Monday, October 31, 2011

Maple Leafs split the weekend games

Well the Leafs lost the game you would have thought they couldn't win and then went about losing the game that should have won. The Leafs continue to demonstrate that they will likely continue to compete for a playoff spot. Yet the races will be close again so any extended losing streak will drop you out of the race. Although the Leafs are first in their division and second in the conference, they are still just 4 points from ninth place and no playoff spot.

Here some of the good and bad I saw over the weekend though it was mostly good.

Good - The Leafs finally have two very good offensive lines with Phil Kessel leading the first line and Mikhail Grabovski holding down the second.

Bad - The penalty killing still sucks. The penalty killers gave up 4 goals on 8 chances. They are 27th in penalty killing. I thought the new assistant coaches were going to fix this.

Good - Jonas Gustavsson made some spectacular saves on Saturday including Steve Sullivan point blank in front of the net and James Neal on a breakaway. He showed that he can at least be a decent backup that can win you some games.

Bad - Gustavsson still gives up the odd soft goal which will cost you a game which was the case on Sunday. Hurry back Reims!

Good - After a slow start Clarke MacArthur is finding his stride with 4 goals in the past 3 games. And Phil Kessel scored his 10th on Saturday to hold onto the NHL coring lead.

Bad- Luke Schenn continues to struggle and has dropped down to the 3rd defensive pair and with much less ice time.

Good - Tim Connolly scored on his first shot of the season and has fit in well on the first line.

Bad - Matthew Lombardi appears to be struggling some what getting used to his new team following a 12 month layoff.

Good - Dion Phaneuf seems to be thriving on 26 to 27 minutes of ice time every night.

Battle of the Blades 3 - week 6

Since it is Halloween today, Battle of the Blades had a Halloween theme and more opportunities for lame puns by Ron Maclean.

If you saw the Monster Mash routine last year by Shae-lynn Bourne and Patrice Brisebois you might be expecting something as good. Well it wasn't. But it was better than the past few weeks. Kurt Browning skated back and forth on the ice dressed as Two-Face. Ron Maclean dressed as Mickey Mouse from Fantasia. The judges were also dressed up and the guest was the sultry yet goofy Katrina Witt.

Elena Bereznhaya & Curtis Leschyshyn

Elena and Curtis opened the evening, dancing to "Ladies and Gentlemen," by Saliva, a fitting first song, what with its refrain of "Welcome to the show." This was painful but so have been most of their skates. Of course, Sandra still found a way to praise it, cooing, "I love that you take physical risks." She then ripped the program then finished with "The technical level is outstanding." I can never figure her out. Total score: 16.9.

Marie-France Dubreuil & Bryan Berard

Marie-France and Bryan were second, dancing to Marilyn Manson's take on "Tainted Love", and it was better simply because the couple came as zombies. Very appropriate for Bryan. The performance was bizarre. For each of the lifts, Marie-France either played dead or was in the process of being killed, and for a family program, it had a lot more woman-strangling than I thought CBC could handle. The judges loved it. Total score: 17.4.

Tanith Belbin & Boyd Devereaux

Tanith and Boyd were the third couple on the evening, dancing to "Tore My Heart" by Oona, dressed as a wolfman and femme fatale. Sandra claimed that, if someone happened upon this program without knowing what it was, they'd think that Boyd was a figure skater. Sure they would. A terrible, terrible figure skater. Witt claimed Boyd gave her a Little Red Riding Hood fantasy, and then proceeded to give him a 6.0. They actually were pretty good though I"m still annoyed by that ridiculous statement from Sandra. Total score: 17.8.

Violetta Afanasieva & Cale Hulse

Violetta and Cale were the fourth couple on the evening, dancing to "Love Potion no. 9" by the Clovers, while dressed like a nerdy doctor and a sexy nurse. In other words, they re-enacted a porno movie. The judges loved it, with Jeremy and Katarina claiming the performance got them hot, and Sandra raving, "Comedy is the hardest to do, and you really nailed it." That's an absurd statement, but it's also full of sexual innuendo. Total score: 17.6.

Tessa Bonhomme & David Pelletier

Tessa and David closed out the evening, dancing to "Haunted House" by Elvira while dressed as mummies. Katarina had the line of the evening, saying, "If you were to perform this performance at the Olympics in Sochi, you would definitely win the gold without sharing it with another couple." Jeremy Roenick brought us back to earth, saying "I'm just wondering if I can get wrapped up with you guys one of these times," effectively suggesting the three have sex together. Total score: 17.5.

On the Monday evening skate off the two bottom teams were once again a surprise to me. Clearly the worst 2 teams with Elena & Curtis and Marie-France & Bryan. Instead the skate off was between Tanith & Boyd and Violetta & Cale. Considering Tanith & Boyd have become the strongest team it should come as no surprise that the judges eliminated Violetta & Cale.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dion Phaneuf comes in from the cold

When the hockey world last assessed Dion Phaneuf he was considered the most overrated player in the league based on his peers. He was banished from the Flames along with his "abrasive" personality and huge contract for odds and ends. The Maple Leafs were ridiculed last season for appointing Phaneuf their captain. Things were not looking too good.

