First, Anton Stralman was supposed to make a difference for the Maple Leafs. Now Jiri Tlusty, to date the 10th leading scorer this season with the Toronto Marlies, gets the nod in Pittsburgh tonight after being summoned from the Ricoh Centre.
And not a checker or experienced, stay-at-home defenceman in sight. All in all, it's an intriguing approach to improving team defence, clearly the Achilles heel of the Leafs so far.
Now, on to this week’s mail bag (click here to sumbit a question):
I enjoyed reading your article 'Boo these guys, not Leafs'. Obviously the Leafs are run by profit driven and seemingly faceless corporations, void of responsibility and accountability. I wasn't aware of just how many though so thank you for opening my eyes.
With that being said what will it take to break up this apathetic empire? Is there a multi-millionaire or billionaire out there with unabashed love for the Maple Leafs who identifies with the plight of long suffering Leaf fans? Someone waiting in the wings to buy current ownership out with an offer they could not refuse? Just how rich is Mike Myers anyway?
James N., Courtice, Ont.
A: From time to time, James, there are rumours floating about that the teachers pension fund is playing to sell its share in MLSE, or that heirs to the Thomson fortune are plotting to move in, or that Ted Rogers has his eyes on the Leafs. Nothing, however, has materialized since the last ownership shift in 2003.
Is there anything the public could do, if it wanted, to effect a change in MLSE ownership? Not really, particularly since this isn’t a publicly traded company any longer. It’s the great conundrum for Leafs fans, feeling as though they want to support their team and buy tickets, but all the while knowing the more tickets that are sold, the least urgency the organization will feel towards trying to build a champion.
Finally, I don’t know how rich Mike Myers is. We’ll have to see how his movie The Love Guru, with a budget in excess of $70 million, does at the box office, I guess.
Q: Hi Damien,
As we've all read countless times, the Leafs are having a tough time holding a lead. What's frustrating as a fan is hearing the same "solution" from the coaches, GM, and reporters. Everyone is saying the Leafs need to play better defensively. It's just a bit vague for my liking. Since it doesn't seem like there are any personnel changes coming any time soon, what exactly can they change to get a better outcome in the games that they're leading? Is there a defensive pairing that you think might work better? Maybe a line combination that would help keep the intensity level up without taking dump penalties? Any ideas?
Varun Chakravorty, Brampton
A: Well, I’m like everybody out there. I have an opinion. What I find strange is that there isn’t much structure in the Leaf defensive approach, or at least, there seems to be an awful lot of leeway for on-ice decision making, whether its defencemen stepping up to pinch in the neutral zone or teammates switching off in the defensive zone. It all breaks down into three separate but related areas; personnel, scheme and effort.
The Leafs are stuck with the personnel they have for the time being, and there isn’t a Selke Trophy award candidate up front nor a Harry Howell, reliable sort on the back end, and this isn’t a particularly quick or fast team.
Scheme-wise, this is a team always looking to attack and one that wants to be a puck possession club, but doesn’t necessarily have the skill.
In terms of effort, any fan can see all the effort that goes into a Leaf rush, and all the drifting and standing around that goes on in the defensive zone.
A combination of more effective defensive personnel, a more conservative game plan and rewarding those who hustle defensively while penalizing those players who won’t is how this problem gets fixed, but it would take time.
It seems the more talented teams are no longer cycling the puck (or are doing so rarely) but using their skill to attack the net at every opportunity. This is giving the Leafs defence fits, and it draws more penalties.
Is this a valid observation? If so, do the Leafs have the skill to adopt this strategy? Have you noticed other impacts that the "new" rules have had on the game?
Paul Flannigan, Charlottetown
A: Paul, that’s a great point, and I hope you’re right. Frankly, the cycling game bores the hell out of me. But you’ll still see different teams cycle at certain times. I think teams attack the Leaf net because they know its not that hard to do, and that quite often there won’t even be a single defenceman keeping the crease area clear. I think the Leafs want to do this – you saw Jason Blake go hard to the next on Tuesday to set up Nik Antropov’s goal – but sometimes get caught up in peripheral style game, taking lots of long shots. The “new” rules clearly benefit players with speed and a nose for the net.
Q: Hi Damien,
My question concerns Mark Bell. I know of his problems etc, etc. He has been placed in stage 1 of re-hab to start and then is put in stage 2. When this happened he was suspended for 15 games!
I would think by moving to stage 2 he is improving in his re-hab but he is punished further! Is moving then to the second stage like a demotion because he did not do well in stage 1?
Curtis Sleeman, Thunder Bay, Ont.
A: That’s not the way I understand it. The league says that the suspension has nothing to do with what stage of the program he was at, but rather the severity of the plea deal (a felony) and the sentence (six months in jail). I find it hard to take offence with any organization that wants to take a hard stand against drinking and driving. I just don’t see the NHL’s consistency here, and I think that if this is a new policy for off-ice infractions, it’s going to be awfully tough to apply in a meaningful way.
Q: Hi Damien,
If all the talk about GM JFJ's job security being tied to the Leafs performance is true, then the axe may be just about to fall. Does JFJ have any last cards to play (trades that could make a big impact,etc)? Or is he just left to hope that the Leafs as they are get it turned around?
Bradley Meldrew, Toronto
A: Well, Bradley, as you’ll see in Kevin McGran’s story today on thestar.com, chasing John Tavares is one card JFJ may be willing to play.
There are any number of moves Ferguson could make to re-orient the path of this club by starting to move expensive veterans and other assets ASAP, but I doubt he has the green light to do so. Moroever, he hasn’t thus far shown a penchant to be bold and aggressive during the course of an NHL season, preferring to be patient and believe in the roster he put together.
If you look at the statistics, Toronto has scored more goals than any team in the league,including Ottawa (yes I had to double check too).
Does this mean if they can just tighten up the defence,say cut back a goal against per game that they are or can be a better team than their record to date shows. (The eternal optimist)
Bill Smith, Toronto
A: It’s a good thing to be an optimist, Bill. In this case, however, its not just a switch the Leafs can pull. One of the reasons they are successful offensively, you see, is that they’re willing to take shortcuts and be undisciplined defensively as a means of create more attack. They like to exit their own zone with sharp outlet plays, for example, but sometimes those fail more than simple, off-the-glass type plays. Moreover, the play athletes like Darcy Tucker who has shown an ability to score but can’t check his hat. Ditto for Bryan McCabe. If they want to improve defensively, you have to believe it will almost certainly involve a reduction in offensive production.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
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