Depending on the source of information, the Maple Leafs on Friday
acquired the missing link to a Stanley Cup, bought themselves a major
headache or made Bruins GM Harry Sinden appear a little misguided.
Or all three.
The Leafs signed former Bruins forward Dmitri Khristich, 30, to a
four-year deal worth $10.3 million. Reporters who covered Khristich during
previous stops in Washington, Los Angeles and Boston, are not
complementary of him as a team player. But none doubted the 6-2, 195-pound
center/left winger's ability to help the Leafs.
Toronto gave up a compensatory second-round draft pick in 2000. Leafs
general manager/coach Pat Quinn, who placed center Steve Sullivan on
waivers to make room for Khristich, said the disappointing performances of
several wingers during training camp convinced him to go after Khristich.
But Quinn was mindful of the tainted reputation of Khristich, a nine-year
"We tried to do an extensive personal check on him," Quinn said. "We
spoke to a lot of people who have been around from the playing ranks all
the way to the management side, including trainers, because there was that
question out there but, in my opinion, it has been a bad tag." . . .
Sullivan, who had asked to be traded, was picked up by Chicago on
waivers. . . .
The deal for Khristich was Quinn's fourth since training camp opened in
September. Earlier, he shipped Fredrik Modin to Tampa Bay for Cory Cross; Sylvain Cote to
Chicago for a second-round draft pick in 2001; and Derek King to St. Louis
for defensive prospect Tyler Harlton.
"What I would like to do right now is stop for a little bit and pull
our guys together," Quinn said. "We have had some changes involving guys
who were well-liked and well-respected here and that's unsettling. It is
hard emotionally. It creates some fear (in those who remain). It gets the
wrong emotion in. We have to slow that down and see if we can do some
team-building now. We are going to stop (roster moves for now)." . . .
Speaking of Quinn, he doesn't intend to be GM for life. He hopes to get
to the point where he will hold one position -- coach. Although Quinn said
he feels comfortable with the existing situation, "It wasn't something I
wanted. Right now, it's working. I don't know how it is going to work long
term. I don't think the best situation is manager/coach for a lot of
reasons. But it is a fact right now and we will deal with it. Some day,
that is going to change."
Quinn assumed the dual role last summer when associate general manager
Mike Smith made demands that Leafs president Ken Dryden couldn't meet and
was released. . . .
The Leafs agreed to pick up one-third of Derek Kings' $1.65 million
contract before trading him to St. Louis late Wednesday night. . . .
With the addition of Khristich, the Leafs have a Ukrainian, a Czech, a
Kazakh, an American, two Swedes, five Russians and 12 Canadians on their
23-player roster. "English is not the No. 1 language anymore," captain
Mats Sundin said jokingly. "It's more a matter if you are a team guy. It
hasn't been a problem, not yet anyway."
Quinn will keep a watchful eye on his team's chemistry. . . .
Since Cote was shipped to Chicago, the Leafs are 2-3-1. . . .
Khristich wasn't the only new face in the lineup Saturday against
Montreal. Defenseman Greg
Andrusak was called up from the Chicago Wolves of the IHL to replace
Chris McAllister, who is
nursing a sore knee. . . .
Sundin, who has missed six games with a fractured right foot, could be
back on skates early next week. "If everything is fine with my X-ray on
Monday, I could be skating by Monday or Tuesday," Sundin said.
Forwards: Khristich played on a line with center Nik Antropov
and right winger Mike
Johnson and looked good in his debut. Khristich didn't get a point,
but had several good chances. Sergei Berezin seems to
have found his way now that Igor Korolev is back as his
center. Alyn McCauley
has scored in consecutive games and is looking like his old self. Grade:
Berard missed the Habs game with a suspension, while McAllister was
unable to move in because of his knee problems. But the defense, which is
getting used to each other, played another sound game. Grade: B.
Joseph made a bad giveaway that led to Carolina scoring the tying goal
on Wednesday, but he played brilliantly against Montreal. The more work he
gets, the better he plays. Grade: B.
Coaching: Quinn may not like having two jobs, but he has been
handling them very well. Grade: A.
Sundin is still at least a couple of weeks away from returning;
McAllister is day to day with his knee sprain. Todd Warriner also has a
sore knee, but he continues to play.
IN THE CREASE
Accuse the Leafs of a lot of things, but don't accuse them of not
wanting to win. That would be the ownership group, of course. They have
committed in excess of $35 million U.S. for player salaries this year, yet
there are critics who say they are cheap and not concerned about whether
the team wins.
Well, judging by the deft moves Quinn made in the past week, it appears
winning is high on the agenda and that they are also committed to running
a sound business.
It's funny, but teams get criticized for spending recklessly and
criticized for not spending recklessly.
It's looking like the NHL is heading down another controversial road
with its revised crease rules this season. Habs goaltender Jeff Hackett
was bumped a couple of times Saturday night, but none worse than on the
Leafs second goal when Korolev shouldered him off the puck, then jammed it
into the net. If the new rule is going to work, the referees have to make
sure the goaltenders are protected from charging forwards.
Khristich, though a little rusty in his Leaf debut, has some obvious
skills. Like most natural goal scorers, he finds the net and finds open
ice. He has size, so he can work the boards, or take some punishment in
front of the goal. With the Leafs free-flow style of play, Khristich could
turn into a 40-goal scorer.
In the week ahead, the Leafs play Dallas, Atlanta and Calgary, all at
home, so two of the three are very winnable games. The Leaf, for the first
time ever, have also formed a Russian Five power-play unit, using Berezin,
Korolev and Khristich up front, with Danny Markov and Alexander Karpovtsev on the
points. That unit could be capable of putting up big numbers, especially
against weaker teams.