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.

Seemingly endless slump grinds on: When the team turned in perhaps its worst performance of the season at home against the Bruins on January 24th, even their most staunch supporters began to despair that a season that once seemed so very promising is now gradually slipping away … the Leafs have now won but 6 of 20 games played since December 15th … what’s especially troubling is that so many of these poor outings have come at the Air Canada Centre and against sub-500 teams … a once decent powerplay is now completely ineffectual and stellar goaltending from Curtis Joseph is being wasted on far too many nights … virtually everyone concedes that there is an abundance of veteran leadership in Toronto but this asset just isn’t evident on the ice of late … if something isn’t soon done to reverse this slide, any chance of making a serious bid for a championship this season will melt away long before the games really begin to matter …

Rumours: Insiders suggest that Toronto was also very much involved when the Penguins traded blueliner Jiri Slegr to Atlanta recently – the Leafs may have offered something more substantial than the 3rd round draft pick ultimately accepted from the Thrashers but Pittsburgh was understandably hesitant to deal the talented Czech to a potential playoff opponent … it seems increasingly likely that LA rearguard Rob Blake will be dealt before the deadline due to the Kings’ determination not to budge from their latest contract offer – its also likely that the Leafs won’t get a shot at Blake until he hits free agency this summer … frustrated in repeated attempts to land an impact player (Blake, Lindros etc.), Toronto may now begin to look elsewhere for immediate help – Weinrich, Aucoin, Tverdovsky, Housley, O’Donnell, Jonsson and Hamrlik are amongst the prominent names that are presently being discussed on the league’s trade front and all could certainly enhance the Leafs’ current roster – albeit each in a slightly different way … it was reported this week that Coach/GM Pat Quinn had held a closed door meeting with the players following the loss to Boston during which he supposedly promised the team that there would be no trades made until the March deadline – don’t believe this story because it simply didn’t happen …

Leafs Trivia I: The true depth to which the Leafs’ once proud organization had sunk by the early 1980’s was perhaps best demonstrated when 3 raw teenaged blueline rookies were deployed together by the club in 1981/82 … name all 3 players (answer below Do you remember) …

Mair returned to St. John’s: In a move that had been anticipated for some time, the Maple Leafs dispatched C/W Adam Mair to St. John’s on January 20th … the move was prompted by the return of veteran Steve Thomas from a knee injury … in 16 games with the big team, Adam had produced only 2 assists and really didn’t bring the same physical dimension that he had shown in previous visits … it is very difficult to crack an experienced and deep roster such as Toronto’s – virtually impossible when a young player is unable to produce tangible offensive results or to distinguish himself in some other significant way … it is also noteworthy that the Maple Leafs chose to retain Ukrainian rookie Alexei Ponikarovsky over Mair at this time … evidently approaching a crossroads in his young career, Adam is in danger of slipping down the depth chart unless he can begin to post strong scoring numbers out on the “Rock” … Mair’s name has been included in virtually every trade rumour concerning the Maple Leafs of late …

Maple Leafs’ Super Skills: Individual results of the “Super Skills” event staged at the ACC on January 21st … Puck Control Relay (fastest through pylons down the length of the ice) … Kaberle defeats Tucker … Fastest Skater … the fastest individual skater was Tie Domi (although many believe that his time of 13.899 seconds was aided by a rolling start) with Sergei Berezin second … Hardest Shot … Danny Markov won this event for the second year in a row, clocking a shot at 98.7 mph … runners up were McCabe – 95.9, Thomas – 96.6, Hoglund – 96.9, Manson – 95.9, Ponikarovsky – 91.0, Yushkevich – 90.8 and Antropov (apparently represented by his younger sister) – 70.0 … Shooting Accuracy (four targets) … Perreault hit all 4 targets in just 6 shots to win the event easily …

Leafs Trivia II: Complete this deal … John McIntyre to Los Angeles on November 9, 1990 in exchange for (answer below Trivia I answer) …

Leafs Trivia III: Name the first Maple Leafs’ player to score a regular season overtime winner – hint: he was a former Toronto Marlboro junior (answer below Trivia II answer) …

