Friday, April 6, 2012

I'm moving!

I've decided to incoporate by Maple Leafs blog with my other blog - Canada, eh?

Since the Curse of Frank Mahovlich lives on I feel compelled to continue to report on the National Tragedy - the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So please check me out at my other location.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Excellent video review of the Maple Leafs rollercoaster 2011-12 season

Filmmaker Dave Kennedy created this 14-minute review of the ecstasy and agony of Toronto Maple Leafs' 2011-12 rollercoaster season. The second half is tough to watch.

Dion Phaneuf as the season's scapegoat

Dion Phaneuf was doomed from the start of the season when Ron Wilson declared he was the best defenseman in the league by a country mile. The statement is as false today as it was back in October. On team with a flawed defensive system and weak goaltending the Leafs defense became progressively worse as the season progressed. Phaneuf was no exception.

Phaneuf wears the "C" and is the highest paid player on the Leafs so he will naturally attract more attention than anyone else on the roster. The media and various blogs are now trying to pin the second half meltdown to weak leadership, ie, Phaneuf is a bad captain.

I don't buy into this thinking at all. There are a lot of questions to be asked about Dion Phaneuf but the Maple Leaf collapse cannot be pinned on him. I don't believe that captains play a big role on professional sport teams. Good players make for winners but putting a "C" on someone's chest isn't going to make everyone else better. I think many agree that Jerome Iginla is a model captain. Yet the Flames won't make the playoffs this year for the third consecutive year and have not made it past the first round in quite a number of years. There were seasons when both Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour were captain that the Leafs missed the playoffs.

Leadership can't come from a single individual, it has to emanate from a group of veterans. That being said Phaneuf may not be a great captain. What we don't know is what goes on in the dressing room. When you continually see player polls suggesting that Phaneuf is the most over-rated player in the league that tells me he's not a popular guy. That sentiment may also exist in the Toronto dressing room. An unpopular guy appointed captain is not likely good for team morale. I saw a recent article suggesting he and Luke Schenn did not get along. Reporters spend a lot of time hanging around with players so some of these stories have some truth to them. He likely is considered management's guy and considering how much Brian Burke has invested in this guy, it's probably true.

The bottom line is that Phaneuf makes $6.5 million (his cap hit) which ranks him 6th among defenseman. He clearly is not worth that kind of money which is probably the major reason why people are so critical of him. The Leafs are trying to build a defense around this guy and he just might not be up for it. But I doubt Burke is the one who can objectively evaluate this asset.

Phaneuf may not be the reason for the Leafs' dismal season but the real issue is whether he can contribute to their success in the future.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New York Islanders act as if Pat LaFontaine never existed

Before every home game this season, the New York Islanders have commemorated their 40th anniversary in the National Hockey League by dimming the house lights and queuing up a nostalgic video.

For five minutes, the Nassau Coliseum scoreboard comes to life. It flickers through a montage of clips, set to stirring orchestral music, that recall the one thing this struggling franchise still has in abundance: a rich history of great moments made possible by great hockey players.

But anyone remotely familiar with the team's history will ask the same question after watching this video: What happened to one of the most famous Islanders of all, Pat LaFontaine?

LaFontaine, arguably the Islanders' best and most popular player in the late 1980s and early 1990s, remains one of their most significant figures. Yet the video is one of several instances when the Islanders seem intent to pretend he doesn't exist—they've left him out of their Hall of Fame and once neglected to mention his presence at a charity bike ride. It's one of the rare instances in sports history where a professional team has taken pains to whitewash a player from its history.

The fracture seems to stem from LaFontaine's 40-day tenure as an unpaid senior adviser to team owner Charles Wang and his resignation from that post on July 18, 2006. That resignation came just hours after Wang had fired general manager Neil Smith and replaced him with the team's backup goaltender, Garth Snow. Wang had hired Smith and LaFontaine on the same day, and LaFontaine said in a recent interview that he disagreed with Wang's decision to fire Smith after less than six weeks.

The ill will stems from LaFontaine's tenure as an unpaid adviser to owner Charles Wang.

LaFontaine elected to step down after failing to persuade Wang to reconsider, he said—not necessarily out of loyalty to Smith, but out of concern for the franchise's direction. "I believe you treat people fairly," he said, "and stand up for what you believe in."


Mike Millbury is Don Cherry with only half a brain

Most people know I just don't care for Don Cherry. I don't care for his xenophobia, right wing political agenda, bully pulpit or out-dated perspective of the game. But I do appreciate his skills as a promoter and populist.

As for Mike Millbury, I'm sorry but I find him revolting. He is a sorry excuse for a hockey commentator and his approach to winning an argument is to bully his opponent or just throw insults. I'm sure he thinks he's being controversial when he is just obnoxious. I thought he was done as a TV personality when he was charged with assulting a 12 year old player but he beat that rap and therefore CBC continues to employ him.

For me he had crossed the line too many times but this week he went after Sidney Crosby. Milbury called Crosby "little goody two shoes" and a "little punk" and "not the perfect gentleman" and implied he's a hypocrite for playing on the edge after his "35th concussion" and punctuated the whole thing by saying, "screw him, hit him."

I can understand that he might be annoyed by Crosby's persona because he knows that Crosby can be pretty chippy on the ice. But he is the game's biggest start and never expects anyone to protect him unlike Wayne Gretzky who always had "on ice security." But he questioned his masculinity and made light of his concussion problems.

Then he makes an apology but I doubt there is any real remorse. The apology is strictly to protect his job. Millbury's style is to verbally bludgeon people similar to what he did on the ice several decades ago. This man has not mellowed and feels he has no need to.

Surely there must be a former player or executive that can fill Millbury's big shoes. That would provide him with more time to bully kids at the arena when his son plays.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 27

The Maple Leafs are clearly just going through the motions of playing out the remainder of the season. Any power ranking above 29 is undeserved. Despite management, the coaching staff and the players committing to winning as many games as possible, nothing could be farther from the truth. What else can they say with so many home games at the tail end of the schedule. People are shelling out $200 or more or a ticket to watch shinny in some cases.

All of a sudden a raft of players are hurt and out of the lineup including James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson, Mikhail Grabovski, Joffrey Lupul, Clarke MacArthur, David Steckel, Mike Brown and Matt Frattin. If the team was fighting for a playoff spot how many of these walking wounded would be still in the lineup? Obviously we will never know. One of the luxuries of playing for a non contender is that you don't have to play injured and you have 5 full months to recover from the season before training camp starts. I can just imagine how many NHL players are playing hurt right now. That number will grow through the playoffs. So playing on a non contender can extend your career. Life isn't so bad if you are a Maple Leafs player.

Fox Sports - 26th (-1)

Air Canada Centre is apparently the new Nassau Coliseum, as four different Maple Leafs have started in goal over the last five games. The fans will have one more opportunity to taunt the home team this Thursday against Tampa Bay.

The Hockey News - 26th (-1)

Fan anger over Leafs' consistent futility at an all-time high; Brian Burke better have long sleeves - and more than a few tricks up them - this off-season.

CBS Sports - 27th (-1)

When they beat Buffalo on Saturday night, the Maple Leafs won on their home ice for the first time since Feb. 6.

