Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in his mail bag. Click here to submit a question.
Q: Hi Damien,
The Leafs seem to have a glut of young defencemen who are ready to play at the NHL level.
However, it looks like the Leafs are already set for their top six D for next year. With the big three being paid top dollar, there is no way they will sit. Plus, management seems to like both of the two young guys and Gill was effective as the fifth/sixth D-man.
That leaves Kronwall, Woznewski, Harrison and possibly Pilar (if he's healthy) on the farm when all four seem to be ready to play and contribute in the NHL.
Is there any teams out there with a glut of young forwards who we could trade with? I know it is rare to trade young players for other young players but at the same time I would hate to see these guys lost on the waiver wire for nothing. Do you have any idea on how Leafs management is going to deal with this and how would you handle this if you were JFJ?
Andrew Canavan, Missssauga
A: Andrew, there’s lots of teams out there looking to upgrade at all positions, but you have to be realistic concerning the prospects the Leafs do have. I agree the Leafs appear set with their top six, but that could change, and there’s no guarantee of that because Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo appeared to be more than NHL ready last season that their development will continue. Of the other four you’ve mentioned, only Pilar has definitely proved he can play at the NHL level, and his health history makes his future very uncertain. Wozniewski appears close to being able to be an NHL regular, but he isn’t one yet, and neither Kronwall nor Harrison has proven anything about their readiness for NHL work yet.
I guess what I’m saying is that the Leaf depth chart on defence, really, goes seven or eight deep, tops, and that doesn’t represent a glut of tradeable talent, in my estimation.
Q: What is your assessment of the Raycroft trade now that the season is over? I know that the verdict on the trade is partially contingent on how Rask develops, but Raycroft was brought in to solidify the goaltending for right now and help the Leafs reach the playoffs. Were his struggles this season just a case of a young goalie's maturation process, or do you think this is as good as he will ever get? I think that some similarities can be drawn between both Raycroft's struggles as well as Cam Ward's, and everyone still seems pretty high on Ward. Any thoughts?
Shawn Farrell, Toronto
A: You’re correct in your assessment that the total evaluation of the trade can’t be made until we see how Tuukka Rask, the Finnish goalie traded for Raycroft, turns out. In terms of whether the Leafs upgraded themselves in goal through the deal last season, the answer is clearly no. Raycroft’s stats were pedestrian at best, outside of his 37 victories, and the fact he was yanked in the 82nd and most important game of the year was telling.
In terms of the future, Rask is a better prospect. But Raycroft may indeed improve, and in my mind it's always a mistake to assume that professionals can’t improve their performance through training, coaching and maturation. In terms of the comparison with Ward, while the two goalies might have experienced similar seasons, Ward was the man in goal when the Hurricanes won it all, and that far outranks any of Raycroft’s career achievements.
Q: Hi Damien,
I've been hearing a lot about how Marty Turco is going to be on thin ice if the Stars can't beat the Canucks in the first round. I've heard that they might ask him to waive his no-trade clause. What are the chances thathe waives the no-trade clause, and do you think the Leafs could get involved in a trade for Turco? Do they have anything to offer for a goalie of that calibre?
Varun Chakravorty, Brampton, Ont.
A: That’s a very interesting scenario. Turco made $6 million this season and is under contract through 2010 with the Stars. They have a fairly impressive, 25-year-old backup named Mike Smith, but it would be a leap of logic to suggest they’d necessarily be ready to trade Turco and hand Smith the job. That said, Turco may have to move if the Stars are polished off by Vancouver, with his uneviable 1-9 post-season record in OT a stigma he can’t escape. Right now, however, his price tag would make him a tough fit for the Leaf payroll, but he’s only 31 and would represent a clear upgrade over Raycroft. Moreover, he’s a personality who could flourish in Toronto.
Q: Hey Damien,
What are your thoughts on the Leafs pursuing Briere or Drury from Buffalo in the off-season - which one should we get? I think Drury would fit better within the Leafs’ style of game, he seems to be more of a two-way player than Briere. That said, Breire is a fantastic addition to any lineup with his good hands and good vision of the ice.
