Thursday Mail Bag
First he upstages the Grey Cup, obviously intentionally. Now he's taking all the attention away from The Monster, while Leaf fans grab their worry beads and wonder about the future of Jonas Gustavsson.
Darn Tiger Woods.
The Leafs head into Columbus tonight looking to continue a recent solid streak, and with Brian Burke's self-imposed Christmas trading deadline of Dec. 9 coming up — 10 days before the league-wide freeze — it seems less and less likely there will be any moves of significance involved Les Leafs until the New Year.
There was a minor flurry of activity yesterday — Kyle Chipchura traded from Montreal to Anahiem, Erik Christenson picked up on waivers — and Chicago will announce new contract extensions to Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith today. Toronto's attempts to cut a deal with the Hawks to give salary cap relief in exchange for draft picks didn't pan out. So far, despite the Leafs dismal record, Burke has chosen not to tinker with the lineup outside of callups and demotions, and we'll see if standing pat with the current lineup continues to pay some decent dividends.
Now on to this week's Tiger-less mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien, have always thought you're columns were the best in Toronto, however can't help noticing that you appear to be kissing Brian Burke's ass at every turn. Shouldn't you be the one who is anti-Burke with his stance on fighting? How about writing about his "ego" — I'm sure you heard about his rep. in Vancouver haven't you? The fact that he came in here and made the "ridiculous" decision to play out the season last year rather than "tanking" for a chance at a bonafide "homegrown" star for this team for the first time since who, maybe Wendel Clark. How about his continuous b.s. about how the other G.M.s won't fall for what he pulled off in the previous drafts — huge ego. Talking about first round pics for the likes of Antropov, or Kaberle — pipedreams last summer. How about him at the draft and screwing up the trade with Kessel in the first place — who do you think jumped the gun on that one, I would guarantee that was Burke and not Chiarelli. Then his "ego" comes through again, along with a poor assessment of the team for this year, with him trading two firsts and a second for Kessel — all because he screwed up at the draft. Imagine what he would of given up for say Marc Savard?? All because of his ego, and probably the Toronto media, not the fans, he's jumped the gun and screwed the franchise once again. His talk of having stocked up on young talent like Bozak, Stahlberg and Hanson — well they're 20 somethings and playing in the AHL — I doubt they're "huge" prospects! The part I can't believe is that you appear to have fallen to his media "ass kissing" just like all the other journalists in this city!
Doug Cowan, Toronto
A: Thanks for the email. Well, Doug, you're certainly entitled to your opinion. I feel like any GM should get a reasonable period of time to show whether he can or cannot do the job, and since Burke has only been here for a year and a few days, I would argue it's a little early to decide he's a bum who deserves to get run out of town. As far as his stance on fighting versus my own, we disagree completely and we've talked about it. But the fact is his approach has resulted in a Stanley Cup championship, so he gets the benefit of the doubt. I don't think muscling up will work in today's NHL, but we'll see if he's right. But it shouldn't be all about whether he and I agree or disagree on some hockey issue. His job is to win. If he does that, he win praise. If he doesn't, he won't.
As for your other assertions — Burke's ego, his unwillingness to tank last year, the trade with Boston that didn't happen, the Kessel deal, the signings of U.S. College players — these are your opinions, which you are entitled to, but you state them as if they are facts. Don't accuse me of ass-kissing just because I don't happen to agree with your ridiculous opinions.
Q: Hi Damien, Everyone likes to talk about the lack of production of the Leafs players and Leafs player movements, I'd like to switch it up and talk about the uniforms. I played NHL10 on PS3 just the other day for the first time with my nephew. I picked the Maple Leafs, then chose the green St. Pats alternate uniforms. The game replaced the ugly brown pants and helmets with black! I thought it looked really sharp. I ended up losing to my nephew, but I didn't care, I was mesmerized by the green, white and black uniforms. I thought to myself that maybe the Leafs should bring it in the rotation as a 4th jersey. What do you think?
Johnny Di Iorio, North York
A: Sorry Johnny, but I thought those uniforms were horrific. Then again, right now the Leafs basic road and home jerseys are the most boring and uninteresting in the league. The third jersey – white with blue shoulders – is the only good one they have, in my opinion.
Q: I'm assuming the Flyers would like to dump Daniel Briere's salary. If you're the Leafs, why not pick him up and at least put together a respectable 1st line for the time being? And if it's a total disaster in a couple of years just bury his contract in the minors.
Eric T, Toronto
A: Briere has five more years and $26 million left on his deal with an annual $6.4 million cap hit. He has 10 goals in 17 games this season, and he's 32 years old. To take on such a contract, the Leafs would want a great deal in return, at least a first round draft pick. I understand that he might help now, but just taking on other teams' terrible contracts isn't the answer to what ails the Leafs.
Q: I like the recent play of Wayne Primeau and Jamal Mayers. When mixed with some of the smaller "skilled" players they seem to provide some muscle to work the corners which has been lacking. I like that they also were on separate lines to give a little sprinkle of that for the whole group. With Ponikarovsky on the top line, and Hanson/Kulemin also showing willingness to screen the goalie, work the corners, I believe it benefits the other players who seem to be always skating around the outside at 100 mph accomplishing not much. Do you see this as a improvement, and why have the waited so long to give these guys a bigger role — especially when truculence, and all the other catchy words is what they have professed?
