Ex-Ducks GM Brian Burke recalls Anaheim's 'desperate' pursuit of Joe Thornton

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By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

It's been almost 15 years since the Bruins accelerated their rebuild with the trade that sent Joe Thornton to the Sharks.

Regardless of Thornton's ceiling as a No. 1 face-of-the-franchise center or on-ice leader worthy of the captaincy, the deal has been universally panned for those 15 years due to its relatively woeful return on the part of then-Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell, especially with Thornton finishing the year as the league's Hart Trophy winner with a league-best 125 points.

And those critics may officially find themselves validated here thanks to a little Q+A session from former Ducks general manager held via Twitter (you know quarantine is getting bad for everyone when Burke actually enjoys Twitter), which saw Burke highlight the details of a much more appealing offer and subsequent non-deal between the Bruins and Ducks.

Brian Burke on Twitter

I tried desperately to get Joe Thornton to Anaheim. I thought we beat the offer that got accepted. Mike O'Connell was the GM and we were babysitting him, checking in once a day, sometimes more (cont) https://t.co/zkLzbwLll9

Brian Burke on Twitter

I told OC that I would protect 5 players on my roster and he could take whoever he had ranked 6th. No restrictions. Then I'd add another roster player, a prospect, and a first. I'm still bitter we didn't get him. #askburkie https://t.co/zkLzbwLll9

So that's a whopper of a story.

Now, based on Burke's willingness to move his sixth-best and below players, a prospect, and a first-round pick, there's zero doubt that it would've bested San Jose's successful offer to the Bruins, which featured three NHL roster players and nothing more. With a return headlined by forwards Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm, along with defenseman Brad Stuart, it was downright shocking that trading one of the premier playmakers in hockey came without an additional prospect or a single draft pick coming Boston's way. There's also zero chance this would happen in 2020 or even 2015 for that matter.

But when we're talking about Anaheim's list of protected five, you have to imagine it probably went something like Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer, J.S. Giguere, Andy McDonald, and Francois Beauchemin. You could probably shift some names in and out depending on what Burke valued most, but that's probably close to what an '05 Top Five would have looked like.

And here's where things could have gotten really interesting for the Bruins in a potential deal with the '05 Ducks: This was around the time that the Ducks were seeing members of their strong, youthful core make their NHL jumps. That group included 20-year-olds Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, along with 22-year-old Joffrey Lupul. Assuming Thornton would have stepped in as Anaheim's big-body, No. 1 pivot, Getzlaf would have made a ton of sense as the centerpiece of the deal going back to Boston. Getzlaf, of course, has since gone on to embark on a career that's included a Stanley Cup, as well as 274 goals and 965 points in 1,053 games in an Anaheim sweater. Perry, meanwhile, totaled 372 goals and 776 points in 988 games with the Ducks, and took home Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard honors during his 50-goal 2010-11 season.

It's really hard to imagine Burke not having to part with at least one of these guys if Boston was serious about selling Thornton to the highest bidder and pushing their rebuild to where it needed to go.

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 27: (L-R) Corey Perry #61, Travis Moen #32 and Ryan Getzlaf #51 of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim look on during a break in game action against the Edmonton Oilers during game five of the NHL Western Conference Finals on May 27, 2006 in Anaheim, California. The Oilers advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals after winning game five 2-1 and the series 4-1. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Another interesting could-have-been comes with the Ducks' willingness to include their first-round pick for Thornton.

Assuming it was their 2006 first, that would have given B's interim general manager Jeff Gorton another negotiating chip in his draft night pursuit of Swedish prospect Nicklas Backstrom. Hot for the silky-handed centerman, Gorton offered up the No. 5 overall pick and No. 37 overall pick to Washington for the No. 4 overall selection. Capitals general manager George McPhee, in love with Backstrom as much as the Bruins, didn't budge. If they had Anaheim's first (19th overall that year), maybe McPhee has to seriously consider accepting Boston's attempts to get their guy if they included that pick. (These are the kind of video game fantasies we love, and I've been inside for 19 straight days, so why not. Let's get wild.)

Boston instead kept their picks after Backstrom landed in D.C., and used the No. 5 overall pick on Phil Kessel and drafted Russian defenseman Yuri Alexandrov with the 37th overall pick. Kessel would last just three seasons in Boston before the Bruins flipped him to Burke's Maple Leafs, and Alexandrov spent just one season in the Bruins organization before returning to Russia full-time in 2011 and never coming back for a crack at an NHL opportunity.

In an ideal world, and in an ideal trade with Anaheim (and then maybe Washington), Boston's return for Thornton includes some roster filler, Getzlaf or Perry, and then (maybe) allows them to make a serious move for Backstrom. SHEESH.

So what happened instead?

Sturm spent five years in Boston, and delivered 106 goals and 87 helpers in 302 games. Sturm delivered his share of moments, too, from a career-best 29-goal season in 2007-08 to a 'SturmFace' Game 6 goal against the Canadiens in 2008 and the Winter Classic overtime winner in 2010. Derailed by a torn ACL and with the Bruins looking to free up space before a 2011 load-up, Sturm was ultimately moved to the Kings for future considerations.

Primeau and Stuart, meanwhile, lasted just over a calendar year in Boston for the rebuilding Bruins, and were shipped to Calgary by Peter Chiarelli for forward Chuck Kobasew and defenseman Andrew Ference near the 2007 deadline. Ference would go on to become a valuable depth defender and strong locker room presence in Boston, while Kobasew was flipped to Minnesota for a second-round pick and depth shortly into the 2009 season. The Bruins used Kobasew's vacated spot on the roster to swing a trade for Buffalo's Danny Paille, and then used one of the assets acquired in the Kobasew-to-Minnesota deal -- Craig Weller and the extra second-round pick they had -- to make a deadline deal for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

All three of those players were extremely valuable to the Bruins in their 2011 Stanley Cup run -- from the Merlot Line to the second pair to the one-two shutdown of No. 44 next to Zdeno Chara -- and remain fondly remembered for their efforts as role players on what was a window that featured two separate runs to the Stanley Cup Final.

So at the end of the day, everything seemed to work out for the Bruins. Especially if we dive deeper into the rabbit hole and look at how Thornton's departure paved the way for Chara's arrival via free agency, as well as the signing of Marc Savard.

But it's amazing to think that it could have been even better if O'Connell simply called Burke back.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.