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After months of political manoeuvring and speculation… and pending ratification, Donald Fehr appears primed to formally take office as the Executive Director of the NHLPA with the Ilya Kovalchuk saga providing an appropriate backdrop. Despite having earlier dismissed himself as a candidate for the role, the former MLBPA hardliner is now expected to spearhead the players union through the next series of collective bargaining negotiations in 2012.

Either a spectre to be feared, or a challenge to be relished for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, one wonders if the league office wishes it had treated the ailing NHLPA with kid gloves following the late, late night coup that saw former figurehead Paul Kelly overthrown in August 2009.

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Even with news breaking this afternoon of Ilya Kovalchuk’s new $60 million contract extension (potentially) with the New Jersey Devils, this 2010 free agency period has been one of the most uneventful and slow-developing offseasons in recent memory. The reason being? Despite a mediocre at best free agent group, there simply isn’t enough money to pay these guys what they’re probably worth. As one unnamed NHL General Manager put it last week: “The teams with cap don’t have cash and the teams with cash don’t have cap”. The Maple Leafs however, are fortunate enough to have both, and have the opportunity to exploit the market to their advantage.

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Brian Burke must have felt a lot like the eponymous Old Mother Hubbard when he first reached into the Leafs prospects cupboard. Of course, unlike the elderly dog-mistreating crone of the rhyme, Burke already knew what lay in stock prior to his arrival in Leafs country. In short: a few notable exceptions to a decade of draft property mismanagement.

Subsequently, the draft of 2009 looked to be a vital cornerstone in Brian Burke’s rebuild. The first chance for the Leafs to restock in a new, finally directed era.

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The NHL Draft is less than 18 days away…can you feel the excitement? The Leafs won’t be landing Taylor Hall, but it doesn’t mean they can’t grab another talented young forward from the Windsor Spitfires, today’s feature player: Justin Shugg. Justin’s a local kid from Niagara Falls who has been a key cog in for the most powerful offense in Canadian Major Junior, enjoying a 39 goal, 79 point breakout season in the Ontario Hockey League. Word around the scouting circles is that the Leafs are deeply interested in his services, as are the Atlanta Thrashers.

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    The year was 2005.  George W. Bush was still in office (yes, somehow Americans voted for him, twice), Hurricane Katrina was doing catastrophic damage to New Orleans, and the vatican was naming a new pope after the passing of John Paul II.

    In the sports world, the New England Patrios would win yet another Super Bowl, this time against the Eagles, the Washington Nationals would begin operation as Major League Baseball’s newest team, Danica Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap at the Indy 500, and the Chicago White Sox ended a lengthy championship drought, winning the world series in four straight over the Houston Astros.

    Oh, and there was this one other thing too.  NO HOCKEY.

    Embattled in a bitter labour dispute, the NHL shut down operations for an entire year in search of cost certainty, something they would eventually get, although the opinion on whether the design is flawed or not is still out to be deliberated.

    For fans of the NHL, the June 2005 entry draft was more than just a weekend in June in which young players would be drafted, making their way into the beginning of their National Hockey League careers.  It was a new beginning for the world of the NHL.  A new season was about to kick off in earnest.

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    In continuing with our preparation for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, which takes place June 25th – 26th at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, today’s draft primer will profile right winger Brett Bulmer from the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Bulmer is quickly climbing up draftboards across the NHL after coming out of nowhere to have a very productive season out west. The intriguing combination of skating ability, size and offensive upside could see him go pretty high on draft day.

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      Somewhat understandably, a great number of people will be upset with what ended up unfolding (or not unfolding) as Trade Deadline Day progressed, in particular with regard to Tomas Kaberle.

      A new twist in the latest “will he or won’t he” saga involving a star player for the Toronto Maple Leafs kickstarted a ravenous day of trade rumours, one which ended disappointingly for all those who dared to believe that a King’s ransom was just around the corner.

      However, things are never quite so simple as they first seem.  And where some are seething with rage, others are basking in the glow of a new-found respect for the class displayed today, for all of us to see, by both the player and the general manager in the face of the onslaught which predictably ensued.

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        Big thank you to Mark Seidel, Chief Scout of North American Central Scouting and contributor to The Hockey News, for taking the time to chat about the upcoming 2010 NHL Entry Draft. His agency’s latest rankings can be seen here on THN. This time around, Leaf fans won’t be having the opportunity of watching one of the draft’s elite youngsters, such as projected top pick Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall, fall into their lap. But nonetheless, the draft is always a hot topic in the hockey world.

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          Even in the days of modern technology, many still profess that meteorology is an inexact science more guess work than theory. The very same can be said when scouting goaltenders. For every Mark-Andre Fleury (selected 1st overall in 2003) there’s a Brent Krahn (selected 9th overall in 2000). Meanwhile recent Vezina nominees and winners such as Tim Thomas, Mikka Kiprusoff and Evgeni Nabokov had to wait until the 217th, 116th and 219th selections respectively to see their names on the board. Indeed, the vast majority of netminders who started a game last season in the NHL had long waits deep into the second day to see their dreams realized while others went completely unnoticed only to resurface as free agents years later.

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            International Scouting Services (ISS) has released the March edition of their monthly top 30 rankings for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in June.  Much of the names at the top remain unchanged, while a couple new players begin sneaking into the top 30. In Canada, Major Junior playoffs are about to begin, and it’s crunch time for draftees as they prepare to make one last impression on NHL scouts.

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              When was the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs produced a bonafide star calibre forward through their development system? Sadly, the only one in recent memory, Brad Boyes, doesn’t even play for the Leafs, but rather for the St. Louis Blues (where Toronto 1st rounders go as they mature).

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                It’s official:  the trade deadline has come and gone … not with a bang but a whimper.

                Aside from the agonizingly slow pace throughout most of the day, some fascinating moves (and non-moves) took place, for both the Maple Leafs and the league as a whole.

                Here are my thoughts, in the aftermath of Deadline Day:

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                  When it comes to trade rumours, generally the first thing we look at is the salary cap, and how much cap space the teams in question have available.  But how important is the cap, in order for potential trades to become reality?