Thursday Mail Bag
The Maple Leafs are taking on the Philly Flyers tonight, and after last week's hockey game/WWF performance in a multi-fight contest in Philly, you might expect more of the same tonight. Certainly the Leafs are girding up for such a match, adding enforcer Jay Rosehill from the Marlies and sending Viktor Stalberg back from more schooling under Dallas Eakins.
More truculence, belligerence etc. is what Burke wanted, and at times this season, it has shown up. It's not my kind of hockey, but believe me, Burke believes that down this road lies ultimate success. And he's the boss, with a Stanley Cup ring to demonstrate he might know what he's talking about.
Muscles and fighting and such is all fine, but at some point, it has to deliver a result beyond winning the odd pugilistic encounter. Jamal Mayers, for instance, won two bouts last week, but his team got creamed. Moreover, it has to go beyond simply gaining revenge on the silly Dan Carcillo, whose act will eventually wear thin with the Flyers as such players always do.
Being tough and winning. It's the combination that matters.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
Now that the Team Canada selections have been made I have a scenario for you. It's Canada 3 Russia 2 with 2 minutes to go in the Gold Medal game. Who's on the ice for Canada?
Bob Smith, Mississauga
A: Now that's a humdinger to start with. Well, Martin Brodeur's in goal, and while I like the Chicago tandem of Dunca Keith and Brent Seabrook, I'm thinking Scott Niedermayer and Shea Weber on the blueline.
Up front. Well, two minutes left means more than one or two shifts. But if I'm Mike Babcock, I'm going to live and die with Sidney Crosby on the ice, and Jarome Iginla on the right. Where I might tinker is on the left side where Rick Nash might not be the perfect fit to defend a lead. So I'll sneak Mike Richards on there for an extra shift, with Brendan Morrow ready to go.
Here's a fun hypohetical question for you. If Phil Kessel was a Canadian citizen, do you think he would have made our team?
Mark D, Toronto
A: Ah, the hypothetical. Given the fact he missed a chunk of the season, and then, after some success, settled into a slump, I would say no. But Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and Ryan Miller certainly would have.
Luke Schenn apparently had a great game in Florida playing along side Kaberle as he did most of last year according to your colleague, Dave Perkins. Given how important Schenn seemed to be to the future of the club and given his difficulties this year, why would Wilson not have reunited this duo much earlier? It seems obvious that the performance of such a young player would be substantially influenced by his defence partner. Don't know why the two would do well together but if they did (and over the course of a year), why not run with it this year?
Anand Kumar, Winnipeg
A: I think Schenn did play well that game. But not so well alongside Kaberle against Carolina on Tuesday. Look, it's always going to help a young player to pair him with a veteran. But the absence of Kaberle is not the reason for Schenn's struggles, not is putting them together the total answer. Schenn is simply having a tough time consistently putting games together, mostly because his quickness and reaction time seems not to be there and because he's still learning to read plays and make good decisions. He's being viewed through an entirely different prism this year compared to last, and more nights than not, he's getting failing grades. Finally, you have to ask yourself; if you're playing Kaberle with Schenn, are you getting the most out of Kaberle and giving your team the best chance to win? I'd say no.
Q: In the WJC finals, Canada and the US went to a very entertaining 4-on-4, 20-minute sudden death overtime. I would be curious to hear your views on that format, especially if you thought that the changes in strategy necessitated by the longer period made it overall more entertaining than the 5-minute sudden death overtime used in the 12/31 game. Has there been any discussion by the NHL to adopt a a similar format (longer overtime period rather than the 5-minute overtime), and perhaps making it winner-take-all?
John Hunt, Harvard, Mass.
A: There's no appetite right now in the NHL for OT change. I'd be in favour of a longer session and winner-take-all format, although you'd still need the shootout if the game remained tied. What I'd really like to see is the NHL go to four-on-four for Stanley Cup playoff games. But some would see that as heresy.
