Saturday, August 28, 2010

Carry That Weight

Seven Players That Can Lift The Leafs Into The Playoffs

Dion Phaneuf: The player who scored the last Leaf goal in dramatic fashion at the end of last season will be the first player to wear the C on a Maple Leafs uniform since Mats Sundin. Are you as excited as I am about our best six defenceman being led on to the ice by Captain Dion Bone-Crusher Phaneuf? The team finally has a leader who will assume personal responsibility for winning and losing while encouraging confidence and success, and that can only lead to a better team performance.

It took Phaneuf a surprising 25 games to score his first goal as a Maple Leaf. He scored his second goal the very next game, the game winner in overtime, as the Leafs closed the curtain that night on their season. It only took him 6 minutes and 51 seconds to get into his first fight as a Maple Leaf, in the first period of his first game.

After the Great January 31st Overhaul, the Leafs record with Dion in the line-up was 13-10-3. That's not setting the world on fire, but it was the Leafs most consistent stretch of the season, 29 points in 26 games. If they'd have done that for 82 games, the Leafs would have had 91 points and been tied for 6th with Boston.
Tomas Kaberle: Will Frantisek Sr. still be welcome to watch Leafs practices alongside Howard Berger? Toronto's longest serving player will be coming back to the team under an incredible media-microscope and it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure. With calm dignity and grace, I suspect, if Kabby stays in his usual character.

With no Olympic schedule this year, and with Mike Komisarek returning to the line-up,and Phaneuf taking command, Kabby's workload should be less demanding this season, and more in tune with what Burke and Wilson had originally crafted when they brought in Komi and Beauchemin last summer. As part of this fearsome foursome, Kabby will hopefully be able to do what he does best when the Leafs need it most, giving this dangerous group a deadly playmaking dynamic.

Approaching Maple Leaf milestones for Kaberle this season include surpassing Ron Stewart (9th all-time) and Darryl Sittler (8th) for games played; Iafrate, McCabe, and Hap Day could all be caught for goals-scored by a defenceman; will likely pass George Armstrong for 5th in all-time assists; and could possibly catch Rick Vaive for tenth spot all-time in Leafs scoring.

Phil Kessel: Kessel leads the attack, and Maple Leaf fortunes are directly tied to his contribution. No player will make a bigger difference towards winning and losing on a nightly basis. In the last 26 games of the season last year, the Leafs managed just two wins on nights when Kessel didn't factor into the scoring. The good news is, Kessel gets on the scoresheet a lot, and when he does, the Leafs chances for success improve drastically, and I mean, drastically: From the last 26 games, when Kessel is held off the scoresheet, the Leafs are 2-8-2, but then are 11-2-1 when Kessel records a goal or an assist.

I don't think we need to worry about Kessel's consistency or his ability to score when it counts, the question is can the rest of the team find a way to battle through for the win when Kessel is held in check. A potent weapon, even shut down, should still have the effect of weakening the other side's overall defence.
Mikhail Grabovski: Best hair on the team. At this time last summer, Grabovski was Toronto's fastest rising star, second in popularity to only Luke Schenn. The additions of Kessel and Phaneuf, and the departures of virtually every player who'd come before and many more since, have opened up Grabovski to more critical eyes within Leafs Nation. He still has a number of very loyal supporters, but the novelty has worn off for others who want to see less dipsy and more doodle, and for Grabbo to bring the crazy at appropriate times, when it's constructive and useful.

Wilson seems to have him figured out and hopefully can encourage Grabbo to the next level this season. I pointed this out at the end of last season, but I'll bring it up again; in the 59 games that Grabovski appeared in, the Leafs were a point per game team. 24-24-11. Some people might call that .500. I'm reluctant to. But it's a marked improvement from where we actually think we are. It's competitive. It means that every game we have an equal chance of coming away with a point in the standings. For Leaf fans, this is a huge difference on it's own.

Nikolai Kulemin: The player that I would now rank as Toronto's fastest rising star is Kulemin. Not sure where he ranks in popularity, but he's on the list. Big things will be expected of Kool-Aid this season but it may be that we've found a real diamond in the rough. As the season progressed last year, Kulemin's play and confidence seemed to improve at an accelerating rate, as if gaining its own momentum. The word "blossom" barely does justice to Super-Kule's increasing maturation. In Ron Wilson's words:

"It's simple. He was crawling, then walking, now he's running... He's probably our most complete player now. He's everything you want in a hockey player."
Jonas Gustavsson: What are we going to get from the Monster? It's unfathomable that the Leafs might suffer yet a third goaltending catastrophe. The painful journey that was the Raycroskala boat of death should thankfully be at an end. It's time for other teams to fear our goaltending and our goalie has the best nickname in the league for that. Let this be the beginning of some sort of Felix-Cujo reincarnation, with Giguere in the role of Fuhr-Puppa-Healey-Eddie, and playoff possibilities will look at lot clearer.

