Thursday Mail Bag
This is Luca Caputi's newest big chance.
His chance to stick in the NHL for good that is. After a strong training camp, Caputi almost made the Leafs, but was a victim of both the numbers game and the fact there wasn't an obvious place to put him in the lineup. Right now, Colby Armstrong is probably the kind of player Caputi needs to try to be in order to land full-time NHL work, so the fact he's back in the bigs as a replacement for Armstrong should give him an extended opportunity to prove whether he can make a solid contribution at this level, starting tonight in Boston.
Caputi isn't likely going to be a big scorer, so he's going to have to make his make as a hustling, energy player, one capable to initiating contact on the forecheck and playing solid defensively. More than anything, he needs to define himself as a player without being pigeon-holed into being limited as a just a checker. Not an easy task for a young player who is likely to get limited minutes until he can show he deserves more.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
Do you think there is an eerie similarity between the career journeys of Dion Phaneuf and the Bryan McCabe of old when Leaf fans would have sold their first born to be rid of him? The comparison: both players have been very effective on the power play with each possessing a howitzer from the point. Goals abounded until defenders realized this and adjusted. Both players have the tendency to go for the big hit and find themselves out of position. Both had well regarded leadership abilities from a young age. Both players had a significant drop in play soon after signing a large contract, leaving what was a bright future very much in doubt. And finally, both were traded for significantly less than one would once have thought.
So have Leaf fans been saddled with the new McCabe and we just don't know it yet?
Andrew Puckrin, Toronto
A: You make a solid argument, and there are clearly similarities. That said, they aren't the same player. In particular, McCabe suffered from often terrible hockey sense and average skating ability. Phaneuf, I would argue, suffers from over-aggressiveness at times, but on night's like Tuesday against Florida, he's capable of playing a very solid, fundamentally sound game. As well, he's an excellent skater, a huge help in today's NHL. But certainly, part of what we're seeing in today's NHL is young defencemen who get paid big bucks before they've necessarily worth it - Jay Bouwmeester would be another example - and there's no guarantee Phaneuf will be better in three years than he is today.
Q: Hey Damien,
Might be a bit premature to ask but do you think Kris Versteeg is the new Jason Blake? (or has the potential to be) And by that I mean high expectations coming in but very little value added in the way of production. Love to hear your thoughts.
Jacob Bloomfield, Caledon
A: For starters, Versteeg is overpaid, probably. He got lucky when the Hawks screwed up his contract and had to pay him as though he was unretricted. I think he arrived expected to be a 20-25 goal scorer and may be that, while Blake arrived as a 40-goal scorer and never came close to that again. Versteeg has a little more of a physical element to his game and has shown an ability to kill penalties and block shots. I would say Leaf fans haven't seen him at his best yet.
Q: It seems that Brian Burke has more or less adopted Cliff Fletcher's draft schmaft approach to team reconstruction (an executive suite symptom of the dreaded blue-white disease?). OK then, but what should be his deadline to deliver not just a playoff team but a Stanley Cup? For example, Pittsburgh and Chicago have shown that building through the draft, plus a bit of shrewd trading, should put you in the final if not hoisting the Cup within about 4 years max (Chicago was the quicker of the two because arguably they at least had the likes of Duncan Keith from the start of the rebuild). Washington, on the other hand, took the same approach and if there's no June parade past the White House this will be year 6 with no Cup since Ovechkin's arrival. (Should that mean they remove George McPhee as GM?) Will MLSE finally impose such performance indicators on a GM, or will they be happy with simple playoff appearances as they were in the 90's? It was BB himself who has said he can do it his way just as quickly as the draft way, so ...?
Gordie King, Bolton
A: Well, every GM will tell you they have a five-year plan. I'm not sure any team in today's NHL can impose a performance guarantee on their GM aside from consistently getting better and being in a playoff position. Remember, 27 of 30 teams have missed the playoffs at least once in the past five seasons since the lockout. Basically, Burke has argued that the salary cap means old rules don't apply, and it's going to take a few years to see if he's right.
Q: If you had to pick 1 goalie to start a team who would that be?
