The Weekend Warrior

By Randy Nicholson

Another in a series of weekly articles summarizing activity in Leafland during the previous 7 days – with some personal observations, commentary, prospect updates and fun thrown in for good measure.

I told you so: Although I’ve certainly been guilty of pushing the “Eric Lindros comes home” angle ever since my first column for HF back in June, I must admit that I was somewhat startled by the superstar’s sudden public revelation on November 28th … for those of you that have spent the past few days under a rock, Eric finally confirmed to various members of the print and electronic media that he wants badly to play for the Maple Leafs and further wishes to pursue no other option at this point in time … earlier in the week, Lindros was declared fit and able to resume his playing career by Dr. James Kelly in Chicago … for their part, the Maple Leafs have admitted that the interest in very mutual and that discussions with the Flyers have already taken place … although much has happened in connection with this story since the Entry Draft (8.5M dollar 2-way contract tendered by the Flyers and subsequently turned down by Lindros, frequent verbal posturing from both sides) little has really changed … the road to Eric Lindros’ playing rights still leads through Philly … anyone who thinks that Bob Clarke will happily send Eric to the team of his choice simply doesn’t understand the man very well … Toronto’s management has stated that risk sharing by all parties will be needed in order to get a deal done … the Lindros family has indicated some willingness to accept their fair share but, thus far, Mr. Clarke professes to have no interest in this concept … stay tuned – this might get done soon (or quite possibly never) …

Leafs hit the airwaves: A 24-hour, all-Maple Leafs channel could be operational in time for next season … a Raptors-basketball channel is also in the works, after the CRTC recently approved Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Limited’s application for a pair of digital stations focusing on its prime professional sports properties … the Leafs and Raptors stations will not air live games, but will offer programming to complement game telecasts on other networks … the new channels will also include pre and post game analysis, news conferences, magazine shows, coaches’ shows, infomercials for Leafs and Raptors merchandise and classic games … the Air Canada Centre will be the backdrop for many of the new productions, but MLSEL also is planning to build its own TV studio … while MLSEL is aiming to have the Leafs channel running by September 2001, a likely start date for the Raptors-basketball channel will be the fall of 2002 … cable and satellite companies won’t have to carry the new channels, but MLSEL believes they will be attractive pick-ups because of public demand … the Leafs channel will be an Ontario-only enterprise, while the Raptors-basketball channel has been granted Canada-wide coverage …

Dempsey up – McCauley down: Two long-anticipated roster moves were finally announced by the Maple Leafs on November 30th , when AHL star Nathan Dempsey was recalled from St. John’s and Alyn McCauley sent down … Dempsey represents this season’s first call-up from the Baby Leafs, a team that is much improved under Lou Crawford’s leadership … McCauley’s focus while on the “Rock” will clearly be to get his game back in order … Leafs’ Exec Bill Watters (who accompanied Alyn to Newfoundland for the Training Camp announcement described below) insists that McCauley is not necessarily finished in Toronto but simply needs to play competitively again in order to recapture the form flashed at times earlier in his young career …

Cereda news: Maple Leafs director of amateur scouting Mark Hillier was quoted in the Toronto Sun this week as saying that 19-year-old center Luca Cereda, who had surgery on Oct. 19th to fix a valve defect in his heart, is recovering well at home in Switzerland … “He has started to do some light exercises, such as swimming,” Hillier said. “He is about week ahead of schedule.” … Leafs doctors detected a heart murmur in Cereda during routine tests at training camp in September … Cereda was Toronto’s first pick, 24th overall, in the 1999 entry draft … Hillier further said that the club hopes Cereda can begin playing hockey again in Switzerland before the end of the 2000/01 season …

Leafs Trivia I: During the 1979/80 season, the Maple Leafs utilized 5 different goaltenders on the way to a 4th place finish in the Adams Division and a 1st round playoff exit … name all five stoppers (answer below Whatever happened to) …

2001 Training Camp shifts to St. John’s: The Maple Leafs announced on December 1st that they will hold their Training Camp in St. John’s next September … the Camp will be the first major event slated for the 6,500 seat “Mile One Stadium” which is scheduled to be completed this spring … the package will include approximately 10 days of formal workouts and scrimmages followed by the annual “Blue/White” intra squad game and by an NHL pre-season match versus the fabled Montreal Canadiens … this plan represents the first time that the Maple Leafs’ Main Camp has been held outside Southern Ontario and serves as a tribute to the fans of Newfoundland and Labrador, who are considered to be perhaps the most loyal Maple Leafs supporters in the entire country …

Khristich sits down: Under-achieving forward Dimitri Khristich was finally benched for the team’s game against Ottawa game on November 25th … incidently, the ACC crowd cheered wildly after hearing this pre-game announcement … no ill will intended (Dimitri may be a truly wonderful person) but he is 3rd on the team’s payroll and just doesn’t appear to be giving a strong effort at any time … he has been quoted as saying that he is afraid of pushing the groin injured last year too hard … there are also rumours of player unrest toward the organization’s continued blind support for this player … most Leafs, apparently, would rather see a harder working team mate (McCauley, MacLean or Mair for example) receive the icetime now routinely afforded to Khristich … I was in full agreement with the signing of Khristich last season as it seemed like an unusual chance to obtain a proven scorer (still in his prime years) without giving up anything of consequence … one year later, its clear that things just haven’t worked out and it may be time for the Leafs to face this fact and move on …

