Monday, January 31, 2011

Is the Phoenix Coyote sale going to blow up again?

Bob McCown reported last week that once again the sale of the Coyotes is about to unravel again. Several weeks ago the City of Glendale and Matthew Hulsizer concluded lengthy negotiations on an arrangement where Glendale would pay Hulsizer for the rights to parking revenue around the Arena. In addition, Glendale would be paying Hulsizer to manage the arena. The money for parking rights ($100 million) would be paid up front which he would use to purchase the team from the NHL.

Glendale was going to fund the $100 million upfront payment through a public bond offering. The municipal bond market in the U.S. right now is in pretty bad shape so it should come as no surprise that the bond offer was not picked up. Not surprising the NHL denies all of this and some believe McCown looked foolish reporting the alleged scoop. But it may turn out to be correct.

I understand a 6% rate of return is not enough to tweak investors' interest. Now that could mean that Glendale is waiting for conditions to improve and try selling bonds again which would only delay the sale. Neither Glendale nor Hulsizer are in any rush. That’s because it’s the NHL that is running up losses in the interim. That creates an issue for Gary Bettman because his support from the other owners to keep the Coyotes in Glendale may likely hang on the owners recouping all their money through the sale. So as time passes, the price of the team has to go up for the league to break even. Even at the present time, the sale price is well above the value of the team.

So three things may happen. The NHL could once again begin putting the heat on Glendale to get this deal down and use the threat of relocation for leverage. The owners may come to accept that they will take a hit to keep the team in the Phoenix area and drop the price. Or the NHL may come to the conclusion that the Coyotes cannot work in Arizona and sell the team to a Winnipeg group that is quite eager to buy the franchise and transfer it to Canada. I suspect if the choice is between taking money out of their own pockets or out of the pockets of Glendale taxpayers, it won’t be difficult for the NHL owners to make a decision. Between 10 to 20 owners are losing money on their own franchise. In addition to sinking money into their franchise why would they want to subsidize another team?

Ron Wilson death watch continues

The clock is ticking for Ron Wilson but not because of the CBC/NHLPA poll that showed Wilson to be the most unpopular coach in the NHL. Coaches are not paid to be popular. They paid to produce results. So when you examine his 2½ year tenure as Maple Leaf coach, it’s not encouraging. His current record coaching the Leafs is 83-98-32 with a 24th overall finish in 2009, a 29th overall finish in 2010 and the team sits in 26th place.

You can argue that he inherited a terrible team but this is not same team he took over. The only player on the current roster to have played a game for the Maple Leafs prior to Wilson’s arrival is Tomas Kaberle. So the inherited baggage argument holds no water.

You can argue that you have to expect to drop in the standing during a rebuild. However, GM Brian Burke had made it perfectly clear that this is not a true rebuild. He was quite willing to flip draft picks for a key player and has supposedly turned down trade offers involving picks. In fact the Kessel trade was made on the belief that the Maple Leafs would be competing for playoff spots both last season and the current season. So could Brian Burke been that much off the mark or are their other factors in play?

It’s just the disappointing performance of the team but when you look individual players you have to be concerned. Few players have progressed over the past three seasons with the exception of Luke Schenn, Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin. Players picked up in trades or as free agents have not matched the level of play that they had achieved with the previous teams. That would include Phil Kessel, Dion Phanuef, Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, Colby Armstrong, Brett Lebda, Kris Versteeg, and Jeff Finger. When you have that many players with declining performance there is only one person to blame. The coach.

We don’t know what it is happening. It could be the players not fitting into his system, maybe his system is flawed, or maybe he has just lost the dressing room. Which bring me back to the CBC/NHLPA poll. If 25% of players named Ron Wilson as the coach they would least like to play for well then some of those players are likely in the Maple Leaf dressing room. Of course this does not come as a big surprise to me since I was of the view at the start of the season that Ron Wilson had already reached his “Best Before Date.”

Sunday, January 30, 2011

All-Star memories

Who can forget the FoxTrax glow puck, this failed experiment, first started at the 1996 NHL All-Star Game. Maybe the worst idea ever to come out of hockey.

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 2005-06 Season

The 2004-05 season was lost to the lockout. Coming out of the lost season, the Maple Leafs, who were one of the oldest teams at the end of the 2003-04 season, were even older and not any better, as the new salary cap tied their hands from being able to really make any key improvements. In typical fashion, Maple Leaf management totally misread how the labour disruption would play out and did not have contingency plans in the event a salary cap became a reality.

The Leafs had a large number of large contracts including Mats Sundin ($6.8 million), Ed Belfour ($4.6 million) and Bryan McCabe ($3.5 million) which pushed them close to the $39 million cap. As result the Leafs were unable to retain Alexander Mogilny, Brian Leetch, Gary Roberts, and Joe Nieuwendyk, badly weakening the team. It could have been worse. Prior to the lockout the Leafs had Owen Nolan under contract. Nolan a clause in his contract from his San Jose days that stated if the 2004–05 NHL season was canceled, then he would gain a player option for an additional year in 2005–06. With the new NHL salary cap, the Maple Leafs deemed Nolan's salary too high, and refuse to recognize Nolan as under contract. Nolan argued that the option was valid, that he would play, and be paid, for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that he deserved to be paid during the 2004–2005 NHL lockout due to injury. The Maple Leafs, who deemed Nolan as healthy just after the lockout, claimed that the injury was incurred off the ice and refused to pay Nolan's desired US$12 million. The case went to an arbitrator. This case was settled in late 2006.

