As the fourth year anniversary of Brian Burke’s tenure as Leafs general manager passes, TMLfans.ca looks back at one of his most famous sound bites from 2009. Also with the World Junior Hockey Championships approaching, we reflect briefly on the man who was instrumental in lowering the draft age to 18.
Rat Tricks – first published June 28, 2009.
Just seconds before Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke selected Nazem Kadri with Toronto’s first pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, he was greet by a score of boos and raspberries from the home contingent of Montreal – the locale of the event and the city that has served as the Leafs’ oldest historic rival.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about that,” Burke later told reporters who asked for his opinion on the merciless jeers. “I will tell you this: the best hockey fans on the planet are not in Montreal, they’re in Toronto. When we host this event in a couple years and Montreal goes up to pick, this will seem like child’s play for the booing they will get in Toronto.”
The outspoken Leafs’ executive, never hesitant to voice his opinion, Burke has certainly made it clear to the media that – regardless of the issue – he exerts complete indifference to the posterior of the aforementioned rabid rodent.
Three days before the draft, Burke was questioned on his habitual strategy of building teams based on toughness and pugnacity, in contrast to the skill and finesse exhibited by the last two Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins and the Red Wings.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what they do in Pittsburgh or Detroit,” responded Burke. “There’s been four different Cup winners the last four years, and I got one of them (Anaheim, 2007) and it was a fighting team. We’re playing it that way regardless.”
Speaking to a group of scribes in April following the Leafs’ free agent signings of NCAA players Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson, Burke opined that the location any player’s amateur background is a non-factor in making an offer sheet. “We intend to build this team with junior players, college players, European players. If they start playing hockey on Mars, we’ll draft players from Mars.
“I could give a rat’s ass where a player comes from as long as he can play here.”
While it appears that hockey fans should get used to Burke’s frequent references to the rodent’s rump, it’s only fitting that most recent instance of the sound bite occurred at the NHL Draft.
18-year-old prodigies such as John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene may not have had the opportunity to embark on their potential multi-million dollar careers at such a young age had it not been for the efforts of Ken “The Rat” Linseman over three decades ago,
A star junior player with the Kingston Canadiens, Linseman attempted to sign with the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA in 1977, only to be declined because he was two years younger than, what was at the time, the 20-year-old minimum age for draftees imposed by both the NHL and the WHA.
Undeterred, Linseman successfully obtained an injunction against the Bulls, eventually suiting up for the team for 71 games as a precursor to what would become a 13-year NHL career with Philadelphia, Boston and Edmonton, plus a two-game pit stop in Toronto.
Nicknamed “The Rat” because of a skating style in which he hunched forward, Linseman’s dogged determination revolutionized the draft, paving the way for players to become eligible to be selected at age eighteen. Future Hall-of-Famer Dale Hawerchuk had the distinction of being the first 18-year-old to be chosen with the top overall pick in 1981.
It was Linseman, Brian Propp, and current Flyers’ general manager Paul Holmgren who formed “The Rat Patrol” line for the Flyers in the early 80’s. They last played as a unit in 1982, four years before the debut of Philadelphia rookie Scott Mellanby.
A tenacious winger in his own right who lasted 20 years in the NHL, Mellanby unwittingly made his own rat-oriented contribution to hockey as a member of the Florida Panthers by whacking one of the four-legged creatures with his stick in the dressing room, prior to the team’s home opener in 1995-96. Mellanby went on to score two goals that night, prompting teammate John Vanbiesbrouck to dub his accomplishment as a “rat trick”.
The urban legend took a life its own as the Panthers made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final that season, eventually being swept aside by the Colorado Avalanche. Florida fans littered the ice with plastic rats upon every Panthers goal, causing several game delays and overtime duty for the arena’s clean-up crew. These antics invoked a league-wide rule change to assess a minor penalty against any offending team for all future occurrences. Coincidentally, 1996 marked The Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac.
Mellanby’s services could have been used by Washington Capitals’ reporter Lisa Hillary, who was unpleasantly surprised by a large rat scurrying across the Verizon Center after Game 2 of the team’s playoff series against Pittsburgh this year. A visibly upset Hillary shrieked “Oh my God, a big rat just came by,” as she threw back to Comcast studio host Chick Hernandez who calmly replied “I thought Sean Avery left the building.”
Burke may not give “a rat’s ass” about a lot of things.
And Mellanby’s rodent following was a one-year wonder.
However, there’s no denying that Ken Linseman was as much a pioneer off the ice as he was an agitator on it. From Dale Hawerchuk to John Tavares to every player drafted as an 18-year-old, each of them is forever indebted to the man they nicknamed “The Rat”.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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