Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bad Like Michael Jackson

"...not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to get a top 5 pick."

I'm feeling a small amount of frustration over the notion out there that being bad will be good. I'm sick of the Leafs being bad. Being bad is terrible. Not trying to be better then bad is even worse. That's when I start yelling "You Suck!" Losing is not winning, although, there are good ways to lose and bad ways to win.

The Title

Actually attempting to be bad is one of the worst things you can do. It should be outlawed in every form. Especially the Michael Jackson form, but also in sports. Finishing in the bottom-5 of the league by design is not a success. For the fans, that's a tragedy. We all know the Leafs are going to struggle this year, but I will be supremely disappointed if, when they lose, it's without a struggle. Even a crappy team, trying their best and playing to win, instead of playing not to lose, is worth watching. In the NHL, parity is so thin, that attitude is often the real difference-maker.

The Quote

The sentence under the title is a direct quote taken from HockeyNews writer, Ken Campbell. It's especially frustrating because he has otherwise written a very good article about why Sundin would choose Toronto over Vancouver or Montreal. In fact, it reads an awful lot like my piece, The Good, The Bad, And The Brutal, except that he doesn't call Sundin a slut.

The Question

The big difference between Ken Campbell's article and my post is that Campbell is "mystified" as to "why the Leafs are interested in having Sundin come back". He obviously didn't read my follow-up post, or he'd know the answer. Sundin is, in one key word Ken, excitement. Win or lose, with him or without him, this team is rebuilding, and the character of the dressing room is gonna change. The vision is there, and it's the correct one, but there still has to be a product on the ice. MLSE has never sold "winning and losing" as a commodity. Like a casino, they sell excitement. Have you seen the roster? Can you imagine how exciting this team is going to be without Sundin? Leaf fans, now more then ever, need something to cheer for. Mats Sundin is a 100%, genuine, certified, bona-fide, garaunteed, no exceptions, crowd-pleasing, show-stopping, thrill-maker. Given that there are no expectations for success this season, the "joy of winning" will have to be replaced by the "joy of watching". Tomas Kaberle is one heck of a hockey player, but him and Jason Blake are not going to get Leaf fans out of their seats on their own. We demand entertainment. We require Sundin.

The Debate

Why do people assume that landing a top-5 pick will automatically make the Leafs a better team? Because Washington has Ovechkin and Pittsburg has Crosby and Malkin, I suppose. Yet, Washington finished in the bottom-5 three times in the last five years (03/04, 05/06, 06/07) and they were only marginally better then a Leafs team that still had Sundin as its Captain, and Paul Maurice as the coach. Pittsburg (02/03, 03/04, 05/06), is a different story, but aside from Crosby, they've been luckier then they've been good. As an example, Chicago (03/04, 05/06, 06/07) and Columbus (02/03, 03/04, 05/06) have also finished bottom-5 three times in five years. What do they have to show for their failures? More failure? L.A. (06/07, 07/08), Phoenix (03/04, 06/07), and St. Louis (05/06, 07/08) have all finished in the bottom-5 twice. Are they projected to be the league's best teams next season? Or will they be lucky to avoid the bottom five again? Other teams that have finished bottom-5 in the last five years are: Atlanta, NY Islanders, Tampa Bay ( all 07/08), Philadelphia, Edmonton (both 06/07), Boston (05/06), and Florida, Carolina, and Buffalo (all 02/03). Do any these teams stand out as a serious Stanley Cup contender? I don't even think any of them stand out as being clearly better than the Leafs. And to think, we were able to build our competitiveness without tanking it or suffering through bottom-of-the-league mediocrity! We thought we might be a playoff team in March and then we weren't in April. That was humiliating enough, but at least winter was almost over.

Besides, as long as Cliff is the GM, it doesn't matter where we finish, it only matters what place Florida and the Islanders end up in. If they're willing to swap draft positions for draft picks we don't need, and give us draft picks for players we don't need, then give us players for pucks we don't need, then all we have to do is worry about beating those 2 teams and making sure we finish higher in the standings than they do. The only thing better than a top 5 pick in the draft, is getting to select Luke Schenn with someone else's pick.

The Results

Detroit, San Jose, Dallas, Calgary, Nashville, New Jersey and Ottawa have all made the playoffs the last 4 seasons in a row. Since Detroit is the only team to win the Cup from this group in the last 4 years (New Jersey's Cup was 5 seasons ago, 02/03), the rest of these teams must be in a state of disaster, right? Aside from Nashville, the Leafs would do well, and surprise a lot of people, if they could keep pace with any of these teams next season. Making the playoffs and missing out on a top 5 draft pick does not seem to have hurt any of these teams or slowed them down at all. More than likely, (with the exception of Nashville again) each of these teams is heading for another playoff spot again this year, and will miss the big John Tavares raffle. Clearly, winning starts at the top with good management and strong leadership. Attitude. Losing is not winning, and it will only help you get better if you're smart enough to learn something from it.

