Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your Maple Leafs questions in his mail bag. Click here to send Damien a question.
Q: Suffering since 1967-68 when I became a Leaf fan at the age of seven. Who's available via the free agency route to help the Leafs become a serious playoff team?
Grant MacLean, Halifax
A: Grant, sorry for your suffering, but I think the answer is no one. There’s no one available that will make the Leafs a "serious" playoff team because those teams are built patiently with youth and quality goaltending, and neither commodity is available on the free agent market.
That said, there are players who could help, particularly forwards. Any one of Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez would add depth to the Leafs up front and help them make the playoffs, which is the first step.
But none will take a non-playoff team and make it a contender right away.
Q: Oh my God! Has the earth stopped spinning? Has Global warming been curtailed? Has Jesus returned to save the world?
There must have been something I've missed because Damien Cox and I have finally agreed on something! Take out the usual illogical and irrelevant arguments from your latest article and you are left with the #1 reason the leafs didn't make the playoffs ... goaltending. The bottom line is that if Montreal's 3rd string goaltender was in Toronto's net for 82 games, we make the playoffs easily. If warms my heart to think that we agree on something and I'll set an extra place for you at the dinner table for family gatherings now that we are like family.
Mike McClelland, Belleville, Ont.
A: Can’t wait. What’s for dinner? Love meat loaf and roast beef, hate brussel sprouts with a passion. (Will work on taking out all illogical and irrelevant arguments from my next column. But miracles take time.)
Q: Hi Damien,
Now that the season is done, at least for the Leafs, it's time to look ahead. A lot has been said about Bryan McCabe's defensive shortcomings, and his contract makes him untradable, both because of its price and the no-trade clause. The Leafs have lots of promise in the youth on the blue line and they need some offence up front. Would there be any merit in trying to convert McCabe into a forward? I was thinking the same about Kaberle, but he's not as bad a defensive liability. It's been done before - Wendel Clark started out on the blue line (and wore #4 as well, but that's beside the point).
Kevin Doiron, Toronto
A: Whether there would be any merit or not, it’s not going to happen. There are teams that still do it, such as Montreal, which used both Mathieu Dandenault and Mark Streit as forwards this season. Even the Leafs used Brendan Bell up front before trading him. But McCabe would be ineffective up front – he just doesn’t skate well enough.
Q: You said last year at this time Quinn should go just look at his record. I questioned why you always went after Quinn? Your reply was just look at the record. Well the Leafs failed again with a new coach and were 3 points better, just look at the record who goes now?
Ferguson or Maurice?
Pat Quinn could have done the same job, I believe it is time for a new general manager but I realize this is not going to happen. It is time you start going after Fergie like you did Quinn.
William Milligan, St. Catharines
A: Fair enough. The difference is Quinn had eight years to make it all work, four of which he was also GM and essentially had unlimited funds with which to work.
I promise you that once Ferguson hits the eight-year mark without any success, I’ll be all over him.
The lockout changed the industry, so really Ferguson's just finishing his second year. He's done some good things and made some mistakes, and under the new rules, mistakes are much more costly. Just imagine how much more costly Quinn's Dmitri Khristich error would have been under a salary cap system.
JFJ deserves some time. Patience with Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff has paid off in Buffalo. Ditto for David Poile and Barry Trotz in Nashville.
Q: Damien - Just how good is Justin Pogge? You said a couple of weeks ago that he's probably two years away from being ready for the NHL. Meantime the impact of his junior numbers is fading somewhat in the reality of life in the AHL. Regardless of any other speculation on Leafs netminders, how will we know if Pogge's going to make the grade - and who would be a fair comparison at this stage in his career?
Peter Hawkins, Bahrain
A: Great question. I can’t think of a fair comparison. But it’s worth looking at a netminder like Ryan Miller who spent three full years in the minors before moving up to the NHL on a full-time basis. That would seem to be a fair plan for Pogge. He’s just a kid learning on a non-playoff team, and rushing him won’t make him any better any faster. He’s still got a good shot if the Leafs are patient.
Q: Damien: Isn't it a very poor coaching ploy to have Sundin playing a grinding game and always playing against the other teams top players in a checking roll. In my opinion this neutralizes the leafs only world class player, and at 36 he is simply worn out, is he not?
Glen Stewart, PEI
A: I don’t think he’s worn out. Maybe he’s slowing down a bit, but many teams go for the strength vs. strength game plan, largely because playing against top offensive players often presents increased scoring opportunities to offensive players. I wouldn’t say this strategy puts Sundin in a checking role. I think his performance down the stretch, however, makes you wonder if fewer minutes – say, 16-18 per game – might make him a more effective player next season.