Teams were allowed a one time buyout of contracts to reduce payroll without a cap penalty. As a result between contracts that were expired and buyouts there were a tremendous number of free agents. Unfortunately the Leafs were only able to sign older players in their decline. One player that was added was Eric Lindros who, once was touted to be the next big superstar, but with several injuries had become average at best. Other free agents were Mariusz Czerkawski, Jason Allison and Alexander Khavanov. In addition, the Leafs picked up Jeff O'Neill in a trade with Carolina. O'Neill had three 30-goal season with Carolina but in the season prior to the lockout, his production had dropped to 14 goals. For many of the new Leafs, the post-lockout crack down on obstruction seriously impacted on their impacted on their effectiveness.

The Leafs started the season on the wrong foot as they were beaten by the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in the first shoot out in NHL history. After a mediocre October the Leafs played well through most of November and December, as they entered the New Year with a record of 22-14-3.
However, in January the Maple Leafs would unravel enduring an eight game losing streak as Goalie Ed Belfour struggled badly. Heading into the Olympic Break the Leafs continued their poor play as they slipped down the Eastern Conference Standings and found themselves in danger of missing the playoffs.

During the Olympics in Torinio Maple Leafs Coach Pat Quinn already taking heat for the Leafs struggles led an unimpressive Canadian team that would not even play for a medal. When the season resumed the Leafs continued to fall as Lindros spent much of the second half on the injured list, as did Ed Belfour who became the second winningest goalie of all-time during the season was eventually benched with a 3.29 GAA and a .892 save percentage. Back up Mikael Tellqvist would not fair much better then Belfour as the Leafs held a 32-32-6 record on March 25th needing to almost run the table in April to have a shot at the playoffs.

After Belfour and Tellqvist each struggled the Leafs called up Jean-Sebastien Aubin hoping that he could give them the goaltending they needed to finish the season strong. Aubin did better than anyone could have imagined posting a 9-2 record with both losses coming after regulation as the Leafs posted a strong 9-1-2 record over their last 12 games to finish with a record of 41-33-8, but it was not enough as they missed the playoff by just two points. It would also not be enough to save Pat Quinn's job as he was fired as Coach (he had lost the GM job prior to the lockout) and replaced by Paul Maurice. During the off-season the Leafs also went after goaltending help acquiring Andrew Raycroft from the Boston Bruins for highly touted prospect Tuukka Rask.

Was the fix in for Phil Kessel to be picked last?

Only the Toronto media would over analyze the draft selection. Toews pissed off at Kane, Kessel predetermined to go last, blah blah blah.

Action from the NHL Skill Competition

Alex Ovechkin knows how to entertain a crowd and he doesn't disppoint on the Breakaway Competition.

Who doesn't like to watch Goalies Race?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Phil Kessel has no friends

The fix was in during the NHL's first All-Star Game draft - pick your buddies, teammates and relatives. So when Phil Kessel went last in the draft it must just mean he had no friends lobbying for him. It surely has nothing to do with the fact he has sucked for long stretches of the season.

Team Lidstrom actually offered Kessel to Team Staal for the first picks in the next two All-Star Games but the deal fell through because Eric Staal insisted that Kessel throw in the car he won for getting picked last.

So Phil Kessel had the bear the shame of representing the Toronto Maple Leafs. Keep smiling Phil because you have more talent then ahlf the guys picked ahead of you.

Free at last, free at last, Joe Robb is free at last

1 box of waffles = 15 minutes of fame + 5 hours of community services

sounds about right

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How does Gretzky compare to stars in other eras?

It really is difficult to compare players from one era to another. The game continues to evolve including goalie equipment, stick technology, the rules, etc. So how do you compare Wayne Gretzky to the NHL's other prolific scorers?

Well the approach I took was to look at the scoring leader over the last 50 years and determine how much more dominant he was than the rest of the league by calculating the margin between the leader and the runner up to the scoring leader. So for instance in 1986-87, Gretzky had 183 points which was 69.4% more points than the next best player behind him. In fact that happened to have been Jari Kurri who likely wouldn't have scored 108 points that season had he not been on the wing with Gretzky.

Below are the top 20 scoring leaders based on percentage lead. Not surprising Gretzky takes 8 of the 9 top spots. He consistently won the scoring championship by a 40% or 50% margin when in most seasons the leader squeaks in by about 5%. By New Years, Gretzky could have taken the rest of the season off and still won the scoring championship.

