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Friday, 3 January 2014

The Apology

There was a good discussion about the comments that Brian Burke made regarding Bobby Ryan and his deserving of a spot on Team USA for the Olympics last night on The Hockey Show. Beans and I pointed out that regardless of what Brian Burke says, this kind of selection process was one that should have stayed behind closed doors simply due to how the selection process works. If you've ever been a coach of a team, you know that there are hard decisions that come into play when picking a team, and sometimes you have to look at the hard facts when it comes to players who make it and those who do not. Today, Hockey USA issued a public apology to Bobby Ryan after Brian Burke's comments during the selection process were published for the world to read.

Let's review what was said so we're all on the same page. The comments from Brian Burke were made in the Scott Burnside article posted to ESPN, and the comments made by both Bobby Ryan and David Poile that follow are a direct result from those comments made by Burke. I will paraphrase all of the Bobby Ryan comments made at the Team USA meetings with emphasis on Burke's comments. Here's the whole debacle, starting with the meeting in August amongst the Team USA brain trust.
Bobby Ryan was also in Vancouver and has been the most consistent of U.S.-born scorers, having tallied 30 or more goals four times for Anaheim before being dealt to Ottawa in the offseason. And yet there is surprising resistance to simply penciling him into a spot on the wing.

The issue is where he fits. If he's not a top-six forward, his skating doesn't really lend itself to him being a third-line checker. He cannot kill penalties, and while in Anaheim, he was not on the team's top power-play unit.

"I think he's sleepy. I think he skates sleepy," offers one member of the selection committee.

Poile asks for a show of hands: "Are guys nervous about Bobby Ryan?" A flurry of hands go up in the air.

"That's a lot of guys," Poile notes.

And so Ryan, unbeknownst to him, finds himself in a battle for a place on The Board with wingers like Max Pacioretty, James van Riemsdyk, Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie before Ryan has set one skate on the ice.
Ok, so that's not so bad. The group has called into question the skating ability of Bobby Ryan, and a number of guys seem to have an idea of why Bobby Ryan isn't a lock. There's not a lot to get upset about here, but it starts the ball rolling. There's another meeting two months into the season.
At this point it looks like two open spots on the wing with Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad looking to have the inside track on those two spots.

As Waddell notes, at this point Ryan has eight goals.

"He's a goal scorer. We need goals," he says.
With Don Waddell playing the role of Captain Obvious, it becomes clear that Bobby Ryan can score goals. No one can deny that fact. He is one of the best American-born snipers in the NHL today. A short meeting in Toronto, however, shows that there are still some who are concerned with Ryan.It's the first time Brian Burke goes on record about Bobby Ryan directly.
There are two spots open up front, but as Poile canvasses the room, there is little in the way of agreement about which combination of Ryan, Wheeler, Saad or Galchenyuk it should be.

Again the question of whether Ryan's status as a pure goal scorer is enough to put him on this team.

"So is Ryan the next guy up?" Poile asks.

"He's been there," Burke points out.

Yes, he was just OK in Vancouver, "but he won't be intimidated," Burke says.
One is welcome to be offended at how his performance was reviewed regarding his play in Vancouver, but Burke clearly goes to bat for him in saying that he won't be intimidated. I'm pretty sure that's a positive in terms of the overall pitch for Ryan to be on Team USA. We jump to November 25 for a Team USA conference call.
Ryan's place on the team, while it may have been a surprise to outsiders, given his ability to consistently provide scoring, continues to ebb and flow. It seems to come down to whether the coaches plan to use him regularly on the power play. If not, there may be no room for him.

"He is on the power-play list," Laviolette says. Although he does point out that Ryan possesses a surprisingly low percentage of power-play points, just four of his 22 points coming with the man advantage in Ottawa at the time.

"One of the lowest percentage power-play points guys we have," Laviolette says.

Poile notes that coming out of the orientation camp Pacioretty was likely ahead of Ryan on the list.
Peter Laviolette offers more praise before countering his own support with a statistical analysis. In other words, Laviolette's initial point is now moot because he contradicted himself with hard numbers. An just to add a little more fuel to the fire, Poile indicates that Ryan was already facing an uphill battle to make this team after the orientation camp. But then the real chatter starts a few minutes later.
"I think we have to know what we're taking with Bobby," says Burke, who had him in Anaheim when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007.

