Thursday, December 18, 2008

Good for Mats

I'm happy for the guy. He was playing too well to retire, and it was plainly obvious for all to see that a) his presence on the Leafs would be detrimental to the team moving forward and b) he wasn't particularly wanted here.

There's been a lot of flack flying around about the guy since the summer. Frustrations have been (slightly) justified, and I made my position clear that Mats can do whatever he wants. It's a shame that the media had to turn this into the fiasco that it did, but this sort of thing is to be expected. I can't imagine what the Gaborik or Kovaklchuk situations would look like today if Mats had signed over the summer, but I guarantee you we'd be just as sick of that talk too.


Mats is a lying dirtbag

First off, Mats and his word. He said last season that he believed in the total journey from camp to playoffs. Of course, he obviously hasn't followed through on that belief. But that's the funny thing about the future, it looks a whole lot different when it becomes the present. Mats was faced with the fact that his Leafs likely wouldn't need him come next season. As a recently married man of advancing age for a hockey player, I'm sure there was also some retirement pressure.

In the end, nobody can really speak to how they will feel about a situation until they have themselves mired in it. How many players retire and then come back? Is Jeremy Roenick to be villifieds for his lack of decision making on his career? Scott Niedermayer? Scott's indecision probably did more damage to the Ducks than Mats could have ever one to this Leafs team. Mats' statement was probably ill-advised to begin with, but perspective changes things, and all adults know that.

He owes us!

Second, the idea that Mats owed the Leafs the right to trade him, or at least an explanation of why he did what he did. I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty pissed about the lack of return on a possible asset, but that's JFJ's fault, not Mats'. I'd love to have Higgins, a first, a second, and Greg Pateryn back. Then again, I'd also like Tuuka Rask, a first, second, and fourth, Brad Boyes, Mike Cammalleri, and Roberto Luongo.

Mats chose to invoke a clause that our club had given him to block any potential moves, he completed the length of his contract, and he signed as a free agent at a point in the season that is well within his right to do. Nothing that he's done so far is wrong, or abusive of the system of NHL player contracts. I can't claim that there is somehow still a debt, or "deserving" to be had, I think that's an unrealistic view of the way the world works. I'd probably be a pretty unhappy guy if I thought I deserved anything more from instances where all formal agreements have been fulfilled.

He is a greedy moneybag

First off, he's not making 10mil off this deal, it's pro-rated at 10mil. He'll make roughly 5.5 when the season ends. Second, Mats already has about as much money as I can ever conceive of existing, and I refuse to believe that he actually needed an extra $5 million to throw on his log for Christmas. It does get chilly in mansions, though.

The Canucks are a competitive team, the Sedins are an automatic scoring line, Wellwood and Demitra are both streaky, oft-injured scorers, and adding Sundin will cement the scoring and depth of that team. Defensively and in goal (once Lou's back) the team is already set.

The other "front runners"? New York? They have no cap room, and three natural centers that should be producing close to a point a game. The assertions by the press that the Rags could move enough salary off to other teams, call up rookies to take the place of vets, and basically sabotage their team to add Sundin were ridiculous. This is a team that just ditched an aging superstar in order to focus on their organizational depth, did anyone actually believe they would burn off their depth to add an aging star? No team in the league is taking a salary dump without also taking a pick or prospect, a fact that Brian Burke and Cliff Fletcher are both well aware of.

Chicago? Once again, even less cap space, and a team who doesn't really need to worry about offense regardless. This team is still a couple of seasons away from contending, their captain and top scorers have never sniffed the playoffs. Chicago did well to learn a lesson from Pittsburgh and not blow it's load too early on veteran add-ons.

Thank god he didn't sign with Montreal or Ottawa.

Him signing with other competitive, cap-strapped teams (the rumours of him signing with the Sharks, a team paying Kyle McLaren 2.5 million to play in the AHL, were too funny) were interesting in the discussions they launched, but ultimately unrealistic. We've all seen how hard it is for GMs to make moves in this league, let alone multiple ones. Vancouver actually had the cap room, had a good team, and had players Mats was familiar with.


In the end, I'll never attribute malice to actions that I can understand within a logical framework. Mats didn't want to move at the deadline, he didn't want to retire, and then he had to face the cold reality of a completely open future. When he signed with a team he signed with a good one, and he did so with the only team that made logistical sense from a salary cap perspective. Vancouver loses nothing adding Sundin. Most of the other teams rumoured in the running for him had a lot to lose, and a lot more complications, and so a deal wasn't done.

Adding a conspiracy or ulterior motives to these moves makes the entire situation make less sense, not more, and so I'm willing to side with the simple explanation. Sometimes, that's just how life works.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ho-Lee Mackinaw!

I know, that's an awful headline. Let's move on.

See this guy? This guy right here? This guy is the guy.

It's hard to describe my feelings on this trade. At first I thought "wow, Stempniak's pretty good" after which point I felt horrendously bad knowing that Carlo and Steener were going.

Underperforming, definitely. Out of shape? Possibly. But they were Maple Leafs, some of the few first rounders that had made the NHL and gotten all our hope invested in them. I guess now I know a little bit of what trading Kabby might feel like.

I remember the days not so long past when I was hoping dearly each game that Carlo would be able to play, to get Wozniewski off our roster and lead us to the promised land. I remember fervently believing that a playoff spot was ours once he could put a complete season together.

I thought this was the season Steen could break out. Every once in a while he'd pull a move to gain the zone or he'd shift around a defender just like in his rookie season and I knew hope for the kid. He had one hell of a backhand.

Will they put it together in St. Louis? I think there's decent odds one of them will, the talent is still there and I believe the change in scenery will do them well. Of course, the opposite could also likely be true, Carlo could go down any day just like he did on Friday, and Steen might not ever prove himself worthy of the minutes he needs to produce. St. Louis has roles to fill, however, so minutes shouldn't be lacking for either guy.

The West is a tougher conference, however, and the Central division is not a nice one to be in, so best of luck to both of them. They'll always have a place as Leafs in my mind.


But Stempniak isn't without his question marks either.

Much like Steen, he has had one impressive campaign sandwiched by a couple of not as hot ones. He's been hot lately, finding offense on a pretty banged up Blues team, but the trigger wasn't pulled because of this season, it was pulled because of what he did in 06-07. Is Lee another player doomed to never repeat his great season? I certainly hope not.

Much unlike Steen, however, he's actually billed as a scorer and has put up over 20 (or even 25) goals in a season.

If anything, he's speedy and a supposed hard worker. You know, like that other guy we got from St. Louis. Let me just check how he's doi-....

Regardless of where the chips fall later on, it's hard to disagree with the logic in this trade. Neither of our guys have ever lived up to their billings. Lee has.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Oh those Habs fans...

from supporting headshots from behind to supporting unfairly stuffing the all-star ballots, is there anything they won't do to blame it all on Toronto?

Dave Stubbs wrote a piece about the ballot stuffing incident calling it an "embarrassment". Let's not get ahead of ourselves here. This is hardly as embarrassing as losing your playoff spot to the Maple Leafs after giving up a two goal lead in the last game of the season. (and then losing that spot to the Islanders...)

In all seriousness for a second, the All Star Game is a joke, as is the entire balloting system. The fact that Habs fans exposed it for a sham is lessened by the fact that it was already a sham putting two guys who have never played a game this season and a goalie who is second-worst in the league onto the ballot. Honestly, if all 6 Habs players made it onto the ice I couldn't likely care less, it's popcorn entertainment and almost fitting for their (fake) centennial celebrations.

But what is embarrassing is trying to pass off behaviour clearly not in the spirit of the arrangement as having "pride" in the "tradition" and "glory" of your team like so many of the commenters on that article seem to want to do.

If Canadiens fans had managed to vote all six of their candidates onto the ballot through an organized and spirited campaign, that would be something worthy of pride. If they had done that, it would have cemented their place as the hockey city in the greatest hockey country in the world, and cemented them as the best fans in the league.

Artificially stuffing the ballot via an auto-voter doesn't show pride, it shows that Habs fans are:
a) Insecure about their hometown guys being able to make it onto the starting lineup.
b) Arrogant enough to believe that they deserve a starting lineup of Canadiens without having to organize or work for it.

It's the All Star game after all, so who cares? Apparently Canadiens fans, both far too much and far too little.

Enough with the fat boy jokes...

if you hate being funny, that is. Seriously though, what needs to stop is the handwringing over Cliff's decision to dump Wellwood over the summer.

Most people at least kind of understand, or at least have some sort of faith in Cliff. For the rest, here we go:

First off, Wellwood was waived. He wasn't traded, nor was he bought out. Nothing more than missing this fact will make me instantly deride anybody who wants to tell me losing Wellwood was a bad idea, but the misconception of how he left the team is rampant among Leaf fans. It's also the most important point of this discussion.

