Well, folks, it’s been a crazy week, particulary so given that there’s only been one Leaf game played.
And what a game that was, huh? It was interesting to hear Darcy Tucker and other Leafs sound completely mystified this week as to why anyone in the world could possibly find fault with anything Bryan McCabe has done lately or has ever done. I find it fascinating how people like Tucker can one day talk about how Leaf fans are the greatest fans in the league and in the next breath treat them like complete idiots.
But hey, maybe that’s just. Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Let's keep this simple: What the hell is wrong with Bryan McCabe?
Ken Schultz, Toronto
A: And isn’t that the question of the week, eh Ken? Well, for starters you’re looking at a hockey player with shattered confidence right now. How that came to be the case is a bit of a mystery, but part of the answer lies in who and what McCabe was during his Leaf heyday, which was, really, the 2005-06 season. He had a swagger, he wore a blonde Mohawk at one point, he had a big shot and because of all those things, people tended not to mention the obvious shortcomings in his game, chiefly an inability to intelligently read the play and a surprisingly high panic point with the puck. That became a bigger problem after the lockout when many of the techniques he had used to defend were taken away, forcing him to rely on skating, smarts and positioning, none of which were his forte. As those weaknesses became a focal point for criticism, his point shot on the power play was simply taken away by other teams, and gradually his confidence in all areas of his game has eroded. The guy has all kinds of physical ability, but he can’t stand the heat and hasn’t been able to adjust his game.
Q: Hi Damien,
Thanks for the blog/mail bag - gives us fans a great chance to bounce some ideas off a real insider. My question has to do with the feasability of trading McCabe to a team in financial trouble. Here's my thinking... I believe McCabe's cap number is around 6 million, but I believe most of the money was paid out early in the contract (ie: he makes less and less every year). Given that, and the fact that a strong Canadian dollar may increase league revenues again (and thus the salary cap/floor). Would a team in financial trouble (Atlanta, Nashville, etc) that has trouble even spending to the floor be interested in McCabe as a way to count 6 mil of cap but at a cost out of their pocket of only 4 million (I think that's his salary next year)?
Bradley Meldrew, Toronto
A: Okay, for starters, I don’t believe McCabe or Pavel Kubina, for that matter, are as untradeable as many claim. You just have to find a match and really have to know you potential trading partners. I’m not sure how good a read the Leafs are getting on other teams through their own pro scouting staff.
Re the contract, it counts the same amount, about $5.7 million, for each year of the contract, regardless of how much is actually being paid in salary. This season, interestingly, is the only year a team with McCabe on the roster gets a cap break, paying him more ($7.15 million) than his cap amount.
Would a team with lots of cap room be inclined to add that cap amount because the actually salary was smaller? Sure. It really depends on how teams view McCabe, but there’s always a GM or a coach out there who believes they can make gold out of the other guy’s lump of coal.
Simple question: Do the Leafs have a number one line? Answer: No! (Emphatically No!) Defence, coaching, goaltending - all are secondary excuses to the obvious fact that the Leafs can't put together a consistent number one line. I don't believe this group of forwards could win an AHL championship. But, dammit, I'll keep cheering them on.
Paul Flannigan, Charlottetown
A: Well, thanks for doing my job for me, Paul. And I agree with you.
Q: Hey Damien,
Regarding Jesse Boulerice's 25 game suspension: Sure, he loses out on his pay for that period, but what happens to the money? Do the Flyers simply get to pocket the cash they would normally be sending his way? Personally, I feel that anytime a player is suspended by the NHL, that his lost salary should be given to a charitable organization, or at least the NHLPA. That being said, I think that the offending player's team should be penalized an additional 50% over and above the player's lost income as a (non-tax deductible) donation - that might inspire a few teams to look harder at the actions of their players.
Brian Cormier, Moncton
A: Brian, the salary of any suspended player does go to one of two emergency relief funds that have been established by the league in conjunction with the players union. The team doesn’t just get to stuff the dough in its jeans.
Re your suggestion for extra fines, the problem is such a system would affect poor teams much more than rich teams, which could simply write the cheque.
Q: Hi Damien - after watching the Leafs struggle last year and up to the blowout they had against the 'Canes, I just wonder if the team is responding to Paul Maurice. Do they like him? Under Pat Quinn we made the playoffs on a regular basis and always came up short because clearly the best of the best can only emerge victorious. Yet, under Maurice, it has been a struggle for the players and us fans. I was never truly confident with Paul Maurice.
Glenn Devlin, Phoenix
A: First, I want to comment on your Quinn-related remarks. He was most resourceful in his first year of coaching, but after that benefited by having Mats Sundin in his prime, excellent goaltending (particularly in the regular season) from Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour and the ability to spend and spend to whatever level the team wanted.
All those three advantages are clearly not there for Maurice. That said, Maurice’s record suggests he either hasn’t yet been able to get this group to follow his instructions or they just aren’t interested in listening.
Q: Damien, you (and others in the media) constantly mention JFJ's contract status and lack of an extension. The implication is that he's somehow limited in his ability to do his job because of his contract situation, but I've never seen an explanation of why this would be.
Let's face facts, if the Leafs miss the playoffs this year then Ferguson is going to be fired, whether he an extension of not. This mythical extension wouldn't offer him any additional job security. It would offer him financial protection since he'd get a nice fat cheque along with his pink slip, but surely that alone can't be impacting his job performance... can it?
Sean McIndoe, Ottawa
A: I don’t think it’s about the money, Sean. Its about the message. If you put a GM in the last year of his contract and basically tell him he must make post-season play to make his job, then all decisions he makes will be oriented to that short-term goal. So you trade your first round pick to get a goalie and a question mark because goaltending help is required and ownership has, in effect, told you not to worry about the future. I’m not saying JFJ deserves to stay if the Leafs miss the playoffs. He doesn’t. But by putting him in this situation to start last season and this season, ownership has forced him to put getting to eighth place in the conference ahead of trying to carefully build a team that could actually win a championship.
Q: Hey Damien,
Who's the best player drafted by the Leafs in the last 20 years? Felix Potvin or Tomas Kaberle?
Nathan Irving, Vancouver
A: Kaberle, for sure. The team’s genius for drafting him, however, is slightly undercut by the fact the Leaf braintrust believed 12 other players – Marek Posmyk, Francis Larivee, Mike Lankshear, Konstantin Kalmikov, Jason Sessa, Vladimir Antipov, Peter Cava, Brandon Sugden, Dmitri Yakushin, Chris Bogas, Lucio DeMartinis and Reggie Berg – were all better players than Kaberle and drafted them before him in the 1996 draft.
By the way, I also believe Freddie Modin (64th overall, 1994) was a better draft pick than Potvin (31st, 1990), as was Danny Markov (223rd, 1995).
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.