Saturday, December 06, 2008

And they say Russians don't understand democracy!

I deliberated long and hard, but here's my picks for the KHL's all star game. It's Team Russia Vs. Team World, by the way.

Team Yashin

G - 
D -  
RW - 
C - Oleg Saprykin (CSKA)
LW - Alexander Radulov (Salavat Yulaev)  

Team Jagr

G - Ray Emery (Atlant)
D - Magnus Johansson (Atlant)
D - Karl Rachunek (Dinamo)
RW - Jan Bulis (Atlant)
C - 
LW - Nils Ekman (SKA) 

I hope everyone can take a minute out of their busy schedules to reflect for a moment and vote. The website is at Maybe you should ask Google to translate it for you first. Or not. It might be more exciting that way. Or maybe you feel the need to write someone in? Wade Dublielewicz would probably appreciate the support.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Leafs. Sharks. Pre-Game.


Maybe now would be a good time to bone up on the fundamentals of our cherished parliamentary democracy? A little less Lady Byng, and a little more King-Byng, you know? A little less Ken Dryden (397GP/258W/57L/2.24GA) and a little more Ken Dryden (Hon. MP -York Centre 2004-). A little less Justin Pogge, a little more Harper's prorogue is what I'm saying.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sad-sack Sens survive despite sartorial sins

I don't even have anything to say! The Ottawa Senators have an awful third jersey. It is lazy and boring and unpleasant to look at, but then, I guess it is pretty appropriate for the team that wears it, huh? Hah hah!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Committed Quebecers collude to cook corporate cook off

Oh dear, another year, another tale of NHL All Star drama. I know! People say the All Star game is boring, and obviously it is, because it is an All Star game and I am not going to sit here and argue first principles with you, but suffice it to say that though the actual game may be unwatchable, the NHL is developing a decent knack for making the runnup at least notable. A couple years ago it was Rory Fitzpatrick buoyed by fans having fun with the NHL's vote now, vote often voting system (still waiting for that recount). The hockeystocracy was aghast of course, that is the twenty or so people left in the NHL who still attached any symbolic value to the honourific of "All Star." 

And wouldn't you know it, those gosh darned fans are at it again, messing with the institution we(?) all hold dear. And this time most of them don't even speak English. It's Montreal Canadiens fans stuffing the ballots now, trying to pull off a ballsy All Star starting line sweep, six for six, all Montreal. Zut Alor! It's like, don't fans even care about hockey? Don't they take this stuff seriously? Do they think online balloting is some sort of joke

Power to the people, sez I. Haven't you ever popped in an NHL game and squared your colours off against say, an All Star squad, or even Team Canada? (Personally, I haven't but it has more to do with existential issues than anything else. Mats! You can't be in two places at once! etc etc) Haven't you ever shot the breeze, arguing whether your team could actually take on a team of All-Stars? People talk like that, right? Well anyway, Montreal fans have a chance to find that out now, and people want to take that away from them? Every time something interesting threatens to happen in this league, somebody has to suck the air out of the room and kick a few puppies for good measure. It's Montreal's 100th anniversary. The All Star game is unthinkably boring. Why don't you lighten up. So what Tim Thomas starts the second period and not the first. So what Kovalev is a bum. You don't want to see Montreal fans - Montreal fans in Montreal cheering for six Montreal players because it maybe ruins some sort of tradition? Hey, you know where to cast your vote. Write your own voting program and put it to work. This is democracy, deal with it.

Ok! That's another strawman torn to pieces. Carry on. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leafs Lob Lollygagging Layabouts To 'Louis for Lee

Lee Stempniak for Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen.

My gut reaction was positive. I don't know much about Stumpy II but I know enough to be glad he's Leaf. A legit First Line player even. 3 goals, 10 assists 14 games. 11 of those points in his last seven games. Stempniak is a good addition.

But, this is Toronto so no deal is ever simple. It's fair to ask why this trade happened at all with the eminent hiring of a certain Brian Burke looming over the city. Why is Cliff Fletcher dealing players now?

It's also sad to see that the two players who are shipping out were, if you'll recall, as recently as October of this year, a big part of the future of this team. Colaiacovo and Steen are both first round Toronto picks. It's disappointing that Colaiacovo will never got the chance at a full season as Leaf. It's disappointing that Alex Steen will never be that franchise stabilising captain in Toronto. Both players are under performing magnificently this season so in that sense Fletch might have pulled off a steal here. Or should we read this as just another repudiation of Toronto's poor drafting abilities? Stemp the Nak was drafted 148th overall in 2003.

I don't know whether this was a good deal or not. It is a symptom of being a Leaf fan, I think. We have not had the benefit of competent leadership for so long that every move now looks like a questionable move. I don't know. Ok. I like the trade. That is my official opinion.

Postscript - Darren Dreger says John Ferguson Jr played a role in drafting the Stemp, which is poetic, I suppose. Also wondering why St. Louis would want to make this trade? Short term this seems a pretty obvious Leaf win and long term is murkier, but Leafs still have good chance at coming out ahead. Anyway why does someone need to win a trade?

Can't we all

just be friends?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Easy Dirty Ugly Dirty Money

I am always always happy when people start talking about a theoretical second Toronto team. As I see it, it makes sense, it makes a lot of sense and the only people in the NHL who disagree with that are the guys in charge of doling out the franchises. The NHL has its own plans for relocation but they don't involve Canada. It's an open secret that the Hockey Establishment wants a team in Kansas City, for all their secret and probably nefarious reasons. If anything has given me joy over the last few months (and it hasn't been the Leafs) it's been watching the NHL stumble around, caught with its pants down over its involvement with William "Boots" del Baggio and the sale of the Nashville Predators.

Have you been following this? I hope so because it is a good story. I hope so because this gets dirty. I hope so because this is the kind of stuff people lose important high up hockey jobs over. Maybe this story is familiar to you. You remember Jim Balsillie and his attempted takeover of said Predators and you remember Gary Bettman's ham fisted refusal of all that good Canadian money. He didn't want Balsillie's money because Ballsy was going to uproot the team and take it to Hamilton, Ontario and Hamilton, Ontario is not a city where any self respecting hockey franchise would find itself out past dark.

So the NHL turns down Balsillie and his guaranteed millions and instead turn to Boots del Baggio because Boots is buddy buddy with the hockeystocracy and Boots understands that the correct place to put an uprooted hockey franchise is not in Canada, where they probably already have enough hockey anyway, but in Kansas City where it is well known that local hockey fans have been in steep withdrawal-like symptoms since 1976, the year the Kansas City Scouts up rooted and headed for the snowier slopes of Colorado. (The Kansas City Scouts would be a pretty good name for a team if it was supposed to be parsed "the Kansas City Scouts," you know?). A hockey team in the KC is in line with NHL thinking and though Boots can't scrounge up quite as much buillion as certain Canadian billionaires, he gets the coveted Nashville stake.

This seems so obvious in retrospect, I'm sure the NHL is now realizing, but selling shares of their business to a man nicknamed "Boots" was a Bad idea (what are boots made for?). There is a new sports arena in Kansas City, built specially to attract any misplaced major league sports teams that might wander by and you maybe already know who owns that new arena. It's owned by Phil Anchutz, who also owns the LA Kings and probably a bazillion other things. So Anschutz owns an empty stadium in Kansas City. This story is great and it keeps getting better. This is the kind of Woodward and Bernstein stuff makes me want to enroll into j-school right now.

You will or will not be surprised to learn that a man named "Boots" did not actually have enough money to buy his own hockey franchise. And by "enough", I should say "any". But gosh darn it this is America pre-credit crisis and there is always someone willing to give an enterprising entrepreneur with a questionable nickname a line of credit. In this case it was our friend Anschutz who stepped up to the plate, along with buddy Craig Leipold, owner of the Minnesota Wild, both of whom have probably played more than a few rounds of golf with Gary Bettman, if you catch my drift. Now we have two NHL owners lending money to a third soon-to-be-owner. And that third owner is one or two bad season in Nashville away from flipping the team into another city, into a building owned by his creditors.

Business as usual until Boots del Baggio's con man act runs dry and he files for bankruptcy and we find out's he's in the hole for almost $60 million dollars. This wouldn't be so bad if Bettman's NHL didn't already have a track record of selling franchises to insolvent fraudsters and if the other guy offering to buy the Predators hadn't been so obviously a better choice.

