Plenty Of Stories To Tell

Saturday, 6.25.2011 / 5:05 PM / Draft Central 2011

They came from across the block and around the corner. One came after a desperate search for his dress pants.

A few did not come at all.

The Toronto  Maple Leafs selected nine players at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

They landed Colarado Avalanche defenceman John-Michael Lyles for draft picks.

They plucked executive Rick Dudley out of the executive talent pool before they could figure out a new title for him. As it stands today, there is no job title. He just helps.

All that said, this might be remembered as the draft where the hopes for a new first line centre did not materialize. There were in fact, virtually no deals but as usual, plenty of stories.

Like the club’s number one pick, Tyler Biggs, a strapping six-foot-two kid who likes to fight and likes to score. Biggs, whose parents are Canadian born, considered hockey as an alternative to life as a Marine.

He said there is one glaring similarity to life as a solider and a hockey player. By the time it gets to you, it doesn’t matter who started the fight. All that matters is that you finish it.

“I have no problem doing that either,” he said. “Once it happens, it’s done and you move on.”

Biggs said he fought 18 times in the US junior national program. He figured he won about 18. No need for much mystery about his selection.

Stuart Percy, drafted 25th is a defence first rearguard who played for Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors. He said being drafted by the Leafs, his hometown team, was literally a dream come true. Literally. He would wake up in bedroom in Oakville, the one with the Tie Domi, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin posters and think he had just been drafted. Percy, a keen and intelligent kid, used the word surreal a lot and seemed as deliriously happy on the second day of the draft as on the first.

Best story of the day goes to Tony Cameranesi, a slight kid from nearby Maple Grove who, having spent much of the morning in his living room watching other people’s names being called, decided he needed to go out for a run.

“When I got back, my parents told me I had been drafted. I ran about two miles. I do it pretty much every Saturday morning,” he said.

“Once I got the call, I had to change and for some reason I couldn’t find my dress pants. It took a little longer than usual but I’m glad to be here.”

The Leafs third-rounder, Josh Leivo wasn’t in the house. A left winger with the Sudbury Wolves, Leivo was back home and wasn’t on anyone’s list…unless you count the Leafs.

Left wing David Broll known as the Steam Broller, went in the sixth. Broll is extraordinarily stocky even if he is six-foot-two. He scored 13 goals with the Soo Greyhounds.

The Leafs also drafted Swedish defenceman Tom Nilsson in the fourth round, American goalie Garrett Sparks in the seventh round and Max Everson, a defenceman from Minnesota bound for Harvard in round number seven.

“To add John-Michael Liles, to add Rick Dudley in a non player move, to add the two guys in the first round and the guys we got in the second day, we are pretty happy with the trip to Minnesota,” said GM Brian Burke

“We’re going to be active on July 1. We have two drafts. One now, one on July 1. We’ve been active each year and we intend to be again.”

Leafs Improve Defence & Truculence

Saturday, 6.25.2011 / 10:00 AM / Draft Central 2011

The Maple Leafs went into the first day of the entry draft looking to upgrade their defensive posture and their truculence.

So far, so good.

The Leafs moved around and landed forward Tyler Biggs at 22 and Stuart Percy at 25.

Biggs is six-foot-two, 210 pounds. A right winger with pretty good skating skills, he is definitely truculent. He scored 17 goals in 48 games with the US-under 18 team. He is the son of former pro Don Biggs and while no one doubts his aggressiveness, his skills continue to emerge.

Biggs is a bruising forward and a dual citizen who will go to Miami of Ohio this season and he treasures his connection to the Canadian game.

For Percy, being selected 25th by the Leafs was, well, a dream come true.

“The posters is my bedroom are Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour and Tie Domi,” said the Oakville native. “Being selected to play for the Leafs is a surreal experience.”

Meanwhile, the acquisition of John-Michael Liles from Colorado should deliver the power play quarterback the Leafs have been seeking. Liles had six goals and 40 assists last season. He is in the final year of his contract.

