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.

Scouting staff prepares for D-Day: While the Maple Leafs may have permanently suspended efforts to acquire Eric Lindros, the team’s scouting staff is in the field preparing data on other potential trade acquisitions as March 13th nears … led by personnel director Mike Penny, the club held its mid-season scouting meetings during the 3rd week of February … pro scouts Murray Oliver, Floyd Smith and Mark Yannetti have been particularly busy around the league as the deadline approaches … in recent days, Toronto’s bird dogs have been most prominent at games involving Anaheim, Calgary, Long Island and Phoenix … this also is an important time of year for Toronto’s amateur scouts, who are making final evaluations for the upcoming Entry Draft in Sunrise, Florida … under the leadership of new amateur scouting director Mark Hillier, Toronto’s 5 North American-based scouts are now evaluating the players likely to be available when the Maple Leafs exercise 5 picks somewhere between numbers 15 and 55 … in Europe, where Thommie Bergman and Leonid Vaysfeld maintain the highly effective operation started by Anders Hedberg, Leafs’ scouts will be out in force at the European junior championships in April …

Rumours: There is much to talk about as we enter the final week of NHL trade speculation for the 2000/2001 season … whispers floating back east from La Quinta suggest that Toronto’s Alyn McCauley is highly coveted by several teams – though most suitors expect to be able to get him at bargain basement prices, the Maple Leafs still consider McCauley to be a prime asset and are not at all inclined to give him away – the Coyotes have been particularly aggressive in pursuit of this player – could Alyn be the second forward (Mike Johnson being the other) re-acquired by the “Silver Fox” in less than a week … speaking of Cliff Fletcher, he is very active as expected (with holdout Nik Khabibulin already moved to Tampa Bay) – Cliff is very fond of relating the advice given to him when he was a young team executive by the late Punch Imlach: “make trades” – Mr Fletcher clearly took these words to heart and one suspects that he’s not nearly done yet for this season – moving either Jeremy Roenick or Keith Tkachuk is next on Fletcher’s agenda and his track record would suggest that he often favours making deals with former employers … Phoenix is also shopping Keith Carney and Travis Green in addition to these high ticket items … most NHL insiders agree that when Phoenix finally decides what they want to do with Roenick and Tkachuk, several lesser trades may quickly follow … a number of respectable defencemen are on the block … the Islanders have let it be known that they are very willing to move the league’s tallest player, 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara … Kenny Jonsson is known to be very unhappy on the Island and the recent firing of coach Butch Goring didn’t improve his spirits much … the Atlanta Thrashers are willing to move Gord Murphy and Donald Audette for any decent offer – they may trade recent acquisition Jiri Slegr as well (the Leafs are said to have been interested in Slegr earlier this season) … sources in Miami say that Bret Hedican and Robert Svehla are available as the Panthers attempt to rebuild – these players could certainly help any number of teams … rumours from Calgary suggest that Flames’ GM Craig Button is looking to make a blockbuster deal with Iginla, Bure and others on the block – Calgary may be pursuing the Sabres’ Mike Peca – the Leafs and Flames match up nicely in many ways as well … the Flames are also trying to move veteran Phil Housley – he has waived the no-trade clause in his contract and could end up with a contender looking for additional blueline offence – the Leafs are apparently not interested in Housley for the same reason that Paul Coffey wasn’t signed last summer: shaky defensive play in 5-on-5 situations – Pittsburgh remains interested in this player however … teams looking for a quarterback-type would be better advised to consider Carolina’s Sandis Ozolinsh – although he is not a great defender by any stretch of the imagination, Ozolinsh may well be the most dangerous offensive blueliner in the game and his overall play has improved a great deal recently … expect Montreal’s Martin Rucinsky and the Rangers’ Rich Pilon to be among those receiving new addresses on March 13th … oh yes – there was one more big name being bandied about prominently in La Quinta – fellow named Lindros – Eric’s handlers have recently widened their scope to include St. Louis, Washington and Detroit in addition to Toronto – expect something to get done in this regard prior to the deadline …

