Bonus Mail Bag
Nothing like a trade to stir up debate. Not that there’s ever a need to try and stir up debate when it comes to the Maple Leafs, still by far the greatest focal point of GTA fan intensity.
So we thought we’d mix things up a bit today with a Tuesday mail bag, giving you, the reader, some extra opportunity to get things off your chest and offer up a query or two. Every week, unfortunately, we get a lot more questions than we are able to publish, so an extra mail bag here and there is probably a good idea. Sometimes readers seem frustrated with simply being able to comment on the blog, but sometimes I really think people need to be able to speak their minds without me responding or commenting in either way.
So hopefully between the blog and a few extra mail bags, we can keep everybody happy. It’s not easy, though!
So the Lee Stempniak era begins, just in time to see the beginning of the Brian Burke era. Outside of this specific deal, I actually quite like Stempniak as a player. Good shot, good wheels, pretty creative. A lower draft choice who worked his way to the NHL, a story people always like.
The problem is, of course, that players aren’t rated in a vacuum, but rather, when traded, in terms of their salaries, the players for whom they are dealt, the needs of their new teams and their upside.
That’s where it gets a bit tricker here. And for me, it’s very difficult to get past the fact that Cliff Fletcher is pulling the trigger on deals while the team finishes its negotiations with Brian Burke. It’s just weird.
That said, it was interesting to hear Fletcher on the FAN 590 this morning with Gord Stellick and Don Landry saying he believes it would be a “great move” for the Leafs to sign Burke and put him in charge of the hockey club.
That’s a pretty classy comment from a veteran hockey man who has clearly been enjoying his last kick at the can. Can’t say I agree with much of what Fletcher has done, but to clear the path for Burke’s coronation in that way requires a selflessness that’s pretty impressive.
Now on to this week’s bonus mail bag:
Q: What the heck? better yet, WHO the heck is Lee Stempniak?
Are the Leafs giving up on getting Burke? why would Fletcher pull the trigger on a deal right now before, most likely, a new boss has the chance to come in a view his assets.
Sure, it was highly likely Burke would have traded Steen, A Canadian born Euro, "Euro" being a 4 letter word in Burke's dictionary. This was a player, touted at one point by the media as possible the successor to Mats Sundin's captaincy. He has not played well, on a team that's not playing well. I'm not sure if the timing is right.
Colaiacovo obviously does not fit into Burke's concept of a "Big Tough Defenceman" what with his frequent and sometimes bizarre injuries, but he still had so much potential. I remember his first Leafs camp, and the excitement around him. I remember him being embarrassed by Pavel Bure, the Russian Rocket, but that was to be expected.
They blame his bench warming, and lower production, and probably his current injury, on a lack of conditioning. Is St. Louis about to get its own steal a la Kyle Wellwood in Vancouver? Conditioning is something that can directly be affected and improved between a player and his coaches/trainers. The Leafs need to learn this.
Stempniak is almost a point per game player, but appears to be more of a play maker with only 3 goals, and I don't think we need another player who can pass.
I don't like this trade. I think the timing absolutely stinks. While others had given up on Steen ever producing up to his potential, or Colaiacovo ever playing close to 82 games in a single, I think not only is it too early, it should be decided by Burke, or whoever the GM will be in a week or two.
And now I don't know what to do with my Steen Jersey. Maybe mail it to Fletcher and ask him to change the name on it to a player who might still be a Leaf in 3 weeks.
What's your opinion on the trade?
Arthur Bailey, Toronto
A: Well Arthur, this one’s got you worked up, and I don’t blame you. The difficulty is trying to separate the various issues, from Stempniak’s value, the decision to cut Colaiacovo and Steen loose, the needs of the team, the overall direction/philosophy of the Leafs and the logic of letting Fletcher make deals. So let’s try.
For starters, Stempniak’s a solid hockey player who has scored 27 goals in the league but dropped to 13 last season. He’s making $2.5 million this year and jumps to $3.5 million next year, and then becomes an unrestricted free agent. He should add offence to the Leafs, but that’s not really their biggest need at the moment. He’s a good power play guy, but the power play’s been working pretty effectively. Steen was actually making Ron Wilson happy with his concientious defensive play, so its a move that seems largely short-term in nature but runs counter to the apparent needs of the team.
With former first round picks, it’s hard to know when its time to stop being patient and realize players just aren’t going to blossom. The Leafs have made that decision with Steen and Colaiacovo, and they’ve had many years to look closely at this pair and evaluate them. Neither was drafted by the current adminstration, which makes it easier to cut them loose. Just as you don’t really know whether Stempniak will flourish in Toronto, you don’t really know whether the ex-Leafs will find new life in St. Louis. But given the overall direction of the Leafs, it seems to me that this was not the time for this deal, and that dumping former first round picks should have been a decision for Burke, not Fletcher. More specifically, right now is not the time to be making swaps designed to make the team more competitive immediately, particularly without a full-time GM in place to articulate a long-term plan. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked if Burke gave a wink to this deal, or at least, that Fletcher was smart enough to at least run it past him under the guise of simply asking another hockey executive about a player, which NHL managers do all the time.
As far as your Steen jersey, keep wearing it. The ACC is filled with folks wearing the numbers and names of players who were once their personal heroes with the Leafs. Unfortunately, this has not been an organization where players stick around, or are allowed to stick around, very long.
