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Flames hire Burke as president of hockey operations

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- After a lengthy search to add an executive to the hockey operations department, the Calgary Flames had one name at the top of their list: Brian Burke.

Burke was named president of hockey operations during a press conference at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday, earning the new position after beating out a field of about 60 candidates.

"It's a very proud day for me to join the Calgary Flames," Burke said. "It's a great city, it's a great hockey market, great ownership group, great alumni group, and I just couldn't be more pleased to be here today."

Burke will report to Flames president and COO Ken King. General manager Jay Feaster will handle the day-to-day transactions of the department and will report to Burke.

Collectively, Burke and Feaster will head the on-ice brain trust of the Flames.

"We've talked about this for a long time, and certainly when the concept was broached with me and ownership had indicated it was something they had been thinking about, we endorsed it," Feaster said. "I endorsed it as the GM, my staff endorses this. To be able to bring somebody in who has won a Stanley Cup, who has taken a team to that lofty level and who has been in the game in as many capacities as Brian has been throughout his career, to be able to tap into that wealth of knowledge on a daily basis, it's a great thing."

The system reminded Burke of another group he's involved in.

"When Ken first described this job to me, it's a lot like the committee that Team USA put together for the U.S. Olympic Team," Burke said. "It's a committee of guys that put the team together, not one GM. They're pooling expertise, pooling experience, so that to me was the best example to draw from. If both guys are willing to make this work and determined to make it work, it works beautifully."

At the NHL level, the structure is relatively untested. On the professional sports landscape, it's proved effective.

"There are a number of teams in the National Football League that do, a number of teams in Major League Baseball that do, and a number of teams in the NBA that do, and it works effectively and it's going to work here," Burke said.

The Flames almost didn't land the former Toronto Maple Leafs GM.

"When Ken first approached me about this job, I told him politely I didn't think I was interested," Burke said. "I'd been a GM, I was a GM since my first time in 1992 and other than five years at the League level and one year being out of work, I've been a GM. I respect the group. I like being a part of the group. This is a different job, and I talked to my guys in the other sports that have pondered this scenario and watched it work.

"I was skeptical about the job to start, but as Ken explained the structure, it made more sense to me."

Recalling a scouting trip to Russia may have reminded Burke about the benefits of the new role.

"This past year right before I got let go in Toronto, I was in Ufa for the World Juniors," Burke said. "I didn't enjoy that. I got sick as a dog. The food was awful. I said to myself, 'This is not a good use of my time.'

"This job allows a guy of my seniority to do less of the grunt work, the day-to-day stuff, but still be involved. I had to get my head around that and Ken did a good job of selling that."

From the sounds of it, it wasn't such a tough sell.

"Once Ken talked to me about it, I did a little research and I'm thinking I get along great with Jay, I like the city, I like the ownership group, I like the job description," Burke said.

That research included chatting with Ned Colletti, GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Bill Polian, former general manager of the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.

"They both said this is the wave of the future and this is what all teams are going to do down the road, and a job to be interested in if you are comfortable with the ownership group and like the city," Burke said. "I've always liked it here and trust the ownership group.

"It wasn't that Ken sold me on it as much as once he laid it out, I thought about it and did some research it, it made a lot more sense."

It makes a lot of sense from the Flames perspective too.

"Brian has had a storied and considerable and venerable hockey career, I think we all know that," King said. "He's had success, he's won and he has had a huge impact on our sport not only on the ice, but in many, many other ways. He had a big decision to make in terms of whether or not for the next phase of his career he could move into a different role.

"He did make that decision and we couldn't be more pleased that he decided to join us."

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