This is all of course, I hasten to mention, all pure SPECULATION and should be treated as such as it's all before the courts as we speak. Boots is up on fraud charges plus a messy bankruptcy. If you want to read more, keep your eye on your local drugstore's literature section under legal thrillers, if you know what I mean.

It's also interesting to note that because Boots' creditors include two NHL owners in Anschutz and Leipold, those two may now theoretically own part of the Nashville Predators, which would obviously go against NHL bylaws. One more thing to think about.

I hope this gets ugly. This might have heavy fallout on Gary Bettman. This might cost Bettman his job. This might be the best worst mistake the NHL ever made.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Life, Universe + Everything

I guess I was secretly hoping that the Leafs would be that team that goes 10-1 in the preseason and 26-52 during the real one, but at least no one can accuse these guys of having any pretension of greatness. I appreciate honesty, I think, and truth in sports is hard to come by. The Leafs are as honest an organization as you will find these days. It's a nice change, actually. It's like, with no chance at a Cup, everyone can just be real with each other, just be honest, just be like, hey man, I never get a chance to say this but I really appreciate all the little things you do, there's no more pretending and we can sit back and laugh and share a beer and we can make jokes about McCabe that we don't really mean because he had some pretty good years even if it didn't end all that well and god I hope he does well in Florida because he's a bang up guy I don't care what any of you say.

This is going to be a chill season. This is your last summer before college, you know? Take it easy, don't strain yourself. Figure some things out. The Leafs will still be there when you're done.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Conspiracy Theories

Hey this cool: When the Leafs finish 26th or 25th this season, you know, just good enough to be out of of first pick contention, anyway, when they have the 5th pick again guess who is projecting out at 5th? It's Brayden Schenn, lil bro of Luke Schenn, the Leafs first round pick at the last draft. Brayden is a (surprise) physical centre playing for the Wheat Kings.

You know people tell me that there is no plan in Toronto, but then I see this and I just have to laugh at them. No plan? You telling me this stuff happens by coincidence?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We are looking at a new kind of "Winning"

This is going to be a good year, I think, for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ha ha! Not in terms of wins or losses or whatever arbitrary bullshit you are used to measuring the success of your sports teams; no, this season is going to require a completely new definition of the word "good". But that's ok. If you are anal retentive or whatever I guess you might say that Leafs are in for a "bad" season, but then, what is "bad" if not a completely false idea set up by the "winners" in life to validate their own futile and largely empty accomplishments? Exactly! I'm glad you agree.

So the Leafs are going to "bad" this season, by which I mean to say that they will not win very many games, and there are those out there, still stuck measuring success in completely obsolete terms, "Games Won" and "Goals Allowed" and "Powerplay Goals For," who will see this as a failing. Ok. Not everyone is perfect, say, like me, and I understand that not every Leaf fan has quite caught up to my advanced Nirvana-esque state of Hockey tranquility. That's ok too! Don't worry about it. Leaf fans have never been noted for their intelligence anyway! So it's not personal.

If you want a playoff team to cheer for, might I suggest Montreal? They are a pretty good team, I think, and hardly anyone really cares about that rivalry anymore. I know it won't be easy, because it is easy to get stuck in the past when you are a Leafs fan. After all, some of the best moments in Maple Leaf history could arguably be said to have happened in the past! For example: Stanley Cups.

The Leafs are not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. Some people probably consider the Cup to be a measure of success. Leaf fans! Don't listen to them. It has been forty years since the last Stanley Cup, and we've turned out pretty ok. What is another five or ten extra years of waiting? Will it not taste as sweet? Sweeter even, just ask the Boston Red Sox, those famous losers who could only keep their streak going 86 years, didn't even have the fortitude to push it to a hundred, and people call them "winners". I don't know. I just don't.

Don't get hung up on Mats Sundin. He was part of the problem, remember? He's the one who picked this team up and dragged it kicking to the end of the season and for what? Just heartbreak and trauma and nothing good. We don't need that and we don't need him. If the Leafs are "bad" then there is no risk. Sundin is risk. Let him sign with Montreal or New York or Vancouver and maybe he can be happy and we can be happy and live vicariously through his new team.

The point of this season is to lose. Never forget that. It will be difficult, I understand. You will see this team rally in the third period from two goals down and force overtime and your primitive lizard brain instincts will kick in and you will want to cheer so hard. You will watch them outscore Ottawa by embarrassing margins and you will want to crow and stick it to very jerkass Sens fan you know.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Success will be measured in the Loss column. Readjust your self accordingly, savvy Leaf fan, and maybe we can enjoy this season, together.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I don't want to play anymore

Here's the dilemma the Jays marketing arm must be running into: how do you sell a product that every Jays fans has already seen before? We've seen this season before is the problem. We know how it ends. You don't make headlines by tanking out in August. But look, it is another September, and oh golly the Jays are out of contention, again, but whatever we have next year and good prospects and whatta pitching staff hey guys? Just imagine what the season woulda been like without all those- haha I won't insult you with that word. The Jays are overpaid and boring. They can pitch but they can't hit, and even with a feel good love guru new manager there is no life at this party. And it's worse because we got to see Tampa Bay shoot past us for the first time, like worrying about New York and Boston wasn't bad enough. Ten years ago Tampa Bay was awful and the Jay's were mediocre. Today Tampa Bay is amazing, and Toronto is still just mediocre, the team that gets sympathy votes at the beginning of each season from sportswriters, "well, a darkhorse to watch maybe," yeah watch them spin their wheels for three straight seasons.

Our only consolation is a new GM next year, and won't we be happy to hear him say, "well obviously we need to cut payroll and compete on a budget, just look at what teams like Tampa are able to accomplish with so little," and then we get a re-made farm system (allow three to five years) and before you know it our new GM is wearing expensive sun glasses and being an arrogant dick to fans.

Anyway all this is to say that I am happy to see that the Jays traded David Eckstein today but I am still pretty pissed that he was ever signed in the first place. I don't get to be right very often so let me quote myself, briefly, from what I wrote nine momentous months ago when Mr. Eckstein was signed: "Essentially now the Jays have pitched out 4.5 million dollars for a utility infielder because even if Eckstein starts the season at short you have to imagine that by September that somebody will have become frustrated enough to put MacDonald back where he belongs..." (even when I am right I am wrong; it is of course Marco Scutaro who made Eckstein unnecessary).

This should have been the Jays year to make noise. They had the payroll and the pitchers and apparently a new winning attitude but the warning signs were there in the off season as we watched Ricciardi stumble around signing players ad hoc. He was trying to save his job of course, using his familiar throw spare part players against the wall and hope somebody sticks strategy.

Why do we put up so much mediocrity. The Jays will finish well out of contention this year, the Leafs will be happy if they end up dead last, and the Raptors will squeeze into the playoffs again but only because the NBA's tendency towards bad teams so outweighs Toronto's.

Anyway, all this negativity is no good for anyone so good night.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sorry Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland

If you have somehow managed to avoid any contact with any of the 500 arms of the Bell Globemedia empire, then you probably don't know that CTV is Canadian hockey's most recent saviour, and shouldn't we be all glad and thankful for them huh? Awfully kind of them to buy the rights to that song, as if there was any other way this sordid loogey on Canadian history was going to end.

So now TSN's Wednesday night hockey (Wednesday!), steeped in tradition and dignity as it already is, will be graced by those familiar strains, guaranteed to add gravitas and history to any broadcast or cellphone that spouts it. And what's really worse is now they own it forever because there is no way CTV will ever do something stupid like argue the details with the people who own The Friggin Hockey Theme because who would ever be that dense? Who would do that? I know, it is insane to think that there could be a broadcasting organization out there that would make a hash of negotiations with a piece of Canadian culture so indelibly tied to hockey and history. Can you even begin to imagine what kind of publicly funded disaster of of a national broadcaster would be capable of such a faux pas?


Endnotes - Maybe you are a girl or guy who has a deep, but unhealthy obsession with goalie masks? Then you probably already know about this: Pretty rad! Have you ever really looked at Evgeni Nabokov's mask? It is kinda creepy

Monday, June 02, 2008

Things could get HAIRY

I picked Pittsburgh to win the Cup, which has unraveled pretty completely now, though I should have known better; my vote of confidence has been a virtual kiss of death for hockey teams this spring. But maybe a Detroit victory is for the best. Perhaps delaying Sidney Crosby's first Stanley Cup is in all of our better interests. Perhaps we don't need iconic photographs of him, the Stanley Cup, and that unfortunate playoff beard lingering for the rest of his career. Guy looks like he's ready for a prom in Louiseville, all picking up your daughter in his dad's '86 Chevy Silverado, all blue tuxedos and Jim Beam aftershave, Jordan Staal following behind in his horse drawn carriage starchy white shirts and suspenders, wide black hat, the good Amish boy that he is.


