Thursday Mail Bag
Philosophically, the Phil Kessel trade has always made good sense to me. I realize that may have put me in the minority, but the key factor was that Kessel was 21 at the time of the deal, not 28 or 32.
Still, had GM Brian Burke known that he was surrendering a top two pick in the June draft, he wouldn't have made the deal. He might say publicly he would have, but having the club finish so near the bottom this season upped the cost of the deal beyond what Burke could have imagined.
That doesn't mean it will turn out badly for the Leafs. In Kessel, they have a guy who can score 35 goals rolling out of bed. But it's now up to the team to make him a better player, and to him as well. Meanwhile, the risk that the deal will look worse over time has gone up significantly.
Clearly, Burke's forecast on the capability of his team this season was well off the mark. Now we may see whether another of his forcecasts was accurate.
In bringing Dave Poulin into the front office last summer, Burke said repeatedly that part of his thinking was that his right hand man, Dave Nonis, would likely be leaving this coming summer for a GM job somewhere else. Now, Nonis' name, quite rightly, has already surfaced in speculation about who the Calgary Flames may hire if, as many believe, GM Darryl Sutter gets fired.
How strange would that be? Nonis was instrumental in the decision to send four Leafs to Calgary in a deal to land Dion Phaneuf, and if he were to be hired by the Flames, he'd have to deal with the results of his own larceny.
Sutter may yet survive, although its difficult to see how. If he doesn't, Steve Yzerman's name will surely pop up, and Yzerman is clearly ready for a big job. Nonis' resume includes vast experience in the Western Conference and the fact he's run an NHL club before.
Still, the Leafs should hope that either Sutter doesn't get canned or that the Flames inexplicably overlook Nonis. After this wreckage of a season, the Leafs surely can't afford to lose him.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
What do you think about violence and mixed messages promoted by the NHL 10 video game? For example I happened to catch my son playing and watched his player get hit and struggle to the bench. The trainer's diagnosis was the he had a concussion and could "play if needed". What is this saying to the children that are tomorrow's generation of hockey?
Sam Harding, Burlington
A: Sam, I'm not a video game guy, and we don't have video games in our house. I just don't see the benefits, although my 11-year-old son thinks I'm wrong, and obviously when he goes to see buddies, he gets his fill then. So if you're concerned, the easy answer is not to have the game in your home. Otherwise, from the NHL's point of view, it's not a mixed message. They promote fighting in the sport every day and twice on Sundays. The league advertises blood and the anticipation of violence as part of its entertainment package. So, really, the nonsense they sell with the video game is consistent with the league's message. It's idiotic, but consistent.
Q: Hi Damien,
First of all: Yes, my name is Neil McNeil. Secondly, I know home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final is given to the team that had the most regular season points, but what do you think of the idea of awarding it to the team that beat the other team in the regular season. Might give teams a little added incentive to perform well in interconference games during the season! Would love to hear your thoughts!
Neil McNeil, Toronto
A: To those unfamiliar with Toronto hockey history, Neil McNeil was, of course, a school that worked as part of the Leaf feeder system during the 1960s before the universal draft was introduced. Thus the inside joke.
As far as awarding home ice advantage in the final, I'm not sure there's a truly equitable way of deciding it. So I'm fine with the way it works now, and anything that rewards teams for regular season excellence is okay by me.
Q: Damien, I heard Brian Burke talking yesterday about revamping the Leafs forward corps(e) when free agency opens July 1st. Since the compensation for signing a restricted free agent is a First and a Third round pick, and as everyone knows the Kessel trade zapped next year's first-round draft pick, can the Leafs realistically be targeting 1 or more restricted free agents?
Also, there are a few UFA's I'd like your 2 cents on, in terms of fitting in with the Leafs: Raffi Torres, Colby Armstrong, Marek Svatos, Tim Jackman, Tomas Plekanec and Matthew Lombardi.
Are any of these guys a fit?
Stephen Woods, Centreville, Ont.
A: The Leafs won't be signing any significant restricted free agents to offer sheets. Burke was clearly referring to UFAs. The best he can do with the restricted types, because he has no first round picks, is to try to make a deal involving other commodities with a team that can't sign its own RFA. So if Dallas can't sign James Neal, would they take Luke Schenn? That's just a theoretical scenario, not a rumour or anything, by the way.
As far as those UFAs you listed, I could see Torres fitting in, maybe Armstrong.
Q: Next season, do you see the Leafs continuing to alternate games between Giguere and Gustavsson? Also, at what annual salary do you see willing to resign Giguere to a contract beyond 2010-11?
John Hunt, Harvard, Mass.
A: They will want Gustavsson to assert himself and try to play 50 games. If he can't, they may alternate. Giguere's contract beyond next year totally depends on both his play and whether the Leafs have a reasonable alternative. If he shows next year he can still do it, a huge pay cut that will still see him bring home $2 million makes sense. If he ends up being the starter and has a huge year, he might be able to stay up in the $4-5 million range.
Q: Hi Damien,
What exactly is the players' stance regarding the salary cap? If they are against it (which I believe they are) will there be any chance that they will want to send it to the scrapheap come the next C-B-A negotiations? Or will the cap always be a part of the N-H-L?
Clinton Cox, Hamilton
A: Can't see the cap going anywhere. Players have no leverage and no stomach for another big fight. They'll probably try to get rid of escrow. Good luck to 'em.
Q: Hey Damien,
I am curious to know what is the status of Mike Van Ryn and his return from injury?
Do you know what Brian Burke's plans for him this year? I believe he is entering free agency.
Do you believe he has a spot somewhere on the Maple Leafs blueline next year, where it looks like Phanuef, Schenn, Gunnarsson, Komisarerk and Beauchemin account for the Top 5 next year (Ieave out Kaberle, because no one knows if he will be here in September)?
With both Exelby and Van Ryn entering UFA, who has a better chance of being resigned?
Curious to know this and what any mangment types might know about him.
Dan Loghin, Ottawa
A: At this point, Van Ryn is a longshot to be part of the picture next fall. That said, the Leafs like him, and if he comes in at a low number - probably under $1 million after making $3.35 million this season - he may get a chance on a short-term deal in Toronto. Can't see there being a big market out there for his services. If he can get healthy, he'd be a perfect fifth or sixth D-man.
Q: Hey Damien. Why are the Teams wearing their colors at home and their whites on the road? Doesn't it make more sense to wear the whites at home and let their fans get the whole array of colors throughout the season? Are they planning on ever shifting back to Home Whites?
Dave Russell, Holmes Beach, Fla.
A: To be honest, with the way in which teams switch uniforms at home and on the road these days, I'm not sure what the rule is. Not sure I really care a whole lot. More concerned with fact that both the Leaf blues and whites are wholly unattractive. The re-design planned for next fall has got to deliver something better than that.
Q: Hi Damien,
Do you believe this year's version of the Sharks have a materially different attitude than the San Jose teams that have made premature post-season exits these last few years? And how many more years do you believe the Sharks will be able to compete for the Cup before their proverbial window of opportunity closes?
Marc Johnson, Mississauga
A: GM Doug Wilson has done a good job of keeping his picks and developing young players, particularly given the fact the Sharks are a team with a budget, not a cap team. So I don't necessarily believe the proverbial window is closing on the Sharks' chances to be champions.
That said, I don't see this year's team as materially different or improved. Sharks management, however, does believe the team is better, and they'll get a chance to demonstrate that starting next week.