Damien Cox answers your Maple Leafs questions in his mail bag.
Damien will be taking some time off and The Spin will return August 6th. The Thursday mail bag will return in September, in time to set the table at Maple Leafs training camp.
Q: Hey Damien, your blog rocks!
It seems to me that a lot of big name players tend to court free agents for their respective teams. Tkachuk called Kariya, Sakic called Smyth, Biron called Briere. Heck, even Vince Carter when he was Raptor convinced Antonio Davis to stay in town.
That brings me to Sundin. I know it's not his job to be a co-GM, but you'd think that if he really was the elite player that he's been billed as all this time then other free agents would be lining up to "play with Mats Sundin!" So what's the deal? Does Mats lack the respect of big name players around the league or does he just not try to court free agents for The Leafs? Or would it possibly have something to do with the "superstar" GM?
Jack Powersson, Summerside, PEI
A: You know, it’s interesting, but I’ve never heard of Sundin actively courting another player. But that may be because he’s never been asked to do so. For years, the Leafs seem to have believed that the crest of the front of their uniforms should be enough to lure one and all.
At the other end of the equation, the Leafs have often been used as leverage, with agents and players understanding that the large Toronto hockey media contingent can be used to increase the price of players on the open market.
In general, like many other aspects to the Leaf operation, the approach to free agents has varied wildly over the years. One year the team won’t even make Wayne Gretzky an offer. Another year Pavel Kubina gets more than he ever dreamed of. It changes from year to year, so perhaps that’s why Sundin has never been used as a central focus of the Leaf free agent acquisition plan.
Q: Why don't sporstwriters ask blatant questions of Richard Peddie or JFJ, like how the Rangers can sign Gomez and Drury and Shanahan, Burke can sign Schneider and Bertuzzi, and all we can get is Blake. The teams that were better were able to improve themselves, and had cap room. All we do is sign the same players back, to lose again at pay increases.
Why does Toskala, who has not played a game for the Leafs, get a 2 yr 8 mil contract, while Chris Mason and Nichlas Backstrom who have proven themselves to their teams get 2 yr and 6 mil? 2 mil more against the cap.
Angelo Romanin, Woodbridge
A: Well, for starters I don’t necessarily thing the Rangers and Ducks bettered themselves. As we see at the trade deadline, teams that get the biggest names aren’t necessarily the ones that benefit the most. This year was a great example. Anaheim didn’t get any of the highest profile players, and then won the Cup. Ditto for Ottawa, which represented the Eastern Conference.
In general, however, I don’t think the Leafs have managed the cap very well in the post-lockout years. They always seem hard up against it, yet haven’t exactly had a team blessed with stars. Under the cap system, decisions not only can be costly, they can linger for years, as will be the case with Bryan McCabe. I think Blake was a good, middle-of-the-road signing, and Leaf fans will love him over time. Toskala? He could prove to be Martin Gerber. We’ll see.
Q: Damien, is there any chance the Leafs will try to sign Alexi Yashin? I would think that at around 2 mil/season he would be a bargain. And doesn't he seem like the type of guy that would give it everything he's got during a contract year?
Andrew MacPherson, Calgary
A: Don’t know if the Leafs are interested in Yashin. They probably don’t have the space to sign him at the number you suggest. And no, I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who would give it his all in a contract year. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who will ever give it his all. If he couldn’t help the Islanders, how could he help the Leafs?
Q: Hey Damien,
What are your thoughts on the Leafs signing Tomas Vanek to an offer sheet? My understanding is that if they gave him a long term deal at anything under 4.7 million per, they would only have to give up a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick as compensation. Would the Sabres have the cap room/cash/will to match? Since we know JFJ will ending up dealing the 1st anyway, this seems like a bargain for a good young sniper.
Greg Wallace, North Bay, Ont.
A: Well Greg, obviously you sent this question before the Oilers went and did pretty much exactly what you suggested. And the Sabres matched, which is what I would have expected. The confusion among hockey people is that Edmonton made the bid even though Buffalo had lost out on Briere and Drury and Zubrus, which meant the Sabres had lots of cap room to make sure they didn’t lose Vanek and lots of motivation to make sure they didn’t lose another star.
