Thursday Mail Bag
So how do the Maple Leafs like Scott Clemmensen now?
It was bad enough that the Leafs let Kyle Wellwood go for nothing, and currently he has more goals than any Toronto player.
Bring that one up, of course, and the Cliff Fletcher apologists immediately rise up, tell you 28 other teams could have had Wellwood and passed and argue that Wellwood’s magic won’t last.
Fair points. But they still got nothing for him.
Now Clemmensen, the goalie they just wouldn’t give a chance to in Toronto except for one quick stint with the big club, is rocking The Rock in New Jersey at precisely the same time the Leafs are considering exactly when Justin Pogge will be summoned from the Marlies to make his NHL debut.
At the NHL level, the Leafs’ goaltending this season has been, well, unsatisfactory. Some would say lousy. Both goalies, Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph, are allowing more than three goals a game, and neither is close to owning a .900 save percentage, sort of the benchmark before you can even talk about somebody being a quality NHL puckstopper.
Joseph, at 41, is basically done after a long and terrific career. Fletcher brought him back largely as a sentimental sop to suffering Leaf fans, and in just over 227 minutes of play, he’s already lost the confidence of Ron Wilson in the same way Andrew Raycroft became unplayable in the eyes of Paul Maurice.
Clemmensen, meanwhile, was shuffled out of the Leaf organization last summer despite the fact Marlies coach Greg Gilbert decided he was better than Pogge for the club’s long playoff run last spring. It may not have made much organizational sense to play the 31-year-old Clemmensen over the kid, but it sure made a statement.
Now, with Martin Brodeur out and Kevin Weekes apparently unable to assume the No. 1 spot, Clemmensen has jumped in and won seven of eight games, essentially giving Jersey the kind of cavalry in the crease the Leafs would love to have.
And before you say that it’s easier to play goal with the Devils than the Leafs, check out the numbers. Clemmensen has faced more shots-per-minute-played than Toskala this season.
He played in three games for the Leafs last season, including winning a memorable shootout against Tampa Bay on New Year’s Day. But when he faltered in his next stop against Pittsburgh, that was it.
“I never saw the NHL again the rest of the year,” he told the New York Times in a recent interview. “It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.” Clemmensen has now beaten Pittsburgh, Montreal and Philly in succession, allowing four goals on 84 shots for a sensational .952 save percentage. He may get a chance to face the Leafs next Tuesday when the Devils come to town.
Of course, it’s true, 28 teams other than New Jersey and Toronto could have grabbed Clemmensen last summer, and didn’t. Guess that means the Teflon Caretaker is off the hook for that one as well, although paying Joseph $700,000 per season while Clemmensen makes $500,000 might make you wonder.
Sort of like how Wellwood (11 goals, $950,000) seems to be better value than Lee Stempniak (4 goals, $2.5 million this season, $3.5 million next season). Of course, while Wellwood cost Vancouver nothing, Stempniak was acquired at the cost of two former first round picks, Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo.
Interesting roster management for a team with a thin talent cupboard.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Explain to me why saying something crude and insulting warrants a six game suspension and trying to take someone's head off by driving it into the boards, causing broken noses and concussions, only warrants a three game suspension. Am I missing something here?
Jack Gallop, Thornhill
A: I think they are completely separate issues. One’s a hockey play, the other’s an off-ice incident involving a player, Avery, who has repeatedly shown he’s unwilling to adhere to anyone’s code of proper conduct. It would be like comparing Tom Kostopolous’ suspension, which I think you’re referring to, to Mark Bell’s 15-game ban for his drinking-and-driving conviction.
You can certainly argue whether Kostopolous should have received a more severe suspension. But comparing his offence with Avery’s idiocy is comparing apples and oranges. They just aren’t about the same thing.
Q: Hi Damien,
Now that Sean Avery has reopened the NHL "Trash Talking" discussion, do you think there's a need for legal authorities or the Human Rights Commission to get move involved in policing what is said during NHL games? After all, the ice surface constitutes a de facto "workplace".
Brian A., Toronto
A: No, there’s no need. I don’t see significant abuse of minority groups during NHL games, and most would agree trash-talking has always been part of sports, and always would be. I really don’t know how you properly police this stuff. I mean, now Ryan Miller’s upset because he says a referee swore at him. For the most part, it’s all just talk and more properly ignored than policed. That said, Avery took his stupidity purposely to the airwaves, and it cost him.
Q: Hey Damien! Happy holidays!
It seems probable that the Stars have no interest in having Sean Avery rejoin the team. Since their contract length and salary cap commitments are virtually identical, would a Sean Avery plus a mid-round pick for Jason Blake trade make sense for the Leafs? Yes, Avery is not much of a humanoid, and it really is more one headache for another, but Avery at least offers the Leafs something they lack and want in toughness, whereas Blake projects to being a complete non-factor for the remainder of his contract. The Burke/Wilson combo might be the most capable in the league of keeping Avery on a short leash. And if he gets out of line and disrupts the locker room, it would be fun to see him line up against Peters, Laraque, Lucic and Neil about 30 times a year. Would it be worth it to "buy" the draft pick, since both players look like candidates for either buyouts or assignments to the minors for the remainder of their contracts.
