Circumventing rules 'not the Leafs' style' -- Peddie

LANCE HORNBY and TERRY KOSHAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

If the Maple Leafs wanted a day-long diversion from their troubles on the ice, they couldn't have done better than to have junior superstar John Tavares linked to the blue and white.

But the idea of Tavares joining the Toronto Marlies and, to really stretch it, playing for the Leafs down the road, appears to be a red herring.

A published story circulated yesterday that Leafs general manager John Ferguson had offered the 17-year-old Ontario Hockey League star a three-year contract to play for the Leafs' American Hockey League team. Once in Toronto's sphere of influence, the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft conceivably could stay and play with the Leafs by refusing to go to the team that eventually drafts him -- but only after a two-year wait period makes him a free agent in 2011.

"I've had no discussions with the Leafs or any other club in this regard," Bryan Deasley, one of Tavares' agents, said yesterday. "Where this came from I have no idea. I don't want to misrepresent this by denying it: There has been no discussion at all.

"John is an Oshawa General and it sounds like a cliche, but with all the attention that came to him (last summer's news that his camp approached the NHL about moving his draft year up to 2008), we just told him to go play hockey, score some goals and help lead the team to a Memorial Cup."

He has 28 points in 12 games so far.

In Pittsburgh yesterday, Ferguson would say only: "I don't want to get too deep into this and I don't want it to be a distraction."

Sources say a three-year deal was never discussed, though legal beagle Ferguson and club lawyers have looked into Tavares playing at least one year as a Marlie, an alternative to playing in Europe next season. His 18th birthday next Sept. 20 is five days too late for both the draft and the AHL minimum age.

There is some precedent for 17-year-old Europeans playing minor-league hockey. Patrick Stefan, Sergei Samsonov and Radek Bonk all played in the International Hockey League before their draft date. However, AHL president Dave Andrews said a by-law would have to be changed to accommodate the home-grown Tavares.

"I don't think three-quarters of our 28 teams will vote to give one team a competitive edge," Andrews said. "I'm told he would be a good draw and while that might be true in Toronto, Hamilton and Winnipeg, he is still unknown in the U.S."

Richard Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., would have to grant his GM the millions to fund a multi-year enterprise. But he laughed off the report, saying there are no plans for an end run around existing NHL or AHL regulations.

"John and I spoke of Tavares on Monday, but only to do with his draft situation," Peddie said. "We discussed the pros and cons of that, but came to no conclusions. Rules are rules and circumventing them is not the Leafs' style.

"You hear the stories that he'll try to change the draft rule and that's his call. But I had lunch with Gary Bettman and Bill Daly recently and I didn't sense any traction on the league's part (to change the draft)."

Peddie repeated that the Leafs wouldn't listen to those fans urging him to 'blow up' the roster, finish last and get a Tavares ticket the old-fashioned way, by finishing last.

"I believe Portland had the No. 1 pick in the NBA, but the Raptors got it (in 2006)," Peddie said of the perils of the draft lottery.

"There are benefits to being bad for so long as some NHL teams with lots of picks are finding out now."


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