Brian Burke's cathartic Afghanistan trip

brianburke.jpgFor most people, Brian Burke’s last year would feel like a lifetime. Personally, he dealt with the death of his son Brendan shortly after the 21-year-old announced that he was gay via a column by John Buccigross. Being the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs brings King Kong pressure on its own but Burke intensified that by making some huge moves, including trading valuable draft picks for Phil Kessel and acquiring struggling big-name (and big money) guys like Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere. Oh, let’s not forget that the man also compiled that excellent silver medal winning US Olympic team.

In a year of conflict, it makes some sense then that Burke would find catharsis in – of all places – Afghanistan. Damien Cox shared the story of his journey for the Toronto Star.

Naturally, the trip did have its fair share of tragedy (that one might imagine hit particularly close to home for the Leafs’ GM).

Still, Burke was aware of the danger. Troy Gamble, a former Vancouver Canucks goalie, lost his 20-year-old son, a U.S. Marine, in Afghanistan earlier in the month, and Burke was one of the first to contact Gamble. While the Leaf president/GM was in Kandahar, a 19-year-old Marine was killed.

“When you’re staring out at a transport plane and they’re loading the body of a 19-year-old, sure, you think of your own situation,” he said. “Really, what I was thinking of most was that poor boy’s family back home.”

While I’m uncertain if Burke is making the right moves to re-build the Leafs, there’s no doubt that he deserves respect for the work he did in Vancouver and Anaheim. If nothing else, I hope that he can find peace after a brutal year.

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    Who’s playing for Penguins, Senators in Game 7

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    We finally know the lineups for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

    Pittsburgh’s tweaks are most interesting, which isn’t a huge surprising considering the consistent inconsistency bred by their injury issues.

    The Penguins will get Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz back in the mix. Despite showing a lot of energy warming up, Patric Hornqvist isn’t good to go. Here are the full Penguins personnel notes; also realize that this is Matt Murray‘s birthday.

    Ottawa places Chris Kelly back in, getting the nod over Tommy Wingels and Colin White. Kelly’s had some experience in these scenarios.

    You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.

    Sabres confirm signing defenseman Antipin; Is his KHL teammate Lee next?

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    The Buffalo Sabres announced the signing of defenseman Victor Antipin* on Thursday, confirming rumors that surfaced more than once this month.

    Antipin, 24, enjoyed a solid season in the KHL with Magnitogorsk Metallurg. Even so, the signing might be interesting if it serves as an appetizer for the Sabres bringing in Antipin’s teammate from Metallurg, Chris Lee.

    On one hand, Lee is 36 and couldn’t make the jump fromt he AHL to the NHL in previous opportunities (most reently with the Penguins’ farm system in 2009-10). On the other, he had an eye-popping 2016-17 season in the KHL: 65 points in 60 games as a defenseman.

    Lee’s previous numbers aren’t as outrageous, but still quite good, at least form a scoring standpoint.

    While Lee’s possible addition is a situation to watch, there’s some excitement about Antipin.

    “Victor is a well-rounded defenseman who has played in all situations at the pro level,” Sabres GM Jason Botterill said. “His mobility and puck-moving skills make him a perfect match for what we’re hoping to build with our defense corps next season.”

    Granted, there’s some debate about his ceiling.

    Still, for a Sabres team that badly needs help on the blueline, this addition – or eventually these additions – could provide a nice boost.

    * – The Sabres’ releases feature his name spelled “Victor.” Other outlets, including hockeydb, have it as “Viktor.”

    WATCH LIVE: Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 7

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    Will it be the Ottawa Senators or Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final? We’ll find out after tonight.

    Yes, it’s that time: a Game 7 to see who advances to the final round. The winner will also hold home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final.

    Could Erik Karlsson, Craig Anderson, and the rest of the Senators pull off an upset on the road, winning the franchise’s first Game 7? Can Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins give Matt Murray a birthday present with another Game 7 win?

    Find out on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

    Here’s what you need to know:

    Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (series tied 3-3)

    Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

    Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

    Check out the highlights from Ottawa’s 2-1 win in Game 6

    Related:

    Pretty or not, Sens aim to play their game vs. Pens in Game 7

    Penguins prepare for another Game 7, this time as favorites

    Modern-day Senators have never won a Game 7

    It’s “reasonable” to expect Schultz and Hornqvist will play Game 7

    Trouble for Ducks: Lindholm and Vatanen need major shoulder surgeries, will miss months

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    Not a great week for the Anaheim Ducks.

    After being eliminated in Game 6 of the Western Conference final — the toughest loss of Ryan Kesler’s career, apparently — the Ducks broke more bad news on Friday as GM Bob Murray announced d-men Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen both require torn labrum surgery, and will be out an awfully long time.

    The timeline on Lindholm is 4-5 months, while Vatanen’s recovery will extend beyond that because his injury was more serious.

    Looking at the calendar, four months would run Lindholm up to the end of September, meaning he’d miss a good chunk of the preseason. If it’s five months, he could miss the first three weeks of the regular season.

    Murray didn’t even put a timetable on Vatanen, only saying it would be longer.

    This adds to what was already going to be a pretty stressful summer in Anaheim. As we wrote earlier, Murray has some big decisions on his hands.

    Vatanen and Lindholm are huge parts of the team. Both averaged over 21 minutes per night this season, and both broke the 20-point plateau. They’re also locked in long term — Lindholm at $5.2 million annually through 2022, Vatanen at $4.8M through 2020.

    If the Ducks decide to protect seven forwards and three defensemen for the expansion draft, the defense will definitely be worth watching. Lindholm will be protected for sure, and Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are each exempt. But that only leaves two spots for Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.

    Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)

    Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. There are already reports that extension negotiations are going well but, after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign.

    Yes, there is the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. But Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

    Add it all up, and the Ducks will certainly be worth watching this offseason.