Sunday, May 30, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1987-88 Season

During the 1987-88 season, the Maple Leafs come 20th out of 21 teams but still make the playoffs because the finished with 1 point ahead of the Minnesota North Stars who were also in the Norris Division. How the Leafs fall victim to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. 

Harold Ballard and Gerry McNamara were more or less lost in the past.  Always out of step with the rest of the league.  When teams pursued Europeans, the Leafs stayed at home.  When they finally showed up, they were scouting the wrong players like Jir Crha or Slav Duris.They had nothing but contempt for player agents as if you could turn back the clock to the 1960s.

The Leafs has a chronic shortage of depth in their organization. They would lose good young players in the waiver draft like Kevin Maguire to Buffalo and Craig Muni to Edmonton, both would go on to have successful careers.  McNamara rarely signed free agents and when he did often they turned out to be players with little or nothing left in the tank like Marian Stastny and Dave Semenko. By the spring of 1988, John Brophy was at the peak of his influence in the Leaf organization dispite the fact that he was a lousy coach. As power shifted in the organization it partly led to the firing of McNamara.

Yolanda MacMillan legally changes her name to Ballard although she and Harold are not married. However, she insisted that the Gardens staff call her Mrs. Ballard.  Harold's children grew to resent and then dispise Yolanda. Harold was by now in poor health and began using a wheelchair.  He had diabetes which caused serious circulation problems in his legs and feet. He had suffered a heart attack while in Florida which left him in a weakened and, at times, confused state.

During the season Harold Ballard actually tried to orchestrate a friendly take over of the Leafs by a friend, Michael Gobuty.  Ballard had agreed to guarantee credit from the National Bank for $2.5 million. However, when Gardens director Don Crump learned of the loan guarantee, he killed it.  The bank later sued Gobuty and Ballard.

The next crisis came when Ballard declared he would leave his money to a charity and not his children. He indicated that he expected the charity to run the Gardens and the team. It was a tragic comedy every day at the Gardens.

Scouting Report: Korbinian Holzer

Last week the Maple Leafs announced the signing of German defenseman Korbinian Holzer. He was a 4th round pick of John Ferguson in 2006 providing further proof that JFJ's strength was at the draft.  Too bad he kept trading away his picks.

Playing with Germany in both the Olympics (this year) and the World Junior Championships (2007), it's clear that Holzer is highly regarded as a solid international player by his home nation.

Holzer has also been known over the past week as being the guy who was pasted into the boards (see video below) by fellow Leaf  Nik Kulemin at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in a game between Russia and Germany.
Playing with the DEG Metro Stars of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Holzer compiled 22 points and 96 penalty minutes in 52 games.

Holzer has been signed for 2 years on a 2-way contract which means that if he never makes it onto the Leafs he won't cost them too much playing on the Marlies.

At 6'3" he has the height that Brian Burke likes in his defensemen but at 190 lbs he will need to bulk up. He is defensive-minded player that plays a physical game. Not many players in his draft range have accomplished anything yet, with Columbus’ Derek Dorsett and Toronto’s own Viktor Stalberg the only ones to play 40 NHL games. Holzer may not have that, but he has Olympic experience, which is hard to come by when going through the 2006 drafts players after the first round.  The Marlies already have depth at defense with Jesse Blacker, Keith Aulie, Phil Oreskovic, and Juraj Mikus so Holzer will have his work cut out for him to rise in the depth chart.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stanley Cup action last night


Thanks Gary for keeping everyone so caught up in the NHL playoffs.

borrowed from here

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chicago's best chance at a Stanley Cup is this season

Some hockey fans are thinking that the Blackhawks would be Stanley Cup favourites in a season or two from now and that their status as Cup finalists came a little early.  Well their best shot will likely be this season.

Like the Penguins over the past two season, Chicago is loaded with great young players.  Many will get better over the next few years.  Unfortunately, like Pittsburgh, the Blackhawks will not be able to keep this team together. Over the past season the Penguins had to let move out some pretty good secondary scoring including Petr Sykora, Miro Satan, Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa.

