Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ex-Leafs make it as Hockey Hall of Fame selections

Considering the level of mediocrity displayed by the Maple Leafs over the past while it was nice to see three ex-Leafs voted for admission to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Although Joe Niewendyk and Ed Belfour were Leafs for just a short time and near the end of their careers, Doug Gilmour had career years in Toronto. Gilmour may not be the best player to pull on a Leaf jersey but he must be just about the most popular. He just has to show his face at a Leaf game and the crowd is once again chanting “Dougie, Dougie.” It is great to see Killer recognized with all the other greats.

I’m so pleased to see Mark Howe also get the nod. He too has a Toronto connection. He and his brother Marty played for the Toronto Marlboros for the 1972-73 season. The Marlies won the Memorial Cup that year and Mark Howe was named the Memorial Cup MVP. That team also had Bruce Boudreau, Wayne Dillon and Mike Palmateer. My father-in-law managed the Marlies back then and signing the Howe boys was one of his biggest thrills in hockey.

The HHOF class of 2011 is an outstanding group and has a distinct blue tint.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Phoenix Coyotes sales strategy

The economics of the salary cap

Several years ago it was believed that it would be next to impossible to trade a player with a monster contract. The only way a deal could be made would be in exchange for a player with a similar contract. The past week has shown that this is not the case. The Flyers moved both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for cap relief and found teams with cap space and prospects to a make deals. Calgary was able to move Robyn Regehr to Buffalo and Florida took Brian Campbell off the hands of Chicago.

Why is happening? Well because the salary cap has been rising and with it the salary floor. Both create demand for players with high salaries.

Let’s take Scott Gomez who was once considered untradeable but was picked up by Montreal two years ago and might be moved again. When he signed with the Rangers in 2007 his salary for the first year was $10 million and the cap hit was $7.357 million. His cap hit was about 15% of the total cap and his salary was too rich for almost every team. Today his cap hit 11% of the total cap and his salary in the 3 remaining years are $7.5 million, $5.5 million and $4.5 million. So the last two years he will be paid less than the cap hit which is one of the advantages to front end loading.

If you are a small market team that has not been making money and will make even less with a $48 million cap floor, Gomez becomes attractive. In the last two years of his contract he will earn $10 million but will use up $15 million of cap space. If you can find a few players like this then your payroll can be substantially less than your cap hit which allows you to save money.

Meanwhile the higher cap ($64.3 million in 2011-12) provides big market teams with more to spend pushing salaries up even more. In the first year following the lockout, the salary cap was $39 million which limited the number $5 million or more players to just 1 or 2 per team. There were only 23 players with salaries at $5 million or more in 2005-06. Now teams can carry 3 or 4 such players. So far there are 88 players that will earn at $5 million in 2011-12 before the latest crop of UFAs have signed.

With 30 NHL teams spending potentially $150 million more in salaries the inflation rate on salaries isn't much different than before the cap. The only difference is that small market teams are desperately looking for contracts to get them to the floor which is a worse situation than existed before the lockout.

So Brad Richards will be a very happy man in a few days from now.



Every summer, the start of the NHL's free agency period revolves around one name, and this year it's Dallas' Brad Richards.

Richards will be far and away the best talent available when deep-pocketed clubs look to give their rosters a jolt Friday. At age 31, coming off a season in which he scored 28 goals in 72 games with the Stars, the center could command $8 million a season.

After Dallas announced that it could not re-sign Richards because the team is for sale, the Stars attempted to trade away his negotiating rights, but he would not waive his no-trade clause and thus will become an unrestricted free agent.

The New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Los Angeles Kings were at one point considered potential destinations, but with the salary cap rising $5 million to $64.3 million in 2011-12, there could be other suitors. The Kings may no longer be interested now that they have picked up Mike Richards from Philadelphia.

A year ago, Ilya Kovalchuk was the NHL's hot ticket free agent, and the story played out like a soap opera. If you recall the price was so high that everyone dropped out of the running and New Jersey was bidding against themselves.

