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Let The Fun Begin

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Thoughts that are completely unsanctioned or even connected to my employer. Episode 176.

Well, thank goodness that’s over.

Two months after the Stanley Cup playoffs began, everyone is welcome back into the tent.

Truth is most hockey fans don’t care if Zdeno Chara accepted the Stanley Cup or booted it into the Pacific.

Boston has been left with its victory, Vancouver has its vandals and fans from the other 28 cities yawn.  Being locked out of the playoffs is like watching someone else kiss your wife.

And that’s why God gave us the next two weeks, complete with the draft and free agency with lots of talk in between.

Gossip, speculation, innuendo, secrecy, this is the summertime version of the trade deadline except stuff actually happens. Here are the top reasons why it will be impossible not to watch.

Winnipeg: Really, they’re not kidding. There will be NHL hockey in Winnipeg come Fall and they are neck-and-neck to choose a name for the team before the first frost. Most fans prefer the Jets. True North seems to favour the Manitoba Moose which will ease the fear of NHL execs who think most New Yorkers can’t identify Winnipeg but will spill their lattes when they realize the city is in Manitoba.

Roberto Luongo: The good news is that he has four months to learn how to stop a wraparound goal the way Tim Thomas does. The bad news for Canucks fans…he’s signed until 2022. LeBron James said fans will despise him for 10 minutes and then spend the rest of their day in the wretched circumstances of their life. I…I really don’t have a point here.

July 1: Gentlemen start your engines:  Brad Richards is either a concussion away from the sidelines or the savior for a centre-deprived outfit like the Leafs, Kings or Rangers. While most believe he's headed to the Rangers, the term and dollars involved will affect those teams that don’t land him as well as the team that does.

Leafs restricted free agents:
Luke Schenn, Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak have yet to sign. It will be instructive to observe the team’s plans for Bozak, who they feel would prosper further down the lineup. MacArthur who they picked up for $1 million was a contributing member of the club’s de facto first line. Schenn, of course, is one of their best defenceman. If salary issues result in summer-long discontent or reactive trades, the off-season takes a new turn.

Everyone else’s RFAs:  There hasn’t been a tender offered for a restricted free agent since 2008 when Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe engaged in the Great Dustin Penner ‘you are a poo-poo-head’ Dust-Up. But with Steve Stamkos, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Zach Parise eligible for offer sheets, will this be the off-season the embargo ends?

Pop goes Bryzgalov: If, as expected, the Philadelphia Flyers sign Ilya Bryzgalov, they will address their longstanding goaltending issues but scrape hard against a salary cap that will be set somewhere near $63 million. The Flyers have signed 18 players and three of their remaining players, Nikolai Zherdev, Ville Leino and Sean O’Donnell aren’t big tickets. Still, with Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk emerging as the Flyers best players, the 11-year-contract of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards’ 12-year deal will likely become unworkable. If so, one of the game’s top forwards will be raffled off. Among the contributing factors: Kris Versteeg’s $3 million ticket. Nice.

Tomas Kaberle: The longtime Leaf will take the Cup to the Czech Republic. Good on him.

Who’s on first: The most wide-open NHL Draft in years goes June 24 and 25 and will have an impact on the NHL for years to come.  The Oilers should draft what figures to be the final building block of their renovation with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If the Colorado Avalanche take Quebec star Jonathan Huberdeau, they will intensify a log-jam at centre and may be of a mind to deal Paul Stastny. The Leafs pick 25th and 30th and have the tenth pick in the second round and Leafs’ GM Brian Burke is anxious to parlay his picks into an earlier selection.
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