Thursday Mail Bag
Tomorrow night in Columbus, the Maple Leafs will acquire a player who will, possibly, join their roster by the 2009-2010 season.
In 10-12 days, however, Leaf fans are sure hoping the club will announce the acquisition of a significant player – or maybe two – that will have a defining impact on the team starting in October.
There’s no question this is John Ferguson’s biggest off-season as GM, one in which he doesn’t have to sign a bagful of unrestricted free agents on July 1st, but one in which he must, through his decisions and player moves, articulate a bold vision for this team beyond waiting for Jiri Tlusty and Justin Pogge to develop.
|STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR|
|Curtis Joseph was a star during his years with the Leafs, from 1998-2002.|
Two significant hurdles exist.
The increase in the salary cap means more teams will be players than if the cap had remained at $44 million. Moreover, with commish Gary Bettman unable to yet determine what the cap will be other than between $48 million and “50ish”, the Leafs, like all teams, are going into the free agent season a little blind. It’s not Bettman’s fault, its just that the union, which has to agree to a cap figure, is in such disarry the league isn’t even sure who’s making the decisions in the wake of the Ted Saskin dismissal.
The second obstacle for Ferguson is that he will be making offers to free agents while the agents of those players, if not the players themselves, are well aware that members of the Leaf board – Larry Tanenbaum, Dale Lastman – are out courting experienced hockey people to work with or oversee Ferguson.
|Should the Maple Leafs sign Curtis Joseph? |
So the Leafs have managed to make their hockey department look a little uncertain to outsiders at an important part of the year. And they say this is a team that doesn’t want to win.
On to this week's mail bag (click here to submit a question), with apologies to one and all for taking last week off:
Q: Hi Damien,
I'm not sure if this topic had been discussed before or not, but watching the Ducks captain raise the mug yet again this year just kills me. I love Scottie (Niedermayer) as a great player, but I can't help but kept recalling the below news headline back in 1989 and wonder 'what if...':
"The Toronto Maple Leafs traded their first-round pick in the 1991 draft to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Tom Kurvers."
Thomas Ho, Hong Kong via Toronto
A: Poor Tom Kurvers. His name always gets dragged through the mud when this story pops up even though it wasn’t his fault that GM Floyd Smith made that godawful trade. But while you can argue it might have altered Leaf history, you could also argue that if Smith hadn’t made the move and the Leafs had acquired Niedermayer, the Smith regime would have stayed on, Cliff Fletcher would never have joined the Leafs and the club’s history would have been altered in another way. Moreover, knowing the Leafs scouting department at the time, they just as easily might have taken Scott Lachance, Aaron Ward or Richard Matvichuk with the pick, three blueliners taken immediately after Niedermayer in the ’91 draft.
A good debate is whether the Leafs cost themselves more by the Kurvers/Niedermayer error or by Fletcher’s 1997 decision to trade his first round pick to the Islanders in the Wendel Clark swap, a deal that gave the Isles the fourth pick and, ultimately, the ability to draft goalie Roberto Luongo. Niedermayer and Luongo, its fair to say, would have been the two best draft picks in the history of the Leafs – if they’d kept the picks and selected those players.
Q: I just don't get it. Everyone is hailing this deal with Mats Sundin as good for everyone involved. Mats is showing his loyalty and the leafs have an extra $800K.
Mats Sundin has made about $70 Million over his career. I love the guy as a player, he wears his heart on his sleeve, but if he was so loyal why wouldn't he take a new contract at $4.6 Million or even less so the Leafs could have more money for more top end free agents? Don't give me the garbage about the union had influence; it's running around with its head cut off. Business is business sure but is winning the Stanley Cup really that important to you is an extra 1.4% of you career earnings more important?
Victor Tanti, Ottawa
A: What surprised me, Victor, is how many rose to Sundin’s defence when I suggested that Sundin take less to give the team more cap space. Many wondered why Sundin should voluntarily accept a smaller salary than Bryan McCabe, and others suggested Sundin shouldn’t have to pay for the errors of Leaf management. To me, there was a big chance here for Sundin to make a big statement about his own intentions as a professional hockey player, and instead he made a small one.
