Burmistrov Confirms Ice-Time Conflict, Gives Juicy Quote, and Is Probably Right

Photo by clydeorama.

The reasons for Alex Burmistrov’s depature to the KHL seemed self-evident, even the morning of July 8th. A four-game benching, limited minutes on a struggling team, and poor linemates were the gifts from a coach to a player having a successful personal season at a young age. It seemed like a form of gaslighting from afar – telling Burmistrov to be better and earn his minutes while at once he couldn’t possibly have been better given this circumstances and others on the roster were getting ice time by virtue of some other, non-merit-based criteria. The rumours began in May and his agent confirmed that Burmistrov had little interest in playing for Noel again before the ink was dry with Ak Bars Kazan.

In Ken Wiebe’s article linked above, we were left with one unresolved puzzle piece. 

"In previous conversations, Burmistrov had been adamant that his primary focus was on playing in the NHL, so what changed?

‘It is better to forward this question to Alex,’ said Nikolaev [Burmistrov’s Agent].

Burmistrov, 21, could not be reached for comment."

Yesterday (yesterday? Time zones hurt my brain), Sport-Express.ru published an interview with Alex Burmistrov that resolved this question in a playa-hatin’ quote TMZ would relish. 

Okay, in reality, the quote is in Russian and Google translate gives a hilarious interpretation:

‘Do not go with the start of the season’ Burmistrov admitted in an interview with "SE". ‘I was not allowed to go play in the KHL during the lockout. This distrust coach to me … He wanted to send me to the AHL, probably for something to teach. But it is not clear what he expected from me? It was just hard. I knew I could get through the first two triples felt. Just waiting for the coaches to Yokkinena that he would do much to help the team. And he was given more and more playing time. Maybe I’m the bends sharply. But do not worry. It’s an experience.’

Uhh… What?

Don’t worry, I’ve run it through several translator services and have an idea what’s going on here.

Burmistrov’s first issue is clear – they sent him to St John’s instead of letting him play the lockout in Russia. It speaks to the team’s (possibly reasonable) concern that Burmistrov wouldn’t come back, but also their disbelief that the KHL could develop Burmistrov’s game as well as the AHL. From the player’s perspective, Burmistrov is a young man who was denied the chance to play for his hometown team for more money. A credit to his professionalism at 20, he played for the IceCaps nevertheless.

Fast forward to the second issue. The quote "I knew I could get through the first two triples felt" is a bit confused. Try babylon.com’s: "I knew that I can penetrate in the first two troika, felt." A little more clearly, Burmistrov thought he could play in the top 6.

Given how dramatic Olli Jokinen’s struggles were this season, and the lack of success the team had at filling the 2RW job, it’s not an outrageous idea. Burmistrov goes on to say that Noel was waiting for Jokinen to help the team and kept giving him more ice time. Jokinen ended the year with a 17:07 per game average (5th among forwards) to Burmistrov’s 15:38 (7th). More compelling is the 105 minutes of powerplay time Jokinen received despite scoring just a single point with the man advantage. Burmistrov was given less than 40 minutes to prove his mettle.

The problem, of course, is that he didn’t prove his mettle. At least, not by scoring. Burmistrov didn’t manage much in his 200 EV minutes with Kane, and got exactly 0 points on the man advantage. Wellwood has a right to the same complaints, and he at least posted 47 points one season earlier for the Jets. Yet, for now, we can confirm that combinations of Jokinen, Antropov, and Miettinen were ineffective on the second line, and that Burmistrov wasn’t worse. His EV points/60 was a career low 1.04 compared to Jokinen’s career low 0.94.

Photo by clydeorama.

So what?

Puck Daddy covered the news, but with all due respect to Wyshynski, he missed the point. 

Burmistrov has not yet lived up to his offensive promise as an 8th overall selection. In fact, in the team-first, hierarchical culture of hockey, this interview with Sport Express is about the most offensive thing he’s managed to do since turning pro. This was the focus of Wyshynski’s article – that Burmistrov is trying to call the shots without earning it. 

Putting our Canadian-hockey-is-the-best-hockey egos aside, the reality is that the team gave an exceptional young player limited opportunity to establish his offence as a teenager in the NHL, watched him emerge as possibly the best or second best possession player on the team in year 3, and then allowed him to walk away so a veteran free agent fill-in could play his way out of a slump while the team missed the playoffs for the 6th season in a row. 

