Thursday Mail Bag
Safe to say that last year, readers of this blog were remarkably resourceful when it came to participating in the weekly mail bag, often contributing unique points of view and helping to generate conversation and discussion the Leafs and other hockey matters.
So of course it’s back.
Among this week’s questions, of course, there are few that highlight the positives about the Leafs. When the Leafs are down or when they are up, it overshadows pretty much everything else on the hockey horizon in this town. Needless to say, a six-game losing streak to start the season means lots of questions about Ron Wilson, Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn, but surprisingly few about the goaltending, which to me, is at the root of all the club’s problems at the moment.
Maybe it’ll all turn around Saturday against the Rangers. Even under the worst case scenario the Leafs are going to win 30 or more games this season, so they might as well start soon.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
I just finished reading your comments about (Luke) Schenn and how you think he was rushed into the league and regressing this year. I think your looking at the wrong side of the ice; the problem is Beauchemin, not Schenn. All you have to do is look at how much better Schenn played with White, then how he is doing with Beauchmin. I'm not sure why the two are struggling so badly together, but I think the team made it clear to Schenn that Beauchemin was to be his "mentor" and Schenn seems to be deferring to Beauchemin and not making his own decisions on the ice. In the end they both look bad but with the "experience" factor of Beauchemin he looks worse.
If this poor play on the part of Beauchmin continues then I think you can begin to spell his name Mc-C-A-B-E!
Jamie Hubbert, Ottawa
A: I hear what you’re saying. Problem is, Schenn has played with other defencemen this season and not really looked better. He’s a hard-working, dedicated young hockey player, but what you’re seeing is the danger of moving youngsters too fast. He may actually be about the same as he was for most of last year, but expectations are higher, and now even something useful - like sitting him down for a game, or sending him to the minors for seasoning - will be viewed as a negative, as a step backwards. But you can’t look at other players and blame them for Schenn’s struggles, although poor team defence exposes individuals. What bothers me most is not sending Schenn back to junior last year cost him a year of being a dominant WHLer, a year of playing on the power play, a year of developing his offensive game. How many other NHL defenceman do you know who can’t take a slapshot? This is so much like the way in which the Leafs “handled” Luke Richardson as a young defenceman it's scary. That said, Schenn is still a very good NHL prospect, one that needs to be protected from the clouds hanging over the team right now.
Q: I'm starting to believe that this is becoming squarely a coaching issue. Sure, on paper it isn't exactly a first class roster by any means but for how multi-dimensional the failure of this team is so far this year all signs lead back to failed leadership from the coaching staff. Still the worst PK in the league and a defense that is perpetually mistake prone. Beauchemin arrives in Toronto and is suddenly a mediocre d-man, ditto Komisarek? Aside of the first game against Montreal the forecheck has been completely MIA. The team is either unwilling or unable to buy into Ron Wilson's system -whatever that is.
Granted I'm just some yutz with an armchair opinion and maybe Wilson will turn it around. But if as the season goes on there's no improvement do you think Burke would be able to set aside personal loyalty and at the risk of destabilizing Team USA fire Ron Wilson?
Matt Kuzyk, North Bay, Ont.
A: Doesn’t seem likely that Burke would can Wilson, just as it doesn’t seem likely that the Leafs will remain this bad. Don’t forget, opening night they looked pretty darn good in many ways. All this said, continued losing would clearly put the job of Wilson at risk during this season, and beyond that, if the Leafs miss the post-season and see no areas of team or individual development under Wilson, this will become a bigger issue next spring. Right now, I don’t think the situation with Team USA has anything to do with it.
Q: Everybody's debating the Phil Kessel deal, but here's a question. What was the urgency to complete the deal for a player that won't play until November? Could Burke have waited a few weeks to see how his team came out of the gate, and then maybe determined he'd rather hold on to his draft picks given that they're looking more like lottery picks?
Dave Paynter, Toronto
A: I guess the answer is that Burke saw an opportunity and seized the moment. Also, the player and his agent were anxious for a move and a new contract, and Boston surely didn’t want an unresolved situation sitting around. From a Leaf point of view, the chance to grab a 21-year-old winger with game-breaking potential was irresistible, plus they wanted to get their cap situation in line. Sometimes the timing of things in the NHL doesn’t make sense but is just kind of the rhythm of when hockey matters get resolved. But don’t underestimate the power of the agent in this one to put pressure on both the Leafs and Bruins to get something done.
Q: Why isn't Burke getting the criticism he deserves? We keep blaming Wilson and Toskala yet look at the team that Burke has created? Colton Orr? Exelby? Kept Mayers? Its a goon fest with no grit. The top line features Gabrovski, Pony and Blake? A third line at best. This team that he has built isn't competitive with the current NHL and it shows by the product on the ice. Finally he traded away our top draft picks so the Leafs losing season will be even more pointless. When is the media going to hold Burke accountable?
Regg Struyk, Guelph, Ont.
A: Well, don’t know what you’re reading or watching or listening to, but it sure seems to me Burke is getting lots of criticism from many different quarters. I think he’s very much being held accountable, and to make “the media” sound like they’re not doing a good job of evaluating the Leaf GM is just incorrect. Look, Burke may be in the early stages of really screwing this thing up. But he’s six games into his first full season and he’s a disaster already? Criticism is fair, but remember the team Burke inherited, and remember he signed a five-year deal. If they’re no better than this after the end of the 2010-11 season, then all bets are off.
Q: Watching the last few Leaf games I am seeing a team very disorganized. The team has no compete level in them to me this is coaching. Do you think the Leafs are tuning out Ron Wilson so early in the season and do you feel the team is simply not that good to compete at a NHL level?
Brian Marto, Markham
A: I think great coaches are made by great players. I also think outstanding coaching can make a team greater than the sum of its parts. Basically, then, at this point, there isn’t a Leaf I would give a passing grade to for individual performance, nor is there a Leaf coach that would pass either.
Q: Damien - how much of the Leafs' performance is down to leadership on the ice - or lack of it? Without a captain it's hard to see how the other parts of Burke's plan can start to deliver. Maybe I'm missing something but it can't help if the boss is saying there isn't ANYONE on this team good enough to wear the C.
Peter Hawkins, Northampton, UK
A: I don’t see the captaincy, per se, as that vital. The veterans certainly aren’t leading the way, but then, an open question is whether there’s much you can do to lead Matt Stajan or Alexei Ponikarovsky or Tomas Kaberle, Leafs who may simply have been Leafs for too long and lack the desperation and urgency to make this team better.
Q; Once Van Ryn is back, the Leafs will have 8 NHL defencemen on the roster. Three of them were brought in by Burke, Schenn is the future, and Kaberle cannot be moved at the moment. It does not make sense to have White, Finger or Van Ryn sitting in the pressbox when any of the Marlies defencemen could do the same. So which one of them is gone by Christmas?
David Gargaro, Thornhill
A: Again, there’s this belief that the Leafs have this great wealth of quality defencemen. I didn’t buy it last year when some commentators were citing Leaf blueline depth on a daily basis, and I don’t buy it this year. Moreover, exactly which Marlie defenceman has already proven he can play at the NHL level? None, to my estimation. If it were up to me - and it’s not - Kaberle would be induced to accept a trade, Schenn would be at the Ricoh Centre working on his offensive and defensive game for a month or two and the other veterans would be forced to fight for ice time. A little competition within the group would be healthy.
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.**