Eastern Scout: “Leafs Should Draft Hanifin”

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (June 21) — “In any other draft year, I firmly believe that Noah Hanifin would be the top–rated prospect. He is that good.”

Appropriately, and barring an unforeseen development, the Eastern Conference bird–dog that provided me this remark on Friday will have no connection to Hanifin beyond the early moments of Friday night’s National Hockey League draft in Sunrise, Fla. The club he represents does not currently own a pick in the top ten and the lanky Boston College defenceman will be long gone by the time my friend gets down to business. I gave him a ring to determine, anonymously, which player he might select if running the draft for the Toronto Maple Leafs — currently slated to pick fourth. Given that the handful of 2015 prospects rated beneath Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are largely considered interchangeable by hockey scouts, I anticipated an ambiguous reply.

It is not what I received.

“If I were making the call this year, Toronto wouldn’t have a shot at Hanifin; he’d go [to Arizona] third behind McDavid and Eichel,” said my friend. “It still wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case, even though many people expect [Coyotes general manager] Don Maloney to take [Erie Otters center] Dylan Strome. The way I look at it: If Noah Hanifin is still available in the No. 4 position, the Leafs should not give it a second thought. He is a defenceman that I believe Toronto can build around.”

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NOAH HANIFIN OF THE BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES IS THE HIGHEST–RATED DEFENCEMAN FOR THE 2015 DRAFT — LISTED THIRD BY NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING AND TSN’s BOB McKENZIE.

There is no way to determine whether the Leafs concur with that appraisal. The only public comment from the Toronto staff — courtesy of co–GM Kyle Dubas — seemed to indicate otherwise. It was offered to Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star during the NHL draft combine in Buffalo two weeks ago. While suggesting the Leafs would be open to discuss trading their No. 4 pick, Dubas said, “If [another team] was adamant about a player, we’re pretty comfortable with the [prospects] in that cluster” — referring, at the time, to Strome, Hanifin, left–winger Lawson Crouse (Kingston OHL) and center Mitch Marner (London OHL).

Depending with whom you talk, defenceman Ivan Provorov (Brandon WHL) and center Pavel Zacha (Sarnia OHL) may also be in the Top 6 discussion. The final NHL Central Scouting list ranked, in order: McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin, Strome, Crouse, Marner, Provorov and Zacha. Bob McKenzie of TSN had the same eight players, but in a slightly different arrangement: McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin, Marner, Strome, Zacha, Crouse and Provorov. In each case, however, Hanifin is slotted behind McDavid and Eichel as the highest–rated defenceman in the draft.

“Noah is a remarkably smooth skater,” said my friend. “He handles the puck well and doesn’t panic when forechecked. He isn’t overly physical for his size (6–foot–3, 205 pounds), but he takes the man effectively. You put him with [Morgan] Rielly and [Jake] Gardiner and I think the Leafs would have a terrific threesome for the future, all with great wheels. I’m old school. I believe in building from the goal out. Defense comes first.”

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THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS ALREADY HAVE TWO EXCEPTIONAL, YOUNG SKATERS ON DEFENSE — JAKE GARDINER (LEFT) AND MORGAN RIELLY. NOAH HANIFIN WOULD BE A THIRD.

Providing the Leafs retain their No. 4 pick, it will be the earliest selection for the club since 1989, when left–winger Scott Thornton (Belleville OHL) went third. Twice in the past seven years, the Leafs have used the fifth overall pick on a defenceman: Rielly (Moose Jaw WHL) in 2012 and Luke Schenn (Kelowna WHL) in 2008. Brian Burke traded Schenn to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk on June 23, 2012. Rielly made the Leafs as a 19–year–old in October 2013 and was somehow able to blossom while the team plummeted last season.

I agree wholeheartedly with my scouting friend. The Maple Leafs should construct their blue–line before re–modeling up front. Prior to becoming a contender, Toronto will need a Vezina Trophy–caliber goalie. I’m not sure the club considers Jonathan Bernier in that class, but time will tell. Bernier, in all fairness, has performed amid defensive chaos in his two seasons here. It is therefore difficult to accurately assess his long–term capability. I think he’s pretty good; perhaps too good for the club right now. He could be a valuable trade commodity and the Leafs — as with almost every player on the roster — are amenable to overtures.

