Unlike most men who run NHL teams, Brian Burke doesn't major in pitching trades and minor in pitching wedges.
He hates golf.
But one day after the PGA's Deane Beman and the Canon Greater Hartford Open drove the 1994 NHL draft out of Hartford, Burke, built like John Daly, pulled the monster driver out of his bag and took his best whack at stealing the 1993 NHL draft.
Did he pull it off? You know what? He might have. Except for Quebec owner Marcel Aubut's bellowing, bilingual welcoming address, nobody made a bigger noise at Le Colisee Saturday.
This draft, especially with the Super Six, was recognized as the best in perhaps a decade. And the Peterborough Petes' Chris Pronger, a skyscraper who desperately needs a date with a Nautilus machine, is the best defenseman in this draft. In fact, the Whalers scouts say he's the best defenseman in the past five drafts and the best player -- period -- available Saturday.
If Pronger, 6 foot 6, 190 pounds, is 85 percent as good as the Whalers and many other NHL officials say, Burke is to be heralded as both brave and logical. Sure, two second-round picks (one to Florida for agreeing not to pick Viktor Kozlov), a third-round pick, Sergei Makarov (who will be the future considerations in the deal) and, in effect, a fourth-round pick the Whalers paid to get Makarov Sunday from Calgary, surely is a steep price.
With Geoff Sanderson, Patrick Poulin, Michael Nylander and Robert Petrovicky, the Whalers have some of the best young forward talent in the NHL. But with respect to those involved as human beings, their defense stinks.
Pronger is a huge piece in solving that problem. Eventually solving the problem, folks. Eventually. He is only 18 and Burke admits he's built like a "hatrack." But Tampa scout Don Murdoch said "he skates as beautifully as a deer runs." The Bruins had Pronger rated No. 1. Yes, he is capable of winning the Norris Trophy in five years.
Said Anaheim director of player personnel David McNab: "He is an absolute star. Some people want to avoid the comparison to Larry Robinson because most people remember when Larry was 27 and in the middle of his prime. He will be a dominant defenseman. But give him some time. He has a lot of body to fill out. He's a great skater, fabulous passer, tougher than people think."
And, best of all, he's going to play for the Whalers next season.
Quebec GM Pierre Page sure didn't back off comparisons to Robinson. Page and Rangers GM Neil Smith were Burke's biggest rivals for Pronger.
The Rangers offered a package that included Darren Turcotte, but San Jose's director of hockey operations Dean Lombardi wanted Tony Amonte. Page, who reportedly had offered Mike Ricci and his first-round pick (No. 10 overall) for the No. 2 pick, was steaming after watching Burke and Lombardi, in the words of Burke, "chase each other around like squirrels."
"It's the deal of the century," Page said. "I shouldn't be talking like this. San Jose will probably tell me to mind my own business. We had a better deal. How could they do that? Give up Larry Robinson for such a low price."
And then, Page, whose Nordiques desperately wanted to make a big splash, took his hand and pounded his head in disbelief.
Lombardi struck back by saying dealing with Quebec is mayhem. He talks to Page and Page tells him he has to run things through Aubut. Harks back to the Eric Lindros debacle, eh?
The Ottawa Senators said all along they would take center Alexandre Daigle first overall. They embellished their selection with an agreement with Daigle for five years and $12.5 million. The Senators even put together a sleek packet of Daigle with a portrait of the handsome garcon looking like Luke Perry or a model out of GQ. Daigle is lucky the 1975 Broad Street Bullies didn't see the picture or they would have carved up that beautiful face like a Thanksgiving turkey first time into the Spectrum in South Philly.
Daigle does have a sharp sense of humor, however. Asked the biggest difference between him and Lindros, he answered: "I drink my beer." Daigle is too sleek to throw drinks at a woman on a dance floor, but Pronger sure wants a piece of his act. When Daigle said he worked all his life to be picked No. 1 and "nobody remembers No. 2," Pronger said to check back on that fact in five years. OK, we've got a little rivalry here. Luke Perry vs. the Hatrack.
Tampa went third and Lightning GM Phil Esposito conceded he was fortunate the Whalers took Pronger No. 2. "That's because we would have had a big-time brawl at our table if Pronger was still there," Espo said. Espo wanted Kingston, Ontario center Chris Gratton and his scouts wanted Pronger. "I asked Gratton why he runs over people instead of going around them, he answered, `Because I like it.' I loved that answer."
The Mighty Ducks picked No. 4 and they did exactly what they should have. They took the mighty mouse, Paul Kariya from the University of Maine. Pressured about being the next Wayne Gretzky,
Kariya said, "Wayne Gretzky is Wayne Gretzky. The greatest who ever lived. I'll do my best." No, Disney CEO Michael Eisner, thankfully, didn't make Kariya wear Mickey Mouse ears. Florida followed by taking swift center Rob Niedermayer.
The word is Florida never wanted Kozlov. Basically they bled Burke for a second-round pick. But you couldn't say the Panthers fleeced him. Burke guaranteed San Jose a 1994 first-rounder if he couldn't produce Kozlov at No. 6. Write off the second-round pick as protection money.
The Sharks drafted defenseman Mike Rathje third overall last year, and have Sandis Ozolnich to go with a fast developing Michal Sykora, a fifth-rounder who McNab said is blossoming like a first-rounder. "The Sharks think D already is their strong suit."
This brought the Super Six full circle for San Jose to take Kozlov. The kid is nicknamed "Syr" after a character in the Russian film "The Adventures of Electronic." If Kozlov, whose body grew too fast last year, (he is 6-5, 209 pounds), can regain the touch that earned him the tag of the Russian Mario Lemieux, the Sharks have a forward with incredible potential. But the Whalers need Sir Defense, not Syr Kozlov. They need the Hatrack. He is a defenseman to hang a franchise
From The Courant Archives: June 27, 1993