They say defense wins championships, but uh, the obvious correlation here is championship calibre beards are what win championships.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Better Burke Days

This is maybe a rethinking of the criticism I leveled at Maple Leaf management in their search for a GM. With every creeping day it seems more and more likely that Toronto's General Manger next year will be be less a strong and experienced man and more a collection of senior hockey people keeping the seat warm. The thought of leaving Cliff Fletcher in as an extended interim man got me riled up, I think justifiably, and I labeled this as just more of the same do-nothingness from the men in charge of this hockey team.

But here's something else: the Leafs much publicized and talked about pursual and subsequent rejection by Anaheim tough guy Brian Burke was the fault of not Burke, who by all reports wanted the Toronto job, but was instead at the insistence of Gary Bettman who has developed a near puritanical distaste for tampering in his league. Burke is under contract for another year, so Anaheim ownership was under no obligation to let him go, but in the interest of healthy working environments, you would think that letting the man who won you Stanley Cup go would be best for all parties. The story goes though, that it was Bettman doing his own special brand of tampering that led Henry Samueli to quash the Leafs' request, in the interest of preserving the sanctity of NHL contracts.

So Gary Bettman vetoes any Burke movement, thereby ensuring that at the end of the next season, Burke is in any city other than Anaheim, and if the Leafs have anything to say about it, that city will be Toronto. They've already started greasing the wheels; that's why Burke's former wingman Dave Nonis is in talks to take a senior management position. Is this, and this is hard to even put into words, but is this MLSE being clever? I'm not used to seeing astute and long range plans being put forth by the hockey side of the operation so it's hard to say, but if hiring Nonis is the Leafs unsubtle up yours to the commish, a sort of above board and quite transparent tampering that is hard for anyone to prove and punish, then I don't know what to say. Screw you Gary Bettman, for one, but that is hardly an original sentiment.

I'd still rather see the Leafs commit to a real GM for next season and avoid a long winter of endless Brian Burke speculation, but if it ended in some sort of confrontation between the Leafs and the Commissioner well, at least that is high entertainment right there.

I've been listening to Bob McGown too much.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Head for the hills, the Canadians are coming

Pity any poor fan of English soccer stuck cheering for Leeds United, they don't even know what's about to hit them. People are reporting from both sides of the pond that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the sports holding company last seen putting forty years between championship hockey teams, is now extending its gaze outward. Having conquered just about every sporting mountain there is to climb here in Toronto (money making hockey team, competitive basketball team, a Major League Soccer team with actual fans, and the groundwork for a future NFL team) this city must seem all of a sudden rather provincial. How better to extend the MLSE brand than to gain entrance to that playground of Russian oligarchs, oil rich Arabs and bored Americans, the English Premiership?

Of course MLSE has some work to do to make it that far. Leeds United, the unfortunate soccer team that has become choice number one for MLSE's great European soccer experiment, is not currently playing in England's top league; regulation has seen them tumble down two rungs to the third division, League One. But bad teams are nothing new to MLSE, it's the turn around that seems to give them difficulty.

Will Leeds fans take heart at this news? Going on nothing but a Wikipedia page MLSE certainly looks solid enough. Who wouldn't want their team owned by an organization with dollars and clout?

I don't want to be the petty, older child, jealous at his new sibling, but I don't like this at all. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has a hard enough time with the Maple Leaf aspect of their business, their crown jewel, the one aspect that any one ever expects anything from, and now it's time to invest in English football? The Premiership is serious business, and Leeds fans have an expectation that that is where their club belongs. They deserve an owner with a commitment to winning, who has a stake in the team, who understands the sport and what it takes to win.

Come to think about it, so do the Maple Leafs.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Love Letter, Of Sorts

Things looked, and I don't want to exaggerate here, but the day the Toronto Maple Leafs fired John Ferguson Jr, things looked good. There was optimism and there was hope and there was genuine reason for Toronto fans to think that for once, for once in a long time that maybe theirs would soon be a team not at the whim and drift of cluttered ownership and muddled and always contradictory vision, but that they would be able to cheer for a team that was moving forward both on the ice and off it. Richard Peddie said, "we'll get a hockey man with brass balls and vinegar in his blood and he is going to clean up Dodge City," or words to that affect, and there was that reason to think that those years of neglected drafts and overpaid veterans would be a thing of the past, something to be filed away and forgotten; along side other effluence of the early twenty first century, alongside Tila Tequila but before Transformers: The Movie, there, in resplendent , hidden glory, Toronto Maple Leaf teams, Crappy.

Every day since that first firing though, we've been given nothing but a file to wear away that ironclad hope. A search committee was formed, a search committee of two who were clearly in no great rush to complete the search. "We'll have a GM in place by September," Peddie informed us, as if the knowledge that MLSE's president thought that going through an entire off season with no one in charge of hockey decisions was somehow an acceptable way of rebuilding a broken franchise. Brian Burke's name was whispered as the golden grand slam that would save the franchise, and so we waited for Anaheim to be eliminated, diligently and patiently, assured with the knowledge that managing a hockey team in Toronto was definitely and obviously the dream job for any GM with his head screwed on right.

But Burke didn't happen, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, for whatever reason. That didn't faze the Leafs; I'm sure some of them were privately terrified of the thought of a demon like Burke telling them how to do hockey.

This was when I first heard the insidious whisper of an ugly idea begin to spread around. "Well," the thinking went, and to be sure it still goes today, "Burke is a free man in one more year, why don't we just wait for him? Why don't we just let Cliff Fletcher keep the job till then."

I suppose I understand the thinking behind this, but I don't like it. Burke would do something special for this team for sure, but he is not a superman, he is not the panacea we all need him to be. There are other GM's in the sea, and the idea of sacrificing a whole season, a whole season another completely capable GM could have spent putting his plan for Toronto in motion, to throw next season away and leave it all to Cliff to take care of in his doddering hands is such a completely Made in Toronto solution that we need to throw it out at once.

What could be more MLSE than doing nothing? Leaving Fletcher as GM, when we have heard so many times that he is just an interim guy, that he will not be in charge next year, to stick him with the full time job now is creepy and Orwellian in its doublespeak and is the most obvious move for Leaf management to do. What's easier than doing nothing? They sit back and say, "hey, it's worth the wait for Burke" (and then, only because this is Toronto, we'll watch as free agent Brian Burke signs somewhere else).

I don't believe MLSE will leave Fletcher in place, because just from a marketing stand point, even if this is the the Leafs and they could probably sell out the next twenty years of tickets if they just put them up for sale tomorrow, how do you sell a team that is saying "We'll get started next year"?

That's not to say the "wait for Burke" plan is not off the table. The latest proposed gambit involves Dave Nonis, ex of the Vancouver Canucks (and why they would fire the guy who pulled off Luongo for Bertuzzi I never understood) taking over from Cliff and then setting the table for Burke, his former boss.

The people talking this stuff are the people who give Leaf fans a bad name. The Nonis-to-Burke plan is pure Toronto arrogance, bright and shiny. Of course Dave Nonis would love to be GM for a year and of course he would love to go back to working for Brian Burke even if he has had a taste of the manger's chair because working for the Leafs and bringing them a Stanley Cup just transcends everything else and golly gosh if they wouldn't be lucky to be just working here in the first place, etc.

I am open to the idea of Nonis as GM because he seems like a competent guy capable of making creative trades, and more importantly because it would represent action and decisiveness on the part of MLSE, which is such a strange and dizzying concept that I might need a lie down if I keep thinking like that. But to suggest that Nonis would be ok with an interim job so that the man he replaced in Vancouver can then replace him seems like a stretch. I don't know Nonis at all, and I have no idea what his relationship was like with Burke, but on the surface at least, this seems like a mildly insulting proposition on the Leafs part.

The Leafs, obviously, and I shouldn't say obviously because to the people in charge it is obviously anything but obvious, but the Leafs need their guy in place by the entry draft, or else all claims to moving forward with unifying vision are null and void. Nonis could be that guy, Burke won't be, Fletcher should absolutely not be. Doug Wilson will also not be, and Ken Holland will be too busy enjoying a Stanley Cup. There are still lots of guys out there. Doug Armstrong is more than capable, Neil Smith would love a job I'm sure, and Colin Campbell's name always seems to appear somewhere.