Chicago has 14 players under contract for next season for a total of $57.5 million.  Unfortunately the salary cap will be $56.8 million in 2010-11.  So Chicago must somehow drop almost a $1 million in salaries but sign 9 more players.  That means some massive salary dumping.  Players like Patrick Sharp, Brent Sopel, John Madden and others may have to be moved with very little coming the other way.  They are further handcuffed by large contracts given to Marian Hossa and Brian Campbell.

So this looks like it is Chicago's year.  Unless those nasty Flyers throw enough dirt in their young faces.

The 2010 Cinderella team title goes to the Philadelphia Flyers

Was it my imagination or did Canada go gaga over the Montreal Canadiens?  Well I'm not crying over the loss of Canada's last Stanley Cup contender.  Leaf fans aren't supposed to cheer for their arch rivals. Sure I hated the Flyers in the 1970s.  Who didn't?  But this is 2010. Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly, Don Saleski and Andre Dupont are old men now.  Fred Shero and Kate Smith are dead. But the Montreal Canadiens are still the enemy.
So when I hear that the Canadiens were the Cinderella team in this year's playoffs it makes my blood boil.  The Flyers are the real Cinderella team.  They finished with 88 points in the regular season, the same as the Canadiens.  In fact it didn't even look like they were going to make the playoffs finishing the season at 3-7-1.The Flyers made the playoffs by winning the last game of the season in a shootout - partly because Ranger coach John Tortorella decided not to use Marian Gaborik as one of his shooters.  They lost their starting and backup goalies to injuries and played most of the season with a career minor leaguer in net.

Although the Canadiens got a lot of credit for beating Washington, the #1 seeded team in the East and top offensive team.  The Flyers beat New Jersey in 5 games.  The Devils happened to have been the #2 seeded team and the top defensive team.  Then the Flyers beat the Bruins who happened to have been #2 defensive team.  But they did it the hard way after losing the first 3 games in the series.  So when the two Cinderella teams faced each other, it was no contest.  The Flyers won in 5 games with the minor league stopper, Michael Leighton earning 3 shutouts. 

So in my books the 2010 Cinderella title goes to the Philadelphia Flyers. 

P.S. Don't forget the Blackhawks have the NHL's most cursed player, Marian Hossa.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Scouting Report: Jesse Blacker

At the 2009 Entry Draft, Nazem Kadri received all of the attention from the Toronto media while the remaining picks have been largely ignored. The second round pick last year (58th overall), Jesse Blacker is legitimate prospect.

In 2008-09, Jesse played defense for the Memorial Cup winners, the Windsor Spitfires. This season saw Jesse force a trade.  Eager to play a more prominent role and squeezed out by the numbers on a stacked Windsor Spitfires team he headed home early in the season to force a trade. He got his wish and finished the season with Owen Sound.  At the end of the OHL regular season, Blacker signed a contract with the Maple Leafs and was assigned to the Toronto Marlies.

Jesse Blacker is considered a good puck moving defenseman who is not afraid to use the body. He is good at moving forwards from in front of his own net.  However, he is also been criticized for running around in his own end and getting out of position. He will have to work on his positional play before he gets a chance for a promotion to the big team.  At 6'2" and 190 lbs he will also have to put on some weight. His resume is littered with some truculence, testosterone, pugnacity and belligerence which means that Brian Burke will be patient to see how he develops.

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1986-87 Season

Harold Ballard had a tendency to hire coach and managers with no NHL experience likely because they came cheap. Gerry McNamara, Mike Nykoluk, Floyd Smith, Joe Crozier, and Dan Maloney all were hired with no experience and invariably once they picked up some job skills they were gone. Dan Maloney was no different.  When his contract expired during the offseason Ballard refused to give him a two year contract with a modest raise.  He was likely the lowest paid coach in the league with no security.  So he quit.  The next day the Winnipeg Jets signed him.  For some reason McNamara made no effort to sign Maloney.  Yet he worked out a four year contract for himself several months later.

