Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Word Is Leaf: September

Here's a round-up of the month's best quotes. If you've heard a good one that I've missed feel free to throw it in the comments with a link. And if just one person lets me know that they liked this idea, I'll try to keep doing it for every month of the season. Cheers.

"He showed me that I don't know how sharp his skates are because he can't stop when there's a turnover. He goes for a big skate."
-Ron Wilson on Kadri

“That’s the cruelty of this game and the cruelty of the NHL. Other guys are better than you. You’ve got to work hard to get back into the good books of the coaches."
- Assistant Coach Tim Hunter

“I had to go the tailor and let out every single one of my suits in the ass. Two hundred bucks worth of tailoring because my friggin’ rear got bigger.”
-Luca Caputi

"Can you control your Dad? I love my Dad, but I don't agree with everything my father says."
-Tomas Kaberle

“This speculation that Jeff Finger has been earmarked for assignment, I don’t think is fair to Jeff,”
-Brian Burke

“We’re going to send an e-mail to all the teams tomorrow informing that he’s available and how hard he works and what a good guy he is."
-Brian Burke on Wayne Primeau

"I have a special spot in my heart for Wayne, but it's an uphill climb for him,"
-Ron Wilson on Primeau

"I still enjoy being around the guys, I still enjoy playing the game. Thirty-four is not old, but on this team, it's not young."
-Wayne Primeau

“It had to be done. I think the refs had to get to a game in Montreal."
-11th round shoot-out hero and new locker room funny-guy, Colby Armstrong

"I think preseason is my playoffs."
- a somewhat perplexed Matt Lashoff

"No one is going to remember these games."
-Mike Komisarek,with an alternate view

"Hey, hey Bozie! I've been looking for you! We're on the same team tomorrow!''
-Phil Kessel to Tyler Bozak

"Don’t go looking for it, but it’s bound to happen and you have to be sure you are ready to protect yourself and put a beating on the other guy."
-Christian Hanson

“It’s kind of nice to fly under the radar and quietly go about my business.”
The Tim Brent joke reaches its zenith.

“We have the best fans in the world. It’s unbelievable what we have. No matter where we go, there is blue and white. But I sense some fatigue. I sense some real frustration and impatience.”
-Brian Burke

"Win games, that’s it.”
- Phil Kessel's only goal

"You can't just melt when someone criticizes you. That's not the way to be, that's not being mentally tough."
-Nazem Kadri

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Second Thought, Moral Victories In The Pre-Season Are Fine

Things are starting to look up.

I'm not too concerned with shoot-out wins and losses. The Leafs are competing, and that's what counts at this stage. Young players are starting to shine. Leaders are starting to emerge. Puzzle pieces are coming together. The outlook is positive and the fun is just beginning.

Young Players Are Starting To Shine

Your favourite Italian and mine is now Luca Caputi. This kid's got some charm and isn't shy at all. Plus, I just love saying his name. Luca Caputi. I probably say it 50 times a day. Sometimes I don't even know I'm saying it. I use it to denote exclamation instead of words like yes or wow.

"Chicken wings and fries? Luca Caputi! Every night this week? Luca Caputi!"

I also use it as a stop-gap, instead of umm or y'know, when I can't think of what I want to say.

"I know it's late, but... uh-Luca Caputi... the internet needs me."

And my wife uses it as a code for marital harmony.

"Well, you can forget about any Luca Caputi this month!"

The list of words that compares with the linguistic eloquence of Luca Caputi is short: Godzilla, stormtrooper, cheeseburger, screwdriver, cannonball, alligator, donnybrook, dynamite, and jellO. That's your top 10 of all time. Luca Caputi comes in at number 4.

Oh, and the kid can play hockey. More then that, he seems to have a strong desire to make his presence felt, and force management to strongly consider his inclusion. In the 2 pre-season games he's played, Caputi has 4 points - 1 goal and 3 assists - to lead the team in scoring. He makes no mistake here (1:14) in his shoot-out attempt, and below, shows some quickness and grit by going to the net hard and slamming the loose puck home.

