It’s the biggest ten days for hockey outside of the season’s boundaries.
This is for all of you spending more time between morning coffee and lunch break reading hockey blogs than answering emails. All the ones counting on the volume of news over this short summer frenzy to quench your thirst ahead of July’s shortage. All those just like me.
It’s an off-season marathon of sorts. In the tinkerings of my little mind it acts as a sort of mental fitness testing; clearly of an unconventional means. If I’m able to keep up – and keep straight – all that goes on over this time, then I’ve passed my self-inclusion test and am granted passage into next season. Granted access by myself, that is.
Alright, so I haven’t ironed out all the kinks; but if I can keep it straight, you certainly able to as well. Five parts to this 10 day, off-season marathon:
For most Ricoh regulars and blue-and-white faithful, Friday and Saturday were benchmarked by top-prospect Morgan Rielly and long-time Leafs fan Matthew Finn pulling the legendary sweater over their head. It was the fourth time in team history they had selected rearguards with the first two picks.
Outside of the top-35 however, it was Ryan Rupert that caught my eye; a hard-nosed centre drafted in the sixth round (157th overall) from the Ontario Hockey League’s Knights.
An OHL general manager describes Rupert as a player who “gave us fits all season, both with his tenacity and his skill.”
Rupert, who plays alongside twin brother Matt on London’s major junior club, skated with fellow Leafs prospect Greg McKegg and son of former Toronto heavy-weight Tie Domi where he amassed 120 penalty minutes; five of which came on Remembrance Day, 2011. This was then followed by a five-game suspension. Here’s the story:
London hosted to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds when, as the final buzzer sounded, Rupert slashed Soo star Nick Cousins as he celebrated the victory. Players then piled onto the ice in defence of one side or the other. Amidst the bench-clearing melee that ensued, 2011 sixth round tough guy David Broll could be seen with his gloves off and arms raised – dressed as part of the opposing Greyhounds.
By 5:00pm EST on June 25th teams had to submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents; by no means a new concept. Tendering a qualifying offer allows a club the right to match a competing offer sheet or receive draft pick compensation for those signed elsewhere.
As often is the case with the Maple Leafs organization and contract discussions, the team has thus far chosen to keep the negotiating out of the media; a tactic I believe is both fair to team and player. A plan of action, however, not followed by all of the league’s 30 franchises.
Two names caught my attention amidst all the RFA postings, neither of whom were qualified.
Fiery 5-foot-10 forward Mike Duco, who appeared in six games with the Vancouver Canucks and 56 with their AHL affiliate in Chicago, was passed over. Duco had crossed paths with the Marlies on several occasions having previously been a member of the Rochester Americans.
He may be remembered best in Toronto for jumping an unsuspecting – and often docile – Fabian Brunnstrom. The Swedish winger had suited up for the Marlies in between stops in both Dallas and Detroit. During a road trip to Rochester, Brunnstrom looked on as a teammate was tangled up in an altercation with the Rochester netminder when Duco chose to tackle the Swede. Duco was assessed a five minute penalty and a game misconduct.
Brunnstrom came to Toronto by way of a trade with the Dallas Stars which included Leafs 2008 fourth round selection, Mikhail Stefanovich. The vocal Belarusian had been known to share his thoughts publicly on his development prior to joining the Dallas system. The Stars opted not to qualify Stefanovich on June 25th.
Board of Governors Meetings:
The ECHL Board of Governors were the first to wrap-up meetings as representatives from all franchises met in Las Vegas, Nevada.
There were three points of interest I found coming out of the desert chat. With the goal of adding three additional members in the Western Conference, the league’s franchise limit was capped at 26.
This brought on a new alignment of clubs; the Marlies and Leafs affiliate in Reading to play in the Atlantic Division along with Elmira, Trenton and Wheeling.
The league also decided on a two-referee system to be used in both the Conference Finals and Kelly Cup Finals. The NHL has fully integrated this system while the American League sees it incorporated in 25 percent of regular season games and all playoffs contests.
The AHL BoG meetings commenced Monday. Maybe movement will be made in the direction of video review as league president Dave Andrews discussed with Paul Hendrick during game four of the Calder Cup finals, or perhaps, like the ECHL, an alignment change lay ahead.
Set your blackberry’s to ‘loud’ and get ready, the league’s free agents hit the market on July 1st; roughly twenty percent of all skaters, actually.
Although far be it from me to start speculating in this regard, the idea of Darryl Boyce being a free agent brings glimmers of excitement.
I touched on it briefly after the draft; the next step for many of these young men will be development camp.
Last season brought both Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy into town along with Josh Leivo, Garret Sparks, Max Everson and a boat load of other prospects. As of today the dates and details have yet to be announced, but if it’s anything like last year the Leafs-in-training should hit the ice during early July.
Of last season’s parting words from development camp graduates, Jake Gardiner’s had to have been the most comical as he warned “try not to puke on your birthday.” The mobile defenceman was referring to his illness following the wind gate test which fell on July 4th, the day of his birth.
There it is, all laid out: The Off-Season Marathon. The mental fitness testing we all put ourselves through in preparation for the upcoming 2012/13 campaign.
It makes it seem a lot closer, doesn’t it?