By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 24) – For one of the few occasions I can remember, local newspaper headlines mislead hockey fans in this city – out of naivety and carelessness.
“LEAFS TRADE FOR BRAWN” screamed the front page of the Sunday Toronto Star.
“JVR: FINALLY SOME TRUCULENCE” gushed the Sunday Sun.
May I present to you – for posterity and precision – the guarded appraisal of one Brian Burke in the moments after Saturday’s significant trade of defenseman Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for forward James van Riemsdyk:
“I don’t want to create any illusion or delusion that we’re acquiring James van Riemsdyk as a physical presence,” insisted the oft-unguarded GM of the Maple Leafs in a conference call. “This is not a big banger. This is a guy that uses his size when he should… to create offensive opportunities. He uses [his size] down low and is responsible in his own end. This is not a guy who will put people through the glass. Sometimes, people look at a big player [6-foot-3, 200 pounds] and say ‘oh, he’s big so he should play tough.’ This is a skill-player with size… not a plough horse.”
Burke couldn’t have been more accurate or honest in his assessment of van Riemsdyk. Unfortunately for the Leafs’ boss, the word “truculence” will follow him to his grave after his now-legendary address on the day he assumed the Toronto job. As such, any tall and/or bulky player acquired by Burke figures to have a nasty streak. Leaf fans expecting that from van Riemsdyk will be bitterly disappointed. Those who wrote the flowery headlines in today’s local papers clearly did not read the detailed, factual stories beneath them (by Damien Cox in the Star and Rob Longley in the Sun).
It was lazy, irresponsible work, given the Leafs intense following.
PHOTO, ABOVE, FROM TORONTO AT PHILADELPHIA GAME LAST OCT. 24 SHOWING THE PRINCIPALS IN SATURDAY’S TRADE BETWEEN THE CLUBS – DEFENSEMAN LUKE SCHENN (2) AND FORWARD JAMES van RIEMSDYK (21) LEN REDKOLES GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM. BELOW, THE BROTHERS SCHENN, THAT SAME NIGHT, FACING ONE ANOTHER FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE NHL. LUKE AND BRAYDEN SHOULD NOW SPEND THE BULK OF THEIR CAREERS AS FLYER TEAMMATES BRUCE BENNETT GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM.
“NOT ME” SAID CROSS…
I remember one other time when the acquisition of a large body had Leaf fans all aflutter. With Dmitri Yushkevich futilely holding Pat Quinn hostage by sitting out training camp in a contract dispute, the Leafs GM and coach traded winger Fredrik Modin to Tampa Bay for defenseman Cory Cross on Oct. 1, 1999.
At 6-foot-5, 219 pounds, Cross was built like a Sasquatch and I can still hear the poor guy vigorously invalidating demeanor comparisons to fellow blue-liners Chris Pronger and Scott Stevens. “Yes I’m big and yes I try to use my size effectively,” Cross pleaded. “But, I’m not a guy that naturally plays with a mean streak.”
CORY CROSS vs. CAROLINA IN 2002 EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL.
As it turned out, Cross performed efficiently for the Blue and White over three seasons and scored a monster overtime goal against Ottawa at the Air Canada Centre to win Game 3 of an Eastern quarterfinal sweep in 2001. The Leafs of that era were routinely considered a miserable group to confront – the edge in “sandpaper” (and a larger one between the pipes) lifting the club past the talented Senators in four playoff encounters between 2000 and 2004.
Under Quinn, the Leafs possessed “team” toughness that Burke’s clubs haven’t yet approached. Whether it was Shayne Corson pestering Alexei Yashin; Gary Roberts imprinting Kenny Jonsson into the end-boards at the ACC; Darcy Tucker shredding the knee of Michael Peca (legally or otherwise); Tie Domi taking down the biggest of opponents or Yushkevich driving Jaromir Jagr to drink, Quinn’s Leafs nearly always showed the way, physically.
COVER OF MAY 27, 2002 SPORTING NEWS MAGAZINE AS GARY ROBERTS AND THE TRULY-TRUCULENT LEAFS SQUARED OFF AGAINST CAROLINA IN STANLEY CUP SEMIFINAL.
