Thursday Mail Bag
Anybody else find it a little strange on Tuesday when, during Cliff Fletcher’s post-trade deadline chat, he sure made it sound like he wasn’t going anywhere soon?
Lots of “we’re going to do this” or “we’re going to do that.” Talk about the entry draft in June, then free agency in July, and how this team is going to have a very different face in September.
Umm, wasn’t the idea that Fletcher was a temporary fill, a caretaker? Now he’s sounding like a man determined to leave his imprint on the team, either because he wants to or because he figures, probably correctly, that the dopes on the MLSE board won’t get around to hiring a new hockey boss until, oh, maybe December.
In other words, it looks like mini-Fletchermania II is turning into full-blown Fletchermania II. Can the Return of Wendel One-More-Time be far behind?
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien, So at the deadline Fletcher moves three guys who are clearly not part of the problem on this team (ie: they live up to the dollars on their contracts, modest as they may have been). And he gets back draft picks that are so late in the draft it would be ridiculous to think that they will yield a significant part of the solution. Basically he made trades for the sake of making trades. My verdict on the Fletcher interim era is in, it's a complete and total failure.
And now with the Leafs starting to roll (as Maurice plays the heck out of his veterans in attempt to save his job; 9th place anyone?) my dreams of Stamkos in blue and white are starting to fade.
My question is, is there any hope for Leaf fans like myself? The same core of players is comming back (even if we buy them out, they still count against the cap so what is gained by doing that?). And at this rate no exciting star potential young talent is comming from the draft.
What do we have to look forward to?
Bradley Meldrew, Toronto
A: Uh, Justin Pogge, maybe? Seriously, there could be lots to look forward to, particularly if the next czar of the Leaf kingdom turns out to be a true heavyweight with a clear plan and total freedom to make it happen. This organization needs to be cleaned out, top to bottom, and if that begins in June with a true star at the top then, sure, Leaf fans have something to look forward to even if Stamkos doesn’t land in their lap. But if it turns out to be another compromise candidate, a lightweight who Richard Peddie can manipulate, another executive whose focus will be on getting MLSE two or three playoff dates a year and that’s it, well, let the nightmare continues.
Q: Do you think Fletcher was waiting for teams to call him about players or was he actually trying to peddle them? I am sure there was a value for Colaiacovo, Stajan, Poni, Wellwood on top of Antropov and Toskala? None of the forementioned four are hardly "battleships" and would of been happy to see first and second picks for these guys.
Dave Callaghan, Toronto
A: I’m sure Cliff was calling around like mad. But while Antropov and Toskala certainly would have fetched a significant amount, none of Colaiacovo, Stajan, Ponikarovsky or Wellwood would have brought a first rounder back. Moreover, all are cheap and affordable at the moment, so keeping them makes more sense.
Q: Hi Damien,
We have been hearing for years that the the Leafs don't care about contending as long as they keep making money. What this trade deadline proved was it's not the ownership but the players who have no desire to be part of a winner. They are happy to play in a great hockey town and be very well compensated. I can understand Sundin not wanting to be a rental player but the other guys have no excuse. Cliff Fletcher gave these guys the chance to do this the easy way and they refused. They better be prepared for this summer because I believe the gloves will come off.
Mike Verdile, Thorold
A: I agree, Mike, that the gloves will come off this summer. I’m not surprised that some of them just wanted to stay, that they have families who love living here and business interests that make it convenient to be in Toronto. I am surprised, however, that none one of the five untradeables said, “Get me out of here,” or wanted to play for a contender, or wanted to be closer to their hometown, or wanted to play somewhere warm, or wanted to play on a team with a buddy. It’s like a hockey version of the Stockholm Syndrome, or the result of a Manchurian Candidate-like brainwashing scheme.
Q: Hi Damien,
Isn't it time yet to officially shatter the great myth that "it's so hard to play in Toronto"? It's so hard that when 5 different players on the 1967s are offered a choice between playing in the playoffs in a different city or missing the playoffs in Toronto, they all chose to stay in Toronto. I guess that also shatters the myth that winning the Stanley Cup is why hockey players play the game. With the drive to win displayed by these 5 Hall of Famers, you can almost smell that parade. Good luck 1967 fans, I'm sure the next 41 years will go by quicker than the past 41.
Phil S., Thornhill
A: Phil, I’ve been trying to shatter that myth for a while. People want to make it seem as though there’s this crushing pressure to play for the Leafs, and that these poor fellows and their families are hounded night and day by a ceaseless media. The opposite is true. You can be very comfortable playing for the Leafs, being a mediocre player and skating for an unsuccessful team. Some folks might squawk, but there’s more than enough admirers out there telling these guys how great they are 24 hours a day to make sure they can be insulated from the nasty stuff. To me, it’s an easy town to play in, one with no expectations, one where the Tie Domis and Darcy Tuckers are held in higher esteem than true stars.
