Thursday Mail Bag
One game left in a very forgettable season.
|ANDREW WALLACE/TORONTO STAR|
|Probably one of the highlights from the 2009 season.|
Sure, there were some highlights, starting with the stunning opening night victory in Detroit.
But this was supposed to be the year of the Big New Beginning, and really, it’s not even clear whether the Maple Leafs have hit rock bottom yet. Next year, with the current roster sure to change, could be even tougher.
But there never was any way to get around this, and at least the franchise is staring cold, hard reality straight in the face, eschewing any and all shortcuts to try to build this thing right. That’s laudable. The Brian Burke administration isn’t looking for any easy answers, but at the same time there’s a sense this GM and this coach just won’t accept the mediocre, go-for-eighth-place approach that’s been acceptable in the past.
In Luke Schenn, John Mitchell and Mikhail Grabovski, there’s hope. In Ian White, there’s an example of a player who worked his guts out just to be a Leaf.
Otherwise, for the most part, this has been a season to forget.
Now, with apologies in advance to all those questions that didn’t make the cut this week, on to this week’s (bulging) mail bag:
Q: I've been watching hockey a long time, long enough to realize that superstars alone don't win championships, hockey teams do. Do these college signings help the Maple Leafs become a better hockey team and will these young men even make this team next year?
Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Terry Wilder, Toronto
A: I wouldn’t slot either Christian Hanson or Tyler Bozak in the Leafs’ NHL lineup for next fall. If either makes it right out of camp, it will be a happy surprise. From taking off their full face masks to confronting a much longer regular season than college, these two young men have a lot of learning to do. Moreover, the Leafs don’t want to be in the position of giving jobs to kids until they’ve put their time in. I would imagine the reasonable hope is that one of the two will turn out to be a good NHLer. If that turns out to be the case, the exercise was worth it. But I don’t think in either case we’re talking superstar status.
Q: Hello Damien,
I’m hoping you can help me understand the ‘potential’ of the recently signed Hanson and Bozak. When I look forward to draft day I understand the implication and ‘potential’ quality that can be realized from a low first round pick and two other picks in the top 50. What would you say the equivalent of these two new guys is? Should we think of them as, and apply the expectations we would on a second round pick, a first round pick? Hanson (played) in Philly, and Bozak is, many say, NHL ready – that sounds like ‘first round’ to me.
What do you equate these guys as?
Bill Cabel, Toronto
A: Wow, interesting question. Hmmm. I would say equivalent to second round picks, perhaps. Actually, I think they’re more like the young prospects teams pick up in exchange from experienced talent partway through the season or at the trade deadline. Sometimes they turn out to be Steve Sullivan (Doug Gilmour deal), sometimes they turn out to be Rich Costello (Darryl Sittler deal). They are young players with proven potential. What’s hard to gauge is how badly either wants to be a pro.
Q: How good are these guys? Is it reasonable to think guys who were totally ignored during their draft years have now matured to the point of being sure fire NHLers much less top six players?
Paul Borneman, Parry Sound, Ont.
A: Sure it’s reasonable. It happens. The Leafs even benefitted a decade ago when Mike Johnson, a local boy who slipped through the cracks, turned out to be more than a serviceable pro.
Anaheim would tell you they did quite well with Chris Kunitz, Andy McDonald and Dustin Penner, all college free agents. Players mature late, grow late and become players late. It happens.
Q: Hey Damien.
What is with the media around this city? Are they ever going to learn to let players go about their progression and not overhype everyone only to bash them the next chance they have? What is your take on our media outlets in the city? I think there is over-coverage that takes place. Can you comment regarding your take on this city? Let players develop and not kill them in the papers (most fans are too dumb to see past the headlines and evaluate talent on their own). We give Pogge the boot and give Schenn the accolades (is this a management decision to not be hard on the kid).
Mario Garisto, Toronto
A: I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking. I would say that the degree of coverage is largely dictated by the great passion there is in the city for the hockey club. I’m not sure there was “overhype” of Hanson and Bozak, but people tend to get excited about the possibilities of young players. Moreover, in this case the Leafs were able to convince these players to join their organization rather than a dozen or more other organizations, so that represents a sense that the Leafs are no longer an organization stumbling around in the dark.
