Thursday Mail Bag
Well, as my colleague Dave Feschuk astutely pointed out, Brian Burke is apparently the best columnist in town and had everybody talking this week over his apparent plan to land John Tavares.
If only I had that ability to stir it up.
|Damien is taking your questions and comments throughout the NHL playoffs and will publish a daily selection in this space. Click here to submit a question or comment and check the blog daily for answers.|
I think what you’re seeing is all that Anaheim lost when Burke left, and that is an extraordinary ability to make his team the centre of attention in any number of ways. Not many people talk about the Ducks now in the same way they did when Burke was there, and now the Leafs are a daily topic across the league. What the value of that is precisely is unclear, but it sure makes things interesting.
What I do know is that it is nothing less than an absolute travesty that it has been five years since there was a Stanley Cup playoff game in Toronto, the longest drought in the history of this franchise. Watching the playoffs open Wednesday night in four very excited cities just drove home the point that having the Leafs on the sidelines year after year is not only bad for the league, its sucking the life out of this market.
That means when Burke does get this club back into post-season play, it should be exciting as hell because there will be years of pent-up frustration and emotion.
Until then, well, we’ll just have to enjoy the circus.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
I can't help but find optimism in Brian Burke's openness with the media. The newest being the draft and how he covets John Tavares. One thing that has caught my attention is the way he has signed the NCAA free agents. What I am baffled by is how he can sign players like Chris Hansen and Tyler Bozak to one-way contracts yet he turns around and refuses to sign Matt Gilroy to a one-way contract. Isn't Gilroy a more highly sought after free agent? He did win the Hobey Baker Award.
Rob Ryder, Georgetown, Ont.
A: You are partly right. Gilroy is the more sought after free agent. But Hanson and Bozak did not get one-way deals. In fact, part of the CBA dictates that players on entry level contracts like those two get mandatory two-ways. The difference with Gilroy is that because of his age he falls outside of the entry level system, so he can get a one-way and whatever salary he can negotiate.
Q: Hey D.C.
Who is the Kane/Stamkos/Tavares of 2010? The last 3 years it's been pretty obvious who's going 1st overall in the draft - and we've been hearing about J.T. specifically since he was 15 - but who's the big fish every bottom feeder will be wanting a year from now?
Terry Bridge, Waterloo, Ont.
A: Well, I’m still trying to get my head around this draft, to be honest. But the name you keep hearing over and over in terms of the 2010 draft is Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires. He’s a Kingston boy, and wouldn’t it be terrific if, assuming John Tavares does go first this summer, we had three consecutive Ontario-born teenagers go No. 1 in the NHL draft.
Q: Hey Damien,
So Burke has declared he wants Tavares. Likely a long shot at best. In the off-season, what options are really there for the Leafs? As if they really had so much talent to trade they would have made the playoffs. Obviously there are some tradable assets, but I guess the real asset the Leafs have is cap space and money. What teams out there are looking to dump a high salary or 2? And how could that benefit Toronto? On the Tavares issue an interesting idea I heard is Rick DiPietro to Toronto, assuming he is injured and of no use to NYI.
Jason Higgins, Orangeville, Ont.
A: There are any number of clubs with potential cap issues – New York, Philly – and others who may be looking to cut costs, like Colorado. But we won’t really know which team is where until the summer after contract buyouts and free agency.
It would benefit the Leafs potentially because theoretically they could take on a bad contract in a trade if it meant they were able to use that as leverage to get something better out of the deal. I’ve heard the DiPietro idea too; he’s under contract until 2021 (!) at $4.5 million. Obviously his injury problems are becoming an issue, but I can’t imagine any team wanting to assume that liability unless they were absolutely convinced the cap was going to increase significantly to upwards of $70 million in the next five years.
I think everything’s on the table. While Burke’s predecessor, Cliff Fletcher, said publicly that he didn’t believe there were special players in this draft, it seems pretty evident that Burke, rightly or wrongly, feels very differently. He wants one of the top teenagers available, and I’m not sure even Luke Schenn is untouchable if that’s what it takes to make a deal happen. This will be fascinating to watch.
