Monday, January 26, 2009

Dull-Star Weekend

A little behind schedule, but here's some thoughts to share after an All-Star weekend.

The last time I remember actually enjoying an All-Star game was exactly 20 years ago. In 1989, the NHL All-Star game was held in Edmonton, and featured the exciting return of Wayne Gretzky after the big trade that sent him to Los Angeles in the summer. Re-united with Jari Kurri, it only took a minute and seven seconds for the dynamic duo to rekindle their magic and send the Oilers' fans into a frenzy. Kurri scored the opening goal of the game, assisted by the Great One, who eventually won the MVP Car and gave it to Dave Semenko. This was, of course, before he became evil.

I really liked the skills-competition when it first came out. It was fun, it was fresh, - it had a certain innocence to it. Nobody seemed to know what they were supposed to be doing, and it was interesting to watch the players fumble through the individual events while trying to keep their pride intact. Today, the skill's competition seems entirely contrived and pretentious. It seemingly takes forever, and all of the emphasis is on player interviews and gimmicks. There's very little "skill"on display actually, just glossy segues from one commercial spot to another. The whole thing feels artificial, hollow, and plastic, like celebrating Christmas at a shopping mall. You can almost see all the money changing hands behind the scenes, from one blue suit to another, handshakes and cheap smiles and even cheaper promises all along the way. Overspending on advertising that doesn't work, overspending on hockey players that don't score, overspending on sub-standard merchandise that you can get cheaper elsewhere, spend, spend, spending, until there's nothing left. Don't forget to keep reminding everyone how wonderful everything is. We can talk about "hard times", "economic downturns", and "unfair lease agreements" next week.

The first event at the Skills Competition was the Fastest Skater. I tried watching this with the sound down because I don't really need a play-by-play of a single player doing a lap of the ice. What is there to say? But then CBC didn't have an on-screen time clock for the player skating, just the time to beat, which made watching it useless. For any sport that requires a time-trial, you want to see the time as it's happening, not just to be told about it after. My eyes can't distinguish the speed of one player going around the ice from another unless they're going at the same time. If I can't see the clock and the time to beat, I can't see any drama! Being told the result after it's happened is just not the same.

In case anybody cares, Andrew Cogliano from the Oilers is the league's fastest skater.

Up next: The ridiculous Breakaway Challenge. A complete waste a time. A poor excuse to prostitute text-messaging, but at least they did away with the American Idol-style judging which was an even bigger disaster last year. This event is really stupid and pretentious and having the fans determine the winner really amounts to just a popularity contest. Getzlaf probably showed the most "skill" during the event - certainly more skill then wearing a fishing hat and carrying two sticks - but OV is the fan-favorite so he's declared the "winner" of the "challenge". For what it's worth, I thought Martin St. Louis had the best "routine", but like most people with an IQ above 20, I'm not about to waste my time and money text-messaging my useless opinion into cyberspace - that's what my blog is for! With that in mind, below is a clip of St. Louis' attempt to razzle-dazzle corporate sponsors.

Next up was the YoungStars game, a meaningless 3-on-3 exercise featuring the league's best rookies (minus Grabovski) versus the top NHL sophomores. I think I actually enjoyed this segment the most out of all the events, even though it is an incredibly dumb idea. I enjoyed it as a Leaf fan for two reasons - 1) Because it was fun to see Carey Price look so terrible and crappy, and 2) because I thought Luke Schenn looked great. Considering he's mostly a stay-at-home defenceman who's not supposed to have a lot of offensive skill, OLAS didn't look at all out of place or uncomfortable playing with the best of his class. Blake Wheeler, who had 4 of the Rookie's 9 goals, was named the game's MVP, but I personally thought Luke Schenn was the best player on the ice.

So, after the Fastest Skater contest, the Breakaway Challenge, the YoungStar's game, a couple hundred nonsensical highlights illustrating nothing, a thousand interviews revealing players are "just happy to be here and having a good time", and about a billion commercials, the skill's competition is already an hour and a half old and we're just getting to the third event - Tomas Kaberle's specialty - the Accuracy Shooting Contest. Tomas nails his first 2 shots but then it falls apart for him. Malkin is the winner of the contest, which seemed far less dramatic then the outcome last year. For one thing, Malkin didn't seem nearly as happy as Kaberle did when he won.

The hardest shot went to Zdeno Chara for the 3rd year in a row. I think Chara is awesome, and he may in fact be my favorite non-Leaf player right now. During the Toronto-Boston game last week, when Chara tied the game in the 3rd, I asked the gang over at Stanley Cup of Chowder if people were talking Chara for Hart in Beantown and the response was that people like Savard for the Hart and Chara for the Norris. Now I might be the one out to lunch here, but I think Zdeno Chara IS the Boston Bruins, especially when he's on the ice for 28 minutes and 54 seconds! like he was during their last game against Toronto.

The last event of the evening was the Elimination Shoot-Out, which reminded me of the WWF's Royal Rumble, except instead of having a new wrestler come out of the dressing room every minute, a new hockey player was sent back to the dressing room every minute. It kind of seemed to go on and on and on until finally there were just 3 players left; Shane Doan, Marc Savard, and Milan Hejduk. Then all 3 players missed their next shots - twice in a row! So even the best shoot-out specialists in the NHL are only good for 3 out of 5 in situations that directly decide who wins and who loses. Awesome. Finally Doan scored to win the competition, and since he was the only one there who had his daughter supporting him at rinkside, I guess it made for some compelling, "feel good" TV. It was a "special moment" for the Doan family, but I'm not sure it would have been for anybody else.