TSN - 29th (-2)

Locked in a battle with the Ducks and Islanders for the fourth, fifth and sixth-worst records in the league, with the bottom five eligible to land the top pick in the draft lottery, the Maple Leafs are making a solid bid for positioning with three top six forwards on the shelf the rest of the way.

ESPN - 29th (-4)

After a colossal fall from grace, the only thing the Leafs have to look forward to is denying Buffalo a playoff berth, which could happen as they visit Buffalo Tuesday.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

You can't lose them all

I understand the Leafs beat the Sabres tonight 4-3 ending their 11 game losing streak at home. That is one-quarter of all their home games. I couldn't bear to watch the game. Despite the win the Leafs remain in 26th place and keep a hold on the last lottery pick in this year's amateur draft.

It's hard to understand what has happened to this year's promise. What went wrong and who is to blame. Harold Ballard is no long around. We have one of the top general managers in the league. Richard Peddie has faded from the scene. There is no interference from the MLSE board. There is no management power struggle like the one between Ken Dryden and Pat Quinn. John Brophy has retired coaching in the ECHL. Andrew Raycroft, Jason Allison, Jason Blake, Vesa Toskal, Mark Bell and Jeff Finger are no longer playing for the Leafs.

How could this team become the worst team over the last third of the season?

Has the past 45 years become such a burden on the team that no one can succeed?

The worst of it is that the team has quit. They would rather accept a series of humiliating losses than work to win meaningless games. They really don't deserve the unwavering loyalty of their fans. The glory years were so long ago that likely over half of their fan base wasn't alive when the Leafs last one the Cup and almost 10% of Torontonians weren't born when the Leafs last made a playoff appearance.

In 45 years no Cup appearances and only two post-seasons where the Leafs made it to the final four. We are the Chicago Cubs of hockey. The alleged centre hockey world except they don't know how the play the game very well.

Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, the team couldn't sink any lower, sure enough things do get worse.

Welcome to Leafs Nation.

Kari Lehtonen hits fan's face with puck, gives him towel which is stolen by another fan

Pekka Rinne robs Henrik Zetterberg

Rinne is the reason Nashville is guaranteed a playoff berth every season. This is the type of goaltending the Leafs need to find.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Had enough of the Maple Leafs? Blue Jays home opener is April 9

Maple Leafs fans are getting ugly and for a good reason. Starting with 11 straight losses at home. That's pretty nasty for a team with the highest ticket prices in the NHL. The fans struck back last night cheering for the Blue Jays.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The drive for the bottom five

The best part of the Leafs collapse, Brian Burke has become a mute! No bold predictions, looking for the bogeyman, challenging people to fights, or excuses. Suddenly he no longer speaks. Sweet!

His team left for their spring/summer hiatus already leaving him with no explanation. Because the season isn't quite over yet. Yes this is one to tell the grandkids about. The year the Leafs played a 50-game season and then just disappeared.

You have to feel sorry for Randy Carlyle. He knew this team had problems but he likely had no clue how bad it would be. The pained look on his face behind the bench says it all.

Oh and the Leafs lost to the Flyers tonight by a score of 7-1. This was the highlight of the game for the Leafs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Scouting Report: Spencer Abbott

Each year, the NHL dips into the pool of undrafted collegiate players to bolster their system. The Leafs got the ball rolling by signing 23-year-old left winger Spencer Abbott of the Maine Black. Abbott leads the nation in both points (56) and assists (37). And not surprisingly, he has become one of the top candidate's for this year's Hobey Baker Award as well. In addition to his point production, Abbott's quickness and game-changing ability at the college level are among the assets that have put him squarely on the NHL radar.

At 5'10", 175 lbs, Abbott is not a very big player in college hockey. The attribute that has allowed Abbott to thrive is his tremendous quickness. He can move pucks quickly and dart almost seamlessly through traffic. Abbott's great vision and sense of anticipation can be seen in his transitioning and his innate ability to set up and finish plays, including his own.

Excuse me for not getting too excited about this signing. The Leafs are loaded up with small players who are good skaters. Do they really need another Tyler Bozak? I understand as a free agent the risks are quite low. But can Brian Burke cool it with the nonsense that these signings are the equivalent of a 1st round draft pick? Most collegiate signings are a bust. So I'm getting too excited over this one.

Pretty sad, the Vancouver Canucks released a video asking fans not to riot

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Leafs lose a must lose-game

This season the Maple Leafs might actually be in synch with their fans. Most fans understand that finishing 20th is not better than finishing 28th or 29th. If you aren't going to make the playoffs then dropping in the standings makes the most sense. That increases the possibility of drafting a player who can help you next season. Provided you have hung on to your first pick.

Yet each season over the past few years the Leafs make a run on the standings with too little left in the schedule. Frustrates the hell out of fans since the wins are meaningless. But this year the team has essentially given up on the season. A few guys are playing for spots next year but since of the team is signed for next year why bother. Welcome to the 2012 strain of the blue and white disease. The team has the serious look down pat along with the standard "we are working hard to turn this around." Sure you are.

So tonight was an important game for the Leafs. A win by Carolina along with a win by the Islanders dropped the Leafs to 26th overall and lottery country. Gustavsson was at his worst and got the yank after it was too late to mount a comeback. It would only be fitting if this was his last game at the ACC. The Monster has long ago become a nightmare. The night had a little bit of irony with two ex-Leafs scoring for Carolina. Both Jay Harrison and Tim Brent were journeymen players who mostly spent time with the Marlies. The third goal by Harrison was particularly ugly. He just lofted the puck at the net and it went over Gustavsson's shoulder. Vesa Toskala lives on! Thanks guys for sticking the knife in nice and deep.

So the Leafs are now mathematically eliminated so one set of cliches will be dropped for a new bunch. Next up is Philadelphia. We can only hope for a bloodbath.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 26

The Leafs players say they are now playing for pride which suggests they have none. It's hard to believe that in week 9 Sports Illustrated had the Leafs ranked 5th overall. Seems so long ago now. I hope Burke finds out what's wrong with this team this summer. Otherwise he's next to walk the gang plank.

ESPN - 25th (0)

Playing out the string for a seventh season in a row. If the Panthers hang on to make the playoffs, Toronto will be the only team not to reach the postseason since the 2004-05 lockout.

Fox Sports - 25th (0)

The Leafs have been held to under 20 shots in four of their last five games. Five forwards – Lupul, MacArthur, Brown, Frattin and Kulemin – missed Saturday’s shootout loss to the Rangers due to injury.

The Hockey News - 25th (-3)

Thanks to David Steckel, the one area Toronto isn't mired at or near the bottom of the league in is faceoffs: they're tied for fourth with a 51.9 percent efficiency.

National Post
- 25th (-3)

Head coach Randy Carlyle is 4-6-2 since stepping behind the bench.

CBS Sports - 26th (-1)

He's already shattered his career high in points with 77, and as of Monday, Phil Kessel is just one goal away from setting a new personal best in goals. His next one will be his 37th of the season.

