Friday Mail Bag
Paul Maurice clearly wasn’t intending to expose Vesa Toskala to a meaningless pummeling, not after all Toskala had done for the Maple Leafs in keeping hope alive in the final months of the season.
But expose Toskala is exactly what Maurice did, leaving the Finn in the Leaf goal for every excruciating moment of Thursday’s 8-2 humiliation at the hands of the Ottawa Senators.
"I never thought of taking him out of that game," said Maurice afterwards. "I also didn’t want to see it get out of hand more than it did."
Oooh. So not only did Toskala get hung out to dry, Maurice threw Andrew Raycroft under the bus for good measure, only the goalie the Leaf coach plans to start Saturday night in Montreal.
"I wasn’t going to pull anyone else out," said Maurice, defending his Toskala decision.
Not good enough. The move was to relieve Toskala at the end of two periods, or once the Sens scored their seventh goal in the third.
But Maurice didn't even glance down the bench at Raycroft. It was the move, or non-move, of a coach who has probably already figured out he's not going to be around next season after missing the playoffs the past two seasons and getting obliterated on home ice by five goals or more on five separate occasions this season.
Toskala didn't exactly rescue the coach afterwards when asked if he expected to be left in for the entire slaughter.
"Uhhh . . . at the end of the day . . . it's the coach's decision. It's always up to him," said Toskala, who started 30 straight games for the Leafs starting Jan. 9. "But it was kind of frustrating, for sure."
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien, After some great performances lately from the Leafs and some great play from the guys who were supposed to be the Leafs of the future I can't help but wonder if blowing up the team completely is the right decision. Guys like Stajan, Steen, Wellwood (who I think deserves more credit for his improved play as of late), Ponikarovsky, and so many other young guys have been playing great. A disappointing season for the team is coming to an end with reason for optimism. Even in years past when they've made a late push for a playoff spot it hasn't been the young guys contributing the way they are now. Do you think there is real reason for optimism for this team for next season?
Varun Chakravorty, Brampton
A: To be fair to Varun, he offered this question before Thursday’s debacle. But sure, there is always some optimism. Moreover, as downcast as the Leafs may be by missing the playoffs for a third straight year, you can imagine the feelings of failure are much greater in cities like Buffalo and Vancouver. The Sabres were the league’s best team during the regular season last year and a conference finalist, while the Canucks looked to be riding a wave on the goaltending of Roberto Luongo. Both teams, however, were eliminated last night. When it comes to the Leafs and optimism, however, it depends on what your expectations are. If they are to bring in a new hockey man and begin a patient rebuilding project that will likely mean one or two more years out of the playoffs but a much greater chance at success down the line, then sure, there’s optimism. But while some of the kids did play well, the fact is that any time there was anything meaningful on the line this season, the Leafs folded like a cheap suit. This is not a team poised to become a winner. Quite frankly, I’d rather have the roster of Phoenix or Columbus than the Leafs heading towards next season.
Q: Hey Damien, Hopefully you put this in the mailbag! The footage from the Jonathan Roy fight is really disturbing. This is exactly the reason why fighting needs to go once and for all in hockey.
The opposing team goalie was assaulted - would you not agree? He did not want to fight, did not throw a punch, and proceeded to take a beating from Roy. Is this not assault at the end of the day? If nothing happens here aren't we basically saying: you better fight on the ice, or be prepared to be pummeled without justice.
Love to hear your thoughts on this.
John R., Toronto
A: It was an appalling incident, to be sure. I’m not even sure it was an hockey fight; it was more of an attack, more of an Ultimate Fighting exhibition with one combatant pounding the other as he lay on the ice. I’m a long-time proponent of getting rid of fighting – a stand for which I am regularly pilloried by readers – so obviously this was, to me, just another piece of evidence that suggests fighting isn’t an integral part of hockey, but rather an element that detracts from an otherwise great sport. But do I expect the Roy incident to result in any real change? Not really. The troglodytes are still in control.
Q: Lotsa talk recently about fighting in hockey since Mr. Roy and his kin decided to put on an ESPN special.
U.S. College and CIAU hockey have been fight free for for years due to the gravity of the penalties for such conduct. When will Major Junior and the NHL follow suit and finally eliminate fighting by implementing the same simple rule changes?
