Now the NHL's chief disciplinarian, Burke knows his former colleagues are whining about him. "I have no delusions about my popularity," he said. "I don't feel this job is supposed to be a popularity contest. I think it's a way we can get a message across."
Judged by his four-game suspensions of Bob Probert, Chris Chelios and Bob Rouse and five-game suspension of Doug Houda last Monday, his message is that justice NHL-style will be swift and decisive, yet mindful that emotions can erupt in a fast game played with potentially lethal weapons.
"If conduct is outside the rulebook, it's going to be punished and repeat offenders are going to get dinged," said Burke, who became the league's senior vice president and director of hockey operations in September. "We don't want to deter physical hockey, and I don't want anyone to think these decisions deter hitting. Physical play is an integral part of the game.
"Doug Houda is a player I admire very much. He played for me in Hartford and he's a wonderful human being, but he just snapped," Burke said of Houda's head-butt of Randy Moller. "As a former (college and minor league) player, I understand that, and I have some empathy for that. But if the product is going to go forward, we have to stop the extracurricular hitting."
Although he says it is too early to cite trends, Burke said statistics this season indicate fighting is up "dramatically" and stick fouls are down.
"No one in this league is promoting fighting," he said, "but certainly, the way the rules are formulated, there are strict guidelines. Cutting down stickwork is a priority because that's dangerous--the spearing, butt-ending and slashing . . . For me, the ideal day is to pick up the paper and not see any incidents. I hope I don't have any days like last Monday again."
Every Maple Leaf victory--and they have set an NHL record by winning their first nine games--contributes to Coach Pat Burns' future earnings.
Burns wanted his contract adjusted after guiding Toronto to the semifinals last spring, even though he had finished only one year of a four-year deal. According to his agent, Don Meehan, the Maple Leafs gave Burns a $100,000 raise, to about $450,000 Canadian, and assurances they will "start from scratch in relation to a new contract" for him next summer.
His bargaining chips are piling up rapidly, helped by Felix Potvin (1.88 goals-against average, .940 save percentage), Doug Gilmour (15 points) and Dave Andreychuk (nine goals, six on the power play).
Burns is enjoying the bonanza while it lasts. "Sooner or later every team goes into slumps," he said. "We'll have our slump, the coach won't be any good, players won't be any good and Felix won't be able to stop a table."
Meehan, who also represents on-ice officials, is to meet with NHL representatives again today in an effort to avert a Nov. 15 strike.
Talks last Thursday were "more productive than any of our previous meetings and I hope we can continue in that regard," Meehan said. However, he added, "We still have major differences and I'm still very concerned about the negotiations to date." Said Commissioner Gary Bettman: "We're a long way apart, but I'm still hopeful we can reach an agreement."
Bettman also has a session scheduled this week with Bob Goodenow, executive director of the NHL Players Assn., on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The retirement of Doug Wilson, Randy Carlyle, Rod Langway and Brad Marsh leaves Edmonton's Craig MacTavish as the NHL's only helmetless player.
Players who entered the league after 1979 were required to wear helmets until last season, when headgear was made optional for forwards and defensemen who signed a waiver accepting responsibility for injuries incurred without a helmet. Greg Smyth, then of Calgary and now of the Florida Panthers, was the only player to take advantage of the rule, but he put his helmet back on after three games, after being hurt in a fight. The Blues' Brett Hull played the All-Star game bareheaded, without incident.
Eighty-two players signed the waiver this season, including Mario Lemieux. Most do it, though, because they like to practice or skate in the pregame warm-ups without a helmet.
IT'S WORTH IT
The Sabres are near agreement with Alexander Mogilny on a four-year deal that would pay him an annual average of $2.7 million and give them his marketing rights. They also want to extend Pat LaFontaine's contract and acquire his marketing rights to create joint promotions with Mogilny.
Marketing-rights clauses give teams new revenue sources and players higher salaries than they might otherwise get.
"Teams, particularly ones building new buildings, feel their premier players being made available to potential sponsors will be attractive to those sponsors," said Mogilny's agent, Mike Barnett.
The Flyers' Josef Beranek has scored goals in seven consecutive games and has nine in that span. . . . Islander goalie Ron Hextall (4.25 GAA) on his poor play: "Every stinking game, I let in an awful goal, and it seems to be at the most critical time. For me, there's nowhere to look beyond my performance." . . . The Maple Leafs' success has overshadowed franchise-best starts by the Blues (5-1-1), Canucks (7-1) and Devils (7-0). New Jersey is noteworthy because of the new harmony between coach and players. "Jacques (Lemaire) has everyone believing and everyone working together," goalie Chris Terreri said. "In the past, we might have been at each other's throats, complaining. Now, we just keep working and playing hard."