Kevin Lowe

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.

Report: Oilers’ Lowe removed from Hockey Ops role

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According to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, the Edmonton Oilers have removed Kevin Lowe as the club’s President of Hockey Operations.

Lowe, who spent a total of 15 seasons as a player with the Oilers, joined the club as an assistant coach in 1998 and served as the club’s general manager from 2000-2009 when he was promoted to President of Hockey Operations.

The Oilers are expected to announce the hiring of Peter Chiarelli at some point today.

Update from TSN’s Bob McKenzie:

Oilers to celebrate 30th anniversary of 1984 Stanley Cup championship team

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We know there hasn’t been much success in Edmonton the past eight seasons now, but during the 1980s they were the team.

Back in 1984, the Oilers started their dynastic run by ending the New York Islanders’ dynasty beating them in five games. Now, 30 years later, they’re getting the band back together again on Oct. 10 to celebrate the first of what ultimately became five Stanley Cup titles in Edmonton.

As Derek van Diest of the Edmonton Sun shared, the idea to get everyone back together was Wayne Gretzky’s.

“I think everybody, which Wayne (Gretzky) alluded to, and him being the architect of getting this idea, wanted to see the guys and get together,” Oilers President and member of that ’84 team Kevin Lowe said. “We’ve never celebrated the team in any capacity, we did have the Heritage Classic in 2003, which was a bit of a celebration. This is a real fitting event and it looks like everybody is going to be here.”

By “everybody” Lowe means just about everyone involved with the Oilers’ success. Players, coaches, scouts, equipment staff, and executives will all be part of the celebration. We’ll see if former owner Peter Pocklington is welcome since he’s the guy who traded Gretzky and all.

That ’84 Oilers team was one of the most talented teams ever assembled. With Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, and Glenn Anderson along with coach Glen Sather they scored 446 goals that season, 86 more than the second-best scoring team, the Quebec Nordiques.

Kevin Lowe isn’t saying Sutter wants the Oilers job, he just doesn’t see why Sutter wouldn’t want the Oilers job

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To talk about hiring a coach that’s still under contract is a NHL no-no. So full marks to Oilers president Kevin Lowe, who artfully discussed Brent Sutter’s interest in Edmonton’s head coaching gig — without really discussing Brent Sutter’s interest in Edmonton’s head coaching gig.

‘I don’t see why he wouldn’t want to coach the Oilers,” Lowe told Bill Beacon of the Canadian Press. “Brent’s been a good coach. We’ve seen him recently. He’s Albertan. He knows the Battle of Alberta well.”

Technically speaking, Sutter is still property of the Calgary Flames — even though Calgary GM Jay Feaster already conducted Sutter’s farewell cake-cutting ceremony. This means Sutter is still off-limits for discussion, even though all signs point to the Oilers being very interested in his services.

Lowe was Team Canada’s GM at the recently-concluded World Hockey Championships and chiefly responsible for selecting Sutter as head coach. Coincidentally, Team Canada was stockpiled with Oilers — Devan Dubnyk, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — as well as Everett defenseman Ryan Murray, a guy Edmonton has targeted with the No. 1 pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

That said, Lowe made it clear the topic of the Oilers gig didn’t come up at the Worlds.

“With the sacredness of the world championships and everything it means, [Sutter] didn’t need any distractions,” Lowe explained. “He’d just come from the Flames, making the mutual decision that he wasn’t going to continue to work with them, and he had a new coaching staff and team to learn in a short time.”

Lowe also said Edmonton will “ideally” have a coach in place before the June draft.

GM Meetings: Brian Burke – “I got dirt kicked in my face again”

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Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke got to where he is by thinking in a bold way, but bigger ideas aren’t always easy to make universal.

Burke has been pushing a “bear hug” rule for quite some now, which essentially would allow a checking player to “hug” an opponent while hitting him along the boards to brace for the impact. The negative side, naturally, is that the attacking player would undoubtedly be engaging in a form of obstruction in the process.

Perhaps that negative side is too much of a gray area for GMs to stomach, because Burke told James Mirtle that it didn’t work out. In fact, he was customarily dramatic about it.

“Bear hug had no support – no chance,” Burke said. “I got dirt kicked in my face again.”

Such an emo description makes me imagine other general managers making spit takes when he brings up the idea, even if they probably just voted “Nay” while shrugging their shoulders. (Kevin Lowe would have been more difficult about it, but he’s not the Edmonton Oilers GM anymore.)

The pros

However general managers reacted, there’s a method to Burke’s madness. Hits from behind are among the most dangerous in the game, but you cannot make them universally illegal without putting a team’s defense at a profound disadvantage. Burke’s idea would allow defenders to defend against the glass without getting suspended (or hurting someone badly).

The cons

Again, though, the gray area comes in when they were “hugging” to help someone not get injured and when they were just trying to slow an opponent who gained some ground down low or in the zone.

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Where do you stand on the rule, then? It might be quite some time if GMs ever approve of such a measure, but it doesn’t mean the hockey world cannot debate its merits in the mean time.