Thursday Mail Bag
|AP FILE PHOTO|
|The light went on last night for Tusty - five times.|
If Jiri Tlusty’s five-goal game for the Marlies Thursday Wednesday night teaches us anything, its to not be too hasty in judgment on young hockey players hoping to one day become Maple Leafs.
Tlusty made a fool of himself with his web antics last year and hasn’t blown the doors off anyone as a professional, but then suddenly he had one of those nights that make you think that eventually, he’s going to get it.
“At some point, it’s like the light just goes on,” said Ron Wilson recently, not referring to any Leaf prospect in particular.
Same goes for Justin Pogge. To me, the way in which the Leafs have gone about trying to develop this young goaltender has been intelligent and exemplary, with the exception of sitting him down for almost the entire AHL playoffs last spring.
Whether Pogge makes it as a No. 1 NHL goalie now is almost beside the point. The idea is to bring him along slowly and hope he gradually finds his game and learns from his mistakes. It’s incredible how many want to make snap judgments on whether he can play or not, applying very different standards to his play than would be applied to a forward or defenceman.
Give the likes of Tlusty and Pogge time. After all, it’s not like the Leafs are going anywhere fast right now.
One final note. It continues to blow my mind that some insist Mats Sundin “owed” the Leafs the chance to trade him last winter and get draft picks and prospects for him.
Here’s what he owed the Leafs.
He owed them a willingness to play hard under the terms of his contract, to play through injuries, to provide solid leadership, to put points on the board and to set an example for young players. His job was to fulfill his playing contract, period.
To wallow in these ill-conceived, illogical past grievances against the player who was the team’s best for more than a decade is to demean not only him, but the franchise and the sport.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: It's interesting that GM Bob Gainey is the one dictating Alex Kovalev's sit-down for a few games. Doesn't that indicate the coach's lack of authority ? If this happened in Toronto, wouldn't the scribes and talk-heads be criticizing Brian Burke for meddling in the coach's realm? Me thinks so. Gainey's nice guy image and personal suffering seems to buy him sanctity. N'est pas?
Carlos Harvoski, Peterborough
A: All I can tell you is that if Burke did something similar with, say, Nik Antropov, the point on which I might criticize him would not be for usurping the responsibilities of the coach. The coach’s job is to take the players given to him by management and deploy them as best as possible. Gainey was perfectly within his job description to send Kovalev home. If he was to dictate ice time and linemates, that would be a different story.
Q: Hi Damien,
My comment/questions are specific to tennis but related to all sports in that it has to do with drug testing. First my question: would you agree that the current system of testing in all sports is not designed to identify positive tests but to allow the respective leagues to say that they have a system in place to test and that "their athletes are the cleanest (hockey for instance)"?
Second, my comment: I was surprised to hear your comments agreeing with Serena Williams in denouncing the new testing proposal in tennis. I would argue that your point of tennis not having a history of "steroids problems" is more a function of effectiveness of the testing system and even less about the evolution of the modern game. When I look at tennis, and I love the sport, I can't help but see trends that raise the suspicion: the players are bigger, faster and hit the ball harder than ever. The current dominant players on the men and women's tour happen to also be the most physically developed and arguably the hardest hitting - Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal. They also happen to be the two players who have spoken out against the new proposed drug testing. I will grant that it does seem rather onerous, however, is it not strange that Federer is willing to comply and the aforementioned have been very vocal against the testing? Maybe tennis is in a denial stage like baseball was in during the home run derbys (ie steroids don't help with hitting home runs) and the current stage the NHL is in with hockey being the cleanest of sports. We all know how this has played out with baseball.
I guess my concern is that perhaps we are ignoring some of the very same, even though more subtle, signs in tennis that has led us to where baseball is mired in today and when I hear athletes denouncing testing for being intrusive it raises a bit of an eyebrow.
Tony Boss, Toronto
A: Interesting points. I’m not sure I would agree that the styles of modern tennis on their own make me suspicious about drug use. Believe me, I’ve seen plenty of 10-year-olds who can knock the bejeezus out of the ball, something that has more to do with technique and racquet technology than size and strength. I’m not sure Williams and Nadal are saying no to drug-testing, just the plan that would have them forced to make themselves available one hour for every day of the year. That seems a bit over-the-top, to me.
Is tennis in denial? Maybe. I would agree that some sports, certainly the NHL, are all about trying to portray their athletes as clean rather than catching drug cheats. Tennis is not the force on the pro sports landscape it once was and has had to deal with, among other problems, allegations of match-fixing. Part of the effort to sell the game, I think, is convincing the public that the athletes are clean and the matches are on the up-and-up. But like hockey and other sports, tennis is facing the difficult question of how much drug testing is enough, and what damage can be done to a sport when drug cheats are found.
Q: Hi Damien,
I I have a question about doping. Not in light of the A Rod scandal, but the story from a few months back about the death of Rangers' prospect Alexei Cherepanov. After his death, tests revealed he had been doping for some months. I'm surprised this didn't unleash a series of "this must be more common than anyone realizes" columns in the press.
I remember hearing Bobby Orr preferred not to work out too much as it limited his movement, but the game has changed. What do you think? Do steroids have hockey benefits for someone who isn't say, John Kordic? Is this going on more than we know in the NHL?
