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Leafs make unconventional play for phenom Tavares Add to ...

John Ferguson has offered up-and-coming superstar John Tavares the opportunity to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs farm team.

Tavares, the teenage phenom currently playing for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League, is not eligible for the NHL entry draft until 2009 because his birthday, Sept. 20, 1990, falls five days after the age deadline for the 2008 draft. The NHL collective agreement states that only players who are 18 years old by Sept. 15 of each year are eligible for that year's entry draft.

Tavares, who scored 72 goals in 67 games for the Generals last season and has 15 in 12 games so far this season, has asked the NHL to waive the Sept. 15 deadline for the 2008 draft. The league refused and now the player and his agents are believed to be exploring other options, which include signing with a team in Europe.

A source said Ferguson believes Tavares could play for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League, which operates as the farm system for the NHL. The AHL bylaw for player eligibility matches the NHL's. Only players who turn 18 by Sept. 15 are allowed to play in the AHL that season, which means Tavares would not be eligible to play until the 2009-10 season, the same year he becomes eligible for the NHL draft.

An exemption could be granted by the AHL but league president Dave Andrews said today that is unlikely.

"That would require an amendment of the bylaw in question, which requires a vote of our board [of governors]" Andrews said. "In my experience, the likelihood of the other 28 teams in the AHL voting in favour of allowing the other team a competitive advantage is not great."

If the Leafs pursue Tavares, it would be a one-year deal for the 2008-09 season, according to the source. The NHL would not prevent that from happening if the bylaw was amended by the AHL.

"Purely from an NHL perspective, if the Marlies sign Tavares to a one-year deal before he became eligible for NHL play, it would be no issue for us," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press.

Tavares would be a terrific gate attraction for the Marlies, who have not drawn well at the Ricoh Coliseum.

The source said Ferguson told Tavares's agents that by signing with the Marlies he can play at home - he is a native of nearby Oakville, Ont. - and at a higher level than junior hockey. And if he wants to play for the Leafs, Tavares could refuse to sign for the NHL team that drafts him in 2009, either forcing the team to trade his rights to the Leafs or waiting until he becomes a free agent in 2011.

The teenager's agent told The Canadian Press that they have not spoken with the Leafs.

"We have not had a conversation with the Leafs, the Marlies or any member club in the NHL in this regard," said Bryan Deasley. "I have not talked to anybody about this. This is completely shocking to my group and to John. Where this comes from, we don't know."

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