Leaders Are Starting To Emerge

Despite letting the Flyers slip back in last night's contest, Giguere was solid in net for the Leafs, showing veteran focus and poise, allowing the Leafs to concentrate on their game. Perhaps more importantly, the late collapse, however flukey, underscores where work needs to be done, and with 29 saves on 32 shots, we can be reasonably sure the fault isn't with the goaltending. In fact, Giguere's attitude and experience are already proving their worth as the goaltender lends his voice in a positive way after what could have been a demoralizing defeat.

"I think the last five minutes we stopped skating," said Giguere. "We thought the game was in the bag. It's a good example for a young group — hopefully we'll get a lesson out of this one and move forward learning something."

Another good sign Friday night was the impressive and encouraging play of both Dion Phaneuf and Kris Versteeg. Both of them had multiple point nights, scoring a goal and an assist each. Versteeg's goal was the result of clever presence around the net and the fearlessness required to gather and control a loose puck in the slot and then calmly deliver.

You can't do that if you're worried about screwing up. Versteeg carries the puck with confidence, is out there making plays, and looks strong and relaxed. Like Hagman did for brief flashes before him, Versteeg exemplifies what a complete hockey player should be and will hopefully show the young emerging stars like Kessel and Bozak how to comfortably travel the road to success.

Puzzle Pieces Are Coming Together

Friday night gave us our first look in a long time at what promises to be a fun pairing - Kaberle and Komisarek. They looked good together, and once they get completely familiar with each other's style - which never really happened last year - I think they're going to be very efficient and effective blueliners that can hurt opponents in a lot of different ways. Gunnarsson, Beauchemin, and Schenn all look to be in strong form already, and along with Captain Phaneuf, make an impressive group that should find chemistry less elusive this year.

Up front, Kessel, Bozak, and Kulemin looks like a legitimate top line that's going to be consistently dangerous. Versteeg could substitute in there very nicely, with Kulemin more then capable of playing on Grabbo's wing. MacArthur is still a question mark in my mind. Despite two assists he hasn't stood out much and has kind of a Stempniak quality about him, though he does have an infinitely cooler sounding name. Clarke. Right now I'd throw Caputi into the top-six, but it's still early.

That leaves Armstrong, Brown, Hanson, Kadri, Mitchell, and Mueller fighting for 3 spots. The remaining 2 will go to Orr and Sjostrom, though a body will have to be carried until the latter comes back. I think you can safely scratch Kadri and Mueller off that list as both could use a little seasoning though their futures look bright. The guy who should be most worried is John Mitchell.

Complicating matters, especially for John, is the solid effort of Wayne Primeau. It says a lot about this player's character that he was invited back to camp on a try-out, and says even more that he's found a way to work himself into the line-up. He must be doing all the right things in practice, and last night, Primeau was hustling and banging and making his case. Paired with Orr, he picked up an assist on Kessel's goal and helped give him the room to score by creating traffic in front. Primeau was a plus 1 over 11:40 ice time, with 5 shots on goal, and 2 penalty minutes.

If nothing ever comes of it, Primeau can at least move on knowing he hasn't embarrassed himself, and his competitive contribution to camp is appreciated. However, I think it's quite likely that Mitchell's time in Toronto is running out under Wilson without him showing a small leap forward in development. If so, that could open up a door for Primeau to get on to the roster as a utility player. Though he likely wouldn't have the endurance for a full 82-game season, Primeau's presence in the dressing room and on the road would be far more inspirational then John Mitchell's, while, I suspect, his leadership held in higher regard.

Still 5 exhibition games to go, but it's nice to see things coming together, new leaders emerging, and the not-too-distant future looking bright. As I said, I'm not too worried about shoot-out wins and losses in the pre-season, and I guess the refs can't be blamed on Kessel's no-goal in overtime. They apparently didn't get the memo that this year things are going to be different.