Sports Illustrated - 27th (0)

It's been just a dismal second half for the Leafs, who will miss the postseason for the seventh straight year. Reports out of Hogtown say goalie Jonas Gustavsson is probably headed elsewhere next season. Remember when teams flew all the way to Sweden to court this guy

TSN - 27th (-3)

It's been an epic collapse for the Leafs, winning three of the last 23 games in regulation, but they were especially awful in four games prior to Saturday's loss against the Rangers -- registering a total of 62 shots on goal.

Monday, March 26, 2012

When it comes to the Maple Leafs I can't decide if the glass is half full or empty

The Toronto Maple Leafs are totally baffling and frustrating. We've been watching this wreck being rebuilt over the past 3 years by head mechanic Brian Burke and no one can be sure where we are. Does this team have a solid core of players that needs a few finishing pieces , most of all a solid goalie? Or has the flawed team coming out of the post-lockout period been replaced by different flawed players?

During parts of this season the Leafs have been able to rollover teams with their speed and aggressive play. Other times they have looked limp, timid and confused. Good teams have bad games. Bad teams will have good games. This is a team that will have great games and horrible games.

How much has coaching contributed to all this? Hard to tell. Certainly Brian Burke will never tell. He isn't going to throw his former coach under the bus but we do know that something motivated Burke it replace a couple of assistant coaches in the off season.

One thing is certain, this team needs more than a coaching change to compete. Three years into a rebuild it would be difficult to start from scratch but each piece of this puzzle needs to be examined to see if it is a good fit. The players logging the biggest ice time are Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, but are they really capable of taking on such a load? Some players have been brought in to play a certain role - Colby Armstrong, Tim Connolly, Dave Steckel, Mike Komisarek and Mike Brown. Have they been able to deliver? Some have while others have not.

Remember this is the second youngest team in the NHL. But how much better will some of the 24 to 26 year olds get? Have they plateaued? Do they need more veteran leadership? Do they have the right veterans? Making moves will be tough since 19 players are under contract for next season. It would help if the Leafs could grab a pick in the top 3 in this year's draft. They have had draft picks this high but not kept them. Their last top 3 draft pick was Wendel Clark. We could use another Clark.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Nazem Kadri makes a case

A Brian Burke draft pick finally tries to make the Leafs GM look good. Nazem Kadri helped steal a win from New Jersey along with James Reimer. Kadri tipped a shot off the stick of Jake Gardner into the Devils net for the Leafs' second goal. But his nicest goal was in the shootout. Every shooter had scored except for Patrik Elias. Kadri was the last shooter and he totally fooled Bradeur when he faked with his backhand and pull quickly to his forehand to win the game 4-3.

But the real hero was Reimer who stopped 43 of 46 shots while the Leafs only managed 17 shots on Bradeur. The Leafs only managed 3 shots in the 3rd period and overtime. After blowing a 2-goal lead in the third period at least they didn't let this one get away from them.

Realignment wouldn't have helped the Leafs

Let's face it when you only have 72 points you aren't going to make the playoffs no matter how the teams are aligned. In fact right now the Leafs have the last lottery spot. But realignment which was rejected by the NHLPA would have helped some teams. For instance Buffalo would pretty much be in.

Conference A

87 Boston
85 Florida
84 Ottawa
80 Buffalo
73 Tampa Bay
72 Toronto
69 Montreal

Meanwhile Washington with the same number of points as Buffalo would be pretty much out. Their conference would have been much tougher.

Conference B

99 NY Rangers
96 Pittsburgh
92 Philadelphia
89 New Jersey
80 Washington
75 Carolina
71 NY Islanders

Vancouver's conference would have been the tightest. Five teams would be in fight for 3 spots much like the current situation.

Conference C

95 Vancouver
85 Colorado
84 Los Angeles
84 Phoenix
82 San Jose
82 Calgary
75 Anaheim
66 Edmonton

The final conference would have been the strongest. Winnipeg who still has an outside chance at a playoff spot would have been 16 points back instead of 5. Even Dallas would have been out of the running for the playoffs.

Conference D

100 St. Louis
93 Detroit
92 Nashville
92 Chicago
85 Dallas
76 Winnipeg
70 Minnesota
53 Columbus

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Please no more bullshit Mr. Burke

That Brian Burke is one smooth talker. And boy he likes to talk. Too bad he can't deliver on his many platitudes. He sure has got the excuse machine working on overtime this season. If you ask Burke about the the Leafs' collapse he can come up with lot of reasons. The media pressure, the market in general, the difficulty of the NHL, the fact that players are programmed at birth to hate the Maple Leafs. Burke has blamed a lot of people. By default he blamed Ron Wilson for part of the failure when he excused him. He blames Don Cherry. He blames Dave Feschuk for calling James Reimers mother. Just about everyone but the fans and yes the suits that pay his inflated salary.

Let's look back on what he promised the abused Leafs fans three years ago.

He said the team needed a culture change to eliminate the blue and white disease. Twenty-three new faces in the dressing room but same culture.

He said is this team needed to get tougher. Burke brings in soft players like Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly. Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill are scratches for most of the season then demoted to the Marlies.

The top 6 forwards would be skill guys and the bottom 6 would be plumbers. Well he sort of got the skill guys in place though neither Bozak or Kulemin have proven themselves to be top 6 forwards. As for the plumbers - Connolly and Lombardi, more like dead weight.

He said he was going to build from the net out. Right now James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson don't look any different than Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph the two goalies he inherited. The only thing that is missing is the 185 foot goal bouncing over a goalie's shoulder.

Meanwhile not a single Burke draft pick is playing for the Leafs. Luke Schenn, Matt Frattin James Reimer and Carl Gunnarsson were drafted before Burke arrived. All others youngsters like Jake Gardner, Carter Ashton and Cody Franson came through trades.

I just don't see a plan. Move around draft picks. Try to make a splash with free agency but refuse to give out the long term contracts. Pick up bad contracts from other teams in exchange for some other assets and then burden your coach with underachievers. Impose your own trade deadlines. It's all bullshit.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Leafs return to their losing way

I was a little panicky after the Leafs picked up wins last week against Ottawa and Tampa Bay. The win against Tampa Bay really hurt because had the Lightning picked up the 2 points, the Leafs would be sitting right now in 27th place and in a lottery position.
But hey the Leafs recovered and once again look like the team that anyone can beat. Poor Evgeny Nabkov had some difficulty keeping his head in the game. The 14 shots he faced spread over 60 minutes meant long stretches of inactivity. But then on Monday night they only managed 13 shots against Boston. So things are looking better.

Brawl likes it's 1976

The start of the Rangers and Devils game was an absolute disgrace. Fighting doesn't win hockey games and staged fighting is just plain stupid and puts players at risk. Well how about mass staged fight? Have we not learned anything from the tragic deaths over the summer?

NHL Power Ranking - Week 25

What a typical Leafs season - not good enough to make the playoffs and out of the running for the first pick in the draft. It's the hockey equivalent to purgatory. I still insist that the franchise continues to be punished for torturing Frank Mahovolich until he had a nervous breakdown then trading him away.

But don't get me started.

The Hockey News - 22nd (+4)

Next year's Leafs ought to be hypnotized into thinking they've been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in training camp.