Today he is once again considered one of the best defensemen in the NHL and his coach, although somewhat biased, is quoted as saying he is the "best defenceman in the league by a country mile."He is tied for 13th in scoring and tied for 3rd in scoring for defensemen with 11 points his +7 is tied for 3rd in the NHL.

He is now a true leader and playing an average of 26:35 minutes per game which is 5th highest total in the league. He and Phil Kessel are major reasons why the Leafs have had such a strong start to the season. As they say, their best players are actually their best players. In the fact the trades that brought those two players to the Leafs never looked better than now.

At the end of last season, Phaneuf started showing the form that made him a Norris Trophy candidate during his first two seasons in Calgary, racking up five goals and seven assists in the month of March alone. He hasn’t missed a beat since then, starting off the 2011-12 campaign where he had left off. He is the stud defenseman the Leafs really haven't had since the days of Borje Salming.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reimer: whiplash or concussion?

Maple Leafs

At MLSE there always has to be some drama going on. Will Mat Sundin waive his no-trade contract? Will Tomas Kaberle be traded? When will Luke Schenn sign? Will Jake Gardiner make the Leafs? Will Nazim Kadri be sent to the Marlies? When will Tim Connolly finally play? It never ends.

So it's not surprising find James Reimer's injury spin into the latest drama. Not that it really matters if it is a concussion or whiplash injury. This kid is hurt and can't play. What's become the story is the elusiveness of Leafs management when the subject is raised. No transparency here though part of the reason is NHL policy which discourages full disclosure.

Brian Burke has made it clear that he has whiplash but “is being treated for concussion symptoms." Hmm sounds like he is being treated for a concussion then. It didn't help that Jonas Gustavsson let it slip before the Ranger game that Reimer had a concussion. But perhaps he was confused by the tricky language being used since his native tongue is Swedish. Seems to me the only person with whiplash is Brian Burke trying to avoid reporters' questions.

Reims get well real soon!

Vancouver and Philadelphia - where goalies go to die

You need great goaltending to win a Stanley Cup but do you need a great goalie? Think about it. Over the past 5 years the Stanley Cup finalists were not always backstopped by one of the game's great. Sometime just it is just a goalie on a hot streak.

Boston - Tim Thomas
Vancouver - Roberto Luongo

Chicago - Antti Niemi
Philadelphia - Michael Leighton

Pittsburgh - Marc-Andre Fleury
Detroit - Chris Osgood

Detroit - Chris Osgood
Pittsburgh - Marc-Andre Fleury

Anaheim - Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Ottawa - Ray Emery

Not so many big money goalies in this list.

So it's a little painful to watch goalies that head to Vancouver and Philadelphia getting eaten alive. The latest victims are Roberto Luongo and Ilya Bryzgalov.

Over the past 10 years the Flyers have used: Sergei Bobrovsky, Martin Biron, Brian Boucher, Roman Cechmanek, Jérémy Duchêsne, Johan Backlund, Ray Emery, Robert Esche, Jeff Hackett, Martin Houle, Michael Leighton, Neil Little, Antero Niittymaki, Maxime Ouellet, Ilya Bryzgalov.

Meanwhile the Canucks have used the following goalies: Alex Auld, Martin Brochu, Dan Cloutier, Johan Hedberg, Jason LaBarbera, Drew MacIntyre, Rob McVicar, Tyler Moss, Mika Noronen, Maxime Ouellet, Andrew Raycroft, Dany Sabourin, Curtis Sanford, Cory Schneider, and Roberto Luongo.

Finally, here is a video of the 17 goals scored in Winnipeg's win over the Flyers the other night. The most goals scored in one game in 15 years.

Carey Price lets in the softest goal of the season so far

Not Plekanec's fault. He won the draw nice and clean, but Price, for whatever reason, completely whiffed on pushing the puck away from his crease. Patrice Bergeron was credited with the goal as the puck nicked his stick after it broke and the center was falling on his face.

Price told the media "I just Bill Bucknered it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gustavsson has his best game in quite a while

I wouldn't say he was great but he certainly was good enough. The Leafs backstopped by goalie Jonas Gustavsson played a perfect road game. They held off a Ranger first period onslaught which included a lot of Ranger forwards crashing the net and were down just 1-0 at the intermission. They then battle back to take the game 4-2.

Gustavsson made some excellent saves but also let in a very stoppable goal between his legs in the first period. In the long run soft goals are a typically momentum killers. The Leafs also benefit from some calls that went their way. The Rangers had two goals disallowed in the first period because of Ranger players sanding in the crease. The period could have easily ended with the Rangers ahead 3-0.

The real worry is James Reimer who was placed on the disabled list. It seems whiplash isn't his only problem. He is also exhibiting concussion symptoms. That means his return is pretty much unknown.

