Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I Like My Trade Deadlines Like I Like My Women, Scantily Clad and Slightly Inebriated. I Mean, Wait...

We missed the Trade Deadline festivities today because we have, you know, a life, and it doesn't look like we missed out on too much. Our breakdown of the bigger ones:

Ryan Smyth to the Islanders. Apparently the Maple Leafs were in on this one too, but it was New York who won out in the end. New York just got a lot better, a lot fast. However, they gave away a boatload of youth to get him. This only becomes a good deal if the Isles win the cup (Hah!) or resign Smyth before he walks back to Edmonton as free agent. Oh, and we're not sure why, but we're getting this weird vibe out of Edmonton that they just might be finished. Call it a hunch.

Yannic Perrault to Toronto. This is a cool move, and it would have been cooler if it hadn't been the Leafs' only move. Perrault is back for his third try with Toronto, and he comes as one of the NHL's underrated players. Mr. Faceoffs won't make or break Toronto's playoff push, but he isn't going to hurt. We are also cool with Brendan Bell leaving. He was the odd man out on Toronto's back line, and it's not as if Toronto is exactly desperate for young d-men. Also happy to see GM John Ferguson show some restraint on Jamal Mayers (Jiri Tlusty and a firster for a guy on pace for twenty points? What?). Question though, where's Gary Roberts?

Todd Bertuzzi to Detroit. Less than a year ago, Bertuzzi was worth just slightly less than Roberto Luongo, now he's good for a conditional draft pick. At least Florida fans won't have a daily reminder of the worst trade in NHL history skating for them anymore. Detroit inherits a no risk player with this deal. If he does well, and the Red Wings go far in the playoffs, they're on the hook for a first rounder, which is fair enough, but if he goes down again (he's not even back yet) they're out a third round pick. No biggie in other words. Good trade by D-town.

Dainus Zubrus in, Martin Biron out of Buffalo. The Zubrus trade is good, the Sabres are just looking for guys who can skate on two legs right now (Not that that stopped them from pasting Toronto 6-1 a few hours ago). Biron to Philly though? And for just a second round draft pick? This deal feels a little too late. The Slugs (we're doing our part too Erin) should have held on to him for the playoffs. Seriously, they didn't get enough in return to justify it. Also, Ty Conklin? Why does this guy get another shot at the Cup finals?

Gary Roberts to Pittsburgh. Great trade, and the only weird thing is that Roberts had to even think about it. A chance to play on the NHL's next dynasty? And he would have taken Toronto or Ottawa? Over Crosby and Malkin? Glad he came to his senses. The Penguins also picked up Georges Laraque, who somehow is earning more than a mil, and has a no-trade clause in his contract. Pittsburgh gets that enforcer everyone's been telling them to get. Now we'll see if a heavy was really the missing piece to their puzzle. Early prediction: It's wasn't.

Bill Guerin to San Jose. A good deal here, and a hell of a lot better than Atlanta's desperation trade for his teammate Kieth Tkachuk. He's no Forsberg, but San Jose gave a pretty clear up yours to Nashville.

Anything Boston did. So Boston has given up, fair enough, but how does trading away Brad Boyes and Paul Mara help? I thought rebuilding revolved around keeping your good young players. Whatever, we won't complain, because with Boyes safe in St. Louis (how about John Davidson, who probably deserves the title of Deadline King) we won't have a constant reminder of the unfortunate Nolan trade. Thanks B's.

In the end, the important thing is that the Leafs didn't do anything stupid this time (Francis, Johansson, Housely, Nolan, Gilmour, etc.). Baby steps, folks, baby steps.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

This Just In: Lists Are In Vogue

Things about the NHL that make us smile:

Goalie fights - We need more of these. You've probably seen, or at least heard about the fight between Ray Emery and Marty Biron last night in Buffalo. Perhaps it's the sheer absurdity of having the the two paddedest players on the ice wailing on each other, or perhaps it's the rarity with which they occur (the last one in the NHL involved a guy named Felix Potvin, if that helps). While last night's probably made Patrick Roy laugh a big hearty laugh (c'mon Biron, at least pretend to try!), it's really the thought that counts.

Ray Emery - Keeping on the Emery theme, that guy is now our favourite goaltender in the NHL. Taking down Biron and then squaring off with Buffalo heavy Andrew Peters all the while wearing a huge grin on his face has cemented our belief that Ottawa has a winner in net. Too bad it took them so long to figure it out.

Three Point Games - Some people don't seem to like that overtime losers still get to take a point home with them, despite not actually winning. Screws up the standings don't you know. No, no, and no. Three point games are why the Eastern Conference is going to go right down to the final day in deciding who makes the playoffs and who doesn't. It's all about the drama here folks. The same can't be said in the West, where the top eight won't change between now and April (Edmonton, even your GM would agree with us), but hey, it's official company policy here at 64 Years and Counting care that we don't care about anything west of Toronto.

