May 1, 2011
Could young stars be the answer for Leafs?
By Steve Simmons, QMI Agency
Just how much would Shea Weber, Steven Stamkos or Drew Doughty be worth to the Maple Leafs?
Are they worth relinquishing four years of first-round draft picks for?
Are any one of them enough to turn the Leafs from also-rans to Stanley Cup contenders?
That's something general manager Brian Burke has to be considering — with three of hockey's young stars heading to restricted free agency on July 1 — and knowing the kind of impatience he has shown in trying to build the Leafs the old-fashioned way. While Burke has previously spoken out against going after restricted free agents, he has said recently he has no objection to going that route if he deems it necessary.
In the case of each of Weber, Stamkos and Doughty, teams are dealing with limited budgets and an over-the-top Leafs offer may put those clubs in peril of having to match the offer. The compensation for any restricted player over $5 million US a season is four first-round picks.
That wouldn't be problematic for the Leafs if the four picks turned out to be Alex Steen, Carlos Colaiacovo, Brad Boyes and Luca Cereda. But might be if the picks turned out to be Vincent Damphousse, Wendel Clark, Al Iafrate and Russ Courtnall, whom the Leafs selected between 1983 and '86.
With Stamkos finding his playoff form and Tampa winning, and Weber nominated for the Norris Trophy, it is a ripe time to have this conversation or at least consider the possibilities. All of them could be signed with their existing teams by July 1.
But what if they're not?
This and that
What are we supposed to get excited about now? We've seen overtime in Game 6 and 7 between Vancouver and Chicago. If that had been the Stanley Cup final rather than the opening round of the playoffs, we'd be talking about the greatest ending to a Cup final ever: So now what? ... Used to think that Maple Leafs and Senators fans were the most jumpy and paranoid in all of hockey. Turns out I was wrong: Based on e-mail and online response in this week of raw nerves, it's Canucks fans. By a landslide ... It still hasn't been determined if NHL players will take part in the 2014 Winter Olympics, but if they are, you can pretty much pencil in Carey Price as one of the Canadian goalies and P.K. Subban as one of the defencemen. They are that terrific ... Ron Wilson take note: Tampa Bay, the come-from-behind winners against Pittsburgh and now leading Washington, has outscored its playoff opponents 9-1 on special teams in the post-season ... Are the San Jose Sharks, goaltender aside, beginning to take on the aura of the 1993 Montreal Canadiens? Those Habs won 10 overtime games in a row en route to the Stanley Cup. In seven playoff games to date, the Sharks have won four in overtime. And they don't exactly have Patrick Roy in the nets ... Ken Hitchcock was sounding like the late, great Harry Ornest -- Gawd, I miss Harry -- when he said of Jeff Skinner: "I've got suits older than him and if you had asked me last summer, I had a car older than him."
Hear and there
The great robbery everybody knows about: Phil Esposito to Boston. The great robbery nobody talks about, especially in light of the Boston-Montreal rivalry: Ken Dryden and Alex Campbell to Montreal in exchange for Boston's Paul Reid and Guy Allen. By the way, none of Campbell, Reid or Allen ever played an NHL game ... The Patrick Chan win at the world figure skating championship complicates the early Lou Marsh Award conversations. It was Milos Raonic's award to win until Chan won the worlds, and to think, it's only May and Joey Votto's hitting only .378 ... Still can't believe it's May. Is this year on fast forward, or what? ... Just an opinion, but Dominic Moore, in Toronto, in Montreal, now in Tampa, is the best million-dollar veteran player in hockey. Why he can't get better contracts is one of the great mysteries of our time ... Where is Peter Loubardias when you need him? Named to the Team Canada roster: Mario Scalzo Jr. ... The more Tomas Kaberle exposes himself with the Boston Bruins -- Boston is what 0-for-2,000 or so on the power play in the playoffs -- the less he will get paid, the less demand there may be for his services in the off-season ... Firing the coach made sense for the Ottawa Senators. You could have made a case for firing the GM. But firing the PR man? In my dealings with Phil Legault, I thought he was among the best in the business. Can't blame him for all those lousy goaltenders.