In the end, who knows what's going to happen. The Leafs promised change when they fired Ferguson, but since then it's just been more of the same out of Toronto. I still like to think things will turn out right, I mean you have to hope, or why bother with any of this at all. Another year of Fletcher, even if it is in service of the greater Burke good, is the wrong message to be sending to fans. I wish Burke's name would be dropped, but if the Leafs do in fact lure Nonis, or if Fletcher is in fact named full time interim, then we are in for a very, very long year of speculation.

Endnotes - I won't say anything bad about Paul Maurice. I watched his press conference today (school's out and goodness knows there is nothing better I could have been doing) and I realized how little really knew about him. Maurice seems like a genuinely nice human being, and while his firing was inevitable, I guess, perhaps it didn't have to unavoidable. Even if you were like me and thought Andrew Raycroft could have used a good five or six or twenty more starts down the stretch, you have to admire the way his team never gave up.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I am not good at this game at all

You don't have to bother checking the archives, but it turns out I am awful at making predictions. 11-16! What the hell is that! Why am I even allowed to have an opinion about hockey? Shouldn't there be some sort of test? I could have gotten the same results with a print out and a dart board.

Defies explanation how bad I was. Well, I wasted a spot on Toronto, but I would have done that even if their top line was Mats Sundin and a pair of well trained golden retrievers. And who saw Montreal being as good as they are? That wasn't even fair. And Washington beating out Carolina on the last day? And Boston making the playoffs by boring their competition into submission? Not fair, not fair, not fair.

Whatever. I'm not sure I trust myself to make playoff predictions though. Or maybe I should, and then you can just make the opposite pick and you probably won't do worse than 75% success.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Manifesto, Or Something

Sometimes you just have to get angry. If ever there was a time to get angry dear Leaf fans, it is now. This isn't about 40 years of no Stanley Cups. Most Leafs fans weren't old enough, or alive enough, to appreciate that last one. This wouldn't matter if the drought was ten years, or a hundred years. I don't care about Howard Ballard, Punch Imlach, I'm not angry with them. I'm angry, and so too should you be, frail reader, at the current cacophony of clowns running this team.

There is a sentiment out there, I think, that says that the Leafs many sins this year have been absolved, forgiven and forgotten for the last minute effort and grit they've shown over the last month. Maybe, maybe if this was your first time cheering for the Leafs, maybe if you weren't here last year, the year before that. Remember J.S Aubin and the undefeated run to the end of the season? What good did that do us? And now we're being treated to a redux, an encore performance, because gosh if we all didn't enjoy it last time. It pisses me off ok, watching this team bumble and stumble all season long, and then now, all of a sudden, with their playoff hopes essentially dead, now they decide to show up, now they play hard, now they want to be taken seriously. All too late. It's nice that Pavel Kubina has rediscovered his ability to score, but where was that in December? Back when it counted this team folded, but when the games stopped mattering, suddenly they start winning. Nuh-uh. Sorry if I'm not impressed.

So much about this team is frustrating; so much about this team makes me want to give up and cheer for Montreal. A good fan should support their team through thick and thin, but that doesn't mean we can't look critically, can't pause to re-evaluate whether our loyalty is being well spent. No where in our contract does it say we need check our heads at the door, only heart past this point. It's not about winning and losing; if the Leafs were the worst team in the league (and who's to say they aren't already?) I could still cheer for them, if I thought there was at least some design to it, that there was a plan in place, that there was some sort of hope for the future. But here we are, three years removed from the lockout, and witnessing our third straight thoroughly mediocre team. The Leafs will miss the playoffs again, pick 12thish again. Barring miracle trades by our as yet unnamed future messiah/GM, the roster will still be built around the same stiffs that pretended to give a crap for the first four and a half months of this season.

I wish more Leaf fans would try to hold this organization responsible for the inbred sense of complacency that pervades this team. There are no excuses why a hockey team in Toronto should not be consistently at the top of the standings. This is not an organization that ever has to worry about it's next dollar, and yet we continue to settle for mediocrity.

Our only gem of hope is this white knight general manager who will soon come riding into town. We've heard that this man will have only the highest pedigree, that this man will be a guy who understands hockey, who can make tough decisions, who won't have to listen to advice from a board of governors adept at making money, but useless at winning hockey games. If it wasn't for this prospect, I probably wouldn't be writing any of this, because I would have already given up. I'm writing this because I care. I want to see this team do well.

The Blue Jays start next week. You'll excuse me if I don't feel like thinking about the Leafs for awhile.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

God we're all the loser here

Good good good. The Boston Bruins ended this still born playoff run before it got too silly. I'd like to hope that this loss will finally shut people up and that the Leafs can now get back to losing games like they should have been doing for the last month. It won't shut every one up - I know the headlines tomorrow won't play this as the deathblow, just another "setback" for the Leafs' "slim" hopes.

But what else is new. I've been keeping a low profile here while the Leafs have been winning because I just didn't know how to spin it. I knew deep down that they weren't going to make the playoffs and I was damn sure not going to repeat last year's heartbreak - last year when I put my heart on my sleeve, gave them all my faith and hope until that very final day. Once burned, twice shy, you know. Though strictly speaking this will be three straight burns, unconscionable for any team, but quadruple so for a team that likes to pretend it plays in the hockey capital of the world.

So jaded Jason has been keeping his eyes of the games, confused and battered and hurt and almost so willing to jump back on the Leaf bandwagon, but here we go, 6-2 loss to Boston, the team currently in eighth. If the Leafs had beaten Boston in both games, I probably would have thrown my hands up in resignation and started cheering. That won't be necessary now. Now I can sit back and feel smug and superior that I didn't get sucked into beleafing again, lord it up over every one silly enough to put any faith back into this sinking stock.

Yeah being right is great and whatever, but we're all still losers here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pre-Game For the Last Game

Just going to make a prediction for the next two games, the games that will hopefully finally shut up anyone who is still telling that old story about a team named Toronto and their run for the playoffs. They're home and home with the Flyers, the team in eighth place, the team that Toronto
is going to have to surplant if they are going to do this. Lost in that though, is the Leafs' current place in the standings, 12th in the East.

If you've been following the Leafs at all, you'll already know exactly what is going to happen over the next two games. The Leafs will do just enough, just barely enough, so that their playoff hopes come out the other side tarnished, battered, but still in existence. I don't know what that means in wins-losses. Probably a win and a loss, maybe two OT wins, two OT losses even? Whatever, I'm not expecting this to be the last time somebody mentions Toronto and playoffs is all. Even if their playoff run died back in January. Hopefully Phillie will run Toronto over, sweep the two games, knock them around a bit and then maybe we can start seeing Andrew Raycroft in net

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

There Are Still Some Things You Can Rely On

It's comforting to know that as uncertain our Maple Leafs are, no matter how flaky, shaky they may be, no matter how inconsistent their play is game to game, we can always rely on Martin Brodeur to put them in their place. Thanks Devils.

Monday, March 03, 2008

So uhh, We Doing This?

C'mon Leafs, be serious. Are you guys actually aiming for the playoffs? It was cute a few weeks ago when you guys were losing 8-0 to bad teams while still talking about the post season, but now that you're backing it up with wins, it more annoying than anything.

8-4-1 over the last stretch and you've managed to gain, what? One point on eighth place? And Philadelphia has games in hand. Everyone knows where this is heading. We've seen it enough before to smell a ninth place finish a mile away.

I read somewhere that the Leafs need to go on some sort of magical 12-3 run from here on to have any chance at this. Hah hah hah aha hah, chortle guffaw.

I'd advocate putting Andrew Raycroft in net to insure more losses, but I think by this point, having watched this team do their thing all season long, the most likely result would be Raycroft winning games, because that is exactly what we don't need.

It's nice to see to Mats Sundin put his money where his mouth is and everything, and it's nice that Vesa Toskala is a legit starting goalie, but it would be a hundred times nicer to see Steven Stamkos playing in Toronto next year, you know? None of this will end well.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oh Sundin...

This is the real reason why Mats Sundin needed to go: he's capable of single handedly winning games. Two goals and an assist in tonight's 4-3 shootout win over Florida. Since when do the Leafs win shoot outs. It's like you can't trust these guys for anything anymore.

I decided yesterday that I am sick of NHL parity. Screw it. NHL parity, the three point game, that's what kept those players in Toronto. It's them waking up in the morning seeing themselves only six or however many points they are out of eighth, and it's them saying, hey we're not out of it yet! When for goodness sakes there are six teams in the way of that and only the most hopeless dreamer could confuse that for a legitimate chance.