And The Winner Is...

A team that competes hard every night, that plays up to its potential. and then beyond, is its own reward. It's not just if we win, but the way we lose, that makes heroes out of men who've never won a championship. When the players care, it shows on the ice - if not on the scoreboard or in the standings - and the victory goes to the fans.

Thank you.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

There's A Voice...

Not sure anyone is going to get this or appreciate it, but, oh well. I guess this is the result of a slow July weekend where I attended, not one, but two birthday parties for girls too young to know what a Maple Leafs Blog is. Maybe it was all the balloons, maybe it was the animals at the farm, or maybe I need more nutrition than just beer and birthday cake when I'm sitting out in the hot sun, but whatever, something got me thinking about an amazing TV show I used to watch when I was a goofy little monkey child. The opening credits had a beautiful song about travelling, and as it played in my mind yesterday, the smell of diapers, the screams of my own 1-year old daughter, and the void of anything hockey-related overwhelmed me. I lost consciousness and passed out, but just in that delirious moment before I blissfully drifted away, visions of Mats Sundin filled my head, while Ron Wilson's melodic voice blended into a kaleidoscope of harmony and colour...

There's a voice...

Keeps on calling me... Down the road...
That's where I'll always be...
And every stop I make...

I make a new friend...

Can't stay for long...

Just turn around...

And I'm gone again...
Maybe tomorrow I'll wanna settle down...

Until tomorrow...

The whole world is my home.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Open Up Your Heart, Let The Sundin In

"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?"

Welcome Leaf fans. Today is Mats Sundin Appreciation Day at just your usual general borschevsky. Over at Pension Plan Puppets there's been a really good response to the announcement that Dougie and Wendel will have their jerseys honoured, in the form of Fanshots recognizing our heroes' greatest moments. In the same spirit, we would like to dedicate this post to Sundin, and some of his outstanding accomplishments and highlight his best moments in a Maple Leafs uniform.

Hockey is about excitment, and while Mats Sundin has not brought us a championship (or even a playoff spot recently), he does bring a level of excitment to every game, to every shift, and I fear his absence, while improving our chances of landing a high draft pick (I personally don't find any value in that), will also lead to an incredibly dry, dull, and boring season. At the very least, without Sundin, or any other superstar to lead them, and Ron Wilson's defence-first style of approach, highlight reel goals and memorable performances will be few and far between.

First up: Mats' does it all himself, scoring 2 goals in 14 seconds, single-handedly giving the Leafs a chance to comeback from a 3-0 deficit. The Leafs did eventually lose this game, but at least they were in it. Having Sundin in the line-up means you never give up hope.

Ironically, this next clip is also against Washington. Too bad it wasn't the same game. We can pretend I guess. With 21 seconds left, Sundin is Captain Clutch.

Sundin overtime magic: Game 1, first round vs. Sens, in Ottawa, 2001. I was at this game (and PPP was too). The goal looks awesome on TV, but it was incredible live. Best goal I've ever witnessed with my own eyes.

Sundin scores his 500th. In overtime. Short-handed. To complete the hat-trick. Because that's they way he wanted to do it.

Sundin ties the game with 18 seconds left. Oh ya, also, it's his 400th goal as a Maple Leaf. Mats loves the dramatic. So do I.

Against the Panthers, this game was basically a Sundin vs. Nieuwendyk battle of the titans, with Mats coming out on top. In on every goal, Mats had 4 goals, 2 assists, and led us to another overtime victory.

But can Mats Sundin hit? Ask Brad May.

Maybe that one was a fluke, but watch what Mats does here to Jagr in the playoffs, after a behind the back pass in the nuetral zone to no one. Basically, Jaromir gets what he deserves.

This one's my favorite. Mats hammers Jason Blake. Don't you just wish that was last year?

Finally, to fully appreiciate the greatness of Mats Sundin, one only has to remember that he was the inspiration for a series of brilliant commercials, indeed, the best commercials I've ever seen, for the NHL. If you've never seen these before, boy, are you in for a treat!

Even if you have seen this before, I bet your still gonna laugh when he says, "You're de wurst Leafs on erth!"

