Thursday Mail Bag
No surprise today. Tons of email, tons of unrest in the Leaf Nation and beyond.
The MLSE suits, all too clever by half, seem to have stirred up a hornets nest with the firing of Paul Maurice, when the intent was clearly to offer up a smokescreen to quiet the nagging masses.
In other words, people are not impressed. Nobody’s impressed with Cliff Fletcher as the temporary front man of this sham, and it’s pretty clear the Leafs aren’t going to be able to land the “Bryan Colangelo of hockey” as promised. They’ve had a lot more “not interested” responses so far than they would like.
These guys always make things so difficult. There are quality hockey people out there, and they are available. Hire one. Give him the necessary power. Then get out of the way.
What’s the big challenge here?
Now, on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
I completely agree with your column today; MLSE suits are obviously still calling the shots, what with the firing of Maurice coming immediately after a "regularly scheduled board meeting" - OH PLEASE. Therefore, in your opinion, why would a well respected and well connected hockey man like Fletch get involved with MLSE for a second go round? I'm sure he'd heard the rumours of these jackasses being more meddlesome then ever before, so why bother? Did Peddie hypnotize him?
Marc Losier, Toronto
A: Well, I imagine he did it for 19 months worth of salary. Pretty simple, and good for him. The only sad part is that he’s obviously being used, and he’s a nice man with a great history in the game who doesn’t deserve to be jerked around for the second time in a decade.
Q: Reading the blogs related to Maurice's firing today, I am baffled to see people coming so strongly to his defence. I don't think that just because MLSE is in shambles, he should be let off the hook for failing to take what was an improved Leaf squad (on paper) to the playoffs this year.
I mean, in 06-07 the team was just a single shootout stop away from the playoffs, and this year it wasn't even close. JFJ added a much improved (arguably top-10) goaltender and a 40-goal scorer to the line-up, but Maurice still failed to improve the club's record.
Sure, Maurice coached Carolina to the Cup Finals that one time, but overall he's missed the playoffs many more times than he's made them and he's got a badly losing record.
I'm not saying he was working with the greatest team, or even a pretty good one. But given the closeness of the Leafs missing the playoffs in both 05-06 and 06-07, and an improved roster in 07-08, wouldn't you agree that Maurice failed as a coach and that showing him the door was the only logical move for the Leafs?
Jeremy Huws, Ottawa
A: I agree he failed. He would tell you that too, because he understands a coach’s job is to win. I don’t think anybody can really argue forcefully that he earned the right to stay on the job. The problem most people have is with the timing and the obvious meddling of the always wrong-headed MLSE board.
Q: Hi Damien,
I was just wondering about a couple of things. First, it may not be that crazy of an idea to leave Cliff in charge for one year and try for Brian Burke next year. The only real risk is if he signs a multi-year extension and the Leafs have to then start the search over again.
Secondly, why are names like Glen Sather, Bobby Clarke, Jim Nill and John Muckler not considered? Glen is known to be a quality hockey person, and running the Rangers and Oilers certainly has proven he can build a winner and survive in a media-crazy market.
Greg Prieur, Windsor
A: Well, given that Fletcher has done zip since he was hired as interim GM and hasn’t done much in the business worth bragging about for a decade, I think there’s obvious risk to leaving him to run the team. And there’s no way to know whether Burke will be available a year from now or would want to come then.
Re the candidates you mentioned, Sather hasn’t won a damn thing in 15 years, Detroit won’t give permission to talk to Nill - an assistant GM, by the way, who is paid like a GM - the Leafs weren’t interested in Muckler when they talked to him last summer and Clarke’s name has been mentioned. He says he’s willing to talk to the Leafs.
Q: Hey Damien,
Why did the leafs fire Maurice now? If they were going to fire him why didn't they fire him pre-deadline so that the team could have made a push for Stamkos / Daughty? Does this mean that Cliff actually believed when he was hired that Maurice had a shot at making the playoffs? Why else would he leave him in place and then fire him after the season... The only thing I can think of is that Cliff is now going to be the team's GM next year since he kept saying Maurice's fate was the new GM's to decide.
The soap opera continues.