You have to feel for the goaltenders a little bit. It's weird that the NHL does nothing to recognize these uniquely popular and marketable players during the skills competition, but instead just uses them as potato sacks to stand between the posts, while the "Stars of the Game" put on a "show". Why isn't there an award to the goalie that carries the highest save percentage through all of these events? Or some sort of rapid-fire exercise where they have to try and stop 30 shots in 30 seconds? There should be something for the goalies. The NHL Skills Competition treats them like they're 2nd class athletes, which is really too bad.

So finally, on Sunday, the All-Star Game was held, and predictably, both teams did their best to keep the score close, until finally, they went to a shoot-out. Twenty-two goals in 60 minutes of hockey, yet not one of these superstars can score in the last 3 minutes and 39 seconds of regulation plus five more minutes of 4-on-4 overtime. Sure. And professional wrestling's not fixed either. Final score: 12-11, Kovalev and Ovechkin scoring the decisive goals.

I can't think of a single moment in the game that really stood out as exciting or compelling. It was fun to see Carey Price suck just as bad in the first period as he did in the Young Stars game, but other then that, there wasn't much to cheer about from a Leafs' perspective. Kaberle enjoyed 20 minutes of ice-time and was mostly paired up with Chara. He did pick up 2 assists, but still finished the night as a minus 3.

Perhaps the most compelling moment of the entire weekend came on Saturday before the skills competition, when Vinny Lecavalier was introduced to the loudest ovation that any player recieved, even louder then Kovalev. It also seemed contrived, but there was some genuine emotion there too, coming from the fans in the building, and from the player in the spotlight. For all the interviews, for all the photo-ops, for all the "showcasing" and hype, the most meaningful moment of the entire weekend belonged to Lecavalier and the Montreal fans, and the future relationship implied by their ovation, and the sincere emotional response visible in Vinny's eyes.

Thanks to the Olympics next year, there won't be another All-Star game or Skills Competition until 2011, scheduled to be in Phoenix, but the state of that franchise makes things uncertain, so who knows?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Do The Leafs Have Three Solid Forward Lines?

As the Leafs' continue to slump and suck, we head into the dark days of a meaningless All-Star break with nothing to celebrate except our relative proximity to 29th place. Somehow though, I feel I've maybe inherited a small duty to try to find and express any positives for loyal Leaf fans, and to serve them up as a distraction until things actually are getting better. Well, with that in mind...

... don't look now, but the Leafs might actually have three solid scoring lines. With the return of Nikolai Kulemin to the line-up, Coach Wilson is now able to roll out three distinct units that should provide a consistent and balanced attack. If they can avoid injuries, these units should stay together from now until the trade deadline. While the results have been disappointing lately, the Leafs haven't really been able put out their best line-up, having to mix and match linemates with little success. Hopefully now, with their top 9 forwards healthy and focused, and comfortable and familiar with their roles and their linemates, the Leafs can build on the natural chemistry that already seems to be there within this group. At the very least, they should challenge and motivate one another to see who can be the Leafs' most dangerous forward line.


This is the line that should be the Leafs' top scoring line but lately they've been struggling. Since returning to the line-up from his infamous soccer-ball-to-the-eye injury, Stajan initially picked up a goal and an assist in his first 2 games back but has now been held pointless in his last five. Antropov has been contributing with assists, 5 over his last 10 games to lead the team, but he's also riding a streak of 15 games without a goal. The last goal for the Lanky Kazakh was over a month ago, on December 20th, the seventh Leaf goal in a 7-3 win over Pittsburgh. Ponikarovsky, meanwhile, shares the team lead in goals at 14 with the surging Jason Blake. However, because of - or is it leading to? - Antropov's inability to put the puck in the net, the Poni-Express has not registered an assist in ten games.

This line has the talent to be the team's top unit, but confidence is a key issue here. Before the San Jose game on December 2nd, this line had been in a groove. Since then, they've fallen into a funk with the rest of the team, and Stajan's injury and recovery have seemingly dragged that out. Look for this line to feel the heat from Wilson if they don't get back on track soon after the All-Star break. There's a lot at stake for the Leafs between now and the trade deadline and a lot of it depends on the performance of these three.


It was nice to see the Man-Grabs-Lemon line reunited against Boston. Although they didn't contribute on the scoresheet, they did seem to add some zip, while their positioning is so sound that the play just seems to flow towards them. I like the way Kulemin finishes his checks and hustles on the back check, and I like the way Grabovski makes every rush look dangerous. Hagman's steady poise and composure is the perfect fit for balancing the skills of these two young players. On most nights, even when they're not scoring, this line is exciting to watch, making them a popular trio. Time and patience is all they need, but it will be worth the wait when they blossom.


With Kulemin and Stajan back with their usual linemates, Stempniak has found himself bumped down (up?) to the hottest line the Leafs have at the moment. Jason Blake and Dominic Moore seem to have found some chemistry with one another and have been the Leafs' most dangerous duo for some time now. Over the last 10 games, those two spirited 3rd-liners have combined for a total of 8 goals and 8 assists, and have contributed either a goal or an assist on 13 of the Leafs last 21 goals. They're leading the way offensively at the moment, and Blake is remarkably earning his place as the highest paid forward on the team.

Adding Stempniak to this pair had an immediate success on Wednesday night against the Bruins. All 3 players picked up 2 points a piece and were all plus 1 against the best team in the Eastern Conference. The line produced the first 2 Toronto goals, the second one on the powerplay, and they looked dangerous all night until the Leafs got bogged down into penalty trouble in the 3rd. Blake and Stempniak both continued to impress when they each scored in the shootout. Stempniak's skills, and his style of play, seems to fit well here with Moore and Blake, and I hope Wilson keeps them together for a while and gives them the ice-time they deserve. By no means should this line be carrying the team, but if the top 2 lines can get on a roll, this trio's contribution becomes much more valuable, giving the Leafs a balanced, steady, and dynamic attack.