Uushnu Zoquo, Owen Sound, Ont.
A: Happy holidays to you, as well.
You concept isn’t as crazy as it seems, at least in terms of the notion that taking on a Avery could, in theory, gain the Leafs a draft pick they don’t currently own. That’s the No. 1 priority for Brian Burke - getting back some or all of the picks that have been sacrificed.
But while I like the philosophy, I just don’t think Avery would be worth it. Every move the Leafs make over the next year or two has to be seen through the prism of how does it allow them to develop a championship team over the next five to six seasons. In this case, does having a player like Avery around Luke Schenn help Schenn develop as a professional in the same way having Rob Blake on the San Jose Sharks advances the development of Marc-Edourd Vlasic, Devin Setoguchi and other young Sharks players? I don’t think so. Avery is toxic, and even the acquisition of a draft pick wouldn’t make it worthwhile.
Would Burke find Avery an intriguing asset? Not a chance.
Since the Blackhawks want to get rid of (Nikolai) Khabibulin to clear room for some other deals/players, why don't the leafs offer to take him off there hands and try to get a pick or a prospect for their trouble? Chicago needs the cap room and the Leafs have the room. Khabibulin's contract ends at the end of the year, so maybe get something for nothing. Would this type of deal occur?
David Jackson, Mississauga
A: This goes to the same issue as the previous question, and this is definitely the kind of deal the Leafs are looking at, deals that would allow them to use their cap space as an asset. Could you make it a larger deal by including Toskala, and then running with Khabibulin for the rest of the year? All options are on the table for Burke.
A real Leaf-hockey-flavoured question, if you don't mind. The Leafs have seemed easily outmaneuvered in their own zone this year by big teams aggressively cycling the puck. What is the reason for this? This team is fast and yet they frequently lose puck-races down low. When they get there they often make bad decisions. It seems that they are unable to anticipate the flow of play well. I know they transformed from an "unusual" man-on-man D under Maurice the last two years, could that be part of the problem? Or is it just that they lack players with good on-ice awareness and puck handling skills?
And/or a related follow up:
What is wrong with Kaberle this season? He's a guy who you'd think - with the right fire in his belly - could really take charge offensively. Could it be that Wilson's thinly veiled insults have sapped some of his precious confidence (no sarcasm intended)? He's just been so tentative lately. Often so highly regarded in this city, do you think it might be humbling for him that he's found it difficult to adjust to Wilson's game?
Moe Green, Austin, TX
A: In terms of the Leafs’ vulnerability to the forecheck, most would acknowledge the club’s speed is mostly concentrated up front. Moreover, this concept that the Leafs have all kinds of NHL worthy blueliners is just wrong, and it’s going to continue to be wrong no matter how often various writers and reporters continue to parrot the idea. Most of these guys aren’t that good or that nimble on their feet, so they get caught. At the same time, making those plays effectively requires co-ordination with teammates and confidence that they’ll be in the right place when the other team is pressuring. Sometimes the Leafs have those qualities, and sometimes they don’t. So when you see a player like Pavel Kubina fire the puck up the boards or to an empty wing, sometimes its out of frustration that he just doesn’t know where his teammates are going to be.
Regarding Kaberle, I still believe he’s a world-class puck mover, and on a better team, he’d look a lot better. Guys who have the puck a lot on bad teams end up looking far worse that those who don’t. He’s played for a variety of coaches, both in the NHL and internationally, and I find it hard to believe that Wilson’s coaching would suddenly have a negative effect. Wilson is trying to change the Leaf culture, and he’s doing it through the team’s best players. Kaberle remains the best asset the Leafs have as possible trade bait, but I’m not so sure yet that Burke will want to make that move. That said, Kaberle’s agent is Bobby Orr, who has a good relationship with Burke. If and when the time comes, Kaberle will waive his no-trade clause and move on.
Q: Hi Damien,
With Mats Sundin still waiting to make his decision on where to play and whether to play at all, don't all his statements from last season make him look like a complete hypocrite? I remember him saying on a few occasions that he doesn't feel like joining a team in the middle of a season is the right way to win a championship. I love Mats as a player and I don't feel like he owes anything to Toronto, but by signing somewhere in the middle of the season, it sure looks like he held us back from getting a sizable return by trading him last season based on "principles" that he doesn't actually hold.
Varun Chakravorty, Brampton
A: I think Sundin said those things last season. Then, after a summer and fall of reflection, he may feel differently. That’s his prerogative. Also, don’t forget, it’s the Leafs who have now ruled him out, not the other way around.