Sportsnet - 23rd (+3)

Now that the Leafs’ season is essentially done, they can get back to winning some games. By beating both Tampa Bay and Ottawa 3-1, the Buds linked their first consecutive victories since Feb. 4-6.

TSN - 24th (+3)

In March, the Maple Leafs' goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson has posted a .926 save percentage, a far cry from their disastrous February (.894 SV%).

ESPN - 25th (-1)

The Leafs have won two in a row and are six points out of eighth, but it might as well be 60.

Fox Sports - 25th (-1)

Though affected by a return from a concussion, John-Michael Liles has two goals, four points, and a minus-10 rating in 22 games since signing a four-year contract extension.

CBS Sports - 25th (+2)

Probably too little, too late, but at least the Leafs were able to snap their losing streak this past week with a couple of wins.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Maple Leafs preparing for their annual spring ritual

Tonight's one-sided, inept effort against the Boston Bruin hopefully ended the silly talk about the Leafs still having a chance to make the playoffs. The six-game series against the Bruins would convince most people that the Leafs roster needs to be blown up. It was embarrassing.

Only 13 shots on net. Tim Thomas must have had difficulty in staying awake. Meanwhile the Bruins fans happily chanted "Thank you Kessel" and who can blame them. No Bruins player has 35 goals but no one in Boston misses him. When the game gets tough, Kessel looks real small out there.

It seems each season the Leafs aren't good enough to make the playoffs but insist on making a futile push to anyway. The only thing they accomplish is to move the team out a lottery pick and the possibility of picking first overall.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Coaching change made to late to salvage Maple Leafs' season

Although it's taken a couple of weeks, Randy Carlyle appears to be having an impact on the Maple Leafs. The team in playing a more physical game with far more discipline. Defensemen are no longer pinching and getting caught up ice. Everyone is defending the net better and they are giving up for fewer goals. This coaching change should have been made last summer although Carlyle was gainfully employed at the time. It's a little odd to be losing shutouts late in the game twice in a row. But playing 59 minutes of scoreless hockey is all positive.

Although these games mean nothing anymore to the Leafs, we are all just looking for some positive signs. So seeing Mikhail Grabovski taken on Chris Neil tonight was certainly a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

For those who have given up on the Leafs' season, here is the goal of the year

Jake Gardner tonight showed why many people think he has special talent. This goal he scored was spectacular.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Blue and White Disease creeps into the Leafs dressing room

Four years ago Brian Burke vowed to cure Toronto of the cursed 'Blue and White Disease' and end of the culture of complacency and losing. Evidently that's not so easy.

Burke literally cleaned out the roster and started fresh. Everyone is gone except Nick Kulemin, Luke Schenn and Mokhail Grabovski and they began with the Leafs just two months before Burke's hiring. But he also built his roster around players that had worn out their welcome with other teams. Calgary was happy to part with Dion Phanuef, same with Boston and Phil Kessel, Buffalo and Tim Connolly, Anaheim and Joffrey Lupul, Montreal and Mike Komisarek, and Nashville and Matthew Lombardi. These players are the core of the team and represent $28.9 million in cap space. What you have is a different group of players who don't compete hard and accept losing. You can't pin this on Harold Ballard, John Ferguson or any other name from the past.

In stead of rebuilding through the draft, Burke chose reclamation projects from around the league. How many are earning their salary? Not too many. All of these players remain seriously flawed. Not what you would want as your core. In addition, they are all at their prime or even a little past. So don't expect any of these players to improve.

Forget about Burke's inability to recruit a number 1 centre or a experienced goalies. They may have helped make the playoffs but the team would have remained flawed and far from being a contender.

I don't doubt for a moment that Burke is a skilled and experienced executive. But this is the most difficult hockey market on the continent. Rebuilding is never an option when lower bowl seats go for $200. Yet no one has successfully found a short cut to building a winner. Burke's experiment has failed and he might as well contemplate ripping apart this roster.

The Curse of Frank Mahovlich continues.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Brian Burke joins Tank Nation

Today Brian Burke announced that tanking was a non-starter. I'm not disappointed at all. It would be inappropriate for an GM in the NHL to indicate that he was no longer interested in winning games. The paying fans would be mad, teams jostling for a playoff spot but with no games against the Leafs would be upset and the league would be furious.

But the reality is that the team is in a free fall. They are now just 3 points out of last place in the East. Their offense has dried up but Burke didn't promote Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne to replace the injured Joffrey Lupul but Carter Ashton, a grinder and future 3rd liner. Ashton was the only meaningful trade made by Burke in 2012. So sitting pat with a lineup that has fallen off a cliff is about all you need to do if you intend on tanking.

Just look at the Leafs remaining games - Boston, Rangers, Philadelphia, Florida, New Jersey, Ottawa, Buffalo (2), Tampa Bay (2), Islanders, Carolina, Montreal. Not too many easy games there. The Leafs are 24th overall right now. If they win 5 of their remaining 13 games they will finish with 78 points. That could easily drop them down to 27th or 28th which is lottery pick region.

It's been 45 years folks since we last kissed Lord Stanley's mug. The Curse continues.

Must have been having a bad day

Steve MacIntyre with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins totally loses it and challenge the entire opposing team to a fight, including the goalie. I'm thinking it's not his first time though. MacIntyre has 161 career penalty minutes in the NHL with another 506 minutes in the AHL, 669 minutes in the ECHL and 447 minutes in the UHL. Not quite known for his scoring.

Put a fork in the 2011-12 season, the Curse continues

So while I was away the losing continued. I see the Maple Leafs lost all four games and walked away with a single point after a shootout loss to Philadelphia. The coaching change has appeared to have changed the style of play but not the losing. That may take more time.

Under Carlyle the Leafs are playing a more discipline style of hockey which has made games closer but has undermined the offense. I presume that this is partly due to the loss of Joffrey Lupul who has been their most consistent forward. Carlyle has played Jonas Gustavsson every single game. I wouldn't read too much into this really. James Reimer is under contract for 2 more years while Gustavsson is a free agent at the end of the season. The Leafs need to decide if they want to resign him so since the season is lost anyway he is having an extended tryout for a roster spot.

The second half collapse came as a bit of a surprise to me and many others. I was certain the Leafs had enough to make the playoffs although some critics were skeptical. The fundamental flaw they saw was inconsistent goaltending and a team that was defensively lax and exposed their goalies far too much. They got by early on with a strong offensive games but as opponents played a tight checking game against them, the Leafs found themselves frequently behind in games taking too many chances.

I still believe that this team has enough to contend with the following changes:

1. Their offensive run and shoot style was very entertaining but didn't bring results. Fans will accept more boring games if it means winning. So they need to continue to tighten up defensively.

2. You cannot win without consistently good goaltending. I don't believe this tandem is the answer. The Leafs are beginning to feel like the Philadelphia Flyers who also can never find the right goaltending combination.

3. The Leafs have too many small forwards which is just one of many contradictions coming from Brian Burke. He is not shy about expressing his philosophy to building a winner but seems to not follow it. Perhaps the Leafs need a better balance between size and speed.

