• Dan Barnes is wrong, for once

    by  • June 24, 2008 • Uncategorized • 25 Comments

    My standard reaction on reading a Dan Barnes column is to nod, think “Yep, that sounds right” and move on with my day. I largely agree with his latest column on the latest twist in the long running Mats Sundin story, and particularly his characterization of Toronto’s media as ravenous and self-centered. I would have used more vulgar epithets but reasonable people can differ and he is writing for a family publication.

    The part that I can’t agree with is this:

    Sundin won’t be the most desirable unrestricted free agent on July 1, assuming he doesn’t sign with Montreal in advance of the deadline. He doesn’t really belong in the top three spots, which ought to be occupied by Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell and Ryan Malone, given the benefits of their age and upside.

    I’ve said my piece about Ryan Malone in a post below this one and elsewhere. I have a very difficult time with the suggestion that he is a more desirable UFA than Mats Sundin. Mats Sundin has posted amazing numbers over the past few years. There’s a reasonable argument to make that his scoring rates are better than Hossa’s; he’s a hundredth of a point behind in terms of ES scoring but blows him away in PP scoring rates. I don’t really think that there’s an argument to be made that Sundin has been playing in a better scoring environment either.

    Sundin

    Sundin plays against the opposition’s best. The Leafs got significantly better results this past season when he was on the ice, even with the stiff competition: the Maple Leafs were +18 at 5×5 when Sundin was on ice, -25 when he wasn’t in 2007-08.

    I accept that there’s downside for Sundin but he’s a far lower risk add for a hockey team. He might cost $7MM annually but it’s only going to be for a year or two. A lot can happen over the course of seven years at $8MM per which is the range for what Hossa is going to cost. You aren’t going to make Mats Sundin the centrepiece of your future but for teams loaded with young talent that’s cheap for the time being but will get expensive shortly, he may well be more attractive than Hossa. He’d be a fantastic addition for Montreal, I think, because he’s strong in one of their areas of weakness and his salary will be off the books before they need to start paying some of their younger guys.

    Barnes’ bit about upside is, in my view, entirely groundless. As much as it pains me to admit this, there’s little left in the way of hockey development for hockey players born in 1979. Checkers are checkers, scorers are scorers, second/third line types are second/third line types and those who had to fall back on law school to avoid living on the streets on lawyers. Ryan Malone is not going to turn into a 70 or 80 point scorer at this stage in his career. He is, by and large, what he is. I’ve been thinking and I can’t think of a guy who made that leap at age 28 or later and had it be a real leap as opposed to a year where every thing one.

    Of course, Barnes doesn’t just rest his case on the upside of Ryan Malone. He goes on to take some jabs at Sundin’s character:

    The fact is he’s old, rather set in his ways, and simply hasn’t demonstrated the heart or appetite for anything but retirement or a continuation of a solid though largely unspectacular reign as a Maple Leaf captain whose team never wins anything.

    …When he led the reverse mutiny at the trade deadline, refusing to jump the leaky Leaf ship and go anywhere as a rental player, we were told it was his innermost wish to stay with Toronto because he didn’t think the role of rental player would be comfortable or fulfilling, even if he won a Cup.

    I don’t know where this comes from other than Sundin’s refusal to let Cliff Fletcher move him at the trade deadline. Is there something wrong with a guy not wanting to uproot himself for a one month to three month period after a long period in a single place? I’ve never quite understood why that’s so contemptible, particularly when he took less money to play in Toronto last year.

    As for his unspectacular reign as Leafs’ captain, I’m struck by two things there. The first, the obvious point, is that Mats Sundin hasn’t been the president of MLSE the past three years. He hasn’t been the GM. The second is the absurdly short view of history taken by Barnes. Sundin’s reign as Leafs captain is described as “largely unspectacular” – the Leafs have gone to the conference finals twice with him as captain and he’s played well in the playoffs despite a supporting cast that’s been underwhelming throughout. His career playoff numbers are good. In my mind, there’s one question that matters: has Mats Sundin been an elite player in his given role on the Maple Leafs? I don’t see how the answer can be anything but yes. If he’s been an elite player in his role, why should blame for the failures be heaped on him? It doesn’t make sense to me.

