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Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke speaks during a press conference at the ACC in Toronto Sunday, January 31, 2010. Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail (Darren Calabrese)
Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke speaks during a press conference at the ACC in Toronto Sunday, January 31, 2010. Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail (Darren Calabrese)

James Mirtle

Leafs Burke weighs in on Games debate Add to ...

Leave it to Toronto Maple Leafs general manger Brian Burke to add some spice to any conversation, let alone one as debate stirring as the NHL's participation in the Olympics.



One of seven panelists on the topic of a "global event agenda" at the world hockey summit on Wednesday, Burke delivered a fiery rant on the various hardships international competition puts on players and the league itself.

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"Our players don't get paid when they go to these tournaments," Burke said. "They make nothing. The [International Olympic Committee]makes a fortune off this, and they can talk about redistributing it - and that's largely true - but the players don't get paid for this. I've been the GM of four U.S. teams at the world championships, and I love the tournament. I hope we always go … [but]our players don't get anything.



"I think they got $1,000 for 22 days of work last year. They got one business-class ticket to bring over their wife, or a parent, or a brother - they didn't bring their families over unless they reached into their own pockets and paid for it. These guys are volunteers. Everyone makes money off of these tournaments except the players."



Burke's comments came in response to an overwhelming support for continued Olympic participation from most of his fellow panelists and those attending the summit, with only NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly also voicing reservations about the league's involvement in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.



Among those expressly in favour of going to the Games was Continental Hockey League president Alexander Medvedev, who sat beside Daly on the panel.



"Even in nightmare, I can't imagine the NHL will go this way [against participation]" Medvedev said with a heavy Russian accent. "Because it will kill the growth potential … 30 per cent of the NHL is of European origin. Why would you dictate what they should do?"



"It's because they have contracts," Daly shot back. "They have contractual obligations. … People have to understand they're important assets to the clubs."



The debate was typical of the interesting interplay of the summit's third day, one filled almost entirely with discussion of an international event 31/2 years away.



Also receiving some attention were the world junior and World Cup tournaments, with Swedish legend Anders Hedberg advocating for the NHL to always release its best under-20 players to play in the annual junior event.



NHL Players' Association representative Mike Ouellet and Hockey Night in Canada analyst Glenn Healy, meanwhile, both suggested holding the currently mothballed World Cup in February like the Olympics, an idea that drew sharp criticism from Daly.



Burke commanded the most attention, however, and tore into a statement from the floor from Erie Otters general manager Sherry Bassin after he called for the NHL to find a way to commit to the Games regardless of the problems involved.



"It's a cheap way to get a round of applause to say, 'Don't tell me about the problems,'" Burke said, his voice rising to a roar. "I get paid to think about the problems. It's not that simple to get everyone on a God damn plane and go over and play the games.



"And I want to go. And I think we should go. But for people to say, 'It's priceless, we gotta go' - it's not that simple. We have teams that are losing $30-million a year - you think they want me to stand up and say, 'I don't want to hear about their problems? Let's get on a plane.'



"We're letting it become an emotional issue in this room. 'We gotta go!' I want to go, too, but it has to work for everybody."

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