The Weekend Warrior

By Randy Nicholson
Another in a series of weekly articles designed to summarize activities in Leafland during the previous 7 days – with some personal observations, commentary, prospect updates and fun thrown in for good measure.

What’s next: After several weeks of intensive activity featuring the Entry Draft, the successful pursuit of new players in the unrestricted free agent market and negotiating with their own restricted free agents, off season activity down at the ACC seems to have abated somewhat… Coach/GM Pat Quinn is currently relaxing on a friend’s yacht somewhere off the Greek Islands… however, when he returns, Quinn must deal with the following pieces of unfinished business…

– Hire a second Assistant Coach to replace the recently departed Alpo Suhonen

– Hire/promote 1 or more front office types to fill several holes in the Hockey Department

– Lock up free agents Perreault, Karpovtsev and others on new multi-year contracts

– Find someone who can quarterback the team’s anemic powerplay

– Decide whether or not to get involved in the upcoming Eric Lindros Sweepstakes

There isn’t really very much point in dropping names that could ultimately fill the openings listed above… Toronto’s front office is rather notoriously tight lipped about future plans and so I rather doubt that anyone on the outside really knows what the team will ultimately do… for my money, the transaction that will have the most direct impact upon the club’s success during the upcoming season will be the one to fill the current void on the point… there are really no candidates for this job left in the unrestricted free agent market… the Leafs now seem anxious to first look more closely at some of their own prospects (namely Petr Svoboda and Dmitriy Yakushin) before making any moves to upgrade the blueline… many feel (see thumbnail on Yakushin below) that both of these young players can become fine NHL defenders and that Svoboda, in particular, is a potential star… but to hope that either can have a significant impact on the powerplay this year may simply be expecting too much from them… a trade will probably have to be arranged in order to remedy this problem once the Leafs’ roster situation sorts itself out this fall… meanwhile, the Maple Leafs would be well advised to watch developments with potential contract hold-outs involving prime time quarterback types around the league in the coming weeks… Scott Neidermayer, Sergei Gonchar, Kenny Jonsson, Oleg Tverdovsky and Derek Morris are all restricted free agents who did not opt for salary arbitration with their current teams…

Leafs Trivia I: Complete the following trade (this is the one that really broke my heart when I was still young and foolish)… Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for… (answer below Whatever happened to)…

Leafs Trivia II: Since the inception of the universal draft in 1969, 3 Toronto Marlborough juniors have been selected by the Maple Leafs in the 1st Round… name them (answer below Trivia I answer)…

Who am I: During the 1975/1976 season, I became only the second Maple Leafs player to score 40+ goals in a single season (only the great Frank Mahovlich had accomplished this feat earlier)… I was discovered by Leaf amateur scouts while playing in an obscure Maritime senior league… though short in stature, I possessed outstanding speed, an excellent shot and was one of the key factors in a major Leaf resurgence during the late 1970’s… I was eventually dealt by Toronto to Detroit in a very unpopular trade and completed my NHL career in Pittsburgh (answer below Trivia II answer)…

Leafs sign Luca Cereda: The Maple Leafs announced the signing of Swiss youngster Luca Cereda to a 3 year entry level contract this week… Luca was the 1st Round selection by Toronto in the 1999 draft… two seasons ago, Cereda had been named the Rookie of the Year in the Swiss League playing between NHL vets Paul DiPietro and Oleg Petrov and against much older opponents… when drafted, Luca was said to possess good size and strength, a powerful skating style and an ability to find his teammates and make creative plays with the puck… last season, something went terribly wrong and Cereda become little more than a spare part with Ambrì Piotta… insiders suggest that non-hockey factors (perhaps a poor attitude) contributed to a his sudden downfall in Switzerland… during the upcoming campaign, the Leafs will likely assign Luca to Ottawa in the OHL where he will play with fellow Toronto draftees Jon Zion and Miguel Delisle and for an outstanding mentor in Brian Kilrea… the size of the financial commitment made by the Maple Leafs indicates that they still believe strongly in Cereda – after all, Nik Antropov also floundered with his club team after being drafted by Toronto and he is now widely considered to be a superstar in the making… Luca’s progress in Ottawa should be of serious interest to all Leafs fans as the really good teams seldom miss with their top picks… we at Hockey’s Future will be following this situation closely on your behalf in the months ahead…

Final word on McGrady (I promise): At the moment I’m contemplating this latest nugget from the most famous hometown loving, Toronto bashing, innuendo dropping, full of himself 21 year-old in the world… “Not too many superstars get a chance to play at home and I just saw myself taking advantage of it”…this from a guy who didn’t become a starter until the midway point of this past season and who managed an unremarkable 15+ points per contest as a small forward / shooting guard…I don’t know what planet Tracy hails from and I have no idea what he’s all about… I cannot relate to him (or to the other hoopsters prone to speaking of themselves in the 3rd person) and I don’t really want to either… I’m just glad that the sports pages in my hometown won’t be polluted by stupid remarks like this one next winter… I can’t seem to recall Sundin, Cujo, Vince or anyone else actually deserving of the title “superstar” ever referring to themselves in this way… absolutely revolting…

Prospect thumbnail – Dmitriy Yakushin D: Dmitriy is a shining example of the benefits that patience can provide to a young player and especially to a young defenseman… Yakushin has now completed 2 solid seasons on the “Rock” – showing nothing too spectacular but lots of steady improvement in all facets of the game… although he is a graduate of the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton and Regina franchises, Dmitriy is in many ways a very typical Russian rearguard… he skates powerfully and with great agility, plays a disciplined positional game, possesses a thick build (6-1, 215) and plays with a toughness that sometimes borders on cruelty… thus far in his professional career he has yet to show very much in the way of an offensive upside but the Maple Leafs aren’t very concerned about his low scoring totals in St John’s… he is actually a very accomplished passer who makes cool, quick decisions on the outlet play and it is this skill that Coach Quinn values above all… although he is one of the more anonymous prospects now hovering on the fringe of the Leafs’ roster, many observers predict a strong push for a spot with the big team from Dmitriy this fall – especially if one or more of last year’s defensive regulars are absent from camp for contractual reasons…

Whatever happened to: Peter Ing

Trivia I answer: The Maple Leafs received Wilf Paiement and Pat Hickey in one of the most unpopular deals consummated during Punch Imlach’s second tour of duty in Toronto…

Trivia II answer: The Marlies selected by the Maple Leafs in Round #1 of the draft were John Anderson (1977), Trevor Johansen (1977) and George Ferguson (1972)…

Who am I answer: Errol Thompson scored 43 times for the Maple Leafs in 1975/76… Errol’s centerman, Darryl Sittler, also hit the 40 goal plateau during that same year but Thompson got there a bit earlier…

Special thanks to Marc Rezzonico, Joe Pieracci and www.solohockey.com for providing this column with valuable information concerning Luca Cereda’s exploits in the Swiss League.