Ever since Scott Stevens left Washington for St. Louis, teams have realized the picks never compensate a team for losing a major star. Teams always match now. The Leafs did this once, pitching for Matthias Ohlund rights, and Vancouver matched. It’s basically a waste of time and money for everybody involved except the player, who gets the cash regardless, and his agent.
Q: With front-loaded contracts becoming the newest tactic of the NHL GMs during this year's free agent period, I was wondering if this could become the next CBA loophole.
Is there anything in the CBA to prevent a team from signing an older player (one planning on retirement in the near future) to a deal with all the money front loaded? For example, could a team give a player $35 million over 15 years with the contract calling for 10 million in each of the first 3 years and just .5 million per year in the final 12? This would give a cap hit of just 2.33 million for essentially a 'max-money' player that could retire after the 3rd year of the contract when the money drops down.
Could this be the next way the richer teams get around the cap? I can't understand why the NHL would want the current system where the average value counts against the cap - unless it was the NHLPA that thought that up.
Jordan Whyte, Kingston, Ont.
A: As far as I know there’s no rule against what you describe. If the player was 35 or older when he signed the contract, however, that $2.33 million cap hit would continue for the remaining 12 years regardless of whether the player retired or not. Depending on whether the cap goes up or down, that could be more or less meaningful.
Q: Hi Damien,
I know that, chances are, by the time Thursday rolls around my question could be answered, but here goes anyway.
What's the story with Sheldon Souray? Last year it seemed like defencemen were the first to be gobbled up in free agency, but Souray, after a stellar season last year, is still unsigned. Is he asking for too much money, too long a contract, being too choosy with his destination or what?
Also, where do you eventually think he'll end up?
Andrew Cunningham, Calgary
A: Well, so far, no deal for Souray. Have heard lots of rumours about Souray, but nothing concrete. There was even talk of him going back to Jersey, but then the Devils signed Rachunek and Vishnevski. He’s probably the biggest name still out there. Clearly, both Anaheim and Detroit like Mathieu Schneider and Brian Rafalski, respectively, a little better. Souray’s strengths are his scoring, his size, his toughness and his leadership, and my guess is that he ends up in San Jose or Los Angeles. But there remain lots of possibilities.
(Ed. Note: Well, nobody saw this one coming - Souray to Edmonton, of all places. Maybe everybody else ran out of cap room, at least at the number he was looking for. He's from there, which probably motivated him, but everybody in the industry obviously got it wrong, thinking he was looking for a big, high-profile American city. It's a huge gain for the Oilers, given everything else that had happened to them during the past six months.)
Q: Whats happening in Boston?
Except from signing Manny Fernandez close to nothing of value has been moving closer to the Bruins organization. Are they just cheap and incompetent at the negotiationtable?
Nobody in the organization can look at the current roster and be satisfied.
Johan Lundell, Stockholm
A: The Bruins have mostly been busy firing people since the end of the season, from long-time front office executive Nate Greenberg to head coach Dave Lewis. Last summer they signed a zillion free agents; this summer they’ve done little. It’s a very difficult franchise to understand. One supposes that Peter Chiarelli will build the B’s in the image of his former team, the Ottawa Senators, which means patient drafting and development. But Chiarelli sure wasn’t patient with Lewis.
Q: Hi Damien. I have been a loyal reader of your column since 1997, and have always appreciated your hockey savvy. With that in mind, John Ferguson finds himself in a real bind here in my opinion. Suddenly loaded with NHL-ready defencemen, but light on forwards: the exact reverse of what their problems were in the early part of the millennium. So, were you in the unenviable position of GM of the Leafs, what would you do? Who would you try to deal, who would you go after, who would you keep? Just wondering. Thanks.
Joe Scott, London, Ont.
A: Appreciate the long-time loyalty! Well, as we’ve discussed here a few times, I don’t share the belief that some hold that the Leafs are “loaded with NHL-ready defenceman.” White and Colaiacovo are still proving themselves, we’re still waiting on Kronwall and others. Stralman will make a push next fall. And the four veterans – McCabe, Kaberle, Gill and Kubina – don’t exactly remind anyone of Robinson, Lapointe and Savard just yet. I don’t think the Leafs are sufficiently strong on the back end just yet to start dealing off blueliners to strengthen themselves elsewhere.