Can we really be mad that he called BS? If Burmistrov is the bends sharply, I guess I am too. 

Who cares about this guy?

Photo by BridgetDS.

With just 58 points in 194 NHL games, it’s easy to dismiss Burmistrov. Bloggers are stress eating cheetos over the guy for good reason, though. Corsi (shot attempts for – shot attempts against) tell us about who has the puck, where they are on the ice, and even matches pretty well with scoring chances.

So for the uninitiated, Burmistrov was arguably the 10th best penalty killer in the league last year if measured by corsi %. This was in spite of an early pairing with Antropov that dragged him down. He was also 23rd best in 2011/12 – a year he began at the age of 19. He was second on the team in hits last year, for those who question his physical game, and he made most of his linemates better if we measure by possession and territory. 

He turns 21 in October. 

What’s a coach to do?

I would be curious to know how players feel when coaches try to ‘play’ someone out of a slump. No doubt it’s a mixed reaction, but Justin Bourne has previously covered the competitive, dog-eat-dog nature of a pro hockey club and I doubt Burmistrov is the first young player in a contract year to be mad at a coach for giving minutes to other players. 

It may seem reductive and like post-hoc logic to boil it down to ‘they lost so the coach wasn’t right.’ But if we try to step back in time, the team was losing, and the formula was obviously not working. Entering the year out of balance, the Jets did what all teams do in that circumstance – the lines were blendered, the GM talked a good game about the hole at 2RW, and threw all the squre pegs available at said ever-present round hole. Somehow, in 48 games, Burmistrov wasn’t given a meaningful chance in the top six. Sure, he got 200 EV minutes with Kane (compared to Jokinen’s 470), but also played more than 30 minutes with 12 different forwards (and 25 with Cormier, who only played 38 total, miserable minutes). He played two different positions, even. 

He made his linemates better, but he wasn’t given much help.

What’s a GM to do?

Burmi’s best minutes were played with Tangradi and Santorelli to end the year, when scoring chances seemed to be constant but the puck just wouldn’t go in. The only player coming back is Tangradi, and we can be fairly certain he wasn’t the one stirring the pot. 

Noel was extended for another year despite questionable results and the chance that Burmistrov wanted out. The team replaced an excellent possession player with an edge to his game with a frenetic player with poor possession results (Halischuk), who they may send down to the AHL in favour of keeping Wright, Peluso, and Thorburn – all guys we know to be pretty awful at hockey. There is a gaping hole on the third line, and a equally large hole in the rebuild, which will need a possession player at some point if the team wants to win. He’s just one player, and yet his departure is a major mess for the team.

I guess the GM should do something. Something would be perfect right about now.

The Bottom Line

Burmistrov is right about Jokinen. The blogosphere said worse about him for a whole (half) season. We can’t confirm immediately that Burmistrov was an answer in the top-6, but we can confirm that something is out of step if the GM is saying youth and the coach is playing struggling veterans. 

Ultimately, the team decided that the maintenance of hierarchy was more important than results. Claude Noel is not a particularly good coach. Olli Jokinen is not an important part of the franchise, as we all hope he gets displaced by Scheifele this year, and all know he’ll be let go regardless come April. The future was sacrificed for the now, which is not bright despite long-term extensions for the Big 3 RFAs this summer.

We’re back at the same questions as always with Cheveldayoff – when are the Jets aiming to win, and how is success measured?

You’re free Burmi, you’re free.

  • Antman

    OK, you’ve convinced me. We’re going to miss Burmistrov and the “alternatives” our GM has provided look pale by comparison.

    With the spending on the RFAs by Cheveldayoff as you mentioned, is it completely out of the realm of possibilities that help for the third line could be coming?

    • Kevin McCartney

      I think it’s very possible, and I continue to hope for that. There are a number of free agents still available that could help add depth in the roster, including bigger names like Mueller and Grabovski (rumoured to be headed elsewhere), but also Daniel Cleary and Mason Raymond and lesser-lights Larose (unless he retired?), Steckel, or even Wellwood again.

      The Jets have a little more than $2M in space if they delay/avoid some bonus money, and if they are willing to send out/away an end of the roster player, they could stretch that to $3M. But Chevy has already said that they evaluation begins on the ice, so we might be waiting for pre-season for anything to happen.