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Taking the pulse, finding high blood pressure

Friday, 03.07.2008 / 12:00 PM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

One Ice Age reader and longtime Toronto Maple Leafs fan wrote in to vent some frustration over the lack of success the team has had over the years.
Leafs vs. Bruins game highlights 
One very angry Maple Leafs fan leads off this week’s mailbag. Here’s hoping we can provide some solace.

***

I saw that you accept gripes … so I am here to air out mine. Hopefully, getting it off of my chest to a known hockey editor will allow me to move on in life.

I have been a Leaf fan since around the time Wendel Clark was drafted. I (like many others) have been through the Salmings, Olczyks, Elletts, Besters, Wreggets, Osbornes, Iafrates, Gilmours, Potvins, Belfours, Josephs, Berezins, Gartners, Leemans, Gills (both), Andreychuks, all the way to today’s crop.

Lots of names have changed, lots of coaches fired, lots of prospects sold, but one thing never seems to change. Leafs management is a faceless, unaccountable, gutless entity. Without one true owner who would face the scrutiny of the media, we are subject to a committee of idiots, who could really care less about anything other than themselves.

I struggled for the past few years asking myself; “Could I possibly become a fan of another team?” The reality of it is I have too much Leaf memorabilia to just throw away and my heart won’t let go of the Leafs. Which brings me to today’s gripe.

In what was nearly the final straw for me as a Leafs fan, the team asked their captain to go against his word and waive his no trade clause. My blood is boiling. Mats Sundin having promised the fans that he would not waive his no-trade clause, was suddenly put in the spotlight and basically told by the team that he was no longer wanted. My blood is still boiling.

I certainly understand the concept of rebuilding. You get younger, save money and then add the final pieces to your team when the time is right. However, this does not always work out. It in fact rarely does. Looking at the majority of contenders around the League they are built on smart drafting, patience, and timely trades when it appears the team is ready to peak. The Leafs are going from being buyers, to immediate sellers without ever having peaked. It is unfortunate the mess that is inherited from JF Jr., but is trading your captain the solution? I know Joe Thornton is younger than Sundin, but that move by Boston a few years back has not worked for them. (Remember, that Sundin was acquired for Clark during another “rebuilding” phase) Some things cannot always be acquired in a trade. Leadership. Character. You need certain qualities to rebuild a team. In the event Sundin did waive his no-trade clause, who would be the next team leader? Has anyone else shown that they are even willing to step up and try to carry this team on their backs the way Sundin has done time after time? I hope to see Sundin back as a Leaf for the remainder of his career. I will not hold my breath though. After this debacle, by all levels of Leaf management, why would he stick around? As (Cliff) Fletcher said, “he is within his contractual right” to do as he pleases. My blood is still boiling.

Thank you for listening.

-- Tomiko Smith

Whew! Much to chew on here Tomiko, but as the resident Gripemaster, I am here to help lower your blood pressure, or at least try.

Let’s start off with Mats Sundin. He had every right to say no to moving on at the deadline. That’s really a no-brainer. The player, whether it be Sundin or anyone else, placed a value on having a say over his future and negotiated it into his contract. On the flip side, the team wanted the player enough to accept placing a no-trade in the contract. So, any criticism of Sundin, or another player, for invoking the clause is wrong. It’s all part of the business.

Now, that doesn’t mean the team can’t ask if a player would be interested in moving on. Brad Richards waived a no-trade to go to Dallas. Really, it’s a personal decision that gives the player some control of his future. A player of Sundin’s caliber would likely have brought a nice array of assets in return, so Cliff Fletcher had to ask. Sundin thought it over, decided he wanted to stay put and that’s that.

As far as rebuilding goes, only death and taxes are guaranteed. A team can collect top draft picks for a decade and poor choices will yield lousy results. As you mentioned, the Bruins didn’t reap huge rewards for Joe Thornton, but rebuilding a team takes more than one or two trades. Drafts have to be productive, free-agent signings have to be smart and on target and trades also have to make sense. Heck, even with all that there is a chance of failure.

What does this mean for the Leafs? Well, we won’t know a whole lot more until a permanent GM is in place and see what develops. I know none of what I’ve said eases your angst over the Leafs and the last thing you want to hear is it takes time, but that’s the reality, a harsh reality, but reality nonetheless.

***

Hi Phil.

I have several topics I want to cover this week. The first is the superb play of (Evgeni) Nabokov and the Sharks’ defense. I, along with all the other Sharks fans are overjoyed, because this is the season that Nabokov has finally gotten past his injuries that have plagued for the past couple of seasons. Despite 1 or 2 slumps, he's still started all but 2 games, and if it wasn't for that period when the Sharks were slumping, his numbers would be in the top 5.

