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Friday, October 29, 1999
Khristich arrives with positive sudden impact
Until then, Dmitri Khristich will have to make due with those embarrassing, game-by-game reminders he has been dishing the Bruins with his stick.
The Leafs are 3-0 since they acquired the former Bruins exile last week for a second-round draft pick.
While the 30-year-old winger has three goals and four points in his past two games, he also has helped elevate the play of linemates Mike Johnson and Nik Antropov.
Antropov has, in fact, been so sturdy Leafs general manager/coach Pat Quinn officially welcomed him to the team Wednesday night -- telling the 19-year-old Kazakh to find a permanent Toronto address.
He's not going back to St. John's.
"I think for Nikky to have a veteran on his line like Khristich, a guy who also speaks his language, has really helped him," Leafs executive Bill Watters said yesterday. "This guy (Khristich) is a player."
He has been a good citizen, too -- contradicting Boston's negative take on the shy, but gifted Ukrainian.
Watters isn't entirely surprised -- given all the disinformation the Leafs received before they decided to check out Khristich for themselves.
The Leafs initiated their pursuit of the Bruins free agent in early September on the advice of assistant coach Rick Ley.
"The Bruins had just walked away from Khristich's arbitration award and I remember Rick saying that this guy could help our team a lot," Watters said. "Rick had pro-scouted him for two years (when he worked for Vancouver). He remembered Khristich as a big, strong guy who could help our power play and play all three (forward) positions."
Ley, as is turned out, wasn't the only pro-Khristich voice in the Leafs camp. Toronto's scouting department had done 55 separate game reports on the player -- each time rating his performance on a scale of 1-to-10.
"A 10 is the kind of performance you get from a superstar, an eight is still a pretty solid outing," Watters said. "Of the 55 viewings, he earned less than an eight on just five reports. That's impressive."
The next task was finding a way to accommodate Khristich's salary in a budget that had found its ceiling. The club also conducted a background check.
"We knew from (Bruins president) Harry Sinden what the bottom line, worst-case scenario was. We wanted to find out what was in between," Watters said.
Phoenix Coyotes coach Bob Francis, a Bruins assistant from 1997-99, and former Washington Capitals general manager David Poile, Khristich's first NHL employer, both spoke highly of the forward.
Further conversations with Khristich's agent, Larry Kelly, and the player's American wife convinced the Leafs to step up their pursuit.
By now, five other teams -- Washington, Calgary, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis -- had entered the derby.
But, for whatever reason, none chose to exceed the Leafs' three-year, $8.4-million US guaranteed offer. Sinden, meanwhile, gladly accepted a second-round draft pick for Khristich, figuring it was the best he could expect for a player who was, in some respects, an unrestricted free agent.
Now, the Leafs needed to convince Khristich to sign with them.
"It was almost like a college recruitment," Watters said. "If a guy's going to sign for four years (there's a club option for a fourth year), he wants to know what Pat's like and the other people he'll be responsible to."
Khristich met with Quinn in Toronto last Tuesday and agreed to a contract the following day.