Thursday Mail Bag
So I’m thinking the next time the phone rings in the Toronto Marlies dressing room, Justin Pogge will answer and say, “Nah, I’m fine where I am. But thanks for thinking of me, Mr. Burke!”
|Pogge gets peppered ... again.|
Man oh man, is this kid getting a rough introduction to the NHL. Lesson One, apparently, is never to count on anyone on your team having even the faintest idea how to defend. It’s like Pogge won a raffle, and first prize was a game in net for the Leafs.
Second prize? TWO games in net for the Leafs.
It was nice for the Leafs to let Thomas Vanek get a hat trick without even having to sweat, and yes indeed, that was a sweet move Drew Stafford made on Mike Van Ryn the night after the player for whom Van Ryn was acquired, Bryan McCabe, scored the OT winner for Florida against the Leafs.
Hey, NHL teams are going to look bad from time to time. But everybody knows the toughest game for any team is the home game after an extended road trip - as Buffalo was last night - yet the Leafs showed little interest in jumping on the Sabres and perhaps picking up a surprise two points. That was a pathetic effort.
So how much do we know about Pogge now that he has three NHL games under his belt? Just a little bit more than was known before. His size and obvious athleticism certainly make you believe he has a chance. There are times when he just seems a bit messy and out of control, as though he has no particular game plan but is reacting to every moment as though it were a brand new situation. If there’s progress, it’s minimal, but it’s still worth giving him more starts this season. Hey, the Leafs already know they’re going to have to get a goaltender next summer, and Pogge is going to be part of the picture somehow.
Between Pogge, Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph, Leaf goaltenders have the worst save percentage in the NHL, intriguing given that one of Cliff Fletcher’s moves during the off-season was to fire goaltending coach Steve McKichan and replace him with Corey Hirsch. McKichan had grown rather weary of being ignored anyway, but when you examine the performance of the Leafs and of their coaching staff, it’s hard on the basis of the evidence at hand to believe Hirsch was an upgrade. Certainly, Toskala has only gone backwards.
Just 30 games to go in this dreadful Leaf season. Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: Perhaps a bit premature but seeing that the Leafs are rebuilding it’s probably going to get worse before it’s going to get better. As a 43-year-old I have experienced some horrible years as a Toronto fan. It was so desperate that one of my heros in the early 80’s was Rocky Saganiuk ( I still have the jersey) Obviously there was not much to cheer for in those days.
So my question is since the Leafs made it deep in the playoffs in the mid ‘70s against the Islanders when Lanny McDonald scored in overtime, what year do you think the Leafs iced their worst team and why. I ask why because I don’t believe the least amount of points necessarily dictates their worst team.
Glen McMinn, Halifax
A: Well this is a different question. I’ve seen awful Leaf teams that quit and pretty good ones that played way below expectations. I’ve covered the team since 1989, so I’ll restrict myself to the squads of the past 20 years. I would say the Tom Watt-coached clubs of 1990-91 and 1991-92 were the worst I’ve seen, with the caveat that partway through the ‘91-92 campaign Doug Gilmour was acquired in that blockbuster deal with Calgary and changed the entire team. But for a season-and-a-half, the Leafs under Watt were horrible, a continuation of the decline that had started under Doug Carpenter after the optimism briefly generated by the team Carpenter guided into the ’90 playoffs. Watt replaced Carpenter in late October of the following season but couldn’t turn chicken, um, droppings into chicken salad. One of my favourite memories of Watt guiding the team training camp for the 1991-92 season, Fletcher’s first, was seeing Fletcher go down to ice level on the first day Newmarket and ask Watt, “Can’t you make them go faster?” Ah, the memories.
Q: Hey Damien!
What do you think of Cliff Fletcher's almost trades? The one with Philly, Jeff Carter for Kaberle, and the one with Anaheim, Bobby Ryan for our 1st round pick. The way both those players are playing right now it seems that the trades he didn't pull could have been amazing. They seem a whole lot better than the trades that he actually did!
George K. Toronto
A: The trades Fletcher made were unhelpful, to say the least. Maybe a second rounder for Mikhail Grabovski will pan out over time, although I think I’d still rather have that second rounder coming this June. I agree, had Fletcher been able to parlay Kaberle into Carter, that would have been a beauty. But was that the entire deal? See, there’s lots of rumours out there, but only the two clubs know what the give-and-take was on that possible transaction. Maybe the Flyers weren’t interested unless the Leafs tossed in something else. It’s convenient to let bits and pieces of trades that didn’t happen drop after the fact, but that can also misrepresent precisely what was on the table.
As far as Bobby Ryan, well, if that deal really was there, there was absolutely nothing stopping Fletcher from making it, was there? Kaberle had a no-trade, but if Anaheim had really been willing to move Ryan for Toronto’s first pick even if that pick was lottery protected, Fletcher could have pulled the trigger. That he didn’t tells me either the Ducks weren’t nearly as interested as some have made them out to be or that the trade involved other moving pieces that perhaps would have made it more costly for the Leafs. I think the only reasonable analysis of the work of any GM is to evaluate what he does, not what he would have liked to have done.
Q: Just wondering if you think Jiri Tlusty will ever develop into the top six forward he is touted as being or if he is just another bad move made by JFJ?
Patrick Savoury, Rose Blanche, Nfld.
A: It’s not looking good. Certainly, Tlusty doesn’t fit the Brian Burke mold. Tlusty was the 13th pick of the 2006 draft, which now appears to have been 12 players deep. None of the 11 players taken immediately after Tlusty have made an NHL impact yet either. The two players who appear to be surprise gems were Patrik Berglund, taken 25th by the Blues, and Milan Lucic, taken 50th by Boston. I guess you could criticize JFJ for not taking Berglund or Lucic, but if teams had known how good those players were going to be they’d have been taken much higher. Right now, the disappointing thing about Tlusty is that he’s not breaking out in the AHL, either. All this said, he’s 20 years old and still learning the North American game, and a team as thin on young talent as the Leafs are can hardly afford to give up on anybody at this point.
