Damien Cox answers your Maple Leafs questions. Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.
Q: Hello Mr. Cox:
I would very much like to hear your take on Ted Saskin. You have said that "his replacement would likely be a hard-ass, antagonistic opponent (for the owners) with which to deal." Is that not all the more reason for the union to replace him? Is his knowledge base of the CBA so invaluable that the players would suffer by his loss? And assuming not, who would be good candidates to replace him?
Andrew Stancek, Tillsonburg, Ont.
A: I think the piece to which you’re referring was a response to the notion that NHL owners were quietly chortling in their Scotch as the union descended into civil war and roasted Saskin on a spit. The reality is that they felt Saskin was a guy they could work with, while they couldn’t work very well with his predecessor, Bob Goodenow. Just as the easy-going coach is replaced by the tough guy, so too does it seem that if the union was unhappy with Saskin, his replacement would be a very different type of leader, one not as easy for NHL owners to work with.
As far as good candidates to replace him, I don’t have a list for you. I could throw out a bunch of names, but its entirely unclear at the moment who will be driving the process for the NHLPA, what that process will be or the type of leader they want.
Q: Why is (Pat) Quinn not coaching in the NHL? He enjoyed some very good and consistant plus 90 point years with the Leafs. Why is Brian Leetch not playing? Even with his advanced age the new NHL is perfect for him.
Glen McMinn, Halifax
A: Pat Quinn isn’t coaching, I assume, because his price tag is too high – he didn’t like the Boston offer last summer or he could have had that job – and because many people in the hockey industry question his style of coaching.
That said, the same is probably the case for Mike Keenan, and he keeps getting hired. I don’t believe Quinn’s coaching career is over, and suspect he’ll be back in the NHL sometime next season.
Re Leetch, he’s not playing mostly he’s not motivated to do so, and that’s partly because in the capped-NHL he might have difficult attracting the kind of salary he enjoyed before.
Given that he has missed this entire season, its unlikely he’ll play again.
Q: Hi Damien:
It has been my experience in hockey that often "politics" play a major role in personnel decisions and it is not always the best player who makes the team. At this point in the season I am confused as to why Andrew Raycroft continues to get as many starts as he does. Is there more to the decision to continually sit Aubin than we are privy to?
Bill Ireland, Truro, N.S.
A: Well, for starters Aubin didn’t exactly shine when given the opportunity to play this season. That said, there’s no question the Leafs have a great deal more invested in Raycroft, specifically a three-year contract, and when Aubin wasn’t exactly challenging him they decided to let Raycroft have the job and run with it.
The interesting question is whether they’ll bring Aubin back or find a more experienced netminder who might challenge Raycroft more next season.
Q: One keeps hearing that the Leafs need to blow this team up, get bad for a few years and build through high draft choices in the manner of Pittsburgh. I have my doubts about this theory if for no other reason than Pittsburgh lucked out in the lottery, and there's never any guarantee that even if you're horrible, you get a future star. More to the point, consider a team like Detroit, which seems perpetually to be in the Stanley Cup hunt without having to sacrifice a number of years to retain sustained excellence. Isn't that a model Toronto ought to look toward, particularly as this is another high revenue franchise, with a comparably dedicated fan base? Of course, Detroit has Ken Holland as its GM and Toronto has ... well, we won't go there. Or will the ownership cynically decide that so long as the ACC is full every night, the team is destined to be mired in perpetual mediocrity?
Marshall Auerback, Denver
A: Well, the issue of the motivation of the Leaf franchise to win is the never-ending question, isn’t it? But whether you or I might argue that the Pittsburgh model is the proper way to go, the fact is the Leafs aren’t going to go down that path. They do have a promising foundation of young players both with the team now and coming up, and the question is whether that foundation is good enough to produce a top-end team down the line. Certainly, Detroit is a model for every other team that you don’t necessarily have to draft high to find talent.
What are you hearing about Karel Pilar? Is it reasonable to think he might be able to resume his career in Toronto? Secondary question: Is it me, or doesn't Carlo Colaiacovo look awfully good many nights? If he can stay healthy, he looks like a really great draft pick, even arriving late as he has. I'm not optimistic about our chances of making the playoffs this year, but that defence corps could set up well for a long time if JFJ is smarter than he appears.
Steve Cassel, Toronto
A: Pilar has re-surfaced with the Marlies, great news for him. Whether he can be a candidate for NHL work next season is probably a long-shot, if only because there are so many players stacked up in front of him. Colaiacovo, I agree, has progressed immensely this season, and with Ian White, Staffan Kronwall and Andy Wozniewski gives the Leafs an appealing youth wing to go with their more veteran defencemen. The blueline looks to be the deepest part of the team right now.
Hypothetical situation - you are the commissioner of a fantasy NHL where you have sweeping powers to re-locate franchises as you see fit for the betterment of the game (in search of profits, good fan base, etc), all of the owners are OK with you to make such decisions on their behalf.
If you are to pick 4 teams from the current league, which 4 teams would you choose to re-locate and why.
Brian Griffin, Toronto
A: Before I answer, what would be the salary of such a job? Oh, never mind.
Florida and Atlanta look like very, very iffy markets both now and down the line. Washington has had more than 30 years to stabilize and still hasn’t. Long Island, meanwhile, has been bad for a long, long time, and the dream of a new area remains a distant one. Phoenix looks lousy right now, but it would be interesting to see if a good team in that very nice arena might ultimately work. Nashville doesn’t seem to be attracting the support one would think possible with a very strong team. St. Louis looks dicey at the moment, but I really believe that situation will turn around.
Those are the candidates. If I had to pick four to move, I would pick Florida, Atlanta, Washington and the Islanders. Wouldn't be much left of the Southeast Division, would there?
Q: I watched the reporters today and agreed with everyone's feelings about fighting in hockey. You stated that the NHL could get rid of anything they wanted to and I couldn;t agree more. One of the journalists on ESPN's version of the reporters mentioned that the NBA is serious about their image and as a result, suspended one of their star players - Carmelo Anthony - for 15 games for throwing a sucker punch at an opponent. If the NHL were serious about getting rid of fighting, they could easily suspend the 3-4 minute a game GOON similarly and it wouldn't be long that these so-called role players would be out of the NHL for good.
John Vincent, London
A: Well, I think that’s obviously true. That the NHL takes no action means that it wants goons in the game, and there are certainly no shortage of people who would argue that such players are necessary and entertaining. I don’t buy that, but some people do.
But the fact is that the NHL can have whatever game it wants to have. For people like myself who have children in minor hockey, the corollary is that minor hockey can be as good as the NHL will let it be because the big leagues have so much influence.
The NBA and NFL don’t want fighting in their games, so they’ve all but rooted it out entirely. The NHL does want fighting, so it bends the rules and makes allowances to make sure players will no ability other than to throw punches can gain lucrative employment in the league.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.