Friday Mail Bag
Well, the wheels came off that blue-and-white bus in a hurry.
A total collapse for 57 seconds by the Maple Leafs on Thursday night in Calgary left them at 1-1 for their current western Canadian road trip. Must be time to fire the GM, head coach and captain again.
Just kidding. Really, other than that lapse, in which they coughed up three goals, the Leafs were essentially the equal of the Flames, but the home side sensed weakness for those brief moments in the second period to record a victory that was enormously important for them.
With pretty much all the hockey world having decided the Flames got the worst of the Dion Phaneuf deal, there was some symbolic importance for Calgary to get this win, if only to make some kind of a statement that despite their status as one of the older teams in the league, they have potential to make a second half run for a playoff berth.
At 1-1, the Leafs had lots of chances to score but Miikka Kiprusoff kept them at bay. J.S. Giguere did the same for the visitors and made a couple of ten-bellers, but then gave up short-side scores to Olli Jokinen and Rene Bourque that let the game get out of hand.
Vancouver will be an interesting test for the Leafs Saturday. The 'Nucks are one of the hotter teams in the league, having lost only two of their last 10 in regulation.
When you look at the what-might-have-beens, you can ponder how the hockey world might have been different if Brian Burke had been successful on his clandestine mission in the early hours of July, 2009, to fly to Sweden and convince the Sedin twins to sign with the Leafs.
As it was, by the time Burke landed in Stockholm, Vancouver GM Mike Gillis had beaten him to the punch and signed Daniel and Henrik to new long-term deals. If the Leafs had landed the Sedins, well, no Phil Kessel trade, plus a bona fide No. 1 centre who won the Hart Trophy last season and a clear first line.
So much for maybes.
By the way, folks, we'll have a live question and answer session Tuesday at noon on thestar.com to wrap up the pre-Christmas portion of the NHL season and look ahead to the world juniors and the rest of the Leaf campaign. Please check out details on our web site and join me with your pre-Christmas questions, ideas and comments.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien, I really enjoyed your blog, 'Leafs can't win for winning'. It brought this question to mind.
Glenn Healy made a big gaff while commenting during the Leafs/Habs game. He had a chart on the TV screen showing how Edmonton has the most turnovers in the league and Toronto was second. He said, "you can understand Edmonton having those turnovers, their a young team".
What, did I hear that right ? With Aulie in the lineup and Lebda out the Leafs are the youngest in the league.
My question is, why is there a perception out there that because Edmonton has chosen to build through the draft that it is a better way or the 'right' way and what Burke is doing(building through trades, signings and the draft) is wrong ?
John Fava, North Bay
A: Well, to a lot of people, I would suggest the less imaginative ones, that's exactly true. They believe that in the post-lockout, salary cap world, the Cup wins of the Pens and Hawks in recents years prove that you must be terrible for a few years, draft high, and then convert that into a championship. They neglect to mention the Wings winning it all, and not by doing it that way, and they neglect to mention that the Isles, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Thrashers and others have been trying that formula for years without any success. The truth is, there are many different ways to win. The Leafs took a more aggressive avenue that may or may not pay off. But its true that to some, the Oilers are "good" young, and the Leafs are "bad" young.
The Maple Leafs are the most expensive team to see in the NHL. A decent seat is well over $100, but I hear you can go to a game in Tampa for $8. My friend actually priced out going to see the Leafs when the played in Florida recently. The whole trip for two games was less than a pair of Platinums at the ACC. How can this be? Are we subsidizing these teams through equalization payments? Are Leaf fans the biggest suckers in the world?
Greg Woods, Ajax
A: Well, don't know about the suckers part. The customer is never wrong, and people don't seem to mind paying even though the Leafs are not a winning team, and haven't been a championship squad for more than four decades. And yes, of course, the Leafs are subsidizing the have-nots of the NHL to the tune of $10 million a season. The NHL instituted revenue sharing after the lockout, and a dozen or more teams benefit to varying amounts every year. Even a "successful" team like the Capitals dips in to the tun of more than $10 million a year. The strong teams subsidize the weak.
