Every so often, I’m amazed that Brian Burke went to law school. When Kevin Lowe defended the Dustin Penner contract and the change in the league in terms of paying 20-something players more and 30-something players less on the grounds that it was a good thing because it meant that the league was paying the guys who produce results, I thought to myself “Whoa…hold on there César Chávez! You work for the Oilers – your interest is in whatever’s best for the Oilers, not ensuring that people are paid equitably.” I then sort of sigh and shake my head and worry about my team but cut Lowe a little slack because, as well spoken as he is, he hasn’t had the benefit of a higher education (although he’s clearly not a dumb guy).
Brian Burke’s different. He is an exceedingly well educated guy and obviously very bright. He practiced as a lawyer for many years. He should, in the course of his career and education, have had the opportunity to think about some of this stuff. When he says things like this, I shake my head and wonder what he’s on about:
Do you admire a criminal lawyer who gets a murderer off on a technicality? So why would there be admiration or appreciation for finding a loophole that somehow defeats the purpose of a collective bargaining agreement that’s designed to put teams on the same footing? I have no problem with long-term deals if they’re straight across the board, but not if the last few years are designed to reduce the cap hit and nothing else. I’m not being critical of other teams that do. But if a team has four guys on contract like that, they’re actually icing a team with false values on their players. And if another team is playing it square, then you’re losing ground.
It’s as if he forgets what a lawyer’s duty is – his duty is to represent his client’s interests fearlessly. He SHOULD know this. Should you admire a criminal lawyer who gets a murderer off on a technicality? That’s up to you but I’d rather have him represent me than the guy who says “Ah, I’m sure the cops beat the confession out of you in good faith.” If I was a Leafs fan, would I have taken much comfort watching Chicago play Philadelphia last year from the fact that those teams had a bunch of contracts designed to cheat the system and Toronto didn’t? Would I have said “Well, at least Burke has all of our guys on legitimate contracts that don’t try to cheat the system and if you don’t count the teams that do that, we’re much closer to making the imaginary playoffs in Fairy Tale Land?” Of course not.
Aaron Rome got suspended for four games today. In the course of announcing this, Mike Murphy, who is running the discipline for the Finals due to Colin Campbell’s conflict of interest) made the following comment according to Elliotte Friedman:
Murphy: Brian Burke was consulted, because of his experience in suspending Claude Lemieux in 1996
So much for the NHL’s newfound appreciation of conflicts of interest. Burke has had some public bumps in his relationship with the Canucks. There’s an HF Boards thread here referencing a Globe and Mail story that has some interesting stuff. He had a dispute with the Canucks over allegations that he was tampering with the Sedins in 2009. His contract wasn’t renewed despite having turned them into an exciting team that consistently made the playoffs. It would be reasonable for an outside observer to suspect that he doesn’t want to see Vancouver win the Stanley Cup.
But he’s also conflicted the other way as well! If Boston wins the Stanley Cup, the first round pick that the Leafs got in the Tomas Kaberle deal is 30th overall. If they lose the Stanley Cup, it’s 29th. So he has a professional interest in seeing Boston lose. The rare dual conflict!
It is incredible that the league would go out and canvass this issue with a GM with the history with Vancouver and interest in seeing Boston lose that Burke has. It looks terrible, particularly when the suspension was unusually severe – I’m not sure that anyone’s ever received a four game suspension in the Finals before. It’s all the more incredible when conflicts of interest have been a hot topic in the league office of late. Burke isn’t acting in his capacity as a lawyer here, so he’s really got no professional duties or anything, but he should know better than to get himself involved in something like this.
At the very least, it doesn’t look good. There’s a cliche that justice shouldn’t just be done, it should be seen to be done. When you’ve got someone with a history with the Canucks and an interest in a Bruins loss with his finger in the suspension pie, it’s impossible to accomplish that. The reason for consulting him is lame; so he suspended Lemieux in 1996 – who cares? It’s not like he’s the best brain surgeon in the world or the question or whether or not to do it is a deep metaphysical thing that requires years of contemplation. The issues are straightforward enough that they can be hashed out by whoever happens to be kicking around hockey operations who isn’t already conflicted out. One would have thought that, by now, the league would have learned this.