Sunday, June 22, 2008

The need for vets

On to the huge news of the day ... the Leafs traded a third round pick for Jamal Mayers. Mirtle is surprisingly restrained considering this is a move only Leaf fans could rationalize.
The mood in Toronto when it comes to the Maple Leafs is as ugly as I've seen it, and even a deal as minor as the one that brought in Mayers this weekend is being met with jeers. I've had a few self-identified Leafs fans over the past few days come by my desk to remark on how getting an "over the hill" checking winger from the Blues was another sign of things gone wrong in Toronto.

The Leafs are in trouble there's no question, but bringing in Ron Wilson, drafting Luke Schenn and GM Cliff Fletcher's talk of tearing down what's there are all positive signs. It's time for a rebuild, and the brass seem to be well aware of that.


But what I don't think you can do in a situation like this is go scorched earth, throwing anything resembling a veteran overboard and putting a club of all kids on the ice, night after night. Prior to bringing in Mayers, Toronto had just two forwards over 30 on the roster, and if, in fact, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina are somehow shipped out, Jason Blake and Tomas Kaberle would be the de facto veteran leaders on the team.

Not exactly stand up and take charge types.

There's a great piece in the latest issue of The Hockey News written by Red Wings GM Ken Holland that talks about his philosophy on team building, and the nine-point plan laid out is something I think all NHL clubs could benefit from.

No. 2, titled "Players learn from others players," reads as follows:
In 2002, we brought Zetterberg over from Europe to watch some playoff games and he said his favorite players were Igor Larionov and Steve Yzerman, then two of our key veterans. I decided it was important to keep Larionov for another year or two, even though he was coming to the end of the line. Coaches can teach players only so much, but they can also learn a lot from veteran players. People look at our team and say we're old, but we're old for a reason. Those guys serve a purpose in our organization. They are there to guide our young players. I'd like to think when an older player is done here, he's done.
More than a roster overhaul, what the Maple Leafs need is an attitude adjustment, a change from the laissez-faire style of leadership that has taken hold for years. That's not going to come from the 24-year-olds, Matt Stajan and Alex Steen, and it's too much to ask of the mild personalities like Kaberle, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov.

Mayers can play a role in Toronto. He stands up for teammates, he fights, hits hard and he's a player others, like newcomer Schenn, can look up to.

He might not be a Larionov, but it's a start, and given he's only 33, there's a chance he'll still be in the mix when the tide (theoretically) starts to turn and this team is ready for a climb up the standings.

Mayers is a local, but grew up without being able to buy a ticket to Maple Leaf Gardens, the son of a single mother who worked two or three jobs to keep him in hockey. Fans here might not yet know him well, but he's a classy individual (nicknamed 'GQ'), an ambassador, and he just might become a fan favourite in the years to come.

He has heart and that's contagious.

That's worth a third-round pick.



At 9:07 a.m., June 22, 2008, Blogger C. said...

I have always said that the problem with "demanding" a rebuild is that the manner in which the team is rebuilt may not be agreed upon by the fans.

I hope Tucker, and McCabe stay, but I never liked Kubina on the team. I also think Blake might need to take a season off because - Masterson Trophy or no - he looks terrible. Exhausted and worn out and all of that.

Mayers might well be able to help. I am taking a "wait and see" attitude.

Finally... there does need to be an attitude adjustment on the team, and while Stajan, Steen, Antropov, and Ponikarovsky may not be able to provide veteran leadership, I wonder how well they will learn it from those players the team already has.

At 9:22 a.m., June 22, 2008, Blogger alex said...

Got a link for the Holland article?

At 9:25 a.m., June 22, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an aside, the third rounder used to obtain Mayers, was the draft pick received from the Panthers for Chad Kilger. Kilger for Mayers is a good swap in my book.

At 10:18 a.m., June 22, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got a link for the Holland article?

Yes, that would be fantastic.