There is no question the Leafs are horrible and totally uninteresting to watch, at least under Ballard they were at least amusing and full of personality, and Wilson has done nothing to improve them as a group. More worrisome, to me at least, is that it seems not one player in the organization has improved under the new management team. Even Phil Kessel seems to have now regressed under the magic touch of the U.S Olympic coach (nice choice Brian now even if you want to get rid of him you have to wait until the Olympics are done). And imagine if the Americans are successful in Vancouver then the Leafs will be stuck with Wilson even longer. All this being said, is Wilson's job safe?
David Isaacs, Toronto
A: Hard to say. Burke is clearly reluctant to make a change, and so he should be to some extent. That said, there needs to be some kind of postive development over the final months of the season, I believe, to warrant bringing Wilson back. Right now, Nikolai Kulemin and Ian White are probably the only two players you can point to who have improved under Wilson. The likeliest scenario, assuming there isn't a big push to the playoffs in the Leafs, is that Wilson returns, but on a very short leash.
Q: What do you think of trading Karble for Jordan Staal? Would either team go for it? Staal could be a top centre to go with Kessel and provide two young top 6 forwards moving forward. Kaberle would provide the Pens with another puck-moving D to complement Gonchar and insurance should he go down. Look at their record without Gonchar and you realize how important he is. Your thoughts?
Rob Aspin, Stayner
A: Leafs would love it. Pens wouldn't dream of it, sorry.
Q: The Toronto media were always hard on Kubina. In my opinion he is and always was a top 4 Dman on any team in the league. Have you looked at his stats lately? Why is no one in the media pointing out what a brutal trade Kubina for Exelby was?
Gerry Franklin, North Bay
A: Kubina is not a top four D-man on any team. He is on midde-of-the-road teams and lousy squads. Go beyond the numbers. He's just not good enough defensively. Was it a bad trade? Well, it wasn't really Kubina for Exelby. It was a deal designed to open up salary space to sign Beauchemin and Komisarek. Frankly, I'd take either of those two over Kubina, but some will differ.
Q: Hey Damien,
I'm wondering why the Leafs are wasting a talent like Stalberg by playing him on a line with Orr and Mayers. Wouldn't it be more beneficial to his development to play him with more talented players on the big club or at least send him to the Marlies where he can log more minutes in a bigger role. I think its counterproductive to his development and another case of the Leafs lack of ability to develop from within the system.
Chris B, Brampton
A: Obviously, Chris, you wrote this email before Stalberg was returned to the minors. To some extent, I agree. But I don't think Stalberg is necessarily viewed as a top six forward. I think he's seen as a big guy with speed who will make a good living in the NHL if he understands how to use those skills in a third line and/or checking role. The fall was an aberration. The strategy this season has been to give him little tastes of the NHL and then get him back to the Marlies to continue his apprenticeship, and that's solid thinking, in my opinion.
Q: Hi Damien ... long time reader, first time sender. Last Tuesday my wife and I watched the Leafs play against the Philadelphia Flyers. My wife asked a question... "how do you think the Toronto Maple Leafs team would do if they replaced all the players with players from the Marlies?" I said that they couldn't play much worse. Which got me to thinking ... how would the team do if all the Leafs players were sent to the Marlies? Where do you think the Leafs/Marlies team would be in the AHL standings?
Barry Chatland, Midland, Michigan
A: Don't fool yourself, Barry. As bad as the Leafs look, there's an enormous difference between an AHL level team and an NHL squad. It's popular these days to dump all over the Leafs and make fun of them, but reality would tell you that the gap is significant between the NHL and minor pro. In a one-game scenario, I suppose you never know. But over the long grind of a season the differences between seasoned NHL players and young AHLers would be obvious.
Does the success of Team USA at the Olympics have any impact on Ron Wilson's future in Toronto? If the USA medal, with Wilson at the helm and Brian Burke as GM, will there be more of a view that Wilson just needs better players?
Viet Nguyen, Toronto
A: I suppose in some ways, yes. Then again, gold in Salt Lake didn't help Pat Quinn keep his job. There will be a breaking point at which Wilson, if he can't coax more wins out of the Leafs, will be gone. The Leafs just aren't at that point right now. But if Anaheim ever decides to cut Randy Carlyle loose, the Wilson watch will gain speed unless he gets this Leaf team rolling.