Feb 2, 2010

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Brian Burke and Dave Nonis may want to start booking a ticket to Bolivia. Unlike Butch and Sundance, this pair didn't go West and rob trains, they robbed a pair of NHL teams of some quality talent! Not only did they rob the Flames and Ducks, they managed to convince them that what they were being offered was likely the best deal they would get.

For a recap, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Ian White to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf, Frederik Sjostrom and defensive prospect, Keith Aulie. When the dust was still floating on that deal Burke and his bandits headed down the West Coast and pilfered Jean-Sebastien Giguere from Anaheim in exchange for Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake. In one fell swoop Brian Burke had completed changed the dynamics of his dressing room. The attitude was altered and the average age of the team had dropped by four years. What the Leafs G.M. accomplished over a Sunday brunch takes some teams years to do.

Fast forward from Sunday's trades, to the first game against New Jersey on Tuesday night. Phaneuf stepped onto the ice for his first shift and immediately set the tone for the night. The Devils knew to expect to get hit, HARD, whenever they skated down Dion's side of the ice and his new teammates took his cue and also played hard. This game was, for all intents and purposes the most "complete", "start to finish", "sixty minutes of full effort" game that this Leaf team had played all season. Sure there were some good games, but for several minutes in each they forgot to play. On Tuesday night, no one forgot to play.

Brian Burke still has some deals to make and as long as he has Dave Nonis working with him, I would think that the other 29 teams in the league should be wary of this Butch and Sundance working up in Toronto.

Jan 28, 2010

The Purgatory state of the Maple Leafs

I've noticed that the Hockey talk around the "office water-cooler" has been sorely lacking Toronto Maple Leaf content. For this, I have to blame the Leafs team and staff. The boys in blue are in hockey purgatory.

In past years, when the leafs were this close to the bottom, we'd be talking about the potential of drafting a top prospect. This year is different because the potential draftee was fast-forwarded via trade in to Phil Kessel. Then again, being 11 points out of a playoff spot & having 28 games left to play doesn't completely shut the door on the post-season. The problem with the team is that they're just not good enough; essentially shutting the door o the post-season. This situation negates both the "Tank Nation" and "White n Blue - Tried n True" talks.

One might think that player-movement may spark up some Leaf talk. The leafs are pressed for cap space, so adding players in hopes of making a run for the post-season is out of the question, so player subtraction is the only option. Unfortunately, one of the most coveted Leaf assets in Tomas Kaberly has a no-trade-clause, and looks to be unwilling to be shipped out of town. To make things worse, The General Manager, Brian Burke, will not ask Kaberle to waive his NTC. When you look through the roster there aren't many big name players on the team that would garner enough attention to make a significant impact on the current or future rosters. The Leafs have a roster full of hard-working players. Each of the hard-working players would only garner a late draft-pick or possibly a lost-cause prospect. Neither trade-type discussions would arouse much interest.

Maybe the Leafs fans can discuss the off-season early. There's bound to be some excellent unrestricted Free Agents coming up as of 2010; The only problem with speculating in these cases, is that we're so far away from the opening of Free Agency, that any acquisition-talk would most likely be in vain.

So, here we sit, in hockey purgatory. All the standard mainstays of hockey discussion are exhausted for the boys in blue. All I can do is wait and hope that something interesting presents itself before the Stanley cup is awarded.

Jan 22, 2010

Policing Head Shots

Imagine this, a guy is running full speed down the sidewalk and in a premeditated moment he raises his elbow and hits another guy walking in the opposite direction. The hit was so violent that the person that was struck was knocked unconscious and began convulsing on the sidewalk. This similar scenario transpired last week when Patrice Cormier nailed Mikael Tam with a blatant elbow to the head.

The question has now become one of what to do to penalize the player, Cormier. There are many calls in the media for police involvement, and if the scenario played out the way I first described it, then it is certainly a police matter. But this heinous hit didn't occur on a city sidewalk, it occurred in a hockey rink during a game of Major Junior hockey. The league involved, the QMJHL is tasked with providing the punishment and that's where it should stay. There can't be police involved in all altercations that occur on a playing field, although there are certainly exceptions. If the police were to investigate this incident and decide to file charges then where does their involvement stop? Should a baseball pitcher be charged with assault with a weapon for intentionally throwing a ninety mile-an-hour fastball at a batters head? How about charging a basketball player with assault for giving a hard foul to an opposing player taking a shot. A slap to the arm or chest is assault is it not? When playing soccer, defenders regularly perform sliding takedowns to remove the ball from an opponent. While they likely get carded for the play what if the opponent was injured in the process? Should the defender be charged by police? Then there is UFC and boxing where the ultimate goal is to beat the hell out of your opponent, is there a need for a police presence in the ring?

