Thursday Mail Bag
Of all the dumb things said in the past 11 days over the Matt Cooke-Marc Savard incident - and there have been an astonishing amount, even for hockey - the dumbest has to have been this notion that had the NHL suspended Cooke for a few games all would have been well.
In other words, the Bruins would have been satisfied that justice had been done, and tonight's Boston-Pittsburgh game would be just another night on the NHL calendar.
Well, even if Cooke had received a four-game ban from NHL head office, severe in a league that believes breaking a guy's collarbone is equivalent to a two-gamer - he'd be back for tonight's game. And you really think there wouldn't be folks in Boston baying for more blood, more nonsense?
Of course there would be. People behave as if these incidents all have a logical beginning and conclusion, and they don't. In fact, it's even worse these days when every microscopically-scrutinized incident is compared to others. Just last night in Anaheim there was another act of stupidity, this time by Ducks defenceman James Wisniewski on Chicago's Brent Seabrook, which had the announcers talking about the larger head shot debate and other incidents, etc. etc.
What's clear is that partisanship plays a big role in how any of these are examined. Last night, with Seabrook clearly out on his feet before falling back to the ice, Ducks announcer Brian Hayward wondered aloud if the Hawks blueliner was "selling it" in an effort to draw a penalty.
Tonight, idiotic Bruins play-by-play man Jack Edwards - probably the worst in the sport right now - will undoubtedly be frothing at the mouth and cheering on whatever Bruin decides to challenge Cooke to a fight. Cooke has already fought once in the four games since the incident - Rob Niedermayer was the opponent - and will probably oblige.
Assuming the Bruin player wins, some will be satisfied. Of course, if Cooke wins, there could be more trouble. Never forget it was Cooke's pugilistic defeat at the hands of Steve Moore on that fateful night that encouraged Todd Bertuzzi into thinking yet more revenge needed to be exacted.
But the idiocy never makes sense. So Cooke knocks out Savard, and then, say, Shawn Thornton engages Cooke in a scrap, and everything's okay again?
By desperately and deliberately keeping fighting in the game at all costs, the NHL allows this caveman thinking to live on. So carry on boys, knock each other's teeth out! Whatever it takes.
Meanwhile, looks to be like both the Bruins and Penguins could use a victory. To some, sadly, that's secondary.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: I am curious of your opinion on the trip up by Steve Downie on Crosby in their game on Sunday. It was overshadowed by the Ovie cheapshot but also deserves a suspension for intent to injure.
J. Howie, Vancouver
A: Repeat offender, should have been a suspension for that act of stupidity. Another dropped ball by the NHL. Lowest common denominator wins again.
Q: Hey Damien, just wondering, in your opinion, how many of these young players currently on the Leafs roster have a legitimate chance to be solid NHL'ers? Obviously not every one of these guys is going to score 50 goals but who is Burke counting on to be able to build a competitive core around? Which guys do not look so promising? Thanks,
Larry Cranmore, London
A: Right now, I'd say all of them have a chance. There isn't a youngster with the team right at the moment who is over his head. What the club is trying to determine is the level to which each player might rise, and which ones could possibly use more seasoning in the minors to develop their game. Other than Tyler Bozak, I'm not sure there's a possible top-end player in the mix. But at this point, it's up to the players to prove how high they can fly. To me, the one player I'm not sold on is Christian Hanson. I just don't know what he's supposed to be. Looks like he needs to get a lot stronger.
Q: Hello, Mr. Cox. I am a giant Leafs fan, and I like many others am wondering when Ron Wilson is going to give someone the role of captain. Of any of the new players, mainly Phaneuf, do you think is a likely candidate?
John Toad, Kitchener
A: Phaneuf, to me, is really the only candidate. I think there's better than a 50/50 chance he gets the "C" by next season.
Q: Hi - Please explain why Section 4 Rule 21.1 was not used to suspend Cooke ?
Thanks. Derek Stewart, Portland, Maine
A: If you're referring to attempt to injure, my understanding is that the way that rule is used is on top of an infraction. In other words, there has to be an initial, illegal act - a slash, elbow, butt end, board, etc. - to which attempt to injure can then be added. In this case, the league ruled the hit was legal, therefore no attempt to injure.
