NHL off-season heats up

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:06 AM ET

What better time than the first week of summer to put the meat of the NHL’s off-season on the griller?

In the next six days, the 2010-11 salary cap will be clearer, the contentious Hall of Fame class will be announced, the League’s trophy hardware will be handed out in Vegas (underlining which counts more, regular season or playoffs), the schedule will be released, the Taylor-Tyler debate will be settled when the draft is staged over two days in Los Angeles, with trade intrigue before, during and after.

It all sets the table for the countdown to July 1 free agency.

“There’s lots of pressure on the general managers,” said Toronto’s senior advisor Cliff Fletcher. “Some fans and media people might call it the most exciting time of the year, but to management, it can be the most critical period to team success.

“It has taken on increased importance since the introduction of the cap. I know the next few days for our club will be critical, but a time we hope will lead to better things on the ice. The phones are heating up between the GMs. This is the only time some of them make big trades.”

A year’s worth of amateur scouting safaris, flights to Europe, long drives to remote Canadian towns and tiny U.S. college campuses is at an end, with countless gigabytes of info fed into laptops at the 30 draft tables. For some player personnel types, a year’s worth of researching a No. 1 pick can be scuttled if a major trade is made, for teams such as Toronto, without a first or second-round pick at present, one might land in their laps.

And trades that were left hanging at the March deadline could be resurrected in an instant, impacting draft picks.

“You might be used to pondering a bit about a trade, but on the draft floor, you have to be on your toes,” Fletcher said. “That’s how the Mats Sundin trade happened for us (coming together as the Leafs and Quebec Nordiques were walking into the Hartford Civic Centre for the first round in 1994).

“(Toronto GM) Brian Burke and Dave Nonis are pretty good at that if something comes up. Right now, we’re going through the process of rating the young players. You have to be ready to act quickly or react to what someone else has done.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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