Leafs Need Hunter in Current Role

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (May 24) — Now that Mike Babcock will not be named general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs (confirmed) — and has told the hockey universe there is no provision in his contract with respect to player jurisdiction (I’m unconvinced) — president Brendan Shanahan needs to fill the important role vacated by his dismissal of David Nonis.

Much conversation during the past month has centered on Mark Hunter — since Oct. 21 of last year, the Leafs director of player personnel and since the Nonis firing on Apr. 12 of this year, the club’s interim co–GM with assistant Kyle Dubas. Shanahan rarely makes a public appearance without extolling the virtues of Hunter, whom he procured from the London behemoth of the Ontario Hockey League. Hunter’s mandate: Find players for the Blue and White. It is said there are few North American bird–dogs with a keener eye for talent than Hunter, who cut his teeth working alongside brother Dale in the Canadian junior system. As such, this is where Hunter should perpetually serve his current employer, which has sworn on the Bible to become a development haven.

To a large extent, the role of GM does incorporate player assessment. More time, however, is allotted to contract negotiation; salary cap management; personnel administration during and between seasons; bi–annual conferencing to determine potential rule amendments and acting as liaison between ownership, scouting and coaching. It is a plethora of responsibility with limited freedom to beat the bushes for talent. That’s where Hunter comes in — and where he must steadfastly remain.

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THE LEAFS CANNOT BURDEN MARK HUNTER WITH GM DUTIES. HE HAS TO BEAT THE BUSHES.

Query Babcock on the most integral figure in the Detroit Red Wings organization and chances are he’ll name Hakan Andersson… who may be foreign to you. He is, however, the gold standard in hockey for unearthing the relatively obscure. As the Red Wings’ director of European scouting, Andersson — from his base in Stockholm — has delivered to Detroit (among others) Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Valteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Gustav Nyqvist. If Andersson is not one day in the Hall of Fame as a “Builder,” they should remove the category.

The 50–year–old Swede could dine the rest of his life on Datsyuk and Zetterberg alone — drafted 171st and 210th in 1998 and 1999. Future Hall–of–Famers aren’t often buried to such an extent in the National Hockey League sweepstakes, let alone discovered in consecutive years.

After the blood–letting of Apr. 12, in which former players Mike Palmateer and Peter Ihnacak were among those fired, the Leafs currently list ten scouts. Dave Morrison remains director on the amateur side while Tommie Bergman — the first Swede to take a regular shift in the NHL (with Detroit in 1972–73) — is one of only two men deployed in Europe. A day after Babcock came aboard as coach, the Leafs added Sarnia Sting GM Jim Paliafito as director of player evaluation. London Knights director of scouting Lindsay Hofford joined the Leafs last week as an amateur bird–dog. Others will be added before next season.

But, Hunter remains the key; the potential first “super–scout” in franchise history — with a respectful nod toward such gentlemen–in–the–past as Bob Davidson, Gerry McNamara, Johnny Bower and Dick Duff. Hunter has been commissioned to inform the Maple Leafs not of first and second–round probabilities, but rather the ambiguous and the arcane. NHL drafts are frequently “won” in the middle–to–late rounds and reputation suggests Hunter could unearth Toronto a gem or two.

Shanahan would be best advised to leave him in that role.

