Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out With Old, In With The New: The Easy-Come, Easy-Go 2008 Maple Leafs

JFJ: Fired January 22ndCliff Fletcher: Hired as interim General Manager, January 22ndWade Belak: Traded to Florida, February 26th Hal Gill: Traded to Pittsburgh, February 26thPaul Maurice: Fired May 7thRon Wilson: Hired June 10thJamal Mayers: Acquired from the St. Louis Blues for a 3rd round pick, June 19thLuke Schenn: Drafted 5th overall at the 2008 Entry Draft, June 20thDarcy Tucker: Becomes Free Agent after his contract is bought out, June 24thKyle Wellwood: Placed on waivers and claimed by the Vancouver Canucks, June 24-25thAndrew Raycroft: Becomes a Free Agent after his contract is bought out, June 27th Curtis Joseph: Returns to Toronto as a Free Agent, July 1stJeff Finger: Signs 4-year, 3.5 million dollar contract as a Free Agent, July 1stNiklas Hagman: Signs 4-year, 3-million dollar contract as a Free Agent, July 1stMikail Grabovski: Acquired from Montreal, July 3rdJonas Frogren: Signs 2 year contract, July 9thRyan Hollweg: Acquired from the NYRangers for a 5th round pick, July 14thBryan McCabe: Waives his NTC and is traded to the Florida Panthers, after receiving his 2-million dollar signing bonus, September 2ndMike Van Ryn: Acquired from Florida, September 2ndNikolai Kulemin: Scores his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, as the Leafs begin the regular season with a 3-2 win in Detroit, October 9thAlex Steen: Traded to St. Louis November 24thCarlo Colaiacovo: Traded to St.Louis, November 24thLee Stempniak: Acquired from the St. Louis Blues, November 24thBrian Burke: Introduced as the President and General Manager, November 29thMats Sundin: Becomes a Free Agent July 1st. Signs with the Vancouver Canucks, a one-year, 8.6 million dollar contract, December 18th

And finally, a short video review of 2008.

Have a safe and happy New Year everyone! We'll see ya soon.
Go Leafs Go, in 2009!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Spirit

Happy Holidays, Leaf fans! Well, it's not so happy being a Leaf fan maybe, but what about that incredible turkey! And the stuffing! I nearly threw up. An 8-2 loss on the night before Christmas Eve and then a 4-1 loss to the worst team in the NHL on Boxing Day is an indication of a team, and its coach, whose hearts, they say, must be three sizes too small. Yet, the Who's down in WhoNation continue to sing, "Welcome Tavares, welcome Tavares,". Let us not let these last 2 losses dampen our spirits, yet let us hope that this is indeed the low point of our season.

First off, something to celebrate: I'd like to acknowledge and promote Vintage Leafs, an excellent pictorial blog that I am really enjoying. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out. There's tons of great old pics of the Leafs like this one and this one and this one and this one and this one and lots more. Really awesome stuff.

The Leafs' Boxing Day Blowout is summed up nicely here by FarAwayLeaf:

The formula is there; a player reaching a milestone, any opposing player from within 500 miles of Toronto playing that needs their first goal/point, long opposing team losing streak, Toskala in net = GUARANTEED LOSS."

Seems to be that way. There's a brilliant post here by Steve@HockeyAnalysis deconstructing the broken shell that is the very shaky Vesa. Thus far for December, Toskala has let in a goal in the first 5 minutes 8 times in 11 starts, and 9 times out of 11 Vesa let in the first goal of the game. It's a wonder that the Leafs were able to win 5, nearly half, of those 11 games. Finally, it's not helping Vesa's cause when he lets in goals that are, not just the first goal of the game, not just within the first five minutes, but also, so mindbogglingly atrocious you have to wonder how it even happened!

"It hit the inside edge of my blocker," Toskala said.

Okay, that explains how a bad angle, lazy wrist shot that's going wide ends up in the net. But it doesn't explain why. That goal was not the bizarre fluke it seemed, but the result of a lack of focus and intensity. The puck doesn't just "hit the inside edge" of a blocker. Toskala's precision is off, his effort is sloppy, his attention to detail and execution is non-existent until the red light goes on behind him. It's one thing to be cool and casual about pressure, but what I'm seeing from Toskala is the same affliction that possessed most of last year's dressing room: a complete lack of competitive spirit. Last year's Leafs were absent of any enthusiasm for success. Right now, Toskala is displaying a similar, inverted attitude; an alarming disassociation with his own failure.

Now I don't want to dump all of Toronto's problems on easy-going Vesa. While poor goaltending can certainly be deflating, Wilson has suggested Toskala's play didn't effect the team's morale. But if it isn't Toskala's poor play, then what? Something is missing from the Leafs the last 2 games, whether it's preparation, conditioning, motivation... All key areas that are the responsibility of the Coach or the Captain.

Hmmm. Maybe I'll just leave it at that. The Leafs play Sunday against Washington so it will be interesting to see if Wilson starts Toskala or if Pogge gets another chance. I'd like to see Toskala get the same treatment Ian White, Matt Stajan, and Jason Blake have received at various times this season. Players seem to learn something from watching a game or two from the pressbox. 

