Leafs May Be Targeting Carolina

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (June 10) — It is common, predictable and widely anticipated.

The three–week period before the National Hockey League draft becomes replete with tales of earth–shattering movement between teams that hold the top selections and rivals looking to “move up.” Management types fuel anticipation by suggesting they are “open for business” — as did Arizona GM Don Maloney on Tuesday during a state–of–the–franchise media gathering in Glendale. Maple Leafs assistant Kyle Dubas did virtually the same at the NHL draft combine in Buffalo.

Last year at this time, it was Florida’s Dale Tallon insisting he was entertaining offers for the No. 1 selection that became defenseman Aaron Eklbad — favored by many to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2014–15. As in the case of the Panthers, talk almost never morphs into action with the most coveted draft prospects, who are overwhelmingly chosen in order by their corresponding teams. Given the potential jewels rated most highly for the 2015 amateur windfall in Sunrise, Fla., no one should reasonably expect a trade. This year’s draft is considered among the most prolific ever at the top end.

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THE BB&T CENTER IN SUNRISE, FLA. — HOME OF THE PANTHERS AND THE FRONT–LOADED 2015 NHL DRAFT ON JUNE 26–27.

Others, however, argue the wide range of phenoms could engender a blockbuster deal involving two or three teams. Such a recipe would have to include at least one club that ventures to move existing personnel.

Exhibit A: The Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I hear the Leafs are looking to add another pick in the top six,” said a reliable NHL source — partly responsible for nailing the information in a blog here on May 9 involving Mike Babcock (http://bit.ly/1JxcKDu). “This is where players like [Phil] Kessel, [Dion] Phaneuf, [Tyler] Bozak and their later first–round pick (No. 24) could come into play. Toronto is really trying to stock up on big–time prospects — the kind that might help [the team] move forward a little quicker. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Maple Leafs were involved in this type of dialogue.”

When asked which team — or teams — could be party to such conversation, my source provided a one–word answer: “Carolina.”

Ah yes, the Carolina Hurricanes: Stanley Cup finalist in 2002; Stanley Cup champion in 2006; Conference finalist in 2009 and, today, a mediocre, rather nondescript team in need of some buzz in the Raleigh–Durham area. North Carolina is NASCAR and college basketball territory. But, when the Hurricanes are competitive, hockey becomes a religious experience. The noise–factor inside PNC Arena (then the RBC Center) during the 2002 and 2006 playoffs ranks among the most profound in my years covering hockey. Give Carolina’s “Caniacs” a team with which they can identify and it’ll spawn some of the most rabid fans in the NHL.

On the flip–side, hockey ranks as a tepid subject in and around Raleigh when the Hurricanes are struggling. Or, when the club is particularly lousy, as it was this past season when it compiled a record of 30–41–11 for 71 points; fewest since the 2002–03 edition. The Hurricanes finished 29th in home attendance — ahead of only Florida — by averaging 12,716 fans per game, or 67.4 percent of capacity. Carolina has missed the playoffs for a franchise record–tying six consecutive seasons, and eight of the past 10. General manager Ron Francis — a Hall–of–Fame player with the club dating to its years in Hartford — knows better than anyone the urgency of re–kindling hockey passion in his neck of the woods.

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The Leafs, by comparison, played to 101.3 percent of capacity at Air Canada Center during one of the most shameful seasons in franchise history (68 points, three fewer than Carolina). Though hockey fans here can bitch and moan with any in pro sport, there is not nearly the necessity to win as in less–traditional markets. It is therefore conceivable the Hurricanes are looking to add for “now” rather than “later” — even though quick fixes rarely materialize in the salary–capped NHL. If the Leafs, as my friend suggests, are aiming to add Carolina’s No. 5 draft this year to their own No. 4, what can they offer the ‘Canes?

Much will depend on how Francis views Eric Staal — for the past decade, the face of the hockey club but, now, a 30–year–old heading into the final year of a deal that gobbles up $8.25–million of cap space. According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN, Francis will meet this week with Staal’s agent, Rick Curran, to discuss the plausibility of an extension.

