Any day now, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, Brian Burke will take over the rusty remains of the Mighty Ducks. Back when things were good in the NHL (dust off the Way Back Machine for that trip), the Ducks were a bit of cinematic whimsy come to life, and anyone who ever laid eyes on a Zamboni was convinced that nothing could be better than to have Disney buying into the NHL.
The synergistic possibilities seemed boundless. It was the early '90s, and with the Uncle Walt geniuses of animation and entertainment aboard, money would rain down from the sky like pixie dust over ownership's shoulders.
Man, just what was Tinkerbell waving in her wand?
Burke, last seen as the general manager/turnaround king of the Vancouver Canucks, was visiting family here in the Hub of Hockey last week, and when reached by telephone, he was reluctant to talk about his impending hiring. These days in the NHL, we've all learned that no deal is a done deal until every last lawyer has left the building, signed documents in hand.
''I can't confirm anything," said Burke, who, during his general managing days in Hartford and Vancouver, was by far the game's most quotable and eloquent management source, ''because I haven't finalized a deal. We've been talking, but nothing's done."
Officially, the sale of the team was approved by the league Thursday, and Burke will be announced once all the paper is transacted (did we mention how lawyers tie things up?). Disney in late February announced a pending deal with Henry and Susan Samueli, billionaires via their ownership position in
Burke will be charged with reviving a franchise, as well as partnering with 29 other GMs to revive the league. Eventually there will be a new labor deal. The common wisdom around the league has a deal getting done by the first week of July (talks resume tomorrow in Toronto). The deal will include a salary cap, most likely in the $36 million-$38 million range, and there will be linkage between the league's gross revenue and that cap figure.
Contrary to recent reports, Burke does not believe the cap will vary from team to team. Clubs with larger revenues won't be free to outspend their lesser-endowed brethren. The balancing mechanism looks as if it will have to be a blend of luxury tax (as high as dollar-for-dollar around the $30 million mark), and whatever revenue sharing the players can bargain from among the owners.
''It absolutely cannot work on a [varying] team-by-team basis," was Burke's blunt assessment. ''Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see that happening."
The deal moves ahead, though, its critical final details unknown. Each hour that goes by, with both sides talking, in theory should make it harder for union boss Bob Goodenow to reposition the deal-killing trip wire.
''It's too far along," said Burke, who during his days as a Boston-based agent served as Goodenow's entry point into the player-representative business. ''I say that, but at the same time, we should never underestimate someone who is trying to scuttle a deal."
Fuzzy roster areas
The collective bargaining agreement still being negotiated, the Bruins, just like the rest of the NHL, can't say with certainty what they will be working with as a base roster.
There is a lingering belief, although hard to imagine, that owners will accept a CBA that essentially pushes 2004-05 contracts into 2005-06. The value of the deals would no doubt be reduced by the 24 percent rollback offered months ago by the players. In Boston's case, that would save the headache of having to work out new deals for the likes of Joe Thornton (arbitration award: $6.75 million, reduced to $5.13 million) and Sergei Samsonov (negotiated pact for $3.65 million, discounted to $2.77 million).
But then there is Sergei Gonchar, who this summer, at age 31, was supposed to be an unrestricted free agent able to cut a deal in a city of his liking as of July 1. Would he be given the option to walk or be forced back to Boston to honor the deal he won via arbitration last summer? With the Bruins, he'd be looking at $5.5 million, knocked down to $4.18 million, if the 24 percent rollback were implemented. Perhaps the Players Association will try to work a deal for those in Gonchar's situation to get full value for their 2004-05 deals, to mitigate the impact of forfeiting UFA status. Or perhaps they would be given their option: accept the deal in place or opt for UFA. No telling until the lawyered document is made public.
''We just don't know, and no one does," said Boston GM Mike O'Connell. ''We keep going through the possibilities, but until there's a deal . . ."
If everyone begins anew with all '04-05 deals erased, the Bruins, according to O'Connell, have only three players -- Ian Moran, Tom Fitzgerald, and Patrice Bergeron -- formally under contract for 2005-06. Leaguewide, only 288 players, less than 10 per team on average, are inked to '05-06 deals. Clubs would retain their rights to restricted free agents (assuming the CBA picks up where it left off in that regard), and also have the luxury of bargaining with the largest unrestricted free-agent class in league history. Across the Original 30, upward of 500 deals would have to be negotiated before the season started.
