Fiddler's Facts: Leafs' playoff hopes still hanging by a thread

Fred
Fred MacDonald
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Management woes continue to hurt Toronto squad; Gallant gets inducted into QMJHL Hall of Fame

The Toronto Maple Leafs kept their slim playoff hopes alive with Thursday’s 4-3 upset of the Boston Bruins, and will likely need a sweep of Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Florida and Ottawa, plus and some help, to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There will be a lot of finger pointing for the dismal Leafs’ showing down the stretch, but the blame should not rest with the head coach or the players. I don’t know how the mega city of Toronto does it, but somehow it manages to attract some of the most inept management types in all of professional sports.

A few years ago, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment had a choice to hire either Scotty Bowman, one of the most successful hockey minds in NHL history, or Brian Burke, that big bag of wind from south of the border.

The Leafs executive opted for Burke, who boasted he’d put a Stanley Cup contender on the ice in five years. Burke traded for Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf and appointed Phaneuf as the captain. After four years, Toronto management finally woke up and fired Burke replacing him with David Nonis.

In fairness, Phaneuf logs a lot of minutes on a below-average defensive team, but at best he’s a second pairing D with little evidence of leadership skills.

And how about the Nonis off-season acquisition of Toronto native Dave Clarkson, who has amassed five goals, which amounts to a million bucks a goal. This slow-skating forward had one good season in New Jersey playing on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Elias. My old pal, Jamie Kennedy would probably tap in 20 playing with those guys.

Prior to his one good season, Clarkson averaged 13-plus goals per season with the Devils. Is it any wonder, he jumped at the Leafs offer? Compare Clarkson to Clarke MacArthur, who signed with Ottawa because Toronto didn’t want him. Last I looked MacArthur had 25 goals for Ottawa and has been arguably their best forward all season.

And let’s not forget, the host of Leafs screwups that have hampered the club during the last five or six years. The unbelievably stupid multi-million dollar signings and eventual buyouts of Mike Komisarek and Jeff Fingers and the almost $4 million per to John-Michael Liles, who ended up with the Toronto Marlies were all on the Burke watch. 

As for the Maple Leafs late season disappearing act, I don’t blame the head coach Randy Carlyle. Pathetic management has saddled him with too many overpaid and under-achieving players.

Whether the Leafs make the playoffs or out, I believe big changes are coming in Toronto and since many of the players are locked into no-trade deals, the players will stay and Carlyle will definitely go and possibly Nonis too. 

And how’s Scotty Bowman been doing in Chicago? A couple of Stanley Cups and a team loaded with young talent resting on a foundation of the right building blocks.

Drafting

If you’ve been checking through the draft picks of the Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames this century you will notice that neither team took a graduate of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with their first two or three picks until the 2013 draft when Frederik Gauthier (Rimouski) went to the Leafs and Emile Poirier (Chicoutimi) went to the Flames.

Some of the NHL teams have an apparent bias against the Quebec league and that was evident two years ago at the world junior tournament when Nathan MacKinnon, a shoe-in as this year’s NHL rookie of the year, sat on the bench and was seldom used. Maybe the fortunes of the Leafs and Flames will change if they start giving some of the Quebec graduates a closer look instead of hometown boys like Clarkson and others from the Ontario and Western hockey leagues.

Gallant goes into hall

Gerard (Turk) Gallant was inducted Wednesday into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Montreal.

Gallant jumped out of P.E.I. into the Quebec league in 1980 and as a rookie posted 101 points and as they say, the rest is history. Gallant launched his coaching career with the Summerside Western Caps and that team won the Royal Bank Cup. He was head coach of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets, and posted the best seasonal win-loss record in Blue Jackets history prior to his departure.

He returned to the Quebec league and led the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup two years ago. He is now an assistant coach with Montreal Canadiens and his many followers here, and in the hockey world, believe with the Habs addition of standout Thomas Vanek that a Stanley Cup may be in Turk’s future.

