The Maple Leafs - 10th in the east today - have taken another step backwards (against Boston) following an impressive step forwards (against Ottawa), and now head out of town at the same time Grey Cup revelers head into town.
In Dallas, the Leafs will visit a Stars team now co-managed by Brett Hull, and then venture into the Arizona desert to confront Phoenix and head coach Wayne Gretzky.
Perhaps those twin brushes with greatness, Hull and Gretzky, will inspire the Leafs and change their season. Then again, it didn’t work for Michael Bishop with Damon Allen, did it?
Now, with the questions getting more interesting every week thanks to our readers, on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Damien: After watching the 4-2 loss to the Bruins, I'm quite frustrated (as I'm sure many other fans are). Early on in the game, it was obvious to me to shoot high on the butterfly goalie Tuukka Rask. He covers the bottom of the net well, but like Andrew Raycroft, goes down early and leaves the top of the net fairly open. However, the Leafs continued to pound shots low into his pads (except for Sundin's high shot).
A: Great question. First, they didn't know Rask that well. Second, smart shooters can adjust, but for a team that scores a lot of goals, the Leafs don't seem to have a lot of smart shooters. Third, it's difficult to adjust during a game. Fourth, Rask did make some good glove and blocker saves, suggesting he's not totally vulnerable on high shots.
The league will get a book on every goalie, and the Leafs should - if they're paying attention - be better prepared the next time around. Still, Rask plays a style reminiscent of Henrik Lundqvist, and he's doing pretty well.
Q: Hi Damien,
I'm one of the few who saw the Leafs win their Stanley Cups in the 60's. I have been a die hard fan and follower over the years - waiting, waiting, waiting. After another dismal game last night I'm saying 'so long' I've had enough frustration. I don't know how (or why) others continue to support this sad sack organisation and crew. Because of where I live (Corvallis, Oregon) I was able to get the Leaf games on NHL radio. I have just removed it from my Bookmarks. Enough is too much already!
Last year, two years ago, I emailed Paul Hunter and suggested that there's a Ballard curse on this the team. I remember an interview after a game on Hockey Night In Canada, with Harold and Ward Cornell(?) Dave Hodge(?) on TV a week maybe two after Ian Turnbull scored his five goals I believe it was. Harold came on and said, “Why I wouldn't trade Ian Turnbull for God.” Guess what - Ian Turnbull is long gone. God isn't. I'm not so sure I believe in curses, but I don't believe in Ian Turnbull either. And I'm tired of waiting, waiting, waiting.
Ken Van Schelven, Corvallis, Oregon
A: Some emails just speak for themselves.
Q: Hey Damien,
Love the blog, hate the Leafs. Two quick comments. One, in respect to your mention of the Penner acquisition possibly being "as bad as Tom Kurvers-for-Scott Niedermayer". It reminded me that at the time it was feared that the Leafs would finish last and Eric Lindros would be the question to the Kurvers trivia answer. Interesting that all these years later it could easily be argued that Niedermayer was indeed the biggest prize in that draft (or Peter Forsberg but that's a whole other discussion.) What do you think?
Secondly, with the blame that from time to time is laid on the Toronto media for being too hard on the Leafs I find it intriguing that living in Montreal, where the media scrutiny matches if not surpasses Toronto's (and in two languages, again another discussion) the result here seems to be a better club, if not at least a competitive team with a bright future. Thoughts?
Quick last note: the thinking on the barstools here is that P.J. Stock must have a great agent.
Riley Sutherland, Montreal
A: Niedermayer was clearly the gem of that draft, or at least the most successful of the players taken. Would Lindros have surpassed him if not for injuries? Perhaps. What’s intriguing is that both, at least as it appears right now, saw their careers conclude much earlier than most players of their quality. The only certainty of that draft, meanwhile, is that San Jose erred terribly taking Pat Falloon second overall ahead of Niedermayer.
Re the Toronto media, that’s just one of the many excuses they trot out when times are tough. Indeed, you can bet the Jiri Tlusty naked-on-the-web episode would have been much messier had it been played out in Montreal. Or New York.
And P.J. Stock? Congratulations for convincing somebody at the CBC of your talent. Maybe I'm just missing the genius.
I was reading a piece in one of the other Toronto newspapers last weekend, comparing the current state of the Leafs and Habs. They paraphrased JFJ as saying that the Leaf Nation wouldn't tolerate a 3-5 year re-building process. I read that and I had to laugh! Is he not aware of the fact that the Leaf Nation continued to fill MLG every night during the darkest days of the Ballard years? Plus, I can't see all the corporate season ticket holders suddenly bailing out because of a couple of bad seasons? Your thoughts?
Also, what is happening with Maple Leaf Gardens? I walked by the other day, and just felt sad seeing it just sitting there empty.
