Thursday Mail Bag
Gotta say, one day you're at the world juniors marvelling at that level of fierce competition and talent, and the next you're watching the Leafs and Flyers and thinking you've dropped into a WWE show.
You'll have to explain to me somehow how 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds can compete on a world stage with such a high level of sportsmanship and clean play, but the NHL can deliver such a piece of low-class, Slapshot-style competition as was the case last night.
I mean, really, Dan Carcillo is much more professional wrestler than pro hockey player, complete with the gimmicks and trash talk. He's Sideshow Bob II, and let's face it, the NHL promoted his act at the “Winter Classic” — commentators were seriously suggesting the first fight at this event was some kind of milestone — and Carcillo's figuring out that being a clown will get him more attention than playing hockey ever will. His act won't last long in Philly, but he'll get the most attention he can while he's there.
This, needless to say, is a problem the NHL runs into when its brand of sports entertainment is juxtaposed with the world juniors or, as will be the case next month, the Olympics. By comparison, the NHL looks mechanical, passion-less and full of phony theatrics.
Sad thing is, this is where so many of those fine youngsters who competed in that glorious gold medal game on Tuesday in Saskatoon are headed. Whether they want to or not, they'll be playing in a league that in mid-season too often is part-hockey, part-Gong Show.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Dear Mr. Cox, I was hoping you could shed a little light on this subject.
I had always believed that a penalty shot wasn't awarded if you still managed to get away a shot after being hauled down. However, after checking the NHL rulebook, it clearly states:
"The fact that he got a shot off does not automatically eliminate this play from the penalty shot consideration criteria. If the foul was from behind and he was denied a 'more' reasonable scoring opportunity due to the foul, then the penalty shot should be awarded".
The fact that it so clearly refutes my long-held belief leads me to wonder whether there was a rule change at some point, or if the NHL is just trying to eliminate an old wives' tale.
Any light you could shed on this would be greatly appreciated.
Steve Donnelly, Toronto
A: There's no question, Steve, that all levels of hockey are showing a more liberalized attitude towards penalty shots, which isn't a bad thing. That said, the understanding many of us had about the penalty shot for years, such as that you had to at least be a stride clear of your opponent, are proving incorrect, and we're having to adjust. So yes, I'm kind of with you. I don't totally get the way the rule is called now, but even with the institution of the shootout, a penalty shot is still a pretty exciting play.
Q: Hi Damien,
What if any influence do you think the "new NHL" officiating style (especially the zero tolerance hooking and holding provisions, and the automatic minor for shooting the puck over the glass in your own zone) could have on the officiating at the Olympics? In international hockey would players generally be able to get away with more or less of these kinds of things? Might Team Canada's physical play, especially from those such as Chris Pronger, land them in the box often for hits that would be legal in the NHL, or might they overcompensate by backing off physically?
Scott Reynolds, Toronto
A: Okay, for starters NHL officials will be working the Olympics, including seven referees and six linesmen. They'll make up about half the officiating pool, and the crews will frequently be blended (NHL and non-NHL). As far as the way games are called, international officials, most believe, still are more tolerant of interference in particular, but I think you'll see a standard in the Olympics pretty close to what you see in the NHL. And the shooting the puck over the glass rule? That's now an IIHF rule as well.
Q: Hi Damien! Do you think there's any chance the NHL will ever ditch the one point for an overtime loss? The object of the game is to win and to the winner should go the spoils. Why reward the loser?
Richard Avery, North York
A: Doesn't seem likely. The NHL wants to keep as many dogs in the race as possible as late in the season as possible, and three-point games help that. There's no real movement for change either at the board of governors level or among the Gms.
Q: Hi Damien,
I don't know how many people noticed this on New Year's Day, but before the Winter Classic, Bobby Clarke won the ceremonial faceoff against Bobby Orr. I could be wrong, but isn't it traditional to allow the captain of the home team to win the faceoff? If so, what would make Clarke win that faceoff? Is he really that competitive?
Alex Hirbod, Toronto
A: I doubt it matters to anyone.
Q: Damien, would we not be better off with Kubina than with several of the defencemen we now have? He scored the winner several times last year and seems to be playing well in Atlanta. Exelby is a scratch half the time. Schenn seems like he can't wait to get the puck off his stick. Playing scared,afraid to err. What do you think?
Lewis McClain, Edinboro
A: Kubina probably would be no worse than fourth on the Leaf depth chart now. Exelby is inconsistent, Schenn should with be the Marlies and Finger is a disaster. That deal was done to clear room to sign Beauchemin and Komisarek. Kubina was, like Kaberle, guilty of being on the ice for the opponents' first goal of the game far more often in the past while with the Leafs than anyone could like. He probably looks better now because you don't see him every night.