THREE DECADES LATER

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Yes, even your trusty correspondent was young, at one point. Such as 30 years ago this week, during the 1985 National Hockey League draft at the Metropolitan Toronto Convention Centre. For Leafs fans, it was the one and only time their team selected first overall, nabbing Saskatoon Blades defenceman Wendel Clark, who quickly developed into a combative, high–scoring winger in the NHL. At the time, I was collaborating on a coffee–table book with New York photographer Bruce Bennett, who snapped my photo (top–right) at the draft on June 15 of that year. I was 26 years old. We each appeared on the back–flap of the book (below), which came out in February 1986 and featured terrific photos that Bruce took of Wayne Gretzky. For the manuscript, I covered my first Stanley Cup final: Edmonton vs. Philadelphia in ’85. Gretzky and the Oilers won the series in five games for their second consecutive championship. Three more Cups would follow in the next half–decade. 

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NHL MEDIA GUIDES — PART 7

I hope you are enjoying my collection–series from 50 years of National Hockey League media guides. To this point, we’ve looked at the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins, Oakland Seals, Cleveland Barons, New York Rangers, Arizona Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks. Reader response has been gratifying.

To recap: For half–a–century — beginning in the late 1950?s and continuing through the first decade of the 2000?s — NHL teams published these annual volumes. They were specifically (at first) directed toward those covering the sport for newspapers, radio and television, offering photographs of management, coaching and player personnel; individual biographic information and statistical records. Each club would forward dozens of copies to other NHL cities for distribution to local media. As the years progressed, the media guides grew in scope, color and artistic value. They became coveted items.

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These books are now scarce. Beginning in 2008, many teams ceased publishing and made information available on compact discs. Given our insatiable market here in Toronto, the Maple Leafs continue to offer an elaborate production that is delivered to reporters and sold to the public. The first Leafs guide I have — from back in 1962–63 — is comprised of 48 pages. Last season’s book was 548 pages. The media guides (of which I’ve collected more than 1,200) are a chronological window to the modern history of the NHL. In Part 7, we look at the Detroit Red Wings, Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies:

DETROIT RED WINGS

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THE 1960–61 RED WINGS “YEAR BOOK” (LEFT) WAS ACCOMPANIED BY AN “ARGUMENT–SETTLING” VOLUME OF TEAM RECORDS. BEGINNING THE NEXT YEAR, THE PUBLICATIONS WERE COMBINED. DETROIT LOST TO CHICAGO IN THE 1961 STANLEY CUP FINAL.

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GENERAL MANAGER JACK ADAMS (TOP–LEFT) AND COACH SID ABEL (BOTTOM–RIGHT) WERE PICTURED ON THE 1961–62 RED WINGS MEDIA GUIDE. AGAIN, DETROIT ADVANCED TO THE STANLEY CUP FINAL AND, AGAIN, THE CLUB LOST — THIS TIME TO THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS, WHO BEGAN THEIR STRING OF THREE CONSECUTIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS.

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THE COVER OF THE 1965–66 DETROIT GUIDE RECOGNIZED BILL GADSBY (4) AND GORDIE HOWE FOR THEIR 20th SEASONS IN THE NHL. DETROIT LOST TO MONTREAL IN THE ’66 CUP FINAL, BUT EARNED SEVERAL INDIVIDUAL HONORS — GIVEN TO ALEX DELVECCHIO, ROGER CROZIER AND HOWE — AND FEATURED ON THE 1966–67 MEDIA GUIDE.

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FOR THE EXPANSION SEASON OF 1967–68, THE RED WINGS ADORNED THEIR MEDIA GUIDE WITH ARTWORK OF FORWARD BRUCE MacGREGOR BEING CHASED BY NEW YORK’S DON MARSHALL (WHO COULD FORGET MARSHALL’S LONE STRAND ON THE FOREHEAD?). IN MARCH OF THE ’67–68 SEASON, FRANK MAHOVLICH WAS TRADED TO THE RED WINGS BY THE MAPLE LEAFS. HE SKATED ON THE LATTER–DAY “PRODUCTION LINE” WITH GORDIE HOWE AND CAPTAIN ALEX DELVECCHIO, AS PICTURED ON THE 1969–70 DETROIT GUIDE.