Keith Kerfoot, Guelph
A: I think Ron Wilson has been searching for answers, and I don't disagree that Primeau and Mayers have contributed more of late. Actually, I've quite liked Jason Blake playing lower in the lineup and adding a little buzz to the fourth line. As an Islander, once upon a time he played as a pest and an irritant, and if he ever got that back into his system, he'd be very effective and would make people forget his salary. But why has Wilson waited? Maybe the better question is why have these players waited so long to get their games in gear?
Q: Hi Damien, What would stop Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs from becoming the dumping ground of other teams over priced talent They in return would be compensated with prospects and or draft picks. The Leafs could either use the player or ship him and his cap space to the minors. They would then try and recoup half of the cost by bringing the player back and hope he is claimed on waivers. I know the cost is actual cash to pay the contracts but this is something that the Leafs have in abundance. It is one of the few competitive advantages they retain over the majority of teams in the new cap era. Am I missing something?
Tim Plater, Sarnia
A: Nope, they can do this. But I don't think its unreasonable for the Leafs to try and make good business decisions. As with Briere in the question above, taking on millions and millions of dollars in contracts just to get mid-round picks doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But what you are proposing in theory is exactly what Burke has been trying to make happen. He did just that, don't forget, in the deal with Tampa at the deadline last winter. He just hasn't been able to do it this fall, or at least, teams haven't become salary cap desperate enough yet.
Q: Damien. With Burke looking at so many UFA contracts set to expire at season's end, do you think he'll go with a much younger lineup next year? Or, do you see him taking a run at up and coming UFA's like Kovalchuk, Savard, etc to fill his roster? I'm hoping Bozak, Tlusty, Stalberg, Hanson, and remote possibilities like Ryan Hamilton and Alex Foster will be see full time duty with the leafs next year rather than going the free agency route. But with the mounting pressure of quite likely not making the playoffs this year i'm afraid he'll stock his roster with UFA's and veterans again.
Dan C., Halifax
A: Well, this question came in earlier this week, so obviously, Dan, you now know Savard is no longer a possiblility because he has signed with Boston. It really depends on who is available next summer, and just because someone is unsigned now doesn't mean he'll be unsigned by July. My guess is that Burke will do both – search for young players and find some vets who have the qualities he likes. When you can get free agents at 27, you're not exactly filling the roster with old men.
Q: Hi Damien, I have a question for you about journalism and I'm hoping you can answer it honestly. As a writer that (mostly) covers one specific team would you prefer it that said team miss the playoffs thus easing your workload between April and June, or would you prefer the team go deep in the playoffs and a more intense workload for those two months? I know it would be bias for you (or any other journalist) to have a rooting interest one way or another for a team, but this has to be part of the thought process in covering a team right?
Peter Allpark, Toronto
A: Interesting question. I don't have a rooting interest other than having good stories that intrigue our readers and, of course, help us sell newspapers and attract readers to our website. The Leafs in the playoffs, to my mind, are a more interesting story than the Leafs out of the playoffs. The workload is immaterial since I'm working anyway, if not on the Leafs than on other teams, or the world championships, or the Memorial Cup, or something else. Having the Leafs make it or not make doesn't appreciably increase or decrease my workload. When they don't make it, I have to spend more time on the road, and that's about it.
Q: Hi Damien, I am wondering if you have any idea why Sidney Crosby doesn't seem to be playing like the dominant player he was expected to be when he entered the league. After winning the Hart and Art Ross trophies in his second year it seems his production has been falling — to the point where he is now struggling to average a point a game. He did play well in the playoffs last year, but it was Malkin who had a better final series and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Is he not completely healthy most of the time? Are the Penguins playing a more defensive style than they used to? Or is he just not the dominant offensive force it seemed he would be a few years ago? What do you think the problem is?
Mike Sibley, Saskatoon
A: I'm not sure what the problem might be with Crosby's game for you. He's fourth in league scoring and is the leader of the Stanley Cup champions. I disagree that Malkin had a better final series. To me, Crosby attracted Detroit's top defenders, leaving Malkin with more room to operate. At any rate, I guess my answer is I think Crosby's becoming better and more rounded as a player. I don't see him slipping at all.
Q: I first want to say I was right about the Kessel trade, when you look at that draft 2006, Kessel could have gone first overall. Kessel is one of those special talents and it is nice to see the Leafs having a franchise player. Here is my question I feel Jason Blake time in Toronto is over, he is now playing on the 4th line and with his contract that is a very pricey 4th line player. What is the chances of Blake going back home to Minnesota for a draft choice, would Toronto need to absorb some of his contract ?
Brian Marto, Markham
A: Well, if it makes you feel good to praise yourself for your brilliant soothsaying, fill your boots, man. Hey, I think the Kessel deal will work out fine, too. As far as Blake, one team can't absorb any salary if it trades a player to another team. And I can guarantee you Minny wouldn't want him.
Q: Hi Damien, with the Maple Leafs trying to avoid giving the Boston Bruins a top 5 pick but also trying to stock pile draft picks for the future, I'm wondering what impact UFA's might have come the trade deadline. If Burkie finds himself in a position where the Leafs are in the bottom 10 of the league come the trade deadline, will he not want to trade UFA's and run the risk of having the team sink into a top 5 draft pick position? Or will he trade all available assets to stockpile despite the 1st overall pick given to Boston?
Kyle Parry, Oakville
A: It'll be a tricky position for the Leaf GM, no doubt. I think he'll have to weigh the possible gains, but really, what difference does it make to the Leafs what Boston gets from the deal now? If it's the No. 1 pick, well, Burke has a long-term contract, he'll have to live with the embarrassment. But if somebody offers something significant for Kaberle or Stajan or Ponikarovsky, the Leafs have to evaluate that on its own, not for how if might affect the Bruins.