Stopping The Spin: Back In The Saddle

This picture will never get old.

Earlier this week I decided to take a tried and true way of finding material for a mailbox: Toronto Sun'ing it. You guys enjoyed the first installment so much that you're getting another one. The real fun comes in trying to figure out who has the most ingratiating introduction to their question. Here is the link to the original answers if you dare submit yourself to them. Vote in the poll after reading the questions below.

Question: The Leafs' quick start has been a surrpise to many, and I wondered if the profit motives of MLSE actually played a role. By cramming in more exhibition games than any other team, they have actually done themselves a favour by being ready right out of the gate, whereas other more seasoned teams have ambled out of the gate. Do you have an opinion on this?

Jeff D, Toronto

PPP Answer: It's always nice to hear from fans that are new to hockey. I hope that you enjoy your first year following the NHL. It's a valiant choice to cheer for the buds. Welcome!

Question: Hi Damien. Glad to see the Spin is back. In view of your article on the shootout falling out of favour and all the different suggestions as to what to do now, I have had this feeling for a long time that hockey seems to have lost its way and is endlessley tinkering to find the "right formula." No other major sport changes so many rules on a consistent basis. What is it about hockey or the guys who run it that they never seem satisfied with how the game is played?

Darryl Weinberg, Maple

PPP Answer: This is going to be a two-part answer. On the one hand, I agree that the NHL's change to the overtime rules and the addition of the shootout were made strictly as a way to pander to non-fans. Hockey fans had become, thanks to 40 years of no overtime, used to the fact that sometimes games do not have winners. However, in their neverending pursuit of non-fans the NHL decided that not only was a shot at a winner in overtime enough but a forced decision was needed. When fighting is finally taken out of hockey it will be once again be because non-fans and ESPN use it as a way to bludgeon the sport. All of this in the cause of pursuing a national television deal that won't come. I wish the league would do more to promote what they have rather than try to become what they think non-fans want.

As for the charge that no other major sport changes so many rules on a consistent basis, it doesn't pass muster. I think we can all agree that Americans have been conditioned to consume all things NFL-related no matter how little actual football is played (less than 12 real minutes per game). However, they are notorious for changing rules. A simple Google search turns up plenty of examples.

Just taking a look at this list of rule changes throughout the league's history shows that a professional league's rule book is more of a living document than commandments chiseled in stone. On that list you have tweaks, new rules, and major rule changes. Some, gasp!, are even geared towards increasing offence. So while the NHL has made some rule changes that I don't agree with, the league is not unique in adapting to changing circumstances.

Question: Hey Damien, Long time reader; first time writer. Although I can't complain with the recent success the Leafs have enjoyed, I have been noticing a bit of an unnerving trend so far...although the Leafs seem to be getting a decent amount of shots every game, there seem to be a disturbingly large amount of shots that come nowhere near the net, particularly from the point, and particularly from Dion Phaneuf. Just wondering if this is something they work on in practice at all, or perhaps something they should be working on? With such a hard shot, I figure if Phaneuf got more of them on net he'd have a few goals by now. Love to hear your opinion.

Nick Bloomfield, Toronto

PPP Answer: Dion Phaneuf definitely has an issue with hitting the net. Not sure if it's the angle of his stick but he seems to always miss high. Late in the pre-season it seemed like he was trading power for accuracy and he notched a couple of assists on deflections and rebounds.

In terms of the team, they've always been about producing a large quantity of shots. As a result of the volume, they will obviously result in a larger quantity of missed and blocked shots. However, NHL teams seem to have put an increased emphasis on getting into shooting lanes and blocking shots. Against the Rangers the buds had 30(!) shots blocked. I don't think it's a function of the Leafs trying to take advantage of lively boards though.

Question: I keep reading, and have observed myself, that the Leafs seems unwilling to have someone near the net during the PP, and thus have no one to hammer in rebounds, robbing themselves of many chances. Who's fault is this? The 10 players on the 2 PP squads (4 of whom need to play the point most of the time, leaving 6 to blame) or the coaching staff.

I suspect it is the coaching staff. Either they are not asking the players to be near the net, or they are asking, and not holding the players accountable when they fail to do it. Either way, the blame is on Wilson and his staff.

But what do you think?

