Leafs Options May Be Limited

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (June 13) — In their quest to sell off as many “assets” as possible, the Toronto Maple Leafs will discover that the rest of the National Hockey League was paying attention to their plight last season.

At no point — and with no rival general manger — will Mark Hunter or Kyle Dubas be able to say, “Guess what? We have these multi–talented, character–rich veterans we’re looking to trade; guys that will put your team over the top. They really came through for us when the going got tough last year. And their salaries? Hey, we’ll look after part of them.”

This is a fantasy.

Instead, the Leafs will surely find that everyone else in hockey recognized how their best players rolled over and died after mid–December, ensuring that two coaches would be fired in a three–month span. In our stats–driven universe, they will know the top forward line of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk couldn’t — and wouldn’t — check a suitcase, compiling an ugly minus in triple figures late in the schedule. They will have long noted that Kessel, while pulling in $10 million, offered his middle–finger when Peter Horachek asked him to be more aware of defensive responsibility; that Fast Phil not only ignored the plea but packed it in altogether, scoring four measly goals in 25 games between Jan. 2 and Mar. 1. Rival GM’s will have noted how lazily Bozak and van Riemsdyk performed once an opponent had the puck; that JVR also put it in neutral when Horachek replaced Randy Carlyle, scoring three goals in 24 games between Jan. 12 and Mar. 7.

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THE LEAFS WILL WORK DILIGENTLY TO ENSURE THAT A RIVAL GENERAL MANAGER INTRODUCES PHIL KESSEL BEFORE NEXT SEASON. BUT, IT MAY BE QUITE A CHALLENGE. HERE, BRIAN BURKE WELCOMES KESSEL TO TORONTO, FROM BOSTON, IN SEPTEMBER 2009.

The middle–to–late portion of the season was as appalling for the Maple Leafs as any in franchise history — a mouthful, to be sure. And, I can guarantee it wasn’t lost on any potential trading partner. In his weekend column for the Toronto Star, Damien Cox of Sportsnet writes that Leafs president Brendan Shanahan “wants to change his leadership group before next season.” Damien knows well the Leafs haven’t had anything that resembles a “leadership group” since Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts and Bryan McCabe skated for Pat Quinn at the turn of the century.

It’s been more than a decade since the Blue and White made the playoffs in an 82–game schedule and every bit that long since the team exhibited a willingness to go beyond the call. Last season’s club was an embarrassment to the franchise; to the Maple Leafs logo (the primary one — incorporated in 1970–71 — has stood mostly for losing) and to a storied past that becomes fuzzier by the day. The notion that rival teams are breathlessly waiting to gobble up the 2014–15 malingerers may be pure folly; credence rising only upon assumption the Maple Leafs will offer such players for down–the–line consideration. If a club, for example, is willing to take on Kessel’s remaining seven years and $8 million cap hit, it’ll have to yield a first–round choice in one of the next two drafts, but likely nothing off its current roster. If Hunter and Dubas can get more than a first–rounder for Kessel, Toronto will be favored to win executiveship–of–the–year in the NHL before next season begins.

I sense that Bozak will also be peddled — for nothing higher than a second–round pick (though still a valuable return). Despite his long slump through the middle of last season, van Riemsdyk will probably stay put. He has 57 goals the past two years and just turned 26. He’ll also have Mike Babcock down his throat, day and night, if he continues to perform so indifferently without the puck. It won’t likely be a simple matter for the Leafs to move Joffrey Lupul, the oft–injured veteran who scored just 10 goals in 55 games. Lupul will be 32 by the time next season rolls around; is owed $15.75 million the next three years and comes with a hefty $5.25–million cap hit. Not exactly prime trade bait.