Clearly the Maple Leafs’ greatest need is a first line centre to set up their top sniper, Phil Kessel. Richards is just what they need but Brian Burke has avoided long, front-loaded contracts, what Richards will be looking for. Perhaps his attitude has changed after seeing a number of players with big contracts moved. But Richards has a history with Ranger coach John Tortorella which goes back to when Tampa Bay won their only Stanley Cup. However the Rangers have been burned by big free agent contracts in the past and may be a little gun shy.

If the Leafs cannot sign Richards then to realistically compete next season Burke will need to move some of their limited talent for a top centre. For example, the Flyers were supposedly asking for Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin for Mike Richards.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Who says the Leafs are the worst NHL franchise? Their fans!

The ESPN ranking of sports franchises got a lot of flack from Maple Leaf fans. Brian Burke was livid and was quoting as saying "I don't think ESPN knows squat about Canada; I don't think they know squat about hockey."

Now before everyone goes off the deep end on this one youi have to understand how the ranking was developed. The rankings were determined by fans who voted online in categories such as fan relations, affordability and stadium experience. It was Leaf fans who rated their team poorly not ESPN. The full explanation on how the ranking is developed is right here.

Every Leaf fan gripes about high ticket prices, ownership that is focused on profit not winning, out of touch management, no championship in decades, etc. When surveyed that is what they will readily tell anyone willing to listen. But if anyone outside of Toronto suggests that is the state of the franchise, suddenly every Leaf fan gets defensive.

We all know the price for Leaf tickets is ridiculous. Fans booed the Leafs for much of the season and began throwing objects on the ice (remember Wafflegate). Everyone knows its been 44 years since they won a Cup and 7 years since the last made the playoffs. I've never heard a fan remark that the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan were terrific owners. We have the best fans in the NHL but the franchise - not so good.

Tomas Kaberle pays big return for Leafs

It took almost 2 full years to determine the who the Maple Leafs gave up for Phil Kessel and during that time fans suffered through considerable angst. That turned out to be Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton. No question that was a high price to pay.

It only took 4 months to determine what players the Leafs would get in exchange for Tomas Kaberle - but if you think the price for Kessel was high then the price for Kaberle was scandalous. After all Kaberle is clearly in a decline and 9 years older than Kessel. Kessel still has his best year in front of him.

So the return for Kaberle (along with a 2nd round pick) which only happened with some nifty dealing by Brian Burke was Joe Colborne, Tyler Biggs, and John-Michael Liles. That's a lot of useful bodies.

I think some people are scratching their heads about the point of moving up 8 spots in the draft for a second round pick. You wonder if the players the Leafs had selected with the 22nd and 25th picks would not have still be available at 25th and 30th. You have no way of knowing for sure. One thing about Burke - when he locks in on a player he does what ever it takes to land him.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Peer pressure works

It was obvious the Winnipeg owners weren't crazy about calling the new franchise the Jets. But fans were insisting that the team should be named the Jets. Tonight the succumbed to pressure and confirmed that they would be called the Winnipeg Jets.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I wouldn't mind if Burke traded away his draft picks

Everyone likes to talk about a GM’s record in drafting. In reality GM’s really do not decide who gets drafted but rather his scouting department calls the shots. Certainly there is some discussion within the management team regarding the organization’s drafting priorities but it is the scouts who have been following the draft prospects. Rarely does a GM not follow the advice of his scouts.

That being said, Brian Burke (and his scouting departments) have not had a very good track record on draft day. People like to point to his drafting of Chris Pronger in 1993 with the second pick overall or the Sedins with the second and third picks overall in 1999. But those picks were no brainers. Burke’s skills were better exhibited in acquiring the second pick to be in a position to draft both players.

The Canucks already possessed the third pick that was used to select Henrik Sedin. To draft Daniel Sedin Burke traded Bryan McCabe and their first-round pick in 2000 or2001 to Chicago for the Blackhawks' first round pick (4th overall). That pick was then traded along with two third-round picks in the 1999 draft (75th and 88th) to Tampa Bay in exchange for the Lightning's first-round pick (1st overall). The Lightning pick, along with a conditional third-round pick in the 2000 was then traded to Atlanta for the Thrashers' first-round pick (2nd overall) under the condition that the Thrashers not select either Sedin with the first overall pick. Talk about incredible wheeling and dealing.