Finding a new coach for Leafs was not a simple process - he had to be cheap, he had to be someone from the Leaf organization and he had to be someone Ballard liked.  This time around it was John Brophy.  John Brophy turned out to be a huge blunder for McNamara and one of the most controversial individuals to walk the halls of Maple Leaf Gardens.  He was a career minor league player and coach and totally unequipped to handle young players.  He was a tough disciplinarian with an explosive temper. Meanwhile, McNamara tough approach to negotiating contracts offended many players who forced the manager to trade them in a series of bad moves that saw the Leafs trade Steve Thomas, Gary Nylund, Bob McGill and Rick Vaive.

The Leafs stumbled through the season but made the playoffs when the Minnesota North Stars collapsed late in the season (they qualified through a tie breaker). Although the Leafs were able to advance past the St. Louis Blues they were once again unable to advance to the third round. During the season long-term Maple Leaf King Clancy had to undergo surgery to remove his gall bladder. Unfortunately, infection from the gall bladder seeped into his body during surgery, causing him to go into septic shock. He died November 10th, 1986.  Young star player Wendel Clark missed 14 games with a back problem that became chronic because of poor care provided by the Leaf doctors. The team's leading scorer was Russ Courtnall who along with Wendel Clark and Gary Leeman formed a decent line referred to the Hound line.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1985-86 Season

Another bad season (25-48-7) for the Maple Leafs finishing 19th overall yet making the playoffs because the pathetic Red Wings (or Dead Wings as they were referred to in the 1980s) were also in the Norris Division. In the first round of the playoffs the Leafs swept the best of 5 series with Chicago in 3 straight games and extended St. Louis in the next round to a 7th game in their best of 7 series.

Wendel Clark had an immediate impact on the team and lead the team in goals scored with 34 (a Leaf rookie record) as well as penalty minutes with 225. The 5’11", 194 pound combative left-winger became an instant crowd favourite with his quick and accurate wrist shots and punches. He took on all comers, including heavyweights Behn Wilson and Bob Probert. He was a breath of fresh air to a team that was unable to properly develop the early first-round draft picks that should have turned the franchise around.  Rick Vaive became another Leaf captain to be humiliated and driven from the team when he was stripped of his captaincy for missing a morning practice.  The position is left open.

GM  Gerry McNamara continued to look to Europe for talent although team owner, Harold Ballard, was not so keen to sign foreign players. McNamara has discovered Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom in the 1970s. McNamara began to look at Czechoslovakia where Vaclav Nedomansky and the Statsny brothers had been able to jump to the NHL.  McNamara beleived he could geta a number of stars on their national team to defect. He had drafted Peter Ihnacak in the 2nd round in 1982 and picked up Miroslav Frycer in a trade.  In fact, by 1985-86 Frycer was leading the Leafs in scoring.

But back in 1982, McNamara was so intent on drafting Czech players that he also drafted Peter Ihnacak's brother Miroslav although no Leaf scout had ever seen him play.  The Leafs were able to sneak Miro out of Czechoslovakia during Christmas 1985 and paid almost $1 million  to get him  out of the country and sign him to a contact - remember Ballard was not supportive of bloated payrolls.  As it turns out, Miro wasn't as big, fast or good as his brother Peter. He played just 55 games for the Leafs and scored 8 goals before being bought out of his contract. Just another set back for the Maple Leafs.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Maybe the worst reporting in the history of sports

Charles Clinton has to be the absolutely worst hockey rink reporter you will ever encounter. This is history being made!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Will you be supporting the Canadiens?

I thinking that as the only surviving Canadian team perhaps it was my patriotic duty to support the Montreal Canadiens. But then they aren't Team Canada. It would like Red Sox fans supporting the Yankees. Like Phillies fans supporting the Mets. Like Pistons fans supporting the Bulls. Like Ticats fans supporting the Argos. It ain't going to happen.

