Vancouver Canucks: Keeping Alex Burrows is the Right Move

Feb 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom (25) and left wing Alex Burrows (14) and goalie Ryan Miller (30) celebrate the win over the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Canucks defeated the Avalanche 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom (25) and left wing Alex Burrows (14) and goalie Ryan Miller (30) celebrate the win over the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Canucks defeated the Avalanche 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks seem to be leaning towards keeping aging forward Alex Burrows around for another year instead of buying him out. Is it the right move for the organization?

With the Vancouver Canucks having recently placed Chris Higgins on waivers for the purpose of buying him out, the time is nigh for the official word on Alex Burrows‘ fate. Burrows has been viewed as the other potential buyout candidate throughout the offseason but it seems likely the Canucks’ management will retain his services for the final year of his contract. Burrows’ cap hit in 2016-17 will be $4.5 million, whereas buying him out would save the Canucks $2 million this year and $1 million next year.

It’s never wise to keep a player around simply for sentimental reasons. It’s tough to lose a fan favourite but each player on the roster needs to provide a function and that’s why the “what have you done for me lately?” philosophy is so prevalent in major league sports.

So, now for the big question: is keeping Burrows around the right move for the organization?

My immediate answer is yes. Here’s why:

1. Leadership

If anybody out there believes that Burrows can’t provide the kind of veteran leadership the Canucks desperately need, then they’re crazy. Any successful team is constructed of equal parts veteran experience and youthful dynamism. Burrows has 11 seasons of NHL play under his belt, which includes seven trips to the playoffs and, most importantly, a Stanley Cup final.

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The value of players with that kind of experience can’t be underestimated, especially on a young team. If the Canucks manage to right the ship as early as this season and are in a position in the late stages to make a significant playoff push, Burrows will be there working his tail off and leading the charge (unless a resurgent performance early in the season dictates he should be moved at the trade deadline, of course).

And while Burrows hasn’t always been a model of honourable play, it’s mostly because that’s part and parcel with his style. Besides, with age Burrows has calmed down and become less of a yappy, scrappy forward. Still, the edge to his game, the work ethic, the humility, and the experience of having found success at the NHL level, should all provide the youngsters with enough evidence that Burrows is a worthy role model.

As if those things alone didn’t warrant his candidacy as a solid mentor, Burrows has always been heavily involved in the B.C. community and Canucks’ charities. The future stars of the Canucks need to follow in the footsteps of players whose off-ice contributions are perhaps even greater than the on-ice ones, like the Sedins and Burrows.

2. He Started from the Bottom and Now He’s Here…

Where does such work ethic come from? Well, probably the fact that Burrows was undrafted and had to grind it out for years in the QMJHL, ECHL, and the AHL before finally getting a shot at the bigs. Burrows played for five different teams across the three leagues and showed flashes of scoring ability but never truly “made it” until the 2008-09 season with the Canucks, during which he tallied 28 goals.

He had to work hard in order to merit a call-up, and once he was brought to the NHL level, he toiled even harder to stick around — and, by the way, after a short stint back in the AHL during his rookie season, Burrows never did go back down.

I mean, before Vancouver signed him as a free agent in 2005, the guy was honing his skills over the summer, competing in all sorts of ball hockey tournaments!

While he isn’t a prolific scorer by any means, Burrows is nearing the 200-goal milestone in his career and that’s not to be mocked.

3. He Fits with the Twins

Optimism remains high in regards to the Canucks’ adventures in free agency this offseason but it’s always good to have a back-up plan. If the Canucks fail to sign any of the free agent forwards available this summer, wouldn’t it be prudent to retain Burrows, a man who has considerable experience playing and producing at a high level with the Sedins?

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Will Burrows ever score more than 20 goals again? No. His best offensive days are undoubtedly behind him but he still has his legs and tenacity, as well as the ability to anticipate complex plays, which is what allowed him a shot with the twins in the first place.

Chemistry is often hard to find, and without a free agent signing, the Canucks only have two players with good enough chemistry with the Sedins to form a decently productive line: Jannik Hansen and Burrows (an argument could also be made for Brandon Sutter but nothing is conclusive, considering the relatively small sample size of his work with them).

4. Penalty-killing Prowess

Both Higgins and Burrows are excellent penalty-killers but with Higgins essentially gone, Burrows’ value in this capacity increases even more. His agility and unrelenting fore-checking skills make Burrows a major asset on the PK. There was a time when the duo of Ryan Kesler and Burrows made me sincerely believe they could score a short-handed goal on every PK. Burrows can still provide that threat because he’s smart and able to intercept passes with his long reach.

Moreover, if the Canucks sign someone like Loui Eriksson to line up alongside the Sedins, Burrows will be relegated to a fourth-line role. Although he’s used to being higher in the lineup, Burrows, like always, will take the demotion in stride and accept his new role. As a player who naturally gets under the skin of other players, Burrows will be a solid grinder and fore-checker filling out the bottom six.

5. He Plays with Emotion

Yes, professional athletes sometimes let their emotions get the best of them but even worse than an over-emotional athlete is a dispassionate one. Burrows plays with ample passion. When he was younger, there were times when his emotions would run too high but he is level-headed enough to keep them check the majority of the time. Some of his most iconic moments as a Canuck were a result of emotion and passion:

Combined with his passionate play, is a dogged work ethic. If Burrows can impart any wisdom at all on the Canucks’ youthful up-and-comers, it is to work hard and consistently deliver maximum effort. As an undrafted player, Burrows came into the league with a chip on his shoulder and I’m not sure it’s ever disappeared since then.

6. He Can Still Fetch a Draft Pick or Two

Let me put it this way: if Alex Burrows manages to score anywhere near a 10-15 goal pace, a contending team will want him at the deadline as a rental. How high of a pick can he get the Canucks? Depends on his production, of course, and how highly the other team in the equation regards him. It would also help if said team had a surplus of draft picks.

My best guess would be that Burrows could fetch as high as a fourth-round pick. If the Canucks are out of a playoff spot by deadline day, I’d say that’s a worthwhile move (and probably even if they are in contention). If no free-agent wingers come to Vancouver in the next few weeks, Coach Willie should start Burrows on a line with the Sedins to see if his value can be boosted.


The truth is, Burrows has been an admirable player throughout his career with the Vancouver Canucks. He has done everything asked of him and then some. Come the midpoint of this season, Burrows may have declined even further offensively but, nevertheless, his ultimate value isn’t necessarily on the score sheet.

Players who do the little things right — crash the net with reckless abandon, go hard into the corners, win puck battles, fore-check with determination, don’t turn the puck over, and support their teammates in any way possible — those are the ones to keep. It’s simply a bonus if they can score like Burrows has in the past.

Next: Steven Stamkos Coming to Vancouver?

Burrows will be a mentor for the young Canucks and help shape them to be key, well-balanced pieces in the near future. And who knows, the Canucks could get a resurgent performance out of Burrows and he may prove his worth to the team once again come the trade deadline. Keeping Burrows around for one more year is a win-win situation with low-risk, high-reward potential for the Vancouver Canucks.