It will also be interesting to see if the Leafs come out fired up and confident or not. The last time they played Washington, at the beginning of this month, the were coming off of another pair of terrible losses to San Jose (5-2) and Phoenix (6-3). That time the losing streak hit three as they lost to the Capitals, 2-1, and worse, lost Luke Schenn at the same time. A third straight defeat this time could say as much about the Coach as it does the goaltending. Will they rediscover their competitive spirit or will the holiday spirit continue?


It seems Toskala will get the start tonight. Says Wilson:

"Vesa's our No.1 goalie and we have to stick with him and help him find his game again."

Meanwhile, Matt Stajan is questionable after he injures his freakin' sexy-eyes with a soccer ball of all things. Wrong, Stajan! Wrong. That's what your rolled up socks are for. Bad Stajan. Play with your soft toys that won't hurt you, and for heaven's sake, always wear a visor! Always. Even in the shower. It's your freakin' EYES! You are replaceable, but they are not!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How The Vesa Ruined Christmas

What the hell is wrong with Vesa, eh? I really wanted to write a post about Jeremy Williams and how awesome he is and how he should be in the NHL for the rest of the year (The kid can score, he's got an awesome shot - if the Leafs don't have room for him I'm sure somebody else does). I wanted to do a post about Antro and how he's been on the plus side for 2 straight (I was hoping it would be 3). I also really wanted to do a post about Pogge and how bright his future looks as long as they don't rush expectations. But no. It's got to be about The Vesa. It's always got to be about Vesa. If it isn't about Vesa, it's about Cujo, and that's still indirectly about Vesa. Even a post about Pogge would be a post about Vesa! 

7 goals in 31 minutes and 35 seconds on 27 shots.


Wow, I can't believe I typed that. Anyways, the NHL has some sort of no movement thing through the holidays, and Burke said something about not trading players from Dec. 9th until who knows when, so it looks like you're safe for now Mr. the Vesa.

Perhaps the entire team was at fault for having a bad night and for not showing enough heart to stop the onslaught. But an 8-2 home ice disgrace, juxtaposed with the previous night's stellar debut of Justin Pogge in a 6-2 win on the road, puts the focus directly on the goaltender. Not Joseph. We've already lost interest in him. He's the highest paid guidance councillor in Toronto. We're lookin' at the guy who gave up 7. The Vessel. The Vuck-Tank.

Whoah. Angry.

Ya... well, an 8-2 drubbing - on the eve of Christmas Eve for heaven's sake! - will do that to ya. A friend of mine was given tickets today to tonight's game. It was a surprise gift, a Christmas present, I guess, from a co-worker who appreciated his efforts at work this week. They were gold seats, section 119 right at centre ice, and he was super excited. He said he was gonna bring his Maple Leafs banner and wave it every time they scored a goal or threw a big hit. It's probably the only game he'll go to this year. I kept thinking of him as the score got worse and worse, and how tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and he'll be back at work, busting his ass and giving it all he's got for not very much, just puttin' food on the table for him and his Dad, his Christmas present already spent on a garbage hockey game and a ridiculous effort from the home team.

I'm so mad.

If I had an axe, I'd swing it. Someone needs to go. I vote for the Vesa. Give the job to Pogge. Not just the next game (that should be obvious), how 'bout make a permanent move. We go with the Pogge, win or lose. We're not here to win championships, we're here to develope a culture of success or something like that. Spirit is Everything, right? Well, Vesa has ruined my holiday spirit, and I don't really care what we get in return, if we can stuff him in a sack and ship him off to nowhere by the New Year, that's fine by me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I've had a chance to relax a bit. Let's look at some of the reaction from tonight's game:

"He didn’t have a chance on any of those goals,” Wilson said. “I don’t think it was fair that the fans got on him."

"Vesa doesn’t deserve that,” defenseman Tomas Kaberle said.

Hmmm. Maybe I've over reacted a little. What about it Toskala?

Toskala seemed understanding when asked how he felt about getting booed.

“Fans are paying good money to come watch us and we didn’t play very well".

I'd have to agree with that. Another way to put it would be to say, non-fans are paying good money to spread a little holiday cheer to Leaf fans, and then you went and ruined it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Go Screw Yourself, Princess!

Eventually we'll stop talking about Mats. Very soon, I expect. For now, I just wanted to add my response to DGB's last post. This was, in fact, going to be just a comment to his post, but I didn't want the length of my response to overcrowd his work so I've posted it over here.

I think it's interesting that Dimanno of all people has scooped 2 exclusives with Sundin since the Festival Cup in September, which she also covered.

Each time her contention was that Sundin's pride was hurt and needed healing but was still keeping Toronto open as an option and that the Leafs weren't showing enough interest in bringing him back (or in generating a postive response to his return):

Yet his interest is clearly perked when informed about one well-connected hockey journalist who reported yesterday that coach Ron Wilson believes Sundin will return as a Leaf at some point this year.

"Wilson said that? But did he say he wants me to?''

Here's another quote from Sundin that explains why he didn't select the Leafs, from way back in May (not that you can believe anything he might say beyond a 3 month limit):

"First of all, for me to come back to Toronto, Toronto has got to show they really want me to come back, too," Sundin later added. "So we'll see what happens." 