Simple Salary Caps - Some have suggested that in the new NHL, deadline trades are next to impossible due to salary cap constraints. All the good teams are brushing against the thing already. If only, if only teams could trade away cap space to other teams! Imagine the possibilities! Yeah, but here's what would actually happen. The NHL's salary cap would look something like the NBA's, by which we mean it would be five kinds of confusing and nobody but the sportswriters would really have any idea what the hell was happening. Seriously, the first person who can explain the NBA's cap system deserves a Nobel prize in economics. Hockey's version is clean and easy. Don't spend more than the cap, dumbass.

Blockbuster Trades - Tell us you don't love it when big names get swapped. C'mon, do it, and then revoke your sports fan identification please. The NHL's trade deadline, a mini-holiday here in Canada (American fans, you can probably only guess at the silliness engendered by all day tradecentre coverage), is a beautiful thing. Peter Forsberg is gone already, but what about Tkachuk, Guerin, Tucker, Smyth, Biron et al? The suspense is killing us.

Goalie Fights - Ok, we said that already, but really, can you name a better part of hockey? Four-on-four overtime? Good, but not great. Shootouts? Not as cool as we had hoped. Toronto beating Ottawa? Well, getting closer, but still not quite as special. Goalies of the NHL, please, beat each other up more often. It's what we all secretly want.


(Props to us for not mentioning Kerry Frasers' fuckup last night in the Leafs-Isles game. We could mention how it was his bollocks of an incidental goalie interference call that called back what would have been the Leafs third goal, but we are too classy for that. We are also too classy to also mention that that because of that call, New York was able to tie the game, and take advantage of the Leafs godawful shootout record. Even furthermore, we have too much respect for the NHL and its officials to complain that incidental goalie interference is as stupid a rule as you can find. If he interfered with the goalie, give him the freaking penalty. If anything, it was DiPietro who interfered with Ponikarovsky anyway. And did you even see Sundin's non-goal? The puck was almost literally level with the redline when he shot it. He deserved the the goal just for sheer ballsyness. Right, but we're not going to mention any of that, because that is crass and poor sportsmanship.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Come Home Gary

The NHL's trade deadline is approaching, and the Maple Leafs look to be buyers, which in of itself might just be an accomplishment on it's own. The Leafs have a slippery grasp of the East's eighth spot, and you know John Ferguson will want to do something about that.

With the Leafs brushing up against the salary cap, that will be difficult however, which is where Mike Peca's long-term injury comes into play. Using the space made available, the Leafs have just enough to squeeze our good friend Gary Roberts back into the line-up.

Last seen in a Leaf uniform before the lockout, Roberts, one of the hardest working players in the NHL and oozing veteran leadership, has spent the last season and a half in the sunny hockey hinterland of Florida. He tried to get himself back to Toronto last summer via trade, but Ferguson (perhaps wisely) declined.

Things are different now. The Leafs are a playoff team, and the Panthers are ready blow up their roster (we've heard even Ollie Jokinen is no longer untouchable). Roberts needs to come home to Toronto. He's said the only places he would like to play for are Toronto and Ottawa, and we don't think our poor hearts could take the sight of him in red and black. Please Fergie, make this trade happen.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Toronto Maple Leafs vs The Culture Of Defeat (Pre-game)

The Leafs are at home to take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight, who for something like the 16th straight year head into the end of the season clawing for the final playoff spot. We can't gloat of course; our Leafs are doing only nominally better, currently in a three way tie for eighth. (TSN is gracious enough to give us the final spot in their standings, though Montreal has more wins, and the Islanders have a better goal differential). The talk in Edmonton, from what we can gather, is on Kevin Lowe's ever nascent attempts to acquire another defenseman, and the questionable future of Ryan Smyth (which we totally feel your pain on, see Tucker, Darcy).

But whatever, the real story tonight isn't about Edmonton, it's about the Leafs. Not our Leafs, mind you, but rather 1967's Maple Leafs, the last blue'n'whites to the lift the cup. This is the fortieth anniversary (a fun game to play is to imagine that the Leafs win the cup this season, and then go on another 40 year drought. There would literally statues, as in plural, of Mats Sundin in front of city hall, and Wade Belak would be GOD) of that momentous occasion.

But here's the funny thing: it wasn't all that momentous 40 years ago. '67 was just another win in the last great Leaf dynasty (course, those poor, naive fans didn't use the word "Last"), number 10 overall, and a nice screw you to Montreal at the time. Sure, the men on that team were special (10 of 'em are in the Hall Of Fame) but the cup win wasn't. If you could go back in time 40 years to tell your grandfather that the Leafs wouldn't win another cup in his lifetime and that Harold Ballard was actually clinically insane, he wouldn't believe a word you said. Seriously, would you believe a guy who said he traveled through time just to warn you about the future of a hockey team? Where are the lottery numbers, damn it?