Season Points % Lead
Wayne Gretzky 1986-87 183 69.4%
Wayne Gretzky 1983-84 205 62.7%
Wayne Gretzky 1982-83 196 58.1%
Wayne Gretzky 1984-85 208 54.1%
Wayne Gretzky 1985-86 215 52.2%
Wayne Gretzky 1981-82 212 44.2%
Phil Esposito 1972-73 130 25.0%
Wayne Gretzky 1990-91 163 24.4%
Wayne Gretzky 1980-81 164 21.5%
Bobby Orr 1969-70 120 21.2%
Phil Esposito 1973-74 145 18.9%
Jaromir Jagr 1998-99 127 18.7%
Mario Lemieux 1988-89 199 18.5%
Phil Esposito 1968-69 126 17.8%
Phil Esposito 1971-72 133 13.7%
Mario Lemieux 1987-88 168 12.8%
Jaromir Jagr 1997-98 102 12.1%
Mario Lemieux 1996-97 127 11.9%
Guy Lafleur 1976-77 136 11.5%
Bobby Hull 1965-66 97 11.5%

Number 99 turns 50

The debate goes on over who was the greatest NHLer, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky. You are more likely to vote for the player if you saw them play during their prime. For Wayne Gretzky you would have to be at least 35 to remember his record breaking season (1981-82). You would have to be at least 42 to remember Bobby Orr’s record breaking season (1974-75). You would have to be 64 to remember Gordie Howe’s best season (1952-53). These three players were all great and clearly the best of their generation. All three changed the way the game was played in some way. I still believe Orr was the very best and perhaps that would have been more obvious if his career hadn’t been shortened by injuries.

Orr and Howe, Gretzky has continued to be great ambassador for the NHL and the most recognizable face in the sport. Even those who don’t follow the sport in the U.S. know who he is. The fact that Gretzky’s 50th birthday is major headline news speaks to his stature within the sport. Gretzky's number 99 is only the second number ever to be retired league-wide by a major North American sports league, the other being Jackie Robinson’s number 42, which was retired by Major League Baseball in 1997.

My best memory of Gretzky was his 1981-82 season. The season before Mike Bossy scored 50 goals in his first 50 games and went on to finish with 68. I thought 50 goals in 50 games was an incredible feat. Gretzky who was known as a brilliant playmaker was never considered a sniper although he had scored over 50 goals in his first 2 seasons in the NHL. In the 1981-82 season he was determined to shoot more and in doing so obliterated several records. As all hockey fans know he scored 50 goals in just 39 games and finished the season with 92 goals. These are records that I cannot see ever being equalled. He seemed to be able to score at will.

My biggest disappointment was in 1996 when Gretzky wanted to finish his career with the Maple Leaf. Gretzky having grown up in Southern Ontario was a life-long Leaf fan and wanted to come back home. Cliff Fletcher took a contract offer to owner Steve Stavros for approval but Stavros was having some financial issues and rejected it. Gretzky finished his career with the Rangers and Leaf fans were robbed of seeing number 99 in a Leaf jersey.

Unfortunately the NHL is not utilizing their strongest asset right now. Wayne Gretzky is in self-imposed exile following the turmoil that ended his tenure as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. Gretzky is owned a considerable sum of money through a complicated arrangement that involved more than just being a coach of the team. Sadly there were suggestions that his contract was contributing to the team’s losses and bankruptcy status. One thing Gretzky hates is controversy so he more or less has dropped out of the scene. The owners need to address this issue and make things right with their hockey icon. As they complete the sale of the Coyotes to Matthew Hulsizer, it’s time to make amends and pay him what he is owed. That would be an appropriate 50th birthday present.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Anaheim Ducks accused of abusing Jewish player

3-year-old Jason Bailey -- a 3rd round NHL pick in 2005 -- claims from the moment the Ducks assigned him to play for an affiliate team called the Bakersfield Condors ... his coaches unleashed a "barrage of anti-Semitic, offensive and degrading verbal attacks."

In the suit, filed today in Orange County Superior Court, Bailey claims the head coach of the Condors told him "[Jews] only care about money and who's who" and that he "never wanted his son to be raised Jewish or to wear a Yarmulke."

Bailey claims the assistant head coach would get in on the Jew-bashing too -- saying things like, "Oh, I just got a friend request from a dirty Jew."

Bailey says the coaches also forced him to travel apart from the team and he was "rarely given any ice time" in games because he's Jewish.

According to the documents, filed by Bailey's lawyer Keith Fink, Bailey complained to the Ducks about the hostile work environment -- and the team reacted by instructing the coaches to pen apology letters to Bailey in which they both admitted to using hurtful language.

Bailey was eventually traded to the Ottawa Senators in 2009 -- and insists the Ducks were "happy to be rid of him."

Bailey is suing for unspecified damages.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Don Cherry's position on head shots makes no sense

What a state the NHL is in: it's marque player Sidney Crosby is unable to play in the All-Star game because of a concussion and Marc Savard has suffered yet another concussion and his career is jeopardy.

Yet many "hockey people" see no need to adjust the rules to protect the stars. Don Cherry who generally is the spokesperson for the traditionalists is strongly opposed to a total ban on head shots. However he went at great lengths to call out Matt Cooke for his cheap shot to the head of Marc Savard. In Cherry's world there are acceptable and unacceptable hits to the head. But if it ends the career of a star player how can that be acceptable?

