After the overwhelming popularity of my hijacking of the Star’s Maple Leaf Mailbag last week, how could I resist going back for more? Once again, I feel the need to point out that this is not in anyway an original idea – I stole that too – from Andrew Stoeten who’s regular hijacking of Ol’ Griff’s mailbag is a weekly summer pleasure. In this version, I answer questions people for some reason felt compelled to send to the Star’s Kevin McGran. I don’t know him but I enjoy his work and I don’t in any way mean these answers to be critical of his. Here’s a link to his answers.
Strap yourself in kids, cause this is probably going to get bumpy.
QUESTION: You won’t find many knowledgeable hockey people who think the Leafs can win with this core. They don’t have cap room to augment the roster with the type of players they need, and there’s not many players available if they did. So is it time to unload bad contracts and start again? Starting again really leaves them with little to work with, the Marlies cupboard is pretty bare. If Nylander and Connor Brown don’t pan out, it’s bad news.
ANSWER: Oh, no. We’re talking about “the core” again. The old “you can’t win with this core” reasoning is beyond annoying – it is actively dumb. You could win with this “core” easily. Just add in Kopitar and Doughty and what constitutes the Leafs current “core” would instantly be a Cup contender. But that is impossible because the Leafs have a bad cap situation.
However, to say that it’s because of “Core” players like Kessel or Phaneuf is just not being intellectually honest. NO TEAM CAN WIN WITHOUT A #1 CENTRE OR DEFENSEMAN. Since the Leafs are obviously missing those guys (at least until Kadri and Rielly grow into the roles) they can’t compete now, no matter what, and anyone who thought going into the season that they could was vastly over-rating the team.
So why is a tear-down necessary when the team hasn’t even finished building? How can you tear down something when you never saw a finished product? I am sorry, but the “you can’t win with Phil and Dion” narrative makes me sick. You could easily. You just can’t win when you’re best players are a #2 defenseman and a scoring winger. Find me a team that has ever done so.
So, if by “tear it down” you mean get rid of bad contracts like Bozak, Clarkson, Lupul, Robidas and Reimer – who combine to make around $20 million and who getting rid of would solve all your cap problems – then yes, tear that down. But if you mean get rid of players just because they happened to play on the team before the team was even capable of winning, even under optimum conditions, which is what I think you mean, then no.
I mean, “the cupboard is bare?” First of all, get a new cliche. Second, Rielly, Gardiner, Bernier, Kadri, Nylander, JVR is hardly “bare”. If the cap wasn’t so maxed out, and this wasn’t Toronto, that would actually be considered an insanely good “core” to build around. Especially since I intentionally didn’t list a certain player who’s 27 and is factually the NHL’s most consistent goalscorer for five years now.
If the Leafs can move some bad contracts, draft high this year and then be patient enough to develop Kadri and Rielly into the #1 positions, this is a team that compete. Star goalie? Check. Two star scoring wingers? Check. A little big of depth? it doesn’t seem like it, but if you have the top line C and D, then yes, they would actually have depth, so Check. Fix the cap and be patient with Rielly and Kadri and you’re fine.
QUESTION: There’s been a lot of talk about how it’s Babcock or Bust for the Leafs in the offseason. While I fully agree that he’s arguably the best coach in the NHL right now, I’m not totally convinced that he’s the best coach for the Leafs. The Detroit Red Wings were playing a strong possession game long before Babcock came to town. Also, I’m sure that getting them to continue to play that way was facilitated by the fact that his team is anchored by two guys (Datsyuk and Zetterberg) who are considered Selke candidates every year. Much has been written about the number of terrible contracts that the Leafs have on their current roster. While I don’t believe any player is unmovable, I do believe that getting anything of significant value in return will be nearly impossible. That means that it’s a real possibility that we will be with the current core group of players for the foreseeable future. That brings me to my question. Why isn’t a guy like Dan Bylsma getting more consideration? He had a heck of a lot of success coaching a team built around two offensive geniuses (Crosby and Malkin) who aren’t going to be showing up on anyone’s all-defensive team. Not saying that the Leafs have any players with nearly that level of talent, but they have similar mindsets.
ANSWER: I think you should get used to Peter Horachek. He is the best coach available and will one day have a similar reputation to the guys you mention. He’ll be the coach of the Leafs for a long, long time.
QUESTION: I saw your comment on Matt Frattin and I remember when he first appeared in TO and he could fly. Tore up his knee and soon got traded to LA. Did he lose a step? If so why did they trade to get him back? Also what happened to Spencer Abbott. Thought he would be up in the bigs. Brad Ross, David Broll and Greg McKegg look to be wasted picks, how’s our goalie of the future looking for the Marlies?
