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When Leon Draisaitl signed an eight-year, $68-million contract with the Edmonton Oilers, there was a collective uncomfortable gulp in the hockey world.
How can they pay that much money for that unproven a player? How can the general manager, Peter Chiarelli, be that stupid?
This is the problem with instant contract analysis on the day the big-money deals are done. Now in his third year of eight seasons in Edmonton, with Chiarelli apparently disgraced and gone from the Oilers, Draisaitl has become one of the dominant offensive forces in hockey. The contract shock of three years ago seems a bargain by today’s ever-changing standards.
It isn’t the bargain of the David Pastrnak contact in Boston — the Bruins seems to specialize in those kind of signings — who is paid $6.6 million this year and for three more years, while scoring goals at a Draistail-like pace this season and seemingly every season.
Draisaitl is one year older than Pastrnak; two dominant scorers at the ages of 24 and 23, lighting up the league. Apparently of similar skill, and more money than Pastrnak but not as much as Draisaitl, sits William Nylander, seemingly overpaid at $7.5 million a year. Playing on Toronto’s first line, Nylander has two even-strength goals this season, three in total.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
The contract today is easily questioned. But it’s just Year 2 of a six-year deal. It may be a terrible deal for the Maple Leafs now, but the Draisaitl signing has proven that instant analysis on long-term deals does not necessarily translate to accurate analysis.
THIS AND THAT
NBA players with more points than Pascal Siakam this season: James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard … The most a Raptor has scored in a season: Vince Carter at 27.6 points a game. Right now, and you can’t expect Siakam’s numbers to hold up, but he’s scoring 28 points per game … The combined total contracts of the starting pitcher’s of Game 7 of the World Series, Max Scherzer vs. Zack Greinke: $415 million. Not starting that night: Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander, their combined current contract size: $394 million. What the new math tells me: The Blue Jays will never win another World Series in our lifetime. They won’t play that big-money game … When you watch only American League baseball, like I do, you’re always surprised by somebody at playoff time. I knew Anthony Rendon was a great player. I didn’t know he was this great … This is kind of odd: Auston Matthews has 11 goals in 14 games and to me is just touching the surface of how dominant he can be … The first time I interviewed Carlos Beltran, I thought: This guy will manage in the big leagues one day. He was named manager of the New York Mets on Friday … It didn’t make sense at the time. It makes less sense today. James Neal, 11 goals, traded for what used to be Milan Lucic, no goals scored.
HEAR AND THERE
This is almost heartbreaking: The great and honoured Jonathan Toews, playing more than 19 minutes a night with the Chicago Blackhawks, is 437th in NHL scoring in the early going. Chicago is tied for last in the Western Conference … Toews’ wingmate and salary mate, Patrick Kane, ranks 127th in league scoring. Toews is just 31, Kane is just 30 … Taylor Hall’s body language tells me he won’t be re-signing in New Jersey, but knowing GM Ray Shero this story isn’t close to being over yet … Can’t remember a Christmas season with this many hockey books for sale: There’s books out on Scotty Bowman, Stu Grimson, Bryan Berard, Max Domi, Eddie Shack, Teemu Selanne and Sidney Crosby. And I’m probably missing some. The surprise book to me is called It Takes 23 To Win by Jason Farris. It’s a fun, easy hockey read that you can pick up or put down at any time and don’t have to read in any order … What didn’t make it into Ken Dryden’s book on Bowman: The two times he was offered positions to run the Maple Leafs and turned them down … Amazing thing about Bowman’s career: The list of players he coached. Three of the greatest goalies in history — Dryden, Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante; Five of the greatest defencemen — Doug Harvey, Nick Lidstrom, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Paul Coffey; Many of the most explosive forwards ever — Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Guy Lafleur, Brett Hull, Gil Perreault, Frank Mahovlich, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov, Dickie Moore … As bad as the Leafs have been this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks have been worse. And the Ottawa Senators are monitoring the Sharks’ difficulty. They own San Jose’s first-round draft pick this season.
SCENE AND HEARD
Ron Fairly passed away the other day. You may not remember him or that he was he was the first Blue Jay to ever play in an all-star game. It was a moment in time of great excitement for young fans of a young franchise: Fairly hit what looked to be a pinch-hit home run for the American League in 1977, only it curved foul just at the end. It seemed so important then, almost historical at the time. Fairly, who played just one of his 19 big league seasons for Toronto, was 81 years old … It’s November — where in hell has the time gone this year? … So this is strange: Offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg was voted top Canadian on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. But he wasn’t voted top lineman. Chris Van Zeyl, the veteran Canadian, got that nod. If Van Zeyl was the best lineman, wouldn’t that make him the best Canadian? … In baseball, if you test positive during the season for banned substances, you can’t play in the post-season. The CFL could use a rule now: If you are suspended during the season, you shouldn’t be eligible for a post-season awards. So give the voters in a Winnipeg a nod for passing on Andrew Harris for the big CFL awards. There were no rules so they made up their own … The New England Patriots used to have Jimmy Garappolo backing up Tom Brady and before him, Jacoby Brissett. The combined won-loss record for Garappolo and Brissett this season, 13-2. And half the teams in the NFL can’t find a quarterback of any substance … This makes me smile: Connor Brown has 10 points in 11 games with the Senators, all of them at even strength and he’s plus-7 on a last-place team … So I’m thinking this week, if Leo Cahill was still alive, thriving and running the Argos, wouldn’t he going after Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon about now to play receiver and making headlines trying to do so.
