As he prepares for his ninth season in the National Hockey League, Alex Burrows is working hard to adapt to changes in his world. And there are many.
Not only do the Vancouver Canucks have a new head coach who is trying to implement new systems for the hockey club, but right-winger Burrows appears set to begin the season with new linemates—and he has a big-money contract kicking in. The new deal brings with it expectations that he’ll bounce back from what was a subpar scoring season for the tenacious winger.
With the Canucks trying to kick-start Zack Kassian’s career by placing him with Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the team’s top line, the 32-year-old Burrows looks like he’ll drop in the lineup and skate with centre Ryan Kesler and one of either David Booth, Chris Higgins, or rookie Hunter Shinkaruk to start the 2013-14 regular season.
It doesn’t seem to matter to Burrows. Nor does the fact that he’s entering the first year of a four-year contract extension that will see him get paid $4.5 million a season. It’s a significant bump from the $2 million he made in each of the past four years, when he was one of the best values in the NHL.
But now that the money is coming, Burrows knows the goals have to start coming too. However, he says the contract won’t change a thing about his approach to the game or the expectations he places upon himself.
“Not for me. Maybe on the outside world it will, but, for me, I prepared the same way in the summer and I worked out the same way,” he told the Georgia Straight during an interview after a recent practice at Rogers Arena. “I’m going to play as hard as I can. I can only control the way I play and the way I work and the preparation, and that’s going to be the same—and, hopefully, that pays off.”
The Canucks are banking on a bounce-back season for Burrows, who has netted 28, a career-best 35, 26, and 28 goals the past four full seasons. However, with the players locked out until January last season and with little preparation for the shortened campaign, Burrows never really found his goal-scoring groove.
He managed just five goals in the first 26 games, looked lost at times, and finished with 13 goals. Although that modest total was a team best for the Canucks, it was a disappointing number for Burrows as it projected to just 22 goals over a full 82-game NHL season. It was also a pretty good indication of the struggles the Canucks had as a team in putting the puck in the net.
“It was a tough year for everyone, with the lockout and one-week training camp; it was tough for a lot of different reasons,” he explained, vowing that he has moved on from the disappointment of last season. “We have to learn the new system here with John [Tortorella] and, hopefully, we play well early on and I can help this team win.”
One of the things that have Burrows excited about the coming season is his expected reunion with former linemate Kesler. The two have played—and produced—together in the past and have continued to kill penalties together even when not playing on the same line.
But all indications are they will start the season together, and the Canucks are going to require bounce-back efforts from both players for this team to remain competitive in the Western Conference.
It’ll be a different style for Burrows after years of finishing off plays for the Sedins, but his new line should be able to back defenders off with speed and make things happen off the rush.
“It’s definitely exciting playing with Kes,” he said. “It will probably take a little bit of time to get readjusted to play five-on-five with Ryan and to get all of the different reads between the two of us and maybe a new linemate. We’re going to work hard, and we’re here to do whatever it takes to help the team.”
Burrows has been at this long enough to know what he has to do to be successful. His story of perseverance—from undrafted junior to the East Coast Hockey League to the NHL—is well-documented. The Canucks need a return of the guy who won’t take no for an answer, is relentless on the forecheck, and finishes the opportunities he gets.
And Burrows is convinced that last year’s dip in production was a one-year thing and that his scoring touch will resurface.
“If I stay healthy and keep working hard and go to the net and go for those rebounds and dirty goals, there are no reasons why things should change a whole lot,” he said. “But at the same time, it has to do with the law of averages: you need some bounces that go on your side and goalies are going to make some big saves some nights and some nights they’re going to go off your shinpads and go in. So you just have to stick with it and keep working at it, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Canucks are relying on Burrows to provide an offensive spark for the club this season. As his new contract demonstrates, the organization has plenty invested in him. Much has changed for Burrows over the past few months, and it’ll be interesting to see how the new deal, the new coach, and his new linemates affect him.
This much is certain: he’s a better player than the guy who struggled to find the back of the net only 13 times last season. With his new contract, Burrows is now a big-money player. And the Canucks are going to need him to score like one.