The answer to all those questions is NO. The participants involved have accepted some level of risk in playing their sport competitively, yet some people still want to see police enter the hockey arena and tend to on ice matters. Is this really a venture that you want pursued? Once started there is no turning back, and it won't stay on the ice. The door would been opened and all sporting plays would become liable and punishable in a court of law. What would the punishment be for a tripping infraction? On the ice it's a 2-minute penalty, but on the sidewalk it's worth a fine and a court date. Should the local police detachment be meeting players at the end of each game and handing out court summons and tickets?

No, instead of police involvement, a pro-active approach needs to be taken that starts from the NHL and works its way down through the feeder leagues. OHL Commissioner David Branch set a precedent when he suspended Michael Liambas of the Erie Otters for the rest of the 2009/2010 season. He carried on and suspended Windsor player, Zack Kassian, 20-games for an extremely hard hit on Matt Kennedy. Branch ruled the hit was borderline "okay" but the suspension is more for the predatory nature of the hit. Kennedy had not touched the puck, his head was turned and he was vulnerable, he was prey for Kassian to take out. This suspension is suppose to send a message about respect on the ice for other players. Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman can take a lesson from David Branch on how to send a message to its players.

In my opinion, the Cormier hit on Tams is worse than the Liambas check from behind. So what can the QMJHL do that has bite? It should be a given that his Junior career is finished, but as a first round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils it is quite possible that Patrice will be playing in the NHL next fall. This doesn't really seem fair does it? In instances like this, all leagues need to have a common policy where they acknowledge each others suspensions. So if the QMJHL decides to suspend Cormier for the rest of his Junior career and he has 2 years of eligibility left, then he should be out of hockey everywhere for that time frame. Playing in the NHL shouldn't be an out-clause to a Junior suspension.

But in this instance, I believe it may just be.

Jan 15, 2010

Jekyll and Hyde team

In a season of uncertainty, only one thing is certain. Whenever this edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes to the ice, you never know what team you are going to see. They will win 4-0 on one night and then lose 6-1 the next, just because they can.

Who gets held responsible for this result? Brian Burke can't be blamed because an astute fan knows that Rome wasn't built in a day and they'll grant some grace to Mr. Burke since he's only had one NHL draft and one off-season at the helm of the franchise. He is methodically placing building blocks within the organization knowing that the sum of the parts, when all in place is greater than the part itself on its own and he doesn't have all his components yet. Ron Wilson can't be blamed because he just got a rousing vote of confidence from his boss in declaring his job secure for the foreseeable future. Plus, he isn't that bad of a coach. The rookies that are being bounced from the AHL to the NHL and back again can't be blamed since they are just expected to learn from their callups and attempt to light a fire under the contract player who is keeping their roster spot warm for next season. We can't blame the media or the fans, though many do try! So what does that leave?

The only people responsible for this result is the players themselves. Perhaps they all needed a dictionary to know what the definition of truculence was and the book still hasn't made its way around the dressing room. Maybe they are still having trouble adapting to Ron Wilson's type of game. It is after all, only the second season. (insert sarcastic laugh here) Ron can coach and teach, but the players are having a difficult time executing. Why? I don't know, if I knew the answer to that question I'd be employed by the Maple Leafs right now and be correcting it. What I do see though is a team not willing to engage. To win the battles, you have to be in the battles and on a lot of nights this season the Leafs have too many spectators on the ice. I'm not going to name players, but we all know the usual suspects. When the puck is in the corner the defenseman needs to be the first player in and the first player out. When he hangs back hoping to hit the offensive player he's already lost the battle because the puck has been moved and the hit now puts himself out of position. On the forecheck, the forward needs to be the first to the puck and not hanging back hoping to hit the defenseman because the defense has already moved the puck and once the hit is made that forechecking forward now has a long way back for an effective backcheck.