A good number of those open jobs in Boston, according to O'Connell, could go to players who suited up for Providence during the AHL playoffs. Key candidates, he said, would include Andrew Alberts, Milan Jurcina, and Kevin Dallman on defense, along with Hannu Toivonen in goal.
Up front, O'Connell said the likeliest candidates would include Brad Boyes, Andy Hilbert, and Colton Orr, the broad-shouldered 23-year-old right winger. ''He's interesting because he's extremely tough," said O'Connell. ''His issue is skating, and that needs work."
Yan Stastny, the 259th pick in the '02 draft, is another likely candidate to be considered, said O'Connell.
Punch your ticket
Originally billed as Hockey Gladiators, the event that just won't go away has been renamed ''Battle of the Hockey Enforcers," and finally will be staged (cross their hearts, they promise) Aug. 27 at the 6,000-seat CN Centre in Prince George, British Columbia.
And, yes, former Bruin pugilist Lyndon Byers, 41, has committed to the fight fest. ''Yes sir," said LB. ''It's my midlife crisis, all in one shot."
The pugilists will pair off in front of a panel of five judges, and each bout will last a maximum of one minute. ''The beginning of a new spectacle," heralded Darryl Wolski, the tournament, uh, ringleader. ''If left wing people of the world don't like it, I don't care."
Gladiators pulled out of dates in Winnipeg and Minneapolis. Byers was convinced a year ago that it would be staged in Lowell, but the Bay State bash never materialized. Because, he said, ''PC meatheads wouldn't allow it."
Other than Byers, co-host of the Hill-Man morning show on WAAF (107.3 FM), the only other recognizable NHL name to register thus far is Link Gaetz.
''We're not doing it for the money," noted John Craighead, a Maple Leaf short-timer (1996-97). ''We are trying to put the sport on the map." That in itself is a link to the NHL.
Byers is dreaming of the top prize of $100,000 and, if he were to win it, he pledged to give it all to Taylor Richmond, a Wisconsin 15-year-old who is battling ataxia telangiectasia, a primary immune deficiency disease that attacks different organs in the body.
''Worst thing you've ever seen," said Byers, who said he became close pals with Richmond a year ago at a fund-raiser held by ex-NHLer Shjon Podein. ''It's like having muscular dystrophy, cancer, and AIDS, all rolled up into one. Taylor is an amazing young man -- toughest I ever met."
Slice of Fame
Former Bruins netminder Jim Craig, who with brother Dan now runs the Hat Trick Group, a sales and promotion agency that also organizes the ex-Olympian's motivational speaking gigs, was tickled when the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto asked for some of his Team USA gear. ''Hey, if it makes some kid, a boy or a girl, motivated to go out there and be an athlete, that's great," said Craig, who put a pair of pants, pads, blocker glove, and warmup jacket on permanent loan with the Hall. He earlier had given the warmup jacket to Dan, but according to Jim, ''It was swiped while he was at ULowell." The guilty party ultimately sent it back. The US flag that Craig draped over his shoulders while skating around the rink at Lake Placid? It remains safe at his home in the suburbs . . . A few familiar Black and Gold faces, including the likes of Brad Park, Andy Brickley, Bob Sweeney, Bob Beers, Gary Doak, and others, will participate in a June 30 Texas Hold'em Tourney at the Radisson Hotel, 300 Stuart Street. Proceeds will benefit the Bruins' Alumni Fund and the Ace Bailey Children's Foundation. Costs: a $125 buy-in and two re-buys at $60 each. Pot to include $7,500 in cash and prizes. For more information, call tournament director Steve Zaniboni at 781-864-5209 . . . The '06 Winter Olympics, to be staged in the Italian Alps Feb. 10-26, will have Wayne Gretzky back with Canada, acting as executive director of Team Maple Leaf. Word leaked out of CBA negotiations last week that the league for a third time would dispatch its best and brightest to Olympus. Seems like a bit of a stretch, making the NHL dark for 10-12 days after being closed for 2004-05. But who's to understand how anything works? Remember, the players nixed a cap of $42.5 million, with no linkage attached, in February. Now they are about to embrace linkage, with a cap $4 million-$6 million lower. While they were busy accusing the owners of cooking the books, they cooked their own goose.
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.