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.