HIGH PRAISE FOR LEAFS…
Having been sidelined by illness from the NHL draft on the weekend, I’ve done much follow-up work over the phone. Earlier today, I was provided – virtually word-for-word – the following appraisal of Burke and his scouting staff by the general manager of a Western Conference team and the chief amateur scout of an Eastern opponent:
“Don’t be surprised if Leafs had the best draft of any team,” offered my two contacts. “When Burke said his scouts had Morgan Rielly rated No. 1 overall, I believed him because the kid may very well have been the first pick had he not torn up his knee early in the [junior hockey] season. His talent level is equal to [Nail] Yakupov and he’s the best skater – bar none – of any player in the draft. But, grabbing Matt Finn in the second round was nothing less than thievery. He should have gone in the middle of the first round. Both of these young men will ultimately be impact players for Toronto.”
A COUPLE OF WELL-KNOWN NHL EXECUTIVES WERE MAJORLY IMPRESSED WITH THE WORK DONE BY MAPLE LEAFS CHIEF AMATEUR SCOUT DAVE MORRISON (ABOVE).
DEBUNKING JORDAN STAAL NONSENSE…
By far the most deceiving term that emanated from the draft in Pittsburgh was “sweepstakes” to describe the Jordan Staal trade discussion. This was no more a “sweepstakes” than the famed Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev summit meetings of the late-1980s. In fact, it was almost solely quiet negotiation between two men: general managers Ray Shero of Pittsburgh and Jim Rutherford of Carolina – neither of whom conducts business with a flair. Here’s how the deal went down:
When Shero held his end-of-season media gathering after the Penguins were eliminated by Philadelphia in the first playoff round, he emphasized he “may not” be able to keep his big-three forwards: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Staal. This was Shero’s way of getting word out around the league that Staal was available, for Crosby and Malkin were obviously going nowhere. A day later, Rutherford called Shero and said he’d be interested in discussing a deal for Staal, whose older brother, Eric, is a mainstay in Raleigh and a Stanley Cup champion from 2006.
FIRST IMAGE (ABOVE-RIGHT) OF JORDAN STAAL IN A CAROLINA HURRICANES JERSEY NEXT TO HIS BROTHER, ERIC, A RALEIGH MAINSTAY.
Shero informed Rutherford that any-such deal would be structured as a “hockey trade” and not a salary or roster dump. The two men spoke briefly during the NHL general managers’ meeting at the Westin Times Square in New York on the afternoon of Game 1 of the New Jersey-Los Angeles Stanley Cup final (May 30) and Rutherford touched base again just prior to the weekend gathering in Pittsburgh – imploring Shero to keep him in mind but insisting he would not continue to pester his Eastern colleague.
News broke early Friday afternoon of Staal rejecting Pittsburgh’s offer of a 10-year contract extension. Around 4:30 p.m. EDT, as Rutherford was about to jump in the shower and dress for Round 1 of the draft, his hotel-room phone rang. It was Shero, suggesting he might now “have” to move Staal and for Rutherford to meet him in his office at the Consol Energy Center at 5:30.
Shero insisted, once again, that any deal for Jordan Staal be structured in the manner of trades the previous summer involving Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, then with Philadelphia; in other words, multiple components were required to complete a hockey-first transaction. Rutherford quickly agreed on two of the three components – forward Brandon Sutter and the Hurricanes’ first-round pick that night (eighth overall). The third piece – Boston College defenseman Brian Dumoulin, chosen by Carolina in the second round of the 2009 draft and signed by Rutherford to an entry-level contract on Apr. 10 of this year – required a bit more consideration.
Upon arriving on the draft floor, Shero informed Rutherford he had to talk with “one other team” about Staal – almost certainly, the New York Rangers. Shero came back to Rutherford 20 minutes before the draft and Rutherford agreed to include Dumoulin in the deal. The two GMs shook hands on the trade at 6:45 p.m. and chose to keep it under wraps until just before the eighth overall pick so as not to intentionally upstage the draft proceedings.
The notion this was an open bidding process among multiple teams is utter nonsense.
RAY SHERO (ABOVE-LEFT); JIM RUTHERFORD, RIGHT.
BRANDON SUTTER (ABOVE) – THE KEY COMPONENT FOR PITTSBURGH PENGUINS AND RAY SHERO IN DEALING JORDAN STALL TO CAROLINA.
Facebook: Howard Berger [Thornhill ON]