Q: Hey Damien,
Really enjoyed your blog on the youth hockey charity you covered. Have a website or link that I could donate to over the holidays?
On to my hockey related question, I know his contract is ugly, but would the Leafs have any interest in going after Vinny Lecavalier? Experienced centreman who could provide some stability and leadership up front for the young players.
Frank Elia, Mississauga
A: If you want to support the Hockey Academy you can contact Kent Yee, the principal at Wedgewood Junior Middle School in Etobicoke, or the convenor Bob Poldon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Re Lecavalier, the Leafs would like the player, but neither they nor anyone else in hockey wants the contract. The best the Bolts can hope for is that the next collective bargaining agreement somehow reduces the burden of Lecavalier's deal or allows teams to assume part of a contract when a player is traded. Otherwise, at some point, they may have to look at a buyout to lessen the weight of that contract on the payroll of a team that is losing upwards of $20 million a season.
Q: Damien, Love the blog and your insights. One area that has caught my eye in the past number of Leaf games, is the number of goals scored by all the teams using a wrist shot vrs the slap shot. So far my count is 34 wrist vrs 7 slap. It is obvious that the control of the accuracy is far greater with a wrist shot but I don't know how much power is lost. It seems some players ( especally Kaberle ) would not get their shots blocked so often if they snapped off a quick wrist shot rather than telegraph a slow wind up to a slap shot. Your thoughts??
Bob Mayhew, Lindsay
A: That's absolutely the case. But the love of the big slapper starts when kids are 10 - or younger - and never abates. Watching Dion Phaneuf pound slap shot after slap shot at the Calgary net last night without much positive effect sure made you wonder if a wrister might work better from time to time.
Q: Hi Damien, firstly I love to read your blogs and your topics are very interesting. I saw The Reporters on TSN this sunday and it looked like you are most probably going to vote for Sidney Crosby for Lou Marsh Award this year. But don't you think this year winner should be an Olympic athlete like Christine Nesbitt? As Steve Simmons said she has dominated her sport for 2010. For Crosby 2010 was good only when it came to Olympics not for NHL although he has been good this year in NHL but he still has 52 games left to prove his point! Plus he won the award last year so I would really like to see somebody other than him win it. I would also like to point out Meagan Agosta as other nominee as women's hockey is rarely recognized in Canada which I find very surprising. One more olympian would be Jon Montgomery as this year has been pretty fantastic for him as well. After pointing out these facts would you still choose Crosby as your vote. One more question what is your favourite NHL team?
Nidhi Patel, Toronto
A: I voted for Crosby, or at least had him first on my ballot, with Nesbitt second. Baseball star Joey Votto carried the day, however, and I can tell you it was a spirited debate. To me, Crosby's year was brilliant. He tied for the most goals last season then has run away from the pack this fall. He scored the OT winner at the Olympics, but also had a key shootout winner earlier. But Votto was excellent, and as far as the Olympians went, I think had there been one without more than one gold the debate would have been even more heated.
My favourite NHL team? Sorry, don't have one. The only NHL jersey I own is that of the Minnesota Wild, a gift in their inaugural season. You can't do this job and cheer for a team, in my opinion.
Q: Hi, Damien:
I have a couple questions. First, Carl Gunnarsson seems to be struggling this year (his second pro season) just like Luke Schenn was struggling last season (his second pro season). I also note that Gunnarsson this year is getting about the same amount of icetime that Schenn got last year. Do you think Gunnarsson has gradually been improving and do you see him eventually breaking out of his struggles as Schenn did by the end of last season?
