Jun 1, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; An empty BMO Field on the backdrop of the CN Tower and the rest of the Toronto skyline before the Toronto FC game against the Philadelphia Union at BMO Field - another big matchup in the world of Toronto sports! Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Sports: Weekly Mailbag for Sunday, August 16th, 2014

Every Sunday, we take the time to answer your questions. These questions can cover anything in the Toronto sports universe and we look forward to the challenge of answering them.

Here are the top questions for this week.

(As always, you can send your questions to: [email protected])


Q. You guys seem pretty bullish on the Toronto Raptors. Why hasn’t anyone really acknowledged the fact last season was a fluke? The team was essentially unloading talent at the start of the season.

Rick, Barrie

GEOFF: To put it simply, basketball is all about playing as a cohesive unit. The Raps are returning all of their key players, have added pieces that will complement those players, oh, and they’re still in the East the last time I checked. The strength of the conference has improved, but the Raps’ place amongst them hasn’t changed that much over last season, with only the Cleveland Cavaliers being a guaranteed playoff team that missed out last season. The other moves that have been made like Paul Pierce to Washington Wizards, Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets, and Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls are just other playoff teams improving, while the Indianan Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat will all take a step back. Will the conference be better? Yes. Will the Raptors be better as well? Absolutely.

JESSE: I haven’t announced the Raps’ last season is a fluke because, I don’t think it is! Hey Rick, after we “unloaded” all the talent in the Rudy Gay trade, what was the Raptors’ record? 42-22! Who is better than that, Rick? Doesn’t seem like that’s a fluke to me. The only fluke is how it came together, Rick – and after that, the record proves it doesn’t matter how they got there. But who knows, you could be right. I for one see a great team who came together to capture the division. And geeze, if they had half of the wins in their games that went to overtime, Rick, I doubt you’d be asking your question and thinking we’re missing your point.

JON: In December, with the trade of Gay, and the rumoured shopping of Kyle Lowry, the Raptors appeared to be putting up the white flag and crying “uncle” to the rest of the league. But a funny thing happened: they started winning. And while they were absolutely in a weak conference, and an even weaker division, they still reeled off 48 wins and claimed their second Atlantic Division title. No fluke. They still had to win all those games, some against much stronger opponents (beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road was incredible!), and come together as a young, energetic team. Were there some circumstances that worked in their favour? Sure. But that is sports. Look no further than the Toronto Blue Jays, and all of the injury problems they have encountered over the past few years, to understand how a team’s fortunes can turn without warning. The Raptors are still young, and might have set the bar awfully high for themselves this season, but there is a lot to be excited about with this team.

PAUL: To be fair, Rick, while the Raptors organization themselves won’t say it (and why would they?), a lot of media and fans have commented that in many ways last season was a fluke. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri will never admit they were offloading Rudy “I never saw a bad shot I didn’t like” Gay, because they were planning to tank the season for a better position in a loaded draft.

(And don’t forget they were reportedly trying to get rid of Lowry as well. Thank goodness that didn’t pan out!)

However, as has been the history of the Raptors, even this went wrong. Fortunately, this is one occasion when Raptors Nation didn’t mind, as the team finished with a franchise record 48 wins and their second ever Atlantic Division title.

Overall, there’s no denying this team is in a great position moving forward. The young roster is growing together and actually enjoy one another’s company, both on and off the court.

Look no further than Lowry’s decision to re-sign in Toronto, despite overtures from the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. As such, regardless of if last season was a fluke or not, I like the Raptors chances moving forward, both this year and beyond.

(Is that bullish enough for you?)

Q. The Toronto Argonauts did a nice retirement gesture for Noel Prefontaine, now the Toronto Maple Leafs will be honouring their greats. What’s with all the honorary stuff in Toronto these days? Is it good? A gimmick? (I like it for the record.)

Sallie, Toronto

GEOFF: The honorary stuff is all gimmick, in my opinion, but necessary when looking at the performances of the teams in the city over the last decade. The Argos have the only championships in the past 20 seasons, and in total there have been two Grey Cups, five playoff appearances by the Leafs, zero playoff appearances by the Toronto FC (but four Canadian championships), zero playoff appearances by the Jays, and six playoff appearances by the Toronto Marlies since the turn of the millennium. There hasn’t been much recent history to celebrate, so to keep us fans happy, they need to remind us of the good times while selling that they will come again.

JON: I had a coach tell me once that the championship banners in the school gym were important because they “reminded everyone just where it is they are trying to get.” I like it. It is important to celebrate success. However, the celebration shouldn’t take too much attention away from the product on the ice/field. For me, there is a difference between celebrating the past, and living in the past. If it is done right, and I really have no reason to think it won’t be, it can be a powerful moment, and highly motivating for players and fans alike. But if overdone, or done too often, it can have the opposite effect. For example, I don’t want the Leafs players continually asked questions about past players who are going to be bronzed on the bench outside the Air Canada Centre. Talk to them the day the players are honoured and let everyone celebrate together. But the next day, put the focus back on today’s players and give them the attention they have earned. As for it being a gimmick, don’t forget sports is a business. If it sells merchandise, brings fans to the game and gets people talking about your team, then it is a good thing to do. If that makes it a gimmick, then it is.

PAUL: It’s both Sallie. Share the glory days with the fans, while simultaneously trying to take even more of their hard-earned (well, in most cases) money away from them.