Why are these Bruin fans crying?

a)  Prior to game 7, the Bruins had a memorial for Ted Kennedy

b)  Friday's game brought back bad memories of 1979 when Don Cherry's Bruin team was called for too many men.

c)  They realized Taylor Hall will be playing for Edmonton next season and the Bruins will be stuck with Tyler Seguin.

d)  They feel bad for Maple Leaf fans because it's been 43 years since the Leafs last won the Cup.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Scouting Report: Jerry D'Amigo

The Maple Leafs picked Jerry D'Amigo in the 6th round, 158th overall in the 2009 Entry Draft.  This was one of the few skill players drafted by Brian Burke last spring. D'Amigo was selected as a result of his outstanding year on the U.S. Under-18 Team where he scored 23 goals, 33 assists and 56 goals in 53 games with the team.  At the U18 World Championships, D’Amigo led the team and finished tied for third in the tournament, with 13 points in seven games including four goals, helping the U.S. win gold.

He went on to have an excellent season at RPI as a freshman as well as winning gold on the USA National Junior team. He was rookie of the year for the ECAC Hockey conference. D'Amigo was arguably Team USA's second best forward and scored some clutch goals in the tournament.  His stock has definitely risen. Though he needs to work on the other parts of his game - such as his defensive skills.  He is a player worth watching of the next few years.

Friday, May 14, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1984-85 Season

The Maple Leafs finally hit rock bottom in the 1984-85 season finishing in last place overall.  The Leafs lost an incredible 52 games under new coach Dan Maloney. The worst season in the history of the franchise. Their 48 points were 14 points fewer than the record of the lowest ranked playoff team.

Even Rick Vaive had an off year.  After scoring 50 or more for three straight season he dropped down to a 35 goal season. The Leafs had struggled to develop draft picks over the past few seasons. Jim Benning (6th, 1981), Gary Nylund (3rd, 1982), Russ Courtnall (7th, 1983) and Al Iafrate (4th, 1984) just never lived up to their high rankings. For the first time since the NHL Entry Draft was introduced, the Maple Leafs had the first overall pick in 1985 and the opportunity to select a potential franchise player. Unfortunately, there was no clear overall #1 pick that season.  Hockey people were split between Wendel Clark, Dana Murzyn and Craig Simpson. The Leafs actually made the right decision for once taking the hardnose winger from Saskatoon.

I'm taking the Bruins to choke big time tonight

UPDATE: Well the Bruins showed up and put up a good fight.  But it was still a historic collapse.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Scouting Report: Chris DiDomenico

A player I expect to get a good shot at making the Maple Leafs this fall is Chris DiDomenico. He is a local kid (Woodbridge) who has partly flown under the radar because of injuries.

He was passed over in the OHL draft and began his major junior career the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec league in 2006–07 where DiDomenico scored 25 goals, 50 assists and 75 points, establishing Sea Dogs club records for a rookie. That summer, he was drafted in the 6th round (164th overall) by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The next season he finished sixth in league scoring with 95 points in 65 games.

In his third season as a junior DiDomenico was traded to the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He completed the season with a combined 59 points in 51 games between Drummondville and Saint John. He also represented Canada at the World Junior Chamionships in 2009. Then he went on a tear in the playoffs recording a playoff-high 31 assists to go with 4 goals in 15 games before suffering a broken femur in a collision.

DiDomenico played his first game since the injury on February 17 of this year after a nine-month layoff. He scored a goal and added two assists in his first game back, and in 12 games he managed seven goals and 22 points along with a plus-18 rating.

He is a gifted scorer something the Leafs are in short supply. But he also has tremondous character and determination. He is only listed at 5'11" and 165 lbs and just an ordinary skater. But DiDomenico is an excellent penalty killer and at taking face offs. The only thing working against him is the lost 2009-10 season which likely held back his development.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1983-84 Season

Around this time Yolanda had become a fixture at the Gardens.  She brought with her dog T.C Puck a Bouvier. Harold Ballard enjoyed the attention and the two became inseparable. He gave her a job at the Gardens and paid her $35,000 a year but no one knew what she did. To the Gardens employees she went from amusing, to annoying and finally despised. 

1983-84 was another dismal season with the Leafs finishing 18th overall in the 21-team league.  It as the franchise's second worst season ever up to that point. The only high point was Rick Vaive's 3rd consecutive 50 goal season.  The media began to writing negative articles about Mike Nykoluk.  Soon reporters were being banned from the Gardens.  A practice that became quite common for Ballard as time went on.

