Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Here is Jim Playfair's totally melt down

This video is making rounds on the blogosphere. Jim Playfair who is coach of the AHL's Abbotsford Heat totally loses it after being told he was being penalized. He smashed two of his players' hockey sticks and then ripped his suit jacket off during a profanity-laced diatribe at referee Jamie Koharski (yes, Don's son). You recall retired NHL official Don Koharski, who was involved in one of the NHL's most infamous tirades. In 1988, Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld called Koharski a "fat pig" and told him to "Have another doughnut."

Read more:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Rikard Wallin 2009-10 North American ‘No Can Do’ tour is coming to an end

Tonight's loss to Atlanta officially relegated Toronto to the status of playoff non-participant. They are 11 points behind the last spot with only 5 games remaining. Though I considered them to be eliminated weeks ago. You see you need about 92 points to qualify for the playoffs in the East. It was about 3 weeks ago when the Leafs became incapable at making the playoffs by virtue of the fact that they did not have enough games remaining to hit 92 points.  During that time the Leafs have remained within striking distance of 8th spot but with no hope of ever reaching it.  They might be able to catch one or two teams but without ability to earn 92 points, they would never pass enough teams to finish in a playoff position.

This past month the Maple Leaf have continued their tradition of playing well down the stretch when the game no longer matter.The phenomena always gives the impression that the Leafs will be good enough to compete for a playoff spot during the subsequent season.  It never happens.

Are the Maple Leafs playing well because they have come together as a team or because players are competing for jobs next season? There are significant differences.  When you are competing for a spot on the roster your focus is on your own performance.  The team's success becomes secondary to your own situation. There is no pressure to win any longer. It's about looking good.  In these situations sometime the team actually win some games.  But once the focus is back on winning the players don't seem to be able to switch to a team oriented  style of play.

I certainly will be interest in seeing how this plays out next season but I'm not convinced this team has turned the corner. I've been fooled too many times.

Worst shootout attempt in NHL history

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wayne Gretzky should never coach in the NHL again

The Phoenix Coyotes clinched a playoff spot for the first time in eight seasons after the Bruins beat the Flames on Saturday. You have to admit this is an incredible accomplishment for a team that was the laughing stock of the sports world for much of 2009. No one thought the franchise would survive let alone win games. The owner situation is still not settled, nonetheless GM Dan Maloney and coach Dave Tippett have gone about doing the job and building a winner.

Maloney did a great job with the budget set by the NHL and concentrated on the right free agents to help rebuild the franchise. We all know how difficult it is building through free agency but he did it. Defenseman Adrian Aucoin and center Vernon Fiddler played at a high level from the outset. Forwards Taylor Pyatt and Robert Lang and goaltender Jason LaBarbera also have made contributions.

However for me the key was the hiring of Tippett. Maloney hired him a week before the season. It did not take long to see that Tippett was the right coach. He drew the most out of every player, demanded accountability and instilled his now-famous "pack mentality" mantra into a team with no superstars.

It also clearly points to how poor of a coach Wayne Gretzky was. The lineup that Gretzky had to work with was not any different than was exists today but Tippett clearly can get the most out of his players. I always suspected that Gretzky was not competent but how do you fire an owner? So who would ever consider hiring Gretzky as a coach again other than a team he owned? No one I suspect. The only job he should be considering is a good will ambassador for the league and I can't understand what is taking Bettman so long to make it happen. Perhaps the bad feelings over the sale of the Coyotes is the impediment. Afterall Wayne walked away from a lot of money.

Secret videos taken by Assistant GM Dave Nonis of possible future Maple Leaf free agents

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How well is the Leafs' first line doing?

