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.

Ownership changes loom: According to published reports this week, the Toronto Dominion Bank’s shares in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. are now for sale … several concerns within the ownership group of MLSEL (including both Larry Tanenbaum and Steve Stavro) are said to be interested in acquiring all or part of this package, thought to be worth approximately $120 million CDN … it has been confirmed that a standard agreement is in place whereby any available shares must be offered to the other shareholders in proportion to their current ownership stakes … that means neither Stavro nor Tanenbaum, whose relationship is said by those in the know to be indifferent at best, can gain any more control than they already have … moreover, nothing would really change substantively even if one or the other acquired the TD’s entire position … however, should an outside investor seek to gain control, Stavro and/or Tanenbaum could become important power brokers – as useful in preventing control from shifting as they would be in assisting someone to gain full control … last September, BCE (which controls the CTV network) and the powerful Thomson family announced a new $4-billion joint venture into electronic media … BCE/Thomson is anxious to acquire the broadcast interests of MLSEL, though not necessarily the entire company … if this is not possible, they could be forced to buy the company in order to secure these rights … BCE/Thomson’s interest in MLSEL’s broadcast properties is believed to have attracted corresponding interest from Rogers Communications, which owns the Toronto Blue Jays … Jays’ president Paul Godfrey is a close personal friend of Larry Tanenbaum and has often spoken in the past of “convergence” – linking up several sports properties, arenas and communications companies under one corporate umbrella … a third significant player in this drama is the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, which has over $75 billion in assets and two of six seats on the MLSEL Board of Directors … it remains in firm control of the organization as long as the 51% of outstanding stock that it doesn’t own remains in the hands of several disconnected parties … Bay Street experts say that the OTPPB is pleased with its rate of return during the past three years and is not looking to sell its shares at this time … this position might change if a bidding war were to erupt between BCE/Thomson and Rogers that effectively drives the price of MLSEL above the $1.2 billion that it is now estimated to be worth …

Rumours: Add Luc Robitaille’s name to the list of veteran snipers who will become available as unrestricted free agents this summer – Luc is a close friend of Rob Blake’s and is apparently quite upset that the Kings were unable to retain his pal’s services beyond this season – on the other hand, Robitaille has been in LA for a long time and enjoys the southern California lifestyle – the Habs are said to be keenly interested in signing Luc in July but it seems unlikely that they’d be able to afford his asking price … after appearing to be all but finished for much of the last 2 seasons, Dallas winger Brett Hull is suddenly a goal scoring machine again – that’s pretty good timing for the “Golden Brett” as he hits the unrestricted FA market for the second time in July … published reports this week indicate new signs of management turmoil down at the ACC – the removal of Pat Quinn as the team’s General Manager may yet prove to be the ultimate result of this ongoing friction – Leafs’ president Ken Dryden is said to covet a bigger role in personnel decisions, a process that he has been virtually shut out of since Quinn was named GM – though Quinn enjoys the loyalty of virtually all within the team’s front-office, Dryden has much closer ties to MLSEL’s Board of Directors – at that level, Quinn’s performance this season has not received very high marks – the Board (and Dryden) openly wanted to make a stronger move for Eric Lindros prior to the trade deadline but Quinn, who was much less enthusiastic over the idea in the first place, failed to get it done – expect the chase to resume immediately after Toronto’s final game this spring, this time under Dryden’s personal direction – current prospects for a relatively short post-season run could cost the organization as much as $10 million and this would also anger team ownership greatly – there are also major differences in the basic philosophies espoused by Dryden and Quinn … the former clearly wants to take the team out to the people while the latter prefers to operate far from public scrutiny – the pending struggle for control might be captivating to watch this off season but hopefully will not impede the club’s efforts to acquire much needed roster reinforcement …

Leafs Trivia I: Two future NHL Head Coaches tended goal for the Maple Leafs during the 1970’s … name them both (answer below Do you remember) …

McCauley’s back: Hard luck centerman Alyn McCauley received a promotion from St. John’s a little bit earlier than expected due to the eye injury suffered by winger Garry Valk on March 26th (see “Leftovers” below) … in his first start against the Bruins on the 28th, Alyn took a regular turn on the checking line but was not overly effective (nor was any other Toronto player in a listless 3-0 loss) … the next night in Philadelphia, McCauley combined with linemates Domi and Tucker to play a major role in a rousing Toronto win … Alyn will need to match this effort during the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs in order to stake a tentative claim on the 4th line pivot’s job with the Maple Leafs next season …

Tellqvist in SEL finals: After disposing of second round opponent Lulea in five games, Djurgarden now moves into the SEL final against rival Farjestad … Farjestad eliminated Malmo in five games as well in order to set up what promises to be a very interesting championship series … the Djurgarden-Farjestad pairing was much anticipated throughout Sweden after these teams finished 1-2 during the regular season … more on Mikael Tellqvist’s playoff odyssey in next week’s edition …

