Thursday Mail Bag
Hope one and all had a great set of holidays and are ready for the New Year. We’re basically at the halfway point of the schedule, and to my mind, that alone starts making the NHL much more watchable as teams jostle for positions in the standings and the games become more meaningful.
For the Leafs, there’s basically 3 1/2 months to save GM John Ferguson’s job, something he would almost certainly lose if the season ended today. How the club performs on a tough trip to Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose next week will have a lot to say about whether even theoretically, the club can stay in the fight.
Now to this week’s mail bag:
Q: More of an observation than a question regarding the Leafs' power(less) play of late. Seems that everybody knows about McCabe's one-timer and over compensates for that play. Now that he's gone for an extended time, it's up to Kubina to take up the slack. My observation is that with the PK having two up high to take away the point shot, the remaining three Leaf forwards don't/can't seem to be able to out-maneuver the two defenders down low for a scoring opportunity. They have no game breaker that can beat someone one on one to create the space required and we're left watching them pass the puck around the perimeter until someone loses it.
Mario Arnone, Ottawa
A: Uh, yeah. That’s about it. Kyle Wellwood, it was hoped by the team, would provide that missing element and creativity down low. But he hasn’t and was in the press box on Tuesday, and Darcy Tucker has consistently failed to connect on the one-timer from the right faceoff circle when given the opportunity. With McCabe out, its Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle on the points, but with both playing their natural points, neither is able to one-time the puck from the point. So it seems one-by-one, the options on the Leaf power play have dwindled as the season has progressed.
Q: Hi Damien,
Aside from Sundin, Antropov and Toskala, the Leafs are just awful, AGAIN. So let's move on to something more interesting shall we:
My girlfriend's mother is from Granada and before me, she had never dated anyone who watched hockey. She asked if there were any hockey players of Black-Canadian descent and I mentioned some great ones in Grant Fuhr, Jarome Iginla, and Ray Emery, but began looking for more.
Anyway, while searching for more players on the Web I came across some material on "The Black Colored Hockey League" in the early 1900s in Halifax. I had never heard of it before and was astonished that Black-Canadian hockey teams were routinely drawing fans of 1200+ at the turn of the 20th century in Eastern Canada of all places. What an amazing bit of history!
I was hoping you could offer a bit more insight into the league's history and whether or not it is recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Thanks for the great columns in the Star and on ESPN and Happy New Year!
Marc Losier, Toronto
A: Thanks Marc, and unfortunately, there’s not much I can add to what you’ve told me. I do think the history of hockey has long been told from a single point of view based around the NHL, and that there are undoubtedly many grassroots stories that have been overlooked. The one you talk about is clearly one of them.
Q: Welcome back from holidays Damien, and I hope you had a fantastic Christmas.
A lot of media attention lately seems to be devoted to the topic of trades, and how difficult it is to make blockbusters like the Doug Gilmour to Toronto trade in the 90s. But at the same time, there simultaneously seems to be calls to "blow up" certain under-performing teams, like the Leafs, Flames, and even the Rangers.
The Rangers are a bit of a different case because of all the unrestricted free agents they have on the roster, but my question is this: if either Toronto or Calgary were to "blow things up", how would they accomplish it when trading expensive, multi-year contracts is virtually impossible?
Andrew Cunningham, Calgary
A: Terrific question, and thanks for asking, I did have a great Christmas. We’re in the third season of the salary cap world and much is still being figured out. I think its too early to say that trading big contracts is “virtually impossible.” There were many deals made before last winter’s trade deadline, and the same may happen this year. The nature of the cap seems to motivate teams to make moves later in the season, rather than earlier, in order to save cap room. Finally, in terms of blowing up teams, that doesn’t necessarily mean “blockbuster” deals, but rather several deals designed to move veterans and clear the room for a youth movement. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the next eight weeks before the deadline play out.
Q: Now that I am living in the USA I only get to watch the occasional CBC game on TV. Most games I have to watch the feeds from the local stations. It's no wonder people aren't really into hockey down here because the local broadcasts are terrible. Don't you think if they improved the coverage during the games more people would be interested in watching? The HNIC production is head and shoulders above ANY of the others I've seen including TSN. They even make Don Cherry look good. (most of the time).
Dave Russell, Holmes Beach Florida
A: Its all about personal preference. But I do agree the overall quality of local and regional broadcasts through the U.S. with the 24 clubs is spotty and inconsistent. The NHL believes that’s the case as well, and has tried to improve it. To my mind, its hard to attract new fans when the quality of at least half of the local broadcasts is mediocre to dreadful. There are good ones – the Rangers’ games have been as well done as anyone’s for years – but the overall standard needs to be raised.
As a life long Chicago Blackhawks fan, there are two things that grow bothersome living in the city or Toronto. The first, is that the Toronto Maple Leafs will always sell out no matter how badly they do (And the fans always insist this is the year they will win the Cup) and that the sports channels here will show 1 minute of highlights from every game around the leage except the Chicago games, where they show maybe 15-20 seconds. (Apparently, more people would prefer to see the highlights of the Minnisota Wild play the Nashville Predators, then see a storied Original Six team) The main thing I encounter being a Hawks fan in this city though, is Leaf fans get very arrogant to say that the Hawks have gone longer without a cup then the Leafs (Like 41 years is not a lifetime to some).
My question for you is this. Who do you see winning the Stanley Cup first, The Chicago Blackhawks, or the Toronto Maple Leafs? Both have gone over 40 years, and both have made terrible managerial choices (with Wirtz dead, we are making improvements atleast) But I can't see the Leafs winning a cup before the Hawks! Am I just as blind as the Leafs fans here? Help me out.
David Beaulieu, Scarborough
A: My gut reaction is to say the Hawks with their outstanding young combo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but lets face it, there’s a lot to be played out. The Bruins once thought they had a champion built around Joe Thornton, Sergei Samsonov and Andrew Raycroft, and that sure didn’t pan out. While ownership in Toronto has been portrayed as interested far more in profit than Stanley Cups, the death of Dollar Bill Wirtz in Chicago and the ascension of his son, Rocky, to the leadership of the franchise means its unclear whether the Hawks are going to head off on a more successful path. The early signs – putting some home games on TV, hiring a new team president – offer optimism. The Leafs or Hawks? Sadly, they’re both so far away from a championship its hard to guess which might take a serious run at it first.
Q: Hi Damien, long time reader first time writer.
I'm in an odd situation with my Leaf Nation citizenship. When the Leafs went on that impressive winning streak, I wanted to believe that they were turning a corner. But part of me was actually saddened when they started winning.
Now that they're losing again, I feel ... Better. I guess, I'm hoping that if the Leafs lose enough then eventually changes will be made. The type of "changes in MLSE culture" that you've alluded to in previous columns. Is it weird that I feel that way?
Also, if I may indulge for a moment. I'm a subscriber to satelite radio and I have to say that I hear Phil Esposito on the air on Home Ice almost everyday and I thoroughly enjoy his opinions and philsophy on the game. Do you think a guy like Espo could be a good fit for the Leafs and would he even consider making a comeback?
A: Can’t say whether it’s weird to feel that way. I would say it makes a lot more sense to imagine a Leaf future built around a top young player picked high in this summer’s draft than around a 36-year-old captain, as good as he is. The Leafs, as currently organized, are going nowhere. If it takes losing to change that, then it might well make sense for a Leaf fan to hope for losses, rather than wins.
Re Espo – he’s one of the all-time greats and a terrific salesman for the game. That said, it seems unlikely he’ll reappear as the general manager of an NHL team. He had his shot.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com. Click here to submit a question.