As far as not “killing” young players in the papers, hey, these guys are professional athletes getting paid big dollars to perform. Part of playing in the Big Smoke is that you’re going to get attention, good and bad. Pogge has been given lots of time to gradually develop, but at some point he has to perform. I have no problem with people, either in the media or outside the media, having opinions on players and their abilities. That’s what sport is about. This isn’t house league.
Q: Hello Damien,
What made you change your mind on fighting? I was watching PTS a few weeks back and Bob McCown mentioned that he converted you to your current anti-fighting stance. According to McCown, you used to be one of those knuckleheads that thought fighting was a part of the game.
Ray Young, Toronto
A: McCown said that? Not surprised he was taking credit. I wouldn’t say Bob converted me during the years we worked together on Prime Time Sports, but those were probably the years during which I did change my point-of-view on the subject. I actually don’t remember Bob and I talking about it that often. But I would say he has his own point-of-view on a great many subjects, and on fighting, he’s certainly never been one of the old boys, one of the crusty hockey crowd that says fighting is part of the game and just accept it. There’s an intellectual curiosity to Bob that says you don’t just accept anything.
For me, it was more about gradually understanding the pointlessness of fighting, and that all the excuses that are trotted out as supposed rationales are a bunch of hokum. As well, having young children in the sport sensitized me to the damage an environment of fear and violence can cause to young athletes. There’s no question I’m a convert. Whether Bob McCown did the converting is open to debate.
Q: Hey Damien, I have a couple of questions.
First, with the Leafs basically playing meaningless games now why wouldn't Brian Burke and Ron Wilson decide to send down Luke Schenn to the Marlies since they are in the middle of a playoff chase and get him minutes in pressure situations? If he can help the Marlies make the playoffs then he would get experience playing playoffs games and given the uncertainity of Kubina and Kaberle to be on the team next year having Schenn with that type of experience would really benefit him.
Also can you update me about what the Leafs plans, if any, are with Tyler Ruegsegger? With Burke trying to sign every available college free agent I would think he might still have a future with the Leafs.
Alex Kramarz, Toronto
A: Schenn isn’t eligible to go to the Marlies because of his age. He would have had to go back to junior and finish the season there, then join the AHL club.
On Ruegsegger, he was a teammate of Bozak’s this year at the University of Denver and had a solid season as a junior with 15 goals in 35 games. He has decent size, but his big drawback is his skating. I haven’t heard anything to this point about the Leafs wanting him to come out this year and sign a pro contract, so I’m guessing he’ll finish up his senior year next season and then the Leafs would take a hard look. He’s a longshot.
Q: Hi Damien,
I was watching you guys on TSN the other day and you were talking about Sean Avery's latest antics against Boston/Thomas. The gentleman who was on the panel with you (his name escapes me right now) stated about the incident "it's not like he has whiplash or anything" I was wondering about your thoughts about this statement and if this thinking is part of the problem with the mindset of the hockey world.
Should an injury have to occur before we seriously address "needless" behaviour? It is not like Avery stopped a breakaway; he hit a man in the back of the head who was on his knees during a stoppage in play. Regardless of the lack of injury, this behavior needs to be addressed. I fail to see how this was a "hockey" play in any form. I think players need to be addressed for these types of stunts and I definitely do not think injury should gage the level of discipline a player should receive. If we are going to go by the injury, where does that leave Todd Bertuzzi? Thanks for your time.
Phil McBride, Whitby, Ont.
A: That was my colleague Michael Farber who made that comment, I believe. Look, if it was anyone else but Avery, you deal with it in the context of the game (a penalty) and then move on. Silly stuff like this happens all the time, and generally speaking, there’s no point getting too bent out of shape.
That said, it wouldn’t even cross the mind of most NHLers to do something like that, and in this case, it nearly touched off a riot. Avery should have been slapped hard by the league given his previous indiscretions. The fact he wasn’t just means there is undoubtedly more to come.
