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.

A new angle on the Lindros stalemate: Veteran hockey writer Al Strachan of the Toronto Sun (January 29th) offered an interesting solution to the Lindros deadlock this week … he hypothesized that the Maple Leafs might obtain Eric Lindros for as little as two first-round draft picks … this price would be based upon an offer sheet that starts relatively low but increases with the number of games played … the Leafs could put together a contract paying Lindros $1.4 million a year for three years … bonus clauses that would pay him $1 million for every 10 games and $600,000 at the end of the season would also be included … the total package represent a total of $10 million over a full season – but with only the base salary guaranteed … under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, this would be a legal contract … although a team is forbidden from starting at $10 million and working down, there is nothing that prevents starting at $1.4 million and working up … the attraction of this arrangement is that, because the guaranteed salary in the deal is relatively low, the compensation required is correspondingly small … at the $1.4M level, the Leafs would have to surrender only two first-round picks instead of the five usually needed to acquire a player of Lindros’ calibre … the catch, of course, is that the Flyers would have the right to match the offer … I suspect that the relationship between the Lindros camp and Flyers’ management has deteriorated to such an extent that the player would never sign any offer sheet that could potentially return control over his career to Philadelphia unless an agreement could first be struck between all parties involved that would ensure the eventual outcome of the process …

Rumours: Insiders suggest that Rob Blake could well be on the move during the NHL All-Star break – the Devils remain the big defender’s most likely destination although they are still resisting LA’s attempts to have C Scott Gomez included in a package for Blake – the latest New Jersey offer consists of Pandolfo, Brylin and another prospect – this indicates the level of compensation that the Kings are likely to realize so long as Rob steadfastly refuses to discuss a contract extension with their potential trading partners – the Blues are anxious to join the hunt for Blake and have recently scouted him extensively – the Flyers also covet Blake but GM Clarke recently lamented that “all we have (to offer in exchange for Rob Blake) is Lindros and he will only go to Toronto” – talks between the Maple Leafs and Kings have reached the serious stage but its likely that a deal can only be completed if Blake will first agree to a new contract to remain in Toronto after this season – the Leafs apparently remain opposed to investing in a playoff rental … incidently, Philly’s position on conditional compensation for their erstwhile captain has softened considerably in recent days and something may actually get done as a result … recent reports that Keith Tkachuk might be bound for Toronto may have been groundless but I, for one, happen to believe that he would represent the perfect compliment to Mats Sundin on the first line – Tkachuk, by the way, is perhaps the best powerplay performer in the entire league … Vancouver media reports have suggested that defenseman Adrian Aucoin may yet find his way from coach Marc Crawford’s doghouse to the ACC and further relate that the price might actually be quite reasonable (rumoured to be farmhands Dempsey and MacLean) – Aucoin would certainly give the anemic Toronto powerplay something that it sorely lacks at this time: a point man who isn’t afraid to shoot the puck …

Leafs recall two: The Maple Leafs announced on February 1st that defensemen Nathan Dempsey (finally) and David Cooper had been recalled from their AHL affiliate in St. John’s … additional blueline help was needed in order to fill the void created when Danny Markov was sidelined with a lower back ailment while Cory Cross continued to struggle with a hip flexor injury whenever the schedule calls for games on consecutive nights … Cooper was immediately returned to the St. John’s roster when Cross pronounced himself fit to play against Washington …

Tellqvist news: Swedish Elite League leaders, Djurgarden, split four games played during the past 2 weeks … the club recorded wins over Leksand and AIK while losing to Lulea and then to Leksand in a return match … goalkeeper Mikael Tellqvist was typically outstanding in the wins but somewhat ordinary in both losses … Swedish Sport recently published a list of the top 50 players in the SEL … the list included foreign players, veterans, rookies – everyone playing this season in Sweden … the good news for the Maple Leafs is that both of their drafted Swedish players made the list … Tellqvist cracked the top 10 and he is also No. 1 among netminders (which surprised no one) … Toronto’s other prospect in the SEL, Pierre Hedin, is ranked much farther down the list although he is 11th among defencemen … Stockholm will host the Swedish Hockey Games from February 6th to February 11th … this is the last tournament of European Hockey Tour which consists of tournaments played in the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden … Mikael Tellqvist (along with 5 other Djurgarden players) will don the famous Tre Kronor jersey for this occasion …

