Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Scary Maple Leaf defense from years past.

Sunday's Ice Girls: New York Islanders

So where is the truculence?

The punchless Maple Leaf offense was being predicted by the media throughout the preseason and the Leafs haven't disappointed in that area. Though it's not necessarily from a lack of offensive skilled players. I see it as a combination of several factors.

A lack of depth has forced to Leafs to play players in roles that they are not suited for. This has been a long term problem for the team that has not yet been resolved by Brian Burke. Think Dominic Moore playing on the second or third line. Too may players are getting ice time that frankly hasn't been earned - Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg are the most obvious. But giving the likes of Mikhail Grabovski or Clark MacArthur more ice time is not the answer either.

But probably a bigger factor is the size of the Leaf forwards. For all of Burke's bluster about beefing up the Leaf roster, he picks up Phil Kessell at 5'11", 180 lbs, Tyler Bozak at 6'1", 183 lbs, and Clark MacArthur at 5'11", 191 lbs. The only top 6 forward at over 200 lbs is Nikolai Kulemin at 225 lbs. None of these players are able to penetrate oppositions' defense which means lots of long shots and bad angle shots. No wonder they have been shutout two games straight. Even Vesa Toskala would look good against this type of shooting. It also explains why little used Colton Orr has so far out scored Grabovski and Versteeg,

So why wasn't 6'6", 240 lbs Nik Antropov or 6'4", 230 lbs Alexei Ponikarovsky good enough to play on the Leaf's top two lines?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'm already tired of Kessel vs. Seguin

Does there have to be a subplot to every game? Kessel vs. Seguin when the Bruins are in town? Colton Orr vs. Derek Boorgaard when it's the Rangers? Mikhail Grabovsky vs. Andrei Kostitsyn? Bryan McCabe vs. Leaf fans? The return of Matt Stajan? The media is so annoying.

In order to feed the voracious appetites of Leaf fans, the Toronto media needs to keep feeding us stories. Now it's hard to find interesting stories 365 days in a year. Writing about the latest Tomas Kaberle trade rumours can get pretty redundant. So instead why not keep rehashing trades when ever the players involved play each other? How boring can that get?

This Kessel vs. Seguin thing is really wearing thin. With Kessel only 23 and Seguin a mere 18, we may be stuck hearing about this nonsense for the next 10 years.

Let's get this over with real early. You want to know who won that trade? It's the Bruins because the Leafs always get the short end of trades. Now let's just move on.

By the way I'm really beginning to hate those Bruin fans.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

As they say, a win is a win

Another backup goalie tries to bury the Leafs again. Only this time Colton Orr takes out Scott Clemmensen to set up the winning goal. Sure the play wasn't legal but seems the referees were playing to much attention. Orr’s goal forced the Panthers to open the game up, and with Florida pressing late, Phil Kessel picked up his seventh of the season on a breakaway to secure the win.

Clemmensen was particularly sharp late in the second with his team killing a penalty and the game tied, denying Nikolai Kulemin on a one-timer in close, and couldn’t be blamed on the winner given he was bowled over from behind. You begin to wonder why these journeyman goalies play so well here? Does anyone have an explanation? Does the anemic Leaf offense make any goalie look good?

It was a pretty boring game as the Panthers' thin lineup has forced them to employ the trap.

Meanwhile, the offense-challenge Leafs manage to win another game and postpone several days of hand wringing for Leaf fans.

Leaf fans continue to boo Panthers captain Bryan McCabe (one of the founding members of the Muskoka Five) every time he touches the puck. He is partly being punished by Leaf fans for the ridiculous five-year, $28.75-million contract that John Ferguson signed him to in 2006 after a 68-point career year. Since this is a contract year, count on McCabe having a strong season.

Bruins are the latest NHL team with cap problems

The Bruins have been avoiding the day of reckoning for the past month when they put Marco Sturm and Marc Savard on the long-term injured reserve. Both are now skating which suggests they are just about ready t about $7.5 million in cap space. o be activated.

