Thursday Mail Bag
TAMPA—The Maple Leafs waiver list is a busy place these days.
Last week, defenceman Staffan Kronwall went on re-entry waivers and was claimed by Washington, and today forward Jeremy Williams cleared waivers on his way back down to the minors to join the AHL Marlies.
Also today, the Leafs put veteran forwards Bates Battaglia and Boyd Devereaux, both of whom have been with the Marlies all season, on re-entry waivers. As with Kronwall, its more of an effort to give those players an opportunity to be claimed by other NHL teams and get back up to the big leagues.
In Kronwall's case, the Caps picked him up for half of his remaining salary while Leafs are left with only 50 per cent of the remaining balance on his $487,500 salary cap hit. If Battaglia ($675,000) or Devereaux ($575,000) is claimed, the Leafs will again be left paying half the salary and assuming half the cap hit.
If neither veteran is claimed, they’ll have to go on the Leafs’ NHL roster for at least a day or two, and its possible that they might even end up playing some games on Ron Wilson’s roster.
This is Brian Burke’s style. He lost goalies Michael Leighton and Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers while with Anaheim because he promised those players they would get the opportunity to be claimed by other NHL teams, and they were.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
I'm also not sure I understand putting Kronwall in a position to lose him on re-entry waivers. He's a borderline prospect, I agree. Losing him to waivers is bad enough (i.e. zero return), but re-entry waivers? Aren't we eating half of his salary/cap space on top of a zero return? Wouldn't it have been better to leave him in the AHL and waive him at the end of the year if you want rid of him?
Carl Hill, Toronto
A: I doubt it will reduce Antropov’s value. He’s been around for a decade, and teams know what kind of player he is. That said, if he were to get hot, he might fetch more before the March 4 trade deadline. I think Burke and Wilson are less concerned with Antropov’s points output and more bothered by his team worst plus-minus figure and overall play. Moreover, the Leafs are just not interested in signing him to a multi-year, big money deal this summer, and never have been.
On Kronwall, as explained above, Burke promised the defenceman he would be recalled at some point during the season to be put on re-entry waivers, and Burke kept his promise. This is a time of year when players are much more likely to be claimed.
Al Hanrahan, Stephenville
A: I think everybody from coaches to players gets the blame. But I think when you look at the Leaf roster, particularly absent Mike Van Ryn and Tomas Kaberle from the blueline, its just not good enough. The blown leads, to me, are about iffy goaltending – not that any of the goals in Florida the other night were necessarily bad, but Toskala could have come up with one big save – and an absence of leadership from veteran players.
Don’t forget, this blown lead problem was also happened last year under Paul Maurice. That said, I am surprised to some extent the Leafs haven’t played better defensively under Wilson. Again, goaltending has been a big problem, and that doesn’t have anything to do with defensive systems. But I think the coaching staff and Burke don’t want to play a very conservative, trapping game, and the result has been a team that has scored a little more and given up a lot more.
First I have to say that I'm not really for or against fighting in the NHL. I do find that it slows down the game and is a waste of time when two thugs go at it just for the sake of going at it. I found Laraque's comments interesting but flawed and deserving of more thought. If players that wear visors are prohibited from fighting, then do you think that some such players (I'm not targeting "all" visor wearing players here) will take that extra shot at a guy knowing that they will in essence be protected from having to deal with the frontier justice that exists today?
Stephen Nicolaou, Oakville
A: Well, that’s certainly the argument the pro-fighting crowd will use. Look, for decades there have always been players who played the pest role and took extra shots without fighting, and that has never changed. How many times, for example, did Bobby Clarke drop the gloves? Or Ken Linseman? But in terms of players playing outside the rules and trying to get away with it, that’s an officiating issue. I think any ban on fighting would have to be twinned with much tougher rules on head shots, hitting from behind and stick fouls.
Great work articling the debate about fighting in hockey. It's a shame that even in this modern era, people get great joy in watching individuals savagely beat each other when it has nothing to do with the actual game of hockey.
I'd thought I share with you this - my parents were immigrants to Canada from Hong Kong
back in the late 60s. At that point, the hockey they witnessed on TV was goonism at its peak. To no one's surprise, there was no chance that they would even consider letting myself or my brother learn to play the game when we were young given the sheer violence that was displayed. Given how Canada, especially Toronto has become even more multicultural in recent years, how much of a disservice is hockey doing by continuing to allow fighting to be part of the game?
No sane parents would allow their young children be subjected to a sport where big kids can start a scrap with smaller kids lest they be of the dumb redneck parental variety. Realistically, hockey is a dying sport and fighting displayed at the NHL level simply isn't helping to grow the sport at the grass roots level. So much energy wasted on preserving the dancing bears and not providing a medium to train the next generation of skilled players.
