TORONTO — Brian Burke looked momentarily astonished Monday when, part way into a discussion on the role of hockey agents at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, someone in the back of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Great Hall asked him to speak into a microphone.
“What, you can’t hear me?” he said to laughter.
The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager is a man who is not afraid to speak out. Words project from his lungs as if they are nature’s greatest loudspeakers.
For the record, Burke appreciates the role an agent plays in the development of young talent. He believes agents are needed to help players understand they need to develop, despite what their parents have been telling them since birth.
“Parents are the worst judges of talent that have ever walked the planet,” the frank Irishman said Monday. “The average player is not going to play in the NHL. He’s got deficits. Our best chance of getting that kid from the draft table to the ice is if the agent is in lockstep with us as far as his deficits.”
The discussion on the role of agents was one of four hot-stove topics at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night, part of the opening night of the four-day World Hockey Summit. The four panels shifted from room to room, speaking to members of the media and to fans who had paid $150 a head to sit in on the discussions over Canada’s game.
Burke, with player agents Pat Brisson and Don Meehan, spoke on the relationship between an agent and a young talent. Another panel highlighted by Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and Canadian women’s star Hayley Wickenheiser, brainstormed on how to help the sport grow.
While that was happening in one wing of the Hall of Fame, another was hearing a debate on contracts and transfer agreements between the NHL and Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. A fourth crowd, not far from where Sidney Crosby’s Olympic-winning puck is currently displayed, discussed the homogenization of the international and North American styles of play.
Ottawa Senators star Daniel Alfredsson, who left the big ice surfaces of Sweden for the NHL, said it took time to adjust to the difference in play. He now says he prefers the smaller ice surfaces, saying it suits his style of play better. He was less direct when discussing the other major difference in North America: the tacit approval of fighting in the game.
Alfredsson told one group of attendees that he was shocked when, during his first training camp with the Ottawa Senators in 1995, two players dropped their gloves.
“I was so surprised to see guys fighting for no reason,” he said, “I could not understand why it was an integral part of the North American game.”
Alfredsson says he now understands that fighting serves a purpose, but would not play judge on whether it should expand into European hockey.
The point on Monday was to debate, to get folks talking hockey. Even if it is August.
Tuesday’s schedule includes a question-and-answer session with International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel and a discussion on player skill development with Brendan Shanahan.