No one will ever confuse the World Hockey Championships for the Olympic hockey tournament. One, at least over the past 12 years, brings together all of the world's greatest hockey players, while the other showcases the leftovers of the National Hockey League playoffs.
Still, one has to take into account that the Worlds are a tournament for the rest of the world, and not necessarily Canada or the United States, the two countries of origin for most NHLers. In this case, "one" is Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who had this to say a few days ago, after his U.S. team, the one he put together, just barely avoided relegation after a horrible tournament in Germany that saw the Americans go 0-1-2 in the preliminary round:
"It's too much hockey. It's too much for our players and I don't think it has the luster that the tournament normally has because everyone was focused on Vancouver. NHL teams don't get anything out of this. The players don't get paid," he said, in a bid to get the International Ice Hockey Federation to consider foregoing the tournament every second year.
Obviously, players do get the chance to represent their respective countries, but, to put Burke's comments in perspective, they came a few days after an editorial article had been posted on the IIHF website, criticizing players such as Sidney Crosby for not playing in the tournament when invited to do so. The argument made in the article is that players shouldn't use fatigue as an excuse, taking into account the nature of their job. Burke's comments were in part a response to that column.
Right or wrong, Burke came across as bitter and a hypocrite in saying what he did. For starters, if he was so against the tournament to begin with, why did he agree to manage the American team?
I won't begin to claim a deep foundation of knowledge when it comes to the inner workings of USA Hockey, but I do know two separate people, Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier, managed the Canadian entries at the Olympics and the World Championships. Why didn't Burke step aside to let someone else take the helm of the team if he is so opposed to the tournament? And why has he managed the team before, in 1993, if he truly believes: "it's based on greed. I think they have a television contract… and that's why they play it."
Maybe so. But you can't deny that the NHL is a business too and that at the end of the day teams such as the Maple Leafs make business-related decisions, even when it comes to personnel (i.e. the players).
Now, I'm not saying that Burke doesn't have a point. I just think it's not all that well thought out. I actually like Burke. He speaks his mind and isn't afraid of the media. Oftentimes, he'll even utilize the media to his own advantage (such as now, in trying to get his point across to the hockey world). All in all, however, his point would have carried a lot more weight if he wasn't so close to the situation on both sides of the coin… as a gm in the NHL and on the world stage.
In hockey, it's seldom that you can have your cake and eat it too. In this case, it seems the cake would be the honor of playing (or managing a team) for your country. Eating it would be akin to winning a medal, which, needless to say, Burke failed to do in Germany. Nowhere in that equation is there a third option that would have you then digest the cake properly (having the Worlds played every other year, for Burke). Maybe it's time Burke realized the envelope can only be pushed up to its limits and not beyond. Some battles just can't be won. This one shouldn't even be waged.