If the standings put things in simple win percentages, you know, no happy bonus points for losing, and every morning the players woke up to confront the fact that they are essentially a team that has won just 28 games in 65 tries, if they had to confront the fact that they are a solidly .400 team, would they still be so stuck on these Leafs? Kubina would have waived his clause for sure. This team would look different today, is all I'm saying.

I know the league is not going to simplify the standings any time soon, because parity is good for them. Three point games means they can remind us that there are only three teams out of thirty that are "under" .500. It's good optics for them, but misleading for the fans and is clearly hampering Toronto's attempts at starting again.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Redecorating Deck Chairs On The Good Ship Maple Leaf

This is tough. This is coming home after hours of trick or treating and emptying your bag and finding nothing but apples and those nasty orange taffies that nobody ever eats. It's not like I expected much from today; Cliff Fletcher did a pretty good job conditioning Leaf fans over the weekend to expect less, rather than more. The big five all turned down the request to waive their no trade contracts and that left Fletch in an awkward place. I know that it's not the players job to to build the team and I know they worked hard and earned those special clauses and that they have every right to say up yours to management but it is still very, very frustrating from the fan's perspective, having to watch these guys stubbornly stand in the way of a meaningful rebuild, talking about the playoffs, when all any Leafs fan really wants is to draft Steven Stamkos.

But this just means that Fletch, known for his always imaginative trades, would have to get creative at the deadline.

The day started out with Wade Belak heading to Florida for a fifth round pick, which is ok, I guess. I mean, he doesn't play much, and he doesn't make much, but he's entertaining, and he's always good for a quote in the dressing room, and that's pretty hard to find in any hockey dressing room. I don't know who inherits the tough guy role for the Leafs now. So whatever, a pretty meaningless deal to start the controlled demolition. But Fletch, you gotta start somewhere!

But that was followed with a good three hours of nothing from Fletch, until we learn Hal Gill, perhaps one of Fergie's better contract signings, has been traded to Pittsburgh for a 2nd and a 5th. Gill had become one of the more dependable Leafs defenceman over the past couple of seasons. He was big and slow and he didn't win hockey games but he certainly never lost any for us, which is more than you can say for some of the other mooks playing on that blue line. I'll miss him at least.

Then finally Chad Kilger, also to Florida for a 3rd. This one not surprising; Kilger is a scruffy, hard working guy, the kind of guy Fergie was great at picking up, and the kind of guy who can adds a little extra grit to any team. We got him off waivers at the deadline, oh, it seems like forever ago, back when Toronto was a serious playoff team.

And that's it. Hardly the reno job Toronto needed. I'm hardly one to play armchair GM, but was there nobody who wanted Nik Antropov? The guy is never going to be more valuable and he's too old to factor into any long term build plan.

This is going to be a very long summer


Monday, February 25, 2008

Trade Deadline Dilemmas

Tomorrow is not going to be a pretty day. Mats Sundin is not going anywhere, and from everything we've heard neither will Pavel Kubina, Darcy Tucker, Tomas Kaberle, or Bryan McCabe. If those guys don't go, can we even call tomorrow a rebuilding day? Moving Alex's Steen and Ponikarovsky is hardly going to amount to anything significant, and aren't those the kind of young, cheap, semi-talented players we should be building around in the first place?

The Leafs could never build a Stanley Cup team successfully. I don't know why we were expecting them to get the rebuilding thing right. This is an organisation that has fucking up ingrained deep with in it. No disrespect to Cliff Fletcher, who I'm sure did his darnedest to try to convince someone, anyone, to jump ship, but if the Leafs can't move any of those contracts (McCabe is still a possibility, I hear, and in Kubina's case, his contract provides a window in his no-tradability this summer) it will be less a rebuilding process, and more say, a redecorating one. Let's try moving the couch over here. Hang up some new drapes. Bright, colourful flowers provide a great spark to any room. Really we should be knocking down walls and tearing up foundations.

But hey they have the contracts, they earned them, even if Fergie was maybe over eager with them. We should be impressed that Mats has chosen to stay loyal to Toronto. I think most people are just confused. Is this really such a great city, is what we're all wondering. What did we ever do to inspire such devotion? But that's just Toronto. If you don't love us enough, we get angry, but damn it, if you start loving us back, you better watch out. That's when we get really mad.

Just deal with it. He said he doesn't believe in the idea of rental players, you gotta be there October to June, and you have to respect that. I do. Do it right or don't do it at all. Of course, the Leafs have to resign him now. They really, really, top priority, get his name on a contract and make sure that when he retires he retires as a Maple Leaf. This forced trade fiasco probably has not helped anyone - will he even want to come back next year? Frig, he better. Or else what was the point? The Leafs end up the big losers with no prospects, no draft picks, no captain to hold them together and just a bunch of angry, frustrated fans.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Trade Deadline Doldrums

Only a few days before the trade deadline and if you are a Leafs fans, I think it's become pretty clear that we should be expecting less, rather than more to happen for our team on Tuesday. The standard line coming from Cliff Fletcher for the past week has been "Hey, we sure do have a lot of no-trade contracts, huh guys?" and Sundin has been sticking to his no where but T.O (and I've started believing him), not to mention the feeling among GMs league wide has been generally "boy we did a lot of stupid things last trade deadline, didn't we". I know, I know, when people stumble out of bed Sunday morning the line is always, "I swear to God I'll never drink again" and we know how that works out, but geez, what if the General Managers have learned their lesson this time? What if this is the year they decide that that draft pick might be more useful in their hands, and that maybe Brendan Witt is not worth a first round pick?

Speaking of picks, what the Leafs need to do is get a hold of Edmonton's first round pick, currently nestled safely under Brian Burke's watch in Anaheim, and theoretically available. That pick would represent two potential top five picks and that is what the Leafs need right now. I assume Mats Sundin would secure it, but once again I don't know which way to read him. The hopeful side says that Mats has just been jumping through the hoops with the media, saying what he has to, "I want to stay in Toronto", so that no one questions his commitment to this city (imagine what would have happened if Sundin had told us he wanted out? The Vince Carter treatment all over again). Under this fanwank dream scenario Sundin does what's best for the team when Fletch eventually approaches him with the offer.

A week ago I was pretty convinced that this was how it would play out. Maybe the Leafs offer a very quiet wink nudge deal for next year, you know nothing official because there are people who frown on that kind of shenanigans, but whatever it takes to get him out the door with his dignity intact. Now, I'm not so sure. The big five, the guys with the impenetrable no trade contracts, have put up a pretty unified front in resisting trade talk; it doesn't seem like anybody on this team feels inclined to jump ship, or even that there might be a reason to bail out. These guys are still talking about the playoffs in the dressing room.

But that's the only place anybody is talking about Toronto and the playoffs. I understand that the players still need something to play for. That's why Vesa Toskala is out there every night; that's why Paul Maurice pulled said in the final minute of yesterday's loss to Buffalo even though they were trailing by three. I respect that, these are men with some pride. Just listen to Maurice these days. He is a frustrated man. He is this close to losing it.

There is talk from some that Sundin is acting disloyal in his refusal (if it is indeed genuine refusal), and that's complete bullhorckle and fiddlewash. Maybe Sundin really would rather prefer to oversee the rebuilding in Toronto than a Stanley Cup in some other city. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. Who knows. Sundin doesn't deserve the backlash he's going to get if he's still here Tuesday afternoon.

Back too the deadline. This season has been weak weak weak when it comes to trades. Two meaningful trades spread out over four months? Will Tuesday make up for this? For the Leafs sake it had better so. If Fletch can get one guy to waive goodbye, it could start chain reaction. Assuming there are teams willing to take on big contracts attached to ok players the deals will happen. For all the hand wringing, this is the one day a year that GMs are allowed to do stupid things. Just hoping for once it's not Toronto's.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Darling You Gotta Let Me Know

So now that the Leafs are knocking off all the best teams in the league, what are we, we poor, suffering, handsome fans supposed to think here. If Toronto is not careful, they're going to wake up in eighth place one morning and then we're all in trouble because you know once that happens it's full throttle all the way to the playoffs baby, forget shedding salary and planning for happier tomorrow.