AND ANOTHER THING
One problem Leafs special teams coach Paul McFarland has: He doesn’t have a point-man with a big slapshot. In Florida last season he had Keith Yandle, who had 39 power-play points. Morgan Rielly, who scored more points than Yandle overall, had 18 fewer points with the man advantage last season … A Sunday essay question: Who was the better player, Dave Keon or Jean Ratelle? … Glad to see Doug Gilmour back with the Maple Leafs. If only, as a glad-hander, he could translate some of his big-game, big-hearted skills to today’s group of semi-underachievers. Gilmour played 52 playoff games for the Leafs and scored 77 points, including a 35-point playoff in 1993 … Nic Petan played almost no time at centre while with the Leafs. He went down to the Marlies on Friday night, played centre, tore it up and scored four points … The first-round draft pick the Leafs sent to Carolina for Patrick Marleau’s salary is protected. Should the Leafs fall into the bottom third of the league, the pick reverts back to them … Happy birthday to Larry Holmes (70), Colin Kaepernick (32), Rick Ley (71), Pekka Rinne (37), Ryan Tepera (32), Paul Quantrill (51), Luke Schenn (30), Dwight Evans (68) and Phil Simms (64) … And hey, whatever became of Tito Santana?
AGING LEBRON STILL HAS IT
From the 2003 NBA draft, Carmelo Anthony is gone, Chris Bosh is gone, Dwyane Wade is now gone — almost the entire draft is out of basketball, hurt, finished or had their time. But LeBron James, in his 17th season, carries on and not in any normal way, in his rather freakish career way.
On Friday night, the 34-year-old James — who looked close to 34 when he entered the NBA — had 39 points, 12 rebounds, 16 assists and four steals in a Los Angeles Lakers win over the Dallas Mavericks. It was his first monster game of the new season, but a reminder of just who he can be and how commanding a presence he remains so late in his career.
The Lakers are 4-1 in the young season, the only loss coming on opening night to Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers in the building the two teams share. King James is shooting 50% from the floor — and he has never been considered a great shooter in all that he does — averaging 26.4 points a game and 10 assists a night.
With LeBron on one side of Los Angeles and Kawhi on the other, the Western Conference playoffs can’t start soon enough. One of these days, James will slow down. He has to. It’s just not time yet.
The rest of his draft class is watching on TV when he is still the player you can’t take your eye off of.
WHEN WILL WE HEAR FROM DUBAS?
At what point in this wandering Maple Leafs season does general manager Kyle Dubas speak out about the state of his franchise?
So far, Dubas has been quiet and reserved when asked about the Leafs difficulties and chosen to keep a low profile as his team’s performance and his performance are being publicly dissected.
Dubas isn’t a Brian Burke type. He won’t grab the microphone and make some noise in order to take some of the heat off the team and act as a loud distraction. That doesn’t seem to be his style.
Right now, he has taken an arm’s-length approach to the team. He wants to see what his team looks like, in full, before he comes to any conclusions. He wants to the see the lineup with Zach Hyman and John Tavares healthy, with Jake Muzzin in game shape, with Travis Dermott playing more than 13 minutes per game.
He wants to see what all the parts look like before he will allow himself to either act privately or publicly about the state of the club.
Does he like what he has seen to date? How could he, being of reasonable mind? Heading into Saturday night, the Leafs were not in a playoff position. This from a team expected to be Top 6 in the NHL.
This is only Dubas’ second season on the job as general manager and maybe this is his first real crisis. As he likes to say, he’d had them before at other levels in other places. This isn’t just another place. This is Toronto.
Dubas can be quiet for now — but for how much longer?
HOCKEY WORLD PAYS RESPECTS TO GREGORY
There is no such thing as a perfect eulogy, but an emotional David Gregory came close on Saturday afternoon in saying goodbye to his father, his mother’s husband of 60 years, the friend to so many, Jim Gregory.
David didn’t talk about the hockey teams he built or the Memorial Cup champion he coached or even told a funny Harold Ballard story or two. He barely talked hockey at all.
Instead, he talked about the man and how he treated people and how he loved his family and how he made everyone around him feel better about their days and about themselves.
From the turnout alone, it was easy to see how Gregory was thought of in the hockey world. You give and you get back.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was there. Leafs chairman Larry Tanenbaum was there as was Toronto president Brendan Shanahan. A bevy of general managers, from Steve Yzerman to Ken Holland to David Poile to Jarmo Kekalainen, flew in to pay their respects. And some from the best of Gregory’s greatest Maple Leafs team, the most competitive Toronto team post-Original Six, were there. Darryl Sittler alongside Lanny McDonald once again. Mike Palmateer a few rows back: The goalie behind the forwards.
And around the room, there was Frank Mahovlich, who doesn’t seem to age, and so many other familiar hockey faces and sporting figures. In Toronto, Gregory coached the 1964 Memorial Cup champion Marlies, voted the CHL’s team of the century. As GM of the Leafs he brought Roger Neilson to the NHL. He drafted Sittler, McDonald, Palmateer and pioneered Borje Salming’s time in Toronto. And for the past 27 years, as vice president, he was the conscience on the NHL.
Your life was better if you came across Jim Gregory, if you knew him, if you dealt with him, if you laughed at one of his jokes or his stories. Rest in peace, old friend.