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.