Thursday Mail Bag
There’s no better place to open the playoffs than right here.
With traces of snow still on the ground, the city is in an uproar over the post-season potential of this year’s Canadiens. While fans in other cities hope for a Stanley Cup, Montrealers have reason to believe it could happen, if only because it has happened 24 other times.
The Montreal Gazette has dubbed the “Drive for 25,” and legendary columnist Red Fisher took it upon himself to try and calm the expectations, suggesting that while the Habs might have finished first in the Eastern Conference, 15 other clubs have designs on the trophy Montreal has won more than any other franchise.
The Habs are huge favourites, with no one picking the Boston Bruins to pull the mighty upset. That said, all the pressure is on the Canadiens to not only win but do so in impressive fashion, and it will be intriguing to see how their youngsters, starting with goalie Carey Price, react in Game 1 tonight.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hey Damien, what do you think of the last couple games by Mark Bell? Was that finally the old Mark Bell (20+ goals one year) showing he's still there or was it just a couple fluke games and maybe so he's got something to talk about to his fellow prisoners? There's talk of him being bought out or shown to the minors, but if it wasn't a fluke...? Thanks.
Jeremy Wideman, Uxbridge
A: Hard to say, and one of the biggest mistakes people make in Toronto is to overrate short-term performances. For example, far too many people are suggesting Pavel Kubina is a keeper now because he managed to score a few goals down the stretch. It’s far more meaningful to evaluate players over time.
Re Bell, he’s got size and some skill, but injuries and legal problems have made him a difficult player to assess. If, as is expected, he is forced to spend the summer behind bars, it seems doubtful he’ll come into next season more prepared to play. That said, unless there are internal issues that make him expendable, its seems worthwhile to bring him back to camp next fall and evaluate him then. The Leafs probably may not be as cap-strapped, and if he doesn’t look like he’ll be able to contribute in the last year of his contract, they can just send him to the minors. But I sure wouldn’t get excited over what Bell did in the final few games.
Q: Damien I have one question for you. What about the Toronto Marlies? I am sick and tired of the Leafs and the constant attention to a team and an organization that doesn't deserve it all while the Marlies plug away all season, win their division and are headed into the playoffs as a contender.
Even if the Leafs somehow managed to scrape their way in we all know it would be 4 or 5 games and they'd be out. Until the entire organization gets their act together and starts building a real contender I'm throwing my money and support at the Marlies.
Why doesn't the rest of Toronto's hockey fans do the same? Why doesn't the media pay more attention to them?
Rodney Buike, Burlington, Ont.
A: Well, does the media not pay attention to the Marlies because fans aren’t interested, or are fans not interested more because the media doesn’t pay the team a lot of attention? It’s the same debate media organizations have with any number of sports teams in organizations, and the fact is newspapers, radio stations and TV outlets have, to some degree, limited resources. We can’t cover everything, and the Leafs, Jays and Raptors are going to suck up a lot of attention. That said, I think the Marlies are going to get some attention this spring if they get deep into the AHL playoffs. Unfortunately, in addition to the NHL playoffs, there’s the Memorial Cup in Kitchener and the world championships in Halifax and Quebec City to compete against. The Marlies did much better at the gate this season, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle.
Q: Hi Damien,
Trying to step away from all of the roster disection and speculation for a minute, I have a historical question for you that requires stats that you hopefully can obtain.
At last night’s Leafs/Sabres game, talk turned to Sundin's scoring records, and the fact that really only he and Miroslav Frycer were possibly the only #13's, we argued as to the highest total point getting sweater # for the Maple Leafs (27 was our guess) hope you can help.
Ridley Wetton, Woodstock, Ont.
A: Sure. Frycer didn’t wear No. 13. He wore No. 14. Ken Yaremchuk wore No. 13, but he doesn’t exactly pad Sundin’s totals, does he. Between Darryl Sittler and Frank Mahovlich, No. 27 would be the runaway leader. And that's even without counting John Kordic's contributions!
Q: Hey Damien,
So now that we are going to award Kubina the Norris Trophy (just kidding but he clearly is playing much better) what do you do as Cliff Fletcher?
On one hand you want to dump salaries and with his clause kicking in and with few people on the roster with any trade value that would tell me trade him. But on the other hand if he is playing well and would be an asset to some of the young defenders plus he has won a Cup, I say keep him.