Q: Hi Damien,
I enjoy your reporting and your blog very much; keep up the great work.
My question: I'm confused by the selection process for the Canadian Olympic team. As far as I know, other countries are deferring their selections until closer to the start of the Games. Moreover, it is unclear what happens if one of the selected Canadian players is injured before the Games and cannot play, or is hurt during the tournament. Is there a short-list of callups that Yzerman can count on? Can you shed some light on this? Thanks!
Glenn Paulley, Waterloo
A: All teams had to announce their roster by Jan. 1st. No country deferred it's selections. Teams can replace injured players right up until the eve of the games. Once you're in the tournament, that's not possible. You have what you have – three goalies, seven defencemen and 13 forwards. The only confusion at this point is that the Russians believe they can still change their roster for non-injury reasons.
Q: Hi Damien,
Phil Kessel has been a great addition to the Leafs. However, since his arrival the power play has gone downhill. Last year with Boston he scored only 8 out of his 36 goals on the PP. Could it be that the rest of the Leafs are looking to Kessel too much on the PP and therefore not shooting themselves as much? Maybe they should leave him off the PP. This would leave him available for more 5 on 5 play. Considering that there are around 40 minutes a game of 5 on 5, Kessel could play over half of those 40 minutes where he is much more proficient. Your thoughts?
Marv Rose, Toronto
A: The Leafs' power play is at best intermittently effective. Kessel is the best offensive forward they have. Has he been great of late? No. But taking him off the power play isn't the answer. As I've said repeatedly, this is a young player still learning what it takes to be a front-line NHLer. At 22, he's still got learning to do.
Q: Hi there Damien. My question is about the recent success of our later round Euro draft selections. With players like Anton Stralman, Carl Gunnarsson, Juraj Mikus, Korbinian Holzer and Viktor Stalberg having varying amounts of success and developing quite well, should we really be swaying away from these picks? Our head European scout Thommie Bergman has done a tremendous job for us and I can't help but feel like he is being snubbed. Last draft we didn't take a single European player, and with Burke wanting to build his prototypical "meat and potatoes" North American team, do you think Burke's management team will continue to ignore Bergman despite the success he's had in the past?
Jeff Pearce, Kingston
A: Well, of all those players you named, not one is a bona fide NHL regular, at least not yet. So I'm not sure that qualifies as “recent success” for the Leafs. I don't think Bergmann is being ignored. He was part of the group that identified Jonas Gustavsson last year. But the Leafs are looking to be more North American, so Bergmann's job, while unchanged, may not be as relevant necessarily to the players the Leafs take in the draft. But it's not like the Leafs have unearthed one Euro gem after another in recent years.
Q: Happy New Year, Damien!
With the recent rise of Ian White's stock and the return of Carl Gunnarson do you see the Leafs moving Kaberle and perhaps Beauchemin? The Leafs will be left with a core of Komisarek, White, Schenn, Exelby etc. If so what do you think the return could be in terms of picks and prospects.
J.P. Howarth, Brampton
A: Happy New Year to you as well, J.P. Look, Ian White is a No. 4 on a good team and Gunnarson is still a prospect. Now that the annual prediction of some that the Leafs are overloaded on defence has again proved to be false, it should clear that more depth and quality is required. You have to keep as many good ones as you have and add to them. That would be my take on Beauchemin. Kaberle is a slightly different story because of his trade value. But he's the only blueliner the Leafs have that would fetch something particularly significant on the trade market.
Q: Re: your recent piece on Kadri — the comparisons you made to Getzlaf and Langkow were nice food for thought. After watching his shootout move, it got me thinking about Alex Mogilny and Kovalev. Having never seen Kadri play in person myself, I'm wondering if you think those might also be fair comparisons, in terms of style? Also, my sense is that both Mogilny and Kovalev were/are at least 20 - 30 lbs heavier — to wit, do you think Kadri will ever have the size/durability to play very long in "today's" NHL?
Enjoy your work. cheers,
Peter Waal, Vancouver
A: Thanks Peter. Mogilny wasn't a big man, maybe a little bigger than Kadri, while Kovalev is a much bigger guy, more of a power forward build. You're talking about two of the most skilled Russians to ever come to North America, so that might be asking a lot of Kadri. At this point, his size and durability haven't been an issue even though he plays a physical game. But sure, he'll have to get bigger and stronger, and I'm sure he will as he matures. He'll need to come in between 190 and 200 pounds once he fills out. But he has lots of skill, which makes him a top prospect as long as the Leafs don't rush him. A full year with the Marlies would make the most sense.
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.**