Artie Bailey, Red Lake

PPP Question: My initial reaction is to blame Keith Acton. My second reaction is to look at who is on the PP. The forwards with the most PP time this year are: Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, and Clarke MacArthur. The rest of the forwards combined barely register. Looking at that sextet (heh, 'sex') they are mostly better known for their skill with the puck than with their physical presence. The only two that I'd expect to stand and take a beating are Kulemin and barely MacArthur.

The team has looked like they've experimented with a system that allows Dion Phaneuf to occasionally end up in front of the net. Long-term the solution is either to continue their attempts to create a system that is built on speed and movement or to find a big body that can take a beating in front of the net. I would go one of three routes: a blueliner, maybe something Mike Komisarek could do, a guy like Mike Brown, or a call up like Christian Hanson or Luca Caputi. My preferred route would be to see if Der Komissar could find another avenue to contribute. Yes, it's crazy but don't worry because it'll never happen.

Question: Damien,

When Pittsburgh or Chicago come to town, they are hard tickets to get because fans want to go and see Crosby or Toews (for example). Who, in your opinion, was the last Leafs player that fans in other cities paid to see?

To follow up, who was the last Leafs defenseman to put The Fear into opposing forwards as they crossed Toronto's blue line?

Michael Jones, Daejeon, South Korea

PPP Answer: I would think that knowledgeable hockey fans would have wanted to see Mats Sundin play. Other than that Doug Gilmour. Alex Mogilny was in the twilight of his career so maybe not him.

As for the last defencemen to put the Fear of Wendel into them when they crossed the blueline? This is an opinion so by definition Damien Cox can't be wrong. But I bet his answer was dumb checks answer Couldn't help himself eh? I like Danny Markov as an answer minus rubbing salt in the Pronger wound but I'd say Dmitri Yuskevich. Guy was insane, tough as nails, and likely ate nails for breakfast.

Question: Hi Damien,

Its quite obvious with some of the moves that the Leafs have made in the last year that Brian Burke has a budget for salary (actual money paid out) that is higher than the salary cap (based on averages). Do you have a rough idea of what that actual budget would be? Also, in the same respect, since the Leaf revenue is so much higher than other teams, what type of other non-monetary benefits are the Leafs allowed to offer players within the rules to be more competitive (private planes, better dressing rooms, free limosine service, private schooling for children, etc) in a salary cap world? It seems to me this could be a way to make Toronto a more attractive place to play, all other things being equal.

Thanks

Joe Akey, Ottawa

PPP Answer: No. He has no idea and neither do I. If you try to talk to an MLSE executive (I did on Thursday night about this for TFC) they will tell you that once they set the budget they are able to go get more money from the MLSE board and have never been turned down. It's been the verbatim answer since Pat Quinn's days.

As for the non-monetary benefits, you've started to see MLSE invest in them. The MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence For Players Don't Play Hockey Good And Want To Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too is a major part of the Leafs' selling point to players. The entire place is supposed to be state-of-the-art. The team plane is probably plush, the dressing room is gorgeous.

There are a number of places in the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement that outline what can and cannot be provided to players by the team. The private schooling, limousine service, jobs for spouses, and things along those lines would all constitute circumvention of the salary cap.

Question: Hi Damien, in today's (Oct. 16) mailbag you stated "agents of entry level players understand that if they structure deals so that the cap hit isn't enormous (like Tyler Bozak's $3.75 million hit) it may hasten their clients path to the NHL."

How is a $3.75mm cap hit for an unproven college free agent not 'enormous' (or at least a high enough number to act as a deterrent?) - that kind of money would buy a solid & proven 20 goal scorer, would it not?

Bill L., Toronto

PPP Answer: Well, the overall cap hit looks enormous at $3.75M. However, a closer look reveals that it's really a base salary of $875K and the rest in bonuses. So the daily charge for him is less than for a player that decides to structure his contract with more base salary and less in bonuses.

Question: I would love any insight you could provide about why Ryan Malone is even potentially movable from the Bolts. Would be great to see him in blue and white, but despite all the discussion I just don’t see why Yzerman would consider letting him go.