Dryden deflects media attacks: In spite of the rumoured friction with Pat Quinn (see “Rumours” above), team president Ken Dryden this week staunchly defended his Coach/GM in several media sources … in response to the team’s failure to acquire any of the pending free agents available in recent weeks, Dryden reiterated that a lack of money or management effort were certainly not the problems … the difficulty, in Dryden’s view, was the price in playing assets that potential trading partners were looking for … though clubs such as the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils can easily afford to give up a good young player or players, the Leafs do not yet have the sort of roster depth that permits such moves to be easily made … as to public criticism of Quinn’s dual role, Dryden asserted that Pat is surrounded by capable people who perform much of the actual personnel work … generally, Quinn is asked only to initiate and coordinate these efforts … though the optimal split during the regular season might be roughly 70% coaching and 30% managing, Quinn began to put his total focus back onto coaching after the trading deadline passed earlier this month … time will tell whether these statements reflect Dryden’s true feelings or simply represent an exercise in being a good soldier for the organization as it heads into a critical period …

Leafs Trivia II: Complete this deal … Ron Stewart to Boston on June 8, 1965 in exchange for (answer below Trivia I answer) …

Leafs Trivia III: The Toronto Maple Leafs have appointed 16 team captains during their long and storied history … only four of these men failed to record at least one hat trick while with the Leafs … name all four (answer below Trivia II answer) …

Prospect news: With the parent club struggling mightily to score goals, let’s take a look at some of the young attackers likely to make their mark with the Maple Leafs in the coming years … Brad Boyes (Erie OHL 59-45-45-90-42) – Toronto’s 1st pick at the 2000 Entry Draft has done little this season to create any second guessing of team scouts … Brad was impressive at the Kitchener Rookie Camp, then again at the Leafs’ Main Camp and has maintained a superior level of performance throughout this season with the 1st place Erie Otters … additional speed and strength will be needed in order for Boyes to establish himself in the professional ranks but no one is betting against this kid … Jeff Farkas (St. John’s AHL 66-24-36-60-54) – this rookie pro has become the organization’s most pleasant development at St. John’s … following a slow start, the speedy Buffalo native has gained confidence steadily and is now becoming a outstanding player at the AHL level … room will probably be made for Farkas on one of Toronto’s scoring lines nest season … Alexei Ponikarovsky (St. John’s AHL 48-11-24-35-44) – this gigantic Ukrainian rookie may not have Farkas’ numbers but he has been equally impressive in many ways … Ponikarovsky has the size, mobility and demeanor to become a fine power forward in time … many in the Leafs’ organization envision Alex paired with Nik Antropov on a line that would be extremely difficult to control deep in the attacking zone … Don MacLean (St. John’s AHL 51-24-25-49-46) – though this former Kings’ draftee almost made the Leafs’ roster coming out of training camp, his play since being sent to St. John’s has been mildly disappointing … MacLean may eventually battle current team mate Alyn McCauley to be the 4th line pivot in Toronto next season … Miguel Delisle (Ottawa OHL 61-34-38-72-89) – if Brad Boyes represents the organization’s best pick from last June’s draft, this guy is certainly a close second … Toronto scouts had hoped that this big winger could overcome past behavioral indiscretions and become a prototypical power scoring forward … his progress toward this end has been amazing in 2000/2001 … Delisle has another season of junior hockey eligibility and will surely benefit from one more year with 67’s coach Brian Kilrea … Luca Cereda (not active this year following heart surgery) – Toronto’s 1999 first rounder was very impressive last fall until his season ended with the discovery of a congenital heart defect … following surgery in his native Switzerland, the problem has been corrected and Cereda is scheduled to rejoin the team at camp next fall … Luca’s setback may have indirectly altered the direction of the entire organization this season … many feel that Cereda was capable of posting numbers in Ottawa similar to those rung up by Erie’s Brad Boyes … its possible that the presence of 2 top junior scorers would have given Toronto’s braintrust the confidence to pursue trades involving prospects more aggressively during the past several weeks … Mikael Hakansson (St. John’s AHL 53-10-30-40-55) – Hakansson was said to be a very versatile forward when he arrived from Sweden prior to this season … though he has battled injuries at various times, Mikael’s play this year in St. John’s has essentially verified this assessment of his abilities … though he is never likely to score enough to be a top flight NHL forward, Hakansson is big, fast and reasonably tough … if the Maple Leafs decide to add 2 or 3 big contracts this summer, it may be necessary to drastically reduce payroll in the bottom third of the roster … assets such as Hakansson could prove invaluable in this eventuality … Vadim Sozinov (Ottawa OHL 57-21-18-39-57) – this player from far-off Kazakhstan has performed reasonably well this season in Ottawa … Sozinov has demonstrated good native scoring skills but his effort level is wildly uneven from game to game … its doubtful that he’ll be ready for the St. John’s roster next year and Vadim may return to Ottawa as an overage player in order to gain additional experience … Michal Travnicek (St. John’s AHL 70-2-18-20-56) – rumoured to be a Vaclav Varada clone coming into this season, Travnicek’s performance in St. John’s has been disappointing to say the least … Michal has played the aggressive (chippy) style expected from him on occasion but has shown virtually no hockey sense at all … he’s still very young and will undoubtedly get another chance in the AHL next season …