Dan D'Alimonte, Oakville, Ont.
A: I think the Leafs will be in the bidding for one or both, and both would significantly strengthen their lineup. That said, the bidding is going to be heavy on both players, so being interested may not be enough. This isn’t fantasy hockey. I don’t think one or the other will definitely be more affordable, nor do I think either is more likely to want to play in Toronto. As well, the Sabres are going to make a big pitch to keep one or the other. But the Leafs, theoretically, should have $10 million or more to spend, and they’d do a lot worse than spend a big chunk of that dough on either of these two Buffalo players.
Q: Damien; I enjoy your insight into the game and share many of your views. I have never subscribed to the view that Leaf fans would not stand for a complete over haul of the club. An overhaul that would leave the club in a non competitive position for a period of time, perhaps with the playoffs being a distant dream for another couple of seasons. Do you think that the Board will give, or should give JFJ, should he be retained, the latitude to blow up this ship and rebuild from the bottom up? I for one would welcome it.
Jeff Ostic, Fergus, Ont.
A: You’re not the only one, that’s for sure. The “blow up the Leafs” support group may be larger than the Green Party these days.
Would the Leaf board support such a plan? Doubtful. More to the point, this is a organization just as dedicated – or more dedicated – to profits as on-ice success, so a plan that involves multiple years outside the Stanley Cup playoffs wouldn’t interest them.
Finally, people often cite such an approach as though it had a guaranteed outcome. But there’s no guarantee that finishing low in the standings would necessarily net quality young players, and while everybody loves the Pittsburgh Penguins right now you can look no further than the Washington Capitals or Chicago Blackhawks to understand being lousy may also mean you stay lousy.
Q: Do you think Mike Peca will be back for the Leafs? Why or why not? Is this good or bad?
Zac Kurylyk, Saint John, Nfld.
A: Great question, and I don’t know the answer. He would like to stay, but it seems unlikely the Leafs are going to want him at $2.5 million a season again. Given his serious injury, it’s unclear what his marketability as a free agent would be. If the Leafs could fit him under their cap, I think he would help at least as much next season as he did this season when he was healthy, and that was quite a bit in terms of leadership, defensive play and penalty killing. If he was willing to play for $1 million or less, I think there’s still a fit.
Q: Damien, I'm really at a loss to say what JFJ has done on the positive side of the ledger as GM in regards to player activity which is not part of his job.
I do feel the hire of Maurice was positive but that is not a player move. The signings of Peca, Tucker, Kaberle etc. were just routine in my view. I don't dislike the man and want him to suceed but I can't think of any great player move which he has made which has made any real difference. I can't recall a good trade.
Please help my memory.
Tom Martin, Toronto
A: If you can’t recall a big-time trade JFJ has made and won, that’s because there hasn’t been one. His biggest deal was probably getting Brian Leetch, and neither of the prospects sacrificed (Maxim Kondratieve and Jarkko Immonen) are yet established NHLers and the draft picks given up have yet to turn into major assets for the Rangers. Most of his best moves in terms of player acquisition have been of the cheap, minor variety, like Chad Kilger, Bates Battaglia and Boyd Devereaux.
That said, evaluating a GM solely on his trades can be a mistake. Ferguson’s emphasis is clearly on drafting and development and his approach has been to use free agent dollars to attract players rather than follow the approach of many previous Leaf GMs and sacrifice players and prospects. That said, a significant deal with an upside for the Leafs would greatly enhance Ferguson’s standing.
Q: Now that he's gone from Phoenix, what do you think about the idea of Toronto hiring a guy like Cliff Fletcher to act in a sort of Wayne Embry like role for JFJ?
Marshall Auerback, Denver, Colorado
A: Interesting concept, but I think Fletcher is more likely to want to stay put in Phoenix and probably retire. The Coyotes didn’t see value in his input any longer, but he has great experience and a depth of knowledge second to none in the game. It just seems extremely unlikely that he could help the Leafs or that Ferguson, so soon after getting out from under the shadow of Pat Quinn, would want another high-profile hockey man in the organization. The Leafs have enough fingers in the pie as it is.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.