Anyway, fast forward four decades, and the fine folks of Toronto are approaching Bostonian in their drought fetish. It will still be a decade or two before we make a true source of pride out of it, but that day is definitely approaching (All we needed was Jonas Hoglund to screw up in a game seven cup final, and you know we'd be there by now).

It should be a nice ceremony tonight, Dave Keon will be in the building, significant because of his long standing feud with the Leafs over their head-in-the-sand policy of not retiring jerseys (because just look at the godawful disaster in Montreal when Dryden's number went up. Wait, not godawful disaster - absolute, smashing success).

Seriously though, do Toronto fans need another reminder that our hockey team is useless? Do we really need our current iteration of Buds to be stacked up against some of the greatest to ever don the blue and white? because, let's face it, it's a losing proposition. (Silly, idle speculation: Current number of Leafs who will end up in the Hall of Fame: 1, and that's about it (still way too early to call Kyle Wellwood, or Alex Steen, but we do have a good feeling about Steener.)


Thursday, February 15, 2007

For-Gone Conclusion

(Take a moment, please, to mull over the brilliance of today's post title. If there were Oscars for that sort of thing, you'd be looking at the front-runner)

The Maple Leafs took on Philadelphia today, and they got a little surprise present before the game. Peter Forsberg was a late scratch. Peter Forsberg, scratched? It doesn't take Bob McKenzie to figure out what that could mean, and by the first intermission, a firm deal had been completed, that sent Forsberg to Nashville for a a couple of youngsters and a first round pick. Nothing less than you'd expect for the buzziest player heading into the trade deadline (you have to think the schmucks behind the all day Tradecentre coverage spat out their overpriced sparkling water when they heard that).

The game was, if you'll excuse the pun, a forgone conclusion at that point. Without their best thing in orange, and playing on home ice (where they have won five time all season), the Flyers were done. Toronto scored three times in the first period for their first win in three games (which included a loss to Nashville and two shootout defeats) and their Behemoth Line (consisting of the vertically unchallenged Sundin, Ponikarovsky and Antropov) had two goals as they walked to 4-2 win.

OK, forget the Leafs; the real story is Nashville. As we mentioned recently, even before this blockbuster of a doozy, Nashville is legit. They were the top team in the league before the trade, and now, with Forsberg thrown in the mix, what does that make them now?

Favourites to win the cup, if anything. Forsberg has all that wonderful, intangible playoff experience you'll remember, something Nashville, as a whole, does not. In fact, Forsberg has put up more points in the post season than Nashville's entire roster.

Caveats abound of course; we are talking about the man who plays every game like it's his last and hasn't had anything approaching a full season since 02/03. If Forsberg goes down before the playoffs, or misses any significant time, well, it will all have been for nothing, especially if Forsberg walks at the end of the season as a free agent. That's worst case scenario though. Nashville is deeper than the Pacific, meaning Forsberg won't be asked to carry anything heavier than the power play, and he's not here to hoist Nashville on his shoulders like Joe Thornton did for San Jose. Reduced ice time, and more realistic expectations for Forsberg mean he is much more likely to finish the season on both feet, and with a contract extension to boot.

It says here that Nashville is our favourite to win the cup, we only hope Nashvillians (Survey question: residents of Nashville should be referred to as Nashvillains. YES, or, AWESOME?) are paying attention.


Sidenote: Hey casual Canadian sports fan, have you ever thought to yourself, "boy, I really like the the traditional sports newscast format, but wouldn't it be great if they made it more like Entertainment Tonight?" Because, if you have, you should totally check out Sportsnet's new reinvention, Sportsnet Connected. Because while having two guys in suits who know their sports banter back and forth is OK, what sports reporting was really missing was a casual dresscode, vacuous, permacheerful women with fake smiles and lots and lots of faux drama. Thank you Sportsnet, thank you for pushing that envelope - wait no, what we meant to say was that this is terrible, terrible idea and whichever smartass marketing exec is responsible for this deserves to be fired. Sorry for the confusion.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Guys, Please, Keep Your Pants On

The Toronto Maple Leafs live on a teeter-totter. The team hit the low point back in December when a combination of injuries and sub-par goaltending contributed to a 4-9 record. This is Toronto of course, so the only questions in the media were, how long till Darcy Tucker is traded and John Ferguson is fired. We're a tough crowd, what can we say.

But the Leafs have found their upswing, going from one extreme to another. With five straight wins, the Leafs are Toronto's darlings again. It doesn't matter that that streak has been necessary for the Leafs to just hold onto ninth in the East, forget about a playoff spot, the consensus has swung back around to the hyperbole corner.