Eric Herman, New York

PPP Answer: *Rolls up newspaper, swats Eric across the nose* NO! Bad! Ryan Malone is a four-time 20 goal scorer but his goals have dropped for the past two seasons and he only has one this season. He also carries a $4.5M cap hit for four more seasons after this which would take him until he is 34. Yzerman would move him in a second if he could. It would be a terrible move for Brian Burke to acquire Ryan Malone and the fact that that is all he was offered by Tampa for Kaberle is why Tomas is still a Leaf.

Question: Hello Damien,

Long time hockey fan of the Blue & White and I appreciate your candor and insight.

Next year's crop of UFA's looks fairly deep. With the 3M cap space Brian Burke has this year and the 4.5M from Kaberle not being here I feel the Leafs are patching this year together (hey if they don't give up a lottery pick it will be a success) and saving resources for next year.

What do you think?

(I agree with your comment last week that having Kaberle walk and freeing up 4.5M is significant)

Thanks for your time

Brooks Hipgrave, Guelph

PPP Answer: First, 'candor and insight'? Next you'll thank Glenn Beck for his honest concern about your lack of gold. Anyway, back to the question. The UFA pool looks deep? First of all, we can't pretend Tomas Kaberle is gone. Brian Burke clearly loves the guy, Tomas loves Toronto, and they'll probably find a value deal to keep him here. At least that's what I've been promised by daoust, the general, and eyebleaf.

But for the sake of argument, let's just pretend that Burke doesn't sign anymore defencemen. Here are the forwards. And now by age. What you'll notice is that they all fall into one of two categories: not worth signing and not going to hit the open market. In net is one place where Burke might be able to find some value. There will once again be more goalies than jobs on the market so this will be a great spot for Burke to add another value contract to the second year of Jonas Gustavsson's 2 year $1.7M deal.

Question: Hi Damien,

Great to see the mailbag back in action!

Did you happen to catch Dave Hodge's rant the other day regarding teams dressing fewer skaters? It caught my attention, because I had just read your column on the NJ goings-on.

He lay the blame on the cap - and suggested it needed to go. He claimed the cap has failed to do what it intended to.

Is he nuts? I certainly don't want the NHL to end up looking like the farcical MLB!

Tom Havey, Arnprior

PPP Answer: Are you a Leafs fan? Because if you are you should absolutely want a farcical MLB. With the Yankees' success of late and the continued build up of fan pressure on MLSE to win with the Leafs (it's always been there but I think it's more pervasively in MLSE's faces) I think that there is an argument to be made that they'd blow the league away in spending. Then again, maybe they'd just be fifth.

However, Hodge is wrong. He shouldn't be ranting about the cap. The rules are there and have been there for five years. If a GM like Darryl Sutter can't dress guys in a race for a division title then that's just plain incompetence. If it's Lou Lamoriello then it's just the arrogant knowledge that he can cheat the rules as long as he wants. What Hodge should have been ranting about what the NHL's failure, in both cases, to force teams to dress a full line-up.

Question: With all these commenters/bloggers dreaming that the Leafs will get Travis Zajac for nothing to ease NJ's cap problems, what's the likelihood that teams would offer attractive draft picks to have a team accept mediocre and/or overpaid players (and likely bury them in the minors)? Is any cap-stressed team likely to dump a good, young player? As for the cap space, how much does Burke need to hold back in case he calls up Kadri, Hanson, Caputi, etc?

Nick Martin, Winnipeg

PPP Answer: Ah yes, 'bloggers' and 'commenters'. Certainly it's not any co-workers of Cox that have raised the spectre of cap-induced trades before. Oh shit, even Cox has done it. Cox loves you for pretending it's just dumb amateurs that cook up fanciful hypotheticals.

The likelihood of those kinds of deals (crappy players and draft picks for cap space) are incredibly rare. The Devils themselves sent a first round pick to San Jose for taking Vladimir Malokhov off of their hands. The Leafs kind of bought a fourth round pick from the Lightning which they used to pay the Jonas Frogren fine that MF37 thinks they knew was coming down the pike. Those are two that come off the top of my head but it's nowhere near as common as the endless speculation would suggest.

Also, if they dump good young players then they are secondary players on their roster. Kris Versteeg is an example of that but even then the Leafs still had to give up something more than cap space. Basically, don't hold your breath.

Cap Geek answers all of your cap-related questions. Doubt Damo would direct you to this website but it's unreal. The Leafs have tonnes of room now so they have no worries with regard to bringing the kids up form the Marlies.

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