Mail bag returns
Can't last. Never does. And I will fully expect this to produce accusations of "jinxing" the Maple Leafs. Fact is, three games into the season, they're 100 per cent healthy, one of very few NHL clubs that can make that boast even this early in the campaign. Brett Lebda's back and waiting for his turn, Colton Orr wasn't unduly concussed in that fight with Deryk Engelland on Wednesday and Freddie Sjostrom seems just fine after missing much of training camp after shoulder surgery.
Meanwhile, for the fourth straight game tonight against the Rangers, the Leafs will find the opponent a little banged up or at a disadvantage.
Against Montreal in the home opener, the Habs were missing winger Mike Cammalleri, not to mention Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik on the backend. They then played Ottawa, with the Sens facing a back-to-back after a tough loss to Buffalo and with Jason Spezza on the limp with a groin problem and Daniel Alfredsson obviously not at 100 per cent.
Then came the Penguins, who were missing injured defenceman Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik, although they still held the Leafs to just 14 shots. Tonight, the Rangers will get Chris Drury back, but they're missing centres Vinny Prospal and Erik Christenson.
At some point, of course, the shoe will be on the other foot, and it will be the Leafs facing a back-to-back or struggling through injuries. Which makes it even more vital that they get as many points as possible before those difficult situations arise.
And now, with a new season upon us, we welcome back the weekly mail bag, with the bag already bursting with questions from the Star's passionate hockey fans.
Here are this week's:
Q: Was there ever any reason given for taking the "A" away from Kaberle, or is this just one more example of the current administration showing the life long Leaf no respect? Kaberle will never smash an opponents hed through the glass so he lacks the "truculence" that Burke desires, but most GMs in the league still recognize that he is an elite offensive defenceman.
I've been a Leaf fan my whole life so would normally want to see the team get better, but if I was in Kaberle's shoes I would refuse to waive my no trade clause. Doing this will make Burke look pretty bad for not being able to get anything for an asset that he doesn't value.
Roger Park, Halifax
A: A couple of points. They took the "A" away because Kaberle had a weak season a year ago and, let's face it, isn't really the leadership type. He remains the best chip they have to play in their dreams of landing a top six forward, so if that's the plan, there's no point making him part of the core leadership group. Interestingly, it doesn't seem to have bothered him. He's off to a good start. With respect to losing him for nothing, I think it's different than losing a lower-salaried, younger player. If Kaberle does move on next summer, that will give the Leafs $4.25 million to spend somewhere else, which they will do. When a free agent walks, you re-gain the cap space. No small thing.
Q: Supposedly, the NHL has said they are going to get serious on cheap hits, so when I read today that Niklas Hjalmarsson got a 2-game suspension for his hit on Jason Pominville, I wasn't sure what to think. On one hand, it's a suspension, which I guess is good. On the other, it's two games, given out the same day as they gave James Wisniewski a 2-game suspension for making an "obscene gesture" to an opponent. Does the NHL in their infinite wisdom really think that flipping the bird to Sean Avery is equally offensive as smashing an opponent's head against the boards? If they want fans to think they're taking head shots seriously, maybe they should start doing so.
Kevin D., Toronto
A: I agree. An illegal hit that leaves an opponent with a concussion is worth more than two games. But the league factors more into it, like the player's previous record and how much it will cost the player in salary. Moreover, it doesn't have a zero tolerance policy. If there are reasons it can find that exonerate the player from any sense of intent, they find them. Anyways, I would have given Hjalmarsson eight or more, knowing that such a ban would catch the attention of players across the league. Two games? Players won't even notice.
Q: Hi Damien,
Your article regarding Souray and Redden again got me thinking.
The common saying regarding players getting paid more than their respective value is: "wouldn't you take it if your boss offered it to you?"...and of course the answer is yes.
However it takes two sides to tango...the player needs to be demanding that amount too. When a player prices himself above his actual value it brings tremendous pressure that most never lives up to ( Brian Mccabe to name a few from Toronto). It can now mean the end of a career too. Do you think the salary cap era will make players think twice about maxing out their contract or, will this continue? Thanks, look forward to the mail bag.
Jeff Iles, Haliburton
A: Doubt it. Even Clarke MacArthur mentioned the other day the pressure the PA puts on players to maximize their income to help other players. The top end guys will always go for the maximum bucks. But the lower level players, given the choice between salary and term, may lean more towards term having seen so many of their brethren left out of work. As well, agents of entry level players understand that if they structure deals so that the cap hit isn't enormous (like Tyler Bozak's $3.75 million hit) it may hasten their clients path to the NHL.