Drew M., Willowdale
A: Drew, I think you are bang on, and the hockey registration numbers back you up. This I know for sure – fighting isn’t bringing more fans to the game or encouraging more families to have their children participate. Interestingly, while registration in boys hockey has declined, registration in girls hockey has exploded. Perhaps families feel more comfortable letting their daughters play than their sons?
Luke Schenn is certainly looking like a keeper and is pretty darn solid in his own end. He's logging crazy minutes right now, and just seems to be getting stronger as the season goes on. My concern though is - what are we teaching this kid? Do we want our first round pick to just be a really good (or great?) stay at home defenceman? Why isn't this kid getting some power play time? We aren't going to win much this year, so why not put him out there on the point and let's give him some opportunities. Jeff Finger? What's the point? Get Schenn out there! Am I missing something?
Ron Gillespie, Listowel
A: I agree with you, actually (seems I’m doing a lot of agreeing with the readers this week). My concern all along is that Schenn, by staying in the NHL, is missing the opportunities to play in all situations that he would have had in Kelowna. That said, if you watch the team practice, the coaching staff is working with him every day, and of late he’s shown some offensive moves. I still believe junior hockey would have been a better move, but there’s no question the young man has done very well in his first season and the Leaf coaching staff have done some useful teaching. There hasn’t been regression, which is important.
While Leafs certainly are not very good right now, I think Ron Wilson’s collapse defence strategy (leaves both opposition forwards and point men open in your own end) is just crazy.
Wilson positions his defencemen in front of the other team’s scorers which has shown over time to be disastrous against small (Toskola), medium (Cujo) and large (Pogge) goalies, alike.
Further, it makes (reluctant) Leaf forwards jump into the shooting lanes, triple-screening Leaf goalies on every point shot. If the goalie does edge out further to see the puck, sooner or later it has ricocheted to a wide-open shooter(s), in front of or beside the net, resulting in an easy goal. No wonder the Leaf goalies are letting some soft ones in - they know they are going to be embarrassed no matter what they do, playing a system that leaves them as sitting ducks.
This inane collapse defence sets up the whole team to fail - and makes everyone look bad doing it. How can Leafs ever win much of anything this way, no matter what players Burke brings in?
Solution - why not just simply cover the points?
You’ve been around. What do you think?
Bill Hibbits, Pickering
A: Well, the reality is most NHL teams collapse in their own zone these days. They just do it much better than the Leafs. The old style of covering the points has really disappeared, party because, don’t forget, they moved the bluelines out further from the net several years ago, thereby expanding the defensive zone and giving offensive players more room high in the zone. In the case of the Leafs, from what I can tell, it’s less about systems and more about talent and decision-making. The Leafs are employing basically the same defensive system as did the San Jose Sharks under Wilson, and the Sharks were consistently one of the NHL’s top defensive clubs. What does that tell you?
A question in the previous mail bag has got me wondering about what type of hockey fan you are. Some people are just fans of the game, yes, I can understand that, and maybe that's the simple truth. But what of your relationship to the Leafs? It seems to be a complicated one. I struggle to believe that at this point you do not harbour a lot of disdain for almost every Leaf team that has ever been iced, given the tone in which your very incisive but sometimes overly harsh Leaf articles are written.
This is not meant as a criticism; I think that it's obvious that being bombarded with questions about a team that you don't really care about will inevitably embitter you to a certain extent. Maybe exasperate is a better word. You just seem tired of talking about the Leafs. Hey, that's OK. My question is simple: why don't you write about something you care about? If you hate the Laffs, and enjoy berating them and their fans, it's sadism. If you don't care or don't like them, it's masochism. Why keep doing this to yourself?
J.P. Nikita, London, Ont.
A: Thanks for your question. And your obvious concern about my mental health. Well, I’ve answered this type of question many times. Let me try to respond this way. You allege that I don’t “care” about the Leafs. I care about the Leafs, or more accurately, I’m very interested in the Leafs. I just don’t care if they win, or if they lose. I’m not a fan. That’s your job. My job is to be honest and fair, not to cheer for the home team, and if that results in coverage that you or others find overly negative, well, I can live with that. See, you see the Leafs through the eyes of a fan. I see them through the eyes of a journalist, and that gives us entirely different perspectives. I try to approach coverage of the NHL and the Leafs in the same way I would cover city hall, and you wouldn’t want me cheering for the mayor or against a particular councilor, would you.
I guess the bottom line is that I don’t hate the Leafs. But I don’t love them, either. I’m neutral, but I have strong opinions on how the team is run and how it plays, and given their record over the decades, I think you’d agree with me that there’s been far more negative news than positive news. I have a job to do, one that I like a great deal and allows me to cover other hockey stories and other sports stories in addition to the Leafs. Hopefully that answers your question.
