Your rants: Leafs fans want intelligent moves

November, 17, 2009
11/17/09
10:42
AM ET

Oh boy, we've got some disgruntled puck heads out there again this week. I'll do my best to help you out, my friends. Here's 10 rants and my take on them:

Dru1624: What is up with the lack of respect the Detroit Red Wings get? Since they're lackluster start they have put together a 7-1-1 record in their past 9 games and still get no love. That record is without three important offensive weapons that were expected to net around 80 goals. Any other team losing, that type of production would not be able to duplicate the record the Red Wings have put up. I am also sick of hearing that the Red Wings top players are out of their prime (Zetterberg and Datsyuk). Datysuk has always started seasons slowly, and since then, they have turned it on for a combined 25 points in their past nine games. That's more points over the past nine games than the top three scorers on San Jose (Marleau, Heatley, Thornton), the current leader in the West. This is supposed to be a down year for Detroit, but is it time to start considering the Red Wings a legit cup contender?

LeBrun's take: Honestly, Dru1624, I'm not sure what you're talking about. Whenever I've talked about the Red Wings this season, I've talked about the fact they remain a dangerous team, albeit with a bit less bite than the past few years. As you pointed out, they lost some sizable production in Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky, but remain strong thanks to their excellent core. But believe me, even Ken Holland and Mike Babcock took a deep breath before this season. They knew it would be harder. I specifically remember a conversation I had with Holland at the Canadian Olympic camp in August. He was confident he still had a real good team, but knew there would be tougher days ahead, especially early on. But Holland also wants to protect the long-term view, so he's essentially trying to rebuild on the fly and give some young players like Darren Helm, Jimmy Howard and Justin Abdelkader some valuable experience this season. It's something the Wings of old would likely not have done to this degree, but the salary cap NHL doesn't allow for the Wings to beef up their lineup with expensive veterans at every single position (like the 2002 squad). The Wings' front office has adapted as well as anyone to the post-lockout NHL. So what you're seeing this season is a team that can still go deep in the playoffs, but it's come back a bit closer to the pack by necessity.

sniperaim: As a longtime Blues fan, the start to this season has been a huge disappointment. We're 1-7 since the return of captain Eric Brewer, and it's beginning to feel like everybody around the organization is pressing too much. I'm not suggesting there needs to be a change at the top, but it isn't exactly feasible to fire the entire team. Do you think Checketts' press conference was a warning to coach Andy Murray more so than the team? Or do you fully believe him when he says that there are no changes that need to be made? Also, do you have any potential candidates who are ready to coach in the NHL (not just the Blues).

LeBrun's take: I understand your frustration, sniperaim. Expectations were high this season for your team, based on last season's great second half. The thing about high expectations is that while it helps to sell tickets before the season, it puts pressure on the players to deliver. The frustration in the owner's message was clear last week. And from speaking with a member of the Blues' organization, the feeling is that Dave Checketts is especially put off by the team's play at the Scottrade Center, where the Blues have won only twice this season. Not a great way to sell tickets or treat your fans. I also wondered, like you, whether perhaps the coach was losing some of his players, whether his voice was no longer being heard, but I was assured by the same organizational source that that wasn't the case. I honestly feel this team is close to breaking through. They played a darn good game against San Jose on Saturday night and fell short. We'll see if I'm right.

Ihatedallas4: Is there any chance you can grant me with a little bit of Nicklas Backstrom (Caps) love? The kid is 21, was top two (I believe) in points last year, but doesn't get a ton of attention. I know it's probably easier for him to develop in Ovi's shadow, but I would love just a little bit of love and some analysis on his talent and potential in your blog. His 22 points are now tied or ahead of some of the leagues stars: Crosby, Getzlaf, Carter, Kane, Richards, Iginla and even Semin. So please, oh please, Pierre, just give him a little bit of respect on your blog.

LeBrun's take: Ihatedallas4, you are bang on when you point out that young Mr. Backstrom gets less coverage than the other stars on this team. I think some of it has to do with the fact he's a quiet guy who doesn't yearn for the spotlight. You realize that when you talk to him. He's more than OK leaving the spotlight to his superstar linemate. But for the record, sir, I have written about him a few times. Here's one from last January.

awpearlman: I am a Rangers Fan and have big problems with what's happened the past year with their team. First of all, Glen Sather has been here for long enough, that he no longer gets any passes in my book. There defense, particularly Girardi, Rosival and Redden are jokes. In all the years, he's been here we've had no stay at home, strike fear in to people defensemen. Del Zotto, Gilroy, and Stall look good, but they aren't stay at home defensemen. Until Del Zotto, they never had a puck moving defenseman/quarterback for the power play, either. Basically, their defense has been a complete joke, and Renney's conservative style, and the king's stellar goaltending, has made up for it. With Tort's aggressive style, they should have done much better getting defensemen. Also, the guys they got rid of, I don't understand why, or what they got in return. Gaborik is awesome. Dubinsky and Calahan are good, young players. They have the two most hated players in the game in Avery and Brashear, and Avery looks lost in this system. They have no center to play with Gaborik. Basically, this team is getting worse year to year, and I am sick of it.

