So let’s take this for a test drive.
After all, anything that Doug Smith can do. . .well, maybe I can’t do it better, but with fewer basketball references, for sure.
We’ll do this mailbag on a weekly basis and see if everyone likes it. The blog is fun, but this will provide even more of an opportunity for back-and-forth between you and me.
So let’s go.
Q: Characteristically, the Leafs appear to be stumbling toward the trade deadline with no clear view on whether they should be buyers or sellers. Why don't the Leafs adopt the Sabres' strategy from a few years ago and build prospects until the time is right? Surely, Leaf fans are sophisticated enough to buy into a well-articulated and thought out rebuilding strategy.
Brent Davis, Bradford, UK
A: Nothing like a question from Great Britain to get us started. First of all, I’ve never been one to agree with the concept that Leaf fans would never buy into a rebuilding, lots-of-kids-and-lots-of-losses strategy. I think, over the years, the Leafs Nation has proven it will buy pretty much anything (see 1980s).
I can’t say, however, that the Leafs should “adopt the Sabres’ strategy.” First of all, the Sabres were bankrupt and had no choice, and the development of the team they now have had as much to do with smart trading – Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Jochen Hecht – as it did with good drafting and development.
Moreover, going cheap and with kids doesn’t guarantee anything. Pittsburgh hasn’t won anything yet, and may not for two or three more years, if at all. Boston dumped out one season to land Joe Thornton and over the long haul the Bruins weren’t any further ahead.
Finally, the Leafs believe they already have the talented kids they need to build a winner, including those currently on the team – Kyle Wellwood, Alex Steen, Matt Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky, John Pohl, Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White, Brendan Bell, Staffan Kronwall, Andrew Raycroft – and those on the way, specifically goalie Justin Pogge and forwards Jiri Tlusty and Nikolai Kulemin.
If Leafs management is wrong, of course, the 50th anniversary without a Cup is just around the corner.
I think there’s a good chance the Leafs may be both buyers and sellers prior to the deadline. If they can’t get Darcy Tucker under contract he could be gone for picks and prospects. But if the team keeps winning, GM John Ferguson will also be looking to add something, probably a scoring forward or a centre, and would be willing to sacrifice one of his young defencemen to get it.
Q: Hi Damien,
I’m curious to hear your reflection on the Ken Klee deal. Did JFJ get taken for a ride trading for an injury ridden (even at age 25), defensive liability or can we attribute this deal to the crafty negotiation tactics of Lou Lamoriello?
Tibor Bajusz, San Antonio, TX
A: First England, now Texas. Alexander Suglobov hasn’t really been injury plagued – he just hasn’t been able to produce points at the NHL level or play quality defensive hockey. Ken Klee, however, was headed for unrestricted free agency and wasn’t playing very good hockey for the Leafs. He’s been much better in Colorado this season, but on the Leaf depth chart right now he would probably rank no higher than seventh. Really, it’s been a deal that didn’t help either the Leafs or Devils. It would be a stretch to say Lamoriello fleeced Ferguson; after all, he didn’t re-sign Klee. Suglobov, meanwhile, might yet figure it out, but it sure doesn’t seem likely.
Q: Do you think that the Leafs should sign a contract for Darcy Tucker for seasons to come or check the free agents lists and get someone else?
Ikram Siddiqui, Mississauga
A: Tucker’s a quality NHL player with great heart, toughness, playoff savvy, an ability to score on the power play and improved maturity. At the same time, he lacks size, is a good but not great skater, isn’t creative at high speed and is average defensively. Plus he’ll be 32 next month.
Value is very difficult to assess in the new NHL cap world, but $10 million over three years is about as high and long as you go on this one. More money and you’re taking too big a bite out of payroll. Longer term and you’re just hoping he can survive long enough to give value. If he doesn’t like that deal, you trade him for picks or prospects and spend the money on somebody else at the trade deadline or in the summer.