Will the Leafs be able to maintain their momentum with Reimer injured? I hope so.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pronger's injury brings the visor debate back

Video: Chris Pronger leaves game after taking stick to face

I can't believe we are debating the use of visors in the NHL again. Why would anyone care if NHL players wear visors, helmets or protective cups? If players want to risk the loss of an eye or another injury as a result of their own neglect so be it.

This isn't the same as the head shot issue. Playing without proper protection is a personal choice. But when someone tries to scramble your brains but slamming your head against the glass, that isn't a personal choice. Some else is making that decision.

Serious eye injuries are rare but they do happen. Manny Malhotra has a serious eye injury last season. Bryan Berard has one about 10 years ago and you only have to watch him on Battle of the Blades to see how gruesome of an outcome that can have. About 70% of the league players are wearing visors. The rest either believe a visor will affect their play or don't believe they will get injured. And that's fine with me.

The Monster has to go

Marlies goalie Jonas Gustavsson who was in the spotlight after he was pulled following the first period due to an elevated heart rate.

Brian Burke has made some brilliant moves including picking up Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie for spare parts, Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner for Francois Beauchemin, Joe Colborne and two draft picks for Tomas Kaberle, and Matthew Lombardi and Cody Franson for nothing.

But he also has made some blunders. The problem is that Burke never admits to mistakes which means never mitigating your losses. For example he overpaid for Phil Kessel and the Leafs continue to throw Mike Komisarek in the lineup while Jeff Finger languishes in the minors because Komisarek is a Burke guy.

Yet for me the worst is goalie Jonas Gustavsson. In July 2009 Burke traveled to Sweden to sign the Sedins and instead returned with Gustavsson. He certainly was worth the gamble but at some point you have to fold your cards and walk away. He hasn't won a game in almost a year. He rarely gives up fewer than 4 goals which gives your team almost no chance of winning. He makes some good saves as he did last night but never enough to win the game.

There is always the excuses from the coaching staff - the team had no legs, the refs didn't give us any breaks, we had some bad luck. It's never Gustavsson's fault. It was the same thing with Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala. Good goalies don't need their coach to make excuses for them when they lose. James Reimer accepts responsibility for his losses.

Maybe, just maybe he stinks. He is 27 years old and can't buy a win. Cam Ward is 27 with 175 wins in the NHL and a Stanley Cup ring.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Battle of the Blades 3 - week 5

Back with another riveting report on Battle of the Blades - week 5. Time flies when you are having fun. In a season of insufferable lame competition, this episode was largely tolerable. The show continually attempts to pull at your heartstrings so the episode opens up with a montage of pain and suffering including Curtis Leschyshyn's swollen, bleedy calves.

At the judges' table we have Jeremy Roenick, back after two weeks making better money no doubt and guest judge Chris Nilan. What is it with this show and former NHL fighters?

Anabelle Langlois & Brad May

Brad and Anabelle opened the evening, skating to "Electric" by Shawn Desman. YUCK!! The performance was awful. Brad stumbled twice and literally mishandled Annabelle several times. Sandra is always there to try to save a disaster and noted that, from last week to this week, "the step-up was huge." Then to reinforce her observations she and her fellow judges gave it them the lowest score of the night, Total score: 16.8.

Tessa Bonhomme & David Pelletier

Next to skate were Tessa and David to "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson. YUCK! It was a better skate than the last few weeks. Sandra suggested to Tessa that she, "Stand as though you have a diamond necklace around your neck." I just feel sorry for David who has to lift her. She must at least 30 lbs heavier than your typical pairs skater. Total score: 17.1.

Tanith Belbin & Boyd Devereaux

Up nest was Tanith and Boyd skating to "Fever" by Michael Buble, and it was a completely unique kind of terrible. They didn't do too bad mostly because the program played to Tanith's strength - ice dancing. As usually Sandra announced a hyperbole, "That was so hot." It was lukewarm at best. Total score: 17.3.

Violetta Afanasieva & Cale Hulse

Violetta and Cale skated to "Suddenly I see" by KT Tunstall, and they made it easy by having a pretty weak skate. The worst part was the ending when Cale attempted to lift Violetta above his head and dropped her fortunately not to the ice but his shoulders. These figure skaters are fearless because he could have split open her head. As always the judges tried to cover up for the error. Sandra chirped that it was an incredibly difficult lift. Right I think I saw the Chinese pair attempt it at last year's Olympics. Total score: 16.8.

Elena Berezhnaya & Curtis Leschyshyn

I think this pair had their best skate of the season. The two pulled off a couple of neat lifts and a performance that was elegant but not hokey. The judges liked it, as they often do. Total score: 17.2.

Marie-France Dubreuil and Bryan Berard

And finally, Marie-France & Bryan closed out the evening, skating to "Can't Help Falling in Love with You" by Elvis Presley. They did a surprising beautiful and near flawless program. Bryan who in previous weeks looked like King Kong on skates looked comfortable and in synch with his partner. The judges loved it too and gave them the highest score of the season to date. Total score: 17.5.