When the season ended and the Leafs had again failed to make the playoffs, Gerry McNamara finally fired Nykoluk. Although he wasn't solely to blame, he never won more than 28 games in the three season he was behind the bench. 

McNamara has initiated a law suit over an auto accident prior to becoming General Manager which reached a settlement around this time. In the action he claimed he had suffered brain damage which included difficulty speaking in stressful situations.  When he received a $125,000 settlement the newspapers had a field day. One headline read, "McNamara Proves He's Brain Damaged".

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

This was a pretty nice goal

Montreal's Maxim Lapierre is one of those annoying players that frankly degrade the game. He is constantly chirping and playing on the edge of the rules. But he scored a beautiful goal in the 3rd period of last night's game that turned out to be the game winner and propels the Canadiens into another Game 7.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bobby Orr is bronzed

Today is the 40th anniversary of Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr scoring the game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues in overtime to clinch the 1970 Stanley Cup. It was one of the more memorable Cup winning goals you could imagine - in overtime. The Bruins organization unveiled a bronze statue outside TD Garden to forever commemorate the iconic event in Boston's sports history. Orr is one of my sports heroes and a terrific person.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1982-83 Season

In Gerry McNamara's full season in charge of the team one would have thought he would use the opportunity to rebuild not just the hockey team but the hockey operations.  The Leafs at the time only had 3 full time scouts (Johnny Bower, Dick Duff and Floyd Smith) while most teams had at least 10.  Coach Mike Nykoluk only had one assistant while other head coaches had several assistants. Doug Carpenter who had a very successful career as a junior coach at Cornwall was coaching the Leafs' AHL affliate (St. Catherines Saints) but was not brought back in 1982.  He would have been an excellent replacement for Nykoluk but McNamara decided to replace Carpenter with ex-teammate Claire Alexander. Even the Saints were a disaster.  To save money McNamara didn't sign their top two scorers from the previous season, Bruce Boudreau and Mike Kasycki, which further weakened the Leafs' depth.

The 1982-83 season featured the short career of Paul Higgins.  Higgins played with McNamara's son at Henry Carr and was signed by the Toronto Marlies.  He was continually getting into fights and in trouble with the law.  He even got into a fight in a softball game during the offseason. The Marlies eventually traded him to Kitchener and drove him to his new team to make sure he got out of town.  None of this mattered to McNamara who had the Leafs draft him in 1980 (10th round) and employ him as a goon.
The Leafs did not send scouts to the World Championships because Harold Ballard refused to sign Europeans. So the team that opened to door to Europeans by signing Borje Salming was now ignoring that continent. Meanwhile the rest of the NHL was going European (Jarri Kurri in Edmonton, Kent Nilsson in Calgary, Peter Stasny in Quebec).

Rick Vaive registered a second 50-goal season but that was really the only bright spot. Despite a terrible 28-40-12 record the Maple Leafs make the playoffs by finishing in 3rd place in the Norris Division. However the weak Leafs are quickly exposed as they are knocked off in 4 games of a best of 5 by the Minnesota North Stars.  A total of 46 players dressed for the Leafs that season.

Happy Mothers Day

Friday, May 7, 2010

77,803 fans watch hockey game between USA and Germany

The opening game of the IIHF World Championships between USA and Germany was played in Gerlsenkirchen at the Veltins Arena football stadium in front of 77,803 people.  That is the highest recorded crowd to watch a hockey game. The history-making audience broke the old record of 74,554 spectators, set in a 2001 game between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.  Germans won the game 2-1.