Easy for me to say, of course. They’re not my millions.
Q: Hi Damien,
With Sundin signing on for only one-year vs. a longer term deal, could this possibly have an effect on his status with the team? I don't want to use the term 'lame-duck' since its not really applicable in this case, but I mean in a sense that if it's in the back of everyone’s mind (team, management, fans) that this next season could be his last it may force the Leafs to look beyond Sundin for longer term leadership and star power. It may be a bit of stretch, but could another player even land the position of first line centre? Thanks!
John Meddick, Oakville
A: John, I think in an ideal world another player would take over as the No. 1 centre, with Sundin shifting to No. 2. But the Leafs don’t own such a talented player. I don’t think his contractual status matters at all unless the Leafs are out of playoff contention by next winter’s trade deadline. In such a scenario, they would all but have to trade him to a contender.
Q: I know that a lot of people including myself are not very happy with the signing of Antropov for 2 mil/yr for 2 years but what does 2 mil/yr get you these days?
What is the calibre of such players? Are there unrestricted free agents out there that would have been a better fit at that price?
J. Sivakumaran, Hamilton, Ont.
A: Perhaps there are. But $2 million will be about the NHL average salary this season, and so, the Leafs are getting an average NHL player for those dollars, albeit one that often plays on their top line. Antropov’s not a great player, but he’s a decent bargain for the money.
Q: Hey Damien,
As a Leafs fan I'm constantly in a state of "looking ahead to next year." As I do that this time, what do you think are reasonable expectations of the Leafs younger guys: Steen, Stajan, Wellwood, White, Carlo, Kronwall, Woz, Harrison, Tlusty and even Pony and Antropov?
Wait. Antropov's Almost 30 isn't he? Why does he get so much patience from Leafs brass (and a 2 million/yr contract) when he's never even had a 20 goal campaign?
Jake Redding, St. John's
A: Out of the group you mentioned, Carlo Colaiacovo and Jiri Tlusty are the only ones likely to develop into anything close to elite NHLers, and in Tlusty’s case, that’s purely a projection at this point.
Most of the rest have proved they can play in the NHL – now they have to demonstrate they can make a difference.
Q: I know I'm not the first person to ask this question, cynical as it is, but what kind of message do you think the league is sending when they would not authorize Balsillie to purchase the Penguins and relocate them out of the States, but however agree to a non-binding deal with the same person to purchase the Predators?
It seems utterly transparent to me that the league has obviously stepped in to ensure Sidney Crosby stays in America. What does this say to you about the state of the game in the States, and furthermore the logic behind the league considering expansion? Also, had Sid the Kid not been involved with the Penguins franchise, do you think the league would have acted differently?
Earl M,. Toronto
A: I think the presence of Crosby in Pittsburgh did make a difference. Even the Balsillie group, looking back, acknowledges that Pittsburgh was a very different situation than Nashville. The Pens had been around since 1967, had won Stanley Cups and had shown they could attract fans but had been saddled with iffy ownership and a bad arena. To me, it’s a market the NHL should want to be in because the game is actually played there. Whether local politicians did the right thing by getting in bed with gambling interests to build a new arena and keep the Pens is something local taxpayers will have to live with, but Crosby was definitely an asset the NHL did not want to see fleeing to a different market.
Q: Would the leafs be interested in bringing back Cujo? Sign him as a backup and pair him and Raycroft off at training camp and see who is better to start. Cujo would love to come back here and a goaltender to push Raycroft to be much better than he has shown. Write this in a column of yours and see if the rest of Leafs Nation would love to see this happen.
Tara Krusts, Scarborough
A: I have written about this, and so far, I don’t detect a huge groundswell of support behind the Joseph option. The Leafs hockey office has certainly talked about Joseph as a possible addition, but their concern is that Cujo’s enormous popularity would make it a goaltending competition Raycroft couldn’t possibly win even if he was the better netminder. At this point, Joseph doesn’t appear to be the club’s top choice, but that could change quickly.
