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THE NHL

Toronto Never Lets Truth Get in Way

January 23, 2001|ELLIOTT TEAFORD

Ever wonder why everyone who is anyone in the NHL seems to be headed any minute now to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a blockbuster deal?

King defenseman Rob Blake is going to the Maple Leafs for a used puck bag.

Phoenix Coyote center Keith Tkachuk is going to the Maple Leafs for two sets of Blue Jay season tickets.

Philadelphia Flyer center Eric Lindros is going to the Maple Leafs for two subway tokens and a $10 (Canadian) gift certificate at Tim Horton's doughnut shop.

Ever wonder why these trades never seem to happen?

Four daily newspapers are published in Toronto. The Hockey News is headquartered there. Three all-sports cable networks are there. Talk radio is huge.

Toronto is the Canadian media capital and the folks who work there have to put something between the beer ads. Anything and everything is fair game.

Part of it also is hometown boosterism. Toronto hasn't won a Stanley Cup championship since 1966-67, the season before the NHL doubled in size from six to 12 teams. The Maple Leafs historically have been overshadowed by the Montreal Canadiens and, more recently, by the Ottawa Senators.

It doesn't appear that the Maple Leafs will overtake the Senators in the Northeast Division standings this season. The second-place Maple Leafs have won only five of their last 18 games, only two of their last nine. Eleven of those games, in which the Maple Leafs went only 3-6-0-2, were against non-playoff teams.

Hence the hand-wringing over the Maple Leafs' predicament by the throng of Toronto hockey reporters. With the exception of goaltender Curtis Joseph, who is keeping the Maple Leafs afloat with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage, no one is having a remarkable season.

Naturally, say the pundits, the Maple Leafs must make a big trade to move past the Senators, dethrone the defending champion New Jersey Devils and claim the Cup for Toronto.

So Blake is headed to Toronto.

Tkachuk is headed to Toronto.

Lindros is headed to Toronto.

The only player not headed to Toronto is Mario Lemieux. But who knows? Maybe he'll sell his share of the Pittsburgh Penguins and save the Maple Leafs. Anything is possible if you monitor the Toronto media.

Pierre Gauthier, Mighty Duck president and general manager, put it best when he told the Toronto-based National Post over the weekend: "When you buy the National Enquirer, you do not really believe everything that is in there. It is a lot of the same with certain Toronto sports pages."

THE ST. LOUIS BLUES

St. Louis defenseman Chris Pronger, the league's MVP last season, will undergo arthroscopic surgery today to clean up torn cartilage in his left knee. He will be sidelined at least four weeks.

That figures to allow the talent-laden Colorado Avalanche to power away from the pack to clinch the league's best record, taking the President's trophy and securing home-ice advantage for the playoffs. Colorado has a league-leading 73 points.

What's more, the Blues' stranglehold on the Central Division lead will be threatened by the deeper, more experienced Detroit Red Wings.

Pronger's impact on the Blues cannot be understated. Besides playing about 30 minutes a game, he is the Blues' second-leading scorer with 41 points (six goals, 35 assists). He was injured Jan. 4 against the Nashville Predators.

"It's something we need to take care of now, before it becomes a problem," Pronger told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Added General Manager Larry Pleau: "He can play with it, but you never know what could happen. He could go down tomorrow, next week, the end of the year or not at all."

THE NO FIGHT CLUB

Some hockey fans collect videotapes of fights. You know, 90 minutes' worth of Stu Grimson versus Bob Probert. That sort of thing.

There are a few guys who never should be caught dead fighting, however. Top of the list is Dallas defenseman Darryl Sydor, who has used his face in recent seasons to beat up the fists of Tkachuk, Brent Severyn and Jim McKenzie.

St. Louis center Pierre Turgeon was added to the list after suffering a one-punch knockout Jan. 10 at the hands of Tony Hrkac of the Ducks. Turgeon sat out three games because of a concussion.

The newest member is Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames, who was bloodied during a one-sided fight Sunday against Detroit's Brendan Shanahan. Iginla's pluck is admirable, but the Flames need him on the ice scoring goals--not getting seven stitches in the dressing room.

THE WEEKLY MARIO NOTE

Lemieux, Penguin owner-center, has decided to pay himself $1.4 million this season, which means he's one of the biggest bargains in the league.

It also shows Lemieux remains a strong union man. If he went without a salary or paid himself some insignificant amount, say only $1, it would lower the league's average salary.

And no player wants to be accused of not supporting the almighty NHL Players Assn.

STINKING IN THE PACIFIC

Last season's talk about the Pacific being the NHL's best, most competitive division from top to bottom is very old news.

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