Thursday Mail Bag
A couple of months ago, I wrote that the worst possible scenario for the Maple Leafs was that Mats Sundin wouldn’t be traded for prospects/draft picks, and then would walk away for nothing at season’s end.
Boy, was I wrong.
The worst case scenario, it would seem, is that Sundin wouldn’t be traded (he wasn’t), he will leave the Leafs (he might), no one with credibility in the hockey world will be interesting in coming to work for the Leafs’ hockey office (they don’t seem to be) and Richard Peddie, rather than losing his presidency, will instead emerge stronger and more influential with the hockey club than ever before (he sure seems to be).
How this turns out well remains a mystery. Peddie has angled himself rather well on this one, seemingly putting himself back in charge of assembling a management team "for the ages."
Can you believe the crap this guy spews?
As a veteran NHL executive said yesterday, "Why do the Leafs always have to try and re-invent the wheel?"
In Cliff Fletcher, Peddie has clearly found a willing ally in this nonsense, someone willing to pretend all of this is business as usual while collecting a management pay cheque he could not possibly have hoped to collect at this stage of his long hockey career.
So Peddie keeps his power, Fletcher gets to run a team again and Sundin starts musing publicly about looking for somewhere else to play.
Forty-one years and counting. . .
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: So it comes out that the Leafs are going to assemble a management "team"...because that worked so well in Toronto last time. No wait, it didn't. It planted the seeds for a series of power struggles that lasted what, 7 years?
Meanwhile, it also comes out that the coach may be hired before the GM...because that worked so well in Toronto last time. No wait, it didn't. It planted the seeds for a power struggle that lasted 3 more years.
I hate being pessimistic, but why are we going down both those roads again... *simultaneously*? How can that possibly work? Are the two bad mojos going to cancel each other out or something?
Saul Bottcher, Brampton
A: One thing that’s always important to remember about the Leafs – they never learn from history.
Q: Damien: now that the Memorial Cup is over and the Kitchener Rangers lost to a fantastic Spokane team, I have to wonder: what happens to Justin Azevedo now?
This kid collected enough individual hardware to fill a Home Depot, along with several league bests: OHL leading score; OHL MVP; OHL leading playoff scorer; CHL Leading scorer; CHL MVP ... am I missing anything?
But he is 5'8". I thought the 'new' NHL wasn't so obsessed with size. Lets put this into perspective: he was better than Steve Stamkos this year; he was better than John Tavares this year; he lead a team that until it cooled off two weeks ago was the hottest major junior team in the country, and yet he has been passed over in two drafts.
Will he go undrafted again in Ottawa this June?
Todd Caslick, Kitchener, Ont.
A: Who knows? Johan Franzen was passed over in six NHL drafts, and last night he was the best player on the ice in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. Whether he gets drafted or not, Azevedo will get his chance somewhere. The road is just probably going to be harder and longer. That’s hockey.
Q: Hi Damien,
I was just wondering what the NHL thinks about all the Burke to Toronto rumours? Certainly it has created some terrible optics for the league. What if (and I know it's hard to imagine...) the Leafs are terrible next year and the Ducks are good. Can you imagine how it would look if the teams swung a deal at the trade deadline...only to have Burke show up in Toronto a couple months later? Can the NHL do anything to protect it's integrity here?
Bradley Meldrew, Toronto
A: Well, the Leafs will be terrible and the Ducks will be good. The league is monitoring this carefully, I’m sure. But as long as Anaheim wants to keep Burke to his contract, the optics will be there.
Q: Do you think that it's likely that the Leafs will draft another goaltender this year? Have you heard anything about who they may be interested in? Personally I'm a big fan of Peter Delmas, Jake Allen and Kevin Poulin, all from the QMJHL. I know that the Leafs don't scout the Q too heavily but would it be a long shot for them to take a goalie from there this year? Thanks.
A: The Leafs need quality and depth at every position, goalie included. It seems unlikely they’ll use the seventh pick overall on a netminder, but after that, its more than possible.
Q: Hi Damien,
I'm a bit nervous to ask this question because I don't want to be labelled as a Don Cherry-style Euro-basher, especially since I think Cherry is an idiot for his views on European players, and most other matters.
I was wondering when/if the media will start talking about the opportunity for Lidstrom to become the first non-North American captain to lead a Cup winner. Truthfully, I think it's pretty remarkable that no Europeans have captained a Cup winner, given how many there have been in recent years (13 out of 30 in 2006), and even moreso that Alfredson was the first to even get there (Not sure if this stat is 100% accurate or not).
