A Mystery Solved

Jonathan Willis
February 20 2012 08:01PM

In the summer of 2001, the Vancouver Canucks were a team on the rise. They’d made the playoffs in 2000-01 for the first time since the mid-1990’s, and things were looking up. The team’s major question mark was in net, where Dan Cloutier was unproven as a starting goaltender and no backup goalie was in place. At that fall’s waiver draft, general manager Brian Burke addressed the backup goalie position, claiming minor-league veteran Martin Brochu, a decision that many questioned at the time. Why did Burke enter the season with an unproven backup behind an unproven starter?

The answer, courtesy of the new Jason Farris book Behind the Moves, is straight-forward: Burke thought he had already made a deal for a veteran backup with another team, only to have that team’s ownership step in and put the kibosh on it. Here’s the quote, complete with Burke’s typically salty language:

Islanders GM Mike Milbury really fucked me one time on a deal where we had a handshake and he agreed. It wasn’t his fault; it was the owner’s fault. But we had a deal for Garth Snow right before the waiver draft, and he pulled out of the deal that morning…. I had to take Martin Brochu in the waiver draft, and people have no idea. People ask, ‘Why did you take Martin Brochu?’ Because Mike Milbury fucked me on a deal…. In fact, it was right after 9/11, and I was driving over the Golden Gate Bridge going to Santa Rosa, where our team was training. I said, ‘Mike, we’re all set, right?’ He goes, ‘No.’ I said, ‘What the fuck do you mean,”no”?’ He goes, ‘Charles doesn’t want to do it.’ I said, ‘Who’s the GM – you or Charles?’… I said, ‘You are fucking me like you can’t believe. I have no plan B here, Mike. I didn’t need a plan B because I had a Plan A.’ He totally fucked me, but I don’t blame him. It was the owner. Once you shake on a deal, the deal has to be good. It doesn’t matter if the trade call has gone through or not.

Charles, presumably, means Charles Wang, the then newly-minted owner of the Islanders, and the man who would eventually settle on Islanders’ backup goalie Garth Snow to take Milbury’s place at the helm of his team.

Brochu bombed early in Vancouver, going 0-3-0 over six games along with a spectacularly brutal 0.856 SV%. Still, it did work out okay in the end for Burke; he was eventually able to add Peter Skudra, who played very well for the Canucks and filled in ably when Dan Cloutier missed time with injury. Skudra was eventually replaced by prospect Alex Auld, and played a few years in Russia before retiring in 2007.

I’d always wondered why Brochu got that shot with Vancouver; it’s nice to finally have the answer.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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