Leafs Trivia I: Though they were singularly unsuccessful in unearthing potential playing talent at the 1975 Draft in Montreal, Leafs’ scouts did find one future NHL Coach and also a well respected NHL General Manager … name these 2 men (answer below Do you remember) …

Leafs’ TV: The upcoming Toronto Maple Leafs channel (reported in this column several weeks back) began to take shape this week with the hiring of John Shannon … the former executive producer of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada will spearhead the specialty cable television channel which first airs in the fall of 2001 … since MLSEL does not own the rights to broadcast NHL games (yet), the 24-hour channel’s purpose is set to produce only complementary programming – magazine shows, extended interviews, classic game rebroadcasts – that will be designed to augment the current game coverage aired by other broadcast partners … the Leafs channel is one of more than 250 specialty channels granted digital licenses by the CRTC last year … MLSEL expects to firm up deals with cable distributors for the channel over the next few months … this venture is the first of its kind ever attempted in North America and will be patterned after the Manchester United FC channel now available in Britain …

Cereda heads home: After receiving positive reports from team doctors, prospect Luca Cereda said goodbye to Toronto this week and flew home to Switzerland … the Leafs’ first rounder in 1999 was checked out during the past two weeks following October surgery to repair a faulty heart valve – a congenital condition that was detected during routine medicals at the Leafs’ 2000 Training Camp … it has been decided that Cereda will not play competitively again until next September in order to allow the incision in his chest sufficient time to heal … Cereda plans to return to Toronto in April and will work out with the team while the Leafs are in the Stanley Cup playoffs …

Leafs Trivia II: Complete this deal … Kirk Muller to Florida on March 18, 1997 in exchange for (answer below Trivia I answer) …

Leafs Trivia III: Three Toronto Maple Leafs’ captains were once the first overall player selected in their respective draft years … name these players (answer below Trivia II answer) …

McCauley wins Molson Cup in St. John’s: The St. John’s Maple Leafs announced this week that centre Alyn McCauley had won the December segment of the Molson Cup … in December, McCauley recorded 10 points (2 goals and 8 assists) in 10 games, was plus 1 and had 47 shots on goal … he accumulated 20 Molson Cup points from two first star selections and two second star selections … McCauley currently has 23 points (8G,15A) in 24 games and enters games this weekend on a 3 game scoring streak (4-3-7) …

Prospect news: We travel back to the junior ranks in the OHL and WHL this week … 2000 first rounder Brad Boyes continues to pace the OHL leading Erie Otters in scoring … Brad now has 64 points (37G, 27A) in 40 games and is +19 … over in Ottawa, blueline star Jon Zion has 54 points (14G, 40A) in 47 games (2nd among OHL defenders) … Zion’s team mate Miguel Delisle has 46 points (24G, 22A) in 42 games while Khazakh rookie Vadim Sozinov continues to improve with 30 points (16G, 14A) in 42 games … Toronto’s 2nd pick in 2000, Plymouth’s Kris Vernarsky, is having a very disappointing year with only 23 points (9G, 14A) in 41 games played to date … goaltender Jamie Hodson, back with Brandon of the WHL, is putting together a solid season with the Wheat Kings after struggling earlier in St. John’s … Hodson is currently second amongst WHL netminders with a .903 save percentage …

Who am I: I played my first NHL game with the Maple Leafs in 1970/71 and also my last NHL game with the Maple Leafs in 1981/82 … in the intervening years, I accumulated 284 goals and 702 points – primarily as a member of what was perhaps the most famous line combination of the 1970’s (answer below Trivia III answer) …