Curran also represents Staal’s brother, Jordan, and Carolina’s long–time No. 1 goalie, Cam Ward. With more than $16 million of cap space available, Francis can re–sign Staal to what will surely be a less–lucrative contract. He could also decide to implode the core of his team and start anew, though the Hurricanes are hardly loaded with NHL–ready prospects, particularly up front, where concussion–plagued Jeff Skinner remains the club’s best forward. And, as mentioned, Francis may not be in favor of — or mandated to — prolonging Carolina’s playoff drought.

How could the Maple Leafs “help” the Hurricanes? Good question. Certainly, Phil Kessel can score goals and excite fans — far–more proficiently than he chose while lollygagging through two–thirds of last season. Kessel’s limited no–trade clause requires him, annually, to provide a list of eight NHL cities to which he’d sanction a move. Only the Leafs know whether Carolina is (or may become) part of that list, though it wouldn’t surprise me. Fast Phil could ply his trade more anonymously in the tobacco belt and perhaps click with Staal, who is coming off a 54–point season — the lowest figure since his rookie campaign of 2003–04.

If Francis is being urged to nudge the Hurricanes back toward playoff contention, might he re–sign Staal and take on the balance of Kessel’s deal (seven years and $54 million with an $8 million cap hit)? Might Francis consider trading his No. 5 draft slot to the Leafs for Kessel and Toronto’s No. 24 pick? It would be a roll of the dice for Carolina — financially and strategically — but Francis may not have a viable option.

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HOCKEY HALL–OF–FAMER RON FRANCIS NEEDS TO RECONSTRUCT THE CAROLINA HURRICANES — PROBABLY SOONER THAN LATER.

This type of deal would jibe perfectly for the Maple Leafs, who could turn the culture–corner by moving Kessel. It would provide Toronto an opportunity to draft two of Noah Hanifin, Mitch Marner, Lawson Crouse, Pavel Zacha and Ivan Provorov — assuming that Arizona hangs onto its No. 3 slot and chooses forward Dylan Strome. Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are slam–dunks to go first and second to Edmonton and Buffalo.

Then again, all of this could be moot — as in most years — and merely part of the unavoidable pre–draft speculation. We shall see. 

NHL MEDIA GUIDES — PART 3

Next in my series looking at 50 years of National Hockey League media guides: Boston Bruins, California/Oakland Seals and Cleveland Barons.

BOSTON BRUINS

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MY EARLIEST BOSTON MEDIA GUIDES (ABOVE) CORRESPOND WITH THE THREE SEASONS PRIOR TO BOBBY ORR’S MUCH–HERALDED ARRIVAL FROM JUNIOR HOCKEY IN OSHAWA, ONT. THE BRUINS FINISHED LAST IN THE SIX–TEAM NHL EACH YEAR.

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ORR ARRIVED AT 18 YEARS OF AGE FOR THE 1966–67 SEASON (ABOVE) AND THE BRUINS FINISHED LAST ONCE AGAIN. BRIGHTER TIMES WERE JUST AROUND THE CORNER. THE ’66–67 BRUINS MEDIA GUIDE AND THE 1967–68 EDITION (BELOW, FIRST WITH ORR ON THE COVER), WERE GIVEN TO ME BY FORMER MAPLE LEAF GARDENS PUBLICITY DIRECTOR STAN OBODIAC PRIOR TO HIS DEATH FROM CANCER IN 1985. THUS, STAN’S “AUTOGRAPH” ON EACH.

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THE LATE–60’s BRUINS ROSE QUICKLY FROM PLAYOFF QUALIFIER (IN 1967–68) TO STANLEY CUP CHAMPION (IN 1969–70 — TOP–RIGHT). THE COVER OF THE ’68–69 MEDIA GUIDE (TOP–LEFT) SHOWED HOW THE PRESS BOX AT BOSTON GARDEN WAS SUSPENDED FROM THE BALCONY. IN NO NHL ARENA HAVE REPORTERS BEEN CLOSER TO THE ACTION.

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MEDIA GUIDES FROM THE 50th AND 75th ANNIVERSARY SEASONS OF THE BOSTON BRUINS: 1973–74 AND 1998–99. BOBBY ORR IS FEATURED PROMINENTLY ON EACH COVER.

