Thursday Mail Bag
Well, that was appalling.
The ease with which the Maple Leafs are satisfied, it would seem, follows the team year after year, regardless of who is coaching the team, managing the team or playing for the team. Tuesday’s performance against Minnesota, the worst team in the west, was the latest example. The Wild did some good things, but after just two victories, it was as though the Leafs felt they simply needed to wear the correct jerseys and the Wild would be easily beaten. No franchise in the NHL, it seems, struggles more with maintaining a level of decent consistency than the Leafs. Is it because their fans are so easily satisfied? Is it because the media in Toronto praises the club too extravagantly after moderate achievements? Or is it because there simply isn’t enough urgency in the organization, from ownership on down, because there’s is no financial imperative to motivate icing a winning team?
It’s the No. 1 problem Brian Burke and Ron Wilson have to fix, and judging by Tuesday, it’s as bad as ever.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Q: I am having trouble seeing how the NHL ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes really changes anything. The current lease is still in effect between Glendale and the Coyotes because Judge Baum did everything in his power to avoid having to decide the lease status in the bankruptcy proceedings. If the NHL cannot renegotiate the lease, Glendale is still free to pursue the $750 million penalty for relocation of the franchise. What new owner would want to take on this battle?
Glen Wollenberg, Massanutten, Virginia
A: No owner wants this lease. The game plan for the NHL, after all its other contingency plans fell through, was always to re-negotiate the lease and, if unsuccessful, break it and move the team. Nobody takes seriously the City of Glendale’s stated intention to pursue penalties in the hundreds of millions of dollars if that lease isn’t honored. Multiple precedents suggest the city might, at best, be entitled to a penalty payment of $50 million. At any rate, the city has held previous negotations on the lease, most recently with the Jerry Reinsdorf group, and if the Coyotes are to remain in Phoenix, that lease will have to change.
Q: I've heard speculation that Eric Lindros has played a role, behind the scenes, in the events that transpired recently over at the NHLPA. Do you think this is true, and if so, what was the nature of his involvement? His recent resignation from the ombudsman position and all the clashes he's had with others throughout his career don't exactly paint a picture of innocence.
Michael Manno, North York
A: Lindros denies this, although he was remarkably up to speed on all the recent NHLPA events, including an insiders knowledge of the firing of Paul Kelly. Others say that he has been influential all along, or at least, individuals sympathetic to his sentiments about the NHLPA - Ian Penny, in particular - have played a significant role in what has happened at the union in recent months. There are all kinds of conspiracy theories out there, but the pertinent fact now seems to be that Lindros won’t have an influence or role in the union when the current process of finding a new executive director and rewriting the constitution are completed. His union days are done, and given that he resigned as ombudsman last winter, he may be happy with that.
Q: I wanted to hear your thoughts on the Whitby product James Neal. Having seen a few Dallas games (Thank God for Rogers free Centre Ice preview!) James has impressed me with his ability to gather attention from the defense and spreading the puck, and not to mention his left handed shot coming in from the right wing for this Dallas team. Any shot at Team Canada? Future prediction possibly?
Kevin Black, Whitby
A: No shot at Team Canada, at least not if you’re talking about the Vancouver Olympics. But he’s certainly a young player coming into his own after a 24-goal campaign a year ago and nine goals already this season. Moreover, he’s been in the Hockey Canada national team stream for a while, having played in the under-18 program and the national junior program. His time is yet to come as far as playing for his country in the big international events.
Q: Barring a miracle, if things continue as they are , how far do you think Burke will go in terms of compromising the future of this club in order to assure the Bruins are not getting a #1.
If on the other hand he does the right thing and stays the course, can he survive such an outcome?
Filip Gracz, Toronto
A: Well, at this point, Burke can survive pretty much anything. He’s not going to be fired after one full season even if the Leafs finish dead last by 20 points. As far as what he might do to make sure the Bruins don’t get the first overall pick, that’s partly out of his hands. Any of the teams with top five picks could get to No. 1 through the draft lottery. I don’t think you’ll see him moving much in the way of future assets for help now, but he might trade a younger player (Matt Stajan, Ian White, Nikolai Kulemin) for an older NHLer who can help his club more now.
Q: Interesting watching the Leafs promote all the new players that Burke has brought in. To see them sit Stajan, meanwhile Komisarek alone costs them the first three games. Beauchemin is a disaster yet does not miss a shift. Kessel is our best player by far says Wilson. Yet Kaberle is the NHL player of the week. How do you build a team with this type of alienation from the coach towards all the non Burke players?
