The Toronto Maple Leafs went so nuts with their hiring spree – from Brendan Shanahan to Kyle Dubas to Darryl Metcalf of Extra Skater – that they couldn’t stop shopping for executives by the time the season started.
Tuesday, they unveiled Mark Hunter as their new director of player personnel, taking over Dave Poulin’s old role. Hunter should be a familiar name to you. He was a 628-game NHL veteran and he’s Dale’s brother. More importantly, he’s masterminded the London Knights juggernaut in the Ontario League as the team’s owner, vice-president and GM for 12 years. Under his watch, the Knights won three OHL crowns and, of course, the 2005 Memorial Cup with an absolutely stacked squad that went 79-9-2 over the entire year.
Hunter will oversee the Leafs’ pro and amateur scouting, plus player evaluation. It should inspire confidence knowing Corey Perry, Dave Bolland, Brandon Prust, Steve Mason, Sam Gagner, Patrick Kane, Nazem Kadri, John Tavares and Olli Maatta, just to cherrypick a few names, filtered through London and the Hunter brothers, some for a lot longer than others, before reaching the NHL.
The hire also gives the Leafs’ new brain trust three former OHL GMs: Hunter, Dubas and assistant coach Steve Spott. Does adding Hunter mean Shananan is simply fulfilling his promise to improve the Leafs’ scouting and development? Or does it also mean current GM Dave Nonis should start sweating just a little bit more? In the last year, he’s been surrounded by a Hall of Famer czar and two former junior GMs. Is Nonis being nudged toward milk-carton status a la Greg Sherman in Colorado?
The big news in the prospect world right now concerns the class-action lawsuit filed against the CHL and without going into too much detail, I think this could have a dramatic effect on junior hockey. With profits and losses so extreme across the continent, I believe a minimum wage policy would have to be supported by revenue sharing. But let’s get back on the ice, shall we? Because that’s what The Hot List is, a round-up of the kids we can’t wait to see in the NHL one day.
On a macro level across North America, there’s an ongoing battle for the hearts, minds – and most importantly, the monies – of elite teenaged athletes who are major revenue generators for their development leagues. In the United States, the NCAA collegiate system is involved in a momentous high-stakes showdown with former athletes – with potential repercussions that could shake their business model to its foundations. And in Canada, a similar war is being fought at the major junior hockey level, with the latest volley taking place Friday: a $180-million lawsuit filed against the Canadian Hockey League by former players (including former Niagara IceDogs player Sam Berg, son of retired NHLer Bill Berg) seeking outstanding wages, holiday, overtime and vacation pay and employer payroll contributions and alleging basic minimum wage laws were broken.
Leave aside the particulars in both cases, and you’re left with the same essential questions: if we’ve turned amateur sports into big business, how much of the cut do amateur athletes deserve? And why do owners get to dictate that players’ dreams of playing in the best league they can has a monetary value equal or greater to the actual money their current organizational structures bring in? It’s been a Canadian tradition to romanticize players chasing their dreams for free, but when everyone can see the amount of money that’s being made, why is it so unfair for athletes to be included in the financial windfall?
Certainly, it’s worthwhile to ask who is involved with any particular lawsuit – and in their initial response to Friday’s suit, the three commissioners involved at the junior hockey level (OHL commissioner David Branch; QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau and WHL commissioner Ron Robison) did exactly that. While promising they would “vigorously defend” against this latest legal action, the trio accused brothers Randy and Glenn Grumbley, union activists who attempted to start the Canadian Hockey League Players’ Association, of being behind it. Read more
When the Ottawa Senators traded Jason Spezza to Dallas over the summer, it was a definite signal that the franchise was moving in a new, younger direction. Their captain and second-leading scorer was gone, with top scorer and offensive defenseman extraordinaire Erik Karlsson eventually earning the ‘C’ for his own jersey.
But so far, the Senators aren’t wilting without Spezza. In fact, at 4-1-0, Ottawa is off to a grand start and the Sens are doing it as one big unit: No player has more than four points, but 14 skaters have already counted on the scoresheet. One such player is rookie Curtis Lazar.
Roberto Luongo and Zach Fucale were born 16 years apart, but they do have several things in common: they’re both Quebec-born goalies and Quebec League stars born to Italian families, and they’ve each represented their country in high-stakes international competitions.
Fucale, 19, has yet to play an NHL game after his hometown Canadiens drafted him 36th overall in 2013, but he attended Canadiens camp this year and had just returned to his Halifax Mooseheads team to start the season. That’s where special guest editor-in-chief Luongo caught up with him for an exclusive, insightful talk, under the supervision of yours truly, that was more conversation than straight-ahead question-and-answer.
Your trusty correspondent has long maintained that the Sudbury Wolves are the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Ontario League. Both teams play in hockey-mad markets where the love of the team is unconditional regardless of how good or bad they are. Both have had long periods of dysfunctionality, punctuated by short bursts of promise and hope. But for the most part, both teams have given their long-suffering fans too little to cheer about for too long.
In fact, it might even be worse in Sudbury than it is in Toronto. The Leafs are closing in on 50 years since their last Stanley Cup. The most recent and only time the Sudbury Wolves have won the Memorial Cup was 1932. So you’d have to be close to 90 years old to even have a faint recollection of what it was like to experience this team winning something. (And pre-season junior club tournaments in Russia don’t count.) Read more
The Western League’s Spokane Chiefs faced up to the anger of their own fans Wednesday night after an incident the previous Friday.
With NCAA hockey officially in full swing, there is action aplenty to watch for in the prospect world. Boston University’s Jack Eichel and Erie’s Connor McDavid already seem to have a fantastic game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better going on, but who else should you be watching this season? Here are some of the other names making noise right now.