Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Something I Learned Today

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of the truth - that error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it has been cured of one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one. - H.L. Mencken

When it comes to going public with bad news, there are two types of organizations:

  1. Those that deal with it in an open and transparent manner – Tylenol is the oft-cited prototype in this camp and, much more recently, Maple Leaf Meats have shown the merit of being open, honest and accountable.
  2. Those who leak, bury or misdirect the news in an effort to control the message.

I’d say my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs usually fall into slot #2.

And what are some of the best tactics to get in front of a bad news story?

  1. Release it late on the Friday of a long-weekend;
  2. Release it when there’s a lot of other bad news in the system; and/or
  3. Leak the bad news early and leak it often – by the time the news becomes official or confirmed, most people will have moved through the five stages of grief from anger to acceptance.
When it comes to the Bryan McCabe trade, the Leafs have gone for door number 3 like the RIAA going after a 12 year old with a USB drive full of Jonas Brothers mp3s and the outcome, strangely, seems to be acceptance.

What’s that Smell?

The first time I went to Kamloops I was visiting an old friend who had just gotten engaged.

Kamloops stunk. Figuratively and literally.

The town is essentially a bowl built around a pulp mill. The scent of reduced sulphurs permeates everything.

The first few days I was in town, I kept asking my friend how he could live in a place that, um, stank. I don't mean to be cruel, but everything was tinted with the malodorous combination of cabbage and rotten eggs.

But then a strange thing happened: the smell seemed to go away. I no longer spent my days with a crinkled nose and worried brow wondering how people live among such a paralyzing stink.

Except the smell never went away.

The town still stunk of the by-products of supplying the world with 477,000 tonnes of pulp related products.

I just lost my ability to detect the stench.

Scientists call this phenomena olfactory adaptation or olfactory fatigue. Our nervous systems are programmed to automatically desensitize to certain stimuli so that we are not overloaded. For example, our skin doesn't constantly sense our clothing and our noses eventually get used to the gagging stink of pulp.

By turning down a response to certain or constant stimuli our bodies are better able to recognize and respond to new stimuli/possible threats.

If you've made it this far and are still reading, you may be asking yourself what pulp products, bad odours and olfactory adaptation have to do with the Leafs.

Stick with me here...

In Leaf Land it's not Pulp, it’s the Stench of Failure

I wonder if maybe Leafs Nation is undergoing a massive case of olfactory adaptation.

That we've become so used to the smell in these parts that they don't notice it anymore.

Slam McCabe all you want. Link to the youtube compilation videos of his various gaffes. Mock his haircuts, goofy faces and penchant for taking dumb penalties.

Go ahead and cringe at the burden of his no-movement clause.

But then step back and look at the numbers.

Three out of the last five seasons, McCabe was among the top 10 in scoring by a defenseman; three times he finished in the top three for goals.

Believe it or not, McCabe placed third in Norris trophy voting in 2004 and ninth in 2006.

He cracked the taxi squad for the 2006 Canadian Olympic squad. Bitch and moan all you want that he wasn’t in the top six on that club, but to be on the Canadian Olympic team is to be among some pretty elite company.

Despite all of these accomplishments and accolades, McCabe’s no-movement clause has allegedly so diminished his value that the Leafs had to include a draft pick in order to complete the deal.

Bottom line: the return for a number 2 d-man, power play quarterback, who can log 20+ minutes a night, who has a history of finishing in the top 10 in scoring (and who occasionally scores in the wrong net) is nothing more than a 3-4 d-man who’s recovering from multiple wrist surgeries.

And the Leafs had to throw in a 4th round pick to get the deal done.

As Steve points out in his latest entry, and as I posted earlier this summer, the trade does nothing to solve the Leafs' log-jam on D where they're approaching the season with nine NHL caliber defencemen (10 if you think Schenn might get more than a cup of coffee with the big club).

Anyone that hasn't been living under a rock can tell you that the Leafs don't need more D; they don't need cap flexibility; they don't need to shed more draft picks.

And yet, that's what they get for a top pairing d-man.