So, who does that leave us with? What spare parts and plugs are left on the bench to make up the 4th line and grab 4 to 9 minutes of ice time?

They are: Mitchell, Williams, Mayers, Tlusty, Hollweg, May, and Deveaux.

You can mix and match wingers with Mitchell for all sorts of different combinations, but the most obvious to me seems to be the 3M line of Mitchell, Mayers, and May. We saw this group together against Boston, and they also had a strong game for 2 periods, with May scoring the Leafs' 3rd goal of the game, his first of the year. Mayers doesn't add much but I liked the way he took on Kostopoulos, so I'd leave him in there for now. Williams seems like a good plug if there's an injury or the line-up needs a shakeup, but I'm not totally sold on him as an everyday player. Tlusty has already been sent down again, despite picking up 4 assists in 2 games, his first points as a Leaf this year. Now that we have May, I really don't see much point in having Hollweg in the line-up, and as long as we're healthy I don't see any reason to have Andre Deveaux helpin' out anymore either. Deveaux seemed like a good guy who did help us by giving us a little extra punch when we needed it. There's maybe not much more he can offer us now, but we'll always appreciate his 75 minutes of pugilism.

The Leafs top 3 lines look like they should be solid enough for Wilson to roll with them from now until the trade deadline. After that, this might be a very different team, but until them, as long as they can avoid injuries, I like the way this line up looks. I think it actually has some skill and character and is only really lacking in confidence. The third line is hot right now, but we've seen Man-Grabs-Lemon look terrific at times, and we've seen Stajan-Antro-Poni tearing it up earlier in the season as well. There's some good pieces here right now - they just have to put it all together at the same time and get on a roll.

With any luck, games will be more exciting, trade values will go up, and Vesa's crappy play will continue to keep us on pace for 29th place.


I've just learned that Kulemin has been reassingned yet again to the Marlies. I'm pretty disappointed with this move, and I don't really get it. Ah well, ...screw this post!


Okay, maybe "screw this post" was a little harsh. After some reflection and consideration, I think this move is simply meant to keep Kulemin in the game while the rest of the team and the coaching staff enjoy a mini-vacation during the All-Star break. Nikolai has only just returned from injury so it's a good idea to keep him skating. The Marlies play in Syracuse tonight and then return home for a game in Toronto on Saturday. Expect to see Kulemin return to the big club by Tuesday when the Leafs return to action against Minnesota. Glove tap to the ever-wise Archimedies for the updates and the Four-One-One.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From Here To Oblivion

The good news: March 4th, 2009, the NHL trade deadline, is just 44 days away. The bad news: the trade value of Leaf players continues to plummet. Three players whose trade values should be of key interest to Leaf management saw their ice time reduced last night. Frogren was only on for 8:31, Kubina saw limited time in the 3rd and finished at under 15 minutes (14:52) well below Stralman (20:43) and also White, Schenn, and Kaberle, who were all 23+. Antropov also had reduced minutes (13:07) compared to Blake (18:47) and Hagman (16:53). In fact, only May, Mayers, and Tlusty had fewer minutes then Antropov.

Hard to showcase trade value that's playing poorly or not playing at all.

More good news: Toskala has found his niche. It's the first period. Four straight first periods without giving up a goal. Now he just needs to focus on the 2nd and the 3rd. Admittedly, he played a good game last night, but for the 23rd time this year he was the 2nd-best goaltender on the ice.

Is there more good news? I'm trying, I'm trying. Let's see: There's a clear divide in the standings now, with the Leafs 8 points behind Carolina for 10th, but only 4 points separating them from 29th overall. The Islanders, 12 points behind (ahead?) of the Leafs for last place, do not look like they're going to be caught. Thankfully, that's what the draft lottery is for. The Leafs have 3 games left against Tampa and 3 games left against Ottawa, but have used up all of their opportunities against Atlanta to gain (lose?) ground.

This isn't good news at all: Van Ryn, who was hoping to get back with the Leafs as early as last night, didn't play because he failed a baseline test earlier in the day.

"He didn’t pass the test,” disappointed coach Ron Wilson said after the 2-0 loss to the Hurricanes. “He’ll probably keep having to rehab, resting it a bit.”

Baseline tests are compared against the results of similar exercises recorded at the beginning of the season, testing a player's memory and reaction time. Losing Van Ryn like this has hurt the Leafs as much as anything else this season. In the 17 games that he has appeared in, Van Ryn contributed to the Leafs' having a winning percentage of .588. Without MVR, the Leafs' winning percentage is below .350. It really pisses me off that Cliff Fletcher went through all this trouble over the off-season to secure something, anything, in return for the departing McCabe, only to have that bastard Kostopoulos erase it all with his thug-hit on the defenceless defender. That Kostopoulos only got 3 games for such a cruel and vicious hit is disgusting, and it sends a very dangerous message to any team heading into the playoffs - illegal, career-killing, line-up destroying hits from behind are only going to cost a 3-game suspension. Heads up, Andrei Markov. I believe there's some karma coming with your name on it.

The best news of all: It's still just a sport. We may be passionate about it, but it matters to us only as much as we want it to. I'm very thankful that I don't have to deal with some of the horrors that we see in the main section of the newspaper and I wish that no one else did either. Losing sucks, but there's always tomorrow, and then there's always next season. Or I could also just turn it off. That might be the best option right now, but at least it is an option. There's always hope that things might get better someday, and in the meantime, we have each other to commiserate with. We can cry, we can try to laugh, we'll keep each other company, and together, we'll celebrate the small victories whenever they come our way, until that glorious day when we parade down Yonge St. Until then, I can still feel smug and satisfied, knowing that we are the best fans of any team, anywhere, from here to oblivion, even if that's where we're going.