Second, this past August, Burke said that he had four plus "legitimate" offers (whatever that means) for Kaberle, but in the end decided to keep him. Do you think the offers were not "legitimate," the offers never existed, or that Kaberle agreed to a limited waiver of his no trade clause to keep from being traded to a team where he did not want to play? I am having a hard time believing that Burke would resign him, but I am also having a hard time believing that he would let him go at the end of this season for nothing, even if means the Leafs get to hoard more cap space.
John Hunt, Harvard, Massachusetts
A: I don't see much improvement at all in Gunnarsson. Same puck errors, same inability to defend physically. Too many had him as a Leaf regular this season when he had much to prove. That said, I certainly wouldn't write him off. He just needs to learn, as do all the young Leaf blueliners.
I think there were absolutely offers for Kaberle, of what quality I don't know. Clearly, Burke isn't afraid to let him walk in June for nothing or he would have taken one of those offers.
Q: Hey Damien,
I'm wondering why Burke hasn't gone out and got a 4th line center man that is a defensive specialist. I think the last attempt was JFJ picking up Jamal Mayers and that experiment didn't turn out so well, but since the leafs are horrible on taking draws and even Brent isn't that great defensively and doesn't put himself in the way of the shot often. I know Ryan Johnson's out there but I suspect he is pretty beat up after last year. Can't hurt the penalty kill and it helps to have that faceoff man in the dying minutes of a lead (if the leafs ever can get one).
Also wondering about Clarke MacArthur. He is scoring and adds some grit, but can be questionable defensively. He's worth 1.1 million, but is he worth the 3-4 million he will be asking at the end of the season considering he doesn't exactly play inspired hockey? I'd love to keep him and trade Grabo, but I don't see anyone picking up his salary and someone has to be moved if we ever get that big top 6 forward.
Andrew Pawlowski, Toronto
A: Ok, bunch of stuff here. JFJ didn't sign Mayers - Cliff Fletcher did - and Mayers is a winger, not a centre. But yes, they'd love to get a Todd Marchant type if they could.
Re MacArthur versus Grabovski, you're not going to get a top 6 forward with either of those guys. MacArthur is earning himself a contract, but I would doubt greatly the Leafs would go beyond $2 million. Grabovski's contract calls for one more year at a cap hit of $2.9 million. Given that the Leafs are $4 million below the cap already, I don't see that contract as a big problem.
Q: Hi Damien,
First off I just wanted to mention that I enjoy the mailbag each week and to keep up the great work. My issue surrounds the play of Leaf rookie Nazem Kadri since his call-up from the Marlies a number of weeks back. My understanding at the time was that this was done out of necessity due to injuries on the big club and not necessarily due to his stellar play or progress in the minors. I have really tried to watch Kadri specifically when the Leafs are on TV and I have to admit that what I see on the ice leads me to believe he needs more time in the minors for a number of reasons. He is still quite weak defensively in his own zone, most notably when they play him at centre. He also seems to coast a lot on his back checks especially towards the end of a shift (I know he isn't the only one but as a rookie you'd think the effort would be there 100% of the time). But the biggest reason I feel he needs to go back down to the AHL is that he is far too easy to knock off the puck. Countless times each game he has the puck in the corners or crossing the blue line, and defenders simply challenge him and physically remove him from the play almost effortlessly. Some more time in the minors and another off-season dedicated to getting stronger is required in order for him to be any sort of consistent threat at the NHL level. I know there are much smaller players that have had solid careers but they usually are very strong in their legs and difficult to knock off the puck (ie: Martin St Louis), both are attributes that Kadri seems to be lacking at this point in his career. I'd like to get your take on this and how you think the rest of this year will go for him.
Cheers, Matt Kalagian, St Catharines
A: I agree with your assessment completely. The question is, I suppose, is Kadri better learning in the NHL or the AHL, the age old argument. I have suggested he needs to go back to the AHL and then be promoted again for a second look, but the Leafs seem to believe they are so offensively challenged they need him around. Right now, the club is playing fairly well, as are the Marlies, so right now I think he'll stick around until Burke can come up with a better answer.