You'd think that a cozy afternoon game against Detroit (there is something inherently right about watching Toronto and Detroit play each other, something positive and reaffirming and wholesome I think) would be an auto loss, you know, but with these Leafs the moment you start expecting them to do one thing, the moment you think you have this team figured out and pegged down and ain't nothing going to change that, they start making you look stupid. It's nice that Darcy Tucker is scoring again (if I can be so modest, it's probably cause I called him out before the Montreal game), and Vesa Toskala means for once goaltending is not the problem. But why now?

You start walking down this path, you start listening to this harpy's song, and suddenly you find yourself thinking hey wait maybe this team can actually make the playoffs, or, hey maybe Mats Sundin and Kubina and Tucker and McCabe could actually do more good if they stayed in Toronto, which is just a roadmap to more heartbreak, but it is seductive and hard to look away from. Next week is big. If the Leafs keep winning, (games against Buffalo, Islanders, and Boston, ie, all theoretically winnable) expect someone high up in management to let it slip that the Leafs are gunning for the playoffs. Not that they will be buyers, but I can see them standing pat, maybe moving a veteran if that special deal comes along.

The point is, a winning week will be the worst thing for this team. It will leave them in this sticky, should we stay or should we go no-man's land area of the Eastern conference where the only things that ever happen are 12th overall draft picks and 9th place finishes. Fletch, please, scuttle this team before they have a chance to make trouble.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Yzerman Is All Right

They named Yzerman GM for Team Canada at the upcoming world championships and this is just good news for Toronto. When Team Canada wins (not really matter of if, you know) it's only going to cement Yzerman's already pretty solid status as ball busting executive material, and will put him on the fast track to the position he was born for, General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings. From how I understand it, Stevie Y and Mike Illitch are basically best buds for life, so the red carpet is just waiting or him to walk down. The point is, that makes Ken Holland, the Best GM in Hockey, expendable, and an easy peasy pickup for the Leafs. Ken Holland gets a new challenge, Detroit gets their favourite son, Toronto gets a dude who knows what he's doing, it is just win win win all the way home. If Ken Holland does become available, still a big ol' if, I don't see why the Leafs would even need a process anymore, just offer him all the money in the world and let the man get to work.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Losses are Good Times

Man am I the only the Leaf fan who heard the final score was 8-0 Panthers (Panthers!) and thought, "Ok, yes, this is a good thing." I had to read the final score in the paper because after one period and three goals I was busy finding other things to occupy my time, you know. But getting rocked by Florida is a good thing, big picture. All about that top three pick. All about that Steven Stamkos.

I mean, it's not good in anyway that every Leaf played like they were too busy dreaming up future tee times, because the all those scouts who have attached themselves to this team like vultures need something to take back with them. This is the perfect time for Darcy Tucker to start scoring, you know what I'm saying? Nobody is getting off this island if they keep playing like they did against Florida. If it were up to me the Leafs would lose the next twenty-eight games by one goal each, and everybody would try their best and some GM somewhere could look at Pavel Kubina and say, "Yes, this is a man I would pay $5 million dollars a year".

Lovin' that Robbie Earl though. Let's go Marlies

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Breaking News: Sundin Still Not Going Anywhere

I sure wish the media would stop asking Mats Sundin what his trade deadline plans are. It seems every day brings another headline that says "Sundin Doesn't Want To Go Anywhere" "Sundin Happy In T.O" "Sundin: Not Waiving No Trade" "Sundin Punches Out Reporter" and etc.

What's the thinking here? Maybe if we ask him enough he'll tell us what he's really thinking? Maybe if we ask the same question for the next four weeks he'll break down and tell us how desperate he is to get out, and how that is all he's ever really wanted?

Sundin is not going to ask for the trade. Sundin is not going to initiate anything, and even if he did, the media is the last place he'd go to do it. Cliff Fletcher isn't going to say anything. He's too busy trying to figure out how this place works. There's no reason for any of them to play their cards this early.

I don't mean to speak for people I don't actually know, but I'm pretty sure that when Cliff does eventually approach Sundin with a feasible trade to a real contender, that no-trade clause is not going to stand in the way. He'll do the right thing when the time comes, no matter what it is that he has to tell the daily crush of reporters who are desperate for a sound bite to stir some controversy, create a mess where none exists.

Sundin will leave, I am certain. Maybe with a gentleman's agreement for a tidy pay raise next season, I don't know. Whatever it takes. If Sundin does exercise his right to stay put, there will be some sort of fan backlash at the captain for putting his interests a head of the team. When was the last time Sundin was booed at home?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Did Anyone Even Score in the Breakaway Contest?

It seems a pretty big no duh from today, but the NHL's attempt at an All-Star dunk contest was pretty awful the first time around. The only guy who seemed to get the point was Ovechkin, and he botched his baseball bat attack both times. Maybe this will be a cool thing two, three, ten years from now but right now those hot dogg skills just aren't something many players focus too much attention on, so when it comes time to put those primo tricks on display, well, they were found lacking. And goalies shouldn't leave the crease, while we're at it. Nothing worse than a guy trying to pull off some puck art only to find a poke check at the hash marks, you know? It was cool that Kaberle won the accuracy thing, maybe he could try that in a game some time. And uh that's all I really saw of the all-star hooplah. They just get better every year don't they?


End notes - Big thanks to the Leafs for losing to St. Louis, who were kind enough to bring Brad Boyes with them just in case we don't get it. They may not make the playoffs this year, but the Blues are just miles ahead of Toronto every sense of it. They had to swallow a few bad seasons, but at least there is a plan in St. Louis. We have Cliff Fletcher.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Things Are Going to be Ok, Probably

John Ferguson Junior is gone, finally. Who else was starting to resign themselves to to four more months? But that's just the Leafs at play: just when you get yourself expecting them to do one thing, wham, they go the opposite direction on you.

First, before anyone starts criticizing the man they got to replace Fergie, let's all take a moment to be glad that anything happened at all. Cliff Fletcher is not the perfect solution. You don't find the perfect solution in the middle of February (do you think anyone talked to Pat Quinn?). So I won't grumble with what we got.

Fletch has a Cup, and he had a few magical years with Toronto once upon a time and that will have to be good enough. I assume he has some sort of rapport with Sundin, I hope he does because it was Fletcher who got us Sundin in the first place, and I don't even need to explain the poetry here.

At the press conference he was all politics, putting Mats first which I guess is what you have to do. After everything we've put Sundin through we owe him some dignity. He still has to go of course, of course he has to go because if he doesn't, why did they fire Ferguson? Sundin has said he wants to stay forever blue and white. This is Mats making sure he doesn't come out the bad guy. Sundin would never ask to be traded, but that doesn't mean he won't take the chance to go to another team if somebody gives it to him.

The only problem now is whether Fletcher is the man who can maximize on Sundin's trade value. The man hasn't been a real GM since he left Toronto, and the last two teams who tried him out ended up firing him, so how much sway does he have among the fraternity? What he needs to land is a prospect, a first rounder, and roster player, or equivalent. This the trade deadline though, and GMs are known to do stupid things in search of the missing piece, and for once we might not be on the wrong side of that.

Better than all that was Richard Peddie telling us that Fletcher's replacement is going to be a real GM, no more learning on the job. It seems it's already been decided that our GM next year will either Ken Holland or Brian Burke or Jim Rutherford or maybe all of them working together for the betterment of this franchise. I don't know. If anyone has the money to poach high class GMs it's Toronto, but even with all this talk of change, does anyone really want to jump into the organizational fracas that is MLSE? Does this white knight exist? I don't know.

Whatever happens, I'm just glad to know that something will happen, anything, whatever it may be.


Don't Call It Goodbye

It seems official now, John Ferguson Junior is no longer GM. The Leafs replaced him with Cliff Fletcher, no surprises.

I guess this is a good move, as long as Cliff understands his role here and starts a measured deconstruction, and not say, the kind of frantic bombing that marked the end of his last stay here.

The GM is dead, long live the GM

Monday, January 21, 2008

There's Still Some Horse Left to Beat

I did something stupid on Sunday: I watched the Leafs game against New Jersey, and as bad as that is, it gets worse because I actually thought they had a chance at winning, and it just doesn't get better, because to top it off, I actually wanted them to win.

The Leafs are that abusive junky boyfriend I just can't shake. Every time I say, nuh uh, no way get out of my house and don't come back, there they are winning three straight games and everything is all right as long as you hold me tight and promise to never let go.

This is all too confusing. As long as the current management structure is in place it is impossible to cheer for this hockey team. And with every win the Leafs just further remove themselves from top spot at the draft table which is where they should be aiming. Forget the playoffs. If the Leafs shoot for a playoff spot it will just end in a middle draft pick and more mediocrity. It happens every year.