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THE RED WINGS CELEBRATED MR. HOCKEY’S 25th SEASON AS A PLAYER WITH THE TEAM ON THE 1970–71 MEDIA GUIDE AND CONTINUED TO INSIST ON NOTHING BUT RED, WHITE AND BLACK (OR GREY) FOR GUIDE COVERS. GORDIE HOWE, AS IT TURNED OUT, RETIRED AFTER THE ’70–71 SEASON. BUT, HE DIDN’T REMAIN INACTIVE FOR LONG.

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AFTER THE 1973–74 SEASON, LONG–TIME CAPTAIN ALEX DELVECCHIO RETIRED TO BECOME GENERAL MANAGER AND COACH OF THE RED WINGS; HE WAS PICTURED ON THE 1974–75 MEDIA GUIDE. FOR THEIR 50th ANNIVERSARY SEASON THE FOLLOWING YEAR, THE CLUB FINALLY CHOSE TO ADD A THIRD COLOR TO ITS GUIDE COVER — APPROPRIATELY, GOLD.

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THE GOLD THEME BECAME RATHER PERVASIVE IN 1976–77. PICTURED ON THE RIGHT OF THE MEDIA GUIDE WAS JAMES NORRIS — ONE–TIME OWNER OF THE RED WINGS AND AFTER WHOM THE TROPHY FOR BEST NHL DEFENCEMAN EACH SEASON IS NAMED. AT BOTTOM WAS JAMES’ SON, BRUCE NORRIS, WHO OWNED THE DETROIT CLUB FROM 1952 TO 1982.

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THE 1979–80 DETROIT “FACTS BOOK” (TOP–LEFT) RECOGNIZED THE MOVE FROM OLYMPIA STADIUM TO JOE LOUIS ARENA. THE RED WINGS HAD CALLED THE OLYMPIA HOME SINCE 1927 (THEIR SECOND YEAR). ON DEC. 15, 1979, THE CLUB PLAYED ITS FINAL GAME IN THE BUILDING — A 4–4 TIE WITH THE EXPANSION QUEBEC NORDIQUES. AFTER A ROAD SWING THROUGH CHICAGO, EDMONTON, TORONTO AND PITTSBURGH, THE RED WINGS OPENED AT JOE LOUIS ARENA IN A 3–2 LOSS TO THE ST. LOUIS BLUES ON DEC. 27, 1979. THE 1982–83 DETROIT GUIDE (TOP–RIGHT) FEATURED ARTWORK OF TWO MEN THAT WOULD BECOME STAPLES IN THE ORGANIZATION: OWNER MIKE ILITCH (RIGHT) AND NEW GENERAL MANAGER JIM DEVELLANO (BOTTOM). AT LEFT WAS THE NEW HEAD COACH, NICK POLANO.

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YOUNG CAPTAIN STEVE YZERMAN GRACED THE COVER IN 1987–88 ALONG WITH NHL COACH–OF–THE–YEAR, JACQUES DEMERS. DETROIT HAD LOST TO EDMONTON IN THE 1987 CAMPBELL CONFERENCE FINAL. BY 1993–94 (TOP–RIGHT), STEVIE Y WAS ONE OF THE NHL’s BEST PLAYERS, THOUGH THE WINGS WERE COMING OFF A GAME 7 LOSS AT HOME TO TORONTO IN THE PLAYOFFS AND WOULD LOSE ANOTHER SERIES AT HOME IN ’94, TO UPSTART SAN JOSE.

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SERGEI FEDOROV WON THE HART TROPHY AS THE NHL’s MOST VALUABLE PLAYER IN 1993–94 WITH A 56–GOAL, 120–POINT SEASON (SECOND IN SCORING TO WAYNE GRETZKY OF LOS ANGELES, WHO HAD 130 POINTS). FEDOROV WAS ALL OVER THE 1994–95 MEDIA GUIDE COVER (TOP–LEFT). THE 1995–96 RED WINGS (TOP–RIGHT) BROKE MONTREAL’S NHL RECORD BY WINNING 62 GAMES AND COMPILED 131 POINTS — SECOND TO THE CANADIENS 132 IN 1976–77. BUT, DETROIT LOST TO COLORADO IN A CONTENTIOUS AND VIOLENT CONFERENCE FINAL.