Several hockey sources indicated to that the Bruins are in the beginning stages of discussing deals involving several players, including Blake Wheeler, Matt Hunwick and Michael Ryder.

Of course there is Brian Burke with $4 million in cap space and not much up the middle. So let the rumours begin!

Nazem Kadri scores a gem for the Marlies

Monday, October 25, 2010

Battle of the Blades - week 4

This week the competition had a country western theme and included vocal perfomances from two competitors - Theo Fleury and Shae-Lynn Bourne. After last week where two of the better skaters finished at the bottom and P.J. and Violetta were eliminated, there is likely no such thing as a favourite. The competition is much closer this season.

Kyoko Ina and Kelly Chase

OMG Kelly is wearing black vinyl chaps. They attempt a throw double-loop, but Kyoko put a hand down on the landing. Kelly is out of sync at times through the program. It has issues and sure enough they have to skate again on Monday.

Jamie Salé and Theo Fleury

Jamie and Theo are skating to an original song, written and performed by Fleury called, "As the Story Goes." The pair skate strongly again but then Theo pulls out a shocker by suddenly flying into the air, and attempts an axel. He two foots the landing but everyone including the judges were thoroughly impressed. This pair isn't going anywhere this week.

Katia Gordeeva and Valeri Bure

Trough the first few weeks of the competition Katia and Val have had strong support from the judges but not the viewers and have gone to the Monday night skate off twice. This week the pair is skating to "Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum. Their speed and grace are outstanding and finished with 17.7 scores from the judges. Did I mention they pull off a double-twist. Very impressive.

Isabelle Brasseur and Todd Warriner

Izzy and Todd skated to Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Lookin' Out My Back Door." It's a cute performance with quite a few tricks. The highlight is a spin with Isabelle upside down. Todd has one arm holding Isabelle's hand. Todd's other hand is between Brasseur's skates while her free arm is at her side. Tricks can keep you alive.

Shae-Lynn Bourne and Patrice Brisbois

Shae-Lynn and Patrice skated to Don Mescall's "All Over Again", but Don and Shae-Lynn have recorded it as a duet. Bourne said she was inspired to try something new after watching all of the NHLers step out of their comfort zone. She is an incredible performer and super competitive. It was another graceful, beautiful performance but as Sandra Bezic points out it wasn't really country. As a result they are in Monday's skate off against K & K. But on Monday night Kyoko and Kelly land their double-loop throw clean which means Shae and Patrice are gone.

Then the surprise news is that next week is second chance Sunday. Bourne and Brisebois and the three other pairs who have already been iced: Christine “Tuffy” Hough-Sweeney and Russ Courtnall, Anabelle Langlois and Georges Laraque, Violetta Afanasieva and P.J. Stock will return to the ice for a Halloween-themed performance. The two pairs receiving the highest scores from the judges and the most audience votes will move on to Monday’s show where they will skate for the chance to get back into the competition.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bettman calls fan roughed up by Rick Rypien

Soon after Gary Bettman slapped Rick Rypien with a six-game suspension Friday, the NHL commissioner called the Wild fan whom the Vancouver Canucks' agitator accosted and offered him dinner and some tickets.

"He said, 'Sorry about the events, and players should never ever put their hands on a fan,'" said James Engquist, appreciative of Bettman's gesture.
Engquist said it's been an emotional couple of days. He says he's been harassed via phone calls, e-mails and on the Internet. He is seeking legal representation to ascertain options with both Rypien and the harassment.

As classy as Engquist felt Bettman was in calling him, he was disappointed by the length of Rypien's suspension.

"This is Mr. Rypien's career, this is his job, he's being paid to represent the NHL, and they feel (taking) a two-week break off without pay and come back to work is satisfactory," Engquist said. "But as far as the real world goes, that person would be held accountable as far as the law and just as a company in general, that person would probably be fired."

An interesting analogy Mr. Engquist. So you think the same set of rules that apply to workplaces like my office should apply to the NHL? Except there are no loud mouth, vulgar clients where I work screaming at me. If there were, I might also grab one of them eventually.