The line of Kulemin, Kessel and Bozak have been together for 22 games which is about a quarter of a season. This has been their production during that period:

G A Pts +/-
Kessel 11 10 21 +1
Kulemin 7 10 17 +6
Bozak 5 11 16 +3

The trio is scoring at a rate of 2.45 points per game.  That would compare quite favourably with some of the better lines in the NHL. The Sharks' top line of Thorton, Heatley and Marleau are scoring at the pace of 3.19 points per game.  The Lightning's top line of Stamkos, St. Louis and Downie are scoring at a rate of 2.93 points per game. Anaheim's best line of Geflatz, Perry and Ryan are producing at the rate of 2.63 points per game. The Kings' best line is made up of Kopitar, Brown and Smyth and they are scoring 2.28 points per game.  The Penguins' number one line is Crosby, Guerin and Kunitz and they are producing just 2.19 points per game.

So if the Leafs' top line had played together for entire season their production would have translated into the following stats:

G A Pts +/-
Kessel 41 37 78 +4
Kulemin 26 37 63 +22
Bozak 18 41 59 +22

That's pretty good.  Remember Bozak is a 24 year old rookie.  Kulemin is only in his second year in the league and just 22 year old.  Kessel has the most experience and at just 23 is on the verge of having back-to-back 30 goals seasons. Now Brian Burke and Ron Wilson need to figure out who will be their number two line and we will be in pretty good shape,  The trio of Grabovski, Stalberg and Caputi have shown some promise but their production is quite their yet.  However, they are showing the same type of chemistry that we saw when the first line was first united.  So time will tell if we have the makings of a competent and skilled group of top six forwards.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Seeking divine intervention for the Toronto Maple Leafs

There is a much publicized practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Western Wall.  The Western Wall is an important Jewish religious site located in the Old City of Jerusalem. It dates from the end of the Second Temple period, being constructed around 19 BCE by Herod the Great. The remaining wall is not part of the actual Temple but part of the retaining wall to the Temple Mount where the Temple was found.

More than a million notes are placed each year. The notes are collected twice a year and buried on the Mount of Olives.

So when I visited the Wall last week I decided that 43 years of despair for Maple Leaf fans required divine intervention. I left the note above in the Wall. Let's hope it works soon.

Update on ex-Leafs

Lee Stempniak continues to have a hot hand for the Phoenix Coyotes and is contributing towards a potentially strong playoff run. The rest are contributing at the same rate that did with the Maple Leafs.  The most disappointing would be Ponikarovsky playing on the defending Stanley Cup champions and a unrestricted free agent this summer.

When you throw in all the other ex-Leafs traded between last summer and now - Joey MacDonald (Anaheim), Pavel Kubina (Atlanta), Anton Stralman (Columbus), Jiri Tlusty (Carolina), Jamal Mayers (Calgary) and Vesa Toskala (Calgary) - only Stempniak and Ponikarovsky are playing for teams with a playoff spot at this moment. So life after Toronto is not always so good.

Matt Stajan 19 3 9 12
Lee Stempniak 11 10 2 12
Ian White 19 1 6 7
Jason Blake 18 4 3 7
Niklas Hagman 19 2 6 8
Alexei Ponikarovsky 10 2 5 7

While I was away

The Maple Leafs played 6 games while I was away and won 4 of them.  Three wins were in overtime or shootout which reverses a trend from earlier in the season.  The Leafs used to always lose games that were tied at the end of regulation time. Phil Kessel scored 6 goals in those 6 games and now has taken over the team scoring leadership from Tomas Kaberle. Jonas Gustavsson won all 4 of his starts with GAA of 1.92  SAV% of .925 in those games.  This has to be his best stretch of hockey this season and I hope suggests that he will be more consistent next season.

This stretch of good hockey continues a pattern from previous years where the Leafs finish the season strong in meaningless games to create optimism for the following season. I have found the pattern to be annoying and frustrating.  Will it be different next season? Who knows.  In the past management has looked to strong finishes to suggest that the team's nucleus is still strong and only injuries, bad karma,etc. kept them out of the playoffs.

I don't expect Brian Burke to suggest this team is ready to contend. They still need to strip some salary in order to make room for some missing pieces. Right now 50% of salaries is tied up in the defense which has created offensive problems.  Look for defensemen to be moved out and it won't be Francois Beauchemin or Dion Phaneuf - both got over 26 minutes of ice time last night.  However, Tomas Kaberle's minutes are down considerably and Garnet Exelby is playing ahead of Jeff Finger who is a scratch most nights.  There are going to be more changes in the offseason.

