Q: Damien, over the years you have been very critical (in hindsight) on the moves Maple Leafs management have made. Sometimes even justifiably.
What specifically would you do right now if you were John Ferguson to give the best Leafs the best chance to win the Cup as soon as possible?
Charles Beaudin, Toronto
A: Criticism, as you know, can be both positive and negative, so I've always tried to evaluate Leaf moves at the time when they are made, and later when the longer term impact becomes known. For example, I thought the Owen Nolan trade at the time was a gutsy, aggressive move by a team that believed it was close to winning. Later, it became clear that Nolan wasn't worth the cost, which was substantial. Nobody could deny at that point that the deal had turned out badly for Pat Quinn. Unless you want to hear all trades evaluated as "well, we'll see how it turns out," that's the way it’s going to work. You make a call at the time, and then further down the line, always knowing your first reaction/analysis may prove to be off base.
As far as this year's Leafs go, without knowing all that JFJ knows - the players who have been offered, the status of contract talks with Darcy Tucker, the precise health of Mike Peca - here's how my game plan would work. Tucker has to be either signed or traded by the deadline, an issue clearly complicated by the fact he's not coming back soon. As I said last week, three years, $10 million is the number, and if that's not acceptable you move him for picks or prospects, then use his cap space to acquire help. That could be combined with the cap space made available by the long-term injury to Peca, if the Leafs are certain he won't be back until late in the regular season at all. If the Leafs need to add a younger player to make a deal worth it, the only one of their NHL or near-NHL youngsters that it would make any sense to move would be one of the younger defencemen like Brendan Bell, Staffan Kronwall or Andy Wozniewski. Bell, in particular, would have market value right now.
So that's for this trade deadline. Beyond that, you keep drafting and developing a younger core while trying to add intelligently through free agency. Keeping Mats Sundin around for stability is a must. The most significant development of this season, it would appear, is the possibility that Andrew Raycroft may indeed be a No. 1 goalie and that both Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo look like keepers.
Seems to me the Leafs have some depth on defence, with a number of young players who have shown they do have the ability to play in the NHL. Up front they need help. What do you think JFJ could land in dealing one of Bell, Harrison or Kronwall?
Colin Miller, Whitby, Ont.
A: This touches on my previous answer. Bell or Kronwall would have the most value, and it's debatable which of those two would have the most. Right now, it's probably Bell, who has proven he can play in the league and has the mobility and skill to be an NHL regular. The big asterisk on Kronwall is his size, which surprises me every time I see him. That's a huge asset, but he's been injured so much it's been hard to get a read on him as an NHLer. What either Bell or Kronwall could land is hard to gauge, but they are the types of players teams looking to dump vets - Los Angeles, Philadelphia, St. Louis - would be looking for. Look at what the Kings, for example, landed for Sean Avery and Craig Conroy.
Q: Just as it was in the Leafs’ glory days in the original six league, it's no coincidence when they play a high paced, in your face, hard-hitting style they have success. Yes the fast and talented playmakers like Wellwood are exciting to watch and no doubt valuable to any team, but I think the battles in front of the net and along the boards disappeared for a while as players dealt with fear of penalties when the "new" rules were introduced. What a welcome change it is to see players such as Leafs’ "twin towers" improve their own and their team's success by using their size to greater advantage. What do the Leafs need now to build on their recent success?
David White, Elora, Ont.
A: More of everything, I guess, is the answer. More depth at every position, from goal out. There's still no clear-cut, No. 2 centre behind Sundin, and unless they find one soon, they'll need a No. 1 centre as well. Team speed could still be upgraded to catch up to teams like Buffalo and Anaheim. A right-handed shot with the ability to one-time the puck from the left circle on the power play would be a nice weapon to have, and without Peca healthy more penalty killing expertise would be handy. But there seems to be a structure and overall purpose to the Leafs now that has been lacking, plus more of an intent to build around a younger core.
Q: Hi Damien,
You have talked about JFJ's belief that he already has the young talent in the system necessary for building a potential Cup winner. I was at a London Knights/ Soo Greyhounds game and Jiri Tlusty was playing. He had his moments, but certainly didn't look like a franchise player in the making. Do you have any sense of what kind of progress he is making in the OHL or if he truly does have first line NHL potential?
Andrew Hourigan, Burlinigton, Ont.
A: Tlusty has been hurt for most of the OHL season, so it's been difficult to judge his progress. He's actually in town tonight (Thursday) to play St. Mike's. Hockey people suggest his game is well developed from the offensive dots in, but on the other three-quarters of the ice surface he's got a lot of learning to do. There are so many variables - health, adaptability to North America, opportunity - that it's hard to measure what type of NHLer he'll be. But the Leafs seem to believe he has a significant upside.
In your "Spin" section of Feb. 1st, and in your regular column that day, you mentioned a Leaf prospect, Nikolai Kulemin. I believe you called him a "Russian League sniper". What do you base this comment on? I have been trying to find out about him and can't find any up to date stats for this year. I heard he was a good talent when the Leafs drafted him but am curious now as to just how he's developing this year.
Andy Appleton, Medicine Hat, AB
A: There's a variety of places you can go to find up-to-date stats on players around the world, but I find one of the most reliable is hockeydb.com.
Look there, and you'll find Kulemin shooting the lights out with his Russian club team, up to 24 goals now, I believe. Outside of that, people inside the Leafs organization believe they may have a steal on their hands. Then again, that's what they said about Alexander Godynyuk. . .and Tomas Kucharcik. . .and Martin Prochazka. . .and my personal favourite, 1991 draft pick Alexei Kudashov, described as a "Russian sensation" when he was slated to join the club for a brief overseas trip in the fall of 1993. Kudashov played 25 NHL games, scored one goal and was never heard from again.
Q: Damien, what was Tie Domi talking about when he said that Dryden when in Toronto, wouldn't allow ceremonies to honour former Leafs? Is that true?
Cindy Goodman, Toronto
A: I'd love to help, but I don't have the vaguest idea what Domi said or may have meant. Dryden was always a backer of those types of ceremonies, but he wasn't willing to change the Leaf "tradition" of honouring jerseys and keeping them in circulation rather than retiring them outright. Perhaps that's what Domi meant.
Q: If the purpose of the icing rule is to not allow the icing team to exchange tired for rested players, why do the TV networks seem to feel that it's a perfect time to have a TV timeout, thus allowing the team to catch its breath? Kind of defeats the purpose.
Martin Shaw, Las Vegs, NV
A: Agreed. TV timeouts are, to anyone who loves the game, an abomination, particularly if you're actually at the arena, not at home so you can flip the channel or go get a cold beverage. If there's any value to them - outside of the icing context you describe - it’s that they usually give the best players a chance to play more, which benefits the game.
In terms of when they occur, they occur at designated times each period, and the really smart coaches and players know when they're coming and how best to take advantage of them. Such as by icing the puck, if necessary.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
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