Thursday Mail Bag
There would surely have been pros and cons to the potential hiring of Brian Burke to run the Maple Leafs.
As there would be for any candidate. But people should really stick to meaningful, realistic arguments, and one of the truly goofy ones is that which removes credit from a hockey executive for constructive work accomplished before he arrived.
In Burke’s case, you heard the lament – always anonymous, of course – that he deserves no kudos for the quality of the Anaheim Ducks because the brilliant Bryan Murray laid all the groundwork for him and all he had to do was show up in the office once in a while, sip his latte and do TV interviews.
Well, if that’s going to be the standard, there aren’t many NHL general managers who deserve credit for the successes of their teams.
Take the San Jose Sharks. Before Doug Wilson arrived as GM, the Sharks already had Christian Erhoff, Marcel Goc, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo, Ryan Clowe and Doug Murray, as well as Marco Sturm and Brad Stuart, who were parlayed into Joe Thornton.
So Wilson gets no credit for the success of the Sharks. Dean Lombardi, his predecessor, gets it all. In Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury were all drafted before Ray Shero was hired as GM.
So Shero shares no credit in the growth of the Penguins.
In Colorado, GM Francois Giguere arrived to find a team that already owned Joe Sakic and top prospects Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski, so this year’s Avs aren’t his team. In Philly, Paul Holmgren didn’t draft Jeff Carter, Mike Richards or R.J. Umberger, and captain Simon Gagne was already in place, so Holmgren doesn’t deserve any credit for that team.
In Montreal, Bob Gainey arrived on the scene to find Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec already in the prospect cupboard. So Gainey isn’t the architect of this year’s team.
On and on it goes in virtually every town. In Detroit, there are some who would try to argue Scotty Bowman and Jimmy Devellano deserve all the credit for the Red Wings, not GM Ken Holland.
So of the eight teams left in post-season play, but the standard some are applying to Burke and his years in Anaheim, only New York Rangers GM Glen Sather deserves credit for the team that’s on the ice these days since he’s been there since 2000.
Sather’s a genius, the rest of ‘em didn’t do a thing. And this style of argument makes sense to somebody?
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hey Damien:
After watching Dallas finish off Anaheim last night, I'm really wondering if MLSE is on the right track regarding Brian Burke, if indeed he is their man.
Wouldn't you rather have Doug Armstrong as a GM? Look at the quality of play of Dallas (fast, smart, finesse hockey) as opposed to Anaheim grinding, goon hockey).
Armstrong must have hired a quality scouting staff to put this team together as well. Burke had to beg Niedermayer and Selanne to come back to save his bacon, though that didn't work.
Drafting and smart free agent pickups are dependent upon quality scouting, and it's hard to argue against Armstrong's track record.
What do you think?
Todd Buttenham, Guelph, Ont.
A: This question, of course, follows my diatribe from above. I think Doug Armstrong’s a good hockey man, but nobody in Dallas was saying that this season when the team got off to a horrendous start. Fact is, every team is built on contributions from a variety of hockey men, particularly since these days few stay with one team for very long. Look at Dave Nonis in Vancouver. He got three seasons, really. But if Mike Gillis ends up with the Canucks job, he’ll benefit from some of the work Nonis did. Whoever gets the Leaf job will benefit from some of John Ferguson’s work, like drafting Jiri Tlusty and signing Tomas Kaberle to a below-market, multi-year contract. Guys like Armstrong, Nonis and Ferguson contributed to their organizations, and ultimately one of those three may head up another team and win a Stanley Cup based on some of the work done by their predecessors. Fact is, while it takes good work to build up a team, it also takes good work to put a team over the top.
We are admittedly getting ahead of ourselves in assuming that Brian Burke is seriously interested in the President/GM position in Toronto at this point, but were Burke to consider coming to Toronto, and given the recent events in Vancouver, is it possible that Burke could take the helm as president while bringing in Dave Nonis as the GM of the Leafs? Do you think such a combination could be successful in Toronto?
Shahen Alexanian, Toronto
A: I can tell you it’s a position that would interest Nonis, and he and Burke would indeed make a fine tandem.
Q: Can anyone explain why Justin Pogge isn't starting every single Marlies playoff game? What possible benefit does a Scott Clemmensen start have? If there was ever a time for looking at the future, wouldn't one would think that it is now? I give up, MLSE is a complete and total joke. Unbelievable.
Nikola Alaica, Saskatoon
A: I’m with you on this one. It’s just more proof nobody is running the Leafs these days. It’s great that Greg Gilbert is trying to win games, but the No. 1 priority of a farm club has to be to develop players for the NHL team. But anchoring Pogge to the bench, the Marlies sure aren’t doing that. It just makes no sense, but the coaches in this organization have long been permitted to make decisions that have nothing to do with the long-term growth of the team.
