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  • Thursday, September 23, 1999

    Canucks GM issues warning

    By NEIL STEVENS -- Canadian Press
     TORONTO -- It's business as usual for the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, but the sale of the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies is another warning shot that Canadian governments should heed, says Canucks general manager Brian Burke.
     Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment still owns the Canucks and General Motors Place arena in Vancouver after selling the Grizzlies to a St. Louis-based group Thursday.
     "I don't foresee a domino effect as far as the hockey club at all," Burke said. "I'm certainly not concerned about that at all."
     Burke was wiping his eyes when he met reporters at a news conference following the annual pre-season meeting of NHL general managers in Toronto. The tears had nothing to do with the sale.
     "Either the pollen count here is just brutal or I've got a pretty good head cold," Burke explained. "I'm not teary-eyed or weepy about the (NHL GM's) meeting."
     Burke said he was not consulted by Orca Bay's John McCaw Jr., chairman of the board of the Canucks, before the sale of the Grizzlies. McCaw telephoned him Thursday to advise him of the sale, Burke said, adding that McCaw offered no guarantee regarding the Canucks.
     "I didn't ask him for a commitment," Burke said. "He just called to make sure I knew what was happening.
     "I did not ask him for a commitment about the hockey team. I'm not worried about that."
     The refusal of Canadian governments, at all levels, to give sports franchises tax breaks so they can compete on a level playing field with U.S. franchises, which are working with dollars that are worth more than Canadian loonies, will lead to more Canadian-based teams being sold to U.S. interests, Burke said.
     "I don't know what it's going to take before people realize these problems are real," he said.
     The NHL has proposed that its Canadian clubs receive aid from lottery revenues. In return, the league would promise not to approve for five years any transfer of a team out of Canada.
     Burke said he could understand Orca Bay's decision to sell, considering losses in the tens of millions of dollars.
     "I'm comfortable that no stone was left unturned as far as finding a strategic partner to buy into the whole entity -- the basketball team, the hockey team, and the building -- and certainly no stone was left unturned in terms of a local or even a Canadian buyer," Burke said. "So, this is the next logical step.
     "If you can't find a strategic partner and this thing is hemorhaging maybe you have to sell off one of the entities. In this case it was the basketball team."
     Burke then elaborated on his views on government aid for pro sports teams.
     If governments refuse aid, "Then start the clock on all the teams in Canada," he said.
     "I'm curious why politicians faced with these same issues south of the border have concluded that it is a valid and useful way to spend tax dollars. Are we that much smarter than they are? Do we have that much better a grip on what's best for the use of public money? I don't think so."
     Burke, perhaps as a result of Orca Bay's losses, has taken a hard line in contract negotiations with some of his players. He is refusing to meet contract demands of defencemen Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski, restricted free agents who have not participated in the Canucks' training camp.
     "These players will sign for the dollars I consider reasonable, or they will sit for a long time," Burke said.
     Canadian teams don't have a choice but to take this approach, he added.
     "Our industry is in deep trouble in terms of the financial aspects of it. We're in really good shape in other ways."

    VANCOUVER CANUCKS



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