"He's a passive guy," Burke says. And over 82 games, yes, Saad and or Pacioretty might be more attractive than Ryan. But Ryan's a game-breaker.

"He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary," Burke says. "It's never going to be in his vocabulary. He can't spell intense."

If he's not going to be put in a role in which he can score an important goal, use his skills as a sniper, he shouldn't go, Burke says.

"Is everybody really happy with our speed up front?" Poile asks.

There is a pause.

"I don't think it's a fast team," Tallon notes.

Ryan doesn't add to the speed quotient, so do these last two spots need to be filled with speed guys? And if there are injuries, which of these guys are more compatible, more able to move up the roster to fill in more demanding roles?

Pacioretty and Saad are both better 60-minute players, Burke says, "But neither can do what Bobby can do."
Wow. That's harsh. Burke tries to put a positive spin on the whole conversation about Ryan at the end, but what he said isn't about the player's ability to play defence or score goals.

However, questioning a man's intensity is questioning a man's character. And while it may be true that some guys bring an intensity to the game night in and night out - think Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger - not everyone has that same level of intensity. I get that. I see it on the team I play on. But I'd never question those guys who don't show a burning intensity about their character. Never. That's the fastest way to get run off a team. If Burke had said that about me, I'd be peeved as well. Tossing in the comment about how Ryan doesn't help team speed is important for context, but not necessary after calling the man's love of the game into question. However, the debate rages on at the GM meetings in Pebble Beach.
As for Ryan, Burke goes back to Lombardi's earlier point about ignoring the top American scorer at his position and what kind of dangers there are in leaving Ryan off the squad.

Poile asks the question that synthesizes the debate, if it doesn't provide its own answer:

"How good is Bobby Ryan's one quality," he asks, referencing his ability to score. "Will it win out the day?"

Poile is holding Ryan's name strip while standing next to The Board.

No way to move Pacioretty out of the mix, Poile notes.

Johannson points out that the forwards are better now than four years ago. Kessel is better, van Riemsdyk is a better player, and that has made Ryan's job of making the team more difficult this time around.

It's so easy to defend internationally, Johannson adds, if there isn't the threat of speed in the lineup.

And with that Wheeler moves into the fourth right wing spot.
Honestly, I'm pretty sure that none of Team USA's brain trust have even watched a lot of hockey this season if they feel that Blake Wheeler brings more to the table than Bobby Ryan. I'm not saying Wheeler is a poor choice in any way, but I am doing what Burke, Poile, and the others are doing - debating the merits of selecting one guy over another. Things will be said that are horrible, and this is why I firmly believe that Hockey USA made an extremely poor decision in allowing the media to sit in on these decisions without securing some sort of right to edit the final product.

However, it gets worse for Bobby Ryan as the man who drafted him, Brian Burke, commits one of the worst atrocities I have ever read eight days after the Pebble Beach meeting. And for this passage alone, I think Hockey USA will re-think any future opportunities like this.
Burke recalls fighting with his scouts in Anaheim over whether to take Bobby Ryan or Jack Johnson at the 2005 draft.

The scouts won and the Ducks took Ryan.

"I should have taken Jack," Burke says. "No way he lets us down for 12 days.

"I know he's having a poor year, but I love everything about this kid."
You simply cannot say that about a player. That's akin to a parent admitting that a child was a "mistake" in terms of getting pregnant. Brian Burke drafted Ryan, had his team and staff work with Ryan in getting him ready to be an NHL player, won a Stanley Cup with Ryan, and then basically outs him as being the kid he didn't want. That's indefensible. That's the absolute worst thing a GM can say about a player who he groomed and helped become a solid, every day NHL player. And seconds later, the decision is made.
The odd man out, then, is Bobby Ryan.

"Ryan is not getting the love at all," Poile says.

During his conversation with the coaches, he talked to them about whether Ryan provided needed scoring, but the coaches wouldn't budge, Poile says. They felt they had enough scoring and didn't need Ryan for the power play.
And with that, one of America's best-scoring players under the age of thirty will watch from home as his colleagues travel to Sochi to play for the gold medal. David Poile, though, brings Ryan's name up at a conference call a few days later, but the group re-affirms their belief that Ryan shouldn't be included.
"I just want to make sure we're not cutting off our nose to spite our face," he says of Ryan.