Fucking good times. Finally, some idiot reporter asks Mats if he's taking French lessons. If he's been reading my blog, then hopefully he's picked up one key phrase. Here's his reaction:

So, that's it. Hope you enjoyed. If Mats doesn't come back to Toronto and we don't get to enjoy any more of these great moments, well, I guess this is my way of saying, "thank you Mats, for the memories".

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Good, The Bad, And The Brutal

Mats Sundin has 3 choices. We assume that the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings are no longer possibilities, leaving only Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. In order, those choices range from Good, to Bad, to Brutal. We wait, and we wait, and we continue to wait, as the summer gets hotter, and September gets closer, and we wonder where Sundin will begin his 18th NHL season. We also wonder, how Sundin's 18th season, and career, might end?

The Good

If what he is looking for is to end his career on a dignified and noble note, then there is really only one choice for Mats. This is a choice made with the heart only. It will be difficult to accept that a Stanley Cup run with Toronto is a near-impossibility, that even making the playoffs is remote, and the reality is that if Mats should return, likely his career will end without ever lifting the Holy Grail. Difficult to accept, yes, but the Cup is not the only reward for playing in the NHL. Mats and the Toronto Maple Leafs and it's fans have a relationship. It's not going so well at the moment, but there is, no doubt about it, a lot of love there on all sides. Last season was an especially difficult year for the Maple Leafs, and it's fans, but this is the year to make up for it. Expectations of winning have been put aside, dressing room distractions have (hopefully) been removed, and optimism for future success is replacing excuses for past failures. This is the year that we thank Mats for all he has done. Game in, game out, for 41 home games, but especially on Saturday April 11th, 2009, the last game of the season. We don't expect to win. We don't even expect to make the playoffs. None of that matters. All we expect is hockey played with pride and honour and joy. Mats-Sundin-hockey. Our only true desire for this team, ever, is to be able to cheer for them without shame. Mats, if he returns, will be the source of our pride this year. Maurice is gone, Raycroft is gone, JFJ is gone, and gone with them are the embarrassing excuses, the depressing incompetence, the frustration of under-achieving. With all of that out of the way, Leaf fans can properly focus on thanking our captain for all his class and the excitement he's given us these last 13 years. This season is between us and Mats. We both deserve it.

The Bad

The Montreal Canadians offer Mats the best alternative, if he decides to move on. Guy Carbonneau says, "It's not all about the money with Mats". I believe that sentence is true, but winning obviously isn't everything to Mats either, otherwise he'd have signed with Detroit like Hossa did for the league minimum. Comfort will play a huge factor and some are suggesting that Mats might avoid playing for the Habs because, "he won't have to face his former team multiple times a year". I find that absurd. What kind of a coward would move to B.C., even though he really wanted to play in Montreal, just because Leaf fans might boo him more than once? Not a good argument. If he wants to go to Montreal, he'll go, and he won't care how we feel about it. He can take being booed, even by us.

Again, though, we wonder, how will it all end? Well, if Montreal wins the Cup, Sundin goes out like a Champion of Champions, with glory and honour and pride. How close is this dream to reality though? It's no sure thing, but the possibility is there. Still, chasing this dream, while courageous and bold, might end in heartbreak and burning police cars. When the Habs season ends without a Cup, but instead, with handshakes at centre-ice, will Montreal fans cheer directly for Sundin, thanking him for his gutsy decision this summer, for giving it his all in search of a Montreal championship? Or will they cheer politely, like they always do when their team loses its' final playoff game at home, eventually sending the players off the ice, singing "Ole-eeeey, ole, ole, ole, Ohhh-ley, Ohhh-ley". Or will they be checking their pockets for matches and lighters? Point is: Mats, they won't appreciate you in Montreal, not like we do. They only want you for your body (and your backhand). They'll celebrate you if you win Mats, but they won't respect you in the morning. With all of their past heroes, and sizzling-hot-french-hockey-passion, they may not even remember your name for long.

The Brutal

There is only one "wrong" choice Mats could make. Only if he chooses Vancouver, will fans label him a sell-out and a hypocrite. They don't love Sundin in Vancouver, they barely even know him. Their offer of 10 million a season for, not one but two seasons, is outrageous in the least, and reeks of desperation. The Canucks organization seems to be in the same shape the Leafs were in two years ago, and it might get worse there before it gets better. Without Sundin (or Naslund) the Canucks don't look like a playoff team. Even with Luongo there, why would Mats want to shoulder so much of the burden for success? Isn't he tired of that weight? I don't believe it's the hockey that Mats is hesitant to return to. I think it's the pressure and the responsibility. Finally, at the end of the season, if Vancouver misses the playoffs or goes out early in the first or second round, how will Vancouver's fans honour Sundin? A 7-minute standing ovation, or will they boo Sundin and the Canucks of the ice like they did the '72 Summit Series heroes? Montreal at least has a championship to aim for. Vancouver? They're just trying not to suck. Hopefully Sundin feels his legacy is bigger than that.