WILL: One of the things I envy about the New York Yankees and the Montreal Canadiens is their strong tradition of success and the continual celebration of this success. As Jon notes, it’s one thing to live in the past, another to play in the present, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flaunting your past achievements and acknowledging the great players who’ve helped your team along the way. It’s all about building a “winning culture” in Toronto these days and I think this is a step in the right direction. However, I would like to see the Leafs honour their fans in some meaningful way, too. We’re really the ones who’ve carried the team since that last Stanley Cup victory in 1967. I find it really difficult to understand where the Leafs find themselves at present, occupying the centre of the hockey universe, without understanding the loyalty and passion of their fans.

Q. Hire a female coach? Come on, guys. I mean, sure, if she was really qualified for the job I’d say go for it, but the way you guys presented things, it would really be a marketing ploy. I’m disappointed. This is just another case of objectifying women. Shame on you.

Bill, Toronto

GEOFF: Female coaches will unfortunately always be considered a marketing ploy first and foremost, until one achieves championship success as a head coach in any of the major male sports. Same thing will happen for any openly gay coaches. The real issue is that it was a story at all. Coaches come and go without much fanfare. This should have been the case here.

SEAN: If the Raptors hired a female coach for their staff, there would certainly be a marketing angle at play. But, hiring a veteran basketball presence like Kim Smith, as suggested in that article, would be much more than simple gender-based marketing. Kim Smith has represented Canada on the national stage over a 10-year span, played in the WNBA for three seasons, and played internationally for two seasons. Smith would hardly be a token hire. She’s a quality basketball person from Canada (Mission, British Columbia) who could add another experienced voice to the Raptors’ coaching staff… and maybe shatter some gender boundaries while she’s at it.

WILL: Sadly, I don’t think this view can be avoided for the sheer novelty factor involved in hiring any female coach. Having said this, I think there’s also an element of marketing involved in all management decisions and the hiring or firing of coaches is no exception. Why do the Leafs have Randy Carlyle today as head coach? In part, it’s because he was the top name available when they fired Ron Wilson – they needed someone who could quickly calm down an angry fan base and Carlyle did the trick. Did Carlyle actually deserve the job? That’s a completely different question and most people would say no today.

Q. Leafs suck. What do you say about that?

Andre, Montreal

GEOFF: Read this.

PAUL: You’re from Montreal, so I wouldn’t expect anything else from you, Andre. However, in the interests of being objective, I’ll admit the Leafs do have a lot of work ahead of them to return to echelons of the NHL’s elite.

WILL: Here’s a small truth about the Leafs that you’re unlikely to know living in the comfortable confines of the Montreal hockey universe: when it comes to loving and hating the Leafs, no one does it better than Leafs fans. We’re well aware that the team sucks and this is why you hear endless calls for this coach and that player to join the pink slip line, why waffles are thrown at players during live games, why someone stalked former head coach Ron Wilson on the subway. We don’t need you to state the obvious. Instead, you should focus on why les Habs seem to stink up the Bell Centre whenever the Leafs visit town. Perhaps you’ve had it easy because the Leafs stink. A Leafs-Canadiens playoff matchup would almost certainly end in favour of the good guys, cutting your hockey season short.

Q. Man, the Jays are horrible right now. What happened? Should they fire John Gibbons? Relocate the team? This sucks.

Liam, Courtice

GEOFF: The Jays will continue to struggle as long as their rotation can’t hold up over the course of a season. They relied on the big bats to produce wins, and when they fell off the losses started piling up. Don’t relocate (we need to write about them!), but people should temper their expectations. Even in down years for the other teams in the division.

JON: Don’t hit the panic button yet. But make sure you know where it is! They are really struggling right now, especially with the bats. I know Marcus Stroman was awful on Saturday, but let’s give him that one. He is young and we can’t expect him to be “lights out” every time he takes the mound. Beyond him, the pitching really hasn’t been that bad. Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion are back now and hopefully their bats will bolster the offence and get them going. It definitely will help some of the other hitters to have a little more protection in the lineup. I don’t think Gibbons is at fault here at all. He can’t hit the ball for them. And no, I don’t think Kevin Seitzer is the problem either. They are as cold now as they were hot in May. But they are still well within striking distance of a Wild Card spot, and if the Baltimore Orioles start to struggle, who knows what could happen? Just don’t lose sight of that panic button!

SEAN: Though I’d be interested to see how a relocation might work (I still keep my old Montreal Expos hat around…), the real question about the Jays is, “What happened?” The answer is simple. Pitching happened. As in, young, developing arms like Stroman and Drew Hutchison have pitched so much that they have fatigued. And oldsters like R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle have pitched a ton of innings… again, fatigue. Just check the Jays’ staff ERA over the season – 3.74 team ERA in May, 3.93 in June, 3.90 in July, and then 4.71 in August. Giving up an extra run per game over a month long stretch is soul crushing. Without a quality bullpen to shorten games and without a premier starter or two to anchor the staff, these poor arms (both too young and too old) have simply pitched too much. If we think things have gone badly for the Jays of late, just wait… these tired arms still have as many as eight starts left each.


We’re adding a new feature to the mailbag this week – a poll!

Help us choose the top Toronto sports players for the week using the poll below. We’ll announce the winners (and biggest loser) next week.

Who is your top Toronto sports player for last week?

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That’s it for this week. We’ll have more answers for you next week! There’s always something to discuss in the world of Toronto sports.

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