Thursday Mail Bag
MONTREAL—So, this is pretty much it.
Either the Habs make it a series tonight, and the Sharks make it a series in the Windy City tomorrow night, or we could be starting the Stanley Cup final next week.
That's, of course, if U.S. television networks go along with it. Already there's chatter NBC will want the NHL to delay the start of the final to two weekends from now even if both the east and west conference finals were over by Sunday. Hard to believe the NHL would go for that, but TV is the tail that wags the dog these days.
It sounds like Habs head coach Jacques Martin is going to add a little size for Game 3 tonight in Benoit Pouliot and Ryan O'Byrne, although Pouliot is hardly a physical player. The guessing is that Jaroslav Halak will be in goal, although Martin could theoretically have a surprise up his sleeve.
It's a hot, breezy day in Montreal, the kind of day that makes this pretty much the perfect playoff town. Now we'll find out whether there will be games at the Bell Centre next week.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Last summer I and many other Toronto fans were clamouring for Brian Burke to sign Mike Cammalleri. Instead, he signed Phil Kessel at a tremendous price. Consider this-if Burke had signed Cammalleri , the leafs would now have Cammalleri, say Tyler Seguin, plus a first and second round draft choice. Crosby might be worth this but certainly not Kessel. Do you know of any reason why Burke would not have followed this path?
Clement Rose, Calgary
A: Let's go through the sequence. First, Brian Burke tried to trade Tomas Kaberle for Kessel at the June draft, but that fell through. On July 1st, the Leafs contacted Cammelleri and were prepared to meet and make an offer, but before they could do that he signed with Montreal. So it wasn't a direct choice between the two players, and Cammalleri made the issue moot by signing with the Habs. Clearly the Leafs preferred Kessel, but when that deal wasn't consumated and the Sedins signed back with Vancouver, Cammalleri was first on the Toronto hit list.
Obviously, with Cammalleri having a terrific spring, there's lots of people bringing this up now. That sentiment wasn't heard as often during the regular season when Cammalleri was frequently injured and scored 26 goals in 65 games. Moreover, the two players are similar in some ways - both are pure scorers - but they're not exactly the same. Cammalleri is 27 and in his goal-scoring prime. His contract has four more years to go with an annual cap hit of $6 million. The Canadiens paid a premium price to get him.
Obviously, the Leafs paid for Kessel in more than dollars. But he is 5 1/2 years younger than Cammalleri and has four more years to go on his deal at cap hit of $5.4 million. In his last playoff season, he had six goals in 11 games. Not bad.
The point is, obviously signing Cammalleri, something the Leafs wanted to do, would have saved the draft picks. At the same time, Kessel is 22, still years away from his prime. So the comparison is imperfect.
Q: Damien has the NHL not learned over time that returning to failed markets doesn't work? The return to Winnipeg would be a waste of time for everyone. I would love another Canadian team- though that is overrated as 60-70% of the players on any team are North American anyway, but will Winnipeg support another team? Small market, failed once before. History tells us that Canadian teams do well when the dollar is strong but what about 10-12 years ago when it was weak and teams wanted NHL bailouts? Obviously, my choice would be a SW Ontario team to compete with the Leafs. Big market within driving range, corporate money and exposure. I am a lifelong Leafs fan, no matter how hard I try not to be, but would love some local competition to force their hand.
Rob Burns, Kitchener
A: Of the top of my head, it sure seems to be the NHL did very well going back to Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul, places where the game had failed before. The Wild, in particular, are doing very well. Atlanta, not so much.
As far as Winnipeg, I sure hear your concerns, although I'm not certain a team somewhere in southern Ontario would be that much more stable. It depends on ownership, and if Jim Balsillie were willing to own a team that would be fine, just as if David Thomson wanted to own one in Manitoba. But what if they sell? Then what happens. I think you have to put teams in places based more on market than owner, because owners change. Your point that going back to Winnipeg isn't a slam dunk is a good one, but circumstances might yet make it a better place to be for the NHL than an number of other markets.
Q: Hi Damien,
You're probably as tired as the rest of us following this Phoenix Coyotes debacle, but there is one question that keeps gnawing at me. All of the talk has the Coyotes going back to Winnipeg, but Quebec City has also been thrown in there as a potential for a future NHL franchise. My question is: why, in all of this talk, is Hamilton (or Southern Ontario) not mentioned at all? How much water do you think the theory holds that the NHL is seriously contemplating a Hamilton expansion team? Yes there would be hurdles to clear in the form of the Leafs' and Sabres' territory rights, but wouldn't the perceived value of another Southern Ontario team make it worth the headache of trying to make it work somehow?