Q: Hi Damien how are you,
My favourite player growing up was Pavel Bure aka The Russian Rocket. I want to know why so many Canadians disrespect Pavel Bure and not ever consider him to be one of the 50 greatest players of all time. People say he couldn't play defence but his presence on the ice always forced one or two players on the opposing team to shadow him throughout the game so that argument's null and void. Also Pavel Bure was close to scoring 60 goals twice in an era where we saw the least amount of goals being scored in the NHL. C'mon you're very well respected, show Pavel Bure some much needed love and respect. Thanks for hearing me out!
Ednan Ahmed, Scarborough
A: Interesting point. Had Bure stayed in Vancouver – and stayed healthy – I wonder if his legacy would be different. He also developed a reputation of not caring that much through incidents like leaving the all-star game early, and after the Canucks he didn’t seem to make the teams on which he played much better.
But at his peak, he was as dangerous a goal scorer as there was in hockey.
Q: I'm wondering why the Leafs don't employ a PP Coach and PK Coach like a team would do in NFL Football. In the NFL they have coaches for defense, offense and special teams. The PP and PK would be defined as Special aspects of the game. The Leafs certainly have the money at their disposal to hire someone in this capacity. It has obviously cost them a number of points this past season. Their PP lacks imagination what with the big shot from Bryan McCabe or One timer from Tucker. They Leafs should have more designed plays to help them.
Gary Allen, Fort Frances, Ont.
A: I think NHL clubs are becoming increasingly specialized, but I also wonder how much of special teams are schemes and how much is personnel. The Leaf penalty killing, for example, would have been much better this year had Mike Peca not been hurt and if Andrew Raycroft had supplied more consistent goaltending. I’m not sure if the Leaf power play lacks imagination more than any other team, but for sure teams took away the McCabe bomb and cut off the Tucker play beside the net. Wellwood will be an interesting factor next season particularly if he can learn to use his shot from down low instead of always looking to pass.
Q: I read your blog on the Claude Julien firing. I am surprised you tried to spin it as positive.
Bottom line, I think its a terrible move. It shows no loyalty on the part of management. How are the players to take this? For them, its an example of the dubious practice of the suits in the front office.
Coaches get fired all the time, often with years remaining on their contract. They are usually fired for poor performance, and its justified. Second in the east and first in the Atlantic division, is not poor performance, 104 points with 2 games remaining, is not a poor performance.
My question is, since Julien seems to have put in a great perfromance as head coach, could he seek legal action, such as wrongful dismissal? I am sure his contract buyout will be generous, but I have to wonder if it's enough to endure this insult.
Andrew Barrie, Toronto
A: I doubt Julien could or would pursue legal action. If he did, he’d never get another NHL job. Getting canned comes with the profession, and Julien has two more years of pay cheques to make him feel better.
I don’t think I spun this as positive – I just tried to explain that instead of looking for reasons like a player revolt, people have to realize that Lou Lamoriello calls the shots and if he decides the coach needs to go for the betterment of the team, that’s what will happen. I don’t think Julien’s firing bothered the players at all. There were just getting back to something they already knew.
Q: Hello Mr. Cox,
I’m a 26 (soon to be 27) year old masters student studying in France, and have been a Leaf fan since I could remember. I keep up with what’s going on back home by reading the Toronto Star everyday. Which brings me to the reason I’m compelled to write you. I was reading the "voices" section of the paper following the elimination of the Leafs and was utterly astounded by the amount of hate out there back in Leaf Nation.
What the Leafs need to change is a new corporate vision. With the salary cap era now a fixture in NHL economics, why do we still have the Teachers Pension Fund owning a majority of MLSE? The Leafs don’t need their money to "buy" talent any more as that era is now long gone. The TPF main objective is to make money to provide for their retiring members, not to build a winning organization. If you want to build a winner, start from the top. Everyone needs to WANT to win, not hope to win while making money. Give JFJ full freedom to do what he wants to do. No one in the world can be effective at what they’re doing when they have their boss constantly looking over their shoulder and questioning every move he makes.
Richard Chim, Strasbourg, France
A: Well Richard, you’re certainly not alone in your thinking. But the teachers still own the majority of MLSE shares because its very profitable, and there’s nothing a Leaf fan can do about it. I agree that there isn’t a win at all costs attitude in the company, and I also agree making the GM consult the board constantly doesn’t give him the freedom necessary. But as long as the company’s making lots of money, why would they change their business practices?
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.