Oliver Ekman–“Leafs”son?

TORONTO (Nov. 22) — In their interminable quest to secure a legitimate, No. 1 defenseman, the Maple Leafs could be eyeing Oliver Ekman–Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes. So says one of my Phoenix bird–dogs.

“This is for later in the season, but not necessarily at the trade deadline,” the source explained today. “If the Coyotes begin to fall out of playoff contention — as many anticipate — they might look at shedding some dough. Larsson is their best defenseman and one of the better offensive talents in the league. But, the Coyotes have a couple of decent prospects in Jakob Chychrun (drafted 16th overall last June) and Anthony DeAngelo, who has two goals and four points in only six games. He’s pretty darned–good with the puck. So, moving Larsson at some point is not out of the question. It wouldn’t come as a total shock around here.

“And, yes, Toronto is ‘whispered’ as a possible destination.”

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SWEDISH–BORN OLIVER EKMAN–LARSSON OF THE ARIZONA COYOTES.

Ekman–Larsson is coming off his best pro season, with 21 goals and 55 points for Arizona.

This would be considered a blockbuster transaction, given the dearth of activity in the salary–cap era. Particularly at any time other than two weeks before the National Hockey League trade deadline (likely Feb. 28 this season). For the Maple Leafs to consider such a move, they would have to be in clear playoff contention at the 50–to–60–game mark and in position to shed salary of their own. Ekman–Larsson has two–plus years remaining on a deal that carries a $5.5–million cap hit. The two seasons of control prior to unrestricted free agency (in the summer of 2019) would be attractive to the Maple Leafs, as would Ekman–Larsson’s age (25); his NHL statistics, and his poise while handling the puck at both ends of the ice. A one–two punch of Ekman–Larsson and Morgan Rielly would provide Toronto an elite tandem on the blue line.

But, trades like this don’t just happen.

“There are too many financial variables to even consider a move involving Ekman–Larsson this early in the season,” offered my source. “Salary and cap–room needs to be burned at both ends before such a deal begins to make sense. And, the teams have to be properly aligned with respect to playoff contention. That said, Jake Gardiner would clearly be a name expected as part of a trade that sends O–E–L to the Leafs. The contracts are identical in length and the Coyotes would gain a million–and–a–half in cap space.

“But, that’s just a start.”

For the reasons mentioned above, trade speculation in the third week of November is rather futile.

Also futile is Toronto’s chance of moving into playoff and Stanley Cup contention without acquiring (or developing) a No. 1 defenseman. No such commodity exists on the ice or in the Leafs’ system. So, a complicated, big–time trade is arguably the lone plausible route. With Brent Burns re–upping today for eight years in San Jose, the big fish on the unrestricted free agent market next summer could be Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues. Shattenkirk, however, isn’t as polished with the puck as Ekman–Larsson.

So, the Leafs have to pull off a deal at some point in the foreseeable future.

And, keeping an eye on the desert makes perfect sense.

UNDER THE RADAR… AND NIFTY

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With the usual plethora of hockey books available at this time of year — featuring such mega–names as Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Don Cherry, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler and Bob Cole — the memoir of an athletic therapist (or “trainer”) could easily fall through the cracks. Only, it shouldn’t. For several reasons; not the least of which is the unique resume of Ken Carson. Few men, if any, have been the original trainer of two professional expansion teams: Carson beginning with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins in 1967–68; then joining the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball in 1977. And, no athletic therapist, to my knowledge, has doubled as director of team travel, as did Carson through much of his tenure with the Blue Jays.

As such, Ken’s autobiography — written with my long–time pal, Larry Millson, who covered the Blue Jays for the Globe and Mail from their inception through the World Series triumphs of 1992 and 1993 — is a refreshing and easy read. One that any sports aficionado can get through and enjoy in a couple of nights, given a 173–page hard–cover (or cloth) volume crammed into pocket–book–sized dimension (9 x 6 inches).

Carson, from Barrie, Ont., was on the bench at the old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh — Oct. 11, 1967 — when the Penguins played their first NHL game and became the first expansion team to face an existing club. The late Jean Beliveau scored his 400th career goal for Montreal, which defeated Pittsburgh, 2–1. Then, 9½ years later, Ken was at snowy Exhibition Stadium here in Toronto for the Blue Jays first–ever game — a 9–5 victory over the Chicago White Sox (Apr. 7, 1977); best–remembered, still, for the inclement, spring weather (it was freezing!) and a pair of home runs smacked by little–known infielder Doug Ault.

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KEN CARSON’S BIOGRAPHY (BELOW) IN THE INAUGURAL PITTSBURGH PENGUINS MEDIA GUIDE.

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Carson tells it all in I KEPT THEM IN STITCHES: from his minor–league days in Barrie, Niagara Falls and Rochester to his big–league career in Pittsburgh and Toronto. While looking after such legendary hockey names as Andy Bathgate, Glen Sather and Tim Horton; Blue Jays stars such as Dave Stieb, George Bell and Tony Fernandez. Published by Friesen Press of Victoria, B.C., the book is in stores and retails for $33.49 CAD.

REMEMBERING MIKE

I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn that hockey author Mike Leonetti died on the weekend of complications from a heart attack. He was only 57; born Dec. 30, 1958 — just a month and a few days before me. So, it hit home. Doubly. Mike had just finished working with Darryl Sittler on CAPTAIN — MY LIFE AND CAREER (currently in bookstores). Stricken a few days after a gala book–launch in downtown Toronto, Oct. 25, he was unable to recover and passed away on Saturday morning.

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Mike leaves behind his wife (Maria Grace) his son, David, and — most tragically — his parents, Nicola and Rosetta. Obituary and visitation notice, here, from Ward Funeral Homes:

It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden passing of Michael on November 19, 2016 at the age of 57. Loving husband of Maria Grace. Devoted father of David. Beloved son of Nicola and Rosetta Leonetti. Cherished brother of Frank (Erminia) and Susie (Frank). Son-in-law of the late Luigi and his surviving wife Maria Ballarano. Brothers-in-law of Audeno (Jo-Anne), Tony (Giuliana) and Marcello. Loving Zio to many nieces and nephews. Mike Leonetti was the bestselling author of The Rocket, Wendel and The Great One, Gretzky’s Game, My Leafs Sweater, The Greatest Goal and many more. Beloved by many friends and fans of his well known books.

He will be greatly missed by many.

Friends will be received at the Ward Funeral Home, 4671 Hwy. 7 (west of Pine Valley Dr.), Woodbridge on Thursday from 2–4 & 6–9 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Peter’s Church, 100 Bainbridge Ave., Woodbridge on Friday, November 25, 2016 at 9:30 a.m. As expressions of sympathy donations to the Princess Margaret Foundation or to the Heart and Stroke Foundation would be appreciated.

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EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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