Burke Era Begins in Calgary
It's not that Brian Burke can't work with others.
It's just that he works with them best as the boss and front men because he's very, very good at both.
As a behind-the-scenes support guy? Not sure about that.
"I know people think I need to be driving the bus all the time," he said today at his introductory press conference in Calgary. "I'm actually a pretty good teammate."
That's actually true. Burke and Dave Nonis worked intimately together in Toronto, often with Nonis actually pulling the trigger on key decisions. Nonis was the guy who sneaked into Calgary several years ago to be the pointman on the Dion Phaneuf deal. Nonis did the Cody Franson trade with Nashville.
Burke can share, and he loves to promote the executives who work with him when it comes time to getting jobs with other teams.
But always as the front man. So it's the same Burke taking over with the Flames in the newly minted president of hockey operations role, but supposedly letting others take centre stage.
"I'm not changing," he said. "But it's a lesser role."
Maybe it can work. Less than nine months after being fired by Bell boss George Cope because Cope didn't like the cut of his jib, Burke now emerges in Calgary with a downtrodden team that needs to recapture the confidence of the city and find a way to build a new arena.
That sounds like a job tailor-made for Burke as we've known him, not as a quiet, behind-the-scenes suit.
He's 58, not 68, hardly ready to be a senior consultant type. He loves to be in the middle of the fight, on the horn with other GMs, scrapping with members of the media.
Poor Jay Feaster. He's now got to report to Burke, and while the Burke-Nonis model might apply here, no one would look at Burke and Feaster and see them as similar hockey men with similar philosophies.
Likeliest scenario? Burke is GM as well within two years.
"If both guys are determined to make it work, it's works beautifully," argued Burke, while acknowledging few NHL teams use this operational model.
"This is new for both of us."
With team president and CEO Ken King still king of the castle, his powers undiminished, this has the feel of that doomed structure in Toronto that featured Ken Dryden, Bill Watters, Anders Hedberg and Mike Smith all part of a four-headed monster that didn't have a prayer of working.
Burke took one thinly-veiled shot at Cope and MLSE, praising the ownership of the Flames and saying "no one can touch them."
But Calgary ownership has okayed this awkward new structure, and really has avoided making a tougher decision, which would have been to dismiss King and Feaster and start with a clean slate.
It's easy for everyone, of course, to say the right things now.
"I'm not the GM of the Calgary Flames. Jay Feaster is," said Burke. "Both committed to winning. I think I can provide some help.
"I intend to have a background role. People will believe it when they see it."
But in his next breath, Burke said, "If Jay has something to do, we'll talk about it, try to reach some kind of consensus.
"He is going to be in charge, but with my guidance."
Which means Feaster isn't in charge. Burke is. Unless King wants to be.
Burke said he initially rebuffed the Flames because he wanted to be GM, not a president and had to get "his head around" a different role.
"This is a different job. This guy allows a guy of my seniority to do less of the grunt work," he said.
He acknowledged the rebuild in Toronto took longer than he expected, but said Feaster has already started the process, including trading away longtime captain Jarome Iginla last March.
Learning from his Toronto experience, Burke gave no promises on when the Flames would be competitive again.
"It's hard in a cap system to turn your team around. It's a slower process. I don't like time frames," he said. "There's some luck involved. . .I do think there's help on the way, and I think Calgary had the best draft of any team in the NHL."
Calgary, no doubt, will be different than Toronto, just as Toronto was different than Anaheim.
So Burke will have to be different to succeed. But different enough not to be the man in charge?
I'll believe it when I see it.