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JAMES van RIEMSDYK HAS SCORED OFTEN ENOUGH FOR THE LEAFS SINCE BEING ACQUIRED FROM PHILADELPHIA FOR LUKE SCHENN, WHOM HE IS SKATING PAST IN THIS PHOTO. BUT, JVR NEEDS TO BE MUCH MORE TENACIOUS WITHOUT THE PUCK. STEVE RUSSELL TORONTO STAR

My hunch/gut–feeling is that Nazem Kadri — 25 when next seasons starts — will remain with the Blue and White. Kadri will also see and hear lots of Babcock until he cleans up his turnover act in the neutral zone. He does, however, play with some fire in his belly and should be re–signed to a medium–range, multi–year deal as a restricted free agent.

Whether the Leafs attempt to move Dion Phaneuf will largely depend on Babcock, who wanted the veteran blue–liner in Detroit at the trade deadline. I’ve written here — and I maintain — that Babcock might be able to get more out of Phaneuf than any prior Leafs coach. I also maintain the hockey club should remove the burden of captaincy from Phaneuf and go forward with no player wearing the ‘C’ until the roster begins to evolve under Babcock. If that is three years from now, so be it.

In summation, I think the Maple Leafs will have done very well this off–season if they can trade Kessel and Bozak for first and second–round draft picks. With Babcock coming in and and Kessel moving on, the so–called “culture” change on the team will be well underway.

I just don’t believe that trading Kessel will be an easy process. Given his $8 million cap hit, Kessel’s stock plummeted, in my view, with a terribly apathetic performance in 2014–15. Again, only time will tell. 

NHL MEDIA GUIDES — PART 4

Continuing with my collection–series of National Hockey League media guides from the past 50 years, today I feature the New York Rangers and the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes:

NEW YORK RANGERS

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MY EARLIEST RANGER MEDIA GUIDES, FROM THE MID–1960’s, SHOW ACTION FROM THE OLD MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, WHICH WOULD CLOSE TO HOCKEY IN FEBRUARY 1968.

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RANGERS DIRECTOR OF MEDIA, JOHN HALLIGAN, CALLED HIS ANNUAL GUIDE THE “BLUE BOOK” IN THE 60’s. THE 1966–67 EDITION — LAST YEAR OF THE SIX–TEAM NHL AND GIVEN TO ME BY THE LATE MAPLE LEAF GARDENS PUBLICITY DIRECTOR, STAN OBODIAC — SHOWS RANGERS CAPTAIN BOB NEVIN AND MAPLE LEAFS HELMETED SOPHOMORE RON ELLIS.

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RANGERS MEDIA GUIDES FROM THE FIRST THREE SEASONS OF THE EXPANDED, 12–TEAM NHL.

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BEGINNING IN 1970, JOHN HALLIGAN’S MEDIA GUIDES WERE NO LONGER BLUE… BUT WHITE. THE 1970–71 EDITION (TOP–LEFT) FEATURED NHL ALL-STARS BRAD PARK AND ED GIACOMIN. THE 1972–73 GUIDE SHOWED NEW YORK CAPTAIN VIC HADFIELD BECOMING THE FIRST RANGER TO SCORE 50 GOALS IN A SEASON (vs. MONTREAL, APR. 2, 1972). ONLY ADAM GRAVES AND JAROMIR JAGR HAVE SINCE EQUALED THE MARK WHILE WEARING A RANGERS JERSEY.

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A GOLD COVER FOR THE RANGERS 50th ANNIVERSARY SEASON: 1975–76.

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AFTER THE HIRING OF GENERAL MANAGER JOHN FERGUSON IN 1976 (HE REPLACED EMILE FRANCIS), NEW YORK UNDERWENT A RADICAL UNIFORM REDESIGN, REMOVING THE DIAGONAL “RANGERS” FROM THE FRONT OF THE JERSEY AND REPLACING IT WITH THE CLUB’S LOGO. SHOULDER–PIPING, SLEEVES AND STRIPES WERE ALSO CHANGED. THE NEW LOOK WENT OVER LIKE A LED–BALLOON AND LASTED JUST TWO SEASONS (ABOVE): 1976–77 AND 1977–78.

