Crazy Leaf draft stunts thing of past

Former Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard caused quite a commotion in Minnesota during the 1989 NHL...

Former Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard caused quite a commotion in Minnesota during the 1989 NHL draft. This week's draft, also in Minnesota, shouldn't be as crazy. (QMI Agency file photo)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:02 PM ET

TORONTO - The Maple Leafs hope this weekend’s draft will pass a lot more quietly than the last time they set up in Minnesota.

In 1989 in Bloomington, Toronto’s table should have had a big top circus tent overhead. Argumentative, aging owner Harold Ballard showed up and nearly had an accident while attendants tried to negotiate his wheelchair up and down the ramps to the draft floor. Ballard decreed that assistant George Armstrong announce Toronto’s picks, a shot at young GM Gord Stellick, who would resign a few months later.

As the national TV cameras focused on Armstrong at the table, the latter stuck out his tongue and flipped his dentures in his mouth, shocking the crowd.

In a bold experiment, the Leafs scouts insisted on using their windfall of three first rounders on members of the same Belleville Bulls’ junior team, Scott Thornton (third), Rob Pearson (12th) and defenceman Steve Bancroft (21st).

“The Leafs must have found a bar in Belleville they liked,” was one joke.

“At least we’ll save money on gas when we scout them,” quipped another.

Pearson did have a role in the club’s run to the conference final a few years later, while Thornton had a 17-year career that ended in San Jose and Los Angeles.

Armstrong did announce the picks ahead of Stellick and head scout Floyd Smith, reading Thornton’s name from a cue card.

Lou has holes to fill

New Jersey Devils’ general manager Lou Lamoriello goes to the draft with his highest pick in 20 years — fourth overall — but no second or third-round selection and as of yet, no coach.

The bench post won’t be decided by this weekend and though Craig Ramsay’s name came up when the new Winnipeg franchise decided to cut ties with the Thrashers’ staff, Ramsay has had no discussions with the Devils as yet.

During the Canadian Association of New York City’s annual NHL dinner this week, new vice-president of hockey operations Brendan Shanahan told a good yarn about his former boss Lamoriello. As an 18-year-old New Jersey draft, Shanahan revealed to the GM his self doubt about an NHL future.

The latter’s reply was along the lines of “I’ve been around this game a long time and kid, you have what it takes to be a great player in this game.”

So 21 seasons, five teams and three Cups later, Shanahan was back in the same office, hoping to go even longer and chirped to Lamoriello: “I’m 40 years old, but I know I can still play in the NHL”.

Lamoriello’s answer was quite different.

“I’ve been around this game a long time and Brendan, you no longer have what it takes to stay in this league.”

Flames great passes away

Harley Hotchkiss, a driving force in moving the Flames from Atlanta to Alberta and later a chairman of the NHL’s board of governors for 12 years, died Tuesday in Calgary at age 83.

“Harley’s vision, his leadership, his integrity and his commitment to our game, particularly in Canada, were key components in making hockey and the NHL as strong as they are today,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “He was passionately devoted to his family, his Flames, his community and his country. Harley was a cherished friend and counsellor, and I will miss him terribly.”

Ice chips

As of Tuesday night, serious talks between the Penguins and the agent for Jaromir Jagr had not taken place, but Pittsburgh is believed to be his favoured NHL destination, with Detroit second ... Nathan Horton revealed at the Bruins’ player exit meeting that he was also suffering from a shoulder separation before the devastating hit from Aaron Rome in Game 3 of the final. Horton had shoulder problems before the playoffs, then was badly injured by a Nate Thompson check in Game 7 of the conference final against Tampa Bay. He returned to score the game’s only goal. Horton also says he is now free of concussion effects ... The St. Louis Blues are without a first-round pick for the first time since 2002 and needing to spend around $8 million US just to reach the salary cap floor, which is expected to be $48 million. The Blues will use up money to get new deals for RFAs T.J. Oshie and Matt D’Agostini. B.J. Crombeen signed a two-year extension on Wednesday.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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