Finally, in the interest of entertainment, and since there isn't anything else positive to express, for your viewing pleasure we present: Jason Blake's Spirit Quest, a pictorial-montage of one player's exciting journey in search of the Fist Pump.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

No One Wins The Showcase Showdown

There's been some discussion here and there about what the Leafs might be able to get at the NHL trade deadline for Vesa Toskala. I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, and I think the truth is, the Vesa ain't worth a bag of pucks. We're not getting anything for him. Toskala's going nowhere. Except maybe the Marlies. 
I don't think there's anything that Vesa can possibly do between now and the trade deadline that's going to undo the damage he's done to his reputation as a starting goaltender. At 4 million dollars a season, he's too expensive to be a backup for anybody. His best hope at continuing his NHL career may be to platoon alongside Pogge next year in Toronto. I can't imagine any other NHL team would have a job for him when there are goalies with better numbers clearing waivers.

Let's take a look at the train wreck that is Toskala's last 2 weeks, shall we?

(Jan 6) A 4-2 loss to Florida. 4 goals against on 34 shots. 1 goal in the 3rd period on 8 shots.

(Jan 8) A 6-2 loss to Montreal. 5 goals against on 21 shots before being replaced by Joseph for the 3rd period.

(Jan 10) A 4-1 loss to Philadelphia. 3 goals against (Flyers had an empty-netter) on 29 shots. 2 goals given up in the third period on 6 shots.

(Jan 13) Vesa's best performance; a 2-0 loss to Nashville. 2 goals against on 23 shots. Both goals came in the 3rd period on the Predators 7 shots.

(Jan 15) The Leafs win but Vesa still lets in 4 goals. A 6-4 victory over Paul Maurice and the Hurricanes, mostly thanks to Jason Blake. 32 shots against total, 3 goals against in the 3rd period on 15 shots.

(Jan 16) A 4-3 loss to Atlanta in overtime. Garbage. Another 4 goals against on 38 shots. 2 goals against in the 3rd and the OT combined on 13 total shots.

Clearly his game is not improving. In fact, his numbers are steadily declining. His goals against for the month of January is 3.5 heading towards 3.9 the last 6 six games. I calculate his save percentage over that period at .875, down from his season average of .883. The really bad numbers though, come at the worst time to have them; the 3rd period. Including the overtime in Atlanta, and not including the 3rd period in Montreal for which he was pulled, Toskala has allowed 10 goals in 5 critical periods on just 49 shots. That's a GAA of 6.00 and a save %. of .795 for the 3rd period of his last six consecutive games. 

We are passed the half way point now, and these numbers are going in completely the wrong direction. It's too late for Toskala to turn it around and salvage the season. The promise of any return at the trade deadline for Vesa has disappeared. The only thing his playing better would do now is add further harm to the franchise's ability to rebuild itself. There was a time earlier in the season when it made sense to try to snap Toskala out of his slumber. Now, the only smart thing to do would be to leave him alone to figure things out - or not, and forget about wins and losses, and concentrate on improving specific areas of the game. In a way it's a good thing: players will learn to be defensibly responsible the hard way; by losing games they should be winning. Mistakes will be noticed. Sometimes a goalie can bail out a poor effort with a big save and the lesson is missed. Toskala is going to help these players learn to play their best and when they finally have a true goaltending sensation between the pipes they're going to be unstoppable.

At least, I really hope that's what's happening here.

The Maple Leafs' ship, without a Captain, continues to go nowhere, thanks to the anchoring effects of Vesa Toskala's goaltending, pinning us to the bottom of the NHL floor.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How Bad Is "Suck"?

The Leafs have been crap lately. There's no other way to say it. They are in the midst of an awful run and it shows no signs of getting better. It's hard being a fan these days. The best summation of how I feel is from DownGoesBrown, in what might be the most important post of the year, - denial, anger, depression - eventually leading to the path of acceptance.

This sucks. This really sucks. For real.

The Leafs are in complete free-fall mode now. In their last 10 games they have 2 wins and 8 losses.

2-8 loss vs. Dallas
1-4 loss vs. NY Islanders
1-4 loss vs. Washington
4-3 win-ot vs. Atlanta
1-4 loss vs. Buffalo
3-1 win vs. Ottawa
2-4 loss vs. Florida
2-6 loss vs. Montreal
1-4 loss vs. Philadelphia
0-2 loss vs. Nashville

GF 17
GA 40

Over their last ten games the Leafs have given up an average of exactly 4 goals per game while scoring ONE-Point-Seven. Ugh. That's not entertaining.

They have only one regulation win in their last ten, and that came against Ottawa. The win over Atlanta was in overtime.

Not a single loss over that period was by shoot-out or in overtime. In fact, every loss was by 2 goals or more. Eight losses, and not a single point to show for it.

The Leafs have given up the first goal of the game 9 times in their last 10 games. 4 times they've allowed the first goal within the first five minutes.

For the rest of this post I'm going to look at Leaf forwards (with the exception of Mats Stajan who missed half the games), and see how the main point-producers have, or rather, haven't performed in the last 10 games.

Blake; 4G, 1A, 5P, -4.
Moore; 1G, 4A, 5P, -6

It's a sad state of affairs when Dominic Moore and Jason Blake are your team's leading point getters, but over the last ten, they've produced the most. Blake's 4 goals would actually put him on pace for a pretty decent season.

Ponikarovsky; 3G, 1A, 4P, -5
Antropov; 0G, 4A, 4P, -5

Antro and Poni have really struggled without Stajan, but that's only half the story. Poni has been playing well seemingly, and his 3 goals puts him in the team lead for goal scoring, but that, and his single assist, are more an indication of Antro's continuing slump. The Lanky Kazakh has zero goals over this ten game span, and for a player that should be the team's best forward, this is a disaster. The Leafs cannot win on a nightly basis without a consistent contribution from Antropov.