    Just a little more about Malone. I’m guessing that it’s his playoff performance that has guys like Robin Brownlee and Barnes so over the moon about him. He did score on a 25 goal, 65 point pace in the playoffs, something he’s never approached in a regular season. What just baffles me about that is that of all the reporters in all the towns in all the world, it’s guys in Edmonton who have fallen in love with a guy who takes a few pucks to the face during the course of a playoffs in which he scored at a slightly better rate than he ever has in the regular season.

    You’d think that sitting next to Fernando Pisani in the press box for the first half of this year after watching him score 14 goals in 2006-07 after signing a 4 year $10MM deal would make them leery of judging a guy on the basis of a solid playoff performance. Maybe trying to get quotes out of Dwayne Roloson after he’s backed up Garon for the last 15 games after getting $11MM for his playoff performance would make them question the wisdom of this. These guys have had the price blowing a judgment on a player because of a nice 20 game playoff stretch on display for them for the past 164 Oiler games but they’re still hyping Malone. It’s mind boggling.

    Barnes and Brownlee might be right and there may be a fat contract out there for Ryan Malone. There probably is – there’s a ton of demand for hockey players, the supply in the FA market stinks, NHL teams have shown themselves to be poor judges of what attributes make a player worth acquiring and two or three of those teams competing against one another can push the market for a player through the roof.

    It’s happened countless times before with guys like Malone, players on a team that achieved success, who were either part of the supporting cast to better players or who went on a real run at a high profile time and were paid far more than their individual history would suggest that they were worth. Ask the Boston Bruins how well the Martin Lapointe signing worked out. Ask the Chicago Blackhawks how far into the playoffs they’ve been taken by Nikolai Khabibulin. Ask Doug MacLean how many playoff appearances he got out of Adam Foote. I’m having a hard time thinking of an example of a player plucked from a supporting role on a team that enjoyed success and placed into a larger role somewhere else, who went on live up to the contract that came with the promotion in role.

    To me, the interest in Malone strikes me as being almost the diametrically opposite position of Barnes’ dislike for Sundin. The assessment of the individual is too greatly influenced by the success or lack thereof of the team. The assessment of Sundin is clouded by the Leafs’ recent failures and his refusal to help Leafs management get back on the road to making piles of profit by uprooting his life; the assessment of Malone is too sunny because of the situation that he’s in. In my view, he’s one of the top two forwards available and any team in the NHL would be better off signing him than signing Malone, given the likely price and term each will command. To be honest, I can’t really believe that they’re part of the same conversation.

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    25 Responses to Dan Barnes is wrong, for once

    1. lowetide
      June 24, 2008 at

      You do know that with every word you type about Malone (his value vs. dollars to be spent) it further seals that EDM is his destination?

      I mean, you ARE aware that you’re inviting this right? Just ask speeds about the time he suggested Devan Dubnyk belonged in the middle of the second round.

      Don’t TEASE THE GODS!!!

      Greg Malone is a very fine player and any team would be thrilled to have him.

      There. Fixed.

    2. mc79hockey
      June 24, 2008 at

      Best of luck to the Calgary Flames this playoff season, right?

      I simply cannot remember a less distinguished player generating more collective insanity. It’s particularly bizarre because Brownlee and Barnes are both upper echelon hockey writers. They aren’t dumb guys. I actually pushed Brownlee on this, in the context of a post bagging on him for his refusal to acknowledge the usefulness of the numbers and got this out of him:

      As for Malone, I know what I think about him as a player after watching him play. I’ll go with what I see on the ice and what I hear about him from his teammates and opposing players and coaches — if that’s OK.

      and, in fairness to him, this:

      Again with Malone. While I like him for reasons I talked about in the post about him after he got the puck in the kisser, beyond playing closet GM, which was the premise of the article, I’m not “on the Malone bus” even if I like his grit and his jam.