I'm not condoning what Rick Rypien did. You never touch a fan. That goes beyond what is acceptable even in a violent sport like hockey. But Mr. Engquist is likely no choir boy. I am sure he feels the price he paid for his tickets gives him the right to be rude, obnoxious and abusive. Then he gets indigent and threatens legal action when someone strikes back.

Maybe it's time the fans show a little class too.

Why would anyone want to buy the Phoenix Coyotes?

Arizona Republic writer Sarah McLellan captured this image, five minutes into the second period, and others from the press box of Friday night's Phoenix Coyotes game against the Los Angeles Kings. Announced attendance: 6,706.

I suspect the announced attendance was not quite the number that bothered to show up for the game. Those actually sitting in the seats may have been less than 6,000.

Meanwhile the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs had an announced attendance of 6,539 for today's game against the Oklahoma City Barons in Copps Coliseum. Yup, the same arena that Jim Balsillie wanted to use to house the Hamilton Coyotes if only the NHL would have let him buy the team. That was of course over a year ago and there is still no owner in Phoenix. And no crowds either.

So if 6500 Hamilton hockey fans will come out for an NHL game, finding another 10,000 to come out for an NHL game in Hamilton should not be a problem. But then Hamilton will not help Gary Bettman get a national broadcaster to pick up NHL hockey.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Phaneuf was Captain Dud tonight

The losses in a row pretty much negate the fast start to the season. But the game against the Flyers had to be the ugliest one so far this season. I had said prior to the season that the Maple Leaf defense was over-rated. As a group they are not very fast and prone to give away the puck. Those weaknesses were in full display tonight.

But the biggest egg was laid by Dion Phaneuf who was on the ice for 4 of the Flyers 5 goals and finished the night a -3. He was on the ice when Beauchemin’s cross ice pass in his own zone landed on Mike Richards stick and behind Giguere. Then Ville Leino got credit for goal that went off Phaneuf, which was indirectly the result of blown chance by Phaneuf to clear the puck. Kessel was next to give the puck away setting up one of many 2-on-1 on Giguere that Scott Hartnell finished - Phaneuf was on the ice. Finally, Kaberle’s back pass in the neutral zone landed on Danny Briere’s stick who blew by Phaneuf like he was a pylon.

Tonight also is the anniversary of the 2nd Blue Jay World Series win in which Joe Carter had his walk off home run against Mitch Williams. Toronto sports is in a sad state.

Saturday's Ice Girls: Florida Panthers

That looked like last year's Leafs

Have the Maple Leafs come back to earth? Leaf Nation doesn't appear to be panicking but that listless effort Thursday night against the Rangers was disturbingly familiar. How many times over the past few season have we seen this team take the night off? The opponents play a little used backup against the Leafs and the team responds by barely challenging the second string goalie. The Leafs dig themselves a hole in the first period and then mount a futile comeback later in the game. Usually too little and too late.

Thursday night the opposition beat the Leafs to the puck most of the night. The Rangers blocked shots and won all the battles. Well, except the fight between Orr and Boogaard. That was pretty much a draw. The Leaf powerplay looked much like last year's version which was the worst in the league. The only positive had to have been the play of Luke Schenn who may finally be gaining some confidence.

A playoff contender cannot afford to take many nights off. This team hasn't played 20 games yet, in fact they haven't even played 10 games. By the quarter season mark we should know whether the Leafs are pretenders or contenders.

Interestingly enough the weakness on the team has been identified as secondary scoring. For me that suggests a weak second scoring line. However, the second line in many respects in better than the first line because they are better suited for the role they have. Frankly neither Bozak or Versteeg have shown that they deserve to be skating alongside Phil Kessel. They are playing on the first line almost by default. Here is how the lines break down by goals scored and ice time.

1. Kessel-Bozak-Versteeg: 6 goals on 20:00 ice time per game
2. Kulemin-Grabovski-MacArthur: 6 goals on 16:30 ice time per game
3. Sjostrom-Brent-Armstrong: 3 goals on 15:30 ice time per game
4. Brown-Zigomanis-Orr: 1 goal on 6:30 ice time per game

I think the first line has not produced considering the ice time they receive including prime powerplay time. Until they become more productive I would share some of their ice time with the second line.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Players fighting with fans

Rick Rypien was hit with an indefinite suspension on Wednesday but will likely get only a six game suspension from NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell. Rypien grabbed a 28-year-old fan named James Engquist in Minnesota a night earlier.