Do you think the public or government will ever demand that these public institutions (Major Junior and NHL) rid their games of fighting?
Jared Brown, Toronto
A: I guess it’s possible, but unlikely. It’s funny, as you point out, that most hockey is played around the world without fighting. Leagues that include it are all in North American and, really, the exception to the rule. Certainly, some prefer hockey with fighting in it. But the point is that the notion that hockey and fighting are inseparable is just, well, total nonsense.
Q: Hi Damien, I don't know if this question has been asked, but, here goes. What is the situation with Justin Pogge of the Marlies. Why is he splitting the goaltending with Scott Clemenson, is it a contract issue (Clemenson's) or a lack of faith in Pogge? If Pogge is the goalie of the future shouldn't he be playing every game?
Stephen Hastings, Wainwright, AB
A: I think Pogge is the No. 1 goalie with the Marlies heading into the post-season, and indeed he registered a shutout when the club clinching first place. My expectation is that Pogge will start the post-season and go until – or if – he falters. My other expectation is that he’ll be the backup in Toronto next season.
Q: Hi Damien, What is your opinion of Jiri Tlusty? I haven't had the opportunity to watch many of the games this season, but it looks like he has been able to produce decent offensive numbers in limited minutes. Do you think Tlusty has the potential to be a solid first-line player?
Rick T., Toronto
A: Certainly a second liner. He seems to have a good head for the game, skates well, doesn’t mind traffic and has a knack for tips and deflections. I can’t imagine why, for the life of me, the Leafs didn’t give him tons of ice time over the final few months, but waited until the final few games. If they weren’t going to play him a ton he could have been getting all kinds of work with the Marlies. That said, given his talent, youth and salary, he’s probably the closest to an untouchable the Leafs have.
Q: Hey Damien. A voice of reason is needed. I am hearing from many Leaf fans that Toskala is one of the best goalies in the league. Even in the Boston and Toronto game the announcers were like Toskala has got the best glove hand in the game.
Come on. Toskala isn't the next Martin Brodeur. Not saying he is a bad goalie but me thinks this is another case where Leaf fans are overrating the players that play for the Leafs.
Where do you think Toskala ranks among the NHL goalies?
Sanj Bali, Scarborough
A: Interesting question. Toskala does have a great glove and a heart like a lion. Right now, I think you could rate him easily as the sixth or seventh best netminder in the Eastern Conference, with a chance to become better. Overall, he’s still got to prove he can be among the top dozen goalies in the game after less than a full season of being a true No. 1 netminder.
So, yeah, if your buddies are saying he’s one of the best in the game, they’re overrating him, at least on the basis of what he has accomplished in the NHL so far.
Q: During the middle of the season, there were open rumors of the Leafs going after Swedish prospects Fabian Brunnstrom, Linus Klasen and Linus Videll. Then nothing. Are those rumors dead or will they get a new life after the playoffs?
John Hunt, Harvard, Massachusetts
A: They will get new life. If there’s a free agent player out there with a pulse, the Leafs are going to try to sign them.
Q: Eric Lindros was a Canada Cup-quality player as a teenager. You could have built a strong case for Crosby to go to Turin (and in retrospect his omission should qualify as a mistake). Can you foresee Stamkos or Tavares in Vancouver? Who are the most likely next-gen players for the Canadian Oly roster? Mark Staal more likely than J Staal? It seems that the selectors might rely too much on the tried and true rather than opting for youth and energy. Gare Joyce, East York
A: Well, Mr. Joyce, I can’t imagine either Stamkos or Tavares or even Kyle Turris in Vancouver. Jonathan Toews, maybe. They erred in not taking Crosby to Turin, but then again, that was Crosby. What Wayne Gretzky and Co. missed on was not young players, but in not efficiently calculating the way in which some players were slow to get back to an elite level coming out of the lockout. They took some players to Turin hoping they’d find their game there, which made no sense. On the Staals, I think there’s a real chance that team could have Marc, Jordan AND Eric. Three brothers on one Olympic team? Sounds crazy, but not impossible.
Click here to submit a question for Damien's mail bag and he'll answer a selection every Thursday in his blog.