Cherry talks about the good old days when players respected each other and would avoid injuring an opponent. Well it wasn't that long ago. Wayne Gretzky recently commented that when he played players had much more respect for each other. Something happened over the last 10 to 15 years that to change that attitude. Cherry insists it's the instigator rule. I'm not convinced. Cherry also believes it is wrong to ban head shots and instead players need to be taught to respect each other. That's sounds wonderful - much like mom and apple pie. Isn't the best way to teach such respect is to penalize anyone who shows a lack of discretion?

I do understand where Cherry is coming from. He and others are concerned that a total ban would greatly reduce physical play from the game. Cherry feels it's only contact from the side that needs to be eliminated, not hitting when players are facing one another. After all if you got your head down, you're stupid.

So I guess Eric Lindros and Brett Lindros were stupid and deserved to have their hockey careers shortened.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I recommend not using your nose to stop a punch

I guess Nik Kulemin learned a lesson here after his encounter with Tim Gleason. Poke a fighter in the face a couple of times and you will be on the receiving end of a face full of knuckles. The question is why didn't Leaf player stand up for the wounded teammate. This can't be what Brian Burke considers to be pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.

On the positive side, Clarke MacArthur has been getting much more belligerently lately. He received his first fighting major in this altercation with Chad LaRose. I was shocked to see him toss around LaRose like a rag doll. Way to go Clarkee!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

When did Mike Komisarek become a star?

The TMZ website is reporting that Mike Komisarek was involved in an incident while the Leafs were in Los Angeles earlier this month. TMZ alleges that Komisarek punched a woman in the face at an L.A. nightclub. TMZ has all these sources within the L.A.P.D. who told them that the Leaf defenseman was named in a police report filed by a woman who claims the whole thing went down after Komisarek decided to lift her up in the air at a Hollywood nightclub.

I don't know what happened, don't have an opinion and don't care. But what bothers me is the article refers to Komisarek as an "all-star" and a "defensive powerhouse". Last night the "star" had 11 shifts for 8:28 in ice time. He has a total of 1 goal and 8 assists for the season. What a powerhouse!

Unique call on shootout goal by Alex Tanguay

NHL referees will not call a goal unless the see the puck actually cross the goal line. As far back as I can remember even if it was obvious that a goalie has carried the puck into the net it has not counted if the puck wasn't visible. That was until last night.

In the shootout goal below, Alex Tanguay takes a backhand shot at Roberto Loungo who stops it with his pads. The puck drops into he goalie pad and disappears but Luongo's legs and pads totally cross the goal line. The referees do not rule it a goal but the War Room at the NHL offices reverse the referees and award to goal to Calgary.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday's Ice Girls: Phoenix Coyotes

Looks like one girl for every fan in the stands.

Dominic Moore scores winning goal or did he?

Peter Forsberg is attempting comeback #328

Just four weeks ago I indicated that Peter Forsberg was finally going to give up his repeated comeback attempts and just retire. Well that retirement stint didn't last too long.

In what appears to be Forsberg trying one final time to make a comeback, the Avalanche announced Friday that the 37-year-old will begin practicing with the team starting Saturday morning. There is no signed contract or deal in place. Forsberg is only practicing with the team, for now.

A statement released by Colorado quoted Forsberg saying that he wants to see where he's at physically in order to make what could very well be a final decision on his career.

According to the Denver Post, Forsberg's agent, Don Baizley, called Avs GM Greg Sherman earlier this week to ask if his client could skate with the team.

Pretty sad actually. Though I'm giving good odds he never plays another game in the NHL.

via Puck Daddy

Friday, January 21, 2011

Brian Burke and no-trade contracts

"I've given one no-trade clause in my life and it was for medical reasons to J.S. Giguere. His son had a medical condition that required him going to UCLA medical hospital for years. Other than that, I don't like them. I think they're coach killers."
I distinctively remember when Brian Burke made this comment during his first press conference in Toronto. It was a direct shot at previous GM John Ferguson who had 5 players with no-trade contracts at the end of his tenure, remember the Muskoka Five - Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle. I thought it was ridiculous because in the competitive free agent market, top free agents expect a no-movement or at least a no-trade contract.

So what do I read in the Toronto Star yesterday? Well the paper indicated that there are five Leafs with no-trade or no-movement clauses J.S. Giguere, Phil Kessel, Mike Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle and Francois Beauchemin. So if the report is true - yes folks the newspapers are filled with errors - this is just another example of Burke saying one thing and doing the opposite. All the Leaf fans expecting Komisarek to be put on waivers and sent to the minors will be waiting a long time for that to happen. If Komisarek has a no-movement clause in his contract then he isn't going anywhere.

So how is Burke so different than Ferguson? He was so desperate to sign Komisarek and Beauchemin to contracts that he threw his own rules out the window during his first summer as Leaf GM. But he hung tough in negotiations with Colby Armstrong and Brett Lebda, they didn't get no-trade clauses.

I'm having a deja vu moment - no draft picks and expensive veterans that can't be traded.