So here is who Burke drafted with the remainder of his picks in 1999:

Rene Vydareny
Ryan Thorpe
Josh Reed
Kevin Swanson
Markus Kankaanpera
Darrell Hay

Burke followed up his 1999 draft day with a whole pile of nothing in 2000:

Nathan Smith
Thatcher Bell
Tim Branham
Pavel Duma
Brandon Reid
Nathan Barrett
Tim Smith

Burke came up with a decent first rounder in 2001 by drafting R. J. Umberger except Burke traded Umberger for Martin Rucinsky a move that has a Maple Leaf feel to it when on the incompetence scale. The Canucks also drafted Kevin Bieksa in the fifth round and has become their top defenseman.

The rest of the 2001 picks were:

Fedor Federov
Evgeny Gladskikh
Jason King
Konstantin Mikhailov

In 2002 Burke and the Canucks didn’t get to take a player until the second round. Burke traded away the Canucks’ first round pick to bring Trevor Linden back to Vancouver. The Caps used it to select a guy by the name of Alexander Semin. That draft was an unmitigated disaster for the Canucks with one NHL appearance between the 11 former prospects (Rob McVicar).
In 2003 Burke selected Ryan Kessler with the 23rd pick.

The rest of the Canucks picks were:

Marc-Andre Bernier
Brandon Nolan
Ty Morris
Nicklas Danielsson
Chad Brownlee
Francois-Pierre Guenette
Sergei Topol
Nathan McIver
Matthew Hansen

In 1995 Burke was the GM of the Anaheim Ducks and in his first draft he nabbed Bobby Ryan with the second pick overall. Burke has had considerable success drafting second. However, the rest of the way things never go as well:

Brendan Mikkelson
Jason Bailey
Bobby Bolt
Brian Salcido
Jean-Philippe Levasseuer

It's not fair to look at subsequent years because the prospects haven't fully developed.

So when I hear talk about Burke trading picks for players I think why not? The draft depends on a combination of a strong scouting system and luck. Either Burke has been unlucky or he needs to stop hiring friends as scouts

Leaf goaltending situation is scary

All the chatter surrounding the Maple Leafs is the need for a #1 centre. I don’t disagree that this should be the priority but the lack of depth in net is scary. Right now the Leafs are going with James Reimer (37 NHL games) as their starting goalie backed up by Jonas Gustavsson (67 NHL games). Their number 3 guy would be Jussi Rynnas (0 NHL games). Despite what type of potential these goalies may have no sane GM can rely on this group of goalies to get you into the playoffs. If these young goalies falter well there is no experienced hand to step. I assume this problem will be addressed but Brian Burke has repeatedly said that he is comfortable with his goalies. Well I’m not.

Let’s hope Burke is just blowing a lot of smoke.

Monday, June 20, 2011

New Maple Leaf assistant coaches set off a new round of speculation

GM Brian Burke announced that assistant coaches Keith Acton and Tim Hunter have not been retained, and that former New York Islanders Coach Scott Gordon and former Northeastern University coach Greg Cronin have been added to the staff.

There is much speculation on how to read this surprise move. I have a number of theories but they could all wrong.

1, Since Ron Wilson's contact runs out in June 2012 there is considerable speculation that Gordon and Cronin are being groomed to one day take over. It is being suggested by some that Burke did all the hiring and firing on this one.

2. Since the Maple Leaf powerplay and penalty killing are so weak, one theory has it that Acton and Hunter too the fall for this one.

3. Cronin and Gordon are friend of Wilson's so their hiring could be construed to be that Wilson is very secure.

4. This was your classic shuffling of chairs on the deck of the Titanic which means read in nothing.

5. Since both Cronin and Gordon are Americans, there is a theory that Burke and Wilson are attempting to turn the entire franchise over to the Yankees.

