Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Burmi not going to Russia... St. John's maybe

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Maybe the prospect of making $67,500 in the AHL next season rather than the seven-figure salary he's become accustomed to had Alex Burmistrov sniffing around in his native Russia -- or maybe it's just another Internet rumour that will now die a quiet death after a few hours of noisy distraction.

Peter Adler's Cult of Hockey blog on the Edmonton Journal website reported Monday that Winnipeg Jets winger Burmistrov had been offered a deal by Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian Continental Hockey League (KHL).

"Shamil Khusnutdinov, the club's director, is confirming that Kazan has also offered a contract to Alexander Burmistrov of the Winnipeg Jets," wrote Adler. "Khusnutdinov would not reveal any more details other than the club's representatives have already talked to Burmistrov who is now in training with Team Russia for the world championships."

The report got the Winnipeg media machine fired up on Monday afternoon and after a "no comment" from the Jets and a couple of quotes from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly regarding the lack of a player transfer agreement between the leagues, Free Press hockey writer Ed Tait got the following from the player's agent, Mark Gandler.

"Alex Burmistrov is under contract to the Winnipeg Jets," said Gandler. "Neither Alex or I heard from that team, so that's the end of that story.

"I'll tell you how this starts: they print something in the Russian media and somebody from Edmonton, instead of picking up the phone and checking on the story, copies it as gospel."

When asked to confirm Burmistrov was planning on returning to the Jets, Gandler said: "That is correct. End of story."

Except, of course, it's not. Burmistrov is one of the most compelling Jets players. Talented and young, last season was his second in the NHL, and at the age of 20 he scored 13 goals and 15 assists.

The upside on the skinny kid from Kazan is limitless. He can skate and has offensive instincts that make him different than most.

The problem is he was rushed into the NHL by Atlanta Thrashers management and has developed at a slow rate, while growing a bit of an aversion to coaching. Burmistrov doesn't like to listen to veteran teammates or the Jets coaching staff when they try to correct a flaw in his game.

"He doesn't like to be told what to do. He response is always, 'No respect, no respect,'" said one Jets veteran, when asked this season about Burmistrov. "His English isn't great and he gets his back up. He gets defensive. The only guy that can talk to him is Antro (Nik Antropov)."

Jets coach Claude Noel and Burmistrov had words on a few occasions this season and the player's exit meeting at season's end must have been interesting. There has been lots of talk within the organization about what is best for the player's development and the St. John's IceCaps have been mentioned more than once.

For a player with two years under his belt in the NHL, an assignment to the AHL can be hard to take. It can also put a wayward career back on track if the player is willing to swallow his pride and work hard while taking advantage of the opportunities -- top-line ice time and first-unit power-play work -- afforded him.

It's a demotion, no doubt, and it means a massive pay cut -- from $1.5 million to $67,500 in Burmistrov's case -- but it can also be the start of building a foundation the player is currently missing.

This season the Jets gave Burmistrov second-line ice time and Evander Kane on his wing for most of the campaign. Those options will likely not be offered this fall, as Noel has already predicted the bar will be raised for all his players.

Burmistrov won't be alone in having to live under a new order, but he's a top-six forward with only 28 points on his resumé from last season. That simply won't do, and parking Burmistrov on the third or fourth line is also an exercise in futility. You don't ask a thoroughbred to plow the back 40.

Burmistrov has a long way to go before fulfilling his potential. Maybe not so far as Kazan and the KHL, but a trip to the Rock might just be the right distance.

-- with files from Ed Tait

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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