Wellwood was also waived by the Canucks.

That's right, they saw him, or rather they saw the size of him, and they did what any sensible team would do, they cut him from their line-up. Exactly the same way the Leafs did. If the Leafs made a dumb move, then so did the Canucks a few months later.

Except something magical happened for Kyle. While given the chance to pick him up freely, nobody in the league wanted him. No GM picked up the phone, despite the dire state of certain teams' centre position (Atlanta and Erik Christensen come to mind, as does Columbus).

Kyle was depressed. So depressed, in fact, that for four days, after being called out publicly for his fitness and health issues, after being cut from a second team in six months, that he did nothing. Not hit the ice, not hit the gym. Just nothing.

He also told his agent to call around, as the Manitoba Moose had too many veterans on their roster and so could not play him.

This is important. The Vancouver Canucks waived Kyle Wellwood with the knowledge that he could not play in the AHL, and so would have to flee to Europe to find ice time.

Of course, Kyle knew this too. And when Pavol Demitra became injured after those four days, prompting his recall, every team in the NHL once again passed up the chance to add him to their roster for half price. He knew this was his last chance to ever hit the ice in North America.

The Leafs were the dumb ones in this move? Every team in the league had the chance to add Wellwood to their squad, at league minimum, and passed. If the Leafs must be kicking themselves, I guess so should 28 other GMs.

The Leafs cut Wellwood because his foreseeable work ethic and worth weren't worthy of giving him ice time. They did so with the knowledge that if he cleared waivers he could theoretically be back on the team, after conditioning in the AHL. His worth to the Canucks at the start of the season was so low that they sent him down knowing full well the good odds that they would never be able to recall him.

So let's not talk about the Leafs making a mistake here. The Canucks not only took the same actions with Kyle, they did worse. It just so happened that the rest of the league had grown disinterested in his flabby self when they made the cut.

I'm happy Wellwood has found a new home, and he is back to his productive ways. He is a wizard with the puck, and he has a beautiful knack for finding the right spots on the ice. I don't personally believe that he will go on to find career success like many of the other waiver-wire players the Leafs have lost. Poor work ethic, the unwillingness to sacrifice his body and battle, these things don't last too long in the NHL regardless of talent. Alexandre Daigle was still putting up 50 or so points a season before he was shut out of the league.

Wellwood's resurgence has been a boon for the Canucks. But the expectation that if we had just kept Kyle on the roster he would have bounced back this strong simply isn't rooted in the real world. There was no way for this team to re-create the circumstances that lead to Wellwood's need to prove himself, they and every other team in the league know this.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Maple Leafs: Logjam Edition

So we're a fifth of the way through our "rebuilding" season, and we're still rotating defensemen. The injury to Van Ryn will (sadly) free up a roster slot for the immediate future. Wilson's clearly not putting guys in for development purposes, so I guess he's putting in the guy he thinks will help us win. None of the defensemen we've currently scratched have managed to blow us away, as if they had they probably wouldn't be scratched anymore, so I wanted to look at how the Leafs have fared with each of them in the lineup:

(note Ian White isn't on the list as we've never dressed him as a defenseman this season, plus look up Chara's goal last Thursday for an example as to why forward suits him better anyway)

(for the record, I know this isn't actually a great indicator of performance, especially given small sample size, and the team record has more to do with the rest of the guys than it does an individual defenseman)

Carlo Colaiacovo

Team Record: 2-3-1
Stats: 0-0-0, -2, 6 PIM, 5 shots, 4 missed shots, 8 hits, 7 blocked shots.

Jonas Frogren

Team Record: 2-2-1
Stats: 0-1-1, -4, 6PIM, 3 shots, 1 missed shot, 25 hits, 14 blocked shots.

Anton Stralman

Team Record: 3-2-4
Stats: 1-1-2, +2, 2 PIM, 1 GWG, 15 shots, 3 missed shots, 6.7 Sh%, 8 hits, 8 blocked shots.

Some things worth noting:

Despite Frogren being our "shutdown" Swede and Stralman being our "soft" Swede, they've traded spots in terms of +/-, Frogren having the worst rating of the three. Frogren however has a monstrous hit count, second only to Luke Schenn on the team (despite the fact that he's only played 5 games!).

Frogren and Cola are averaging about a penalty minute a game, whereas Stralman has an astonishing one penalty in 9 games played.

Cola needs to find a way onto the scoresheet if he wants to stick around. We're all behind you dude, but you have less shots registered than games played, and almost as many missed as taken. Stralman has played 50% more, but he has triple the shots.

Stralman is the only player batting a game record of over .500, but as a technicality rather than a selling point (three of those OT losses are shootouts btw). Still, the Leafs have points in 7 of the 9 games he's played.

Stralman has the only goal of the group and it counted for something too, sealing a comeback against the Bruins. The 6.7 shooting percentage is down significantly from last year, for a player known for his accuracy he needs to make his shots count for more.

Carlo has the lowest shot block totals, one below Stralman, but has also played 3 fewer games than Stralman. Frogren, once again, puts them to shame.

It doesn't show it up there, but they're all tied with 2 giveaways, and have almost tied for two takeaways (Frogren adding one and Carlo losing one). They also all have almost the same time on ice per game, shifts per game, and shift length per game.


Play the Swedes. Stralman and Carlo are close, but Stralman has produced, is a plus player, doesn't take bad penalties, and the team so far has done well with his presence. Frogren's a completely different animal altogether, but his defensive stats speak for themselves. In this group, Carlo's the odd man out, not enough offense to warrant an offensive role, not enough defense to play shutdown.

Also, can we please sit Kabby for a game? He hasn't looked bad, just... disinterested in his own zone.

It's time to man up, Kosto

Here's Tom (douchebag, asshole, retard) Kostopoulos:

"I was just trying to get in on the forecheck and get the puck," he said. "I did not anticipate him turning. I hope he is all right. I know in my head I was not trying to hurt him."

Which sounds perfectly reasonable, until, you know, we watch the video (excuse the ridiculous music) and see that he had Van Ryn's numbers the whole time. And, once you'd planted your forearm across "26, Van Ryn" was it anticipation or forechecking when you drove his face into the boards? Do NHL players not know these things are recorded?

And here's Ron Wilson:

“I don’t understand those kinds of hits,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen our Ryan Hollweg do it.

"We have to find a way to get these hits from behind and head shots out of the game. You can’t say a player can’t turn. It’s his responsibility to go back and get the puck and it’s the guy who makes the hit to have the responsibility to make sure the [opponent] isn’t vulnerable.”

See Tom, we like to call that little thing "class". Wilson doesn't mince words, nor does he fly off the handle. He recognizes that this isn't the only incident of this sort of thing occurring and admits that his own players are often in the wrong. But he makes his point loud and clear.

It's Van Ryn's job to get that puck off the boards, if he shies up or braces for impact the Canadiens get possession for no reason. He's making the only play that makes sense from his position on the ice, and the forechecker has to know that, and respect it.

I'm not advocating we take hitting out of the game, but there are ways of forechecking that don't involve ramming full speed into somebody. I was watching the Sharks/Yotes game tonight and Mike Grier did exactly what I'm talking about, skated in hard but let up and just pinned his man when his back was turned.

Players like Hollweg, Downie, and I guess now you Tom, are often apologized for in that they are already "borderline NHLers" who have to play as hard as they can just to stay up in the game. That kind of thinking is ridiculous, if either Hollweg or Downie had the restraint and control to make the smart play instead of running a man they might never need fear losing their jobs. Reckless players are simply that, reckless, and that kind of contact in a professional game is pointless.

Now Tom, you have a reputation for being a pretty clean guy, so I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt on this one. There's a lot of stuff happening very fast, mistakes happen, and this is a contact sport, no way around it. I don't believe you ever actually intended to hurt Mike.

But man up, dude. Take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, like an adult. Don't blame the guy you just put into the hospital. Van Ryn likely could have saved himself from the worst of that impact, but he was trying to make a play. It was your forearm across his back that shoved his face into the glass, and for what? You might play clean most nights, but unfortunately you'll never have class like our good man Ron.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Some questions for Ron

So we blew a lead, blew a game that should have been ours, Cujo was mediocre and the Curse of Kerry Fraser lives on. I don't particularly blame Cujo, Kerry, or most of the Leafs, but I would like same answers from our coach.

1. Why did Cujo start the third?

The 'Canes' first goal was a fluke, they knew it, we knew it, and we responded strongly with two more. The second was a five on three, Cujo made some initial saves that were great, except poor technique kicked the rebound straight onto Whitney's stick. Fine. We lost the scrums in front of the net for the third, but that fourth goal by Ruutu should never happen. That's an AHL-class goal, and Cujo watches the puck all the way above his shoulder.

