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The Dead of Summer

Rick Charlton

July 8, 2001

 

A complexing compendium of prognostications and observations when the previous hockey season has faded to dust and the next one is no where yet in sight.

In other words, you know itís the dead of summer when the lead hockey story in the Toronto Star is an article on the Leafs teaching their prospects how to cook.

A Q & A SESSION WITH ST. LOUIS GM LARRY PLEAU led to the interesting revelation that Pleau considers Daniel Tkaczuk has no more potential than as a third line center in the NHL. Pleau said Tkazcuk requires at least another year in the minors. Pleau also spent some time pumping up Fred Brathwaite, calling him scrappy and under-utilized in Calgary. All of which is hilarious when 1) Pleau himself told Brathwaite he might be flipped for Dominic Hasek and 2) those comments pretty much mirror what Craig Button said about the Blues handling of Roman Turek. Perhaps the surprise was seeing Pleau put Sergei Varlamov at the head of his prospect list but conceding the youngster had to play the top two lines to make it in the NHL. Meanwhile, Keith Tkachuck and Cory Stillman are ahead of Varlamov on the St. Louis depth chart. Pleau admits he has no number one or two center and that Tkachuk, Stillman or Pavol Demitra might have to move to the middle - that in turn might open up a spot for Varlamov. Maybe.

YOU DON'T OFTEN SEE A PLAYER practically begging another team to get rid of one of their own then add himself as a replacement. But that appears to be what Adam Oates is doing with recent comments about his unhappiness in Washington and what that might mean for Boston's Jason Allison. ''I just built a house on the Cape and I've got some great memories of Boston," Oates told the Boston Globe. "They've got some great players. To play with Bill Guerin, that would be kind of like me and Cam [Neely]. Plus, if the Bruins trade Jason [Allison], they've got to get a right-shot center because their power play is based on right shots. Although I'd love to see me, Jason, and [Joe] Thornton in front on the power play.'' Hint, hint. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Say no more, say no more.

"IN MY DAY, WHEN A PLAYER TURNED 30, they all but shot him. Now, it seems teams are building franchises around 35- and 40-year-olds." - Carl Brewer, who played 12 years in the in the NHL with Toronto, Detroit and St. Louis. Brewer has a point. Without getting out the record books, only a few players in the 60's, 70's and 80's typically played beyond 31 years of age, notable exceptions being Gordie Howe, Gump Worsley and Henri Richard. Players today take care of their bodies far better and have a greater likelihood of maintaining a high skill level through a longer period of time. Those with long memories will remember the 1972 Canada/Russia series where the big problem for the Canadians wasn't necessarily the Russians but the fact most of the team showed up for training camp with their usual summer beer bellies. That doesn't happen anymore.

"I THINK NO ONE WILL TELL YOU THAT THIS IS something good for the NHL. Every team has the right and, in some cases, the ability to sign whoever they like. But I do think with the long-term contracts, some teams will wish they'd never made those long-term deals. - David Nonis, assistant GM in Vancouver. Nonis admitted the Canucks were in the running for Eric Weinrich, who eventually signed in Philadelphia for $3 million per season.

"IF IT CONTINUES THE WAY IT'S GOING, I'd hate to think what it's going to be like in a few years. Based on what's occurred, I know it's wishful thinking on my part, but sanity has to prevail somewhere." - Florida GM Bill Torrey. The Panthers were all giddy after picking up Val Bure on draft day but now reality is beginning to set in, hence Florida's studious indifference to the recent free agent frenzy. "I'd rather find better ways to spend money, like signing Val Bure. It's one thing to get his rights. It's another to get him signed." Bure made $1.175 million U.S. last year. The Panthers are thinking Ray Whitney money - an annual salary of $2.35 million on a three year deal. That would be a far cry from reports Bure is seeking $5 million per season. Somebody's in for a big surprise.

DRAFT MEMORIES - In 1992, Phil Esposito, one of the worst GM's in league history but in charge of Tampa Bay that year, looked up in the stands and saw a kid all but getting ready to cry as the NHL draft wound to a conclusion. Espo found out he was looking at Marc Tardif and drafted him 218th overall. "I saw him up there since the beginning and I felt so bad for the kid, so I figured I'd make his day. I said, `It's the 10th round. What's the difference?''' Which leads me to wonder why the NHL has as many rounds in the draft as it does. If it makes no difference at that point then why bother? Nice gesture for the kid though.

THE LA KINGS ARE STARTING TO BE TORTURED in the local media after Luc Robitaille bolted ship and left for Detroit. Having lost Rob Blake and now Robitaille the Kings are a lesser team in spite of their big finish in the playoffs last year.

PITY RAY FERRARO FOR FALLING FOR THE old bait and hook line with the Atlanta Thrashers. No sooner did Atlanta ink him to a longer, more lucrative deal than they end up tossing his two best wingers - Donald Audette and now Andrew Brunette. Ferraro is peeved. "I'm extremely disappointed with what's happened in the off season. I haven't had a chance to speak to Don (Waddell) but I certainly would like to. We're a long way from the team we were when we were a game over .500. The kids on our team are good and I know will get better, but they'll be better when I'm not here. I would've thought we'd have added a few more veterans by now, and the fact that Bruno was my best friend on the team --- I'm disappointed. I just didn't see this coming."