I have to agree with a suspension. You can't be fighting paying customers and there is a real liability issue here. Interestingly Tie Domi got away with just a fine but no suspension for battling a Flyers fan back in 2001. In the video below you can clearly see that the incident was pretty much started by Domi.

Why the NHL is not leaving Phoenix

Just two weeks ago, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs responded with little joy to residents' questions about the Coyotes during a community meeting.

Then, just as the team was heading into its first home game of the regular season, the National Hockey League and Glendale issued statements about progress on the deal. On Saturday, Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, who began talks for the team in late summer, flew in for the game, a sign that talks were going well.

The NHL and Glendale say their preliminary agreements with Hulsizer are oral. Setting words to paper could present more challenges. The purchase price appears to be $165 million or more, including team losses from last season. Why would Hulsizer pay that much? Who knows.

There is talk that Ice Edge Holdings could become a minority owner.

The key point of negotiation has been the $25 million that Glendale promised to the NHL in May to pay for team losses this season. The city took the money out of an account dedicated to future water and sewer improvements to buy extra time to negotiate through Dec. 31. Glendale has said it would require a buyer to reimburse the money.

That requirement was seen by some as a stumbling block to the sale.
So here we are again on this two year merry-go-round.

Most hockey fans keep asking why doesn't the league give up on Phoenix?

Well the reason is that the NHL seems to feel that Phoenix is an important market to be in as they continue to try to land a TV contract with a major network in the U.S. Phoenix is considered the 14th largest media market in the U.S. according to ProAdvance Event Resource Guide. The NHL doesn't have teams in 10th (Houston) and 13th (Seattle) largest markets. Not operating in top media markets makes it difficult to sell ads which in turn makes it difficult to land that major TV contract.

So it seems the NHL would be happy to have the Coyotes play in empty arena if it helps them get back onto to Fox, NBC or ESPN. If it's so important to be in Phoenix then why doesn't the league underwrite the team. Instead they continue to hunt for an owner who will be happy to eat $25 million in losses each year. In turn, prospective owners want the 250,000 residents of Glendale to each the losses. So around and around we go on the merry-go-round.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Battle of the Blades - week 3

Since viewers vote which two pairs have to skate off on Monday, you have to skate to the viewing audience on Sunday and to the actual judges on Monday. One trick is to get the sympathy of the viewers. Such as getting your face sliced open by your partner (Georges Laraque in week 1) or fall on your (Marie-France Dubreuil last season).

Katia Gordeeva and Valeri Bure

Skating to "The Anthem" by Pitbull (featuring Lil Jon), their performance is cute, but maybe too cute. Val's attempts to playfully smack Katia on the behind was awkward. The Russians didn't skate as well as last week but they were still excellent. Yet they were relegated to the skate-off Monday. The best pair in the bottom two twice in three weeks. Clearly there is some anti-Russian voting going on.

Violetta Afanasieva and P.J. Stock

Skating to Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat", Violetta and P.J pull off a disco-themed performance, complete with a lot of finger-pointing, and plenty of tie-dye. Sandra Bezic wants to give them credit for their flawed adagio lifts but was critical of their footwork. This is another team that slipped back from the week before. They were relegated to the Monday's skate-off and were eliminated by the slick Russians.

Jamie Salé and Theo Fleury

Jamie and Theo skate to Rick James' "Super Freak", and fan favourite Theo is playing it to the hilt, including lip-syncing some of the lyrics. Fleury's commitment to the performance is quite evident. Yet he looks so awkward doing the routine.

Shae-Lynn Bourne and Patrice Brisebois

Shae-Lynn and Patrice take a bit of a risk by doing a ballroom dance routine that pays off. They were terrific. Their performance uses the music of Michael Bublé's "L-O-V-E", and they get a standing ovation from the crowd. To be honest Patrice is just OK. His partner keeps stealing the show. She picks off where she left off in week 2, oozing passion and sexuality.Their scores are the highest for season 2.