Despite the fact that he wasn't the only reason we were down in that game, he needed to go. You can't let in a softie like that after the team has already given up the lead with marginal goals. The goalie needs to calm down the guys in front of him, Joseph had been flying around his crease all game and sending out rebounds. By the time the fifth goal went in it was obvious the boys had lost their confidence in the Cat, and they needed Toskala in to get them focused on their game. Would we have won with Toskala in for the last 20? I'm not so sure, I don't pin this loss solely on goaltending, but it would have been the right move for the rest of the players.

2. Why put the Stajan line on after the five-on-three was over in the second period?

Stajan had been killing penalties with the rest of the PK corps, Antro and Poni had been sitting cold. I know that the kind of offensive zone control that line provides is what the Leafs needed, but Antro isn't the strongest skater on the team and Stajan was pretty obviously gassed. Plus, didn't Stajan take a tired-looking tripping call to start off the penalty parade of the second?

Why not the Grabovski line, the strongest skating line on the team and the one that had spent almost no time killing penalties? The one that offensively dominated earlier in the period? The guys that weren't on the ice for a goal against all game?

3. Why break up the Man-Grabs-Lemon line in the third?


4. Why Carlo?

I know he's been pushing for ice time, and I also know that a back-to-back is a decent time to rotate in two players who are fresh to add some life to our team. But with Pitkanen and Kaberle out, the only person on that 'Canes team with a point shot is Joe Corvo. Meaning a lot of their offense comes from the front and down low. Meaning Frogren would have been a much better choice.

Final Thoughts

I think we all know where we'll be seeing Carlo in the near future. And it won't be on the ice in blue and white. It's a shame, because like all suffering Leafs fans I like Carlo, I honestly believed that if he had been healthy the past two years we would have made the playoffs, as opposed to suffering through the Woz era. Then he showed us all exactly why we didn't make the playoffs with him in the roster.

Shitty penalty (and believe me, after seeing enough replays I know exactly why that call was made, as ticky as it looked it was probably the most legitimate call on us that period), argues it, then sits out the third after taking a puck to the leg, shortening our bench that already had an injured Finger on it. Isn't this the kind of stuff that we thought was gone in the new era of the Leafs? Isn't the fact that this crap was missing the reason that these games were fun to watch, win or lose?

White filled in for Hollweg and did great, as I think we knew he would. But please, I know we had injuries, no more White on defense. He completely disappeared when put there and we could have used his checking down low.

Mayers has been brutal, too many penalties, not enough good. Wishing we had that third rounder back.

Poor Schenn. Rough birthday for the kid.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I think we saw this one coming...

Sooner or later, somebody in the TSM had to break down completely. Who might have guessed it was the one who was starting to sound like his discussions with "fans" were going on largely in his head?

Now, I haven't read Howard Berger's blog in quite some time, it became pretty clear that he'd lost his way months ago. The vitriol and hostility in the above article isn't actually new, it's just most of Howard's previous articles without the sugar-coating and self-contradiction contained singularly within each. Before Berger's disdain and appreciation of his audience (mostly disdain) was held secure within a shell of something pretending to be news. Like a Kinder Surprise, sometimes we got a shiny moving train, most of the time we got puzzle pieces that formed a picture of a happy bear taking a dump on Southern Ontario.

Now, some news that's recently come to light is Forbes' newest rankings of NHL teams, with the Leafs once again topping out the league in net worth. Despite a third losing season, and promises by management that times were going to get worse instead of better in the foreseeable future, the teams revenues still managed to grow by about 9% over the previous year. That's a fairly incredible statistic, and one that plays a pretty big part in this incident, obviously in that it set off this little tantrum, but also in a more humbling manner. This sort of information coming to light is why I can sympathize with what's happened to Mr. Berger.

If the Leafs are this lucrative then anything relating to them is equally so. The competition among media outlets in this city must be something to behold. I only post about once a week in this blog, partially because I have little to say, but mostly because there's already so many great sources covering pretty much the same subjects, a small few of which can be seen at the right of this screen.

Howard faced the challenge of coming up with content for a much larger audience to digest much faster than that, with much greater competition. Somewhere along the lines he discovered that the Leafs audience would listen to just about anything and respond generally the same way. A way which is, to say the least, not generally very nice or intelligent.

It's a matter of sample size, and the wonders of the internet leave some few of the many comments that bloggers and online journalists recieve open for public viewing. The results are maybe a little disparaging of the education levels in this country. While we often scoff at his portrayal of the bumbling, parroting sheep that are Leafs nation, I can vouch for the fact that these people do actually exist, and probably kept up a pretty good correspondance with the guy.

Steve has gone as far as calling Berger narcissistic which, while likely true, I find to be a little misrepresentative. After all, blogging is at least in some small part narcissistic, as is journalism, as is being a sports fan. Turn that list onto us fans in the Barilkosphere and I'm not sure we'd fare much better.

The hardest part of journalism is keeping yourself professional and composed in front of the masses. Some manage the attention with skill and aplomb, and I have the utmost respect for those people. Still, as we've all seen in various situations, some people given a microphone and an audience can often develop a God/martyr complex. Some people just simply aren't cut out for this sort of thing.

Let's not get away from the point here, this sort of outburst from someone holding a press card with one of the main sports media outlets in Toronto is completely unacceptable. The fact that he (and many others) have gotten away with content similar to this in the past is apalling, especially considering the lack of true content that Leafs fans recieve from these various outlets.

But don't be too mad at Howard. He's come to a pretty big revelation for himself, and the way that we will view future media coverage in this city (countdown to a Cathal Kelly meltdown? Anyone? How about Dave Shoalts?). But Howard, don't take a vacation. Don't carry on. Just move on. There's no shame in not being able to handle the spotlight, but once you've become the king with no clothes you need to realize when your time is up.

I'm not sure if after posting what essentially amounts to hate speech in a company website Howard will still actually have a job in the coming days. If he still does it will just prove to be symptomatic of a media with a complete lack of respect for the majority of Leafs fans. If he still does I will only feel sorrier for the man. The irony that he mentions ivory towers in his first sentence shouldn't be lost.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

So what's going on in my back end?

is Ian White done here, or biding his time?

So with Schenn looking likely to stay, it looks like we're going to have to start thinking seriously about our defense... again. For what seems like the 18th time.

Sitting out have been (former) fan favourites Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo, with Frogren sitting out last game in favour of the widely anticipated debut of Jeff Finger*. Personally I think Frogren wanders way too far out on his shifts and occasionally leaves his partner out to dry in the defensive zone, but Wilson seems high on the guy and the need for a truly physical defenseman is there.

The prevailing logic is this; if White and Cola are sitting, they must be getting traded for one of two reasons:

1) We have no use for them as a club and need them gone.

2) We owe it to them as perfectly (sorta) respectable NHL roster players to find them time to play elsewhere.

I take issue with that reasoning, Cola and White both present risky moves for any prospective takers at the trade market. Carlo, for his obvious health concerns, and White for reasons I've gone into already (he sucks). Not only that, but by not playing them at all we're not giving them a chance to reassert themselves as viable NHLers while telling other clubs that nobody in their right mind would dress them.

So why would anybody actually give up assets to take these two guys off our hands? Is it more likely that we're trying to move somebody currently locked into a roster spot?

With Frogren recently sitting and Finger being one of Cliff's new signings, the potential goats seem to be:

Van Ryn

As I wouldn't even dare to suggest that Schenn could be on the trading block.

Now that's an interesting list. I've already gone into detail about Kaberle and his potential misgivings of being with an alien group of guys on what will likely be a losing outfit for the twilight of his career. Fletcher already had a chance to trade Kubina this summer and didn't, a move I found distressing, so it's unlikely Kubina moves. Van Ryn has acquitted himself pretty well, and is probably our 2nd or 3rd best dman at this point.

Lastly there's Stralman (who has an awesome picture on Sportsnet). I for one can't believe we haven't already sent him down, he's made some good plays, some (more) bad, and is still learning. Sending him down would immediately alleviate some of our roster troubles while Cliff works something out, while giving him 20+ minutes in the Marl. The fact that he's still on the roster is a bit baffling, and maybe a bit troubling.

Of course, trading a 22 year old with loads of upside also doesn't really fit Cliff's modus operandi for this season, so I'm assuming our golden Swede is also safe.

Leaving Kabby and Van Ryn, both of whom have been great and both of whom have big but reasonable cap hits.

We can't expect teams to take our unwanted guys just because they're struggling, a cap market prohibits that kind of wanton asset dealing. But we could gather some interest with our better guys.

Something to keep an eye on, regardless. Any bets on what our defensive pairings would look like with these guys gone?


Huh, that leaves White still out. Guess we might be trading the poor crappy bastard anyway.

