Thursday Mail Bag
Maybe it was all just a crazy coincidence.
But it sure seemed the more Marlies that were added to the Maple Leaf lineup over the past few weeks, the better the team played, and the more team play and urgency seemed a part of the club’s nightly effort.
Then before Tuesday’s game, Alex Foster was demoted back to the Marlies in order to get energetic Boyd Devereaux back on the roster.
And what happened? A dreadful team performance. That’s no knock on Devereaux. But its just the latest bit of evidence that suggests the team culture in Toronto seems to produce an atmosphere in which the highest paid veterans simply don’t perform with the same level of competitive urgency as the minor-leaguers, or at least not unless the minor-leaguers are around.
We saw it in the 2002 playoffs. We’re seeing it again now. It almost seems like the worst recipe for success with the Leafs is to make too many players too comfortable.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: With the season, realistically, over for the Leafs is it time for Fletcher to introduce Bryan McCabe to the press box and ask him if he enjoyed being a Leaf?
Clint Walker, Chantilly, VA
A: McCabe’s had a terrible season – actually, back-to-back lousy seasons – but there’s no point sitting him down now. That said, if they bring him back next season, they’re just asking for more of the same. It seems certain he’ll never again be a top player in Toronto.
Q: Damien! Thanks for answering our questions each week, I still find it unbelievable that with all the exposure the Leafs get I still have unanswered questions about the team!
My question is about Sundin. Why is it that Mats doesn't get the "future hall of famer" prefix that guys like Chris Chelios, Joe Sakic and Stevie Y have all recieved?
Do Sundin's stats really pale that much in comparison to the Sakics, Yzermans & Forsbergs? Besides, doesn't the fact that he was the first European ever selected first overall in the NHL draft come into play?
Jamie Prinderson, London, Ont.
A: From my point of view, Sundin is a future Hall of Famer, and I’ve said that often. He’s not one of the top scorers of his generation, but he has been a consistent point producer and very durable player. Moreover, he’s been a strong captain for the Leafs, in my opinion, and has had major international success in addition to being somewhat of a pioneer in being the first Euro ever selected first overall. Finally – and this is the weakest argument in his favour – he’s a lot better player than many of those previously inducted. So is he Yzerman or Sakic? No, and the absence of a Cup ring doesn’t aid his case. But Sundin is right there in the level after those players.
Q: Do you think any of the Leafs woes this year and last had anything to do with coaching? Although they are not the most talented team in the NHL, I personally think "on paper anyway" that they should have done better than what they have. Do you think Maurice will be back next year? If the Leafs are looking for a new coach come this summer, I think they should go after Ted Nolan. Considering what he has achieved from the teams he has coached, he is one of the better ones out there. I think he has a great ability to get the most of his players. Just look a the Islanders. Shouldn't they be in last place and then some? Not fighting for a playoff spot at this point in the season.
William H., Toronto
A: I do think Nolan’s done a strong job on the Island. That said, they’ll miss the playoffs this spring just like the Leafs, and I’m not sure if you laid their careers side by side, there would be much to choose between Nolan and Maurice. Does coaching have anything to do with the way in which the Leafs have performed the last two years? Sure it does. It takes misfiring in multiple areas to reach this kind of mediocrity. My guess is Maurice might get to stay under the new man, if only to have a body to throw overboard if next season goes sour.
Q: Hi Damien, Goalies carry a GAA based on goals allowed per 60 minutes of playing time, the time being recorded, it's a natural. Does anyone pay attention to a players points, goals, penalties per 60 minutes of playing time. I have a feeling that the kids sitting at the end of the bench contribute a lot more than the players logging a lot of ice time. A player contributing 50 goals or a 100 points sounds great, but if he logs 25 to 30 minutes of ice time, then a kid with 5 minutes a game putting up 10 goals is maybe more valuable. Ant thoughts. That may explain why teams (read Leafs) seem to prosper when they start to play their prospects when the season is lost.
Ernie Krause, London
A: I’ve never seen that stat used. I think the reality, however, is that the guys at the end of the bench are often contributing to their maximum level and are incapable of doing more even with more ice time. One of the unheralded skills of the best coaches is to be able to figure out the best amount of ice time in which individual players can maximize their contributions. Some guys only do well if held to 10 minutes, other don’t get really warmed up until they pass the 20-minute mark.
Q: I've always thought it would be a fine idea to turn back the clock and undo a couple of rule changes: 1) the Montreal power play rule, instituted in the 1950s to protect the rest of the league from the Habs of Beliveau, Harvey, Richard. But really - why shouldn't the penalized player serve the full two minutes, and why shouldn't his team pay the full price? and 2) the coincidental major rule, which came aboard in the mid 1960s. This rule openly treats hockey fighting as a sideshow, something separate and apart from the actual game. It doesn't disrupt the manpower available, it allows coaches to play their regular line combinations, it pretends nothing has happened. It made the Broad Street Bullies possible. And hey - five minutes of 4 on 4 after a fight can be the reward for those of us who regard fights as an opportunity to get up and make a snack.
I suppose there's no chance of these rules ever being abolished, but I do find it something nice to contemplate.
Daniel McIlroy, Toronto
A: Interesting ideas. I have no problem with teams having to kill off the entire two minutes, although it worries me that it might make officials more reluctant to call penalties. On the five-minute fighting penalty, I think that has allowed the goon role to flourish in the league since teams can tacitly agree to have their enforcers scrap without either side really incurring any significant penalty. I like your idea if only because any time they go to four-on-four, I’m watching.
Q: Hey Damien, I listen to a lot of games on the radio through NHL.com and as a result I end up listening to play-by-play and colour commentators from different cities. And while I know people often rag on the guys who do the Leafs' games, they are absolutely phenomenal compared to some of the guys calling the games in Phoenix and Anaheim.
My question is; who do you think are the best and worst commentators in the game, and what can they do to make their part of the game more interesting?
Nick K., Ottawa
A: In terms of commentators, not play-by-play men, my favourite was probably John Davidson of MSG before he went to the Blues. Now, I really like Kelly Hrudey, Darryl Reaugh (Dallas), Brian Hayward (Ducks), Glenn Healy (another goalie) and Pierre Maguire. I don’t always agree with these guys, but they always make it more interesting.
Q: Hey Damien, Just curious if the Leafs "Muskoka 5" situation may initiate some sort of change in future contract negotiations? Would it be a plausible idea if GMs were to negotiate a "right of choice" clause as opposed to a "no trade clause"?
The idea would be that the player has the right to choose which teams they would accept being traded to. If the GM can't make a deal happen with let's say the player's top 3 choices then it's case closed.
It would be more of a "trade control clause" then a "no trade clause" but it would essentially protect the player from going to unwanted situations while not handcuffing a GM. Would it work?
Chunky, Oshawa, Ont.
A: Actually, the way in which you suggest the “right of choice” clause would work is really the way no-trade clauses usually operate, except, apparently, in Toronto. What I would prefer is that no-trade clauses, if awarded, would actually be enforceable both ways, meaning the team could not trade that player and the player could no ask for a trade. That way, teams would be a lot more reluctant to give such clauses out.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.