When it comes to yesterday’s trade with the Vancouver Canucks, there appears to be consensus among Sens fans; trading skilled Swedish teen prospect Jonathan Dahlen for the 35-year-old super pest Alex Burrows was a bad move on the part of rookie GM Pierre Dorion.
Trading for Burrows, a player almost twice the age of Dahlen, whose career year came seven years ago, who’s been in steady decline for several seasons, and who was inked to a two-year extension to complete the deal has been rightly panned by many bloggers and media members.
I share these concerns about the trade. I’m not opposed to trading Dahlen or most prospects really, but the return needs to make sense for the team in the short or long term (ideally both). When it comes to Burrows, he’s probably better than a few current Senators, but any improvement he offers is undermined by the term and financial commitment to Burrows until 2019.
In justifying this trade, Dorion spoke about Burrows as a “character guy” and that he hopes the veteran will influence young prospects like Colin White, Thomas Chabot, and Logan Brown. Here in lies my main problem with this trade. Teams make silly, ill-advised trades all the time, it happens. But when character is your justification, you better make sure the player you are acquiring is actually worthy of such adulation.
However, Alex Burrows isn’t worthy of that praise.
A pest in the classic sense, Burrows is an infuriating player on ice. He’s dirty and known for cheap play. He’s been suspended for reckless, dangerous play and his apparent bite on Patrice Bergeron in the 2011 Cup Final is still remembered. He’s had run-ins with officials. The only reason he’s been on anyone’s radar lately was a recent altercation with Robin Lehner in which Burrows provoked Lehner’s wrath. While I don’t like players who play the game this way, Burrows is in no way unique. All teams have employed players like him before, the Sens are no exception. The Sens currently have a few players whose style of play I don’t like. But that doesn’t mean I want more players like that.
Burrows’ cheap play is not the only reason he shouldn’t be praised as someone of good character. He’s said some truly horrible shit, proving he’s no one’s role model. In December 2015, Patrick O’Sullivan revealed that when both he and Burrows junior and again when they were breaking into the league, Burrows mocked the physical abuse and emotional abuse O’Sullivan suffered at the hands of his father. After O’Sullivan addressed Burrows’ behaviour publicly, Burrows offered a weak apology to O’Sullivan. Burrows expressed remorse if O’Sullivan was offended by his earlier behaviour and explained that the insults were part of his plan to earn more ice time.
It’s possible that in the intervening years between his on ice harassment of O’Sullivan and his belated apology in December 2015 that Burrows matured and grew as an individual and leader. He offered a similar explanation: “I think I’ve matured a lot. I grew as a player and a person and in today’s society, for sure, it’s something I’ve got to be careful [about]. I wouldn’t cross that line now”. A person of character would realize mocking the physical and emotional abuse of a child is simply wrong and unacceptable, not something to be “careful” about, not simply a matter of not getting caught.
But while Burrows claimed he’d matured, the O’Sullivan revelation came a mere month after Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk player in the NHL and a recovering alcoholic, stated that Burrows made “classless and unacceptable” remarks about Tootoo’s “personal life and family”. For his part, Burrows downplayed the incident, saying that he didn’t cross the line and that “What I said, I’ve been told the same in the past, and I’ve heard it plenty of times throughout my career. I kinda think it should’ve stayed on the ice, where it belongs. For me, I’m just moving on”. It doesn’t matter if Burrows thinks he crossed the line or if his intention was just to get under the skin of his opponent. The impact of his remarks on Tootoo (and O’Sullivan before him) matters more than Burrows’ intent. Burrows’ comfort with repeating offensive remarks he’s heard frequently throughout his career is also troubling.
I’m not naïve, I know NHLers say any number of vile, discriminatory, and offensive things on the ice. But from O’Sullivan and Tootoo’s reaction, it’s clear this isn’t just chirping, it’s something more. It’s also troubling that Burrows has consistently resorted to these types of insults throughout his career; from junior, to his early years in the league, and more recently during his time as a veteran leader on the Canucks, he’s shown little to suggest he’s matured. Burrows is far from the only NHLer to say such things on ice. Andrew Shaw’s suspension last year for calling an official a faggot makes it clear that this language remains a persistent problem in the league. However, that negative spotlight could easily shine on Burrows again.
If you want to justify a trade for a player like Alex Burrows, fine. But stick to hockey justifications and analysis. By making an argument in favour of Burrows’ intangibles and by suggesting Burrows’ character was a desirable addition to the Senators, Dorion endorsed the Burrows who harassed O’Sullivan and Tootoo. What kind of character is that to bring into the room? Why would you want young players like White and Chabot to model the behaviour Burrows has exhibited throughout his career? Simply put, this is a player the Sens shouldn’t endorse.