Scene and heard
Strange, how the ultra-patient, not-about-this-year Blue Jays have no patience for Travis Snider's swings and misses but daily send E5, Edwin Encarnacion, out to play third base ... When Tom Wright was commissioner of the Canadian Football League, he had fears about the Buffalo Bills coming to Toronto and selling 55,000 seats at the Rogers Centre at crazy prices. Now, he's running UFC Canada, selling 55,000 seats for Georges St-Pierre, charging ridiculous prices, and getting away with it ... The real numbers on the Phoenix Coyotes; They lost $36.6 million this season ... If Todd Gill is as selfless and gives as much of himself as a coach as he did as a player, he should grow into a fine junior coach. Gill has taken over from Doug Gilmour in Kingston, who bumped himself up to general manager ... Question on another Kingston boy, Kirk Muller: Who gets to him first, New Jersey or Dallas as next head coach? And can either of those teams afford to be wrong? ... Okay, so this was just a coincidence, but on the day of the Royal wedding, Prince Fielder hit a home run ... Was it just me, or did cellphones kill the drama of Thursday night's first round of the NFL draft. Normally, you wait to see who gets drafted next. But with shots of the awaiting player, it was easy to tell who was being selected next. He was the guy on the phone talking to his new team.
And another thing
More Kingston stuff: Why wasn't Don Cherry all excited about Mike Schad, when the kid who went to school in Kingston became the first Canadian university player ever drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, the way he was trumpeting Danny Watkins this time around? ... What a time for pro sports in Tennessee: The Predators win their first Stanley Cup round and the former Vancouver Grizzlies win their first playoff round, knocking off the suddenly old San Antonio Spurs ... The team I don't want to play against for about the next decade: The Detroit Lions with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on their defensive line ... Another sure-thing Olympian for 2014: John Tavares, with eight goals in eight games for Team Canada in world championship play ... My only explanation of this NFL off-season: Legal ping-pong ... Last year, Derek Jeter started to look like he couldn't play shortstop anymore, losing both some arm and some range This year, it's looking like he can't hit anymore. Hate when this happens to the legends ... Happy birthday to Roy Lee Jackson (57), Amir Johnson (24), Bryan Marchment (42), Rich Butler (38), Wes Welker (30), Charlie O'Brien (51) and Jen Botterill (32) ... And hey, whatever became of Daniel Berthiaume?
Under the control of UFC
As I write this, I'm ostensibly being held hostage in the football press box at the Rogers Centre awaiting UFC 129. The rehearsal sound is deafening. The place looks all dressed up -- amazing, really -- and ready to go. And security is on high alert. The door to the press box is locked. The door to the 300 level is locked. If you want to just walk around and take in the atmosphere, you can't. You must be accomplanied by security to your press box seat. I've been to just about every kind of sporting event worldwide -- Olympics, championship fights, Super Bowls -- and never seen anything like this. This sets new standards for control. It is Hotel California-like: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. If you never hear from me again, blame the UFC.
The questions ae now a moving target for Jose Bautista. The season began with: Was last year a fluke? Can he live up to the expecations of his new large contract? How many home runs can he hit? To what has now emerged one month into the big league season: Is Bautista the best hitter in the American League? And taken one step further: Is Bautista the best player in the American League? What all the answers end up being, we know this much: Whatever happened last season with Bautista was both real and spectacular. From the last month of the 2009 season to the first month of this season, he has hit a home run every 10 at bats with the Blue Jays. It's time baseball started accepting what this man has accomplished.
There is little doubt the Tampa Bay Lightning would be alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs were it not for the play of goaltender, Dwayne Roloson and forwards Dominic Moore and Sean Bergenheim. And all three were acquired at virtually no cost by first-year general manager Steve Yzerman. Yes, he inherited a team that had Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, but he strongly supplemented the lineup by changing half the Lightning defence, bringing in a first-rate goalie, adding leadership with Simon Gagne, hiring Guy Boucher to coach and teaming Moore and Bergenheim on a very effective third line. One year after the gold-medal run in Vancouver, Yzerman is a candidate for general manager of the year in the NHL. The nomination is well-deserved.