Friday, April 6, 2012

I'm moving!

I've decided to incoporate by Maple Leafs blog with my other blog - Canada, eh?

Since the Curse of Frank Mahovlich lives on I feel compelled to continue to report on the National Tragedy - the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So please check me out at my other location.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Excellent video review of the Maple Leafs rollercoaster 2011-12 season

Filmmaker Dave Kennedy created this 14-minute review of the ecstasy and agony of Toronto Maple Leafs' 2011-12 rollercoaster season. The second half is tough to watch.

Dion Phaneuf as the season's scapegoat

Dion Phaneuf was doomed from the start of the season when Ron Wilson declared he was the best defenseman in the league by a country mile. The statement is as false today as it was back in October. On team with a flawed defensive system and weak goaltending the Leafs defense became progressively worse as the season progressed. Phaneuf was no exception.

Phaneuf wears the "C" and is the highest paid player on the Leafs so he will naturally attract more attention than anyone else on the roster. The media and various blogs are now trying to pin the second half meltdown to weak leadership, ie, Phaneuf is a bad captain.

I don't buy into this thinking at all. There are a lot of questions to be asked about Dion Phaneuf but the Maple Leaf collapse cannot be pinned on him. I don't believe that captains play a big role on professional sport teams. Good players make for winners but putting a "C" on someone's chest isn't going to make everyone else better. I think many agree that Jerome Iginla is a model captain. Yet the Flames won't make the playoffs this year for the third consecutive year and have not made it past the first round in quite a number of years. There were seasons when both Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour were captain that the Leafs missed the playoffs.

Leadership can't come from a single individual, it has to emanate from a group of veterans. That being said Phaneuf may not be a great captain. What we don't know is what goes on in the dressing room. When you continually see player polls suggesting that Phaneuf is the most over-rated player in the league that tells me he's not a popular guy. That sentiment may also exist in the Toronto dressing room. An unpopular guy appointed captain is not likely good for team morale. I saw a recent article suggesting he and Luke Schenn did not get along. Reporters spend a lot of time hanging around with players so some of these stories have some truth to them. He likely is considered management's guy and considering how much Brian Burke has invested in this guy, it's probably true.

The bottom line is that Phaneuf makes $6.5 million (his cap hit) which ranks him 6th among defenseman. He clearly is not worth that kind of money which is probably the major reason why people are so critical of him. The Leafs are trying to build a defense around this guy and he just might not be up for it. But I doubt Burke is the one who can objectively evaluate this asset.

Phaneuf may not be the reason for the Leafs' dismal season but the real issue is whether he can contribute to their success in the future.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New York Islanders act as if Pat LaFontaine never existed

Before every home game this season, the New York Islanders have commemorated their 40th anniversary in the National Hockey League by dimming the house lights and queuing up a nostalgic video.

For five minutes, the Nassau Coliseum scoreboard comes to life. It flickers through a montage of clips, set to stirring orchestral music, that recall the one thing this struggling franchise still has in abundance: a rich history of great moments made possible by great hockey players.

But anyone remotely familiar with the team's history will ask the same question after watching this video: What happened to one of the most famous Islanders of all, Pat LaFontaine?

LaFontaine, arguably the Islanders' best and most popular player in the late 1980s and early 1990s, remains one of their most significant figures. Yet the video is one of several instances when the Islanders seem intent to pretend he doesn't exist—they've left him out of their Hall of Fame and once neglected to mention his presence at a charity bike ride. It's one of the rare instances in sports history where a professional team has taken pains to whitewash a player from its history.

The fracture seems to stem from LaFontaine's 40-day tenure as an unpaid senior adviser to team owner Charles Wang and his resignation from that post on July 18, 2006. That resignation came just hours after Wang had fired general manager Neil Smith and replaced him with the team's backup goaltender, Garth Snow. Wang had hired Smith and LaFontaine on the same day, and LaFontaine said in a recent interview that he disagreed with Wang's decision to fire Smith after less than six weeks.

