All Maple Leaf fans are anxious to know who is down in St. John’s, training and honing their skills in order to become Toronto’s next star player. Well unfortunately, there weren’t many bright spots on last year’s St. John’s Maple Leafs squad. The team’s GM, Bill Watters, will have a busy summer trying to rebuild this team with young drafted players as well as with some seasoned minor league veterans.
The Baby Leafs finished dead last in the AHL this past season. The Leafs finished with only 58 points (23-49-8-4), scored a league low 202 goals for and surrendered the 4th highest number of goals in the league with 277. The Leafs also boasted the league’s worst power play (13.4%) and had the 4th worst penalty killing unit (79.5%). The two lone bright spots on the team were rookie Adam Mair and veteran goaltender Jimmy Waite. Mair was 9th in the league in rookie scoring 66-22-27-49-124, while Waite was 15th in the league in goaltending with a 3.05 GAA and a tie for the league lead in shutouts with 6. Waite led the league with 37 losses, minutes played with 3460, and saves 1815. Waite, however, did accumulate 20 wins on the season.
Needless to say the Leafs will have a new look this season – primarily with a major influx of European and graduating junior talent. The Leafs will be a younger team and may struggle in the early going. Major rebuilding is required at nearly every position on the club.
When HF originally contacted the Long Beach Ice Dogs for this interview, John Van Boxmeer was the coach/GM of that IHL franchise. What a difference a week made. By the time we were able to confirm the interview with him personally, the Ice Dogs has jumped to the WCHL and Van Boxmeer had been promoted to Vice-President of Hockey Operations for the team. In a chat that might be better called ‘Behind the Desk’ rather than ‘Behind the Bench’ the former bench boss talked with HF about the moving and shaking going on in Southern California.
Hockey’s Future: It been a very tumultuous past couple of weeks for both you and the Long Beach Ice Dogs. Let’s start with the team’s transition first. What was the reasoning behind the team switching from the IHL to the WCHL?
John Van Boxmeer: There were two reasons really one being the fact that we were isolated out here on the West Coast. Our nearest competition was 2 and a ½ hours away and our travels costs were very high. Secondly the operating budget (Players’ salaries, social benefits etc) in the WCHL were half of what they were in the IHL.
HF: How could you compare the two leagues in terms of competitiveness, philosophy, and organization?
JVB: WCHL is a step below the IHL, the former being a feeder league to the latter. As for philosophy, while we aren’t there yet, the goal in the WCHL is to be the AHL of the west coast. The organization of the WCHL is of the same quality as the IHL right now.
With the departure of Sean O’Donnell and Steve McKenna in the expansion draft, the Kings had a glaring need for some muscle. Enter 35-year-old Stu Grimson, who signed a one-year contract last week to patrol the ice for the Kings in 2000. While this is a great PR move and gives the Kings a season with one of the toughest forwards to ever lace them up, how much of a difference can Stu make? After all, enforcers have moved a lot this offseason and a low draft pick could have given the Kings players like Oliwa, Cote or any number of young thugs. Why Grimson? The reason is twofold- Kip Brennan and potentially Brian McGratten.
The 2000 NHL entry draft saw the Boston Bruins select a Swedish-born player with their top pick for the first time in franchise history. They didn’t stop there. Using a second first-rounder acquired from the Colorado Avalanche, they drafted another Swedish player. The selections of Lars Jonsson and Martin Samuelsson were merely the tip of the iceberg, as the Bruins took a total of nine Europeans of twelve skaters drafted. Of those nine, five hailed from the countries of Finland and Sweden. Boston’s strategy marks a new direction for the team, as it clearly demonstrates an attempt to stock the organization with skill players rather than the traditional method of going after North American character types with less finesse.
For Boston, the Euro invasion didn’t really begin in earnest until the 1992 draft, when Boston chose a multitude of Russian players, beginning with its first-ever draft pick from the former Soviet Union, Dmitri Kvartalnov. Since that year, the Bruins have chosen a total of 34 Europeans. By contrast, between 1983 and 1991, covering the same amount of draft years, the total count of European players selected by Boston numbers just seven. The full integration of skaters across the Atlantic into the NHL has dictated a necessity for teams to capitalize on that premier talent, or be swept aside in the standings. The Bruins seem to have taken an active interest in recruiting players from Europe, but in particular those competing in the Swedish and Finnish Elite and Junior Leagues.
There is a prospect camp being held in the southern suburbs of the capital this week. Mike Fisher will be there continuing his path to recovery, but most interesting will be the appearance of Martin Havlat and Mathieu Chouinard. Last week both players signed contracts with the Senators. Havlat was a first round pick in ’99, while Chouinard was a Senators first round pick in ’98 and a second round pick in ’00.
The President and The Convict
As you most likely know arbitrator Lawrence Holden ruled in favour of the NHL and the Ottawa Senators over Alexi Yashin. Citing a verbal agreement between the former president of the NHL John Ziegler and the disgraced founder of the NHLPA Alan Eagleson, the ruling surprised many. There are murmurs the NHL had been very unhappy with the recent string arbitrator decisions. It should be noted Holden is the same man who ruled Mike Van Ryn a free agent.
Bryden Wants Yashin Back
Rod Bryden owner of the team has invited holdout center Alexi Yashin to return the Senators. Saying the disagreement was never anything but professional, Bryden wont okay the player and still expects Yashin to fulfill his contractual obligations. The educated guess is that Bryden is merely enjoying the moment. When you make it known you are trying to move an asset, it is important not to devaluate it. Public opinion in the city seems to be strongly behind a trade as opposed to a rapprochement.
Senators 2000-2001 Budget