The Toronto Maple Leafs: A Rich History of Horrible Asset Management

I cannot believe that I’m going to cite Damien Cox here, but he has a point (ick). The Leafs have moved a pretty big chunk of talent/assets off their roster in the last few years. Consider:
  • Belfour
  • Domi
  • Tucker
  • Wellwood
  • Rask===>Raycroft (should have been ===>ECHL but for the Avs)
  • McCabe
All gone for nothing more than Mike Van Ryn and a series of lingering cap hits.

If shedding all of those players for nothing weren't bad enough, Fletcher has spent even more assets to spackle over the same holes:
  • Mayers for a third round pick
  • Grabovski for a second round pick
  • Schenn for a second and third round pick
  • a Fourth round pick to kiss McCabe goodbye
Changing the Culture: Buying High and Selling Low

I understand that management is trying to change the so-called culture of this club.

They gassed the coach (could only talk a good game), waived Wellwood (uncommitted, soft); bought-out Tucker (washed-up, psychopathic) and bought-out Raycroft (glove hand not good enough for mite T-ball).

But I’d argue that the real cultural change is far more urgently needed in the executive corridors of MLSE than in the locker room.

When Fletcher first came back to the Leafs, it was with a real sense of confidence. I loved his candid approach to assessing the team. I loved the moves he made at the trade deadline. I thought PM had to go and Wilson was a pretty solid replacement.

And then things regressed back to the norm. This team has a long twisted tradition of buying high and selling low, a philosophy that, once again, has stained all of Fletcher’s moves this summer.

The Leafs' story remains too many assets out the door with too little to show for it.

And the McCabe trade is just one more deal where the Leafs come out on the losing end.

Fletcher said last Tuesday: "Trying to build a team can't be fast-tracked."

He may be right, but he's demonstrating that it sure can be chronically mismanaged.


  1. the bashage of mccabe in leafs nation really disappoints me. the guy became the whipping boy, and this city always needs one. he went from hero to goat remarkably fast, and it just shows me how fickle toronto maple leafs fans are.

    i wouldn't be surprised if mccabe is happy to be gone. i can't imagine why mats would want to come back. i totally understand why toronto might have a tough time attracting free agents. why would someone want such intense and, at times, such unwarranted scrutiny?

    mccabe gave his ass for this team. that can never, ever be doubted, and that's the legacy he will leave, in my eyes at least.

    great post, as usual, MF. cheers.

  2. I think the key word in your article is assets. Asset in the true sense of the word means something or one of value or quality. In those "assets" the Leafs let walk out the door for nothing do not really qualify with that definition of the word. Perhaps a non-back injured Belfour or a young and not worn out Tucker and a can-opening clutch and grabbing McCabe might of qualified as assets but calling them assets now is very cox or berger like.

    And lets face it, we all were looking at the same mediocre team that looked the same for years needed a change. Look try to be happy that in a cap controlled NHL you need to manage that aspect and Fletcher and his boys have done surprising well with unhand cuffing the team with some terrible contracts. That's not only a plus for now, its a big plus for latter as they continue to build up this team... and yes you build teams like you build everything else, lots of different and specialized parts, not just with draft picks... I cant think of one team that has successfully build just by stock piling draft picks and not adding anything else to the mix.

  3. I don't think anybody is arguing that McCabe was a good player in 2004. But the reality is that he's been average-to-awful for the past two seasons. And in a salary cap world, a guy with a massive long-term deal can be a franchise killer.

    That's especially true if he's a self-professed dressing room leader who specialized is making excuses for repeated failure.

    McCabe needed to go. Desperately. Full credit to Fletcher for finding a way to dump him, even if he was only able to get back three nickles for his quarter.

    This deal isn't McCabe for Van Ryn. It's McCabe for three years of salary cap relief and a dressing room enema. That's a solid deal in my book.

  4. Anonymous10:41 am

    mccabe gave his ass for this team. that can never, ever be doubted, and that's the legacy he will leave, in my eyes at least.

    You can't criticize the Iraq War because you are criticizing the troops and hate America. That's the same logic. McCabe absolutely did NOT give his ass for the team. His complete refusal to adjust his game demonstrates that fact.