Cliff might have made a pitch for Sundin, but he never got the green light. By the time Mats had sorted things out, the "new guy" was in town and Burke has no loyalty to Sundin. Door closed.

Finally, go screw yourself, princess is absolutely fair, because that's exactly what happened. Mats screwed with Mats. His indecision and melancholy has made him appear passive and weak. His inability to rescue the team from disaster last year is evidence of a lack of assertiveness and character. Almost nothing is left of the team that he once led, and for good reason. Now I have nothing against a Captain wanting to go down with his ship in a vain attempt at turning it around and getting it back on course, but when the ship sinks to the bottom of the ocean, I also have no problem with the owner of the boat company telling the Captain "go screw yourself if you think you're gonna get a raise".

Mats screwed Mats when he alone decided that the Leafs still had a chance to make the playoffs and then led the team to a colossal train wreck at season's end. Rather then assume responsibility, Sundin then became a silent recluse while those who served under his leadership, Maurice, Tucker, Wellwood, McCabe, one by one were made to walk the plank and thrown overboard. The Captain, who nobly went down with the ship, then told us he wasn't coming back unless we convinced him otherwise.

I think the appropriate response from Leaf management would've been to say, "Mats we really appreciate everything you've done for us, and truly respect your talents as a hockey player and your class as a person, but, seriously, this time, go screw yourself, princess".

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Brutal!

"My dream and the best scenario would be if I ended my career as a Toronto MapleLeaf."

"I would say from talking to Mats he has a soft spot for Toronto. We had lengthy conversations with him. Again, I don't think it was the right fit or right direction for us right now."

Mats Sundin, nothing left to live for, signs with Vancouver.

I don't believe this was his first choice. I believe this was his only choice. He deserved better. So did we. The real villains here are JFJ, Paul Maurice, and Raycroft, whose incompetence soured the atmosphere around the Maple Leafs so badly that virtually the entire team had to be torn apart and deconstructed.

Farewell, Mats. We won't forget. We will forgive. This wasn't your choice, or ours. I realize that now. It's just the way these things go sometimes. That's just the way it is. Doesn't mean it isn't brutal, but we'll get over it and pull through eventually. We always do. I'm not gonna wish you luck though. From now on, Mats, you're on your own. I hope Vancouver has an even more disasterous season this year then we did last year. It's nothing personal, Mats. I just hate the Canucks now. They're the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sundin Vs. Leafs, Feb. 21st or 22nd?

The National Post, the CBC, and the Globe and Mail are all reporting tonight that Mats Sundin has narrowed his list of teams down to just 2: the Vancouver Canucks and the NYRangers. Since neither Sundin nor J.P. Barry would comment directly, this was the only quote I could find to confirm or deny the story:

"I think if you want to be part of the team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup or a team that is going far in the playoffs, my opinion has always been that you want to be there from training camp or the start of the season to be part of the group."
-Mats Sundin, doesn't believe in being a rental player, February 24/2008

Whoops... hold on. 

"I think if you want to be part of the team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup or a team that is going far in the playoffs, then forget about hockey altogether and go ice-fishing until the end of August. Spend most of the Fall in Scandinavia. Don't talk to anybody! Announce an online poker endorsement deal! Go to California in December to "work out" while you're agent conducts an unprecedented bidding war, my new opinion is you want to be there no later then about mid-season to be part of the group."
-Mats Sundin, absolutely committed to being a rental player, December 15/2008


If it's true that Sundin is headed to either the Rangers or Vancouver, one thing is now certain: Leafs fans will get a chance to see the former Captain and express their feelings in person. Whichever way you feel, and whichever team he goes to, circle the third weekend of February, 2009 on your calendar. By sheer coincidence (maybe), the Leafs play Vancouver at home on Saturday, February the 21st, and then play the first of back-to-back games with the NYRangers on Sunday, the 22nd in New York. The back end of the home-and-home with the Rangers is in Toronto on the 25th.

There's lots more that could be said on this subject; - like how Mats is throwing away a legacy; how Cliff Fletcher made all the right moves rebuilding the team while trying to keep Sundin; that Burke and Wilson did the right thing by letting Sundin know that he was welcome but not particularly wanted; or that Vancouver and the Rangers are cheap, plastic imitations of true hockey cities like Detroit, Montreal, and, oh yes, Toronto. I could say all those things. I could also mention that it's going to be really sad when Mats Sundin doesn't win a Stanley Cup, and skates off the ice for perhaps the last time in the NHL, wearing the uniform of a team he's only been on for a few months, to the empty applause of fans with no appreciation for his distinguished career. I could say all that, but he's not a Maple Leaf now, so who really cares? Maybe by mid-February though, we'll feel a lot less apathetic. Could be a good week to have Leaf tickets.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Live From Leaf Nation, It's Saturday Night!

For the first time ever, a simultaneous posting! As if there's anybody who reads this blog that doesn't read PPP, but just so it doesn't get lost in the shuffle over there, and to pad my post total for the month over here, a double presentation of the exact same post!