Isabelle Brasseur and Todd Warriner

Izzy and Todd skated to Rihanna's "Pon de Replay." The routine is interesting and they did side-by-side "Shoot the Ducks". Sandra Bezic is beginning to get more critical this season and points out that she wants to see "more rhythm." This was their best skate.

Kyoko Ina and Kelly Chase

Kyoko is hurting after slicing her elbow open on a gate earlier in the week, requiring a few stitches. Sympathy votes in play right off the bat. They skated to Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold". Kelly wears his patent huge grin which only helps to make him a fan favourite. So what if he doesn't skate so good. They are safe for another week.

Leaf fans enjoy this while it lasts


RankTeamGPWLOTPTSGFGAHomeAwayLast 10Streak
2Washington5410817113-0-01-1-04-1-0Won 4
3NY Islanders6312820172-0-11-1-13-1-2Won 2
4Tampa Bay5410817182-0-02-1-04-1-0Won 1
5Pittsburgh7430823162-3-02-0-04-3-0Won 3
6Montreal5311714131-0-12-1-03-1-1Won 2
7Atlanta5320617161-0-02-2-03-2-0Won 2
8Philadelphia5221511141-2-01-0-12-2-1Lost 2
9Boston32104960-1-02-0-02-1-0Won 2
10Florida422041251-0-01-2-02-2-0Won 2
11Carolina422049121-0-01-2-02-2-0Lost 2
12NY Rangers4121314160-1-11-1-01-2-1Lost 1
13New Jersey6141310210-3-11-1-01-4-1Lost 2
14Buffalo6141312180-3-11-1-01-4-1Lost 2
15Ottawa6141312211-1-00-3-11-4-1Lost 2

Jeff Skinner's first NHL goal is awesome

Jeff Skinner who is barely 18 and playing for Carolina scored his first NHL goal in a shootout. The problem is shootout goals don't count in scoring statistics. So is he still waiting to score his first NHL goal or not.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Battle of the Blades - week 2

Just caught last week's show off my PVR. This season is so much more advanced as far as the skating goes compared to last season. The only thing that is the same is the lameness of Ron McLean and Kurt Browning.

Jamie Salé and Theo Fleury

They skated to "Perfect" by Hedley. ,Theo worked his butt off and seems to really get into the performing aspect of the show but he just doesn't look like a figure skater.

Kyoto Ina and Kelly Chase

Kelly is a big teddy bear much like Ken Daneko last season. Neither looked graceful on the ice. The highlight was when Kyoto does a handstand on Kelly's skate, while he places a free arm and leg behind him.

Isabelle Brasseur and Todd Warriner

They looked better than week 1 skating to "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison. The highlight was a terrific one-handed lift by Todd. The judges awarded some pretty good scores. Yet the had to skate again on Monday night but survived for another week.

Shae-Lynn Bourne & Patrice Brisebois

After a slow start last week, Shae-Lynn comes out flying. She literally sizzled on the ice making Patrice pretty much invisible. I was drooling watching her.

Katia Gordeeva and Valeri Bure

The Russians were once again looked terrific together. They're performing to Shelby Lynn's version of "The Look of Love", and land the first throw double-flip in Battle of the Blades history.

Anabelle Langlois and Georges Laraque

Anabelle and Georges skated to "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal, but Georges is wearing track pants and still looks out of place. hat said, he pulls off a double-throw. Pretty impressive. Still they were the weakest pair and were eliminated.

Violetta Afanasieva and P.J. Stock:

The combination of Violetta's circus-on-ice background combined with P.J.'s upper body strength leads to some pretty spectacular lifts. This was the best skate of the night. No argument from the judges who loved them.

You knew it would eventually come to an end

The winning streak is over. But not without a fight and some controversial calls.