* I expect the anticipation level among Leafs fans and haters alike was quite muted for Finger's debut. The joke got tired months ago, which I guess we all knew would happen. Until Finger scores an own-goal before his first real one, that is.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Something to get off my chest...

Now, in the aftermath of the baseless speculation that was the possibility of Toronto being home to a second hockey franchise, opinions were bandied about regarding why Toronto didn't deserve a second team. Because they already have a second pro team, the Marlies, whose attendance has been abysmal lately (hovering under 1500) after a promising start in Toronto.

Now, let's get this straight. 1500 fans in an arena that seats 7500, especially in the playoffs, is a complete travesty. There's no way to really gauge why interest and attendance is so low, but in my mind the concept of "arrogance" on the part of Toronto fans isn't quite accurate, both MLS and the NLL aren't exactly "world class" organizations (though maybe the most professional forms of their sport existing in North America) yet both sell out frequently in the city. I don't mean to belittle those teams, I watch TFC any chance I get, but I can tell you in terms of comparable play, the AHL is about as close to NHL hockey as MLS is to the Premier League.

The real reasons why nobody in the city goes to Marlies games?

Nobody knows who they are

Sad, I know, but true. We're talking about a team fresh from St. John's, Newfoundland that relocated in 2004. They play in Ricoh Coliseum, a venue known better for Fallout Boy concerts. I can't tell you the amount of times I've had to explain to somebody what the AHL is in Toronto.

Ignorance shouldn't be confused with arrogance.When TFC launched it was accompanied with billboards, streetcar wraparounds, banners, and television commercials. The Maple Leafs have started pushing their new "Spirit is Everything" campaign in the same fashion in order to keep interest while the team undergoes it's struggles.

The Marlies have a banner on the side of Ricoh Coliseum, in an area where to see it you need to be driving away from it to get into the city. A search for "Toronto Marlies Ad/Poster" will give you this:

A garbage can. In front of Ricoh, no less. Who sees that unless they're already at the game? What sport is that for anyway? All I can see is Duke the Dog being oddly creepy.

Now, don't get me wrong here, the Marlies get exposure somewhere. I've seen loads of announcements and ads for the Marlies. Every time I'm in the Air Canada Centre to watch a game. What kind of logic is that? One, everyone there can afford to go to a Leaf game. Two, the NHL and AHL schedules are largely concurrent, meaning that to see the Marlies the people who are currently paying outrageously large sums to see the Leafs would have to miss games in order to watch a worse team.

Marlies games are televised, to an extent, on LeafsTV. Whenever they play a home game when the Leafs aren't also on TV. That's not a good way to reach a new audience either. Marlies highlights and postgames are used as filler in newspapers and on news broadcasts occasionally.

The Future of the Leafs?

Now, die-hard fans of the Leafs would love to see exciting talent. They want to be able to point at a kid and say "He'll be on the team next year" The Marlies don't offer that. This is a list on the Marlies website about their graduates. Name somebody that resonates with current fans. Peter Zezel?

Some good young kids on the Leafs have played games there, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jiri Tlusty, and Anton Stralman. Neither of them has played more than half a season on the current incarnation of the Marlies. Probably the most relevant and recent grad who played significant minutes on the minor team was Ian White (in St. Johns), currently a healthy scratch for 5 games.

It's not the Marlies fault that the Leafs have lacked draft picks and organizational depth. It's just too bad that Kris Newbury, Ben Ondrus, and Staffan Kronwall just aren't very big draws. Williams and Earl don't project to be scoring stars in the pros. There's Pogge, but he hasn't held a starting role there until this season, and to be honest goalies are noticed most when they mess up.


People pay to see winning teams. Before last year's trip to the conference finals, the Marlies had one playoff round, a 5 game loss to Grand Rapids. With the Leafs suddenly struggling, a Calder Cup from the Marl would likely help sales greatly. Mark Bell may just tear things up down at that level, which would make things interesting. But this team is too new and faced too much competition from a pro team making breathtaking almost-runs to a playoff bearth to garner a lot of hype, especially with no media exposure.

The onus here is on MLSE to push the Marlies as a viable entertainment option in the city, not an alternative but another outlet for the passion and patriotism of the masses. So far they've dropped the ball, and a perfectly decent team is middling in obscurity in the city.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wilson Speaks: Game 2

Full interview found here:

"I think, had we scored on one of those couple of great chances we had... it's important for us to feel good about themselves in the first half of the game..."

Absolutely agreed, but that's a pretty weak point to call up against. He does say that we played poorly defensively to allow two early goals, and then took too many minors and got killed by their power play.

Now, "Mad" (Idiot, Jackass, Loudmouth) Mike Milbury pointed out on CBC that things turned "ugly" with some troglodyte reporter asking this question:

"Do you think it's just a matter of some of your defensemen getting used to the speed of the NHL?"

By which he means Frogren and Schenn, giving the coach an easy outlet for excuse making. Of course this is a ridiculous question, both players played over 20 minutes and while they didn't play the greatest game in the world neither could or should have the game result pinned on them. But hey, any excuse to gang up on a young rookie, right Toronto media?

I'm glad Wilson gave that guy a hard time, I'm tired of the media here asking loaded questions in an effort to hear what they want to hear in order to easier facilitate them writing the same damn article they always write. I'm also sick of these people asking questions that seem like they were watching a different game than the rest of us.

In regards to penalty killing:

"... they picked us apart just like we'd diagrammed on the board, so obviously we need a lot more attention to detail or I have to decide that other guys kill penalties"

Please. Mitchell and Kubina combined to allow a goal, and it's pretty obvious that some of our guys aren't living up to their billing in that position.

"It's probably an adjustment for some people to step up and have to play like veterans, when they've maybe been able to go out there and not be counted upon..."

Stajan, Poni, Van Ryn, I'm looking at you. Blake gets a pass because I never really expected him to step into a leadership role.

Also, Hollweg is going to be in the lineup most assuredly, and he'll "add some physicality" which I guess means he'll board a lot of people and we'll hope that our lazy slackers will start boarding people too. I wonder who gets left out, my money's on Mitchell though after that brutal high stick.

Also, Stralman will be in the lineup on Monday, yes Ron?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Leafs Lose; Cup Hopes in Doubt, Ontario Shamed

In all seriousness, it was a bad game and a lost cause, but with a few bounces the score could have been much more respectable. 3 posts, a blown chance by Blake early on, and if we'd been able to corral the puck on the numerous times Halak was swimming around in his crease we might have salvaged a bit of our pride.

But that kind of thinking is a part of the old club, it's not about what could have happened but rather what we did or didn't do that game, and boy did things look depressing on that front. We were running in our end when we should have been standing calm, we were standing around when we should have been pressing. The forecheck wasn't established properly and we failed to take the physical game to a Habs team minus Georges Laraque. The Leafs looked like the team that had just played a shootout game the night before, the Habs team looked like the young team hungry for the puck.

But that's how the Leafs are going to be this season, we're counting on inexperience in both our top six and our back end to grow on the job. When it works it'll be great, when things don't get going we can unravel just like that.

This team is often going to have just one chance to steal their wins, whether it be a scoring chance or a blocked shot. As the season progresses we'll be able to see if anyone on the current roster can be counted on, and if the team can reign their play in after that.

Leadership on this team is going to be important, in an interview with CBC it was mentioned that after the win in Detroit, while the team was celebrating, Hagman was back on the stationary bike. The younger core is going to need to learn the lesson in that, it's not about pats on the back or kicking socks, it's about working hard every second.

Great to have the win and all...

Why the hell was Stralman benched?

Actually, that's a bad question. He had a mediocre camp on a team with enough defensemen to fill out most of a forward corps. Wilson wanted the Leafs to see a winning team celebrate victory, to instill hunger and drive into his guys to carry into the future. Stralman being there was important.

The better question is, why wasn't he sent down to the Marlies afterwards to play 25+ minutes and prevent them losing to Binghampton last night?

He needs work, it's true, but I'd honestly rather see him traded to Montreal than have him twiddling his thumbs in various stadiums. Stralman doesn't have to clear waivers, if he's not going to be playing for the Leafs then he needs to be playing somewhere.

If Schenn is being sent down after 9 games that still doesn't leave an opening for Anton, as Finger should be returning from IR soon. I'm assuming that since Stralman hasn't been sent down that the coaching staff isn't anticipating him missing many games. So who sits? Van Ryn? Colaiacovo? Do we alternate Swedes?

Or is a deal imminent in the next few days?

Monday, September 29, 2008

A little late on the Ron Wilson thing

"See this? This is my ticket outta this town."

I was at work and feel the need to drop my two pennies in. Two pennies that happen to have maple leaves on them.

I find it really funny that the same sources that put up gloomy reviews of the team's roster depth as basement dwellers, and the same ones that report that MLSE ownership has declined to budget time for playoff games, are now somehow calling out Wilson over a backhanded comment at the usual pests after a tough loss.