LeBrun's take: My, my, haven't we become a little greedy in Manhattan? Have we already forgotten that this franchise rode a seven-year, non-playoff streak entering the lockout? Since then, four straight appearances in the postseason. Only five other NHL teams have also achieved that: Anaheim, Calgary, Detroit, New Jersey and San Jose. Only the Devils and Rangers in the East have made the playoffs all four seasons since the lockout. OK, they don't hand out pennants for that, but I'm just trying to give you some perspective. But I do agree, this team is not championship caliber at this point. The majority of Cup champions are built down the middle, and the fact is, the Rangers don't have a bonafide No. 1 center. Until that is addressed, try to settle for another playoff appearance.

Midwest Leaf: As a long time Leafs fan, I've had my share of venting sessions (and ulcers) over the years. I'm thinking that Burke should do something intelligent for a change and pick up Giggy from the Ducks if its a possibility. Gus will be fine as he's still a rookie and will grow. I used to have faith in Tosk, especially after seeing him work his butt off in San Jose, but he's been an inconsistent netminder at best in Toronto, and personally I don t think he s salvageable at this point. Getting a consistent netminder between the pipes will allow Gus to come up naturally without a rush.

LeBrun's take: Midwest Leaf, the Giguere-to-Toronto scenario is one that's been bandied about quite a bit over the past five months or so, mostly from media, of course, but I know both teams did touch on it at one point. The connection began when the Leafs hired away goalie coach Francois Allaire, a favorite of Giguere, from Anaheim. But when Toronto signed Jonas Gustavsson, I think that thought died down, at least from the Maple Leafs' point of view. Right now, the Leafs, I don't think, are comfortable swallowing the rest of Giguere's deal, which pays him $6 million this season and $7 million next year. But here's where it still makes sense to me on some level: Toronto doesn't want to finish near the bottom of the standings since it traded two first-round picks to Boston in the Phil Kessel deal. So if you think Giguere is an upgrade on Vesa Toskala, then perhaps the Giguere-Gustavsson duo is a better combination in goal. And, of course, you've got the fact Giguere would be reunited with Allaire and perhaps act as a mentor to young Gustavsson. The Ducks, to make this deal work, would have to take back some sizable salary from Toronto. It works in theory, but at this point, I don't have the sense the Leafs are interested in this deal. At this point.

dbizness: I believe there was a vent recently about travel for a team like Columbus and possible conference realignment. I'd like to take that idea one step further. The playoffs are amazing, but what makes a postseason even more exciting is a good rivalry. Instead of seeding teams from the entire conference 1-8, I would love to see a return to two divisions per conference and a division championship prior to the conference final. Despite being a Canucks fan who routinely saw his team get trounced by the Flames or Oilers back in the 80's, it was great knowing that those were the teams we would have to beat to do anything. When we finally did take down the Flames, it was monumental due to the years of struggling against them. We need to bring back the old divisions and see some of the same playoff battles played out year after year. Two divisions per conference. Top four in each division make the playoffs. Done.

LeBrun's take: Preaching to the choir, Mr. dbizness. I really miss the old divisional playoff setup. That's where real rivalries were fostered (well, Original Six era notwithstanding). Teams grew to hate each other by playing each other every year in the playoffs. Who can forget those Oilers-Flames playoff tilts in the old Smythe Division, Habs-Bruins or Habs-Nordiques in the Adams, Caps-Penguins in the Patrick Division, etc. Then you had the Norris Division, which also produced memorable playoff hockey in the '80s, but it also provides the basis of the argument for those who don't want to go back to divisional playoffs. At 25-48-7, the 1985-86 Toronto Maple Leafs actually made the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Norris with a measly 57 points. The Buffalo Sabres missed the playoffs that same season after placing last in the Adams Division with 80 points. That was definitely the fly in the ointment with the divisional playoff setup -- the better teams didn't always get in. I would simply argue that things go in cycles and eventually divisions that struggle as a whole become much stronger and vice-versa. To me, it's a small price to pay for the intensity of the '80s playoff series and the memories we still cherish today from those playoff series. I would go back to that setup in a heartbeat.

deanjuice: It's evident of late Getz is getting back to form. Yappy is stronger then ever. BR has been getting his chances all year and will produce big numbers again this year. This line is one of the few reasons to cling to hope as a uks fan (missing D and C for obvious reasons).

