Monday, December 27, 2010

Away till 2011

Have a Happy New Year!

World Junior Championship all stars not guaranteed jobs in the NHL

I think each year fans expect that the stars from the World Junior Championship are a lock on jobs in the NHL. Well that's not the case. While some go one to become NHL regular and in some cases stars, the remainder are a bust at the professional level. Here are 15 years of All Star teams coming out of the WJC. You don't expect every European to play in the NHL but a number of Canadians and Americans never made it (Al Montoya, Luc Bourdon, Christian Dubé, Brian Bouchard):

Benjamin Conz (SUI)
Alex Pietrangelo (CAN)
John Carlson (USA)
Jordan Eberle (CAN)
Nino Niederreiter (SUI)
Derek Stepan (USA)

Jaroslav Janus SVK)
Erik Karlsson (SWE)
PK Subban (CAN)
John Tavares (CAN)
Cody Hodgson (CAN)
Nikita Filatov (RUS)

Steve Mason (CAN)
Drew Doughty (CAN)
Victor Hedman (SWE)
Patrick Berglund (SWE)
Victor Tikhonov (RUS)
James van Riemsdyk (USA)

Carey Price (CAN)
Kristopher Letang (CAN)
Erik Johnson (USA)
Jonathan Toews (CAN)
Alexei Cherepanov (RUS)
Patrick Kane (USA)

Tuuka Rask (FIN)
Luc Bourdon (CAN)
Jack Johnson (USA)
Steve Downie (CAN)
Evgeni Malkin (RUS)
Lauri Tukonen (FIN)

Marek Schwartz (CZE)
Dion Phaneuf (CAN)
Ryan Suter (USA)
Patrice Bergeron (CAN)
Jeff Carter (CAN)
Alexander Ovechkin (RUS)

Al Montoya (USA)
Sami Lepisto (FIN)
Dion Phaneuf (CAN)
Jeff Carter (CAN)
Zach Parise (USA)
Valtteri Filppula (FIN)

Marc-André Fleury (CAN)
Carlo Colaiacovo (CAN)
Joni Pitkanen (FIN)
Yuri Trubachev (RUS)
Igor Grigorenko (RUS)
Scottie Upshall (CAN)

Pacal Leclaire (CAN)
Jay Bouwmeester (CAN)
Igor Knyasev (RUS)
Mike Cammalleri (CAN)
Marek Svatos (SLO)
Stanislav Chistov (RUS)

Ari Ahonen (FIN)
Rotislav Kesla (CZE)
Tuuku Mantyla (FIN)
Jason Spezza (CAN)
Pavel Brendl (CZE)
Jani Rita (FIN)

Rick Dipietro (USA)
Matthieu Biron (CAN)
Alexander Rjazantsev (RUS)
Milan Kraft (CZE)
Eugeny Muratov (RUS)
Alexei Tereschenko (RUS)

Roberto Luongo (CAN)
Vitali Vichnevski (RUS)
Brian Campbell (CAN)
Maxim Balmochnukh (RUS)
Daniel Tkaczuk (CAN)
Brian Gionta (USA)

David Aebischer (SUI)
Andrei Markov, (RUS)
Pierre Hedin (SWE)
Olli Jokinen (FIN)
Eero Somervuori (FIN)
Maxim Balmochnykh (RUS)

Brian Bouchard (USA
Chris Phillips (CAN)
Mark Steit (SUI)
Christian Dubé (CAN)
Sergei Samsonov (RUS)
Michael York (USA)

Jose Theodore (CAN)
Mattias Öhlund (SWE)
Nolan Baumgartner (CAN)
Jarome Iginla (CAN)
Alexei Morozov (RUS)
Johan Davidsson (SWE)

Peter Forsberg abandons comeback #327

Forsberg, 36, has not played in the NHL since 2007-08 season, when he appeared in nine games for the Colorado Avalanche. He spent last season in the Swedish Elite League with MODO, but played in just 23 games due to injury. Yet he was still hoping to play in the NHL again.

It is sad to see a great player who is forced to leave the game because of injuries. But perhaps even sadder is repeated futile attempts to comeback. I hope that won't be Forsberg's legacy. Forsberg ranks in the top 10 in NHL history for points-per-game. The Swedish center ranks fourth in assists-per-game, trailing only greats Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr.

TSN reports that:
MODO general manager and former NHLer Markus Naslund confirmed that Forsberg's comeback attempt was over.
Yeah, we've heard that line before but perhaps at 36 he is finally giving up. Forsberg collected the Hart Memorial Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Calder Memorial Trophy. He also won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 1996 and 2001.

Watching the New Jersey Devils you see many of the Maple Leaf weaknesses

The Maple Leafs were quite fortunate in their game against the Devils last night. The massive snow storm kept almost everyone away from the game which took away any advantage the crowd may have given the home team. Only about 2500 fans made to the game which made it one of the smallest attendance to an NHL I've ever seen.

In addition I have never seen Martin Brodeur look so shaky. A combination of age and a terrible defense has robbed him of his confidence.

Another factor working in their favour was that interim coach Jacques Lemaire has not had an opportunity to fix the Devils' defensive game. Lemaire has always had strong defensive teams and I expect later this season the Devils will play much stronger in their own end.