Matt Downing, Mississauga
A: It really depends how you look at it. Would another team in southern Ontario be stronger than some of the teams in the southern U.S.? Yes. But would that team necessarily make the rest of the league stronger? That's the bigger issue. The NHL, as an entire entity, has probably more potential having a team in the much larger market of Phoenix if it can make it work. Believe me, there are a lot of U.S. teams that would have little or no interest in trying to sell tickets when Hamilton or Kitchener or Winnipeg come to town. It's more complicated than simply exchanging a money-losing team for a team in a better market.
Q: Why does the NHL tolerate obstruction? The 2010 playoffs look like pre-lockout hockey with all the pulling/tugging/holding/grabbing and blatant interference yet no calls by the refs ?I do not want to watch Hal Gill or Ben Eager obstruct players WHO DO NOT HAVE THE PUCK. I want to watch Sedin or Hossa or Crosby skate up the ice unimpeded from behind( especially when they are simply joining the rush) The NHL ratings are about to plummet in Canada if the refs do not start to call all this obstruction cause this kind of crap added to neutral zone trap hockey is just killing the enjoyment of the game.
Bill Kennedy, Thornbury
A: I sense your frustration but disagree with your point. I don't see all the obstruction you're seeing. I see battles for pucks along the boards, but compared to what it was six or seven years ago, there's basically no obstruction in the game today. And you state that NHL ratings are about to plummet in Canada if some things don't change. I think the opposite is true. Ratings have never been higher.
Q: Hey Damien, Which players in the upcoming draft do you think Burke will pursue the hardest? I know this year's draft class is supposed to be weaker than most but I would love to see the Swiss player Nino Niederreiter (currently ranked 8th overall) flying down left wing in the Blue and White. What will it take for the Leafs to secure a Top 10 draft pick?
Brent Golem, Waterloo
A: A miracle? Unless they're willing to move Luke Schenn, Nazem Kadri or Phil Kessel, there's no chance they can land a top 10 pick. If they can get a first rounder it will be a late one, and it's impossible to say what player they'd be looking at.
Q: With the coronation of Dion Phaneuf as captain of the Leafs imminent, I have started to think whether I should care if the Leafs have a captain and, if so, should it matter who it is. So, how much difference do you think designating a captain, and, if designated, the leadership style of the captain, can make on the performance of team? Do you think that a young team like the Leafs will benefit more with the (apparent) in-your-face style of Phaneuf or the (apparent) more laid-back approachof Mats Sundin? Do you think Sundin was "successful" as a Leaf captain(defining success as getting the team to win more games than it would have won if the captain was a player without any designation of a captain or alternate captain)?
John Hunt, Harvard, Mass.
A: Well, I think the Montreal Canadiens are showing that not having captain isn't necessarily an impediment to post-season success. The last team to win a Cup without a captain was the 1972 Boston Bruins, so clearly most teams believe having somebody wear the "C" is necessary.
Sundin was, in my mind, a very good captain, as good a captain as he was a player. The Leafs just didn't have good enough teams to win it. The fact he was a quieter leader didn't detract from his leadership. It sure worked well enough for Nicklas Lidstrom in Detroit. As to whether Phaneuf will be a good captain, I just haven't seen enough of him in Toronto yet to make a judgement.
Do you think the Leafs should get an accomplished back up NHL goaltender in case Giguere gets hurt? At this point, Gustavvson seems to play better every other game instead of every game plus his heart issues may arise again. Other than G&G nobody else seems close to being ready. If they do decide to get an experience back up where do they put him if Giggy and The Monster are healthy and playing well?
Neil Poutanen, Guelph
A: You can only carry so much insurance. The Leafs will have James Reimer and Jussi Rynnas with the Marlies, and Ben Scrivens learning somewhere else, likely the ECHL Reading team. If you sign an older vet he's going to play in place of those youngsters. So no, I think they'll be going with what they have.
Q: I love reading your work, I was wondering if you had any information on whether or not the Leafs intend to sign prospects Joel Champagne, Tyler Ruegsegger, and Korbinian Holzer. Holzer did not look out of place with Germany at the Olympics. Thanks again for your great work.
Israel Stern, Thornhill
A: My information is Tyler Ruegsegger will get an AHL contract to start. There are still concerns about his skating. The Leafs will look to sign Holzer after the world championships where he's been playing for Germany. They haven't decided whether they want to sign Champagne yet.
Q: My though on how to improve NHL scoring and excitement: Make icing a two-minute penalty. Forces teams to carry the puck out of there own end. Potential for excitment in my mind would be great. Just think it through a bit. This may be an old idea that I'm just repeating.
Steve Kowalczyk, Burlington
A: That's too significant a penalty. Icing the way it is called now is fine by me.