Thursday Mail Bag
(NOTE: The Spin is on vacation until Dec. 27. Join us again after the holidays.)
Seven straight games on the road, starting Friday in Atlanta. Now this will be interesting to watch.
Vesa Toskala, it’s fair to say, is at the root of all the recent success, along with much improved work from Bryan McCabe and continued production from Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov. Even Jason Blake is scoring, and suddenly Andy Wozniewski doesn’t look so bad, does he?
Of course, if this road trip goes sour, everything goes back to the way it was. So we shall watch.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien. Is it reading too much into the tea leaves (Leafs?), in terms of who might be the next Leafs GM, to see that David Poile and Ken Holland both received promotions recently? Or is it simply a matter of two teams attempting to keep two quality executives from being poached by ANY other teams? Even with these promotions, are either/both available at the end of the season?
Stu Royal, Brampton
A: I would imagine both clubs want to make sure they can hang on to those hockey men, that’s for sure. Interestingly, a sales/marketing executive who used to work with Poile in Nashville has now surfaced in Detroit with Holland, so it’s a small world.
Re the Leafs, Poile, you’ll remember, had his chance to become Toronto GM once and turned it down. Can’t imagine he’d be interested now. Holland might be interested, but he’s locked in to the Red Wings and is a very loyal guy. That said, anything’s possible, but if the Leafs choose to someday go after somebody of that calibre under contract, they’d better be prepared to cough up significant compensation.
Q: I stopped listening to post-game fan commentary a long time ago, because much of it seemed to emanate from the beer hall... But your Thursday mailbag is proof that there are a lot of intelligent Leafs fans out there - despite the obvious contradiction of "intelligent" and "Leafs fan."
There's been a lot of talk about how JFJ's choices have weakened the pool of Leafs prospects, or that Leafs scouting is poor. But although I was never a proponent of Rask for Raycroft, and I bemoan the loss of the first rounder that was given up for Toskala, I don't see scouting as one of the Leaf's recent weaknesses. I feel that in Jiri Tlusty, Anton Stralman, Chris DiDomenico, Dale Mitchell, Brent Aubin and Nikolai Kulemin are all very good to excellent prospects. JFJ has only recently, I feel, become a good manager, and he has shown that he can learn. I know that his overall track record isn't great - but do you jettison him, now that he's fully trained? Or do you give him a more solid opportunity to finally show the promise that we'd all hoped for?
Paul Hurtubise, Oshawa
A: And isn’t that the point? If you’ve suffered through the learning process with the guy, why let him go now? The answer of JFJ detractors, of course, would be that he’s never going to be any good.
Re the Leaf prospects, out of that group all have possibilities, but none are “excellent” prospects at this point. Tlusty might be a top-six forward one day, and Pogge might be an NHL goalie. Stralman, meanwhile, is still learning but so far can’t beat out Wozniewski, Staffan Kronwall or Ian White. Kulemin is the real wild card, and with Russians, its really hard to guess if they can translate quality in the Russian league over to the NHL. Look at Ottawa’s experience with Alexei Kaigorodov. So we’ll see. Bottom line until these guys are NHLers, they’re all suspects.
Q: I have been a religious reader ever since I found your work when I was in J school. You have great insight, are unbiased, objective and clearly know a great deal about the game and have been a journalistic inspiration to me. I've wanted to be as successful, talented and respected as you for yours. You are sitting in my dream job, I entered college dreaming of being in the position you are in and learning the trade from you.
Then, and I quote you "I couldn’t care less whether the Maple Leafs win or lose or tie or fold. I just don’t have a rooting interest."
How can this be? How can you say this? That main part of your writing job is involving the Leafs. I am not saying you have to be a fan, I am not saying you have to be a "hater." But how can you not care? How can you offer your opinion in this respected position about something you don't care about? What concerns me the most is that you day you have no interest and could care less if the team didn’t exist.
This is what your readers come in daily to read. That is a slap in the face to those who read you columns and bogs every day and respect your opinions. How can we, your loyal readers, respect what you say on a topic that you "couldn't care less" about?
I don't mean this to be an attack; I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and an opportunity to clarify. Maybe you misspoke or chose words that were to strong, but please clarify, not just to me, but for all your deserving readers, is it true that you don't care about the Leafs?
It is the job of writer to be fair and objective, an invested interest or personal bias does impact this, but you can care about something without it impacting you on a personal level. How can you be the main Toronto Maple Leafs columnist at a major Toronto publication and not care one iota about the team’s existence one way or the other? How can we as readers take any value in what you say about a subject you just shrug off?
How can your career be focused on something you don't care about? Again, if this is a misinterpretation or misunderstanding, I understand and deeply apologize, but if it isn't how can we trust and respect your words on this subject?