It's not like he wasn't saying anything the players didn't already know.


Who believes that they're making a cup this year when the organization has flat out said all summer that they are rebuilding? Who believes that Mikhail Grabovski is a first line center? Or that Jamal Mayers is the guy to put their team over the top? It's obvious by the moves made this summer to all that players involved that a contender is not being assembled overnight here.

Even better, which players still thought their management was hoping for a Cinderella run for the finals when there's no money set aside to so much as run the lights in the ACC should it happen? Am I to believe that Matt Stajan can't wait to play the Pens on pitch dark concrete this April?

There's a difference between knowing it and saying it, it's true. But Paul Maurice saying we would make the playoffs didn't get us a berth. Believe it or not, our guys probably won't know they're out of the hunt in their hearts until January at the earliest.

I don't believe Ron said what he did to get our guys to prove him wrong, because I honestly don't think that the organization thinks making the postseason this year would be in our best interests for continued success. I think he firmly believes that we're nowhere near a cup, and nothing short of a miracle will turn this rag-tag group of losers into a ballroom dancer with glass slippers.

What he's trying to do is manage expectations, of both the rampant idiotic media that will ask players about their quest for a cup 10 games into the season (mark my words) and the players themselves. We're talking about a club that seriously lacks the focus needed to so much as close out single games (or single periods), the thought of our current group as it stands mentally trying to close out a 7 game series must make Wilson shudder. The cup is the ultimate goal of any player, but our guys need blinders on so they can focus on how to win from game to game. That's the hardest part of playing through a losing season, and it's something our guys will need to get used to sooner rather than later. If they can learn to compete and not take any second for granted in a game then hopefully once we make the postseason we can go somewhere.

Well played, Yahoo! commenter...

So Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy wrote this interesting piece on Wilson's latest poorly thought out one liner to the associated dinks that make up our media coverage. Buried in the comments was this guy, Mr. jibblescribbits:

"I was okay with his honesty, but when he added "These guys couldn't score on a 2 loony whore" I thought he really crossed a line."

Of course Wysh tried to keep things serious in keeping with the tone of his article, stating how anything could happen, goaltenders and hot streaks etc, and all the other bull that we tell ourselves in order to sleep most nights. Of course, even considering the Leafs as a playoff team is wishful thinking on the levels of the earthquake/snowstorm we all prayed for during our standardized math tests in middle school. Not to be left out of the discussion, jibblescribbits replied:

"I respectfully disagree. Ron Wilson is the perfect man to say this. He knows all about not winning the Stanley Cup from his time with San Jose."

Ouch man, as a Leafs fan first and a Sharks fan second, that hurts. What did I ever do to you?

Do the Leafs include this stuff in their media guides?

As Leafs fans, we're used to reading the same sort of repetitive dribble from the Canadian Sports Media. Like it or not, Torontonians love to read about Toronto, the rest of Canada likes to read bad things about Toronto, so naturally combining the two in an area of journalism generally devoid of standards or factual basis seems like a great idea.

The 1967's, the concept of the Leafs fans as the root cause of the ills of the team, the idea that an organization hellbent on profit would somehow be content to miss out on an insanely lucrative post-season, the concept that the very readership is deaf dumb and blind, the hypocrisy from day to day, and the false assertion of the franchise as perennial losers are just a few of the cliches bandied about by most major organizations in Canada. Then re-hashed and remouthed by the mouth breathers that believe them while lacking basic research skills.

I like reports on the Leafs by American institutions, whether it's simply watching a game on a yankee feed, a news article, or a blog post. It makes for a refreshing change of pace, while clearly not unbiased it's a different take over the pump-you-up over the top coverage by TSN and CBC or the I-hate-you-and-my-job hackery published by more unsavory elements.

PPP over at his great Leafs blog gave props to Puck Daddy yesterday on a surprisingly fair assessment of the upcoming season, albeit in his usual ascerbic style. I was then informed by Puck Daddy's readers that he needs to work on his personal hygiene.

I don't usually read Ross McKeon over at Yahoo! Sports, he usually makes strong assertions and predictions without any sort of basis and I'd never listen to him about my fantasy team. It's basically "X matches up against Y, X will prevail" and "N will fare poorly this season", as a fan I don't count on the merits of win/loss predictors. Most people, including Ross, were expecting the Habs to finish last season where the Leafs are expected to finish this year.

But he did a Leafs preview and some things caught my eye:

"this season general manager Cliff Fletcher and new coach Ron Wilson have suggested the team might have to take two steps back to take one forward.

That may not appease the passionate fans that make up the self-proclaimed center of the hockey universe, but there is no other way to take shortcuts. The Leafs have to strip it back, go young, be patient and hope to improve."

Wait a second here, something seems familiar about that sentence. I've already discussed this, but the passionate fans are not the ones upset that nobody's declaring us as cup favourites, and revoking their die-hard cards. The passionate ones are the ones who are supporting this team even though every indication points to it being a stinker. The ones jumping ship because the team is finally rebuilding after all the false hope? Losers.

Also, the "self proclaimed" center of the hockey universe? Funny, the last time I saw a Leaf fan say that they were being sarcastic. In fact, the only time I ever really see that phrase is with "self proclaimed" in front of it, which makes me wonder who's really doing the proclaiming here. Americans seem to love going along with the "Toronto = hockey" thing, Toronto's the biggest city in the biggest hockey country in the world, with both the headquarters of the NHL and the Hall of Fame. But come on now, it's not like we're waging war on Detroit for the ridiculous title of "Hockeytown" with titanium sticks and depleted uranium pucks.

The thing is, McKeon puts together a perfectly decent and detailed article, stressing the need for patience, youth, and drafting into the future. He doesn't bash the signing of Finger, he acknowledges the difficulty a rebuilding team has in luring top free agents. He says what everyone needs to say to themselves, Leaf fan or no, that it's probably best to cut ties with Sundin. Finally he stresses that defense and hard work are what's going to make this team down the stretch.

So why the need to toss off one liners about the fans? Even better, if Toronto is the center of hockey then shouldn't we know when a team needs to come down? Where is this stuff coming from?

Ross and Yahoo! have no axe to grind with the Leafs, so I can assume that no real malice is being added here, he wrote that because he believes it to be true. Or... he believes that we believe it to be true. Or something.

So is our media so pervasive that it's causing international ripples, that soon people in Argentina will believe that Torontonians all hate to see a listless organization given direction at the expense of false promises? That there's some sort of overarching belief in Toronto's superiority and destiny as a hockey city? Or, even worse, is the vocal base of Leaf haters who believe in the Coxs and Bergers of the world spreading their message to people who shouldn't even care?

We're sports fans, we want our team to do well, and we get a little down when they don't. There happen to be a lot of us in one place for the relatively small game of hockey, but please stop trying to make our fanbase out to be something different because of that.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Preseason thoughts and ramblings

Own Goals

Get ready for a lot more of these as the preseason progresses into the season. Wilson's stressing the guys getting into lanes like never before, it will be a while before they get comfortable with it and generally poor deflections come with the territory of heavy shot blocking. In the end the results will be worth it, but in the meantime we're going to be putting our heads in our hands quite a bit.


John Mitchell's played his way into a #1a call-up role in my opinion, and good for him as he had a great playoff with the Marlies. I don't think he's good enough to crack the roster full time as we have a glut of forwards, but if he doesn't earn a call at some point this season I'll eat my hat.

Earl looks like he's trying to do too much with the puck out there, his speed and shot look great but generally when he's on the ice he's a turnover machine. It's a shame, hopefully he'll put together a healthy season in the AHL and return with a cooler head.

Williams... still sucks. It's a shame, but his game's got too many holes right now. Like Earl, hopefully he'll play a full season and pull it together.

Pogge looks good, but he's not ready yet. I really doubt we'll be moving Toskala this year, Pogge needs to play a lot of games and calm down in his crease.

Luke Schenn

Is an ass-kicker, he looks fairly comfortable on the ice and turned out to be a scoring sensay-schenn! *collective groaning* He needs time to adjust to the speed of the game, he's been burned taking too long to make decisions with the puck several times so far and he's had difficulty on the PK. Bright future for the kid, I have to agree with Cliff's decision to get us a steady blueliner to start off our new core.


Grabovsky needs to realise that just because he can stickhandle well doesn't mean he should in most situations. The Antro-Grabs-Kulemin line shows promise, Kulemin and Grabs both need to learn to find open ice better. Kulemin's still skirting the line between 3rd line grinder and 2nd line scorer, hell of a shot but his overall play in the zone needs work. Hagman looked like he was trying to force scoring chances and shots last game, trying to live up to his 27 goal billing perhaps? (maybe we have a new Jason Blake?) Dominic Moore is an ass-kicker, I was hoping Mayers would basically be a Moore clone but it's obvious his hands are a little bit stiffer. If we can play a good trap then we've got the scoring to win a few games, but all the facets of the team probably won't come together until January at the earliest.