Sundin has three choices, with three different perceptions that will follow him based on the choice he makes. If he plays for the Leafs, then we know that Sundin appreciates his relationship with the fans, that it means as much to him as it does to us. He will retire as a Maple Leaf, and we will honour him with a standing ovation that lasts until he has left the ice and disappeared from sight. He will be remembered as the greatest Leaf to ever wear the Blue and White and will always be welcome in Toronto.

If he plays for Montreal: then we know that the love affair has ended, and that Mats' goal of winning the Stanley Cup is his heart's desire. Good for him, but bad for us, at least we can respect him. We might boo him in that first game in Toronto, but there will be some cheers as well. We will enjoy the new drama in our old rivalry, and we'll feel a sense of pride that the Habs owe their success to our guy.

If he plays for Vancouver: then he is a sell-out, a slut, a hypocrite, a coward, a loser, and he's all about the money. He will not be forgiven by Toronto fans, nor will he be warmly welcomed or remembered.
So, we still think that Mats will come back to Toronto. Neither Montreal nor Vancouver has anything close to what we have with Mats: Emotional Allegiance that cannot easily be broken.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Dream Team (Part 3): Major Fan Related Misgivings

Greetings once more, Sports Fans, and welcome, yet again, to the 3rd edition of our completely miscalculated 2-part series, The Dream Team. Credibility is as good as random chance around here and so we forge ahead ignoring our lack of fresh ideas, frustrated that nothing else at all has happened.

The Final Roster

There are a few management additions, and one line-up change. Plus, we've listed the first 3 lines together as 5-man units.

Wendel Clark (Captain) - Doug Gilmour - Dave Andreychuk
Borje Salming - Sylvain Lefebvre

Salming and Lefebvre move up to the first line to provide stability and consistency. This group will see a lot of ice time and will be on the ice at the beginning and end of every period.

Alexnder Mogilny - Mats Sundin (Assistant) - Nikolai Borschevsky
Tomas Kaberle - Danny Markov

Markov takes Mironov's spot beside Kaberle and this tandem then becomes the perfect fit for the second unit. A distinctly European blend of poise, intelligence, and creativity, this line will be constantly on the attack, and always exciting to watch.

Darcy Tucker - Darryl Sittler (Assistant) - Rick Vaive

Bill Berg - Alyn McCauley - Gary Roberts
Todd Gill - Al Iafrate

Felix Potvin - Curtis Joseph

Mironov is the odd man out (for now), and coming in to replace him is fan favorite, Al Iafrate. He'll play with Gill as the Leafs try to win every game, 6-5. Sittler's line will probably rotate through the 3 defensive pairs based on game-situations and special assingments. Gill and Iafrate, meanwhile, will likely see a lot of time backing up the checking line, especially when the coach needs 5 guys who can stir things up.

extras - (F)Owen Nolan, (D)Dimitri Mironov, (G)Damien Rhodes
coaches - Pat Burns, Kirk Muller, Mike Foligno
GM - Pat Quinn, Special Assistant to the GM - Joe Nieuwendyk
President - Cliff Fletcher
Executive Vice-President, Corporate and Community Partnerships - Chemmy

Kirk Muller and Mike Foligno join Pat Burns behind the bench and Joe Nieuwendyk joins the management team as a special assistant to the GM. (weird, eh?)

All games will be held at Maple Leaf Gardens, but I'm not giving back my seat, they'll have to get new ones. There will be a corporate VIP lounge, however it will be super-exclusive, astronomically expensive, and buried 30kms below the surface of the earth and won't have anything to do with hockey.

Leaf fans (as opposed to soft-drink addicts) will be rewarded with Fan Appreciation Nights every Saturday. Each fan will receive a souvenir Leafs cap that they can throw on the ice after a Leafs' hat-trick or at the end of the game when the Leafs lose. Also, Leaf-legend, Ken Baumgartner will be on hand to greet each and every fan into the building with a handshake. Any fan wearing a Maple Leafs jersey will be given a gift certificate for another one, and anyone wearing a tie will be asked to remove it.