Stempniak; 2G, 1A, 3P, Even
Grabovski; 1G, 2A, 3P, -1
Mitchell; 1G, 2A, 3P, -3

I'm not too worried about Mitchell. If he's keeping pace with Grabovski and keeping his plus/minus down, he's not doing too bad. Grabbo seems to maybe miss Kulemin a little, and even though his numbers are down compared to the hot streak he was on earlier in the season, he still seems like one of the few spark-plugs out there for the Leafs. Meanwhile, Lee "Nowhere-Near-As-Good-As-Steen-So-Why-Did-We-Need-To-Give-Up-Colaiacovo-Too?" Stempniak has 2 goals in his last 10 games and one assist, but remarkably has kept his plus/minus at Even. Maybe he's not on the ice when the Leafs are scored against because he's sitting in the penalty box, like he was tonight against Nashville. Or maybe plus/minus just isn't a very good indication of a player's performance. Then again, his plus/minus would indicate that nothing happens one way or the other when Stempniak's on the ice, and I can't actually disagree with that either.

Hagman; 1G, 0A, 1P, -6

This is the real mystery to me. What has happened to Niklas Hagman? One goal and no assists in ten games is not the kind of production I was expecting, and if there's a reason why the Leafs production has fallen off so sharply, this must be it. Seems to me like Hagman is not the same player as he was the first 20 games of the season, and since coming back from injury he has not been himself. He scored 2 quick goals in his first 2 games back, but since then his production has totally dried up. The last 3 or 4 games, he has seemed a shadow of himself - reluctant, hesitant, shaky and fragile. Totally the opposite of the kind of player he was early on in the year. Perhaps he's not quite over the injury and came back too soon, or maybe it's a deeper psychological effect that he needs to battle through. Or maybe it's been the lack of consistency with linemates the last ten games that's thrown him out of his groove. I'd like to think that's the case, but whatever it is, Hagman needs to turn it around, fast, or the Leafs' free-fall will continue.

If the best players on the Leafs are playing their best, there's hope that they can win maybe half their games. But on the other hand, if the Leafs' best players are not playing their best, there's no hope at all of success,  and no way that they'll be able to compete with the teams in the league that are more talented then they are - and that seems to be just about all of them.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hey, Did You See My Poll?

No, not that pole. Not this Pohl either. We're not interested in bringing him back. But we do want to know who YOU want to see return to the good ol' Blue and White someday. Which former Leaf, from those shown below, is the one YOU would most like to see wearing the Maple Leaf sweater again?
Mats Sundin
Sundin has yet to play a game for the Vancouver Canucks, and some say he never will, but if and when he does, we're sure that his first shift in a Canucks uniform will have the same thrill as a poker game! Since announcing that Mats would be ever-imminently joining the team, the Canucks have won 3 of their last 9, including the last 2 games, consecutive losses in OT. Once they get a true PokerStar at centre however, their odds, and the former Captain's fortunes, will improve. Fear not, true believers! Remember the Dream! He'll be back some day, just like the prophecy said.

Bryan McCabe
McCabe, you're up next! Literally. If anybody wants to see Bryan back in Toronto, tonight's your night as the Leafs host the Panthers at the ACC. Toronto trails Florida by just 2 points in the standings, so this game has meaningful playoff/Tavares implications. McCabe has missed ten games this year and 10 of his 18 points have come on the Panthers' powerplay. One player I'd really like McCabe to run into while he's in town is Jonas Frogren. Hopefully they meet. I wish I could introduce them - this is how it would go: "Jonas meet Bryan. He used to play here and shoot the puck in our net. Now he doesn't. Yes, ours. Bryan, this is Jonas. He wears number 24 now. Jonas doesn't have a sissy can-opener, Jonas uses a Viking Death-grip! In Sweden, they call Jonas, Fridge! Jonas Can CRuSH the Can-OPENER!! HaHaHahahaha!!" I can't imagine anyone would vote for McCabe in the Poll, but honestly, I can't say I dislike him enough to not include him, so if you're a big McCabe fan, there you are, go nuts.

Alex Steen
Alex Steen has found his game (are you kidding?) recently, and his numbers look a bit more respectable (seriously?) now. In his first 20 games with the Leafs, Alex had only 4 points, but now, he's suddenly picked up 3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points in 20 games with the Blues, including a goal and  2 assists on Saturday against the Blue Jackets. Meanwhile, Stempniak in Toronto is well off the point-a-game pace he was producing with St. Louis (13 points in 14 games), scoring just 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) in his 19 games with the Leafs. Is this trade already a bust? Maybe Cliff can arrange a deal to get Steen back, sending over Stempniak again and, oh, this time - let's say - Stralman? Good to see Steen find his mojo a little. Too bad the Blues are by far the worst team in the West.

Carlo Colaiacovo
Carlo is not injured! There's still hope for me in the pool! Despite what was being widely and wildly reported, Carlo did not suffer from a lower-body bone explosion, at least, not one that effected him severely enough to keep him out of action. He was also on the ice for the Blues Saturday against the Blue Jackets, playing over 18 minutes and picking up an assist. In fact, yet another former Leaf was on the scoresheet that night, one whose name didn't make the poll list - Freddie Modin had a goal and an assist in a losing cause for Columbus. I thought of putting Modin on the list but then I thought no one would possibly want him back, would they? It'd just be a sabotage vote from non-Leafs fans. Anyways, vote for Carlo - I did.