Robert Breen, London, Ont.
A: I think it's pretty clear steroids could benefit hockey players enormously, although you’ll hear nonsense about NHLers not needing muscle but quick reactions and such. I have absolutely no evidence, however, to suggest that steroids are prevalent in the NHL or hockey in general. I know of one prominent former NHLer who tried them briefly, then abandoned the notion. I would guess more are dabbling in performance enhancing drugs than are being caught, particularly given the league’s absence of off-season testing. But other than the cases of Jose Theodore and Sean Hill, there’s little hard evidence.
Q: Hi Damien,
With the deadline looming and much talk about the departures; Antropov, Kubina, Kaberle, Blake, Toskala, Pony. Where do you think Matt Stajan fits in moving forward? Does he stay with the team under Burke?
Stuart Smith, Calgary
A: At this point, I don’t see Stajan as a long term fit for Burke’s “top six” in terms of skill and point production, and he would have to add a lot of sandpaper to his game to fit in Burke’s definition of a “bottom six” forward. So right now, Stajan doesn’t appear likely to fit the Leafs’ long term plans.
Q: Hi Damien,
The Leafs have sent Jeremy Williams down to the minors again. Can you please tell me why they get rid of a guy with 7 pts in 11 games? Everything I've heard in regards to Williams from Ron Wilson has been negative.
Also, what's your take on Kyle Wellwood? Why has his game dried up?
Jerry Francis, Brampton
A: With regards to Williams, 29 other teams had a shot at him on waivers last week and passed, so I’m guessing those clubs shared the Leafs’ opinion of him. The kid can score, but there’s a lot more to it than just that in the NHL these days. Look at his numbers over the course of his pro career – blips and streaks here and there, but no prolonged period of sustained production. He’ll get another shot with the Leafs, I’d guess, but it won’t last long if he doesn’t do all the things other than scoring that they’re asking him to do.
On Wellwood, I watched him the other night against Calgary. He’s taking a regular shift and getting power play time, and he was robbed by Miikka Kiprusoff on an incredible third period save. He’s a skillful player, but like Williams, not one who is going to be necessarily consistent over time or as effective when the games tighten up.
Q: Hi Damien,
I don't understand all the details of players being on waivers. Specifically, it appears the Leafs can call up Justin Pogge from the Marlies -- and send him back -- at will with no reference to anyone, while other players must clear waivers before being allowed to report to the big club or be sent back to the farm team. What am I missing?
Richard Avery, North York
A: It has to do with the status of their contracts. Without getting into a zillion specifics, the waiver rights of each and every NHL player depends on their contractual situations, and in some cases, on the number of times they’ve been recalled and demoted within a single season. Basically, not every NHLer is equal when it comes to waiver rights.
Q: This may be even more important as the trade deadline approaches but also because he's been playing reasonably well in the past two months but what CBA characteristics are in play with Jason Blake? As a 35-year-old, does his buy-out potential go up, down or stay the same? Further, does this enhance or curtail his trade value? I ask because there are provisions in the CBA that address the signing of free agents 35 and over in that the contract could count fully against the salary cap no matter what happens but buyouts may also be cheaper. Overall it's fair to say that Blake is on one of the wackiest contracts in the entire NHL but it's hard to figure whether his age, recent, decent play and even his medical situation has any telling effect on what will happen.
Peter Robinson, Toronto
A: Well, he signed his contract before the age of 35, so those provisions of which you spoke don’t apply. In terms of buyouts, he’s your basic two-thirds type. As I’ve said before, I don’t think he contract, now that he’s producing again after one terrible season, is nearly as awful as some make it out to be. It’s certainly not untradeable. He’ll make $4.5 million next year, then $3 million in each of the two seasons after that. His cap number is $4 million. If he’s a genuine 30-goal man, those are not “wacky” contract numbers.
Q; How long do you think the Oil will hold on to Craig MacTavish in Edmonton? I know it's been the old boys club there for years, but I think it's time to pass the torch. Maybe it's time for Kevin Lowe to move on as well. He brought in Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky to start fresh this year with a new defensive core. What's happened? A 10-2 loss to Buffalo, 8-3 to Detroit. … I'm sure there are teams out there who'd love to have one if not both for power plays come playoff time. I'm not sure what their motive was, losing Jason Smith (one of, if not the best shot blocker in the NHL) and gaining Souray (booming shot, wouldn't block one if Angelica Bridges face was on the puck). I think they were hoping for run and gun hockey like they had in the 80's and what they got is "Let's chase around our own zone and hope we get the puck out."
B. Bigelow, St. John's
A: Well, it seems pretty clear MacTavish will finish the season. I think the Oilers created some unrealistic expectations by making it to the Stanley Cup final against Carolina a few years ago, a sense that happy days were back again in Edmonton. Now, they are a team with a lot of young players that is in the thick of the playoff fight, which is what I would have expected them to be. They’ve been faced with an offensive shortfall in recent seasons, which is why they’ve tried to goose the attack with additions like Souray, Visnovski, Dustin Penner and Erik Cole. It hasn’t worked that effectively. In terms of where they go from here, Steve Tambellini has taken over many of the GM duties from Lowe, and I would guess MacTavish won’t be back if the Oilers miss the playoffs this spring.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
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