Survived the trip to Israel

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Off to the Holy Land

Blogging will resume on March 25.

Ex-Leaf watch

It seems the kids who replaced the veterans traded away in the past month have been doing much better which suggests moving out those players hasn't hurt the Leafs at all.  The only exception has been Lee Stempniak who has had a hot hand since joining Phoenix.

GP G A Pts
Matt Stajan 12 3 5 8
Lee Stempniak 4 5 1 6
Ian White 12 0 5 5
Jason Blake 12 2 3 5
Niklas Hagman 12 1 3 4
Alexei Ponikarovsky 4 1 1 2

Another beautiful goal by Tyler Bozak

Well Edmonton clearly won the Battle of the Basement. The kids are starting to look good but it is Tyler Bozak who continues to score highlight reel goals. He just may develop into a 1st line centre.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tank Nation has moved to Edmonton

For the past 2 seasons many Leaf fans have been a strong advocate for tanking and getting the first pick in the draft.  But in both season, the Leafs did an unexpected turnaround after falling deep in the East standings to eliminate themselves of a lottery pick.  Two years ago Cliff Fletcher traded away the obligatory draft picks to move up just 2 spots in the draft to grab Luke Schenn.  Not the best move considering how deep the draft was that season.  Last year Brian Burke pushed hard to do the same but failed.

Brian Burke pulled the rug from under Tank Nation this season by trading away this season's first and second pick and then threw in next year's first pick for good measure for the right to sign RFA Phil Kessel for $5.4 million a season.  So where are the Leafs this season?  Well right now in 29th place, deep deep in lottery pick country.  Meanwhile Leaf Nation has been agonizing about handing over a lottery pick to the Bruins and praying that the Leafs move up in the standings. Just imagine how much lower in the standings the Leafs would be without Kessel in the lineup?  Afterall they didn't give up a player from the roster in the trade.

So what does Burke do.  Well he trades away all his veteran forwards which pretty much his top two lines. A classic formula for tanking.  So with Edmonton coming to town tonight we can all sympathize with their miserable fans.  With an already weak roster, the Oilers have endured an incredible long list of injuries all season. They currently have lost 393 man games to injuries this season which leads the NHL.  these are just the players out right now: Nikolai Khabibulin (45 days), Alex Hemsky (45), Ryan Stone (40), Sheldon Souray (30), J-F Jacques (16), Ethan Moreau (6), Landislav Smid (16), Ryan Jones (3), Patrick O'Sullivan (1). So maybe those Oiler fans deserve to get Taylor Hall.

Paul in the Hall?

I have never been a strong supporter of Paul Henderson in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The debate seems to get stronger by the year and I'm guessing it will happen one day. Even I'm softening my positon. Many people want to see Henderson inducted, especially now with news that he is battling cancer.

Without a doubt he scored the most famous goal in hockey history until perhaps Crosby's overtime winner at the Olympics two weeks ago. However, he was a slightly above average player. Good skater and decent hands.

Even Don Cherry has jumped into the debate. On a recent installment of Grapevine, he pointed out to Brian Williams that Henderson scored three game winning goals in the most important hockey series in Canadian hockey history. Some think that even if the rest of your career is a bust it should still earn you a spot in the Hall.

So does Paul Henderson belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs in a Team Canada jersey

There was a time when Marc Savard's teammates would have stood up for him

There was a time when a hit like the one received by Marc Savard from Matt Cooke would have initiated a violent response. In contrast, Savard's teammates just stood around their fallen star player. I may sound like Don Cherry but today's players don't stand up for each other like they used to.

One of my Bobby Orr memories was the famous Quinn hit. In 1969, Pat Quinn was a slow hulking defenseman for the Maple Leafs who caught Orr with his head down and knocked him out. Quinn was assessed a questionable elbow penalty - mostly for having the gall to knockout a hockey God in Boston.

