Weekly Mail Bag
Give Eric Mercer of Newmarket credit for noticing something nobody else watching across the country last Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada noticed.
Including, of course, me.
In that Leafs-Rangers game, New York winger Ryan Callahan was awarded a penalty shot in in the second period after he stole a cross-ice pass from Dion Phaneuf intended for Phil Kessel. Kessel tripped Callahan to the ice, and the puck squirted to Ranger forward Brandon Dubinsky, who failed to score on J.S. Giguere with a backhand move.
So Callahan was awarded a penalty shot. Only he shouldn't have been.
As Eric correctly pointed out, rule 57.3 of the NHL rule book says that if a tripped player gets a shot off after being fouled OR if a teammate gains possession and gets a reasonable scoring opportunity, no penalty shot will be awarded.
Callahan was given a penalty shot and scored to give New York a 2-1. But that was the wrong decision made by referees Tim Peel and Paul Devorski. Kessel should have been given a minor penalty for tripping Callahan, and the Rangers should have gone on the power play leading 1-0.
Eric had it right. Congrats, sir. But while the Leafs might want to complain about it after the fact, maybe it was the hockey gods evening the score for Colton Orr's obvious goalie interference penalty that led to the winning goal against Florida five nights earlier.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Tthis recent drought of scoring by the Leafs reveals a team that does not have what it takes to gain a playoff position? Apparently Dion Phaneuf has changed the culture of this team,can you elaborate? It seems like they are right on track for another tailspin to linger at the bottom.
Dan Malstrom, Hamilton
A: Well, soon it won't be possible for the Leafs, or any team, to cling to the it's-too-early-to-reach-conclusions rationale. I'd say give it to 20 games, but certainly the mark of playoff worthy teams is an ability to halt losing streaks and stop them from becoming nightmarishly long. Of the last three games, I would argue they outplayed the Rangers, were outplayed by the Senators and played Washington even. They've looked like a .500 team, but didn't get the results. But at the end of the day you are what your record says you are, and this is a Leaf team that needs wins to be able to say they're not just a warmed-up version of last year's 29th place team.
Regarding Phaneuf and the cultural change, we'll have to take the Leafs' word for that because they don't let us in the dressing room. Perhaps it's public rationale for making Phaneuf captain, but at the same time, over the final 26 games last year and first 11 this year before he was injured, the Leafs were certainly a better team with Phaneuf that they were before he arrived. Results ultimately dictate the culture.
Q: Hi Damien, the Leafs are in a fairly nasty offensive slump at the moment and Ron Wilson starting to juggle lines beyond moving Versteeg and Kulemin back and forth, but why is it that no one is suggesting trying Versteeg at centre? Bozak has been ineffective, and despite a solid work ethic Grabovski isn't putting up points. If I'm not mistaken, Versteeg scored 20 goals centering Chicago's third line last year.
On another topic, what are your feelings on the Leafs making a serious pitch for Brad Richards as the season progresses?
Mike Brown, Revelstoke, B.C.
A: Obviously Mike submitted this question before Versteeg was used at centre in Washington on Wednesday night. He didn't play much centre in Chicago last year, and he wasn't particularly noticeable to my eye as a pivot against the Capitals. It's believed he'll be back on left wing with Bozak and Kessel tomorrow night against Buffalo.
On Richards, I don't think he's anywhere near the player he was in 2004 with Tampa Bay, although he certainly does have his media cheerleaders. He can still be a good two-way player, and he's definitely better than anything the Leafs have. He does seem to be back to being better than a point-per-game player, and as a 31-year-old free agent next summer, he's not far beyond his prime. It would come down to money and term. For me, it would have to be nothing more than $6 million per season (he makes $7.8 million now) and nothing more than three years to make sense.
Q: Hey Damien - Always enjoy your column. A question: a buddy and I (Ontario boys living on the Left Coast) were wondering why the Leafs don't distribute their toughness across their top 2 lines to a) get someone in front of the net to cause havoc, and b) create a bit more space for the 'quality' players & thereby increase scoring? This could apply to either the PP, or 5 on 5.
