That's Jason Blake’s assessment of his first season as a Maple Leaf, and that sounds about right for, oh, the past 10-15 years, wouldn’t you say?
Or further. Back to when Punch Imlach traded Lanny McDonald just to get at Darryl Sittler. Or when Red Kelly used pyramid power. Or when Harold Ballard negotiated player contracts from his prison cell.
Anybody getting a theme here?
Now this week's mail bag:
Q: Mr. Cox, I wanted to inform you about a realization I came to recently, probably sometime shortly after the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Toronto Maple Leafs a few weeks ago.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (and their board) either don’t care about winning hockey games, or are so caught up with the notion they are hockey experts, they must meddle with John Ferguson Jr. and his ability to ice a winning product. Maybe its both (Who would know? everything is done in some Ivory tower at the ACC), but whatever the reason, it results in my cessation of being an active Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
At my wedding in 2004, there were Maple Leaf tones, including pictures of myself and my groomsmen wearing various styles of Leafs jerseys, a Maple Leaf wedding cake along with a wedding ring was delivered on a Tie Domi bobblehead.
My wife let me paint our bedroom in Maple Leaf blue and there are posters of Mats Sundin, Tomas Kaberle and (ugh) Bryan McCabe on my infant sons wall.
I own probably thousands of dollars of Leaf merchandise, everything from Leafs fishing lures to camping chairs to infant and children’s wear to car flags to mouse pads, etc. and etc.
And what do I get for forking over money blindly to this conglomerate called MLSE? A losing, non-competitive hockey team that has tickets prices I can’t afford and broadcasts games on their own TV network, which I also can’t afford.
So that’s it. I’m done.
Colour me an apathetic Leafs fan that simply will not put up with this stench. Until the team is sold to an owner that’s interested in parading a Stanley Cup up Yonge St. and not profit margins, I’m out.
PS: I apologize there is no question in any of this, but I thought I would let you know there are indeed people getting off this hayride and not continuing to blindly follow an organization whose ultimate goal is to pad the coffers of Ontario's retiring teachers.
J.R. Parks, Bloomfield, Ont.
A: Well J.R., I’m not sure whether to feel happy or sad for you. Happy because you’ve obviously got this bunch figured out, although all kinds of emails from Ontario teachers over the last few days have them denying any responsibility for the Leafs. Just an investment, they say. Sad, meanwhile, because building up all that love and affection for a pro sports team, then feeling alienated and disappointed, just sucks.
The good news is you can change the colour of your bedroom. The bad news is it’ll be tough to sell those Leaf fishing lures. Of course, MLSE always has a few hooks in the water.
Q: Hi Damien,
Love your column as it gives me something to look forward to on Thursdays! I've been a casual fan of the Leafs (and hockey) in general for the past 25 years and always look forward to watching HNIC. However, never having played hockey myself, I want to have a more indepth understanding of what's going on, on the ice when I watch it on TV.
Outside of following the puck, can you suggest how I can "better" watch NHL games on TV to improve my understanding of strategies and nuances in the game? What do you watch on the ice?
Thanks and keep up the great work!
Jason Tan, Toronto
A: What a unique question! Jason, everybody watches different things. Actually, I think most people who have watched the game for a long time would tell you the last thing they watch is the puck, which is why the concept that Americans don’t like watching on TV because they can’t see the puck seems so strange. When you watch away from the puck, you can see the positioning and group movement of the other players on the ice, which gives you a better sense of the dynamic aspect of the game. Funny thing is, one of the errors many players make on the ice is to watch the puck too much, eyeballing the opponent carrying the puck rather than those likely to receive it next. That’s not to say you never watch the puck, but even on a breakaway, it can be more interesting to focus on the goaltender than the shooter. Try that – you might like it.
Now I am no business major, but if MLSE wanted to maximize their investment profits, would it not be best to invest a couple million dollars into scouting and a seasoned competent general manager (Brian Burke?). This would be a drop in the bucket compared to the 2 million dollars for each playoff game that they profit. Three rounds of playoff action would give you about 9 home dates. Thats 18 million dollars profit. So why does MLSE continue with JFJ and his band of incompetent hockey people? It seems like MLSE is equally incompetent at business as they are at running a hockey team.
Brian M., Barrie, Ont.
A: I don’t necessarily share your belief that Ferguson and his people are incompetent, although the evidence is certainly leaning in your direction. But I do share your wonderment at why the Leafs chose to bring in a raw rookie when they hired Ferguson, rather than the best executive talent in the business. They did the same thing with Rob Babcock on the basketball side, and that didn’t work. I agree that playoff success would bring in more dough, which is all the teachers pension fund is interested in. But figuring out how to win is another thing entirely. MLSE may want to win, and may know they can make more money by winning, but clearly has no idea how to win or isn’t willing to do the necessary things to pursue greater success.
Q: Damien: So far Jason Blake is on pace for 10 goals this year. Sure he's getting a pile of assists, but mostly because he's the first guy to touch the puck and Sundin has been hot; anyway, that's not what he's here for. Clearly he hasn't clicked with Sundin or he'd have 8-10 goals by now. Why is nobody in the media focusing on this disappointing problem?
