This Week's Mail Bag
So the game plan has changed.
What was about having Nazem Kadri learn to be a pro in the AHL has changed after only 14 games, and he'll be in the Leaf lineup tomorrow night on Hockey Night in Canada against the Vancouver Canucks.
Suddenly, the future is now.
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Immediate reaction from Leaf fans has been intriguing, and by 10:30 this morning, Kadri was already a national trending topic on Twitter. The majority so far seem not to like the move, seeing it as rushing Kadri and defenceman Keith Aulie, who was also called up. Others say it's about time the Leafs summoned their 2009 first-round pick to help the club score a few goals.
And, in an unusual twist, there are those who see the Toronto media as the root of all evil and to blame for all the club's ills.
The most useful part of all of this is that it serves as a nice distraction from the real problems of the team for a day, primarily the poor performance of so many of the club's veteran players in recent weeks and the continuing inability of Ron Wilson to get better performances from the players in this, his third season.
Kadri, by the way, has been wearing No. 13 with the Marlies after wearning No. 43 with the Leafs in the pre-season. Would they give him Mats Sundin's old number for tomorrow night's game against the team for which Sundin left the Leafs?
Unfortunately, this is what serves for excitement in a city in which the NHL franchise hasn't made the post-season since 2004.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien, always look forward to The Spin and mailbag. Hate to admit it but you seem to be right most of the time.
My question is probably something you have been asked... but why won't the Leafs play to their strengths and institute a defensive/counter attack system? Ken Hitchcock is out there. Wilson has done better this year, but I am getting sick of the same old cycle and pass to the defence who pinch and 2-on-1 results. Most of the top teams play a tight defensive system and many of them (are) recent cup winners. 2 more quick questions: Leaf Fans were finally ready for a rebuild through the draft, and thought Burke was brought in for that purpose (could be starting with Schenn Khadri and Seguin (plus this year's first pick). Why did they try the same old quick fix when fans were finally ready for the patient rebuild? 3 - Do you think when Burke says he wants to change the culture, that it includes the media as well? I think Wilson had a point when a lot of the crap reporting comes from Toronto, such as calling for coaches head...even in other cities than Toronto. Thanks for reading!
Jeff Iles, Haliburton
A: Okay, so we'll go through these one-by-one. First, I guess the answer is that Wilson believes high-tempo, attack hockey is the right way to play. I suppose I have to applaud him for sticking to his guns. Second, nobody seems to know why Burke went for the Kessel deal when there was indeed a mood in the city for a slow, gradual approach. I can't explain it either. Sorry. Third, there are plenty of cities in which coaches are on the hot seat if their teams underachieve. Montreal. Philly. New York. Ottawa. Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton. Wilson's point is ridiculous. It just shows that after years of working in Washington, Anaheim and San Jose, he grew used to towns where there was essentially no media coverage at all. He can't take the heat of being the coach in a big hockey town. Don't blame Toronto and, while obviously it's self-serving to say this, don't blame the media here unless you're winning to put our names on the Cup if and when the Leafs ever win it.
I know many people have issues regarding the Hockey Hall of Fame. I know there've been plenty of complaints regarding the lack of transparency of the Hall, especially compared to other sports. My concern with the Hall that no one ever discusses is the potential conflicts of interest. It seems pretty obvious to me that there is potential conflict when you have former players like Mike Gartner or Lanny McDonald voting on former teammates (or opponents), or former coaches like Pat Quinn or Scott Bowman voting on their former players. To me, this just makes the HHOF that much more of a joke. Your thoughts?
Ron Rogers, Toronto
A: I agree. They've also had people temporarily re-sign from the induction committee in order to accept their own nomination and induction, and then go back on the committee again. There have clearly been players held out for years - Glenn Anderson is a good example - because members held a personal grudge. It's 2010. Secrecy just doesn't fly any more.
Do you think there would be any benefit to the Maple Leafs to sign a UFA, like Bill Guerin, who has years of NHL experience, and see if he can help the Leafs? Pittsburgh brought him in to help the Penguins and 'Sid the Kid' and he got a Stanley Cup ring out of it.