It was a boring game played by two struggling teams after one of the longer breaks in the schedule. By no means was this a strong effort by the Maple Leafs. Their powerplay was dreadful again and produced no goals and only 3 shots on 5 opportunities. They won only 38% of faceoffs and had long stretches where they could not get the puck out of their own end. But the giveaways by the Devils killed them just as they have for the Leafs all season. That was the difference in the game.
  • Brian Rolston attempts a cross-ice pass in his own zone. Kris Versteeg gets his stick in the way of Rolston's on the follow-through. The puck goes right to Colby Armstrong in the slot. Armstrong goes in and scores. It was as brutal giveaway by a $5 million player (yeah the Leafs have them too).
  • Right after the Devils kill a Leafs power play, Versteeg carries the puck into the zone against 3 Devils. Versteeg somehow loses it, Dainius Zubrus can't knock the puck away so Versteeg picks the puck up again and gets a shot off. Brodeur stops it but there's a rebound. The Devils defensemen White and Tallinder just stand their and watch John Mitchell steps in to put it home easily.
  • Clarke MacArthur beats Anton Volchenkov on a dump-and-chase. While David Clarkson and Anssi Salmela set up in the slot, MacArthur turns to find Nikolai Kulemin open above the slot with no one really on him. Patrik Elias lunges but Kulemin has him beat. Mikhail Grabovski goes to stand right in front of Brodeur with no one noticing. Salmela steps up on Kulemin, Kulemin gets around both to curl a shot short-side through an uncovered Grabovski screen. Clarkson only got to Grabovski after the puck's in the net.
  • Johan Hedberg is in the net for the third period. With a 3-0 deficit, he's not seeing a lot of action. After Mitchell is stopped in the Devils' end, New Jersey breaks out. Mattias Tedenby makes a simple-looking pass to Jamie Langenbrunner in the neutral zone. The captain misplays it and loses it to Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle looks up, sees Armstrong with open ice in front of him. So it's essentially a one-on-one between Hedberg and Armstrong, and Armstrong scored his second of the game through Hedberg's legs. A weak goal to allow, but the turnover in the neutral zone created the situation.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

1987 World Junior Championships - The Punch-Up in Piestany

The Punch-up in Piestany was an infamous bench-clearing brawl between Canada and the Soviet Union during the final game of the 1987 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Piešťany, Czechoslovakia on January 4, 1987.

The incident resulted in the ejection of both nations, which caused the Canadians to lose a chance at the gold medal, while the Soviets had already been eliminated from medal contention. The brawl is famous for officials having turned off the arena lights in a desperate attempt at ending the 20 minute melee. Much of the blame was placed on Norwegian referee Hans Rønning, who was selected for the game based on his perceived "neutrality" rather than experience.

Following the brawl, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) suspended the players involved for 18 months and the coaches for three years. The players' suspensions were later reduced to six months on appeal, allowing several players from both teams to return for the 1988 tournament in Moscow. Both nations won medals in 1988; Canada won the gold medal while the Soviets won silver.

Several players in that game went on to play in the National Hockey League, including Brendan Shanahan, Theoren Fleury, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Mogilny.

The fervent patriotism displayed by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation analyst Don Cherry in the aftermath led to a sharp rise in his own popularity with Canadian fans.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Johnny Bower: Honky The Christmas Goose

Johnny Bower fancied himself as quite the singer. In his most famous recording, Johnny teamed up with his own son John and some other children, known as the Rinky Dinks, to release Honky The Christmas Goose (click on link to listen to the entire song). They also sang "Banjo the mule," but to no great success. Honky actually made it to #29 on the Canadian music charts in 1965.

Like old times: Ovechkin lays a big hit on Malkin

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 2003-04 Season

The Maple Leafs continued to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference as they were in a 3-way dog fight with the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators for first place in the Northeast Division led once again by Mats Sundin who had a 75-point season and Ed Belfour who had 10 shutouts The Maple Leafs would fall one point short of a Division Title with a franchise record 103 points and a 45-24-10-3 record. The Leafs were just one point behind the Bruins who were led by Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft and a point ahead of the Senators. They had the 4th best record in the NHL.

Leaf management was convinced that the team was a Cup contender and hoping to put themselves over the top the Leafs acquired future Hall of Famers Brian Leetch from the New York Rangers and Ron Francis from the Carolina Hurricanes, both of whom were proven playoff tested winners. In just 15 games with the Leafs Leetch would notch 15 points as Francis had 10 in 12 games. The costs of these two players were two prospects and 1st, 2nd and 4th round draft picks. During the offseason the Leafs had also added future Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk who played well when his bad back didn't keep him out of the lineup. A very late addition was retired Calle Johansson who at 36 years old and out of shape couldn't play at this level. However, it showed the desire by management to advance in the playoffs.

In the playoffs the Leafs would first draw provincial rivals, the Ottawa Senators. After dropping Game 1 by a score of 4-2 the Leafs rebounded to win each of the next two games 2-0 as Eddie Belfour stopped a total of 68 shots. After a 4-1 loss in Game 4, the Leafs turned to Belfour again who stopped 21 shots in another 2-0 shutout win. Belfour looked to be heading for another shutout in Game 6, but the Senators rallied to win 2-1 in overtime to a force a 7th game. In Game 7 at the Air Canada Centre the Leafs would jump out to a 3-0 lead and never look back as they advanced to the second round with a 4-1 win.

In the second Round the Leafs would get off to a slow start as they dropped the first two games to the Philadelphia Flyers on the road. With the series shifting to Toronto the Leafs would come roaring back winning the next two to even the series. However in Game 5 their Philadelphia Horror continued as they were blow out 7-2. Needing a win at home to even the series the Leafs rallied with a pair of goals to force overtime in the 3rd Period. However, Jeremy Roenick would end the Leafs season with a goal at 7:39 of overtime to give the Flyers a 3-2 win (below). It would be the last playoff game played by the Maple Leafs for a very long time.