Can you comment on whether an exit plan exists or is being contemplated for Curtis Joseph. The current situation of calling up Pogge when Toskala needs a rest seems an embarrassment to all concerned. It seems odd that Joseph would be accepting of a such a situation.
Andy from Oakville
A: I don’t think Curtis has a choice. This is quite likely his last NHL season, and he won’t be re-signed with the Leafs this coming summer. Everyone who likes Curtis as a person, which I do, and has admired his play over the years, which I have, wishes it could all be working out differently for him. But that’s pro sports.
Q: Hi Damien,
After watching Justin Pogge play his 3 NHL games and a few Marlie games, he appears to need some work on staying square to the shooter. This seems to show the most when he is moving from side to side, he appears to lose his square position and goes down early to compensate. Do you think the leafs would ever consider bringing in Ed Belfour as a positioning coach for Pogge? He was definitely one of the all time greats and the most positionally sound goaltender in recent time.
With Pogge's size, if he was able to stay square and in good position, it would be hard to beat him.
Jay Hanks, Newcastle
A: Given Belfour’s interaction with other goalies over the course of his career, I can’t see him becoming a coach. He was far more concerned over the foam density in different parts of his pads than he ever was in helping anyone else. I suppose that could change and he could become interested in coaching, but I doubt it.
I think you’re basically right on Pogge. I’ve asked many goalies and former goalies, and the general sense is that there is just too much movement and not enough reliance on quality positioning. He’ll have to learn that, and we’ll see if he ever does.
Apologize if this may have been a subject that you have discussed before, but Brian Burke has repeatedly discussed about having big aggressive, gritty forwards in the lineup. Mark Bell has had a rough past and has never lived up to his 1st rounder potential, but he does somewhat fit the stereo typical player Burke likes, is highly paid for a Marlies player and is still relatively young (28 or so).
Has his past with San Jose (see: Ron Wilson) been pivotal in his relegation to the Marlies, youth movement vs. older players, possibly a relapse in required maturity level, or is he just not good enough to be at the NHL level anymore? Last year, he appeared to be playing reasonably when in the lineup and he also paid off his societal debt this past summer. Is he warranted a second chance? Thanks.
John Argue, Panama City, Fla.
A: I think Bell has used up his second chance. He just doesn’t skate well enough to be an elite player, and I’m not sure he has the personality to be a third or fourth line banger and checker. Also, he hasn’t exactly burned it up in the minors this season. I would imagine that the Leafs would be more than willing to trade Bell before the March 4 deadline if another team is interested. I don’t think he’ll get another chance with the Leafs.
This may be a lame question, but I'm asking it anyway. When players are traded to another team mid-way through the season, what are their living accomodations in the city in which they are traded to? Does their new team put them up in a hotel, do they stay at one of their new teammates homes, or do teams own condos or apartments which they keep specifically for this scenario? I assume each team must employ staff to assist incoming players find a temporary place to stay.
John Powers, Kitchener
A: Usually hotels. And there’s no such thing as a lame question if you really want to know the answer.
I was turned onto your blog about 4 months ago, and now regularly check in. Just wanted to say keep up the good work. Although I'm a rather big Leafs fan my question is regarding the Buffalo Sabres.
Although they are currently sitting in 7th at the moment in the Eastern Conference, I find this to be a bit of a shock. Had you asked me at the beginning of the season I would has said they'd comfortably be in a playoff position. In the long run, I feel from the way they've played that they are in danger of missing the playoffs, especially with Florida
playing well, and if Pittsburgh can pull their game together. Is this a surprise to you?
Secondly, do they have anybody coming up through their organization to maybe help them in the upcoming seasons as their blue line ages?
Liam Murphy, Barrie
A: Great to have you aboard. Actually, I look at the players the Sabres have lost without getting much in return in recent years – Chris Drury and Brian Campbell, for example – and I’m impressed with how Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have been able to keep that team so competitive. Going into this season, I saw them as a borderline playoff team, and it appears they’ll have to fight to get into the post-season. They don’t have the offensive punch they once did, but there’s still speed and youth and a good goaltender in Ryan Miller.
They’ve had a lot of injuries on defence this season, and currently have youngsters Mike Weber and Chris Butler in the lineup, while another one of their better young blueliners, Andrej Sekeras, is injured. In the minors, they still have Mike Card and Mike Funk, who they’ve been watching for a few years now. Last summer, they drafted 6-foot-7 defenceman Tyler Myers – you saw him on the Canadian national junior team this winter – in the first round, rearguard Cory Fienhagel in the third and Jordan Southern in the fourth. We’ll see if any of these kids make it. So the Sabres believe they have some defence coming up through the system.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com. Click here to submit a question. **Note: please follow the link above to send a question to Damien. Questions posted in the comments section may not make it to the mailbag. Thanks.**