March 31, 2012
Simmons says: Peddie's cheapness caused some of Burke's messLeafs should look at Russians ... Who the Habs should be calling ... Turns out we've been saying Hechavarria's name wrong
By Steve Simmons, QMI Agency
TORONTO - You can trace the origins of the sad demise of the Maple Leafs back to a single decision that then-CEO Richard Peddie made on Aug. 23, 2003.
A decision that, more than anything else, has been responsible for the lack of playoff games in Toronto since the season lost to lockout. A decision that cost Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the company Peddie is so often credited with building, somewhere between $60- and $100-million in lost playoff revenue alone.
Peddie went on the cheap and hired John Ferguson Jr. as general manager and he got even less than he paid for. The baton was passed from the fired Ferguson to the caretaker Cliff Fletcher, to an impatient and overpaid Brian Burke. Peddie paid too little for Ferguson, too much for Burke, who has spent the past three-plus seasons ridding himself of those who used to play here.
Burke has failed just as Ferguson, for completely different reasons, in completely different ways, failed. But if you go back to the beginning, so much of Burke’s early work was undoing the mess Ferguson had made.
That’s not giving him a free pass in any way. He has made his share of errors. But when you look back, big picture, the single determination made by Peddie in 2003 remains significant almost a decade after the disastrous decision.
THIS AND THAT
Should Brian Burke be fired? No. Should he be forced to explain where he is and where he is going to the new ownership of the Maple Leafs, absolutely. And if they don’t like the answers, then they can act accordingly ... Funny, when the Bell and Rogers people had that gushing press conference to announce their partnership of the Leafs, Raptors et al, I remember them talking championships. Don’t remember them talking lottery picks ... Wonder how Burke feels about Russians: Should the Leafs remain a contender in the draft lottery, they will get a shot at one of the following talented kids: Nail Yakupov is expected to go first in the draft. He’s a winger with all kinds of skill. But the centres to watch are Mikhail Grigorenko and Alex Galchenyuk, both of whom born a year later than Yakupov and both 6-foot-2. The sleeper of the draft might be previously injured Galchenyuk, who missed all but two games of his junior season in Sarnia ... No wonder the Leafs are 14th in the East when you look at the statistical areas Ron Wilson needed to attack this season. It was something much discussed. The Leafs are last in the East in penalty killing, second last in goals against, and third last in goals against/goals differential. If you can’t address those areas, you can’t possibly succeed.
HEAR AND THERE
Going forward, the major difference between the semi-awful Montreal Canadiens and the semi-awful Maple Leafs. The Habs have Carey Price in goal. He’s a top-eight NHL goalie, maybe better than that. And the Leafs have...? ... If I’m Geoff Molson and I’m hiring the next GM of the Habs, my first conversation is with player agent, Pat Brisson. Several former agents, including Pierre Lacroix, Burke, Mike Gillis, have had successful runs as general managers in the NHL. My second conversation would be Pierre McGuire, who reminds me of a young Ron Caron, with his outward enthusiasm and his encyclopedic knowledge of players in the NHL and those at the junior level ... While much is made of the Leafs-Habs comparisons, consider this: Since the lockout, Montreal has played 48 playoff games, missing the playoffs just twice. In the four years prior to this one, they’ve played in 42 post-season games ... Be honest, if you can afford a Raptors ticket, you can afford to buy your own damn slice of pizza. But I did love Dwane Casey’s line about the Raptors scoring 100 at home. He thinks it’s such a feat that sponsors should be giving out entire pizzas, not just slices, for the accomplishment.
SCENE AND HEARD
Thirty one seasons of writing about the NHL and I’ve never seen anything like this Maple Leafs collapse. Nothing even close ... An ex-Leafs employee points out that three Toronto first-round picks — Tuukka Rask, Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo — have become important players on Boston and St. Louis, two of the better teams in the NHL. Previous management, no worse than current management, traded Rask for Andrew Raycroft and Steen and Colaiacovo for Lee Stempniak. How’d that work out? ... What a shame it would be should Phil Kessel drop out of the top ten in scoring in the final days of the season. He has been in the top five since Day 1. But as part of the Leafs blowup, his numbers have been in decline ... You wonder how important Joffrey Lupul is to the Leafs: In the 12 games since Lupul went out with injury, the Leafs have scored only 20 goals and been shut out four times ... Don’t you want to be in that meeting with Randy Carlyle and Burke when the topic of Dion Phaneuf’s captaincy comes up? I can see Carlyle rolling his eyes already ... Impressive: The never-aging Ray Whitney with 50 assists and how about the Mississauga kid, Matt Moulson, with his third straight 30-goal season on Long Island? Most amazing Moulson stat: On a team that has allowed 40 goals more than it has scored, Moulson is a plus player.