Prospect news: the focus returns to St. John’s this week … Alyn McCauley recorded his first three point game of the season in last Sunday’s 5-4 win over Cincinnati … he recorded 2 goals and added an assist en route to being named the game’s first star … Alyn now has 22 points (8G,14A) in 23 games for the Leafs … Donald MacLean had a five game scoring streak (3-4=7) snapped against Louisville … he then scored the game winning goal and added an assist in the Cincinnati game … MacLean currently leads the Maple Leafs in game winning goals (5) and SH goals (3) … he has 31 points (14G,17A) in 29 games … Jeff Farkas is currently tied for 3rd in team scoring with 29 points (11G,18A) in 47 games … Jeff tallied 2 points (G,A) against Cincinnati and has points in 7 of the last 10 games (2-9=11) … Mike Minard played in 2 of 3 games last week and went 1-1-0 … he is currently 2nd in the AHL in goals against average (2.10) and third in wins (14) and save percentage (.928) … rookie Jacques Lariviere scored his first professional goal (and point) in the game against Louisville … it was back to business versus the Mighty Ducks when Jacques accumulated a Maple Leafs’ season high 19 PIM … Adam Mair is off to a solid start since his return to the team from Toronto … Mair piled up 5 points (2G,3A) in a wild 9-6 win over Louisville on January 25th …

Who am I: Aside from Brad Boyes and Luca Cereda, I am the only player to have been selected by Toronto in the 1st round of the NHL Entry Draft who has never appeared in a regular season or playoff game with the Maple Leafs (answer below Trivia III answer) …

Prospect thumbnail – Bobby House (W): House has been the leading scorer in St. John’s all season long … the 28 year-old native of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory was originally a 3rd round pick by the Black Hawks in 1991 and has played 8 seasons in the minors without appearing in a single NHL contest … House was signed by the Maple Leafs to a minor league contract in the summer of 1999 in an effort to bolster the roster and to provide leadership in St. John’s … due to his present contractual status, House would have to be exposed to NHL waivers before the Leafs could sign him to play in Toronto … although he has been outstanding for the Baby Leafs this year, Bobby is essentially a solid minor league player who’s simply enjoying a career season … he possesses good size, an NHL-calibre shot and absolutely no speed at all … unfortunately, House does not represent the answer to Toronto’s recent goal scoring problems …

Do you remember: Matt Martin …

Trivia I answer: Jim Benning (age 18), Bob McGill (age 19) and Freddie Boimistruck (age 19) all took a regular turn on the blueline for the Maple Leafs in 1981/82 – the results (as I’m certain that many of you may recall) were uniformly and predictably disastrous …

Trivia II answer: Mike Krushelnyski left the LA sunshine in order to join the rebuilding Maple Leafs in this trade … “Krusher” would later play an important supporting role for the club during its long playoff runs in 1993 and 1994.

Trivia III answer: Former Marlie Stewart Gavin fired the winner in overtime against the Detroit Red Wings at Maple Leaf Gardens on March 10, 1984 …

Who am I answer: Goaltender Eric Fichaud, who was drafted 16th overall by the Maple Leafs in 1994 … Eric has since appeared in the NHL with the Islanders, Nashville, Carolina and Montreal but never played for the Maple Leafs …

Leftovers: Eric Lindros has recently stated that he is fully prepared to sit out for the remainder of the 2000/2001 season unless allowed to join the Maple Leafs (via trade) – I guess that its your move now Mr. Clarke … it seems obvious that the Leafs can never join the NHL’s elite (as is their stated intention) until something is done about the team’s woeful powerplay – selecting the right 5 players and sticking with them would certainly help but its also likely that a new face or two will eventually be required in order to correct this season-long problem … I must admit that I didn’t feel this way at the time of the trade, but last season’s acquisition of Darcy Tucker in exchange for Mike Johnson now seems so one-sided that its almost laughable … is it bad luck or just plain bad shooting when every single netminder that you encounter resembles Georges Vezina reincarnate – just wondering … its so very gratifying to note the success that defender Chris Phillips is enjoying this season with the Ottawa Senators – the former 1st overall pick at the 1996 Entry Draft has had much difficulty in establishing himself as a solid NHLer – these on-ice challenges, however, must have seemed trivial to the strapping Fort McMurray native who, along with his sister Jennifer, has been obliged to care for his mother and father throughout much of his life – Chris’ Mum is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair by a virus that attacked her spinal chord and his Dad is 90% blind – sometimes good things do come to good people (though perhaps not nearly as often as they should) …

Many thanks to European corespondent, Jan Buben, for his weekly updates from Sweden and elsewhere.

Thanks also to “the Bay Boy” for his on-site reports from Newfoundland.

You’ll get all the necessary information concerning the Toronto Maple Leafs organization here at Hockey’s Future – we’ll see you again next week.