And could someone arrange to have it emailed to every other GM in the league repeatedly? :)

At 10:42 a.m., June 22, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought this move was great for the Leafs. This guy can show the kids what heart is, more than anyone else on that team ever could.

At 11:31 a.m., June 22, 2008, Blogger Black Dog said...

I'm sure Mayers is a terrific guy but my problem with this is they could have gotten a comp as a UFA for nothing but the salary - Dallas Drake types abound.

Giving up a third when you can get same for nothing isn't very bright.

At 1:41 p.m., June 22, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

A UFA will cost you more than Mayers's modest salary (well below the league average) and won't come with quite the same makeup.

Let's face it, a third rounder isn't worth a hill of beans most of the time.

The Hockey News piece is in the magazine. There's no link, but they run something like $4.

At 10:15 p.m., June 22, 2008, Blogger Dennis Prouse said...

I am about as far from a Leafs guy as you can get, and I think that is a solid move for them. Mayers strikes me as a pretty "young" 33, if that makes sense, and is an excellent two way player. I'm surprised that a third round pick is all it took, especially given Mayers' very reasonable cap hit. Even in a deep draft, a third round pick is essentially a lottery ticket. Leaf fans should learn to recognize a good move when they see one.

At 10:16 p.m., June 22, 2008, Blogger sager said...

They had, what, eight forwards under contract? This is not a bad pickup at all ... Mayers will be a veteran stabilizer for a rebuilding team.

He was good enough to play in the worlds in 2007, and now that he's with Toronto, he's assured of being available again next spring.

At 12:13 a.m., June 23, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

He was good enough to play in the worlds in 2007, and now that he's with Toronto, he's assured of being available again next spring.

He might be free to watch any Western Michigan University playoff games.

At 1:55 a.m., June 23, 2008, Blogger The Falconer said...

There is an enormous difference between keeping around a Hall of Fame level veteran and a journey man winger. Hall of Fame level players typically age much better and prove to be of some value even into their late 30s while your more average NHL player often falls off the performance cliff not far past age 33.

Lesson: not all "veteran leaders" are created the same. Confusing the HOF ones with the average ones is a sign of poor management.

At 2:01 a.m., June 23, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Who the hell's comparing Mayers to Larionov? The point here is that the team needs some veteran players and can't rely solely on its youth.

Mayers is coming off a career season in which he played 16 minutes a night and a big role on one of the best penalty killing units in the league. He's an adequate leader on a team that has a huge void. He costs little and plays hard, and the rest of the team will benefit in the future from having played with him.

At 1:03 p.m., June 23, 2008, Blogger The Falconer said...

Well, you did:

"Mayers can play a role in Toronto... He might not be a Larionov, but it's a start, and given he's only 33..."

I'd be pretty upset where a Leafs fan and this is the veteran leadership they are bringing in.

The could have found a 30 year old veteran who has more years left in the tank than this Mayers. Trading away chits to get a checker on the wrong side of 33 is just not very smart.

At 1:40 p.m., June 23, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I'd contend that you're vastly overrating a third-round pick.

At 9:16 p.m., June 23, 2008, Anonymous LeaferSutherland said...

Great post, Mr. Mirtle!

Although a Luke Schenn might be the beginning of rebuilding team talent, a guy like Mayers is the beginning of rebuilding the team's culture.... which is probably the greater of two evils right now.

At 2:51 a.m., June 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, as a Leafs fan, love this move. Agreed you need vets during a rebuild, and at this stage of a rebuild, you need a 2 way hard nosed guy who doesn't take a backwards step and teaches the young guys about the attitude needed to take on the best. You don't wat a 1st liner, you want a 3rd liner who their talents can outstrip, and once enough of them do, you know it's time to go out and get the next kind of vet... the proven winner...

Add an equivalent on defense as a #5/6 & PK guy, play one of McCabe/Kubina with Kabs, other 3 all kids and go the same philosophy, and you've got a blueprint.


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