Thursday Mail Bag
This, it would appear, is going to be the type of NHL season Maple Leaf fans will have to endure. Two steps forward, three back, one sideways, two forward, one back. . .
In other words, just like the last two seasons, with the possibility of a different conclusion.
Call it inconsistency, call it the result of parity – it just seems that through the highs and lows, the Leafs are likely to stay around the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, which is the only goal they seem to have.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hey Damien,
It's taken several years, but I finally have come to understand that you know what you're talking about. Now for some questions...
1) Do you ever get tired of listening to us leaf fans?
2) Who would be YOUR ideal choices to run the team - assuming anyone was available for coaching/gm/president? What about Pierre McGuire - the man did win a stanley cup?
Neil Henderson, Toronto
A: Don’t get tired of fans, ever, particularly the ones that understand that I’m not a fan, but that as passionate supporters of a team, they don’t have to make sense. Sometimes, it’s just what you feel. The only time I get ticked off is when its suggested I have a personal grudge against the team, a player or a coach, when the reality is I couldn’t care less whether the Maple Leafs win or lose or tie or fold. I just don’t have a rooting interest. Re choices to run the team, well, there are no shortage of possibilities, and certainly McGuire’s name has come up. He’s a passionate guy with experience, and he’s very tight with Scotty Bowman, so they might come as a package. I think Colin Campbell would be an intriguing choice, and an individual who probably has earned a shot.
Q: Hi Damien,
My question pertains to Leaf management but not who stays or goes; enough time is being spent on that subject. Scouting - is there a way to determine how much teams spend on scouting. The leafs are a rich team and as far as I know there is no cap on scouting so they could have the best in the NHL if the will was there-it is not. In addition to trading high picks it seems they don't do much with what is left. Teams like Detroit seem to do well with low first round picks and the leafs need to address this area.
Marty Macfarlane, Kelowna
A: Well, Marty, we’ve been hearing this about the Leaf scouting department for, literally, decades. They have tried to beef things up in recent years, but the results speak for themselves; only Tomas Kaberle, really, stands out as an elite level player drafted by the Leafs in years, and there have been many, many misses. I agree that this is an area the Leafs could, if they were inclined, spend to get the best in the business. But they don’t seem inclined. Winning championships, you see, requires so much effort when the people will come anyway.
Q: Season's Greetings as another train wreck of a Maple Leafs season lurches towards the inevitable spring derailment. After witnessing the Maple Leafs-Canadiens game on Nov 27th, I couldn't help but feel a sense of doom when the shootout was announced. In a stirring show of organizational solidarity and ineptitude, even the Zamboni drivers had to come out three times in an attempt to clear a swath of ice down the centre to each net. No wonder the Leaf's never win in the shootout. It's an organization-wide problem. Surely the Leafs keep track of stats on who tends to be successful and who doesn't. Has Darcy Tucker or Nick Antropov EVER scored in the shootout? Unless the NHL decides to can it (doubtful), the Leafs will forever be 4-6 points shy per season of the average.
Mike Ritchie, Toronto
A: And what’s interesting, Mike, is that despite the fact this ineptitude has been demonstrated over several seasons, they don’t seem to try to do anything about it. A player like Viktor Kozlov, for example, was available as an unrestricted free agent last summer. Kozlov’s been a dog for most of his career, but he’s very, very good on shootouts. Instead, he headed to Washington for $2.5 million per season. Maybe that was too rich for the Leafs, who knows. But what we do know is that they haven’t chased down players specifically for their shootout skills – Vesa Toskala was winless in shootouts when he was acquired – and that they’re still struggling to get extra points that way. Now look at Edmonton. Seven of their 13 wins have come through the shootout, their gunners are hitting at a 50 per cent clip and their goalies have allowed just five opposition goals on free shots. Being good in the shootout has made the world of difference to the Oilers.
Q: Hi Damien, Just thinking that since it's been 40 years since the Leafs have won a championship, and since there's no Cup in sight for the near future, the Leafs should probably change their slogan from "the passion that unites us all" to "the patience that unites us all." Just wondering if you could let me which of the Leafs management members I should send this idea to, because I think they'd really be interested. I'm hoping that I'll be in the running to replace Ferguson and this could really be away to get my foot in the door. Thanks!
Geoff Dennehy, Toronto
A: I like the way you’re thinking, although if you’re patience enough, sometimes a crowd at the ACC can seem passionate. The passionate patience that pleases the pension fund? Too much alliterative effort? You’re clearly better at this than I am.
Q: Hi Damien,
I've been watching Hockey ever since we immigrated to Canada, and there is always one thing I've wondered about.. how does the Farm system work exactly? For instance, if the leafs lose 4 players to injury, and have to call up four from the Marlies.. what exactly do the Marlies do? Call up 4 from a lower league? Do they just play with what they have? Seems odd that the NHL team can just pluck the best players out of the roster at any time of their choosing, basically wrecking havoc on the AHL team coach's plan. Am I missing something, or do I just not understand how the Farm system works at all?
Sahab Yazdani, Toronto
A: No, you’re not missing anything. There are limits on the numbers of players a team can call up, and whether they are promoted for emergency situations. Moreover, there are now tricky contractual and waiver issues that have made moving players up and down the system more difficult. But basically, the parent club, in this case the Leafs, controls the players under NHL contracts with the Marlies and can do with them what they like. Recall them, trade them, cut them – whatever. Does this wreak havoc with the minor league clubs? Absolutely. That’s why you’ll often see the teams that have the most success in the AHL playoffs linked to NHL clubs that miss the playoffs, and thus assign all their eligible players to the minor league affiliate. To some degree, that’s how Hamilton, Montreal’s farm team, won the Calder Cup last season.