All pre-season home games and practices will be free and open to the public. And, because we care deeply about penny-less children, 500 seats for every home game will be dedicated to youth-at-risk, and low-income families, available through our Corporate and Community Partnerships program (MLSE VP CEO, Chemmy). Contact us to see if you qualify, and we'll send a soda-pop representative to shake you upside-down and make sure you really haven't got any money.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Dream Team (Part 2): Defence, Goalies, Management

Hello Sports Fans, and welcome back to the second half of our 2-part mini-series, looking at some of my favorite players to wear a Maple Leafs uniform, and imagining what it would be like to have them all on the same team at the same time. If you missed Part 1: The Forward Lines, check it out, here. And now, let's look at the rest of the line up. Defence, the goalies, and Management.

I'm expecting some disagreement here, and to be honest, I found picking the 6 defencemen way harder then choosing 12 forwards. A lot of very good defencemen have come to Toronto but were not very good Maple Leaf defencemen. Indeed, something about Toronto seems to repeatedly eat up decent defencemen and spit them back. Mathieu Schneider, Jeff Brown, Larry Murphy. Those are the worst of the best. But there's also Phil Housley, Jason Smith, and Kenny Johnson; fairly good defencemen whose impact was minimal. Then there's also popular Leaf defenders, Al Iafrate, Brad Marsh, and Luke Richardson, who never got to enjoy the Leafs' better days. And then finally, there's Bryan McCabe.

Tomas Kaberle-Dimitri Mironov. Kaberle is an obvious choice and doesn't need to be explained. Mironov, on the other hand, is actually my sixth defenceman, I just like the way he pairs up with Tomas. He's like a McCabe that girls don't laugh at. Mironov was called "Tree" because you needed an axe to take him down. His career statistics are not all that impressive, and he had his shortcomings, but in the '94 playoffs he put it all together. In 18 games, Mironov scored 6 goals and added 9 assists for 15 points. The choice was really between Dimitri and McCabe, and it was hard, but I just couldn't have a guy who shot the puck into his own net, and got rag-dolled by Zdeno Chara on my Dream Team.

Borje Salming-Sylvain Lefebvre. Borje is the King. One of the all-time greats, and one of my earliest favorite players. He has a map of the Don Valley Parkway on his face. That's devotion. Salming's conditioning and skill puts him in control of the play whenever he's on the ice. Lefebvre meanwhile, will be looking for anyone with their head down in the trolley tracks. Sylvain's a stay-at-home defenceman who cooks and takes care of the kids. If it wasn't for Lefebvre, and Joe Bowen's call of one magical moment, would DownGoesBrown still exist? Maybe then this blog wouldn't exist either, and you wouldn't be reading this post right now. Heavy, eh? In a weird way, we owe our thanks for this moment to Sylvain Lefebvre.

Todd Gill-Danny Markov. I'm expecting disagreement with this pairing, but I'm open to it. If you don't know why Todd Gill is on the team, you should read this. As for Markov, I just kinda like him. His stats don't do his performance credit. He was a poor man's Darius Kasparaitus. Tough, edgy, and combative, he was also an ambitious risk-taker. This pair is going to give up a lot of scoring chances, but they'll also be entertaining as hell. If Don Cherry wants Rock'em Sock'em hockey, these 2 will provide it. What they lack in common sense they make up for with their hustle and effort. With Gill and Markov's spirit and sacrifice, this Dream Team of millionaires will stay honest and won't go soft, or run from a fight.

Felix Potvin-Curtis Joseph. This was another tough one. I'm going to right a wrong done long ago by bringin' in Cujo, but I'm keeping the Cat as my starting goalie. Felix will start 60% of the games up to the trade deadline, and then we'll take Zigmund Palffy for whichever goalie the NYIslanders want. Honorable mention in this category goes to Mike Palmateer and Grant Fuhr. After the trade for Palffy, an 8th round pick should bring back Damien Rhodes. If you're looking for a "purely back-up" goaltender, he seemed like a really, really nice guy. I always liked him, and he liked us. Seriously, when has a back-up goalie ever cried after he got traded? In a bizarre 3-way deal with the NYIslanders and Senators, Rhodes and Wade Redden went to Ottawa while the Leafs landed Kirk Muller. Rhodes held a press conference to thank the city and to wish his teammates luck and softly wept for the cameras. C'mon back, kid. We didn't mean it.

The Coach: Pat Burns. The GM: Pat Quinn. The President: Cliff Fletcher. Serious hockey for serious minds only. If we stay within our system, the rest will take care of itself. Winning and losing is everyone's responsibility. We win as a team, and if we go down, we go down together. We back each other up and we don't get pushed around. Our goal is only to win the Stanley Cup.