Listened to your morning segment on the (radio). The amount of crap you give Avery is kinda ridiculous given that he’s been their best forward since he was acquired. Even during the Bruins game he was one of the best and most noticeable players on the ice. Don't believe me? Go and read what the Rangers beat writers are saying, or actually watch a game yourself. Sure Avery does some stuff to piss people off, but he doesn't go out to injure players.
Dustin Byfuglien elbows Roberto Luongo in the head and no one blinks. Pronger tries to injure players every game and he gets a slap on the wrist at the worst. The hate-on the Canadian media have for Avery is incredible.
Abdul A., Toronto
A: Well, I can’t speak for the Canadian media, and I’m not particularly concerned with what the Ranger beat writers think. Your take seems to be that as long as he plays well, any idiocy he produces is acceptable. He’s been booted off two teams – Los Angeles and Dallas – and seems to create problems wherever he goes. You seem to think he’s some kind of winner – I see a selfish player who, when it comes down to it, will behave selfishly. Can he be an effective player? Absolutely. But apparently just not for very long.
Q: Mr. Cox,
What prevents a team from signing a player to a 100 year contract, or for that matter a 1000 year contract? Front-end load the first years with millions and then pay the back end at a dollar per year. Overall cap hit would be negligible.
Chris Monk, Ottawa
A: Nothing in the rules prevents this, although I do think the league would step in at some point. But why would a player want to sign such a deal? It would also be a nearly impossible contract to move since most teams wouldn’t think that way. But as far as I know, there is no rule in the current CBA that would make it impossible.
Q: It looks like Brayden Schenn, Luke's brother, is putting up good offensive numbers and displaying the coveted truculence, belligerence and testosterone. He's not the biggest kid at 6'0" but what do you think the chances are the Leafs take him with their first pick, assuming they pick seventh?
Clint Walker, South Riding
A: Hard to say. We know Burke, who drafted the Sedins, wouldn’t be averse to having brothers on the same club. But there are some other solid players who will be available between six and 10 on draft day. This much seems clear – Schenn will be available when it comes time for the Leafs to pick. They’ll either pick him or pass.
Q: Hi Damien,
Aside from the GM, is it not part of the scouting staffs’ ability when assessing talent to find consistent players who bring a solid work ethic?
Do you think the staff has done a good job and if not, then what are their main issues? Do you think that Brian Burke will be overhauling the Leafs scouting staff? Despite the GM changes we've had over the years, I never heard much of scouting changes, other than when the Leafs were using Anders Hedberg, several years back to get European talent.
Steve Sanyal, Pickering
A: Well, you have to differentiate between amateur scouting and pro scouting. In both cases, there has been so much turnover on the Leaf staff over the years that the organization has failed to establish consistent standards for what it’s looking for in players. But I think there’s a good chance the pro scouting staff will undergo substantial change this summer, and the amateur staff will get some time to prove what it can do.
Q: Hey Damien, a week or so ago you mentioned the need for there to be more value in teams winning their division. I heard the NBA is toying with the idea of allowing division winners to pick their first round opponent (apparently they are doing it in their developmental league this year). What do you think of this idea?
Joel Slomp, Calgary
A: Don’t like it and can’t imagine any team would. Imagine Boston right now saying they’d rather play the Canadiens than the Rangers. Talk about setting yourself up for trouble by publicly identifying one opponent as weaker than another.
Q: In the mail bag you once again knocked Fletcher for trying to land Bobby Ryan from the Ducks for the Leafs first round pick in 2009. Do you honestly think that would be a bad trade? Ryan is young and showing huge upside. Not to mention he is a former #2 pick. We may have had to take on some garbage salary in Mathieu Schneider but still would be worth it to me. Your thoughts?
Tincup Canuck, Minden, Ont.
A: We’ve been over this and over this. One more time. For starters, who says that was the trade on the table? And if it was, why didn’t the Leafs make it? It might have been a Leaf proposal that Anaheim wanted nothing to do with. Or it might have been a much more complicated transaction. At any rate, if it was a real deal, there was nothing stopping Cliff Fletcher from making it.