First Toronto had a goal called back late in the second period when an official ruled Kris Versteeg batted the puck down with a high stick before putting it in the net. Then, midway through the third, a shot by Colby Armstrong trickled along the goal line and was covered in the crease by John Tavares’s glove at the side of the net. After a lengthy review it was ruled the puck didn’t cross the line. Versteeg took a dumb retaliatory slashing penalty on Radek Martinek after he was bearhugged to the ice by the Isles defender — no call on that play, which looked a lot like a hold. But it didn't end there. A goaltender interference call to Brett Lebda in overtime setup Tavares’s winner on the man advantage.

The difference in the game was goalie Dwayne Roloson who was terrific in robbing the Leafs. He did it last November when he was the first star in a 61-shot, 58-save performance against the Leafs in a 4-3 overtime win. He sure has Toronto's number.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Best goal this season

Brent Burns scores from an impossible angle.

Runner up is a Sam Gagner goal scored off Ian White's face.

Best save so far this season

I've watched this over and over and still can't figure out how Ty Conklin got over to stop the shot.

What happened to the Maple Leafs while I was away?

I'm gone a week, just one week, and the Maple Leafs go from the Bruins bet shot at another lottery pick to the top team in the NHL. I know many fans must be giddy. Afterall, last season it took 20 games for the Leafs to reach 4 wins. It's still too early to be planning parade routes. Still although you can't qualify for playoff action in October, it is possible to dig yourself a hole so deep you can never find your way out. That's what happened last season.

Still some good things have happened to start the season. For one thing, Giguere looks nothing like Toskala which means so decent goaltending. Then there is penalty killing. Last season the Leafs were at the bottom of the league but after 4 games they are 3rd overall. Part of the improvement relects the improved goaltending situation. Last year the penalty killing forwards were Matt Stajan, John Mitchell, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Niklas Hagman. This year it is an entirely new group made up of Fredrik Sjostrom, Tim Brent, Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong. The penalty killing may drop off but it won't drop to the bottom of the league.

Secondary scoring was supposed to be a concern for the Leafs this season. However, Clarke MacArthur has resolved that issue early on. MacArthur is streak scorer but he is capable of scoring 20 goals. A great signing by Burke in the early going. The Leafs are 3rd in goal scored for now. What many people fail to realize that this is an entirely different lineup from last year. There were only 7 players in the lineup against the Rangers that played at this point of the season last year. Even Phil Kessel wasn't in the lineup at this point last year. By the way wasn't that a great overtime goal by Kessel on Friday night. Enough whining about the draft picks. This guy is a great scorer.

Last season the Leafs outscored their opponents in most games but lost because of weak goaltending. The Leafs had 10 games where they had 40 or more shots on net and lost all 10 of those games including a 61 shot effort against the Islanders. This year they continue to outshoot their opponents but are giving up fewer shots, with only 23.8 shots per game, second lowest in the NHL.

The powerplay needs some work still. The preseason games I watched and the season opener showed some similarities to last season. The Leafs do not move the puck around well on the powerplay which provides the defending team lots of time to cut off shooting lanes and block shots. The top teams not only have good shooters on the powerplay but keep the puck moving.

The big surprise was the waiving of Jeff Finger. Just a couple weeks ago I heard Brian Burke clearly state he doesn't believe in dumping salary by sending players to the minors. He suggested that players shouldn't be punished for earning too much and a failure to honour contracts would make it harder to recruit free agents. So this move so early in the season came as a surprise. Though I don't disagree with the move.

Looking forward to Monday's game.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blog closed for a week

Will be back on October 16

This a nice way to start your career

I'm sure we will be seeing plenty of highlight reel goals from Jordan Eberle.

Karri Ramo is the new Vesa Toskala

Karri Ramo is a former goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning and property of the Montreal Canadiens, who traded for his rights this summer. He's currently a goaltender for Avangard Omsk of the KHL.

So do you all Finish goalies play like this?

