Thursday Mail Bag
Well, the presence of the prez apparently wasn’t sufficiently inspiring.
With Maple Leaf president Richard Peddie on hand last night at the Honda Centre, the disintegrating Leafs were pounded by the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, 5-0.
That’s 27 losses in 43 games to hold down 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
And not a damn thing has been done to even try to fix this team all season.
No trades. No significant demotions. No firings. No hirings.
The way in which the Leafs couldn’t even gain the zone on a pathetic 5-on-3 power play late in last night’s game suggested that the team seems to have become seriously discouraged.
Then there was the total lack of any sense of team camaraderie. When Jason Blake was decked after the whistle by Mathieu Schneider, the Leafs milled about, but no one had even a harsh word for Schneider.
By contrast, when Corey Perry was dumped by Pavel Kubina, both Todd Bertuzzi and then Sean O’Donnell were all over the Leaf blueliner in a flash.
Some of that, you have to believe, is related to the fact ownership and management simply seem willing to accept this dreadful season, one that began with fans being promised this was a talented team that would be hard to play against and would be a factor in the post-season.
Moving Alex Steen to the right point on the power play last night didn’t work at all, and even worse seemed a mark of utter desperation. At one point in the second period, the Leafs put out a second power play group in which the three forwards – Blake, Darcy Tucker and John Pohl – had totaled just 13 goals between them this season.
Every forward on the club other than Mats Sundin is locked in a slump it seems. Nik Antropov hasn’t scored a goal in 12 games, Tucker has one in 17 games, Alexei Ponikarovsky has none in 11 games.
“We’ve gotta find a way to get some of these guys going,” said coach Paul Maurice afterwards.
But isn’t it about time to realize that Blake and Tucker, to name two players, aren’t going to “get going” in any meaningful way? Ditto for the overrated Steen, while Ponikarovsky just seems disinterested.
At some point, if GM John Ferguson wants to save his job, he has to take a stab at saving the season. Nobody would want to be the GM who simply watched and did nothing as Canada’s most watched team went down the tubes.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Damien, we've seen many teams use the tactic of placing a player on waivers and demoting him to the minors. Sometimes that player gets claimed on waivers when recalled for half the remaining salary. Worst case, the player earns their money in the minors but it doesn't count against the cap. What's stopping the Leafs from doing a similar move with Raycroft? Is it Ferguson's ego preventing him from doing this since he signed (and extended the contract) of Raycroft before he had played a game with the team?
Scott O., Toronto
A: Well, nothing is stopping them from doing that. Perhaps they figure Raycroft is the second best goaltender in the organization right now, which is probably true. He played well Saturday night against Philly, and while he seems ill-suited to be a starting goaltender, it would be unfair to suggest he couldn’t be a backup. Right now, the salary cap relief sending him to the minors would offer won’t help the team much.
Q: Hi Damien; I've been thinking about John Ferguson Jr.'s situation a bit. It's been said that no playoffs equals no job, and yet it certainly appears to me that what the Leafs need is to do what the Flyers did - sell Mats high (maybe resign him in the summer) and build for next year.
It led me to think, if I'm JFJ, I'd say to Peddie, either I need an extension now so I can do the right thing, or I walk. Do you think there's any chance of him walking? If he did, I can't think that his NHL brethren would think any ill of him for doing so. Thanks.
Jeremy Wideman, Uxbridge, Ont.
A: I think the reality is JFJ is in no position to start tossing out ultimatums. If he simply walked out now on the team, he’d have a hard time finding another employer. Moreover, the man has too much integrity to simply quit.
I've been reading you since way back when, and although I don't always agree, I really enjoy your analysis. I wonder - does your brutal honesty when hammering management over the years ever get in the way of doing your job? For example, I can't imagine it is a good way to cultivate "sources" within MLSE. Any regrets along these lines over the years?
Chris Harris, Lafayette, Indiana
A: No regrets, although you’d always like to break more stories and do a better job. As far as cultivating sources, I’ve always found that the best sources are people who respect you for being tough but fair, not the people who need you to suck up to them.
Q: Hi Damien,
I am having a difficult time understanding how Carlo Colaiacovo can be injured so many times. I don't believe it is merely bad luck. Could his playing style be prone to injury in some way? Perhaps he could be more cautious on the ice, especially after returning from a lengthy knee injury? Also, as harsh as it seems, when does MSLE give up on the development of a player who spends more time rehabilitating than playing?
