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The request from NHL headquarters came last winter.

Would Brian Burke - the volatile, larger-than-life general manager of the Anaheim Ducks - keep a diary of his moves leading up to the trade deadline and then publish the account in USA Today?

The idea was to bring fans behind the scenes for February's annual rush for reinforcements, one of the most anticipated moments of the NHL season.

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Dutifully, Burke agreed. And, mindful of his colleagues, he was careful to delete references to players who didn't move, for fear of compromising their relationships with their teams.

Even so, it made for compelling reading: How he traded a regular, defenceman Shane O'Brien, for a first-round draft pick in the hopes of flipping it again to get added depth up front for the playoff run and the frustration he had in coming up short in one overture after another.

It was just what the league needed - powerful, positive publicity at a time when it is still trying to get a foothold in the U.S. market after the devastating effects of the lockout.

And, of course, his colleagues hated it.

That's Burke though - in the buttoned-down universe of NHL managers, he is out there, selling, promoting and otherwise doing what he can to get the game front and centre, all the while trying to bring home a winner and not worrying too much about any feathers he may ruffle.

In the six years he spent as the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, he turned a franchise with a minimal season-ticket base coming off a last-place finish in the Pacific Division into a winner - both on and off the ice.

When Burke joined the Ducks, they were in the midst of an ownership change. Season-ticket numbers were at their smallest since the early days and the Ducks were an afterthought in Orange County.

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Now, four months after they won the Stanley Cup and starting just his third season with the franchise, the Ducks capped season-ticket sales at 15,000 last month.

Love him or hate him, and there are people on both sides of the fence, Burke is good for the business of hockey.

"It's mostly my personality," the GM said. "I have strong opinions on things. Partly it's a knack for saying it in a colourful way. If you lose a game, the coach could come out and say, 'We weren't very good.' Or you could come out and say, 'We couldn't knock a sick goat off a stump.' Well, the second quote's better.

"I do think we need to do more and I don't think we should apologize for [that]"

The fact that Burke makes good copy doesn't necessarily make him a good GM.

Burke began his NHL life as a player agent. He became the general manager of the Hartford Whalers in 1992, spent five years working for the NHL as its senior vice-president of hockey operations and then left to join the Canucks.

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Preparation is Burke's strong suit and nowhere was that more evident than during the 2004-05 lockout, when he was without an NHL job.

He made it a point to study the ins and outs of a prospective salary cap, leaning heavily on Bill Polian, the GM of the Indianapolis Colts and a renowned manager of the NFL cap system.

When Burke had a chance to trade for star defenceman Chris Pronger two summers ago, he ran the scenario of having $13-million (U.S.) tied up in two defencemen past Polian. Polian's advice: It's all right to do so, provided they're the right two players.

"The reason guys love playing for [Burke]is he's not worried about your feelings," Pronger said. "If you suck, he's going to tell you, 'You suck.' If you did something dumb, he's going to tell you, 'You did something dumb.'

"But you know what? He stands up for his players. He always makes sure that whatever is being done is done in the best interests of the players in the locker rooms and their families - and that certainly goes a long way for a lot of guys."

Philosophically, Burke sticks to what he believes in: To succeed in hockey, a team needs to find the right balance between skill and brawn.

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Last year, the Ducks completed a unique double - they won the Stanley Cup and led the NHL in penalty minutes. And in the NHL's continuing desire to mimic what works, many teams are co-opting all or part of the Anaheim blueprint for this season.

The problem, as Burke sees it, is that no recent club has provided a good formula of what to do the year after a Stanley Cup championship.

"Of the last eight Stanley Cup finalists, four have missed the playoffs, including us in '03," Burke said. "None have repeated. So we went back and studied the teams that missed the playoffs or made the playoffs and had no success and you can't discern a pattern that works. So we said, 'Okay, since there's not a pattern that works, what we think will work best is try and keep the bulk of the group together.'

"That was the theory. Then, we lost two Hall of Famers [Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne to retirement] Then, the genius in Edmonton [Kevin Lowe]signed Dustin Penner. Now, we're missing 100 goals out of our lineup and we're not sure how we're going to replace that yet."

eduhatschek@globeandmail.com

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