The Leafs also added veteran hockey official Rick Dudley to the club’s front office.

The draft continues on Saturday morning.

A Frustrating Day For Burke

Thursday, 6.23.2011 / 11:00 PM / Draft Central 2011

The questions of course is why didn’t the Maple Leafs acquire Mike Richards or Jeff Carter when the Philadelphia Flyers convened Thursday’s fire sale.

One thing is for sure: Brian Burke tried.

Burke was in meetings all day but published reports indicated he was in talks with the Flyers who wanted Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin for either Carter or Richards.

That, along with a decade or so years left on the contract of both players, might not have been too much for Burke. The same stories indicated after trying to pry those players, the Flyers hung up and never called back.

This is the sort of thing that makes Brian Burke angry. You see him come out of a meeting or stop for a second in the lobby of the hotel and you see a man agitated by his inability to make a deal. And now, with Richards and Carter in play...

For what it matters, I wouldn’t have made either trade and the need for a number one centre has been my constant theme since the season ended.

Carter is a terrific skater and goalscorer who is mostly a finisher, which is a great notion unless you are playing beside Phil Kessel. Richards is talented and mean but sometimes it looks like the Flyers made Voldemort their captain.

There is a nice but not compelling body of evidence that Kadri is a top six guy. That’s okay, he stepped out of junior two years ago. We can play this any way you like.

But I think Nikolai Kulemin is the Leafs’ best player. 

Here’s why. When the Leafs start playing games of real importance, the opponent’s top weapon will immediately become the responsibility of Nikolai Kulemin.

Kulemin rivals Phil Kessel for skating. He is easily the most effective Maple Leaf along the boards. He scored 30 goals, second only to Phil Kessel.

If you have a mediocre team, Nikolai Kulemin is hard to notice. If you have a good team, he becomes more prominent. If you have an excellent team, kids are buying his jerseys. The Leafs, you may have heard, want to have an excellent team.

So the combination of long-term salary and the possible inclusion of Kulemin made the deal for Carter a no-go. Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second rounder was an irresistible package for the Flyers. Schenn has long been considered the best player outside the NHL and the Leafs did not have a prospect with that kind of standing.  What are you going to do?

It seems unlikely the Kings with Mike Richards in tow, will be in on the bidding for Brad Richards. That leaves, by all accounts, the Leafs, Rangers (who have big-time salary obligations of their own)  and perhaps the Lightning who  must find a way to ink Steve Stamkos.

With L.A. and Columbus now sated, the market for a front-line centre appears thinner. All roads outside of free agency, it seems, lead to Paul Stastny.

Given the choice between Stastny, Carter and Richards, Stastny has always been the most reasonable bet. He has three years left on his contract at $6.6 million, he has a pass-first mentality and the Avalanche, especially if they draft Jonathan Huberdeau, are knee deep in centres.

But the price, if there is one for Stastny, certainly won’t be moved downwards by the Flyers adventures. Increasingly, Burke finds his options dwindling to July 1 and Brad Richards.

Little wonder he’s not a happy guy.

Opening The Wallet To Hit The Floor

Thursday, 6.23.2011 / 11:33 AM / Draft Central 2011

It’s human nature to be concerned with how much you can spend.

What gets less attention is how much you are obliged to spend.

That could be one of the interesting themes in the discussions that will preclude Friday’s NHL entry draft.

The new NHL spending cap limits player salaries to $64 million. But a less noticeable element in the cap penalizes teams who do not reach the $48 million floor in spending.

And according to consistently-cited website Cap Geek, nearly half the league falls short of that target right now including, believe it or not, the Maple Leafs who are on the hook for $41.3 million.

Here is where the backsliding starts. The Leafs haven’t signed Luke Schenn and Clarke MacArthur as well as the far more modestly priced Tyler Bozak, Darryl Boyce, Tim Brent, Joey Crabb, J.S. Giguere and Matt Lashoff. The price for the only premier free agent in the mix, Brad Richards, could top $8 per annum. In other words, the ceiling, not the floor, will be of the most concern for Brian Burke in Toronto and Glen Sather in New York.

