Thursday Mail Bag
Regulars to this space will know that any and all serious playoff talk involving the Maple Leafs ended in early January.
But after losing to Florida by a touchdown and a two-point conversion Tuesday in the Battle for 13th Place, even the most wildly optimistic members of Leaf Nation will have packed it in. Let the firesale begin. It’s now all about the trade deadline, the draft and the identity of the next Leaf hockey czar.
There’s excitement in that, to be sure. But after missing the playoffs three straight years, MLSE is undoubtedly looking at five or six years without post-season revenue. That should get their attention.
Now on to this week’s mail bag, starting with that dose of Leaf optimism that never, ever dies:
Q: Hi Damien,
I don't agree with everyone who is saying that the Leafs are 5 years away from being a contender in the East. If Fletcher can get good value back for some of the veterans on their team then I think with the right free agent signings they can be competitive as early as next year.
All the talk last year was about the depth of teams like Buffalo and Ottawa and yet they look pretty ordinary without their top players (Drury, Briere, Alfredsson, Heatley) I believe if they can add top notch UFA's this summer (Hossa, Boyle, Campbell, Stillman) and blend them with some young prospects they can challenge for one of the top 4 spots in their conference - especially if they get quality netminding from Toskala/Pogge.
Mike Verdile, Thorold
A: Wow. Have to give you credit, Mike, for seeing the glass half-full. The Leafs have far too many holes to look at such a quick turnaround. Moreover, luring top free agents will be difficult giving the weakness of the roster. It’s trying for the quick fix using free agency, by the way, that has contributed to the mindset that just making the playoffs is a goal, rather than actually during the tough legwork that builds champions. Thinking the Leafs can turn this mess around in a year, in other words, is part of the overall problem.
Q: So I've got an idea for you. I understand the Leafs are trying to dump players and collect draft picks, and I think that's a fine strategy and all, but what about trying to acquire a few young prospects too, such as Pitkanen in Edmonton, or some of the Nashville young D (that rumour has are available)?
Isn't the point of dumping salaries to try to get young players via the draft? And I think I'd prefer Fletcher throwing draft picks at proven prospects as opposed to unproven ones, his history in the draft considered.
Robert Buckler, Walla Walla, WA
A: I think your point is well made, although Pitkanen is a poor example. Philly made an aggressive play last summer to land a good young forward in Scott Hartnell, and those opportunities may be there again this year. Problem is, the Leafs will be in the midst of a transition from the temporary Fletcher regime to a new president/GM, and it seems likely valuable opportunities will be missed during the handover of power.
Q: Hi Damien, my question is in regards to No Trade/ No Movement Clauses in the NHL and specifically with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I'm not going to blame JFJ at this point. You can, and several have, argue the size and control of these contracts agreed upon under JFJ, were foolishly signed by the organization.
Looking at the 'temperature' of today's NHL marketplace, how important are these NTC to players and did MLSE get a little too free with handing out NTC/NMC deals? Could someone in future negotiations, possibly insist NTC's rest upon a certain amount of games played with an understanding that the team must maintain a winning percentage standard?
Chris Hamilton, Owen Sound
A: The Leafs did get too free with handing out no trade deals, and it is costing them a great deal of flexibility as they consider possible trade deadline moves. In terms of the future, the Leafs can make any rules they want regarding these types of arrangements. They don’t have to give them out at all, but it may cost them players.
Q: I have to admit as a Leaf fan I enjoy your impartial renderings on our plight. Regarding JFJ, I don't think I've ever witnessed a press conference from a fired coach taking place at the scene of the crime, have you? And how bizarre was that? Based on his body of work (or lack of) and they way he conducted himself throughout all of this, what are his odds of future NHL employment and in what capacity do you see him returning in? Thanks.
Michael Nestlehut, Harper Woods, Michigan
A: It’s actually relatively common these days to see a fired coach or GM hold a farewell press confidence in the same stadium or arena in which they worked. It’s a courtesy extended by the team that allows the fired person the chance to deal with all the media at once.