After a difficult enough start to his career to earn a Masterton nomination, Gustavsson's numbers were very good down the stretch. 7-2-1 in his last 10 games of the season beginning from the Olympic break. A 2.62 GAA in that run, and a .915 SV%. Finding that form early on and not having any setbacks will be key to the Leafs post-season aspirations.

Mike Komisarek: The Wild Card. I have a feeling if Komisarek can give us 75 games or more this season, no one will be questioning his signing. Let us pray that we don't have another Colaiacovo-Van Ryn situation here because one of the biggest setbacks to the Leafs success last season, and Burke's architecture, was the prolonged absence of Komisarek on the blueline. Mike suited up for just 34 games, picking up 4 assists and 40 penalty minutes. The absence of his physical, punishing style had an impact that can't be measured until we see an entire season of Komisarek getting comfortable and making things comfortable for the rest of our defenders too.

With Phaneuf named Captain while Komisarek rehabbed, the pressure should be off just enough for Komi to be an intense weapon without being a liability. He slots in very nicely into the top four with the now settled and steady Beauchemin, the all-star Kaberle, and the Captain Phaneuf. And with the dynamic young duo of Schenn and Gunnarrson following their lead in spots 5 and 6, this is the most promising defensive line-up for the Leafs that I can ever recall. To break this group up before they'd even played a game together as a unit would have been a tragedy. Komisarek's poise, his experience, his toughness, and his health are going to be needed and will be key to seeing them reach their exciting potential.
This year, the Playoffs!!!1.

Believe it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Passion Strikes Back

Have you been hearing the expressions "dead horse", "stir the pot", and "overblown" a lot lately? I think people are getting really tired of the Toronto mainstream media, and with good reason. We don't get news, we get spun. Especially when the stories originate off the ice and have little to do with what took place on it.

It's bogus, it's lazy, and worse, it's this constant mindless empty truth-mongering that's continually driving away Toronto's top athletes.

If you were Chris Bosh, Mats Sundin, Roy Halladay, Vince Carter, Doug Gilmour, or Carlos Delgado, would you want to see the likes of Rosie Dimmano, Damien Cox, Howard Berger, Steve Simmons, Al Strachan, Dave Feshuck, or Dave "Original Content" Fuller, on a daily basis? Can you imagine what it must be like to have them asking you again and again how you "feel about the controversy surrounding your future in Toronto"?

"Despite repeated denials that there was any controversy, the fact is, this issue just isn't going away. We'll keep you updated on THE SITUATION."
-they all said in unison like the Borg

One of the things I stumbled upon recently was Steve Simmons' own admission that Burke himself was among those who were "shitting all over" him after quoting an un-named source saying Kaberle was at his "wit's end" with Wilson.

"When I wrote Kaberle couldn't stand Wilson Leaf fans and Burke were shitting all over me."

I would have loved to have seen what that looked like. Indeed, a horrible expression and not one that I would ever use but Simmons feels comfortable broadcasting that language for some reason over his twitter account to... ? Who the fuck knows who he thinks he's talking to...

I remember how the players reacted at the time, thanks to the honourable James Mirtle:

"It's to the point in the Leafs dressing room where, for many players, this "story" is a non-story -- just another day under a coach who can be difficult to deal with. Veterans Wayne Primeau and Jamie Lundmark, for example, made light of the media interest in Kaberle today by pretending to be reporters themselves, holding the ends of broken hockey sticks like microphones in their teammate's face and giggling through the proceedings."

Eventually the players are gonna stop laughing.

And the media will be there to make an issue out of that.

Funny enough, I ran across another interesting quote recently. I'm taking it completely out of context 'cause it wasn't related to Tomas Kaberle at the time, but I still thought it was kind of interesting and might give you an indication about Burke's reaction to the Kabby Situation:

"As for rules prohibiting "family advisors" from negotiating with teams, Burke said that rule is routinely ignored. He also noted that if parents think their 14-year-old needs an agent, "You're probably wrong."

Burke added that parents are likely the worst judges of talent and
"have no perspective." "

Obviously Burke has great respect for Mr. Kaberle Sr., much more then he does for the fathers of some random 14 year old hockey players. And Tomas is no ordinary 32 year old hockey player. Still... blah blah blah, dead horse, overblown, stir the pot...

Can you give us an update on the Kaberle-Wilson issue?

"Ronny will sit down with Tomas soon and sort it all out."

Yes! See?! See?! We told you! There is an issue! A rift! RIFT WE SAID!

"I'm not sure there is going to be anything that needs to be worked out."

A meeting to finally settle their feud... sort out this increasingly deep rift once and for all... incompatible differences... continual animosity... a delicious feud...

"But I'm not sure there is going to be anything that needs to be worked out."

