This Week's Mailbag
So a successful road trip ends with a thud in the desert. Still, three out of four is more than not bad.
That said, all that hard work and effort goes out the window if the Leafs don't come home with a strong effort against the Calgary Flames at home Saturday night. Well, make that if they don't get a win. This is one of the weaker Western Conference teams, and the Flames play the night before in Ottawa.
Winning in spurts, you see, won't get this team anywhere. A four-game winning streak is very good, but after dropping a lopsided one to Phoenix Thursday night, the true measure of the Leafs comes when they get one day off to recover from travelling home from Arizona and then take on Calgary. Five out of six is how you get somewhere in the standings.
The guess is that J.S. Giguere will return to the net, ending James Reimer's successful, if short, run. And Fabian Brunnstrom? No, he's not likely to get the call from the Marlies, at least not right away, and not until he shows something in the AHL to make the Leaf front office believe he can help at the NHL level.
He's a bigger name than the one the Leafs sent to Dallas in Thursday's deal, Mikhail Stefanovich, but understand part of the reasoning for the deal was that Brunnstrom's deal is up at the end of this season while Stefanovich has one more to go. For a team always close to the limit of 50 NHL contracts, and one probably looking to sign one or more NCAA free agents in the fall, opening room for another contract is no small matter.
Now on to this week's mail bag:
Q: Some of the Leafs' penalty stats seem quite remarkable: Gunnarson and Kaberle with one minor each, Beauchemin with 12 minutes, Schenn with 21 (presumably eight minors, one every five games or so), even Aulie one minor in 12 games. Given the crackdown on hooking, tripping and holding, are they more skilful than people credit them? Yes, I know that it also shows a lack of truculence, but logic suggests a weak defender would be grabbing and hooking in his own zone.
A: Hey Nick, not quite sure what to make of your question, exactly. I would say that the Leaf defence, despite the presence of some big bodies, isn't particularly physical. Then again, this is a team that has had trouble killing penalties in recent seasons - and again in Phoenix Thursday night with the game on the line - so low penalty numbers help the cause. Before Thursday's Phoenix game the Leafs were the ninth least penalized team in the NHL. Good, but certainly not quite the rowdy bunch envisioned when Brian Burke took over.
Q; Hey Damien, isn't it about time you gave it up for Cliff and the Grabovski trade? You were quite critical at the time and mentioned it in several columns. Now it’s looking like the best Leafs trade in years.
A: Done. Initially, it was believed in June, 2008 that Grabovski was going to be the compensation from the Canadiens if they successful signed Mats Sundin after acquiring his rights from the Leafs, albeit only briefly. Instead, Fletcher surrendered a prospect (Greg Pateryn) and a second round pick in 2010 to get Grabovski, who subsequently signed a multi-year deal that some found expensive. Instead, Grabovski has certainly emerged, and Fletcher deserves kudos for the deal. That said, the criticism at the time was really about why the Leafs were surrendering draft picks for players at a time when it looked like drafting and development should be the plan, just like Burke has been criticized for giving up first rounders for Phil Kessel. The moral of the story? We can all make judgements at the time, but particularly when it comes to young players, you really have to wait.
Q: Hey Damien, Grabovski has arguably been the best Leaf so far this season and has surely caught the eye of those around the league. Is he a player that Burke would like to build around or is he someone Burke may look to ship out while his value is high?
A: Gotta believe at this point Grabovski a part of the Burke future. But with the right offer, anybody could move.
Q: Hey Damien. With Reimer's play securing him as the definite go-to guy on the Leafs depth chart beyond Gustavsson and Giguere, does that open up a trade possibility with prospect Jussi Rynass?
A: The Leafs have got some offers for Rynnas, and Ben Scrivens has also played well for the Marlies. But it's too early to say who fits where on the goalie depth chart, and my guess is that while Burke could move one for a player, it's not yet really clear which of the four young netminders are the best. So why not wait.
Q: Enjoy the blog! Had a beer filled debate last night about what McCarthur and Schenn might be worth on the open market. Is McCarthur at 3yr/7 million and Schenn 4 yr/12 million reasonable projections of their worth on the open market? Also is Beauchemin worth a 2nd round pick in your estimation?
A: Hmm. I'd say your numbers look pretty good on the contracts, although Schenn might command a little more, especially when you consider Marc Staal's multi-year deal with the Rangers ($3.975 million cap hit). Beauchemin, at the deadline, could fetch a second, yes.
Q: Damien, are you aware of any contract talks taking place with Tomas Kaberle?
A: No. I don't think the Leafs have any interest in re-signing him.
Q: At times this season the Leafs have looked as inept as the Keystone Kops but watching them through this past win streak they actually look like a team that is missing a big strong centre with a scoring touch to put them into contention. Which is it?
A: Depends what you mean by contention. Contention for a playoff spot? Maybe, sure. But until they get strong, dependable goaltending over 25-30 games, in my mind, it doesn't matter if they get that centre you're talking about. Reimer obviously got strafed a bit by the Coyotes, and now we'll see whether he bounces back. Or gets a chance to bounce back. And then, out there next summer as an unrestricted free agent, is rock-solid Ilya Bryzgalov of the Coyotes. . . .
Q: Tell me, what am I missing with Dion Phaneuf? What has happened to his game since his first couple of seasons (is there an injury he had in Calgary that I'm not aware of) and do you think we will ever see double-digit goals and consistent hard-hitting from this guy again? Thanks.
A: Don't see signs of that kind of offence returning any time soon. I think we're all still trying to figure out what kind of a player he's going to be as a Leaf. There are nights when he looks like a physical presence and a big shot on the powerplay, and certainly the team's record is better with him (8-8 since he got back from injury) than without him. But as was the case in the desert last night, he has this maddening penchance for bad defensive reads. At 25, he still has a lot of learning to do, it seems.