This is going to feel like a long weekend, but not in a good way. I'm very happy with the way the Leafs played last night in Buffalo, and while I don't normally want them to play on back-to-back nights with travel, there's an aching desire to see them play tonight that won't be fulfilled. Except that it's not an aching desire, it's the natural order of things and the unpleasantness that I'm feeling is that order being disrupted. A Saturday night in December without the Maple Leafs is like Christmas without Santa. Like Halloween without candy. Like Wheel of Fortune without Vanna. It's like, what's the point? I waited all week for this. I had plans! I was going to watch hockey. And not just any hockey - not 2 boring conference rivals with marquee players battling for playoff positions - heck no, I was going to watch the Leafs! That's what I do every Saturday night in the winter. Those are my plans and I can't change them now.

This is a hot topic for me that I've touched on once before. Being "poor" means that I don't pay for cable, and that CBC is the only TV station I can watch that shows hockey, and Saturday nights are usually my only opportunity to see the Leafs play on "the big screen" (my TV) and not on my wife's Mac. This month alone, there are two Saturday nights, tomorrow and the 27th, that are devoid of Leaf hockey. December is a cold, and cruel month where the days keep getting shorter and darker. Enduring two Saturdays without the Leafs is unfair at this time of year and something need to be done to ease the suffering.

I think whatever the Leafs are doing Saturday night, the CBC should be covering it. As a Canadian taxpayer, I have a right to demand that CBC program what I want to watch, and on Saturday nights I want to watch the Leafs, even if they're not playing. Screw the NHL! And screw the Habs and the Senators as well. Whatever the Leafs are doing Saturday night, I wanna be there. It's not even about hockey. It's about me and the Leafs and Saturday nights.

So then I got to imagining what the Leafs might be doing. I doubt they'll all be hangin' out together, but it would be cool if they were. The CBC should do a show like that with all of them just hangin' out on a Saturday night in a big house, watching TV, watching hockey, talking about stuff... maybe not. An even better idea would be some sort of American Gladiators/Battle of the Network Stars/Extreme Elimination Challenge show, with all of the Leafs competing in hilarious obstacle course competitions. Man, that's like the best idea I've had in ages.

So what are the Leafs going to be doing Saturday while we're all not watching them? Here's a look at how they might take advantage of this rare Saturday Night Privacy (Hopefully this will inspire future fan-fic material from LD and Archimedes.):

Wilson: Would like to have a nice relaxing dinner and maybe go see a funny movie, and if you approach him and want to talk about hockey he will disintegrate you with his death stare.

White and Hollweg: Are gonna watch some old Kung-Fu movies, drink a few beers, and trade 'stache-grooming secrets.

Antropov and Ponikarovsky: A camera will be set up on a tripod. One will sit on one side of the room eating cheeseburgers and the other will sit on the other side of the room, also eating cheeseburgers. Then a conversation will take place, very slowly and deliberately, analyzing which cheeseburger was the most satisfying. Then they will realize that the lens cap was still on the camera and they'll have to do it all over again. Later, Ponikarovsky will vomit in the bathroom while Antropov watches motorcycle racing on satellite TV. The video, meanwhile, will be labeled "Antro/Poni/CheeseburgerDiscussion/Vol.459" and put in a vault with the others.

Moore and Mayers: Will be signing autographs, making public appearances, visiting children in hospitals and orphanages, also the mall, and generally letting people know who they are and reminding them that they play for the Maple Leafs.

Stajan: Will be at home smoking dope and reading comic books by himself. X-Men is his favorite, but he also likes Fantastic Four. Kaberle will try to call him around 10:30pm, but Stajan never picks up the phone after 9pm.

Kaberle and Kubina: Have plans to rent a movie and hang out but an honest misunderstanding with a hooker and her pimp prevents Kubina from ever making it to the video store. Around 10:30pm Kaberle gets tired of waiting for Kubina and calls Matt Stajan but there's no answer. Dejected, he goes home and decides to ride his exercise bicycle while counting backwards from 5000 to 1 and then goes to bed. The next morning, Kubina wakes up in his car, not sure what he's doing on a side street in Pickering, or why there's an extra 200 dollars in his wallet.

Blake: Will spend the night playing with his very own custom created Jason Blake Action Figure Doll with Fist-Pump Action-Arm, reminiscing about his greatest goals, and especially about the time that he would've punched a small child wearing a Leafs jersey in the face except for the glass that got in the way.

Hagman and Grabovski: Plan on making various mixed drinks using whatever exotic fruits they can manage to cut open. Grabovski is really the creative genius here while Hagman documents his art with still photography that he publishes on the internet.

Schenn: Will spend the night in meditation, cultivating the mystical and cosmic energies of the universe into one all-powerful force within him, ready to be unleashed at the appropriate time in the first round of the playoffs.

Frogren: Will host a great feast for his people, welcoming the various tribes of his clan with songs of glory and honour, and entertaining them with tales of conquest and debauchery.