Kyle Bosley, Brockville
A: Kyle, thanks for the email, and you know, this is a point of confusion with many readers, some of who will write suggesting that I need to “support” the Leafs a little more. If I worked at city hall covering politics, should I support the mayor? If I covered the auto industry, should I cheer for Chrysler over Ford? Kyle, I’m a journalist, first and foremost, and my job is to approach my subject without a rooting interest in order to, as best I can, offer analysis and strong opinion.
When I say I don’t care about the Leafs, it means that their fortunes, win or lose, have no impact upon my approach to the job. I care passionately about doing my job well and doing it fairly, and for the sport in general, one that I play and coach, and one that my children play. But its not for me to be an advocate for one NHL team or another. That’s being a fan, and that’s the fun of being a fan. If I’m happy when the Leafs win or distraught when they lose, or vice versa, that totally destroys any neutral platform upon which I can offer my thoughts and opinions. And believe me, despite that I get lots of emails from Ottawa calling me a Leaf lover, and lots from Toronto calling me a Leaf basher. Just part of the territory.
Anyway, I hope this clears things up for you.
Q: Hey Damien. Great Blog. Question I haven't seen posted anywhere. Could be wrong. Remember when the Leafs put the two new dehumidifiers to improve the ice surface by ridding the ACC of all that extra moisture in the air? What have the players responses been regarding the quality of the ice surface since the installation? Any noticeable changes or comments from the team? Just curious.
James Booth, Ajax
A: To be honest, I haven’t heard a lot, which may be good. As I was heading back up to the press box the other night, two ice attendants were asking Tampa players as they went to the bus how they found the ACC ice, and received positive responses. But I’ll look into this more.
Q: Having reviewed Stanley Cup winners over the past several years, can you name one who hasn't had a skilled Canadian as their captain?
Could recognizing this fact by the Leafs hierarchy not begin to turn around this Leafs franchise?
Do the names Dave Keon and Doug Gilmour ring a bell???
Ross Turnbull, Mesa, Arizona
A: Well, its true that no European has yet to captain a Cup winner, and I’m assuming you’re attaching blame to Mats Sundin in this regard. All I can tell you is that non-North Americans have only started to become captains in the past decade, and that there are quality individuals currently serving as captains – Saku Koivu, Nicklas Lidstrom – who are certainly more than capable of leading their teams to championships. I just don’t think Canadians have a monopoly on leadership.
Q: I’ve always been curious about the arbitration process. Who are the arbitrators, who appoints them, and what criteria do the arbitrators use to make a decision; specifically is it solely based on statistical comparisons? I realize that shootout goals do not count in a player’s statistics, but with shootouts now playing a quantifiable role in determining the result of games and consequently impacting which teams make the playoffs, could a player who excels in shootouts, who scores goals that win games (Jussi Jokinen comes to mind) make a case in arbitration for a higher salary based on shootout prowess?
John Stewart, Calgary
A: Arbitrators are individuals, usually lawyers, mutually agreed upon by the league and NHL Players Association. In salary arbitration, any argument is admissible, and you can bet shootout stats will become fodder for the process.
Q: Hey Damien. I always enjoy reading your blog! I gotta ask you about Tucker. I love the guy (in a manly way of course) but this year he's been hard to watch. First of all, with all the injuries mounting up on the poor guy what do you think the Leafs should do with him? Could he condition himself better in the off-season?
Also, I know he's kind turning a corner in becoming more of a "goal scorer" but it seems to me that he's scores a lot more when he plays that rambunctious in-your-face game. Maybe not at 100 per cent Sideshow Bob style but he doesn't seem to be much of a pest to anybody these days... He often loses fights now, and even when he got it on with Sean Avery, Avery went on to score 2 goals!
It's funny, I used to say that Darcy was great but a little embarrassing... now I'm saying that he's great but I wish he'd more of a pest. What do you think?
Christian Spiner, Pickering
A: It’s a tough line for Tucker to walk, that’s for sure. This season, he just doesn’t look like he’s skating as well as in the past, and thus unable to get to the spots he needs to get to, either to score a goal or deliver a hit. In terms of injuries, all players have something, and I just assume that if a player’s in the lineup, he’s healthy enough to play and healthy enough to produce. Otherwise, you’re just giving certain players the benefit of the doubt, but not others.
Right now, I don’t think he’s doing very much of anything, whether scoring or hitting or being a pest, and he’s not a strong defensive player. He and I don’t speak for a variety of reasons, so I can’t tell you what he thinks his problem may be. But I’m sure he’d like to turn his season around soon as well. It’s almost as if by scoring some goals the past two seasons he’s lost his identity, because he’s not a particularly skilled player. It’ll be interesting to see if he can pull himself out of this early season funk.
Click here to submit a question for the next mail bag.