Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your Maple Leafs questions. Click here to send Damien a question .
So, Simon Gamache and Anton Stralman are the answers.
What can the questions possibly be?
Interestingly, those two players seem to be the only minor league cards the Leafs really have to play – Justin Pogge, in theory, would be the other – and its pretty early to play them.
Crisis, what crisis?
Now here’s this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
Thanks for keeping my Thursday mornings interesting. I almost got caught reading this in lecture last week. On to my question, I know it's early in the season but what's wrong with the Leafs powerplay? They don't move the puck well and they average one shot. Last season when the opposition shut down the McCabe point shot, Sundin would go back door to Tucker. I don't think they've tried that once this season. Thoughts?
Raymond Young, Toronto
A: Raymond, power plays, to my mind, come and go, usually with the confidence that players have going at the time. With the Leafs, there seems to be some unfamiliarity up front, and teams are simply taking away the McCabe one-timer now and don’t respect the shot of Kaberle. When power plays go sour, it’s because they’ve either become predictable or they lack movement, and with the Leafs, it’s a bit of both. Teams know where Sundin wants to set up and where Tucker prefers to work from, so there’s no surprises. Everybody has seen the back door play, and it’s too low percentage to live off of, particularly since Tucker requires four good feeds to put one in. That said, the Leafs will go up and down all season at extra strength, just as most teams do. Puck movement, generally speaking, is the answer, plus putting bodies in front to distract the goaltender.
Q: During Pat Quinn's era, I noticed that on the power play the Leaf defencemen took a lot more shots from the point and gathered a lot more offensive chances that way. I’m not sure but I think it’s called the Umbrella style of play. I’m seeing a lot less use of the defencemen on powerplays with Maurice behind the bench, and their powerplay rankings speaks for itself. Should we bring out the Umbrella once again or have faith in our "new system"?
Amrit Sangha, Toronto
A: I’m really not sure its necessarily the system. Remember, in the last year of the Quinn regime, it was the first year when the bluelines were moved back, which created more room in the offensive zone and more room for point men on the power play. McCabe did very, very well finding room and position high in the zone, but as I mentioned, teams now take that away pretty routinely, partially because they also don’t respect McCabe’s ability to dish creatively and make plays down low. When more things start happening down low, you’ll see McCabe and Kaberle with more room to operate high in the zone.
Q: Hi Damien,
Being down here in South Jersey - which is Philadelphia Flyer territory - and watching the brilliant dismantling and rebuilding of the Flyers by Paul Holmgren I'm starting to wonder if maybe they found the proverbial "shortcut to grandma's house" for rebuilding an NHL franchise in the salary cap era.
If (more likely when - sigh) this season goes south, instead of just parting with Mats, could they also try to dump McCabe, Kubina - both easier said than done - although teams needing defensive or power play help at the deadline sometimes do strange things. Raycroft should already be gone - mainly just to dump the salary and Belfour's salary off the books would free up over 20M of cap space.
I would accept a losing season if just to accomplish this kind of turn around. Did the Flyers just luck out or do you think this is a system that could work for the Leafs?
Gerry Willan, Mays Landing, NJ
A: Great question, Gerry, and the question many, many Leaf fans are asking these days.
First point; while its often said Toronto wouldn’t accept such a rebuilding program, that’s a load of hokum. Leaf fans have proved many times over the years they’ll gratefully accept whatever is served to them, no questions asked. Second, Holmgren has done a very good job, and he did it aggressively. We’ll see how it pans out over time, but it looks very good. Other teams – Detroit – have managed to stay more than competitive without going all the way to the bottom, so there’s more than one way to do it. But it certainly seems evident the Leafs have tied up their dollars and cap space in the wrong core players, and wriggling out of that predicament should be the priority.
Teams will take those players, but you have to be patient. More to the point, the Leafs and their ownership would have to be willing to take a step back, and I doubt very much that they are. The owners are making tons of money, and winning is a second consideration. What’s important to them is that they put forward the perception of winning, and so I doubt you’ll see a Flyer-like effort any time soon.
Thanks to you and your employer for all this wonderful online information! Indy is not exactly "Hockey Town", although I can hook you up with some great parking, if you ever want to come to The 500!
1. You mention Tyson Nash in your last mailbag. Where is he?
2. Will Belak see much ice time this year? Considering how they have used him several roles, but never seem to give him anything more permanent?
Craig Dori, Speedway, IN
A: You know, my dad and I have always talked about going to the Indy 500, so maybe I’ll take you up on that parking offer!
Re Nash, not sure what has happened to him. I’ll check and get back to you, but after finishing last year with the Marlies, he didn’t return this season. He certainly didn’t pay much of a dividend in the trade with Phoenix that sent Mikael Tellqvist to the desert, but in fairness, the Leafs didn’t believe he would. UPDATE: Nash remains unsigned by an NHL team.
Re Belak, he’s apparently scheduled to play his first game of the season tonight against the Islanders. His challenge will be to provide energy and physical play without taking penalties. Moving back and forth from defence to forward has been, I think you’d have to argue, an impediment to Belak’s progress as an NHLer. Personally, I think he’s much more effective as a forward.