Hal Gill
No one's really saying much about Hal Gill these days. He's appeared in just 26 of Pittsburgh's 40 games and has just 2 points, both assists. Pittsburgh is in serious freefall, losing 5 in a row, 6 of their last 7, and being outscored in their last 4 games, 19-5. That's 19 goals against in 4 games, and 5 goals for in 4 games. This is the team with Malkin and Crosby the Crotch-Puncher, and yet Hal Gill was a healthy scratch for their last game. Let's get poor Hal out of there. He doesn't deserve the meltdown that's going to come to that team if they fall out of a playoff spot for long. Is there room for him on the Leafs? Probably not now, but maybe after a couple of moves have been made, bringin' Gill back to fill a hole could be possible. He gave an honest effort for Toronto last year, and I thought he distinguished himself with the Penguins in the playoffs.

Darcy Tucker
This is the sentimental choice. The move that would pave the way for the retirement, the tribute night, the honouring of a great legend, the key to the luxury box fridge with the booze in it. Comeback opportunities. Endorsements. Cross-Promotion Concepts, Initiatives, and Strategies. Celebrity Golf Classics. Y'know, the Good Life. It's all waiting here for Darcy Tucker. He just has to throw that Leaf jersey on one more time. Even more awesome would be if he scored a goal on his first shift back and then made a classic Tucker angry-face and pushed both the opposing defenceman out of his way so he could celebrate by acknowledging the crowd. One of the great things about Tucker and the way he played, even if the Leafs were the visitors, he always acknowledged the crowd and played for his supporters. So far, after 20 votes, Darcy leads the voting with 5.

Kyle Wellwood
Wouldn't you love to see Kyle back in Toronto again? Not this year or next, I'm thinking more like when he's worn out and near the end of his career... so maybe next year actually. While his production has cooled off a little, he still leads the Canucks in powerplay goals with 8, but his 5 assists so far on the year (compared to his 14 goals) is a real head-scratcher. It'll be interesting to see how Kyle adapts to having Sundin in the locker room again. Will he continue to provide clutch scoring or will he eat a lot potato chips and get fat?

Scott Clemmenson
This option is a joke, right? Well, it is, except that so far this year Clemmenson has a 15-6-1 record with a 2.21 GAA and a stunning .924 save%. Unbelievable. He only started 2 games with the Leafs, but that's good enoughto make him a former Leaf and his numbers are good enough, that is to say, they're so much better then Toskala's it makes me want to cry, that I felt Clemmenson deserved to be up there. Maybe bringing Clemmenson back is, in reality, a ridiculous notion, but any votes for Scott will be regarded by me as a sign of general disapproval with the current Leaf goaltending situation and not actually a vote to bring back our old AHL backup.

Randy Wood
Randy Wood won the last poll so he gets to come back for another. More people are more familiar with Cory Cross and Gary Valk's heroics then they are of Wood's, by nearly a 60% margin. This is your throw away vote if you want. I guess it could also be interpreted as a vote for nostalgia. Or it could be the opposite - meaning a vote for Wood represents "none of the above" and testifies to the absurdity of the whole idea. Well, either way, if you are going to vote for Randy Wood (again), take it seriously and consider the implications carefully.

Gary Roberts
Sir Gary should come home. I'm somewhat surprised that he hasn't already. He seems like a really well liked hockey player wherever he goes, but I like to think that in Toronto, we appreciate him the most. Tampa Bay is a dead-end and an unfortunate way to finish a career for Roberts. Thus far Roberts has only appeared in half (19) of the Lightning's 39 games, collecting just 3 points total (2G, 1A) this season. I guess it's the natural order of things, but I feel like players who have had great careers like Sir Gary has had, or Shanahan, or Sundin, should do their best to go out with a bang, for a team that appreciates the career that they've had and not just recognizes, but remembers their great contributions to the sport. Florida might be a nice place to go after retirement, but it's a sad place to watch a career go to die.

Thanks for participating everybody. My first poll in the summer took nearly a month to get 10 votes. In less then a week, this poll has already picked up 20, so this is sure to be an even bigger dynamite thrill-ride for democracy! Be sure to check in at the end of the NHL season to find out the winner!

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Welcome, once again, Leaf fans, to the 3rd round of the Battle of Ontario, and our blow-by-blow account of the action. Every hit (almost), every save (yawn), every scoring chance (well, sort of) is recorded here for you so that you can relive every moment of this magnificent and historical series between the Eastern Conference's 11th and 12th best teams.

A boxscore.

Tonight's game is Appreciation The Army Night at the ACC, so everyone is jacked up and ready to kill. Let's drop the puck and start the...

First Period

19:43 Spezza gets a slashing penalty for what should have been an attempt to spear, while Dominic Mooore gets sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct. The call against Moore makes no sense.

18:00 Kaberle is hit hard by Vermette

15:06 A cheap interference call against Jeff Finger. Ottawa goes to the powerplay.

14:10 Another cheap penalty as Alfredsson is cross-checked by Kubina. Leafs 2 men down.

13:30 Nice save Toskala.

12:55 Ottawa Goal. Heatley's shot off the post is collected by Spezza who circles and finds Alfredson for a one-timer to make it 1-0 for the Senators. A powerplay goal.

11:45 A good hit thrown by Jeff Finger behind the net.

10:45 Gerber has to make a good save on a hard shot from the point by Ian White.

9:30 Hagman tripped up, no penalty.

8:30 A chance for Moore in the slot but he can't get the shot away.

8:15 Hollweg and Neil chatting a little.

7:47 Leaf powerplay. Fisher goes off for cross=checking.

6:19 The powerplay mostly fizzles but then White has a shot that just misses and Antro and Poni fall over each other going after the puck at the side of the goal. Meanwhile, Mitchell knocks the net off from the other side and Gerber gets a penalty for delay of game to put the Sens down 2 men. Hartsburg is pissed.

6:00 Leafs have 2 shots blocked and don't do anything with the 2-man advantage.

4:45 Toskala has to make a blocker save on a dangerous short-handed rush.

4:15 Powerplay ends. Mayers, Newbury, and Hollweg come over the boards.