The Maple Leafs were one of the least prepared teams for the lockout that eliminated the 2004-05 season. Their lineup was aging and their payroll was over $60 million, one of the highest in the NHL. They had 5 players earning over $5 million. Over the previous season the team had repeatedly traded draft picks for veterans hoping to advance in the playoffs. Leaf management were gambling/hoping that the owners would fail to introduce an effective salary cap which would have allowed them to continue to stock players through free agency rather than the draft. They failed to recognize the resolve of their fellow owners.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Goalie Fight!

The Eastern Coast Hockey League is known for its fisticuffs. Even the goalies have been known to get into scraps. Here are goalies from the Florida Everblades and Gwinnett Gladiators going at it. They look like two sumo wrestlers.

A lump of coal for John MacLean

Fired just 2 days before Christmas. Hello Mr. Grinch.

Brian Burke responds to Leaf Nation

Leaf GM Brian Burke met a Toronto Star reporter for lunch and this is what he had to say about his team and the response from fans:

  • He is as frustrated as Leaf fans about how the team is playing.
  • He still holds to his plan to rebuild in a non-traditional fashion. In the post-lockout era every successful rebuild has been preceded by several seasons in the basement.
  • He has no plans to fire Ron Wilson who he considers to be an excellent coach.
  • His priority is a large forward who can get to loose pucks in front of the net.
  • He believes that outside of short stretches in each game his team has been very competitive. They need to be able to play consistently for a full 60 minutes.
  • He acknowledges that special teams have been a disappointment.
  • He seems to suggest that his true core defensemen are the youngster who will get better.
  • When asked if the team can still make the playoffs he avoided answering which you can interpret as a NO.
  • Finally, he said the team will turn around sooner than most people think.
Well there you have it. He is telling Leaf Nation not to panic. So do you buy in or not?

George, I hate hockey fathers like you

Is there anything more pathetic than a hockey dad? I've met enough of them in my 10 years coaching kids hockey. Typically they helicopter parents who live vicariously through their kid's hockey and are obsessed with getting their child to "be the best they can be." I hated these parents because they ruined it for everyone - the kids, the coaches, and the other parents. On one occasion I asked one dad to stop coming to games because he was embarrassing his kid.

So when I read this latest story about a dad stalking a peewee hockey team, I was not surprised to learn that the culprit is a lawyer. I've met many lawyers who can't seem to turn off their aggressive intimidating bullshit out of the workplace.

I didn’t know that lawyers would use their powers to humiliate and embarrass little girls who weren’t playing all that well.

Kayla Watkins, 12, was fine with being the only girl on a boy's hockey team — til she saw a meeting agenda item about her "Player Ability Limitations," including handwringing over her locker room changing, written by another kid's dad.

According to The Toronto Star, George Atis, a parent who is not the coach, wrote in the agenda,

"It is now 14 games into the season and I have noticed that Kayla's play has not improved. It is at the point where many of the team members do not want to play on this team if this situation is not addressed."

Atis then details two possible options for consideration, either moving Kayla from defence to forward and keeping her off of power plays and penalty kills, or playing her every second shift on defence and again keeping her off special teams "until her skating and shooting improves."

"If Kayla is NOT amenable to the above options, the coach should find Kayla a new team to play on - commensurate to her skill level - for the balance of the season," the agenda reads.

I've seen parents in the past organize these meetings behind the coaches' backs.

By the way the coach had no problems with Kayla. He selected her for the team and has no regrets. This only an "A" team, the lowest level of competitive hockey in Toronto.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is Leaf Nation in revolt?

The mood in Leaf Nation is ugly much like the performance of the hockey team. The waffle tossing incidents are likely the start of the first fan revolt in the long history of the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team. The reaction from management and the dressing room has not been good.

In incident #1, a guy named Jack tossed a waffle on the ice at the end of a lopped-sided loss to the Flyers on December 9th. He slipped out of the arena but the Toronto Sun somehow caught up with the fan who claimed to be a loyal Leaf supporter who just thought they needed a wakeup call. So perhaps breakfast food was appropriate. He and his wife had shelled out $203 per ticket to watch another awful game.

In incident #2, the Leafs were getting slammed by the Thrashers on December 20 when another fan named Joseph Robb stood up while play was underway and tossed a box of waffles on the ice. He took a bow as security escorted him from the building. They decide to make an example of this guy and have him charged by the police for mischief and has been banned from entering MLSE owned facilities. I should point out that Mr. Robb is not a subscriber and did not pay for his ticket.

Let’s face it the Leafs have been bad for a long time with no prospect of improvement in the immediate future. Most fans of losing teams at least can look forward to a hotshot prospects acquired through a draft to help the team. Leaf fans have even been deprived of any hope. A combination of prolonged futility, high prices and total lack of sensitivity to the fans has finally begun to induce a reaction from fans. In other sports markets it would have happened earlier and much more severe. Can you see Montreal Canadiens fans, New York Yankee fans or New England Patriot fans putting up with this crap? Leaf fans still fill up the ACC and buy the overpriced food, beer and souvenirs. A few brave souls have begun to boo mediocre effort and two guys have tossed a few Eggos. Big deal.

