Marco Sturm

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.

It’s Florida Panthers day on PHT

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Welcome to our offseason initiative — 30 teams in 30 days.

From July 16 until Aug. 14, we’ll be dedicating each day to a new team by recapping the offseason and looking ahead to 2012-13.

There will also be a series of posts looking at key stories, player profiles and burning questions regarding each squad.

Today, we move on to the Florida Panthers.

Last season was a breakthrough season for what has long been the NHL’s most hapless franchise (or at least one of them). After more than a decade of early summers, the Panthers finally made the playoffs – and won the Southeast Division too. Sure, they got booted in the first round by the New Jersey Devils, but it was still a huge step in the right direction for GM Dale Tallon and first-year coach Kevin Dineen.

Unless you feel especially strongly about Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson, the Panthers’ roster is largely unchanged (all apologies to Filip Kuba and Peter Mueller) – for now. Much like the New York Rangers with Rick Nash, Florida’s outlook could change significantly if they bring back Roberto Luongo.

Will the Panthers prove that last season was a stepping stone, not a fluke? Stick around PHT today for more on that.

Michal Neuvirth leaves Panthers-Capitals game

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Among stats nerds, Braden Holtby’s small sample size of success* has made him something of a punchline. The Washington Capitals must hope that he can regain that spirit, however, as Michal Neuvirth went down writhing in pain during tonight’s big game against the Washington Capitals.

Then again, there might actually be a nice indirect effect to Neuvirth’s potential leg injury, which came when former Cap Marco Sturm fell awkwardly around his knee. (Obligatory joke: Sturm isn’t content to simply hurt himself anymore.)

Alex Ovechkin scored a 2-0 goal shortly after Neuvirth was injured, and while this could just be a coincidence, I got the feeling that Washington saw its goalie go down and decide to nix the “sit on a two-goal lead” plan. (And just as I was about to publish this post, Brooks Laich made it 3-0.)

The Capitals have been guilty of trying to get by with flimsy leads an awful lot lately, although they’ve managed to squeeze out some shootout wins in all but an ugly loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

There’s still plenty of time for Washington and Florida to swap fates – if you are a committed follower of the NHL’s stretch run races, you know that weird things can happen – but there might be at least a short-term shot in the arm advantage to this injury.

Still, the longer-term worry is undeniable: the Capitals might just be down to their third goalie as the playoffs approach if Neuvirth’s issue ends up being serious. (Many believe Tomas Vokoun’s Capitals days are already over.)

* – Some Caps fans based a tiny body of work last season as proof that Semyon Varlamov was the team’s third best goalie at the time. Cute.

Mike Ribeiro hams it up in return to Montreal

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In a vacuum, the trade that sent Mike Ribeiro from the Montreal Canadiens to the Dallas Stars was one of the most lopsided in recent years. Context might change that up in the same way that revisionists might view the Joe Thornton trade,* but either way it was a rather one-sided deal.

Ribeiro hasn’t exactly let bygones be bygones since that Sept. 30, 2006 deal, as you can see from the way he celebrated both his goal and being named the first star of the Stars’ 3-0 win over the Habs.

Check out his reaction to the tap-in tally:

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Then bask in the glow of his first star celebration, which wasn’t exactly … humble.

[vodpod id=Video.16122149&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

So Ribeiro got his revenge. Still, when you talk about the talented-but-polarizing center’s time in Montreal, Canadiens fans have the ultimate video trump card. Check out his embellishment of a penalty during a 2004 playoff series with the Boston Bruins, which is basically the textbook definition of unsportsmanlike conduct:

[vodpod id=Video.16122157&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

Never change, Mike Ribeiro. Never change.

* – If you ask some Boston Bruins fans and some others, they’ll say that trading Jumbo Joe allowed them to move onto the Marc Savard/Zdeno Chara era. You have to get kind of abstract when Marco Sturm’s so-so Bruins days were about the best that came from that swap for Boston, after all …

Theodore, Markstrom make strides in recovery

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The Florida Panthers have a slim lead over the Washington Capitals for the Southeast Division lead – and the place in the East’s top eight that comes with it. They’re doing so with solid backup Scott Clemmensen, but the Panthers would prefer to have at least one of Jacob Markstrom and Jose Theodore in the fold as well.

The Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov reports that both goalies are making solid progress with their knee injuries. In fact, Theodore might even have a chance to start against the Capitals in tomorrow’s important game.

Fialkov believes that Clemmensen’s more likely to play on Tuesday, but the Panthers must be pleased that their effective No. 1 goalie and his talented understudy are getting healthier.

(Oh, and in it-hardly-seems-like news, Marco Sturm’s parade of injuries continues with minor knee surgery.)