Game In Six - Kessel's goal at 4:50

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Severe Erectile Dysfunction


Dejected and frustrated.

That's how it feels after the Leafs lose their first preseason game, a 5-0 stinker at home to the despised Senators. The soft drink sponsored Fans First Game, promoted as "our way of thanking them for their on-going support" ends with those grateful Maple Leafs slinking off the ice to a smattering of boos. Maybe it's the deserving karma of the whole nauseating promo-event, but for whatever reason, the Leafs seemed woefully mismatched and unprepared.

Reminiscent of last season.

Does coaching have anything to do with being prepared?

Whoah, slow down there. Just one game. Wilson is not going to be fired for what he does in September.

Back to this Fans First thing. I actually missed most of the first two periods. I was at SkyDome watching the Blue Jays with my 3 year old daughter. But before the game we walked around Union Station to see if we could flip our baseball tickets (for an actual regular season game) for (pre-season) hockey tickets. 100 section, just a few rows behind the first base dug-out. I was told by scalpers that my pair of 62 dollar tickets wasn't worth 25 dollars. He then added that because tonight's Leafs game was "free", tickets were really scarce and were going for double the normal rate. Plus, "it's the first game so everyone wants to go".

My daughter and I really enjoyed 4 innings of Blue Jays baseball and the score was 5-1 when we left. We saw 3 home runs.

By the time I got home, it was 3-0 for the Sens and the only drama left was how bad could it get.

Said Greg Cyr, the director of integrated marketing of a soft drink company:

"And now we’re making the impossible, possible for passionate Leafs fans that have never experienced the thrill of a live Leafs game."

Uh-huh. Except, fail.


Don't get too unwound. This isn't really the Leafs. This team had names like Irwin, Mueller, Hamilton, Zigomanis, Crabb, Gysbers, Lashoff, and Rynnas, on the back of Leafs' sweaters, not to mention Kadri and D'Amigo. This is not the team we'll see in October.

I don't know if he does it on purpose, but Wilson seems to have a habit of throwing people to the wolves. There was probably a degree of opening-night jitters and uncertainty from the young players and even the vets. My idea of "a game to say thanks" would be to surprise the opposition with a stacked line-up of all the regular everyday players from last season. Let the rookies watch the veterans then set the tone for the season by demolishing a Sens line-up sprinkled with job-seekers and minor leaguers in front of a roaring, appreciative crowd.

In short, Mr. Wilson, you're not helping soft drink sales and we've got eight games left to establish a culture of success.

Tyler Bozak seems to have a clear head on his shoulders:

"tough start to preseason but thats what preseason is for! Getting all the kinks out. In the lineup tomorrow and cant wait!"

Seems like the right attitude. I guess it's the right time for getting stuff out of the way. So I made a list of "kinks" you can exercise from your systems over the next 8 games:

1. Blow-outs at home.

2. Lackluster efforts vs. division rivals.

3. Lackluster efforts at home.

4. Shutouts on home ice.

5. A SHUT-OUT LOSS IN A BLOW OUT AT HOME TO A DIVISION RIVAL IS NOT ACCEPTABLE IN THE REGULAR SEASON!!1 That's the kind of stuff that make us a laughing stock. No more laughing stocks.

6. Oh-Seven-And-One. Just get it out of the way now. I honestly don't care if we don't win one PRESEASON game but we WILL NOT go 0-7-1 to start the regular season again. Unacceptable in the extreme.

I suppose there's more to add to the list, like ineffective power plays and penalty kills, giving up 2-goal leads in the 3rd, or not having a full-scale donnybrook in the final minutes of a 5-0 blowout at home to a division rival... Work all that shit out and make sure these bad habits, or "kinks" or just mind-numbingly poor efforts have had their time in the sun and won't be coming back in the regular season.

Anyways, the first preseason game is no treat for the fans. At the end of the year, when we see our first post-season game, now that will be a real gift that we blow our wad for.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Have I Really Waited Seventeen Years For This?