So what has been the reaction from MLSE? Well the players are mortified. Can you imagine these fans shelling out over $200 per game to watch them go through the motions and then have the nerve to protest? They should feel privileged to be allowed to walk into their shrine. Management is ready to crucify the rabble rousers. They are concerned about the safety of their players. Hockey is one of the most violent professional sports and in Toronto they are worried that someone might get hurt by a soggy waffle. Talk about over reacting.

I’m not suggesting that bad behaviour from fans is acceptable. However, the organization has to be a little more tolerant of their dissatisfied customers. The protests are going become more wide spread as the season progresses. Perhaps acknowledging their fan base might help a little. Banning fans who throw items on the ice may come back to bite the team. What happens if the next guy is a 4-seat season holder who has shelled out $300,000 over the past ten years? Are they going to tell him you are no longer welcome here? It’s time to start mending their relationship with their fan base not aggravating it. Show the fans as much love as they show you. Mr. Robb is prepared to apologize to the team, once they let him into the building again.

Suck it up Leafs!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sidney Crosby is very good with waffles

Things to bring to a Maple Leaf game

There are still Maple Leafs that come out to support the boys in Blue but there just hasn't much to cheer about.

More and more we are seeing fans express their support for the team by bringing a home-made sign to the game.

I suggest bringing a very hot girl to the game in case you get picked up at the game by the Kiss Cam. You don't want be stuck kissing your beer buddy.

If you plan on having something to eat or drink at the game your better bring a credit card with a hefty limit.

Speaking of food, don't bother trying to sneak waffles into the game. Security will be checking patrons for recording devices, bottles and waffles. Instead consider bringing a waffle iron and cook them at the game.

A growing number of Leaf fans are finding it embarrassing to be seen at a game especially when the game is a blow out.

Some people like to catch a quick nap during the game especially if they have had a long difficult day. Best time to do so is in the first period when the Leafs usually take their nap. But bring a sleeping masks because the TV lights are annoying.

If you get bored during those long stretches where nothing is really happen (about 45 minutes before the Leafs' comeback attempt that generally falls short) it might be wise to bring a game to keep you amused.
Of course the most common form of entertainment for Leaf fans is texting friends from the game letting them know how wise they were to turn down the offer of the tickets.

Another 'Waffle' game

I was out tonight and had the good fortune of missing tonight's Leaf game. Watching the highlights I noticed the Leafs have repeated some disturbing patterns:

  • Again fell behind 2-0 very early in the game which pretty much is a game killer for this weak scoring team.
  • Again gave up a couple of goals in a short period of time (28 seconds).
  • Gustavsson had another weak game and was pulled. Is he really their starter next season?
  • Captain Dion Phaneuf was an ugly -2 tonight but so was half the team.
  • The only player to register more than 2 hits was Brett Lebda and he was on the ice for less than 10 minutes.
  • The fans turned on the team again chanting 'Fire Wilson' and tossing some more waffles on the ice. This is going to be a long and painful season to watch.

As the Canuck Green Men noted (10 second mark below), this team is naughty.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mikhail Grabovski is the Leaf MVP

As many Maple Leaf players continue to struggle, Mikhail Grabovski seems to be hitting his stride. He is clearly now the Leaf's best forward, perhaps their best player right now. He has scored 7 goals in the past 8 games and with linemates Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin, are the only productive combination this season.

Right now Grabovski is tied for the team lead in goals (12), second to MacArthur in points (25), second in shot on net (90) to Phil Kessel and third in plus/minus (0). He is second on the team in powerplay goas (4) although he isn't even on the first powerplay unit. Though I noticed that tonight for the first time this season he had more ice time on the powerplay than Phil Kessel.

Sure he is weak defensively but who isn't on the Leafs? And he is 11th on the list of highest paid Leafs below disappoints like Komisarek, Phaneuf, Kessel, Bozak (when you add in his bonus) and Giguere. Too bad players aren't paid based on performance. If they were, Leaf management would be saving millions.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Waffle Man will strike again

I missed the Sun article last week but it seems they got hold of the guy who tossed a waffle on the ice at the end of the 4-1 loss to the Flyers.

I like many others didn't quite get the significance of the breakfast-themed protest at the Air Canada Centre, we were left to wonder both who the tosser was and why in the world he thought throwing a waffle would be a good idea.

There were a few seconds left in another obviously lost Leafs game when the 27-year-old construction worker pulled out the soggy waffles he had stashed under his jersey and chucked them onto the ice of the Air Canada Centre on Thursday.

The Sun tracked down Jack M., aka Waffle Man and this is what he had to say:

They need to wake up and eat some breakfast. I’m just trying to help them out with a balanced diet. I love them, but somebody’s got to say something.
OK. You didn't really expect something profound from a construction worker who tosses waffles. And they weren't even Eggos but a generic brand. You would think someone who could afford $203 for a Leaf ticket could shell out for a name brand. Jack said it was easy getting the waffles into his seat, 11 rows back from the Flyers bench, but not so easy to get them onto the ice — about four of the dozen waffles ended up in the stands.

Vancouver Green Men serve waffles to the Leafs

If you didn't catch 'The Force' and 'Scully' during last spring's playoffs, they are too zany Canuck fans that harass opposition players in the penalty box. Last night they were caught on camera tossing Eggo waffles at Tim Brent. They certainly stay topically.

Sunday's Ice Girls: Edmonton Oilers

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Glendale pays Matthew Hulsizer to buy the Phoenix Coyotes

What a bizarre set of events that have become the legacy of the Phoenix Coyotes and it's not over yet. Tuesday night Glendale City Council voted 5-2 in favour of a $197 million 'sweetener' to entice the Coyotes to sign a new, long-term lease for Arena. The city basically had no choice but to fold, unless it wanted to see the $180-million, seven-year-old arena it built for the hockey team sit empty while still paying considerable sums of money to maintain it. If you want to know what the definition of a White Elephant is, how about an empty 17,000 seat arena in the middle of a desert.