Ron Rogers, Toronto
A: The crazy thing about the “Leaf fans won’t stand for rebuilding” idea isn’t just that it’s not true. It’s that you hear it so often. Right now, there are hordes of Leaf fans who are calling for the current team to be gutted immediately so a real rebuild can start immediately. And they wouldn’t sell one less ticket.
The Gardens is indeed sad. It was supposed to become a Loblaws, but that hasn’t happened yet. The really unfortunate part is that Eugene Melnyk wanted to buy it, refurbish it and give it new life as the home of the St. Michael’s junior team, but the Leafs wouldn’t sell it to him and St. Mike’s ultimately moved to Mississauga. That said, the building never meant much more to me than losing and disgrace, so perhaps its current state is fitting. Going nowhere fast.
Q: Hi Damien,
Just wondering, does Paul Maurice hate Bryan McCabe? I only ask because when a player is struggling, it would seem to make sense to keep him out of situations when the game is on the line, like overtime in the Montreal game, but time and time again McCabe is sent out in critical situations only to have the move blow up in our faces. Why?
Tom Nicholson, Milwaukee
A: Maurice has protected McCabe as much as any coach possibly could, and in the club’s last two games, played him more than 30 minutes. You can’t hide the guy on the bench; you have to try to get the most you can out of him. And who, pray tell, would you put out in his place on a regular basis? Ian White? Andy Wozniewski? Staffan Kronwall? Looking back, it’s hard to believe how many emails I was getting in September wondering that with the Leafs’ “strength” on the blueline if they couldn’t trade a D-man for a forward. I said then they didn’t have the depth some imagined, and they don’t.
One more note on McCabe. When Maurice was hired, I said his biggest challenge was to turn McCabe into a more responsible player, not a one-trick pony with a big shot on the power play. It hasn't happened.
Q: I understand that the new CBA doesn't allow cash offers for players, or for the team giving up a player to pay a portion of that salary any longer. However, how does that effect non-pro assets that the team holds the rights too?
Let's say, last season before Tlusty played his first pro game with the Marlies, could the leafs have traded his rights for cash? Or do the restrictions still apply?
If the restrictions don't apply, why wouldn't the super rich leafs bribe a few of the super poor teams to hand over the rights to some non-pro assets for some much needed cash. the leafs could finally build a strong farm system (sure, its improving, but if Tlusty is our savior, with his 2 goals, then I am still worried).
Andrew Barrie, Toronto
A: Easy answer. There are no cash transactions allowed. Period.
Q: Hi Damien,
When the Leafs plucked Ferguson from his assistant GM's job with the Blues, wasn't it because of his savvy as an assistant GM? The Blues were headed in the right direction with their team development, right? What a steal from the Blues, right? What happened to the savvy? Is being an assistant GM much like being an assistant coach? By that I mean taking a back seat to the pressure of performing.
Terry Buchkowsky, Oakville
A: I think that’s a reasonable analogy, and you never really know how a person will perform until they actually step into the spotlight. That said, being the GM in Toronto is a very different job than most other NHL spots, and there’s no question Ferguson has had his growing pains. If it was up to me, I would never, ever hire an inexperienced manager and let him learn on the Leaf job. It’s just too difficult, too littered with land mines.
Q: Hi Damien,
How is it that the Leafs can afford to carry 3 players on their roster that sit in the press box and observe? One would think that with the pressures of the salary cap and the close proximity of the farm team that this would be a counter productive move. I will admit that while my NHL management experience is limited, it would seem to be a no brainer to free up those salaries and apply them to somebody that will be playing. Is this just another example of the paralysis at MLSE when it comes to player movement? Seems to me that once you become a Leaf your job is secure no matter what unless of course you were brought up from the Marlies and outperformed the incumbents. In that case you are surely on the next bus out of town. Thanks.
Brad Hazledine, Hamilton
A: In training camp, it was apparent that there was little competition for Leaf jobs, but Jiri Tlusty and – for now – Staffan Kronwall have managed to make the jump, at least temporarily, from the Marlies to the Leafs. Both have been solid. As far as the extra players, only Bates Battaglia and Wade Belak are healthy, and most teams carry two or three extras. If you dumped the combined salaries of those players ($1.25 million) you’d clear some salary cap space, but not much.
Q: Sundin seems to do well no matter who he plays on a line with. Blake doesn't seem to be the same at all. I think he needs a certain type of player on the line with him in order to be productive. Which linemates do you think would be the best fit to get him going again?
Dave Russell, Holmes Beach FL
A: I think its really hard to make any judgment of Blake at all. He’s fighting through a difficult health problem, and while he hasn’t used that as an excuse, it’s pretty difficult to expect much out of him this season. Based on what I’ve seen, I think perhaps he’d work best with a couple of grinders, because he seems inclined mostly towards solo dashes and individual play, rather than collaborating imaginatively with others. It’s not like he was surrounded by Hall of Famers on Long Island when he potted 40 a year ago.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.