These theories may be all wrong. But one thing we do know is that Burke is in no hurry to offer an extension to Wilson. Another slow start will land Wilson in the unemployment line.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Maple Leafs improve to 120th out of 122 pro teams in ESPN ranking

Yes ladies and gentlemen the Toronto Maple Leaf franchise is on the move. The Leafs have move up from 121st to 120th in ESPN's annual ranking of pro sports teams. This is their 9th year doing the ranking which does not just measure success but measures how much MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises give back to the fans in exchange for all the time, money and emotion the fans invest in them. In other words they look at value for money which confirms what we all know - Leaf fans are continually being ripped off.

Only the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals ranked below the Leafs. The top raked team was the Green Bay Packers and the top hockey team wha the Tampa Bay Lightning (ranked 2nd)

Here are the categories that make up the ranking and how the Maple Leafs rank in each one:

Bang For The Buck: Wins during the past three years (regular season plus postseason) per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules. No surprise Maple Leafs rank 122.

Fan Relations: Openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management. With all the talking that Brian Burke does the Leafs rank just 103.

Ownership: Honesty and loyalty to core players and local community. Teachers rank just 94. You wonder what it would be if they weren't holding the free exhibition game.

Affordability: Price of tickets, parking and concessions. Maple Leafs rank 122 - worse than the Yankees, Red Sox and Cowboys.

Stadium Experience: Quality of arena and game-day promotions as well as friendliness of environment. Maple Leafs rank 100.

Players: Effort on the field and likability off it. Leaf players rank 105.

Coaching: Strength of on-field leadership. Looks like Ron Wilson isn't loved. He ranks 111.

Title Track: Championships already won or expected in the lifetime of current fans. 44 years and counting. We rank 110.

This is how the Maple Leafs have ranked in the 9 years.

2011 - 120
2010 - 121
2009 - 120
2008 - 121
2007 - 99
2006 - no ranking due to lockout
2005 - no ranking due to lockout
2004- 88
2003 - 65

Why Boston won the Stanley Cup

Most people are talking about how Vancouver lost the Stanley Cup but hardly anyone is talking about how Boston won the Cup. The Canucks did not choke. They were beaten by a better team.

To be honest few people were talking about the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup at the start of the season after their dramatic collapse against the Flyers in the 2010 playoffs. The Bruins became one of the few teams in playoff history to go up by the three games in a series and then go on to lose the series. The perspective didn't change very much at the start of the playoffs outside of Bruin fans. In fact, the Bruins dropped the first 2 games at home to Montreal and people were already writing eulogies.

However, the Bruins have shown amazing resiliency this year following a team set back. When Marc Savard was lost for the season they continued to find offense. GM Peter Chiarelli had wisely picked up Nathan Horton over the off season to provide more scoring and he thrived in Boston. Chiarelli had added considerable depth to the line up at the trading deadline which helped the Bruins go deep in the playoffs.

Last season Tim Thomas had lost his starting job because of a hip injury after winning the Vezina but bounced back this season and is a leading contender for the Vezina again after winning the Conn Smythe. Thomas and Zdeno Chara are obviously the key players on this team. In fact where the Canucks are lacking is the shut down defenseman like Chara. Although Vancouver has an excellent defense and a great goalie that matches up well against Thomas, there is no one in their line up comparable to Chara. What many people do not remember is that Chara was out of the Boston line up in those first two games against Montreal because of dehydration. When he returned the Bruins went on a 8 game win streak which carried them into the Conference finals.

Chara who is not only the tallest player in the league but one of the most fit, was able to shut down each team's number one line on their march to the Cup. Against Montreal he shut down Plekanec, Cammalleri and Gionta. Against Philadelphia it was Briere, Giroux and van Riemsdyk. Against Tampa Bay it was Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos. Then against Vancouver he totally shut down the Sedins and Burrows. Meanwhile Boston was able to get scoring from throughout their line up. When Krejic, Lucic and Horton couldn't then guys like Recchi, Peverley, Marchand and Kelly chipped in. The team has the size to wear you down and the speed to get by you. It was a total team effort.