Supporting this team feels like buying blood diamonds. There are consequences. Cheering for a hockey team should not be this complicated. This is not so much to ask.

All I want is a hockey organization structured in such a way that I do not have to feel embarrassed when I tell people my team. Forget the Stanley Cup MLSE. They're overrated anyway. We'll figure that out later. Just stop cocking around, and do something. Please. This is not so much to ask.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cliff Diving and Other Dangerous Sports

The Leafs have won back to back games for the first time in I don't know how long, which is actually a terrible thing for them to do right now because you know that MLSE will take any excuse they can to postpone having to do their jobs. If the Leafs start looking half decent on the ice (no matter how temporarily) it has the potential to grind this push for managerial change to halt. And that would be the worst thing.

This situation is ridiculous. MLSE has managed to cast John Ferguson Junior as the sympathetic victim here by hanging him out there while simultaneously talking to every unemployed GM in the league and telling us that there are no imminent changes coming. How insular can the board of governors be? How can they not realize they've made themselves look ridiculous and probably badly hurt any chance of ever getting a serious hockey man to ever helm this team?

They obviously know that something must be done, otherwise they wouldn't be talking to Cliff Fletcher, but they also don't seem to think that there is any particular rush because it feels like the deathwatch on Fergie started two weeks ago. I'm even starting to feel sorry for him. Why does he even bother to show up to work? I wouldn't blame him if his box was empty the next time the Leafs are home. I don't like Ferguson, I still want his ass fired, but there's no need to be inhumane about it. Especially when this circus just confirms to the other 29 markets that Toronto is just a fudged up city.

The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to figure a way out. It does not seem like there are any great immediate solutions, no dynamite jobless GMs waiting for the call (is anyone talking to Neil Smith?). What could still happen, and is what should definitely not happen, is that the Leafs could follow the Dallas Star's lead and name a tandem involving Doug Gilmour and Mike Penny or Glen Healy or whoever as their new long term GM. The last thing the Leafs need right now is another inexperienced GM or two.

What's going to happen most likely is they'll name an interim GM to clear house and kick ass for a few months until they can hire a real GM in the summer, like Ken Holland or Brian Burke, yeah right, I know (Pretty sure Scotty Bowman won't be having much to do with this organization). There are two problems. After watching this poor Fergie twist in the wind for a week, a month, however long it takes MLSE to get their act together, what decent General Manager would want to come here? And more importantly, how many experienced GMs are looking for six months of temp work?

Well, there's Cliff Fletcher of course, and of all the options (there are not many) I guess I'm leaning this way. The Leafs would hire Fletcher as GM till the summer and then they'd shift him over to some cushy and well paid consulting job or whatever because that's the only way you'd get him to give up his buyout money from Phoenix.

This is not a great solution. This is not a solution that looks like it will take place any time soon. Just knowing this organization, expect more glacial progress in the coming weeks. If we're lucky, maybe the Leafs will have narrowed their candidate list down to one by the trade deadline.

Fingers crossed,


Sunday, January 13, 2008

It's Mess, I Confess

What do you even say after a night like tonight? You have Toronto, a team that has in the past couple of weeks joined any conversation on the topic of NHL's worst team, playing in San Jose, San Jose a good, well built hockey team if there ever was one but a team that struggles at home for whatever reasons. The Leafs who had lost their last four, took a two nothing lead into the third period and for those first two periods they looked fine, like a team that knew what it was doing, a team with confidence and muscle and everything else you're supposed to have to win in this league.

But but but, any savvy hockey fan who has followed the Leafs season to this point could have figured out what was coming.

Third period meltdown.

Oh yes, in what I think has become the Leafs trademark move this season, they did just enough in the third period to lose a game they had spent forty minutes winning. Quel surprise and etc.

But these loses are all for a higher purpose now. Change is coming, and I know I said that earlier this season and than nothing happened but you have to think that things have progressed to the point where not even Richard (Pettie) Peddie can sit back and tell us this is not the time for hasty decisions. Richard Peddie's job is safe, I think, I mean I don't think I've ever heard any of his bosses complain about him and the man does wonders for their investment returns so the blame is going to fall to John Ferguson Junior. I would be surprised now, following these three consecutive California loses if something did not go down. How can it not?

Whatever happens though, I can't even trust whether it will be a step in a positive direction, or just JFJ redux. I mean we are trusting Peddie, the same man who hired Fergie to replace him. What's giving me hope are Peddie's comments earlier this season when he told us that hiring a rookie GM like Fergs had been a mistake (oh you don't say) and the very, very positive example set by the Raptors' recent reconstruction led by GM/messiah Brian Colangelo, which leads us to believe that MLSE is not as completely useless as they seems. If they could get it right with the basketball side, and remember how that half of the operation used to make the Leafs divine in comparison, why can't they repeat it with the hockey half?

Of course, in order to fix this mess you'd need to bring someone in and then give him complete control of the hockey business, like Colangelo secured for himself with the Raps, because nobody worth hiring would put up with a board of governors who fancy themself hockey experts. So right there you have a problem because is this a hockey organization that is willing to take it's chefs out of the kitchen? Yeah I don't know. I want to be optimistic, but this is MLSE we are talking about and if there is anyone capable of screwing this up, it's going to be the clowns running this franchise.


Endnote - Tomas Kaberle is the only Leaf on the Eastern All Star team, which makes Mats Sundin an obvious snub, but he says he'd rather take the rest anyway so I guess problem averted? Or maybe it's just Mats being Mats, not wanting to cause a fuss. We could probably debate whether Toronto even deserves a player on the All Star team, but then, getting worked up about All Star games is just silly. Do people still watch them? I don't know.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Hear Ottawa Has a Good Team

There are only so many things I can blame on Mr. Ferguson. He was not the one who hired himself to be the Leafs General Manager. It is not his fault that the men he works for have left him out to dry with no contract extension and out of nowhere public criticism. It is not his fault that every move he makes must be vetted by a board of Governors that may be good at diversifying stock portfolios and making important tee times but lacks any serious hockey competence. It is also not his fault that none of his bosses really want their team to win, at least, not win in the traditional sense, on the ice, because the Leafs franchise has been winning financially for the past forever.

Here's the thing. The Leafs need to make certain moves right now, certain moves that are completely untenable and impossible from where we stand today. There are just too many forces pushing this team towards the status quo. The general manager needs to make the playoffs to save his job so any move that would be seen as giving up, that is specifically, trading Mats Sundin, are unlikely to happen under his watch. Mats Sundin, the man who could attract an entire farm team given the right GM, is too classy to ever ask out of this city, so we can't expect him to drive the trade, though I doubt he would hold to his no trade clause if someone asked nicely. And even if Fergie did want to trade Mats, not that he will because bold moves and John Ferguson are not on speaking terms now or ever and frankly trading Mats at this point is less a bold move and more just simply a competent one, anyway even if Fergie did get hit in the back of the head and decide that the future of this franchise is more important than continuing his career and did look to trade Sundin he would have to get the board of directors to say yes and the board of directors are not going to say yes to anything so outside the box and fresh and because even they understand that trading Sundin amounts to giving up on the season and that by giving up on the season they are giving up the potential for playoff gate receipts this year and if there is one thing that the Ontario Teacher's Pension Fund understands it is that playoff ticket sales are basically free money.

So our hypothetical Fergie will go before MLSE's board of directors, the bandages still around his head from the recent lobotomy, his hat clenched and wrenched between his hands and he will bow his head and mumble some ancient Latin words and one of the dark robed millionaires will motion for him to rise with a single, crooked finger. Fergie will look up, but he will not make eye contact with anyone, for this forbidden, and then he will mumble something inaudible. Another dark robed figure commands him to speak louder, "Louder" but it sounds like a hiss, a dry, rasping hiss. By now Fergie will be sweating and wiping his forehead with the back of his expensive suit but he will manage to gasp out, "iwannatradesundin" before recoiling back waiting for the punishment that is sure to follow.