Then there is the whole thing about even if they clear all the cap space wouldn’t they have tough time attracting free agents. Any thoughts?
George B., Kitchener, Ont.
A: I’d trade him. He’s probably not going to be worth more than now, teams wanted him at the trade deadline and he’s not going to be part of the solution to this enormous problem. Moreover, he’s the easiest one of the Muskoka Five to move, so you have to exercise the options you have.
As far as scaring off free agents, that’s way overrated, more agent talk than anything. Top free agents want to go to great cities with contending teams. When the Leafs build a contender again, they’ll be able to get the free agents they want. Moreover, free agents aren’t always the answer.
Montreal tried unsuccessfully to land Daniel Briere and Brian Rafalski last summer, and look at them now.
Q: Hi Damien,
Just wondering if there is any discontent at MLSE with the job Cliff Fletcher is doing?
The way I see it he failed miserably in his main objective (convincing players to move at the trade deadline). Then he failed to tell Maurice that the coach's mandate should be to play the younger guys to let the organization get some idea what they have (like is Wellwood a second line centre or a 1 year wonder; or are Kronwall, and Stralman legit NHLers?).
Now those players have lost a great chance to develop with some meaningful NHL minutes, and the organization that kept playing its core vets has slipped about 4 spots back in the draft. All to fail miserably in an attempt to make the playoffs. And to top it all off Fletcher said this last week that Kubina could be a great part of the future here (sorry, 1 month of good play does not erase 2.9 years of well, underwhelming performance). Is an interim-interim GM too much to ask for?
Bradley Meldrew, Toronto
A: I don’t think there’s any internal discontent with Fletcher at MLSE because those suits have no clue how to build a winning team. The fact they turned to Fletcher just proved they have the leanest Rolodex in the industry. Fletcher couldn’t make anything happen at the deadline, as you say, and the disconnect between the needs of the organization and the objectives of Paul Maurice down the stretch was startling.
The Leafs must get their new president/GM in place ASAP. There’s no evidence to suggest Fletcher is capable of navigating this team through the next few months with any positive, team-building results.
Q: Damien I do not know if you ever notice this but the Montreal Canadians have won a Cup in every decade. Now I am 42 so I can only go so far back but it would not surprise if they do win this year. Bob Gainey like the player, has very cleverly built a great team almost a image from those great 70's teams. I know there are teams in the West: the Ducks, Wings, Sharks and even the Flames but just something is telling me this could be the Habs year.
Brian Marto, Toronto
A: You could be right. But they are going to be tested hard, and getting to the Cup final with a rookie goalie and a largely inexperienced roster will require some fortuitous bounces along the way.
Q: Hey Damien,
Love reading your stuff you do an excellent job. But riddle-me-this. The notion that being a division leader earns you a top 3 seed and home ice advantage is absurd for two reasons:
1) Better teams end up being lower seeds in the end and can be easy prey for a better 6th seed in the first round.
2) It is only a one way street; if the division leader earns home ice, why not have the division loser earn a chance at a lottery pick? Make it work both ways.
Obviously I came up with this idea when I realized that the Leafs are last in their division, but that’s neither here nor there, it's not a terrible idea is it?
Grant Virgin, Fredericton
A: Grant, I’m not sure I entirely understand your position, but let me say I think the concept of having each division winner get one of the top three seeds is ludicrous. Guarantee every division winner a playoff spot? Sure. But home-ice? No. It twists the playoff seedings around too much, rewards teams from weaker divisions playing easier schedules and penalizes teams that perform well during the regular season.
Q: Hi Damien,
Since the Leafs are out of contention, I have a hockey question. What happened to Vincent Lecavalier in the second half of this season? In the first half he was being called 'the best player in the world' and looked headed for the Art Ross and possibly the Hart trophy. In the second half, he seems to have given up. Might there be an injury, or is he simply the kind of player that gives up once it's clear that Tampa Bay isn't going anywhere?
Bryan Mallinson, Toronto
A: Lecavalier’s season did tail off, and a significant wrist injury that will possibly require surgery was part of the problem. Even before he suffered a nasty shoulder injury courtesy of Washington’s Matt Cooke in the final days of the season, Lecavalier was at best a question mark for the world championships because of his wrist issue. To me, he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t give up, the kind of guy Tampa wanted to keep even though he didn’t have a no-trade clause while moving Brad Richards, a player who did.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.