It doesn't take much to get our media going; a week ago, when the Leafs had won four of their past five, was the first sight of the "red hot" label. Red hot? That is a little premature.

And now that the Leafs are legitimately hot (though 'red' might be stretching it... we'll have to see how they do against Nashville) all bet's are off. The Toronto Star ran an article today where they interviewed former Leaf coach Pat Burns. Come on, ask us why. Why? Because Pat Burns was coach of the 93/94 Leafs who set the NHL record for wins to start a season with 10.

Five wins straight in an otherwise mediocre season and already we're comparing them to one of the best Leaf teams of the last 40 years. I think we're getting a little desperate guys.


Monday, February 05, 2007

OK, You Can Stop Being Surprised Now

Here's what pisses us off: people who act surprised when the topic of the NHL's best team comes up. Do you even know which team is tops? Because it's not Buffalo, and it's not Anaheim.

It's Nashville.

Please, let's start giving them some 'spect, because these guys, and especially their coach, Barry "My Suits Are Just Too Small" Trotz are a little starved for attention. You can be sure if this collection of twenty-two guys played with say, a flying wheel, or a blue maple leaf instead of... whatever that is that they wear now, you would hear a lot more about the Predators.

Let's do something about that. The Maple Leafs are in town on Thursday, so apropos of that, let's talk Nashville. Nobody seems to want to give them the recognition (They only had one player at the All-Star game), and by nobody, we mean nobody on the Atlantic seaboard, which is really all that matters. Long disparaged as a team that simply should not be, Nashville is, as they say, a "non-traditional" market (which is the aristhockeyracy's code for, "it doesn't snow there!!"). They kicked off in '98 winning all of 28 games. Six years later, they posted their first winning season and were treated to a first round playoffaganza with the Red Wings, which they lost in six.

Last season was their coming out party, going toe-to-toe with Detroit all season long, for Central bragging rights, and they would've gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for Tomas Vokoun and his meddling blood-clot disease. Nashville lost in the first round to San Jose behind back-up Chris Mason, but the rink was set for next year. Too bad nobody north of the Mason-Dixon line noticed.

Well, 'cept
us of course. You'll note at the bottom where we put Nashville in the cup final.

How can everybody miss it? Just look at their roster, which is so chock full of quality guys it almost makes us sick. Kariya, Timonen, Arnott, Sullivan, Dumont, Vokoun... how do all of these guys land on the same team and not draw attention?

Whatever, it's time for the non-traditional markets to take over. The Original Six (except Detroit of course) have shown themselves to be inept and the Stanley Cup hasn't seen any snow in three years now. Nashville is looking set to make it four.


P.S - We're pretty sure we are the first to use the word "aristhockeyracy" in a sentence.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Flowers For Antropov

Leafs fans young and old, gather round please. It's time to acknowledge a certain nagging truth that has probably been rattling around the back of your ticker boxes. It's an awkward truth, we'll admit, almost inconvenient actually, but it needs to be said.

Nik Antropov is a decent player.

Say it with us please. Nik Antropov is a decent player. If this causes some of you any consternation, don't be alarmed. That's to be expected. We've been trained to think of Antropov as a no good bum, and with no Hoglund, no Renberg, no Reichel, no Berg to focus our hate on, we've transferred it to this poor guy.

We know the criticism. He's a 6'6 softie who spends too much time in casts, and was a waste of a top ten draft pick. Yeah yeah, we've heard it before. Maybe he went too high, and maybe he has missed an unfortunate number of games, but those are soon to be forgotten pit-stops. Antropov has turned a corner. We can feel it. Surely, you can too.

The Leafs have won their past two games (4-1 over Carolina, 2-1 over the Rangers) and Antropov has been a force in both, displaying all the latent talents most people had given up on. When Antropov puts his mind to it, and that's really key, he can be great. The man is a monster. How do you move 6'6 of pure Kazakh muscle? And he has the hands too, though sometimes he seems to forget it. If you saw the nifty bank-off-the-boards deke he pulled on Scotty Walker, you'll know what we're talking about.

Here's what Antropov needs to do. He needs to finish the season without missing any more games, and he needs to score twenty goals. He has eight so far (through 23 games), so while it may seem a lofty goal, its not impossible. If Antropov can complete that checklist, and continue to play every game from here on with the same I'm-bigger-than-you attitude, he will be well on the way to finally earning the elusive love of Leaf Nation. It's about time anyway.


Sidenote: This
article makes us feel very squiggly inside. The arguments for trading Mats Sundin are there, but... we just can't get behind it. Our journalistic integrity is compromised here. We simply don't have the distance required to take a unbiased stand. And... if Sundin is gone, then who exactly becomes the face of the franchise? Tomas Kaberle? Not likely. This may be selfish, but Sundin means too much to Toronto. He is going to retire a Leaf.