The Owner: Me. Inherited form Harold Ballard due to a clerical error that no one ever noticed. Hey, it's my Dream Team!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Dream Team (Part 1): The Forward Lines

Hello, and welcome to a special edition of just your usual general borschevsky! Today we take a look at some of my favorite Leaf players from my generation, and introduce the modern Maple Leafs Dream Team. First up, the forwards, and a look at possible line combinations (if all these players were in their prime and on the team at the same time).

Dave Andreychuk-Doug Gilmour-Wendel Clark. This is not a fantasy-line. This was reality. The default line for the Leafs on Sega '95, there was maybe never a more dangerous combination of players in the Blue and White. If we're in the third period, and down by a goal, you can bet these 3 will be on the ice.

Alexander Mogilny-Mats Sundin-Nikolai Borschevsky. Mogilny is considered by some to have been Sundin's best linemate, and the only player with enough skill and intelligence to equal the captain's. Now add a healthy, youthful Borschevsky to this combo and you have a very cunning 2nd line and powerplay unit. With speed, creativity, and poise, the opposing D will be turned inside out as this line scores one highlight reel goal after the other.

Rick Vaive-Darryl Sittler-Darcy Tucker. This is my blue-collar line. These guys know hustle, know how to dig deep, and they aren't going to get run over by anybody. Sittler quarterbacks this line with his cool presence and ability to control the play. Tucker will grind the puck out of the corners and bang the front of the net, while Vaive is the trigger happy man in the slot, ready to snap home anything that comes his way.

Bill Berg-Alyn McCauley-Gary Roberts. The checking line. Who can forget the way Alyn McCauley raised his game in the 2002 playoffs? With Sundin injured, McCauley and Roberts led the Leafs to the Final Four in heroic fashion over the Sens in the second round. That performance raised McCauley's trade value immensely, and as a result, the Leafs were able to land Owen Nolan in the summer. Added to this tenacious pair is Bill Berg. His name was synonymous with "pest". Indeed, after Esa Tikkanen, Berg may be the league's second biggest "Super-Pest". He made a career out of irritating and frustrating the likes of Brutt Hull, Jeremy Roenick, and Mario Lemiuex, and he did it without the childish antics and trash talking that Avery is known for. Berg frustrated the opposition with subtlety and always had a "who me?" look on his face. These 3 players on their own could send the entire Ottawa Valley to anger-management classes for 12 weeks every summer.

Hope you all enjoyed and thanks for looking. Leave me a comment if there's a Leaf you think deserves mentioning. As long as nothing major happens this weekend (Sundin signs!), my next post will be The Dream Team (Part 2): Defencemen and Goalies. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Montreal: Je Dis, Non!

Bienvenue, everybody! First, an announcement: You may have noticed a few small changes around here lately. I'm really enjoying the Blogs Of Distinction blogroll, which updates automatically. Every time a new post is published, your blog goes to the top of the list.

Meanwhile, the Poll continues until December 31st with an astounding 37 votes thus far (thanks Greener!). Randy Wood flirts with 70% but Valk and Cross are still making 2nd an interesting race.

And now... let's talk hockey!

Did anyone imagine that it would unfold like this? That Mats would have one option in order to continue his career; wear a Montreal Canadians sweater, or retire. Guy Carbonneau seems to think that's the way it is. There's only one team left for Sundin:

"The Rangers and the Maple Leafs have signed players and don't have any cap room".

Really? Detroit too, I suppose. What about Vancouver?

"It's not all about money with Mats," Carbonneau said. "I'm sure he has plenty put away over the years."

Warning: Dry-witty-sarcastic-response... inevitable.

I'm sure Mats enjoys open speculation about his accumulation of wealth "over the years". We know there's plenty, but where do you think he's put it, Guy? Wait, don't answer, I'm still trying to figure out, if it's not about money with Mats, then why are teams with little or no cap space out of contention? Seems like backwards talk to me. Seems, dare I say it, arrogant? (Gasp! Someone in Montreal is arrogant? Imposseebluh!).

Back to the Leafs. According to this article by Kevin McGrann, the Leafs have 5.4 million left in cap space. Not enough for Sundin, but if Mats were to return, obviously changes would be made.

McCabe and Kubina, the obvious choices at 5 million each, would easily free up the cap space, if a deal can be found to move either. That's a big IF, and it's publicly Plan A, but there's a back door plan as well. Have a look at the Leafs payroll. Now have a look at McGrann's article again, at the box on the side that says LEAFS LINEUP. See who's listed as an extra?