Actually no-trade deals are no big deal. The Red Wings far more no-trade contracts than the Leafs including Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, to name a few. If you sign the right players to long term deals and they perform as expected then why would you want to trade them?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Monster was pretty scary last night

Couldn't have been very many Leaf fans that would have watched last night's game against the Rangers to the bitter end. It was brutal. Much like having to watch a school yard bully victimize one of your children.

I believe you don't gauge a team by outlier games - blow outs either in your favour or against you. They are going to happen over the course of a 82-game schedule. Just as a didn't get too excited by the 9-3 win over Atlanta earlier this month, the 7-0 shellacking from the Rangers can be ignored. It was very nice of the Leafs to revive Marion Gaborik's fading career, for at least one evening.

The Leaf team in front of Jonas Gustavsson was brutal last night. Bad positional play, giveaways and no powerplay, it was a total team collapse. But Gustavsson did not help the cause by his inability to make even routine saves. What's worrisome is that over the last little while the bad games are significantly outnumbering the good games. Unlike last season, he appears to be healthy so there is no easy explanation here. At age 26, will he ever develop into a #1 goalie in the NHL? How much time do you give him before deciding to move on? His sticking smashing tantrums show a lack of emotional maturity. These are questions no doubt are being bounced around the Maple Leaf executive offices.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hockey has changed over the past 4 decades

Once in a while I flip on a classic NHL game to capture a glimpse of a game that no longer exists. The clip below is a 1967 game between Toronto and Chicago. The game seems so much slower than today. The players are smaller and so is the equipment, particularly that of the goalies. Of course with less equipment you don't see the devastating hits that you see today. What you saw were hip checks which if you watch long enough you will see one delivered by Bobby Baun who was one of the best at throwing hip checks. None of the players in this clip would be able to compete with today's players except perhaps Bobby Hull. He scores a hat trick against the Leafs.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cliff Fletcher failed as Leaf's interim GM

From January 26, 2008 until November 29, 2008 Cliff Fletcher served as interim GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. During that short tenure to began the current rebuild of the Maple Leafs including 9 trades and 3 free agents signed. Those 12 deals provided little help to the Leafs in hindsight. Perhaps the worst deals were the Jeff Finger contract, the Mike Van Ryn trade and the Lee Stemniak trade. Fletcher kept trading away assets and got nothing much in value. In some cases the draft picks he obtained were used to make other deals rather than stock the system with prospects. A trend being continued by Brian Burke. The only clear winning deal was the trade for Mikhail Grabovski who is arguably the best Maple Leaf at this moment.

02/26/08 5th round pick (Jerome Flaake) Wade Belak No winner
02/26/08 3rd round pick (Jamal Mayer trade) Chad Kilger No winner
02/26/08 2nd round pick (Jimmy Hayes) Hal Gill No winner

5th round pick (Ryan Hollweg trade)

06/19/08 Jamal Mayers 3rd round pick (James Livingston) Loser
06/20/08 1st round pick (Luke Schenn) 1st round pick (Colin Wilson) No winner

2nd round pick (Aaron Ness)

3rd round pick (Shawn Lalonde)
07/03/08 Mikhail Grabovski Greg Pateryn Winner

2nd round pick (Jared Knight)
7/14/2008 Ryan Hollweg 5th round pick (Andy Bathgate) Loser
9/2/2008 Mike Van Ryn Bryan McCabe Loser

4th round pick (Sam Brittain)
11/24/2008 Lee Stemniak Alex Steen Loser

Carlo Colaiscovo

Marc Savard takes another hit to the head

It's obvious that Marc Savard's days as a useful NHL players are numbered because he is essentially one hit away from retirement. The hit he took below was legal according to NHL rules but you can see that his head hits the glass and boards. He was pretty sure he didn't have a concussion but was only dazed. He finished the game and didn't miss a shift. But you could hear the stunned silence of the crowd. They all know what we know which is that Marc Savard is a talented player but comes with a big contract and high risks. His history of head injuries makes him untradeable. You can't build a team around a centre who could be knocked out for the rest of the season by one good bodycheck.

This is why the NHL needs to outlaw all hits to the head. Now that Sidney Crosby has had a concussion he becomes more susceptible and could be following Savard down that slippery road to hockey oblivion.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday's Ice Girls: Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL suspension for head shots

The inconsistent and erratic justice handed out by the NHL is illustrated by these incidents:

This hit by Mike Brown is worth 3 games

Tom Kostopoulos was suspended 6 games for this hit

The Ben Eager shot to the head was a punch but good for 4 games

This blind side hit by David Steckel was not penalized at all

How about this hit by Jason Blake that does not lead to a suspension

Friday, January 14, 2011

The NHL's policy on head shots is a failure

We might as well all admit to failure. Many people recognized right away that the head shot policy the NHL cobbled together last season wouldn’t work. And it doesn’t. That’s because it tries to differentiate between different kinds of head shots.

A lot of the complaints are coming from people who believe it is too difficult in the course of a game to properly determine whether a collision was a blind side hit. Players who are not getting penalized for a blind side hit by on ice officials are getting subsequent disciplinary action by Whether it’s the result of a blind side hit, an accident collision, ramming someone head first into the glass or catching someone with their head down it has the same result – your brain gets scrambled. So how can you eliminate some hits to the head and not others? It makes no sense.