Clement M., Toronto
A: I don’t think you give up on Colaiacovo yet, but you certainly can’t plan on him being part of your team. Injury prone? I don’t know. The kid gets injuries in ways I’ve never seen before. It really is bizarre.
Q: Simon Gamache.
What happened? He came to the team and had a better points per game than half the team that is there now and he was relegated to the fourth line, eventually sent down.
So why cut Gamache? Defence? Name 4 forwards that have been defensive on a regular basis. He was a high pick by Atlanta back in the day and looked better than most Leafs (not saying much) .
Why was he cut? He had something most Leafs don't, the reality his job was not guaranteed and the desire to do anything to keep it. I see it as a great mistake. He looked pretty decent along side several other Leafs at the Spengler Cup.; Not a first liner but a good depth player. Am I alone in this?
What is your opinion?
Kyle Bosley, Brockville, Ont.
A: I think Gamache might be able to be a fourth liner or a role player at the NHL level, but no more. He had a chance, and when you’re a player of his status, you’ve got to do very, very well when your chance comes. Perhaps he’ll get another this season, but I doubt he could be a difference maker.
Q: Call me crazy but I think the Vancouver Canucks have a shot at the Stanely Cup and here is why: Roberto Luongo - 6 shutouts, this guy wins games on his own. If Vancouver at the trade deadline gets a Mats Sundin then I can see them going all the way.
New Jersey Devils won there Cups on solid defence but mostly Martin Brodeur; if you have a goalie that can shut a team down, you have a winner. Detroit and Ottawa are the teams to beat but I am sure Detroit would not want to face a red hot Roberto Luongo in the playoffs and all Vancouver needs is one goal or two.
Well Damien, am I nuts to think Vancouver could win the Cup this year, and what is their possiblity of them trading for Mats Sundin?
Brian Marto, Toronto
A: I don’t think you’re nuts to think that, but I’d worry about Vancouver’s ability to score enough goals to win it all. They’re 19th in offence as of today. So yes, I think they’d be a prime team to try and swing a deal for Sundin if the Leafs decide to move him. Along with Brendan Morrison, Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, he’d make that team strong up the middle and might even help unlock the mystery of Markus Naslund.
Q: Hi Damien,
I understand that Leaf games generate more ratings than other Canadian teams. But it's tough not to think Hockey Night in Canada is Hockey Night in Toronto. A recent Saturday night forced us to watch the Leafs get beat badly by the Rangers while in Ottawa the Sens and Capitals were involved in a thrilling game where Ovechkin scored 4 goals.
My questions are:
1. Why can't CBC flip to more interesting games like the example I mentioned?
2. Since HNIC is force feeding us the Leafs, doesn't this present a problem for other Canadian teams in the future where a whole generation of kids will grow up watching the Leafs and not other teams?
Sanjay Bali, Scarborough
A: Well, answer to question No. 1 is I would imagine the CBC doesn’t flip because it has an enormous Leaf viewership that prefer to watch to the bitter end. Re question No. 2, I don’t think it presents a problem for other Canadian teams. In fact, they all seem to be doing better than the Leafs these days.
Q: Dear Damien,
Although I can't say I agree with everything you say in your column, I do enjoy reading your unbiased - and when necessary, brutal - judgment of the Leafs.
I've lived in Toronto my whole life and have grown up watching the Leafs, and support them as my home team. That being said, I pride myself on not being one of the many fanatics who seem to think every single year that this is the year the Leafs bring the Cup home.
And that context brings me to my questions. How far out from a Cup do you believe the Leafs are (in a range of years)? I'm thinking it might be another decade before they have a real shot. Sundin, although playing mostly well (he's been doing a few unexpected turnovers), is getting old. The Marlies have been doing well, but how many truly promising prospects are there on that team? The only one that comes to mind is Pogge. However I don't follow the Marlies too much, so hopefully you can clear this up for me.
Jenny Smith, Toronto
A: Pogge is the club’s only true blue chip prospect, although they like to believe Jiri Tlusty and Russian forward Nikolai Kulemin are of that ilk as well. If the Leafs were to move aggressively now and begin an ambitious rebuilding process, its theoretically possible that through quality youth and smart free agent pickups, they could be a contender in three years and a champion in five. But that’s a best case scenario, and thus, a longshot for the truly optimistic of mind.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com. Click here to submit a question.