The Monday night skate off produced a bit of a surprise. The 4th and 5th placed teams were in a virtual tie so that meant the bottom three pairs skated off - Violetta & Cale, Anabelle & Brad and Elena & Curtis. Once again Anabelle & Brad did not skate clean leading to a unanimous decision to bounce them. Not coincidental, they were voted off last week only to be kept alive by the Judge's save. No save was possible so they were toast.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oh Oh! James Reimer is hurt

Leaf Nation's worst nightmare may have occurred. Leaf savior James Reimer did not return for the second period against the Montreal Canadiens on tonight after run over by Brian Gionta in the first period. The only way the diminutive Gionta would give someone a headshot was if they were on their knees. Well that's exactly what happened on the play.

A very ordinary Jonas Gustavsson filled in for Reimer and gave up 3 goals on just 18 shots. This type of goaltending is not going to cut it if Reimer has to miss some games to an injury. No other goalie in the organization has played even one game in the NHL.

On a more positive note Mikhail Grabovski appears to be returning to form. He scored two goals against the Habs including the winner in overtime. Phil Kessel continued his hot streak with another goal and assist to hang onto the league scoring lead. He sripped the Canadiens player of the puck in front of Price and beat him high on the glove side.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Some great shoot out goals

I'm not a big fan of shootouts to decide a game but these goals are certainly great to watch. Enjoy.

5. Linus Omark, Edmonton

4. Marty St. Louis, Tampa Bay

3. Jussi Jokinen, Dallas

2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles

1. Mike Ribeiro, Dallas

Bruins maul the Maple Leafs

This had the making of a blow out. Boston had played a stinker in Carolina just a couple nights before and were in an ugly mood. The game was in Boston which has been unfriendly territory for the Leafs. James Reimer was being rested in favour of Jonas Gustavsson. Phil Kessel does not play well against his former team.

Those over-engaged Leafs fans are probably already jumping off the bandwagon. But let's face it this was just one game. With Gustavsson playing his first game in a while and the Leafs taking the night off it could have been uglier. There is still some uncertainty about whether Gustavsson can cut it as an NHL backup. So too bad his team abandoned him because it would have been good to see how he will perform in a game where his teammates decide to show up. This loss could not be pinned on him. You also cannot blame Mike Komisarek who spent the night in the press box.

Phil Kessel who has been red hot this season was not a factor. Playing against his old team certainly has a negative effect on him. Players are going to have an off night once in a while. In the past Kessel has had far too many so let's hope this is not going to be a frequent occurence. But where were his teammates? Kessel and Lupul cannot be expected to score every night. And will the endless talk about the trade ever end? Yes the Leafs overpaid for Kessel but they did get a good player back. There isn't much more to say.

If you want a positive then how about the play of Jake Gardiner. On a night where the team was an overall -4, Gardiner was a +2. He also led the team with 23:46 minutes of ice time. He might possibly develop into the team's best defenceman by the end of the season.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kessel and Lupul are carrying hot sticks

So I doubt there will any talk this week from Leafs fans about whether they would reverse the Phil Kessel trade. Maybe Brian Burke isn't so dumb after all. In his first two seasons with the Leaf he looked like a one-dimensional player - a guy with a big shot. But this season he looks like a star player that is capable of carry a team.

Once again the Leafs had a poor start this time against the Winnipeg Jets. Yet they they came alive in the 3rd period to tie the game up before winning it in shoot out.

Sure Phil Kessel is a streak player. Last season he scored 7 goals in his first 8 games. But this year feels different. He is playing better defense and playing with his head up. In previous seasons he would pick up the puck and skate with his head down until he fired a puck at the net. This season he has his head up and making as many passes as shots on net. Maybe he is passing because Joffrey Lupul is the skilled linemate that he so dearly needed.

I know he will eventually cool off but these two guys are the hottest Leafs combo since the days of Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk.

By the way on Lupul's first goal he absolutely destroyed the net cam. Take a look below.

The two players have now picked up 11 goals and 19 points in just 5 games. The chemistry is obvious. Against the Jets tonight they combined for 5 points, each has 5 shots on net and numerous beautiful passes to each other.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nice goal by Jamie Benn

As the Dallas Stars forward began the play in the neutral zone in the second period, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Kris Russell attempted to bump Benn off the puck. Instead, Benn stayed on it, spun around and past Russell. Derrick Brassard had his blade on the puck, and Benn still controlled. Nash put pressure on him, and Benn danced past him.

Maple Leafs are no longer perfect

Colorado Avalanche goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and left winger Daniel Winnik celebrate their overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in NHL action in Toronto on Monday October 17, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

So far this season the Leafs are largely relying on Phil Kessel and James Reimer to beat opponents. Until last night it had been working pretty well. But last night Kessel was held to a single goal and Reimer was pretty shaky. The result was a 3-2 overtime loss the Colorado with another ex-Leaf goalie, J-S Giguere beating his former team.

It's great to see Kessel and linemate Joffrey Lupul having a good start with centre Tim Connolly nursing his first of many injuries while wearing the Maple Leaf. But when is the Grabovski line going to find their groove. It is understandable if Clark MacArthur has a slow start after serving his suspension. Nikolai Kulemin looks fine but he needs to be shooting more. He had the second best shooting percentage last season for players who scored at least 30 goals (only Sidney Crosby did better). But Mikhail Grabovsk is having a poor start and seems out of synch. This is the final year of his contract so I expect big things from him his season.