This is a post that I've wanted to do for a while.

Just 3 days after Phaneuf was acquired, it was announced that Komisarek's season was finished for shoulder surgery. Since then I've been anxiously waiting to see the Leafs top-six defenders suit up together, though I thought it would never come. After enduring the summer-long agony of Kaberle's trade window in solemn isolation, I can finally look forward to opening night and seeing the most promising six-man unit on the blue line since 1993.

Or is it ever?

Dimitri Mironov vs. Carl Gunnarsson

Mironov was a rookie in the 92-93 season with just 7 NHL games under his belt before that. He had a decent impact in the regular season with 31 points in 59 games, but he appeared in just 14 of the Leafs 21 playoff games, registering only 3 points in very limited ice-time. The following season, a greatly improved Mironov would play in all 18 post-season games, racking up 15 points.

After an injury-riddled 3rd season, Mironov was shipped out in the summer, along with a 2nd round pick to Pittsburgh for Larry Murphy. Pittsburgh would then flip Mironov to Anaheim in November for three players and Mironov would go on to have his break-out season, recording 52 points. The following season he recorded 43 points, got traded at the deadline to Detroit, and won a Stanley Cup. Mironov then finished his career with three seasons in Washington under head coach, you guessed it, Ron Wilson.

There's not too much to say about Gunnarsson. Seems to have what it takes. 43 games played in his rookie campaign, 15 points, and a team leading plus 8. Sky is the limit for this kid's potential right now.

Jamie Macoun vs. Luke Schenn

Jamie "Crazy Legs" Macoun came to the Leafs from Calgary on January 2nd, 1992 as part of the Gilmour-blockbuster, and immediately gave them a savvy veteran presence on the blue line. Currently, Luke Schenn is entering his 3rd season in the NHL and what he lacks in veteran savvy he makes up for with poise and diligence.
Schenn is a strong, hard-hitting, stay at home defenceman, a cornerstone of the future here in Toronto. Jamie "Crazy Legs" Macoun had crazy legs. They wiggled and wobbled this way and that, like elastic bands wrapped around jellO. It was very difficult to get the puck past or through Macoun's awkward defensive style, for even when he was on his rump, his feet were still moving, legs flailing about. He wasn't dirty, but he was crafty, and often matched up against the league's top stars.

Macoun gave the Leafs more then 5 solid seasons before being traded to Detroit in '98, and winning a Stanley Cup, his second, alongside former teammate Dimitri Mironov. The 4th round pick the Leafs received in return for Crazy Legs turned out to be Ponikarovsky.

Sylvain Lefebvre vs. Francois Beauchemin

Sylvain Lefebvre only played 2 seasons for the Blue and White, but his impact was enormous. He was one of the most poised and reliable stay-at-home defenceman the Leafs have ever seen. His first season in Toronto he had 2 goals to go along with 12 assists and 90 penalty minutes and he was a major presence defending the Leafs goal in the magical playoff run of '93. The following year, Lefebvre chipped in 2 goals again, along with 9 assists, 79 penalty minutes, and a team leading plus 33. Once again, Lefebvre was a significant part of the '94 blue line that went back to the final four.

Lefebvre was also involved in one of the '93 team's most iconic moments, and were it not for Joe Bowen's masterful eruption, one wonders where we would all be? For how could there be a blog called DownGoesBrown if that had never happend? And truthfully, if there was no DownGoesBrown, I probably wouldn't be blogging and YOU wouldn't be reading this. You'd be doing something else, just think about that. And then thank Sylvain Lefebvre.

In the summer of '94, Lefebvre was traded to the Nordiques with Wendel Clark as part of the huge Sundin-blockbuster. After one season in Quebec, the team was moved to Colorado where Lefebvre won (ho hum) a Stanley Cup.

Beauchemin is entering his 2nd season with the Leafs and gives them the same quiet, reliable depth on the blue line as Lefebvre once did, often counted on to be the shut-down specialist in tight games.

