Okay, here we go again.
Every Thursday I’ll do my best to answer any and all Leaf or NHL or general hockey questions you have. Last year, we fielded queries from Asia, Europe, Africa, the United States and across Canada, and hopefully we can drum up the same interest from Star readers around the world this season.
It’s a season that already looks chock full of intriguing issues and questions, even though we’re only in pre-season. So let’s get it rolling!
Q: After reading some comments from Mats and coach Maurice, the Leafs are planning on not only making the playoffs this season but also competing for the Cup. Obviously they have been drinking the "kool aid" (I also suspect that Paul Godfrey and J.P have been sneaking drinks from it too). Just how far off do you think these predictions are and what can we do as fans who no longer have any faith in either of our marquee franchises but still have the passion to support those team?
P.S If I'm not mistaken the Leafs traded the 13th pick in the draft in the Toskala deal, they could have drafted either of Angelo Esposito or Alexei Cherepanov both of whom are more talented than anyone current on the horizon for the Leafs or even the players they received in the trade and precisely the type of young talent they need.
Craig Fulford, Toronto
A: Craig, I’m sensing a little frustration. Your question seems to be broken down into two parts; one, can the Leafs compete for the Cup, and two, what can fans do who don’t believe that will happen but want to cheer anyway.
Re question one, I believe that the Leafs can qualify for post-season play even though they are only slightly more talented than last season. With good, not great goaltending last season, they would have made the playoffs, and between Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft they should get improved play between the pipes. Jason Blake will help a lot, and Pavel Kubina will be much stronger. Once you’re in the playoffs you’re competing for the Cup, but based on what the Leafs have now, they lack enough reliable defensive acumen on the blueline and don’t have anywhere close to the required strength down the middle after Mats Sundin.
Re question two, that is the eternal challenge of being a fan. I guess you continue to hope. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Q: Hi Damien!
Is the newly signed Anton Stralman part of the team or will they let him start in the minors? And what about the often injured Staffan Kronwall?
Johan Lundell, Stockholm
A: Stralman has to play himself into this group, which won’t be easy since at the moment the top six would appear to be McCabe, Kaberle, Kubina, Gill, White and Colaiacovo. That said, the Leafs are high on his puck-moving skills and offensive smarts, so Stralman will be given a serious chance to crack the lineup. White could be the Leaf defender most vulnerable.
Re Kronwall, well, he’s been injured so much nobody’s sure what to think. He’s got to get himself healthy for an extended period of time, and the likeliest scenario would have him at least starting another season with the Marlies.
Q: Perhaps this is easier to explain than I think, but why has Mark Bell been dealt with so much more harshly by the NHL than Jay Bouwmeester? Bell hit someone and fled, but society's condemnation of drunk driving is absolute, and they both pled guilty to it. I realize Bell has required substance abuse treatment, but this seems a double standard. Your thoughts?
Mike Whitehouse, Sudbury, Ont.
A: Great question. I can’t read the mind of the NHL on this, but my guess would be that because Bell’s actions injured another person and will result in a jail term, that differentiates him from Bouwmeester. That said, perhaps it’s time the NHL instituted a policy that any drinking-and-driving conviction will result in a 10-game suspension.
Q: Mr. Cox: What is the deal with the NHL and regional blackouts? I mean, I know what they are, but why? Seems like another idea whose time has long since past. If I'm considering shelling out however much per month for HD TSN and Sportsnet, the least they could do is let me see out of market games.
I suppose I should count myself lucky as a hockey fan, since I get Calgary and Edmonton games on the analog (yuck) Sportsnet West, which is in my "region", according to the powers that be.
Further to that, when is LeafsTV going to arrive nation-wide? Is the CRTC once again in the way of progress, or is it just the NHL or MLSE being extra stupid?
Fans in any city should be able to watch any game on TV or especially online (for a price of course). Am I crazy?
Ross Hudgins, Regina
A: I took your questions directly to John Shannon, the NHL’s senior vice-president of broadcasting. He said the league is divided into 30 territories for 30 franchises, not unlike many national franchises. Your area was arbitrarily designated a Calgary/Edmonton territory, and just like other territories, you’re subject to out-of-market blackout rules. National broadcasts on TSN, Sportsnet or CBC are excluded. That said, Shannon pointed out that if you’re interested, you may be able to purchase the league’s Centre Ice package, which essentially gets around all the blackouts. In many markets, that package is also available on your home computer.
Re Leafs-TV, that channel will never be available nationally because it is obligated by league rules to exist only in the Leafs territory, which is the province of Ontario minus the 613 area code. Again, however, Shannon points out that if you choose to subscribe to Centre Ice, all Leaf games broadcast by Leafs-TV would be available to you.
Hope that helps!
Can you come up with any logical reason why JFJ would extend Toskala's contract for 4M per season, prior to him ever getting any black marks on his new blue equipment? To me, this move sends the message that he's the goalie of the future regardless of they're telling Raycroft, and since the money doesn't kick in till next year, what was the urgency? He could have waited to see how Toskala was going to fit in to the team and the city first. He's unnecessarily made a deal that could cost him cap space if Toskela doesn't pan out, or Razor has a great year. There is a good chance both scenarios could happen.
More bad management of an otherwise good trade.
Dan Guse, Dowling, Ont.
A: Dan, you may prove to be right. The Leafs’ assessment that if Toskala wasn’t locked up, he would be on the unrestricted free agent market in a year and might cost them more. We’ll see who turns out to be correct. I don’t think the problem is the message they’re sending Raycroft; he had a chance to deliver the goods as an unchallenged No. 1 goalie last year and didn’t come through. I think the problem is that if Toskala doesn’t pan out, he becomes virtually untradeable and a major salary cap problem. But let’s face it. If Toskala flames out, it won’t be JFJ’s problem. He’ll be long gone.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.