The Phoenix Coyotes drama never ends

Here is a recap on the NHL soap opera that has been taking place in Phoenix:
  • It started back in December 2008, when the media became aware that the Phoenix Coyotes were losing money huge sums of money and were being directly funded by the NHL. As we now know, secretly the NHL had taken over operations of the Coyotes.
  • In May 2009, the Coyotes owner, Jerry Moyes, put the team into bankruptcy literally hours before Gary Bettman was to present a potential offer to purchase the team. Moyes intended to sell the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie who intended to purchase the team out of bankruptcy and move it to Hamilton.
  • From May until September 2009, hearings were held in Phoenix bankruptcy court to determine the fate of the Coyotes. Two potential bidders for the team surfaced, Jerry Reinsdorf and Ice Edge Holdings (who did not put in a bid for the team at the bankruptcy hearing). Ultimately the NHL put in the only rival bid to Balsillie for the team, while they fought Moyes' plan to sell the team and move it to Hamilton against the NHL rules. The Phoenix court finally ruled that the team could not be sold to Balsillie, as the judge held that bankruptcy could not be used to subvert the league's rules.
  • The NHL's bid was also insufficient for the bankruptcy judge, but Moyes and the NHL settled with the NHL buying the team and assuming all debts.  The NHL then proceeded to work with the two potential bidders of Reinsdorf and Ice Edge to work out a deal with Glendale.
Since that time the NHL has been spinning wheels in an attempt to sell the team. At one point Ice Edge signed a letter of intent to buy the team from the NHL but  they were rejected by the City of Glendale. Meanwhile Reinsdorf had won the approval of Glendale.  Now Ice Edge is back in the picture.

You may be asking yourself, what was so bad about the Jim Balsillie offer?  Well for one thing the NHL owners didn't want Balsillie as a owner because he refuses to play by the rules.Sports leagues do not like rogue owners.  The second problem was that the NHL does not want a second team in the GTA.  There may be a secret agreement with the Maple Leafs in the works here because almost everyone agrees that a second GTA team would be a success.

Most people feel that these deals keep failing because no one really wants to own a hockey team in Phoenix or the asking price is too high.  However, it seems the real obstacle is the horrible lease that exists with Glendale to play in Arena.  Back in 2001, the Coyotes owner was developer Steve Ellman who agreed to a 30-year lease only because he needed Glendale to fund the arena which was part of the much larger Westgate City Center development that Ellman owned and developed.  Westgate was built around Arena, which is its primary attraction. However, once the arena was completed, he unloaded the team (and arena lease) to Jerry Moyes.

There is only one solution to the Phoenix Coyotes problem - break the lease and move the team.  It may take some time but it will eventually happen.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1981-82 Season

During the Leafs' training camp in September 1981, Imlach suffered a third heart attack, which was followed by quadruple bypass surgery. Harold Ballard once again appointed himself as interim manager and let it be known to the media that Imlach's poor health meant that "he's through as general manager." Imlach was never officially fired, but when he tried to return to work in November, he found that his parking spot at Maple Leaf Gardens had been reassigned and Gerry McNamara had been made acting general manager. Imlach never returned to work and his contract was allowed to expire. McNamara made a name for himself in the organization as a scout in 1973 when he returned from the World Hockey Championships to report on a star defenseman from Sweden, named Borje Salming.  McNamara somehow kept his job for nearly a decade despite the team never breaking the 70 point barrier.

Mike Nykoluk returned as coach. He had been recruited from the radio booth which appeared to be the standard approach to filling openings in the organization - look for down the hall for someone cheap and a little desperate.

At the start of the season the Leafs would put into the newly created Norris Division uner realignment and away from Boston and Buffalo in the Adams Division.  At the time the awful Detroit Red Wings and Winnipeg Jets were Norris occupants. Yer the Leafs slipped even further in the standing finishing with only 20 wins and 56 points. That was good for 19th overall in the 21-team league.  In comparison, the 2009-10 version of the Leafs had a miserable season but still scraped together 30 wins.

In January of 1982, Darryl Sittler eventually quit the team, asked to be traded and was.  Rick Vaive, who along with Bill Derlago was acquired from Vancouver for Tiger Williams and Jerry Butler in one of the few good trades that Imlach made, was named captain. Vaive was also one of the few bright spots in a dismal decade by being the first Leaf player to score 50 goals in a season and repeating the feat the next two years.  Today that would be a monster season but in 1981-82, when scoring was up considerably, that was only good for 5th in goal scoring. The monster season was had by a guy named Wayne Gretzky who scored 92 goals.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Great goaltending and playoff wins go hand in hand

Jaroslav Halak put together 3 terrific games to bring the Canadiens back from the dead in their series against the Washington Capitials. His save percentage in those three games was a sizzling .978 and overall in the playoffs it is .924 despite the blow out in Game 1 against the Penguins.

