During yesterday’s media availability to discuss the events of the NHL trade deadline, general manager Pierre Dorion was asked about Alex Burrows and the organization’s plan for the forward after he cleared waivers at noon.
“He’s here. No one picked him up. He’s a high character veteran, that’s the reason we got him last year. Alex has to be better. Alex knows it. He was told. (Clearing waivers) may be a bit of a wake-up call.”
This quote stuck with me and I’ve spent some time thinking about it for the better part of the morning.
Obviously for any competitive professional athlete who’s placed on waivers and then has every other organization in the league pass on bringing him into the fold at no cost beyond picking up the tab on their current contract, it has to be embarrassing.
For a “high character veteran” like Burrows, it must be doubly-embarrassing since his skillset — playing on the edge and serving as a fourth line agitator – is often something that playoff-bound teams not only look for, but overpay for at this time of year.
Last year it was Ottawa’s decision to overpay.
Not only was the opportunity cost to bring Burrows into the fold prohibitively expensive, but Burrows’ representatives leveraged his no-trade clause to force Dorion’s hand and get him to sign off on a two-year contract extension worth $5.0-million ($2.5-million AAV) that takes their client through his age 37 season.
Keep in mind, Burrows was a player whose production rates had plummeted over the past few seasons.
His possession metrics experienced a significant dip as well.
Although at least some of this can be explained by the Canucks’ deterioration and Burrows’ reduced role, but by and large, Burrows last few seasons portray a player who’s experiencing an age-related decline.
Like Dorion said however, the Senators did not acquire Burrows to put up points however. They brought him in for his intangibles.
In an interview on TSN 1200’s ‘The Drive’ program, Dorion told Ian Mendes and Shawn Simpson described the rationale for bringing Burrows into the fold.
“You’ve got to give something to get something. I can tell you… I don’t know how many deals… I think I’ve made 10 deals… I don’t know how many deals that I’ve made as the head of hockey operations here, as the general manager here, I’ve made about 10 deals or so. The one deal that I kind of gave myself a fist pump in the mirror the other day when I was trying to get dressed and doing everything… I was half-dressed when I was doing the deal. I was in my underwear… it was Alex Burrows. It’s one deal that, you know what, right now I know that (Mike) Condon is going to work out to be probably the best deal that we’ve made this year for what he’s given us. But making that Alex Burrows deal, I can’t tell you how many teams were in on him. When Jim (Benning) told me afterwards, ‘Pierre, there’s this many teams in on Alex Burrows.’ I said, ‘Really?’ and he named them off. They’re not teams that are just hoping to get into the playoffs, they’re teams that are trying to win the Cup. It almost made me feel better. They really like Jonathan Dahlen. We like Jonathan Dahlen, but I think people see the stats. He’s playing in not the top league in Sweden, he’s playing in the second league in Sweden. He had a great World Junior (Championship). He’s going to be a very good player for the Canucks, but right now, the one element that I felt we were missing the most for us to be a playoff team, for us to hopefully compete in the playoffs, was a guy like Alex Burrows. He can play up and down your lineup. I think tomorrow, he’s going to play with either (Kyle) Turris or (Mike) Hoffman or (Mark) Stone and (Derrick) Brassard. Coach was debating there after the trade deadline who he’ll be playing with. He’s someone that brings intangibles as far as character. You guys can do your research. You guys can know who was a big voice in that Vancouver Canucks dressing room – someone that’s been through the wars. For him, what told me a lot about Alex was, what was important for the extension was that his family is important for him and he didn’t want them to have to move. The extension, you know what, to me, for a guy of Alex Burrows’ calibre and what he’s done for the last few years, and especially the way he’s played this year… I don’t know that I would have given him an extension last year, but the way he’s played this year, I have no qualms. I think we had no qualms about doing this. It’s an element that we need and you know what, if I’ve disappointed some of our fans, that’s too (bad)… I feel bad about that. I know our fans are passionate, but it’s not like we don’t have any prospects coming. We have a player similar to Dahlen in Francis Perron who was the Quebec League MVP – a smaller, slighter body with great hands and great skills. We didn’t give up a Colin White. You didn’t give up a Logan Brown. You didn’t give up a Thomas Chabot and we got someone that I know is going to play on our top three lines for the next two years and two months.”
Bragging about a competitor playing up Burrows’ trade market while downplaying the loss of a good prospect because the team didn’t have to give up one of their more well-regarded prospects in Dahlen’s place, the only thing missing was some spin on how Burrows’ decision to ink an extension isn’t reflective of a player trying to maximize his earnings.
“Let’s make a commitment to this guy because he wants to make a commitment to us. He’s turned down trades to… I’m not going to say the teams. I found out afterwards because teams told me he turned down trades, he’s turned down trades to these places. He has faith in where we’re going as a team and he wants to be part of it. I mentioned it the other day, am I happy that Alex Burrows is going to be in the same locker room as Colin White, Thomas Chabot and Logan Brown? Yes, I’m happy about that! I want those guys to learn… When you have those character guys and then the games get tougher, you want them on your side. You want to go to war with those guys and that’s the way that Alex Burrows is.”
It’s ridiculously easy to dump on the Senators’ hockey operations department now for pulling the trigger on this deal, but it was just as easy to dump on it then. There is no need for revisionism since nobody needed the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to question its overall worth.
So to hear Dorion essentially call out a veteran player publicly like that and admit that the organization has approached about needing to be better, what did he expect?
He’s a 36-year old winger who was on the downside of his career and is playing on the fourth line.
As a character player, it’s probably not a work ethic thing.
In a league that is trending younger and emphasizes speed and skill, Burrows is simply no longer capable of being an effective player.
All the signs were there, Dorion and the rest of his staff just ignored them.
Hopefully this is “a bit of a wake-up call” for the hockey operations department and they can learn from the experience by taking measures to ensure that these types of easily identifiable mistakes are avoided in the future.