Prospect thumbnail – Jean-Philippe Cote (D): This strapping blueliner was taken by Toronto in the 9th round (265th overall) at the 2000 Entry Draft … Cote had previously been a top rated player prior to the QMJHL’s 1999 midget lottery but he struggled badly as a rookie in junior hockey … Jean-Philippe split the 1999/2000 season between Acadie-Bathurst and Cape Breton and never really seemed to be comfortable with the pace of the game … Leafs’ scouts who attended several of the Titan’s contests in order to assess the progress of former draftee Mirko Murovic suggested that Cote might be worth a gamble in the final round of the draft … their faith has since been rewarded as “Jee” played surprisingly well at the Rookie Tournament in September and has carried this improvement through into the 2000/2001 season with the Screaming Eagles … to date, Cote has 24 points (5G,19A) in 47 games and is a very respectable +12 … Jean-Philippe has the size (6’2”-205) needed to play in the professional ranks and uses his body effectively … Cote also owns a very heavy shot from the point and will likely begin to accumulate more points as he matures and gains additional confidence … like so many defensemen in junior hockey, Cote’s progress will be eventually determined by improvements in skating ability, defensive recognition and overall positioning … though its still to early to know for certain, the Maple Leafs may well have found yet another late round blueline gem in Jean-Philippe Cote …

Do you remember: David Sacco …

Trivia I answer: The Maple Leafs drafted current Capitals bench boss Ron Wilson 132nd overall and current Red Wings GM Ken Holland 188th overall in 1975 … incidently, long time Dallas Stars assistant coach Doug Jarvis was also selected (24th overall) by Toronto that same year …

Trivia II answer: Muller, who had been mainly ineffective during his stay in Toronto, was dealt to Florida in exchange for Jason Podollan as the Leafs attempted to trim their bloated payroll … Podollan had displayed promise earlier during short stints in Miami but has since been unable to claim a permanent NHL job in the Toronto, Los Angeles and Tampa organizations … he is currently with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL …

Trivia III answer: The 3 Toronto captains in question are Mats Sundin (drafted first overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989), Wendel Clark (taken first overall by the Leafs in 1985) and Rob Ramage (selected first overall by the Colorado Rockies in 1979) …

Who am I answer: Rene Robert played 4 years in the Maple Leafs’ farm system before briefly making his NHL debut in 1970/71 … he was lost to Pittsburgh on waivers prior to the next season and was subsequently dealt to the Sabres later that year … in Buffalo, Robert was soon teamed with fellow Quebecois Richard Martin and Gilbert Perreault to form the “French Connection” line which would dominate NHL defenses for 7 seasons …

Leftovers: St. John’s coach Lou Crawford recently made defensive prospect Petr Svoboda a healthy scratch immediately after the young Czech had removed himself from 2 games complaining of “flu-like” symptoms – hopefully the intended message was received clearly by the youngster … although this column regularly relates trade rumours involving the Maple Leafs as a matter of course, I would like to make one thing abidingly clear – I would never champion dealing away the future (Kaberle, Markov, Svoboda, Rourke, Antropov, Mair, Farkas, Ponikarovsky, Tellqvist, Boyes etc.) unless the player(s) coming the other way were of a similar vintage – teams that possess the ambition to contend every year simply don’t make short sighted moves of this nature – we have witnessed a couple of ill conceived runs at the Stanley Cup during the past quarter century in Toronto (wherein the farm system was stripped bare in an attempt to add the “missing” pieces) and 3 to 5 years of absolute misery inevitably follows … I don’t know if anyone else has noticed of late but Bryan McCabe is playing some outstanding hockey on the Leafs’ blueline – I have absolutely no idea how you can acquire a 25 year-old stud like McCabe in exchange for a highly overpaid 30 year-old defender who’s body is as fragile as fine china … the Maple Leafs will undoubtedly acquire some additional help prior to the March trading deadline but the Caps Peter Bondra won’t be one of the players coming to Toronto – Bondra signed a multi-year contract extension with Washington this week …

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.