Thursday Mail Bag
Hard to say at this point whether J.S. Giguere and/or Dion Phaneuf will flourish in this market. But the Leafs went from having one high profile player - Phil Kessel - to having three in a matter of days. Giguere is a Stanley Cup winner and Conn Smythe Trophy winner. If he played in Boston, Philly, Detroit, Chicago or Montreal, he'd be an even bigger name.
And Phaneuf? He's like a big cartoon character, minus a cuddly personality. He demands to be noticed, and he usually is, for better or worse.
I disagree, however, with the sentiment that Phaneuf and Kessel are now the foundation. To me, they're the icing, the flashy elements. The chore for Burke is now to surround them with reliable, competitive and reliable teammates willing to play a certain style of hockey.
So the process continues. Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
Quick question about no trade/movement clauses: if a player waives his no-trade to move to another team, does the no-trade follow him? Hypothetically, if the Leafs decide they need to move Giguere, can they?
Patrick Gauthier, Ottawa
A: Absolutely, the no-trade clause follows them. Interestingly, it was Brian Burke - who calls no trades "coach killers" - who gave that clause to Giguere. It was done because of the health issues of Giguere's child, who needed to stay close to the Anaheim area at the time. Presumably, any issues can now be dealt with here in Toronto.
Q: Hey Damien,
Anybody ever think of turning Kaberle into a centre? Leafs now have lots of defense and few centres. It work for Red Kelly why not give it a try.
Brian Moxley, Kingston
A: I've heard this one a thousand times from a thousand readers, each believing it's a unique idea. That's not to say it isn't a good one in theory. But it's not going to happen. And again, as I say to Leaf fans, this is NOT a team with an abundance of defencemen. This is a team that needs to get more.
Q: Hi Damien,
With the big deals this week and Burke's comments that he's still "open for business" , I'm wondering if you think more deals like this one (where the Leafs get PLAYERS instead of PICKS) could be in the works? Particularly I've heard a rumour of Chris Versteeg coming from Chicago for Ponikorovsky and Hanson (or Stalberg). Do you think we should expect more warm bodies coming back to the Leafs?
Bradley Meldrew, Toronto
A: I think what you should probably expect, Bradley, is an avalanche of rumours over the next month, most of which will not be true. Did anybody have the scoop on Phaneuf coming to Toronto? For many financial and logistical reasons, teams are much better at concealing their intentions these days than was the case even 10 years ago. If you were to keep track of all the speculation that comes from all the insiders out there, I bet you'd find less than 3 per cent ended up having any basis in fact.
That said, it's been long suggested the Hawks need to move salary, the Leafs have long been talking with Chicago and Versteeg is a name that always comes up.
Q: Hey Damien,
With the recent acquisition of Dion Phaneuf, I like many others have been reminded of another blockbuster trade with the Flames that brought Doug Gilmour to the Leafs. I have been thinking about why that trade was ever made from Calgary's point of view. As I was only 9 years old at the time, I wasn't aware of anything that might have occurred off the ice. Were there issues that made Gilmour someone that had to be moved? Did the Flames think that Gary Leeman was going to score 50 goals again? I know Gilmour wasn't yet the superstar that he would become in Toronto but he was still far and away the best player in that trade. I guess my question is, in all seriousness, what were the Flames thinking back then?
Andrew Cacciatore, Toronto
A: Pretty simple. They were thinking they were getting rid of some contractual headaches - Gilmour, Jamie Macoun - and that in Gary Leeman they were acquiring a bona fide 50-goal sniper. This was a Calgary team that was still trying to win championships and had made some bold deals before, including trading away Brett Hull. But Doug Risebrough was a brash, youthful GM, and he got caught trading with an experienced man in Cliff Fletcher who knew all the players involved better.
Q: Hi Damien,
I was wondering what the status of Chris DiDomenico is. I know he broke his femur about a year ago and was just wondering when we can expect to see him in a Marlie, and ultimately Leafs uniform. He is a prospect that seems very interesting and I think could find a home in the NHL.
Nick Heersink, Bailieboro, Ont.
A: The process of recovering from a broken femur is ongoing. DiDomenico has been working for weeks on skating and building up strength in his leg. There is still hope, I believe, that he will join his QMJHL team for the final weeks of the season.
