It sure seems as though the Battle of Ontario has extended into the post-season, with lots of sniping between followers of the Leafs and Senators even with Ottawa in the Stanley Cup final and the Leafs plotting for next year.
People, people – can’t we all just get along?
This week’s mail bag questions:
Q: When Harold Ballard first passed away and Cliff Fletcher was brought in it looked like the Leafs were finally on their way to rebuilding the franchise. What happened? I'm starting to feel like this is the Leafs from the 80's again.
Dave Russell, Holmes Beach, Fla.
A: Well, while the Leafs have missed the post-season in the past two years, I don’t think they’ve quite fallen to the depths of the 1980s quite yet. Right now, they’re just not good enough to compete in their division with Ottawa and Buffalo, which turned out to be the two best clubs in the Eastern Conference this season.
With regard to the Fletcher years, I think the impact was winning again, but rebuilding wasn’t really what they were looking to do. In fact, the emphasis was mostly on acquiring veteran players to win immediately, although the acquisition of Mats Sundin was obviously a long-term concept that has had a long-term effect on the team.
Are they on the right track now? There are positive and negative signs, and next season will be a watershed year for the current administration.
Q: I have followed the Leafs intensely for the last 15 years and all through their failures. Besides many of the reasons that you have mentioned throughout your columns such as trading away draft picks and rookies for old past their prime players, I think there is another reason for their failure as well. People keep saying that they are big spenders but never have they actually signed or traded for the "best player" available. Instead I think they choose to get the 3rd or 4th etc. best player available and way overpay for that player. (eg. Leetch instead of Gonchar, signing Kubina + Mccabe instead of going after Chara etc. etc. etc.) Do you think this is a major contributing factor or am I just imagining things?
PS: Based on the above reason I secretly believe that they will be signing Jason Blake this off-season to an overpriced deal and touting that he is a 40 goal scorer!
Keiyan Sy, Scarborough
A: It’s an interesting concept that you bring up, one I’ve heard before. Certainly, the Leafs have not had what I would consider a bonafide NHL superstar since Frank Mahovlich. I think if you look over the past, say, 16 years, from the time Cliff Fletcher arrived through the Ken Dryden and Pat Quinn years and now into the John Ferguson era, the Leafs have lacked the organizational stability to establish a consistent team identity and develop players for that identity. So even when they have spent, often the fits haven’t been quite right.
Could they have landed Chris Pronger last summer in a deal involving Tomas Kaberle and Alex Steen? Maybe, but then you’re changing directions again and sacrificing youth. Was Pavel Kubina a poor fit? I think that story has been exaggerated, and the fact is the Leafs, Wild and Blues were all interested in Kubina. When the Leafs got him at $5 million, the Wild went out and spent more than $4 million on Kim Johnsson and St. Louis signed Jay McKee for $4 million. None of those teams were interested in going big money for Chara, and the Bruins ended up missing the playoffs with him anyway. The reality is, either through drafting or trading or signing, the Leafs just haven’t been able to get the best players consistently.
Q: Hi Damien,
Is it just me, or should there not be 4 on 4 hockey in overtime during the playoffs? I think it would open up the ice & create more scoring opportunities as it does during the regular season. Heaven forbid that the intensity & entertainment value of 4 on 4 not be showcased when it matters most.
Anastasio Padula, North York
A: I’d be fine with four-on-four in the playoffs, but at the same time, generally speaking OT in the post-season works just fine for me. Most overtimes don’t go that long, and generally the drama and tension of the moment creates the same excitement, at least in my mind, as four-on-four in the regular season. That said, if the NHL decided to change, I’d have no problem with that.
Q: I hope the Vancouver Canucks have learned that they were a little silly getting rid of Brian Burke some time ago. Maybe the Canucks could in be the finals with the Senators in the year 2007.
Peter Johnson, Calgary
A: Maybe. But you could then say the same thing about John Muckler and Bryan Murray in terms of the teams that fired them. The hockey world is littered with people who were fired in one place and succeeded in another – Peter Laviolette won a Stanley Cup last season, Don Maloney just got the GM job in Phoenix – and circumstances vary wildly in different cities. Burke seems to have clicked with the new ownership in Anaheim, but he’d also be the first person to tell you he has benefited from the building that Murray did as Anaheim GM before he got here. Is Burke a quality GM? The evidence says he is, and he may soon be a Stanley Cup champion. But Dave Nonis has also done a tremendous job rebuilding that Vancouver situation.
Q: As member of Leafs Nation I find very difficult to get behind Ottawa. For the record, I will be cheering for the Ducks. Are you surprised by the lack of support not only from Leafs Nation but people from Toronto and southern Ontario? Can you really blame us for not cheering for the Sens?
San Vongnaraj, Toronto
A: No, can’t say I’m surprised. My own children are cheering madly for the Ducks because they can’t stand the Senators. I think the issue of a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup was far more important during the late 1990s going up to the lockout year because there was real concern that Canadian teams were no longer able to compete with American-based clubs because of the wide disparity in the amounts of money teams could spend on player salaries. That’s much less of an issue now, and having three Canadian teams making the Cup finals in the last three seasons proves that clubs north of the border can compete. A 90-plus cent dollar hasn’t hurt either.