Bob Rouse vs. Mike Komisarek

Bob Rouse was a very hard-nosed, low maintenance, reliable defenceman. Like Lefebvre, he seemed quiet and unassuming, but played a tough physical game that was hard as nails. Rouse was another stay-at-home defenceman that stood up for his teammates on many occasions. In '92-'93, Rouse's 2nd season with the team, he had 14 points and 130 penalty minutes. The following year, 16 points and 101 penalty minutes in 63 games.

Rouse, of course, also assisted on one of the Leafs most important and iconic goals of the '93 playoff run. In the summer of '94, after his second consecutive trip to the final four, Rouse was signed as a Free-Agent by Detroit and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1997, and again in 1998 with former '93 teammates Dimitri Mironov and Jamie Macoun. Why, Lord, why did we let these guys go?

Mike Komisarek is coming back from shoulder surgery and is expected to be the physical, nasty presence that the Leafs need. As long as his health holds up, Mike is a hard working soldier that backs down from no one. If Komisarek can play a more refined, retrained game, he'd make a good version of a bigger, better, stronger Bob Rouse.

Todd Gill vs. Tomas Kaberle

Todd Gill is awesome and don't you dare say otherwise. Same goes for Kabby.

After that there's not much in the way of similarities between these two. Maybe there's a perception that they give the puck away a lot. I think it's over-exaggerated. Who cares. Awesome. I could write a million posts about it so don't get me started!

What Todd Gill lacked in talent he made up for in heart. And when you think of how much talent he lacked, you realize that's a whole hell lotta heart. Gill was a in his 9th season as a Maple Leaf in 1992-93. He wore the blue and white proudly, as proud as any Leaf before him or since. The 92-93 season was his break out year as a better-then-atrocious defender, scoring 11 goals and 32 assists for 43 points in 69 games, leading the defence in scoring and good for 4th on the team overall. You better believe it. Gill gave the Leafs timely contributions and gritty shifts game-in, game-out and was the embodiment of the Leafs' Never Say Die spirit.

Todd Gill appeared in 19 NHL seasons - after 12 with the Leafs, he had stops in San Jose, St. Louis, Detroit, Phoenix, Detroit again, Colorado, and finally Chicago, but never did win a Stanley Cup. This year Kaberle is entering his 12th season as a Maple Leaf - the 2nd highest scoring defenceman in Toronto's history, and perhaps the most under-appreciated.

Another interesting thing to note about the career path of Gill, is that he was one of only 3 players in '93 still with the Leafs since the last time they'd made the playoffs in 1990. Can you name the other two? Wendel is the easy one. And the other is a trick question - the returning Mark Osborne, who'd been traded to Winnipeg for Dave Ellett, and then reacquired.

Dave Ellett vs. Dion Phaneuf

Dave Ellett came to the Leafs in November 1990 as part of a trade that saw popular Leaf forwards Ed Olczyk and Mark Osborne heading to Winnipeg. After suffering through two terrible seasons and missing the playoffs twice, things finally came together in the 1992-93 season with the additions of Lefebvre, Rouse, Macoun, and Mironov. And while Ellett was suddenly surrounded by a solid group of capable defenders, he remained the top dog, and the most steady puck-carrier on the blue line.

In 92-93, Ellett had 6 goals and 34 assists for 40 points, and was an impressive plus 19, The following year, Ellett put up similar numbers, 7 goals, 36 assists, 43 points. In the 39 playoff games from those two seasons, Ellett contributed 30 points; 7 goals and 23 assists.

Ellett patrolled the Leafs blue-line for more then 6 six seasons until he was finally traded, along with Doug Gilmour, to New Jersey, bringing Steve Sullivan, Jason Smith, and Alyn McCauley to Toronto. His NHL career spanned 16 seasons, 1129 games, scoring 568 points.

