Bell and Busted
The NHL is full of stories of players who mess up in various places,then, miraculously, grow up and find their game somewhere else.
There's not much to indicate that Mark Bell will find that place in Toronto. But its certainly possible.
The Leafs took a flyer on the kid, or had to take him as part of the deal to get goalie Vesa Toskala. They, like many teams, have had some success with these kinds of projects in the past. Richard Jackman once came to the Leafs as an unfulfilled former first round pick with a history of alcohol problems. The Leafs were at least part of his turnaround, and there he was last year, still playing in the league, and this time with the Stanley Cup champs.
Bates Battaglia, on the other hand, just didn't understand the committment needed to play in the league. The Leafs gave him a chance to find his way in the minors, and he became a useful depth player last season.
If you want to be a good NHL team, you have to have the ability to find such undervalued assets and turn them into regulars. Really, it's always been that way.
What was interesting was how the Leafs chose to address the news yesterday that Bell will be going to jail at the end of this season on drunk driving charges. Few realized that someone was hurt significantly in this incident - the driver of the truck Bell hit - and that Bell is still up to his eyeballs in legal problems over this incident.
The Leafs seemed slow to react, with GM John Ferguson finally issuing a bland, predictable statement crafted by some public relations guy, and then Bell doing to the same.
Contrast that with another athlete, albeit one in very different, non-legal bind. Stephen Ames failed miserably in his final PGA championship round pairing with Tiger Woods, but by the day after was on the media circut, very available to print, radio and TV reporters interested in discussing that and his exclusion from Presidents Cup team.
Suddenly, instead of being difficult to reach, Ames was everywhere, and suddenly he became a sympathetic character rather than a punchline.
For the Leafs, this Bell story isn't going to go away. But he's surely not the only 20-something to get in trouble with drinking and driving, and they would do well to find a way before training camp to get his story out there in a human way.
People will be much quicker to forget other stuff if he can play.
But right now, most people don't even know what he looks like. They just know he sounds like trouble, not a solution of any kind.