Thursday Mail Bag
|Join us at noon Thursday for a live Q&A with Damien Cox, as the Leafs prepare to face the Carolina Hurricanes.|
It actually came from New Jersey Devils all-world goalie Martin Brodeur. We were chatting recently about the possibility of taking the trapezoid out from behind the net that restricts goalies from playing the puck, a change he (of course) would welcome.
He also proposed a better use for the trapezoid. It would become an area in which players would no longer be allowed to come to a complete stop without opposition players in the vicinity. Brodeur dislikes, as do most, a strategy that has crept into the game in recent years in which players stand behind their nets and wait for their teammates to change, thus essentially delaying the game for 15-20 seconds. The opponent usually goes along with the strategy, and everyone stops playing.
It’s not as annoying as players skating to the bench in a line to slap gloves after scoring a goal. But it’s close. Three seconds in the trapezoid might be a better use for those painted lines than it’s current use.
Now on to this week’s mailbag:
I'm slowly waking up to the realization I'm in a classic abusive relationship — they tell me they love me and promise to change, to be better, to respect me. Then they hurt me all over again. This has to stop. Or I have to start cheering for someone else — even Phoenix looks good to me now.
The Leafs have some decent pieces and unless Boston drafts some unknown second coming of Mario Lemieux, Phil Kessel looks like he was worth the price. There is potential.
But ... I want to know: at what point do the Leafs make some real changes to salvage the season? What would you do? On one hand, drastic change is at least partially responsible for this 21 game fiasco. And despite what Burke/Wilson said in the halcyon days of the pre-season, this is a rebuilding year for an under-talented club. Many players with potential are (hopefully) maturing. But it seems to me that it's time to slap some sense into a team that puts up 80 per cent of the effort yet consistently fails to win hockey games.
This is all sounding a lot like the "we did a lot of things right" mantra through the Leafs winter slide in the 07/08 season.
A: I certainly understand your feeling of frustration. I certainly believed this was a better team than it has proven to be. It appeared there had been enough change that at least a club with a fighting chance to make the playoffs would emerge from training camp. Apparently I was wrong, as were others.
I guess it depends on what you mean by “salvage the season.” Try to make the playoffs? Try to avoid finishing last? I think you mean the latter, but what does that matter at this point? Any move the club makes now should be based on next year and beyond, or at the very least should unduly sacrifice possibilities beyond this year. Did the Kessel deal do that? Possibly, but not necessarily. The Leafs got a young, burgeoning star out of the deal, the Bruins still have to draft one with the picks they received to even make a deal fair from their point-of-view. It seems likelier to me that the Leafs will try to acquire prospects and picks for the veterans they have over the course of this season rather than actively search out help, at least help that would come at a cost. So “real changes” to salvage the season? I don’t think they’ll be coming. More clearing the decks seems likelier.
Q: If baseball can eliminate metal bats because it increases the distance the ball travels then why can't the NHL outlaw metal/graphite sticks because they increase the velocity of the shot? This would put a better spin on stick costs for every body, including kids who copy the NHL players.
Jim Skura, Waterloo
A: The NHL isn’t interested in stick costs for kids. Maybe for themselves. But the league can’t turn back now, and other than the cost and the frustrating propensity of frequent breakage, there’s no concrete reason to argue composite sticks are bad for the sport. This is a game that has embraced every new technology and isn’t about to stop now. That said, teams will tell you stick costs have rocketed in recent years. That’s why the ones they give out to the fans after three-star selections are game-used ones, but rather cheap wood imitations.
Q: Hi Damien,
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been in a very long recent memory been mismanaged, incompetent and a franchise failure. Yet, they are supported beyond loyalty, filling the rink despite embarrassment. Why? How are they given such leverage by Torontonians? Please explain.
George Piccott, Snow Lake
A: A proper answer would clog the World Wide Web for days. The simplest answer, I guess, is that they have an NHL monopoly over the densest, most excitable, most passionate hockey market in the world, something they’ve had for decades and decades. The closest comparison would be baseball’s Chicago Cubs, and they've gone without a championship for a lot longer than the Leafs. The Leafs have legions and legions of fans around the world — something akin to Notre Dame football — and they’re not about to give up now. Is that a bad thing? Depends on your point of view.
Q: Love the mail bag from last week. Big fan.
What do you think would be a bigger draw for MLSE, the recently floated idea of a Leaf game at BMO field, a game at the (Rogers Centre) or shipping in some seats and ice and seeing the Leafs play one game against the Hawks or Canadians at the Gardens?
For me, I know I would take out a loan to spend one more night at the house on Carlton St., if everything were the way it was with banners, the music, heck even the ushers, followed by the Rogers Centre with over 60,000 people at a game. BMO just seems like a wasted opportunity from a fan perspective.
Adam Lebow, Windsor
A: Not interested in a game at the dome or BMO Field, really. Now a night of nostalgia at the Gardens, that I could get behind.
Q: Hi Damien,
Question for you on Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson.
What will they have to do to get a call up to the Leafs? I'm not just thinking of them fitting in on this rebuilding project but also the possibility of signing other college players in the future.
If Burke signed these guys but they don't get a "fair" shot at making the team, would that hinder future signings of college players?
Really there isn't much standing in their way as far as current roster is concerned, obviously they will have to work hard to make it.
DJ Lake, St. Catharines
A: I think both had a fair shot at making the team. Heck, Viktor Stalberg did make it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having them play a half-season or more with the Marlies as they learn the game. No promises were made that any of them would be big leaguers automatically, and none of the three have earned a ticket to the NHL this season, at least not a lasting one. You have to have patience with young players. Not having any with Luke Schenn is proving costly. If the fact that none of Bozak, Hanson and Stalberg aren’t in the NHL right now scares off other U.S. collegiate free agents, well, they may not be the ones you want to recruit anyway.
