Thursday Mail Bag
Hard to imagine life could be uglier for the Maple Leafs this week. Or John Ferguson. Or Richard Peddie.
Some have suggested that if this was Manchester United or the New York Yankees, something of substance would have been done by now. But as of yet, there has been nothing substantial done to arrest the Leaf slide. And with the in-season NHL trade market having all but dried up in the salary cap era, a management/coaching shakeup remains the likeliest possibility.
Or the Leafs will just drift along. . .
Now, on to this week's mail bag (click here to submit a question):
Q: "Even those bloodless bean-counters of the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund have to be shaken these days."
Once again, you attack Ontario Teachers and their pension fund for the problems of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The current salaries of the Leafs total 50 million dollars. The allowable amount under the cap is 50.3 million dollars. They've spent the money and are not allowed to spend any more.
Teachers did not make the decision to pay what the team paid for these players. We don't make any of the decisions in our classrooms that help or hurt the Leafs. We teach.
You are a sportswriter. Are you responsible for the advertising in your paper? How about the Entertainment section? What about the front cover, do you make any choices as to what the cover story is? No, you just try to link the current problems of a hockey team with the teachers in this province.
I have to wonder if you'd sing the praises of Ontario teachers if the Leafs were winning. My guess is that you wouldn't.
Timothy Dineen, Britt, Ont.
A: Well, you're certainly not the first teacher to communicate your unhappiness with the way in which teachers are being portrayed in connection with their pension fund and the ownership of the Leafs. Clearly, we've hit a nerve.
A couple of things. First, the fund owns 58 per cent of the Leafs. Therefore, by definition, the fund's trustees are responsible for the state of the team whether they choose to take an active interest or not. They can't just hide behind Richard Peddie's skirts and rake in the dough, at least not without opening themselves to criticism. Moreover, they enjoy the perks, such as seats, luxury boxes, etc. etc.
Second, the No. 1 job of the teachers pension fund is to generate investment income for their constituents. Given the choice between shaving two or three percentage points of their profit margin to aid the development of the hockey team and keeping profit margins as they are, you know they would choose the latter every time, as they should.
But that doesn’t make the fund a good NHL owner. Moreover, there's a lot more to owning an NHL club than simply making the funds available to spend up to the salary cap.
I've never said a bad word about any teacher in this province. They teach my children. But if as a group they benefit through their pension fund's ownership of the Leafs, as they surely do, then people are going to notice that relationship. Period.
Q: Hey Damien,
Love reading your stuff and getting the occasional chuckle at the expense of the Leafs (deriving any form of enjoyment from the Leafs is a rare occurrence these days and I will take what I can get).
In a Star article (Tuesday) by Kevin McGran there are a few references to the MLSE board of directors and their approval of the "plan" presented by Ferguson last summer. I Googled MLSE board of directors and found a Wikipedia article that listed the members of the board. A further quick study of the members has left me with a question - who are these people to be evaluating the hockey plan for the Leafs? Besides Peddie and Tanenbaum there does not appear to be a lot of hockey knowledge on that board beyond the level of the average hockey fan. And yes, it could be argued that Peddie’s knowledge is highly suspect.
Beyond being concerned with the bottom line I am curious how a group of business people without any hockey history evaluates a Ferguson plan. Further, what exactly is in his master plan that is presented to the board?
Troy Fraser, Oakville
A: Well, you could probably say the same about many sports companies. How does Mike Ilitch evaluate Ken Holland's plan in Detroit? How does Henri Samueli evaluate Brian Burke’s plan in Anaheim? At some point, however, most sports teams face decreasing revenues when the team goes bad, and then ownership looks elsewhere for an executive to solve the problem. With the Leafs, the revenues and profits only go up, so there's never financial urgency to fix management issues.
How can Richard Peddie realistically be moved aside and removed from the hockey operations department? Does he not represent the majority stakeholders of the team?
Don't get me wrong, I want him out as badly as the next guy, and I agree it should be done yesterday, but by what method will this happen?
Keep up the great work,
Cam C., St. Catharines, Ont.
A: You're bang on. If the teachers pension fund stands with Peddie and he doesn't want to budge, nothing can happen. It changed on the Raptor side of the organization because, many believe, NBA commissioner David Stern leaned on MLSE ownership to grab Bryan Colangelo and breathe life back into the basketball team. Colangelo insisted on full power without interference from Peddie, and that's the way the deal went. Unless there is a Colangelo-type figure willing to take on the Leaf rebuilding job, Peddie will try to hang on to his Leaf influence and authority as long as he can, and the fact he is so effective with the company in a variety of other businesses means he won't be getting the boot anytime soon.
Why do we again hear about only unproven, "great up-side and potential, but no experience" candidates (JFJ anyone?) to take over for said JFJ? Why must MLSE always go the cheap route when it comes to executives? Messiers, Yzerman, Healy, Francis, Gilmour - all good to great players, Healy moves up on the strength of his analysis, but none with any experience for the job required. Colin Campbell for that matter doesn't have any GM experience either.