Glenn Smith, Schomberg, Ont.
A: Clearly, Blake’s health issues have most of us giving him a free pass. That said, I would agree he and Sundin aren’t working together, mostly because if Sundin gives Blake the puck, he knows almost for sure he won’t be getting it back. Paul Maurice is likely going to have to try a few different looks to see what works, but Blake has shown a strong ability to use his speed through the neutral zone and drive hard to the next, and that should pay off more as the season moves along.
Q: Greetings Damien,
I am curious what efforts (if any) are Leaf management making to trade Andrew Raycroft? I read and heard speculation in the off season that Ferguson attempted to ship him out but could find no takers. Looking around the NHL today it seems that there are a number of clubs in need of shoring up in net (LA Kings, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Atlanta maybe even Edmonton) I’m aware of the criticisms directed to Raycroft, but he did manage to win 37 times last year playing behind a mediocre team that more times than not offered him little defensive help. Wouldn’t an offensively gifted team like Pittsburgh, who can get by despite a goaltender letting in a few softies be a good match?
Stuart Lynam, Calgary
A: Not many teams are interested in a $2 million backup, and despite all those wins you talk about, most NHL teams aren’t convinced Raycroft can be a starter and would be an upgrade on those goalies they currently own. The Pens, for example, right now figure Dany Sabourin is as good as Raycroft. And to comment on your suggestion that the Leafs offered Raycroft “little defensive help” last season, that’s just not true. They allowed fewer shots than they did when Ed Belfour was in town, and many goalies around the league faced far more rubber. Finally, in the game the Leafs had to have on the final weekend of the season against Montreal, Raycroft had to be pulled. All of this said, somebody may bite as the season goes along, but I wouldn’t expect much in return.
Q: Hi Damien,
Why is it that Tomas Kaberle is always one of the first names that you hear when it comes to Leaf trade rumours?
It's no secret that he's one of if not THE best Leaf D-man but whether it was Quinn trading him for Lindros or Fergie moving him for Pronger it always seems as though Kaberle is seen a movable asset. Is/was there ever any truth to these rumors? And what do YOU think about trading Kaberle?
Mike Hunter, Saint John, NB
A: Kaberle is a strong skater and superb puck mover; a world-class player on the attack. Defensively, he’s average, and sometimes worse. Overall, he’s in the second tier of NHL defencemen, below the Prongers and Lidstroms. His name comes up in trade rumours because he’s a valuable commodity. Would I trade him? Let’s put it this way. To me, there’s not an untouchable on that team. If Anaheim called right now and offered the first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers that they currently own through the Dustin Penner offer sheet/signing, I would take it if I was running the Leafs, particularly given the reality they’re going to have find cap relief where they can find it with $42 million already committed for next season.
Q: I've been one of the few saying that more heat should be turned on Maurice for the teams horrible defensive zone coverage this season.
But the one more glaring question is, when will he get some heat for his shootout selections? The Leafs are one of the worst teams since the shootout began. And if you'll look back at the shooters, it's almost always the same!
Sundin has to shoot, I don’t hold that against him. But Antropov, Ponikarovsky, and Tucker have proven time and time again that they should not be called on!
Where is Steen? He's had one shot, and scored on it. Also, if I'm not mistaken they had a survivor shootout game at the skills competition last year and Steen won it! Where's Wellwood? Stajan? White, Kaberle.....maybe even Blake.
Why are we forced to watch the same 3 or 4 guys blow it every time. Any idea why Maurice would continue to go to those guys over and over? Even though it's not working.
Randy Bush, Toronto
A: Randy, for starters, you aren’t the only person questioning Maurice’s defensive strategies. The emails are pouring in every day.
Re the shootout, your question is a good one, except I think they have pretty much tried everyone they have, and none have look particularly adept. It is indeed strange that a team that scores with confidence can’t find it the during the shootout. For the future, I think its Sundin and then pick any other two. Unfortunately for the Leafs, they also have two goaltenders who don’t have good stats in the shootout.
Q: Hey Damien,
I love your unbiased view of the Leafs…it's very refreshing. I want to know your opinion on whether the Leafs should wait until the season is finished to fire Ferguson (assuming they don't make the playoffs) or pull the trigger before the trade deadline.
In my opinion, I think they should do it before the deadline. That way, whoever is brought in can actually make some moves and free up some space, in addition to having a jump on the free agent market come July. If they wait 'till the end of the season, the front office would probably be in too much disarray to make any moves of consequence…(like it isn't now).
Thanks and regards,
Q: Interesting question, Matthew. Certainly the Dallas Stars decided now was the time to make a move when they canned GM Doug Armstrong this week. Moreover, when the Leafs hired JFJ, they did so in August of that year, which made no sense whatsoever. The problem with making a move now is that you’d have to have a better candidate in place, and I don’t know who that would be. If the Leafs don’t make the post-season and Ferguson is fired, then you would have April, May and the first half of June to put a new management team in place, and that would give you opportunity to at least talk to the very best managers in the game. That’s the direction I would choose.
Click here to send Damien a question and he will answer a selection every Thursday in this space.