But the Florida Panthers are nearly $28 million short of the cap. Carolina is $17 million short.

The impact of the floor might have interesting consequences. Do teams who have historically eschewed the free agent sweepstakes jump in? Do the Colorado Avalanche, always mindful of an internal cap, balk at trading Paul Stastny because his $6.6 million salary is too valuable?

Does Mike Komisarek, who has struggled in his first two years in Toronto under the weight of his $4.5 million salary become attractive to teams looking for a defenceman on the rebound who comes with the double advantage of being expensive.

So many questions. Answers to come.

Trying To Gain Intel

Thursday, 6.23.2011 / 11:15 AM / Draft Central 2011


It’s the murkiest of the black arts at the NHL entry draft.

If you know what the team before you or even five places before you is planning to do, do you have an advantage?

Of course.

Getting a line on what your rivals are doing is a time-honoured dodge, like stealing signs in baseball.

But in the increasingly corporate world in which NHL teams exist, boozy golf tournaments and offering a competing scout a ride home during a snow storm in Brandon probably won’t get you much.

More than ever, scouts are ciphers whose remarks are ushered to head office via the world-wide web. The scouts are often younger and business savvy, perhaps more cautious than ever before about the risks of information leaks.

But hockey people are nothing if not resourceful. When a scout sees a rival general manager eyeballing a prospect, that’s a pretty good gauge of interest. The prospect’s coach or agent can sometimes be depended upon to talk about how many sets of eyes have perused the player.

But how much actual advantage is gained though is tough to appraise?

Who another organization is going to choose matters mostly if they are talking about a player a team covets. By now, they  will have developed countless contingency plans.

This year’s draft has one clear leader, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins soon to be of the Edmonton Oilers.  An interesting choice has developed at two for Colorado between Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson and Jonathan Huberdeau whose standout performance at the Memorial Cup catapulted him over most of his competitors. Swedish left winger Gabriel Landeskog is considered the most NHL ready so that could muddy the mix a bit among the top four (Edmonton, Colorado, Florida and New Jersey).

Barring a deal, the Leafs will draft 25th, 30th and 39th so with a couple of hundred names from which to select, their choices won’t really hinge on who is left but on who is left that they want most.

Back To Where It All Began

Wednesday, 6.22..2011 / 7:03 PM / Draft Central 2011

The 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul Minnesota is where 18-year-old kids come to shape their lives through hockey.

Brian Burke, who will pick a number of them for the Toronto Maple Leafs, knows a bit about that.

“We moved to Minnesota (from Rhode Island) when I was in the middle of seventh grade,” he said. “Our stuff didn’t come for two days so you have 10 kids in a motel in Bloomington, Minnesota. We’re waiting for the moving truck and the State Tournament comes on the TV.

“Edina, the town we were moving into was playing in the state tournament and I was so taken by 15,000 people at the Met Centre, fully televised, jammed to the rafters. On the one day they had two crowds. People from the first game had to leave and then another 15,000 people came in to take their seats.”

For Burke, that’s where it all began.

“I was so taken by how important hockey was in Minnesota.”

“I played once or twice on ponds in Boston. I had never played organized hockey of any kind. I said this is the game I’ve got to play if I’m ever going to fit in.”

Burke would make it to the Metropolitan Arena, the Met, as a midget and high school player before embarking on his law degree and a winding career that would take him through agenting, Hartford, Vancouver, Anaheim and now Toronto.

Stories start at the NHL draft. Longshots hit or they don’t.  Far from shriveling up, the debate over who was the better or the worst pick burns with retrospect only increasing the flames.

There will be plenty to hear and see and I will be doing it for you over the next couple of days. Trade banter is at a whisper and the Leafs with choices 25, 30 and 39 are seeking to move up. Burke has said he is also looking at packaging picks to bring a player, presumably the top tier centre the team desperately needs.

The first round goes Friday night. The trades could go at anytime or not at all.

All or nothing or something in between, I will be in touch.