"Are we doing a disservice by not taking him," he asks.

The consensus is again that Ryan doesn't bring enough to the table to warrant inclusion.
In the end, "Burke would vote Wheeler and Oshie" as the final two wingers, according to Scott Burnside, and goes as far as saying that injuries between now and February will mean that both Oshie and Saad will be in Sochi. Not Ryan, but both Oshie and Saad. Not the guy he drafted and won a Stanley Cup with, but two guys who score less than Ryan. Granted, they are versatile as both have played up and down the lineups in St. Louis and Chicago, respectively, but you would think that Ryan would be Burke's guy.

Clearly, as seen above, he's not, and maybe never was. Wow.

Thursday, Bobby Ryan stepped forward to offer his thoughts on the selection process, Brian Burke's comments in that process, and the Team USA management group as a whole.
“They were direct quotes and it's unfortunate they feel that way. That's their opinions and they've got to form a team. I guess to a certain degree you have to respect it.

“You don't have to agree with it, right? But you could have just cut me. You didn't have to... Actually I almost feel degraded when it comes out like that. It is what it is. That's their decision. That's how they feel about it. I will remember it and use it as motivation."
He also called the comments made by Brian Burke "gutless", and Ryan added that he felt that he was going to have a tough time making this team coming out of the orientation camp based upon conversations he had with coaches and management there. You can understand Ryan's frustration, but I think he is far more justified in being angry and hurt by the comments made by the Team USA management and coaches, in particular a man he respected due to the opportunities he gave Ryan in Brian Burke.

Today, we got the apology from Team USA regarding the comments made that were publicly aired.
"I'm trying right now, if I can, to apologize to Bobby Ryan. If that was said about me or one of my players I would be very upset with this. I apologize as much as I can.

"I'm big on this. As far as anything to denigrate any player, that is not what any of us signed up for. This was just a little bit too much. For the umpteenth time I totally apologize to Bobby Ryan on behalf of our staff and Brian Burke, who was absolutely the biggest supporter of Bobby Ryan on our staff. Nowhere does that show that. It's just unfortunate.”
Poile can play this tune any way he likes regarding how much support Burke put behind Ryan, but the ESPN report casts an entirely different light than what Poile is trying to spin. Burke's comments were pretty repugnant, and I'm pretty sure an apology, while necessary, won't solve this problem.

Ryan, for his part, seems to have accepted the apology just to move past this entire episode. His comments, though, seem to indicate that he's accepting just for acceptance sake. "It's nice, I guess," Ryan told the media today. "They felt like they got bombarded just like I felt. It's a nice sentiment. I'd just like it to go away and let's move forward."

When asked if he has any interest in speaking with Burke who had said he's like to speak with Ryan personally, Ryan replied, "No. For me, it's over. They reached out through Bryan Murray to extend their apologies. From the words I heard, they were mortified when it came out as well. It's over with. I appreciate the apology. I’m going to be more focused on the other stuff."

So What Did We Learn?

  1. We probably won't see Team USA ever do anything like this again. Or any other country's management team for that matter.
  2. If you publicly humiliate a player, don't expect him to be as outgoing if the same management team asks him to play at any future events. Probably won't happen.
  3. If there's a reporter in the room holding a microphone or a pen and notepad, it's on the record. ALWAYS. No exceptions. These guys should know this by now.
  4. Never, ever admit that you should have drafted one player over another. That kind of stuff is what you take to the grave with you.
  5. Let players that have been cut know why they didn't make the team before announcing the team. Those conversations should be done long before anything ever went public. That's professionalism. It's what 99.9% of teams do so players and management can have honest discussions about why a player didn't make the team.
This may be one of the worst starts to an Olympic team in hockey history. While Bobby Ryan and Brian Burke may not speak to one another for a while, the good news is that Ryan avoided getting down in the mud that was being slung about him in the ESPN article. He seems to have moved on, and that's a positive for him in this ugly mess.

And as for Brian Burke? It might be a little harder in attracting talent to play in Calgary after this incident.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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