Ian White: Offensive(ly bad) defenseman

I've had long arguments with mf37 about this guy lately, and his goal last night doesn't make me think any better of him.

To sum up, he was third most in shots on our team last year and played the fourth most minutes among defensemen on the Leafs, and is often referred to as an "offensive defenseman". However, he's averaged a 3.3 shooting percentage on the team while taking roughly 120 shots per full season. Those are Hal Gill like numbers in terms of shots. White also only had half or less of the assists of the other shooting leaders on D, showing me that his shots are also not directly leading to scoring opportunities, considering his trouble putting the puck in the net himself. He missed 55 shots, almost a full third of his total, just two misses less than Kubina (who took 20 more shots total). Offensive? Really? His contribution to our offense isn't exactly irreplaceable.

He's also a mediocre skater, anyone who says he skates well has been paid by him. Check out Crosby's breakaway goal, both he and Kubina get toasted but it's Kubina who actually gets a few steps in and tries to make a play on Crosby. How the hell is Pavel Kubina a better skater than White?

He plays physically in our zone but he's really too small to deal with NHL size power forwards, he looks like a child out there some nights, and his physical play rarely leads to a change in possession.

White makes a decent pass, but the other facets of his game lack considerably. He brings it every night, and rarely gets injured, which is another plus. Personally I don't believe we can up his value enough to get a return for him in a trade, on a supposedly low-scoring team he's never going to put enough points up, and defensively he's played like a 6th or 7th guy for years now. If anything, the reason we should be keeping White is to fill a hole once we pump and dump someone else.

In defense of my boy Anton

pretty impressive photo considering that shot barely topped 40mph

Alright, so he didn't look too great against the Pens, the kick-in goal is one of those things that just happens, and he blew a tire on his bum knee.

The shortie is what got him the most raspberries, and it was pretty bad, but something in Ron Wilson's post game interview caught my ear:

"Both of our defensemen fell down on that play, which probably won't happen again all year"

Hold up on that thinking Ron, this is the Maple Leafs we're talking about. But both our defensemen?

Now, after that goal my first thought was "Where's Kabby on that play?" but I held my tongue. However, check out the game in 6 on and before the camera zooms in on Malkin you'll see Kaberle just starting to get up on one knee. God damn the ice in Pittsburgh must be bad, but that little fact turns that play from incompetence to slapstick in short order.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Damien Cox knows his stuff

Cox recently put together one of his misery-pieces (isn't it great to know the hockey season is starting again?) centering on the Leafs, our man Vesa Toskala, and the axe collection he's been grinding all summer at home.

He makes some decent points, which can be argued to varying levels of success (McKichan had say in the Raycroft trade and obviously failed with Rayzor, and I hate to say it Leafs fans but Pogge not playing in the playoffs for the Marl was possibly to the benefit of the rest of the team).

He comes off as fairly factual and reasonable, which is of course why he has to take a parting shot that makes no sense and showcases his flair for spouting indecipherable gibberish.

"When Leaf camp opens, it will be with a team expecting to do worse featuring a goaltender expected to do even better.

Can't see how both can happen."

Oh really, Damien? Because I have two functioning eyes, and it only took me two minutes and a dozen or so mouseclicks for them to see goaltending numbers for the teams that finished worse in the standings than the Leafs last year.

Among starters:

Tampa Bay
Johan Holmqvist GAA: 3.01 Sv%: .890

Los Angeles
Jason Labarbera GAA: 3.00 Sv%: .910

Kari Lehtonen GAA: 2.90 Sv%: .916

St. Louis
Manny Legace GAA: 2.41 Sv%: .911

New York Islanders
Rick DiPietro GAA: 2.82 Sv%: .902

Pascal Leclaire GAA: 2.25 Sv%: .919

Vesa Toskala GAA: 2.74 Sv%: .904

So we can see that of the six teams who placed below the Leafs in the standings last year, four had starters with higher save percentages than Toskala, and two of those four also had a lower GAA.

Which is why it's simply impossible for Toskala's numbers to improve if the Leafs drop in the standings.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I hate myself for this...

But I read an article on that site that caught my interest. Some may remember that I do not frequent said site as a matter of course, I just... stumbled upon it while... on HFboards looking for the breakdown of the Leafs rookie tournament. Good lord that was painful.

It looks like the final nail is being driven into the coffin of any respectability the so-called "Muskoka Five" could have claimed. Mats is reneging on his stated wish to be with a team through camp to the finals, McCabe eventually accepted a trade to a destination few (like me) thought likely after years of assertions of loyalty to Toronto, and now the worst one of all:

"I love to play for the Leafs, and I hope to play another year in Toronto. If not, I'll move on. But, I'm ready to play here and we'll see what happens." - Tomas Kaberle

Now Tomas, why do you just hope to play another year? You're just as in control of your destiny this season as you were last, when you blocked a trade that would have netted us a young top six forward and a top 20 draft pick. You were adamant about being a Leaf then, what's changed?

Oh. Your friends aren't around.

Could it be that the leadership core of the Leafs, the one adamant about winning a championship in Toronto, that believed in their group, was just a bunch of chums looking to have a good time on our dollars? There's evidence out there, and I hate that with every interview our former veteran core is proving the cliche thrown around by the TSM.

say it ain't so, Kabby

It's easier to see someone like McCabe move on once the atmosphere's gone, he was an import that had been shuffled around a few teams in the league before finding a partner in Kaberle along the blueline. Kaberle is a life-Leafer, a rare draft pick that's stuck with the club the whole of his career, who we might hope would retire a Leaf. To think that he torpedoed what would have been a key part of our rebuild not because he was loyal to the Leafs, but because he was loyal to his buddies, is sad in a lot of ways for a Leaf fan.

The worst part is that it's Kaberle who's the latest vet to waffle on his motivations for staying with the team now that it's not as easy in the dressing room. The one guy that none of us questioned for his performance or his contract, and the only one of the five to come through our system. You're a Maple Leaf Tomas, not a Sundin's Heroes Leaf, your jersey doesn't have a patch on it's shoulder that reads "Caber + Kabby + Tucks = BFF" on it (I hope). You've already made a stand that you want to remain a Leaf, so stick by it else you become another pariah of the dark period this club is going through.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Maybe we need to go over some terminology here...

eat it, Massholes

In this well-quoted article by the Globe and Mail we see a picture that doesn't look too bright for the Leafs' future. Young kids are having a hard time getting into the game, fan numbers in polls are down, and they're looking to a franchise like Chicago for tips on how to get their populace excited again (having two break-out young draft picks the same year your team gets televised locally for the first time sounds like a strategy MLSE will have difficulty duplicating).

But let's go over a few things here:

"He revealed the club's market research indicated that in 2007-08, only 51 per cent of the people surveyed considered themselves die-hard Leafs fans, down from 68 per cent the previous year."

Now, I looked up the definition of "diehard" for an example, let's try two:

From Miriam Webster Online: strongly or fanatically determined or devoted <die–hard fans>

From Stubbornly resisting change or clinging to a seemingly hopeless or outdated cause.

Oh, look at that. I guess the 17% of the Leafs populace that removed themselves from the die-hard category after three years of non-success were right to do so, as they were full of shit to begin with.

Now, I know what MLSE is getting at here, fans are becoming disenfranchised by the woes of the team. But let's set things straight, the populace they're losing aren't the same people who shell out big bucks to buy scalped tickets to a Leafs/Habs showdown. They aren't the people with a Leaf license plate and flags on their car. They aren't the people who still own Leafs bedsheets and wear their Salming jersey while watching taped playoff games from '93 late at night. They're the "fans" that don't know shit about hockey, or the Leafs, who "cheer" for them occasionally in order to fit in at parties and cause a ruckus at bars.

So the crux of the matter is this; how much of does it actually matter if the Leafs are losing bandwagon fans? Should they do anything to remedy that?

For fans like most of the Barilkosphere, the consequences of losing touch with this customer base are twofold; firstly it means that fewer people will be snapping up those corporate platinum seats, secondly it means that there are going to be more people yelling "Leafs suck Ottawa/Montreal/Calgary rules!" out of cars as we walk past in our jerseys.

For MLSE the case is different. These are bandwagon fans, to get them back the Leafs need to be successful, so really any initiative the Leafs are trying to make to hook these people in during rebuild years is wasted effort. But the real meat of the article is the waning numbers of GTA area residents that are actually getting into the game at a young age, something that is very crucial that the organization address. Toronto is an expensive area to live in, and GTA hockey is expensive as all hell (a few grand if you want your kids in AA or AAA, not to mention the usual expenses of equipment and travel). If this is truly Canada's sport then not just MLSE needs to realise that hockey needs to be supported in order to give the (relative) poor or newly immigrated inroads into building up a community, as well as physical and personal skills. It's too easy to take for granted the fact that we live in Canada, or Toronto, and that hockey is ubiquitous.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Florida: 1 Maple Leafs: 3

Is just about how I tally this year's transactions between the two teams. The point Florida gained? The Bryan McCabe trade of course.

his last effort as a Maple Leaf was making Florida look good in
a trade, which would be fitting if it wasn't so damn depressing.