4. There are too many players who are not pulling their weight. Joey Crabb at 8 goals for the season is acceptable when he is being paid just $750,000 for the season. But Tim Connolly at 10 goals being paid $5,500,000 and Matthew Lombardi at 7 goals being paid $3,500,000 is a disaster. Burke has merely replaced someone else's deadwood with his own.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

One down, seventeen to go

Welcome back Randy Carlyle! We missed you.

Yes they played the worse team in the East but going into tonight's game the Leafs played like they were the worst team. There was a difference out there tonight. It may have been the result of the coaching change but the defensive game looked better. Not sure if Randy Carlyle can take credit for that. And as the game wore on the Leafs began to dominate and ended up outshooting the Canadiens 42 to 22. They totally took over the third period as Mikhail Grabovski scored two goals to lead the Leafs to a 3-1 win.

I couldn't help notice that the game was quite chippy and physical. The two teams threw 60 body checks with the Leafs dishing out 29. More noticeable was how the ice time was handed out. The big winner was Dave Steckel who has been averaging 12:12 in ice time per game. Tonight he was on the ice for 15:08. Clarke MacArthur has been averaging 14;57 but tonight he was on the ice for 19:52. Matt Frattin has been averaging 12:30 but tonight it was 18:23. The big losers were Matthew Lombardi at 7:44 (season average 13:17), Joey Crabb at 8:10 (season average 12:49) and Tim Connolly at 14:07 (season average 16:47). You wonder if there will be more changes in ice time in the remaining games.

Look a playoff spot is still a long shot. To reach 93 points which is likely what is needed to make the playoffs, the Leafs would need 13 wins in the remaining 17 games. I'm not optimistic.

Don Cherry strikes back at Brian Burke, the continuing saga

The latest edition of the Burke v. Cherry feud was on Coaches Corner this evening. It got down right silly too. Tonight Cherry criticized Burke for not having any Ontario-born players on the Leafs. He seemed to suggest, as many do, that Burke has an American bias.

Well back in the fall I reviewd the Leafs' 50-man reserve list to determine if the allegation of an American bias was true. It is not. 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%

There are 28 Canadians on the Leafs' reserve list. Now Cherry is no dumby. He knows that the Leafs current roster is loaded with players from Saskatchewan and Alberta so he calls out Burke for having no players from Ontario. And had there been some players from Ontario I'm sure he would have then criticized Burke for not having players from Toronto or maybe Kingston. These arguments are silly. The NHL is an international league and you go after the best players.

There is no anti-Canadian bias in Toronto. Incidently there are Ontario boys on the Marlies including Nazem Kadri, Jesse Blacker, Mike Zigomais, Richard Greenop, Ryan Hamilton and Simon Gysbers. Prospects David Broll, Sam Carrick, Andrew Crescenzi, Jamie Devane, Josh Leivo, Greg McKegg and Stuart Percy are all from Ontario.

Leave it to Cherry to wrap himself with the flag to win an argument.

Ron Wilson's record after contract extension

Brian Burke extended Ron Wilson's contract in late December in order to give his coach a vote of confidence and to remove the lame duck label from him. It was also a message to the dressing room. Well in hindsight the move was a complete failure. Wilson totally lost the dressing room just weeks after that. The media continued to criticize him. The fans were calling for his scalp.

Before the Christmas extension the Leafs' record was 18-13-4. With extension the team was a miserable 11-15-3. To underscore how he had lost the room, for the first time in my memory the team had absolutely no injuries. All the talk of distraction. It seems it was Wilson.

The strangest part of the affair is the rationale provided by Burke which we can all take with a grain of salt. He indicated that the heckling from fans made him fire Wilson. He couldn't "put him through that again." So Burke is suggesting that the fans fired Wilson. Only in Toronto.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A great call by the refs

With just under a minute remaining in last night's game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Minnesota Wild, and the Canadiens leading 4-3, Max Pacioretty streaked up the ice towards the Wild's empty net. He was hooked from behind by Kurtis Foster but, rather than continue to fight through it. He might have gotten a whistle but by diving Pacioretty over sold the infraction. The officials didn't buy it, and play continued.

Then the Wild picked up the loose puck, brought it down to the other end, and, with the Minnesota net still empty, Devin Setoguchi tied the game.

Don't fire Ron least not yet

There really is no point to firing Leafs Coach Ron Wilson at this point of the season. The Leafs are just 5 points back of Winnipeg with 18 games remaining and 2 games in hand on the Jets. Ignoring the past 11 games, their winning percentage in the first 50 games of the season suggests they will not be able to make up the gap.

I guess a miracle turnaround can happen though these things never happen to the team with the "Curse of Frank Mahovlich." Since the Leafs are all but mathematically out of it then there is no point in changing coaches. Let Wilson get his team out of their current funk and see what happens. I believe they are a good team that is not playing to their potential.

During the off season Brian Burke can evaluate his team and decide whether he should move forward with a new coach or the current one. Despite the angst from fans, Burke knows what he is doing. He agrees that the best time to make coaching changes is in the off season. I agree except where you think a mid-season change can salvage your season. This is no longer the case in Toronto.

In the interim if the team wants to avoid the boos and catcalls, they need to pull up their socks.

UPDATE: Well as usual I can never predict what Brian Burke will do. In fact he always seems to do the opposite of what I think he will do. No doubt he is not prepared to write off the season and gave Wilson more than enough time to pull the team out of the slide. I'm predicting it is too late but Burke will likely prove me wrong.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wilson countdown continues

Well there were no chants of "Fire Wilson" but then Ron Wilson didn't have to face a home crowd tonight.

To their credit the Leafs played desperate hockey for the first time in several weeks. They started off strong and scored the first goal in under a minute as opposed to being scored on. They even had a 3-1 lead until late in the first period. But they just couldn't finish off the Blackhawks.

After Corey Crawford was pulled after 20 minutes of hockey, Ray Emery shut the door on the Leafs until 4 seconds remained in the game. The final was 5-4 for Chicago and the Leafs record over the pasts 11 games is just 1-9-1.

Fortunately a bulk of the games in the next few weeks are on the road. No doubt the chants will continue at home. Years of frustration are beginning to boil over. Even when the team was winning there was little optimism in Leafs Nation. Fans had been burned too many times in the past. But don't expect Brian Burke to fire Wilson. He has made it clear in the past that he doesn't like making coaching changes in mid-season. But after their season ends on April 8, all bets are off.

NHL Power Ranking - Week 21

No trades. No minor league call ups. No coaching changes. No wins. But MLSE continues to make money so where is the problem? There never is any urgency to make moves when the bank accounts are full.

Pierre LeBrun at ESPN was very generous. In the middle of a losing streak he bumps up the Leafs in his power rankings.

TSN - 17th (-3)

Their only win in the last nine games was in OT at Edmonton, but the Maple Leafs couldn't pull the trigger on any deadline deals, aside from a prospect swap with Tampa Bay. It may be best not to sacrifice the future, but hard to imagine this group being good enough to reach the playoffs, barring a dramatic upgrade in goaltending performance.

ESPN - 20th (+1)

No Rick Nash, no Evgeni Nabokov ... well, no anything. The Leafs have to get into the playoffs with their current group.

