Thursday Mail Bag
So Georges Laraque has been deemed of no value by the Montreal Canadiens.
That's got to be a hard one to take for those who believe the presence of an enforcer is integral to having success in the NHL. Like the Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings and a few other teams, the Canadiens will now proceed without muscle.
Meanwhile, the Leafs will have both Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill in the lineup tonight against Tampa.
Somebody's swimming against the current here. Now on to this week's mail bag.
Q: Hi, Damien. I read in the Star that Chris DiDomenico is skating with the Leafs, which is good news after his leg injury. Any word on his progress, where he fits in with the Leafs' plans and an evaluation of his potential?
Gary Pinder, Ottawa
A: Apparently he is working on building up his leg strength with Leaf trainers and skating coach, hope is that he might be able to rejoin Chicoutimi for final weeks of QMJHL season.
Q: Since the Leafs have no 1st round picks this year (so far anyway), I assume they will be active again with regards to US College Free Agents. I've haven't heard a thing about them this year, are there any good ones in play that rival Hanson, Bozak & Gilroy?
Shaun Guidolin, Cambridge
A: I'm told that at this point no big-name prospects equivalent to Hanson and Gilroy have yet emerged. Two names to watch for, however, might be University of Vermont defenceman Dan Lawson, a 6-foot-3, 246 pounder, and Cornell goaltender Ben Scrivens. But this market will become clearer in the next few months.
Q: Hi Damien,
What are your thoughts/reflections of the old dog Cujo upon his retiring? Hall worthy? Osgood has the numbers, but Cujo was a better "money goalie." Regarding being Cup-less, how many Cups did Bernie Federko/Dale Hawerchuk win?
Thanks. Michael Nestlehut, Harper Woods,Michigan
A: Curtis Joseph will be right on the borderline as far as getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame. With the fourth most wins in NHL history, I figure he probably belongs. That said, Tom Barrasso's not in, and I would put Barrasso ahead of Joseph. Can't say I agree that Joseph was a better money goalie than Chris Osgood. Osgood's Cup rings sort of settle that argument, and the fact he was able to win in Detroit while Joseph, for a variety of reasons, could not. But the HHOF tends to be inclusive, rather than exclusive like Cooperstown, so I figure one day Joseph will get in.
Q: Hi Damien,
It seems that over the last few years the Flames have started strong and then faded in the last 1/3 of the season and into the playoffs finishing well below most analysts expectations. Why do you believe they continue to struggle down the stretch? What do they need to do to become a Stanley Cup contender again?
Thanks, Christian De Cloet, Hamilton
A: Lack of finish and skill up front, I would imagine, plus a heavy workload borne by goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff that may leave him weary by the post-season. Adding Jay Bouwmeester in the off-season was a bid to have a strong youngster capable of playing major minutes by April. But this is a team that in my mind still lacks a No. 1 centre.
Q: What are your thoughts on the simmering debate and competition between the NCAA and Major Junior systems of hockey development? If I were a parent of a young hockey player, I think the NCAA route is a no-brainer. The benefits of a US college education and a more safety-oriented development league are obvious to me. Though I enjoy the on-ice product, I find it increasingly difficult to support Major Junior hockey for the brand of hockey it promotes and the personal sacrifice required of the player. I expect I'm not the only one.
Michael Paris, Toronto
A: A wise hockey man once explained to me that just as there are good major junior situations and bad major junior situations, there are good NCAA setups and bad ones. It depends on the kid in question and the program, whether its major junior or college. For me, if I ever had a child interested in playing at an elite level, I would push the college route if there was a school that I felt could offer a serious educational component. There are many scholastic success stories in major junior, to be sure, but I think you're asking an awful lot of a young person to carry that hockey workload and be successful with the books. And I'm not one who would ever urge a young person to forgo an education in favour of hockey.
That's not to dump on major junior, and I don't necessarily agree the NCAA is “more safety oriented” than the CHL. Both have advantages, but the advantage of including education makes one preferable to the other in my view.
Q: Hey Damien, love reading your articles! My question is in regards to the leafs. For years the leafs never had an elite winger for Mats Sundin. He leaves and we now have Phil Kessel. I have been thinking since the start of the season, why didnt the leafs try to get Sundin back for 1 year. watching him play in Vancouver i noticed his heart just wasn't all there. I think with him at center and Kessel on the wing the leafs could be in a playoff spot. Do you think if Burkie tried to get Sundin back at the start of the season he would have laced them up for 1 more yr. and how do you think the leafs would do if sundin was playing with Kessel.
Thanks Damien, you rock!