The ill will stems from LaFontaine's tenure as an unpaid adviser to owner Charles Wang.

LaFontaine elected to step down after failing to persuade Wang to reconsider, he said—not necessarily out of loyalty to Smith, but out of concern for the franchise's direction. "I believe you treat people fairly," he said, "and stand up for what you believe in."


Mike Millbury is Don Cherry with only half a brain

Most people know I just don't care for Don Cherry. I don't care for his xenophobia, right wing political agenda, bully pulpit or out-dated perspective of the game. But I do appreciate his skills as a promoter and populist.

As for Mike Millbury, I'm sorry but I find him revolting. He is a sorry excuse for a hockey commentator and his approach to winning an argument is to bully his opponent or just throw insults. I'm sure he thinks he's being controversial when he is just obnoxious. I thought he was done as a TV personality when he was charged with assulting a 12 year old player but he beat that rap and therefore CBC continues to employ him.

For me he had crossed the line too many times but this week he went after Sidney Crosby. Milbury called Crosby "little goody two shoes" and a "little punk" and "not the perfect gentleman" and implied he's a hypocrite for playing on the edge after his "35th concussion" and punctuated the whole thing by saying, "screw him, hit him."

I can understand that he might be annoyed by Crosby's persona because he knows that Crosby can be pretty chippy on the ice. But he is the game's biggest start and never expects anyone to protect him unlike Wayne Gretzky who always had "on ice security." But he questioned his masculinity and made light of his concussion problems.

Then he makes an apology but I doubt there is any real remorse. The apology is strictly to protect his job. Millbury's style is to verbally bludgeon people similar to what he did on the ice several decades ago. This man has not mellowed and feels he has no need to.

Surely there must be a former player or executive that can fill Millbury's big shoes. That would provide him with more time to bully kids at the arena when his son plays.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 27

The Maple Leafs are clearly just going through the motions of playing out the remainder of the season. Any power ranking above 29 is undeserved. Despite management, the coaching staff and the players committing to winning as many games as possible, nothing could be farther from the truth. What else can they say with so many home games at the tail end of the schedule. People are shelling out $200 or more or a ticket to watch shinny in some cases.

All of a sudden a raft of players are hurt and out of the lineup including James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson, Mikhail Grabovski, Joffrey Lupul, Clarke MacArthur, David Steckel, Mike Brown and Matt Frattin. If the team was fighting for a playoff spot how many of these walking wounded would be still in the lineup? Obviously we will never know. One of the luxuries of playing for a non contender is that you don't have to play injured and you have 5 full months to recover from the season before training camp starts. I can just imagine how many NHL players are playing hurt right now. That number will grow through the playoffs. So playing on a non contender can extend your career. Life isn't so bad if you are a Maple Leafs player.

Fox Sports - 26th (-1)

Air Canada Centre is apparently the new Nassau Coliseum, as four different Maple Leafs have started in goal over the last five games. The fans will have one more opportunity to taunt the home team this Thursday against Tampa Bay.

The Hockey News - 26th (-1)

Fan anger over Leafs' consistent futility at an all-time high; Brian Burke better have long sleeves - and more than a few tricks up them - this off-season.

CBS Sports - 27th (-1)

When they beat Buffalo on Saturday night, the Maple Leafs won on their home ice for the first time since Feb. 6.

TSN - 29th (-2)

Locked in a battle with the Ducks and Islanders for the fourth, fifth and sixth-worst records in the league, with the bottom five eligible to land the top pick in the draft lottery, the Maple Leafs are making a solid bid for positioning with three top six forwards on the shelf the rest of the way.