3:25 A slow whistle as Toskala freezes the puck leads to pushing and shoving. Mayers, Newbury and Hollweg are in the middle of it as Frogren supervises. Heatley and Newbury each get minors.

3:00 Sifers gets a shot away and hits a Senator at the same time.

2:30 Spezza and Phillips 2-on-1. Phillips beats Toskala, but misses the net.

2:00 A chance for Kaberle is stopped by Gerber and then Spezza has another chance stopped by Vesa at the other end as the game opens up briefly.

1:40 Frogren throws a nice hit along the boards.

A fairly messy 1st period comes to an end without much excitement. Lots of penalties, and not a lot of flow or quality chances.

2nd Period

18:00 No real chances through the first 2 minutes. Very tight checking to start.

17:30 Chance for Kelly in the slot is blocked.

15:15 A chance for Heatley from the side of the goal, save Toskala.

13:30 Still not much happening as the teams have both settled into defensive postures, unable to put more then 2 passes together.

12:40 The Newbury, Mayers, Hollweg combo is out again and Otttawa carries the play in the Leafs' zone for a shift.

12:07 Phillips get his hands up against Grabovski. Roughing penalty. Leafs go to the powerplay.

11:30 Stempniak and Hagman set up a good chance.

10:55 Antro throws a hit.

10:13 GOAL!!! Moore scores! Jason Blakes runs himself into the boards and the puck comes out, but Volchenkov skates past it and Moore is left alone and beats Gerber. Game tied, 1-1. Blake and White get assists.

10:00 A chance for Ottawa, but Alfie misses off a scramble in front.

9:50 Grabovski with a nice solo effort but is stopped but Gerber.

9:30 Finger sends the puck in deep and then knock a man over.

8:30 Blake with a backhand wraparound attempt that comes close.

8:00 Fisher knocks his man over and then White and Foligno push and shove and Ruutu comes and over and starts yapping.

7:00 Hagman has a dangerous shot stopped by Gerber.

6:47 Frogren puts the Viking death-grip on Ruutu! Grabovski and Lee start a big scrum that sends six players to the box, 3 for either team. Frogren is awesome. He just dominated Ruutu to the ice with one hand just by holding his sweater. A double minor to Phillips is the extra penalty and the Leafs go to the powerplay.

6:00 No Goal. Kaberle's shot is blocked and then kicked in by Blake. This is so obvious. terrible play.

(Side note:When the referee anounces his decision over the PA to the crowd I find it kind of lame. It's much more dramatic when the referee just skates away from the box and either waves his arms for no goal or points at centre ice.

5:00 McAmmond and Fisher with a short-handed chance.

4:50 Fisher again has another chance short-handed.

4:30 Antropov, at the side of the goal, is stopped by Gerber.

3:20 Gerber drops his stick for no reason chasing a puck behind the goal. Seems to rattle the Sens who are hemmed in for 30 seconds.

2:10 Good pressure by Blake, Moore, Stempniak, and White, but poor execution.

1:30 Alfredsson is hit by Finger at centre ice.

1:10 Mayers has a chance but is stopped by Gerber.

1:00 A hard shot by Frogren gets through traffic and hits Gerber, no rebound.

:30 High shot by Kelly, stopped by Toskala

:15 Neal and Poni colide along the boards and Grabbo gets caught beside them and goes down, kicked in the gut by Poni's skate. Could have been a lot worse.

:05 Spezza has a huge chance with Toskala way out of the net but freezes behind the goal.

Period ends. Definitely the second half of the period was way better. More hits, better flow, players were taking the puck to the net on both sides. Aside from the last ten seconds, Vesa has looked pretty solid.

3rd Period

19:15 Volchenkov shot cmoes close, bounces off a couple of legs, cleared by Kaberle.

18:30 Antro runs over Neil from behind and gets a penalty for roughing.

18:00 Heatley's chance is stopped by Toskala and Spezza can't stuff in the rebound.

17:50 Blake, short-handed, nearly gets a goal from behind the net.

17:30 Vermette's shot is stopped by Toskala and the puck lands on top of the net. Finger gets a cross-checking penalty for for running over Vermette from behind. 2-man advantage for Ottawa.

16:42 Alfie end-to-end rush, nearly scores. The puck goes under Toskala who falls back into his net. Awesome job by Vesa to keep the puck out. Lots of pushing and shoving around the goal afterwards - White and Ruutu again. Both go to the box for roughing.

16:00 Fisher stopped y Toskala.

15:15 Foligno shot misses. Ottawa continues to pressure after the penalties have expired.

14:20 Blake nearly ices it, nut the puck goes on goal and the Leafs get to change.

13:40 Volchenkov is hit by Antro and he's down and hurt. Got his arm caught the wrong way between the hit and the boards and he won't be coming back.

13:10 Great rush and a spin pass by Grabbo to Hagman, who hits the post. Leafs continue to pressure.

12:30 A chance for the Senators but no one can control the bouncing puck.

12:06 Foligno runs over Toskala and Kubina gets a holding penalty. Terrible call.

11:20 Spezza, at the side of the goal, is stopped by Toskala.

9:57 GOAL!!! Kubina comes out of the box and jumps on a loose puck, then sets up Poni who fires it past Gerber from the slot. 2-1, Leafs. Great play. Great shot. Great Karma.

9:10 Grabbo has a chance but just misses wide. Hagman gets a shot on goal, and then Blake gets another shot.

8:30 White throws a big hit and the crowd responds.

8:15 Blake steals the puck in the neutral zone for a partial-breakaway chance but misses with the backhand over the net.

6:40 Spezza gets another chance but can't beat Toskala.

5:00 Ruutu hits White pretty hard behind the Leafs' goal. Looked like he got his leg.

