Damien Cox answers your questions in his mail bag. Click here to submit a question:
Q. Glad to see most Star readers are picking the Sens to win the 3rd round. Given Buffalo's questionable defence (allowing the 2nd most shots allowed in the playoffs) and Ottawa having a very solid D and great goaltending, why are you picking the Sabres? They barely got by the 6th seed Rangers and are being manhandled by more physical players.
Jim B., Ottawa
A. Well, I think everyone in the hockey world believes this will be a very close series. Why would I pick the Sabres? Well, while you talk about Ottawa’s great goaltending – presuming you mean Ray Emery – I think that’s a bit premature. Emery’s done all he’s had to do in the playoffs so far – which is not much. In this series, for Ottawa to win, he’s going to have to be better than Ryan Miller, who’s a little more seasoned and a little less prone to suffer from rebound control problems. I’m also not so sure Emery’s done himself any favors making himself the focus of attention with his anti-Buffalo remarks prior to the series. Maybe he’ll rise to the occasion – he’ll have to for Ottawa to win.
Q. Since John Ferguson arrived, he has said that he wants to build the Leafs through the draft. However, since the implementation of the salary cap, every team realizes that it must build through the draft. It thus follows that in order for the Leafs to succeed, they must do a better job of drafting and developing prospects than their peers.
Do you think Ferguson is doing a better job of building a team than his peers? If so,why? Has he hired a great set of scouts or minor league coaches? Are the Leafs using innovative approaches to scouting or player development? What assets is he spending on scouting and player development that goes beyond what other teams are doing? While the Leafs may be subject to a cap on player salaries, nothing says that they cannot use their assets to build the best scouting and player development programs in hockey. And if he isn't doing anything other than what the other teams are doing, is he (and Leaf ownership) just blowing more hot air at us?
John Hunt, Harvard, Mass.
A. The beauty of “building with youth” is that it takes time to see the fruits of that process, which means it always buys 4-6 years for the architect. Smart, when you think about it. Accordingly, in the case of Ferguson and the Leafs, it’s just too early to tell if the Leafs have improved their ability to identify and develop young talent. There are some positive signs, but nothing definitive. We’ll see, for example, if Jiri Tlusty or Justin Pogge turn out to be stars, or not.
The Leafs haven’t been taking a revolutionary approach to the draft, but I can tell you that compared to years past, there’s much more resources being directed at that part of the hockey department than ever before in team history. I think the Leafs are still playing catchup compared to other teams, teams like Buffalo and New Jersey that have traditionally been far superior in using the draft.
Q. What ever happened to Felix Potvin? Ever since the lockout I haven’t heard about him at all.
K. George, Toronto
A. He has retired. Potvin played his last NHL games for Boston in the 2003-04 season and was one of those players left out of the action when the lockout ended.
Q. Damien, I heard that Niklas Backstrom is going to be a UFA this July and I was wondering if there's a chance he might sign somewhere outside of Minnesota, say Toronto perhaps?
What kind of salary do you think he could command? He's only 29 which is like a goalie's prime. I think he could help push Raycroft or even make a real tandem a la Fernandez/Roloson of a couple years ago.
Richard Weiss, Toronto
A. He’s unrestricted, so sure there’s a chance he’ll sign elsewhere. The Leafs would certainly be one of the teams looking at him, and also one of the teams thinking carefully about overpaying for a 29-year-old goalie who came out of nowhere to play very well for Minny, but really has only that year on his resume.
Q. Damien, you've often stated in print that Martin Brodeur may be the best player in the world, or at least has been for the past 10 years. You've also been a Lou Lamoriello booster for much of the same period. Isn't it becoming clear that the general manager has benefited big time by his one fortunate draft choice? That he has had the advantage of winning championships with mediocre lineups in front of his all-world keeper for most of career in Jersey.
Watching Lamoriello's pathetic efforts to rouse the players on his bench during the later stages of Game 5, he seemed bereft of strategy or solution. So the perrenial MVP goalie can't catch anymore and the rest of the lineup can't score, can't defend, looks thin.
Once Brodeur hangs them up it will be once again clear that championships don't follow over-rated executives, they follow great players that fortunate old men ride to fame and fortune. Oh, yeah, the question - comments?
Ross Maudsley, Toronto
A. I think great managers and great coaches always have one thing in common – great players. That said, the Devils have had a lot more talent than just Brodeur, and Lamoriello put in place the organization that made those lineups possible. He was the one who insisted on Scott Stevens as compensation for Brendan Shanahan, and got it, and he was the one who fooled the Leafs into giving him the third overall draft pick that landed Scott Niedermayer. I think both Brodeur and Lamoriello have contributed greatly to the three Cups won by the Devils, but you always, always should give more credit to the players.
Q. Hi Damien! For me coming from Sweden it's hard to understand the hype that surrounds Alex Steen. Right now he is playing in the world championship and the coach Bengt-Ake Gustavsson told the media that he was disappointed of Steen’s game.
In Sweden, Steen’s move to Toronto came out of the blue.
Mats Sundin is almost bigger than Peter Forsberg in Sweden, if you talk about the national team he is number one. A leader who always deliver.
What kind of player could Toronto get if the traded Steen?
Johan Lundell, Stockholm
A. Hard to say. Young players with low salaries are very valuable in the NHL these days. That said, the Leafs appear to have no intention of trading him after just two seasons. Too often the Leafs have given up on young players, and then seen them do very well for other teams. Steen’s still developing, but to be sure, he’s going to have to show a lot more next year than he did this year.
Q. Hi Damien, two questions: With the Sundin & his Tragically Hip problem, wouldn't this be the time to sign him on the cheap if he recovers or just cut ties with him altogether? Speaking of 13, who do you think Leafs pick with 13th overall pick? Brett Maclean, Brandon Sutter, Logan Couture, or even Angelo Esposito if he falls that far.
Jeremy Woodley, Owen Sound, Ont.
A. Sundin won’t come cheap and they have no replacement for him, therefore it would be silly to just cut him loose. The best idea is to surround him with better players – fast. Re. the draft, you never know, but there have been a surprising number of good players drafted at the No. 13 slot over the past few years including Drew Stafford (Buffalo, 2004), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles, ’03), Alexander Semin (Washington, ’02) and Ales Hemsky (Edmonton, ’01). It seems to be a position where teams, if they’re lucky, get either a highly rated player who falls, or take a flyer on a youngster they rate more highly than other clubs.
Q. Hi, Damien,
In the new NHL, it is obviously imperative that general managers be shrewd as mistakes are magnified under the parameters of the new collective agreement, especially with a salary cap. John Ferguson Jr. has made several unwise signings, particularly the 5-year, no-wave, no-trade contract to McCabe at excessive money and also the 3-ear deal to Raycroft when he already had one year left on his contract. McCabe proved he is not worth the money and Raycroft failed to prove he is the answer in goal. Of course, there is the Kubina contract, too.
Great managers admit their mistakes and learn from them. Do you have any inkling that Ferguson regrets these contracts or does his arrogance deny him the ability to cut his losses and move on?
George Brown Jr., North York, Ont.
A. He has certainly never indicated to me that he regrets any of the deals. Probably he hopes that McCabe, Kubina and Raycroft will all deliver more bang for the buck next season. He has said that with respect to McCabe, the new CBA coming out of the lockout made both McCabe and Tomas Kaberle UFAs much earlier than the Leafs would have anticipated, and thus put the team into a weak bargaining position. That said, I would certainly agree that some of his signings – and I’d throw Tie Domi and Ed Belfour in as well – have been very questionable. But he did get Kaberle at a good number, and we’ll see what he makes happen this summer.
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