A beautiful rift... the rift of my shallow dreams... the rift of a lifetime... the ultimate rift... rifty business... stir pot, beat dead horse, overblow, and suck.

Thank goodness we have the Barilkosphere and don't need these dinosaurs anymore.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What's The Big Deal?

Hey look, it's Tomas Kaberle!I was just thinking about you. What you been doin' all summer?

Uh-huh. I've also been chillin'. Took a short vacation out west to BC. It's weird out there, man. They think the Sedin twins aren't creepy, a goalie for a Captain is cool, Trevor Linden is a legend, and Sundin made a bold decision. Lots of nice parks and fresh air though, which is good for the soul. Sometimes it's good to get away from it all, y'know? So anyway, weird seeing you out in this, uh..., furniture store?

Hey, now that we're together and seemingly alone, I should tell you, Kabby, people have been sayin' stuff about you. Ya... I heard people talking, brother...

"Three reasons I doubt he resigns: (1)The Leafs can’t afford him — he’s going to be asking for five years at $6M a season... (2)The NTC issue. No way Kaberle resigns without one, and Burke says he never gives them. (3)Lingering bad feelings on both sides... Add it all up and I’m betting he’s gone by the deadline."

That's a lot of money! And headaches. What a complicated situation!

"Kaberle needed to be moved by midnight Sunday. He wasn’t, leaving this now as a festering problem in the dressing room and for the organization."
-Damien Cox

I honestly don't know what dressing room he's talking about when the pre-season training camp hasn't even begun yet. I also think Damien's deliberately underestimating your professionalism - and Burke's - in an attempt to create drama where there is none for the sake of reader interest. It's highly pretentious.

"The Toronto Maple Leafs have a Tomas Kaberle problem. The longer it festers, the more likely it is to infect other regions of the dressing room... Like we said, Burke is no John Ferguson Jr. He doesn't want the Kaberle situation mucking up training camp, let alone festering through October and November."
-Dave "Original Content" Fuller

There it is again. "Kaberle... problem... festering... dressing room." What the fuck? When Damien did it, it was tabloid-puke and pretentious. But this is Dave's second act of borderline plagiarism in days. (Or is it his third?) Way to project a worst-case scenario and then report it as fact, without a single quote in your article. Well done, SunMedia. Dave Fuller should be writing for Bleacher Report.

"My inclination is to do nothing with the defence... We worked very hard to put this group together. And my inclination is to do nothing."
-Brian Burke

I don't get it. For whom have problems festered? Why would Burke be frustrated to still have a group of defenders that they'd worked so hard to put together in the first place? Why would he be resentful about his own prophetic inclination? Why do people not take things that widely-respected people say at face value?

"He’s not a carpetbagger. He’s not looking to go running around for the big money anywhere or anything… He said, ‘I love Toronto. I love being a Leaf. I have no interest in going anywhere else'."
-Rick Curran

Well, I'm taking that at face value. Shouldn't I? That's your agent, Tomas, and he says you don't want to leave and you don't care about money. This guy represents you, right?

"As corny as it sounds, he believes he is part of the solution... he truly believes it's just a matter of time before they enjoy some success and he wants to be there for that. It's really nothing more complicated than that."
-Rick Curran

It's not corny, if that's really how you feel, Kabby. But it is a little bit more complicated then that if you have an intolerable coach, and a salary cap to structure a team under. The solution, and you can be a big part of it just like you'd hoped, is easy: keep reading.

"I can't imagine how it will be to get along with Ron Wilson, who relies primarily on aggression and stress... In my opinion, I can't see Tomas entering a new contract with the club. No, not if Ron Wilson will continue to be employed in the future."
-Frantisek Kaberle

Hmm, that last name looks familiar... Hey, that's your Dad! How adorable. Do I sense a little paternal jealousy, maybe? I know you don't enjoy talking publicly about your relationship with the coach, and I seriously doubt you want to talk publicly about your relationship with your dad, so I don't know why your dad would be talking publicly about either, prompting questions about both. You might wanna give him a call.

You know what helps people get along real well? Success. Winning hockey games really eases the tension and builds camaraderie. On the other hand, if we're still floundering out of the playoffs by January, I doubt either you or Wilson will be very welcome much longer. In other words, it's a small boat, and you're in it together. Do your jobs and win hockey games. That's part one of the solution.

"I always look at the guys like Steve Yzerman and those guys that played on only one team. Obviously, these days, it's really tough to stay on one team your whole career... you never know what will happen in the summertime. Now I have to show I want to be here and play my best hockey."
-Tomas Kaberle

Now that one was you. Way back in March. Still relevant though, right? You must have been drunk or something 'cause you really opened up there for a minute. Well, okay, so then just the other day, I said to my buddy, blurr, I says,

"I guess I can see how it becomes mutually agreeable for a legendary player to take his last kick at the can somewhere else, but also how rare and special it is when a player of that calibre plays his entire career for one team."