Except this resurgence around, he has gotten noticed. You guys at NHL.com have written many great articles about him that I really enjoy. I also greatly appreciate you guys at the editors' offices who stay up late (probably past midnight) to watch Western Conference games, and especially Pacific Division games so as to not overlook us on the West Coast. I know it’s hard to do this since you guys are three hours ahead of us, so I greatly appreciate the sacrifice.

The Sharks’ success this season is thanks in large part to Nabokov's strong play. But some of the credit also needs to go to our defense too. I read many articles before the season started, on how the Sharks' defense was its one weak point. It was considered too young and inexperienced. But many of the players started last year and were with the team into the second round of the playoffs. Other people were saying that the loss of Scott Hannan, the veteran, was too much to overcome. He led the Sharks in ice time last season and was far and away their best defender besides Nabby. But I think (Craig) Rivet has stepped in nicely as the veteran on the D, and has helped the young players mature faster. (Kyle) McLaren has also filled the veteran role well. It also helps that a lot of the Sharks D matured quickly in their first season, however, their not perfect and when they do make mistakes, Nabby is usually their to bail them out. I think the ultimate ode to the defense comes when you realize they have allowed the third fewest goals in the League, and despite the fact that Nabby has played in all but 2 games, he faces about as many shots as other goalies who play 3-5 less games then he does. In fact, their weakness right now is their offense. Although it is still strong and very dangerous, injuries and sub-par performances have hampered the Sharks' scoring threat. However, it seems to be coming on stronger lately, especially Cheechoo, who finally seems to be getting into his rhythm.

Also, with the recent addition of All-Star Brian Cambell, our defense and offense will be even better. Campbell will also provide speed for out transition game, which it badly needs, and hopefully just the right boost to get our power play in gear.

One Ice Age reader wonders why the
Blue Jackets are still a struggling team, and how they can make the playoffs by trading away key veteran players.

I would also like to know what happened to the Blue Jackets? They started out the season strong, anchored by the rookie goalie (Pascal) Leclaire and veteran forward Rick Nash. What happened to them, they seem to have lost the magic that they had in the opening weeks of the season. They still win more and harder games than years before, but they don't seem the same. Is this just them returning to their old struggles, or does this team really have the potential to shake up the central a bit? Plus, why would they trade away to stellar veteran players when they still have a chance to make the playoffs?

Another one of my questions has to deal with the Hall of Fame. Can a whole team from one year be entered into to the Hall of Fame? Do they have a special section devoted to the greatest teams? I am curious because I want to know if the 1980 U.S. Olympic team is anywhere in the Hall of Fame.

My last comment has to deal with the spectacular event that was The Winter Classic. It was the first outdoor hockey game I've seen and I am very impressed. It was a great spectacle with an ending that was so good, you'd think it had been scripted. And the falling snow made for some very surreal moments. Me being from San Jose, this was the first time I had seen hockey played the way it was originally, and it certainly reminded of why Hockey is the greatest sport on Earth. I also want to throw my next Winter Classic locale in the rink. I agree with the Huge Canes fan that the north should not get all the attention for the Classic. With modern technology it’s certainly possible to bring it to some areas lower in latitude. I would love to see it in San Jose, and think it can be done. We certainly have the know how, because last time I checked, San Jose holds the North American record for lowest latitude outdoor skating rink. It is put up every winter and is very reliable. I think we also have the people to get it done. The Sharks management are the kind of people who would work relentlessly to get it done. I don't think weather would be a bad factor because average temperatures in the South Bay during January and February are about the same as your typical indoor hockey rink. I am also displeased by another reader's comment that a Winter Classic should not be held over here in the Pacific because of weather and tradition. I've explained the weather part. As for the tradition, we have a lot more tradition than most people think. The Kings have been in LA since I think the first NHL expansion, and they've had great teams and players over the years. We also had the now defunct Oakland Seals, so hockey isn't new in the Bay Area either. Plus, I read an article in our city newspaper that said the only soldout games the Sharks have played at were in California and Canada (even LA is selling out) most of the NHL seems to be struggling a little bit, even Detroit I've read is having trouble selling out. And I think, California hockey fans are the most passionate in the game, maybe not in the same way in Canada or the northern US, but we are very loyal, even when are teams are having bad seasons (ex: LA.) For a stadium, possible locations could be Stanford. Lew Wolf also plans to build a new soccer stadium for the San Jose Earthquakes, this could be done in a couple of years, this would be a potential future sight. For the teams, it would obviously be the Sharks, and Anaheim would be great or Dallas, for a divisional rival. But, if you had to get a wider audience, Detroit could come to town. The Sharks and Red Wings certainly have history, not quite a rivalry, but it could work. I'm sure Detroit fans remember our huge upset over them in the 94 playoffs. Then getting revenge the next year. All Sharks fans and players remember bitterly our debacle against the Wings last year, so their is some pretty substantial history between the 2 teams.

Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

-- Daniel Zickuhr, San Jose

Hi Daniel. The Sharks sure seem to have gotten their act together after a middling start that saw them struggle at home. I think it was a case of the cream rising, since the Sharks just have too many talented players to be caught in the pack.

You don’t need a Ph.D in hockey to realize that Nabokov has been one of the best stories this season. And while the strong play of a goalie will make a team’s defense look good, I think the Sharks’ D is an underrated bunch, at least until Campbell came aboard. Now, they have the puck mover needed to take things to the next level. All in all, a very nice team, especially if Patrick Marleau can get going.

***

Hello Mr. Coffey!

You remember from my last letter from Jan. 13, 2008, I connected up to “stream” internet, and am now connected to “stream” internet TV and I can watch NHL games on NASN. It’s fantastic, I can’t believe that it is real. I dreamed about it for life. I saw many games from beginning of Jan. to today, and I have many impressions.

But today, I want to tell you about my impression about Ray Shero 26 Feb. trades, I mean the acquiring of Hal Gill and Marian Hossa. I think that it is -- failure. I understand that there is a corporate ethics, but I think that Mario must tug at Shero's sleeve and veto it. Hal Gill – good def. and nice guy, Pens have a problems on their slot, but cost for Gill is too high: 2008 2nd-Round Draft Pick and 2009 5th-Round Draft Pick. Next, Pittsburgh got Hossa and Pascal Dupuis (2 players) and lost Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and 2008 1st-Round Draft Pick (4 players).With all possible respect to Hossa, he is not that valuable to lose 2 young active players and perspective 2 players. Hossa is not a player which the Penguins needed for a successful playoff. A full team of all Hossas on planet will not win Stanley Cup. Hossa is a good player, but he is not a Jagr or Shanahan. Sure he have a time to became like they are, but it’s different story. I think that Armstrong and Christensen are more value and more productive for Pens then Hossa. And sure Pens 2008 1st-Round Draft Pick is more important for the Penguins future then Hossa. Pens already have good players on the attack, and with time they will be play better and better. Dupuis, I have not seen him enough, but on stats he is not ahead of Armstrong and Christensen.

It is all not acceptable for Penguins. Pittsburgh already lost Michel Ouellet, and Mark Recchi. Sure it’s possible to understand Hossa’s “wish to play in team which is contender for Stanley Cup,” but if the Pens do not win Cup this year, it means that Hossa will move to next team “in search of Stanley Cup”. It’s all very stupid and sad. Penguins get a little and lost a huge. I am very distressed. Why Hossa? Who not Joe Motzko, Brad Richards or Chris Simon?

Thank you very much Mr. Coffey!

-- Richard (NHL hockey fan from cold and far Russia).

Hi Richard. You can’t say the Penguins aren’t going for it this season and I trust that Ray Shero wouldn’t have made such a dramatic move if Mario Lemieux and company weren’t on board.

Remember, that in the playoffs, a one-line team can be defeated, you need diversity up front. Adding a proven scorer like Hossa gives the Pens some impressive firepower. Let’s start with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Now toss in Hossa with Petr Sykora (21 goals), Ryan Malone (23 goals) and a couple of strong offensive defensemen in Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney and you have some diversified scoring.

Did the Pens pay a high price? You bet, but the Thrashers weren’t going to do anyone any favors at the deadline. Atlanta wanted a couple players for now and got them in Colby Armstrong and Eric Christensen, a intriguing prospect in Angelo Esposito and a pick. Yep, it was quite a package, but remember, there were a number of other teams willing to pony up similar packages for Hossa.

***

Hello Phil,

Where can I find out information regarding how many Canadian born players play in the League. Where are they born? Who they currently play for?

-- Jeff

Hi Jeff. Go to our stats page on NHL.com. On the right side of the top box, you will see “Country”. Select Canada and you will get a list of all Canadian-born players in the League. Hope that helps.

***

Why didn’t the Devils trade for an offensive player or two, they are gonna have trouble in the playoffs, with the Pens, Philly and Ottawa making big deals by the trade deadline.

-- Howard Fernando

Hi Howard. I think both Lou Lamoriello and Brent Sutter really like the makeup of this current Devils teams. True, there are nights when the offense is stymied, but it’s hard to argue with the results so far.

Also, I think the price for offensive help, see the Marian Hossa deal as an example, was more than Lamoriello deemed prudent.

***

Bringing Sergei Samsonov aboard has turned out to be a smart move by the Hurricanes as they head to the postseason.

