It is time for our third installment of "Answer Damien Cox's Mailbag Without Being A Jerk...Unless It Really Calls For It". For those of you new to this new feature I take the questions from Damien Cox's Mailbag at The Spin and provide my own answers. The real answers can be found here and the best answers are after the jump.
Question: Hi Damien,
Do you think there is an eerie similarity between the career journeys of Dion Phaneuf and the Bryan McCabe of old when Leaf fans would have sold their first born to be rid of him? The comparison: both players have been very effective on the power play with each possessing a howitzer from the point. Goals abounded until defenders realized this and adjusted. Both players have the tendency to go for the big hit and find themselves out of position. Both had well regarded leadership abilities from a young age. Both players had a significant drop in play soon after signing a large contract, leaving what was a bright future very much in doubt. And finally, both were traded for significantly less than one would once have thought.
So have Leaf fans been saddled with the new McCabe and we just don't know it yet?
Andrew Puckrin, Toronto
Answer: Jesus buddy, why don't you just punch us all in the gut. Having said that, there are definitely some, hopefully superficial, comparisons between the two. In a perfect world, another thing they will have in common is that they needed a change of venue to find their game again. So far, McCabe has been much more successful in that regard. Frankly, by the end of his tenure in Toronto he had basically checked out mentally. He refused to change his style of play and responded to all problems with a variation of "well, what can you do?" and a shrug of his shoulders.
Dion Phaneuf has yet to light the Leafs on fire. In 34 games as a Leaf he has 2-14-16 and a -7 rating to go along with a 1.78% shooting percentage. Those are hardly the numbers that you want to see out of your captain. Offensively, the counting numbers are depressed from his career averages. Over 82 games those totals give you 5 goals and 34 assists for 39 points. What I am counting on is that as his partnerships develop with Francois Beauchmin at even strength and Tomas Kaberle on the powerplay that, along with some needed adjustments, that Phaneuf will find the path back to his previous level of play. Will he get back to around 50 points? To be realistic, it's not likely especially if he doesn't make adjustments to his shot but the more time he has with this group of defenders the further along the path he will get.
Question: Hey Damien,
Might be a bit premature to ask but do you think Kris Versteeg is the new Jason Blake? (or has the potential to be) And by that I mean high expectations coming in but very little value added in the way of production. Love to hear your thoughts.
Jacob Bloomfield, Caledon
Answer: A little premature? Come on. Be serious. Leafs fans get bad reputations because of questions like this one. First off, we should hope Kris Versteeg puts up 15-37-52 and 25-38-63 in his first two years as a Leaf. Second, Versteeg is only 24 years old compared to Jason Blake's 375 years of age. And finally, his cap hit is $ 1M less than Blake's per year. Furthermore, let's give him more than seven games before we starting fitting him for goat horns.*
*note: Brett "The Curse" Lebda is exempt from the sane fan's grace period.
Question: It seems that Brian Burke has more or less adopted Cliff Fletcher's draft schmaft approach to team reconstruction (an executive suite symptom of the dreaded blue-white disease?). OK then, but what should be his deadline to deliver not just a playoff team but a Stanley Cup? For example, Pittsburgh and Chicago have shown that building through the draft, plus a bit of shrewd trading, should put you in the final if not hoisting the Cup within about 4 years max (Chicago was the quicker of the two because arguably they at least had the likes of Duncan Keith from the start of the rebuild). Washington, on the other hand, took the same approach and if there's no June parade past the White House this will be year 6 with no Cup since Ovechkin's arrival. (Should that mean they remove George McPhee as GM?) Will MLSE finally impose such performance indicators on a GM, or will they be happy with simple playoff appearances as they were in the 90's? It was BB himself who has said he can do it his way just as quickly as the draft way, so ...?
Gordie King, Bolton
Answer: Ok, 'Gordie King' if that is your real name. Very cute using a pseudonym Howard. Anyway, I enjoyed your use of 'should'. The Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers, and Columbus Blue Jackets are among the teams awaiting their guaranteed Stanley Cup Final appearance. Yes, how dare MLSE not fire Cliff Fletcher in 1993 or 1994 after just reaching the conference finals. Maybe the fact that they didn't own the team was a fact. Of course, MLSE removed Pat Quinn as General Manager despite making the conference finals as GM in 2002 but that is in no way related to their desire to win. They were clearly just happy to make the playoffs which is why they had one of the league's lowest payrolls. Oh, they didn't? That's right.
As for whether Burke's plan works, that's really up in the air to the same extent that any GM's plan is. What he has not done is cater to the portion of the fanbase that is unable to conceive any way to build a team other than the one that the media harps on regardless of actual results. I guarantee that if Burke's team does not approach at least a conference final that he will be fired. He's in his second full season and while the 29th placed finish was a disappointment this season has started in promising fashion. As for 'draft schmaft', try reading about the Leafs a little bit. Hockey's Future has their prospects ranked 6th in the NHL for a reason. While Burke hasn't had the first round picks he had built up a prospect base that is more promising since the 2001-2002 cohort. That's actually faint praise right now but those two years produced a number of viable NHLers.