Hockey is split into 2 camps - the purists and the progressives. Don Cherry has different labels - real hockey people and the pinkos. Purists don't want to change the game from its original roots. The progressive recognizes the game continues to evolve and are not afraid to try new things. There is a lot of push and pull between the two camps.

Let's face it though, the game has evolved each decade for over 100 years. It used to be played out doors. At one time there were seven on the ice per team. Slapshots were at one time not part of the game. Goalies played without masks. Sticks used to be made of wood. They used to scrape the ice by manually between periods. Really what hasn't changed?

Maybe the most dramatic change has been the players themselves. When Frank Mahovlich broke into the league in the late 1950s he was considered a large winger which partly accounted for his nickname 'The Big M'. Mahovlich was 6'1" and 205 lbs. That is an average player today. Not only are players larger but they are quicker, stronger, and in better condition. Shifts are shorter which has sped up the game. Protective equipment has improved to the point where it can also be used to hit other players with. When the crackdown on obstruction occurred it also opened up the game by reducing interference and increasing hitting. All this things have made players more susceptible to head injuries.

Neurosurgeons will tell you that it is impossible to develop a helmet to protect players from head injuries. It is not the blow to the outside of the skull that creates the injury but the brain itself hitting the inside of the skull.

The best way to protect players is to remove hits to the head altogether by making them all illegal and introducing mandatory suspensions. It's not a perfect situation and will lead to unfair suspensions. Perhaps a player will get tossed from a game as a result of incidental contact with the head. But in the long run it will protect players- especially the star players. Everyone will adapt and change the way they deliver a body check and it will not eliminate hitting from the game. There will be no debating on whether it was a legal hit (such as the hit by Mike Brown on Ed Jovanovski). If a player is hit in the head you are gone.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bounty-Gate shows Toronto media is anti-Leafs

Many Leaf bloggers have commented over the years how the media is quick to dump all over the Maple Leafs. If anything bad happens they are more then ready to lead the charge. They'll explain that they are only reporting the news. But if Tomas Kaberle were to donate $1 million to Sick Kids and Tyler Bozak was caught boinking Clarke MacArthur's wife, which story would more likely get picked up by the Toronto media? Boinking for sure.

So this week it's the media that takes some of the fun out of Ron Wilson's 600th win as a coach in San Jose. Sure he offered $600 out of his pocket for the win. Yes he pulled out the cash in front of the media. Sure it may technically be in violation of the collective agreement. And of course the league had to act when it became aware of it. But did the media have to report it and make a big deal about it?

After all there are many things that go on and are said in the dressing room in front of the media that does not get reported. And even after it was reported the Toronto Star just couldn't let go of the story. This was the opening line of a story in the Star today:
There were whispers around the NHL that the Maple Leafs might have violated the league’s salary cap when the head coach posted an undisclosed amount of cash in the locker room prior to Toronto’s win over San Jose as an extra incentive for his team to beat the Sharks.
So who was whispering around the NHL. Other players and coaches? Not likely. How about Star reporters? And then in order to stick that knife a little deeper into the Leafs, the Star contacts Depute Commissioner Bill Daley to ask if the payment was a violation of the collective agreement. So what could the league do once it had been informed of the incident by the media. It had to fine the Leafs which is no big deal. Except the Toronto media blew the whistle on the Leafs. Now the Star defends itself by suggesting its the Leaf's fault because they made it so public.

What a bunch of scumbags!

Congratulations to Ron Wilson for win #600

Weeks after fans at the Air Canada Center chanted “Fire Wilson” the Maple Leafs Head Coach won his 600th game against the same San Jose Sharks that fired him 2 years ago. He is only the 7th Coach in NHL History to do so, now in the company of Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Dick Irvin, Pat Quinn, Mike Keenan and Bryan Murray.

Things in Leaf Nation have, naturally, settled down.

Of course, Leaf Nation will pounce on Wilson the minute he or the Leafs falter because…well, that is how it is here in Toronto.

And the Leafs will falter. They will likely go on multiple losing streaks before the season is over. Each time Wilson will be the one crucified by Leaf fans.

Wilson, however, does not deserve all the blame.

Phil Kessel has started showing up again. He has 8 goals in the last 8 games and is once again playing like a dynamic winger.

The line of Kulemin, Grabovski and MacArthur is on fire and has stolen the spotlight away from Kessel in match-up scenarios as opponents line up their top defensive pairings against them. In fact, Kessel's return to the scoreshheet may be due to the attention the line has taken away from him.

The Leafs defense core, led by Luke Schenn, has been far more responsible defensively. In fact, Francois Beauchemin, who has been criticized many times this season for his play in his own zone, may have saved the game against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday. He is Plus 4 in January with 4 points in 6 games compared to being Minus 7 in December with only 1 point in 13 games.

It is highly unlike for the Leafs to make the Playoffs but at least they came make the games fun to watch.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Leafs spending too much on defense and goalies

The Leafs are 29th in forward salaries, 3rd in defense salaries and 5th in goalie salaries. This is not the primary reason for the Leaf low position in the standings but it certainly is a contributing factor. It could be argued that a more balanced distribution of salaries could possibly produce more wins.