Dion Phaneuf is now not only the top-dog on a stacked blue line, this year he comes to camp as the team's first Captain in three seasons. Expectations include ending a six-year playoff drought and restoring some semblance of pride and glory, not to mention some fine truculence, to this beautiful, loved, and yet oft-forsaken franchise. Phaneuf is entering his 6th NHL season with 238 points in 404 career games.

Well, so this post was not really a comparative analysis so much as a lazy, self-indulgent juant through nostalgia-town, but I had fun with it anyways. I loved all those guys from the '93 and '94 playoffs, and that six-pack on defence under Burns' first two seasons was the best group of defenders from top to bottom that I can ever recall playing for the Blue and White.

That is, I'm hoping, until this year.

This September, the one thing I'm excited about most is seeing a group of defenders together for the first time that might become the best group of Maple Leafs defenders I've ever seen.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Severed Finger

So, I had a chance to speak with Brian Burke the other day, that is to say, I was thinking about something and then I read his response in a newspaper:

“We’ve got good depth on defence. I know you’re going to ask: ‘What are you going to do with seven NHL defencemen?’ But those things work themselves out."

And so I replied, "Actually, no, I was gonna ask, what are you going to do with eight NHL defencemen, uh, but nevermind, I think instead I'll write a post about the demise of Jeff Finger..."
Phaneuf, Kaberle, Komisarek, Beauchemin, Gunnarrson, Schenn, and Lebda. That's seven. Unless Burke has miscounted, there's a missing Finger somewhere.

Over the summer there's been a lot of speculation that Finger's contract would be moved down to the Marlies this season to clear cap-space and reduce the number of redundant blue-liners, but this is the first semi-clear indication that I've seen from Leaf management one way or the other. Thus far, Finger has been this summer's Frogren - quietly losing relevance and drifting from overlooked into the realm of unmentionable.

Finger was a late bloomer, coming to the Leafs as a 28 year old with just 94 NHL games - a season and a quarter - under his belt. Most of his professional career has been as a minor-leaguer. Now 30, turning 31 in December, Jeff is just one game away from his 200th NHL appearance, yet he may never see it.
His first season with the Leafs, Finger lost 16 games to injury but I don't believe he was a healthy scratch once on a defensive line-up that featured Kubina, Kaberle, White, rookie Luke Schenn for 70 games, Stralman for 38 games, Van Ryn for 27 games, and Frogren for 41 games, not to mention spotty appearances by Oreskovic and Sifers, and Colaiacovo for 10 games at the start of the year.

Last year, even long before the arrival of Dion Phaneuf, Finger found irregular work on the blue-line, platooning in and out of the 6th spot with Garnet Exelby. Rarely were the two in the line-up at the same time though usually one of them was. Despite the injury to Komisarek, Finger was never able to climb the depth chart, instead having the youngster Gunnarrson leapfrog over him into the number 4 spot. Finger appeared in just 39 games in the 2009-10 schedule and though he did miss 6 games at various points due to injury, he was listed as a healthy scratch 37 times. That's a lot of practices.

Over the last 4 weeks of the season, he appeared in just 2 of the Leafs final 13 games, both of them against the Rangers. Finger didn't have the worst plus/minus on the team at minus 11, just the 4th worst. Two of the other guys ahead of (behind?) him were Kaberle and Beachemin who'd both played full 82-game seasons, more then double Finger's games played, and with significantly higher minutes per game. Finger's personal Average-Time-On-Ice dropped from 20:29 in 2008-9, to just 13:47 last year.

(The other Leaf with a worse plus/minus was Stalberg, minus 13 after just 40 games. He has since been dealt to Chicago for Versteeg.)

In the 26 games after the Great January 31st Overhaul and the future-Captain Dion's coming aboard, Finger cracked the line-up just 9 times. Despite the constant trade rumours around Kaberle, despite the trading of White - and then Exelby's trade request, and despite the injury to Komisarek, and despite the tragically-shortened career of Van Ryn, Finger has never really been able to find a comfortable home on the Toronto blue line the way Beauchemin did.

