Scott Niedermayer

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.

Schneider, Devils blank Coyotes

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Cory Schneider made 38 saves and Scott Gomez netted the game-winner as the New Jersey Devils blanked the Arizona Coyotes 3-0 Monday night.

The game-winner is Gomez’s first as a member of the Devils since Jan. 13, 2007.

With the win New Jersey has won four straight for the first time since Feb. 3-10, 2013. The Devils are now 11-2-3 in their last 16 home games.

New Jersey moves eight points back of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Arizona has lost six straight.

Gomez’s goal moves him into fifth place on the Devils’ all-time list with 473 points passing Bobby Holik. He trails Scott Niedermayer for fourth spot by just three points.

Mike Cammalleri scored twice, including the insurance marker.

Its Cammalleri’s fourth multi-goal game of the season, and his second in three games.

Jordin Tootoo had an assist in the win and now has points in three straight games for the first time since Feb. 14-19, 2012.

Mike Smith stopped 25 shots in the loss.

Schneider improves to 22-22-5 with his third shutout of the season and his sixth as a member of the Devils.

New Jersey continues its six-game home stand Wednesday against the Calgary Flames.

Niedermayer hopes NHLers continue Olympic participation

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On Saturday, former New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer was inducted into the British Columbia Hockey Hall of Fame.

His induction was a special one. When people say Niedermayer accomplished all there is to accomplish in hockey, they truly mean it — he’s the only Canadian player in history to win the ‘big six’:

Stanley Cup, Memorial Cup, World Juniors, World Championships, Olympics and the now-defunct World Cup.

Those accolades are a big reason why Lucas Aykroyd of IIHF.com was on hand to interview Niedermayer at his induction ceremony.

On the subject of NHLers competing in future Olympics — most notably, the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi — Niedermayer was hopeful participation would continue.

“I think it’s obvious that the fans love it. It’s great hockey,” Niedermayer explained. “I know the players love it. Sometimes it is difficult when you have a long way to travel. It’s not easy. But the players always love an opportunity to represent their country.

“It means a lot to them. So let’s hope it continues.”

Niedermayer won two Olympic golds with Canada in 2002 and 2010, captaining the side that beat the U.S. in Vancouver. He pointed out that Canada defeated the Americans for both of their gold medals, suggesting the rivalry is a big reason why Olympic hockey is so captivating.

“It’s a difficult tournament to win,” he said. “You look at the teams that are out there now, how hard the Americans played [in 2010]. Actually, we ended up playing the U.S. in both the Olympic finals we won. They were good games. And there are many other tough teams. It’s a tough tournament.

“That’s why people love watching it. That’s why when you win it, it means something.”

NHL on NBC: Rangers, Devils series heads to New Jersey

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After playing in back-to-back seven-game series, the New York Rangers insist they’re not tired. All the same, we imagine having two full days off before Game 3 on Saturday (1pm ET, NBC) was helpful for them.

The Rangers struggled to overcome the young and underrated Ottawa Senators and then they nearly fell to a reformed Washington Capitals’ squad. Now, after dropping Game 2, it looks like they’re in for yet another lengthy series, this time at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils have developed a reputation for being a superb defensive team led by future Hall of Fame netminder Martin Brodeur, but if anything the Rangers have the edge in both defense and goaltending in this series. Brodeur is 40 now and former greats Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski have all retired. However, New Jersey can’t be overlooked.

Whatever they’ve lost defensively since they last won the Stanley Cup in 2003, the Devils have made up for in firepower. Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Zach Parise have done a great job leading New Jersey’s attack. Patrik Elias is another story, but if he manages to break out before this series is over, then he might prove to be a game changer.

The Rangers will attempt to contain them with their emphasis on shot-blocking and strong goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. That served them well the series opener, but they showed cracks in their armor in Game 2.

The X-factor going into Saturday’s contest is New York’s Marian Gaborik. On Wednesday, he was benched for the better part of the third period after a bad clearing attempt. He doesn’t have a point in this series, but he’s capable of bouncing back in Game 3.

Game 3 Notes:

— Rangers forward Chris Kreider has four playoff goals despite the fact that he’s never played in a regular season game at the NHL level. Only one other player in the history of the league has netted as many goals before their regular season debut.
— New Jersey has only managed to kill 72.2% of their penalties in the playoffs, which is by far the worst success rate out of the remaining teams. They conceded a power-play goal to the New York Rangers in each of this series’ first two contests.
— Rangers captain Ryan Callahan insists he didn’t injure his hand while blocking a shot in the first round. All the same, Callahan has just one goal and three points in his last 12 games.
— In 2011, the Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins led all teams with 377 blocked shots in 25 games. With 309 blocked shots in 16 contests, the New York Rangers are on pace to shatter that mark.

Parise, Devils light it up on Niedermayer night

The New Jersey Devils aren’t the elite team they once were when Scott Niedermayer patrolled their blueline, but they sure put on a show as his No. 27 ascended to the rafters. It only makes sense that a Devils first-round pick ran with that game, too, as Zach Parise dominated the action. Parise scored four points as the Devils overwhelmed the Dallas Stars 6-3.

Usually a goal is the highlight reel fodder, but my favorite Parise moment was one of his three assists. He fouled up Stephane Robidas next to the Stars’ blue line and then sent a perfect pass to Adam Henrique for an impressive shortie.

It’s starting to look like Parise is over his knee injury, by the way. The talented winger has points in all but one of his last 10 games, including eight in his last three.

Parise picked a great time for his best game of the season as this was the Devils’ first sellout since opening night, according to Tom Gulitti. New Jersey is heating up, as well, as they’ve ridden good shootout work and improving high-end scoring to a 5-1 record in their last six games.

It’s hard to tell what these 17-13-1 Devils are really capable of, but one thing seems clear: Parise’s back.