Tanner Answers the Star’s Maple Leafs Mailbag

One of my favorite sports writers is Andre Stoeten of AndrewStoeten.com (formerly of Drunk Jays Fan) and he does this thing where he answers the Mailbag of Jays Beat writer Richard Griffen.  Since good artists copy and great artists steal, I have hijacked his idea and below I answer questions sent into the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran

Now, I don’t know exactly what would possess someone to send in a question to Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star when they could just hit me up on Twitter (james_tanner123) but newspapers always tend to publish the best questions, so this should be fun.   Here’s a link to the actual mailbag I am stealing, should you be interested.

McGran, who I think I should mention is a great reporter and a nice guy and one of the better people covering the Leafs, starts his article off by suggesting that Leafs fans don’t really like the players on the team. I don’t know about this, but everyone I talk to loves Phil Kessel, and most of them also love Phaneuf. And the fans should love those guys, it’s not their fault the team hasn’t provided Phil with a centre or that they’ve asked Dion to do far too much.

(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

QUESTION: “I say take the Captain away from Phaneuf?”

-Frank Omeara

ANSWER: Dear Frank, this is not a question.  I really don’t know why people care who is the Captain. How can you know if Dion is a good captain or not? You aren’t in the dressing room and are not on the team. Dion plays his heart out and ever other player who plays his kind of game has been historically beloved in this city. Fact is, Dion has had to do everything and has been the the only decent defensemen on a terrible team for years and years. He is underrated, under-appreciated and he deserves to stay the captain. But then again, they could make anyone the captain and it is not something I’d care about.

QUESTION: It seems everyone jumped on the band wagon when Randy got fired, the big thing with most leaf fans is we need a captain that leads by example not burying his head in the sand, his voice must be heard and respected on and off the ice and obviously it is not. Is it time for a change in leadership you bet!! if crap runs downhill and I am surprised the whole team is not covered from head to toe, they sure are stinking it up!!!. Get rid of the Pylon.

-Tim McIntosh

ANSWER: Dear Tim, If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have printed this. This here is the  the kind of question asked by the kind of person who calls into sports radio and is routinely mocked by the host.  A few cliches, a lame instance of name calling and a whole lot of assumptions.  I don’t care for this one bit. Again, I feel it’s necessary to for me to point out the Leafs’ problem is not leadership or character. The Leafs problem is that Dion Phaneuf has never been paired with a defenseman of his quality – not for a single second – during his time in Toronto and the team’s number one centre is Tyler Bozak.

You should note that those problems can be clearly demonstrated using empirical evidence and do not require me to make any crazy assumptions or invent any fictional narratives. Good riddance.

Toronto Maple Leafs fans
Phil Kessel is the best, so stop complaining (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

QUESTION: A few thoughts and then my question. I find it a pain to watch the Leafs right now. Let’s not get into name calling, but some of these players just look completely disinterested at the moment. The level of compete, and attention to detail (specifically defence) is questionable for several Leaf players right now. Which leads me to my question: Do you think the NHL should adopt a league like the NFL where contracts are not 100 per cent guaranteed? I just find that players need to be held more accountable for their play on the ice. Look at Clarkson’s contract. As much as I like him, he is not worth the 7 year, $36.75M contract. Under NFL rules, there would have been a possibility for the Leafs to only guarantee a certain portion of this contract, and would be able to let him go after several years, depending on what that contract would have been. There would be some “dead money” that counts against the cap, but it would certainly not be the full amount which would allow them to spend the savings elsewhere. Let’s face it, each and every one of us with jobs need to perform or else we can be laid off with little or no severance pay. Why should pro athletes be different? To be completely honest, I would be totally okay with sitting out a full year after the CBA expires until the NHLPA agreed to the NFL system. What do you think?

-Justin Pashkovsky

ANSWER: Dear Justin, you lost me when you said “compete level”, but I still feel it’s worth pointing out that the attention to detail on defense you mentioned is the reason the coach was fired. I know a lot of people think it’s because the players “don’t try hard enough,” but if you really think you can watch your TV and accurately gauge how hard someone is trying………well, it’s clear you do think that. You must be very talented sir. You, however, further lost me when you said you “loved” David Clarkson.  That being said, I think signing his brother – Doug Clarkson – is a better idea than non-guaranteed contracts.

