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Brian Burke defends Dion Phaneuf, calls fans booing him ‘disgraceful’

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is a lot of things. He’s outspoken, cocky, accomplished and wildly entertaining.

It also seems like he’s an intensely loyal person. Perhaps this was just hearsay from Earl Sleek of Battle of California, but it seemed like he allowed Ilya Bryzgalov to escape to the Phoenix Coyotes when he was the Anaheim Ducks’ general manager because he told the Russian goalie that he would get his chance to start.

So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Burke is upset that Maple Leafs fans have been booing defenseman Dion Phaneuf. After all, Burke and Co. have a lot invested in the once-proud-but-now-struggling blueliner. Not only will the team pay him an average annual salary of $6.5 million – and do so through the 2013-14 season – but the club also decided to make him their first captain since Mats Sundin.

Burke said he thinks it’s within hockey fans’ rights to boo whomever they want, but admitted that it bothered him more than a little bit to hear the team’s captain (and figurehead) get jeered during home games. He explained as much to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

“Are they entitled to do it?” Burke said, “Sure, they are. And I honestly don’t believe it was a lot of them. It doesn’t take many fans booing to be heard so I think we’re talking about a very small number, but my opinion is that it’s disgraceful to boo Dion Phaneuf for everything he has done for this franchise, on and off the ice, in a very short period of time.”

Burke said the biggest difference between this year’s 5-4-1 team and last year’s team that started the season 0-7-1 is “cultural” and the most significant factor in that “culture change” has been Phaneuf.

“I don’t think some of our fans realize the extent of what Dion has done for this organization, on and off the ice,” Burke said. “Off the ice, he’s done tremendous charity work and more than any other individual has gone out of his way to change the attitude in our dressing room with our players. On the ice, we’re extremely happy with his play. Sure, he could have some more points but we are not scoring as a team right now and Dion’s point totals reflect that. The bottom line is that Dion has wrought a considerable culture change with our team and he’s done it almost singlehandedly. His leadership has been outstanding in every way. Outstanding. So, yeah, when I hear some of our fans boo him, it bothers me. I think it’s disgraceful.”

While I applaud Burke defending Phaneuf – it’s seemingly the polar opposite of what Burke’s former assistant Bob Murray did it in Anaheim – it seems almost naive for Burke to expect charitable work or “culture change” to change fans’ minds about a player.

Let’s face it, when you wear the “C” and get paid as much as Phaneuf does, you need to generate serious results. Now that Wade Redden has been exiled to the AHL, Phaneuf might be the second most overpaid defenseman after Chicago’s Brian Campbell.

So, yes, it’s a shame that fans boo players, but you cannot expect that to change anytime soon.

As if things weren’t already bad enough for Dion Phaneuf, he was injured in their game against Ottawa and was taken to the hospital to get a deep cut on his leg stitched up.

Perry to captain Canada at Worlds

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 11:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks watch from the bench during the first period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on April 11, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Corey Perry will spearhead the leadership group looking to guide Canada to its second straight gold medal at the World Hockey Championships.

On Thursday, the Canadian contingent announced that Perry would captain the squad at this year’s tournament, to be held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Joining him in the leadership group will be Colorado’s Matt Duchene, and Buffalo’s Ryan O'Reilly.

“This is an energetic young team, and these three players bring a mixture of youth and experience in their leadership role on the ice and in the dressing room,” Canadian head coach Bill Peters said, per the Toronto Sun. “Their resumes speak for themselves — they know what it takes to compete at the highest level, and have all been part of pulling together Team Canada successes during these short-term events.”

Unlike Duchene and O’Reilly, Perry wasn’t a part of last year’s championship team, but does have extensive international experience. He was part of the Canadian teams that captured gold at the ’10 Olympics in Vancouver at the ’14 games in Sochi.

He’s also played in a pair of World Championships, but failed to medal both times.

Trevor Daley is ‘in a good place’ now

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (87) is congratulated by Trevor Daley (6) and Conor Sheary (43) after scoring a goal during the first period of Game 4 against the Washington Capitals in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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In just a few short months, Trevor Daley has gone from not being a fit in Chicago to being an indispensable part of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The veteran defenseman played almost 30 minutes last night, by far the most of any Penguin. Despite the absence of Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh was able to beat the Capitals in overtime and take a 3-1 series lead back to Washington.

“It’s funny how this game works,” Daley said, per the Penguins’ website. “You stick with it and good things happen. I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I’m in a good place here. I’m enjoying it with a great group of guys. We just play. That’s been our motto since I got here, since (Mike Sullivan) got here – just play.”

Traded to Pittsburgh in December, with Rob Scuderi going to the Blackhawks, Daley’s strengths were immediately utilized by Sullivan. The Penguins’ new head coach came in emphasizing the importance of breakouts, and that suited Daley just fine.

“Over the years my game has been getting in the play, moving the puck,” Daley said after he was traded. “I’m not the biggest guy so I won’t push guys over. I get into areas quickly and try to be a good team guy.”

It was simply a good match. And for that, GM Jim Rutherford should be applauded. The Penguins are one game away from the Eastern Conference Final, and Daley is a big reason why.

Related: Penguins provided ‘fresh start’ for Daley

Veteran d-man Volchenkov signs in KHL

Arizona Coyotes v Nashville Predators
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After not playing anywhere this year, longtime NHL blueliner Anton Volchenkov is back in action, having signed a deal with KHL club Admiral Vladivostok.

The deal, announced by Admiral on Thursday, puts Volchenkov back on a team for the first time since suiting up with Nashville during the ’14-15 campaign. He appeared in 46 games for the Preds, recording seven assists.

Prior to his time in Nashville, Volchenkov in over 600 games with the Senators and Devils. He’d established a reputation as a physical, hard-hitting d-man, but struggled with injury and mobility in the later stages of his time in New Jersey, and was ultimately bought out of his contract.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Thursday night. You can catch tonight’s action via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Dallas at St. Louis (8:00 p.m. ET) 

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Blues lead the series 2-1.

San Jose at Nashville (9:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on CNBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Sharks lead the series 2-1.

Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s games:

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

Preds smash Sharks in Game 3 to get back in series

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1