4:09 GOAL!!! Jason Blake finally proves that if you put the puck on net, something good is bound to happen eventually in all mathematical probability. Gerber can't catch the initial shot, and then Blake grabs the rebound and scores on the wraparound. Unassisted goal. Leafs lead is 3-1.

3:23 White gets under Fisher for a nice hip-check, and then Neil jumps White. Good for Kaberle, who could've gotten a 3rd-man-in penalty except that he did it so gently he gets away with it and the refs simply jump in as well and break up the fight. Neil gets 4 minutes and White gets 2. Leafs go on the powerplay.

1:23 The penalty ends without any chances.

1:05 Ottawa pulls Gerber.

:23 Not much pressure from Ottawa. Toskala clears a loose puck himself.

:05 Kubina misses the empty net, but time runs out. No chances for Ottawa in the final minute. Leafs win, 3-1. 

Shots were 31-30 in favour of Ottawa. Both teams 1-for-5 on the powerplay. Moore's goal was the turning point that seemed to get the Leafs' legs going and the crowd into it. Blake had a strong game and really hustled in the 3rd period. Toskala was sharp all night, while White, Frogren, Kubina, Kaberle, and Finger all stood out with solid efforts. Sifers only played less then seven minutes so I don't know if he was injured or not, but the other 5 played really well with the extra ice time. The Leaf forwards also worked hard tonight, more so it seemed, as the game went on.

The Third Star

Another solid performance from Jonas Frogren and an amazing demonstration of Viking power. Over 20 minutes of ice time earns him 3rd star recognition.

The Second Star

Jason Blake was all over the ice in the 3rd period and it looked like his energy was contagious. Set a fine veteran example tonight and was rewarded with a big insurance goal.

The First Star

Vesa Toskala was nearly perfect tonight, stopping 30 of 31 shots, good enough to make him the first star on most nights, but at home on a Saturday, against the Senators, it's a performance that is greatly appreciated well beyond the two points earned in the standings.

The Leafs now lead the Battle of Ontario, 2 games 1, and 5 points to 2, and lead the Senators in the standings by 7 points! Until next time.... Go! Leafs! Go!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A New Year, A New Poll, And Much, Much More!

Hello Leaf fans from coast to coast and around the globe and welcome to 2009! This is our first post of the year and so we have quite a few announcements to kick things off.

First of all, the old poll is closed. 129 total votes. Congratulations, sort of, goes to Randy Wood, who was selected Least Memorable Leaf Player To Score An Overtime Goal In The Playoffs. He wasn't quite able sustain his 60% pace, finishing with 58% of the total vote, but it was a clear victory over runner up, Cory Cross, who picked up 36 votes (27%). For those that don't remember Randy Wood, or for those that think he was a do-nothing nobody with a hilarious porn-star name, 1967ers does the honour of setting you straight with this great post. Special thanks to eyebleaf and Greener for voting as often as they did!

Up next, a new poll! How exciting! The fun never stops around here. This time we want to know which former Leaf you would like to see one day return to the Maple Leafs. Wendel came back. Dougie came back for one unfortunate game, and Cujo has come back for his 450th career win, but an otherwise forgettable season so far. Who should be next? Who would you like to see the Leafs acquire, either at the trade deadline for one last hurrah (Gary Roberts), or in the summer for next year? Perhaps a retired veteran could even be talked into making a dramatic comeback? Vote now, change your mind, vote again, doesn't matter, 'cause the poll will be open for 100 days, right up until the end of the NHL season, April 11th.

Other announcements:

The BoOBbB III is coming! The Battle of Ontario resumes tonight with round 3 as the Leafs play the Ottawa Senators at the ACC, so I will be posting a blow-by-blow account of the game as soon as I can after it's over. So, probably long after anyone cares.

Carlo Colaiacovo injured? USAToday is reporting that poor old Carlo left last night's game in the first period after attempting a hip check on the Hurricane's Tuomo Ruutu. He will apperantlybe re-evaluated today. Our best wishes go out to Carlo, and we hope it's nothing serious and that he bounces back fast. For just one more week and then breaks his leg. I've got Jan. 10th to 16th in the injury pool. C'mon Carlo, we're so close! You can make it.

Stajan's eyes under lockdown! Or, at least, they should be. It's now 3 games and counting that he's already missed due to a nearly deadly mishap with a soccer ball. As everyone is well aware, Stajan's eyes are like a national freakin' treasure that need special protection. What I would like to know is why Stajan was not wearing his visor while in the vicinity of a game European's refer to as "kick-it-at-the-eye-ball"? When you think about it, shouldn't he have been? I propose that Stajan should permanently wear some sort of titanium and iron-plated helmet with a re-enforced fiberglass shield that comes down to his chin at all times. As a second safety layer of extra-precaution, Stajan should be outfitted with some kind of small, narrower, steel rimmed visor that he wears under the larger visor. When he's not on the ice for a game or practice, his entire head should be wrapped in cotton bandages and then the helmet and two visors reapplied.

My new favourite Leaf is Jonas Frogren, not for his talent so much, but for his honest effort and sacrifice. While the Leafs have not played well lately, winning only 2 of their last 6, and both of those came against Atlanta, Frogren's effort has been solid throughout. Though he does make the occasional error, he plays hard consistently; hitting his opponents, getting in their way, getting under their skin, and throwin' his body at shots with amazing bravery. For his sake, I hope the Leafs have an amazing second half and that Frogren enjoys, not just the experience of being in North America, but some success here as well.

Well, that's about it for now. I was going to do a little reminiscing about highlights and lowlights of the past year but that will have to wait for another post perhaps. The Leafs-Sens game is about to start, and we don't want to miss a minute of the action. Thanks, as always, for dropping by. Hope you can keep comin' back through 2009. Don't forget to vote in the poll!

Go! Leafs! Go!