But it's not just Grabovski who off to a poor start. Luke Schenn is struggling and is being outplayed by Mike Komisarek. And I don't mean this as a compliment to Komisarek. The powerplay is still atrocious. The tendency to have good and bad periods within one game is disturbingly too similar to last season. And we know how that ended.

Battle of the Blades 3 - week 4

Battle of the Blades III Review: Kim & Russ get the boot

I was away during week 3 off Battle which was missing two major players, as both Ron Maclean and Jeremy Roenick couldn't make the live telecast. Maclean was in Winnipeg, covering the Winnipeg Jets season opener, meaning Kurt Browning had to host the program alone. As for Roenick, he ran into some travel issues. In his place was former World Champion figure skater Paul Martini, who was disappointingly civil. I wouldn't miss either one because Maclean is such a ham and Roenick is so inappropriate that it sometimes uncomfortable to watch him. The show was extremely bland. Guest judge Mark Napier, the president of the NHL alumni association, certainly didn't help. The theme was "The beat," which Browning informed us meant rhythm and footwork. All the teams were given music with a very definitive beat, and they would be expected to stay in time with it. Tessa ditched the track pants for a pair of mini-shorts. I thought both Violetta & Cale and Elena & Curtis were disappointing. Surprisingly neither had to skate off on Monday. Surprisingly it was Kim & Russ and Boyd & Tanith who had to skate off and Kim and Russ got the boot. Last week, the show said goodbye to Marcy and Todd, the couple with the most personality. On week 3 they ditch the couple whose story is far and away the most inspirational.

On to week 4. My wife is torturing me with this show. This week's lame theme is the Canadian songbook. Oh boy some Avril Lavigne. Jeremy Roenick was a no show again. He was replaced this week by figure skating great Brian Orser, and the guest judge was former NHLer Bryan Trottier.

Marie-France Dubreuil & Bryan Berard

Marie-France and Bryan opened the evening by dancing to "Sk8er Boi" by Avril Lavigne. Yuck. Bryan didn't quite look as awkward as the past few weeks. Sandra loved every minute of it. "This couldn't have been more perfect." She gave them an absurd 5.8. Brian Orser was so annoyed shocked that he handed them the lowest score of the night - 5.5. Total score: 16.9.

Violetta Afanasieva & Cale Hulse

Last week, Violetta and Cale closed their performance by executing a throw in which Violetta flipped backwards over Cale's head. It seems she bruised her heel coming and so they decided to milk this as much as they could to show how tough she was to skate through all this pain this week. I quite like watching Violetta though because she is so acrobatic. Sandra gushed again, handing out another 5.8. Total score: 17.2.

Tessa Bonhomme & David Pelletier

Tessa broke down this week anc cam out in a figure skating dress although but this week, she finally said yes to the dress, and she said she dreaded exposing her bottom when being held upside-down. "The only thing I'm worried about is my dress coming up to my face, and me just hanging out in my underwears," she said. Tessa looked about as uncomfortable in the dress. Sandra patronized her by saying the chemistry was "coming." Total score: 17.1.

Elena Berezhnaya & Curtis Leschyshyn

They delivered another boring performance. Always ready for a lame line Ron Maclean jumped in with "He's hoisted the Stanley Cup and now Elena. You made it, Curtis." Yep, totally made it. You haven't reached the top of the mountain until you've hoisted Elena Berezhnaya.

The couple did execute the first throw of the competition. If you really care what the judges say at this point, Sandra claimed the footwork was really good. If you say so. Total score: 17.1.

Annabelle Langlois & Brad May

Oh boy they danced to "Come Fly With Me" by Michael Buble. With all the bad skating Sandra decides this is the one pair she was going to pick on (last week it was Tessa and David). "You've really focused on your lifts but you still need to work on the in-between part." As was the case last week it produced a chorus of boos. Total score: 16.9.

Tanith Belbin & Boyd Devereaux

The pair closed the evening by skating to the Canadian one-hit wonder "Black Velvet" by Alannah Myles. By this point I was so bored I almost fell asleep. Even my wife noted that this season was pretty bland. I'm probably the last straight male in Canada still watching. Total score: 17.0.

On Moday the painful skate off show was a drag with Ron Maclean hamming up for almost 10 minutes before he finally revealed that Annabelle & Brad and Cale & Violetta would be skating again. Then, Annabelle and Brad were eliminated by the judges, who immediately reversed their own decision by using the judges' save, officially negating an entire week of competition. Yes there are still 6 pairs left but mercifully there is no judge reversal available. Unless they decide to change the rules as they go.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Don Cherry offers an apology 9 days too late

I'm sure Don Cherry thinks he is a person of character and class. He just tells it as he sees it.