John P., Toronto
A: I guess we’ve answered this one to some degree, although it certainly is worth pointing out that Maurice was retained until the end of the year because the MLSE board wanted him to be. The board is calling the shots, not Fletcher.
Q: Do you think that the Leafs are taking their sweet time on purpose because they want to be in disarray?
If you think ahead a bit, it is genius really. They will take all the public scorn for being so incompetent, for being such a mess. It is the Leaf way, a laughing stock of the league, business as usual for this bumbling bunch of misfits. As the story goes, they don’t care how low they finish because the 20% profit margin is registering for the shareholders. In the mean time they say publicly they are trying their best, but yet again they bumble through the season, finish last, get first pick and draft John Taveres. To the league it looks like the Leafs being the Leafs, and to the public the Leafs are trying their inadequate best. Are they that smart? Really it is only one more year to get through, it is not like they haven’t heard it all before. This is a doable scenario and incredibly, I think I am in favour it. Not only that, their GM saviour, Brian Burke may be a free agent as well. Could the stars be aligned here? Lose Leafs lose!
One other thing I just saw your picks for last round. Oops!
Victor Tanti, Ottawa
A: Oops is right. Good in the first round, way off in the second. Re the Leafs being morons on purpose, I guess if that was really the strategy they would have executed it this season - don’t you think? - and ended up with the right to draft Steve Stamkos.
Q: Hi Damien. I've been reading your column for about a year now, and only recently discovered that you co-wrote Brodeur's biography. What was that experience like for you, and what was the strangest thing you learned about him?
On a more hockey-related note: why hasn't Brodeur been able to advance deep into the post-season lately? There is no doubt in anyone's mind he's a future Hall of Famer, but I can't understand it: the Rangers this year, the Senators last. First round, 5 games - is it simply that these teams found a way to bother him, or do you believe it's really more of a team failure?
Lastly, what's your opinion on Carey Price now that the series is over? Do you think the team lost confidence in him, or he simply lost confidence in himself? What happens next season? A lot of people have referenced how easily he can bounce back from bad games, but it didn't seem to happen in Game 5.
Andrew Wallace, Toronto
A: Well, it was a terrific experience to work with Brodeur, who was wonderfully engaging and candid throughout the process. Can’t say there was any one strange thing I learned about him – pretty normal, down-to-earth guy for a professional athlete.
In terms of his recent playoff experiences, I don’t think the Devils are a strong, deep team anymore, and particularly against Ottawa last spring, the club didn’t score enough to knock off the opposition. The stats indicate Brodeur is playing about as well as he ever has, but in the new NHL it seems easier for teams to get in his grill and try to upset him than it was during the days he had Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko in front of him. To my mind – and I’m probably biased – he’s still the best goaltender on the planet, and it’ll be interesting to see if he wins the Vezina again.
Re Price, I think he’s a superb young goalie with a bright future. But don’t be surprised if Jaroslav Halak pushes him hard next season.
You know Martin Brodeur pretty well - I found it interesting that after leaving the competition committee in frustration he was eager to be a part of the goalie-equipment committee (not sure what they're calling themselves). Any insights into what Brodeur feels the rules surrounding equipment should be, ie. ratio to size, max. size, etc?
Also, in your conversations did he ever share an "If I could change one rule" sort of opinion. I know that's a lot already, but if you have any insight into whether there was a 'straw that broke the camel's back' when he left the comp. committee, that would be interesting as well.
A: In terms of why he left the competition committee, I think he felt his concerns weren’t being listened to, particularly when it came to protecting goalies in the crease. I think he agreed to be part of this new committee because it will focus tightly on goalie equipment, and I know he believes that goalies should be custom fitted to their size so a 5-foot-10, 170 pounder doesn’t end up looking identical to a goalie who’s 6-foot-4, 220 pounds.
Q: Hi Damien,
I just read an article saying Darcy Tucker is the leading candidate to get bought out by the Leafs this summer. Can you please help me understand why the Leafs are contemplating buying out any players at all? Don't get me wrong, I've given up on the current core of the team, they're never going to win a championship together. But if they buy out Tucker (3mil/yr)then 2/3rds of his salary counts against the cap. So that's 2 million wasted, and 1 million to replace him with who? Robbie Earl? Kris Newbury? a 1 million dollar free agent? Is this progress or moves for the sake of moves?
