Kyle Dubas thought Garret Sparks could play goal for the Maple Leafs. He was wrong.
He thought Michael Hutchinson could be a decent backup/third-string goalie for the Leafs. He was wrong.
He thought Petr Mrazek was the goaltender to sign last summer to bring stability and assurance to the Leafs. He was wrong.
Dubas has juggled goaltender determinations in his time as general manager of the Maple Leafs and dropped far too many balls while doing so. And now he has a goaltending crisis of sorts just weeks before free agency begins in the National Hockey League — and he should be the last person, based on his history of goaltending decision-making to be making the rather significant call on who plays goal for the Leafs next season and beyond.
The Leafs fired goaltending coach Steve Briere last week, ostensibly blaming him for an organizational failure. The firing came, not based on one year of work, but on a history of having Briere’s goaltender of choice outplayed in every playoff-clinching game the Maple Leafs faced.
That’s fair and unfair at exactly the same time. It’s fair that the Leafs goalies were outplayed. It’s not fair that the coach is necessarily responsible for who that goaltender happens to be.
What the Leafs need now — and I’m told this isn’t a certainty of any kind — is some kind of management structure that better understands how to draft, trade for, scout and develop goaltenders, something that just hasn’t happened in the Brendan Shanahan years running the Leafs.
Letting Dubas select the next Leafs goalie is akin to throwing darts blindfolded at a target while expecting a bullseye. There have been too many mistakes made already. The Leafs can’t afford any more.
THIS AND THAT
In fairness, scouting goaltenders isn’t exactly science. Most teams don’t do it very well and many teams need luck to find the right goalie. Ed Belfour went undrafted and so did Curtis Joseph. Patrick Roy wasn’t a high draft pick and neither was Dominik Hasek. Igor Shesterkin was a fourth-round pick of the New York Rangers and, before him, Henrik Lundqvist was a seventh-round selection. Teams have been wrong more often than right in looking for goaltenders … It’s not unlike drafting quarterbacks, which NFL teams miss on year after year. That’s how Tom Brady gets chosen after Tee Martin and Spergon Wynn are already selected in the draft. Quarterbacks and goaltenders, the most important single positions in sports, are also the most challenging to properly identify … The Leafs didn’t dislike Briere as a goaltending coach. They disliked the final results. He took the hit for a lot of others who didn’t lose their jobs … John Tortorella has had decent results in the NHL when he has had decent teams to coach. When he didn’t, his teams failed as most lousy teams fail. Tortorella’s caustic personality may be the perfect fit in Philadelphia, but his problem is the team. It’s just not very good or very deep in a very strong and very deep conference … What a wonderful time in history to be a sports fan: You can watch Steph Curry and Connor McDavid and Andrei Vasilevskiy and Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani and Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen and Cale Makar and, in almost every case, you are seeing something that has never been done before — all of them inventing new and original ways to play old games … Four million people tuned in to watch Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on ABC, which is an enormous number for hockey in the U.S. But still nowhere near the 16 million who tuned in for Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
HEAR AND THERE
The Blue Jays agreed to pay $80 million over four years of Hyun-jin Ryu. They got one good season from it, which happened to include a terrible playoff start. The second season was just so-so. This being the third season, it went nowhere. Next season is basically gone because of Tommy John surgery. Those telling you how important a deal this was for the Jays are clearly drinking some flavour of Koolaid … The signing itself was significant. The value — Ryu will not win a playoff game in Toronto — is something that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins will have to explain to corporate ownership. Nobody in any business likes to throw away $40 million, whether insurance pays or not … The Jays announced Saturday that Ryu had “successful surgery.” So we wonder: Has a team ever announced that a player had unsuccessful surgery? … One week is not a career but boy there’s a lot to like in the early days of Blue Jays’ youngster, Gabriel Moreno … So we wonder: Are Nate Pearson and Julian Merryweather the same person or the same pitcher? … Why are the Florida Panthers screwing around with interim coach Andrew Brunette? If you don’t want him, say you don’t him. If you want him to return, give him a contract. Leaving him dangling while the Panthers interview coaching candidates is a terrible way to treat a man who bailed the franchise out from the Joel Quenneville mess and somehow got the Panthers to first overall in the NHL … If you want to remember Shea Weber, his contract now traded to Vegas and who will likely never play again the NHL, remember the guts and determination he played with in the 2021 playoffs and the quality he brought to the 2014 Canadian Olympic team, where he might have been the best tournament player on that undefeated Mike Babcock team … Did the Golden State Warriors win the NBA championship or did the Boston Celtics lose it? The NBA playoffs peaked as something to watch in the first round and after that, there were way too many one-sided games. The average win in the Finals was by 13 points.
SCENE AND HEARD
For all their years sharing New York — as if anyone shares anything with the Yankees — the Mets and the Yankees have only finished first once in the same year. That was 2006. It’s happening again right now, with the Yanks running away in the American League and the Mets with the best record in the National League … I heard this on sports radio while driving in my car on Friday. The gambling expert told me the Jays should be favoured to beat the Yankees that night because they were the hotter team. The Yanks had won 14 of their past 15 games. The Jays had just been blasted by Baltimore. I immediately changed to the all-news channel for information … The NBA is nothing but a giant trade rumour. Almost every day there’s something about some Raptor being dealt somewhere by some source who can’t be identified. OG Anonoby, who wouldn’t say spit if he had a mouth full of it, is apparently unhappy and wants out. The Lakers want Gary Trent Jr. and before that wanted Nick Nurse. This all makes for fascinating conversation even if you don’t believe a word of it … The narrative I hate after every championship is won: Nobody gave us a chance of winning. You heard it from the Golden State Warriors almost seconds after they knocked off the Boston Celtics. Never mind they were the fourth favourite to win the championship at the beginning of the season with some sportsbooks … Next year, a player should come out and say that nobody, except for a few sportsbooks, gave us any chance of winning whatever championship it happened to be … There’s a whole lot of revisionist history about the mess that is Pearson Airport and what COVID-19 has done to make this airport worse. As someone who used to travel 80 days a year, I can tell you this with absolute certainty: Pearson has been terrible since at least 2011. You really notice that when you travel elsewhere … Rory McIlroy’s average drive at the Canadian Open was more than 340 yards. I can drive 340 as well — in a cart.