Mark Bell seems awfully out of place as the 3rd highest paid forward on the team. Based on his statistics and troubled history, Mark is Mr. Expendable. Sending him down to the minors would free up 2.16-million in cap space, bringing the amount available to Sundin up to 7.56 million, or roughly, the amount Montreal is offering.

So the Leafs are still in the Sundin sweepstakes. I'm not suggesting the Leafs want to give up on Mark Bell and cut him loose after all he's been through, but that's plan B.

I was going to write a post before that was going to be a debate between 2 people over whether or not the Leafs should keep Mark Bell. Basically, it goes something like this:

Some guy: A convicted felon should have no business wearing a Maple Leafs uniform and no place in the dressing room. Hockey players, and the Leafs especially, are admired, even worshipped, by millions, many of whom are children. I'm not suggesting that NHL players have a responsibility to be role models, I'm just sayin' they are regarded as heroes by many, yet Mark Bell is the opposite of a hero, and it's too much to ask to pretend he's not.*

Some other guy: Ya, but did you see that hit on Alfredsson? It was awesome. He totally destroyed him! Bam! Goodbye Ottawa Senators playoff hopes! It was the best goddamn thing any frickin' Leaf did in last years sad, stinky season. Bell smoked Alfredsson!

So, once more, for old times sake, and maybe, just maybe, if the Captain wills it, as a last hurrah:

*. Mark Bell is the opposite of a hero, and it's too much to ask to pretend he's not: The real reason JFJ was fired, and the real source of dressing room dysfunction is this issue.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Flushin' It Down The Woz

Tucker bought out. Raycrap gone. Same goes for Johnny Pohl. Wellwood lost. Everyone's assuming Sundin is see-ya-later, and so am I. McCabe might be forced out. Kubina might be traded. Jay Harrison is going to Switzerland or wherever. Kronwall is not currently listed on the Maple Leafs roster. And Wozniewski, well, the name means toilet to me now. (I really enjoy saying, "I'm gonna take a whiz in the Woz")

Meet The D-Men Update: Leafs Acquire Frogren!

Special thanks to Steve over at HockeyAnalysis: Toronto Maple Leafs and MF37 at Bitter Leaf Fan Page. Excellent work keeping us on top of the situation with these posts about the McCabe Conspiracy, and the Leafs evolving blue-line. To summarize: Frogren is a "strong stay-at-home defenceman with a lot of skill in his own end". He is "considered physical, even tough", and makes the simple play with "solid" execution. The only other thing that I know about him is he's prone to making Spezza bleed, which has tremendous prospect potential written all over it. Finally, if you can read Swedish, there's this article about Frogren which tells you everything, including who Mats will play for next year.
So forget everything I said in my last post. Suddenly, with the acquisition of Frogren, I get the feeling that Fletcher really is trying to blow the whole thing up. He could just be filling holes, moving Frogren into Kronwall's place on the depth chart, or he's a possible back up to Finger, if he gets an early injury. But if Frogren is expected to crack the lineup off the bat, with Finger and Stralman playing regular shifts too, then there really is too many bozos in the circus. Like a McCabe backhand pass, this thing is about to explode. Cliff has only just begun. By the start of the NHL season, you will see a new-look Leafs.

Breaking News: We interrupt this post to announce that Mats Sundin may yet return to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Reports are coming in from around the globe that Cliff Fletcher is doing everything in his power to make the captain "very comfortable".

It starts with Cliff signing Cujo, Sundin's buddy, but it doesn't end there. Wilson's a tough coach who isn't afraid to call out anybody, but I don't think he'd ever embarrass Mats. The team will be led by Kaberle, Toskala, and Antropov; all Europeans. Frogren, Kulemin, Hagman, and Grabovski are all European additions. Stralman, a Swede, is expected to have an elevated role. And Jeff Finger and Jamal Mayers are here to make sure these pussies don't get kicked around. Looks like "home sweet home" for Sundin. A very comfortable set up, if you're not looking to win a Cup right away, that is.
Maybe it's true that Sundin does want to end his career as a Toronto Maple Leaf, but maybe it's also true, as suggested here, that he wanted to see what he was worth on the open market, flatter himself, and then go back to the bargaining table with Cliff. The Silver Fox has played his hand, and Mats, quite intelligently, has countered. But neither side has formally left the table, and I think there's a chance we could still see a deal. The just needed to shuffle the deck a bit first.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Maple Leafs Nation: Meet The D-Men