The second point is that at the time Ryan was still in the minors and struggling to keep an NHL job. He’s obviously gone on to have a very strong season. But I believe a team like the Leafs needs to draft and develop its own players, not always be looking outside. Let’s face it, the Leafs have done quite enough of trading away first round picks and it has never managed to get them anywhere. Ryan is 22, and that four-year age difference between he and whoever the Leafs draft this season will prove very significant when it comes to issues like free agency and arbitration.
But sure, if the deal on the table today was Ryan for the Leafs’ first pick, that would be a trade you’d have to look at very carefully. But there’s no evidence that proposal ever actually existed or was contemplated by both teams. Funny how it always seems to “leak” out how Fletcher could have made this trade or that trade but was somehow prevented from doing so.
I understand that there will be a lot of free agents available this summer. Could a team use a strategy where they let all the other teams overpay for the top free agents and run out of cap space. After that wouldn't there be enough second tier players left where the team could pick and choose from the remaining free agents at a decent price? I would think the remaining free agents would have to lower their expectations or risk not playing at all.
Sanjay Bali, Scarborough
A: I suppose that would be a strategy. Right now, however, no one seems to really know what the market will look like, and it may be incorrect to assume other teams will be overpaying for talent. You might just miss out getting the players you need. But it’s certainly a strategy that’s been used before.
Q: Throughout Brian Burke's career he seems to have a history of acquiring players that he has been involved with previously. See Brad May, Todd Burtuzzi, Chris Pronger, Brendan Morrison etc.
Aside from the natural gravitation towards the Sedin twins, what do you think the chances are that Burke entertains the idea of signing some other players he is familiar with, namely upcoming free agents Travis Moen, Sami Pahlsson and Rob Neidermayer?
Do you see any of these players fitting in to the Leafs plans going forward?
Stephen Woods, Roblin, Man.
A: I think he wants Moen to get back to the sandpaper-type game before he would consider him. Pahlsson has chronic physical problems. Niedermayer only shows up to play in the playoffs. All are free agents and theoretically could be Leafs. But many GMs look to players they know personally and know well, and Burke is no exception.
Q: Simple Question. Is Cujo (My favourite all-time player) a hall of famer?
Blake Hannesson, New Fairfield, CT
A: To me, no. But I think there’s a very good chance he will get in. The absence of even a single trip to the Stanley Cup final is a mark against him. You could argue he’s the Mike Gartner of goalies – and Gartner is in the Hall of Fame.
Q: Hi Damien,
I've read you for many years and am well aware of your stance against hockey. I've seen you defend your anti-hockey stance and put up counter-arguments to the usual reasons why people like fighting or think it's necessary. I have only one reason why I want fighting to stay in the NHL and I don't think you or anyone else can defend against it. The reason I want fighting to stay? Because I enjoy it. It's that simple. I enjoy the fights that break out in games. Is that such a crime?
I should say that I am not a Neanderthal, I am a well educated person who has watched hockey most of his life. I appreciate all the skill and non-fighting aspect of the game. I'm not saying that I will not enjoy hockey if there's no fighting in it, but it will probably be 10% less exciting for sure. I love all the aspects of the game including the fighting and frankly I don't see any reason why I have to defend something that I enjoy. As far as I'm concerned I'm a hardcore hockey fan who enjoys the fighting in hockey, no other explanation needed.
Vsem Yenovkian, Toronto
A: I’m cool with that. And you don’t have to explain yourself to me. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind – just putting my viewpoint out there. So we’ll have to agree to disagree. I am sorry your enjoyment of an otherwise great sport is so significantly based on fighting, but that’s your choice.
Q: If, as seems inevitable, one or more NHL franchises ceases to be able to continue, most likely I understand due to inadequate funds to pay salaries, who will be on the hook for the remainder of the players contracts? Does the NHL have a back up plan, enshrined, or will Gary Bettman be making up it up on the fly?
Mark Hillard, Milton, Ont.
A: The league would guarantee the contracts and the players would be moved to new teams in a dispersal draft. I’m not sure, however, I see the inevitability of this scenario you describe. No NHL team has gone out of business since the Cleveland Barons. It wasn’t that long ago since Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Buffalo were all bankrupt. Bettman’s administration has a way of keeping these teams alive.
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.**