Ryan Kesler
(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

QUESTION: The contracts for Kadri, Bernier, and Franson are coming up. They’d probably like to sign all three, and likely must sign at least Bernier and Kadri. I believe the Leafs have a plan, no team just signs players without thought about what they do with upcoming contracts. They probably underestimated what the cap would be, but most teams probably did as well. What do you think the plan is? Kadri could be tough to sign if his asking price is in line with his opinion of himself.

-Barry Porozni

ANSWER: Dear Barry, thank you for asking a sensible question. When I answer other people’s mail, I like it to be top-notch and you’ve really come through here.  I think the plan is to sign all three because anything else is  unthinkable. The team has finally found a player who can play defense on a level at least close to Phaneuf’s and it would be terrible to lose him now.  I think you need $18-20 million to sign all three, and since they all currently have deals that add up to about $10, you need to clear about ten million in cap space to sign them. This is not as difficult as it might seem. Bozak can easily be replaced with Holland and Lupul (next year) with Nylander. Boom! There’s your ten million.

QUESTION: With all the talk about Phil Kessel being uncoachable, the interaction he had with your [Kevin’s]colleague Dave Feschuk, and the comments that Ron Wilson made on the radio, he’s taking a lot of heat. One question that I’ve seen a number of times is, “Can a team win the Stanley Cup with Kessel at the forefront?” I think the answer is, of course a team can win a Stanley Cup with Phil Kessel at the forefront! They just can’t win the Stanley Cup if Phil Kessel has anything to do with setting the emotional tone in the dressing room. I think the best comparison is with Patrick Kane in Chicago. He’s a guy that has a lot of similarities with Kessel. But it’s Jonathan Toews that sets the tone on that team. He commands respect from his teammates and demands excellence. That culture of excellence has spread through the team and Patrick Kane is the one trying to fit in with that. In Toronto, new guys come in and are the ones trying to fit in with the emotional tone set by guys like Kessel and Phaneuf. So my question for you is, can the Leafs bring in players that can change that emotional tone, or is it so deep seeded in this locker room that they have to blow it all up and start from scratch?

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Love the blog and your insights.

-Varun Chakravorty

ANSWER: Dear Varun, you’ve brought us back to this, huh? Well, first a few points: 1) Who cares what Ron Wilson has to say? He’s clearly biased, obviously bitter and he was a terrible coach and probably blames others (i.e the players) for his being currently unemployed. His opinion shouldn’t even be admissible in the court of public opinion 2) Feschuk asked a question which only had one possible outcome: to piss the player off. I mean, what is Phil going to say “Well, yeah, of course I’m impossible to coach.”  I think Kessel getting angry (as he did earlier this season at a similarly antagonistic question) is great. I think it shows a ton of character. I also think he seems like a cool guy and that since he’s the best player he’s an obvious leader.  The questions about his character make me embarrassed to be part of the media. What team ever won a cup with no talent and great leaders? Oh, no one? Well, what team ever won a Cup with a top-line centre as bad as Tyler Bozak? No one? Hmmmmm maybe this narrative is not exactly bearing any fruit.

In answer to your question, no team can win a Cup when their best two forwards are wingers (unless they have a magically deep defense, which Toronto does not). This isn’t an insult to Kessel or JVR either, because the Hawks never would have won a Cup if they just had Kane and Hossa. They also wouldn’t have won if they just had Toews.  Basically, it takes a deep, well-balanced team to win and the Leafs do not have that.

Why people continue to blame the players for that is beyond me.  I could take a guess, but it would probably come off as very egotistical!

The Leafs are not a bad team because of their leadership, their culture, their identity or any other dumb thing people want to look for. They are a bad team because they are not deep and they are not well-stocked in high-end talent and they are unable to improve due to an incompetently managed salary cap. If you want to list reasons the Leafs can’t win the Cup this year, I would say Kessel and Phaneuf’s leadership would be around 154th on that list.

Thanks for reading.