      In the real world, there’s no way to justify the amount of money he’s bound to get as a UFA. There’s no way he makes sense at, say, $5 million, over many other cheaper and younger players I can think of.

      Might have brought him around a bit by the end but still…

    3. oilman
      June 24, 2008 at

      I remember the Leafs/Oilers (Dave Keon) game where Staios was trying to contain Sundin behind the net and Sundin muscled him off the puck, dipsy doodled to the front of the net with Stevie hanging on his neck, and scored what looked like an empty netter against Roloson……….the Leafs are going to be so bad without him – what are they thinking.

    4. June 24, 2008 at

      I’ve been thinking and I can’t think of a guy who made that leap at age 28 or later and had it be a real leap as opposed to a year where every thing one.

      Jason Blake.

      And I completely agree on Sundin, incidentally. The amount of nonsense written about a guy who has consistently been among the top half-dozen centres in the NHL is just bizarre.

    5. June 24, 2008 at

      Agreed all around. Maybe it bears repeating: when the Oil lost to the Isles in the ’83 SCF, 17 of their 19 regulars were younger than Ryan Malone and his “upside”.

    6. chad
      June 24, 2008 at

      I remember the Leafs/Oilers (Dave Keon) game where Staios was trying to contain Sundin behind the net and Sundin muscled him off the puck, dipsy doodled to the front of the net with Stevie hanging on his neck, and scored what looked like an empty netter against Roloson………

      oh god…thanks for reminding me.

    7. mc79hockey
      June 24, 2008 at

      The Sundin goal is here, for masochists. He popped two against the Oilers in that game, all part of the Oilers road trip towards the trade of Ryan Smyth and death of the 06-07 season.

    8. Sean
      June 24, 2008 at

      Considering all the rumors that Montreal was going to bid hard on Hossa, the persue of Sundin seems like a better match.

      1st place team in the East + Tanguay + Sundin = cup favorites?

      With 2 years until Cogliano and Gagner need extensions, that would have been a good move for the Oilers to attempt. Ah well, 6 million for Malone it is …

    9. oilman
      June 24, 2008 at

      word now is Sundin will go to free agency and his people contacted the Rangers to see if there was interest – so he seems hell bent on staying in the East – but if there is a free Agent who’s worth the Oilers taking a 2year $8mil per stab at, I think Sundin is the guy. I always wondered what he could do with a supporting cast? cough…114pts…cough

    10. oilman
      June 24, 2008 at

      I’ve been thinking and I can’t think of a guy who made that leap at age 28 or later and had it be a real leap as opposed to a year where every thing one.

      Craig Conroy…and I think he was 31

    11. Bruce
      June 24, 2008 at

      Sundin does look like a good fit in Montreal. Don’t forget he had several good years in that province early in his career (BCOTU), and it would take about a nanosecond for Habs fans to fall in love with him. It’s a high skill team what with Kovalev, Koivu, the Kostitsyns and pleKanec, and a Eurocentric defence with Markov, Hamrlik, and (??) Streit; add Tanguay and Sundin to that mix and you get Detroit East. If Mats doesn’t jump at that, he’ll be playing in Sweden is my guess.

    12. kevin
      June 25, 2008 at

      brian rolston and daniel alfredson both improved big time around 28-30.

    13. MatsSunslipper
      June 25, 2008 at

      You can’t have this convo without mentioning that Mats Sundin hasn’t been able to single handedly (not a word, but should be, no?) carry a team to or near the promised land.

      That is what separates Sundin from the real great players.

      Right?

    14. June 25, 2008 at

      You can’t have this convo without mentioning that Mats Sundin hasn’t been able to single handedly (not a word, but should be, no?) carry a team to or near the promised land.

      That is what separates Sundin from the real great players.

      Right?

      No, not really; I’ve never understood how that was at all relevant. Has any one man ever carried a team to the promised land? Has it ever even been possible?

    15. PDO
      June 25, 2008 at

      Hasek came within a bad call of taking his team to G7 all by himself..