The solution for Brian Burke is trade one of the higher paid defenseman and perhaps J-S Giguere for some help up front. Obviously easier said than done. No doubt Burke tried to trade Tomas Kaberle without success. It is highly likely that he attempted to pick up Wojtek Wolski from Phoenix. It is rumoured that Burke was offering Francois Beauchimin to the Coyotes but Phoenix ultimately went with Michal Rozsival from the Rangers.

I just don't see Toronto being competitive until this imbalance is addressed.

New Jersey 58.3% 26.2% 10.3%
Boston 55.5% 27.9% 9.6%
Calgary 56.1% 31.9% 9.9%
Vancouver 49.8% 38.7% 10.0%
Toronto 42.1% 39.6% 12.7%
Montreal 54.5% 36.8% 6.2%
Philadelphia 52.8% 41.4% 4.4%
Pittsburgh 57.4% 32.9% 9.3%
Detroit 59.2% 36.4% 4.2%
Washington 62.4% 32.1% 3.9%
Minnesota 54.2% 28.6% 14.5%
San Jose 62.7% 29.3% 6.7%
Ottawa 59.3% 28.6% 8.4%
Los Angeles 63.5% 27.9% 4.5%
Chicago 51.9% 37.0% 3.6%
Rangers 60.3% 19.4% 13.2%
Anaheim 63.3% 25.8% 8.7%
Buffalo 62.6% 24.7% 12.2%
Tampa Bay 60.7% 26.8% 9.2%
Columbus 66.0% 23.1% 4.4%
Dallas 64.9% 23.1% 8.0%
Phoenix 44.3% 37.3% 10.0%
Carolina 59.2% 24.4% 13.1%
Florida 53.9% 29.9% 13.4%
Nashville 64.3% 26.9% 8.4%
Edmonton 58.9% 31.0% 9.0%
St. Louis 51.1% 34.9% 10.1%
Atlanta 46.7% 43.5% 6.4%
Colorado 58.8% 38.9% 6.6%
Islanders 41.4% 27.7% 11.5%

Cut two holes for eyes...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs at the mid point

So here are my player report cards for the mid point of the season. Players like Mikhail Grabovski and Kris Versteeg and improved over the past 20 games while others have dropped off.


Luke Schenn A B
Tomas Kaberle A B
Jonas Gustavsson A C
Clarke MacArthur B B
Mikhail Grabovski B A
Phil Kessel B B
Nik Kulemin B B
Mike Brown B -
Fredrik Sjostrom B B
Kris Versteeg C A
Francois Beauchemin C B
Dion Phaneuf C B
Colton Orr C B
Carl Gunarsson C D
J-S Giguere C C
Tyler Bozak D C
Mike Komisarek D D
Tim Brent D D
John Mitchell D D
Brett Lebda D D
Keith Aulie - B
Nazem Kadri - C
Colby Armstrong - C
James Reimer - -

The way that Leaf Nation operates is that following a big win like the one against Atlanta last night, much of the fan base switches from angst to blind optimism. Suddenly a playoff spot is again possible. After all, the Leafs are only 11 points back of Montreal.

The reality is that the amount of points that the team trails the eighth place team isn't that relevant. What matters is how many points you will likely need to finish in the top 8. Most people settle on 90 points. That means the Leafs will need 54 points in the remaining 42 games which is a winning percentage of 64.3%. Over the first half of the season, the only teams to win at that rate were Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Tampa Bay. To suggest that the Leafs are capable of playing at that level is somewhere between unrealistic and delusional.

What we've known for some time is that Leaf fans cannot look forward to some playoff action or speculate on which high end prospect the Leafs will be able to draft this June. So what is left for the team and their fans this season?

Well I'm not interested in watching a bunch of minor league players struggle to keep up with NHL competition. Let's bring up the kids and get a jump start in getting them ready for the NHL. Call ups for guys Mike Zigomanis and Joey Crabbe are a nice way to reward good performance but as a fan I'm not interested in watching them in a Leaf uniform. I would rather be watching Nazem Kadri, Keith Aulie, Luca Caputi and Marcel Mueller even if at this point in time they aren't as good. To me there is no discernible difference between a 10th or 14th place finish.

Speaking of prospects, we don't have enough of them. Management needs to begin assessing which players have enough potential to be part of a winning team. I'm happy with moving the rest for what ever you can get. I'm not suggesting a rush to make judgment on the roster. This Nik Kulemin's third season and his final goal total may equal his first two season. I was never a big Grabovski fan. I thought he was a creative player that was too small, undisciplined, a defensive liability and emotionally immature. However, he has become an offensive dynamo of late. That second pick we gave up for him seems to be turned out to be a good deal. So you need to decide when players need more time and when to cut bait.