Q: What do you think of Brian Burke's very public goal to move up to the top draft pick? A lot of Leaf fans I know figure it is a done deal and they are already planning to buy a Tavares a Leaf Jersey.
But if he does not land the top pick, does he risk looking foolish? How would he be able to save face given the high optimism and now expectations of Leaf fans?
Brent Achtymichuk, Toronto
A: It’s an interesting strategy. I guess he believes by declaring his intent he can build pressure on the Islanders to move the pick by draft day. I don’t think he’s guaranteed anything, however, and I think Leaf fans by and large are pleased with his aggressive attitude.
Q: Hello Damien,
Perhaps its a bit early to talk about the NHL draft but I was wondering what your thoughts are regarding Tavares and where he ranks with respect to the last few touted #1 picks like Stamkos, Kane, or Crosby. There is no doubt in my mind that he'll go #1, but I honestly don't see him in the same class as these other players.
James K., Toronto
A: I do, although I think grouping them together might be misleading. Crosby is by far and away the best, with Kane and Stamkos still having a lot to prove. Tavares is a blue-chipper and excellent from the blueline in. What will determine his long-term status is how he plays in the rest of the rink. He’s already shown an ability to lift his game on the big stage (world junior championships). I’ve yet to see anything that makes me believe he’ll be anything but a very good NHL points-producer.
I saw you at the at the Mississauga Majors playoff game last Friday night. In fact I even said Hello when you were looking for the end of the line to buy tickets.
What did you think of the game, and do you think there were any potential NHLers out there, besides Cody Hodgson?
Cory Schneider, Oakville
A: Good to see you there, Cory. Gotta tell you, I went there specifically because I wanted to see Matt Duchene of the Battalion, so I kind of focused on him. He’s terrific, great speed and I wouldn’t be shocked if he wormed his way into the top 3, maybe even the top 2, in June.
But wasn’t that a spectacular spin-a-rama, shorthanded goal by Jared Gomes of the Majors?
Q: Hi Damien,
Of course the season transpired pretty well as expected for the Leafs. Glad to see they stuck with youth despite the travails.
Do you think that better UFAs might see Toronto as a good choice (not just because of $) with Burke as GM rather than JFJ and his predecessors? Burke seems to be a man with fire in his eyes who has insatiable drive to win. And, of course, Nonis, Nieuwendyk and the rest of the management team? Just seems that the "culture" is better now to me.
Chris Belanger, Grande Prairie, AB
A: Here’s what I know is true. Burke is a very, very aggressive recruiter, and in the past players have demonstrated they like to play for him. Ferguson was, by contrast, more passive, and his free agent choices (Jason Allison, Eric Lindros, Mariusz Czerkawski, Pavel Kubina, Jason Blake) weren’t exactly inspired. So sure, I think the Burke team is likely to attract more interest from top free agents.
Q: Hi Damien,
I'm surprised this hasn't received more attention. It sounds to me like Brian Burke said, out loud, that he will get rid of Vesa Toskala the first opportunity.
In discussing Justin Pogge, Burke listed three things that he feels an NHL goalie must have. The first, he said, is size. Why would Burke say that, knowing his starting goaltender is 5'10" (allegedly, I think he's much shorter), unless he's planning to ditch him?
Paul McDougall, New York
A: I’d say Toskala’s about 5-foot-8, by the way. I didn’t hear that quote to which you refer, but I do know there’s a strong train of thought across the league right now that because of the heavier physical demand on goalies in the “new” NHL – more offensive zone time, lots of power plays – that bigger men handle the workload better.
That said, Chris Osgood won his second Cup last year and he’s not a particularly big man, and neither is San Jose’s Evgeny Nabokov. Steve Mason, on the other hand, might be the wave of the future, a big kid with the butterfly style. Anyways, Burke won’t be ditching Toskala until he finds someone better, and that may take a while.
Q: Hey Damien,
I am curious to get your view as to why you believe that Ron Wilson, who has been quick to jump publicly on several notable Leafs, has chosen to give Alexei Ponikarovsky such a (seemingly) easy ride. I would have thought that given the style of play that both he and Burke want, they would be calling Alex out to use his physical attributes way more than he does.