A gasp goes around the chamber and the many dark robed figures will hiss loudly as they discuss this latest blasphemy when suddenly they are silenced by one voice and the semi circle in front of Ferguson parts and there will stand the representative of the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan who will look like the Borg Queen and her, no, Its lips will curl into a nasty smile as It holds up the day's newspaper and It will throw it at him and he will pick the paper up and see that it is turned to the NHL standings and It will ask him how many points separate the Leafs from 8th place. "Well that's really not the point-" Ferguson will try but he is silenced by the Pension representative. "We count but five points between our Maples Leaves and the eighth spot, which we understand to be the final spot for which the Maples Leaves would be eligible for playoffs. Correct or Incorrect?" it will say and it will pierce Ferguson with its inhuman stare and Ferguson will try to argue but he will be silenced again. "Correct or Incorrect" will be the question once more and Ferguson will say, defeated, "Correct" and much nodding and congratulating will take place among the board members.

They will not consider that by sacrificing the playoffs this year, playoffs that if we can be ugly and unromantic here, are much, much farther away than what any standings say, that if we tank now then we can build something that will last another five, six who knows how many years into the future. If the Leafs go status quo, which increasingly and sadly they appear to be too willing to do, they will not make the playoffs this year and they will very likely not make them next year even with a new GM (or insallah, an entire new management structure). If we keep Sundin now, make a small or no addition at deadline and then miss the playoffs again by one point, what good does that do? Sundin gets to try the free agent market, or re-sign with us but the Leafs are still mediocre, they still get a 12th or 13th pick and then they get to go out and do the whole thing over again and try to set some kind of NHL record for most consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs by one point. We are going on three straight seasons without making the playoffs and no one with any power to do something about it seems to give a goddamn hug.


Endnote: The Star ran a thing today where they asked a bunch of ex- and one day GM's who and what they would ask for Sundin if they were trading them. Generally these hockey guys asked for one or two high draft picks and at least two solid prospects. Then there was Mike Millbury, who's been doing decently in his new third or fourth career as a tv guy, of all the guys Millbury was the only one who asked for just a first rounder and a single prospect. And suddenly every bad trade he ever made on Long Island comes flooding back and you remember oh yeah, there is a reason he is not a GM anymore.

Monday, January 07, 2008

This Thing I Have Become

It's starting to gnaw at me that I've essentially given up on this hockey team of mine with so much left to play. I am in the most awful position. I'm starting to cheer every Leaf loss because with each mounting loss it just vindicates me even more, look, I can say, I was right this team is just balls to the walls bad. I can't enjoy it when they do win because that only lets John Ferguson Junior shift some of that piling pressure off for another day. Each win is a victory for Fergie, the Leafs management and everything stifling and incompetent about them while every loss is another welcome nail in the coffin and frankly, there are so many nails in there you could probably lift it with a large enough magnet.

So thanks Leafs, you've turned this season into a perverse game for me. I can't tell you how conflicted I was when the Leafs put up that unfortunately timed 5-1-1 stretch because it literally saved Ferguson's job but it also signaled that maybe the Leafs weren't stale leftovers at a time when it still mattered. I mean I don't like Toronto losing but I certainly don't need anyone repudiating Fergie right now. So really yeah, I do want Toronto to lose; I want Toronto to lose often and ugly and the more the better.

The worst part, or maybe the best part is that there are ways out of this. Look at Philadelphia. They were bad last year; they were rank awful, just plain bad and now this year, after management change and a dizzying year of deft moves they are back. Or what about St. Louis. A couple years ago they were bad, real bad but they cleaned management and put some guys in place who had a Plan and the today the Blues are as good as anybody in the league. The point is things aren't hopeless. This season is still a wash I think, but it shouldn't go to waste. A top five pick plus what we can sell at deadline and Toronto could be on the right track like snap crackle boom. Remember what St. Louis got for Keith Tkachuk last year? Atlanta practically gave away the farm. Imagine what Mats Sundin could bring.

Or we could have Fergie, lame duck Fergie come out at deadline time and looking at the standings that, at least nominally, show Toronto within a few points of the playoffs, he could give up another first round pick because if it works and the Leafs make the playoffs his job is safe for another year and if it doesn't work, well it's not like he'll be at the draft table in June anyway. Fergie is dangerous is what I'm trying to say. He's cornered and battered from all sides including his boss Mr. Peddie (who should be swept out too, or at least, swept away from hockey) and he has to know that the only way he has a job in Toronto next year (I don't know why he would still want the job but anyway) is if the Leafs make a playoff appearance and at least make it close. I sincerely and deeply and honestly do not want the Leafs making the playoffs under Fergie.

Look what you've made me Mr. Ferguson.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Post For Wonderful Surprises

I hope you did not get your hopes too high at the prospect of wonderful surprises because today's title is a misnomer, in fact you might call it an out and out lie because the focus for today is on completely unsurprising things and has very little to do with wonder and a lot more to do with depressing reality.

Where to even start. The Canadian Juniors won the gold medal today and this isn't actually depressing so much as it is unsurprising and uninspiring, especially after so many people rang the alarms so furiously after that one single loss back in the first round, the first loss for baby Team Canada since I don't know how long but we are talking years here and suddenly that's all it takes to question whether this team of maybe-one-day-future-studs can win the gold. It was pretty silly. I don't know what it is but maybe it's because I don't follow the tournament much farther than Story is Cont. on page S4, but it was easy money for me to pick Canada as the eventual winner. I don't know how many more straight golds it will take for Canadians to realize that they have the best junior system in the world and that these yearly international tournaments provide the same level of excitement and competition of your average round of mini-golf. Canadian domination of international ice hockey was fun at first, now I think it's just boring.

Surprise number two. The Toronto Maple Leafs are not a very good team. This is pretty much indisputable these days even if nobody on the company payroll wants to say it. Toronto lost to Philadelphia earlier tonight, and get this, this is the really unsurprising thing , they blew the game with two minutes to go in the third. I know! Who could have seen a finish like that!

It's not even surprising anymore when the clock hits five left in the third you just need to keep one eye behind Toronto's goalie because you know there will be some heavy action back there before the buzzer goes. So when Toronto fell behind a man to Phillie with just minutes left to play with the score tied 2-2 you could have reliably turned off your tv right then and gone off to do something more productive, confidant that your Leafs would find some special new way to lose and disappoint you.

The Leafs are 1-5 in their last six if I read the results properly. The Leafs occupy a special portion of the NHL standings reserved for only the really mediocre, the teams that can win two in a row and than just as easily peel off three straight losses and come back with a straight face and tell their fans that there is something more in the tank even though that is what they have said all season. It has been noted by those deliriously devoted to this hockey team that thanks to the particularly mediocre East Conference, the Leafs are never more than four or five points out of a playoff spot and that anything can happen, you know?

Oh but they are so hopelessly romantic. The Leafs are never far from that final eight slot but they are never really close either. To think that this team can suddenly reel off five or six straight wins and then motor on down the home stretch at some wonderful .600 clip is some bizarre dream work that completely ignores the body of work this team has put up all season long.

There is no consistency and no secondary scoring on this team. And yet we the fans must continue to listen to John Ferguson Junior and Richard Peddie tell us that it is not wise to make hasty decisions in this business. Hasty! It's like they lack any sort of perspective or sense of irony or at the very least have nothing but contempt for the fans, the only people who would deign to hold them accountable for turning this team into a mediocre halfway home for players with no where better to be. Hasty! It's like they are incapable of remembering anything farther back than five games ago. The team we have now is just as bad as it was a month ago, two months ago and it is not improving visibly. But we can't act just because the team isn't playing well right now. Right now? I can think of just one stretch of hockey this season when you could have reliably called the Leafs a good team and I think that lasted about ten games at the top.

Don't misunderstand me. I don't want Fergie to do anything. I'd rather he didn't touch the team because you can only see him making some ugly desperation act on deadline day sending more draft picks and prospects for another goalie as he, in that JFJ way, mumbles triumphantly that he has fixed the goaltending situation except he won't mention that this is the third time in his three years that the goaltending needed saving and this is all too depressing because it is all too plausible because we already know what our GM is capable when he's desperate.

I've said it before but obviously not loud enough but Toronto needs to fire Fergie, and Pettie too while we're at it and they need to install someone with experience and iron balls and the courage to trade Mats Sundin and the GM savvy to trade McCabe or Kubina or both and then he needs to start actively rebuilding for next year.

I know how tempting that four point gap looks right now and how close that this team may look on paper but if you have been following this team honestly, I don't know how you can conclude they can or should make the playoffs. I'd rather see them tank now and come back next year with something plausible than to see them continue to bundle along blindly wishing and hoping for that multi-game win streak to happen. Because it won't. And if it does, you know that the Leafs are just as capable of matching it with a losing streak of equal or greater value. This is our hockey team.