Who am I: I was the last Canadian-born defenseman to represent the Maple Leafs at an NHL All-Star Game (answer below Trivia III answer) …

Prospect thumbnail – Pierre Hedin (D): Hedin, the Maple Leafs’ 8th round (239th overall) selection at the 1999 Entry Draft, quietly established himself as the number two rearguard in MoDo this season … while not an overwhelming offensive threat, he is superb in his own zone … Pierre reminds many in Sweden of the Coyote’s Keith Carney – he reads the game well and clears the puck from his own zone very efficiently … he does not attempt to rush with the puck very often … in 2000/2001, Hedin appeared in 46 games, scoring 5 goals and 8 assists for 13 points after registering 14 points last year … two of his five goals came while his team was shorthanded, which underlines his ability to read the game well … though he has improved steadily during the past 2 seasons and is one of the SEL’s most reliable defenders, Hedin is not expected to play for Sweden at the World Championships in May … from a Maple Leafs perspective, the most promising sign in Pierre’s development of late is that he has learned to use his body (6´1, 193 lb) much more effectively … still, a lack of overall toughness might prove to be a problem for Hedin at the NHL level … that Pierre will eventually transfer to North America is far from a certainty in any case … he has become became very popular in Ornskoldvik (the town that MoDo plays in) and despite being only 23 years old, he was one of the team’s dressing room leaders … in summary, Hedin is an accomplished penalty killer, very steady in his own zone and able to make effective hits … . he is not, however, the quarterback-type blueliner that Toronto has been seeking for much of the past year …

Do you remember: Mark Kolesar …

Trivia I answer: Ron Low (1972/73) and Ed Johnston (1973/74) …

Trivia II answer: OK – this was a very “minor” trade but interesting nonetheless because of the well known names involved … the Maple Leafs received winger Andy Hebenton, center Orland Kurtenbach and defenseman Pat Stapleton from the Bruins in this deal … Hebenton was quickly assigned to the Leafs’ Western Hockey League affiliate in Victoria and never appeared in a game for Toronto … Stapleton didn’t play for Toronto either but he did become a mainstay on some very good Chicago teams in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s … he was also a key performer for Team Canada at the 1972 Summit Series … Kurtenbach (once the NHL’s most feared pugilist) played one season for the Maple Leafs … he would later become the first captain of the Vancouver Canucks …

Trivia III answer: Red Horner (Leafs’ captain from 1938/39 to 1939/40), Bob Davidson (1943/44 to 1944/45), Jim Thomson (Thomson shared the captaincy with Teeder Kennedy in 1956/57) and Rob Ramage (1989/90 to 1990/91) …

Who am I answer: Former Hamilton Red Wing and St. Catharines Black Hawk junior Bob Manno was a last second injury replacement for Borje Salming at the 1981/82 All-Star Game … just in case you don’t recall the name immediately, Manno was a worthy selection – he scored 50 points from the blueline with the Maple Leafs during that year (his only season in Toronto) …

Leftovers: With the team’s playoff participation now virtually assured, Toronto fans should be closely watching the race between the Maple Leafs and the Penguins for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference – the winner will play Washington in the 1st round and, though they are a good team, the Capitals are clearly a notch or two below fellow division winners Ottawa and New Jersey … I know that he has made some curious decisions with the puck during his short time with the Maple Leafs but Aki Berg is certainly a very impressive young blueliner – he seems capable of creating offense and playing at a high tempo much like Tomas Kaberle does while also handing out hits reminiscent of Markov and McCabe – time will tell but I believe that Pat Quinn and Co. made a very good acquisition with their lone deadline move this year … coming almost exactly one year after the Berard tragedy, a serious eye injury suffered by Garry Valk during a team practice at Lakeshore Lions’ Arena sent shivers through those in attendance – the relatively low percentage of NHL players who protect their eyesight by wearing visors is almost incomprehensible – though many players say that a visor restricts their vision and therefore limits their puck handling abilities, the fact that 7 of the NHL’s top 10 scorers wear them would seem to contradict this position … I’m certain that Leafs fans everywhere wish the team’s former assistant coach Alpo Suhonen good fortune as he returns to Finland in order to deal with some personal health concerns – Suhonen’s positive influence on Toronto’s previously potent attack has been missed this season – meanwhile, the easy-going Finn certainly had a miserable stint behind the Black Hawk’s bench – this was clearly a divorce that really didn’t work out well for either party …

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

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

You’ll find all the news concerning the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization here at Hockey’s Future – let’s do this again next week.