Going for Canuck Style, Without Futility
When Henry and Susan Samueli bought the Mighty Ducks, they said they’d consider changing the team’s long-ridiculed name if fans demanded it.
Brian Burke, it seems, has changed it for them. Based on his hiring, and on his first major moves as general manager, the Arrowhead Pond’s primary tenants could easily be called the Mighty Canucks of Anaheim.
Burke came to the Ducks a year after he was let go by the Vancouver Canucks, whom he built into an exciting regular-season team that never got past the second round of the playoffs during his six-season tenure. He has often said he wants the Ducks to play the same aggressive, up-tempo style as the Canucks did, even though it didn’t get those teams far. His argument that his Canucks lost to rivals with higher payrolls doesn’t entirely withstand scrutiny.
Burke’s first significant transaction after taking over in Anaheim was to re-sign defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh last week. Ozolinsh can carry and pass the puck with the best, Burke said, adding, “The defense in Vancouver was a mobile, puck-moving group.”
His second significant decision was to choose right wing Bobby Ryan with the second pick in Saturday’s entry draft. Burke told reporters that Ryan’s favorite player is Vancouver’s Todd Bertuzzi, one of the NHL’s premier power forwards. The Ducks have to hope Ryan likes the scoring aspect of Bertuzzi’s game and not the facet that led Bertuzzi to throw a blindside punch to the head of Colorado forward Steve Moore in March 2004, which left Moore with a broken bone in his neck and concussion and put Bertuzzi on the NHL’s suspended list.
And on Monday, in what Burke called “the single most important decision a general manager makes,” he introduced Randy Carlyle as the Ducks’ new coach. Carlyle spent last season coaching the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose, the top affiliate of the Canucks. Carlyle won the job and a three-year contract over Mike Johnston, an associate coach of, this is way too easy, the Canucks.
Long ago, NHL teams tried to copy the Montreal Canadiens’ style and organizational structure. During the 1980s, teams patterned themselves after the high-flying Edmonton Oilers. At least the Canadiens and Oilers won the Stanley Cup and were worth copying. The Canucks, because of their offense-first style or their faulty goaltending, were underachievers during Burke’s last years. His fascination with everything Canuck is mystifying.
It’s not unheard of for a general manager to surround himself with people he has worked with in previous jobs. There’s comfort in seeing familiar faces in new places. “It’s more the trust level you develop with someone,” Burke said after introducing Carlyle. “You’ve evaluated the guy. I also worked with him and I’ve been in a foxhole with him.”
But if Burke taps his Canuck connection one more time, the Ducks will have to play “O Canada” before every home game.
Burke said he went to the Canuck well for Carlyle because the former defenseman takes losing as badly as Burke does, and that’s not pretty. He praised Carlyle’s ability to work with and develop young players, an important consideration with the Ducks sitting on an impressive list of prospects topped by Ryan Getzlaf, Joffrey Lupul and Corey Perry.
“I can assure you that’s the last Vancouver choice I intend to make,” Burke said. He paused for a moment and then added, “At least at the present time.”
Burke promised on the day he was hired that he’d lie only on draft day, to throw off opponents. So there must have been a draft somewhere when he said he’d given Mike Babcock six days to respond to a one-year offer to stay on as the Ducks’ coach and, as Burke later acknowledged, he’d given Babcock five days to take it or leave it. Babcock left it, sending Burke on the coach search that ended over the weekend with Carlyle’s hiring.
The saving grace is that Carlyle, who was interviewed by Andy Murray for an assistant coaching job with the Kings three years ago but lost to John Van Boxmeer, appears to be a good choice no matter his previous address.
He has been an assistant coach in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets and the Washington Capitals, a coach in the International Hockey League and the AHL and the general manager of the Moose from 1996 through 2000. Before that, he had a solid NHL career that spanned 17 seasons and peaked when he was voted the NHL’s top defenseman in the 1980-81 season.
A power-play specialist who was solid rather than speedy, Carlyle won the Norris Trophy over Denis Potvin of the New York Islanders, who that year won the second of their four consecutive Cup championships, even though Carlyle had a minus-16 plus/minus ratio and played for the sub-.500 Pittsburgh Penguins.
For Burke and Carlyle to succeed in Anaheim they’ll have to break the Canuck mold and assemble a team that wins not just from October through mid-April, but in May and June. They’ll have to create a strong identity that will elevate the Ducks above their current place as the junior entry in a wounded sport in a crowded market.
The Burke-Carlyle Ducks can’t be the Canucks with slightly different accents and better tans.