By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Imagine a world in which you can make a hockey trade that is so bad, so tremendously lopsided against you, that it remains a viable talking point 15 years later.
That has proven to be the reality for former Bruins general manager Mike O’Connell, who was likely surprised to see the resurfacing of his Joe Thornton trade rise to being one of the top stories in the hockey world last week. It was then that longtime NHL executive Brian Burke stirred up memories of that trade by suggesting that he offered a much better package to Boston than the one the Bruins ultimately accepted.
Turns out, O’Connell didn’t like that story serving as gospel. And the result is a Grade-A scrap between two hockey lifers in their mid-60s.
Here’s what O’Connell said to The Athletic’s Joe McDonald:
“The details surrounding this story are fabricated and I can confirm that no such offer was made to me as I never informed Anaheim of my intentions to trade Joe Thornton. Unfortunately, certain personalities never let the truth get in the way of their ultimate goal: self-promotion.”
That last jab is straight out of Mean Girls. I love it.
O’Connell said that to McDonald last week, and considering this is a November 2005 trade that we’re talking about, you might have expected it to end right there. A he-said he-said that doesn’t really matter.
Alas, there’s quite literally nothing else going on in sports and in the hockey world, so the story lived on some more. Burke was asked on “ESPN On Ice” what he thought about O’Connell calling him a liar and a self-promoter.
“I just got ticked off about this a few minutes ago,” Burke candidly replied. “It’s unfortunate, because Mike and I were friends once.”
This is Mean Girls!
OK, back to Burke. He said O’Connell was “quite upset” when he called Burke the day after the the fateful tweets saw the light of day. O’Connell said it never happened. Burke disagreed.
“I said, ‘Hey wait a second. I can see you saying I got a detail wrong, that maybe it was six players I protected [instead of five]. You’re telling me this never happened? That’s your answer?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you fabricated this,'” Burke shared. “And I said, well first off, I wish we were in the same room. For you to call me a liar, I wish we were in the same room.”
From Mean Girls to Fight Club!
“I’ve been accused of many things, but certainly not being untruthful,” Burke continued. “I said second problem you have, Mike, is I wasn’t alone when I made this offer. Bob Murray was sitting there right at my desk. In fact it was Bob who came in and he said, ‘Look, I heard they’re trading him to San Jose. We gotta hijack this trade.’ And so I called him and said let’s protect six, and then no, we better make it better than that. We’ll protect five.”
Ex-Bruins GM Mike O'Connell told @TheAthletic that Burke "fabricated" this and "no offer was made."
Burke candidly responded on ESPN ON ICE: pic.twitter.com/57rwvCF7DC
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 7, 2020
“And then I called him and made the offer with Bob Murray sitting three feet away,” Burke asserted. “So I think it’s a bizarre defense. He knows he made a bad deal, he got a lot of heat afterwards for not shopping him properly. You know, you trade a player of that caliber, you gotta offer him to every team that might have an interest and get the best offer you can. He tried to move him quietly, didn’t make a good deal, and I guess he’s taking it out on me.”
Burke concluded: “My answer would be that there were two people in the room. That’s a bizarre defense.”
We may never know for sure who is right here, but Burke is at least providing receipts, while O’Connell is merely taking shots. Burke’s analysis that O’Connell made a bad deal is objectively true, and it largely contributed to O’Connell getting fired from the Bruins in 2006. Burke won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks the following season, and he also remained a top executive for the Ducks, Maple Leafs and Flames until 2018.
As it stands now, Burke looks like the most believable player in this two-man fight. But if O’Connell wants to bring some 15-year-old phone records to the table while also delivering a subtle jab or two at Burke to keep the fight going, we probably wouldn’t mind. It’s not like anything else is happening these days.