Now, with Phaneuf taking over, Komisarek returning, the signing of Lebda, Kaberle still with the team, and Schenn and Gunnarrson no longer unknown commodities, there's simply no need nor room for the likes of Jeff Finger.

He threw a few hits and had a few scraps and after that there's not much to remember about him. And while the world is utterly captivated by the denials of any issues in the never-ending non-story that just wont go away because it isn't there, old number 4 quietly slips out the back door and into his waiting stretch-limo, pay cheque in hand, no questions asked, no pictures taken, just the way Jeff likes it.

Still, I'm gonna miss some of the silly jokes his name would inspire and for that reason alone I'm sorry to see him go. Best wishes and good luck with the Marlies, Jeff! While Finger's minor league and NHL experiences should certainly help, it's too bad there aren't four more guys just like him, 'cause they could really use a hand.

Did I mention Finger is scheduled to earn 3.5 million dollars this season with still another year left on his contract? Not sure if that's somehow relevant.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Darcy Tucker Fan Club Revival

This might be a really bad idea. It might even be insane. Or maybe you should call it BatShit Crazy!Darcy Tucker is among a number of NHL Free-Agents still on the market. Wouldn't it be great to see him in a Leafs uniform again? Assuming he'd come here for cheap and with low expectations for playing time, why not bring that crazy sucker back for another go round, another shot at glory, another chance to make it all right again.

I know there are many good reasons why this is a terrible idea and will never happen. I'm sure I could think of a few of them too but right now I'm so in love with this idea that I can't.

Okay so he's still on the books against the cap for a million dollars a season, but in a way that's the beauty of the idea. If they're going to pay him to play somewhere, they might as well pay him to play here.

Has this ever happened before? Has a player ever been bought out only to return to that team while his original contract was still being paid? For the Leafs, it might be a way to make amends for mistakes that were made on both sides, and to recoup some of that lost investment. For Tucker, it would be an honourable and honest way to make a living, a proud homecoming, and a chance to reconnect and relive the glory of his best years. For fans, a chance to heal and forgive, and then to forget the Muskoka Five and the Maurice regime, and remember instead the desire and passion of the Quinn era that elevated them.

If we had a spot on the team two seasons ago for Brad May and last year for Wayne Primeau, we should be able to find room for Darcy. Of course, don't just give the spot away, make him earn it, and if players like Caputi, Armstrong, and Hanson put Darcy in the press box, we'll be better for it. It occurs to me that Darcy would be an excellent motivator to have sitting in the press box for the young players, knowing he'd be ready to jump into any situation if a player is not working hard enough.

Just play around with the idea in your mind for a bit before you reject it. One of the great things about Tucker at this age is that he's versatile. He's matured and can be a mentor for young stars who'll need to know how to handle the pressure of a city like Toronto. He's tough and feisty, and if used sparingly, can be inserted when the Leafs are looking for that little extra edge. He can teach the young players about honour and bravery, backing up your teammates, and wearing your heart on your sleeve. He also knows his way around the side of the goal and could be useful as a secondary plug on a struggling powerplay.

Think of the line combinations you could see with Tucker as a utility player - patrolling Kadri's wing and driving the net with Versteeg on the right side, delivering a double-dose of crazy and hurricane-like forechecking with Grabovski and Kulemin, or just running over opponents with Hanson and Orr. I guess I'm ignoring the fact that what the Leafs really need is a left-winger and Darcy traditionally plays right, but it's not gonna happen anyways so I might as well imagine that he's equally good on both sides.

We did it for Cujo. We did it for Wendel, twice. We did it for Dougie, though it turned out to be for just one game. I'd do it for Darcy. I'd bring'im back, not just for one last hurrah or for old times sake, but to make a difference, to be that extra-man who gives us the edge, the guy who'll light a fire in the dressing room or bring the crowd to it's feet at just the right moment. Maybe I'm romanticizing the impact Tucker could have on the Leafs, but I don't doubt there'd be an enormous reaction the first time he stepped on the ice again in a Leafs uniform, and again for the first opponent he knocked down, his first goal, his first fight.

