Thursday Mail Bag
The time has probably come to stop wondering why it is the Leafs are playing as they are, or why they didn’t do it earlier, and just accept the fact the club is delivering high-quality hockey at the moment.
In five straight games against opponents likely headed for the playoffs, the Leafs outshot every one of them, managing six of 10 possible points. The play of Carlo Colaiacovo, in particular, has been eye-popping, and the captain, Mats Sundin, has been out-and-out terrific since the pre-deadline, no-trade-clause fiasco was played out.
You don’t have to particularly like this team to admire what they’ve been able to do of late, as counter-productive to the long-term growth of the franchise as it may be, given that a lottery draft pick is fading into the distance.
Look, mostly meaningless hockey is a lot more interesting than watching completely meaningless hockey. Given that there’s something on the line, you can’t even say with total accuracy that the team is only playing well now that there’s nothing to play for.
None of this has a carry-over effect to next year, and if I was a member of Leaf management, I’d worry that what’s motivating this team is less about team and more about individual agendas. Moreover, if subtracting Wade Belak, Chad Kilger and Hal Gill has produced a much better team, why didn’t Leaf management figure that out earlier?
Right now, the Leafs are an interesting team to watch, which is more than could be said from October through to February.
Now on to this week’s mail bag - got a question for next time? Send it here:
Q: Greetings Damien, As we all witnessed during the deadline day fiasco, the real rebuilding of the Toronto Maple Leafs will begin this June at the NHL Entry Draft.
My question to you is this: if the Leafs fail to acquire the #1 pick in this year’s draft, should they consider taking a chance on top Russian prospect Nikita Filatov if he is still available by the time its their turn to select? Obviously the lack of a Russian transfer agreement will scare many teams away, with the Alexei Cherepanov situation from last year’s draft serving as a perfect example. Yet one cannot deny the fact that Filatov has top five potential, considering the fact that both ISS and RLR rank him #2 in their lists of top players available in this year's draft, after his strong performance at the Five Nations U-18 last month.
Thus, should the Leafs take a chance and select a prospect that could potentially be a building block toward respectability, or should the lack of a transfer deal with Russia scare the Leafs away and force them to make a ‘safer’ pick with a North American based player?
Brad Lloyd, Waterloo, Ont.
A: Tough, tough question. Well, you always take the best player available. But the best player now, more than ever, may be defined as much by price and availability as talent.
The problems with the Russian federation are indeed real problems, and the Leafs, among other teams, can’t afford to waste a pick on a player who might not come to North America for years, if at all. I guess the answer is that unless you are absolutely convinced Filatov is the real deal and you have a depth chart that allows you to be patient, he might not be worth a top 10 pick at this time. The Leafs have had enough difficulty getting a commitment that Nikolai Kulemin will be able to come over next year, and it’s hard to see them taking this risk unless, of course, they’re certain he’s a franchise-type player.
Q: Damien, which of the teams in the east currently in a playoff position do you think has the best chance to make it to the final? And do you think that team will be competitive with the best team in the west?
Also, does anyone know what is going on with Chad Kilger? He is still AWOL from Florida due to "personal reasons." Does this have anything to do with the Leafs trading him? Maybe not being happy about going to Florida? I have always liked Kilger and was wondering what was going on.
Julianna Ruffolo, Angus, Ont.
A: I really like Montreal, and I liked what they did with Cristobal Huet/Carey Price at the deadline, and I think they could challenge anyone coming out of the west if they can stay healthy and if Price can stand the heat.
Re Kilger, there’s lots of rumours, but nothing concrete. Hopefully, he’ll get it all worked out.
Q: Hi Damien,
With the season basically over, is there any reason why they haven't played Pogge yet? Also, how would you rate Pogge against Price in Montreal?
Raymond Young, Toronto
A: Personally, I would have given Pogge a start or two already. What’s the harm? But Price is obviously much further ahead in his development at this point. That said, it’s not a race, and the Leafs have shown good patience with Pogge. I just don’t think giving him an NHL start would mean they would be rushing him.
Q: Damien, I was wondering your thoughts on two people that I think the Leafs should go after this summer. 1. Darcy Regier. What is his contract, can he get out of it, would the Leafs be interested? Look at all the players the Sabres have lost but they still always seem to have a pipeline of young talent that the Leafs lack.
2. Dale Hunter. It seems that all his London teams do every year is win but he does not get the same print or exposure that a Brent Sutter/Craig Hartsburg gets. Would he be a good fit in the NHL? Especially after the success that Sutter has had.
Andrew Stevens, Burlington, Ont.
A: Interesting possibilities. Regier appears pretty married to that Buffalo situation, and obviously he doesn’t meet the Leafs criteria of a new man having to have won at least one Stanley Cup. He’s solid, resourceful and a worker, but not necessarily the kind of star candidate the Leafs are looking for.
Hunter, like Quebec Remparts owner/president/GM/coach Patrick Roy, is a very intriguing possibility, and he would certainly give the Leafs a very different look and attitude. Having gone the route of hiring a GM with no experience (John Ferguson), I doubt the Leafs would want to head down this road again.