    16. June 25, 2008 at

      You can’t have this convo without mentioning that Mats Sundin hasn’t been able to single handedly (not a word, but should be, no?) carry a team to or near the promised land.

      Who has? Seriously. I suppose an argument could be made for Roy in 1993, a weaker one for Lemieux in the Pens first Cup win, I think Gretzky gets less credit for the Oilers than he deserves…if your point is that Sundin isn’t in that class, I agree.

    17. Lord Bob
      June 26, 2008 at

      You’d think that sitting next to Fernando Pisani in the press box for the first half of this year after watching him score 14 goals in 2006-07 after signing a 4 year $10MM deal would make them leery of judging a guy on the basis of a solid playoff performance.

      Are you implying that Ryan Malone is going to get ulcerative colitis? :P

      I think that a Malone signing would actually be far worse than Pisani’s contract. Pisani, even when he’s not putting the puck in the net, is an upper-echelon defensive forward who can play with anybody. Malone is really, really not. Plus, he’ll be commanding more money.

    18. slipper
      June 26, 2008 at

      Who has? Seriously. I suppose an argument could be made for Roy in 1993, a weaker one for Lemieux in the Pens first Cup win, I think Gretzky gets less credit for the Oilers than he deserves…if your point is that Sundin isn’t in that class, I agree.

      Yeah, from now on when the paid sports commentators resort to the “he hasn’t been able to lead his team to the holy land” argument it should be edited to simply read “he isn’t Gretzky or Lemieux”.

      When Sundin has been inducted into the Hall, in place of the list of fellow HOF’ers he skated with, there should stand a list of the seocnd best forward on his teams from every season.

      96-97 34 year old Doug Gilmour
      97-98 Mike Johnson 47 points
      98-99 35 year old Steve Thomas
      99-00 36 year old Steve Thomas
      00-01 34 year old Gary Roberts 53 points
      01-02 Darcy Tucker 59 points
      02-03 33 year old Alex Mogilny 79 points*
      03-04 37 year old Joe Niewendyk 50 points
      05-06 Darcy Tucker 61 points
      06-07 Alexei Ponikarovsky 45 points
      07-08 Nik Antropov 56 points

      I don’t even think Wayne or Mario could turn anyone on that list into Messier, Francis, Jagr or Kurri.

      *- led team

    19. June 26, 2008 at

      slipper’s post says it al – I mean they have the guy skating with Renberg and Hoglund or with Antropov and Ponikorovsky

      Give me a break.

      We have a Leaf’s fan in the office here – his very argument as to why he doesn’t like Mats Sundin – “he has never carried the team to the Cup” – true story

    20. oilman
      June 26, 2008 at

      The Dude must hate Doug Gilmore, Wendel Clarke, Felix Potvin, Daryll Sittler, Borje Salming, Bernie Parent, Larry Murphy, Lanny MacDonald……….

    21. June 26, 2008 at

      I would like to point out that Conroy, Rolston, and Alfredsson at age 28-30 were all good two-way players, whereas Malone just stands around and gets hit in the face with the puck. Bit of a difference there. I think any team would be happy to have him but not at the price he’s going to command this summer.

    22. slipper
      June 26, 2008 at

      Getting hit with the puck, either intentionally or inadvertantly = MONSTER!

      You may not be worth 5 million, but you’ll always have a bed to crash on at Pierre MacGuirre’s house.

    23. June 26, 2008 at

      As much as it pains me to admit this, there’s little left in the way of hockey development for hockey players born in 1979.

      But… but that would mean Eric Brewer’s best years are no longer ahead of him! [Cue Darth Vader NOOOOO]

    24. GSC
      June 27, 2008 at

      I can’t wait for someone to overpay Malone only to have him score no more than 45 points a season. He’s a product of his Pittsburgh linemates, through and through.

    25. Dennis
      June 28, 2008 at

      It’s funny given where he plays, but, still, Sundin has to be one of the most underrated players in the league.

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