Leafs Trivia II: Complete this deal … Jamie Macoun to Detroit on March 24, 1998 in exchange for (answer below Trivia I answer) …

Prospect news: 2000 first-rounder, Brad Boyes continues to cruise along at or near the top of the OHL scoring race … he currently sits second with 50 points (29-21) in 28 games … blueliner Jon Zion is also in the “Top Ten” with 39 points (13-26) in 29 games … both of these players are in the running for Canada’s final World Junior Tournament roster … don’t be mislead by defenseman Vaclav Zavoral’s rather modest scoring totals for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL (26-1-2-3) … Zavoral is considered a defensive specialist who is playing sound tough defense for the Greyhounds and is deployed in all critical situations …

Who am I: When the rival World Hockey Association began to sign under-age junior stars in the early 1970’s, the NHL responded by lowering its draft eligibility to 18 years of age … the first Draft conducted under these new rules took place in 1974 at Montreal … I was Toronto’s top selection that year and subsequently became the first teenager to play for the Maple Leafs since the inception of the Universal Draft in 1969 (answer below Trivia II answer) …

Euros now appreciated in St. John’s: For the record – former St. John’s Coach Al MacAdam didn’t appreciate the talents of European bred players like Kalmikov and Antipov … Kalmikov (in particular) was treated like a spare part after having been so impressive at the Leafs’ 1999 Training Camp and being singled out for praise by Coach/GM Quinn … this season, all that has changed … MacAdam’s outdated attitudes have been replaced by the progressive methods of new coaches Crawford and McClelland … young European players such as Ponikarovsky, Travnicek and Hakansson have been given major roles on the team and are flourishing as a result … Konstantin Kalmikov, after having been ignored for the best part of 2 seasons, has had his career revived and he is he now consistently one of the club’s better players … many Maple Leafs’ fans were petrified that the team’s European talent would quickly dry up when Anders Hedberg departed but, happily, this is not the case … the organization clearly recognizes the importance of this talent source and has taken some positive steps at the minor league level in order to accelerate the development of its young European players …

Prospect thumbnail – Kris Vernarsky (C): Toronto’s 2000 2nd Rounder, Kris Vernarsky played extremely well at the Kitchener Rookie Tournament, showcasing a well rounded game … conscientious and mature far beyond his tender years, Vernarsky anchored what was arguably the best 2-way line for Toronto over the course of the 3 tournament games … Kris is with Plymouth of the OHL this year and it is essential that he improve upon last year’s modest scoring totals … thus far, the results are mixed as Vernarsky has picked up 19 points (7-12) in 25 games for the Whalers … interestingly, Kris (along with fellow OHL star Jonathon Zion) were both acquired with picks obtained in the 1999 Jason Smith trade with Edmonton … this trade, though widely criticized at the time, now looks at least a bit more promising from a Maple Leafs’ perspective …

Whatever happened to: Patrik Augusta …

Trivia I answer: The five netminders used by the Maple Leafs on their way to mediocrity in 1979/80 were Jiri Crha, Mike Palmateer, Curt Ridley, Paul Harrison and Vincent Tremblay …

Trivia II answer: The Leafs received (only) a fourth round draft choice from the Red Wings in this Trade Deadline day deal … Macoun first came to Toronto as part of the fabulously successful Gilmour heist orchestrated by Cliff Fletcher and had been a stalwart on the blueline during the team’s playoff runs in the early 90’s … in many ways, his departure marked the end of an era … interestingly, the pick acquired from Detroit was quickly parlayed into Alexei Ponikarovsky at the 1998 Entry Draft … the hulking Ukrainian has become one of the Leafs’ most exciting prospects – suddenly this trade doesn’t seem so one-sided after all …

Who am I answer: Jack Valiquette was chosen 1st (13th overall) by the Maple Leafs at the 1974 Draft … at the time, big Jack had just completed a stellar 135 point season with Sault Ste. Marie of the OHA … Valiquette appeared briefly for the Leafs in 1974/74 as an 18 year-old and became a regular during the next season … sadly, Jack was never able to duplicate his junior scoring exploits in the NHL (due in no small way to a highly laborious skating style) … after parts of 4 seasons in Toronto and 3 more with the Colorado Rockies, Valiquette’s big league career ended in 1981 …

Leftovers: Personally, I would never question the leadership of Leafs’ Captain Mats Sundin – in fact, he is far more effective in this role than I could ever have imagined him to be – that said, I believe that it is now time for Sundin to play the game a little more selfishly – stop dishing off to struggling line mates and go for goals himself – Mats is an elite level talent (still in his prime years) and he simply has to become more productive that he is at the present time no matter whom he’s lined up with … there are so many things in life that still mystify me – how does the airplane stay up in the air, how does the picture show up on my television, how this story can be read almost immediately by people all over the globe, how a team can blow a 5-0 third period lead at home – with respect to the infamous game in question on November 29th, a collapse of this magnitude is something that can simply never be allowed to happen – not against the ’76 Habs, ’82 Islanders, or anyone else – this was a monumentally brutal display that truly challenges one’s faith in this Toronto Maple Leafs squad … and here’s one for all you Domi-bashers out there – I think that he’d be the ideal fit on a first line with Sundin and Lindros – just a thought …

You’ll get all of the important news pertaining to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization here at Hockey’s Future.