The final purchase price of the Coyotes will likely be about $170 million so Hulsizer will walk into the deal with some spending money courtesy of Glendale taxpayers. And don't think the NHL makes money on the deal. They bought the team from Jerry Moyes for $140 million but who knows how much money the other owners sunk into the team to keep it afloat.

So now the City of Glendale has sunk $400 million into their White Elephant. So what did they get for their $197 million? Well $100 million bought the right to collect parking fees for the 5,500 spots around the arena for the next 30 years. For another $97 million they are paying Holsizer to manage the arena over that period. However, let's not overlook the fact that Glendale will be collecting rent from Holsizer. I'm sure the rent and parking fees will easily cover the interest on the $400 million borrowed to bring the Coyotes to Glendale.

But what choice did Glendale have with the NHL threatening to move the team to Winnipeg if a lease agreement wasn't reached? The deal was done despite the Goldwater Institute, a government watchdog group, warning Glendale City Council that it opposed the deal. In the past, the Goldwater Institute successfully sued Arizona municipalities under the state’s gift-clause law for handing over too much public money to private enterprises so this may not be over yet.

No doubt the Institute thinks the city overpaid. Who would argue that they didn't?

Colton Orr delivers for the Maple Leafs

Not everyone sees the value or the importance of having Colton Orr on the Leaf roster. I have seen many in the media criticize Ron Wilson for sitting out many marginal players but dressing Colton Orr for every single game. Although he may only get 5 to 6 minutes of ice time per game and no time on the powerplay or penalty killing units, he still remains an integral part of the team.

Last night’s game was a classic example of the role that Orr plays. Early in the second player, Oiler enforcer Zack Stortini took out Mikhail Grabovski at the knees while he was in full flight. He was assessed a kneeing penalty and fortunately Grabovski was not injured on the play. But he easily could have been lost to the team for the rest of the season. The next time Stortini stepped on the ice so did Orr. Within several seconds of the faceoff, Orr had dropped his gloves and was pummeling Stortini’s face opening up several large gashes. There was a strong message delivered in that altercation. Let’s just say Stortini may be advised to visit a plastic surgeon this week.

The Leafs do not play the Oilers again this season but when they do meet up again, what are the odds Stortini or any other Oiler will be taking liberties with one of the Leafs’ speedy forwards? Not likely. Orr’s teammates and coaches appreciate how he protects the other players. That’s why is penciled on the lineup every game. This is the role Brian Burke envisioned for Orr when he signed him for 4 years. Certainly the cheap shots against Leaf players have dropped off significantly in the past 2 years. Previous enforcers were not as feared or respected as Orr and the Leafs have benefited.

I’m not a Don Cherry disciple and I’m neither pro or anti fighting. There too many gratuitous fights in the NHL which slows down the pace of the game. In some cases they are intended to perhaps change the momentum of a game. But enforcers have an important role to play. They provide much more of a deterrent to cheap shots than any rule change or increase in rule enforcement. I would rather rely on Orr to protect Phil Kessel than the referees and Colin Campbell.

So count me in as a Colton Orr fan.

Payback time for the Leafs

The Maple Leafs must be big fans of Robert Louis Stevenson because of their ability to recreate Stevenson’s story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On November 2nd the Oilers ran into the Toronto Jekylls, a rather nice and accommodating team that they were able to rollover in a 5-0 win. Last night the Oilers met the Toronto Hydes and they weren’t nearly as nice. The nastiness was on display in the second period when Colton Orr laid a beating on Zack Stortini. Here is what I liked about the game:

· J.S. Giguere wasn’t very busy but had a strong game and stopped all 8 shots from Taylor Hall including 2 on breakaways. Hall was the third star of the game but Giguere was deservedly the second star.

· The line of Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur had a strong game and controlled the puck well. They were rewarded with equal powerplay time with the Kessel line.

· The line of Kadri-Versteeg-Mitchell seems to be gaining some chemistry and was also very effective.

· The defense had another goal with Dion Phaneuf scoring his first goal of the season on a blast from the point. On Saturday Tomas Kaberle had his first goal of the season.

· Special teams were effective. The powerplay was 2 for 5 and the penalty killers were 0 for 4.

· Best aspect of the game was the Maple Leafs played a full 60 minutes and therefore did not have to dig themselves out of a hole.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brian Burke speaks!

Brian Burke appears to have been playing some hide and seek with the media for the past few weeks. However this scrum was on Sportsnet today.

Can we finally stop talking about 'The Trade'?

OK. I think it is universally accepted that the Phil Kessel trade was a bummer. Do we have to keep talking about? I don’t think there is anyone left on the planet who disagrees. I’m sure even the guy who pulled the trade, Brian Burke would agree although you never get him to admit it. So can’t we just move on and agree never to raise it again?

When you think about it what further analysis is even required? It was a straight forward deal involving one young skilled player in exchange for two first round draft picks and one second draft picks that turned out higher than anyone ever expected, including Boston GM Peter Chiarelli. In hindsight everyone realizes the trade appears to be one-sided. It doesn’t take a Nobel prize winner to figure this one out. In fact, there were plenty of people stating the Leafs had overpaid for Kessel when the deal was made. And those people didn’t know the Leafs would be handing over two lottery picks.