    MF, great post. The asset management aspect is scary and I hadn't looked at it that way before.

    But...I think you're overvaluing McCabe.

    Was he the quarterback on the powerplay or was he just the big shot from the blueline?

    Also, a lot of his points came from the powerplay. Those points are easier to replace than any scored 5 on 5.

    He made the Olympic team because of the powerplay shot and Pat Quinn. Then was exposed when the angles changed with the international ice.

    Also, the 3-4 defenceman that is recovering from multiple wrist surgeries also has a big shot, has put up almost 40 points despite not playing on as strong a powerplay as McCabe.

    The Leafs do have a lot of NHL-calibre D but that will hopefully help Fletcher replenish some of the picks that he's used to clean up the mess.

  5. Don't forget that Van Ryn is a tradeable asset. If he performs well this year he could be moved for young kids or a high draft pick at the deadline, something we couldn't do with McCabe.

  6. Coach Dunbar Thanks for the comment, but my point remains: all of the players lost by the leafs were shipped out at their nadir. That's no way to build a team. I've never suggested that there's only one way to build a team, but you certainly can't build through the draft if you keep dealing away picks the way this team has...

  7. DGB Does anyone have any primary source on McCabe being a bad influence in the locker room?

    More importantly, why the urgency to move him - it makes absolutely no sense to unload him when he's at his lowest value.

    I don't buy the cap space argument either. The Leafs can't sign any of their RFA/UFAs until January 1, and even then the cap hit doesn't apply until 2009-2010. Moreover, Free agency season is 10 months away. There's little to no value in having $10+M in cap space in September.

  8. PPP I don't think I'm over valuing McCabe. I just don't think it's a wise move to trade a legit #2 or #3 defenceman when his value is at its lowest.

    The Leafs are going to stink with or without McCabe this year. It would have been far more prudent to stay the course, see if he can find his game and increase his trade value.

  9. Chemmy Yeah, Van Ryn is a tradeable asset, but name me the last leaf that was traded at his peak value? (Other than the bizarre-o world Kilger trade).

    I've seen this movie before and I don't like how it ends.

  10. Anonymous12:15 pm

    Re: Bad influence

    It's not so much that there are rumours about him behind closed doors (I haven't heard any but I never hear anything) it's the loser attitude that he and Tucker were prime proponents of during the post-lockout period.

    Those guys used to be bulldogs and they became french poodles. Wah wah wah, don't criticize me, wah wah wah, he has a family, wah wah wah, we have injuries. Just based on their post-game comments they were hurting the Leafs.

    As for keeping him to find his game for his trade value to increase, wasn't going to happen. After another year of "Watch McCabe's latest blunder" and more of his suspect leadership his value would have fallen even more.

    In terms of the draft picks, Fletcher can still get more before the draft. Yes, he traded some picks away but he's also picked some up.

  11. PPP - With a new coach and what, seven or eight new roster players, it would have been interesting to see if McCabe's alleged attitude problem could have been re-shaped or at least dealt with.

    "As for keeping him to find his game for his trade value to increase, wasn't going to happen."

    How do you know this? I'd love to know the basis for this argument.

    I'd argue that a new coach, new supporting cast along with reduced minutes and expectations seems tailor made for McCabe to re-find his stride and increase his value.

    "In terms of the draft picks, Fletcher can still get more before the draft. Yes, he traded some picks away but he's also picked some up."

    Actually, Fletcher hasn't picked up any draft picks, the Leafs are actually out several picks since Fletcher's arrival.

    Picks Acquired:
    2nd for Gill
    3rd for Kilger
    5th for Belak
    5th for Gill

    Picks Traded:
    2nd for Schenn
    2nd for Garbovski
    3rd for Schenn
    3rd for Mayers
    4th for Van Ryn
    5th for Holwegg
    5th for Garbovski

    Net picks gone:

    Net picks gained:

    This is what I mean when I talk about poor asset management.

  12. M37 First I forgot to mention good job on this post on my first comment..
    As for your reply, I don't understand stand part of it is that a typo? otherwise what's a nadir?

