‘He’s MacGyver’: Analyst Brian Burke says Steve Yzerman’s overhaul ‘sheer genius’

Detroit News

Mark Falkner
| The Detroit News

Young Hockeytown fans in Detroit may not have heard of the 1980s television series “MacGyver,” but former National Hockey League general manager Brian Burke knows about actor Richard Dean Anderson’s troubleshooting ways.

While on his book tour last week to promote “Burke’s Law: A Life in Hockey,” the 65-year-old Burke said Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman is fast becoming the NHL’s Mr. Fix-It after a last-place 17-49-5 season.

“He’s MacGyver,” Burke said of Yzerman, who signed free-agent forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, defensemen Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher and goalie Thomas Greiss last week. The week before, he acquired defenseman Marc Staal and a 2021 second-round draft pick for future considerations.

“He’s overhauled that team completely all on short-term deals,” Burke continued. “No headlines, just solid signings. Bobby Ryan, who I drafted. Jon Merrill, who we tried to draft but he hit the gap on us. Stecher is a really good right-shot defenseman. Bringing back (Sam) Gagner, Namestnikov, who I love; Greiss, Staal. In my mind, they are dramatically better than a year ago. It’s sheer genius.”

Burke, who drafted Ryan second overall in 2005 after 133 career goals in four years with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League, says the 6-foot-2, 210-pound winger will bring more than just goals to the NHL’s last-ranked offensive attack.

“He’s a phenomenal passer on the power play,” Burke said. “You should’ve seen him in junior working the half wall. He was the puck distributor. You have to play him to shoot but then he’ll make the pass. He has silky hands. People in Detroit will like him.”

Burke said fans will also like first-round draft pick Lucas Raymond, a “can’t-miss” forward with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League.

He still thinks the NHL lottery, which saw Detroit drop to fourth, was “a disgrace” and would’ve liked to see Yzerman have a shot at one of the top three players (Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, Tim Stutzle) instead of Raymond.

More: Allure of Steve Yzerman, improving Wings organization attracts free agents

“This is not a small error by the league,” Burke said. “It’s a big mistake that a team can leapfrog over 11 other teams, 10 other teams, nine other teams and take a better player. The scouts I talked to said Raymond was a safe pick and he’s going to be a player. But they should’ve had a shot at one of those players on the top ledge.”

Burke said when the Red Wings start up again in 2021, he predicts a 50- to 60-game season with geographical divisions of nearby cities to save travel costs and minimize the risks during the global pandemic.

Here’s his proposed new realignment with the amount of miles between Detroit and the opponents:



►Columbus (200 miles)

►Buffalo (255 miles)

►Chicago (280 miles)

►Pittsburgh (285 miles)

►St. Louis (530 miles)

►Nashville (535 miles)

►Carolina (665 miles)











►L.A. Kings

►San Jose








►Tampa Bay

►New Jersey Devils

►New York Rangers

►New York Islanders

►Philadelphia Flyers

►Washington Capitals

“Is this ideal? No,” Burke said. “Unless the borders open, those Canadian teams will have to play the other teams 10 times. We need to play more frequently and we need a path to play in front of full buildings. At first, we’ll start with no fans, then socially distanced fans, and at some point when there’s a vaccine we’re back in business.”

Burke also discussed the turning points in two playoff series against the Red Wings.

In 2002 as the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, Burke complained about the physical treatment of twin forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin after Game 4. In an epic rant, he said, “Sedin is not Swedish for punch me or headlock me in a scrum.”

“My owner wanted me to complain about officiating after Game 2,” Burke said. “He said, ‘We’re getting screwed.’ I said, ‘We’re up 2-0. I’m not saying a word.’ After Game 4 and after we allowed the disastrous (Nicklas) Lidstrom goal (from center ice) and I could see us starting to slide, I had to try and alter the outcome somehow. So I did my rant.”

More: Younger Draper eager to follow in dad’s footsteps with Red Wings

Yzerman, who underwent knee surgery in the offseason after his third Stanley Cup in 2002, helped change the outcome with a pregame speech before Game 3 in Vancouver. He then went out and scored the first goal, set up Brendan Shanahan for the insurance goal and scored the game-winning goal in Game 4.

“I actually thought he was terrific in the first two games,” Burke said. “I saw Stevie Yzerman play probably 50-60 times in his career and I don’t recall ever walking out thinking, ‘Geez, he didn’t play very well tonight.’ This is a guy who didn’t take nights off. I’m not surprised he’s been successful because of that single-minded determination.”

In 2007 as GM of the Stanley-Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, Detroit took a 2-1 series lead by scoring three goals on 10 shots against goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Game 3. Giguere then made 36 saves in Game 4, 36 saves in Game 5 and 26 saves in Game 6 on his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

“Game 4 was the turning point of the series,” Burke said. “We were down 2-1 and Chris Pronger was suspended (for elbowing Tomas Holmstrom). Our team just dug in and said there’s no way we’re going down 3-1 … and we didn’t.”

Burke said one of his favorite memories of Michigan was in 1972 when his parents drove up in their motor home from Minnesota to Dearborn to watch him play at center for Edina at the midget national championships, won by Little Caesars.

“In my first game, I hit a guy so hard but clean that he went through the bench door,” Burke said. “They had to nail the door shut with a piece of plywood the rest of the tournament.”

Subscribers: Ted Kulfan projects Red Wings’ line combinations for next season

Burke also paid tribute to former Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch (“I don’t know if people appreciate enough what he’s done to transform Detroit”), ex-Red Wings assistant coach Brad McCrimmon, who was killed in a plane crash in Russia in 2011 (“He would’ve been a great head coach in this league for a long time”) and Red Wings assistant GM Pat Verbeek, who was his captain in Hartford in 1993. (“He was fearless and I could count on him 100% to keep guys in line, play hard himself and score goals.”)

Get to know …


Age: 65 (June 30, 1955, Providence, Rhode Island)

NHL background: Canucks director of hockey operations 1987-1992, Whalers GM 1993, Canucks GM 1998-2004, Ducks GM 2005-2009, Maple Leafs GM 2010-2013, Flames GM 2014-2019.

Stanley Cup title: Led the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup, including a first-round victory over the Red Wings in six games.

Book: “Burke’s Law: A Life in Hockey,” released last week.

Book excerpt: “I’m hoping that when people look back on my career, they say five things: He had the right values and made a difference in the cities where he lived and worked; he was a family man and brought some good young people along with him; I’ve been a mentor and I’m proud of that. Oh, and the fifth? He won a Cup?”


Twitter: @falkner

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