SILVER ANNIVERSARY: The Edmonton Oilers won their fifth — and most recent — Stanley Cup 25 years ago tonight at the Boston Garden with a 4–1 victory over the Bruins. NHL president John Zeigler handed the Cup to Oilers captain Mark Messier on May 24, 1990. It was Edmonton’s fifth championship in seven years and its lone Cup without Wayne Gretzky, who had been traded to the Los Angeles Kings in August 1988. Goalie Bill Ranford of the Oilers won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP… Also part of the ’89–90 Oilers: Current lead analyst on Hockey Night In Canada Craig Simpson (playoff–best 16 goals and 31 points in 22 games that spring) and scout Garnet (Ace) Bailey, who died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 when it was hijacked and flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York on Sep. 11, 2001… For the second consecutive spring, the Stanley Cup final has virtually no chance to equal the Western Conference final for best playoff series. Last year, Chicago nearly came back from a 3–1 series deficit against Los Angeles, only to lose in overtime of Game 7 at the United Center. In the same arena, on Saturday night, the Blackhawks took what appeared to be a commanding 3–1, third–period lead over Anaheim in Game 4 of the 2015 West final. The Ducks, however, erupted for three goals in 37 seconds to go in front, 4–3, before Chicago tied it again — and then won in double–O.T. on a goal by Antoine Vermette. Game 2 of this remarkable series featured the longest game in Blackhawks history when Marcus Kruger of Chicago scored late in the third extra frame at Anaheim. The Western championship is now a best–of–three beginning Tuesday night in southern California. And, maybe the very best is still to come… Relatively speaking, Anaheim’s three goals in 37 seconds weren’t even close to the Stanley Cup playoff record for such an outburst. I was at Maple Leaf Gardens as a 20–year–old on Apr. 12, 1979 when the Leafs turned the trick against the Atlanta Flames in 23 seconds. It was Game 2 of a best–of–three preliminary round that Leafs swept that night with a 7–4 victory (Toronto had prevailed, 2–1, in a fight–filled opener at the Omni in Atlanta). Darryl Sittler scored at 4:04 and 4:16 of the first period, followed by Ron Ellis at 4:27. Dan Bouchard was the Atlanta goalie. Bill Hewitt, Brian MacFarlane and Lou Nanne (of Minnesota North Stars fame) called the match on Hockey Night In Canada. After the third goal, MacFarlane exclaimed “What’s happening here?!”…

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HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA IMAGES OF THE LEAFS ERUPTING FOR A STANLEY CUP–RECORD THREE GOALS IN 23 SECONDS AGAINST ATLANTA ON APR. 12, 1979 — TO THE APPARENT DELIGHT OF OWNER HAROLD BALLARD, SEATED BETWEEN KING CLANCY (LEFT) AND JIM GREGORY IN HIS “BUNKER” AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. CBC/LEAFS–TV

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If my old friend Paul Romanuk were paid by the word, he’d be a billionaire. Romey and ex–Leaf Mike Johnson are calling the Anaheim–Chicago series for Rogers and CBC. Broadcasting multiple–overtime games is nothing new for Paul. On Apr. 24, 1996 — while working for TSN — he and Gary Green called what was then the third–longest game in Stanley Cup annals (and longest in the history of television) from the old Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. Petr Nedved scored for the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins at 9:15 of the fourth extra period to beat the Washington Capitals, 3–2, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. At the time, only the Detroit at Montreal game of Mar. 24, 1936 (Mud Bruneteau for the Red Wings at 16:30 of the sixth overtime) and the Boston at Toronto game of Apr. 3, 1933 (Ken Doraty for the Maple Leafs at 4:46 of the sixth overtime) had gone more minutes. Today, the Pittsburgh–Washington game ranks fifth. On May 4, 2000 — at the old Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh — Keith Primeau scored for Philadelphia at 12:01 of the fifth overtime (as of now, the longest NHL game ever televised). And Petr Sykora of the visiting Mighty Ducks of Anaheim scored 48 seconds into the fifth overtime at Dallas to defeat the Stars, 4–3, on Apr. 24, 2003. In the current Western final, Romanuk added the longest game in Blackhawks history (and 17th longest of all time) to his personal docket… Interestingly and obscurely, the aforementioned Atlanta at Toronto playoff game of Apr. 12, 1979 was the final Leafs victory to be broadcast from the legendary gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens — so named because it reminded its initial habitat, Foster Hewitt, of the gondola that hangs beneath air ships (or “blimps”). Suspended over seats on the west side of the arena, the broadcast booth was built in time for the Gardens opening on Nov. 12, 1931. Two more games would be called from the gondola during the ’79 playoffs as Montreal swept the Leafs in the Cup quarterfinals. Rather than preserving the historic booth, Harold Ballard had it incinerated that summer in preparation for a row of private luxury boxes. It was a typically insensitive move and Hewitt never again spoke to the Maple Leafs owner. Foster died in April 1985; Ballard in April 1990.

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RARE IMAGE OF FOSTER HEWITT’S GONDOLA — A FIXTURE AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS FROM ITS OPENING IN NOVEMBER 1931 TO THE STANLEY CUP QUARTERFINALS OF APRIL 1979.

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One comment on “Leafs Need Hunter in Current Role

  1. Good stuff Howard. I did not realize the “gondola” was so far out over the ice surface. Great old pic.

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