Thursday Mail Bag
Eight days to the entry draft and a new saviour for the Maple Leafs.
That, of course, is how you generate hope and optimism for the future, and whether Brian Burke can move up to get John Tavares or whether he ends up with Brayden Schenn or Jared Cowan at the No. 7 slot, that player will still become a symbol of the future for the downtrodden Leafs.
That player will be added to the likes of Luke Schenn, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak and possibly goalie Jonas Gustavsson as the Leafs start to put together the outline of a young team that might be able to break through and become a playoff club again by, optimistically, the spring of 2011.
The draft will be followed by free agency, and its fair to say July and August should be busy months for Burke and the Leafs, a team likely to look very different by training camp in September. There really isn’t much of an off-season in the NHL any more, at least not for the machinery of player acquisitions. After being shuffled to the side for the past two months during the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Phoenix Coyotes saga, the Leafs are hoping to grab some attention back starting next week.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: At the risk of being run out of Canada on a rail, am I the only person who is tired of Jim Basillie? I feel badly for Hamilton residents, as it seems they are being used as pawns to stroke an ego over a 'white knight' riding to the country’s rescue from the evil clutches of a commissioner who 'hates' our country. Am I wrong?
Brent Victoria, B.C.
A: Well, I don’t know whether you’re right or wrong. What I do find a bit unseemly is watching people cheering for a billionaire to acquire what would be a very lucrative business. I don’t buy the Canadiana angle. I believe Balsillie sees an enormous business opportunity and wants to grab it. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But, like you, I don’t think it’s about white knights or some grand morality play. Re Hamilton (my hometown), it’s been a wonderful place to live for a long time, and it will continue to be whether the NHL ever deigns to put a team there or not.
Q: Hi Damien,
I have to tell you, I think Gary Bettman is the most entertaining commissioner I have ever heard. I was listening to his interview with Ron Maclean during Game 3 of the finals and I was utterly amazed with his ability to fend off difficult questions with answers that exude confidence and calculation, and an ability to wave off at times tough questions with an air of arrogance.
Saying this, I must admit that I have never ever been a Gary Bettman fan, like many others, but when I look at his accomplishments in the game, it's actually quite significant. He introduced a cap which no one ever thought it was possible, and as a result has helped bring stability to the poorer teams. Yes he has introduced expansion teams in market places that have no business of having hockey teams, but tell me, for a league that is starved for television revenue and publicity, how else do you do it?
My main issue with him is that under his regime, the game has sufferred tremendously in terms of quality, but I honestly blame that on teams deciding to play the game with bigger and rougher players, while playing in the same size rinks. As well, in my mind he learned from the best of the best commissioners - David Stern.
So my question to you is this: In your mind, overall, has Gary Bettman been a positive force for the game, or a detriment to it? Thanks.
Zaki Ameen, Mississauga
A: For starters, I often think there is too much focus on Bettman’s wants and desires. He works for the owners. He does what they want him to do.
That said, he often sets the agenda and the priorities. From an owners point of view, he has generally done well, which is why he has such strong support. It’s all about franchise value and being able to maximize revenues, and for the majority of the teams, Bettman has been a big plus.
For hockey fans, well, it’s been a mixed bag. Four-on-four overtime, the shootout and Olympic participation have been pluses. I agree that the game did suffer tremendously under Bettman from about 1995-2005, but it was his administration that fixed the game after the lockout as well, taking out the red line (huge success) and removing hooking from the game (gigantic success). So, on balance, he’s had his good and his bad, but he’s a whole lot better than his predecessor, John Ziegler.
Q: Hi Damien, I think we were all a little surprised to learn that the Toronto Maple Leafs have veto power with the NHL as far as allowing teams to enter their "territory" - a fact that emerged in the Phoenix Coyotes case.
My question is this: How and when did the Leafs acquire this veto power? It seems strange that the NHL would grant this power to a team does it not? What circumstances could have put the NHL in such a weak bargaining position?
My guess is Harold Ballard had a hand in this! Perhaps a threat to join the WHL? I'm sure it's an interesting story whatever it may be and I really hope you can find out for us.
Jason Locey, Toronto
A: When such power was acquired, power that all the franchises have, is an interesting question. I would suspect it would date all the way back at least to the league’s first expansion in 1967. What’s unclear is that while the Leafs have to give written permission to have another team move into their territory under the league’s constitution is whether a vote of the NHL board of governors could override that “veto.” I doubt we’ll ever see that tested.
What are your thoughts on Brian Burke acquiring J.S. Giguere? Anaheim would probably want to trade him and Burke originally drafted him in Hartford. What would be the going price to get Giguere?
Also, do you think that Matt Venca is for real?
Irfan V., Ottawa
A: On the second question, no.
On the first question, Burke loves Giguere for his competitiveness and professionalism, and his ability to deliver in the clutch. He probably doesn’t like his salary ($6 million next year, $7 million year following). Anaheim has cap problems and with Jonas Hiller having supplanted Giguere as No. 1 would undoubtedly like to move him for basically not much in return. The Leafs’ plan is to go with Vesa Toskala and Swedish free agent Jonas Gustavsson if they can get Gustavsson signed. Otherwise, if they turned to pursuing Giguere, they’d want Toskala and his salary ($4 million next season) to be going the other way to Anaheim.
Q: The Leafs have no top 6 forwards and maybe one top 4 defenceman on their current roster including players with the Marlies. Can they draft a top 6 forward and sign Bowmeester this year? Who would rather sign, the Sedin twins or Heatley?
Gary Lee, Aurora, Ont.
A: Can they draft a top-six forward and sign Bouwmeester? They surely can, but actually doing it may be something different entirely. That’s Burke’s plan, but he’s got to make it happen, and word is Bouwmeester may not be interested in Toronto. He has no interest in Heatley. He’ll take a shot at the Sedins if they don’t re-sign with Vancouver before July 1st.
Q: Hi Damien,
Will the Leafs re-sign Brad May?
Greg Thomson, Oakville, Ont.
A: That will depend on what else they can get done. Burke hasn’t ruled it out.
Q: Wondered if you noticed and could comment on the play of Hal Gill for Pittsburgh during the terrific playoff games. The big, slow defenceman was not good enough for Toronto but is playing a regular shift for the Pehguins. In Game 4 I thought he was outstanding and I found myself cheering for the guy.
Ted Willing, Owen Sound, Ont.
A: Gill played well. The fact the league chose to lower the standards on interference and other fouls certainly helped his effectiveness. But he had to play against the best Detroit forwards all the time and was very steady. He, Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik were, in my mind, major contributors to Pittsburgh’s win.