Thursday Mail Bag
Funny thing with sports. It never works that well the second time around.
Let alone the third.
Or fourth and fifth times, as Billy Martin proved. But Punch Imlach was a disaster in his second stint with the Leafs, and Cliff Fletcher didn't have much luck. As Jacques Lemaire returns for his third round of coaching the New Jersey Devils, it's worth noting he is the fourth man to coach the Devs at least twice.
That' an amazing stat. Incredible, when you consider it's all happened over only 27 years.
Along with Lemaire, the other three were Tommy McVie, Larry Robinson and, of course, Lou Lamoriello. But just as Lemaire only won a Stanley Cup the first time he coached Jersey, so to did Robinson win as Robbie Ftorek's replacement, but not the second time he took over.
Strange though. You might think somebody familiar with an organization and a city, and had won previously in that situation, would be more likely to have success upon their return.
But that generally hasn't been the case. It's the temptation to reach back for a blast from the past that drives these things. Heck, I still get emails from people who think Pat Quinn should replace Ron Wilson, and the late Pat Burns was the preferred choice of many after Paul Maurice was fired.
Maybe Lemaire will help rescue this horror show of a season in Jersey. But it's unlikely.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Hi Damien,
Can you ask someone at ACC if they plan to charge all people who throw items on the ice or only those who throw items during play? Or is it a waffle ban specifically?
Mike Ouellette, Burlington
A: I'd be more interested on how the ACC gendarmes will react the next time a Leaf scores a hat trick and dozens of hats hit the ice.
Then again, how likely is THAT to happen anytime soon, right?
Q: Wondering where the continued faith in John Mitchell comes from. He looks pretty ineffective to my eyes. Not a great checker, not enough finish to be a top 6 player. Euro-league all-star, maybe. Your thoughts?
Also: wondering if Colby Armstrong is the club's best trade bait. Not a prolific scorer, but at least you notice him out there. Can't help but think he'd look great in a contender's jersey. Would Burke part with him for a second round pick?
Peter Waal, Vancouver
A: I don't think there's a great deal of "faith," per se, in Mitchell. He's just a body, the best they've got at the moment. Prior to injuring his knee last season he was considered a decent to good prospect, but since then his status has plummeted. Can't imagine he'll be re-signed next summer.
Re Armstrong, I think he's the kind of player the Leafs want more of, not the kind of player they want to dump for picks.
Q: Hi, Damien
In your live chat on Tuesday you mentioned it's impossible that the Leafs would ever hire Ted Nolan. Why is there such a stigma around him? I realise both the Buffalo and Islander coaching jobs seemed to end badly, but he did get an awful lot out of his teams. Is he pretty much blackballed in the NHL? Will he never get an NHL job again, unless Balsillie hires him as a big 'F U' to the NHL establishment? What is it about him that makes him pretty much unhirable?
Robert Oulton, Dartmouth
A: Interesting question. Nolan is now vice-president of hockey operations of the Rochester Americans, who are now a Florida Panthers affiliate after years of being connected with the Buffalo Sabres. In his last NHL stint, Nolan was actually pretty successful in Long Island before being canned by GM Garth Snow, making the playoffs in his first year, but not in his second. Nolan and Snow clashed, just as Nolan had clashed with John Muckler and others eight years earlier during Nolan's time as head coach of the Sabres. He's just not viewed as a good "organization man," but rather a coach who does things his own way even if what he wants is diametrically opposed to what the GM and team wants. That said, he's been successful in the NHL and junior, and while he's now 52 and no spring chicken, you surely wonder if he'll get another shot. In Toronto? Unlikely. But he's one scenario. If the Leafs were to really hit the skids and GM Brian Burke had no choice to fire Ron Wilson in mid-season, with no other great choices until next summer, maybe Nolan would be worth a shot. That said, he'd be unlikely to be able to leave Rochester partway through a season.
Q: Hi Damien,
Super informative chat the other day, thanks so much for passing all that along.
One issue you raised is the possibility of Bruce Boudreau being let go in Washington after the season, and the same possibility for Ron Wilson.
Would Boudreau fit in with Burke/the Leafs, and do you think he would go move that quickly to another team?
Daniel D., Toronto
A: I'd love to see Boudreau, a wonderful character and a tremendous guy, get the chance to coach the Leafs some day, if only because he never really got the chance to play for the team over an extended period. He loves offence, but whether he and Burke would share the same philosophy, I'm not sure. That said, Burke's Vancouver teams were strong offensively. At any rate, it sure looks like the Caps have righted the ship and Boudreau will be staying, which is the way it should be.
Q: What's your thought on the elimination of the blue line altogether? I can list numerous pros, but, other than "tradition", I see no actual cons.
John Wellar, Midhurst
A: I wouldn't want to watch hockey without bluelines. My son has played roller hockey, which doesn't use bluelines, and it becomes a totally different sport. Really, I've never heard anyone call for the elimination of the bluelines, anyways.
Q: Hi Damien,
Don't you think that Brian Burke's self-imposed "early Christmas Trade Freeze" is a disservice to the team and it's fans? What if an opportunity to improve the team is missed because of it? Do you think it is due to remorse over his shabby treatment of Peter Zezel?
