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.

The Future: Though the situation on the ice seems somewhat muddled at times this season, the Maple Leafs have established some grand plans for the club’s business operations in the coming years … modeling itself after England’s storied Manchester United Football Club (a sports empire worth about $3 billion CDN) the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment conglomerate has more than tripled its assets during the past three years … the organization currently has plans to add 44 new employees to its staff (bringing the total close to 400) as it implements Phase II of the mid-term business plan … Phase I involved the merging of 2 operations (hockey and basketball) and the completion of the ACC on time and on budget … much effort was also spent in getting the hockey and basketball teams into perennial playoff contention and booking out the new playing facility during the past 2 years … at this time, the Air Canada Centre is the #2 concert venue in North America in terms of gross revenue, just behind the Staples Centre in Los Angeles … last year there were 230 separate events staged at the ACC … the prime sports tenants lead the way with the Maple Leafs being sold out for every game and the Raptors currently representing the NBA’s #3 draw for road and home games combined … satisfied that their initial goals had been met, the MLSE board of directors began devising Phase II in order to take the message of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment directly to the fans (and particularly to the younger ones) … next, following the lead of Manchester United FC, MLSE will launch its own television channels … these new outlets will offer in-depth programs which will help to sell over 450 club related merchandising items … clearly the entire company, founded by Conn Smythe in the 1930’s, is being re-invented on an ongoing basis using available technologies … digital signals are now replacing analogue for television broadcasts and the MLSE conglomerate also maintains three of its own web sites … the new Maple Leafs television channel, which will begin operation in September, will have 12 hours of programming that will be repeated on a daily basis … each hour will contain 12 minutes of commercials, enhancing the teams’ revenue and allowing it to compete head-to-head with large market American clubs who possess significant currency advantages … since the completion of the Air Canada Centre, the value of the parent company’s assets has tripled to more than $1 billion CDN and plans are clearly in place to take this figure even higher in the not-to-distant future …

Rumours: The agent for Kings’ defenseman Rob Blake has relented and will now entertain contract offers from teams interested in trading for his client – at the same time, Ron Salcer stresses that it will still take a “special” situation in order to entice Blake to surrender his impending free agency rights – translation: 9-10 million dollars annually for a minimum of 3 years and a city where hockey truly matters to the local citizenry – the Maple Leafs (along with Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, St. Louis and Denver) remain in the hunt for Blake’s services – Blake has repeatedly stated recently that he expects to be dealt by Los Angeles very soon … voices from the Lindros Camp this week reiterated that Eric will sit out the remainder of this season unless his former team transfers his playing rights to Toronto – for their part, the Flyers seem willing to allow Eric to play for the team of his choice so long as he’s willing to wait for 4 more years – a war of attrition seems inevitable unless someone comes up with an innovative solution to this mess … whispers in Montreal continue to insist that defender Eric Weinrich may be Toronto bound in time for the stretch run for as little as a mid-round draft selection … Phil Housley may well represent a better fit for the Maple Leafs but he holds veto power over trades and so must first be enticed to waive it by any potential suitors …

Leafs Trivia I: Only one member of Toronto’s 1995 draft class (consisting of 7 players in total) remains with the organization today … curiously, he happens to be the player that was selected in the final round by the Leafs that year … name this player (answer below Do you remember) …

Dempsey’s dilemma: Baffling NHL rules concerning the recall and assignment of AHL players continue to stifle Nathan Dempsey’s hockey career … when Nathan was summoned to Toronto on February 1st, the transaction was considered an “emergency” recall because the parent team had fewer than 6 healthy defensemen available for the game in Washington that night … under these circumstances, the game didn’t count against the maximum number that Dempsey can play for the Leafs this season (10) without being exposed to a waiver process … despite taking a regular turn and playing very well against the Capitals, Nathan was soon on his way back to St. John’s … unless present circumstances change, Nathan may well be travelling back and forth between Toronto and St. John’s often during the coming weeks … Dempsey has clearly shown that he is capable of playing soundly at the NHL level this season yet a permanent NHL berth remains just beyond his grasp … he’s certainly is taking a considerable financial hit as a result … although the Toronto organization cannot be faulted for doing its utmost to retain assets, one can only hope that Nathan Dempsey will be given a prolonged opportunity soon … LATE NOTE: a recent back injury suffered by Leafs’ rearguard Danny Markov just may have granted Dempsey the opportunity that he’s been waiting for … barring further roster adjustments, Nathan may now have as much many as 6 weeks during which to establish his permanent NHL credentials … his recent play has been superlative and he is an outstanding +14 with the Maple Leafs so far this season …

Swedish Hockey Games: Following an easy 5-1 win over Canada with the back-up goaltender in net, Swedish Head Coach Nilsson returned to Mikael Tellqvist for Game 2 versus the Russian Nationals … this was clearly the right move as the Djurgarden star provided the difference in a key Swedish victory at the Globe Arena … the Russians simply dominated the match, with their forwards using speed and crisp passing to harass Mikael in the Swedish goal all night long … badly outshot by the flying visitors in the first 2 periods, Sweden nonetheless took a 1-0 lead in the 1st (during which they managed only 4 shots) and increased their lead to 2-0 on their first shot of the second stanza … facing incredible pressure as the Russian team pressed to get back in the game, Tellqvist surrendered a goal mid-way through the 2nd but the Russians would get no more on this night … Sweden prevailed 2-1 and Mikael Tellqvist again demonstrates just why he is generally considered to be Toronto’s goaltender of the future …