A donnybrook broke out. Leaf forward Forbes Kennedy playing in what proved to be his last game, was front and center in the aftermath of the hit. When all was said and done he had set NHL records for most penalties in a game (8), most minutes (38 - since bettered), most penalties in a period (6) and most penalty minutes in a period (34). He was also suspended for three games, reportedly for punching a linesman en route to the locker room.

The Boston fans went crazy. Quinn had to be escorted from the penalty box because some of the fans began hitting him. Garbage rained down in Quinn's direction. Finally police were brought in to safely escort Quinn to the dressing room.

The point I'm making is that acts like that made you a marked man in those days. Don Cherry blames it the change on the instigator rule. I don't agree. I just think today's high salaried players are more worried about themselves than the team. They are mercenaries. If your tough guy didn't stand up for your star players he would be gone the next day. Today's tough guys are mostly side shows with their staged fights.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

NHL once again creates uncertainty by providing lots of discretion

The following rule is being proposed by the NHL General Managers to address blindside hits to the head. It seems referees are having problems applying the existing rule where you can award a match penalty for intent to injure. Referees claim they don't know what a player's intent was.

"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or [is] the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

Sounds reasonable. However, it's all fuzzy to me and provides a lot of discretion in handing out punishment. First the on ice official must decide if the hit is principally targeting the head and is lateral, back pressure or blindside hit. Then the official decides if the violation merits a minor or major penalty. Finally there is total discretion on the part of Colin Campbell to had out a suspension for the offense.

This is totally different than penalties for sticks to the head. If you hit someone in the head with your stick it is a penalty even if it was accidental. No discretion other than whether to hand out a match penalty which rarely occurs. So if the rule change is approved and we have no reason to believe it won't be, will it work? The rule changes regarding staged fighting did't eliminate staged fights because the discretion provided to officials allowed them to ignore the rule.

Colin Campbell was on Bill Watters's show yesterday and was asked what discipline would Matt Cooke receive if the proposed rule was already in effect. Campbell indicated he would suspend him for 15 to 20 games. If he is handing out these types of suspensions then we will certainly see a change in behaviour. I'm not totally convinced. Sure if a player is carted off on a stretcher as was the case with Marc Savard, that will be a signal to Campbell to come down hard on the player. But what will happen if the player is blindsided, is able to skate to the bench, resumes play later in the game and beats the crap out of offender later on? If there is no supplementary discipline handed out then it is less likely that players will understand that headshots are unacceptable. Instead, the cement heads in the NHL will once again state that they were just finishing their checks and it was bad luck that the other guy got hurt.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Update from Phoenix

The National Hockey League expects the Phoenix Coyotes to lose $20 million this season — less than the $40 million to $50 million previously estimated by attorneys and others involved in the team’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. How is that for making progress? The savings are likely coming from a smaller payroll now that Wayne Gretzky has been dumped.

The NHL filed a lawsuit against former owner Jerry Moyes on Friday in New York, claiming Moyes breached agreements with the league. That includes trying to sell the Coyotes to Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie, who wanted to move the team to Canada. It will be interesting to see what agreements the NHL can provide in court. As for trying to sell the team, I am pretty sure Moyes filed for bankruptcy and the courts sold the team. Last time I checked the NHL was the buyer. It's hard to understand why the league is looking for more bad publicity.

Speaking of buyers what ever happened to the Ice Edge group?

Meanwhile, the Coyotes are currently the fourth seed in the NHL’s Western Conference, and Coach Dave Tippett will be up for NHL coach of the year. I guess the NHL is a pretty good owner.

Wake me when the playoffs begin

I really tried to watch last night's Maple Leaf game but ti was just too painful to watch. Maybe if I had been part of the Caputi clan at the game I might have gotten worked up about the game. Call it the post-Olympic letdown. NHL hockey just doesn't compare to the Olympic brand. This is the real dilemma for the NHL.

Take the Leaf-Bruin game. The best player on the ice was the Bruin's Patrice Bergeron who happened to have been the weakest player in the Team Canada lineup. Team Canada had Rick Nash on a checking line and he has scored 40 goals twice in his career. Martin Brodeur was a backup!!