Was it the worst trade in the history of the Maple Leafs? Probably not because there have been so many bad trades. Remember – Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala, Tom Kurvers, Dave Burrows, John Kordic. The combination of Kessel’s age and skills mean that he should have a positive contribution to the Leafs over the next 5 to 7 years. That is unless cranky fans drive him out of town.

Best advice is to forget about ‘The Trade’ and take that weight off Kessel’s shoulders. It’s in our best interest to allow him to thrive in Toronto so that the deal isn’t added to the list of the worst Maple Leaf trades.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bobby Ryan goal is one of the strangest you will ever see

First, Mikko Koivu (#9 in white) gets his left-handed stick knocked from his hands. Koivu grabs the right-handed stick from Bobby Ryan (#9 in dark). While the puck is in the corner, another Minnesota player thinks he’s helping out Koivu by pushing his stick toward him. Ryan sees the stick conveniently at his feet, so he picks it up and scores on a one-timer, shooting with Koivu's right-handed stick from the left side. Why Koivu didn't get a penalty for grabbing Ryan's stick I will never understand.

Colby Armstrong is already my favourite Leaf

As is the case with most free agents, I thought Brian Burke once again overpaid to sign Colby Armstrong. $3 million per year is a lot to pay a guy who has only scored over 20 goals once in his career. In fact this season he only has 1 goal and no assists in 13 games with the Leafs.

However, the Leafs are 8-5-0 with Armstrong in the lineup and a pathetic 3-9-4 when he is not playing. These stats are no coincidence. Armstrong is a higher energy player who gets under the skin of opponents. He works hard all the time and is very effective in the corners. But the most impressive part of his game are the big hits he throws for a player that does not have a big body.

If only the other Burke signing are as effective.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I got a kick out of the British announcers

Couldn't make out a word once the brawl started.

Pavel Datsyuk made this goal look easy...

But far from it. He was skating full speed and on his backhand yet was able to get the puck right under the crossbar. Carey Price the hottest goalie in the league right now had no chance.

Don Cherry is right about fighting in hockey

I'm not very keen on Don Cherry but I get why he is a populist. I don't care for many of his positions and especially when he strays from hockey but the CBC provides him with his soapbox because he makes them money.

Last week's Coach's Corner he hit on a number of topics but his message to the NHL was dead on. Fighting in hockey is popular and removing violence from the game is suicide. He's right. When a fight breaks out in a game everyone in the arena is on their feet. Players are applauding. The fight usually makes the highlight reel. Hockey pacifists complain but so what.

Cherry's point is that if you want to make inroads in NFL country then selling violence is the way to go. When you think about it, hockey and football have a lot in common. Sure there is no fighting in football but both are violent sports. If you want to attract fans in the U.S. why not go after NFL fans? But be smart about it by also protecting the stars of the game. The NFL has rules to protect quarterbacks who are sitting ducks in the pocket with 300 lb linemen charging at you. The NHL has to be creative about controlling the violence so that they don't lose their stars. Most teams only have 2 or 3 stars that are irreplaceable. However, they aren't the 4th line energy players. So what's wrong with letting them drop their gloves? The paying customers seem to like it.

Quebec fans are getting strategic

According to Le Journal de Quebec, 23 busloads of fans will be making their way to Long Island for a game between the Islanders and the Atlanta Thrashers led by Vince Cauchon, a Quebec radio personality and founder of "Nordiques Nation".

Choosing a game between the NHL's 28th and 29th-ranked teams in attendance is no coincidence. Quebec fans want to demonstrate that they are ready to support NHL hockey and don't need a winner to come out to games. In addition, they know that the Thrashers are one of a number of teams not doing well and want to signal they are welcome in Quebec.

A rally in early October drew 50,000 Nordiques supporters as the local government is inching closer to getting a $400 million state-of-the art arena built in hopes of luring a current or expansion NHL franchise there.

The Islanders are just happy to have sold an extra 1,000 tickets.

Saturday's Ice Girls: Los Angeles Kings

Oilers rookie Linus Omark has a dazzling debut

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Are the Maple Leafs playoff contenders?

The Maple Leafs have had dramatic back-to-back wins against two of the top teams in the East. The wins have moved them up to 12th in the East and 7 points out of the last playoff spots. So with 56 games still to play, aren’t they playoff contenders? Nope!

Their situation is really no different than last season. The Leafs have dug themselves a huge hole with their early season losses. Unfortunately that hole is just too large to pull them from. Realistically you need between 88 and 94 points to make the playoffs. If you choose the midpoint, 91 points that would require that the Leafs win 33.5 games over their remaining 56 games which is a winning percentage of 59.8%. Only 4 teams in the East had a winning percentage of 59.8% or more – Washington, New Jersey. Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

Last season, the Leafs’ winning percentage was 45.1% and over the first 26 games of this season it was slightly higher at 46.2%. Without significant personnel changes I just can’t see how you suddenly go from one of the weakest teams to one of the strongest. It defies logic.

So since this season is already a write-off, the organization would be better off thinking strategically toward next season and beyond. Ken Holland never seems to have to rebuild the Red Wings. Detroit seems to be able to maintain itself as a contender each season while working in youngsters each season.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cardiac Kids do it again

The Leafs seem to be perfecting the comeback. Now how about working on a 60-minute effort.

Still it was exciting as Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur orchestrated that was more impressive than Saturday's unlike win against the Bruins. The Leafs were on the road and were down by 3 goals in the third period.