Ondrej Pavelec gave us quite a scare

Atlanta Thraser goalie Ondrej Pavelec lost consciousness during the first period of tonight’s game. Fans had stunned looks on their face. He was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Preliminary tests were negative. He’s awake and alert at the hospital and asking about the score of the game, but will be kept overnight for observation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Finally some goaltending

It took nine games last season to do what took only one game this season - win one game. And all it took was some decent goaltending. Jean-Sebastien Giguere's last-second heroics earned the Leafs the victory, twice denying the Canadiens from close range in the dying seconds. He was the first star of the game. If this keeps up Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala and Joey McDonald will be just bad memories.

It is always a treat to beat Montreal. In addition, the Leafs have been having difficulty in home openers over the past few years. The last time the Leafs won a season opener on home ice was against Montreal a decade ago.

It was good to see Tim Brent have an impact in his first regular season game with the Leafs. It was just his 20th NHL game. He scored the first goal on a tip in of a Dion Phaneuf and landed some big hits.

Other observations - killing off three consecutive penalties in the second period marked a strong start in one of the key categories in which the club has to improve in after being the worst in the league last season. Then again, the power play failed in five attempts, and the Leafs were 30th overall in that part of the game, as well.

Another season begins...

This is year 44 since the Maple Leafs last Stanley Cup. Is there optimism in the air? Well just a little bit after it appeared the Leafs had bottomed out last season. New Captain, improved goaltending tandem, better penalty killers and some secondary scoring. But this is not a championship team. It's not even clear that it's a playoff bound team. These first 10 games will likely indicate whether team has improved enough.

As they say hope springs eternal.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Battle of the Blades - week 1

What a difference one year makes. Last year the hockey players were tripping over their figure skates - that is those brave enough to ditch their hockey skates. It was painful to watch Bob Probert, Tie Domi and Ken Daneko on the ice.

This season the hockey players came much better prepared. It's obvious they spent to summer preparing and getting into shape. Kelly Chase lost 50 lbs getting ready. Judge Sandra Bezic even noted that where the new crew is at skill-wise in Week 1 is where the former crew was at in Week 5 last year. That might be a bit of exaggeration as she tends to be too generous in her praise. But there is no question these guys are way ahead of last year's crew.

Here is a breakdown on the skating:

Shae-Lynn Bourne & Patrice Brisebois

A good program but Patrice can't keep up with its tempo — or his petite blonde partner, either. Sure, he looks too much like last year's players - too stiff. Shae-Lynn will not be going deep this year if Patrice can't step it up.

Kyoko Ina & Kelly Chase

Surprisingly Kelly looked really good. He showed a lot of emotion and strength as he flung Kyoko around like a rag doll. I thought he would be another Probert but obviously not.

Violetta Afanasieva & PJ Stock

Their lifts were great. PJ looked like a natural. This is a sport where personality helps you a lot out on the ice and PJ has plenty of that. They could go deep in the competition.

Christine Hough-Sweeney & Russ Courtnall

Russ who was once known for his speed and added some beef over the years. They were clearly the weakest pair and were eliminated. Tough luck for Christine because last year she was paired with a dog too - Tie Domi.

Anabelle Langlois & Georges Laraque

Former Canadiens enforcer Georges had to get 12 stitches on Saturday after his face had a run-in with his partner Anabelle's blade during practice. It just missed removing his eye proving figure skating is not for sissies. The move that caused the accident involves Georges spinning her around his neck. They full off the move flawlessly in competition and then Georges actually tries the competition's first waltz jump. Judge Jeremy Roenick points out that Georges has the biggest butt on figure skates.

Isabelle Brasseur & Todd Warriner

Incredibly they try a salchow throw jump in the first week. Isabelle lands on her butt however it shows how heated the competition will become over the next few weeks. Todd looked much better than I expected.

Ekaterina Gordeeva & Valerie Bure

The Russians have to be the team to beat. They were flying around the ice twice as fast as any other pair. Kat and Val already have considerable chemistry on the ice and Val looked like a real skater out there. Surprisingly the Russians were one of the bottom two pairs and had to participate on Monday's skate off. I think there was some bias here for the only non-North Americans.