As a former union member but now a senior manager I was considering that the disparity between what the average player salary is and what the star player is getting must be having an affect on the game. One, it limits the amount of skilled players with the cap but two, there must be resentment from the guys on the bottom. It would surely bother me if I was doing a good job in helping the Crosby's of the world succeed and yet receiving 1/10 of what their making. Can't imagine this hasn't come up in the Players Association, mind you we know it is in disarray.
One other point as a senior manager I know that you can't succeed by embarrassing or calling out your workers. I find Ron Wilson's tactic's wrong and unsuccessful, no one wants to work for someone like that, it's never worked for me. This guy has to go.
John Madill, Toronto
A: Well John, your first concern is as old as the hills, and it applies to sports other than hockey. Like how the lower paid offensive lineup has to bash his head every week to protect the $10 million quarterback. Just part of pro sports, always has been, it's just the gap is greater than ever and growing.
Re Wilson, I hear this a lot, but the fact is, only on rare occasions has he publicly called a player out. I don't think he does it any more than many other coaches, but in Toronto, every word a coach says gets magnified.
Q: Is Carl Gunnarrson a real NHL defenceman, or is he playing only because he's better than the alternatives? If he's for real, what's his potential? He certainly seems calm and steady. Will Jeff Finger play only if there's a string of injuries, and if not, will Burke send him to the AHL to get him off the cap? And is it safe to assume Frogren was a mistake?
Nick Martin, Winnipeg
A: Frogren was a mistake. Finger is just a very expensive depth player now and Gunnarson, well, let's wait until he's played a full season in the league. He's smooth, mobile and plays a heads up game. But he's still just past the prospect stage. He's got a chance, though.
Q: Hi Damien, thanks for some great columns and insight. I saw a twitter post from Mark Cuban questioning how only 4 NHL teams could have losing records. I checked it out and it is true! Obviously it has to do with the ridiculous 3rd point awarded in OT but what does this say to anyone looking for real competition? Isn't having so few losing records a bit silly?
Matthew Binks, Sudbury
A: Yup. I think it is. But the NHL believes this keeps more teams in the mix for longer, and it's hard to argue with that.
Q: Hi, Damien. Back in my day (born 1946) if anyone took more than 2 steps (strides) and hit an opponent it was considered charging. Now players go the full length or width or the ice to hit an opponent and it isn't called unless it is a head shot (sometimes), hit from behind (sometimes) or an elbow (sometimes). If the 2 step rule was implemented the severity of all contact including head shots would be reduced immensely. Your thoughts please.
Jim Markham, Hudson, Que.
A: I don't necessarily want to see the severity of all contact reduced. Just tell guys they can't hit to the head or the penalties are severe. This players are big enough, strong enough and well enough protected that they can handle the other hits.
Q: Hey Damien,
I have a few questions, please feel free to touch on one or all three regarding the big trades:
1. Does it appear to you that the Leafs are allowed to spend as much as needed and are very willing to pay extra salary to save cap space (traded Blake $4M Cap Hit, $3M salary and Giguere $1 M higher salary than cap hit I believe). In some ways this is buying cap space.
2. With the above said, does it appear that next summer (2011) is when the Leafs are gong to sign a big UFA, at that point they only have three big contracts in Phaneuf, Komisarek, and Kessel.
3. How happy are sports retailers in TO (and across Ontario) with the chance to sell a new Leaf jersey with number 3 and Phaneuf on the back. This trade seems like a million dollar deal in memorabilia for a sadly declining market. I know this was primarily a hockey trade (with and added side benefit), but when does the marketing business enter into this or does it ever in a market like TO?
Joe Akey, Ottawa
A: This is gonna be a full-time gig just dealing with Joe's active mind!
Okay, to the first question, I think you're asking whether the Leafs are willing to spend to the max on payroll even if it means burying a few dollars. I think the answer is yes, although we really haven't seen it. Right now, like a lot of teams, they're just walking the cap tightrope.
To the second question, too much can happen between now and then. Also, there's no guarantee that a big-name UFA who interests the Leafs will be available in '11. Look at this summer. Other than Kovalchuk, that kind of player just isn't out there. But they do seem to want to build in salary flexibility to make it possible at any point to add elite players if they become available.
And third, I don't think the Leafs have to worry about jersey sales when they make trades or they would never have let Darcy Tucker go. That said, this is the business of hockey, and it never hurts for a big market team like Toronto to have high profile players. The problem with the cap system, in my mind, is that it doesn't allow the big markets to be the Yankees, to build powerhouse names with all-star players. So its one or two big names per club.