Poile admits Leach-Burridge deal shows how teams can blunder

Phil Jackman

December 17, 1991|By Phil Jackman

Most general managers, when faced with a similar type query, probably would have headed for the nearest exit or fallen into a coughing fit.

Please explain, David Poile of the Washington Capitals was asked, what has suddenly come over the likes of Randy Burridge and Steve Leach.

These are the two players involved in a swap between the Caps and Boston Bruins last June and, when the news came down, was greeted with yawns, mostly.

But look what these two, thought of as expendable journeymen, have done for their new teams, Leach in Beantown and Burridge here.

Through 30 games, Burridge led the Caps in assists (26) and points (36), the latter figure being eight more than he was able to muster all last season. Similarly, Leach has been a holy terror for Boston, currently standing second on the Bruins in goals scored with 13. While the club has been struggling, Steve has shown through with two game-winning goals and a plus-

five rating.

"I'll tell you exactly what the deal is with them," started Poile. "They became stereotyped by their organizations. After a while they got the reputations of having limitations, of only being able to do so much.

"Leach, when he was here, was a third- or a fourth-line skater with a limited role as a penalty killer. He didn't get much chance on the power play. Over time, our minds had become closed in allowing him to have his opportunities."

Meanwhile, up in Boston, pretty much the same fate had befallen Burridge. After a promising start, 27 goals in 1987-88, then 31 the next season, Randy got caught in the shuffle and his production fell way off.

"Somehow," recalls the player, "I had lost a spot on the power play. For two years I was on it and had good numbers [six and seven goals]. Then, I'm off. It bugged me."

"As soon as he got here," said Poile, "he got the chance to skate on one of our better lines, an opportunity he probably never had

before."

Besides being one of Washington's most consistent performers while the team has charged out to a 22-10 record heading into tonight's home game with Quebec, Burridge has had a few spectacular games. Last time against the Nordiques, for example, he had two goals and three assists during a 10-3 frolic.

There was also a two-goal, two-assist game against the Flyers and a 1-2-3 at Edmonton.

In a couple of games, coach Terry Murray has spotted him up with different attacking partners during a game and it was as if he had been on the line for a month.

Against Edmonton, he joined Dale Hunter and Dino Ciccarelli and, in less than two periods, had a goal and two assists. In that one, the Caps recovered from a 4-1 deficit and prevailed, 6-5.

"Everyone was putting the puck in the net once we got going," said Burridge. "I just kept chipping the puck out front, thinking you have a good chance for an assist and that's how it worked out."

"He was a top player coming out of Juniors, but he wasn't even drafted his first year," Poile recalled. "Then he didn't go high the second year. The knock against Randy was his size [5 feet 9, 180]. "I always kicked myself I didn't go for him back then."

While Burridge was playing in Canada, Leach was on junior U.S. National teams and at the University of New Hampshire before the Caps grabbed him on the second round of the 1984 draft. He played on the U.S. Olympic team in 1988 before earning a full-time job as a jack-of-all-trades in Washington.

Besides the admission that many players have a tendency to become "stereotyped" within their organizations, Poile pointed to another area to help explain the emergence of the two wingers:

"Unlike in a lot of other sports, development usually takes a lot longer in hockey. You look at our present roster and I think we have a dozen guys who are either 24 or 25 years old. It's a slow process and you have to be patient."

Quebec comes in still mired in the lowest depths of the NHL, but it has been showing life of late, its victory total (nine) matching that of Philadelphia, Toronto and Buffalo. All successes have been at home and Poile looks at the Nordiques' road record of 0-11-2 and cringes: "They've got to get that first one sometime and wouldn't you know they're coming to us."

No matter what sport you're talking about, it's called paranoia.

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