Well the character assassination he conducted on Coach's Corner on October 6 showed no class, no character. It was a planned attack that he no doubt contemplated for several weeks. Cherry, as you'll recall, called former tough guys Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson "turncoats" from what Grapes believed at the time were comments by the trio saying that fighting should be out of the game and that the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak this summer were linked to alcohol and drugs. He also referred to them as "hypocrites" and "pukes."

Two days later he had an opportunity to apologize and stated he had nothing to apologize for. In the past week the furor continued and Grimson who practices law threatened "further recourse." So suddenly an apology came out of his mouth on Saturday. Not sure how sincere it was 9 days after the fact.

Not ready to hop on the Maple Leafs bandwagon

I'm really pleased about the great start by the Maple Leafs but I've seen it before. So I haven't totally bought into the program. An 82-game season is a great equalizer for a slow or fast start.

Last season the Leafs began the season 4-0 with wins over the Canadiens (3-2), Senators (5-1), Penguins (4-3) and Rangers (4-3 OT). Phil Kessel was among the league leaders with 4 goals and 2 assists. Clarke MacArthur has 5 goals. Then the Leafs took another 16 games to win another 4 games. MacArthur was only able to score another 16 goals over 78 games.

So early wins again against the Canadiens, Senators and Flames aren't getting me worked up. Kessel has been flying in the early going and leads the league with 5 goals and 3 assists (tied with John Tavares). His first goal last night was a beauty (see below). Joffrey Lupul has worked well with Kessel and has scored 2 goals and 3 assists in the first 3 games of the season. James Reimer has been keeping the Leafs in games much as J-S Giguere did in the early part of last season. The team is 11th in penalty killing percentage and 20th in powerplay percentage. Both are improvements over last season.

Two of these wins have been against teams that might not make the playoffs. The Leafs have not had a road game yet. So there is time to hop on the bandwagon.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Out of town until October 15

Phil Kessel has his best night as a Leaf

Phil Kessel had his first hat trick as a Maple Leaf and the line of Kessel, Bozak and Lupul picked up 8 points on the night. The difference between Phil Kessel over the first two games this season and his previous two seasons in Toronto is that he is doing less coasting and more skating. He is constantly moving his legs both offensively and defensively and good things are happening. Let's hope he continues it throughout the season.

Dion Phaneuf still delivers big hits

It's almost like Dion had read my earlier blog post. In the second period against Ottawa Dion Phaneuf delivers a monster hit on Stephane Da Costa. Totally legal. Ironically on Thursday night's Coach's Corner Don Cherry was telling his audience that you will never see hits like this again with the crackdown on hits to the head. Dion shows that you can pulverize opponents without hitting them in the head.

Can Dion Phaneuf adjust to the crack down on head shots?

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was considered a blue chip hockey prospect because of his bone jarring open ice hits at the junior level. When he was growing up, he idolized Scott Stevens and the way he played the game. Who can forget those crushing hits on Eric Lindros that seriously shortened Lindros' career. Back then if you caught someone with their head down well it was their fault.

Unfortunately, if Stevens was playing in the NHL today, he would be a recurring guest to the offices of Brendan Shanahan. A similar fate could be Phaneuf’s if the referees maintain the strict standard of officiating that they showed during the preseason.

The NHL’s Rule 48 states that a “hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.” This broadened the rule to include all head shots and not just, as it had been previously, those from blindside or lateral hits.

If the league’s crackdown on headshots makes Phaneuf hesitant at all to throw a big check, it will remove one of the most feared elements of his game and subsequently make it even more difficult for him to regain his place among the elite defensemen in the NHL. This is no different then when defensemen had to adjust to the crackdown on obstruction in 2005. Bryan McCabe has been an all-star but was never as effective in his own end without his "can opener" move.

Let's hope Phaneuf does a better job adjusting.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Is Mike Milbury advocating for cross checks in the back?

The NHL analysts are spending more time analyzing illegal hits that goals. Mike Milbury who is best known for beating the crap out of a fan with a shoe has a fit over a possible suspension for a cross check. I cannot figure out what he is so upset about. But I could never figure out any of the trades he made as Islander GM.

Isn't it time for Don Cherry to move on?

Listening to Don Cherry on CBC makes me cringe. It like listening to a racist or misogynist rant from a cranky old uncle that everyone either patronizes or ignores. You just can't take anything he says seriously. But the entertainment value is already beyond its shelf life. CBC needs to seriously consider moving their highly popular yet irrelevant icon off the air.

Don Cherry speaks for no on other than Don Cherry. He was never much of hockey player or coach. He found his niche on air more as a sideshow then a serious contributor to the game of hockey. The game has evolved tremendously in the past 30 years both good and bad. Yet Cherry totally lives in the past. The evolution has only increased at a more rapid rate in the past 10 years. Everyone recognizes that more needs to be done to protect players' health both while playing the game and post-retirement. Both current and former players are concerned about these issues.

Don Cherry's answer is eliminate the instigator penalty. You see more fighting will reduce head injuries, reduce brain damage later in life, and reduce addiction to alcohol and pain killers. More fighting will help players overcome mental health problems like depression and assist retired players transition into new careers. More fighting will make the game more affordable for families with children playing hockey, will help struggling NHL franchises and bring more NHL teams to Canada. Heck maybe more fighting will get the Toronto Maple Leafs into the Stanley Cup Finals?