MacArthur scored 2 goals and Grabovski finished with a goal and an assist and then added the only powerplay goal to win the game. Both players were a +2. Tomas Kaberle had one of his best games in a while finishing with 2 assists and was a +3. Kaberle logged over over 28 minutes in ice time. In contrast Mike Komisarek saw less than 10 minues of ice time. Rookie Keith Aulie seemed to have benefited the most by Komisarek's lack of ice time.

Jonas Gustavsson looked quite bad in the early going and was fighting the puck. His erratic play led to a Capital goal as well as several Leaf penalties. However, he also made some excellent saves late in the game as the Leafs began to get closer. The tying goal was scored by MacAuther with just 1:24 remaining in the game.

The winning goal by Grabovski was a classic Jason Blake spinarama move that is not legal but is never called by the NHL officials.

The Leafs continue to baffle everyone. The three easy games last week against Buffalo, Ottawa and Edmonton were an embarrassment. Meanwhile they bounce back from those losses to beat two top team. Could they do it against Pittsburgh later this week?

MacArthur was left alone in front of the Capital's net and scored the game tying goal:

The Monster makes an amazing stick save in shootout:

Grabovski scores in shootout to win the game:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday's Ice Girls: Atlanta Thrashers

That was better!

That win against the Bruins was unique for this young Leaf team in many ways. Not just because they actually won a game because these moments have been rare but there were so many positives coming out of the game.
  • Phil Kessel actually scored a goal against the Bruins although it won't count in the stats because it was in shootout.
  • Nazem Kadri scored an electrifying goal on his backhand in the shootout that scored high in the WOW category. He also made some incredibly plays while on the powerplay and showed that he will be a key player in the future.
  • J-S Giguere matched the goaltending clinic demonstrated by Tim Thomas on the other end of the rink.
  • The Leafs played with a very high level of intensity and only Thomas kept this game close. Which leads to the question why not every night?
  • Kessel looked good at centre. With the Leaf's glaring weakness at centre I was pretty sure we would eventually see him moved there.
  • It was fun watch Colby Armstrong battling Charo in front of the net. I felt earlier in the season that all the first line mutations lacked grit and Armstrong was a logical player to move onto the line with Kessel.
  • The forwards backchecked.
  • The fans will get behind the team if they play hard.
  • Carl Gunnarsson scored a goal which was the first goal by a Leaf defenseman in quite a while.
These Leafs are frustrating because we have no idea when we will see a game like this out of them. I'm not sure if this is just a reflection on their youth, the coaching or just a bad team. Or maybe this is an example of how even a blind squirrel finds the occasional nut.

What a beautiful shootout goal by Kadri:

The winner by Kessel:

What should have been the winner in overtime:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hockey coach faces ban for opposing racial slur

Andrew McCullum, a 16-year-old player for the NAPA Auto Parts team in the Peterborough Minor Hockey Association, got into an on-ice confrontation against an opponent from the Austin Trophies in a Nov. 15 game.

After they were sent to the penalty box, the chatter between the two remained heated.

That's when McCullum's opponent chirped a racial slur, calling him "the N-word."

The player was benched for part of the period as punishment but returned to the ice. McCullum's coach, Greg Walsh, was furious to see him return to the game, and at the lack of apology from the Trophies coach and player.

So he pulled his team off the ice, went to the locker room and remained there, claiming that it was meant to "protect" his player from other incidents.

And for that, Walsh has earned an indefinite suspension from the Ontario Minor Hockey Association.

In a bureaucratic world, and sporting association are bureaucracies, an offender is often not treated as harshly as the victim of the offense. So the coach who tries to take the high moral ground and teach is young players about the importance of sportsmanship is slammed for it. I would have done exactly the same thing. In fact, when I coached, I would nail a player to the bench if she dared to verbally abuse an opponent or official. Somethings are more important than the game itself.


When will it end?

Dmitri Khristich; Jonus Hogland; Cory Cross; Aki Berg; Jyrki Lumme; Corey Schwab; Anders Eriksson; Owen Nolan; Glen Wesley; Phil Housley; Trevor Kidd; Ken Klee; Richard Jackman; Bryan Marchment; Craig Johnson; Clarke Wilm; Calle Johansson; Jason Allison; Jeff O’Neill; Eric Lindros; Alexander Khavanov; Mariusz Czerkawski; Johnny Pohl; Andy Wozniewski; Brendan Bell; Ben Ondrus; Jean-Sebastien Aubin; Bates Battaglia; Boyd Devereaux; Kris Newbury; Andrew Raycroft; Alexander Suglobov; Jason Blake; Jiri Tlusty; Mark Bell; Simon Gamache; Vesa Toskala; Staffan Kronwall; Mike Van Ryn; Jonas Frogren; Ryan Hollweg; Andre Deveaux; Justin Pogge; Jaime Sifers; Jeff Finger; Rickard Wallin; John Mitchell; Lee Stempniak; Garnet Exelby; Mike Komisarek; Joey MacDonald; Tim Brent; Joey Crabb; Brett Lebda...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Give Leaf Nation A Parade

After Tuesday night’s game against the Lightning, I’m just not sure how much more I can take. How many different ways can a team snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory?

We are told to support the team. Be patient. Brian and Ron we have been patient. For 43 years we’ve patiently waited. Meanwhile hockey fans across the North America laugh at us. Some even pity us.

It’s obvious that this thing isn’t going to turn around any time soon. Definitely not this season. Probably not next season either.

There are now Leaf fans that have reached middle age without witnessing a championship. The youngest fans have never seen a Maple Leaf playoff game. How sad is that?

