Brian Burke: A Man Obsessed with Checking-Line Forwards

Bobby RussellCorrespondent IOctober 10, 2008

Last week, the Anaheim Ducks sent Bobby Ryan down to their AHL affiliate in Iowa.

Ryan, who is affectionately known as "the guy drafted right after Crosby," has only appeared in 23 NHL games. His appearances have been sporadic—which is another way of saying that he hasn't been given a chance.

Last evening was supposed to be Ryan's formal debut, and he was penciled-in to play on the first line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Instead, the Ducks sent out a lineup that featured Travis Moen playing on the first line.

It was simply impossible for the Ducks to meet their salary cap requirements without demoting Bobby Ryan to the minor leagues.

Or at least that's what Brian Burke wants you to believe.

If you take a look at the Ducks' roster, you'll find five forwards who are capable of scoring. The rest of the forwards are defensive players who are really good at hitting and backchecking.

Most of them cannot skate, score, or stay out of the penalty box. A few of them were inherited when Burke took over as GM, but most are recent additions.

One of those recent additions is Brian Sutherby, a center who plays a grinding, in-your-face brand of hockey. He was with the Ducks last season, and Burke offered him a $700,000 extension over the summer.

Another one is Ryan Carter, who played a few solid games for the Ducks last season before injuring his wrist in an accident during pregame warmups. Carter was offered an extension worth $625,000.

The combined total for Carter and Sutherby is $1.325 million.

The Ducks need to shed $1.2 million to bring Bobby Ryan back up to the squad. See where I'm going with this?

Carter and Sutherby were both signed to one-way contracts. It is therefore impossible for the Ducks to send them to the minors without risking a waiver claim. For some reason, Burke thought it prudent to sign his unimportant players to deals that restrict their movement.

Or maybe he thought he could trade Todd Marchant.

Trading Marchant would be the easiest way to make room for Ryan, but no sane GM will take Marchant's contract. He also has a no-trade clause, which makes it difficult (though not impossible) to trade him.

So that leads us to where the Ducks currently stand—their replacement-level players are preventing the hot prospect from beginning his career.

Burke is not at fault for Marchant's overblown salary, but he is responsible for just about everything else. Signing two redundant checking-line forwards before clearing room for Bobby Ryan was a bad decision. Grit is easily replaced. Goals are not.

I suppose Burke thought he could unload Marchant and Mathieu Schneider before training camp. He was wrong. And unless one of the Ducks' checking-line forwards can find a way to produce on a scoring line, it will end up costing him dearly.

Luckily, Burke has about 28 checking-line forwards to choose from.