CBS Sports - 21st (-6)

No major moves for the Maple Leafs ahead of the trade deadline, and they're going to continue to roll with James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson in net.

Fox Sports
- 23rd (-3)

Neither James Reimer nor Jonas Gustavsson has been able to stop the Leafs’ skid. Losers of eight of nine and three points out of a playoff spot with 20 games remaining, Toronto faces an important next two weeks.

The Hockey News
- 23rd (-7)

February swoon has local media, fans clamoring for all kinds of change, but Leafs eschew quick fixes and stay the course

Return of 'Tank Nation'

Lat night's 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers was really the last "must win" game of the season for the Maple Leafs. Their season is over despite not being mathematically out of a playoff berth. The Leafs only sit just 4 points out of 8th spot in the East but are also just 4 points out of a lottery pick in the draft. Considering the Leafs have only one win over the past 10 games, it's obvious which direction they are moving in.

I have been saying all along that teams in the East will need at least 93 or 94 points to make the playoffs. That has not changed. Until 10 games ago, the Leafs have been pretty close to a 93 point pace. With only 19 games remaining, it is unrealistic to expect that they can make up the lost points over the past 10 game stretch. They would have to accumulate 1.47 points per game over the remaining 19 games to finish with 93 points. Meanwhile, the Rangers with the best record in the NHL earn only 1.41 points per game. To expect the Leafs to outperform the Rangers for almost a 1/4 of the season is just not possible.

So all that's left is the usual finger pointing and political spin by management. Brian Burke knows what's wrong but isn't going to publicly state it. Some of it is obvious. They have no legitimate #1 centre. Their goalies are inconsistent and now suffer from lack of confidence. Their defensive game is a mess. This bullshit about pressure is a smokescreen. There is pressure everywhere. More pressure than Toronto. Coaches and managers need to win because elsewhere it affects the bottom line. Not here. Elsewhere players get booed without mercy when they don't perform. Not here. Look at the long list of under performers this season - Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Nik Kulemin, Luke Schenn, James Reimer, Mike Komisarek, Colby Armstrong, Cody Franson and Dion Phaneuf (gasp yes even him). None of these players are even close to earning their generous contracts. Either is Ron Wilson who is one of the highest paid coaches in the league.

At this point why bother to make a good show at just missing the playoffs like the past 3 seasons. Let's shoot for a good draft pick.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rick Nash in a Maple Leafs uniform remains a possibility

It is not surprising that Rick Nash was not traded yesterday. The asking price was high and the number of teams being considered was small. It was too much of a buyer's market on a day where normally sellers call the shots. Teams were not prepared to hand over so many assets in the middle of the season without a mechanism for replacing the lost talent. This is the kind of deal that is made in the summer which allows a GM to replace players moved in the trades through other moves and free agency and address any cap issues since Nash is one of the highest paid players in the league.

This opens the door for Brian Burke to make a better offer and grab this guy. We know this is Burke's kind of player - big, physical and great hands. Nash is a former 40-goal scorer and only 27. The only concern is the big salary and the asking price. There is no doubt the cost would include Jake Gardner which sets off cries of pain through Leafs Nation. I'm inclined to do it.

There are few impact players that become available and when they do you go for them. This isn't so much about Gardner but about Nash. Sure Gardner has some special skills but no one will know if he will ever become a complete player like Nash.

Back in 2006 the Edmonton Oilers offered Toronto Chris Pronger for Tomas Kaberle and Alex Steen. I liked that deal but John Ferguson and most of Leafs Nation did not. I was not a Steen fan and although I loved Kaberle he was not an impact player. Pronger was just 6 years post a Hart Trophy and the only defenseman to have won the Hart since Bobby Orr won it in 1972. Instead he went to Anaheim where he won a Stanley Cup the following season.

The situation is totally analogous. Pronger wanted to play in a big market and for a contender. The Leafs were on his list of teams that he would agree to play for. That's where Nash is right now. He will make a difference.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The NHL trading dud line has passed

That was pretty boring.

But it shouldn't come as a surprise. NHL parity has made the trading deadline a non-event with the exception of the Canadian sports media who spend an entire day speculating about trades that will never happen. Few teams are sellers because most teams still have a shot at the playoffs. So with a ratio of 1 in 5 between sellers and buyers, the few players on the market on grossly over-priced. Of course this is fine with those players because most do not want to change teams this time of the year.

Teams fighting to make the playoffs are not going give up young players, prospects or draft picks just for the privelege of getting their ass kicked in the first round of the playoffs. Only a serious contender will actually over pay this time of year but only to add some depth in their lineup. If you have a hole in your lineup, convention wisdom suggests that this is not the time of the year to address it. Brian Burke has been saying this for some time.

The Leafs did make two deals involving minor leaguers. They shipped Keith Aulie to Tampa Bay for Carter Ashton. Aston is a 6'3", 205 lb winger playing for Norfolk, Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate. He has 19 goals and 16 assist in 56 games. He was Tampa's 1st round pick, 29th overall in 2009 and is the son of former NHL journeyman Brent Ashton. This seems to make sense for both teams. The Lightning need to rebuild their defense and goaltending. For the Leafs, the organization is deep at defense position with Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker both ready to compete for jobs with the Leafs. Ashton is a big physical winger, something the Leafs need. He has the potential to be a 2nd or 3rd liner.

The other deal also involved minor leaguer. The deal was with the Ducks, sending forward Dale Mitchell to Anahiem in exchange for blueliner Mark Fraser. Neither have done much in the pro career although Mitchell is 2 years younger. The Leafs have given up on Mitchell who has played almost as many games in the ECHL as in the AHL over the past two seasons. He was also a Ferguson draft pick so I expect the current regime does not feel it has to invest too much time waiting for him to develop. Fraser provides the Marlies with some depth at defense with the loss of Aulie as Burke expects the Marlies to do deep in the AHL playoffs.

10 worst trades in Toronto Maple Leafs history

Reprinting the post in honour of the NHL trading deadline. Let's hope Brian Burke doesn't add to the list.

10. Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft (2006)

The moment heard about this trade I hated. At the World Juniors earlier that year Rask had been named the top goalie at the tournament. Raycroft was coming off a season where his save percentage was a dismal .879 and just eight wins in 30 starts. What was there to like? And there have been quite a few goalies who after great rookie season have had their careers crash and burn. The classic example was Jim Carey. And of course my worst fears came true. This past season Rask has become one of the top goalies in the league and pushed the previous season's Vezina Trophy winner to the bench as a back up. As for Raycroft, he is will finish his career as a backup too.

9. Fredrick Modin to Tampa Bay for Corey Cross (2001)

Modin developed into a solid winger for Tampa Bay and is still playing in the NHL. The Leafs lacked that big winger to play with Sundin until they signed Gary Roberts as a free agent. Cross was one of the largest soft players ever to play in the NHL. He was a frequent healthy scratch with the Leafs and booed by the fans.

8. Larry Murphy to Detroit for future considerations (1997)

Larry Murphy had a stellar career stretching 21 seasons. He was on 4 Stanley Cup teams and inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004. In 1995 after being named to the second-team All-Stars Murphy was traded to his hometown Leafs from the Penguins for Dmitri Mironov and a second round pick. Leafs fans booed Murphy, the highest paid player on the Leafs, mercilessly as a scapegoat for the lack of success the team was having. So they literally gave him away and paid one-third of his salary too. Fortunately for Murphy he was able to win 2 more Cups with Detroit.