We have two superb goaltenders that can win games but haven't. Why?

Uks D allows opponents to skate freely into the slot at will for Grade A chances several times each game. Why?

Little chemistry built throughout team this year and almost all of last year. Why?

Two powerful folks come to my mind.

Mr. Lebrun, can you give us your insight?

LeBrun's take: Deanjuice, I'm as perplexed about the Ducks as you are. I predicted big things for them this year and obviously that can still happen, but the first quarter of the season has been a major, major disappointment. You're talking about a team that was one goal away from eliminating the juggernaut Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the playoffs last spring. I covered part of that series, so perhaps that's why I came into this season intent on remembering the impression the Ducks had made on me. At this point you'd have to say the losses of Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin have been more felt than most of us had predicted. I mean, we all know Pronger is a stud, but you figured with Scott Niedermayer, James Wisniewski and Ryan Whitney as your top three you still weren't in too bad a shape. The flip side was the additions of Joffrey Lupul and Saku Koivu were supposed to give the Ducks the second line they never had last season. Lupul has but nine points through 19 games, and Koivu has eight points in 15 games. So your secondary scoring has yet to develop, your blue line isn't as good, and your goaltending hasn't been as consistent as last season. Not a good recipe. For the life of me, I can't believe this can continue all season long with the names on paper this roster is comprised of. But the question is, will they wait too long and dig too deep a hole before waking up? Last year, the Ducks looked lost in February but got hot during the stretch drive and upset top-ranked San Jose before scaring the bejesus out of Detroit. I believe they still can do it. But it better turn around soon.

harry2299: The Kings have the best team they have had in ages, and as a Kings fan, I couldn't be happier with the progress they've made this season. The only gripe I have is why is Jonathan Bernier still in the AHL. I understand wanting to give him more playing time, but Murray's expecting Quick to play 70 games is unrealistic, and Ersberg seems to have lost all his confidence. Ersberg isn't the answer as a backup, and giving Quick fewer starts to get Bernier some starts would be a plus for the Kings in the win column, as well as getting to see what Bernier can do at an NHL level.

LeBrun's take: Harry2299, interesting that you should ask. It just so happens that Kings GM Dean Lombardi told me he was spending most of this week scouting the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester. So he'll get a first-person look at how Mr. Bernier is doing these days. Judging from the numbers I see on his report card right now, the young goalie has been dynamite so far this season. I will tell you this: The Kings were privately a little concerned about Jonathan Quick's play for the past two weeks or so, but then the U.S. Olympic hopeful beat Tampa and Florida in back-to-back starts the past few days so perhaps he's back to his old self. I still think there's a chance you see Bernier up with the Kings this season. Maybe the Kings carry three goalies for a while?

jss32156: Pierre, I'm at my wits end on this. Last week, Colorado visits my beloved Blackhawks and it goes into OT. With 29 seconds left, Colorado takes a penalty in OT. Now my Blackhawks should get a full two-minute power play, not a useless 29-second penalty. This allows players to take liberty in the final stages of OT and commit a stupid penalty to stop a good scoring chance. Please knock someone upside the head and get them to make OT penalties for the full two minutes.

LeBrun's take: Jss32156, you apparently share a brain with Bob Gainey. The Montreal Canadiens' GM brought this up at a GMs meeting, I believe, two years ago. His specific beef was a little different than yours; he didn't think a player that still had time left on his penalty as the overtime period expired should be allowed to participate in the shootout. I agree with him. As for your specific gripe with penalties in overtime, I wonder if the solution wouldn't be to extend overtime until either a goal is scored on the power play or until the penalty is fully served.

elbarto179 No more standing up for teammates after a clean check. Take it like a man. If you get hit cleanly, find your own way to get in a clean hit. Dirty hits, yeah fight all you want. But a clean hit, that's just hockey. I am tired of these scrums after every hit.

LeBrun's take: Elbarto179, or should I say Ron Wilson. The head coach of the U.S. Olympic team and the Toronto Maple Leafs, brought up this exact point a few weeks ago when a few of us media guys were chatting with him after practice. He thinks it began to creep into the NHL about six-seven years ago. But it is annoying. A clean hit, no matter how devastating, shouldn't warrant retaliation. You defend a teammate if he's been felled by a dirty hit or a dirty play, that's fine, but it's absurd to see how many times a clean hit is followed by a scrum or an actual fight. All the league can do is continue to encourage on-ice officials to penalize those retaliating players and for the most part that's usually been the case.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer

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