The Maple Leaf motto is Spirit Is Everything. I’m telling the Spirit is slowly being choked out of me and the rest of Leaf Nation. There is rarely any hope or optimism in Leaf Nation by the time Halloween comes around. We can’t even keep this thing going to Christmas.

Leaf Nation needs a boost. We need to be rewarded for our unwavering devotion. Damn it, we need a PARADE!!

I’m starting a petition to ask the City of Toronto and MLSE hold a parade for the Leaf Nation this spring. I’m getting old. I can’t wait for a Stanley Cup. We need something to celebrate now.

We won’t win the Cup but we can still have our parade.

You can sign the petition here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Anniversary Brian Burke!

It’s been two years since Brian Burke has taken charge of the Toronto Maple Leaf organization. At the time there was much optimism but that has since been replaced with the usual pessimism. Many scribers have already written off his tenure which is absurd. You can’t evaluate a rebuild while it’s in progress. In fact, this one is even more difficult to assess since we don’t even know what the plan is.

Here is how I see it. When Burke arrived it was with much fanfare and platitudes on his part. He stated that the team was too soft, too small, and with a culture of losing. He stated he hated losing and could not wait 5 year (out of the playoffs) to be competitive. His goal was to make the playoffs every season.

These are very lofty goals. Although he gave no timeframe, he was suggesting that the Leafs would be competitive again in a short period of time – perhaps 2 or 3 years? Thus he set himself up for failure by trying to shorten the typical rebuild timeline. It will likely still take 5 years to rebuild this team.

However, he tried nonetheless. To speed up the process, he decided to bypass the Entry Draft and use trades and free agent signings to stock the depleted lineup with quality players. As everyone knows he gave up valuable commodities in high draft picks for a NHL-ready scorer, Phil Kessel. He signed a number of U.S. college free agents (Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak and Braydon Irwin). Highly sought after European free agent goalies Jonas Gustavsson and Jussi Rynnas were also signed. Toughness was enhanced by bringing in Colton Orr, Mike Komisarek, Mike Brown and Colby Armstrong. Two trades unloaded a lot of deadwood for talented (though expensive) players, Dion Phanuef and J-S Giguere.

So where do we really stand right now? Well the Kessel trade isn’t the disaster it has been portrayed to be. It certainly is not comparable to the Kovalchuck deal as suggested by Mike Milbury last Saturday. The Leafs picked up a proven goal scorer who was only 21 years old. They gave up what turns out to be Tyler Seguin who is also talented but we do not know how good we will be yet. You can’t assess the other two picks but we know that the 2011 Entry Draft will be weaker which means the Bruins will not likely get a player of Seguin’s calibre.

The college free agents have been pretty much a bust so far. Only Bozak is with the Leafs but he is struggling under the pressure placed on him. To suggest that these players are equal to first round draft picks would quite a stretch. None of the other free agent signings have been significant and can be described as only role players. The days of making a "splash" in the free agent are over. GMs are reluctant to trade away high draft picks and tend to lock these players in for long term contracts at very young ages. When Burke suggests that July 1 is his team's draft is just a lot of hot air.

Goaltending and defense have been stabilized by a good blend of veterans and youth. The young core of Gustavsson and Rynnas in net and Scheen Gunnarsson, Phaneuf and Aulie on the blueline is something to build around. I can see some of the veterans being moved out

The offense is currently next to invisible. Aside from the 4th line, the forwards are quick but pretty small and having difficulty working the puck in the corners and in front of the net. I sense more changes are coming to balance speed and size. The average age of the Leaf forwards are the youngest in the NHL so they will get better. I'm not sure they will get good enough to compete. The Leafs lack quality centres and big wingers.

So this rebuild will continue for several years before the Leafs can compete despite Burke's efforts to accelerate the process. In fact, it could be argued that he may have slowed down that process by giving up draft picks. It is becoming obvious that quality players are rarely available through trades or free agency. The draft remains the best source of inexpensive quality players which are the most valued commodity in hockey today.

What Burke has never clearly articulated is his plan for rebuilding the Leafs. His moves do not suggest a clear strategy. Nor is his timeline clear. He states he values big bodies but brings in small players like Kessel, MacArthur, Kadri, Versteeg and Bozak. A priority was changing the culture but the new players tend to have bad starts to games much as the previous group.

Anyway, happy anniversary Brian! Keep smiling!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Carey Price proves all the critics wrong

I was sceptical when the Montreal Canadiens decided to trade Jaraslav Halak and hang onto Carey Price following Halak’s strong season and playoff performance last year. I also did not think that Price had the emotional intelligence needed to be an outstanding NHL goalie despite his great skills. Well it looks like I was wrong as well and thousands if not millions of hockey fans. Maybe the Canadiens management team knows what they are doing after all.

From management’s perspective Price was worth investing more time in considering what he has already accomplished in his short career. He is only 23. He was the 5th overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft. That same year he was selected the CHL goaltender of the year. In 2007 he helped Canada win the gold medal at the World Junior Championships and was the Tournament MVP. As a 19 year old he carried the Hamilton Bulldogs to a Calder Cup Championship and was the playoff MVP. So it is understandable that management would give him enough time to develop at the NHL level.

So how have the two goalies matched up so far this season:















Well as good as a season as Halak is having, Price’s has been having an even better one. So the faith shown in him by management is paying off and the near hysteria from their fan base has disappeared. The Canadiens are a Stanley Cup contender and Price is the latest saviour. All is good in Montreal.