Q: What's with Nazem Kadri having 105 penalty minutes? He could be leading the league in points if he was on the ice more. Do you think the Leafs should address this issue? I do.
Iain Bushe, Toronto
A: I think the Leafs, given the type of team they're trying to develop, are thrilled that Kadri plays with a nasty edge. They'll worry about reining him in later, if at all.
Why was Sydney Crosby not wearing an "A" in the gold medal game? I know he was on the cover of SI with the "A", and I could have sworn he was named an alternate captain on the roster.
Deryck Evelyn, Cambridge
A: Crosby, Jarome Iginla and Chris Pronger were all alternate captains, but only two could actually were the letter on their jersey in a given game. So they took turns. I'm amazing how many questions I've received on this issue.
Q: I keep reading and hearing about the amazement over certain defencemen logging 25 or 26 minutes, yet when I was a kid in the six-team days, every team had two defence pairs plus a fifth defenceman who rarely played (Leafs had Noel Price, Al Arbour, Joe Crozier, etc.). Brewer and Baun, Stanley and Horton, basically logged 30 minutes each per game. Are the speed and size the reasons for teams now having three defence pairs and dressing seven D? Do defencemen have to skate that much more in to day's style of play? Surely today's players are in far better shape than players were in the 50s and 60s.
Nick Martin, Winnipeg
A: The answer is yes, the game has changed drastically and is that much faster. Most defencemen start to struggle when their minutes get much north of 20. In the 1970s and earlier, forwards used to take much longer shifts and the game was played at a less furious pace, allowing defencemen to stay out longer. That said, in big games, you'll still see NHL teams shorten their bench and cut down to four or five defencemen. It's equal parts choice and necessity.
Q: Damien, as a hockey fan I am really upset and perplexed right now. I remember 5-10 years ago when the topic of the day was hitting from behind. The league implemented rules to get this dangerous act out of the game. Now, it seems hitting from behind has returned, and there are meagre consequences that go with it. Just because the new topic of the day is headshots, it seems like the league executives have forgotten how dangerous an act this is. They should have thrown the book at Ovechkin. In my mind, he deserved around 6-8 games. Will this league ever get serious about suspensions?
Tanome Mchale, Toronto
A: It appears not. I'm less worried about the big hits like Ovechkin's than I am about the steady drumbeat of cheap hits from behind that go essentially unpunished because the victim isn't injured. It's turning into a roulette game. To me, any hit from behind should be five minutes and a game. Alfredsson hits Beauchemin from behind like the other night and its five and a game. Soon, you wouldn't have to worry about calling it because it would happen. But a two-minute penalty? That's nothing in a league where 75-80 per cent of penalties are killed off.
Q: Hey there Damian, long time reader, first time writer. With the recent success of Nikolai Kulemin and a few late round draft picks in Viktor Stalberg, Carl Gunnarsson and with guys like Juraj, Mikus and Korbinian Holzer showing lots of promise, do you think Burke will better utilize the talents of Euro scout Thommie Bergman this coming draft? We don't have any picks below the 3rd round, so why not let Bergman take some homerun swings at some high potential Euros. With how good he has done in the past, I was very disappointed to see him ignored last year. I hope that won't be repeated. What do you think?
Jeff Pearce, Kingston
A: Well, out of all the guys you mentioned, only Kulemin is an established NHLer, with Gunnarson close, and neither's a star. Stalberg has a chance, the other guys are longshots. So I don't see the brilliance of the Leaf Euro-drafting strategy, necessarily. Moreover, Brian Burke wants a big, tough team based on North American talent. So I wouldn't anticipated a host of Euro picks in any draft as long as Burke is in charge.
Q: I am not questioning Phill Kessel's talent or speed but,in your opinion, is Phil Kessel in good enough shape to be an elite player in the NHL. Where would he rate on a fitness scale from Kyle Wellwood to Gary Roberts?
Thomas Bee, Toronto
A: I haven't heard the conditioning issue raised with Kessel. Being such a terrific skater, sometimes he can get around the ice with what appears to be little effort. All this said, he had serious shoulder surgery last summer that kept him off skates for months, so it could be possible he is still finding the level of conditioning he wants to be at. To me, the issue with Kessel isn't if he's in good enough shape. It's whether over time he will develop the grit and level of competitiveness to go with his talent.