A Slightly Different Take
Ron Wilson was clearly not the problem in San Jose.
And no, Brian Burke did not leave the Anaheim Ducks in shambles.
|Three of Brian Burke's finds, from left, Francois Beauchemin, Jonas Hiller and Bobby Ryan.|
That would be the angle a hardcore member of the Leaf Nation might take from Anaheim’s stunning first round upset of the Sharks, completed last night in Orange County.
Now, this is clearly a myopic, Toronto-based way of looking at things, and certainly from a hockey-wide point-of-view there are a lot of other perspectives on what went wrong for San Jose and what went right for the Ducks.
But there were no shortage of people in the hockey industry who pinpointed Wilson as the culprit last year when the Sharks failed in the post-season, and lots of folks who gleefully rejoiced in the work of first year coach Todd MacLellan this year as Wilson’s replacement.
Everyone knew, however, that the Shark season didn’t begin until the first round of the playoffs, and the result is the same.
This doesn’t make Wilson the greatest coach, but it does remove him as the convenient reason for San Jose’s repeated playoff failures.
Burke, meanwhile, was widely criticized for the way in which he ran the Ducks after that club won the 2007 Stanley Cup, particularly his aggressive style of salary cap management. Many ripped him for not only getting out of his contract in Anaheim partway through this season, but for deserting a sinking ship.
Well, that’s apparently not the truth, either.
The Ducks proved to be hardy playoff participants, and credit for the construction of that team over the years should be spread around many people, including Bryan Murray, Dave MacNab, Burke and Bob Murray. Burke, meanwhile, hired Bob Murray and made sure he got the GM job when he left. He also hired Randy Carlyle as head coach and brought in a bunch of good players, including Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin.
Burke was also responsible for signing free agent Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller and drafting Bobby Ryan right after Sidney Crosby.
He’d be the first to tell you he doesn’t deserve all the credit for making the Ducks champions, and has credited others, including Bryan Murray for drafting Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Bob Murray, meanwhile, always got the credit from Burke for scouting Beauchemin’s potential.
But Burke also didn’t leave the Ducks in a mess. Instead, he went to one.
Throw in the fact that a Vancouver Canucks team built largely by Dave Nonis is looking very, very dangerous in these playoffs and a Leaf fan might have reason to believe MLSE finally has the right hockey men in place.
Here’s some questions for today’s playoff mail bag:
Q: Hey Damien,
For the life of me I can't understand why Colin Campbell was so lenient on Donald Brashear. If the NHL was really serious about getting head shots and dirty play out of the game, they would have come down much harder on Brashear. Please explain why they didn't use this situation as a precedent and give Donald 25 games for a really really dirty play?
Adam M., Toronto
A: Well, what ever gave you the impression the NHL was really serious about getting rid of head shots? The league has had many opportunities to draft new rules in this regard, but has chosen not to out of concern that new legislation would take hitting out of the game. Even with Brashear, league officials felt it was a shoulder-to-head hit, not an elbow, and they have repeatedly said they want to keep the shoulder-to-head hit in the game as a legal play. Brashear got the five games for the hit because it was late, and because it caused injury. To be fair, Colin Campbell started several months ago to give tougher bans on head-related hits, but there is no consensus on the league to adopt new rules even though the players association appealed to the league for actioin at the GMs meeting in March.
As a side note, this was yet another incident perpetrated by an enforcer, the type of player who is supposed to “police” the game and keep the dirty stuff out.
Q: Hi Damien,
Whether it is in the corporate world or sports world, as you go up the hierarchy, part of leadership is setting an example of the actions and behaviors you want those who are part of your organization to follow. Tortorella's actions were just as selfish and undisciplined as those of Avery's in Game 5. How can the coach expect the players to funnel and control their emotions if the coach can't, with just a little verbal prodding from a fan? Do you think it matters what was said?
I feel that the game is Washington's to lose, so let's assume the Rangers do lose Game 7. Where does Glen Sather stand? Gomez, Drury, Redden contracts are just scary.