Both Orr and Brown can skate and play a bit, and the job description is pretty simple: "go to front of net, cause trouble, avoid penalty, puck goes in corner - knock guy down and take puck, give puck Bozak". If the team needs to generate more scoring this might be a simple way to do it, and forestall more "Jason Blake syndrome" ie, skating around the outside real fast and taking 20 foot wristers.
Jack Gough, Victoria, B.C.
A: Thanks, Jack. Well, part of the reason is they don't have much toughness up front to distribute, and the second part is that to my mind, Orr can't play at all. He is where offensive rushes go to die. Brown, on the other hand, was terrific against Washington on Wednesday and while he can't score to save his life, he can skate, hit and be fearless out there. If Christian Hanson could be convinced to play that way, the Leafs might have a player on their hands.
Q: Damien, , looking at the mess the Devils are in, do you think it could spell the end of the monster contract? There seems little point in 'beating' the cap if you've put the team in a hole for the forseeable future (made worse by short term injuries and loss of form). You know the Devils camp pretty well; did they do this with their eyes open?
Peter Hawkins, Northampton, U.K.
A: It appears the Devils knew exactly what they were doing, but the question still remains open as to what this was what Lou Lamoriello wanted or what he was ordered to do by ownership. As far as the future of these types of contracts, there are obviously new rules in place that work against them to some degree. But, for example, the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to do a new deal with Steven Stamkos now that his entry level contract is about to expire. Will they look to do 10 years, or even 13 years, like Washington did with Ovechkin. Will they, like Washington, make the salary roughly equal over the term, or will they try to find a way to keep the annual cap hit down? We shall see.
Q: Hey Damien,
Correct me if I'm wrong but, I don't think that Kessel asked to be traded. He was injured at the time and the Leafs took a chance on him. He didn't ask to be traded, Boston traded him. Same as McCabe, he receives boo's every time he touches the puck in Toronto, but he didn't ask to be traded either. I think some fans just love to hate players that have moved on to what they think are better things. Am I wrong?
Jeff Webster, Bluevale
A: You are wrong, sorry. Kessel told the Bruins he no longer wanted to play there. Now, whether the B's were at all interested in paying him what he wanted is another question. But Kessel refused to sign or even negotiate a new contract. He wanted out, primarily, I think, because he didn't like playing for Claude Julien.
Damien, last year I suggested that perhaps much of Schenn's struggles were the switch in defence partner's from Kaberle. You thought unlikely but here he is having a great start to his year again with Kaberle (mind you Schenn has bulked up). Similar to the recent question about Souray and Komisarek's partner in Montreal, do you think that Schenn's improvement is mostly Schenn or is the presence of a partner who complements him well?
Anand Kumar, Winnipeg
A: I think it's Schenn. He says his knee is so much better than it was last year, particularly in the first half. His puck patience is enormously improved, and insiders would tell you that's because a vision problem he had - he wears a contact lens in only his left eye - has been addressed and cleared up. And he has bulked up to the point he is a destructive force out there. He's the best individual Leaf story so far this season.
Q: I'm 54 years old and live in Sydney, Australia. My son currently lives and works in Toronto and I visited him for the first time last October. He took me to a Leafs game against the Avalanche. The Leafs lost but we saw some goals and I was hooked. So much so that I paid the extra to my Pay TV provider and took time off work so I could watch the Olympics hockey from Vancouver.
Is there a history of the Leafs that you could recommend? I love my Rugby Union and enjoy reading about past players and games and would like to do the same about the Leafs
Thank you, McKay.
A: Well, there's tons of stuff out there. You're talking about a franchise that's been around since the 1920s, so it really depends on what era interests you. There's a new book out by Kevin Shea called Diary of a Dynasty that chronicles the years from 1957-67 when the Leafs really became ingrained in the national conciousness for winning four Stanley Cups. I haven't read it, but Kevin's an excellent writer and historian, and you might also consider his book on the legendary Bill Barilko called Without a Trace.
For something on the Leafs' last Cup in 1967, may I be so bold as to recommend "'67" by yours truly and Gord Stellick, published by Wiley. We liked the way it turned out and you might too.