ESPN - 29th (-4)

After a colossal fall from grace, the only thing the Leafs have to look forward to is denying Buffalo a playoff berth, which could happen as they visit Buffalo Tuesday.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

You can't lose them all

I understand the Leafs beat the Sabres tonight 4-3 ending their 11 game losing streak at home. That is one-quarter of all their home games. I couldn't bear to watch the game. Despite the win the Leafs remain in 26th place and keep a hold on the last lottery pick in this year's amateur draft.

It's hard to understand what has happened to this year's promise. What went wrong and who is to blame. Harold Ballard is no long around. We have one of the top general managers in the league. Richard Peddie has faded from the scene. There is no interference from the MLSE board. There is no management power struggle like the one between Ken Dryden and Pat Quinn. John Brophy has retired coaching in the ECHL. Andrew Raycroft, Jason Allison, Jason Blake, Vesa Toskal, Mark Bell and Jeff Finger are no longer playing for the Leafs.

How could this team become the worst team over the last third of the season?

Has the past 45 years become such a burden on the team that no one can succeed?

The worst of it is that the team has quit. They would rather accept a series of humiliating losses than work to win meaningless games. They really don't deserve the unwavering loyalty of their fans. The glory years were so long ago that likely over half of their fan base wasn't alive when the Leafs last one the Cup and almost 10% of Torontonians weren't born when the Leafs last made a playoff appearance.

In 45 years no Cup appearances and only two post-seasons where the Leafs made it to the final four. We are the Chicago Cubs of hockey. The alleged centre hockey world except they don't know how the play the game very well.

Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, the team couldn't sink any lower, sure enough things do get worse.

Welcome to Leafs Nation.

Kari Lehtonen hits fan's face with puck, gives him towel which is stolen by another fan

Pekka Rinne robs Henrik Zetterberg

Rinne is the reason Nashville is guaranteed a playoff berth every season. This is the type of goaltending the Leafs need to find.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Had enough of the Maple Leafs? Blue Jays home opener is April 9

Maple Leafs fans are getting ugly and for a good reason. Starting with 11 straight losses at home. That's pretty nasty for a team with the highest ticket prices in the NHL. The fans struck back last night cheering for the Blue Jays.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The drive for the bottom five

The best part of the Leafs collapse, Brian Burke has become a mute! No bold predictions, looking for the bogeyman, challenging people to fights, or excuses. Suddenly he no longer speaks. Sweet!

His team left for their spring/summer hiatus already leaving him with no explanation. Because the season isn't quite over yet. Yes this is one to tell the grandkids about. The year the Leafs played a 50-game season and then just disappeared.

You have to feel sorry for Randy Carlyle. He knew this team had problems but he likely had no clue how bad it would be. The pained look on his face behind the bench says it all.

Oh and the Leafs lost to the Flyers tonight by a score of 7-1. This was the highlight of the game for the Leafs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Scouting Report: Spencer Abbott

Each year, the NHL dips into the pool of undrafted collegiate players to bolster their system. The Leafs got the ball rolling by signing 23-year-old left winger Spencer Abbott of the Maine Black. Abbott leads the nation in both points (56) and assists (37). And not surprisingly, he has become one of the top candidate's for this year's Hobey Baker Award as well. In addition to his point production, Abbott's quickness and game-changing ability at the college level are among the assets that have put him squarely on the NHL radar.

At 5'10", 175 lbs, Abbott is not a very big player in college hockey. The attribute that has allowed Abbott to thrive is his tremendous quickness. He can move pucks quickly and dart almost seamlessly through traffic. Abbott's great vision and sense of anticipation can be seen in his transitioning and his innate ability to set up and finish plays, including his own.

Excuse me for not getting too excited about this signing. The Leafs are loaded up with small players who are good skaters. Do they really need another Tyler Bozak? I understand as a free agent the risks are quite low. But can Brian Burke cool it with the nonsense that these signings are the equivalent of a 1st round draft pick? Most collegiate signings are a bust. So I'm getting too excited over this one.

Pretty sad, the Vancouver Canucks released a video asking fans not to riot