So I guess the question for you: is it just a matter of time before European captains notch a few Cup wins; is there some kind of jinx at work; or is there any basis for the argument that there's a problem with the motivation of NHLers who didn't grow up watching the NHL night-in-night out while growing up? As a Leaf fan who's watched Sundin single-handedly make the Leafs better than they were, I find it hard to think it's the last option.
Jeremy Huws, Ottawa
A: Lots of people are talking about Lidstrom’s history-making opportunity. To me, its just a fluke a Euro captain hasn’t won before. Last year the Ducks dominated with Canadians; this year the Wings are the best team, and they’re loaded with Swedes. I just don’t think nationality is that big of a deal anymore.
Q: Hi Damien,
You wrote this week that one of the five things you'd do as Leafs' GM is offer Sundin a one-year contract without a no-trade clause. What if the no-trade clause is the deal-maker? Would you rather have Sundin in your line-up with a no-trade clause, or no Sundin at all?
Geoff Read, Thunder Bay, Ont.
A: If he wants a no-trade, then he gets a lot less money. But I think his value to the Leafs is as an asset they could move at the trade deadline as much as it is as a player. As I’ve written before, whether he returns or doesn’t return isn’t going to make a defining impact on the Leaf season.
Q: Hi, I was wondering why Keith Acton still has his job. How long has he been an assitant coach? Maybe he is a great guy and the players like him, but when you fire the the whole coaching staff, doesn't that mean everybody? Has he been the longest serving coach for the Leafs?
Brent Kearns, Newington, Ont.
A: He has survived two head coaches, working on his third. That happens with some guys in the NHL – Kevin McCarthy in Carolina is an example – but I agree, it’s still strange.
Q: Damien: I admit that this is probably priority number 9726 for the organization, but I'm wondering if there's any word yet on whether MLSE has brought in a (hopefully new) artist to revisit last year's woefully underdesigned uniforms.
I know, I know ... the new reebok thingies are more beneficial to the players if there are few crests and the like, but does that mean the Leafs must toil in unadorned practice sweaters for the duration of the reebok contract? Why couldn't they just leave well enough alone and keep the tops from the early and mid-'90s (before that god-awful numbering and collar tweak by Dummi and company)?
Baldy Cotton, Toronto
A: Worst uniforms in the NHL outside of Atlanta. Just blah.
Q: Perhaps you can help me with the logic of having the Leafs buy out the contracts of Raycroft, Bell and other dead wood with no no-movement clauses rather than sticking them in the minors. Yes, it would be better for the MSLE bottom line, but doesn't it just hurt the team over the long term?
John Hunt, Harvard, Ma.
A: The only danger of putting them all in the minors is they infect that team with unhappy attitudes. Otherwise, I agree. Basically, their contracts evaporate into thin air and don’t affect your cap.
Why is there so much talk about the Leafs getting "fair market value" for players like Kubina? He was a UFA signing (so they have no investment in him), and he isn't earning his money (at least, in the opinion of many), so wouldn't the best logic be to trade him for a bag of pucks and throw that money at a better defenceman, like say, Jason Smith - a guy who's twice gone deep in the playoffs with teams that shouldn't have. (Edmonton, Philly). Isn't this what Toronto needs?
Zac Kurylyk, Saint John
A: I would not agree that Jason Smith is a better defenceman at this stage of his career. Kubina’s a totally different player. With any player, if you move him, you want to get the best possible value for him. You can get something significant for Kubina.
Q: I'm a Flyers fan since way back. Not because the suspension type plays from this year, but more the Flyers who played the Oilers in the Cup finals back the late 80s. They were not considered as talented, but no team worked harder, and they never gave in.
I have 2 questions, first I will admit to being a semi-leaf fan but I do not see many players on that team that have the intensity to compete with these more talented teams - who do you see as having that drive/leadership on this team?
Second question, why does Neil Smith seem to be passed over in the GM postings? From what I remember, he did a credible job for the Rangers (won the Cup) and Sather who was a highly regarded GM in the same role has yet to even come close. What about Neil Smith keeps teams from snapping him up?
Keith Kerfoot, Guelph, Ont.
A: I think the lack of will within the players currently under contract to the Leafs is one of the stories that doesn’t get nearly enough play. These guys don’t compete, particularly the “leaders” outside of Sundin. Re Smith, well, he was second to Ferguson in ’03. The way things are going, he may get involved in this thing before its over.
Click here to send Damien a question and he'll answer a selection in his mail bag every Thursday in this space.