Hey, Phil,

It's easy enough to look at the big, sweeping trades like the Hossa to Pittsburgh deal or the Fedorov and Huet to Washington combo and say who had the best day based on those. However, I'm not going look at the little picture. The best teams get deals done throughout the year, and, in my mind, the team that most improved was the Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina pulled off three major deals -- a key waiver signing, a pre-deadline trade, and a deadline day deal that all visibly, vastly, and immediately improved the Hurricanes roster. No team was able to add to their roster quite like the Hurricanes were.

The signing of Sergei Samsonov was looked upon with confusion. It seemed as though the Hurricanes were adding another headache to an already struggling team. Yet Samsonov has entirely reverted to the form he had when he won the Calder Trophy with the Bruins a decade ago. He's enjoying his time, his teammates are calling him a great presence in the locker room-something he has never been known for and he is scoring in bunches. Since coming over from the Blackhawks, Samsonov has scored 11 goals-two GWG- and added ten assists with a +10 rating, the best on the team in that span. He has been a dominant presence on the ice and is giving opposing goaltenders nightmares. What a steal Samsonov has been.

Carolina then went out and made what looked like a seller's move, shipping Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore to Ottawa for Patrick Eaves and Joe Corvo. The move has paid off brilliantly for the Hurricanes, however. Corvo has rang up a ton of minutes on the point of the Hurricanes’ power play unit and has given Carolina the offensive defenseman it has always lacked. Patrick Eaves is a talented young forward who, after returning from a shoulder injury, has already notched two assists in three games. Both of these guys will be on the Hurricanes for a few years, while Commodore and Stillman are both UFA after this season ends.

At the deadline, the Hurricanes swapped Andrew Ladd for Tuomo Ruutu. Although Ladd is younger than Ruutu, the more experienced veteran has immediately become a big hit in the most literal fashion. Ruutu is a very physical player who doesn't shy away from the rough stuff and he's already got 40 stitches on his face to prove it. He's also a talented forward who has put up three points (one goal, two assists) in his three games with the team, and a +2 rating. His new teammates have already quickly praised his immense toughness and will to win.

So, when all is said and done, it's not the Penguins or the Capitals or any other team that has won the day. It's the Hurricanes. If Carolina gets past round 1 of the playoffs, expect Jim Rutherford to be named GM of the Year again.

-- Seth Dussault

Hi Seth. The proof will obviously be in how the Canes perform in the postseason. Samsonov’s rebirth is a great story to be sure. The deal with Ottawa provided the puck-moving defenseman the ‘Canes wanted and a strong, young player. But even with their free-agent status, that deal cost a couple of very experienced postseason players. And while Ruutu is also very talented, he needs to stay in the lineup to be effective. So, let’s wait and see before we declare any team a winner.

***

G'Day Phil,

Just an idea fro the next Winter Classic. Split the Original Six teams into two groups of three, then use the players from those teams to make up the teams. My choice would be Toronto, Montreal and Boston against Detroit, Chicago and New York.

-- Cheers,

-- Rohan, Australia

Hi Rohan. I think that would take away from the idea that the game would count in the standings in a pretty big way.

***

Hi Phil,

This time, I'd like to be a little bit jingoistic. I think you have no idea how hard it is to be a hockey fan in France. The French championship is very poor in terms of performance. You don't have a prayer to watch a game since none is broadcast on TV. That's the reason why I fell in love with the game as late as 1998 during the Nagano Winter Olympic Games when I saw a hockey game between Russia and Finland where Teemu Selanne had a terrific performance. I just couldn't get my eyes off the screen. The French national team is not competitive. To be honest, there is not much to wax lyrical about in French hockey. But things have changed since Cristobal Huet, whose first name is as uncommon for the French as it is for you Americans, really turned the fortunes of French hockey around. I must admit his transfer from Montreal to Washington came as a shock to me because I can't understand why the Habs decision-makers let him go. I think this is an exciting challenge for Cristobal to play alongside Alexander Ovechkin. I hope the Washington Capitals will make it to the playoffs. He had a couple of brilliant performances and a shutout for his debut. What do you make of this transfer? Do you think it will beef up the Caps defense and help them get into the postseason?

Thanks for your time.

-- Ludovic Dujardin, Pierrelaye, France

Hi Ludovic. The Canadiens decided to make Carey Price their main man in goal, so that accounted for the reasoning on their end. In Washington, Olaf Kolzig had been struggling, so Huet was seen as an upgrade. He has gotten off to a tremendous start with the Caps and we all know that strong goaltending is going to be needed down the stretch and into the postseason, no matter how brilliantly Alex Ovechkins plays.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.

 

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