How do you get NHLers to play with the same level of intensity? Shorten the season and cut back on travel? That isn't ever going to happen. Obviously money doesn't get the best out of your players. Most NHLers are paid millions but get no remuneration for participating in the Olympics.

Maybe I'll get excited about hockey again when the playoffs begin. It will be tough with the Leafs ending the season early for the fifth straight year. Well the Blue Jays start up soon. But then haven't made the playoffs in 17 years.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rebuilding through the draft doesn't always work

There has been some skepticism concerning Brian Burke's decision not to rebuild the Maple Leafs through the draft. He believes that it takes too long and doesn't want to spend the next 5 years out of the playoffs. Well this will be the 5th season out of the playoffs and I'm not interested in seeing their streak stretch to 10 years.

Let's set aside the Phil Kessel trade because you can never justify giving up that much for a player who's name isn't Crosby or Ovechkin. What Burke is saying is that building around players 21 to 23 rather than 18 to 20 will shorten the rebuild by a couple of years. I'm all for that.

The Leafs are now the youngest team in the league so the rebuild is well underway. If all their veterans had been traded for draft picks the Leaf lineup would look much different. It would be stocked with minor leaguers and fringe NHL players not youngsters. You would be waiting several years to see how the draft picks turn out. Just look around the league. Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington rebuilt through the draft but they were out of the playoffs for years.

Phoenix finished no higher than 23rd overall in the past 5 season and their average finish was 25th. It looks like they will finally make the playoffs this season. Los Angeles has had a similar experience with their best season in the past 5 being a 21st finish overall and an average finish of 25th. They too look to finally grab a playoff spot this season. For Columbus, St. Louis, Florida and the Islanders, they are still waiting for a winning season to happen. For every Steve Stamkos, John Taveres and Drew Doughty there is Patrik Stefan, Alexander Svitov or Rico Fata. If you pick a dud, it just sets you back that much farther.

As you watch Dion, Schenn, Kessel, Bozak, Caputi, Stalberg, Hanson and Kulemin you can at least get a sense of where the Leafs are going.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I don't remember Stephen Harper being part of Team Canada

Matt Cooke knocks out Marc Savard

I don't remember seeing any hits to the head at the Olympics only great, clean hockey. But the NHL has now resumed and so has the ugly side of the game. Marc Savard was blindsided by Matt Cooke and lay on the ice for 10 minutes before being carried off on a stretcher. Yet no penalty was called because in the NHL it appears that hits to the head are perfectly legal.

Speaking of the Olympics, this hit was much different than the one the Ovechkin laid on Jagr. Ovechkin was right in front of Jagr and did not blindside him. When the hit is coming from behind you can't protect yourself or your head. It's not so complicated.

The league will likely review the hit and maybe he ends up with a suspension anyway. It's always a star player who gets carried off the ice but the league doesn't seem to figure out how to protect them. The NFL figured it out when quarterbacks were dropping like flies.

Leafs win during the skill competition portion of last night's game

Phil Kessel had a good night against the Senators (although they had a flu-ridden lineup). I'm not a lover of shootout though Kessel did show something different last night. He started off along the boards and cut in towards the net and shuffled it between the goalie's legs. Almost looked like he fanned on the shot.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Maple Leafs' cap situation next season

Well there won't be any player movement until the end of the NHL playoffs so this is what the Leaf roster will look like at the end of the season. They have 16 players on contract for a total of almost $50 million. If the cap is in the neighbourhood of $56 million that leaves only $6 million to sign 7 players (1 goalie, 6 forwards). Not much money. Let's say you want to re-sign RFA Gustavsson (approx. $2.5 million) , Kulemin ($1.5 million), Hanson ($1 million), and Mitchell ($0.5 million). That leaves you with $0.5 million for 3 more players. So something has to give if Brian Burke intends on finding some quality players to skate with Phil Kessel.