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GIVEN THAT DETROIT ENDED A 42–YEAR STANLEY CUP DROUGHT IN THE SPRING OF 1997, THE COVER OF THE RED WINGS MEDIA GUIDE IN ’97–98 WAS RATHER CONSERVATIVE.

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DETROIT SWEPT WASHINGTON TO WIN THE STANLEY CUP AGAIN IN 1998 (TOP–LEFT). NO TEAM HAS SINCE REPEATED AS NHL CHAMPION. IN 2000–01, DEFENSEMAN NICKLAS LIDSTROM BEGAN A HAUL OF SIX NORRIS TROPHIES IN SEVEN YEARS AND WAS FEATURED ON THE ’01–02 MEDIA GUIDE. LIDSTROM WOULD CAPTURE THE AWARD SEVEN TIMES IN HIS BRILLIANT CAREER — TYING DOUG HARVEY FOR SECOND–MOST, BEHIND BOBBY ORR (EIGHT).

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SCOTTY BOWMAN WON HIS NHL–RECORD NINTH (AND FINAL) STANLEY CUP AS A COACH WITH THE 2002 RED WINGS, WHO CAPTURED THEIR THIRD TITLE IN SIX YEARS.

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NICKLAS LIDSTROM (CENTER, ABOVE) BECAME THE FIRST EUROPEAN CAPTAIN TO RAISE THE STANLEY CUP — AT THE OLD MELLON ARENA IN PITTSBURGH — WHEN DETROIT BEAT THE PENGUINS IN 2007–08. MIKE BABCOCK WAS COACH OF THE RED WINGS.

KANSAS CITY SCOUTS

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THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE LASTED ALL OF TWO SEASONS IN KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: 1974–75 (WHEN THE SCOUTS JOINED IN EXPANSION WITH THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS) AND 1975–76. K.C. ICED TWO OF THE MOST INEPT CLUBS IN NHL HISTORY, WITH RECORDS OF 15–54–11 FOR 41 POINTS AND 12–56–12 FOR 36 POINTS. INCLUDED WAS A 14–GAME LOSING STREAK BETWEEN DEC. 30, 1975 AND JAN. 29, 1976. FOR OBVIOUS REASONS, FANS STAYED AWAY FROM CROSBY KEMPER ARENA AND THE FRANCHISE MOVED TO DENVER IN 1976–77.

COLORADO ROCKIES

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THE COLORADO ROCKIES STARTED WITH A BANG BY DOUBLING THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS IN THEIR FIRST GAME — 4–2 AT McNICHOLS SPORTS ARENA ON OCT. 6, 1976. THEN THE CLUB WON 19 OF ITS NEXT 79 AND FINISHED SECOND–LAST IN THE NHL, TO DETROIT.

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WITH NOTHING OF PARTICULARLY BEAUTY ON THE ICE,  THE ACTUAL COLORADO ROCKIES WERE FEATURED ON THE CLUB’S SECOND AND THIRD MEDIA GUIDES.

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SO, DO YOU THINK THE ROCKIES WERE EXCITED TO HIRE DON CHERRY AS COACH IN 1979–80?

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NOTHING, IT SEEMED, COULD TURN AROUND THE ROCKIES — NOT DON CHERRY OR A TRADE THAT DESTROYED THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS FOR MORE THAN TEN YEARS. LANNY McDONALD (TOP–LEFT) WENT FROM TORONTO TO DENVER IN A DEAL THAT SHOULD BE EMBLAZONED ON PUNCH IMLACH’S TOMBSTONE. AFTER SEASONS OF 51 AND 57 POINTS, THE ROCKIES PACKED UP; MOVED EAST IN ’82, AND BECAME THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS.

AND, WHILE WE’RE AT IT…

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COULDN’T UNDERSTAND, TWO BLOG SUBMISSIONS AGO, WHY 2002–03 WAS MY MOST RECENT ANAHEIM DUCKS MEDIA GUIDE UNTIL I LOOKED ONE ROW NORTH IN THAT PARTICULAR BOX AND FOUND THE STANLEY CUP SEASON EDITION, FOLLOWED BY 2007–08.

COMING SOON…

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