BOSTON GM MIKE O'CONNELL ASTONISHED THE HOCKEY WORLD yesterday when he ridiculed the contract Philadelphia gave Eric Weinrich. "It's a little too long and too much," O'Connell told the Boston Herald. "We weren't prepared to go for that amount for that long and at that age.'' Meanwhile, O'Connell is the guy who gave a perennial 17 goal scorer, Martin Lapointe, $5.5 million a year. Ouch. We will find out how much money is really worth to Lapointe about mid-season when he's on his normal scoring pace and the Boston boo birds start to wonder if they're getting their monies worth. It's not Lapointe's fault that O'Connell is that dumb but Lapointe will end up earning every penny for the hell heís going to go through.

A SCARY THOUGHT FOR FLAMES FANS - Harley Hotchkiss, Murray Edwards et al would have to run a $40 million CDN deficit this year to have the same payroll as the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues. Interestingly, that's the same deficit run by Ted Leonisis of Washington in the season past. I can certainly see why Colorado, St. Louis, Detroit, Toronto, etc., have giant payrolls about 100% higher than Calgary's. It's because they're NOT losing money at that level. Their buildings, local television and fans in general support their payrolls and more. But I don't understand Leonisis running a $25 million U.S. deficit. To be competitive?

THAT WELL-KNOWN FATSO KEITH TKACHUK shocked the St. Louis Blues with a 17% body fat measurement immediately after the Blues were eliminated by Colorado. Tkachuk did little in the playoffs although Pierre Turgeon and Roman Turek took the fall. Turgeon, by the way, has 35 points in his last 35 playoff games.

CONTRAST THE POST-SEASON MANEUVERS of the St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs, one team going for more skill (again) and a skillful team shedding some dipsy-doodle guys in favour of grit. The Blues have added hard-nosed but skillful centre Doug Weight and scrappy pluggers like Mike Keane and Rich Pilon while talking with Doug Gilmour, in the same mold as Weight. Toronto in contrast, barely qualified for the playoffs with a team that later had a surprising workmanlike post-season effort, has softened up somewhat with Alex Mogilny, Robert Reichel and Mikael Renberg. Both teams still have Grand Canyon sized holes in their rosters in spite of payrolls north of $50 million U.S. In the case of St. Louis a second and third line center, no one beyond MacInnis and Pronger on defence, and no credible veteran goaltending. In the case of Toronto, Dmitri Yuskevich, Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe should hardly inspire dreams of a Cup run. Last year, the Leafs found they had good grit and competitiveness but not enough high-end skill while the Blues were pushed around by Colorado. Both teams are searching for the elusive middle ground, where a combination of skill and toughness melds together into a long post-season run. Both appear to have some work left to do.

"WHAT I SEE IS THAT TEAMS SAY THEY DON'T WANT TO PAY their third line guys $1.5 million if they don't think they can win the Cup. But a team that thinks they can win will pay that same guy $1.7 million because they believe they are paying him for 105 games and not 82." - Agent Rich Winter.

I THINK THE TEAMS KNOW ONLY ONE OUT OF 30 is going to win. Probably a half-dozen teams have a legitimate chance to do that, so those are the teams that might be inclined to spend that kind of money." - Agent Ron Perrick.

"WE THINK NEW JERSEY HAS PROVEN, along with the performance of teams like the Rangers, Philadelphia and Detroit, that $60 million payrolls don't guarantee success," - Carolina owner Peter Karmanos said.

SPEAKING OF THE HURRICANES, they drafted two players, Mike Zigomanis and Rob Zepp, who had contracts voided with teams which originally drafted them in 1999 because of a paperwork foul-up. Both want the Hurricanes to give them the same deals they would have signed originally. Hurricane assistant general manager Jason Karmanos thinks different. "That doesn't mean they can turn and get the same contract. We have to negotiate contracts with them that fit our salary structure." Neither player has much leverage. The Raleigh Observor reports Zigomanis and the Buffalo Sabres agreed to a three-year contract worth $1.625 million with a $600,000 signing bonus; Zepp and the Atlanta Thrashers agreed to a three-year contract worth $1.3 million with a $500,000 signing bonus.

FROM THE "I CAN HARDLY BELIEVE MY EARS" FILE COMES the following quote from Brian Sutter, talking about well-known floater Alex Zhamnov, "Alex is a key guy," new coach Brian Sutter said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, he has not gotten the respect around the league that he deserves. He's so good away from the puck and everybody knows how good he is with the puck. He does so many things that people don't realize. I've always held Alex in high regard." Yeah, right.

"BY DECEMBER AND JANUARY, when a few of our guys got called up, the players saw the system we played in Saint John was the same one in place in Calgary. They knew that once they mastered it, their chances of playing in the NHL would be excellent. That was the turning point of our season." - Flames St. John coach Jim Playfair. Too bad the guys in Calgary never got it down pat like their minor league brethren did.

Material from personal interviews, wire service reports and beat writers, was used in this report.