Q: Hey Damien:
Do you think there's any way the Leafs and Mats might structure something for next year that allows him to play the back half of the season only, if the Leafs are in contention? It would free up cap room, allow more ice time for some promising younger talent, and lessen the wear and tear on Mats. A healthy, rested Mats could be a powerful weapon for a playoff run.
Steve Warren, Grand Bend, Ont.
A: Interesting idea, I suppose. But pointless, and there’s no guarantee Sundin would come back as the same player he was. Moreover, he might not be inclined to sit around not getting paid for half a season if he really wants to play.
Q: Hi Damien,
I love your colums and the mail bag especially. My question is: we're keep hearing that the Leafs development system is shallow and they don't really have any outstanding young talents, yet the Marlies are one of the best teams in the AHL. Is it possible they are not THAT far off from being competitive?
Peter Drotos, Morrisburg, Ont.
A: Yes, it is possible. The Marlies have been a good AHL team for a variety of reasons, but they don’t own a ton of NHL quality prospects. The AHL is a tough, hard league, and there are players who can be very useful and successful in that league but may have little or no future in the NHL.
Generally speaking, the top prospect on most clubs are either in the NHL, junior hockey, U.S. college hockey or Europe. There are few teams that would keep their very best youngsters in the minors. The top prospects from last year’s draft aren’t in the AHL, obviously, nor are those from ’06 and only a sprinkling of the top picks from ’05. The quality of an AHL team, for better or worse, really can’t be used as a measuring stick for how far the parent club is or is not from winning.
Q: Hi Damien,
It’s hard not to be impressed with the number of former Montreal Canadiens players doing so well in leadership roles with teams around the NHL. Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau in Montreal, Doug Riseborough and Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota, Patrick Roy on the way. Even three of their most recent coaches have succeeded elsewhere. Save for a lack of winning, why are there virtually no ex-Leafs making the same impact on the NHL?
Jon Harding, Calgary
Q: Well, there are some. Joel Quenneville’s the head coach in Colorado, Randy Carlyle is the head coach in Anaheim, Jim Rutherford was once briefly a Leaf and has been running the show in Carolina for a long time, Tom Fitzgerald works in player personnel with Pittsburgh and Tom Kurvers is the chief scout in Phoenix. But most of these guys, of course, were not players of the calibre of the Gaineys and Risebroughs, nor did they last in Toronto that long.
The record of the Leafs over the past 41 years suggests they haven’t had these types of individuals in the organization, as least not for very long. Darryl Sittler has been involved at times, Wendel Clark works as a goodwill ambassador and Doug Gilmour is currently part of the Leaf front office. But they just don’t have those people to choose from or, as has been the case with all the ex-Habs, to sprinkle liberally throughout the world of hockey.
Q: Hi Damien,
When Hal Gill was with Toronto I kept hearing that he was too slow and a lot of people didn't like his game. Now I watch him play for the Penguins against Ottawa and he seems to be a very big part of their defence. How would you rate Hal Gill these days?
Bruce Ogilvie, Kitchener, Ont.
A: He’s fine. Still big and long, still slowish. They had him on the ice with rookie Kris Letang in the final moments of their clinching game against Ottawa. Hate to use the most overused phrase, but he is what he is. A solid, stay-at-home defenceman who excels against bigger forwards, struggles when the game gets too fast and should get rid of the puck as soon as he gets it because he’s not supposed to have it.
Q: Hey Damien,
I got to thinking to other day, and what do you think the odds are that the Penguins are going to be able to keep all of their young players for any extended length of time? It won't be long before Malkin, Staal, Fleury, etc., are going to be looking for the bigger bucks. Can the Pens keep their burgeoning superstars (plus Crosby) without ending up in a Tampa Bay situation, with too much cap money tied to too few players? And if they can't, who's the odd man out?
Jessie Reeves, Fredericton
A: Well, they don’t have to worry about it yet. Moreover, if the cap keeps going up, they’re going to have more room to play with. I think they’ll do everything to keep Crosby and Malkin, and everybody else is moveable when and if the time comes.
Q: With some under-achieving superstars now on the playoff sidelines (read: Spezza, Heatley), who of the first round no-shows do you think Team Canada should look to adding in for the World Championships in May? It seems to me that if someone can't pumped up for Lord Stanley's Grail, might it be better to leave them on the golf course, hitting off from the ladies' tee?
Also, should strong (albeit losing) playoff performances from players like the relatively unknown Dan Ellis earn them a shot at representing Canada, since they come in with a relatively hot hand?
Brian Cormier, Moncton
A: Seems they’ve pretty much got their team. Jarome Iginla would be the main guy they’d be shooting for now, plus possibly Robyn Regehr and maybe Washington’s Mike Green. Some guys want to play, some don’t, and its about putting together a team. Canada should do well with Ken Hitchcock at the helm and with the talent they’ve already assembled.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.