drama

Burke, O'Connell feud over Thornton trade
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Brian Burke, Mike O’Connell feud over claims about Joe Thornton trade talks

Hockey fans have fond memories of Brian Burke’s feud with Kevin Lowe, and now it seems we have a sequel. Burke and former Bruins GM Mike O’Connell are in a war of words over alleged Joe Thornton trade talks. The biggest winners? Us.

Consider it a very short three act play or … boxing match, maybe more appropriately?

Round 1: Burke recalls trying to bring Thornton to the Ducks, “babysitting” O’Connell

Burke provided refreshingly candid answers to fan questions during an April 2 Twitter Q&A. The thread is worth your time, as Burke discusses the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Phil Kessel, Roberto Luongo, and Gary Bettman.

But it was a two-part bit about Burke trying to bring Thornton to the Ducks that got the ball rolling.

Burke explained that he’s “still bitter” that the Ducks didn’t land Thornton, and believes he offered O’Connell a better deal than the Bruins ultimately received from the Sharks.

Most fascinatingly, Burke even gave specifics about what he was willing to offer. Now, one can speculate about who would have been in the Ducks top five in 2005. Would Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry possibly been available for Thornton?

But either way … wow.

As a reminder, the Bruins ended up receiving Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart for Thornton. As Bruins fans would like to forget, Thornton continued to be a star for the Sharks, including winning the 2005-06 Hart Trophy.

[PHT Time Machine: The Eric Lindros trade that didn’t happen.]

Round 2: O’Connell says Burke’s Thornton claims were a “fabrication”

Things got juicier between O’Connell and Burke on Tuesday.

O’Connell told The Athletic’s Joe McDonald (sub required) that Burke’s hypothetical offer didn’t happen, and that the details were a “fabrication.”

“The details surrounding this story are fabricated and I can confirm that no such offer was made to me as I never informed Anaheim of my intentions to trade Joe Thornton,” O’Connell said. “Unfortunately, certain personalities never let the truth get in the way of their ultimate goal, self-promotion.”

Whew! (Shakes hand to indicate serious heat emanating from this rivalry.)

Round 3: Feud sizzles to a new level as Burke counters

Not to be outdone, Burke responded to O’Connell’s claims in a fiery appearance on ESPN on Ice with Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski. Burke made a key point by noting that current Ducks GM Bob Murray was in Burke’s office when he made the offer(s).

Burke also revived memories of wanting to battle Kevin Lowe in a fabled barn over the Dustin Penner offer sheet, saying “I wish we were in the same room, if you’re calling me a liar.” You really need to hear the entire clip, which Wyshynski posted:

*Ponders putting on oven mitts, this is all too hot to handle*

So obviously, this is a he-said, Burkie-said situation. We can only take each hockey executive’s word for it, and one could even argue that Murray might feel loyal to Burke.

But, considering the specifics of Burke’s claims, it seems feasible that the Ducks made some sort of offer for Thornton.

Theories

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle.

It’s also crucial to realize how much a person’s memory can be altered by time. This happened in 2005, and sometimes the seeds of trades are planted far before a deal is consummated. It’s possible that O’Connell flat-out doesn’t remember Burke’s offer(s).

Not only has time passed, but O’Connell also took a ton of heat for the trade. McDonald notes this anonymous reaction from a Bruins player at the time of the trade:

“Are you kidding me? We traded Joe Thornton for three guys who can’t tie their skates.”

The Bruins fired O’Connell in March of 2006, and the Thornton trade undoubtedly served as a catalyst. Such events can leave you a bit scarred, and maybe even prompt you to forget certain details. Maybe phrasing like “babysitting” bothered O’Connell, even if I took it to mean that Burke was checking up on the situation quite often.

Or maybe O’Connell is right in claiming that Burke is making those Thornton trade claims with the “ultimate goal” of “self-promotion?”

One thing’s clear: this is fun

We can only really guess, and perhaps spend this coronavirus quarantine time imagining “What if?” scenarios. Could Thornton have pushed the Ducks into mini-dynasty status, as this was during their Chris Pronger – Scott Niedermayer era? Would the Bruins have landed blue chips rather than “guys who can’t tie their skates?”