Q: I really am at a loss sometimes with the way the Leafs use some of the players. I look at Matt Stajan as an example. They moved him from playing with Kessel and Blake to playing with Orr and Primeau. Stajan was the top centre last year, so why not move him to play with Hagman and Stempniak — who did not look dangerous with Wallin. I see Wallin as a 4th-line centre who kills penalties, but with a winger capable of scoring reasonably like Hagman, I see Stajan as being able to get more out of one of the better players the Leafs have. In general I see the juggling that Wilson does more harm than any help — especially when you see lines eventually revert back. What are your thoughts on how the players are bounced around?
Keith Kerfoot, Guelph
A: Stajan has been a massive disappointment this season. He was given an opportunity to be a top six forward, and continues to be given opportunities. Most of the time he is failing to establish himself as that type of player. It’s nobody’s fault but his own.
Q: Hello Damien, I am from Ottawa and have no interest in the Leafs. I would however like your thoughts regarding the Mike Danton interview and whether, as a convicted felon, he has any hope of playing hockey full time again. My concerns would be: 1. can he cross the border and play in the states; and 2. does he have any value that would make a team take a chance on him?
Dan Robinson, Ottawa
A: Danton has two big hurdles to clear. First, he would have to be allowed to play but the NHL, and Gary Bettman might still have penalties of his own to impose. Second, he’d have to get clearance to cross the U.S. border, which is possible, but still would have to be acquired. Do I think a team will take a chance on him? As long as there’s a whiff of David Frost around this young man, any team would be out of their mind to do so. It’s not about second chances. It’s about understanding that with Danton you get Frost, or at least a player controlled by Frost. No team should want that.
Q: I need your immense hockey savvy and proficiency to answer a "dilly of a pickle."
Under the current CBA, could the Leafs send Luke Schenn down to the Marlies without him passing through waivers if they thought that the minors might spark his game a bit? Do you think this is needed due to the current play of the struggling sophomore?
Ian Byrne, Byrne Road, P.E.I.
A: The rules are different for every player. In Schenn’s case, he is exempt from waivers until he has played 160 NHL games. So he’s got 71 games to go until he would need waivers to move up and down from the Marlies. Would I send him to down for a stint? Absolutely. Get the kid playing with confidence again. But the Leafs have no one to blame for this situation but themselves. Putting a kid like Schenn in the NHL at 18 just makes it appear any step away from NHL status is a step backward, even if it ultimately benefits him.
Q: Hi Damien,
The arrival of Phil Kessel, regardless of how he has performed, has really demonstrated what a difference there is between him and the rest of the Leafs forwards. How did the Leafs get to this point of having so many players with marginal talent? What can they do to upgrade the talent on the forward lines now that they don't have a couple of high draft picks to look forward to in the next couple of years? Kessel can't do it all himself.
Varun Chakravorty, Brampton
A: Well, they only have nine players, I believe, under contract beyond this season. So they’ll have cap space and roster room for free agency next summer. They have Nazem Kadri, Bozak, Hanson and Stalberg as future possibilities. They have Tomas Kaberle to trade. They can sign more U.S. free agents. They can try to draft useful players after the first or second rounds. There are lots of options, but it won’t be easy.
Q: The Leafs have three unrestricted free agents (Stajan, Ponikarovsky, Stempniak) who I don't see as fitting into Brian Burke's long-term plan, as they are not talented enough to be top-six forwards, or gritty enough to be bottom six. I think we would have heard talk of re-signing already if they were considered part of the long term future.
Therefore, trading them at the deadline to teams looking to add depth at forward, regardless of the Leafs position in the standings, for whatever picks and prospects Burke could get would seem to be the correct course of action. Any thoughts and have you heard anything on what the Leafs might do with these three players?
Jeff Mills, Cambridge
A: I think they’d trade all three today if they got a good offer. Stempniak had a promising camp but has tailed off, Stajan can’t take the workload of a top six forward and Ponikarovsky is either streaky or maddeningly inconsistent. If the Leafs can move any of the three for draft picks/prospects before March, they likely will.
Q: When Brian Burke was hired a year ago, He stated he wouldn't be scared to bury a high priced player in the minors. Well a year later we still have Jeff Finger and Jason Blake still on the big club, which leads me to believe that Burke is not keeping to his word. My question is this. Obviously, he won't do it. What about a trade with Anaheim? The Ducks take one of those two contracts and The Leafs get Jean-Sebastien Giguere and take his contract. I think this one would make more sense near the trade deadline. What are your thoughts? Friends continually say we are building for the future, but we were told this year we would compete and we have no 1st round picks to look forward to. Mr. Cox, please tell me where this team is going.
Marc Oliver, Vancouver
A: Well, it appears they’re going to have to do a more comprehensive rebuild than Burke anticipated. If that’s the case, adding Giguere at $6 million this year and $7 million next year when there’s fear he’s no longer the goalie he wasn’t doesn’t make much sense. You might like to unload salaries on the Ducks, but why would the Ducks want to take those players. If they’re moving Giguere, it will be to get rid of his contract, not to take others on.
Q: Hey Damien
If the leafs need to make a change to get things going, and it is obvious that Wilson is going anywhere soon (until after the Olympics) is it possible that the assistant coaches could be replaced by guys like Craig MacTavish or Mike Keenan that would only be defence coaches or power play coaches etc. This would give new direction without risking the U.S. Olympic teams’ hopes.
A: Unlikely. Ron Wilson, Rob Zettler and Tim Hunter come as a package. They’ll likely leave that way some day. But I can’t imagine Burke trying to insert another coach into the mix.