Leafs Trivia I: The Maple Leafs have employed 11 different Head Coaches since the 1980/81 season … surprisingly, only 3 of these gentlemen have managed a winning record during their Toronto tenure … name them (answer below Do you remember) …

Quinn attends GM meetings: In a clear vote of confidence for Assistant Coaches Ley and Acton (and perhaps an admission that a trade was urgently needed in order to fortify his current line-up), Pat Quinn left his aides in charge of the team this week while he attended the league’s General Manager’s meetings … Quinn was in La Quinta while the team split a pair of important road games in Calgary and Edmonton … the Leafs’ boss was involved in many serious discussions while in California but was unable to finalize a deal that would help the team in the short run without seriously hurting it in the future (more on this in “Leftovers” below) …

Tellqvist in playoffs: The SEL playoffs kicked off this week … the best eight teams were qualified for best-of -seven first round series … this year, Stockholm’s fans are very excited because Djurgarden is playing local rival AIK in the first round – all games will be played at the Globe Arena … Djurgarden is certainly the favorite in this series … Game 1 was a wonderful example of offensive hockey … Djurgarden outshot AIK 38-22, dominated the game and won convincingly 4-1 … Tellqvist stopped 21 of 22 shots and was named second star of the game … he may not have been the difference in this game but his first three saves were of key importance as AIK was awarded a very questionable early power play and could have built an early lead … Djurgarden survived and started to dominate action … they scored four unanswered goals and the game was simply over … Tim Thomas was hardly sharp in the AIK cage … the second game of the series was completely different … the underdogs came out very strongly, were finishing every check and did not allow Djurgarden much room to move … the game again started with a rather silly penalty … this time, however, AIK utilized the opportunity to take a 1-0 lead … Djurgarden quickly tried to establish its dominance but AIK managed to score a second goal from a rare counter-attack … in this instance, Tellqvist had no chance in a two-on-none situation … Djurgarden then finally beat Thomas and everyone in attendance thought that it might be a turning point … the second period proved otherwise as AIK added another two and took a 4-1 lead despite the fact that they were outshot 14-8 in the frame … the frustration was clearly evident in the third period as the players got involved in several scrums and there were two fights … in the end, Mikael stopped 22 of 29 shots, made some good saves and was left alone against two forwards far too often … it was just a bad performance from Djurgarden but the series is now even and the fans are happy…. Stockholm’s big hockey show continues …

Leafs Trivia II: Complete this deal … Daniel Marois and Claude Loiselle to the New York Islanders on March 10, 1992 in exchange for (answer below Trivia I answer) …

Leafs Trivia III: Five of the Maple Leafs’ top seven all-time scoring leaders played together on Toronto’s last Stanley Cup winner in 1966/67 … name these players (answer below Trivia II answer) …

Prospect news: This week we’ll concentrate on the Leafs’ most prized prospects – the “Fab Five” … Erie’s Brad Boyes has slipped to 5th place in the OHL scoring race … Boyes has 86 points (43G, 43A) in 56 games … I had an opportunity to see Brad play in person this week … although he is not particularly big or fast, the puck does seem to constantly find him – this phenomenon is often indicative of sound positioning and a thorough understanding of the game … at this stage of his development, Boyes’ play is very reminiscent of current Toronto pivot Yanic Perreault … the Baby Leafs’ Jeff Farkas continues to excel during the 2nd half of his rookie season … Farkas has 53 points (21G, 32A) in 60 games … he is now the 4th highest scoring freshman in the AHL … Sweden’s Mikael Tellqvist has entered the SEL playoffs (see story above) with league champion Djurgarden … at this point in time, there is still no information available concerning Tellqvist’s plans for next season (or Toronto’s intentions for him either) … St. John’s winger Adam Mair has accumulated 43 points (18G, 25A) in 45 games … Mair is another player who started slowly but is now turning up his game … Adam won the February segment of the Molson Cup by scoring 17 points (8G, 9A) in 13 games played during the month … rookie defender Petr Svoboda has not been particularly impressive (26-3-3-6) since his demotion from Toronto earlier this season … though still considered by Toronto’s front office to be an outstanding pro prospect, Svoboda has displayed a poor attitude in Newfoundland … Petr apparently believes that he should rightfully be playing at the NHL level already … it is hoped that additional maturity will help the young Czech to realize that he must begin to dominate on the Rock before he’ll see Toronto again … here’s hoping that all of these fine players remain in the organization when the trading deadline passes this week …

