Damien Cox answers your Maple Leafs questions in his mail bag. Click here to submit a question.
Q: After the big Leaf trade to acquire Toskala and Bell, you mentioned that Bell has "lifestyle issues". What does this mean exactly? I know he has the DUI issue looming, and this is a serious matter - but if this qualifies as a "lifestyle issue", then many of the players in the league could be said to have similar issues (although they don't all necessarily wind up in court). Is there a larger red flag here? Please clarify if you can.
Chris K., Lafayette, Indiana
A: Fair question. What’s clear is that Bell has been dogged by unusual incidents involving alcohol and the police from junior hockey right into his NHL career. That doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person, but at the same time, he’s a young player who hasn’t measured up to his promise, and so you have to wonder how his off-ice behavior and discipline may have negatively influenced his career so far. That said, Toronto offers him an opportunity to put all that stuff to bed if he’s able to keep his nose clean and deliver on his potential.
Q: Hey Damien! Just reading one of your responses to another reader, and just have to ask you and all the others out there who seem to think that all MLSE seems to care about is money and not winning. Your words - "Enormous profits shelter them from the urgency to win." How can you say that? They spend to the cap limit, and before the cap, were always one of the top 5 spenders. And just ask yourself - 'how much more money are the Sens making right now with this long playoff run?'
Enough already with the Leafs only care about money. If that were so, they would want to win every year, cause the longer the playoffs, the more money in their pockets. So please, somebody, explain to me the logic behind losing equaling making more money? This argument seems absurd.
Ron Gillespie, Listowel, Ontario
A: I think its pretty simple. If a team never has to worry about putting people in seats or must provide quality to ensure sales stay high, human nature suggests there’s less urgency to do what it takes to win. That said, the Leafs could be different, but instead recent years have seen them concentrate as much or more on developing the Raptors, landing a soccer franchise, selling condominiums and managing local areas as on trying to mold a Stanley Cup winner. If the seats were half empty at Leafs games, they’d have to try harder. Payroll spending is just one indicator, and more damning, really, has been the unwillingness of the franchise to step into the market and hire the very best management, coaching and scouting personnel available.
Q: Has Jim Balsillie expressed any interest in buying the Toronto Maple Leafs? Talk about a match made in Heaven. He would not have to pay anyone rights to place a franchise in Southern Ontario. Once he makes a deal with the Ontario Teachers, Bettman could do little to stop it. The Ontario Teachers have little reason to keep the team if he offers an attractive price. The team desperately needs ownership that wants to and knows how to win. Making the Leafs a winner will only enhance its value. As owner of the Leafs (especially one with some moxie), he could shake up Gary Bettman and the NHL in a way no other owner could.
Why is he waiting?
John Hunt, Harvard, Massachusetts (Despondent Leaf fan (and even more so after Friday's trade) and proud Blackberry customer)
A: As far as anyone knows, the Leafs aren’t for sale. Moreover, Basillie seems to have a particular interest in the rest of the Golden Horseshoe particularly Hamilton, where his wife, Heidi, grew up.
Q: Was the multi million contract of the injury prone Colaiacovo tied into games dressed/played or was it unrelated to prior knowledge and sound business practice?
Rob Black, Santa Rosa, CA
A: Colaiacovo’s new contract does not contain special clauses for games-played.
We keep hearing about this year's free agent crop and the Leafs having to be major players in that market. Isn't next year's unrestricted free agent list of much more talent than this years and if so, should the Leafs go after more middle of the pact free agent to get themselves ready for the better group next year? (Joe Thornton for one.)
I know the Leafs badly need to make the playoffs but it smells of another misread of the market and talent.
Bob Dumond, Gore Bay, Ont.
A: Fact is, its hard to guess a year ahead exactly what will be available on the free agent market. Teams often sign their best players beforehand – J.S. Giguere would be a good example this June – while players heading into free agency are often traded at the previous trade deadline, and sometimes signed by those teams. You can guess than Thornton might be available by next summer, but he might well not be.
Q: What about Jeff O'Neill? A goal scorer that never had the right line mates and never really got a chance in Leaf Nation.
Tom Campbell, Toronto
A: I disagree. O’Neill had lots of chances, and while he made some solid contributions last season when the team was hampered by injuries, in the end he simply couldn’t supply the necessary offence to justify a lineup spot.
I am a huge fan of the Leafs, even more with Paul Maurice coaching the blue and white.