Q: Hi Damien,
I sucessfully predicted the outcome of the Anahiem/Ottawa series by applying an observation that every team that wins the Stanley Cup has a Canadian as a captain. The only exception to this theory that I can think of is when Dallas won the cup with Mike Modano as its captain. Any thoughts as to why this is so?
Jake Formsma, Bridgenorth, Ont.
A: First, of all, when Dallas won the Cup, Derian Hatcher was the team’s captain. Like Modano, Hatcher is American-born. As to why mostly Canadian-born captains win the Cup, it’s worth noting that non-Canadians only began becoming captains in significant numbers over the last decade, so the file is pretty thin still. Would the Sens have beaten the Ducks if Chris Phillips rather than Daniel Alfredsson was the captain? Unlikely. I guess the overall question would be similar to asking why only one Canadian captain has won an Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey since 1952.
In sum, I don’t think it has a thing to do with citizenship or place of origin.
Q: Mr. Cox,
With the present NHL/NHLPA agreement, do the players gain from expansion aside from the addition of new jobs? Are expansion fees/profits linked to the agreement with the PA and would the salary cap be affected? What would an expansion draft look like now that teams are based so rigidly on budgeting of talent and also expense?
Alexei Gorbochev, Yakusk, Ukraine
A: Fabulous. Our first mail bagger from Ukraine. Welcome.
Re expansion, expansion fees are not shared with the players under the current NHL-NHLPA agreement, which, aside from greed, is why expansion is so attractive to the league’s 30 owners. Since that’s the case, the salary cap would not be affected by expansion.
I don’t think the existence of the cap would profoundly change how an expansion draft was conducted, although you can bet a lot of high-salaried players with negative cap implications would be made available to the new teams.
Q: NHL expansion in the US?
How about this as a measure of hockey's allure in the U.S. Seattle has two major junior hockey teams (Seattle Thunderbirds, Everett Silvertips) but the local NBC television station has chosen to drop (two nights of) coverage of the Stanley Cup finals to it's affiliated independent station.
When does Bettman's contract come up for renewal?
Gerry Robideau, Seattle, WA
A: I think your point is that even where Americans may like hockey, it doesn’t necessarily mean they embrace the NHL. I think that’s true.
My understanding is that Bettman is under contract beyond the 2010 Olympics.
Q: Love your work Damien. Hail form OZ but followed ice hockey while I visited and couldn't help but notice the similarites between the problems facing the NHL with regards to the salary cap and Rugby League here in Australia.
One of the solutions proposed here is to allow each team to nominate one player drafted by the team (must have spent their entire career with the same organization) exempt from the salary cap. Do you think this would work in the NHL?
Steve Mills, Sydney, Australia
A: Wow. Mail bag entries from Hong Kong, Ukraine and Down Under in one week. Very cool.
Steve, I think the system you advocate could certainly work in the NHL, but it’s not one the league wants if only because it allows wealthier teams an edge but being able to spend more on an “exempt” player. Moreover, so few NHLers spend their entire careers with one team that this would be a shallow pool in which to fish, to be sure.
I guess I’m not sure what the advantage of such a system would be at this time to the NHL.
Q: I just want to ask how hard were you laughing when Leafs’ management said they would have made the playoffs had it not been for "one" player accused of doping?
I think it's hilarious, what's next? Their chakras were out of alignment? Gravity was heavier on their end of the rink? Why Torontonians stick behind this team year after year boggles the mind.
Todd McCleave, Toronto
A: Well, I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that the Islanders would not have qualified for post-season play if Hill’s drug suspension had been treated with a little more urgency and he had been disqualified for the final 10-15 games. He and defence partner Brendan Witt were awfully important pieces of the Isles’ playoff drive.
Now would the Leafs have been the team to get that spot? That’s a very different question.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.