Who am I: Despite the team’s overall success, I was the only Toronto Maple Leafs player who managed to record a 3-goal game during the entire 1999/2000 season … (answer below Trivia III answer) …

Prospect thumbnail – Tyler Harlton (D): When the Leafs sent Derek King to St. Louis on October 20, 1999, the move was widely regarded as a salary dump … though the Blues sent defender Harlton (their 4th round selection at the 1994 draft) to Toronto in return for the veteran winger, Tyler was then considered to be a very marginal prospect at best … at the time of the trade, the former Michigan State Spartan had completed one rather undistinguished season with Peoria of the AHL … it was therefore quite surprising to hear St. John’s coach Lou Crawford refer to Harlton as his most dependable defenseman recently … Harlton has good size (6-3, 205) and plays strictly within his own capabilities … he moves reasonably well for a big man, plays the body rather than the puck and looks to make the safe play in transition … perhaps more than any other single attribute, Tyler’s game is characterized by the fact that he hardly ever makes an error … an NHL career may still represent a formidable challenge for this 25 year-old native of Pense, Saskatchewan but, then again, that was also the consensus regarding Nathan Dempsey up until a few weeks ago …

Do you remember: Jeff Jackson …

Trivia I answer: Pat Burns (a .546 record between 1992 and 1996), Nick Beverley (.588 for just 17 games in 1996) and Pat Quinn (.591 from 1998 to present) …

Trivia II answer: Ken “Bomber” Baumgartner and Dave McLlwain came to the Leafs in this deadline deal engineered by Cliff Fletcher …

Trivia III answer: Dave Keon (2nd with 858 points), George Armstrong (4th with 713 points), Ron Ellis (5th with 640 points), Frank Mahovlich (6th with 597 points) and Bob Pulford (7th with 563 points) …

Who am I answer: Nikolai Antropov recorded the Leafs’ lone hat-trick of 1999/2000 against the Florida Panthers on December 20, 1999 …

Leftovers: You may have missed this news late last week – the Maple Leafs have signed St. John’s leading scorer Bobby House to a new 3 year contract retroactive to the beginning of this season – House was signed by St. John’s to an AHL contract in the summer of 1999 and was therefore ineligible to play in Toronto without first clearing waivers – he is now able to play for the organization at the NHL level should the need arise … Toronto’s prospects for importing defensive help prior to March 13th took one more hit this week when the Wild sent free agent-to-be Sean O’Donnell to the Devils … another player often linked to Toronto in trade rumours, Teemu Selanne, also disappeared this week when he was sent up the coast to San Jose by Anaheim … Mighty Duck’s GM Pierre Gauthier is still well regarded in NHL circles but, after this latest deal and given his team’s present standing, I really can’t understand why … recent statements from Pat Quinn indicate that the organization is unwilling to deplete a young talent base that has only recently been replenished following years of neglect … the goal remains to become a perennial contender by continuing to accumulate roster depth and building a sound feeder system … this is a philosophy that I endorse completely … though the team is more than willing to use its financial muscle to add veteran talent when possible (witness the recent contract agreement with Eric Lindros and similar discussions held with Rob Blake regarding a long term deal), all of the league’s elite teams have superior player development records … the folly of “going for broke” while totally disregarding the future was clearly demonstrated by the sorry state of the franchise in the years following Cliff Fletcher’s regime … time will tell if Quinn will be able to maintain this sense of resolve until the deadline passes on Tuesday … stay tuned …

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 find all the hot news and rumours concerning the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization here at Hockey’s Future – we’ll see you again next week.