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Stars Generate Conversation

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Kids, it’s story time.

Story number one. Don Cherry once slagged the great Russian star Pavel Bure. The media pressed Bure for a response. He just shrugged. “Do you get angry at the clowns at the circus?” he said.

And so we come to Dion Phaneuf and the 161 members of the brotherhood who voted him the most overrated player in the NHL via a poll in Sports Illustrated.

Cherry is an entertainer. Arguing about a player poll is like debating whether the best cotton candy is pink or blue.

Statistically, there is no doubt Phaneuf is among the league’s best defencemen. He is sixth in points, fifth in shots, eleventh in time on ice and second in total shifts. There are statistical grounds for dissent.  The fabulously interesting Powerscout  Hockey site for example ranks Phaneuf 17th in their advanced Point Shares rating system.

Right now Phaneuf is playing with a face that looks like the bottom watermelon in the bin. He and his sidekick Carl Gunnarsson are the pivot point of the defence of an emerging Leaf team. He commands the unquestioned loyalty of the players he captains.

Lists are fun. They generate buzz.  Look no further than Mike Komisarek, number ten on the list.  Will the person who considers Mike Komisarek to be among the league’s top defenceman please step forward.

Let me ask you this: how often do you find a prominent Toronto Maple Leaf who is underrated?

For a Toronto media person, this story is a blessing.  First, it has a two-day life cycle. Brian Burke, as is his habit, huffed a little when asked Wednesday. Today Phaneuf gets the question and voila, a nasty gap in the schedule between Tuesday’s win over Buffalo and Friday’s rematch in Buffalo is nicely bridged.

God Bless Sports Illustrated and God bless player polls.

Story number two:  A man named James Dougherty married Marilyn Monroe on her 16th birthday. He warmed things up for Joe DiMaggio. Interviewed years later, he said the marriage ended because she insisted on being Marilyn Monroe movie star instead of Mrs. James Dougherty, housewife.

James Dougherty gets my vote as the stupidest man in the history of human endeavour.  It's his story that he split with the most beautiful and desirable woman on the planet because she wouldn’t cook. Buddy, if I’m living with Marilyn Monroe I order in.

Which brings us to Nazem Kadri, often scorned for his indiscriminate creation of scoring chances split between his team and the other guy’s.

Kadri is 21. He has three goals and five points in 12 games with the Leafs. He is plus five. In 44 games with the Marlies he had 41 points and was a plus-two. 

The Leafs, maybe you have heard, are involved in a lengthy search for a number one centre.
Bigger and skilled would be wonderful. Young, gifted and prickly would do in a pinch.

I think of James Dougherty when I consider Nazem Kadri. Never mind the pancakes. Kadri’s passes are so spectacular, the intended recipients are often too stunned to convert them.  Star quality: accept no imitations.

Story number three: In the 1930s there lived as dedicated a bank robber as you will ever find.
His name was Willy Sutton and sadly in the way of bad bank robbers, Willy lacked the elusiveness to match his ambition. He was a gentleman, never killed anyone and it is said interrupted his robberies if his actions caused a woman to scream or a child to cry.

During the course of his arrests and jail breaks, someone asked Willie why he kept robbing banks. “Because that’s where they keep the money,” he said.

From the opposition blue line in is where they keep the money.  God gave us goalies and stay-at-home defenceman to clean the dishes.

Underrated or overrated or somewhere in between, stars prod conversation and regularly arrest our attention.  There are no minor stars. Phaneuf is one. Kadri looks like he may be another. More, it seems to me, would be welcome.

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