The Leaf defense is over $25 million which is almost half their payroll. Far too much loaded at the blue line. So obviously some defense salary will have to be jettisoned to fill out the roster. The obvious candidates are Kaberle and Finger. Kaberle can be traded during the offseason and that surely will occur. Finger's contract cannot be moved but it can be buried in the minors. That frees up $7.5 million which means that $8 million is now available for 5 additional players (3 forwards, 2 defensemen).

Salary Next


($ millions)

Cap Hit

($ millions)

Dion Phaneuf



J-S Giguere



Phil Kessel



Mike Komisarek



Tomas Kaberle



Francois Beauchemin



Tyler Bozak



Jeff Finger



Luke Schenn



Mikhail Grabovski



Nazem Kadri



Colton Orr



Viktor Stalberg



Luca Caputi



Carl Gunnarsson



Fredrik Sjostrom



Jonas Gustavsson


John Mitchell


Nikolai Kulemin


Christian Hanson


Jamie Lundmark


Wayne Primeau


Rikard Wallin


Jonas Frogren


Garnet Exelby


Mike van Ryn


Darcy Tucker





Friday, March 5, 2010

Is it the curse of Frank Mahovlich?

A friend of mine insists the Maple Leafs are cursed after trading Frank Mahovlich. I'm not superstitious but it is a fact that the season after the Maple Leafs' last Stanley Cup win, the enigmatic left winger was traded to Detroit. The team has never really gotten close to challenging for the Cup since then. Forty-three years is a long time. Half of the fan based was likely not even alive in 1967.

Frank Mahovlich was a talented and classy winger, a large man with the skills and hands of a pure scorer. Known as "the Big M," Mahovlich was touted as a superstar while still a teenager. Mahovlich also struggled through most of his hockey life with the stress that comes from great expectations.

In his first full season in the NHL, 1957-58, he was solid and at times spectacular and his 20 goals and 36 points were enough to earn him the Calder Trophy as top rookie beating out Bobby Hull.

His next two seasons were erratic on the ice but consistent on the score sheet. He hovered around 20 goals, good totals for a young player, but many Toronto fans wanted a superstar performance each night, on every shift, and 20 goals wasn't good enough. In 1960-61, he began to play the way everyone had always expected. Still only 23 years old, he had an exceptional start to the season and led the league for much of the year in goals. With 14 games remaining, he had 48 goals, two less than Maurice Richard's record of 50. He seemed destined to seize the position of the game's top scorer. Those final two goals never came.

Although the Leafs won the Stanley Cup for three consecutive seasons beginning in 1962, and even though Mahovlich averaged over 30 goals a year, he was the focus of much criticism and constant boos when he played in front of the home crowd. When he failed to score a goal in the 1963 playoffs, he was booed during and after the game in which the Leafs clinched the title. Even the next day the heckling continued at a reception in downtown Toronto for the Cup winners.

Mahovlich responded to coach Punch Imlach's berating by not reacting to it. He admitted later that the two men didn't speak for five years. Though the team and the doctors didn't admit it for several years, Mahovlich was hospitalized in 1964, suffering from acute tension and depression. He returned to the team but struggled on the ice, his goal production dropping to 18 in 1966-67, the year of his final Cup victory with Toronto.

The Leafs played the Montreal Canadiens on November 1, 1967 - an important game between long-time foes. Mahovlich played a wonderful game, scoring a goal and adding two assists in Toronto's 5-0 win. He was named one of the three stars of the game. The next day, with the Leafs leaving on a trip to Detroit, Mahovlich got up from his seat on the train, told a teammate he was going home and left. He was soon under the care of the Toronto General Hospital psychiatric staff. He was in a deep depression and, according to many reports, had suffered a nervous breakdown. Mahovlich stayed away from the rink to deal with his condition for more than a month, during which he missed 11 games.

Near the end of the season, the Leafs decided to part ways with their big winger. In the biggest trade of the decade, he was sent to the Detroit Red Wings with Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and the rights to another Leaf enigma, Carl Brewer, for Paul Henderson, Norm Ullman and Floyd Smith.

So maybe the team and fans are cursed for the shabby treatment given to the shy Maple Leaf star of the 1960s.

And welcome to my new blog dedicated to all the long-time suffering Maple Leafs fans.