Thursday Mail Bag
It’s going to be interesting to see which of these Canadian teams – Toronto or Vancouver – gets its act together most effectively by September.
So far, since firing GM Dave Nonis 31 days ago, the Canucks have hired a new GM, Mike Gillis, and a new hockey executive in retired winger Scott Mellanby.
The Leafs, since firing John Ferguson almost four months ago, have hired an interim GM, Cliff Fletcher, fired the head coach and an assistant, and formally interviewed one person – Nonis - for an undisclosed position.
Maybe the Leafs have the pace correct here. Maybe the Canucks do. We’ll see.
On another note, one of the questions in last week’s mail bag came from James Kirkpatrick of London, England, who wondered about the availability of online Centre Ice package in United Kingdom. I said I’d look into it, and here’s the official answer from the NHL’s person to ask about such matters, John Shannon:
“In the UK, Center Ice Online is offered via ESPN 360. I know that there was a delay in ESPN's launch of the service in the UK, but this had been resolved and the service had been launched by the time the playoffs started. If the games are live on NASN which is a Sports Channel in Europe with mostly North American sports, and owned by ESPN, then they will not be on-line....which is the same as here in NA.”
Hope that helps James. Now on to this week’s mail bag:
In order, who would be your top five choices to run the Leafs? Don't go all John-Ferguson-non-committal on me here, and I don't care about realistically available. 5 executives, no limitations, who would they be in order?
Johnny Bups, Brampton, Ont.
A: If I could get anybody? In order, it would be Lou Lamoriello, Ken Holland, Bob Gainey, Brian Burke and Doug Wilson.
Not very often do I notice praise or accolades from this mailbag. But after watching Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings I am amazed at how good he is, and how much is like Sundin in the way he plays and scores in front of the net. Any thoughts? I just wanted to put a positive spin on this mailbag and for shining a light on players who perform beyond the cushy confines of the ACC.
Norm Maschke, Toronto
A: Well, Franzen flew under everybody’s radar this season. It’s too bad he’s missing with concussion symptoms now because it would be interesting to see if he could stay on a roll right through the end of the playoffs. He’s another example of Detroit patience, the ability and willingness of that franchise to let players develop. A year ago, he looked like a checker. These days, he looks like the second coming of Phil Esposito.
Q: John Mitchell had a big two goal performance in Game 3 for the Marlies against Syracuse. This guy has improved a lot, now in his third season with the team. Any idea how far down the depth chart the Waterloo native is for the big club?
Terry Bridge, Waterloo, Ont.
A: All bets are off with respect to the Leaf depth chart. Maybe Mitchell gets a new look from the incoming management team, but I’m guessing that if he could have helped this year, he would have been up in the NHL. A lot of other Marlies were.
Q: Hey Damien,
What are your thoughts on the often negative portrayal of Kubina? Since he came to Toronto, I agree he hasn't perhaps lived up to his expectations but I think this is mostly due to the fact that we already have an expensive, offensive minded defenseman in McCabe. Coincidently, I think the fans would be much more appreciative of him if management had not decided to field a team with both Mccabe and Kubina. As for being overpaid, what defenseman (or hockey player for that matter) isn't?
Also, I was wondering if you know where Pilar is? I always loved watching him play, I know he was out for a while because of a heart issue (correct me if I'm wrong), but I always remember hearing that he would be back in a few months, or a season, or year, etc.
Martin Putyra, Toronto
A: I'll answer the second question first. Karel Pilar is with the AHL Chicago Wolves, who are now slated to play the Marlies in the playoffs. Pilar, as he was in Toronto, has been hurt on and off, but should play in this series.
With respect to Kubina, I don’t think he was as bad as he was portrayed to be a year ago, and I don’t think he was as good late in this season as was suggested. He is what he is, a big defenceman with a big shot who moves pretty well, isn’t as consistently physical as you’d like him to be and struggles without lots of power play time. But he competes.
Q: Hi Damien.
Two questions: 1) What is the projection for Leafs draft picks Christopher Didomenico (QMJHL 39-56-95 in 70 games - 5'11" 165-170) and Dale Mitchell (OHL 24-36-60 in 63 games - 5'9" 207).
2) Leafs have an abundance of 3rd and 4th line players in the NHL and AHL. I don't see them getting getting a top six forward via trade (multiplayer for one player) or via draft this year (best players available will probably be defencemen by the time they pick), and free agent signing is a crap shoot. Considering all of that, how do you see them improving?
William Spence, Milton, Ont.
A: Don’t know about the two kids. We’ll wait and see, but as I said earlier, the depth chart will get a new look now.
Re the future, there’s only one real way for the Leafs to do this – draft and develop. That will take time. Suggestions like signing restricted free agent Jeff Carter this summer, and surrendering one or more first round draft picks, are the kind of thinking that always stops the Leafs from really getting better. Sure, sign Carter, then lose out on another top pick next summer. Dumb. I think there’s a chance of getting a good player at No. 7 this year, and then they just have to commit to hanging on to their top picks for five years. But they probably won’t.
Regarding Jason Blake's desire to be traded. The way I see it, there are two options here now; a) find a panic trade at far less than market value to get him out of here, or b) tell him to stuff it and start earning his money.
Personally, I hope Cliff goes with option B. The guy signs a big contract, suffers through serious health concerns, and plays scared all season, and now he wants out, without proving what he can do when healthy? If the Leafs aren't going to win next season, they might as well take a stand and send a message that they're no longer tolerant of veterans looking to coast on a big paycheque into retirement.
Clark A., Scarborough
A: I like option B, too. Moreover, this is the type of player/person the Leafs have to play hardball with. Play or else enjoy minor league professional hockey. Talk about an ungrateful player.
Q: It's interesting to see the Flyers make it to the Eastern finals only the season after being the bottom team in the NHL, and perhaps scary too. Is it possible the Leafs will, unsuccessfully, try to follow the Philadelphia pattern from last summer: once again going for that quick fix back into the playoff picture. Or can we seriously expect a decent attempt at a slow but steady rebuild?
(I believe that "neither" is an option at the moment, from what I'm seeing at MLSE).
David Johnson, Orangeville, Ont.
A: They missed their chance for a quickee turnaround by being unable to unload vets at the trading deadline. Based on their history, they’ll go for the band aid fix and 50 years between Cups.
Q: Hi Damien
A question for your Thursday mailbag. With all the names being thrown around as Leafs coach (past and present) there's a name that I haven't seen talked about for any NHL coaching vacancy and I can't really figure out why. What ever happened to Larry Robinson? I think he's an assistant with New Jersey...maybe...but any idea why he just up and left coaching? I always thought - as a coach - he brought a really great mix of smart defensive hockey but with some offensive flair as well. Maybe I'm remembering it wrong.
A: Robinson signed up as a head coach under Brent Sutter with the Devils this season. The feeling is that he just couldn’t handle the grind and pressures of being a head coach, that it was just eating him up when he quit in December two years ago. Most believe he was – and is – a terrific coach, but didn’t like playing the bad guy. What a strong person to have on your coaching staff, however.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.