Just take a look at this:
Or skip that and just watch this:
"Man, you think about what's goin' on there, that is... that's scrambled eggs right there, Bill."

319 points in 531 games as a Maple Leaf to go along with 756 penalty minutes. Sure, the glory days are long behind him at age 35, but there's got to be something still left in the tank, and no doubt, a flicker of the same intense desire for battle that never truly dies. Tucker is 53 NHL games away from 1,000 and 24 points away from 500.

I know - terrible idea, never gonna happen. Still, it was fun to think about, and anyways, the last time I said Tucker should play for someone, that team ended up winning the Stanley Cup.

Oh well, if not Darcy Tucker, what about Owen Nolan? Oh wait... Doesn't he play right-wing as well? Say, what's Dave Andreychuk doing these days, anybody know?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Blood Of My Chief, Vol. VI: The Dawn

A full two seasons after The Long Departure of our last Chief, the tribe has finally wandered out of the wilderness. No longer aimless and uncertain, the Toronto Maple Leafs have once again found themselves a worthy leader. A noble and honourable warrior to carry on the tradition, to lead us into battle, to lift us to victory. A Captain to guide us out of the miserable gloom of apathy and deliver us into the illuminating light of hope.

A man who reminds us of our destiny unfulfilled.

A clear path to follow. The tribe awakens. A Nation hungers and thirsts to reclaim its glory, to resume the quest. There's a connection... Continuity...

They can feel it...
A link to the past...
And so begins a new era...
And so continues the Legend...

Born April 10, 1985, Dion Phaneuf was just 25 years of age on June 14th, 2010, when he became the 17th Captain in the illustrious history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Having joined the team mid-season last year, Dion has appeared in just 26 games with the tribe, yet his impact and influence were immediately present. The Leafs were once again defiant, no longer afraid to lose, and asserting their ambition to win.
“That, to me, was where he was making a statement to everyone in the building that he wanted to be a captain here,”

Our Captain arrived on one of the most explosive days in Leafs history, emerging from the dust of the incredible shake up that became known as The Great Overhaul. Cast adrift were Hagman, Stajan, and the noble Ian White, yet also launched overboard was the anti-productive trio of Mayers, Blake, and Toskala, along with the dead weight of a losing atmosphere. Clearing the air and breathing new life into the team were Sjostrom, Conn Smythe trophy winner Giguere, and standing tallest of all, Dion Phaneuf.

"I believe January 31 will go down as a critical day in the timeline of this team. That’s when things started to change. You could see it."
-Brian Burke

"As soon as he came in he had a major impact on our room. I think it was obvious to everybody."

“He made a big impact... ...took over the room a little bit. A guy that plays hard. Plays whistle to whistle the right way, holds his teammates accountable."

404 NHL games played. 77 goals, 161 assists, 238 points. 556 penalty minutes. 22 of his 77 goals are game-winners.

His first historic goal as a Maple Leaf:

His second goal as a Maple Leaf, the very next game, the last game of the season, in overtime:

"I think the best way to lead is you don't have to be the loudest guy but you definitely want to be the guy who's working the hardest day in and day out."
-Toronto Maple Leafs Captain, Dion Phaneuf

The past, the present, the future. The circle is once again complete. Ahead of us is only a focal point with no horizon. The Dawn Is Here Now.

The time of In-Between-Pride is at an end. A new era truly begins - one that promises to be a long and ambitious adventure - with honour restored, and glory awaiting us. The Captain has thankfully returned, and with him perhaps, the passion and spirit that will reunite the Nation and make our adversaries crumble with dread. Be it known from this point on that a hero has been chosen to rally behind, the only purpose is victory, and that war shall be declared if ever even one drop is spilled from the blood of my Chief.
(And that's a complete set, I think. I can't imagine there'll be a 7th volume. If you want to read the whole series, they're all here, though a lot of the pictures are missing now.)