I am also a huge fan of the OHL, and the Soo Greyhounds. I am wondering what are the chances that Jiri Tlusty returns to the Hounds next year, he was rolling in the playoffs last year and he fit in very well with the team.
Joel Fresque, Sault Ste Marie, Ont.
A: Great question, and one that will be answered in training camp next fall. The Leafs could have put Tlusty in either the AHL or OHL this season, and decided the OHL was the better fit. His season included injury problems, but by the end he was arguably the Greyhounds best player. He’ll get a chance to convince the Leafs he should be a pro next season, but a second season in the Soo under the excellent coaching of Craig Hartsburg is certainly a viable option. The Leafs haven’t decided what they’ll do, and probably won’t until late in training camp in September.
I'm hoping you can help me understand the Flyers trade for Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen in return for a 1st round draft pick. On the surface, Paul Holmgren sacrifices a pick for exclusive negotiating rights until July 1st. But doesn't something smell here?
The news reports noted that both players were already close to being signed to six year deals. So we're to believe that in the presumably small amount of time between the trade being approved by the league and then announced, the agent(s) for both players hammered out 6-year deals with Holmgren? And why wouldn't both players wait until July 1st before doing anything? If the Flyers ended up being the right fit for both, great. But why not wait a few weeks and see their options? And none of this takes into consideration that the pick that went back to Nashville was the one they sent to Philadelphia for Forsberg in the first place. That smells too.
It seems clear the agent(s) for both players had either a "handshake" agreement from Holmgren regarding contracts or at least a better than normal understanding of their market value come July 1st if they're apparently ready to sign before July 1st. And if it's the latter, apparently Holmgren had a pretty good idea of their value too and was ready to be the top bidder.
So my main question is: if it was a "handshake" agreement, is this not "tampering" with free agents prior to becoming unrestricted? Or if it's the latter situation, and Holmgren knew the markets for both players and was ready to top it, tell me why he would give up a first rounder for exclusivity he didn't need? Not to play conspriracy theorist, but if I'm Gary Bettman, I want to see the Flyers regain their top tier status ASAP and this trade helps that goal.
Dan Salmon, New York via Huntsville, Ont.
A: I don’t disagree with what you’re saying entirely, but at the same time, the Flyers merely acted aggressively under existing rules. It sure seems likely the agents talked to Philly beforehand, but on the other hand, the length of time required to complete such a deal isn’t nearly as long as you think. Moreover, Philly was clearly willing to pay above market value in both money and term, and the risk Timmonen and Hartnell would have taken was that in a league ruled by the salary cap, they’d not necessarily be able to command the same prices after July 1st after other players had been signed. Holmgren gave up the first rounder, meanwhile, simply to get first dibs. If he hadn’t been able to reach agreements with the two players, he would have received the first rounder back.
I don’t think it’s a great way for the NHL to do business, but I give Holmgren full marks for using the system effectively.
Q: Hey Damien,
I'm sure you'll be innundated with questions along these lines, but here goes anyway: Seriously? Toskala and Bell? Come on! After seeing who was still available at 13th overall AND seeing what FLA gave up to get (in my opinion) a much better goalie in Vokoun... What was Ferguson thinking? Why does he even still have a job?
A: Well, what I think JFJ was thinking was that he wouldn’t have a job much longer if he didn’t trade futures for help now. MLSE has made him think this way by declining to give him an extension (so far) and dangling in public the notion of hiring other seasoned hockey executives to stand watch over him.
Q: First off, I agree that JFJ seems to be chasing his tail with this goaltending mess. I can see him dealing Raycroft for a 4th rounder, who couldn't carry Tuuka Rask's cup. And is there any money left to pursue a top-tier UFA forward?
So maybe there are legs to the McCabe-to-the-Islanders rumor? How about McCabe for Satan? Satan is about $1.5m cheaper in cap space, and has a contract that expires after this year, when we will need to give raises to Wellwood, Stajan and Steen. And maybe with some of the found money, UFA Scott Hannan could fill McCabe's spot--given the current market, he could be had for between $4-5m.
David Wise, Queens, NY
A: I think the main point is that many Leaf fans would like to see a little ingenuity out of the Leaf management team this summer, something beyond just throwing money at free agents. I have long suggested traded McCabe is a good option, and that he is anything but untradeable despite the no-trade features of his contract. We’ll start seeing what JFJ has in mind starting Sunday.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
Click here to submit a question.