Van Ryn, Mitchell, Kulemin, Toskala, Stralman, Sifers, Williams, Finger, and Cujo: Are going to get together for a game of open-air shinny, over at Withrow Park, which is right near my house. That's where I'll be too, playing alongside them in the cool night air, laughing joyously at the freedom of playing our own game, for ourselves, for fun. No refs, no score, no pressure, just the sounds of skates cutting through ice and pucks bangin' off boards echoing through the neighboorhood as we lose track of time and who we are, and play on and on until the lights go out at 11pm. Afterwards, our faces flush and glowing from the cold and the exercise, we'll all walk back to my house together. where, as I say goodnight, Van Ryn, Mitchell, Kulemin, Toskala, Stralman, Sifers, Williams, Finger, and Cujo will wave goodbye together, and break into a spontaneous chorus of He's A Jolly Good Fellow. As they turn and continue their merry way down the street, skates slung over sticks, resting comfortably on their shoulders, I notice Van Ryn extend a warm smile to Kulemin and say, "Don't you wish every Saturday could be like this?"

Into the night, go Leafs, go.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


At the beginning of the month, the Leafs stood tied for 10th, 4 points out of a playoff spot and 4 points out of dead last. 10 days into December, after Wedneday's games, the Leafs' situation is even murkier; sole possession of 11th, 5 points out of the playoffs, and 6 points out of dead last. As playoff hopes and quality draft positions slowly, and simultaneously, drift out of reach, the Leafs, meanwhile, in the centre of their own expanding universe,  seem to be going nowhere.

For this upcoming game against the Sabres, there's a few things I'll be watching for: 1)Williams. How well will he play in his second game? I'd like to see him paired up with Mitchell because I think they might find some chemistry there with Blake - but who knows. 2)Van Ryn. Can't get back to the line-up fast enough as far as I'm concerned. Not a knock on Jamie Sifers, who played admirably in the win against the NYIslanders (17:26, +1, 3 shots), but with Luke Schenn gone from the line-up, the Leafs need a defenceman who was above Frogren, Stralman, and Colaiacovo on the depth chart when the season began. Hopefully Van Ryn is in the line-up Friday and continues his level of point production and solid play from where he left off. 3)Antropov. (Here comes the "body" of this post.) Really needs to pick up his game. The Lanky Kazakh has not had a good month so far, and if he doesn't turn it around soon, it will be a disaster. Since December began, in 5 games, Antropov has 1 goal, 1 assist, with 11 shots on goal, and is a minus 6.

It's the minus that really bothers me. At the end of November, Antro, our team's second leading scorer, was a plus 3. In just 5 games this month, he's seen that number become a negative 3. Monday's victory over the Islanders was the only game so far in December where Antropov was not a minus, coming out even, while leading all forwards in ice-time. That's better, but still not enough.

It's interesting that Ponikarovsky, who also was a minus 3 against San Jose and got demoted off the top line, has rebounded with a couple of plus games and is just minus 2 for the month now, and still a plus 3 overall for the year. You may think the list of Leafs on the plus side is getting short, but actually it just got a little longer: Ian White(+3), Hagman(+3), Van Ryn(+1), Stralman(+1), and now Williams(+2), and Sifers(+1). Antropov was once at the top of the list, back on Nov. 14th, as a plus 7.

There are players on the Leafs that have worse plus/minus then Antropov: Stajan is a minus 4. Frogren was a minus 5 after just 10 games. Schenn is minus 6. Hollweg(-7), Kubina(-8), and Kaberle(-9) are all much worse, and Mitchell and Mayers(-10 each) have struggled with plus/minus the most. But Antropov's dramatic swing from the positive to the negative bothers me a lot. As our only heralded top-six forward, he needs to be a leader, and not a liability.

The Leafs also need Antropov to be an offensive threat, ideally, on every shift. Coach Wilson, and, well, everybody, knows that Stajan can't do it all on his own. Antro needs to find his mojo and get excited and aggressive. His game is played best down low, controlling the puck, and taking it to the net. Oppostion players should be more concerned with Antropov's size and what he's going to do with it next, then they are about scoring goals. When you're 197 feet from the net, it's usually impossible to score. Antropov's defensive contribution should come when he's being defended. Obviously, the more points he puts up, the better his plus/minus will be, but even if he's in a slump and doesn't score, the more he's on the attack, the more the other team is focused on preventing goals rather then scoring their own.

Antropov is usually a very streaky player. It's hard to imagine the Leafs having any kind of a winning streak without Antropov getting hot. The Lanky Kazakh might not be our only top-six forward (hello, Grabbo!), but he may be our only hope if the Leafs are going to make a run before Christmas at getting back into contention. Unlikely as it sounds, I believe he can do it, as long as he plays hard and stays positive.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

10 Points For Tomas

Like a lot of Leaf fans, I'm very concerned about Tomas Kaberle. I found Thursday night's loss to be very painful and sad. After a day of solemn reflection, here are my thoughts:
1 - I agree with eyebleaf - Kaberle should have been in the press box if Wilson wanted to send a message. Or, let him play 2 periods, and then bench him for the third if he isn't playing well. It came across like a personal attack to have him benched in the first and then to be thrown to the lions cold.

2 - I agree with DGB - Kaberle's trade value will not go down - much. He's not playing well right now, but he's not playing his game at the moment either. A team that has the right pieces will make better use of Kaberle. Which leads to my next point -

3 - Kaberle misses Sundin more then anybody. Like Jari Kurri missing Wayne Gretzky, or Brett Hull missing Adam Oates. He has struggled all year long to find his groove. Perhaps, like some of us, he was hoping in the back of his mind that Sundin would return and that he would have someone else on the team to play with who sees the ice as well as he does. Suddenly, Burke says that pursuing Sundin doesn't make sense. How does that effect Kaberle, knowing that management has no immediate intentions of improving the team with superstar talent? 

