Let’s say you’re hoping to be an NHL general manager and the phone rings. It’s the Buffalo Sabres and they offer you the job. Just as they do, the Calgary Flames buzz in on the other line. They offer you their job.
Which one do you take?
In many ways, it’s a tossup. The deciding factor is probably your opinion of Brian Burke.
One of the most dominant figures in the sport is the Flames’ president of hockey operations. The good news is you can learn from a Harvard-educated lawyer who has won a Stanley Cup and has ties to USA Hockey and the league’s front office. His experience and leadership ability are huge bonuses.
“The beauty of this management structure is you could take a guy literally out of uniform if you believed in him and turn him loose and he could avoid those big mistakes that young GMs make,” Burke said.
The bad news is you’d have Burke looking over your shoulder. Though he says he’s happy in his upper-management role, the thought of him becoming impatient, dumping you and assuming the GM position would always be there.
“I’m not a patient person,” Burke said. “I was born impatient. I’m going to die impatient. I know that. It can’t come as fast as I’d like it to come.”
The Sabres, meanwhile, boast Pat LaFontaine as the president of hockey operations. He, too, is smart and well-connected. He’s also running a team for the first time. LaFontaine will likely give his GM more room to grow into the job. But he’s learning as well and can’t speak from experience like his Calgary counterpart.
Aside from Burke, the perks and drawbacks of the NHL’s two GM job openings are very similar. Here’s a glimpse at some key aspects:
• Payroll – Both teams have plenty of room to maneuver under the salary cap. In fact, no other teams have more.
The Sabres are $42.9 million under the cap for next season, according to CapGeek.com. It’s the league’s highest total. The Flames have the second-most room. They project to be $37.7 million under the ceiling of $71.1 million.
Aspiring GMs know they have the flexibility to make bold, big-dollar moves immediately.
• Building blocks – The Sabres have three key players with at least five years left on their contracts. The Flames’ prime pieces have only two seasons to go.
Christian Ehrhoff, the Sabres’ minute-hogging defenseman, is under contract for seven more seasons. Top-scoring center Cody Hodgson and blue-liner Tyler Myers have five years left. It gives the new GM a good place to start his rebuild.
The only players of note with a couple of years left for the Flames are captain Mark Giordano and leading-scorer Jiri Hudler. Rookie Sean Monahan looks like the real deal, though.
• Assets – The Sabres have the edge when it comes to draft picks and players in the final year of their deal, guys who can get flipped at the trade deadline for a substantial haul.
Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson and Steve Ott are all candidates to be shipped out if the new GM decides not to extend their contracts. It’s an impressive trio and should bring a high-quality return. The Flames have just Mike Cammalleri.
• Baggage – Each team has a player who is buyout material. Buffalo’s Ville Leino continues to muddle through his contract, which has three years left with an annual cap hit of $4.5 million.
Calgary’s Dennis Wideman is a serviceable offensive defenseman - but not at $5.25 million per season for three more years.
There’s sure to be an overlap in GM candidates for the Sabres and Flames. It would be a tough decision for someone who gets offered both.
Kassian still childish
Since getting drafted by the Sabres in 2009, Zack Kassian has always seemed like a 12-year-old boy in the body of a 6-foot-3, 215-pound man. He provided further proof against Edmonton on Friday.
The Vancouver forward mocked the Oilers’ Sam Gagner for wearing a protective shield over his jaw. That’s not over-the-top on its own, but it is when you realize the only reason Gagner wears the shield is because Kassian broke his jaw.
The NHL suspended Kassian for the opening five games of the season after he high-sticked Gagner during an exhibition. Kassian claimed it was accidental yet reportedly never reached out to apologize for the jaw-breaker.
Gagner shouldn’t wait for a call this time, either.
On the fly
• Things got hot in Ottawa after the two games against the Sabres last week. Chris Neil punched Canisius College product Cory Conacher in the face during practice. “He slashed me, I slashed him back,” Neil said.
• They’re having an outdoor game in Southern California this year, so why not the desert? “We’ve been pretty vocal. We’d love to have an outdoor game,” said George Gosbee, the chairman and governor of the Phoenix Coyotes. “We really want to bring hockey to the desert in a bigger way.”
• Goal songs are meant to entertain the fans, and it’s working in Minnesota. The Wild’s arena personnel play “C is for Cookie” by legendary crooner Cookie Monster after goals by Matt Cooke. “I don’t feel like I deserve my own song,” said a grinning Cooke, who entered Saturday with five goals. “I don’t score enough for them to be playing a song just for me.”