You see, I was talking about Salming and Sundin, but I was actually thinking of you.

I don't think you do really need to play your best hockey right now. Just play within Wilson's system, move the puck quickly and gracefully to the forwards, and quietly help the team win with steady precision and calm consistency. Save your best, this year, for when it counts - the playoffs!!1. One way or another, plan to be there.

Now I doubt at any point, you and Burke will actually be in the same room together at the same time, but at some point this season, Burke's people will approach your people with an offer for a contract extension. Trust me, it will be a low-ball offer. Burke will tell you that he talked to all the other teams in the league, and they told him what you were worth and it didn't cover the cost of a plane ticket and skates, and that he's proactively subtracted a ten percent hometown-discount-and-loyalty-tax from your consensus value, and then stretched it out over 15 years. They will then present you with a locked briefcase with a dollar amount inside. My advice to you, Tomas, is:

Take the Deal!
Take the Deal!

The other option is an unceremonial ticket out of town, and a lot more heat, grief, and questions about your feelings along the way. There's no cause for concern here - you'll be well taken care of here in Toronto, Tomas, or wherever you go. But long after your playing days are over, where will you be remembered? Who will take care of you then? Here's an opportunity to really be "part of the solution" and to come out of this heroically. Take whatever deal Burke has to offer, without hesitation, and prove that honour, trust, and loyalty are still compatible with professional hockey.

Don't even open the briefcase or look inside. Just shake hands, say thank you, and wear that Leafs jersey with pride. Don't worry about the money, that'll come later when you open your first rotisserie chicken restaurant - Kabby's Championship Cluckhouse.

I'm being fucking serious with you now.

Lock it up, Tomas. Do the deal. Get 'er done. Make it a done deal. All that stuff. Then don't worry about it and go play hockey.

Maple Leaf For Life, for whatever's inside Burke's briefcase. It might even be one dollar - doesn't matter. We've come a long way in this relationship together, buddy. Both sides have shown a great deal of patience and respect. You know how we feel about you. We weren't going to give you up without a fight or a high price in return. Now it's up to you to make the commitment and show us what it's worth.

Otherwise, until then, it's just an awful lot of talk, and ya, it can get a bit distracting.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Hey everybody! It's been a really long time since my last post, so apologies to my friends and to anybody out there I might've let down. This is all a little strange and new to me again and so since I'm feeling kind of rusty, I thought I'd break the ice with a bit of nostalgia for one of the greatest Maple Leafs ever.
For an even better read on Borje Salming, go here.

Salming was one of the best in the game at both ends of the ice, but was also a distinctly honourable gentleman throughout his career. In an era that saw bitter ends to the Maple Leaf careers of Vaive, Sittler, and Keon, Salming was the embodiment of loyalty, representing the Blue and White extremely well, particularly through some very dark seasons. He was pure class, and remains one of my favourite players of all-time.

Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. The first European player to play in 1,000 NHL games. Third most games played in a Maple Leafs uniform(1,099). Highest scoring Maple Leafs defenceman of all-time in Points(768), Goals(148), and Assists(620). Fourth overall in Points at any position, behind only Sundin(987), Sittler(916), and Keon(858). Most career Assists by a Maple Leaf at any position. The highest career plus/minus total of any Maple Leaf player, an incredible +155.

Also has the strange distinction of having been on the ice for the most goals total, for and against, of any NHL player in the 1983-84 campaign. On the ice for 182 goals either way in just 68 games, Salming was a minus-34 that year. He was then a minus-26 the following season as well, making the plus 155 career total that much more astounding. Wipe out those two disastrous Ballard-era seasons, and Borje's plus/minus is a staggering 215 over 14 seasons.

Salming is a three-time winner of the obscure and highly secretive Viking Award, given to the best Swedish player in North America, as voted by the players. Mats Sundin is the only player to win the award four times. Daniel Alfredsson has never won the award, or like most of us, ever even heard about it.

Borje played 16 seasons for Toronto before finishing his career in Detroit for one season in 1989-90, scoring a modest but respectable 19 points in 49 games. The lesson is: Loyalty only goes so far without winning, and what will be, will eventually be. Legendary careers should still be remembered and celebrated, however only a championship makes a Hall of Famer truly indisposable to a city. Having witnessed Sundin's career wind down melodramatically, his legacy somewhat diminished, in Vancouver, and with Kaberle still with us and entering the final year of his contract, it seemed appropriate to reflect on the career of Borje Salming, and realize even he finished his NHL career in a different uniform, in front of fans that likely didn't appreciate the significance.

"Every Swede respects Borje and pays him tribute for what he has done. For us - Swedish hockey players - he is the man who showed us the right way; he is a trailblazer."
-Mats SundinSo cheers to long journeys and old acquaintances!