Regarding Ferguson, he’ll be with another NHL team by the summer. He’ll probably need to get a visible job as assistant GM – like ex-Chicago GM Bob Murray in Anaheim – before he gets another crack at being a GM. But he will.
Q: Hey Damien,
The one name I don't hear in rumored trade talks is Vesa Toskala. To my mind he is a goaltender good enough to support a team through multiple rounds in the playoffs. The Leafs claim they have a solid prospect in Pogge already.
Ottawa I think would be a great fit with Sundin also along for the ride. What do you think?
David Isaacs, Toronto
A: I’m sure Toskala could help Ottawa and any number of teams. If the Leafs got a whopper of an offer, I think they would move him. But I doubt that will happen, as no playoff-bound team is so desperate for goaltending that they’ll pay an enormous ransom.
Q: Real quick question Damien... Raycroft to Ottawa for Emery? Why the hell not?
Daniel D., Thornhill
A: Easy answer – because Emery is worth a lot more than Raycroft. From a Leaf point of view, why would they want to add another big contract (3 years, $9.5 million) when you can clear Raycroft off the books after next season? Raycroft needs to be replaced by an affordable backup goalie, not an expensive one.
Q: Hi Damien. Looking at the standings in the east, the strangeness of the system is glaring.
Carolina , a division leader, would just barely have a playoff position if teams were simply 1 through 8 per conference (doing away with divisions).
It is conceivable and likely possible that this year the 3rd place team will actually have less points than the 8th place team. Is there any talk of ending this madness?
James Skarnikat, Sauble Beach
A: It’s an absurd situation. At best, each divisional winner should be guaranteed a playoff spot, but not home-ice in the first round. Sadly, I’ve not heard any meaningful talk of changing the system.
What is the point of "clearing cap space" if the Leafs need to take a few years to rebuild? Might as well keep McCabe, Tucker, Blake and Kubina until their contracts approach expiry when other teams may be interested in their services. Trade them now and the Leafs will receive nothing in return (and I don't think I need to be concerned about saving MLSE some small amounts of money). It makes more sense for Cliff Fletcher to focus on trading the only assets that will bring a return - Sundin, Kaberle, Antropov, Toskala and Gill. In a couple years, when the assets received in return start to develop, then we can worry about clearing cap space.
Alan G., Toronto
A: I don’t disagree. But the players you keep need to be quality veterans capable of helping young players learn, and I’m not sure the four players you’ve mentioned are those types of players. I think you move players when good opportunities arise when you’re in a situation like the Leafs are. I agree, however, that trying to make it all happen in a matter of a few weeks isn’t smart.
Q: Hi Damien, love your insigts - keep up the innovative thinking. After 19 seasons watching live hockey working for MLG inc. and MLSE ltd. my query is not about the Leafs soap opera but about league rules and possible changes. The most exciting play in hockey these days is the penalty shot. How about, instead of the double minor for high sticking or the instigator penalty, a penalty shot is implemented when extra infractions occur? After all, scoring is down and sticks still seem to be up.
Mike Hassanally, Toronto
A: Hmm. Never thought of that. Tell you what, I’d use it for checking-from-behind, the worst, most dangerous foul there is. I do think, however, that with the shootout already, there’s danger of rendering the penalty shot a little pedestrian because we see it all the time where once it was rarely seen.
Q: The whole debate on who are the candidates for the Leafs GM position got me wondering about other potential NHL positions that could open up soon. My question is, as Bettman celebrates his 15th year on the job, how long do you think he will last as commissioner? Bettman can't be the head honcho forever (a la Clarence Campbell), so I'm curious about whom you think can step into this very important role. Who do you think are the candidates to be the next commissioner of the NHL? Bill Daly? Colin Campbell? How about Brian Burke? Or does it have to be a lawyer in this day and age?
Matt Blackett, Parkdale
A: I don’t think Bettman’s going anywhere soon. Daly’s the obvious successor, but there’s no term limit here, so the job isn’t likely to open up in the near future.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.