by Bob Harwood
As the Maple Leafs get beyond what the critics like to call a disappointing summer in the trade and free agent games, it's quite clear there's actually an enviable problem facing the team at the start of training camp.
Toronto may not have been bolstered by the addition of the biggest free agent names on the list this off-season, but the group of forwards available to GM/coach Pat Quinn this season is the deepest and most interchangeable in recent years.
In the stands during drills and scrimmages at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, media types are involved in ongoing discussions about whom can/should/will play with who up front this season. When the conversation focuses on versatility, new Leaf Tom Fitzgerald comes up on a regular basis.
| Tom Fitzgerald was the Nashville Predators first captain in team history. |
After splitting the first 10 years of his career between the Islanders and Panthers franchises, followed by a brief stint in Colorado, Tom Fitzgerald was the ideal captain in expansion Nashville. He was well liked, well spoken, gritty, experienced and as demanding of himself as he was of the mostly young players with whom he shared the Predators dressing room.
He was also the most sought-out player in a town whose fan base, and media, was new to hockey. There is something refreshing to him about blending in with a room full of veteran players in a hockey-savvy town like Toronto, although he did develop an appreciation for the experience of trying to sell the game in a non-traditional market.
"That was a part of the game that as a younger player, I never knew about. I never knew how important it was reaching out to the fans, reaching out to the community. Playing in Florida, playing in Nashville, two new teams, it really educated me. But coming here now and not having to worry about promoting the game of hockey, it's a nice feeling that I can come here and work on my game, and not worry about some little things."
Fitzgerald is also impressed by the amount of leaders in the Leafs dressing room. He should fit in at that level too, adding that not having the "C" on his jersey this year doesn't mean he can't provide a great example of how to act professionally.
As comfortable as that all sounds, this is not a case of a veteran taking a roster spot for granted. "I'm just trying to go out and get myself in game shape. I haven't played centre in five years. Left wing, right wing, it doesn't matter. It's just playing positional hockey and getting my game in tune for the exhibition season, and what better way than with these (scrimmages) right here."
He is no stranger to the media and broadcast side of things as well. Fitzgerald hosted a weekly radio show in Nashville, and says he's open to stepping into the broadcast booth when his playing days are over. He has an understanding and appreciation for the intense media coverage in Toronto, saying that a handful of players told him he wouldn't believe the sheer number of notepads, tape recorders, microphones and cameras covering the Leafs. I counted over 40 media types on day one of camp.
Fitzgerald says he's used to answering the call, and will certainly have the chance to in Toronto. For more inside information on the team from Bob Harwood, tune into Leafs TV, the only channel dedicated to covering one team all the time.
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