I'm assuming that Bryan McCabe is here to stay. If he doesn't want to go, there's not much that can be done. I do think there is reason to hope, however. This group of Leaf D-men, as is, seems solid enough for now, and may even overachieve. Disaster-waiting-to-happen, or not, this is what the Leaf defence should look like going into this season:

Bryan McCabe: The big question for me is why would McCabe want to stick around? His relationship with Leaf Nation is at an all-time low, perhaps even toxic. He must be aware of the size of the target on his back, but he seems stubbornly unaware of the "kick me" sign just above it. Could be a rough year for McCabe, but if he's determined to stay, then I hope he's equally determined to give it all he's got. If he can re-invent the can-opener and find the opponents net with his big shot, he might survive. Also, I'd pair him up again with Kaberle. They have a strange chemistry together. Individually, they have limits to their talents and abilities. Together, they can be one of the most magical tandems in the NHL.Tomas Kaberle: Personally, my favorite player on the Leafs, my favorite player in the league, and has been for some time now. Last year was the first season where I was disappointed in his play. I wrote Damien a letter, which he never printed or responded to, pointing out Kaberle's "startling non-commitment to execution". Then he won the accuracy shooting contest. I'm still not sure if that proved my point or defeated it. Tomas has a Jari Kurri-esque quality about him. He's quiet, cool, calm, some might even say passionless. Yet he's in on almost every scoring play, he's on the ice in all key situations, and nobody (seriously, nobody) carries the puck from one blue line to the other as efficiently or as smoothly.

Pavel Kubina: Took a lot of criticism at the beginning of the year, but then became a solid #2 defenceman down the stretch with a couple of memorable performances and solid efforts. Pavel can obviously play with Kaberle, but can he jive with anyone else on the Leaf blue line? I think this is an important point. If he can, it takes some of the weight off of McCabe's shoulders. If he can't, then Bryan will fend for himself and so will the mystery partner.Carlo Colaiacovo: Seen here with his personal astrologer, Carlo has been having a run of bad luck, and hopes his fortunes will soon change. This is the year to turn it around for Carlo, to establish himself as an everyday NHL defenceman, and to prove he's more then just another Drake Berehowsky. I know he's better then "the Bear", and Carlo knows that, but Berehowsky might still have his own opinion. Time to put it to rest, Cola. We've seen some real heart and talent, but now we need to see a whole season of what you can do without us holding our breath. Colaiacovo is the real dark horse here. If he can be as good as I think he can be, then the Leaf defense is a lot better then I think it is. (Wow, it is easy to write like Damien!) Ian White: As long as he doesn't grow a beard mid-season, I'm cheering for Ian White. He's seems like an honest and thoughtful guy, and he has shown some heart. Not really a warrior's heart, like Carlo, more like a poet's heart, but still, it's a big heart, and I believe he sincerely cares about his performance and contribution. He sees the play well, moves the puck pretty good, and has a very valuable quality that you like to see in a 5th or 6th defenceman; sensibility.
Jeff Finger: A truly unfortunate name. Apparently no one in the Toronto Sports Writing Universe has any idea who he is. I'll admit, I'm not familiar with him either. He's described by Fletcher as a "shutdown guy", who "will bring a much needed physical element" and "plays a strong positional game at both ends of the ice". Well, if he's anything like Sylvain Lefebvre or Bob Rouse, or one half of one and one half of the other, then Cliff has done well to correct 2 mistakes he made in the past by letting those guys go. Anton Stralman: Appeared in 50 games as a Maple Leaf last year, registering 9 points, but was a disappointing minus 10. He's not a big D-man, similar to White, at only 180 pounds, but he can carry the puck and shoot, and it's a beautiful sight whenever a Leaf can go end-to-end. He's not a fighter, though, as you can see from this weird "gloves-on" scrap with Ilya Kovalchuk. Entertaining though, and as soon as Carlo goes down for the first time, I'm sure Stralman will be appearing in the Big Show.
Stefan Kronwall: May or may not be part of the Leafs' future. Another Swedish defenceman that would probably rather be playing in Detroit, Kronwall only appeared in 18 games last year with the big club, and failed to register a point. He also had a seriously ugly moment when, with Leaf playoff fantasies and mathematical possibilities hanging in the balance, decided to simply give up on a play, allowing Bruins forward, Phil Kessel, an uncontested breakaway, while attempting to give instructions through sign-language to the bewildered linesman. Almost unforgivable at the NHL level, if it had actually been a playoff game, I don't think you would have ever seen him again. Luke Schenn: Saviour. Cornerstone. The Foundation. The Franchise. The Future. Our Hopes and Dreams. Please, please, for the love of all that is holy, please don't suck.