We're a long way into the season now, and Jason Blake isn't having much fun. Is it because the unfortunate Mr. Blake is faster than almost everyone around him?
Simon Gamache is back on the Marlies. Why wasn't he given a shot at the "scoring line" on the Leafs? He looked like he had some moves in the pre-season, but I didn't see much of his play this year. Could you fill me in?
Lastly, could Mark Recchi be a good fit for the Leafs, if they picked him up at bargain-basement prices?
Zac Kurylyk, Saint John, N.B.
A: Okay Zac, in order. Blake is the fastest Leaf, but that on its own shouldn’t preclude him from finding a helpful linemate or two. Interestingly, he has talked repeatedly how well he clicked with the widely-reviled Alexei Yashin last season on Long Island. With certain players, it’s just hard to find a fit, and sometimes it happens by accident. Re Gamache, the tough reality is players like that have to make a splash, because when it comes to contracts, it’s a lot easier to move them back to the minors than more established players on one-way deals with no movement clauses. He has some skills, but nobody else wanted him on waivers when the Leafs sent him down again. And Recchi? It looks like it’s all over for him. If he couldn’t play with Crosby this season, how could he help the Leafs?
Q: I understand it's against the CBA currently, but wouldn't it make sense to allow teams to cut players and not have that money count against the cap? The player wins, as he still gets paid, but now can go elsewhere and sign for anything. The team wins because they are free of the contract, and the new team will get a potentially very good player for cheap.
This is the NFL system, but with the player still getting paid, unlike in the NFL. This would certainly allow teams to turn around things a lot quicker when they change GMs.
Shaun Guidolin, Cambridge
A: If you send a player to the minors, providing he was signed to a multi-year deal when he was 35 or older, his salary no longer counts against your team’s cap figure. So that’s already permissible. What is up for debate is the ease with which a demoted player can move to a new team. Currently, if he’s recalled and claimed by another team, the new club has to pay only half his salary, so that’s a disincentive for the team that owns the player in the first place. They’d rather trade him and get rid of the entire salary. The NHLPA isn’t happy how this has worked out, and it will be a point of contention in the next CBA negotiation.
Q: Hi Damien, With the Flyers running around with no regards to their opponents, it seems clear that the suspensions that the league has been handing out are ineffective. Do you think that needs to be overhauled like to a system where the offending player gets X number plus if they injure another player, remain ineligible to return to play until the injured player is able to play? That should smarten them up significantly. Right now it sickens me to see how a guy only gets slapped with a 2-3 game suspension while the guys they hurt remain out much longer.
Andrew M., Willowdale
A: Having the suspended player sit out until the injured player returns has been suggested many times, and the problem is, it’s open to abuse, particularly if the suspended athlete is a premier player and the other player is a peripheral type. The problem for league vice-president Colin Campbell is that it’s often not clear how injured a player is at the time he makes his decision. You wonder if he’d known that Patrice Bergeron was going to be out for such a long period that he would have given Randy Jones a heavier suspension. In my mind, the act is what should be punishable, not the extent of the injury.
Q: Hey Damien, My question is: Do you think JFJ could get better as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Brian Burke, who recently won a cup with Anaheim, once got fired by the Hartford Whalers after one season and more then 50 losses.
He then went to Vancouver and couldn't trade or sign a decent goalie for several years. How about this list of Hardy Astroms: Arthurs Irbe, Martin Brochu, Peter Skudra, Tyler Moss, Alfie Michaud and least we forget, Dan Cloutier.The rest of the stiffs are almost too embarrassing to list.
In Anaheim, he already had a proven goaltender so its not like he had to find one. Burke took his lumps and became a champion. Maybe JFJ needs some hard times to get better. What do you think?
Ray Brewer, Cambridge, ON
A: Sure it’s possible. Joe Torre wasn’t a very successful baseball manager his first time around. Bill Belichick had no success in Cleveland. Peter Laviolette was canned in Long Island before winning it all in Carolina. Ottawa’s GM Bryan Murray has been dumped as a GM by various teams. In sports, its about opportunity meeting experience meeting talent. There’s no reason JFJ couldn’t follow this as well, except that he’s never been fired as a GM. You have to wonder if his success might come down the road with another team.
Q: Hi, Damien. Who at MSLE is watching Richard Peddie's back? When a CEO is in open warfare with the Chairman of the Board, as Peddie is with Tannebaum, there must be someone looking out for him.
And is Gary Bettman leaning on MSLE to clean up this mess, the way David Stern did with respect to the Raptors? When the NHL's most valuable, and arguably most important, franchise is in complete chaos, it cannot bode well for the league.
John Hunt, Harvard, Massachusetts
A: John, Peddie is not in “open warfare” with Tanenbaum. People on the inside tell me that the two men often disagree, but its not a dysfunctional relationship like that between Ken Dryden and Pat Quinn when both worked for the Leafs and were barely on speaking terms. Moreover, Peddie doesn’t need anyone to watch his back; he’s got a pension fund with more than $100 billion in assets fully supporting his decisions. That, by the way, helps explain why the teachers pension fund doesn’t get all worked up about the Leafs. They’re such a small, small part of the pension fund’s overall portfolio. And Bettman worry about the Leafs? Naw. He’s got bigger problems, believe me.