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?