This past Thursday I got the chance to catch up with a buddy of mine, Darren Dreger.
Darren is an NHL insider who is currently working for TSN, as well as a host of the Toronto Maple Leafs themed radio show "Leafs Lunch," which you can hear daily on AM640 in Toronto.
Derek: As far as being a Leafs blogger I kind of hit the jackpot talking to you today with of course what went down yesterday with Brian Burke. Was it as much of a surprise to you as it was to everyone else, because it seems to me that it came down rather quickly. What can we make of this? What do you think Brian Burke's next step is?
Darren: Well, it's impossible to say what Burke's next step is. He doesn't even know what his next step is I don't think. I think what happens next is that Michael Shulman, the CEO for the Anaheim Ducks, will approach the National Hockey League with [a] document that expresses any and all teams can approach Brian Burke.
( Note: In the brief time since this interview was completed, the Ducks had in fact filed that paperwork and Burke is now free game.)
At that point it becomes open season on what many believe will be a coveted free agent.
After that the next step is pretty difficult to say. Every team in the NHL currently has a GM and it becomes a question of whether Brian Burke is going to bump somebody out. And I don't know that and we can't know that until the paperwork and legalities are dealt with.
Now what we know is that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be among the first if not the first to express interest, and that doesn't mean Burke is a slam dunk to join the Leafs.
I think this is going to be a very difficult process and it will include the Maple Leafs but some other teams as well. There may not be a bidding war, but there will certainly be additional interest from other teams outside of Toronto.
Derek: So, what sort of time-frame may we be looking at here. I know there is now published reports that the Maple Leafs have done kind of a 180 and now aren't opposed to hiring a GM mid-season.
Darren: Well, I suspect that once it becomes legally capable, the Maple Leafs will investigate a meeting time with Brian and push it from there.
This much I can tell you, in conversations through email with Richard Peddie, MLSE acknowledged the search for a new GM is on hold until the spring. So it's safe to say that the news of Brian Burke stepping down and being replaced by Bob Murray took the Maple Leafs, and everyone by surprise.
Derek: Some people are saying the Leafs should maybe wait, and not throw all their eggs in one basket for Brian Burke. If and when he becomes available, should the Maple Leafs pursue him immediately.
Darren: Oh absolutely. If you look at the criteria the Maple Leafs established when they brought on Cliff Fletcher, Brian Burke has all that. He (Richard Peddie) made it clear that the next general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs had to fit a criteria that included having won a Stanley Cup recently.
Well, we know Brian Burke helped Anaheim capture a cup. He has always been respected, and is a very successful executive around the NHL circles, so I see no reason why the Maple Leafs wouldn't aggressively pursue Brian Burke.
Let's also be careful here naming him a slam dunk. As Burke said on-air this afternoon, he has expectations. He didn't get into the financial specifics, but he does feel he needs a certain level of autonomy, so it will be interesting to see if the board of the Toronto Maple Leafs are willing to grant him that autonomy.
Derek: Alright let's switch quickly to head shots. I know you have talked a lot about this lately, but you have been a medium who has had the chance to sit back and listen to everyone's ideas.
What are your thoughts about what the league should do about head shots? There are those who believe that if you take out hits to the head, and you can't hit below the waist, then the league will become no hit league. Do you think there is a legitimate solution to be found?
Darren: Well, I think there needs to be a great deal of discussion first. I have never played at the National Hockey League level, but I have been hit with a shoulder and hit in the head in recreational hockey and I sure didn't like it much (laughs).
The evidence is there to show that those types of hits are damaging. It will certainly be on the agenda when the GM's get together in March, it will be interesting to see whether or not the majority believes the rule change is necessary.
I personally don't think you have to adopt a whole rule similar to that of the Ontario Hockey League where head-checking is disallowed. I think what the NHL could entertain is tweaking some of the existing rules. I mean, if you punch someone in the head, you get a penalty for roughing!
You don't have to re-write the rulebook, but there is certainly interest among the general managers I've talked to, and even the players I've talked to that they want full discussion and are open to addressing the issue with some kind of penalty. The majority of players would definitely be open to adopting some sort of a penalty.
Derek: The head shots are putting the goaltender interference issue on the back burner a little bit. The no-touch icing isn't being discussed as much either. Have you heard, or seen what the Southern Pro League is doing with their 'hybrid' icing rule, and what do you think of it?
Darren: Well, I have seen it. I am not sure how successful it's been though, and I don't know if it's something that any of the other leagues are willing to consider at this point.
As we talk about icing, in the concept of no-touch icing, I like what the NHL has done this year. There is a threat of a penalty, and if there is a play made for the puck, and there is contact with the player, then it's at the referee's discretion to call the penalty.
The referees and the officials on the ice have gotten far more vocal than they have in the past. They're yelling at players to 'let up' and 'be careful' and the players are listening. It kind of fits under the same umbrella as the head shots headache.
You can tweak the existing rule without having to add any more. Refs these days already have a lot on their plates, they have a lot of responsibility already.
Derek: The hits from behind have been the big topic this week what with the Tom Kostopoulos hit on Mike Van Ryn. I want to quickly get your thoughts on the Dustin Brown hit on Mike Ribeiro.
I know it was a bang-bang play and Ribeiro was spinning as Brown made the hit. This is a common argument among those who think players are intentionally turning into the boards. What do you think of that hit?
Darren: Yeah it was real bang-bang, and that's probably why there was no suspension. The Mike Van Ryn hit from Kostopoulos generated a lot of attention because it was a Montreal player hitting a Toronto player on a Saturday night.
Again, I think everyone has to be cautious and careful when we're quick to condemn. There is a responsibility among the player along the boards as well, and not for a second am I condoning the hit from behind in any way, shape, or form, but the speed of the game is so incredibly fast now that it's difficult.
And in the case of Van Ryn, he was attempting to reverse, and you could make the argument that Kostopoulos had already committed to the hit, and his intent wasn't to hit him square in the numbers as the result was, however, there was significant injuries and so the National Hockey League had to react.
Colin Campbell is a bit of a dinosaur, and is certainly old-school in the way he thinks the game should be played. Also judging by the conversations we have had, he is also very, very nervous about changing the rules too much.
But you have to be sensitive to the hits from behind in hockey, and over the past decade we've all became quick to react based on the safety of the players.
Derek: What teams are surprising you this year, good or bad.
Darren: That's a good question. Surprises this year in the NHL, well you know I thought Ottawa would be a little better than what they are right now. I know there is still a ton of hockey left in the season, but with Craig Hartsburg at the helm, and certainly I am not blaming him for the slow start.
But with the changes they made and the character guys they brought in and the people who were removed, I thought they would be better team, and would have been better prepared and gelled by now.
Conversely what the New York Rangers continue to do surprises me as well. I knew they would be good in the Eastern Conference, I just didn't predict they would be that strong.
Derek: What about players who have surprised you?
Darren: Well, how many thought that Alexander Semin would jump out the gate as quickly as he would for the Washington Capitals. He has been simply terrific.
And, on the other end of that is the disappointments, and I have been taking a lot of heat this week because as an insider on the NHL on TSN I suggested that Sidney Crosby investigate the option of switching his stick from a two piece to a one-piece.
Once again I want to thank Darren for taking the time to chat with me about the most pressing current issues in the National Hockey League. I hope you enjoyed this and by the looks of things, I hope to be speaking with Darren on a much more regular basis.