Thursday Mail Bag
|AP FILE PHOTO|
|Brian Burke to the Leafs could be a done deal this weekend.|
Brian Burke could be in charge of the Maple Leafs by Sunday.
It could take a little longer, but talks between the former Anaheim GM and the Leafs, or at least between Burke’s lawyer and MLSE, are clearly heating up. Burke is spending much of today hunting ducks near Vancouver, but indications are from both sides that he’s likely to receive a full-blown offer from the Leafs by Saturday as discussions to get his name on a contract move on to the fast-track.
Clearly, the speed with which Anaheim CEO Michael Schulman released Burke to talk to other clubs caught both Burke and the Leafs off guard, at least in terms of sitting down and quickly hammering out a deal. Given that the timing of his arrival in Toronto isn’t critical - it doesn’t matter, really, if it happens in two days or two weeks - both sides have some time to work with and appear to be taking advantage of it. Logistically, both Burke’s lawyer and Gord Kirke, head of the MLSE search team, have been tied up with other non-hockey matters this week, but both sides have been exchanging information on what the parameters of a contract might be, including term and autonomy, and all the members of the MLSE board have signed off on the concept on trying to hire Burke. It appears likely the Leafs won’t want to waste time haggling but instead will present Burke with a serious first offer, likely to be at least a four-year proposal and possibly longer.
If Burke does sign on this weekend, it appears increasingly likely he won’t be coming alone. His visit to Vancouver this week will include a meeting with Dave Nonis, who worked with Burke in B.C. and was hired by Burke to work in Anaheim during the summer. Nonis had meetings with the Leafs last summer over their vacant executive position, but couldn’t come to an agreement, so clearly he’s already seriously considered re-locating east.
How that would affect the Leaf front office isn’t clear. Fletcher would likely stay on a consultant capacity at least until the end of the 19-month contract he signed last January, and Joe Nieuwendyk appears likely to be part of a Burke team. Burke didn’t immediately clean house when he took over in Vancouver or Anaheim, so he may be content with bringing Nonis in without dumping those already working in Toronto.
Fletcher had said publicly he’d like the entire Burke-to-Toronto business wrapped up as soon as possible. It appears he’ll get this wish.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
Brian Burke got way too much credit for Anaheim. Chris Pronger fell into his lap, and in drafting the GM relies heavily on other staff members' hard work. His management of the cap in Anaheim has been shambolic.
Burke is a middle of the pack GM with a talent for self promotion that has inflated his worth. Isn't that a fair midpoint between the two sides of the argument?
David R., Toronto
A: Disagree, although Burke certainly doesn’t need to go out and hire a promotional firm - he is media savvy enough for three GMs. I’ve heard the Anaheim argument many times, and I just don’t buy it. Players like Sammy Pahlsson were headed out of the Ducks organization when Burke took over, and he found new roles for them. He hired Randy Carlyle as head coach when there were lots of choices out there. Re the Pronger deal, any number of teams, including the Leafs, were in the bidding for the big defenceman, and Burke closed the deal. He helped give that team an identity as a big, nasty group. I may not likely his style of hockey, but there’s no denying Burke was as much an architect of the Anaheim championship as anyone else.
Q: Love the column. I disagree with you regarding Fletcher and his work so far with the Leafs. I have been living in LA for the past five years and last year was my first chance to see the Leafs on the West Coast. Unlike the Raps or Jays who fought hard to win, the Leafs quit before the game had even begun. It was sad, especially since it seemed like half the people in the building were wearing Leafs shirts. Fast forward to this year and the club is skating and scoring and even fighting back when they are losing. It makes it fun to check the internet and watch games in progress and read the papers the next day. You can’t measure what Fletcher has done in terms of how many goals they’ve scored or how many wins. The guy has spiked the team’s water supply with hot sauce and the team is alive again. For that I say thank you Mr. Silver Fox.
Elliott Lefko West Hollywood, California
A: Well, you’re entitled to your opinion. And if you like what you’re seeing from the Leafs, Fletcher has certainly been influential. As I’ve said, I believe he’s done a capable job, so maybe we just differ in terms of the compliments we choose to use. I wouldn’t have squandered draft picks on Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg, I wouldn’t have kept Luke Schenn in the NHL this season and certainly last spring, when Fletcher was running the Leafs, it was a complete waste of time to have Justin Pogge riding the pine with the Marlies during the AHL playoffs when a Leaf youth movement was about to happen. Fletcher’s best decision was to hire Ron Wilson, and to me, that has a lot more to do with the way in which the team has hustled and refused to quit in the early going.
Q: Not sure if you answer questions on other teams but I may have seen it on occasion in here. I'm a New York Islanders fan and wondering what is your perspective of my favourite team? Is Garth Snow a legit GM and where would you rate him amongst other GM's? And aside from the young talent the Isles have in Kyle Okposo and others, who might other teams be interested in trading for. One last question, I read many good things on Rick DiPietro as being a top ten goalie and I think he's great when he plays, but outside of L.I. what do hockey minds think of him?
Thanks, John Said, London
A: I love to answer questions on all things hockey - it just seems like most people want to chat about the Leafs! On the Isles, it sure seems that, like the Leafs, they’ve done better in the early going than many thought they would. Doug Weight and Bill Guerin seem to be providing good leadership and the club looked good in sweeping Ottawa last weekend. Other than Okposo, however, the Long Island roster isn’t exactly brimming with the kinds of “A” prospects you might expect. This year’s first rounder, Josh Bailey, is still around, although he may be returned to junior.