Leafs Trivia II: Complete this deal … Jim Pappin to Chicago on May 23 1968 in exchange for (answer below Trivia I answer) …

Leafs Trivia III: Curtis Joseph and Glenn Healy were the only netminders to appear for the Maple Leafs during the 1999/2000 season … only twice during the previous 20 seasons had Toronto deployed only 2 goalies … hint: the seasons in question were consecutive and the same goaltenders were involved on both occasions … name these players (answer below Trivia II answer) …

Prospect news: We’re back in St. John’s this week where the Baby Leafs continue to play well despite the recent call-ups of Nathan Dempsey, Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Cooper … though veteran Bobby House continues to lead the team in scoring (46-22-26-48), rookie Jeff Farkas is really coming on strongly in recent weeks … the talented NCAA grad now stands second in team scoring (53-16-27-43) and is currently on an eight game points scoring streak … the overall grade on Jeff’s freshman campaign is swiftly moving from disappointing to impressive … C Donald MacLean (35-17-18-35) has fully regained the form displayed in St. John’s last season following a slow start … MacLean has been the subject of some trade speculation recently and is being watched closely by a handful of NHL teams seeking additional help in the middle … Adam Mair is also performing well again (35-12-19-31) and seems intent of getting back to the show sooner than later … Alyn McCauley’s play has fallen off sharply and he is now relegated to skating on the 3rd line on most nights … rookie defender Allan Rourke (44-7-8-15) continues to shine … he has inherited considerably more ice time following the injury to DJ Smith as well as the promotions of Dempsey and Cooper … Rourke has generally handled this increased responsibility with the poise and confidence of a much more experienced player … 1st year forwards Mikael Hakansson ( 37-7-19-26) and Michal Travnicek (54-1-14-15) appear to have hit the wall encountered by many Europeans approximately half way through their first season in North America …

Who am I: I hold the Maple Leafs’ team record for most consecutive games with at least one goal – a feat that was achieved between March 18th and April 7th of 1985 … a former first round draft choice by Toronto from the hometown Marlboros, I scored at least 30 goals in 4 different seasons while playing for the Maple Leafs … (answer below Trivia III answer) …

Prospect thumbnail – Peter Reynolds (D): Reynolds represents something of an enigma … he is a skilled, two-way defenseman who is solid and responsible in his own end … he is a good skater (particularly laterally) and also possesses good puck skills … he is strong positionally and will occasionally make the big hit … he also owns a good, low shot from the point … Peter has also shown a good work ethic and a willingness to learn at each of the Leafs’ prospect camps that he has attended … at the Kitchener Rookie Tournament last September, Reynolds supplied lots of defensive stability and leadership to the victorious Toronto squad … yet with all of these gifts at his disposal, Peter has struggled mightily this season with North Bay of the OHL and has never truly asserted himself while in major junior hockey … prospects such as Zion, Zavoral, Kelly and Rourke have all vaulted ahead of Reynolds on the organizational depth chart since last fall … there is hope that Peter’s game will actually lend itself better to professional hockey next season either in St. John’s or perhaps in the ECHL … Reynolds must increase his upper body strength and continue to improve all aspects of his game in order to mount a serious challenge for the 5th or 6th slot on the Leafs’ blueline in the years ahead …

Do you remember: Tim Armstrong …

Trivia I answer: Danny Markov was selected by Toronto with the 223rd pick at the 1995 Entry Draft … none of team’s other selections that year (Ware, Pepperall, Bonner, Tremblay, Melenovsky and Murphy) achieved any degree of success in the Leafs’ organization … other than Markov, only Jeff Ware and Yannick Tremblay would ultimately spend any time on the team’s NHL roster …

Trivia II answer: Pierre Pilote brought a rather impressive reputation to Toronto in this deal engineered by George “Punch” Imlach … Pilote had won the Norris Trophy on 3 separate occasions while with the Black Hawks … known as the premier two-way blueliner of the pre-Bobby Orr era, Pierre had also served as Chicago’s team captain for several seasons … already 36 years of age when he debuted on the Leafs’ blueline in 1968/69, Pierre would complete only one indifferent season in Toronto before calling it a career … Pilote was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975 …

Trivia III answer: Felix Potvin and Damian Rhodes handled all of Toronto’s goaltending chores during the 1993/94 and 1994/95 seasons …

Who am I answer: John Anderson …

Leftovers: Its very sad to see the extent to which Felix Potvin’s play has regressed since his impressive debut in Toronto during the early 90’s – a goaltender without confidence is virtually defenseless and its uncertain whether the “Cat” will ever relocate this vital ingredient for success … it’s also a shame that the Baby Leafs’ David Cooper was only on the Toronto roster for a matter of hours during his recent recall – I’d have certainly loved to see what he could do for the parent team’s feeble power play … so many wonderful memories were awakened this week when Leafs’ great Darryl Sittler was honored at the ACC on the 25th anniversary of his historic 10 point night against the Boston Bruins – WW’s prayers and very best wishes to Darryl, Wendy and family at this very trying time in their lives … scratch another name from the Maple Leafs’ mid-winter shopping list – the Canucks sent blueliner Adrian Aucoin to Tampa this week in exchange for goaler Dan Cloutier …

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.