The team gave him a no-trade contract and clearly it was his intention to honour that deal even if the Leafs didn’t want to. I just don’t think it can be held against him that he wanted to finish last season with the Leafs, regardless of what his future may hold.
Q: A question, a request, and a thought Damien.
In any sport (hockey, baseball, basketball) when a coach is fired is he paid all the money owing to him on the contract, and still allowed to sign somewhere else doing the same job (thus collecting 2 pays), or if he signs somewhere else, does this negate his previous contract totally? Why are the Leafs still paying Maurice when he now works for Carolina, and why would Sam Mitchell want to look for another job? As for my request could you do a breakdown of management salaries for teams say comparing The Leafs and The Raptor management payrolls as well as the Leafs compared to the Detroit Red Wings. Please list the positions, and names of the people in these positions. This would make for an interesting article, especially for the Leafs now with so many new people in the management end. I'm sure Detroit gets more bang for their buck!
And my thought. Wouldn't it be great if all sports teams gave 1 year, or no more than 2 year contracts, as well as no no-trade clauses. All teams would be held to the same rules so you can't say that one team has any advantage over another in signing players or keeping players that are overpaid for the long term. The players true value would be based on their yearly performance.
Angelo Romanin, Woodbridge
A: Well Angelo, for starters coaches who get fired then get new jobs often release their previous team from any contractual obligation. It ends up being a wash, with their new contract with their new team taking over from the old deal. But there are no written rules, and if the Leafs hadn’t been willing to continue to pay most of Maurice’s deal, Carolina wouldn’t have hired him again. You can’t get compensation for coaches or executives any more, and in Burke’s mind, he didn’t want to unnecessarily keep Maurice out of the NHL.
I can’t give you the breakdown of management salaries for NHL clubs, let alone ones comparing NHL teams with NBA teams. It’s just not available, and while I can tell you that Detroit GM Ken Holland makes about $1.4 million per season, I have no idea what the salaries are for people like Jimmy Devellano, Jim Nill and Steve Yzerman. For the Leafs, the total salaries for Burke, Dave Nonis, Jeff Jackson, Joe Nieuwendyk, Al Coates and Cliff Fletcher is probably between $5-6 million, but that’s just an estimate. Nobody, for example, can tell you what the combined salaries are of Lou Lamoriello and Brent Sutter in New Jersey. So what you’re interested in just isn’t really available.
Finally, all one-year contracts without no-trade provisions might make the NHL simpler, but it’s not within the realm of possibility.
Q: In regards to Burke acquiring picks and prospects for current Leafs with value on the trade market, what balance you think he will try to achieve with respect to holding onto enough good players for a "transition" phase vs. a more extensive overhaul.
In looking at their roster I see four players who might reasonably fetch a pick and a prospect (Kaberle, Kubina, Antropov and possibly Stajan); and four who could fetch one or the other (Stempniak, Finger, Pony and White).
Richard Coutts, Winnipeg
A: My guess is that Burke will move all he can, with Luke Schenn the only untouchable. But he won’t move players just to get them out of town a la Bryan McCabe. So let’s say he moves Antropov. He’ll then only move Kaberle if he gets a really sweet deal. For all these guys, he’ll set a price, and if other teams meet that price, they’ll be gone.
Q: Hi Damien,
To take a break from Burke-mania, I have a question that has stumped me for a while and would like your thoughts. The question has to do with Keith Acton and how he seems to be the only assistant that has not been let go when the Leafs have made wholesale coaching changes. He survived when Pat Quinn and team were fired and he survived when Maurice and team were let go.
He is supposed to be a defensive specialist and teams under these coaches have never really flourished on the defensive end be it 5 on 5 or on the PK. What's the story with this guy?
Anthony Bossio, Toronto
A: Acton seems to be a well-respected coach around hockey. He and Wilson played together in Minnesota. And while Rick Ley was surgically attached to Pat Quinn and Randy Ladouceur has long been associated with Paul Maurice, Acton has never been singularly linked with one head coach. That’s allowed him to stay put, similar to Kevin McCarthy in Carolina.
Q: Hi Damien, love the columns and editorials.
Here's a short question: given that Ottawa seems to have gone the route of the post-Cup winning Lightning (one top-flight line and diminishing assets across the board everywhere else), which team has more upside now, the rebuilding Leafs or the sputtering Sens?
David Hedley, Toronto
A: Intriguing question. The Sens clearly have quality assets the Leafs don’t have, including Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. That said, Ottawa management seems to be hanging on to the belief that the current core will succeed, and that doesn’t seem likely. So while Ottawa has significantly more individual talent now, the advantage the Leafs may have is that they’ve already realized the time has come to rebuild and will accelerate that process under Burke. Until the Sens realize that they can’t win with what they have, they’ll be in danger of falling behind Toronto down the road.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.Click here to submit a question.
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