By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 4) – Continuing to nose around here in the weeks before the National Hockey League draft at Philadelphia, I spoke earlier today with the prominent scout of a Western Conference team – the same person that told me, last summer, Morgan Rielly “would definitely make” the Maple Leafs to start the season. Which the teen-aged defenseman did.
“Your people aren’t completely out of whack with that rumor you posted the other day,” the scout told me. “Toronto and Florida have been talking about the [Panthers’] first-overall pick and Dion Phaneuf’s name has been mentioned, though I can’t see [Leafs GM] Dave Nonis giving up Phaneuf and [Nazem] Kadri in the same deal. Another young player would have to come back to Toronto in that scenario. Ed Jovanovski is a classy guy with tons of character; I’ve known him forever. But, he’s 38 and I’m not sure his hip will allow him to play again next season. So, the deal you were told about doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. But, I’d say there is something to the Phaneuf/No. 1 overall pick component.”
FLORIDA GM DALE TALLON HAS OPENLY TALKED ABOUT TRADING THE NO. 1 PICK IN THIS YEAR’S NHL DRAFT AT PHILADELPHIA. ARE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS IN PLAY?
My western-Canadian friend added some further caution.
“I’ve been in the NHL for a long time and I can tell you trade discussion involving the No. 1 draft pick happens virtually every year,” he said. “Brian Burke tried really hard to acquire it from the Islanders in 2009. He wanted John Tavares for the Leafs, but New York had no interest. And, seriously, when is the last time the first pick was actually dealt? I think you have to go back to 1971 when Montreal took [Guy] Lafleur after trading with the Oakland Seals. That’s 43 years ago. So, any time there is speculation about the top pick being dealt, people have to remember that it almost never happens. In this case, there may be more of a chance because [Florida GM] Dale Tallon has talked openly about it. You made a good point in your blog the other day about the Panthers needing some immediate help to try and get into a playoff race. Still, it is not something that anyone should expect to happen. In any year.”
[NOTE: Actually, Florida, of all teams, dealt the NHL’s top pick in consecutive years (2002 and 2003) but drafted third each time, taking Nathan Horton and Jay Bouwmeester. If Panthers were to trade first-rounders with Leafs this year, the highest they could select would be eighth. Big difference.]
The scout also emphasized there are more options available to both the Maple Leafs and Panthers. “I’ve heard that Toronto has also talked to Carolina and Calgary about Phaneuf,” he said. “Possibly Edmonton as well. And, Florida has a whole line-up of general managers interested in discussing the first overall pick. So, even though your city is the center of the hockey universe (my friend can never resist a western dig), there are many other possibilities. Keep your tongue in.”
The Toronto-Calgary angle is intriguing, given Burke’s position as president of the Flames (he recently hired Brad Treliving as GM). It was Burke who brought Phaneuf to the Leafs in January 2010 and then quickly anointed him captain. If Burke still feels strongly about Phaneuf’s leadership ability, he may urge Treliving to try and bring back the defenseman. Calgary hockey fans, however, said “good riddance” when Phaneuf went to the Leafs. So, it has to be considered a long shot.
Edmonton, desperately looking to beef up and with a host of young forwards, would be a better trade partner for the Maple Leafs.
As mentioned in my blog on Monday, Phaneuf has a limited no-trade clause in the multi-year deal he signed with the Leafs before the new year. It apparently requires him to provide Nonis with as many as 12 teams he’d be willing to play for. Of those teams, one would have to assume the bulk of Dion’s seven-year, $49-million contract that kicks in next season. So, dealing Phaneuf is not a slam-dunk for the Leafs. Whether he’d be willing to play for Florida – alongside Erik Gudbranson and in front of Roberto Luongo – is a matter of pure speculation, though my contacts on Monday opined that Dion would welcome a role change in a less-attentive hockey market with nice year-round weather.
If true, Edmonton would not be on his list.
Nonis hasn’t commented publicly on trade scenarios involving Phaneuf. New Leafs president Brendan Shanahan did speak of the blue-liner on a visit to Toronto newspaper offices a few weeks ago, suggesting he would prefer to acquire players that might enhance Phaneuf’s position as No. 1 defenseman; captain and team spokesperson. If this were possible, retaining Phaneuf could make sense. As I’ve repeatedly harped on around here, Dion has fully invested himself in the role of Leafs’ captain and while mistake-prone, he has never mailed in a game. Character and the desire to win are not issues. Still, the Leafs have a poor record with Phaneuf in the line-up and the so-called “culture change” CEO Tim Leiweke has talked about cannot happen – in my view – by continuing with the leadership triumvirate of Phaneuf, coach Randy Carlyle and sniper Phil Kessel. It has repeatedly failed in key situations.
Speculation, therefore, involving Phaneuf is bound to stay hot – even if a trade does not materialize before or during the draft, June 27-28, at Wells Fargo Center. Right now, change is a big part of the Leafs’ culture.
DEJA VU FOR DALE
There is coincidence and nostalgia in Dale Tallon even discussing his first overall pick. In the 1969-70 season, Dale was a multi-talented defenseman/forward in junior with the Toronto Marlboros and – for a time – considered alongside Gilbert Perreault of the Montreal Jr. Canadiens as top prospect for the 1970 amateur draft. That was the first year in which all 20-year-old players were made available to the NHL’s 14 teams, ending an era of territorial rights in which the Maple Leafs had first dibs on prospects from Ontario and Montreal on those from Quebec. As the ’69-70 season progressed, Perreault evolved into the clear No. 1 draft gem, with Tallon in the No. 2 slot.
Buffalo and Vancouver were NHL expansion teams in 1970-71 and therefore held the first two selections in the 1970 draft. To determine which club would be awarded the No. 1 pick – and Perreault – NHL president Clarence Campbell spun a makeshift roulette wheel during the summer congress at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. The wheel was numbered 1 through 12 and Sabres’ GM Punch Imlach won the right to choose the higher numerals (7-12). When Campbell spun for top pick, he thought the wheel stopped at 1. “Number one!” the president exclaimed. “Vancouver wins first choice in the amateur draft.” But, Imlach and the Buffalo people were screaming from their table. Turns out, the wheel had stopped with the numerals 1-1 in a vertical display. Which meant No. 11. And, Buffalo drafted Perreault.
Tallon went to Vancouver and had a respectable, 10-year career as a mobile defenseman with the Canucks, Chicago and Pittsburgh. His best NHL season was 1975-76 when he had 15 goals and 62 points for the Blackhawks. Perreault, by comparison, had a brilliant, 17-year term in Buffalo and is still considered the greatest Sabre of all time. His best season was also 1975-76, while centering the French Connection line with Rene Robert and the late Richard Martin. Perreault erupted for 44 goals and 113 points to finish third in scoring behind Guy Lafleur and Bobby Clarke. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.
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