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A WATER–COLOR DEPICTION OF BRUINS CAPTAIN JOHNNY BUCYK ADORNED THE 1974–75 MEDIA GUIDE. INSIDE, WAS A BIO OF THE CLUB’S FIRST–YEAR COACH. LOOK FAMILIAR?

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QUITE THE TRIUMVIRATE ON THE 1976–77 BRUINS MEDIA GUIDE.

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HALL–OF–FAME DEFENSEMAN RAYMOND BOURQUE MADE THE COVER IN 1980–81 AND 1987–88.

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FROM THE BOSTON GARDEN TO THE SHAWMUT CENTER (NOW THE TD GARDEN): BRUINS MEDIA GUIDE COVERS IN 1994–95 AND 1995–96.

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MY TWO MOST–RECENT BRUINS MEDIA GUIDES (2006–07 AND 2007–08), FEATURING ZDENO CHARA (TOP–LEFT) AND CONCUSSION–PLAGUED FORWARD MARC SAVARD (91).

CALIFORNIA/OAKLAND SEALS

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KNOWN AS THE CALIFORNIA SEALS UPON JOINING THE NHL IN THE “GREAT EXPANSION” OF 1967–68, THE BAY AREA TEAM TOOK ON THE NAME OF ITS HOME CITY MIDWAY THROUGH ITS INAUGURAL SEASON (ABOVE). THIS WAS DONE TO ATTRACT MORE LOCAL FANS IN OAKLAND.

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IN THE SUMMER OF 1970, THE SEALS WERE PURCHASED BY CHARLES O. FINLEY, OWNER OF THE BASEBALL OAKLAND A’s. HE CHANGED THE CLUB COLORS FROM GREEN, BLUE AND WHITE TO GREEN AND “CALIFORNIA GOLD” — SAME AS THE A’s. AT THE START OF THE 1970–71 SEASON (TOP–RIGHT), THE CLUB WAS KNOWN AS THE BAY AREA SEALS.

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MIDWAY THROUGH 1970–71, FINLEY RE–NAMED HIS CLUB THE CALIFORNIA GOLDEN SEALS. THE BAD OAKLAND TEAMS OF 1971–72 AND 1972–73 (ABOVE) WON JUST 37 OF 176 GAMES.

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THE LAST MEDIA GUIDE OF THE CALIFORNIA GOLDEN SEALS — IN 1975–76.

CLEVELAND BARONS

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AFTER NINE SEASONS OF LOSING, OWNERSHIP FLUX AND POOR ATTENDANCE IN OAKLAND, THE SEALS RE–LOCATED TO RICHFIELD, OHIO — A VILLAGE SOUTH OF CLEVELAND — AND BECAME THE CLEVELAND BARONS. BUT, THE LOSING CONTINUED AND THE BARONS LASTED ONLY TWO SEASONS: 1976–77 AND 1977–78. THE ’77–78 MEDIA GUIDE (RIGHT) FEATURED FIVE CLEVELAND PLAYERS — (TOP ROW): GOALIES GARY EDWARDS AND GILLES MELOCHE; BOTTOM ROW: THE FORWARD LINE OF DENNIS MARUK, BOB MURDOCH AND AL MacADAM. THE BARONS MERGED WITH THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS FOR THE 1978–79 NHL SEASON.

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3 comments on “Leafs May Be Targeting Carolina

  1. I got to cover the Barons for those two years while I was the radio/TV “voice” of the hockey team at nearby Kent State University. It was surreal to have the Montreal Canadiens roll in during the peak of their powers, and have about 3800 fans on hand in what was a terrific hockey venue.

    Being able to interview coaches and players at the tender age of 20 or so was invaluable to an aspiring broadcaster and journalist–the franchise was a disaster, but those two years of NHL hockey in Northeast Ohio proved to be most fortuitous for me.

    As I type this I have a Barons souvenir puck an arm’s length away, but, alas…no media guides! Still, I managed to name the five players on the ’77-78 cover without looking at your caption–thanks for sparking some great memories.

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