    I know you never said or even would say that the only way to build a team is by stock piling picks but when we talk about picks, I can see your point if it were 1st or 2nd rounders but until this organization can prove to pick winners in the first 3 rounds, I don't think I would worry about throwing away late picks as we seem to do that with the ones we keep anyways.

    With all the $$$ MLSE make I wonder what they spend on things like scouting and such so that the leafs could find those diamonds in the rough like teams such as the Habs, Wings and Sabers seem to.

  13. Sorry I wrote the above before I saw your last post...
    Ok it seems 2nd and 3rd are gone... I still don't think the scouting is up to par yet.

  14. Coach Dunbar Sorry, nadir is the lowest point - it's the opposite of zenith.

    I also think that it's ok to discount late round draft picks, but at this point I think the Leafs should be trying to hold on to as many picks/prospects as they can.

    And you raise a great point - I'd love to know how the Leaf scouting department compares to the best in the league.

  15. Thanks... I'm still waking up here. Should of gone back to bed but oh well. As for trading players at their nadir are you just talking this past year? Rask and Boyles were not anywhere near their nidar nor do I think Clark or Murphey were either.

    I don't think McCabe was all that to start off with so his status as a valuable member of a team is somewhat lower than yours. Even when he had that career year, he was good but not great or at the very least very good. Remember he is a defenseman first and that aspect of his game wasn't ever very good. That fact is hidden because of his offensive effectiveness but when his offense shuts off like it did last year, wow does he look pedestrian at best.

    I'm just glad to have him off my team.

  16. Coach Dunbar - I'm talking historically - this organization has always had the bad habit of shedding players at the wrong time. Not just trades, but waivers and buy-outs too.

    Larry Murphy, Jason Smith, Steve Sullivan, Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood, Bryan McCabe, Dmitri Kristich, Tie Domi, Brad Boyes, Brian Bradley (this is just off the top of my head) all shed from the Leafs when their value was at its lowest.

    It's like waiting for the real estate market to crash before listing your home.

    As for McCabe's talent, we'll just have to agree to disagree. The fact that he finished fourth in Norris voting seems to indicate a lot of people saw a player of pretty significant talent out there.

  17. I always agree with you but not so sure this time.

    Yes the Leafs asset management has been horrible and with a salary cap it can't be masked by throwing more money at the problem. We haven't had a brilliant GM in years so they always buy high and sell low as you put it.

    I agree that the management structure needs to cleaned out and that won't happen for another year. Though we can only hope that Fletcher has the confidence of senior management and is being given a free hand.

    But Cliff Fletcher is doing just what he is supposed to do. Clean the deck so to speak so that someone else can rebuild. This team is going to sink further before things turn around. He is currently a 2nd, 3rd and 4th pick in the hole but let's see how many picks they have next June. I don't expect the Leafs to be buyers at the trading deadline (though they may not have much to sell).

    It's too early in the process to already be going negative (unless your name is Damien Cox).

  18. Anonymous6:18 pm

    How do you know this? I'd love to know the basis for this argument.

    I'd argue that a new coach, new supporting cast along with reduced minutes and expectations seems tailor made for McCabe to re-find his stride and increase his value.

    My basis is entirely on the fact that McCabe has shown that he is unable to cope under the pressure of expectations and the Toronto media. He would still be a $5.75M cap hit plus now he had refused to waive his NMC. The media would kill him at the first sign of mistakes and the year would devolve into 5 months of "How will the Leafs trade this turd at the deadline" headlines.

    As for the new coach, it's a coach that preaches defensive discipline, adherence to a system, and personal responsibility. All things that not only does McCabe not handle well but, as the quotation I put up suggested, he actively undermines to teammates.

  19. PPP - Are you suggesting, based on one old quote, that McCabe is uncoachable?

  20. I guarantee, in four years everyone will be raving about the work Fletcher has done setting up the team to suceed. He's allowing the next GM to have many more options in the future then he was afforded when he stepped back in. Everyone seems to forget that Fletcher had ONE trading partner for McCabe, that's isn't the type of leverage that will have you pulling in a fair return for your player. He was dumping salary. He opened up cap space and hasn't signed a player to one no movement clause. In my books thats a good start.