Question: If you had to pick 1 goalie to start a team who would that be?
Ed Anderson, New York
Answer: Tomas Vokoun without a doubt.
Question: Enjoy reading your blog, keep up the good work.
This New Jersey deal with Kovalchuk just doesn't make any sense, either short term , or long term. They've messed up their entire salarly cap forever, it seems & now they're sitting him out as a healthy scratch. Is there any way that the Devils can survive this "mess" ?
Ron Frizzell, Port Hope
Answer: I'll try to explain this slowly because you're from Port Hope. Just kidding, I'll just write it out phonetically. Realistically, Lamoriello seems like he was planning on making one or two runs before Martin Brodeaur retires and he also wanted to have a star lined up to build his next team around. The salary cap is definitely messed up this year and next but the situation is not as dire going forward...for now. After a year of cheating the CBA this year Loophole Lou will have some tough decisions to make.
As for the scratch, it does present a tough situation because in any conflict between John MacLean and Ilya Kovalchuk the latter has to be the ultimate winner. MacLean can do his best to break Ilya of his bad habits but at some point the reality of his contract will have to set in. It is definitely a short-term mess but there is still a way out in the long-term and if anyone can do it it's Lou.
Question: Hi Damien
I know that you've addressed this one in the past but if the GMs are serious about reducing the number of shootouts, wouldn't it make sense to cut down on the number of games that aren't decided in regulation? When the Leafs beat the Rangers in OT at MSG it was pretty clear that the last few minutes of the 3rd period were just a prelude to OT. Wilson had Sjostrom out for the dying minutes and there was no way that Kessel was going to see the ice. Once the single point was in the bank, the teams actually stopped playing "not to lose." Any chance at all of 3 points for a regulation win? It would cut down on the number of OT/SO games and reduce the wear and tear on each team's top players. Thanks!
Mike Atkins, Markham
Answer: You're bang on in noting that team's have moved extremely conservative play from overtime to the end of the third period. The ideal situation would be to remove the shootout and return the league to 2 points for a win, 1 for a tie, and 0 for a loss. Having said that, it's not likely to happen. Soccer moved to a three point system precisely for the reason that it encouraged attacking play. If the NHL moved to a 3-2-1-0 system then you'd do more to encourage regulation wins. Sadly, a league that is so willing to make so many changes is not willing to move to 3 points for a regulation win because it would affect the record book. Nevermind that the current points system bastardises it.
I am of the opinion that the difference in quality of goaltending provided by Giguere and Gustavsson is negligible. Therefore with this likely being the last season Giggy plays for the leafs, would it not make sense to give Gustavsson the opportunity to have more than 1 start a week to see if he is going to provide the Leafs the type of goaltending they will need? I know it is early in the year, but I would really like to see him as the number 1 before the season is over.
Chris Dahan, Barrie
P.S. The Broncos were alot better before you started cheering for them.
Answer: The Broncos stink and have stunk since Elway left. I can't speak to Wilson's plan but I would assume that he started with Jean-Sebastien Giguere as the number one for a couple of reasons: that he would give the team the best chance at a strong start (which he has) and that doing so removed a lot of pressure from Jonas Gustavsson after a difficult first year.
As for whether it will be Giguere's last year in Toronto I think it will be a complicated decision dependent on a number of issues. Among those that they will look at: Giguere's play and contract demands, Gustavsson's development, and the development of James Reimer and Jussi Rynnas on the Marlies.
Question: I understand that New Jersey, and perhaps other teams, got under the salary cap, at least in part, by putting players on the long term injury list. Apparently their salary does not count against the cap while they are there. My question is does the NHL monitor or have the means to monitor such moves? Could teams report a fake injury or exaggerate the seriousness of one as a cap loophole?
Phil Ford, Ottawa
Answer: Well, it's not exactly that it comes off of their books. It's pretty complicated but Fear The Fin does a great job of explaining it in an easily understandable way here. As for faking it, I guess in theory the team could do it however there is a minimum amount of time that the play has to be out if they go on LTIR and because they don't actually come off of the cap it would be an easy way to get into cap trouble.
Question: Don't you think that Komisarek and Souray are suffering from the lack of the same partner - Andrei Markov?
Ron Chapman, St. Catharines
Answer: Well, I won't dig into Oilers blogs for more on Souray's history but he had a really good first year in Edmonton and was actually earning that salary. Not sure how Andrei Markov would have prevented his ensuing injury trouble or how he would have done the same for Mike Komisarek. What Komisarek has been missing is good health and a steady partner. Sadly, the latter doesn't seem to be on its way but the former is getting better every game.