Nonis Should Be Careful

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Mar. 2) — There is nothing that resembles full disclosure when the general manager of a bad team meets with reporters after the annual National Hockey League trade deadline. As such, whatever David Nonis provided late Monday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre should be taken ambivalently. Everything, that is, but a cringe–worthy market assessment of “un–named” players Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.

When asked about the singularly horrifying concept of his big–money men (Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul included) returning for next season, Nonis replied: “Sure. The notion that the players we have here aren’t quality players — or aren’t wanted by other teams — is nonsense. I know from the number of calls and discussions I’ve had that [the notion] only lives in print and on radio and television. It’s not [within] the NHL and [among] other clubs. Could we see a number of Leaf players back? No question. Would we move some of them [in order] to accomplish some of our goals? Yes. But, it’s not a situation where everyone has to go. There is not a time–frame or date where things have to be completed by.”

Ummm, two pieces of friendly advice, Dave… a) everyone does have to go. And b) preferably before the start of training camp in September.

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS GENERAL MANAGER DAVID NONIS.

In my humble opinion — and I’m surely not alone — there is no plausible scenario whereby Kessel or Phaneuf can return for the 2015–16 season. One or the other should have been moved last summer (as I wrote to death in this space) and neither can be components of a different Maple Leafs team or “culture” (as much as I despise the word). Bozak and Lupul are lesser components and could return in the absence of Kessel and Phaneuf. In fact, they might prosper in a reformed circumstance. But, the franchise figureheads have to be toiling elsewhere before the puck drops next season. Otherwise, the now–for–later deals made by Nonis in the past couple of weeks will be nothing but window dressing.

It is therefore incumbent upon the Toronto GM to be careful making comments about Kessel and Phaneuf, even while coyly dodging them by name. If not, tormented fans of the Maple Leafs — forever wishing upon a star — could be thoroughly betrayed. Suggesting that his top–moneyed players are desired by other clubs will only heighten the expectation of return. And, I have no confidence in far–ranging market appeal for either Kessel or Phaneuf. When you think of it, how could there be?

Kessel has performed with glaring indifference throughout the club’s nosedive since mid–December. Yes, when somehow motivated, he can score goals but Kessel hasn’t improved the Maple Leafs one iota in nearly six seasons. As former Toronto coach Ron Wilson so aptly asserted, Fast Phil is not a player to be “relied upon” — particularly with an $8 million cap hit for six more years. Same applies to Phaneuf: a $4.5 to $5–million, second–pair defenseman earning Norris Trophy money. Phaneuf is an honest worker who can adequately manage big minutes. But, he’s too indecisive and mistake–prone to justify such a lofty stipend. Other scouts and GM’s see the same things we do here in Toronto. Therefore, fans deluding themselves that Nonis can wrangle a big–time return for either player will be profoundly disappointed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Nonis should have “given away” Kessel or Phaneuf before the trade deadline to elevate his team’s draft–lottery potential. He still has to try and maximize the assets he overpaid a year ago. Which apparently could not be done prior to 3 p.m. on Monday.

It is likely to be no–less of a chore during the off–season.

In my view, the Toronto GM should think hard before implying that his foundered nucleus can be liberally and prolifically exchanged.

AILING LEGENDS ON THE MEND

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Had an enjoyable time chatting with a couple of my hockey heroes at lunch on Monday. Former Maple Leafs GM Jim Gregory (above) and NHL referee Ron Wicks (below) have battled long and hard against cancer. Happily, both now are prevailing. Gregory is one of hockey’s most beloved figures and still an executive with the NHL. As Toronto manager from 1969 to 1979, he was responsible for drafting and signing such legendary players as Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Borje Salming, Dave (Tiger) Williams and Mike Palmateer. I figure any person that withstood a decade of Harold Ballard’s nonsense can stare down illness. As Jim has done, so spectacularly. Wicks distinguished himself as the longest–serving referee in NHL history — 27 seasons — between 1960 and 1986. He recently underwent a perilous operation to remove half of his cancerous liver, followed by more than 20 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. Not that you’d know it by looking at Ron on Monday. Though “feeling a bit rough,” he had his usual flair for storytelling and — somewhat surprisingly — a full crown of hair maintained throughout treatment. Gregory and Wicks are credits to their families and to the game of hockey. We wish them nothing but continued health.    

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4 comments on “Nonis Should Be Careful

  1. Tony,
    Couldn’t agree more – let them have the time (since we know they have the moola) to put a real plan of attack in place for once!

  2. In regards to Leafs talent, Bill Veeck once said, it’s the high price of mediocrity that’s expensive. That is somewhat true of the buds. Mediocrity would be, for example, Bozak and Lupol with a combined salary of approx. 9-10 million per year. What do these players bring to the table. They are dime a dozen players that supply mediocrity and indifference on a nightly basis and have handcuffed the team’s cap (not to mention the injuries). I say trade this type of player off for whatever Nonis can fetch. Regarding Phaneuf and Kessel, these are better than average players that don’t grow on trees and need a decent supporting cast and Leafs have failed to supply them with the that. I would love to see Phaneuf as a no 3 or 4 D-man WITHOUT the C. And please, give Kessel a decent centreman and if you instantly thought of Kadri, I don’t see the hype. He is not consistent and doesn’t display the hunger that star players bring to the table plus he’s too caught up in himself. We always count the “I”‘s when he is interviewed. It’s a fun little game. Anyway, it is truly a depressing team to watch and after 60 years of support my allegiance is diminishing.

  3. All the best to both gentlemen , Mr Gregory & Mr Wicks.

    As for the article no comment; as all the yapping in the world on this situation means absolutely nothing…we will see what we will see.

    Too many sportswriters (not a specific reference to Mr Berger) think they know it all & are quick to share their pearls of wisdom without the burden of any consequences.

    No matter what the Leafs do they will be roasted at every turn. Move players out quickly…didn’t get enough in return. Take their time to maximize assets they should have move out sooner.

    I have been a Leaf fan for 57yrs & I will always be one but I will admit it is getting very very tiresome.

    A large part of the problem is some (I said some) Leaf’s management has not really been given a full mandate to see the process through. I hope Mr Shanahan will be afforded that mandate; noting he is getting his feet but has surrounding himself with some good people. LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS & stop saddling them with past Management failures. There will be plenty of time for the vultures to pick at their carcasses going forward.

    GOOD THING I HAD NO COMMENT EH.!!!!!

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