This is hockey Don Cherry pines away for. A game that only exists in the past.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reimer steals one

This was a big one. To finish in the top 8 in the East, you need big wins early in the season.

Clearly James Reimer stole this one. You need you're goalie to steal a few wins over the course of the season if you expect to qualify for the playoffs. The Leafs could have been blown in the 1st period when they were out shot 14-4. Reimer stopped all 32 shots tonight and outplayed Carey Price. In a division that includes Price, Tim Thomas, and Ryan Miller, good goaltending isn't going to be enough.

When Francois Allaire, the best goalie coach in the world, believes this guy is the real deal that counts for something. If he is right then the Leafs have a shot for some post-season hockey.

Don Cherry continues to defend fighting

This shouldn't come as a surprise from a man who has made a fortune selling "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em" hockey fights DVDs. I guess he never considered marketing DVDs of great goal scorers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Are the Maple Leafs becoming America's team?

Kessel was unstoppable at the 2005 uner-18s leading, leading the United States to a gold medal. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Every time the Brian Burke signs, drafts or trades for an American born player I see comments online from fans accusing Burke of turning the Leafs into an American dominated team. It happened as recently as yesterday when Burke picked up David Steckel from the Devils, You see Burke is an American and his head coach is American. So there must be a bias right?

So are these accusations accurate or is a little bit of anti-American sentiment from thin skinned Canadian fans?

Well I looked at the Leafs 50-man reserve list, almost all brought into the organization by Burke, to determine if the accusations have any merit. The breakdown is:

Canadian - 56%
American - 24%
Others - 20%

Last season the breakdown by nationality in the NHL was:

Canadian - 54.6%
American - 24.1%
Others - 21.3%

So despite the perception the Maple Leafs are truly go after the best players available and are largely blind to nationality. It makes sense. Brian Burke is too smart of a hockey guy to let personnel decisions to be distorted by nationality.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Frank Mahovlich was almost sold on this day in 1962

On the day of the All-Star Game it was reported that Toronto had sold Frank Mahovlich to Chicago for $1 million and James D. Norris produced a cheque for the amount. On the advice of Conn Smythe, Leafs general manager and head coach Punch Imlach declined the deal, saying that a million dollars does not score goals, and Mahovlich would remain a Maple Leaf.

Maple Leafs pick up David Steckel, Tyler Bozak drops to 5th in depth chart

David Steckel David Steckel #25 of the New Jersey Devils is stopped in the crease in his game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on April 6, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2.

Brian Burke is determined to improve on their #1 weakness from last season, no depth at centre, So today he trades a 4th round draft pick to New Jersey for 29 year old David Steckel. Steckel is not a scorer and in his best season he only scored 19 points. But the former 1st round draft pick is 6'5" and an excellent faceoff man. In fact he led the NHL in faceoff wins with a 62.3% success rate. He is a great penalty killer and has over 100 hits and over 30 blocked shots.

He will step into the centre spot on the 4th line. Which leaves Tyler Bozak who played most of last season on the 1st line in the pressbox. However, I wouldn't expect him to remain in the pressbox for long considering the health status of Maple Leaf centres. Unless he gets traded.

As a side note. David Steckel is best known these days for his blind side hit on Sidney Crosby at the Wnter Classic in January. So far Crosby has yet to return from that hit.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Battle of the Blades 3 - week 2

First off tell me that Todd Simpson as a figure stater doesn't look like Will Farrell in Blades of Glory? So how can you take him seriously out there?

So this week the guest judge was Theoren Fleury from season 2. This is a change from the pattern we saw in seasons 1 and 2. In the past the guest judge alternated between a hockey person and a figure skating person but this week we saw back to back hockey personalities. I can barely handle with opening with Ron Maclean and Kurt Browning provided the usual awkward repartee, stepping on one another's lines and overstating the importance of the show. Maclean compared the night's show to , "opening night of the Stanley Cup playoffs." Except that the Cup final is a real competition.

Violetta Afanasieva & Cale Hulse

The pair danced to "Love to Love" by Jill Scott. Like Cale's performance from last week, he was stiff and expressionless yest Sandra suggested he had grace. Being very helpful Theoren and Jeremy both commented how much they enjoyed watching Violetta which can be interpreted as we didn't like Cale too much. Total score: 16.4.

Marcy Hinzmann-Harris & Todd Simpson

It's hard to take Todd seriously when he resembles Will Ferrell's Chaz Micheal Michaels so much. The ridiculous black tank top didn't help. I cracked up when Jeremy described the performance as, "You make a very good jungle gym." Isn't that the best way to describe Battle of the Blades? Total score: 16.6

Kim Navarro & Russ Courtnall

The pair danced to "Buttons" by the Pussycat Dolls and gave another awful performance. While last season the pairs improved considerably following the first week that wasn't happening in season 3. At the end, Kim tore Russ's shirt open, which added to the awkwardness. Of course Sandra loved it. Total score: 16.5

Elena Breezhnaya and Curtis Leschyshyn

They danced to "The Crow and the Butterfly" by Shinedown. Did I mention this week's theme was passion? Well once again Curtis was stiff and emotionless. Remember the Zombie program from last season. This was Curtis. Elena who is an Olympic gold medalist looked nervous out there or like a fish out of water. Theoren commented on their outfits. I guess even he couldn't think of something nice to say about their skate. Total score: 16.5.