In making trades you have to be open minded and creative which I think applies to Brian Burke. There are no untouchable franchise players on this team although some players like Luke Schenn or Kadri could come close. So anyone on the roster should be available for the right deal. Even players like Grabovski, Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur. What's wrong with selling high? The Leafs may be shopping the usual suspects (Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle) but maybe Burke can pull off another surprise blockbuster and move a guy like Grabovski to a contender? The Leafs are 2 or 3 years from being a contender and his value may never be higher. The Leafs don't need to dump salary. They need building blocks for the future.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ben Eager sucker punch on Colby Armstrong leads to 4 powerplay goals

That was one very strange game against the Thrasher tonight. Ben Eager pretty much hands the game to the Leafs by taking 14 minutes in penalties (he only had 8 minutes of ice time). The anemic Leaf powerplay exploded for 5 goals while Eager sat in the box.

The sucker punch delivered by Eager might merit some disciplinary action by the NHL although it couldn't be any worse than the punishment delivered by the Leafs.

In a lopsided 9-3 win, you would expect the worst +/- in the game to be a Thrasher player. However, that honours goes to Brett Lebda who finished the game at -3. That means he was on the ice for all 3 Thrasher goals and no Leaf goals. He was only on the ice for 11 minutes while the Leafs were playing even strength. It is easy to be playing this bad.

Tomas (shoot shoot) Kaberle matched career high for assists in a game with 4. Although he only has 1 goal, he easily leads the team in assists with 27 now. That puts him in the NHL's top 15 players in assists. He does get off some shots since he is 5th on the team with shots on net.

The members of the red hot Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line are all approaching career highs for goals in one season and it's at the half way point of the season. Kulemin is one shy of his best season (16), Grabovski is 3 shy of his best season (20) and MacArthur is 5 goals away (17).

In his four appearances, James Reimer has a .947 save percentage which will make it difficult to send him back to the Marlies when J-S Giguere is ready to return. However, he may be playing his way into a backup role next season.

UPDATE: Colin Campbell spun the NHL Wheel of Justice and it awarded Eager a 4-game suspension. Or maybe it was a game for each goal the Leafs scored while he was serving his match penalty. I'm not convinced a suspension was warranted. I guess the lesson is deop your gloves before throwing a punch and you are less likely to be accused of sucker punching.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Canada's worst loss at the World Junior Chamionships

Allowing 5 unanswered goals to blow a 3-0 third period lead to lose the gold medal certainly ranks as one of Canada's worst losses in World Junior Championship history.

But it was not Canada's worst loss ever.

In 1976 the World Junior Hockey Championships, held in Finland, was still an unofficial tournament. Sweden pummeled Team Canada 17-1 which marks Canada's worst loss at the U20 World Juniors.

Canada was represented by the defending QMJHL champions Sherbrooke Castors (also known as the Beavers). Coached by Ghislain Delage, the Beavers' roster included future NHLers Jere Gillis, Daniel Chicoine, Peter Marsh and goalie Richard Sevigny.

I pretty sure that following the tournament it was determined that Canada would be represented by a National Junior team rather than a club team. The rest was history.


A brilliant shootout goal by Grabovski

Mikhail Grabovski continues to impress with his skills this season. Tonight's shootout goals easily beats the one he scored against Washington on December 8th.

He used the spin-o-rama move he picked up from Jason Blake. However, instead of stuffing it by the goalie on the backhand he puts the puck back onto his forehand to score the goal. As Don Cherry would say "a beauty".

Yeah we won Silver!

Hey I'm used to disappointment. I'm a Maple Leaf fan.

Over 35 tournaments the medal count is 15 Golds, 8 Silvers and 4 Bronzes. Nothing to be ashamed about.

As for the massive meltdown as it's being characterized, well it happens all the time in sports. Just this season I can recall several NHL games where teams have blown 3 goal leads.

On November 16th the Maple Leafs overcame a 4-1 deficit to beat Nashville 5-4.

On December 6th the did it again when the Maple Leafs scored 3 goals in the third period to come back from a 4-1 deficit and then win in overtime against Washington.

On December 8th, it was San Jose who overcame a 3rd period 4-1 deficit to time the game in regulation time and win in the shootout against the Flyers.

If the Leafs can do it twice in just 3 weeks then its no big deal.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Jersey continues to embarrass themselves

Looks like coaching wasn't the only problem bedeviling New Jersey. Call in the Curse of the Kovalchuk contract. Fortunately they only have 14.5 more years to go.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Canada is going for GOLD!!!

Not even sure the score reflects how Canada dominated in this game. Still trying to find out how much they out hit the Americans.

The Leafs look to the AHL for help

James Reimer:
2 NHL games; 29 AHL games

Darryl Boyce:
3 NHL games; 134 AHL games

Joey Crabb:

34 NHL games; 256 AHL games

The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for a trio of AHL players to provide a spark for the team. Reimer is still considered a prospect at 22 but Boyce and Crabb are career minor leaguers. So is Tim Brent who has 55 NHL games (36 this season with the Leafs) and 302 AHL games.

This is the depth of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Beyond Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie, there is no one even close to being ready for the NHL on the Marlies.

Brian Burke is really caught between a rock and a hard place. As much as he would like to improve the Leafs there is nothing in the farm. He would like to deal excess defensemen for forwards but no one is interested in the Leafs overpaid and underperforming blue liners. Burke best offer is Valtteri Filppula for Kris Versteeg. This deal would likely only marginally help and certainly but at least provides some immediate assistance at centre.