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Anger-inspired idea should bring up Burke's poll numbers

by | CBSSports.com Columnist

There are lots of ways to handle a noisome media, and no, waiting for it to go away isn't one of them.

But the beauty of Brian Burke, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is that he occasionally fights fire with a blowtorch, and in doing so lights up the whole world with the ideas he sparks.

Brian Burke has never been afraid to be blunt when making a point. (Getty Images)  
Brian Burke has never been afraid to be blunt when making a point. (Getty Images)  
True, you're obsessed right now with other things, most notably that herd of woolly mammoths that have invaded Super Bowl Week in hopes of finding warmth. But Burke got his slacks to ride up when he saw a poll commissioned by Hockey Night in Canada and the NHL Players Association that listed, among other things, that his own Ron Wilson is the coach the largest percentage of respondents least wish to play for.

There were a lot of other questions directed at nothing in particular, of course. The New York Islanders are the team the fewest numbers want to play for, 98 percent say they don't want fighting abolished, and Sidney Crosby is smart.

But it's the 24 percent of the 318 respondents who fingered Wilson that sparked Burke's ire and, according to David Shoalts of the Toronto Globe and Mail, his post-bluster response included the thought of taking and publishing a general managers poll with questions like, "Who is the laziest player?" "Who is the most overpaid player?" and "Who is the player most likely to be the subject of a 3 a.m. call from the cops?"

That may or may not be what Burke plans, or he may plan it and think twice about it. Here, we're all for the fullest level of disclosure, and with so many collective bargaining agreements up right now and so much posturing in the media, especially in the laughable NFL situation, we're thinking a poll might be just the thing to stir the pot for everyone's amusement.

Well, OK. Our amusement.

These are nasty times in worker/boss relations, and the NFL fight has already reached the hilariously petty stage, with the NHL, NBA and MLB negotiations still on the horizon.

Thus it seems to me most beneficial that everyone gets their true feelings out on the table right away so that we can get right to the heart of the issue -- that everyone hates everyone else, and only tolerates each other because their uses are larger than their drawbacks.

Besides, we would kind of like to know the laziest player, et al, in any sport. We love a good list, after all.

Of course, Burke is always the least circumspect of club executives. He might find the media annoying (and really, who doesn't?), but he almost never ducks a question. Moreover, he not only wears his heart on his sleeve but will send pictures of his sleeve over the Internet. In short, he makes his colleagues nervous, which is why his plan for the Cruddy Work Force '11 Poll isn't likely to see the light of day.

Too bad, too. Fresh off its tour de force choose-sides All-Star Game format, the NHL is on a bit of a roll creatively, although Burke also didn't like that one because his guy Phil Kessel was chosen last. We know that because Burke said so, bless his heart.

In any event, the league has to work harder for its corner of the sporting real estate, and if it takes a general managers poll that scandalizes the players to do that, well, let a thousand flowers bloom.

Of course, when Mao Zedong had his "Thousand Flowers" campaign in the 1950s, it ended up in mass slaughter, and though this may not be a majority view, we are not in favor of that.

The point is, Burke is defending his employees, which is a relative rarity in the sporting biz, and is creative/bold enough to come up with his own solutions -- even if they happen to mean the odd mortar attack. There is something inspiring in that.

OK, not inspiring. Entertaining, and just a hair vindictive, but still worthy of follow-through. Yes, let a thousand flowers bloom, even if the flower is just poison sumac. Better in our judgment to scratch yourself into a hospital bed than to curse the blandness.

Or something like that.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.


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