Tessa Bonhomme & David Pelletier

You have to love these two like last year's Russian pair. Tessa refuses to wear the skimpy outfits the other women (check out Marcy last week and Annabelle this week) and sticks to pants. Just like last week, they were among the best pairs. But for some reason Sandra hates it and gave it one of the lowest scores ever (5.3). Jeremy decides to offset her score by giving it the highest score (5.7) of the night. Total score: 16.6.

Marie-France Dubreuil & Bryan Berard

The pair danced to "Lost Together" by Blue Rodeo. Bryan looks like King Kong out there with his ridiculously immense arms and shoulders. His lifts looked nothing like figure skating elements maybe because I pictured him climbing the Empire State Building. Hard to say who was more stiff - Bryan, Curtis or Cale. Some competition. Sandra tried giving him some skating advice. She might as well try to teach her dog to talk. Total score: 16.6.

Tanith Belbin & Boyd Devereux

This was the performance of the night. Finally a pair that improved over the previous week. They danced to Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts". The judges gushed over it. Total score: 17.1

Annabelle Langlois & Brad May

This pair will be a contender with another strong performance, dancing to "Natural Born Lover". Jeremy noted, "I didn't know you could skate that good. You didn't skate that good in hockey," Then he lost interest in Brad and began to salivate over Annabelle. Total score: 16.9.

The Skate Off

On Monday night the bottom two were Elena/Calle and Marcy/Todd. I had to agree. On the skate off Marcy and Todd were visibly nervous and looked even worse than the night before. The judges were unanimous and they were the first casualties.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sadly I predict the Maple Leafs will be out of the playoffs again

The Stanley Cup drought will stretch into season 45 for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not only is that my prediction but for many readers. But there were some strongly contrasting views which likely reflects the die-hard fans and the Leafs haters. 20% believed the Leafs would finish 1st in the East and 30% said the Leafs would finish 15th. That is half the readers out there. Neither is likely to occur.

I don't think that in the improved East Conference and playing in a very strong division, the Leafs will be able to grab a playoff spot. None of the 8 teams that made the playoffs last season look weaker and some appear significantly stronger (Buffalo, Washington, New York Rangers, Philadelphia). Meanwhile New Jersey and New York Islanders looked poised to return to the playoffs. Here are my reasons for another disappointing season.

1. James Reimer

I have a feeling James Reimer will not be able to continue what he accomplished in last season's second half. I believe he will be a very good goalie but still requires seasoning. Unfortunately when he falters you have only Jonas Gustavsson to fill in and a bunch of goalies who have never played in the NHL. You need solid goaltending for a full season to make the playoffs.

2. Tim Connolly and Matt Lombardi

Connolly and Lombardi will help but not likely enough. The Leafs have picked up two players who when healthy are very skilled players. But their health is certainly not assured for this season. Connolly has missed an incredible number of games in his career and couldn't even stay healthy through the Leafs' 9-game preseason schedule. Lombardi happens to be one of the fastest players in the league but is recovering from a serious concussion. He played last night and as expected looked rusty and out of condition. Whether he can return to the player he was is still in question.

3. Phil Kessel

Kessel is not the player I was hoping we were getting. A gifted skater and scorer, Kessel will never be the dominant player he could be in the NHL. He clearly lacks the fire and drive that is needed to be an elite player. He will always be a second line shooter and may rack up a lot of goals over the course of his career but nothing more. Meanwhile the team wastes energy and resources searching for linemates to make him into something he is not.

4. Mike Komisarek

The Maple Leafs defense has been upgraded with the additions of Michael-John Liles, Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner. However, the organization refuses to admit they made a mistake in signing Komisarek and include him in their top six defensemen. He clearly is not. In their final exhibition game it was pointed out that rookie Jake Gardiner's poor coverage led to two Red Wing goals. But he was paired up with Komisarek who supposed to be a stay at home defenseman, something Gardiner is not. Sure he may be good in the dressing room but you need to be good in the ice too.

5. Nazem Kadri

Kadri is only 20 years old so I'm not about to give up on him. However, to make the playoffs the Leafs need him to produce offense for them. But based on the preseason he is not quite ready. He still produces far too many turnovers and insists on trying to skate through NHL defensemen because he was able to do so in the OHL. Until he matures some more he will not be able to make a significant contribution to a playoff drive.

6. Ron Wilson

Whatever he had in his previous coaching stints appears to have eluded him in Toronto. During the preseason the penalty killing still looked weak. With holes in his lineup for the start of the season, the hopes of a strong start appear to be diminishing. I'm ready to move on but when will Burke?