Brian Burke may be a crybaby, but he's certainly a great GM as well.
Developing young talent is pivotal to any team's success. Finding great players in the draft is a difficult and important process; finding great players outside the draft is even more tricky.
The Ducks signed undrafted then-22-year-old Dustin Penner in 2004 and let him develop for a few years until calling him up for a few games in 2005-06, where he had limited ice time. He definitely showed flashes of brilliance, and earned his spot in the starting rotation last season. In his first full season, Penner excelled, scoring 29 goals and 16 assists. While this translates to only 45 points, it was an excellent rookie season. There aren't too many Ovechkins and Crosbys that just come into the league and score 100 points right off the bat. Penner also had 3 goals and 5 assists during the Ducks' Stanley Cup run. The Ducks found a strong young prospect who has nowhere to go but up, and were looking forward to reaping the benefits.
And then they had him stolen by Kevin Lowe.
The way it was SUPPOSED to go was that the Ducks were supposed to sign Penner to what players this age with this potential usually get; a 2 - 4 year deal somewhere in the 1.5 - 3 mil per year range.
Instead, Kevin Lowe swooped in and offered Penner $21.25 million over 5 years; a staggering $4.25 million a year.
This may or may not be a terrible deal for the Oilers; Penner's play will decide that. It is, however, a terrible deal for the league. It completely screws up player values, and begins the whole "If Dustin Penner is worth 4.25 a year, I'm worth 5!" arguement. I defended Lowe's right to make this move in my last article on the matter; I am not, however, stating that this is a good thing. This deal tells young players that all they need to do is have one strong season and they will be paid a ton of money for it. This may cause inflation in the league... or, it may cause Kevin Lowe to lose his job. Maybe both. Time will tell.
But the point here is that Burke made the right move. Buffalo's GM Darcy Regier had a slightly more difficult choice on his hands when Lowe went after Thomas Vanek with a 7 year, $50 million offer sheet. The choice was to build a franchise around young Vanek (who's rookie season had produced 25 goals and 23 assists, and who's sophomore season last year produced an outstanding 43 goals and 41 assists), or to take the compensation Edmonton would have to pay; 4 first round picks!
Now considering Edmonton isn't a very good team on paper, these picks could definitely be to the tune of top 10 overall picks. With 4 1st rounders, one of them is bound to become a Vanek-like player, and if 2 of the other 3 even become decent NHLers, then letting Vanek walk was the right choice. However, it is understandable to take the franchise-tag route and sign Vanek up long term; Buffalo had already lost Briere and Drury this offseason, and losing Vanek - a bright young 40 goal scorer - would have been a pretty unpopular move among those that aren't prospect-junkies like myself.
The Ducks and Brian Burke, on the other hand, didn't have a 40 goal/80 point scorer on their hands. They had a young talent that may certainly become that; but by and large he is unproven. Burke put it better than I can;
"We don't believe these salaries make sense. If I believe these salaries don't make sense and I match, then I'm just as dumb as the team that extended the offer."
It is very, very difficult to let one of your bright young prospects walk away, at any price. Overpaying to keep them - as Buffalo did - is an understandable defensive tactic.
Understandable, but not always the right thing to do. Burke had a price/value in mind, and when it was stretched past a reasonable point, he didn't fold. It was a smart move, and he will get a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pick from Edmonton in return for it.
I must say one more time that there is no reason to blame Kevin Lowe for this; he is merely working inside the system in place to try and get the players he wants. If it wasn't him this year, it would have been someone else next year, or the year after that. As we are seeing in the other major sports, young unproven players are being paid now what proven veterans signed long-term to years ago. That's just the way it is; to end my article on a cliche note -
"Don't hate the player, hate the game."