Here's where the Jekyll and Hyde personality comes in. When the Leafs do play aggressively and are the first team to all the puck battles they usually win the game. When they show up second to all the puck battles they are usually behind the play all night and lose significantly. Again, here's where Burkie gets frustrated, when the team plays aggressively and executes Ron Wilson's game plan the goaltenders look great and the players can play and compete against the best teams in the league. So the players can win, when they want.

For this season, I don't believe there is any solution. There is a silver lining in knowing that we have some good young prospects just about ready to make the jump. But for now just hope the team can get enough wins to get Boston a pick that's outside the Top 5 or Top 10 and look forward to the next one ... yet again.

Nov 15, 2009

Until we retire certain numbers from our team the ghosts at the ACC that migrated over from Maple Leaf Gardens will never rest.

And the Leafs will never win....

So I will symbolically retire these numbers and give my reasons as why I do so. Below is a list of "Honoured Leafs Numbers" and the players that wore those numbers.


Johnny Bower
Turk Broda
Hap Day
Red Kelly
King Clancy
Tim Horton
Charlie Conacher
Ted Kennedy
Syl Apps
George Armstrong
Borje Salming
Frank Mahovlich
Darryl Sittler


Mar. 11, 1995
Mar. 11, 1995
Oct. 6, 2006
Oct. 6, 2006
Nov. 21, 1995
Nov. 21, 1995
Feb. 28, 1998
Oct. 3, 1993
Oct. 3, 1993
Feb. 28, 1998
Oct. 6, 2006
Oct. 3, 2001
Feb. 8, 2003

These are the numbers that should be retired in my opinion not simply "Honoured"

The Number 14 is a totally different topic and I can honestly say it's an embarrassment that this number is not "Honoured" never mind "Retired" so I'll leave that be for now.

The Number 1

Johnny “The China Wall” Bower:

"John William (Johnny) "The China Wall" Bower "
Bower helped show that it was possible for a goaltender to carry his team through the playoffs, and helped prove that a hot goalie can make the difference between an early exit and a berth in the finals.

Johnny Bower was twice awarded the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender, was a First Team All-Star, was picked by fans in 1995 as goalie on the All-Time Great Leaf Team, and backed Toronto to four Stanley Cup victories. Not bad for a goalie who bounced around the minor leagues for 13 years before finally breaking into the NHL for good. Despite winning the Les Cunningham Trophy as the American League's most valuable player three times, and the Larry Holmes Trophy as leading goaltender three times, Bower didn't get a real shot in the NHL until the 1958-59 season.

Bower compiled 220 wins, 33 shutouts and a goals-against average of 2.53 in his 11 seasons with Toronto. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976. Johnny Bower served as a scout with the Maple Leafs for more than 20 years after retiring in 1970, and is still one of the most active and recognized Maple Leaf Alumni in and around the city.

• Honoured Jersey Number, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1994-95
• Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, 1976
• Awarded J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1965
• Awarded Vezina Trophy as Top Goaltender, NHL, 1964-65
• Awarded J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1964
• Awarded Vezina Trophy as Top Goaltender, NHL, 1960-61
• NHL First All-Star Team Goalie, 1960-61
• Awarded J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1960

Turk “The Fabulous Fat Man” Broda:

"Walter Edward (Turk) "The Fabulous Fat Man" Broda"
The 1940s were dynasty years for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team won five Stanley Cups in the decade, all with the unflappable Walter 'Turk' Broda in net. Broda helped further decorate the glorious decade for the Leafs by adding two Vezina trophies (1940-41 & 1947-48) to the team's collection of awards and honours.

Broda's career goals-against average in the playoffs was a remarkable 1.98 over 211 games. He was selected three times as an All-Star, and by the time Broda was done blocking shots for the Maple Leafs he had collected more shutouts (62) and wins (302) than any other Leaf goaltender. These are records that still stand today. Walter 'Turk' Broda was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1967.