ANSWER: The entire draft – even the top five – is just guess work. You would have a hard time watching the NHL as a full time job and predicting who will improve, regress or stay the same from year to year, let alone doing so with kids who play in leagues where the difference between players is much wider than it is in the NHL (where it’s marginal). Seems unfair to knock anyone for bad picks, ,and who knows, they might not even end up being bad. As for Frattin, he was overrated because he was a Leaf and if he’s lost a step I wouldn’t know, he hasn’t exactly gotten a ton of minutes this year. You mention a goalie of the future, but John Bernier is 26 and will be the goalie here for a long, long time. In fact he is the only reason the Leafs aren’t much lower in the standings (which maybe isn’t a great thing).
QUESTION: Probably laughed for 10 minutes after reading the “Tikhonov, Imlach” response. Although in fairness I totally get where the good Monsieur was coming from. Anyway, regarding the Mike Babcock hysteria is there a good business case to be made for bringing him aboard? Could MLSE really financially benefit from dropping the necessary coin to sign him? While the following might be considered heresy but what additional monies would the (unthinkable) Leaf Cup win bring? The TV contract is done, the building is sold out anyway. Could MLSE crank everything up 25 per cent as a result of a win? It seems to me that once the novelty wore off there would be something of a void in what to do next. What additional new revenue streams would there be to pursue?
—Doug from B-ford
ANSWER:The problem with stealing someones mailbag is that you aren’t going to get some of the in jokes. This question is ridiculous. The Maple Leafs might sell a ton of merch and tickets, but that is while going a decade without winning a Playoff series. A rough estimate is that each playoff date earns the team one million dollars in profit, since the salaries are negligible at that point, in Toronto I would bet it’d be more like five or six.
Besides, the assumption that the Leafs don’t win because they don’t have financial motivation is wrong. The hockey people in Toronto face very little corporate interference. Do you think Burke – who was a millionaire long before he came to Toronto – would have done anything differently if he thought his corporate overlords could make more profit? I somehow highly doubt it, and the same goes for any hockey executive whose reasons for wanting to win are far more worthy than the pursuit of money.
Say what you want about the Leafs or their ownership, but when was the last time the team did something on the cheap? They spend money and they want to win, they just haven’t done so.
QUESTION: Do you think Kadri has shown he is a legit No. 2 centre or do you think he could be one of the trade targets to be shipped out of town?
ANSWER: Why would a team weak at centre trade their best centre? Why would a team who historically has not developed any prospects trade their best developed prospect in a generation? Is Kadri a legit #2? Are you putting me on? He is a legit number one, according to the numbers. He has put up similar numbers to Matt Duchene and John Tavares over the last two years. Do you think anyone asks if those guys are legit second line players? This is crazy. Kadri gets 25% less ice time than those guys and puts up roughly 25% less points. He is a strong possession player on a weak possession team and makes virtually everyone he plays with better.
Oh, and he is mad talented with the hands of an angel. The only reason Kadri is not the Leafs #1 centre right now is because of an attempt to spread around their offense. If you put the Leafs five best offensive players on one PP it would be Kadri-JVR-Kessel-Rielly-Gardner. Kadri is to Bozak what Mario Lemieux is to Kadri. I can’t believe you just asked if he was a legit second line player. He is a legit first line player.
QUESTION: Most likely to get another NHL job:
A) Dave Poulin
B) Claude Loiselle
C) Randy Carlyle
D) none of the above
ANSWER: I’ll go with D – at least that’s how it should be. These are all old-school guys who don’t understand the way the game has changed – or they understand it but don’t care. They’re done. Poulin and Loiselle were walking embarrassments to the organization and RC was fired about a year too late. They all might get consulting jobs, but the first two will never be GMs again and I’d be surprised to see Carlyle back behind an NHL bench. But, he probably will be because people overrate “He won a Cup” to an asinine degree.
QUESTION: I asked last week about him (Brandon Kozun) but didn’t find your answer. So again … why is he not playing with the Leafs? Still not 100 per cent?
ANSWER: I have no clue, but I doubt he’s ever an impact player in the NHL, so I don’t really care. Nice story, rough that he got hurt, but he isn’t a difference maker.
QUESTION: If you could trade three Leafs on the current roster, but you could only retain salary on one of those players, who would they be and why?
Secondary question: It seems Shanahan is once again playing politics (as Chelios has previously alluded to) by saying Nonis made the call on the Carlyle firing. The timing of it was horrible when one considers what was going on in the coach’s life, and comes off as Shanahan passing the buck. Where do you stand on this?
—Rob Adler (aka a foolishly die-hard Leafs fan in Texas)
ANSWER: To answer your first question one must only be conscience and have a moderate knowledge of what’s going on because the answer is so obvious: 1. Clarkson. 2. Bozak. 3. Robidas. All three could easily be replaced by guys making the league minimum – Panik, Holland, Holzer (though he is as bad as Robidas, if not worse, at least he’s cheaper).
The timing was horrible only in that it didn’t come much, much sooner. As for politics, who cares, Nonis should be thankful he still has a job.
Thanks for reading and please be sure to send all your most hilarious questions to Kevin McGran care of the Star.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.