I mention this for this reason. Two seasons ago the leafs were having similar troubles and there was a UFA just sitting there waiting for a NHL team to call him. I said at the time, 'Why don't the Leafs sign him for the rest of the season?', which was already half over, and see if he could help them. The Leafs didn't call him but, about a month later, another NHL team did. That player is still playing for that NHL team and already has 6 goals and 9 assists this year. His name is Teemu Selanne. Even though he's 40 years old, just like Guerin, you can't argue with the numbers.
All I'm saying is that when you consider all the troubles the Leafs are having right now to bring in a veteran like Bill Guerin, with all his NHL experience, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have him around. He knows the game so well, could help settle down the young leaf players when they hit rough spots and you CAN'T TEACH the kind of experience he has. For the Leafs he would come cheap but his years of NHL experience would be invaluable to the team. I can't think of ANY down side to this move. Selanne helped the Ducks and Guerin helped the Penguins.
Am I wrong?
Is there another or better UFA player out there you know about that you think would help the Leafs.
Miroslav Satan; Adam Mair; Ryan Johnson are just some. I'm sure there are more. What do you think Damien?
Dennis Tuck, Toronto
A: There's no guarantee Guerin would or wouldn't help the team. I just think these short-term bandaid solutions aren't going to be particularly meaningful one way or another. Every move this team makes has to be about being competitive by, say, 2013. Through that prism, I can't see much point in signing Guerin.
Q: Hi Damien,
I'm a big fan of yours...
Were you surprised to see Korbinian Holzer called up in the wake of Dion Phaneuf's injury? I thought Matt Lashoff or Keith Aulie would have been next in line to receive that call.
Mike Robertson, Toronto
A: Well Mike, you weren't far off. You sent this earlier in the week, obviously, and today Aulie is up and Holzer is back down. I think they went for Holzer first because he was playing well and the plan was to give Aulie until Christmas before a callup. That plan obviously went out the window.
Oh yes. . .thanks for the nice compliment!
Q: Damien, I am fine with Brian Burke saying Wilson is safe as coach. However what do you think it will take for Burke to finally realize that Wilson isn't the right fit in Toronto? Perhaps a certain amount of losses. Sooner or later someone above Brian will want better results.
Richard Latendresse, Brampton
A: It could be that calling up Kadri is the last logical thing Burke can try before turning to the coach. That said, he can be stubborn on certain things, and right now, he's saying Wilson isn't going anywhere, although he won't guarantee he'll finish the season.
Q: Has MSLE over-estimated the abilities of Brian Burke?
I ask not just because the club seems to be only marginally better since Burke has taken over but also because it seems he has become increasingly irrational dealing with the media. Firstly he continually preaches how he likes tough teams. Well the Leafs are about the least physical teams in the league. Other then a few of those stupid premeditated fights by guys who really should not be in the league I don’t see much toughness at all. They are weak along the boards, do not make the opposition pay to stand in front of the net and do not do the tough work to get to the opposition net. When Nikolai Kulemin is your toughest forward you have problems.
Now the GM spouts off in the press on a regular basis when his players get booed and his coach gets criticized. I got news for MLSE and Burke: I split a pair of seasons tickets, of which I usually sell 10 and keep 10. Well guess what? I got all 20 cus no on one wanted to buy them this year so Burke has not heard anything yet.
David Isaacs, Toronto
A: In my opinion, you cannot draw conclusions about Burke yet, although you certainly can question some of his decisions. There has been a massive tear-down here, and the sacrifice of top picks has made it difficult to readily understand the game plan. But really, did anyone expect this to be a winning season? If not, what has really changed?
And I really don't find that he's become "increasingly irrational" with the media. Generally speaking, he's excellent to deal with.
When do you think this experiment with Tyler Bozak as a first-line NHL center will come to a conclusion? We've seen him for almost a full season now between last year and this. I've made some observations. He barely ever carries the puck this season. He's knocked off the puck and/or his skates far too easily when he does and he's not producing. Is this all somehow tied into Burke's ego, i.e. Bozak can't be seen to fail since it was Burke's gamble to sign him out of the NCAA? I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Pete van Hoof, Pickering
A: I don't think this is a Burke ego thing. Bozak was, they believed, the best they had, and no centre on the team has outplayed him. That said, he's clearly not up to the job, and Kadri will likely get the chance to be the No. 1 centre. Perhaps moving down the line is exactly what Bozak needs.