Bradley Meldrew, Toronto
A: I’m not sure he’s the top candidate to get bought out. Some might believe that, but I would imagine Bryan McCabe is more of a candidate. I’m not a big fan of the buyout because it’s a last resort that doesn’t do much to benefit a team unless a player needs to be removed from the dressing room. I’m not sure the Leafs are there with Tucker, but I think they’ll try hard to get him to agree to a trade.
Q: Greetings from the UK where I am suffering through missing my first playoffs, thanks to the NHL. 2 quick questions:
1. How can the Canucks fire their GM (I think they should have kept Nonis incidentally) and hire a new one all within a week, and the Leafs can turn the same process into a year-long process that does nothing but put a struggling team in stasis, and this is somehow acceptable from either a business or sports perspective? For better or worse the Canucks can at least be putting a plan in place starting today, the Leafs not so much.
2. Why would the NHL come play a game in London and then not make their online Centre Ice service available to the UK. The purpose of these games is supposed to expand the fan base, yet anyone who went away from those games in September thinking 'geez that was great, sign me up' would have no recourse to watch NHL games, how's that for marketing?
Thanks for your always blunt and insightful commentary on the Leafs and beyond.
James Kirkpatrick, London, UK
A: Well, for questions 1 and 2, the answer is the same. I don’t know. The Leafs seem to always make these processes more difficult and fraught with intrigue than every other team. On the Centre Ice package, it may be as simple as the NHL not having broadcast rights in Europe. I’ll check on it.
Q: Hi Damien,
I'm concerned that MLSE is so Brian Burke-obsessed that they might consider leaving Cliff Fletcher in the interim role for another year until Burke becomes available. Do you think they are that obtuse?
Also, I heard you talking about the undue influence Gino Odjick and the Courtnall brothers may have had on the changing of the guard in Vancouver. Do you think your buddy Tie Domi may have the same influence here in Toronto? Is it true his friend Mr. Tannenbaum is ready to guarantee Domi a job in the Leafs' front office, regardless of who the new G.M. is?
Ron Rogers, Toronto
A: I think Domi is undoubtedly whispering in the ears of Tanenbaum and others. Whether that gets him to a position of influence, well, no quality GM would ever agree to such a pre-condition.
On the Fletcher-Burke scenario, sure they’re that obtuse. They’ve proven it many times.
Q: Damien - love the column. Quick question out of extreme curiosity:
In a piece today (Friday) the Star claims, "It's believed Fletcher had deadline deals for Mats Sundin ... and Kaberle [for] Jeff Carter... Chris Higgins and a host of draft picks."
Wow. Who was going where? What sort of draft picks? I realize it's hindsight and hearsay, but I'm dead curious to know/lament what could have been. Moreover, with an interesting twist, how much more amazing would the Habs -Flyers series have been if Sundin and Kaberle were playing against each other?
Elliott Cappell, Toronto
A: I think several teams – Montreal, Anaheim, Vancouver – were very hot on Sundin if the Leafs were willing to move him. The Kaberle deal to Philly for Jeff Carter and a first is pretty much accepted as fact. And we know Pavel Kubina wouldn’t agree to be traded to San Jose. I would imagine there were all kinds of possible scenarios kicking around, but none came to fruition.
Q: Mr. Cox,
Whatever happened to the fat blue line experiment? I remember the AHL trying it out a handful of years ago. It might be an interesting way to keep the play alive with less offsides, and more room for D men to hold the line.
Ian Donnelly, Toronto
A: Well, I guess they decided moving the bluelines further out from the end line was a better idea, and it has worked well.
Q: Hi Damien,
If you had to one player to build your team around, who would you pick: Malkin, Crosby or Ovechkin? I'd imagine most people would choose Crosby, but Malkin and Ovechkin have made things interesting with their performances during season and in the playoffs.
Rob R., Toronto
A: Wow. This may be one of those questions to which you’d give a different answer from year-to-year. I guess I’d still say Crosby, if only because I get a stronger sense of leadership from him than the other two.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.