Re DiPietro, few doubt the raw ability. His penchant to wander far and wide in search of pucks to play doesn’t sit well with some, the 15-year contract became a lightning rod for criticism and his inability to stay healthy the last three seasons has injured both his consistency and the perception of him as a top-line goalie. He’s had three operations - two knee, one hip - in the last seven months and isn’t expected back in the Islander lineup until early December.
Q: Hello Damien, I'm pretty confident that nine-out-of-ten questions coming in now are about ol' Burke so I thought I'd make things interesting and ask a couple non-Burke, non-Leaf questions:
1) With the Hockey Hall of Fame rewriting the bylaws, it seems evident that females will be finally given a fair shot at induction. Which women do you believe deserve induction?
2) A rules question. If two teams play to a 0-0 draw through regulation and overtime and get to a shootout, is the losing goalie still awarded a shutout?
Mike Itler, Montreal
A: Well, Angela James would probably be high on my list, as would Cammi Granato and Geraldine Heaney. However, there may be other women from earlier eras in the women’s game who also deserve consideration, and I can’t speak knowledgeably on who they might be. But there’s more than a few of them.
On the rules question, the answer is yes. You may recall Vesa Toskala and the Leafs lost a 1-0 shootout decision to Steve Valiquette and the Rangers on Oct. 17. Both Toskala and Valiquette were credited with shutouts.
Q: Hey Damien,
Not a lover of your articles, but not a loather of them either. I think it's good that a reporter like yourself is in Toronto, adds to to controversy like everyone else.
My question is in regards to Dominic Moore. He was putting the puck in the net and putting up assists like a great third line centre. He's great defensively, and he plays very smartly. Maybe that's the Harvard grad in him (all the Moore's, Steve too, went there). Why is he constantly being pushed down to a fourth line centre role, when I, and I'm sure many, would love him as a third line, responsible, centre-man?
In addition, what is your view on Mayers? He seems like a solid 4th, maybe 3rd line winger, however he seems to put himself in awkward plays, and take penalties he doesn't meant to take. I don't think he's worth a 2nd round pick, however that is only what I feel visible on the ice to a fan, and I'm sure leadership means as much to the leafs at this point.
Andrew Pawlowski, Toronto/Guelph
A: On Moore, I think he’s being moved around less because of what he’s doing and more because the Leaf coaching staff is looking for answers elsewhere. That said, he’s getting his minutes (15:27 per) and is a favourite of Ron Wilson’s. He doesn’t have the offensive upside of Mikhail Grabovski or Matt Stajan, so he’s unlikely to get more ice than other of those two, but he’s probably moved ahead of Alex Steen on the depth chart of late.
Re Mayers, it was a third round pick, for clarification. I think Wilson would like him to be more physical in terms of the forecheck, and his minus-9 while averaging less than 10 minutes per game isn’t going to make any coach happy.
I have a question about the potential of this current Leaf squad. Everyone says this team is years away from contention, but I just don't see it that way. I'm sure you would agree that Grabovsky, Kulemin and Hagman make an excellent second line. That said, with Antropov seemingly finding his stride as a top six forward and a host of quality third and forth liners to choose from, aren't the Leafs two star forwards away from contention? I can't believe that there are many teams with a stronger defence core one thru six with Kaberle, Kubina and an improving Luke Schenn. If that's so, couldn't the Leafs sign two big money free agents ($10-15 mil per season) and contend next year? Dumping Blake would surely fre eup enough cap space. Am I overrating the talent? Am I missing something? Love to hear your thoughts.
Moe Green, Austin, TX
A: Two star forwards away from contention is a long, long way, and given his contractual situation, Antropov will be gone by March, so they’ll need three such forwards. And I do believe you are vastly overrating the talent, particularly the blueline talent. Neither Kubina nor Kaberle are having strong seasons, and if you notice, Kubina’s ice time has been dropping drastically in recent games. This is not a strong defence, and it will take some time to build it around Schenn. Jeff Finger appears solid, but unless Carlo Colaiacovo responds to Wilson’s tough love program, there’s little A-list talent on the backend.
So no, I don’t think they can “contend” next year, if you mean contend for the Cup.
Q: Hey Damien,
I thought I would give you a break this week by not asking a Brian Burke related question. I just read that the Sens might be looking to break up their big three in order to facilitate a shakeup of sorts with that team. I've always took an issue with Jason Spezza as I find him to be completely unmotivated and everytime I see him in interviews (win, lose or last place) with this goofy smile on his face thinking (and talking) that everything is ok? I would think he should be the first to go if Ottawa has a shakeup. Your thoughts?
Also, I know that for a long time Ottawa is/was known as a speedy team that could score but lacked toughness (until they got Chara and after he left). Is there something to the culture of the organization that might make things a bit too comfortable for players (ala the Maple Leafs and the Country Club atmosphere)?
Rob Kirsic, Brampton, Ont.
A: I don’t think Spezza’s going anywhere. They’ve committed $80 million to he and Dany Heatley over the next five years. Spezza’s their No. 1 centre, and with Mike Fisher out now, they don’t have a second or third line pivot capable to putting up numbers.
I can’t say about the culture, although it seems the party atmosphere got a bit out of control. I just believe this is a team that used to have great mobility and passing ability on the backend, but doesn’t anymore, leaving their talented forwards without the puck in places that will allow them to be successful. Why they broke up the blueline corps that got them to the Stanley Cup final is a mystery.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
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