4 - Kaberle is an elite-level hockey player. He needs to play with other elite-level hockey players. It's depressing to be in a working environment with people who are not your professional equals. Seriously. If we're not going to sign Sundin we should trade Kaberle, 'cause he doesn't offer us a skill set we can use, and we don't offer him the tools he needs to succeed.

5 - It's next to impossible to play your best when you have to play with players that are so far below your skill level. You can literally see Kaberle trying to figure out how Jason Blake or Matt Stajan think. With Sundin and McCabe, it came naturally. He knew where they were, what they were going to do, and where they were going to go, and he could anticipate them making a great play - then he would make a great play - then they would make a great play again, and then we'd score. On this team, if Kaberle attempts to make a great play (which, by definition should be: a high-risk move, not easily anticipated), but his own teammates don't anticipate it or react fast enough, it becomes a high-risk blunder.

6 - Keep in mind that Kaberle is the greatest Leaf defenceman in more then a generation, since Salming and Turnbull. He is our Lidstrom, or Niedemayer, or Stevens. We will not replace him easily or soon. Luke Schenn will not replace Kaberle - they are totally different players. Tomas Kaberle only comes around once every so often and once he's gone, there won't be another.

7 - It wasn't all Kabby's fault in Phoenix or in San Jose. Antropov, Ponikarovsky, and Stajan all got killed against the Sharks. Poni got demoted to the third line, but Kabby gets benched for the whole first period of the following game. Then, on Kaberle's first shift, Antro's weak coverage at the point (reaching between his legs to catch the puck, I mean seriously WTF was that?) led to the odd-man rush, not Kaberle being out of position. On the 5th goal, Kaberle attempted to do what he's supposed to do, block a shot. He got his skate on the puck and it went right to a Phoenix player who slammed it into the empty net. Hardly a blunder, just unfortunate. The 6th goal was a turnover off a hard pass from Kaberle that hit Stajan in the skate. Now perhaps Tomas' pass is expected to be tape-to-tape, but where was Stajan's reaction? It's his responsibility, even if he can't control the puck, to deflect it, chip it - kick it if he has to - to get that puck out of the zone. Just letting it hit you while you continue to skate in the opposite direction, away from the play, is not the right reaction in that situation.

8 - It was unfair of Wilson, who sabotaged Kaberle's readiness and preparation by benching him through the first period, to then suggest that Kaberle's poor performance afterwards was an intentional response. "He apparently sent a message back by being minus-3". That's not fair. Kaberle was clearly trying, probably too much. And instead of just being able to think about the play, his head is filled with questions and doubts and silly mind games from the coach. And he doesn't trust or have confidence in his teammates, but instead looks very alone, because he's being singled out and made an example of.

9 - Finally, there's a defensive, protective, tribal instinct in me that wants to scream "LEAVE TOMAS KABERLE ALONE!!!" This couldn't be happening to a nicer guy. Tomas is one of the good-guys. He's the anti-Avery. He is anything but a McCabe-type clown. He is thoughtful, respectful, quiet, considerate, charming, and a true gentleman. What he lacks in passion, he makes up for with class. He is a QUALITY HUMAN BEING, who happens to be struggling to find his way right now on the Leafs. But don't you dare turn against this man. He has always been under-appreciated, under-rated, under-valued, and under-paid. Yet he has also been an absolute privilege to watch in the Blue and White for most of his 10 seasons with the Maple Leafs, and he has never said a bad word once about anyone, ever. Tomas isn't going to sulk and suck and bitch. Not even close.

"It starts with me. I have to be hard on myself. I never had problems with any coach. And I don't want any problems... Obviously, it was hard," Kaberle said. "I take it seriously. That's the way it is. I have to keep my head up and get my ice time back."

10 - Tomas doesn't need critics right now, he needs our support. He knows he hasn't played well. Everyone knows he can play better. What he definitely doesn't deserve, is to hear it from the Leaf fans at home. I really hope that tonight, not only does Tomas bounce back with a solid game, but that the ACC crowd really gets behind him and backs him up as well. I hope that the first time Kaberle touches the puck the audience reacts with cheers of encouragement and shouts of support, and not with cowardly, cold-hearted and mean-spirited booing. Kaberle doesn't deserve that. As I said before, he's not an Avery-Monkey or a McCabe-Clown. He's one of the good-guys. In fact, he's one of the best. He's not the family member you're ashamed of, he's the family member you're proud of. Right now he's having a tough time, but that means that we have to do the right thing, and show him our love and support.

C'mon, Tomas! Go Leafs Go!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Game Six Remembered

Don't ever forget. Ever. What was done by this man was something that was unforgivable. If ever there was a player for whom Leafs fans should express their utter disdain and desire for vengeance upon, it is this man. The NHL has had wonderful heroes, and even a few classic villains, but there's only ever been one man who was The Great One: The Greatest Villain Of All-Time, Walter's least favorite son.