Daniel Stanghieri, Brampton
A; Thanks for the kinds works, Daniel. For starters, Sundin did play on teams that had first-rate wingers, including the likes of Gary Roberts and Alexander Mogilny, so I don't necessarily agree Sundin never had an elite winger beside him. I think if you felt his heart wasn't in it last year with the Canucks was because, well, he was done as an NHL player. Coming back to Toronto for one more season this year would have been an mistake for the player and the team.
Q: Hey Damien,
First, let me say how much I enjoy reading your stuff and hearing you on the radio. You are a strong leading voice in what is a very competitive media market. We are lucky to have you!! (you can use this part of the email for your next round of salary negotiations!!!) Now two questions... First, I watch the Leafs regularly and while I have no issue with Wilson calling out players like Blake, Kessel and, most recently, Kaberle, for poor play, I wonder why he is silent on others. My biggest frustration is Alexei Ponikarovsky...for a big man with speed and big shot, he is invisible more nights than not. What is Wilson seeing that I am not?? Second, what are the odds of Kaberle finishing off the season with the Leafs. Lots of talk from Burke that he isn't going anywhere which makes me think that he actually will be moved.
Stephen Forbes, Toronto
A: I hear you Stephen, and you're not wrong. But let's face it, Wilson doesn't have many options beyond Ponikarovsky, and he is tied for the team lead with 18 goals. His inconsistency is what drives the Leafs nuts, and I'm pretty certain he'll be moved by the March 3 trade deadline.
As far as Kaberle, Burke's words on this matter have been misinterpreted. He never said Kaberle would not be traded. He said he would not ask the veteran defenceman to waive his no-trade clause. Big difference. At some point, Kaberle's agent, Bobby Orr, may do what he did last year, and that's give Burke a list of team that Kaberle would be willing to be traded to.
Q: Hi Damien.
A non-Leafs question for you. How can the Blues be so offensively challenged? Kariya, Tkachuk, Berglund, Oshie, Perron, Boyes, McDonald, Backes etc... They should be able to score at will (or at least at a better clip than they have so far this year). Seems like a good mix of vets and young players. Maybe the vets have all expired at the same time and the young players have all regressed. On paper, this team should be much better than what they've shown so far. Your thoughts?
Matthew Barron, Toronto
A: The Blues have been a perplexing squad this year, and their pop-gun attack is a big reason why. When you look on their roster, you probably don't see the playmakers in the middle or a big-time wheelman on the blueline. They were clearly counting on Patrik Berglund to be a significant force at centre in his sophomore year, and that just hasn't been the case. It's a young team with more youngsters on the way (Alex Pietrangelo) that probably just isn't ready to win yet.
Q: It seems to me that everyone in the media really wants Brian Burke to fire Ron Wilson or trade Kaberle or do something, but what will that do? It is always the questions after the game. I guess that is the question you must have when you are losing but it won't improve the team any right now. All along he said he has a plan and he is sticking to it. How is that wrong except that it is boring? Doesn't history show that stability in the coaching usually pays off down the road? I suppose trading the picks has a lot of people itching for progress now even though Burke has constantly said that this trade is designed to pay dividends down the road and not today. I think that he should even try to resign Kaberle to an extension, It is not like he old. Your thoughts?
Victor Tanti, Ottawa
A: Well, to be fair, I'm not sure I'm aware of a single media person who has advocated the firing of Wilson. Certainly, his coaching has been questioned, as you'd expect with a losing team. I think Kaberle is viewed by many as a good player whose time has expired in Toronto, and that he would fetch a significant draft pick or prospect for the team if he were traded. At some point, you have to move on.
Q: Hey D.C.,
Every Leaf fan who's never played a game in the NHL can see the Leafs have little talent as individuals and as a team. You know pro hockey players and their egos: how honest are they, with you or with themselves, in assessing their talent? Do they know, like you and I and the fans, that they've risen to their level of incompetence and are lucky to have a career of any sort in the NHL? Or do these guys really think they're the bee's knees, they just have to "work harder" and they'll start to win? If it's the latter, does that level of delusion exist at the coach-manager level?
Thanks, Sal Scully, North Cobalt, Ont.
A: I think some know exactly how good they are, and some try to fool themselves and others. Take Laraque. I can certainly see how he'd be disappointed with the news today that the Habs have no use for him any longer. But c'mon, he has two shots on goal in 28 games. I know his role isn't to score goals, but his angry outburst, to me, shows he believes he's far more important to the overall operation than he is.
But I think it's a mistake to just assume every player, whether a Leaf or otherwise, is simply what he is at the moment and no better. Players improve. They gain experience. They find a better role. They find a linemate with whom they gel. Most, to my experience, are grateful for their NHL job, and understand they have to work awfully hard to keep it.
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.**