TORONTO (May 8) — Erect the barricades. The Stanley Cup is about to return.
At least one cheerleader in the Toronto media has declared the Maple Leafs’ European signing blitz of the past week a roaring success. Others are sure to follow. Of no apparent concern is that Egor Korshkov, Ilya Mikhayev and Teemu Kivihalme have combined to play zero minutes in the National Hockey League. Already, they’ve been slotted into line combinations for next season and confirmed as replacements for any or all of Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Patrick Marleau, Connor Brown and Tyler Ennis. Marlies’ scoring leader Jeremy Bracco, about whom neutral observers claim will not become an elite NHL performer, has also been awarded a spot. He shares the same big–league experience with the Europeans: none.
Sadly, and I’ve mentioned this before, there’s a tone of Leafs coverage, locally, that dates to the pre–expansion era of the NHL, when reporters were merely note–takers for Punch Imlach. Never did Imlach lose a game behind the Toronto bench in the 1960’s during which the referee did not play a leading role. Scribes such as George Gross of the Toronto Telegram and Red Burnett of the Toronto Star — whose travel expenses were paid by the hockey club — would record Imlach’s inanity and provide readers a thoroughly–biased appraisal. This is not to denounce Gross or Burnett; it is simply the manner in which hockey was covered back then. Nor have we regressed to that level. But, the cross–pollination of electronic media (TSN, Sportsnet) and team ownership (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) — and the contraction of the newspaper industry — hasn’t been good for hockey reporting. There’s a monstrous publicity arm at MLSE; it doesn’t need help from those in the media entrusted with offering balanced information.
MAKE ROOM FOR THE MIGHTY EGOR (KORSHKOV), SIGNED BY THE MAPLE LEAFS FOR NEXT SEASON.
Nor is the task particularly onerous. The example of the Maple Leafs spanning Europe and the Canadian/American college hockey systems (drafted or un–drafted) to assemble bargain prospects requires a simple look at the past. Such players as Andy Wozniewski, Erik Westrum, John Pohl, Christian Hanson, Jonas Frogren, Tony Salmelainen, Jonas Gustavsson, Rickard Wallin (a condition to signing Gustavsson), Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas, Marcel Muller, Joey Crabb, Darryl Boyce, Mike Kostka, Mike Mottau, Leo Komarov, Nikita Soshnikov, Trevor Smith, Matt Hunwick, Nikita Zaitsev, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Justin Holl, Trevor Moore, Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman and Igor Ozhiganov have barely filled roster positions with the Blue and White, or have been marginal performers (Holl, Rosen and Moore may offer some promise to the current team). The best of the lot, by many lengths, was Tyler Bozak, signed by Brian Burke in April 2009 from the University of Denver. Bozak appeared in nearly 600 games for the Leafs and recorded 365 points. He joined St. Louis as an unrestricted free agent last July and is now grearing up to play in the Stanley Cup semifinals.
It therefore requires only a small bit of research and rationale to explore the newest Leaf additions cautiously. That they are “big”, or come “recommended” by Mike Babcock, guarantees nothing. Slotting them into next year’s line–up may be practical given that Kapanen, Johnsson, Ennis, Mitch Marner, Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey and Martin Marincin are free agents and must be re–signed or adequately replaced. The newcomers could buck the trend and soar to NHL stardom. But, to suggest they’ll become more than middling performers is to completely ignore the club’s history. Only Borje Salming, the original fetch by the Maple Leafs from Europe in 1973, developed into an All–Star and Hall–of–Famer.
The rest have primarily been roster–fillers.
TYLER BOZAK, THIS SPRING, HAS ADVANCED FARTHER IN THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS WITH ST. LOUIS THAN IN ANY OF NINE SEASONS WITH THE MAPLE LEAFS. ICON SPORTSWIRE/GETTY IMAGES
In today’s media climate, we have individuals that write or tell us what they wish to happen for the Maple Leafs rather than what may or may not happen. That doesn’t serve the public particularly well. Such discerning media types — past and current — as Frank Orr, Jim Kernaghan, John Iaboni, Scott Morrison, Donald Ramsay, James Christie, Al Strachan, Steve Simmons, Lance Hornby, Ken Campbell, Dave Feschuk, David Shoalts, Cathal Kelly, Bob McKenzie, Doug MacLean, Damien Cox and Elliotte Friedman have generally parked their fandom (several to the extreme) while reporting on the Leafs. Today, however, there is far–too–much flag–waving, cheer–leading and submissiveness as it pertains to covering the Blue and White.
Glorifying Korshov, Mikhayev and Kivilalme is merely the latest example.