Thursday Mail Bag
So there you have it – apparently Justin Pogge is capable of playing in the AHL playoffs.
Too bad the Marlies decided to wait 17 games to find out, 'cause it sure would have been an interesting spring story to watch develop had the decision not been made to let Pogge watch most every night.
I'm thinking maybe a few more fans would have been interested in journeying down to the Ricoh, as well. But the good news, at least for one game, was that Pogge was solid in a 6-1 victory over the Chicago Wolves on Wednesday night, a performance that should give members of the Leaf Nation just a little sliver of hope moving forward.
Having dealt away fellow goaltending prospect Tukka Rask, the Leafs really, really need Pogge to be a player. If he is, and if Jiri Tlusty and Nikolai Kulemin can make the NHL grade, then at least you have the beginnings of a base of young players in addition to Alex Steen, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo.
Add in a few draft picks next month, and the path towards eventual improvement starts to take shape.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
I have a hard time understanding or accepting the notion that MLSE suits are "calling the shots". I would accept a notion like yours if the Leafs were selling out the ACC every night yet were spending the minimum on salaries - this would be the optimal strategy for maximizing shareholder return. Clearly it is in MLSE shareholder interest to win the Cup or at least go deep into the playoffs.
I think it is more about general incompetence and inexperience in the GM and president role that explains why the Leafs have done so poorly lately. How can the suits be calling the shots when spending the maximum on player's salaries under the salary cap?
John Mullrooney, Calgary
A: Well, a couple of thoughts. First, if the “suits” – meaning the MLSE board – have to approve all major trades, hirings and firings, then they are calling the shots, rather than the hockey people. Whether or not the board wants to win or not isn’t the point. The point is that winning isn’t their primary focus, making money is. That’s partly why they went cheap on a rookie GM like John Ferguson, and partly why they weren’t inclined to open the vault to pay Scotty Bowman last summer. Paying the players is the only area of team spending, don’t forget, that is capped. The Leafs could spend huge amounts on hockey personnel, scouts etc., but they choose not to. Finally, I do agree its probably less about wanting to win and more about not having the first clue how to go about it. For evidence, well, just look at their current search for a president/GM.
Q: Hi Damien:
Do you think the Ottawa Senators' window to win the Cup with the current roster is up? Was advancing to the finals last year the last gasp of that talented group, before total restructuring begins, especially given the rise of Pitt and Philly in the East?
Stu Royal, Brampton
A: Sure looks that way. They’ve got a lot of money tied up in Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, both of whom have struggled to perform in the playoffs. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is aging. The goaltending remains completely uncertain. Wade Redden appears finished as a Senator. No matter what, this team is going to change.
Q: Hi Damien,
With all this talk about the Leafs looking for a new GM, have you ever given any thought of possibly throwing your hat in the ring?
Also, out of curiousity (and in all seriousness), if you were the new GM what are the first 5 things you would do to try and improve this hockey club?
Cory Schneider, Oakville
A: Uh, no. I have way too much respect for experienced hockey people to ever imagine I could do their job. Even MLSE isn’t that dumb, although the expense account would be nice.
The first five things? Hmmm. Probably put a five-year ban on trading first round picks, disband the Muskoka Five as quickly as possible, offer Mats Sundin a one-year contract at $7 million that doesn’t include a no-trade clause, invest in building up the scouting staff and tell the board we’ll discuss our progress in April, 2010.
Q: Quick question. Fabian Brunstrom I am assuming he is Swedish (I may be wrong) with the Swedish team at the worlds missing some big names (Forseberg, Alfredsson, Sundin, Holmstrom etc) why is he not on the roster? If he is such a prospect I would think he should be there. My guess is he has been over-hyped?
Keith Kerfoot, Guelph , Ont.
A: Who knows? Lots of guys don’t play on those teams and become good NHLers. We’ll just have to wait and see how Brunnstrom fares when he dips his toe in NHL waters.
Q: Damien, Canada's D prospects for Vancouver have me nervous.
I mean, I think we have a really excellent group who’ll be under 25 available for the tournament, but what happened to the defencemen we’ve put out the past 10 drafts?
For years we had the luxury of watching MacInnis, Bourque and Stevens pass the torch to Niedermeyer, Blake, and Pronger. It just seems like there’s a generation of D that are either in a collective slump, or just aren’t that good.
Wade Redden, Ed Jovanovski, Eric Brewer, Robyn Regehr, Bryan McCabe, and Jay Bouwmeester have all been appointed to the Olympic roster before, but they are all question marks to make 2010.
Brian Campbell, Chris Phillips, Brad Stuart, Dan Hamhuis, Francois Beauchemin, Barrett Jackman, Dan Boyle and others are possibilities, but none of them are of the same Norris trophy calibre as our previous veteran Blueliners.
Could we seriously go with a young defence corps of Burns, Phaneuf, Green, Staal, and Coburn, as the core? Other young players like Wideman, Weber, Letang and Keith may also step up between now and 2010. So should I be happy that it looks like Canada is producing young top level defencemen, or worried that there won’t likely be a veteran pair to play in the last minute with a one goal lead?
Johnny Bups, Brampton
A: Well, by 2010 many of the young defencemen you’re talking about will have another full year’s experience under their belt. Pronger should still be around, and otherwise there’s oodles of blueline talent for Canada to choose from. Their toughest choices are going to be at forward, in goal and deciding on a head coach.
Q: Hey Damien,
I have seen about six games of the IIHF championships here in Halifax and I have to say the NHL would do much better with European fan support.
Latfia, Germany, Slovakia to name a few have been unbelievably supported by a small but ruckus few- sometimes into the thousands and all of whom have been well behaved.
I know Canadians are capable of this - look at Toronto FC and their fans which I am sure many of them are born and raised in Canada. The hockey has been good - not always great - but the European fan support has been unbelievable.
I do appreciate the money is in the U.S. but what about expansion to Europe? I can’t see a flight taking much longer than NY to LA vs. NY to London. Perhaps Basillie can manage that one.
Glen McMinn, Halifax
A: Glen, I agree the European support for some of those countries has been amazing. But quite frankly, so is the support for many teams in their home markets, both in the U.S. and Canada. I don’t think North American fans need to take any lessons from Euro fans – well, maybe Leaf fans. As far as expansion to Europe, I just can’t see it happening any time soon.
Q: Hi Damien. I get the feeling that Mr. Fletcher is getting comfortable in the GM's chair and that he'll continue in that role for all of next season. Do you agree and would this be a good or bad thing?
And finally, are there any untouchables on the Leaf roster?
Dave Hurley, Belleville , Ont.
A: I think Fletcher may hang around, I think it’s a very bad thing for a team that desperately needs direction and a plan of action; and there isn’t a single Leaf currently on the roster you could call untouchable.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.