So what's the score breakdown? Well I'd put it at:

Kilger/ 3rd Round Pick: Advantage Leafs
Belak/ 5th Round Pick: Advantage Leafs
Bryan McCabe + 4th Round Pick/ Mike Van Ryn: Advantage Panthers
Bryan McCabe + 4th Round Pick/ Mike Van Ryn: Advantage Leafs

Why would I ever think getting rid of a draft pick is a good idea for a rebuilding team, and why does Florida even benefit from picking up our garbage? Well...

Florida Gains:
Bryan McCabe, a guy I believe still has some offense left in him and an NHL veteran used to eating up minutes. If Bouwmeester can cover up for him in his own end the way Kaberle used to then Florida's on it's way to a decent top pair and a capable offense that doesn't need to play Jokinen on the point on the power play any more.

McCabe also has some built up chemistry in the locker room with buddy and over all good guy Wade Belak, and potentially Chad Kilger should he ever return from the wilderness. Plus, though Martin may come to regret this, there's stability built into McCabe's deal. McCabe is likely loathe to want to move again, and has family in Florida to root him there as well as a friend. Martin was also probably the only GM in the NHL who even considered trading for the guy. Martin has a top-pairing defenseman for the next 3 years, regardless of how the Panthers fare in the standings.

They also got a fourth round pick in 2010 from the Leafs, which is pure gold.

Panthers Lose:
Van Ryn, a guy with potential to be a steady 40 point dman whose career has been set back by injury and circumstance. Really the Panthers aren't hurting for depth on the defensive end after the Jokinen trade, so losing Van Ryn and gaining McCabe is still likely a move up in skill level without the team regressing in other areas.

Leafs Gain:
Van Ryn, a potential 40 point dman who will probably play better defense with no wrists than McCabe ever did. With Van Ryn we get insurance heading out of camp if Cola is injured or if Frogren or Stralman don't progress to the NHL level like we might hope. Also Ian White sucks, and he better be our 7th or in the Marlies next season. If Van Ryn does well enough throughout the season then we have the depth to finally be a seller at the trade deadline, which will hopefully at least yield us back that 4th rounder.

Leafs Lose:
Bryan McCabe. And let me be the 4,000th to say, Thank the Lord. In McCabe we lose a 1st pairing power play defenseman on a team that already has one (Kubina) younger, cheaper, more physical, and on the upswing in terms of his point curve. Regardless of how we felt about Bryan's play, he was one-dimensional, redundant and old on a team that needs youth and an emphasis on defensive responsibility.

A 4th round draft selection in 2010. Unfortunately GMs knew the kind of situation the Leafs were in with McCabe and so weren't willing to simply take the guy off our hands. A fourth rounder is hopefully something we can recoup later on with a trade of one of our defensive depth players.

At the end of the day the Leafs were never going to add anybody significant to their roster for McCabe, he's old, coming off a very poor year in terms of production. Plus Toronto might as well have tarred him and feathered him with a big sign on his back that read "Honk if you love blowing games in overtime" for emphasis. Which, to most of us, is pretty awesome.

The advantage the Leafs gain is not by adding Van Ryn, but in what is left in McCabe's absence. The Leafs gain about 2mil in cap room next year, and more over the next 2 if Van Ryn leaves later on. 2-5 million might not seem large in today's NHL but it gives us room to hold onto our core guys once they hit contract years a little down the stretch. It also frees up 20 minutes a night on our blue line, to be distributed however way Ron Wilson sees fit, but ultimately frees up space over the next 3 years for guys like Stralman, Schenn, and Vorobiev should he ever fly over.

That 4th round pick we lost with McCabe gives us more time and space to sign and play the guys that were identified as people we want to keep within the organization, and so in my mind is worth the expense. Much more so than, say, a 5th for Ryan Hollweg to dance around in our locker room.

Also, DGB over on his great Leafs blog started up a pretty good discussion about McCabe's priorities and commitment to winning when the details of McCabe's decision came to light. Some great comments there, just adding my two cents: McCabe's priorities aren't out of whack as a person or even an employee, everyone works in order to better suit themselves and their families. However, when it boils down to it, McCabe's obligation as an athlete to this team and this city was to compete and play with desire every game, regardless of the state of his personal life. If he'd simply performed instead of getting comfortable with mediocrity then he never would have had to move his family in the first place. McCabe has every right to look out for his family, we as fans have every right to feel frustrated over his attitude to his commitments.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chances getting smaller?

it's a fact, if Kyle Wellwood burps on the ice, Nik Antropov is too high up to hear him

The Forechecker, a great hockey statistics blog, recently put up an article detailing size and weight of all 30 teams in the NHL. As you can see, the Leafs come up slightly below the league average, in 18th place. This is only slightly surprising to me, we actually shed some small guys in Tucker and Wellwood, and only really lost size in Gill when it boiled down to transactions. It also helps that waaay back in 07 when the Leafs were making another ill-fated playoff push it was the "Big Three" of Poni, Sundin, and Antro that I heard Philly's announcers talking about in a game, to them back then we were a big team that used it's size. Looking over our dudes though, most top out at 6' even, and guys like Stajan, Steen, Moore, Devereaux, Tlusty, Stralman, and Williams are pretty darned shrimpy.

Is this a big deal? I mean, the Sharks and Sens top the list and both appear to be dominant teams (in the regular season), but both perennial contenders Dallas and Detroit actually reach out at the bottom of the list. Dallas even played a fairly physical playoffs this past season, so it would appear that size isn't necessarily a determining factor when it comes down to team competitiveness and play style.

So why talk about something that apparently doesn't matter? Because Cliff Fletcher seems to think it does.

The Leafs selected eight players at this last draft, Fletcher's first in a while. Not one of them topped out below 6'2". Weight doesn't really apply to 18 year olds, but they project to be a pretty massive group of guys. Both Damien Cox and the boys at Hockey's Future seem skeptical of the actual talent level of the group, while Steve at another great hockey analysis blog begs to differ. The two big names past Schenn are Hayes and Stefanovich, both of whom definitely have first round skill levels, but both have question marks that are hard to argue with surrounding their consistency and work ethic in regards to their careers.

Were Fletcher's draft day decisions based on figures that appear to be meaningless? Or did he just pick the best guys that seemed available, and by coincidence they all bang their heads on the way out of their limos? I'm really interested to see how the big guys work out. The franchise already has a past neglecting small players, we will never hear the end of the Steve Sullivan catcalls.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I hate you, Bryan McCabe

pictured here: Paragons of uselessness

Though this time it isn't because your idea of taking the man is poking at him with your stick from behind the goal line when he has an open net. It's not because you're a whiner, or a connoisseur of apologetic excuse making. It's not because of your stupid facial hair or shit-eating grin.

I hate you today because you're making me a liar.

I knew that, if I said you weren't moving long enough, you'd see your way out to spite me. Now that your stance is weakened, the end result is inevitable. You're like some poor unsuspecting victim at a bar, someone asks you to go grab a slice of pizza and after a while you go "Well, I suppose I am a little peckish" and then before you know it you wake up in some hellhole in Connecticut surrounded by Darcy Tucker jerseys. Your plane ticket's already been paid for, first class, because we like to treat our guys right while threatening to not play them.

I think the better question now is, who the hell even wants him?

mf37's Toronto Maple Leafs blog had an excellent piece covering the issue a few weeks ago, the market has changed a little bit since then so let's take a look:

The Variables

Location: McCabe still gets to choose where he goes, and then it all comes down to whether or not those specific teams are interested. Garth Snow is, for the first time in his life, playing hardball with the Leafs over the McCabe issue. Good for him, but like a retarded stepchild he's picking the exact wrong time to try out this exciting new concept. This is a team that had Bryan Berard and Marc-Andre Bergeron as it's first power play unit. Mark Streit's only one half of a pair, and well, we'll see how much of his production was a product of Montreal's system, as Souray didn't do so well his first year out.

I'm going to assume McCabe is not a total asshat (a stretch, I know) and say that family is very important to him, and that he'll want to stay close to New York or southern Ontario.

Cap room: Now, Fletcher's already gone on record saying we may have to take some salary back, this isn't a salary dump as the market probably won't allow that. This actually supposedly gives us a wider range of teams, as individual cap space isn't an issue.