My top 3 choices for the GM post are 1. Ken Holland, 2. David Poile, 3. Ken Holland.
If Holland or Poile want to hire any of the above mentioned non-experienced individuals to groom them for the future, that would be their choice, but for God sakes MLSE, do what you did with the Raptors and hire the best, not potentially the good.
Yuriy Horich, Mississauga
A: Good point. But if you're looking at making a change in-season, then people like Holland and Poile aren't available. So you start looking at who could be available, and that's where all the untested names start popping up because they, for the most part, don't work for anyone right now.
Q: Hey Damien, I was wondering with the current state of the Maple Leafs, if someone with some hockey knowledge stepped in and was able to do a few things, what could they possibly do with all those no trade clauses and no movement clauses?
If the players (Mccabe, Kubina, Raycroft, Gill, etc.) were to be put on waivers and clear then brought back up through re-entry waivers and picked up with half their salaries then paid by the Leafs, does that still take up the Leafs cap or are they just paying the salary and it’s off of the cap number? The new GM must have something that can be done rather then sit on his hands and wait for some other bonehead other then JFJ to grab one of these under achievers. Hope you can clear some of this up, thanks!
Luke Craig, Whitby, Ont.
A: My understanding is that no movement means no movement, which includes being dumped in the minors. If a player is in the minors, his number comes off the cap, but if he is picked up by another team on re-entry waivers, half his salary goes on the Leaf cap.
Q: What's infuriating about the Leafs is they play a great game against the Sens, and demonstrate that they can play. So, why, some nights are they so incredibly (bad)? Isn't that indicative that they're not prepared? And wouldn't that be the coaches' resposibility?
Michael Sanderson, Magog, Que.
A: You forget that the other team has something to do with it. The Sens weren’t very good that night, which partially accounted for the result. On Friday in Dallas and Saturday in Phoenix, the Stars and Coyotes, respectively, played very well.
In terms of inconsistency, sure, that's a coach’s responsibility to some degree. But if you have so-so talent, which I believe is the case with the Leafs, then inconsistency may just be the team playing up to its potential.
Q: Hi Damien:
My problem with JFJ is not so much the players he has acquired in trades, but what has been given up to get them. Leafs needed a goalie last year to replace Belfour, but surely could have picked up Raycroft for less than Rask. Toskala and Bell are good acquisitions but not for all the draft choices given up. And Yanic Perreault was a reasonable pick-up, but why not just for Bell and not a second draft choice, too.
Trades are about negotiation, not just agreeing to other GMs' first demands (which smells of being the case for the above three transactions). Plus, if not for giving up Rask, JFJ might not have needed to acquire Vesa, too. I've been a Leaf fan for 47 years, but this continued mismanagement is getting tiresome. Agree or disagree about the above?
Stu Royal, Brampton
A: Well, basically I agree, but its not clear whether the Leafs could have landed Raycroft for less than Rask, or that Toskala could have been acquired for less. The fact is that neither Raycroft nor Toskala appears up to the task of being a No. 1 goaltender, and so both trades look bad. You have to give up something good to get something good, but the Leafs have been giving up something good and getting back something uncertain too many times.
Q: Greetings Damien!
How would you rate Pat Quinn's performance as a GM during his years in Toronto? I would rate him rather highly based on the fact that a number of his draft picks, many of them later round selections (Welwood, Stajan, Steen, White) have emerged as fairly solid NHL contributors, his free agent acquisitions (Roberts, Mogilny, Belfour) were for the most part good investments and he got his club into the playoffs every season he was in charge. Certainly, in hindsight the Owen Nolan deal and his handling of the Curtis Joseph situation were missteps, as were the acquisition of Dimitri Khristich and then Robert Reichel, yet on balance I feel he did a good job, especially considering he had very little to work with when he took over in ‘99. I ask because since Pat Quinn was let go, the likes of Garth Snow, John Davidson and now Brett Hull, all of who are hockey people with little management experience have been promoted to management positions. Why are clubs steering clear of Pat? Age? Salary expectations? Reputation?
Stuart Lynam, Calgary
A: I think Quinn was a decent GM, and maybe he would have been better at it had he not chose to hang on to the coaching reins as well. He had, basically, unlimited funds to work with, and that allowed him to paper over his errors by simply spending more. His best moves were free agent acquisitions, but you can’t build a team that way. If teams are steering clear of him, it's because he's not that highly regarded as a coach or manager, and his age might work against him, as well. Without that Stanley Cup ring as a crowning achievement, teams will wonder whether Quinn has the ability to take a team over the top as a coach or manager. Plus, given the way in which things worked in Toronto, he doesn't exactly have a great reputation for working well with others.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
Click here to submit a question.