You surprise me by your sorehead comments on Alfredsson alleged penalty and the suggestion that Hamilton should have gotten an NHL franchise vice Ottawa. As a good sports writer why don't you accentuate the positive by outright naming Ottawa SENs as a far superior team in all aspects to the lacklustre and poorly managed Toronto LAFFs rather than digging to the bottom of the barrel for disparaging remarks about the Senators. The "proof of the pudding is in the eating" and you and your sentimentalist Hogtown fans must be starving in an attempt to justify your pathetic team. Typical Toronto arrogance. Let's face it your team SUCKS big time. Tend to your own team problems but in the meantime, show some sportsmanship by getting on the Canadian bandwagon by cheering Canada's Team, the Ottawa Senators, to the 2007 Stanley Cup. Otherwise "eat your heart out", losers!
Bruce King, Ottawa
A: Bruce, I’m not sure how Alfredsson’s patently illegal hit on Henrik Tallinder or the history of how Ottawa got its team have anything at all to do with the current quality of the Maple Leafs. If you want to discuss the Leafs, we should talk about that.
I don’t ever pretend to speak for Leaf fans. But to suggest that "as a good sports writer" that I should accentuate the positive and talk about what a great team the Senators are, I think your lack of understanding about my job are showing through. My job isn’t to cheer for any team, whether it’s the Leafs, Sens or Ducks. That’s your job as a fan, and rather than bitterly ripping into the mediocrity of the Leafs or demanding that fans in Toronto back Ottawa, my suggestion would be that you should enjoy the run of the Senators because it doesn’t happen all that often.
Finally, and I realize you may not be interested in the facts, but I think if you examine an archive of the columns I’ve written about the Senators during the playoffs, you’ll find lots of complimentary ones about the quality of this team.
I do find it funny that people like you want to create the perception that anything I write is coloured because I’m supposedly cheering for the Leafs, and then I get emails from Leaf fans accusing me of hating their team and inviting me to move elsewhere. I guess the moral of that story is that you can’t please everybody, particularly people who are blinded by their support of a sports team.
Q: Is it just me, or is Daniel Alfredsson a dirty player?
Sure, he’s come through for the Sens this post season with 4 game winning goals, making up for a lacklustre regular season, but he has no class.
We have the hit from behind on Tallinder this post season, and if I recall correctly, a bad hit on Darcy Tucker in the second round of the playoffs several years ago, that led to a seperated shoulder.
Maybe I have a selective memory, but when was the last time Mats Sundin was criticized for a dirty, cowardly play (I guess this would be my question)? I just think back to Havlat and his kung fu skate kicks, and realize Ottawa has skill, but no class. I think it makes perfect sense the rest of Canada has been so reluctant to get behind the only Canadian team left.
Andrew Barrie, Toronto
A: I don’t believe Alfredsson is a dirty player at all, and I also believe he is one of the classiest people in the NHL, always courteous and polite and generous with his time whenever I’ve dealt with him.
In terms of your second reference, I always find it kind of funny Leaf fans and broadcasters repeatedly bring up Martin Havlat getting in trouble for kicking another player, yet seem to have mysteriously forgotten Shayne Corson kicking Eric Cairns during a Leaf-Islander playoff series. Selective memory, perhaps?
And, as I mentioned in one of my other answers, I think this "Canada’s team" thing has become a bit silly. People cheer for whatever NHL team they want and shouldn’t feel compelled to "get behind" any other team out of some twisted sense of patriotism.
Q: Hi Damien,
With Daniel Alfredsson surpassing anything Mats Sundin has ever done of real importance in the NHL (coming closer to the Cup and the Playoff MVP than Sundin has or ever will), will Sundin finally be seen as the perennial loser he really is?
Be honest and quit making excuses for Sundin - as a leader he's more Markus Naslund than Gretzky or Messier or even Alfredsson.
Will Ottawa's promotion to the finals put any more pressure on the Leafs to put together a good team? Or, as most Leaf fans outside Toronto think, MLSE doesn't care what goes on outside their market as long as the fans (suckers) keep buying tickets?
Ed Stevens, Cobalt, Ont.
A: Okay, I guess here we go again. Why does everything about the Sens have to be a reflection on or about the Leafs, and vice versa? For starters, Alfredsson hasn’t won anything yet, and comparing him to Messier is just downright absurd at this point. Talk to me when he’s got two or three Cups. As far as Sundin goes, I think he has been a very consistent and durable point-per-game performer for the Leafs for over a decade. I think on better teams and within a better organization he’d have won a championship by now, but many players could say that. As far as being a great leader, its not only about winning a Cup. Will Dave Andreychuk go down as one of the great leaders in NHL history because he wore the “C” when the Lightning won it all in 2004? I don’t think so.
As far as whether the Sens run to the final will put more pressure on the Leafs to win, I think if you’re talking about MLSE, the answer is no. Enormous profits shelter them from the urgency to win. If you’re talking about the Leaf hockey department, Ferguson and Paul Maurice know they have a big job to compete in a tough division. I think they’re motivated.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.