Thursday Mail Bag
Okay, now we have a fun new parlour game for Maple Leaf fans.
What will happen first?
Mats Sundin’s marriage? Or the hiring of a new president/GM?
My money’s on reluctant No. 13.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: We hear a lot of criticism of a lack of current Leaf prospects but one name that is rarely mentioned is their second round pick in 2006: Nikolai Kulemin. With little coverage locally one has to troll the web looking for information on him. He seems to be well-received as a prospect on the Internet.
I guess I have two questions about him. Does the hockey world share in the positive sentiments about him and, is there any chance he will be in a Leaf jersey any time soon?
Carl Hill, Toronto
A: Well, Kulemin's an interesting story. He was with the Russian national team at the world championships in Quebec City until he was cut Tuesday morning. The Russians were bringing in Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov, but there are suspicions this is a way to try and influence Kulemin not to leave Magnitigorsk next season to come to the NHL. Go to North America, the threat would go, and you can forget about playing on the national team in the future. That's the conspiratorial viewpoint. It might also be he's just not good enough, or at least he's not as good as the Leafs are hoping he's going to be. Either way, nobody will really know until he gets over to Canada and starts playing. The Leafs believe he's a power forward-type who will be able to score in the NHL. We'll see. First of all, we'll see if he gets here.
Q: Hi Damien, I've got two questions for you.
First, I was wondering what the buzz is on the Leafs' prospect Dale Mitchell. He had a slow start to the season this year but finished very strongly, and in the playoffs he has as many points and more goals than John Tavares. Have you heard anything about what the Leafs expect from this kid, and where they expect him to play next season?
I also wanted to ask about all the empty seats in the platinums at the start of each period of a Leafs game. Is the organization at all concerned about this phenomenon? It looks awful on television and it makes Maple Leaf fans look ridiculous while at the same time being a slap in the face to those who would die to be at a game but cannot afford it. Do they ever discuss strategies for putting a stop to this, such as closing the Platinum Lounge?
Salvador O'mally, Toronto
A: Mitchell’s on a temporary amateur tryout contract so he can play with the Marlies in the playoffs, but you can expect a full entry level contract to be announced very soon, possibly even today. He’s been a good junior, and his next step will be to be a good Marlie.
Re the platinums – they pay their money, more than anybody else, and they can do what they want. But it does look terrible on TV, I agree.
Q: Hi Damien,
Do you have any idea why Justin Pogge is not starting for the Marlies in the playoffs? I mean, shouldn't this kid be getting valuable experience at playoff time in preparation for his eventual leap to the NHL? I don't get it. I mean, the trade away Rask who is ranked 3rd amongst playoff goalies, and bench Pogge.
What are these guys doing?
Jeremy Lackey, Montreal
A: Well, I don’t exactly understand what they’re doing. The simple answer is that Marlie coach Greg Gilbert thinks Scott Clemmensen is better, so he’s playing him ahead of Pogge. But you really have to wonder about the organization’s priorities when its top developmental arm is clearly putting winning AHL games ahead of prospect development.
Q: Who is Fabian Brunnström and why should I care that he might sign with the club?
Andrew Stewart, Oshawa, Ont.
A: Brunnstrom’s a late-blooming Swede who currently has 25 NHL teams chasing him. He’s big, a good skater, but like Kulemin, its yet to be proven how his talents will translate to the NHL. The key points in his marketability is that he’s a free agent and he’s entitled to only an entry level contract. Teams, like most of us, love free stuff.
Q: Hi Damien: Do you feel the Leafs will keep Tucker, McCabe. Also what was all the problem with Chad Kilger. He is a physical forward, and we could have used him more this year. What do you think?
Lewis McClain, The Villages, Florida
A: I can’t imagine they’d keep both Tucker and McCabe, but anything’s possible with these guys, particularly without a new hockey boss in place. Re Kilger, he has some significant personal and family issues, and it’s not at all clear whether he’ll even be in the NHL next season.
Q: Why are you and a number of other so called hockey experts supporting Colin Campbell as a prime candidate for the Leafs GM job? He was a fringe player, a marginal coach, isn't very charismatic and has no experience as a GM. Last time I checked handing out punishment (questionable at times) wasn't a prerequisite for a NHL GM's job. You dismissed a number of other candidates claiming they didn't have the necessary GM experience. Are you now one of Gary's boys?
Brian Johnson, Moncton
A: Feeling aggressive today, eh? The Gary’s boys comment is just so silly I won’t even respond. Moreover, I don’t consider myself a hockey “expert” – I’m just a journalist who’s been covering the game awhile and who has as many opinions as most Canadian hockey fans.
Re Campbell, he’s a good man, has lots of experience and contacts, and is on their list. It doesn’t matter whether I support him or not. I think he might make a solid president as part of a team of new management blood.
Q: Hi Damien,
I don't think this is possible, otherwise I'm sure someone would have mentioned it at some point, but does the CBA allow for a player to renegotiate his contract for lesser money?
I am thinking predominately of someone like Bryan McCabe, who has been given a rough ride by Toronto fans since he signed his inflated contract. I imagine he would be viewed almost as a hero, definately a great team guy, if he gave up a chunk of his salary over the next few years in order to give the Leafs more cap room to play with. I think the fans would be willing to embrace players like McCabe, Kubina or even Raycroft if their salaries weren't so huge. Plus, especially McCabe and Kubina, the pressure of living up to the high contract would certainly be removed.
Afterall, is it really that hard to live on 3 million a year? I mean Darcy Tucker manages, doesn't he?
David Hayes, Toronto
A: The new CBA does not allow for such re-negotiation.
Q: Now that Pat Quinn has won Gold with the Canadian under 18 squad, have you changed you position that Pat can't relate to younger players? Will you finally recognize that Pat Quinn was/is one of the premier coaches in hockey? It certainly appears that Hockey Canada appreciate his talent.
Garry Bilton, Markham
A: I’d be interested to see the story or column in which I said Quinn can’t relate to younger players. Others have said that many times; I never have. In fact, I remember him bringing Tomas Kaberle and a few other young players into the Leaf operation a few years ago. So I never bought into that characterization of him.
I think he has other shortcomings as a coach. More important, it was time for the Leafs to change coaches. He’d had his run. I think congratulations are certainly in order for his efforts with the under-18 team, although I don’t know what that has to do with possible NHL work. I do, however, remember him being behind the bench in Torino when Team Canada finished seventh. . .
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com. Click here to submit a question.