Q: Hey Damien,
Why are some people trying to make Brian Burke out to be some sort of European-hating Don Cherry clone? I understand that he restocked the Ducks with mostly Canadian players but what about all the Swedes he hung onto in Vancouver? Besides, it's a little rude to suggest Burke would dismiss Grabovski (who's leading all rookies in goals right now) just because he's European.
Personally, I'd think we should be more weary of Burke's blind loyalty. Yes it's an admirable quality but do we really need to see Bertuzzi, Morrison, Brad May or Dan Cloutier in blue and white?
Prider, Summerside, PEI
A: With Burke, I think its more a question of the style of player he prefers as opposed to the nationality. In Anaheim, for example, he loved Sammy Pahlson, a Swede, because of his hard-nosed approach. Burke does believe that size matters, but at the same time valued a player like Andy McDonald with the Ducks. He just doesn’t want too many small players who he believes can’t play the aggressive style he prefers. He’d sign a player from Peru or Luxembourg if the guy could scrap.
He does seem uniquely loyal to players who have skated for him in the past. May did pan out for him when he joined the Ducks, while Bertuzzi didn’t, and Morrison hasn’t yet. Cloutier was the recipient of endless opportunities when Burke ran the Canucks, but all GMs have players they believe in. In this case, Burke was wrong, or at least, Cloutier couldn’t stay healthy long enough to prove him right.
Q: It seems everyone is talking as if Brian Burke is the second coming and all of a sudden it will start raining rainbows and lollipops in the Burke era. I do realize he is a great hockey mind but what does he really have to dangle in front of the other GM's at the trade deadline and is there really anything realistically available that the Leafs can afford as far as players in other cities who want out of their situations (think Kovalchuk,etc.) Can he really do anything initially. I have been away from Toronto for a long time but has anything really changed? I do not get much info on the Marlies or other minor leaguers or anyone who could be trade bait. What is the first thing he should do?
Chris Hall, Green Bay. WI
A: This was always going to be a project that would take time, whether it was Fletcher, Burke or a reincarnation of Hap Day. He has some assets he can move - Nik Antropov, Tomas Kaberle, Vesa Toskala, Pavel Kubina - for futures before the trade deadline. You can believe he’ll try to make the team tougher ASAP. But this rebuild will really kick into gear next June when the Leafs get another top five pick - Burke will work overtime to make sure that happens - and he starts to build the kind of team he wants.
Q: Hi Damien,
This isn't so much a question as an invitation to comment. I share your view of the NHL's laughably haphazard policy on hitting from behind. They punish the consequences of the action, not the action itself. Jason Blake gets creamed from behind and the offender (I've forgotten who it was) gets two minutes. Tom Kostopoulos does the same thing to Van Ryn and gets 3 games because Van Ryn got hurt. There is zero consistency.
Here's my proposal as to what the NHL should do if it wants to get serious about this question: Create a new penalty, "hitting from behind", instead of just assigning a boarding penalty; the new penalty would carry an automatic game misconduct and five minute penalty as all hits from behind should be treated as attempts to injure; assign an automatic three-game suspension when a player gets a second hitting from behind penalty within two years, a six-game suspension for a third, a twelve-game suspension for a fourth, and a year-long suspension for a fifth; in addition to these minimum penalties allow the NHL discretion to review particularly egregious offenses in order to apply even stricter penalties if necessary.
So what do you think?
Geoff Read, Thunder Bay, Ont.
A: I like the way you think. Look, it’s simple. If the NHL wanted to get rid of hitting from behind, it could, just as it rid itself of bench clearing brawls and, more recently, the plague of hooking. But NHL officials worry terribly about anything that would reduce hitting in the league, so they let the hitting from behind and the head shots continue.
Q: Hi Damien,
I'm a frequent reader and I have a question about the Sundin situation. Assuming that he does sign with a team in the next month or so, what domino's do you expect to fall after he's made his decision? Surely teams like Montreal, Vancouver, N.Y. Rangers, Chicago, and Philadelphia must shed salary to make room after winning the Sundin Sweepstakes, or seeking out their consolation prize whoever that may be.
Daniel P., Toronto
A: The longer the season goes, the less of a cap hit Sundin is likely to represent, so the less “shedding” the team that can convince him to play again will have to do. If he does sign, it will have a ripple effect, as always happens when a marquee player joins a new NHL team with the playoffs in sight.
Q: Hello Damien,
I went to my first Leafs game of the season just the other day vs. Boston (my second ever at ACC, Leafs out played Bruins despite the loss). I couldn't help but notice how slow Tomas Kaberle played. I don't know if he is still feeling the effects of the concussion he received from a New Jersey player a few years ago, but this is not the same Kaberle. I know there is a window of oppertunity that would allow the Leafs to deal him, I say if someone wants him - make the trade! What do you think?
Johnny DiIorio, North York, ON
A: He hasn’t been the same since he was clocked by Cam Janssen, although he was pretty good at times last year. Kaberle should realize now is the time to go and waive his no-trade. I believe Burke will convince him of that.
Q: What has happened to Anton Stralman? At the end of last year he looked so poised to breakout.
Patrick Savoury, Rose Blanche, NL
A: I think what happened with Stralman is what happens with many young Leafs - people exaggerate signs of promise and expect that a prospect will become a proven player in no time flat. Stralman had a lot of trouble with his defensive game last year and that hasn’t changed. He has skills, particularly speed, but until he can be trusted when the other team has the puck, he’s going to have a hard time staying in the lineup.
Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
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