AND ANOTHER THING
John Hufnagel was inducted along with many other deserving men into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame on Friday night. And few people in the past decades have been as responsible for the growth of football offence than Hufnagel. He was the first CFL coach to use a five-pack of receivers, and the first NFL offensive coordinator to do the same. When I think builder of sport and someone who changed his sport in two leagues, I think Hufnagel, who remains in charge of the Calgary Stampeders … What does it mean to be a builder in the CFL? In the case of the late Leo Cahill, it means to be ignored. Cahill coached the Argos from 1967-72 in his first stint and he was an entertainer beyond compare. In those six years, the Argos led the CFL in tickets sold. He came back for two more years in 1977-78. The Argos were second in the CFL in attendance. The past 11 years, for example, the Argos are last in the CFL in cumulative tickets sold. And for Hall of Fame voters, it’s like those Cahill years never happened … Indulge me for a moment while I get personal: For the past 42 years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work against and alongside Edmonton columnist Terry Jones. By my unofficial count, we’ve travelled to 12 countries together, worked in 48 different cities, doing everything from Olympic Games to heavyweight fights to Grey Cups to Super Bowls to Stanley Cups to World Series and eating steak at way too many Morton’s along the way. I was the diet Coke. He was the rum and diet Coke. At the age of 74, his newspaper career came to an end after 54 years earlier this week. I will miss him terribly. My expense account will not … One last thing I wanted to read from Jones: How Edmonton got screwed out of a place as a Canadian entry in the World Cup of Soccer … Happy birthday to Paul McCartney (80), Kurt Browning (56), Martin St. Louis (47), Dirk Nowitzki (44), Bruce Smith (59), Jacob deGrom (34), Bob Rouse (58), Jordan Poole (23), Caleb Joseph (36), Antonio Gates (42), Mason Marchment (27) and Jim Corsi (68) … And hey, whatever became of Glenallen Hill?
WIGGINS’ TITLE WIN SHOWS CANADA’S HOOPS DEVELOPMENT
By my count, Andrew Wiggins became the eighth Canadian player to win an NBA championship when the Golden State Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
And not only was he part of the title-winning team, but he was central to the Golden State victory. He was significant throughout their playoff and regular-season success.
It hasn’t always been this way for Canadians winning rings. Centre Mike Smrek was a backup to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and was part of two Los Angeles Lakers title-winning teams. Power forward Joel Anthony had a similar role with the Miami Heat in 2012-13. And Chris Boucher became a player of some importance after winning rings in Golden State and Toronto, in which he had almost nothing to do with their championships.
Rick Fox, a pseudo-Canadian who was born here and left early, was a decent NBA player and part of two titles in Los Angeles. Tristan Thompson, now more famous for off-court activities, was part of the Cleveland win in 2016. And Bill Wennington is certainly fortunate to have won titles with the Chicago Bulls team of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Former Raptor Cory Joseph became a better player after winning a championship in San Antonio in 2014 and just finished his 11th NBA campaign.
The best Canadian of all, Steve Nash, never won an NBA crown. Those playing currently and still searching for a title include R.J. Barrett, Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dillon Brooks.
YZERMAN’S FINGERPRINTS REMAIN ON LIGHTNING ROSTER
There must be a part of Steve Yzerman, knowing how uber-competitive he is, knowing the kind of pride he takes in his work, that he looks at the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and takes some private ownership of their remarkable run of success.
Especially at a time when his Detroit Red Wings are moving up, but battling to return to relevance in the NHL.
Yzerman was more than fortunate in Tampa Bay to start as a new general manager. He inherited the previous first-round picks, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Where do you sign up for that?
But he followed that up by drafting Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat in 2011, Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012, Jonathan Drouin in 2013, who was traded for Mikhail Sergachev, and Brayden Point selected in 2014. What a four-year haul that was for Yzerman and his scouting staff in Tampa Bay.
Another discovery along the way was Jon Cooper, who is almost in a class by himself among NHL coaches.
Tired of living away from his family, Yzerman decided to go home and run the team he played for in Detroit before the Lightning won their first Cup. But his fingerprints are all over this championship run, still, even as general manager Julien BriseBois has done wonderful finishing work in keeping the Lightning sharp.
And while Yzerman inherited Stamkos and Hedman, BriseBois inherited those two all-stars plus Vasileskiy, Kucherov, Point, Palat, Alex Killorn, plus salary cap issues that almost every team now faces. He has added nicely this year and two years ago to complete the Lightning picture, even if they don’t win their third straight title this year.
What Yzerman did in Tampa Bay reminds me a little of what Dale Tallon did with the Chicago Blackhawks. He put almost all the pieces together. And Tallon was let go before the Blackhawks would win three Stanley Cups in Chicago.
Those titles were partially his, just as the Lightning more than partially belong to Yzerman.