AND ANOTHER THING
Should it happen and the Phoenix Coyotes be moved to Quebec City, then it’s obvious the great coach, Dave Tippett, would not accompany the team north for linguistic reasons. That would make Tippett the top free agent coach of the summer in a market where there could be upwards of seven openings around the NHL ... This is a personal first: I got kicked out of a minor hockey game before it began by a power tripping Zamboni driver, who refused to continue flooding the ice because I went the wrong way to my team’s bench. He wouldn’t continue until I left the building ... Tough spot for agent Don Meehan, who represents Leafs captain Phaneuf and fellow defenceman Luke Schenn — the two aren’t getting along ... I guess hiring Dennis Rodman as my accountant wasn’t the smartest move I’ve ever made ... I don’t get this Paul Bissonette craze. I follow him on Twitter. Don’t find it all that interesting or ground breaking ... Turns out all this time the Blue Jays have been mispronouncing the name of prized infield prospect Adeiny Hechavarria. They call him Hech-a-varria. He says it’s pronounced Etch-a-varria. The H is apparently silent ... John Farrell had never seen it before in a game — Anthony Gose stealing second, third and home in the same inning against the Red Sox. He hopes to see it in the big leagues one day ... I keep hoping the Raptors are lousy enough to get a shot at Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. I’ve kind of given up hope that they’re lousy enough to draft franchise-changer Anthony Davis ... As of Saturday, former Burke intern Joe Nieuwendyk has Dallas, with the 28th lowest payroll in the NHL, is in the playoffs ... Happy Birthday to Rusty Staub (68), Randy Orton (32), Scott Stevens (48), Phil Niekro (73), Darren McCarty (40) and John Axelrod (29) ... And hey, whatever became of Bobby Heenan?
OF SUGAR AND THE SWEET
The best beat I ever had really doesn’t exist much anymore: So much time was spent in Las Vegas or Atlantic City writing about Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis or Razor Ruddock or Ray Leonard or Marvin Hagler, so much of the time spent listening to and being captivated by Bert Randolph Sugar. He wasn’t just the voice of his sport, or the historian, he was the Pied Piper of boxing. He spoke and we followed. He told stories and we listened. In a sport so full of characters, he stood alone, forever with an unlit cigar between his lips, a pair of loud checkered pants that rarely matched his loud checkered sports jackets, and almost always wearing some kind of hat. The bar time with Sugar was as memorable as most of the fights. His voice and his detail was unmistakable. Sugar passed away at the age of 75 last Sunday. He and his sport will both be missed.
A BRIEF JAYS ANALYSIS
I’m figuring somewhere between 86 and 90 wins for the Blue Jays. The optimism doesn’t come from their bloated spring training record as much as it comes from watching the internal belief this club appears to have in Dunedin. Two things will be significantly better than last year: 1. Overall team defence; 2. The bullpen. The Jays floundered in the outfield last season with Corey Patterson and Rajai Davis, but have solidified their outfield with Jose Bautista strong in right, Colby Rasmus solid in centre and Eric Thames, having improved his throwing, in left. A full season of Brett Lawrie at third base also strengthens the Jays. My biggest concerns: Starting pitching after Ricky Romero and Adam Lind’s bat and back, neither of which appear to be right at the moment.
THE GOLDEN BRETT
Brett Lawrie will start the season batting seventh for the Blue Jays. Don’t expect him to end the season batting seventh. In fact, there are those who would tinker with the Jays’ everyday lineup, moving Lawrie to either third or fourth in the order, depending on where you want to see Jose Bautista bat. Yunel Escobar will lead off, followed by Kelly Johnson then Bautista. Manager John Farrell will start the season with Adam Lind hitting cleanup, assuming he’s able to play. Then it’s Edwin Encarnacion at DH in the fifth spot, followed by centre fielder Colby Rasmus. And then Lawrie at seven. The idea is to not put too much pressure on Lawrie, who seems to welcome pressure. But you can make a case that with Lawrie’s confidence and his base-running ability, he would be best suited for third, followed by Bautista, rather than the opposite. Either way, there will come a time in the season when manager Farrell will have to address his order. But the betting here is that Lawrie will be batting third or fourth before the year is over.