Tonight the Leafs take to the ice in Phoenix against the Coyotes, and while I bear no malice toward either the city nor the team, the man behind their bench is an evil man and I will not let it go unprotested. I touched on this subject once before, in fact, it's probably the highlight of my very first post. See under GAME SIX: Special Feature "The Greatest Screw Job Ever In The History Of Sports". Here's a recap, which I've re-written for the occasion:

Final Four, 1993, Game Six. Overtime. The Leafs are killing a penalty thanks to Creepy Glenn Anderson. Gilmour has possession of the puck and before he can clear the zone and kill off the penalty, Gretzky, in clear view of referee Kerry Fraser, stabs Dougie in the chin. Our beloved 'Killer drops to the ice and Fraser blows his whistle. When Gilmour stands up again, blood is clearly gushing from a hockey-blade-sized wound below his mouth. The arena suddenly goes quiet for a moment. Everyone turns to look at number 99, and he knows... the moment has come!

The doors to the penalty box never open. No arms are ever raised and there are no discussions with the linesman over who saw what. "5-and-a-game?" and "what about Dave Andreychuk?" are meaningless whispers from a confused and disoriented audience. While the linesman attempt to organize a face-off in the Leafs zone, The Great One contemplates his destiny........ and then!

With the blood of his opponent still wet on his stick, Gretzky ends the game, laughing wildly at the sheer treachery of it all.

Dougie's blood was on that puck. Dougie's blood was in the back of the net.

And the Great One laughed like a loony mad scientist about to blow up the earth. He was now "the Greatest Villain of All Time". It was "the Greatest Screw Job Ever in the History of Sports".

Never forget. Ever. What he did was unforgivable.

He is Evil.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The November Review

1 -- The month began with a tremendous show of spirit and solidarity in the Barilkosphere. Perhaps all that goodwill created some sort of cosmic-karma-energy-something in LeafsNation, for, that night, the Leafs gave the fans their most exciting victory of this young season with a magical 5-goal 3rd period, to beat the NYRangers, 5-2. Inspired by Mitchell, Moore, and Blake, the fans went wild, lifting the players to a new level, and the players responded with an astonishing show.

It certainly was a burst of energy—it came all at once,” said Dominic Moore. “It seemed like it must have been pent up. With the fans, as well, they sort of released their (energy) all together.”

I just fist-pumped as many times as I could,” said Mitchell.

2 -- The second day of the month was Luke Schenn's 19th birthday, which from now on will be known as "Luke Schenn Day" across LeafNation. Unfortunately, the Leafs lose in Carolina, 6-4. Ian White makes his season debut, scoring a goal and showing off a new 'stache as well.

3 -- Spent the day recovering from Luke Schenn's karaoke party. Realized Ian White's mustache wasn't a dream. The Wendel Countdown begins.

4 -- Another loss to Carolina, this one in overtime. The news isn't all bad though, as the Leafs had clawed their way back from a 4-1 deficit to steal a point, and Grabovski, with a 3-point night begins to emerge as an offensive threat.

5 -- The Dawn of a New Era. The world discovers Hope. politically speaking, that is. Doesn't seem to have much impact on LeafNation.

6 -- The Leafs lose on the road to the Boston Bruins, 5-2. Even worse, John Mitchell is injured with a separated shoulder and is out for the next 5 games.

7 -- I wrote a post about Maple Leaf Gardens. Two weeks later I see Wendel Clark walking through Maple Leaf Gardens on TV. I thought that was pretty cool and wondered if there was a connection. Maybe not, but then I heard this little giveaway from Wendel: (1:45) "There's a lot of memorable fights that keep gettin' brought up, and people see on all the computers 'n stuff, but the last one (number one moment) would've been the 92-93 series and Marty McSorely". Awesome work, DGB. Good job with the computers 'n stuff.

8 -- Leafs win on home ice, a very enjoyable 6-3 romp over the Montreal Canadians. Grabovski shines and gets under the Habs' skin, making him an instant fan favorite. After the game, Carbonneau gives us this delicious quote: "It was the most embarrassing game I've ever been associated with". Yes! That's exactly how I want every Hab to feel after every game with the Leafs. The victory was not without a cost, however, as Van Ryn was the victim of a nasty hit from behind, receiving a concussion, a broken hand, and needing dental surgery to repair his gums and teeth.

9 -- Leaf fans vent their frustration over the Kostopoulos hit. The NHL reviews the incident.

10 -- The NHL suspends Kostoploulos for 3 games. The Habs have a good laugh and realize that losing is sometimes winning. "How could we forget, eh? De' Laffs always get screwed in de' end!"

11 -- Remembrance Day. The Leafs hit the road for 3 games in Western Canada. Their first stop is Calgary, where they lose, 4-3. Jason Blake is a healthy scratch, causing him to wonder about his purpose in life: "Maybe it's not meant for me to be here". At the same time, Sundin sells his house.

12 -- The 77th anniversary of the first game at Maple Leaf Gardens passes quietly. Brian Burke resigns from the Ducks, not so quietly.

13 -- The second game of this western road trip has a better result. Leafs win, 5-2 over the Oilers. Blake responds with his best game of the season, registering two assists in the 3rd period.
Meanwhile, Kaberle, who had a goal and 2 assists on the night, passes Ian Turnbull for 3rd all-time in scoring by a Leaf defenceman.