Dave Nesbitt, Barrie
A: Well, Burke brought in Garnet Exelby and he’s having trouble staying in the lineup. Colton Orr doesn’t play much, and the college signings - Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson - are in the minors. That said, it’s pretty well established that the players that were here before Burke arrived weren’t very successful as a group, so its not surprising newer players would be seen in a different way. As far as Mike Komisarek supposedly costing the team the first three games, that’s so absurd it’s not even worth addressing.
Q: What are your thoughts on turning Tomas Kaberle into a centre? We all know he is a great skater and passer. Look at the career Red Kelly made for himself at centre after being an all star for years on defence. T.K. sure would look good centering Kessel and Blake.
Jim Gosleigh, Newcastle
A: Kaberle’s gifted enough as athlete to be effective to some degree at any position. But clearly when he’s on his game he’s one of the NHL’s better puck moving, playmaking rearguards. He wouldn’t possibly have that impact playing centre with no training or experience at that position.
Q: Hi Damien,
Am I alone in thinking the Leafs are heading down the wrong path again? For so many years the Leafs would "build" by trading draft picks for aging veterans as a quick-fix attempt to succeed. I still cannot get over what Burke gave to the Bruins for Kessell. Granted he's a young scorer, but he's no Crosby or Malkin. Why can't the Leafs just be patient building via the draft? Look at the Penguins or Hawks, set for the future with draft picks like Fleury, Malkin, Crosby, Toews, Kane etc. We're forced to be satisfied with other teams' mediocre cast-offs.
John Kovacs, Richmond Hill
A: I’m not the sure I’d call Kessel “other teams’ mediocre castoff,” but I get your point. To be honest, I’m not really sure why the Leafs refuse to go down the slow rebuild path. Burke has said you can’t do that in Toronto, but I just don’t buy it. After all, they’ve been selling mostly losing teams in the city for decades. That said, Burke has chosen a different path, drafting Nazem Kadri, signing college free agents and signing Jonas Gustavsson, who looks like he might be the equivalent of a first round draft pick. You can expect Burke will go after more college free agents next summer, and in the 22-year-old Kessel, he now has a player that was regarded as a franchise-type player in his draft year and has already scored 36 goals in a season. We’ll see how this progresses.
Q: Hello there Damien,
Long time reader, first time e-mailer. I'm wondering if you might be able to explain the logic of Brian Burke's mentality when it comes to the "belligerance and truculance" of his players. I understand that there is a physical element to hockey and that fighting will always be part of the game, but why is it that BB would pick up someone like Colton Orr when it is clearly a scoring touch that the Leafs need and not a physical touch? Granted the Leafs got pushed around a lot last season but turning the Leafs from wimps into bullies is not the way to make this a winning team. In all honesty, Toronto needs five more Phil Kessels and about 10 less Colton Orrs. So here's my real question, are there no players in the league that BB can get his hands on that have the physicality of a Colton Orr and the scoring touch of a Phil Kessel and if so, why hasn't he pulled his head out of the sand and traded for one of those types of players?
Shane Rieger, Richmond Hill
A: Well, if such a player were available, Burke would be the first in line making an offer. But such players are rare indeed - Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Ryan Getzlaf - and not available. So the answer is that the Leafs had many holes to fill, and still have holes to fill, and the addition of Orr, in Burke’s opinion, filled a role the Leafs needed to have filled at a very affordable price. Burke really believes that such players allow skill players to play their games better, and he really doesn’t care whether you or I agree. He has strong opinions on this - and most hockey matters - and right now the shine on his 2007 Stanley Cup ring means his opinions carry a great deal of weight.
Q: Regarding the Ben Fanelli hit, it is noticeable from the clip that his helmet popped off like a champagne cork. Another piece of the hockey culture at the NHL and junior levels is the "dangling chinstrap". Many players in the NHL have been injured because the helmet isn't firmly secured (see Donald Brashear after Marty McSorley clubbed him). I've played hockey for 40 years, and never found it to be a problem to have my chinstrap done up fairly close to my chin. Have you ever heard this issue discussed around the rinks?
Ron Stewart, Oakville
A: Its discussed all the time. But players think its cool to wear the chinstraps loose and the culture of hockey is about fitting in, not being different. It would be an easy rule for leagues to enforce, but they just don’t.
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.**