Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Blood Of My Chief, Vol. V: Time In Between

It was The Year Without Hope.

An entire season without a Captain. For one night, however, we welcomed back our former Chief, the Great Sundin, and although he dressed in our rivals' uniform, there was indeed a celebration worthy of this reunion. Despite some discontent from the riff-raff, his return received the most honourable of ovations, worthy of the noblest man.
At last, when the time came for Sundin to strike the fatal blow, delivering our points in the standings to our enemies in sacrificial martyrdom, he did so like a champion. The saga was over, once and for all, with Sundin leaving as the victor, the last goal ever scored while his skates were on the ACC ice - his.

Of the 5 Alternates that were named to share leadership at the beginning of the season, 3 have not survived. Antropov and Kubina have travelled very different paths to get to the same destination. The Rebel, Moore, went off in search of the horizon and was never heard from again. The two remaining Alternates were Mayers, a weathered journeyman who could fight proudly but was unable to carry the team, and Kaberle the Quiet, the longest serving tribesman; hugely popular, yet an uncomfortably valuable asset that promised new blood. Though he now seems destined to remain with the team, part of the mystique and magic that is Kaberle is his unassuming nature and passive precision. A terrific and subtle weapon, but not the next Captain.

Yet our tribes spirited effort to reclaim its proud identity did not go for long without a symbolic figurehead. A face that stood for a franchise, a player we longed to follow as a generation, began to emerge. No torch had been passed, and yet, a light was shining brightly, ever clearer, leading the way.Luke Schenn. The name is like a switch. It turns you on. Say it out loud and people will notice. It feels important, profound. You want more. You want it again.

As our second season without a Captain approaches, there is comfort and solace in the knowledge that a noble young warrior has come forward, with unanimous approval of the Nation, to assume the role of Saviour. Uniquely capable of crushing the will of his opponents, yet also of lifting the spirits of the cynical and inspiring the bitter to love again, there are only two words left to describe Luke Schenn:

Next Captain. The question is no longer who?, but when?

This post dedicated to the memory of Ted "Teeder" Kennedy, one of the Leafs' most important Captains, who passed away today at the age of 83. Captain from 1948 to 1955 and 1956-7, Kennedy won 5 Stanley Cups in 13 seasons, all with the Blue and White. There's some great photos here from Somny at Vintage Leafs, including one of Teeder about to fight Gordie Howe.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Nope, Not Gonna Be Him Either

Do the Toronto Maple Leafs need a Captain? Are they ready for one? Do they have anyone that qualifies? This post is really a sequel to last summer's smash-hit, "Well, It's Not Gonna Be That Guy". Maybe it'll end up being a series. Running with the same theme, I'm not really looking for the right choice, but trying to present the best arguments for the worst choices you could make. An exercise in anxiety release. Not meant to be taken seriously.

Lee Stempniak should be named Captain of the Maple Leafs.
Great leaders are often responsible for deeds that go unseen or unrecognized. Many would suggest that there must be more to Lee "2 for 1" Stempniak then meets the eye. Not one to showboat or draw attention to himself (in any way, whatsoever), Stempniak quietly, rather, silently goes to work without flare or quarrel, or even a solid physical form. Putting a "C" on his sweater would help the fans recognize Lee's omnipresent contribution, and so would giving him a red and yellow helmet with a windwheel on top.

Matt Stajan should be named Captain of the Maple Leafs.
Stajan is from Mississauga, and damn'it, that's local enough. He had 40 assists last season, and double-damn'it, that's a lot. While maybe not a legitimate top-six or bottom-six player, Stajan is the prototypical middle-six forward. Meaning - he eats up a lot of quality ice-time in between the stuff that happens, allowing the game to flow without a whistle at a steady pace. Stajan is the team's media darling and Toronto's MSM writers would certainly react to "their choice" with euphoric elation and dangerous levels of intoxication and fornication, perhaps ending in tragedy, though no one would actually use that word.

Mike Van Ryn should be named Captain of the Maple Leafs.
This is just an opportunity to recycle my old Carlo jokes: Blood and guts effort; inevitable sacrifice; the whole team gets a turn at the rotating captaincy as Van Ryn inspires them to lift their spirits again and again, from the surgery ward recovery room.

Rickard Wallin should be named Captain of the Maple Leafs.
Rickard Wallin is a centre, and he's from Sweden. Not much more to it then that really. We should also let him wear number 13 - just to see what happens. Just to see what it feels like. Seems to possess remarkable decision-making capabilities.

Ian White should be named Captain of the Maple Leafs...
...for possessing facial hair truly worthy of a Captain. Really, we're giving the "C" to White's mustache, but it would look ridiculous dangling from his lip so we'll sew it on to his sweater. I personally really like the idea that when a contentious call is made, Wilson can send White over to the referee with the instructions, "Tell them to explain it to the mustache".

