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Six Things I Don't Know

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
A friend’s wife once said to him: “is there anything you don’t know?”

He seized the moment. “There are six things I don’t know,” he said.

Bad move. She started counting. Turns out he was right…but only if you let him start over every hour of every day.

There are six things I do not know about the Maple Leafs, the National Hockey League and the upcoming season. Honest. Here they are.

1. Why do people delineate between a number three and number four defenceman? I can see a gap between the first pairing and the second.  There can be a seven minute gap between a team’s top pairing and the second unit. Last year, Bryan McCabe averaged 25:55, tops among Leafs defencemen. Ian White, paired with Hal Gil averaged 18:48. But why do people say ‘if he is the number three instead of number four defenceman, your team is in trouble?’

Defencemen work in pairs. Your third defenceman, barring some special team’s tomfoolery, plays about as much as your number four guy.

2. How long will we wait until the first joke about Jeff Finger’s name? You should know: Finger is the only player in NHL whose surname is a body part. Others are close, including his old Colorado teammate Adam Foote, Norm Armstrong, Ralph Backstrom, Jim Korn, Jim Niekamp and Lynn Loyns.

3. Is Randy Carlyle a better coach than Pat Quinn? Is Peter Laviolette more able than Ron Wilson? Conventional wisdom holds that they are. Carlyle and Laviolette are Cup winners, Quinn and Wilson are not. Did Mike Babcock improve substantially as a coach from when he was runner up for the Stanley Cup in 2003 in Anaheim and last season when he won in Detroit? Conversely, did Ken Hitchcock get stupider between the Spring of 1999, when he won the Cup in Dallas and a year later, when he lost in six to New Jersey? Twenty-six coaches have won the Stanley Cup since expansion. Not on that list are Bob Gainey, Craig Hartsburg,

Hitchcock and Quinn, Dave King, Roger Neilson, Joel Quenneville, Doug Riseborough, any one of Darryl, Duane or Brian Sutter, Michel Therien, Dave Tippett, Paul Maurice or Barry Trotz. If a Stanley Cup is the only proof of certifiable coaching ability, there are a lot of imposters out there.

4. Can Mark Bell play for the Leafs? The one player no one is talking about is Bell, who could emerge as a key contributor. After a terrible season in which he endured a 15-game suspension and lost 31 games with a broken orbital bone, Bell is an interesting choice for a comeback season. He has scored 20 goals twice in the league and is conscientious enough defensively.

Everything that could happen to him has happened to him and if Mats Sundin does not return the Leafs will be woefully thin up the middle. Remember, the unlamented Kyle Wellwood was penciled in as the club’s number two centre last season.

5. The question is not whether Mats Sundin is coming back this season? The question is why does everybody think I know? I have been asked more about Mats Sundin’s plans this season than has Mats Sundin. To be fair, I can give you the exact same answer he is giving: “I don’t know.”

6. Do the Leafs trade Pavel Kubina his contractual window for a trade closes on August 15.  Okay, this one I can answer. I take Cliff Fletcher at his word when he says he will have the Bryan McCabe issue resolved at or around training camp. Fletcher is also saying there is a less than 50 per cent chance he will move Kubina.

That leaves Kubina and Tomas Kaberle as the team’s number one unit with a hodgepodge of Finger, White, Jonas Frogren (if they can square his contract with the league), Anton Stralman, Carlo Colaiacovo, possibly Luke Schenn and perhaps a Toronto Marlie. Lots of teams are looking for players who can play nearly half the game and anchor the power play. McCabe will bring some return. With a numerically thin defence, Kubina becomes too valuable to move, especially if Sundin does not return and the Leafs find themselves with abundant cap room.
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