Jamie Sale & Theo Fleury

What Theo lacks in technical skills he makes up for in passion. You could see how much he got into character including eyeliner and black nail polish. Who does he think he is - Emanuel Sandhu? The lifts and moves weren't as good as the other pairs but Theo has an advantage in that he is matched up with Jamie who happened to have won this thing last season. They will be competitive.

Maple Leafs' season opening roster

The final cuts have been made and the Leafs season opening roster looks like this:

Goalies: J.S. Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson

Defence: Luke Schenn, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin, Carl Gunnarrson, Jeff Finger, Matt Lashoff (IR), Brett Lebda (IR)

Forwards: Kris Versteeg, Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Colby Armstrong, Tim Brent, Frederik Sjostrom, Colton Orr, John Mitchell, Mike Brown, Mike Zigomanis.

For fans I think there are some surprises here. But this is the season opening roster and the lineup will surely change over the course of the season. One thing fans need to realize is that it is impossible to put together your best lineup on paper. If that were the case the Chicago Blackhawks would have retained much more of their Stanley Cup winning roster. The salary cap is a factor but so are years of service. Players with less than 3 years of service do not have to clear waivers if they are sent to the minors. As well, your youngest players will benefit more from playing 20 minutes with the Marlies than being a bubble player with the Leafs with only 5 minutes of ice time each night.

So here is the surprise moves:
  • Tim Brent over Nazem Kadri – Kadri is not really suited for as a shutdown line centre. Brent is a career minor leaguer who is occupying a roster spot until Kadri is ready to jump to a more prominent spot on the roster.
  • Frederik Sjostrom over Luca Caputi - Sjostrom is an excellent penalty killer and well suited for a shutdown line. Caputi is not. Caputi has the potential to be a decent power forward in the league but right now the left wingers on the top 2 lines are Kessel and Kulemin.
  • John Mitchell over Christian Hanson – Mitchell has to be put on waivers before he can be sent to the Marlies and Hanson does not. Leafs need to be absolutely sure that he won’t be fulfilling his potential before giving up on him even though the fan base is ready to move on. Remember Steve Sullivan.
  • Jeff Finger – Fans are wondering why Finger’s salary isn’t being buried in the minors. Well Brian Burke believes that this is a form or cap circumvention and is punishing a player for earning too much money. We shall see how long Burke can afford to be doing the honourable thing.
  • Mike Zigomanis – Zigomanis is a 29 year old marginal player who Coach Wilson can sit in the press box without worrying about hurting his development. He is an excellent faceoff specialist and is more than happy hanging around the Leafs instead of riding the bus in the minors.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 2001-02 Season

They finished second in the Northeast Division with a record of 43-25-10-4 also third best record in the NHL for 100 points just one point behind the Bruins. The Leafs were able to sign Alexander Mogilny to provide some scoring depth to go with all the muscle they had in their lineup. The neutral zone was really taking hold in the NHL and no one scored 100 points in 2001-02. Mats Sundin finished 4th in scoring with only 80 points and 2nd in goals scored with 41 goals.

Despite the strong season the Maple Leafs would barely survive a first round seven game war against the New York Islanders in which several star players on each team including Leafs captain Mats Sundin were lost to injury. That series was best remembered for the large number of fights including a tag team of Darcy Tucker and brother-in-law Shane Corson against Eric Cairns and Shawn Bates.

With a banged up team the Maple Leafs would have to gut things out again beating the Ottawa Senators in seven games by rallying to win the final two games of the series after being dominated most of the series. However, even with return of Mats Sundin the Leafs would run out of gas falling to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conferences finals in six games.

Following the season the Leafs would fail in attempts to re-sign star Goalie Curtis Joseph who bolted for the Detroit Red wings.

The NHL participated in the Salt Lake City Olympics with the Canadian team managed by Wayne Gretzky and coached by Leaf coach Pat Quinn. Quinn had benched Joseph after the first game against Sweden (a 5-2 loss). Quinn switched to Martin Brodeur who played very well for the rest of the tournament helping Canada to win gold. The relationship between Joseph Quinn turned frosty and at the end of the season Joseph left as a free agent to play for Detroit. It was a move he likely regretted afterwards.