Q: Hi Damien. For many years I've enjoyed your columns as well as your comments on The Sports Reporters. You seem to have a great balance between appreciating sports and ridiculing its foolishness. I have one question and one suggestion.
A quarterback, often the most valuable player on a football team, can be crushed from behind by a defensive player 50 to 100 pounds heavier, get up and return to the huddle for the next play. But in hockey if the most valuable player is hit hard, vengeance is the most immediate thought on the minds of his teammates. Hockey people always talk about what a tough sport it is but apparently the best players are off limits. Why?
On the shootout -- how about a chaser or a shot clock? Isn't it supposed to simulate a breakaway? I love the shootout but not when guys get to stop, start, swing wide, put the tip of their blade on the puck, or make a spin move. Put an opposing player on the blueline behind him and let him chase. Or put a five second shot clock on him. Be creative but at top speed.
Mike Kirby, Belleville
A: Mike, some interesting thoughts. What's unfortunate is that it's not even the top players being "protected" from being hits, but everybody on the roster. The players talk about the need to keep hitting in the game but then try hard to persuade the other team not to hit. Referees need to call this tighter. That's the way the instigator should be used more aggressively. On the shootouts, I know what you're saying, but quite frankly, it's the innovative approaches that are often the most fun to watch. And shootouts just don't take very long as it is.
Q: Damien, love your reports and columns. Do you think it is time for the NHL to find a way to eliminate teams playing on back to back nights? I know it is difficult with arena availability (NBA, NCAA and Concerts). Hockey is just as demanding physically as soccer and football, and they only play once a week! The game on Saturday night just goes to show how difficult it was for Ottawa to keep up with a rested team, a clear competitive advantage for Leafs. In the NHL this season, the Sabres will play B2B 22 times, while the Hurricanes follow with 21 times. The Canadian teams in the west (I suppose due to travel) only play B2B 11-13 times.
Nauman Vania, Oshawa
A: In an ideal world, sure. But that's not the way the business of sports works. Competitive integrity often takes a back seat to revenue and, quite frankly, greed. Moreover, the travel requirements alone of Western Conference alone put them at a competitive disadvantage. You'd like it to be an even playing field every game, but that's just not going to happen.
Q: Damien, have not been able to figure this out.
MLSE have the 'Leaf Channel'. Out of 168 hours in a week they have maybe 1 or 2 games to broadcast. Including pre-game and post game shows, that's about 10 legitimate hours of quality out of the 168. Why don't they show Marlie games, maybe not HOME games because it might hurt the gate, but all AWAY games????(AHH, it's called marketing!} Especially this year because there will be interest in Kadri?
Craig Dawson, Pickering
A: Broadcasting games can be expensive. Especially road ones. And there are always broadcast agreements to be considered. Otherwise, I don't really watch Leaf TV unless they're showing a Leaf game. I get enough Leaf PR as it is.
Q: Big fan of your column. I'd like you to comment on the way the NHL presents itself out side of core markets like Toronto. Living in FL, I have DirectV (Sat) and subscribe to the NHL Center Ice package. NHL remains on Verus and is nowhere on ESPN. Versus did not air the regular season last year b/c of contract dispute with Comcast. NHL Center Ice has aired both Leafs games (thru 10/12/10) but in standard definition. Just seems to me there is no consolidated effort to make NHL presented in its best light. Does this go back to Bettman? I'd like your opinion. Toronto will always be a solid market but the way this is presented to the US market is lacking.
Mark Byers, Orlando, Fla.
A: Well, I was in New York last night, and the only game you could see on even cable was Versus showing Flyers-Lightning, and even that was a Comcast Philly broadcast dressed up as a national broadcast. It's a patchwork quilt, for sure, a reflection of the league's broadcast history, the regional nature of the sport in the U.S. and the absence of a major national contract that covers the entire season, not just part of it like NBC. It's maddening, for sure. A long-term deal with ESPN makes the most sense, but that's a business deal the NHL hasn't been able to cut.
Q: If you had to rank Tyler Bozak's draft year based on current performances, how high would he go?
Nick Martin, Winnipeg
A: Probably low first round, early second. He has potential, yes, but he really hasn't done anything yet. So this could change. It wasn't a great draft after the top few picks. But until Bozak puts an NHL resume together, it's all projection.
Q: Hey Damien,
With the recent retirement of Darcy Tucker, is the buyout money from his previous contract with the Leafs removed from their current salary cap obligations? If so, that must be a welcome suprise for Burke and company...Thanks.
Cory Abraham, Elliot Lake, Ont.
A: Nope. Four more years, $1 million per. Buyouts don't come for free. They last long after the player is gone.