But at the end of the day it's hard to beat a team that got the type of goaltending provided by Tim Thomas. Giving up only 8 goals in the finals underscored his value to the team and why he was likely a unanimous pick for the Conn Smythe. He stopped an incredible 201 out of 209 shots in the finals and finished with a GAA of 1.98 and a save percentage of .940 for the playoffs. Roberto Luongo foolishly made some unwise and classless comments about Thomas after game 5. As if Thomas needed any more incentive to carry his team to victory.

Monday, June 13, 2011

OK, we've determined that Roberto Luongo does not like playing in Boston

With a 8.04 goals against and .772 save percentage, must be eager to get back to Vancouver.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Maple Leafs are now set for goalies

I understand the Maple Leafs have wisely locked up James Reimer for the next 3 years at about $1.8 million per season - very cap friendly. They still have Jonas Gustavvson on contract which means the two Scandinavian goalies will make up the Leafs' goaltending tandem for 2011-12.

Reimer's rise to starting goaltender in the NHL has been remarkable. He started last season in 4th spot in the Leafs' depth chart for goalies behind everyone but Ben Scrivens. First he beat out Jussi Rynnas for the starting goalie job with the Marlies. Then he did the same thing with J-S Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson.

So although he has only played a half season he still won 20 games. Based on his brief stay in the NHL he has earned the spot on the NHL team,

What worries me is Gustavsson as the back up. In his two seasons with the Leafs he has not been able to stay healthy or maintain his cool. I can't see him staying health for an entire season. Considering his frequent visits to the disabled list, I can't see him staying health for the entire season. But what concerns me more is his tendency to get frustrated and lose his cool. Stick manufacturers may enjoy watching smash his goalie sticks on the crossbars but his coach does not. When Gustavsson is not game ready, the Leafs will need a veteran goalie playing in the minors who can step in. Someone like Scott Clemmenson. Look for Brian Burke to sign a veteran goalie as his 5th goalie and to provide some insurance.

There is some risk that Reimer may come down with the sophomore jinx. But the risk is low considering his modest contract. The Leafs took a much bigger risk when the took on Giguere's massive contract when he was clearly in a decline.

Johnny Canuck will prevail

Vancouver has got Stanley Cup fever

The video belows is shot in downtown core of Vancouver as people react to Maxim Lapierre's 3rd period goal to give the Canucks an all-important lead in game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. You can't see anything but you certainly here the sounds. It starts in eerie silence as an entire city is on pins and needles.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Stanley Cup is onroute to Boston

I returned from vacations this week to catch game 5 of the Cup finals. I understand it resembled games 1 and 2 while the Bruins led by Tim Thomas embarrassed the Canucks in Boston in games 3 and 4. Although the series will likely go the full 7, the NHL will polishing up the Cup for Sunday in the event the Canucks can actually beat the Bruins on their home ice. My observations on a series that I have largely missed:
  • The Canucks could easily be behind or have already lost this series. Any of the 3 wins could have gone the other way. But a 1-0 squeaker is no different than a 8-1 blow out. They both count as one win and the Canucks need just one more.
  • Win or lose Tim Thomas is a lock for the Conn Smythe trophy. If the Canucks win the Stanley Cup then Thomas will be the 6th player from the losing team to win the award. The others were Roger Crozier (1966), Glenn Hall (1968), Reggie Leach (1976), Ron Hextall (1987), and J-S Giguere (2003). All but one were goalies.
  • It seems in each series Vancouver looks like it is about to come off the wheels and then gets back on track. At the same time it looks like Roberto Luongo has become unglued and then bounces back with a shut out. There is certainly enough resiliency in both line ups.
  • Although I've only seen game 5, my impression from reports is that the quality of the hockey has slipped this round which is a common occurrence. Final rounds tend to be very chippy and tight checking. As well, everyone is banged up and the skating suffers. Though I understand the animosity level is high.
  • The guys who got the Canucks to the finals namely the Sedins have not been scoring at all. It's hard to believe that Vancouver has won 3 games without the help of their big line. But of course they have only scored 6 goals in those 5 games.
  • I'm still going with Vancouver to win the series.
Can't wait for game 6.