Prioritizing Brian Burke's To-Do List After Hiring by Calgary Flames
Brian Burke is back in hockey and that's great news for NHL fans everywhere.
The bold, impatient and opinionated former general manager of the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs was formally introduced as the new President of Hockey Operations with the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
Jay Feaster will remain in his role as general manager and work as a team with Burke to help the Flames undergo a successful rebuild after several mediocre seasons, which has resulted in a four-year playoff drought.
Burke doesn't have much to work with in Calgary. In fact, a strong argument could be made that he had many more valuable assets to work with in Toronto when he was hired by the Original Six club in 2008.
This is going to be a meticulous and lengthy rebuild with the Flames, and there are many areas for Burke to address when he gets to work.
Let's look at a prioritized to-do list of objectives for him to accomplish over the next three years.
1. Trade Veterans with Expiring Contracts for Young Players And/or Draft Picks
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The Flames traded two veterans with expiring contracts before last year's trade deadline, Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester.
These players didn't fit into the team's long-term plans, so the right move was made to trade them. However, the assets received for these talented veterans was far from ideal, specifically with the Iginla-to-Pittsburgh deal that netted Calgary a low first-round pick and two average NCAA prospects.
There are a few veterans on the Flames entering the final year of their contract this season who must be traded to help Calgary stockpile the draft picks and young players needed for a successful rebuild. The key will be maximizing the return for these veterans.
A few notable players who could be dealt before the deadline include wingers Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak, as well as center Matt Stajan.
When Burke moved veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle from the Leafs to the Bruins during the 2010-11 season, he acquired a first-round pick, a top prospect (at the time) in Joe Colborne and a conditional pick.
He's been able to get great value for his UFA-to-be in the trade market during his career as a GM, and it's something that must happen in Calgary for this team to rebuild as quickly as possible.
2. Improve NHL Roster and Prospect Pool Through the Draft
The Calgary Flames have one of the weakest prospect pools in the NHL. Therefore, the biggest challenges that Burke has in Calgary are to acquire and develop young players who, if everything goes to plan, become part of a championship core that allows the franchise to compete long-term.
This year's first-round pick Sean Monahan is the only elite-level prospect in the organization. Sven Baertschi is another highly skilled forward prospect, but he hasn't shown enough consistency at the AHL or NHL levels.
Burke likes to build physical teams that are tough to play against, so expect to hear the word "truculence" a lot over the next couple of years. It's a message he delivered in his press conference on Thursday. "Successful teams in the league are big, we are going to get bigger."
Calgary has added size and grit over the last year with draft picks and prospects acquired in trades, but there is still a lot of work to do in this area.
Goaltending is another area of concern for Calgary because longtime starter Miikka Kiprusoff is expected to formally retire in the near future.
The lack of an elite prospect with the skill set and mental makeup needed to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly. Burke spent five years trying to find a reliable starting goalie in Toronto, but never accomplished that goal.
At the top of the list of positional needs are finding a No. 1 center (Monahan could be this player) and a goaltender for the future. Until these weaknesses are addressed, Calgary won't become a contending team anytime soon.
Given the Flames' lack of talent at the NHL level, this team should have a top-five draft pick in each of the next two years. Making these selections count and building on what was a successful 2013 draft will go a long way towards turning this franchise around.
3. Use Salary Cap Space Wisely, Stay Away from High-Priced Free Agents
Burke will inherit a lot of salary cap space after the 2013-14 season, which will allow the Flames to re-sign young players that are key to the future and look into adding veterans from the free-agent market who could provide valuable depth and leadership.
According to CapGeek, the Flames currently only have about $30.4 million in salary cap space used up in 11 players for the 2014-15 season. The cap ceiling for the 2013-14 season is $64.3 million, and the expectation is that the cap will rise steadily after next year as league revenue grows. It's possible that Calgary could have $30-40 million in cap space next summer.
Flames ownership has spent close to the cap in recent seasons, so it wouldn't be surprising if Burke has plenty of money to use in free agency during his tenure.
With that said, his track record of free agent signings as Toronto general manager was not great. The additions of players such as Tim Connolly, Mike Komisarek and Colby Armstrong added little depth and quality to the Leafs, and their overpaid contracts hurt the team's cap flexibility.
Making these poor signings in Calgary would prolong the team's rebuild, so unless Burke finds a perfect fit for his club, it would be best for him to stay away from free agency while running the Flames rebuild and focus on improving the roster through trades and the draft.
Not many of the Stanley Cup champions in the salary cap era (2005-06 to the present) became top teams because of major free-agent acquisitions.
4. Be Patient with Rebuild
"I'm not a patient person. I was born impatient, I'm going to die impatient."
These are some of Burke's words during his end-of-the-year press conference with the Leafs following a disappointing 2011-12 season.
As the President of Hockey Operations in Calgary, Burke will have to show a much higher level of patience with this franchise's rebuild that he did in Toronto. Building the Flames back into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender is going to be a lengthy process, one that won't be successfully completed without a lot of patience.
Burke tried to expedite the Leafs' rebuild by trading two first-round picks to the Boston Bruins for star winger Phil Kessel prior to the 2009-10 season.
Even though Kessel has done well in Toronto as one of the league's best goal scorers, this trade allowed a division rival to acquire the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft and the No. 9 selection in the 2011 draft (which turned into talented young players Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, respectively).
This is the type of trade that a legitimate contender makes, not a team that still has a long way to go before it challenges for the Stanley Cup. It was a sign of impatience from Burke, and if he is going to succeed in Calgary, he must give the team's young players the time needed to develop and grow as NHL players.
Toronto is just starting to build a perennial playoff contender five years after Burke was hired in 2008. Rebuilds in a salary cap system take time, but will Burke be willing to wait three or five years for real progress to be made in Calgary?
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.