(That’s totally unfair to Primeau, Sturm, and Stuart, as they all had lengthy NHL careers. Though I admit I have not received definitive proof of how adept they are with laces.)

The one thing we do know is that Thornton landed with the Sharks and had a great run. And that O’Connell (currently director of pro development for the Los Angeles Kings) and Burke (Sportsnet personality) probably aren’t best buds.

Hey, it’s a lot more fun than talking about escrow though, right?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi: “Would have rather invested my money with Bernie Madoff than invest in Edmonton’s word”

The Kings and Oilers have a bit of history from their old Smythe Division battles. There was that small trade in 1988 between the two teams that changed the NHL. But this—this is a new, ridiculous chapter that will stand apart for years to come.

In the latest development in the Kings/Oilers/Ryan Smyth trade saga, the Kings want further compensation from Edmonton because they were less than truthful about Colin Fraser’s injury. As the story goes (from the Kings’ perspective), they were told that Fraser was mere days away from being medically cleared to play. When Fraser’s foot was checked by LA’s doctors, they found both a cyst on the injured foot and a blood disorder that will cause him to miss the next four months. This is on the heels of Steve Tambellini trying to send the Kings Gilbert Brule—a player who the Kings planned on waiving. The only problem was that Brule hasn’t fully recovered from the concussion he suffered last season; meaning the Kings would be unable to waive him as they had planned. One trade, two players, two shady medical situations.

When speaking to Hall of Fame NHL writer Helene Elliott of the LA Times, Dean Lombardi finally let loose with his feelings on the entire situation. Needless to say, he’s less than pleased with the Oilers’ honesty throughout the process.

“The bottom line for me, I would have rather invested my money with Bernie Madoff than invest in Edmonton’s word.”

There’s not much gray area there. But he wasn’t finished. He continued, this time talking about the Oilers not disclosing the injuries of players they were attempting to trade:

“In my 20 years I’ve never had this happen once, let alone twice in one week. And people used to think maybe I was crazy but when I was scouting for Philly, Edmonton was my favorite city because of the history of the building and the crowds seemed like honest, working-class people. You still had a blue-collar feel at times. And I don’t think this conduct is emblematic of that city at all.”

It’s always nice to see a general manager speak his true feelings. Of course, the situation boils down to a he said/she said situation at its core. Lombardi and the Kings say that the Oilers told them that Fraser was going to be cleared to play and his foot injury wouldn’t be a concern. Oilers GM Steve Tambellini and the Edmonton organization don’t quite see it the same way. We’re not sure what their position is on the situation as they’ve refused to comment. But as Kings’ ownership has worked to find a suitable remedy, the Oilers have not responded to their requests either. All we know at this point is that the Kings have decided to “look at our legal avenues.”

Needless to say, there isn’t much sympathy in Edmonton today. David Staples of the Edmonton Journal doesn’t exactly see it the same way as Lombardi:

“If Lombardi has a real complaint, he can take it to the NHL. He’s apparently known for shooting off his mouth about the integrity of others.

Until Lombardi does take formal action, this comes off as something of a snit fit from a GM not used to having a star player holding a gun to his head and demanding a trade to a single specified location.”

It’s safe to assume that the Kings “legal avenues” will be some sort of grievance filed with the NHL. It shouldn’t come as any surprise as one of the craziest trades in recent memory has just hit another speed bump. To recap:

  • Ryan Smyth asks for a trade
  • Smyth says he didn’t ask for a trade
  • It’s confirmed that he asked for a trade “for family reasons.”
  • Reportedly gets traded at the draft
  • Trade can’t be completed because the player the Oilers were sending out of town was so injured he couldn’t be waived.
  • NHL lawyers are brought in and agree that said player cannot be waived.
  • New players brought in to send to LA.
  • New player even more injured than previous player.
  • Edmonton claims they (and their doctors) know nothing about the major injury.
  • Kings are left fuming.

Got all that? Because there will surely be more to this story. At least it helps fill the offseason…