Thursday Mail Bag
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Lo and behold, having just one win in 13 games no longer sentences the Maple Leafs to last in the Eastern Conference. The hard-reversing Carolina Hurricanes have caught Ron Wilson’s team, moving into 15th place by virtue of having played one more game and despite have one more win.
That’s reality in Gary Bettman’s NHL standings.
It sets up a Battle of the (Non) Titans in Raleigh tomorrow, with the punchless Leafs (apparently lethal only in Orange County) against the dreadful Canes, losers of 10 straight.
Ron Wilson vs. Paul Maurice. Brian Burke vs. Jim Rutherford. Phil Kessel against Eric Staal. Oops, Staal may be too injured to play.
I’m sure it’ll still be a great one.
Now on to this week’s mail bag:
Why does Ian White seem to be the best player on the ice night in and night out and never seem to get the recognition. I almost get the feeling the management team doesn't think he should be this good so they just ignore his success. Is it just me?
Joe Cutajar, Brampton
A: I don’t think it’s up to the management team in the middle of a season to give a player “recognition.” That comes after the season, usually in the form of a contract or the moves a team chooses or chooses not to make. Otherwise, it’s up to the fans and media to identify players who are achieving or over-achieving, and I think gradually White is getting that recognition for his strong overall play. Don’t forget, he started the season on the third defensive pair. Now he’s getting as much ice time as Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin, sometimes more. He’d tell you that’s the recognition he’s looking for.
Considering that the Leafs do not currently have a Captain how about slipping the "C" onto the worthwhile shoulder of Ian White?
He may not be the biggest guy or the best player, although most nights he outplays the supposed "stars" on the Leafs, but he clearly has the biggest heart.
Jamie Hubbert, Ottawa
A: It’s real live honest-to-goodness Ian White love-in!! Seriously, one of the issues in Toronto is that players are heralded as stars after what are really relatively modest accomplishments. White established himself as an NHL defenceman last season. This season, he’s progressing to establish himself as a top four guy. If he’s doing the same or more in two to three years, we can talk about the captaincy then. That said, you don’t hear as much about Luke Schenn being the future captain of the Leafs, do you?
Q: Hi Damien,
Still loving the column. There's an old theory that empires are already declining when they still seem invincible. Is the same true of the MLSE juggernaut? With reports that there's no more revenue to be squeezed/bilked out of the market, ticket scalpers getting hammered, and a fan base that is finally waking up, is it an operation set for decline in future years?
Meanwhile Leafs TV is running ludicrous features about the whole world being Leafs fans. Head in the sand or what?
David Robinson, Toronto
A: Well, I hear what you’re saying. I just don’t see it reflected in any meaningful way, at least not yet. What I would say is that MLSE has increasingly become focused on other business enterprises in recent years and probably needs to re-focus on the Leafs, it’s top business. Otherwise, business seems as a good as ever. If the Leafs are in decline anywhere other than on the ice, they’re hiding it very well.
Q: How can the sale of the Coyotes be anything but a fraud and a scam? Jim B. offers 50 per cent more than the NHL yet the NHL gets the team, not Jim B? This is capitalism? Seems more like corruption and fraud to me. This nonsense and the never-ending bulls--- hockey from the Leafs are exactly the reason why I abandoned hockey a few years ago after nearly 35 years of "enjoyment."
Edward Fenner, Toronto
A: Well, sorry you lost interest, Edward. But that’s cool. There’s lots of other stuff to follow and do. In terms of the Coyotes, it’s pretty simple. The NHL fought a battle to keep the right to say where its franchises are located. Balsillie offered more, but with the conditions of being able to move the team to a market where it would be worth a lot more. You can argue the logic of the NHL’s fight, but I’m not sure that makes it a fraud or a scam.
Q: By the time you read this Kessel will have played his first game as a Leaf. I really don't know what kind of player Kessel is. Do you think that Kessel's mere presence will actually open up more scoring chances, more "ice," if you will, for his linemates?
Moe Green, Austin, Texas
A: We’ll see. What I think people shouldn’t lose sight of is that Kessel isn’t a finished product yet. He’s 22. He can be a little too solo some nights and lose the team attack perspective. That said, he is surely a weapon who can score and open up the ice for others. But the Leafs won’t be playing Tampa every night, so you can expect the checking to get a lot tighter.
The original return date for Kessel was Nov. 15 and now it appears he'll be in the game (Tuesday night) vs Tampa. The Leafs said they wouldn't rush his return but it sounds like it. It seems the Leafs are returning to the old ways of rushing a player only to have him re-injured by a too quick return. True or False ?
Gord Wilson, Thorold, Ont.
A: I wondered about that too, to be honest with you, Gord. But maybe the Mattias Ohlund hit showed everywhere Kessel was indeed ready to go. You’ve got to rely on the player, to some degree, to know when he’s healthy, and the Leafs put him through a battery of strength tests before clearing him. I think he was good to go.
Would we have not been better off keeping McCabe, and forgetting about Finger? If I remember correctly the pay scale is pretty close between the two. Also Darcy Tucker seemed to bleed blue. How can you let guys like that go, and acquire the likes of Mayer, and Finger?
Lewis McClain, Edinboro
A: I don’t think it was a choice of McCabe or Finger. I would have liked to see if Wilson could have coached McCabe to be better, but he was probably done with the scrutiny in Toronto. Finger wasn’t a bad signing, necessarily, he was just paid way too much money by Cliff Fletcher. Now they’re stuck with a lousy contract. And Tucker? He was pretty much finished as a frontline NHLer when he left Toronto. He bled just as much self-interest and self-importance as he did blue. That’s why he’ll forever be known as Sideshow Bob.
Q: Hi Damien,
There are have been some hints of rumors about J.S. Giguere coming to Toronto in what may become a desperation move. Just wondering about the idea of trading Toskala for Giguere one-for-one. This would be a great salary-clearing move for Anaheim giving them a more affordable back-up to Jonas Hiller ($4m vs. $6M) for this year as well as save them Giguere's salary next year, an additional $6M to be put elsewhere. It would potentially give the Leafs a former Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner. I like the idea of Toronto getting a goalie without giving up another first-rounder.
Also, on the topic of trades, is there any chance that by the deadline Kaberle could be worth getting our first round pick back from Boston?
David Johnson, Orangeville
A: If Gustavsson continues looking like a true No. 1 goalie, Giguere is out of the question. Many scouts question whether he’s finished as a bona fide starter in the NHL. At $6 million this year and $7 million next year, he’s just not worth it.
On a possible Kaberle deal, he’ll fetch a first rounder from someone. But not the one the Leafs traded to Boston to get Kessel.
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.**