Q: Have you gone and watched Pogge with the Marlies? Is he the real deal because Raycroft sure ain't.
Scott Ferrie, Burlington, Ont.
A: Well, Raycroft is sure making both us of look a little premature in our judgments. Like you, I was of the opinion a month ago that he wasn’t looking like the No. 1 goalie the Leafs required, but that has changed dramatically in the past three weeks. He’s still only 26 years old.
As far as Pogge goes, as a pro I watched him for two practices last week, but haven’t seen him play an AHL game. He’s certainly got lots of physical talent, and sometimes he relies on that too much. Experience will change that. Moreover, I think right now he’s got his hands full adapting to the life of a pro, living in Toronto and gradually meeting the large expectations that have been set out for him. Next season will provide a better barometer.
The short answer; it’s too early to tell if he’s the real deal.
Q: With all the injuries to top players and the Leafs presently out of a playoff spot, do you think John Ferguson has to make some deals to shore up the roster in the next month, and if the Buds don't make the playoffs AGAIN is he done as Leaf GM?
Larry Rainey, Minden, Ont.
A: We touched on some of this in an earlier question. I don’t think he HAS to make deals, but I think he will. If the Leafs don’t make the playoffs, he’ll be back as GM next season but almost certainly without a multi-year contract extension. He’ll be a lame-duck manager again.
If he does make the playoffs, however, he’ll get that extension.
Q: Hello Damien:
With all the lip service paid to the possibility of the NHL moving or adding a Canadian franchise to its ranks recently, how likely is it? I ask this because you actually talk to some of the NHL big wigs and Gary Bettman was being quite diplomatic about it when Ron MacLean put it to him during the All-Star Game.
Andrew Spencer, Toronto
A: With 24 teams in the U.S. holding the majority vote at the NHL board of governors, there’s little driving economic interest in adding teams in Canada. But if the NHL wants to expand and ask $150 million per team, it may have no choice but to look to Canada for suckers, er, buyers.
I would love to see another Canadian team, and I sense you would, too. But from a business standpoint, it’s hard to argue that the league would benefit in an overall sense. Would a team in Winnipeg improve league revenues or attract larger television dollars? It would provide the league with a city that could fill a building, but that won’t much help Florida or Atlanta or New Jersey or Pittsburgh.
Q: Now that Gary Bettman is slowly turning Hockey into Baseball with regards to scheduling, Isn’t it time we scrap the Presidents Trophy? I mean, shouldn’t there be two Presidents trophies, two Hart trophies, Two Vezinas, Two Norris? With the teams rarely playing outside their conference, it is now like the American League and National League, and the awards should be given out to the best of each, as the teams play completely different levels of competition and therefore can’t be compared to eachother.
Jeff Iles, Minden, Ont.
A: I don’t agree that the teams are playing completely different levels of competition. While some argue the West is better, the East has won the last three Stanley Cups. As far as doubling the trophies, I think that would dilute the significance of each award. As Canadians, we were thrilled to see Justin Morneau capture an MVP award, but wouldn’t it have been more satisfying if it were for an entire league – like Steve Nash – instead of one half of a league. Besides, while some complain there isn’t enough play between conferences, there’s enough to make valid individual comparisons.
Q: I understand why you accuse the Western Canadian teams of shielding their true interests, but when you consider that Calgary and Edmonton both fell one game short of the Stanley Cup to teams with much lighter travel schedules, wouldn't their bigger concern be the much tougher travel schedule endured by Western Conference teams?
Ryan Pearce, Calgary
A: I do think the inequity in travel is a viable complaint and a real problem. It’s just unfair how much more Anaheim has to travel compared to New Jersey. But you don’t solve it, I would argue, by making other teams travel more. In fact, if travel fairness is the main issue, isn’t that an argument for even more divisional games, rather than more inter-conference play? If the Flames and Oilers have to play more games against the Eastern Conference, their travel demands will only go up.
Click here to send Damien a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.