Q: Hey Damien,
Am I the only one that thinks it's a bad idea to have the GMs make the decisions for the NHL (rule changes, schedule, etc.)? I think that they are biased to make decisions based on what's best for their individual teams, not the NHL as a whole. For example the GM of an Eastern Conference team obviously wouldn't want to change the schedule because it would mean more travel for their team. Likewise the GM of a defensive hockey team will not be approving of any changes that improves the offense in hockey, just like the GM of a high scoring team will not approve changes that make it harder to score. A GM is looking to protect their own franchise and in effect protect their jobs, they don't care about what's best for the game.
Wouldn't it make more sense to have rule changes be conducted by another committee composed of retired hockey players, scouts, and executives with no ties to any one franchise? They would be more likely to make any changes based on what's best for the overall game.
Vsem Yenovkian, Toronto
A: Well, I think that was part of the reason why after the lockout the league put together the competition committee, which is made up of owners, players and GMs, which has taken some of the power out of the hands of the GMs. That said, many of the managers are good hockey men who have a broader vision of the game, and they often have great ideas and important contributions to make.
I have been impressed by the restoration of the refereeing standard that we had grown accustomed to following the lockout. You must watch more hockey than anyone I know - has this been your impression? In my ideal NHL the instigator rule would be dropped but stick, holding, interference calls would all be stricty enforced. Fast, exciting, hard hitting, knuckle-bleeding action - love it!
Ross Maudsley, Toronto
A: Sounds like other than the fighting, you and I are in agreement. Personally, I think fighting takes physical play out of the game – who wants to hit if every time you land a good one some goon is breathing down your neck? – and hockey without lots of hitting just isn’t a game I want to watch all the time. I worry all the time, however, that officials are growing lax on the standard and allowing stuff to creep back in. Even Colin Campbell has often said that this was always a 10-year adjustment period, not a one- or two-year project.
Q: Hi Damien,
I am watching the Leafs/Sens game, Thursday night (Oct. 4), and Ponikarovsky and Neil have just been given penalties, tripping and unsportsmanlike conduct respectively.
So here is what I don't understand: If it is a trip then there is no unsportsmanlike conduct ie Neil didn't dive. If Neil is guilty of diving (unsportsmanlike) then it shouldn't be a trip? How can it be both? Shouldn't it be one or the other?
Eric Colquhoun, Toronto
A: Agreed. I’ve always disagreed with the way they make this call, and I think what they’re trying to say is that while there may have been a foul, the victim embellished it to such an extent that a diving call is necessary. But if you’re just going to call it even every time, neither penalty is much of a deterrent.
Q: Hello Damien,
Been a leaf fan all my life, follow them religiously as I now live in the South. I need to ask a question thats been bothering me for a while. Why is it that teams like the Colts, Yankees, Red Sox, Mavericks and so on, have team owners that care about winning? They are competitive, they win convincingly, they have all- star type players, they hire the best from coaches and players to front office. Why is it that the Leafs organization, with all the rich heritage and history and fan support like no other, cannot give us what this team can actually accomplish? And you know what I'm talking about. Give us a team and an organization that cares about winning. I'm mean really, how long will it take when we will see the ACC with several thousand seats available for a Leaf game (I know, that will never happen). Fans will just get tired and sick of their losing ways (they already are). What I'm saying is I'm sick and tired of watching them lose. I may be speaking too early but, it broke my heart to see them loose the first two games. The city of Toronto, and the fans deserve so much more. Especially for a hockey crazed city like Toronto. Don't you think?
Tony Giann, Cleveland, Tennessee
A: Tony, believe it or not, you speak for many Leaf fans. But you hit the most salient point right on the head. The fact that there aren’t several thousand empty Leaf seats for each game is part of the reason that there is a lack of urgency towards pursuing excellence from ownership on down. When profits are that high, concern for the quality of the product tends to be low – it’s probably just a function of human nature. Leaf ownership contends it wants to win, but they’ve got their fingers in so many other pies – NBA, arena management, condo development – that it seems only part of their attention is on the hockey team. Moreover, given that they know profits will remain high and probably go higher regardless of what they put on the ice, there’s no internal motivation to address the issue convincingly.
This seems more of a recent issue, really. In the early 1990s, the Leafs hired Cliff Fletcher and Pat Burns, too of the most respected hockey people in the game. Pat Quinn was certainly a big name when he came on board. It’s in more recent years when the Leafs have gone for an unproven manager and a head coach without a Stanley Cup resume that Leaf fans have reason to wonder why this organization doesn’t just go out and hire the best and the brightest. Why wasn’t Brent Sutter being chased by the Leafs, for example? It all goes back to motivation, and the absence of motivation to win a Stanley Cup inside the Leaf organization.
They’ll deny it, but it’s the truth. This is a franchise that pays lip service to winning, at least at the ownership level. Any team that would hold a night to honour the mediocrity of Tie Domi 'cause he’s a buddy of one of the owners – well, that tells you all you need to know.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.