Updated: Leafs chasing Crosby - source

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Apr. 15, 2005. 01:00 AM

To Leafs: Ink Sidney

Make him a Marlie for, oh, $3 million a year and watch people flock to Coliseum

Nothing the NHL could do to prevent such a deal for the exciting, young prospect


If not exactly brought to its corporate knees, the sporting behemoth that is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has certainly seen more buoyant times.

Vince Carter's return to Toronto tonight as a successful New Jersey Net is, really, only the latest sour note to emanate from the Air Canada Centre in what has been a trying year.

Only the Rock, it's fair to say, have been a bright spot at the ACC and MLSE doesn't own them. The outlook is soggy enough the company is looking to invest in, gulp, pro soccer.

There is, however, at least one very intriguing concept kicking around that could turn grey skies into blue for MLSE.

It has to do with Sidney Crosby.

Getting him to play in Toronto, that is.

Not for the Maple Leafs, although there will be a one-in-a-zillion chance when the NHL holds an unprecedented everybody-into-the-pool draft lottery somewhere down the road that the Leafs could possess the correct ping-pong ball.

No, we're talking about the newly named Toronto Marlboroughs, the Leafs' AHL affiliate that will be playing out of the spiffy Ricoh Coliseum next season.

Regardless of the fate that befalls the Leafs and the NHL, MLSE has about 400,000 seats to sell next season for Marlie games.

Crosby, on his own, might be able to sell them all.

At the conclusion of this major junior season, the Rimouski Oceanic star won't have an NHL draft to throw his hat into and could be facing the unappetizing possibility of returning to junior hockey next season.

Unless somebody gives him another choice.

The World Hockey Association has been sniffing around Crosby for months, of course, but we're all still waiting for true signs of life to emerge from that outfit.

Europe is also a possibility and a reasonably lucrative one.

Then there's the AHL. Under most circumstances, it would not be an attractive financial destination for a player like Crosby.

But the Marlies could be different. First of all, they could pay Crosby, as an AHL free agent, whatever salary they found affordable and the fact the NHL is in a lockout wouldn't stop the AHL arm of MLSE from acquiring such a player.

The Baby Leafs in St. John's very quietly recently signed Michigan Tech grad Colin Murphy, a Hobie Baker finalist, to an AHL deal, and you have to believe that comes with a wink-wink side agreement that will see the club sign Murphy to a two-way NHL contract when the league opens for business again.

NHL teams, you have to understand, are using any variety of methods to covertly acquire and protect assets these days.

There's no salary cap in the AHL, no restriction on what any individual player can be paid and, while the Oceanic will claim Crosby owes them another year of junior serfdom, that battle has been fought and won before and there's no existing transfer agreement specifically between Canadian major junior leagues and the AHL.

To fill the Ricoh, it might be worth it to MLSE to pay Crosby, say, $3 million per season. And here's the best part of this concept:

Given the matter in which the NHL Players Association has already indicated it is willing to sacrifice the earning power of entry-level players in a future collective bargaining arrangement, that figure could be more than double the maximum income in salary and bonuses that Crosby could make in the NHL next season and for each of the two seasons after that.

It's almost like the scenario under which CFL teams lured top U.S. college stars in the 1970s. For some, like Joe Theismann, the money and opportunity were better north of the border.

Crosby, in theory, could hone his skills in Toronto for a season and get paid a lot more to do it than by playing in the NHL.

If he was agreeable to be a Marlie, Crosby could then guarantee himself a season of top-flight pro hockey this coming season and could probably also negotiate himself a leave of absence to play in the Winter Olympics.

It would be a perfect stepping stone to the big-time that would allow him to completely sidestep the messy, uncertain NHL situation until the 2006-07 season.

And he would still be only 19 years old.

That, of course, would not make Crosby the property of the Leafs in any way, shape or form. He'd play a year with the Marlies, just like Rick Vaive and others once played a single WHA season for the Birmingham Baby Bulls en route to the NHL.

But it would be one year of hockey magic.

The year Sidney Crosby played here. The year every major Toronto media outlet was forced to cover all the Marlie games, home and away.

Imagine the goodwill and exposure that would generate for Larry Tanenbaum and friends.

It probably would even make solid economic sense to the teachers' union investors who have to be at least slightly dubious about the ability of the Marlies to draw consistent crowds in the shadow of the Raptors, Blue Jays and possibly even the Leafs next season.

The organization that hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967, last owned a true superstar when Frank Mahovlich patrolled left wing at the Gardens and turned away Wayne Gretzky and his $2 million-a-year (U.S.) salary request in 1996, would demonstrate to this market its love for the sport and bring a true shinny attraction to the city.

It would be better than Bruce McNall signing Rocket Ismail for the Argos because it would undoubtedly pay for itself in ticket receipts, TV revenue and merchandising sales.

The NHL probably wouldn't like that to happen. But MLSE, which would have gladly accepted the last union offer and played a partial NHL season, has already taken a bullet for the team and now it should feel free to act according to its own best interests.

Acquire Crosby and losing Wince during a winter filled with dark Saturday nights at the ACC suddenly won't feel quite so bad.



With the NHL lockout dragging on and no junior draft in the immediate future, Rimouski Oceanic star Sidney Crosby should be signed by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to play in Toronto for its American Hockey League team, the Marlies, Damien Cox writes.
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Best idea EVER!!!  Now get your ass in gear Fergy.


I'd go to a few Marlie games, that's for sure...

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  • 3 weeks later...

May 6, 2005. 06:43 AM

Leafs chasing Crosby: source

Want teenager to play for Marlies

Lockout parties talk ... briefly

According to a source close to Sidney Crosby, the Maple Leafs have approached the talented teenager with the possibility of playing for the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League next season.

Crosby's agent Pat Brisson would not say whether he has spoken with Leafs GM John Ferguson, but said the Marlies are a possibility for his client.

"There's always a possibility, assuming the lockout continues and there's no NHL, that the American Hockey League will be an option," Brisson said, "and the Toronto Marlies are perhaps a better option within the American Hockey League."

Ferguson said yesterday that the Leafs are also intrigued with the possibility.

"I couldn't imagine a better destination should he choose to play somewhere other than the National Hockey League," Ferguson told The Fan 590.

Crosby, who is playing for Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final, will weigh his options after the season. Europe also remains a possibility.

Crosby had a goal and two assists as the Oceanic scored four times in the first 7:53 en route to thumping Halifax 9-4 last night. Game 2 is tonight in Rimouski.


Other hockey news:

PARTIES TALKING: The two sides in the NHL labour dispute met for a little more than three hours in Toronto yesterday.

The session started at 11:15 a.m. and ended at 2:30 p.m., a source confirmed.

The NHL and the NHL Players' Association are slated to resume talks today, again at an undisclosed location in Toronto.

The league hopes to meet twice a week from now on in a bid to finally end the lockout.

The two sides hadn't met since April 19 in New York.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL executive vice-president Bill Daly are scheduled to arrive in Austria next Wednesday for the conclusion of the world championship.

VANCOUVER SELLOUT: The first puck won't be dropped for eight months but the world junior hockey championship games in Vancouver are already sold out.

More than 330,000 tickets have been sold for the 21 games being played at the Pacific Coliseum and GM Place, Stuart Ballantyne, the tournament's general manager, said yesterday.

"Right now, Team Canada has been on a roll for the last few years," Ballantyne said. ``I think it just shows that junior hockey and international hockey are on the rise."

The tourney opens Dec. 26.

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