Andre Pronovost, who starred with Forbes Kennedy on the 1956 Montreal Junior Canadiens, is the grandfather of Anthony Mantha, the Val-d’Or standout who has been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings landed Mantha with pick number 20, and that looks like a great steal for the Wings. I don’t know who does Detroit’s scouting, but they have stockpiled plenty of talent down on the Grand Rapids farm.

Last weekend, Saint John native Gordie Clarke was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame along with former Major League Baseball players Rheal Cormier and Jason Dickson.

Gordie was an outstanding hockey star in the U.S. college ranks and also a talented baseball and fastball star with Saint John teams. He is now director of player personnel with the New York Rangers.

Condolences

And on the topic of baseball, Richard Perry who was a top shortstop with Summerside baseball teams in the 1960s passed away last week in Ontario. To his brothers Gary and photographer Clair and all connected, my condolences.

Basketball

The Island Storm opened the National Basketball League of Canada finals last night in Windsor, Ont., but no results were available when this column went to press.

The Storm continues their best-of-seven series Sunday in the Ontario city before returning to Prince Edward Island for games three, four and five at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown.

The teams split two games this season, so this series looks like a long, tough affair. Last year, the Storm lost to London in the finals and two of the stars on that team were Adrian Moss and Jeremy Williams who are now with the Storm. As I said earlier, this is a much stronger and deeper Island team and a championship here is a real possibility.

Let’s get out Wednesday and show our support.

Harness racing

The annual P.E.I. Standardbred Horse Owners Association awards night and banquet goes this evening at the Howard Johnson Hotel Charlottetown (Dutch Inn) in North River.

Track announcer Vance Cameron is the guest speaker for the evening and I’m sure he has plenty of interesting stories. Horse of the year and horseperson of the year will be among the many awards handed out.

Simulcast racing is available at Red Shores Charlottetown and Summerside today with harness racing cards from Flamboro, Woodbine, Yonkers, The Meadowlands and Pocono.

The feature tonight at Woodbine is the $28,000 pace which has horses like Dali, In Commando, Cougar Hall, Top Gear and four others.

At the Meadowlands, the Whata Baron series at $22,000 has horses like Wake Up Peter, Captive Audience, Alexas Jackpot and there’s also a $30,000 claim final.

At Yonkers, there’s tough racing with many of the top aged horses in action in four divisions of the Levy series at $50,000 each. Standouts like Foiled Again, Apprentice Hanover, Easy Again and Gold Cup winner Hillbilly Hanover headline the card.

Mark MacDonald qualified world champion Warrawee Needy at Pocono on Thursday morning, winning easily in 1:53 with the last panel in 27 flat.

At Woodbine on Thursday night, Amigo de Grande (Anthony MacDonald) won the $34,000 trot for the third straight week in 1:53:2 for trainer Carmen Auciello.

The annual Ontario horsemen’s hockey tournament ended Wednesday as Greg Gangle’s Ganglers upset MacDonald’s Mooseheads 4-2 in the championship game.

Curtis MacDonald’s steller goaltending couldn’t save the Moose this time. James MacDonald scored six goals in the tournament while Billy Davis Jr. and Garrett Whalen found the net twice. Charlottetown native Tyler Moore led Trevor Henry’s Oh Henry team with five tallies in three games while Robert Shepherd had a pair for the same team. Discussions are underway for the winner of this tournament to play a home and away with Team USA led by Cory Callaghan and Yannick Gingras. Apparently, Callaghan played U.S. intercollegiate hockey.

Fred MacDonald's column appears in

The Guardian each Saturday. He can be

reached at fiddlersfacts@hotmail.com.

Organizations: U.S. college, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL Boston Bruins Calgary Flames Montreal Canadiens Toronto Marlies Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Hall of Fame Summerside Western Caps Detroit Red Wings Major League Baseball National Basketball League of Canada Eastlink Centre P.E.I. Standardbred Horse Owners Association Howard Johnson Hotel Charlottetown Dutch Inn

Geographic location: Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec Winnipeg Tampa Bay Florida Ontario New Jersey Chicago Saint John Summerside Montreal Charlottetown Val Grand Rapids Windsor Prince Edward Island London North River Hanover Pocono U.S.

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