14 -- Nothing much happens with the Leafs as they prepare for their game against Vancouver by smoking lots of dope. Barry Melrose is fired, and the NHL investigates ballot-stuffing in Montreal.

15 -- The Leafs lose to Vancouver, 4-2. With the Leafs outshooting the Canucks 10-0, our favorite boy by the pool, Kyle Wellwood, scores on Vancouver's first shot, and that was pretty much all she wrote. Toskala, embarrassingly juxtaposed to Loungo, begins to lose his charm with Leaf fans.

16 -- The Leafs lick their wounds and fly home after collecting only 2 points through Western Canada. Kyle Wellwood enjoys the best Sunday afternoon he's had in months.

17 -- Doug Gilmour is announced as the new head coach in Kingston. In Toronto, the Leafs lose 3-2 to the hungry Boston Bruins, as Vesa Toskala continues to hurt the Leafs by allowing early goals. Goaltending suddenly becomes an issue, as quickly and as smoothly as an .878 save percentage becoming a knock-knock joke.

18 -- The Leafs begin a mini-vacation. Toskala is officially on the hotseat.

19 -- With just three days to go until Wendel Night, anticipation begins to build. The Leafs lie low by practicing indoors.

20 -- Only 2 more sleepless nights until Wendel Night.

21 -- With only one day left until MLSE honours one of the most legendary players to ever wear the Blue and White, the Barilkosphere turns out some of its finest work.

22 -- The Leafs finally honour Wendel Clark in a classy and compelling ceremony. John Mitchell returns to the line-up. Sadly, the home team plays well for just two periods, allowing the Black Hawks to come back from a 2-goal deficit in the 3rd to win in overtime. Jeff Finger has his worst game as a Maple Leaf. There's even more bad news for the Leafs as Jonas Frogren, the Hockey Viking that Leaf fans were hoping to see more often, injures his arm with a muscle tear and will be out for several weeks.

23 -- Leaf fans spend a quiet Sunday reflecting on what might have been.

24 -- MONSTER TRADE!! Okay, maybe exaggerating just slightly, but still it's exciting to see Cliff pulling the trigger again. Neither Steen nor Colaiacovo were terribly disliked, but they were both seen as spare parts, while Stempniak appears to have the tools that the Leafs can benefit from right away. While Burke is less then a week away from joining the team, the Silver Fox makes a dramatic exit by momentarily stealing the spotlight.

25 -- The Leafs play possibly their worst game of the year, a 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. With Frogren and Van Ryn both hurt, and Colaiacovo traded, Ian White is forced back to the blue line and scraps with Ilya Kovalchuk. Joseph starts and has a terrible night. Blake is injured with a suspected concussion. About the only positive for the Leafs is Stempniak's debut, picking up an assist.

26 -- Despite the effort of Mayers, Hollweg, and, er, Ian White, the Leafs are criticized for a lack muscle. Looking to add some toughness, the Leafs call up the best player in their system born in Free Port, Bahamas, Andre Deveaux. Meanwhile, Dominic Moore shows Jeff Finger what he's gonna do the next time he sees Jason Smith.

27 -- The Battle of Ontario resumes, this time in the Nation's Capital, sort of - actually, it's off the 417 as you're going through Kanata, but that's "sort of" enough for the city that was once technically beautiful. The Leafs losing streak reaches 5 games with a shoot out-loss, but it's a moral victory for The Vesa who looks better and better as the game goes on. Deveaux has a solid debut, and Luke Schenn has one of his best games of the month.

28 -- The Brian Burke (here it comes) Era - wait for it - officially begins - wait! - right about..... NOW!

29 -- Leafs win! The Leafs close out the month with a victory over Philadelphia. Toskala is again outstanding and Stempniak records his first goal as a Leaf. Moore, Antropov, Schenn, and Deveaux all have strong games, and the entire team plays well in front of their new GM. A positive start for Burke and a positive finish to November for the Leafs who struggled throughout the month.

30 -- The month ends on a Sunday. The Leafs have 22 points after 23 games and sit tied for 10th in the east with the NYIslanders - 4 points out of a playoff spot, 4 points out of dead last in the league. Newspapers report that Brian Burke believes Mats Sundin is not interested in returning to Toronto. No one seems to mind. Despite the obvious need for a top line centre, despite the need for veteran leadership, despite the fact that this team is already better then last year's team and that the playoffs are just a short win-streak away, and despite the fact that Sundin is the type of player who truly believes that all 16 playoff teams have an equal opportunity once the playoffs begin, and despite his obvious loyalty and attachment to the uniform and to the city, and despite all the things he said about never wanting to be a rental player, (deep breath!) despite all that, Brian Burke, based on a conversation he had with Sundin while he was GM with the Ducks, feels that the Captain's ship has finally sailed from Toronto and it ain't coming back. A 4-6-3 record through November is obviously not enough to convince number 13 that the Leafs are a playoff contender.

The end of an era. The beginning of another.

November goes out the way it began; with some terrific optimism and hope, but also, uncertainty. The middle part was kinda murky, but the tribute to Wendel kept our spirits up and we survived. Finally, at 11:59pm, in the dramatic final minute, I posted The November Review, and the month was over.