7. Kenny Jonsson, Sean Haggerty, Darby Hendrickson and a 1st Round Pick in 1997 (Roberto Luongo) to the New York Islanders for Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith (1996)

I should tell you that I ignored the fact that the draft pick sent to the Islanders turned out to be Luongo. There is no guarantee that the Leafs would have picked him. Had the Leafs actually traded to Luongo to New York, then this trade would be much higher on the list. After trading Wendel Clark when his market value was at its peak (how often have the Leafs done that) they bring back the broken down winger two years later. The trade was only to appease the fans who fell in love with the hard working Clark. Leaf fans have always favoured rugged players over skilled players which is why Clark was so much more popular than Sundin. Meanwhile, while Haggerty was a bust and Hendrickson was back in Toronto the next season, Kenny Jonsson was a fixture in New York for a decade. He played 597 games for New York, recording 232 points, many of them in a time where quality Leafs blueliners were few and far between. Mathieu Schneider is the only reason this trade wasn't higher on this list. But he couldn't make up for the mediocre play of Clark.

6. Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenville to the Colorado Rockies for Pat Hickey and Wilf Paiement (1979)

This was a trade that began the franchise’s descent into the hell that was the 80s, a decade in which the Leafs had a record of 301-481-98 between 79-80 and 89-90 (a win percentage of .398, during a time in which surrendered 660 more goals than they scored). It is also widely reported that the deal by Punch Imlach was intended to hurt Leafs captain Darryl Sittler and make him waive his no trade contract. Only in Toronto would a personal vendetta come before the success of the club. At first glance, the stars in this trade worked out well. Toronto got 187 games and 203 points out of Paiement, while Colorado got 142 games and 141 points from McDonald. Paiement even recorded a 40 goals and 97 points in his first full season in Toronto. But when he dropped to 18 goals and 58 points the following seasons, the Leafs traded him to Quebec for Miroslav Frycer and a 7th rounder. Yes, that’s right; Miroslav Frycer was all the Leafs had to show for dealing heart-and-soul Lanny McDonald. This trade might have moved up a notch or two on this list if the Rockies had gotten more out of McDonald. But he moved on to Calgary where he scored 66 goals one season and a Stanley Cup.

5. Darryl Sittler to the Philadelphia for Rich Costello, a 2nd Round Pick in 1982 (Peter Ihnacak) and Future Considerations (Ken Strong) (1981)

I'm still angry about this deal. The Leafs traded their captain, their best player since Dave Keon, and a man just 84 points away from becoming the first Toronto player ever to record 1,000 points in a Maple Leaf uniform. They got garbage in return.

4. Russ Courtnall to the Montreal for John Kordic and a 6th Round Pick in 1989 (Mike Doers) (1989)

Thank you Mr. Stellick! The Leafs needed a goon, and the Habs were interested in Russ Courtnall. Since Leaf Head Coach John Brophy didn't think much of the smooth skating Courtnall the deal was made. Kordid got 446 penalty minutes and 16 points in 104 games as a Leaf, while Courtnall gradually improved over parts of four seasons with the Habs. He ended up with 82 goals and 195 points in 250 games for Montreal. Meanwhile, the Habs turned Russ Courtnall into Brian Bellows, who won a Stanley Cup with the Habs. And Courtnall kept on being a decent offensive player in the NHL. Kordic wasn't really a hockey player. To add insult to injury he wore #27 with the Leafs - the number worn by Frank Mahovlich and Darryl Sittler. On August 8, 1992, after overdosing on drugs and being involved in a struggle with police at his hotel, Kordic died.

3. Bernie Parent and a 2nd Round Pick in 1973 (Larry Goodenough) to the Philadelphia for a 1st Round Pick in 1973 (Bob Neely) and Future Considerations (Doug Favell) (1973)

It's not every day you get to trade away a Hall of Fame goalie. Bernie Parent was a a young Toronto goalie that left the club to play in the World Hockey Association, which instantly made him an outcast in the eyes of Leafs management and ownership. Having played previously in Philadelphia with the NHL’s Flyers and the WHA’s Blazers, he requested a trade to Philadelphia. His request was granted… and in his first two seasons with the Flyers, Bernie Parent won two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe trophies as the MVP of the playoffs, and two Vezina trophies. So he was the best goaltender in the league, and the most valuable player on the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. Doug Favell meanwhile was a complete bust. The Leafs didn't get much value out of the draft pick. Bob Neely posted decent numbers as a defenseman, but after four seasons and change he was gone.

2. Randy Carlyle and George Ferguson to the Pittsburgh for Dave Burrows (1978)

Jim Gregory was a very good GM for the Leafs but this trade was a stinker. He was of a mind that Burrows was the missing piece needed to carry the Leafs to the Stanley Cup. Dave Burrows did absolutely nothing for Toronto. In just over 2 seasons, he recorded 32 points in 151 games, and then he was gone. But Randy Carlyle was the true gem of this deal. He played 397 games as a Penguin, recording 323 points. He won the Norris trophy recording 83 points in 1980-81. Oh so how did the Leafs do in the playoffs with Burrows in their lineup? Over two seasons they were 2-7. And no Stanley Cups.

1. 1st Round Pick in 1991 to the New Jersey Devils for Tom Kurvers (1989)

The mother of bad trades thanks to GM Floyd Smith. Once again the GM was convinced that journeyman defenseman Tom Kurvers was all the Leafs needed to compete for a Cup. Although earlier in the list I ignored a draft pick that turned out to be Roberto Luongo, this trade was a straight exchange for first round pick so it is hard to ignore. Similar to the Kessel trade, Smith did not anticipate when he made the trade that the team would collapse the following season. But they did. In fact the Leafs were pretty competitive during the 1989-90 season with a potent offense led by Gary Leeman's 51 goals. The Leafs were bad in 1990-91… so bad that they were on pace to finish last in the NHL behind the Quebec Nordiques. And Toronto was feeling the sting of Kurvers not working out as expected. So the Leafs traded prospect Scott Pearson and a pair of 2nd Round picks to Quebec for Aaron Broten, Lucien Deblois and Michel Petit. The trade was solely so they wouldn't finish last overall and giving the Devils the right to draft Eric Lindros. So New Jersey ends up picking third and has to settle for Scott Niedermayer. Niedermayer was only one of the best defenseman to play the game. He's the only player in hockey history to have won a Stanley Cup (4 to exact), Olympic gold medal (2), World Championship, World Cup, Memorial Cup and World Junior title. He won the Norris Trophy in 2004 and the Conn Smythe in 2007.

Who is to blame?

Last season the Maple Leafs were sunk after early in the season when the went on a losing stretch where they only won 4 out of 22 game. This season they appear to be in a similar stretch right now having lost 8 out 9 games with no end in sight. You cannot disappear for a quarter of the schedule and remaining in playoff contention.