Craig Fulford, Toronto
A: Okay, well on Tortorella, we agree. He surrendered the high ground on disciple issues with his behaviour, whether it was warranted or not. But you have to be around the Ranger staff these days to understand the high state of alert these people are on. This team has gone from being a smart, controlled (maybe too controlled?) operation under Tom Renney to Tortorella’s preference for constant tension and controversy. I agree with you – if the coach can’t control himself, its impossible to demand that from his players. I always felt that was the way when Pat Quinn coached the Leafs. He constantly whined and berated officials, then wondered why his teams took too many penalties and were widely despised around the league.
In terms of the future of the Rangers, they sure have some issues. Now they do have Evgeny Grachev coming, and Matt Gilroy too, so they have some youth, a great goaltender and depth. But it’s the high end of the Ranger lineup that’s really in question, the guys dragging down the major dollars like Drury, Gomez and Redden, who you mentioned. Moving any of those players will be extremely difficult in the current environment. There’s no indication, however, that Sather is in any kind of trouble if the Rangers do go down to the Caps tonight.
Q: What do you think of Bob Gainey's outrage and allegation that the Tampa organization leaked the names of the Montreal players (Higgins, Plekanec and Georges) in a potential deal for Lecavalier? Are you surprised how candidly Gainey expressed his anger on this? Do you think this apparent dispute between the teams could affect the trade from still occurring prior to July 1?
Jeff Stal, Toronto
A: It’s all he said, he said stuff. Lawton denies all of Gainey’s allegations and suggests the Habs are looking for somebody to blame for their first round ouster. I was surprised to hear Gainey speak so openly, almost like a Brian Burke-Kevin Lowe type of spat. Maybe the old boys club isn’t going to be quite as collegial any more. I think that while Gainey took aim at Lawton, however, its more likely his anger should have been directed at Tampa owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie, who have become renowned for trying to make trades on their own. If Tampa did leak some of the names of Montreal players, I’m betting it was the owners, not Lawton.
And no, it shouldn’t affect a deal if a deal is there to be made. But that’s one nasty contract Lecavalier has, and more than a few people would tell you he did not have a great season this year, fighting through shoulder problems and then shutting it down with three games to play to have wrist surgery.
Q: Hello Damien – I’d like to ask you about John Tortorella and his handling of the media. As someone who has probably interviewed every coach in the league at one point or another, is his press conference/interview style that much different than other coaches, or is it just that he’s in NY and it gets magnified as a result? He does seem to be unusually adversarial, and often comes across as condescending to you guys. It must make the reporter’s job covering the team harder. Clearly he and New York Post beat reporter Larry Brooks have issues, for example. Can you share anything about Tortorella and this type of issue? Thanks in advance.
Todd Sloan, Phoenix, Arizona
A: First of all, many in the media love Tortorella. He’s newsy and fills notebooks. I don’t find him condescending, just unusually antagonistic, like he’s trying to pick a fight every day. I understand he’s got a Stanley Cup ring, but he was also the coach of the worst team in hockey last year, and a little humility might go a long way. I did think it was too bad for a guy who had all the answers while on TV that when it came to answering simple questions about being suspended for Game 6 of this series, he refused to give any explanation at all, as though he’s somehow above it all. No one was asking him to rip his players, and it was a chance for him to show some humility, accept responsibility and move on.
(Ed. Note: And then when you think you have Tortorella figured out, he does what he did today, which is be charming, self-effacing, interesting and introspective in his morning press conference. He had expansive, useful answers to the questions asked, didn't duck any, and was clearly trying to provide helpful responses. So that's what makes Tortorella, well, Tortorella, from a media point-of-view. Never dull, that's for sure.)
In case you missed it, here’s the New York Post’s account of the discussion between Tortorella and Brooks on Sunday:
"I have no response, I'm not discussing that," Tortorella said when asked by the Post's Larry Brooks for a reaction to his suspension.
"You're not discussing the fact you were suspended for a playoff game?" responded Brooks.
"That's just what I said," said Tortorella. "Next question."
"That's unbelievable, John. Unbelievable."
"You guys have your opinions, write 'em. Next question."
"So after a player commits a mistake, he doesn't have an obligation to talk?"
"You guys think you're entitled to all information, Larry."
"I'm asking for your opinion, not information."
"You have your opinion. You don't need mine and I'm not going to give it to you. Next question.”
During the playoffs, Damien Cox is answering your questions daily. 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.**