Need: Free agent frenzy's over, and a lot of teams have addressed their needs on D. While the Boyle trade let us know that it's entirely possible to sign a contract with a no-trade and get traded immediately, not all teams are undergoing an ownership change.

That makes our potentials: New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators. Not too different from mf37's list, it's true. I didn't include Atlanta because, well, Georgia's a lot closer to Florida than it is to Rhode Island or the GTA, and if we include them we might as well include Tampa and Florida*.

The Islanders signed Streit, but still have loads of space and the need for a power play defensemen. The question is whether Wang will allow his team to spend higher, and if Snow will soften on his demands for a 1st rounder. I kind of doubt that either is likely knowing the Islanders.

The Sabres need a good powerplay dman and have the cap room to make anything possible. However, just re-signing Numminen fills up their roster slots and with guys like Sekera, Weber, and Gragnani looking to crack the line-up I think we'd have to take at least one bad dman back in order to make any trade remotely possible.

New Jersey's interesting, losing Rafalski hurt them a great deal, but they're right up against the cap. Their d-corps is modest, but their forward core is actually fairly expensive, with 8 guys out of 12 being paid at least $2.5 mil. With some of those guys being 35 year old John Madden, and 37 year old Bobby Holik, I can see some moves being made to allow a guy like Bryan in. Whether or not they want him at all is a better question.

The Rangers are out of the picture with the Redden signing and the amount of money they've invested in their vets; I can't conceive of a deal that would work and they have a solid enough core.

Ottawa's another interesting choice, they have space to do whatever they want and just lost Redden, but guys like Meszaros and Lee are supposed to be stepping up. I think the biggest impediment to this deal is the fact that I can't understand why a team that saw 8 games of Bryan McCabe last year would want him.

Oh Fuck We're Probably Keeping Him Anyway Aren't We

The Islanders are going to remain the front-runners in this discussion, the circumstances are too perfect for them not to. Looking up and down a list I can see Buffalo, Ottawa, or Jersey also receiving some consideration, though the deal would likely be epic.

I'd say the market for a $5mil broken, old defenseman whose peak was two years ago is pretty slim, especially when he gets to choose the region his team would be in. I'm still optimistic that the deal will work itself out by the start of the season, but this list exercise was depressing in it's limitations. Just stop being a dick, Garth Snow.

*rumours of a McCabe to Florida trade have gone around despite being tremendously dumb. With Bouwmeester likely to leave Florida will need a good point shot, but the location works against this. With Belak McCabe's at least got someone to talk to, but I'm putting this into the 'no' category until McCabe proves me wrong again and accepts a trade to Los Angeles.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Just when you've lost faith in the general public...

Some guy named GuelphGuy posts in the comments section of theStar on this article and totally redeems the lot of them.

"How many articles can you print about absolutely nothing? Please just stop, and give us the news when there IS news."


Straight to the point, being critical of the media that's manufactured it's own monster in regards to this Sundin story. Let's be honest here, nobody's talking about Joe Sakic, nobody's talking about Teemu Selanne, because most legitimate media have the sense to know that it's a dead story. The player will make a decision or they won't, and when they do it won't be in secret, it won't be something that needs revealing.

What's been pissing me off is the amount of aggrandizement that Mats has been getting over this bullshit press.

People are pissed off because they see articles being printed every other day that don't say anything, even from decent sources. Rather than blame the piss-poor decision making of these establishments, they're blaming Mats for taking his time on a very personal decision here. This is one case where you really should be shooting the messenger, for instead of delivering a message you don't like he's stopping by your house and talking about the fit of his codpiece while delivering the same expired coupons you've been getting for weeks.

The media is pissed off because they've been following this story so closely, devoted so much time to what anybody could have told them was a loser's proposition, that they're lashing out at him and questioning the heart and work ethic of a guy who could come to their house and take it apart brick by brick with a hockey stick and some herring. I love the idea that people who can't even find a real story to print and who turn on their subjects and audience so quickly are questioning
anybody's work ethic or heart.

So enough. The media seems to think that Mats is entitled to come back and give them a huge story for all the time they've spent on him. The public seems to think that Mats isn't entitled to do whatever he wants, when he wants. Unfortunately, Mats doesn't take shit from anyone, and if his long decision making process is pissing people off then I'm glad, I hope they stew for at least another week.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cheering and Team Selection

Over at Puck Daddy and a certain Toronto Maple Leafs blog there's been a heated topic over the subject of picking a team to root for. I find this really interesting, mostly because the reactions have been outrageously extreme.

this pretty much sums up my view of Leaf fans yelling at each other

Now, I'm a Leafs fan, no doubt about it. Live in Toronto, go to games, hate people in Habs jerseys, etc.

However, when I was just a young lad my aunt moved to San Jose. When she left I told her I'd root for the Sharks for her. She's still living in California, I'm still cheering for the Sharks to win*. Plus I really liked Street Sharks as a kid.

I don't have to tell you how awesome this toy was

* The caveat is that if the Sharks play the Leafs, the Leafs must win. I was pissed when we blew a 2-1 lead to them last season. Sorry auntie, my team vs. your team, my team must rip Thornton's head off.

I should also say that there's a chance I'll be moving down to California in the future. In that eventuality I'll be buying a Sharks jersey. I'd still be a Leaf fan, and I'd show up in my colours whenever an Eastern team came to town, but at the end of the day I'm a big fan of teal too.

I can understand not really cheering for a certain team over another. With certain applications of modern technology I can stream just about any NHL game onto my TV, and when the season's on I don't care who's playing, I'll watch all night. Most days I couldn't give a damn if Colorado beats Columbus, and the team I want to lose is the first team that pisses me off.

I'm also just breaking into soccer (football). Right now I'm just cheering for my favourite player, Michael Ballack, after seeing him with the Germans in the World Cup. This makes me a de facto Chelsea fan, not bad because they have a similar colour scheme to my boys in blue, but a fact that makes me a little uncomfortable because I haven't developed any attachment to the history or city of the team.

With all that, I understand not really having a favourite team. While I think the people who get jerseys of divisional rivals sewn together are a little confused, I'm willing to grant that there are in fact degrees of fandom out there. Us in the Barilkosphere, most of us are die hard blue and white, but I can tell you right now most of the people I know who call themselves Leaf fans don't know the name Kulemin, or Stralman, they still think Owen Nolan is playing for us, and if they turned on the TV next season and saw Cujo in net they'll think he never left.

It's weird, but some people don't seem to take this hometown win or die sports fan thing very seriously.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Footballers hate cunts, and Cox

So a couple days ago I stumbled upon an article in the Globe about John Carver (coach of the TFC) responding to the negative media in Toronto. It took me a while to find it online because it's not linked anywhere on their soccer page for some reason.

Some choice quotes:

"I sit and wonder, why hasn't (Toronto's) hockey team won anything? Why hasn't the baseball team been successful lately? Because I'm coming from the outside and I don't know if you guys get your heads together cause you don't like writing nice things. ... You just want to write sh--..."

"Does Toronto want their teams to be successful? I'm asking you."

""Do you want me to get up and (leave)," Carver asked with incredulity."

Now, the article goes on to detail how he's been suffering under the stress of the media coverage, that in England he only gives weekly updates but in Canada he's expected to appear every day.

We hate on Cox, Simmons, et. al. for their rhetoric and the fact that they always point the finger at their fanbase whenever their idiocy and general negativity is thrown under scrutiny. Rare is it in history that you can continue to be paid not just after you call your consumer base clods, but because you can barely hide your disdain for them. It reminds me of when I used to work in a comic book store.

As much as we hate on them for their opinions of us, what about the players? We quickly dismiss the thought regularly, these are after all adults making millions and they can just fucking deal with it. But whether consciously or subconsciously, what kind of affect does this constant attention have on their psyches?

Players blow it off in interviews but they hardly want to come off as whiners. At the end of the day, is the topic that we blow off as childish in fact the reason for our downfall? Is it because of us, the media that we'll digest constantly, the need for more interviews, more news, that our teams under perform? That our guys choke when it's most important? That losing a few games becomes a losing spiral, that the same problems that plague our teams never get fixed?

Is it odd that it takes someone from England (a football crazy country) to come in and tell us that our ravenous consumption of sport media is ludicrous? Possibly detrimental to his team? Could the media in fact be a major contributing factor to not only the discontented mentality fans have towards their teams, but also to the play of the teams themselves?

I don't like the idea of blaming the media for our teams' woes, there are more obvious factors at play here than a subversive media turning our players all into depressed choke artists. But every Toronto fan knows that the media here does factor in greatly in the lives of our professional athletes. Carver isn't telling us anything we didn't suspect, but a coach from a foreign land playing a game that hasn't yet been embraced in Canada has a bit better of an outsiders' view on this city than we do.

Perhaps more than just the team will need to change in the coming years for success to come our way.