Brian Burke

Brian Burke: “We’ll be the guinea pig”

Over the last few days, the term “bear hug” had Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke making headlines as the NHL tested his rule where defensemen could “bear hug” a player near the boards to limit potential for injury. Coming out of the RDO Camp, Burke is back in the headlines as he’s offered up the Maple Leafs as guinea pigs during the preseason to further test some of the potential rule changes. Hopefully there won’t be anymore animal references for the rest of the offsesaon.

GM Brian Burke told QMI Agency that he and the Toronto Maple Leafs were willing to help:

“We’re willing to try it in our pre-season games, the rule changes, the nets and the cameras. The other team has to consent, but if (the league) needs a guinea pig, we’ll be the guinea pig.”

It would be good to see some of the potential rule changes in action with NHL players during live game action in the preseason. The HD cameras and curved glass look like they could instituted around the league as early as this season—but some of the other rules could get a look as well. Burke specifically mentions the shallow nets getting a look; would NHL defenseman make use of the extra space when making outlet passes? Would offensive players utilize the extra room and better passing angles to create scoring opportunities?  These are things that we’d find out as the NHLers played a handful of games under the new conditions.

The more we see these changes in the place, the better equipped the league would be to make decisions that affect the game. It would be nice for fans to be able to have another reason to watch the meaningless games since the preseason is more about preparation than the results. Watching new rules being tested is a better sales pitch than telling fans that the ECHLer on the 4th line has a legitimate shot at making the team next year.

It would be great if the NHL takes Burke up on his offer to try out some of the prospective rules. Put the cameras in the Leafs preseason games to see exactly how much of a difference they’ll make. Find the best camera angles in the preseason so once the cameras are utilized in the regular season, they’re already in the proper location. Put the verification line in just to make sure the referees on the ice have no issues when calling a goal on the ice. None of these rule changes should present a huge problem—but why not make sure in games that don’t matter? There’s no such thing as “too much information” when tweaking the game, right?

Brian Burke just presented the league with an opportunity to test out changes on a grander scale. Hopefully they’ll take him up on the chance to get things right.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”