T Stewart, Toronto
A: I've never heard Burke's Christmas freeze associated with the controversial way he dealt with the late Peter Zezel. For those who forget, in 1999, Zezel asked for a trade from the Canucks back to an Eastern Conference team so he could be close to his terminally ill niece. Instead, Burke traded him to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, whereupon Zezel quit, ending his career. It was a controversial story, but I've never heard it linked to Burke's self-imposed Christmas freeze, which begins 10 days earlier than the NHL's freeze every year.
Is it a disservice to the team? Can't imagine that's the case. Trade opportunities there before the freeze aren't likely to disappear later. I suppose a player could get injured, but that's always a possibility at any time, as it often takes weeks over even months for deals to be consumated.
Q: Ron Wilson is taking more and more heat over the performance of the team, and it will only get worse unless they show noticeable improvement. My question is - shouldn't the Leafs be better than they are showing? Nobody expected them to be better than perhaps challenging for the 16th playoff position, but to be a bottom 3 team? I don't generally believe a mid-season coaching change accomplishes anything, but they do not seem to be playing up to even the thin level of talent they have.
Barry Porozni, Philadelphia
A: They're certainly not over-achieving. That said, they're a very young team, and they were able to beat Boston, Washington and Montreal in an eight-day period earlier this month. Are they getting the most possible from their talent level? I'd say no.
Q: With a weak draft; no first round picks; limited free agent market and recent failures of past College free agents and no real trade value where does Burke & co. turn in their efforts to fast track this team back in to market off playoff revenue???
Brian Campbell, Toronto
A: I'd say that's a loaded question. And if its such a weak draft, why would it be a problem not to have a first round pick. Failures of college free agent? Well, Tyler Bozak's in the NHL, and most would agree he's an NHL quality player. It's too early to make a final call on Christian Hanson, Simon Gysbers, Ben Scrivens and Brayden Irwin. I'd say they do have several players with solid trade value, including Francois Beauchemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Tomas Kaberle. Finally, you suggest the prime motivation is to "fast track this team back in (to the playoffs) to market off playoff revenue." I don't think that's what they're trying to do. You may disagree with the decisions, but I think Burke and Co. are trying to build a winning team as fast as possible.
So your loaded question? Sorry, we don't even agree on the premise.
Q: Hi Damien, always appreciate your insight. Two questions- Firstly why does Ron Wilson seem to insist on keeping Phil Kessel on Tyler Bozak's wing? The experiment is clearly not working. Bozak is having a difficult second season and seems to start playing well whenever he is put on the third line and removed from the pressure of playing with Kessel. Secondly what are your thoughts on the play of Francois Beauchemin? It seems to me that he is having an extremely difficult season (just like Gunnarson and Komisarek) yet Wilson keeps giving him top minutes on the back end. Is this simply because there's nobody else to give these minutes to or do the Leafs actually believe he is that good?
Kirby Clancy, Burlington
A: The Leafs have two centres capable of playing top six minutes, Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski. So Kessel has to play with one or the other, and he seems a poor fit with Grabovski, who is more shooter than playmaker. Unless you want to see Kessel with Tim Brent, I'm not sure what the options are.
On Beauchemin, I think I don't see the struggling player you do. I see a strong, capable veteran who, to my mind, has been the club's second best blueliner behind Luke Schenn.
Q: Hi Damien,
What are the chances that the leafs look into bringing Leo Komarov over from the KHL? He has been playing pretty well the last few seasons and from what I remember of him in the World Juniors, he was a little s... disturber. He would fit in great on a third or fourth line situation, as the leafs are in dire need of a player that actually hits people since Mike Brown went down and Sjostrom is only one man. Is Komarov a viable option until Brad Ross makes the NHL? Thanks.
Nick Heersink, Peterborough
A: I'm told Komarov, an Estonian, is still on the Leaf radar, although unsigned. He's not a big guy, but he's only 23 and is playing for a top team, Moscow Dynamo. Other than that, since he's never been to an NHL camp, it's hard to make much of an evaluation. There aren't a lot of Russians who have made a living in the NHL as checkers or pests.
Q: Hi Damien,
Why do many Leafs fans and media members seem to think that Nazem Kadri should be able to skip over the development process that many other players have gone through? The Crosbys and Ovechkins of the world are the exception, not the rule.
Other players drafted in the 6-10 spots as Kadri was get sent back to junior and spend time in the minors, and it's looked upon as a good thing. Would a player like Logan Couture have been branded a failure if he were a Toronto draft pick?
Couture was drafted 9th overall in 2007, then spent 2 seasons in junior and part of another in the AHL...Not unlike Kadri who was drafted 7th overall in '09. Now Couture has 26 goals in 73 career NHL games (including playoffs).
I don't understand why a group of fans and media who are supposed to be some of the most knowledgeable in hockey can jump to such conclusions as they did this fall when Kadri didn't make the Leafs roster. Now many are predicting he'll never amount to much. Patience does not seem to be a virtue most in "Leafs Nation" possess.
On a related note, do you think changing the NHL draft age to 19 (as the NBA has done) would be good for hockey?
Not a reason to change it, but raising the draft age would certainly add another dimension to the World Junior tournament, which I feel has gone stale...
Thomas Goudge, London, Ontario
A: Any observer who says Kadri has already proven he won't amount to much as an NHL player is a fool. Period. That said, he should be in the minors working on his game.
Raising the draft age? Great idea. But it's not going to happen.
Merry Christmas to all!