Q: Given the apparent regression of the Leafs, do you think the heavy public criticism approach taken by coach Wilson is right for this team, many of whom are younger and need a confidence boost rather than a public chastizing?
When a team starts to go backward it could be a sign they are tuning the coach out.
Terry Ryan, St. John's
A: Geez, if this team is tuning Wilson out already, I’d say the players have a hearing deficiency that would rule them out of ever becoming quality NHLers. Look, there’s a fine line between a coach ripping on his players in public and speaking honestly while trying to hold them accountable for their play. People criticize Wilson for unnecessarily criticizing his players but to be honest, I think it’s more about reputation than anything he’s actually said or done. This team is about as good as most believed it would be, so I don’t think you can argue that Wilson’s tough love approach has made the team go backward. If the players don’t like what’s being said about them, they have an easy solution - play better!
Q: Hi Damien,
I was wondering if you could set the record straight on what happened in Ottawa when Zdeno Chara left. Given the recent demise of the Sens. I have heard a lot about Muckler making the wrong decision. I always thought that Chara wanted to see what he could get as a free agent and that Muckler decided to lock up Wade Redden in order to keep at least one of the two. Thanks,
Matt Rittenhouse, Montreal
A: This is one of those stories that gets muddier over time. Certainly, it’s pretty obvious now that the Sens made the wrong choice. That said, when they made the 2007 Stanley Cup final, it didn’t look like such a bad decision. Looking back, Redden was held in such high regard as a citizen in Ottawa, let alone a player, that letting him go would have been a difficult thing to do. Moreover, Chara’s agent is from the Boston-area, and there’s a belief in some quarters that was his intended destination from the start. What seems most clear is that the Senators probably chose the wrong strategy by deciding they had to get rid of one or the other. Keeping both, with the benefit of hindsight, would have been better. But don’t look at Redden now and at Chara now. Look at what they were then, and at the decision the Sens were forced to make then.
You didn't answer my question in the last mailbag, so I guess I'll try again because I'd really like an answer and don't know who else to ask:
Why do the Leafs sometimes get to wear their white jerseys at home? I have not seen any other team get this option in the past few seasons. I last saw this in Toronto's most recent game against Boston.
While I would prefer all home teams wear white, it irks me that Toronto is getting this kind of special treatment. Thank you.
Jacob Lee, Victoria
A: Not sure how this would constitute special treatment, particularly since the Leafs’ usual white jerseys are about as boring and unappealing as can be imagined. The one with the blue shoulders and throwback crest is much nicer. I will say this. Half the time I turn on a game now it takes me a few moments to figure out which teams are playing because more often than not one is wearing a third or fourth or vintage jersey I’ve never seen before. In fact, I tuned in the other night and saw Detroit wearing WHITE at home, and it took me a while to figure out they were playing St. Louis in a set of uniforms I’d not seen before. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of this, other than to sell more merchandise. But I can assure you the Leafs are not getting special treatment.
Q: Hello Damien, as a long time reader it's a pleasure to finally have a chance to write. While I know you have stated many times your neutrality in regards to your opinion of the Leafs, I can't help but feel like you’re that key grizzled media figure in all those feel good sports movies who will disregard your pragmatism and fist pump the air if the Leafs eventually do win it all. And that you doing so is a key validation of how monumental and generally awesome the moment is. Hey, we can dream right?
Anyway, my question: While I have no doubt that Luke Schenn is great prospect for the organization, I can't help but feel that we are still over-hyping his value and I suppose my opinion begins with the fact that he was the 4th D taken in his draft class. Granted, he was taken 5th overall, but unless the Trasher and Blue GMs come out and say "hey, he made a big mistake,” I'm believing that Schenn's ceiling is Adam Foote and while that is great, its not deserving of the Pronger-like hype Schenn receives.
Personally, I think a lamentable history of drafting and bonafide prospects is making that silver coin look shinier than it is. As a typical Leaf fan, I can't afford going to games or leaf TV, so maybe you're seeing stuff I don't so if you have insights to share here, please do.
Adil Dhalla, Toronto
A: Well,. don’t know about a fist pump. I can say that I would be thrilled for all the Leaf fans who have supported the team for so long, which would include my kids. It would be an extraordinary time for the city, and having been there in ’93 when the Leafs got to Game 7 of the conference final before losing, I can also say it would be a great journalistic experience to cover a team that went all the way.
But fist pump? Not from this corner, sorry. I’ll let the fans do that.
Re Schenn, I would agree that his play and value have been exaggerated this season, as often happens in Toronto. Players are either portrayed as far better than they are, or far worse. Schenn, to me, is a very good prospect who, if he continues to develop his game, should be a solid stay-at-home defenceman in this league for 15 years or longer. He might have more offensive upside, and my comparison has always been to Mike Komisarek. If Schenn turns out to be that good, the Leafs should be pleased.
In terms of where he was drafted, I have only said and will continue to say that it was a waste to sacrifice first, second and third round picks to move up two slots to draft him at fifth. I think you have to try to get top end skill that high in the draft - stay-at-home defenders can be had later - and the Leafs were simply not in a position to be dumping draft picks. Had they stayed right where they were at No. 7, kept their picks and selected Cody Hodgson or Mikkel Boedker or Colin Wilson, I would argue they’d be a little further ahead today.
But that shouldn’t detract from the fact Schenn has had a worthy freshman season and looks like a keeper.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
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