Q: Dear Mr. Cox:
I’m a long-time reader, first-time writer. I’ll try to be succinct:
I can be classified as one of ‘those’ pathetically ardent supporters of the Leafs: I have watched virtually every single televised game over the past nine years, read all three newspapers’ sports sections avidly, and while I fall far outside of the economic stratum required to pay for them, I attend a number of live games each year through gifts from others. I am, in short, one of those fans who have been loudly blamed for MLSE’s complacency, with my apparently insatiable addiction to the team.
However: I have just cancelled my *entire cable package* ($68/mo) due to my anger and frustration at the way the Leafs have been managed into the ground. With the team unwilling and now unable to make any meaningful change, there is simply no point in watching the games any more.
There are some who say that die-hard Toronto fans will never pull out the blue-and-white IV, that we’ll buy anything MLSE sells: well, here’s one who’s kicking the habit until the Leafs show some respect to their fans and start honestly rebuilding. I have no problem with watching a losing Leafs team, but only if it’s headed in the right direction.
Robin Paxton-Beesley, Toronto
A: Wow. That’s real testimony. Good for you, man! To be honest, I’m torn on the fans-as-the-real-problem concept. See, I think it's admirable, in many ways, for fans to be loyal to a team, even a frustrating one. At the same time, it’s clearly true that the absence of any financial urgency to make the team better has allowed MLSE and their predecessors to be satisfied with mediocrity or worse because the bottom line remains strong.
I, once upon a time, was a die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan, and lived through all those painful Super Bowl losses. Finally, the team’s idiotic organizational decisions and the odious nature of some of their star players – Randy Moss – just drove me past the point of no return. So I no longer root for the Vikes, and am still looking for a new club. Maybe I’ll never find one. But the point is, we all have our breaking points as fans, and you, Robin, obviously finally reached yours with this hockey club.
Q: Hi Damien,
How on earth did Mats Sundin get vilified in the manner he has for not waiving his no-trade clause? He has been the one of the best "face of the Maple Leafs" ever since he arrived.
The pressure to waive the no trade clauses should have been put on McCabe and Tucker - high price guys who have not delivered for the team. As it stands, valuable assets like Antropov and Poni (productive players at relative low cost) are going to be sacrifice for the sake of "rebuilding" while the festering and expensive dead wood remains.
Drew M., Willowdale, Ont.
A: I agree, basically. Sundin, through his play and class, earned the right to say no to a trade. Maybe Kaberle, too. But the other three? Selfish and short-sighted.
Q: Damien, this is exactly what I feared. Our one and only asset (Sundin) deciding to remain with the club. This holds us back from any chance of rebuilding or going to rebuilding mode. Our one asset that could have helped propel this team into the rebuilding mode is standing pat. While you can't blame Sundin for exercising his rights, you have to question his competetive nature and lack of desire to win something in the NHL. How could he actually want to stay in this sad-sack organization?
Scott O., Toronto
A: I don’t question his competitive nature or the fact he wants to stay. Maybe he just loves being a Leaf. I also don’t think this ends any hope of rebuilding. But hard, more complex decisions are going to have to be made now, a lot harder than trading Kilger and Belak to Florida.
Q: Hi Damien, I am not one the people that thinks Mats Sundin should be vilified for not waiving his no-trade clause. But whenever I see anything on the news or read any articles about this topic, all I ever read is that "the fans" want him to waive it. I read that Mats has actually been surprised and hurt by this sentiment and I can totally understand that. It has bothered me that we could treat such a loyal and accomplished captain like this. So I was wondering, does Mats know that there's just as many people out there that appreciate his desire to stay and are grateful for his loyalty as there are people that want him to waive the no-trade clause? I only ask because I hope you can pass that on to him from all the fans out there that admire him and his true loyalty to the team and the city.
Varun Chakravorty, Brampton
A: I think he knows its about an even-split out there. And I know he knows you can’t keep the entire hockey public in Toronto happy. Ever.
Q: If they were too nice to force some trades, they will never do this: put all of the No-trade 5 on waivers and say thank you for your time and good luck in future endeavours.
Jamie S., Thornhill
A: Couldn’t do that with Tucker or McCabe, because they have no-movement clause. Pointless and stupid to do that with Sundin or Kaberle. Kubina? You could definitely make a case.
Q: Peter Forsberg being allowed to come back to the NHL this late in the season is a joke. With this on the heels of Scott & Teemu unretiring for the Ducks late in the year as well, the NHL really needs to step in and set a firm date in which players have to declare on way or another whether they will be playing in the NHL in a given season. December 1st sounds about right to me.
Gary Hogan, Truro, NS
A: Don’t agree. Doesn’t bother me at all that these guys return late because they’re all great players who I want to watch and have earned the right and the leverage to call the shots. I will say, however, that a little part of me agrees with a NHL general manager who recently suggested allowing the late comers makes the NHL look a little bit like recreational softball, adding players who never even attend the local pub to join the team for the big tournament and bat cleanup.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.