The history of the NHL playoffs has many goaltending heroes.

Ken Dryden made his NHL debut in 1971 for the Canadiens, playing only six regular-season games after a late-season call-up but sporting a minuscule 1.65 goals-against average. This earned him the number 1 goalie job for the playoffs ahead of veteran All-Star Rogie Vachon, and the Canadiens rode their hot young goalie to win the Stanley Cup.  That was actually a strong Canadiens team and we will never know, of course, whether Vachon would have had the same success had he started in the playoffs.

In the 1993 playoffs, after the Canadiens lost their first two games to their archrival Quebec Nordiques in the first round series, a newspaper in Patrick Roy's hometown district and suggested that he be traded. Nordiques goaltending coach Dan Bouchard also proclaimed that his team had solved Roy. These comments seemed to fire up Roy, who responded by winning the next four games against the Nordiques, sweeping the Buffalo Sabres in the next round, and winning the first three against the New York Islanders to complete an eleven post-season game winning streak. Roy set a record during the post-season with 10 straight overtime wins, won the Stanley Cup, and was once again the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. He finished with a 16-4 record overall, a 2.13 GAA and .929 save percentage,

Arturs Irbe's NHL career began in 1991 with the San Jose Sharks. With Irbe between the pipes, the newly established Sharks made their first playoff appearance in the 1993–94 season and upset the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings. That season, Irbe played an NHL record 4412 minutes between the pipes for the Sharks and was nicknamed "The Wall."

Curtis Joseph developed quite the reputation early in his career as a playoff goalie although he never was on a Cup winning team. In 1997 the Edmonton Oilers upset the nuumber 2 team in the league, the Dallas Stars, on the goaltending of Joseph. They did it again in 1998 to a powerful Colorado Avalanche team that was anchored by Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic at their prime. Joseph shutout the Avalanche in Game 7 to take that series. The Leafs signed Joseph as a free agent as a result of his playoff heroics. In 2000, 2001 and 2002, the Leafs upset a very strong Ottawa Senators team because the Senators just could not beat Joseph. His save percentage over those three playoff runs was .932.

In 2003 Jean-Sebastian Giguere took the 7th seeded Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup Finals where they eventually lost to the New Jersey Devils. He finished with a 15-6 record overall, a 1.62 GAA and .945 save percentage, as well as fewer losses than his Finals counterpart Martin Brodeur. He was the fifth player to receive the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP as part of the losing team.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1980-81 Season

The mess called the Toronto Maple Leafs just got worse and worse. Through the summer of 1980, Harold Ballard insisted that Sittler would not be back with the Leafs. But before the start of the 1980-81 season, Sittler and Ballard appeared together at a news conference described as all smiles and buddy-buddy to announce that Sittler would be at training camp. He showed up with the C back on his sweater, reassuming the role of team captain. Sittler had arranged the talks with Ballard on his own. In fact the Leafs were ready to accept an offer for Sittler from the Quebec Nordiques when Imlach had his second heart attack in August 1980. The discussions between Sittler and Ballard took place with Imlach in the hospital.  At the news conference, Ballard said the real battle had been between Imlach and Eagleson, and Sittler just got caught in the crossfire.

Ballard had named himself acting general manager and also signed Borje Salming to a new contract with terms that Imlach had refused to offer. Before the end of 1981, Imlach was back running the Leafs as general manager  Ballard remained as de facto general manager even when Imlach recovered.  Behind the bench Joe Crozier then took over only to be succeeded by Mike Nykoluk  (coach #9 since the Leafs last won the Cup) on January 10, 1981.  

Despite finishing in last place with a 28-37-15 record the Maple Leafs remain 1 of 16 playoff teams. However, in the Preliminary Round the Leafs are crushed by the New York Islanders losing 3 straight by a combined score of 20-4.