Tuesday, 1 May 2012

His Agent Says No

It seems as though the Alexander Burmistrov story that HBIC commented on yesterday did have an unresearched second side to the story. It was reported that the young Jets winger had been contacted about playing for the KHL's Ak Bars Kazan next season. Burmistrov's agent, Mark Gandler, was actually contacted by the Winnipeg Free Press in the wake of this story breaking in order to get the low-down on what was actually happening with Burmistrov for the next season. Burmistrov had a career-high of 28 points last season for the Jets, but really looked like he was finiding his own in some games. Granted, he did disappear for games at a time, but the young Russian showed flashes of brilliance that had the Jets high on his game. So what gives from the Burmistrov side of the story?

To recap, we heard the story told by the Cult of Hockey blog yesterday about how Ak Bars Kazan reached out to Burmistrov about coming to play for his hometown team, but Mark Gandler firmly and emphatically shot down those rumours yesterday and today about his young client.

"Alex Burmistrov is under contract to the Winnipeg Jets," Gandler told Winnipeg Free Press reporters Ed Tait and Gary Lawless. "Neither Alex or I heard from that team, so that’s the end of that story."

When asked by the reporters if Burmistrov intended to honour the final year of his contract and report back to the Jets for next season, Gandler bluntly answered, "That is correct. End of story."

There had been times this past season where the Jets coaching staff spoke to Burmistrov about his play. Honestly, this isn't uncommon as younger players need to be kept on track when it comes to their development at both ends of the ice. From the linked report above, it sounds as though Burmistrov took this as a sign of disrespect from the coaches if we are to believe the unnamed veteran player who spoke out about Burmistrov.

This could have factored into the story being spread yesterday about Burmistrov listening to offers from Ak Bars Kazan, but I'm going to believe that Mark Gandler has his client's best interests in mind when it comes to his development, his talent, and his pay. After all, agents do earn a commission from their clients, and the KHL may differ greatly from the NHL in how the KHL deals with player agents (if they do at all).

The problem with Burmistrov is the same with a lot of the younger players that Atlanta employed: they were rushed to the NHL. Alexander Burmistrov wasn't the first to be put on a pedestal as the Thrashers went with youth to try and build their franchise. While players like Heatley and Kovalchuk have immense talent to make up for some of their defensive liabilities, there's no denying that players like Burmistrov, Kari Lehtonen (now with Dallas), Niclas Bergfors (now in the KHL), and Anthony Stewart (now with Carolina) all could have used a little seasoning down on the farm to ease the transition into playing against the men in the NHL.

Instead, Burmistrov's speed and hands kept him in a Thrashers uniform as the Atlanta front office and coaching staff employed a "trial by fire" method of making him into an NHL player. Burmistrov still isn't there at the age of 22, so it might be time to pull the line on him and let him develop against AHL talent a little more.

Don't think that'll work? I beg to differ. Check out this list of players in the 2010 AHL All-Star Game. You'll note a common theme in their 2012 work: Michal Neuvirth, Lars Eller, John Carlson, Jonathan Bernier, Logan Couture, and Tyler Ennis. Did you find the similarity? If you said that they all played significant roles for their NHL teams this season, you'd be right.

The 2009 AHL All-Star teams featured a pile of additional players that starred in the NHL this season: Johnny Boychuk, Cory Schneider, Teddy Purcell, Artem Anisimov and Ben Lovejoy. The 2008 AHL All-Star Game saw PlanetUSA line-up three goaltending greats as their three netminders as Jimmy Howard, Pekka Rinne, and Tuukka Rask all saw action in the All-Star Game along with Bobby Ryan, Joakim Lindstrom, and Alex Goligoski. Putting young players into a developmental league will, ironically, help them develop!

If the talk surrounding Alexander Burmistrov is to send him to St. John's for some AHL training, that may have prompted the chatter from Ak Bars Kazan to put out the feelers on Burmistrov. After all, it's a significant paycut for the youngster - from $1.5 million to $67,500 - if he does play as an IceCap, and the play in the KHL is very similar to that in the AHL. The difference? The KHL has a much bigger payday than the AHL does for emerging talent.

I'm going to take Mark Gandler at his word that Burmistrov will return to the Jets next season. Again, it makes no sense to have him contractually-bound to the NHL team if he decides to jump to the KHL in the hopes of returning and signing elsewhere one day. While there may be a blow to his pride by sending him to St. John's, Burmistrov is going to have to learn that sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. At his current pace, he's standing still in terms of his development.

If he needs some advice, though, I will offer this: swallow your pride. It's a team game, and individuals don't succeed without the team around them.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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