By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Mar. 27) — I was in the north part of this city on Thursday with a friend — a self–made, well-to–do man involved in sports who has a close relative playing elsewhere in the National Hockey League.
Once we began chatting about the Toronto Maple Leafs, my friend quickly lost his mind — not at all unusual for a tortured devotee of the Blue and White. At least, that was my initial thought. Then, I listened a bit closer and his delirium started to make sense; perhaps an oxymoron, but also symptomatic of general Maple Leafs hysteria. “Look at where the Leafs are now,” said my pal in a moment of relative clarity. “The team has to do everything in its power to land Mike Babcock [as coach] and to maximize the potential of drafting Connor McDavid. There’s nothing left to be conservative about; this is absolute rock bottom. It’s the perfect time to go for broke within Brendan Shanahan’s framework.”
Hmmm. Yet another contradiction — or so it seemed.
CONNOR McDAVID: SHOULD LEAFS DO EVERYTHING IN THEIR POWER TO TRY AND HOOK HIM?
Brendan Shanahan and “go for broke” are mutually exclusive terms given the Maple Leaf president’s apparent strategy of short–term pain for long–term gain. There is nothing at all unorthodox about a team in the NHL patiently building through the draft; it happens frequently with clubs located outside of Toronto. How, then, could a team in this city take it slowly and frantically at the same time. Back to my friend:
“Connor McDavid doesn’t want to go to Buffalo. He doesn’t want Edmonton or Phoenix either (Raleigh, N.C. wasn’t mentioned). And, there’s no way the league wants McDavid in a small market. If I’m Shanahan, I call up the Sabres [20% “favorite” right now to win the draft lottery]. I tell [GM Tim Murray] ‘I’ll give you Phil Kessel and pay half his salary. Take two other players not named Morgan Rielly off my team and and my first choice in the draft. Then, give me your No. 1 pick.’
“It’s not that huge a gamble for Buffalo, which still has an 80% chance of losing the draft lottery. They get three players from the Leafs and one of the top four picks this summer. If Toronto somehow wins the lottery, Buffalo gets McDavid and the three players. Either way, the Sabres draft a mega–prospect. It’s more of a gamble for the Maple Leafs but what really is there to lose? I’d give up anyone on the team right now. It’s an absolute disgrace. If I’m Shanahan, I would do anything imaginable to make a trade for the percentage–odds of landing McDavid in the draft.”
Okay. Now, what about Babcock?
“That’s the second part,” continued my friend. “Sure, Babcock can stay in Detroit or go to San Jose [if the Sharks make a coaching change]. But, who the hell’s gonna build a statue of him in northern California if he wins the Stanley Cup? Or, in Boston — where it’s been done recently? The only place for Babcock is Toronto. Winning here might be the biggest challenge in professional sports right now. But, it also offers the greatest reward. Babcock has already done it all — a Stanley Cup; Olympic gold medals. What does he need San Jose for? He wants to set the pay standard for future coaches. If I’m him, I say to Shanahan, ‘Tell your owners to give me five years and $30 million. And, to stay the hell out of our way. You and I work together on acquiring players and the building blocks for a championship team. Maybe we start with McDavid. If given the mandate, we can get it done. Do that and I’m your man.’
“The Maple Leafs should be all over this guy.”
MIKE BABCOCK: COULD LEAFS WOO HIM WITH MEGA BUCKS?
So, is my friend on the wrong medication or the right track for a Leafs fan of his vintage? Mid–50’s. Seven years old the night George Armstrong hoisted the 1967 Stanley Cup. It may, in fact, be the right time for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to go conservatively crazy. Babcock would cost the company cash — in which it swims. A best chance for McDavid, according to my friend’s idea, would remove three players from the current Maple Leafs roster. Can’t imagine tears being shed over that. Maybe Kessel would show some off–season commitment elsewhere. He clearly had no desire to do it here, even after signing for $10 million.
And, really… what isn’t worth a shot in this hockey town?
1965–66 COCA COLA NHL CARDS
More from the Berger Vault. Today, a unique set of black–and–white cut–outs I purchased at a sports collectors’ show some 20 years ago.
I found information about the set on–line:
“These were free! Sort of. In order to get your 1965-66 Coca–Cola hockey cards, you had to drink a lot of Coke products. In fact, just to get one team set of 18 cards, you had to collect ten bottle caps from Coca–Cola or Sprite that had the desired team on the cap liner. You then mailed in the cap liners and Coca–Cola mailed you back a team set of 18 cards. The cards were all connected in a row and were perforated for easy separation. To get the full set of 108 cards (six teams x 18 cards), a young fella would have to down at least 60 Cokes or Sprites. That, my friends, is a heaping of sugar just to get some cards that were much lower grade than Topps. Each team set of 18 came with an additional 19th card that you mailed back into Coca–Cola to receive your album.”
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