Ed Anderson, New York
A: Well, if I'm starting a team, I guess I'd want the best young netminder out there. I guess at 30, Ryan Miller still has lots of miles left on his chassis, so I'd go with him.
Q: Enjoy reading your blog, keep up the good work.
This New Jersey deal with Kovalchuk just doesn't make any sense, either short term , or long term. They've messed up their entire salarly cap forever, it seems & now they're sitting him out as a healthy scratch. Is there any way that the Devils can survive this "mess"?
Ron Frizzell, Port Hope
A: Wow, hard to say right now. It has disaster written all over it. Last night against San Jose the Devils just didn't look like the Devils anymore. Awful no-name defence, not physical, and most worrisome was that both Kovalchuk and Zach Parise were invisible. Some tough decisions lie ahead for GM Lou Lamoriello that may not fit particularly well with the short term, which is why they got Kovalchuk in the first place. This is a team that may now have to move veterans, get down to a core built around Parise and Kovalchuk, and start again. It may sound like utter sacrilege, particularly to me as the author of a book on the man, but moving Martin Brodeur may end up being the most sensible transaction available to Lamoriello if this season continues to go sideways. Imagine the motherlode they could land for Brodeur!
Q: Hi Damien
I know that you've addressed this one in the past but if the GMs are serious about reducing the number of shootouts, wouldn't it make sense to cut down on the number of games that aren't decided in regulation? When the Leafs beat the Rangers in OT at MSG it was pretty clear that the last few minutes of the 3rd period were just a prelude to OT. Wilson had Sjostrom out for the dying minutes and there was no way that Kessel was going to see the ice. Once the single point was in the bank, the teams actually stopped playing "not to lose." Any chance at all of 3 points for a regulation win? It would cut down on the number of OT/SO games and reduce the wear and tear on each team's top players. Thanks!
Mike Atkins, Markham
A: What's sensible to both you and I, Mike, apparently makes no sense to the NHL. This idea has been out there for a while and there's no indication the league's board of governors is interested in changing. They like, I think, how the current setup keeps the standings bunched right through April.
I am of the opinion that the difference in quality of goaltending provided by Giguere and Gustavsson is negligible. Therefore with this likely being the last season Giggy plays for the leafs, would it not make sense to give Gustavsson the opportunity to have more than 1 start a week to see if he is going to provide the Leafs the type of goaltending they will need? I know it is early in the year, but I would really like to see him as the number 1 before the season is over.
Chris Dahan, Barrie
P.S. The Broncos were alot better before you started cheering for them.
A: Well, with the way the club has started the season, it's hard to quibble with the way Ron Wilson has used his goalies. Gustavsson really has to start putting together a body of work to prove he deserves to be No. 1. Right now, that's just wishful thinking. But he'll get every chance to earn the starting job this season. But he'll have to play his way into, and to do that he'll have to be better that Giguere, which he hasn't been so far.
Re Broncos, yeah, you're right, but it was only half-hearted by me. Having dropped the Vikes (five years ago now) can't say I've really found a new team to back. Maybe some day. . .
Q: I understand that New Jersey, and perhaps other teams, got under the salary cap, at least in part, by putting players on the long term injury list. Apparently their salary does not count against the cap while they are there. My question is does the NHL monitor or have the means to monitor such moves? Could teams report a fake injury or exaggerate the seriousness of one as a cap loophole?
Phil Ford, Ottawa
A: No. The NHL does monitor injuries, and team doctors have to sign off on them. I suppose with concussions there's a potential for fraud, but the cap system only gives you a break on the LTI during the season. You still get nailed for overspending later. So it's not like it's an area wide-open for abuse.
Q: Don't you think that Komisarek and Souray are suffering from the lack of the same partner - Andrei Markov?
Ron Chapman, St. Catharines
A: Ron, that's a great point I've never heard before. Certainly, both Komisarek and Souray had better years in Montreal than they've had with other teams they joined through free agency, and playing alongside the multi-talented and smooth Markov may indeed have been a big part of the reason why. He allowed both players to simply concentrate on what they do best without having to worry about the weaker parts of their games. That's what great players do.