So who is to blame? Ron Wilson who is always more than willing to throw his players under the bus as clearly dumped on his goalies. By doing so it is unlikely they will come around real soon. But Wilson is only finding cover for his own shortcomings:
  • His team seems poorly prepared at the start of games.
  • The Leafs' defensive coverage is weak.
  • The team is unable to adapt to defensive coverage thrown up by opposing coaches.
  • The players appear to have given up.
  • The goalies lack confidence and consitency.

This all points to the coaches and no one else. These are the same problems the Leafs have had since Wilson arrived 4 years ago. Sure every season their are stretches where the team plays well but you have to evaluate their performance over the course of 82 games not 20 or 30.

Some people believe this lineup is weak and that earlier in the season their were playing over the heads. I disagree. This is a strong enough lineup to at least make the playoffs but the coaches can't seem to get them there.

Now Brian Burke shares some of the blame for where the team is. Not just because he won't fire Wilson. It was solely his decision to go into the season with inexperienced goalies. Burke insisted he was happy with his goaltending. When James Reimer left the lineup with a concussion Burke chose not to pick up another goalie as insurance. He now finishes the season with his goaltending in struggling to put in just one strong period.

To his credit Burke made some excellent trades to pick up strong performers such as Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardner. He picked up Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi for nothing. He has avoided long-term contracts that can come back to bite you. He was quick to unload unfavourable contracts that he inherited including Jason Blake and Jeff Finger. But he has only replaced them with other bad contracts in Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly and Colby Armstrong, players who have provided very little since signing with Toronto.

Firing his coach this week could possibly turn this thing around pretty quickly or it could have no impact at all. But landing an impact player might just cost him to much and doing nothing isn't an option unless you are ready waive the white flag. This team need some playoff exposure, even if it's on 4 to 6 games.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What a difference a year can make

Last year this time the Maple Leafs were well out of the playoff picture but playing like contenders. There was no pressure. Despite the fact that the team was officially out of the playoffs until later in the spring most players were playing for next season.

This season is so much different. For most of the season the Leafs have been in the top 8 in the East. The team is expecting to make the playoffs and those expectations add additional pressure that wasn't there last season. The team has far more depth and the only rookie currently in the lineup is Jake Gardner. Still the Leafs are the second youngest in the league and cracks are beginning to show as that pressure is wearing some of the players down particularly the goalies.

There may be too many holes to salvage the season. But I expect Brian Burke will try to salvage it without mortgaging the future. Something that previous Leafs GMs did not hesitate to do. So perhaps some cheap veterans might be brought in to help. Hopefully a goalie. It won't be Rick Nash but some size up front would help.

This past 2 weeks has exposed the Leafs weaknesses. Shaky goaltending seems to be paramount. Coach Wilson has the team playing a freewheeling style which has been very entertaining but has left his goalies overexposed. Yet when the tighten up defensively as they did last night against San Jose, the scoring chances are reduced to a trickle. The Leafs small forwards depend need lots of skating room to be effective. They aren't going to muscle their way to the net.

So in the next few days their may be some help coming but that won't necessarily resolve the fundamental weaknesses. At this point everyone would just be happy with a playoff berth. Strange things can happen, last night Winnipeg jumped from ninth place in the East to third.

Nasty fight between Mike Brown and Jim Vandermeer would not be good for your face

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Will the Leafs make the playoffs?

After each 10 game block I look at the progress the Leafs have been making over the period. Most people agree that teams will need about 94 points to grab a playoff berth. That works out to 11.5 points for every 10 games. The Leafs have not earned over 11 points in a 10-game block since the start of the season. They continue to hang onto that last spot in the East because of their strong start to the season. Without goaltending help I can't see them going on a stretch of hockey that will push them above 11 points. The have been a .500 team over the past 50 games with exactly 50 points.

Games 1-10 = 15 points
Games 11-20 = 9 points
Games 21-30= 11 points
Games 31-40 = 10 points
Games 41-50 = 11 points
Games 51-60 = 9 points

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

All these fake trade rumours are getting annoying

You know Pierre McGuire doesn't have 15 twitter accounts. They are fake accounts by people trying to create some mischief. Even "reputable" media people are getting sucked in. Eklund who is the grand-daddy of fake NHL trade rumours is more reputable then so of the current sources.

So Rick Nash isn't coming to Toronto. He probably won't be traded this week at all. Luke Schenn isn't going anywhere either. Brian Burke doesn't make many moves this time of the year because he doesn't like over paying (Kessel was picked up during the off season).

All these supposed insiders don't exist. Teams aren't passing on information about confidential discussions to the media. None of these rumoured deals ever happen but everyone continues to treat each new one as the next big blockbuster. But the demand for hockey news is so great it spawns fake stories which everyone gladly accepts in the absence of anything real. Just look how the sports networks in Canada dedicate the entire programming on February 27 (the NHL trading deadline) to report and dissect deals.

By the way I hear the Leafs are trying to flip Nazem Kadri and a second round pick for Cory Schneider. I've got that from a reliable source. Honest.

The Leafs' goaltending is getting pretty frustrating

The 4-3 overtime loss can't be blamed entirely on Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson. The defense was making those all too familiar mistakes - leaving opponents uncovered, giving away the puck or falling down on plays. There were so many odd man rushes in this game you would have thought the Leafs were playing one more short all game long.

But the goaltending was exceptionally frustrating. Gustavsson would make a couple of fabulous saves to bail out his defense and then shortly after give up a soft goal.

The second Devils goal scored by David Clarkson wasn't much of a shot but it got through Gustavsson's legs anyway.

Then the Leafs goalie makes a series of saves like this one on Petr Sykora to allow the team to come back and tie the game

Then he lets a shot from Alexi Ponikarovski through his legs to give the Devils the lead again.

Then he is brilliant through the third period including this amazing save on a breakaway by Ilya Kovalchuk which allows Phil Kessel to tie the game again with the goalie pulled.

Perhaps the worst goal of the night had to have been the game winner by Mark Fayne who shot the puck from the point. The shot was going wide of the net but Gustavsson who tried to block the shot had it go off his pads through his legs again into the net.

I've said it over and over again, you can't make the playoffs without solid goaltending.

Coyotes will be in Hamilton Kansas City Quebec City Seattle staying in Glendale

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 18:  Adrian Aucoin #33 of the Phoenix Coyotes walks past fans onto the ice for warm ups to Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Arena on April 18, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The NHL says there has been no sale of the Phoenix Coyotes.

But Dave Zorn of Metro Networks Arizona had reported that former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison was approved by the NHL to purchase the Coyotes. Former Coyotes star, Jeremy Roenick, is reportedly part of Jamison's group. Jerry Reinsdorf may also be involved.

As in the past money may be the issue that kills the deal. The NHL was to recover the money they put into the franchise and no seems to want to pay that price for a team in the Arizona desert. There can be no concession of the type promised Matthew Hulsizer as they created all kinds of legal issues and potential law suits.

Recently Seattle had jumped ahead of Quebec City as a possible location for an NHL franchise. The city has been discussing the possibility of building a new arena to house both NBA and NHL teams. No owners have been identified though.

Members of the Phoenix Coyotes Coalition are saying they would celebrate when they heard it from the NHL, the current owners of the team.