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BY THE SPRING OF 1979, THE RANGERS WERE BACK TO WEARING THEIR TRADITIONAL LIVERY AGAINST MONTREAL IN THE STANLEY CUP FINAL. THE HABS WON THE NHL CHAMPIONSHIP IN FIVE GAMES, WHICH ENDED THEIR STRING OF FOUR CONSECUTIVE TITLES UNDER SCOTTY BOWMAN. THE RANGERS 1979–80 MEDIA GUIDE (ABOVE) PICTURED EBULLIENT GOALIE JOHN DAVIDSON AFTER THE CLUB’S SEMIFINAL TRIUMPH IN ’79 OVER THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS.

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GENERAL MANAGER PHIL ESPOSITO; COACH MICHEL BERGERON; FUTURE HALL–OF–FAMER MARCEL DIONNE AND CAPTAIN RON GRESCHNER WERE SHOWN ON THE FRONT OF THE 1987–88 RANGERS GUIDE (TOP–LEFT) WHILE NEW YORK LANDMARKS THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING; MADISON SQUARE GARDEN; THE ILL–FATED WORLD TRADE CENTER TOWERS AND THE STATUE OF LIBERTY MADE APPEARANCES ON A MAP OF MANHATTAN ISLAND IN 1990–91.

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AS THE RANGERS BUILT TOWARD ENDING THEIR 54–YEAR STANLEY CUP DROUGHT, THE 1992–93 GUIDE SHOWED MARK MESSIER HOLDING THE HART TROPHY AND BRIAN LEETCH THE NORRIS TROPHY — BOTH WON DURING THE ’91–92 SEASON. THE 1993–94 GUIDE CELEBRATED MADISON SQUARE GARDEN HOSTING THE 45th NHL ALL–STAR GAME ON JAN. 22, 1994.

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UNDOUBTEDLY, THE MOST COVETED OF NEW YORK RANGERS MEDIA GUIDES.

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NEW YORK FOLLOWED THE STANLEY CUP TRIUMPH BY MISSING THE PLAYOFFS IN ITS 70th SEASON (TOP–LEFT) AND THEN SIGNED FREE AGENT WAYNE GRETZKY TO RE–UNITE WITH OLD EDMONTON TEAMMATE MARK MESSIER FOR THE 1996–97 CAMPAIGN.

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COVER DESIGN FOR THE RANGERS 75th ANNIVERSARY SEASON IN 2000–01.

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MY MOST RECENT RANGER MEDIA GUIDES — 2006–07 AND 2007–08. BRENDAN SHANAHAN (14) AND GOALIE HENRIK LUNDQVIST ARE PICTURED ON THE LATTER (TOP–RIGHT).

PHOENIX/ARIZONA COYOTES

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THE WILDEST LOGO IN NHL HISTORY DOMINATED THE FIRST–EVER COYOTES MEDIA GUIDE IN 1996–97 — THE SEASON THE FRANCHISE RELOCATED FROM WINNIPEG.

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THE SECOND AND THIRD COYOTES GUIDES KEPT THE SOUTHWEST THEME.

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THE GREAT ONE ARRIVED IN 2001 AS PART–OWNER OF THE FRANCHISE.

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FOR THE 2003–04 SEASON, THE COYOTES REDESIGNED THEIR UNIFORM AND LOGO. PRIMARY COLORS WERE NOW BRICK–RED AND DESERT–SAND. WAYNE GRETZKY BECAME COACH AND THE CLUB SIGNED HIS CLOSE FRIEND AND FELLOW HALL–OF–FAMER, BRETT HULL.

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MY TWO MOST RECENT COYOTES GUIDES: 2006–07 AND 2007–08. IT FIGURES GRETZKY WASN’T SMILING ON THE COVER OF THE FORMER (TOP–LEFT). THE FRANCHISE WAS JUST ENTERING ITS ERA OF FINANCIAL TURMOIL WITH CO–OWNER JERRY MOYES (ALSO PICTURED). CAPTAIN SHANE DOAN (TOP–RIGHT) HAS LONG ENDURED THE COYOTES MAELSTROM.

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