Stephen F., Toronto
A: Well, I think basically Wilson liked Ponikarovsky’s game. The guy did net a career high in goals. As far as his physical play, Ponikarovsky’s never going to be a big banger, and I think Wilson is experienced enough to know that there’s little point trying to force players to be what they are not. My guess, however, is that he’s one of those players that Wilson wants to see more fit next fall so he can play at a higher tempo more consistently.
I'd like your thoughts on a couple of playoff ideas from a Blackhawks fan.
1. Chicago plays in the toughest division in the Western Conference; Nashville came within a whisker of having all five Central Division teams make the post-season, yet the Hawks finished below Vancouver, a team from the weaker Northwest with four fewer points. I think the division winners should be ranked according to points, giving home ice advantage to the better teams throughout the playoffs as they deserve.
2. In the present playoff format there could never be another Toronto-Montreal final. (Okay there are other reasons than that but it’s theoretically possible!). If teams were ranked by points regardless of conference at some point, for example for the semi-finals, then any pairing of teams would be possible.
What do you think?
Paul Grady, Toronto
A: Well, the Central was dreadfully weak for years, so I don’t think its sudden emergence is reason to change the system. That said, I think division winners should be guaranteed playoff spots, but not one of the top three seeds.
As far as the playoff format that could produce a Toronto-Montreal final, well, I’m pretty much open to anything. There are lots of different options, and I do think the extensive travel in the west is a bit unfair. I’d be happy, I think, if they did an east-west crossover at the conference finals, making it a Final Four, if you will. So last year maybe Detroit would have played Philly and Pittsburgh would have faced Dallas.
Q: Hi Damien,
Don't always agree with you but always find myself reading your stuff so I guess you're doing something right!
So the question: what if instead of the worst record got 1st overall pick, it was the best non-playoff team? I think that would be an excellent way to create excitement and keeps some perpetual losers who don't know what to do with their great picks year and year (Islanders!) from wasting them.
Reza Kajbaf, Atlanta
A: I’m glad you don’t always agree. That would be boring!
I like that idea, mostly because I think it would keep clubs really playing hard to the end and make a lot of meaningless games more meaningful.
Q: Having a NHL draft lottery is a good idea but the current system is filled with problems. Don't you think they there should be a more equitable opportunity for all non-playoff teams to get the top pick (see the NBA draft lottery)?
There are teams that finish below the Leafs, and who have more potential, who will get a better pick. Tampa Bay, L.A. Kings, and Phoenix come to mind. Not to mention, the 'winner' of the final game of the season between the Leafs and Sens, could have been the team that lost.
So if you had the power, how would you fix the draft lottery mess?
Brent Achtymichuk, Toronto
A: I’d be happy with one of two systems. Either, as mentioned above, award the non-playoff teams for finishing higher. So the draft order would have the team that finishes 17th getting the first pick, and the team that finishes 30th getting the 14th overall selection.
Or, I wouldn’t mind if they put all 14 non-playoff teams in a hat and picked them out in draft order. Or all 30 teams. I’m just not a great believer that the draft needs to reward teams that are incompetent or non-competitive, or that it necessarily turns bad teams into good teams.
Q: Hello Damien,
Is it time to expand the NHL playoffs? Currently, only 16 of 30 teams qualify which leaves too many quality teams out of the year-end tournament. This year there (were) six good teams in the West competing for the last two spots and in the East there are four good teams competing for the last two spots (5 including Ottawa). I suggest it would make sense to shorten the NHL season to 80 games, have the three division winners get a bye in the first round and have teams ranked 4-11 play a best- of-three series. This way 22 of 30 would make it.
Dan Marsh, Halifax
A: I don’t like the idea of expanding the playoffs at all. But I do like the idea of rewarding first place finishers with a bye.
All this said, I don’t believe at all that “good” teams are missing the playoffs. I think average teams are, and that’s okay with me.
During the NHL playoffs, Damien Cox answers your questions on a daily basis 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.**