Vesa Toskala should be named Captain of the Maple Leafs.
Naming goaltenders the Captain is totally in vogue right now, and being in vogue is totally the Vesa. Hey, why not let the goaltender have completely all the pressure? He can handle it. The weight of the world is nothing compared to 21 hockey players on your back. Being on the ice for the entire game gives Toskala the unique ability to influence its outcome. When the team needs a big hit, or a sustained attack, Toskala will be there on the ice - usually 180 feet away from where it needs to happen... and unless, of course, it's the final minute and we actually need a goal, in which case he'll be headed to the bench, to lead the team from there. Hmmm... maybe this one needs to be thought out a little better. People in Vancouver must be high as kites 'cause I'm really stoned and I still can't imagine how a goalie can be Captain.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Make Way For The Viking

I'd like to introduce you to Jonas Frogren.

Around here we call him the "Viking". In Sweden, they call him the "Fridge". By sheer coincidence, y'know, my fridge is a Viking.

He's one of my favorite Leafs, yet he's currently buried on the Leafs' depth chart under 8 NHL defenceman that all have greater experience and qualifications. I want to keep cheering for Frogren in the Blue and White, but I don't see how he's going to find a spot in this line-up.

In fact, I don't even see his name listed on the Leafs' roster at the moment, nor is he listed "In The System". His name does appear though on the Marlies' roster on their official site. It could be that Frogren isn't really in the Leafs' plans this year and is destined to serve out the rest of his contract in the minors. I hope that's not true. I hope there's a way to keep him around and find him a spot as the Leafs' 7th or 8th defenceman.Frogren is fearless when it comes to blocking shots (41 in limited ice-time) and he also hits hard, and often too. 74 hits in 41 games - only Schenn and Finger throw bodychecks from the blue line with greater frequency. While he doesn't fight much, Jonas can and will put little pukes like Jarkko Ruutu on their back with authority.Burke said recently that if the Leafs are going to be a playoff team, then they'll need eight defenceman. Assuming Kaberle (10 days...), Schenn, Komisarek, and Beauchemin are safe, that leaves White, Finger, Exelby, and Van Ryn. Frogren could be number 9, but don't forget Oreskovic who also deserves a chance. Unless Burke can swing a deal for one of these defenders, or until Van Ryn's inevitable bone-a'splosion, there just isn't room onboard for the Viking.

Here's a suggestion for Wilson that would have the side benefit of helping Jonas stay on the team: Let's move Ian White up to forward. The Leafs lost 2 solid players up front at the trade-deadline last year and have only replaced Antro and Moore thus far with Orr and Primeau. That still leaves a huge offensive hole that hasn't been filled. Hanson, Wallin, and Bozak have promise but are unproven. White's got the right skills to be a tenacious forechecker and dangerous weapon - a stylish combination of grit and grace, or as Chemmy declared it, "moustachulence". He's shown he can put the puck in the net at the right time, like he did November 2nd, 2008, the first goal of the game in the 1st period of the first game he played all year, the Leafs' second game in November, and therefore one of the most important goals of the season. Moving White to forward would immediately improve the scoring depth up front while opening up a spot on the crowded blue line.

Frogren's contract ended up hurting the Leafs and his contribution was minor and interrupted by injury. Maybe he doesn't deserve to be on the Leafs or even in the NHL, but here's why I want him on my team: He sets the bottom line. No defender is allowed to be worse then he is. At the same time, and much like Todd Gill - He. Tries. So. Hard. With every shift, he's trying to prove he belongs here. That kind of effort and sacrifice from the bottom up enforces accountability throughout the lineup.

Also, he seems to be something of a motorcycle enthusiast. I'm not sure why that's cool, but it is.

Here's a clip from one of Frogren's best games, scoring his first NHL goal and laying a solid hit on Evgeni Malkin. Below that is a clip with a nice interview to help you get to know the Viking a little better.

I think keeping Frogren down on the minors would be a waste of a good asset, especially after the trouble gone through to acquire him, and a sad conclusion to a long journey.

"This is my adventure," roars the Viking. "I've got nothing to lose and to be playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs is just so cool."

Nice. I hope it continues, Jonas. Good luck in September.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rowdy Grabbo And Cowboy Colt

Just wanted to share something funny I noticed thanks to a comment by DGB at, where else, PensionPlanPuppets.

"When did Grabbo turn into Roddy Rowdy Piper?"

Well, if Grabbo is Rowdy Roddy Piper, then Colton Orr must be Cowboy Bob Orton.

The resemblance is striking and the roles are about the same.
"We're real men... We're the kind of people that come out to fight."

Should be a fun year with Rowdy Grabbo stirring things up like a hilariously popular super-villain now that he has a bodyguard in Cowboy Colton Orr to stand in his corner and watch his back. We may not win every match, but at least our rivals will hate us even more, and we will always, always, have the last laugh.