harder to make in this system. I don't think the pressure on an individual GM in a specific market that hasn't got the job done or someone leapfrogged him in the standings, or whatever, that doesn't change. The pressure doesn't change. It's unrelenting, unremitting. Therefore, the temptation to add to your team or take from your team at the deadline, regardless of the price, is always there."
Happy to help -- Jarome Iginla is closing in on becoming the top point producer in Calgary Flames history. And according to Ian Busby in the Calgary Sun, Iginla's teammates all want to be in on the historic goal. In other words, Iginla can expect a lot of passes. Heading into Friday's game against the Wild, Iginla needs two points to tie Theo Fleury's mark of 830 points and three to have the mark all to himself.

"It will be around forever in Calgary," longtime teammate Craig Conroy said. "I have a feeling it will be on the power play, so maybe I won't be out there. I will have to push him hard five-on-five.

"This one will be historic. It will be remembered. People will talk about it, not just now, but years from now. They will say, 'I was at the game where Jarome Iginla broke Theo's record.'"

"If I were able to get him the puck, it would be more special," Mike Cammalleri said. "All of us feel we are witnessing something pretty special being on this team."

Wait 'til next year -- It has been quite the season for the Chicago Blackhawks, who have improved by leaps and bounds in virtually every possible aspect, as a team and as a business.

Blackhawks President John McDonough, however, told Len Ziehm of the Chicago Sun-Times that the best is yet to come.

"In many ways, I feel we haven't even gotten started yet," he said. "We have a lot of time to make up for. Our goal is to have the elite franchise in sports. We're not a franchise that will ever be complacent. We want people to know that there's a Blackhawk way of doing things, and we don't want any shortcuts. This is a major-market franchise, and we've got to treat it accordingly."

McDonough has asked to host an NHL All-Star Game and an Entry Draft, and the club is building a new training and practice facility close to the United Center.

"We recognize that other teams want those things, too, but we'll always be on (Commissioner) Gary Bettman's menu," McDonough said. "We want him to know that this is a great destination for players."

No key to the city -- Let's just say that Claude Lemieux never is going to get a warm welcome in Detroit based on past transgressions while playing for the Colorado Avalanche in one of the hottest rivalries in NHL history.

So when Lemieux returned to Detroit this week with the San Jose Sharks, all was neither forgiven nor forgotten.

"Probably no different than what it used to be," Lemieux told Dave Dye of the Detroit News when asked what kind of reception he expected. "I don't expect to become a fan favorite in Detroit. It's not something I worry about. I worry about playing the game and helping out the club the best I can."


"It's great to be here," Lemieux told reporters before the Wings posted a 4-1 win. "It's great to have an opportunity to play hockey again and face the Red Wings."

"This has been a great team here. They won four Cups (in 11 seasons). I had an opportunity to be part of these great rivalries (Detroit-Colorado). It was good for hockey. I think hockey was at its best as far as TV ratings and the interest of the hockey fans. They couldn't wait to sit down and watch those games. We need more rivalries of that kind to help promote our game."

Was he ever gone? -- Out since having surgery to repair a torn left biceps tendon in his left arm in early November, Martin Brodeur's first game back Thursday against Colorado looked a lot like any other game Brodeur has appeared in over the years -- a win.

Brodeur stopped all 24 shots he faced in a 4-0 victory, his 99th regular-season shutout.

"I didn't have any expectations about how I was going to play," Brodeur said. "I know I felt good enough to get back in the lineup. Again, this is one game. We'll see what the next one will be like and how I'm going to feel. It's a matter of playing a lot of games and getting myself back to where I was when I left.

"I didn't want to disappoint anybody," he said. "I was excited to come back. My friends and family were all excited. My parents, too. I just wanted to do well and that's a lot of pressure for just a game. Usually I don't do that, but this is passed now. It was fun, but it was demanding."

The Devils did a solid job making his return easier. He didn't face a shot until six minutes had passed and Colorado had five shots in the first period, a dozen in the second and seven in the third.

"We don't want to make things hard on our goaltender. We take pride in that," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "When there were some scoring opportunities there, Marty made the saves and under control. He was very poised in the net. There wasn't a lot of work, but when there was, he was there."

Jack of all trades -- Jason Strudwick has played for five NHL teams in his career -- the Islanders, Canucks, Blackhawks, Rangers and now the Oilers. As a defensive-minded defenseman, Strudwick doesn't get a lot of recognition, except from his coaches and teammates.

Another factor that makes Strudwick valuable is his versatility, as Robert Tychkowski wrote in the Edmonton Sun.

"He's lived up to the billing," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "Since we got him, I've heard nothing but good things and it's easy to see why. He plays the game the right way -- terrific energy in the room and a little offense the other night. He quickly ingratiated himself to everyone in the organization."

Strudwick signed as a free agent with the Oilers this summer, and MacTavish remains surprised and happy Edmonton was able to sign him.

"It's puzzling that a guy who brings that much in today's era, on 23-man rosters where you need the versatility of a guy who can play right defense, left defense, right wing and left wing, was available," MacTavish said. "He's a pretty valuable piece."

"For me it's all about preparation," Strudwick said of his role. "It's the first time I've been in a situation like this. I just want to be prepared for whatever opportunities come my way.

"The streak I had at forward was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed it. That was the most fun I've had playing forward."

Long time coming -- Wednesday's Leafs-Rangers game was John Tortorella's first as Rangers coach and also featured another "first" of sorts as Markus Naslund got into a scrap with the Leafs' Ian White. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the fighting major was the first for Naslund since Dec. 4, 1993, a stretch of 15 years and 83 days. Back then, Naslund had a scrap with Hartford's Randy Cunneyworth.

According to Elias, the last NHL player to have that long a span between fighting majors was none other than Mario Lemieux, who had a gap of 15 years, 323 days between fighting majors in March 1987 and February 2003. Of course, Mario missed four full seasons and parts of several others over that span due to injuries, serious illnesses, and a 3 1/2-year retirement.

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