• Honoured Jersey Number, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1994-95
• Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, 1967
• Awarded Vezina Trophy as Top Goaltender, NHL, 1950-51
• Awarded Vezina Trophy as Top Goaltender, NHL, 1947-48
• NHL First All-Star Team Goalie, 1947-48
• NHL Second All-Star Team Goalie, 1941-42
• Awarded Vezina Trophy as Top Goaltender, NHL, 1940-41
• NHL First All-Star Team Goalie, 1940-41
• Leaf record for career shutouts (62) and wins (302)

The Number 4

Hap Day:

Hap Day
Hap Day was the most prodigious winner the Toronto Maple Leafs ever had. He was a great captain and a Hall of Fame player. Over a 10-year span beginning in 1927, his Leafs made four trips to the Stanley Cup finals. In all, Hap Day captained, coach or managed the Leafs to seven of their 11 Stanley Cups. "I think that's something you need to remember about my Dad," said Kerry Day. "How many Toronto players have their names on seven Stanley Cups?"
Players such as Ted Kennedy considered Hap Day the best coach they ever played for. "We won five championships," said Kennedy, "basically because of our coaching."

Day was a taskmaster who demanded the most from his men. Much to the dismay of some on-ice officials, he knew the rule book inside out and could quote it verbatim. "If Day argues a call," Hall of Fame official Bill Chadwick once said, "you have to wonder if you were wrong." In all, he won five Cup championships as coach of the Leafs: in 1942 and 1945, then three in a row from 1947 to 1949 - the first coach in NHL history to accomplish a Stanley Cup hat trick.

The Number 7

Tim Horton:

Miles Gilbert (Tim) Horton
Tim Horton played 18 straight seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Horton's career is a glowing example of dedication, especially when looked back on from today's era of shifting player loyalties and big-dollar free agent signings. In his almost 20 years wearing jersey #7 for the Leafs, Horton was selected to six All-Star teams and won four Stanley Cups. The quiet leader is arguably the best defenceman in Maple Leaf history, and in 1995 was voted along with Borje Salming as defencemen on the All-Time Great Leaf Team. The blue line leader was in fact a wall on defence, and epitomized the combination of strength, stability and character that scouts still search for in young defencemen.

Horton never scored more than 40 points in a season, but was a peacemaker on the ice and a calming influence on the Leafs during two of the most successful decades in team history. Tim Horton was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.

Tim Horton was amazingly strong. During his playing days Gordie Howe called Horton "hockey's strongest man". Some even claim that it was Horton who used his strength and coordination to invent the slap shot.

• Honoured Jersey Number, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1995
• Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, 1977
• J.P. Bickell Memorial Award, Toronto Maple Leafs MVP, 1969
• NHL First All-Star Team Defence, 1968-69
• NHL First All-Star Team Defence, 1967-68
• NHL Second All-Star Team Defence, 1966-67
• NHL First All-Star Team Defence, 1963-64
• NHL Second All-Star Team Defence, 1962-63
• NHL Second All-Star Team Defence, 1953-54

The Number 9

Charlie "The Big Bomber" Conacher:

Charles William (Charlie) Conacher
The Toronto Maple Leafs came into their own in the 1930s, reaching the league finals seven times in the decade and winning the Stanley Cup in 1932. The recipe for success was toughness provided by Hap Day, leadership by King Clancy, and scoring by Charlie Conacher. Conacher was the franchise's first real offensive dynamo, and was a threat to score whenever he was on the ice.

Conacher was the league's top scorer in both 1934 and 1935, and led the league in goals five times during the 1930s.

• Honoured Jersey Number, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1997-98
• Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, 1961
• NHL First All-Star Team Right Wing, 1935-36
• NHL First All-Star Team Right Wing, 1934-35
• League's Leading Scorer, NHL, 1934-35
• NHL First All-Star Team Right Wing, 1933-34
• Leading Scorer, NHL, 1933-34
• NHL Second All-Star Team Right Wing, 1932-33
• NHL Second All-Star Team Right Wing, 1931-32
• Set Leaf Record for Fastest Opening Goal, 7 seconds, Feb. 6, 1932

Ted 'Teeder' Kennedy:

"Theodre Samuel (Ted Teeder) Kennedy"
Kennedy served as Leaf captain from 1948 to 1955 and again in the 1956-57 season, won the Hart Trophy as League MVP in 1955, was a three time All-Star, and won five Stanley Cups in his outstanding 14 year career.

The playmaking centre's numerous accomplishments were mostly the result of relentless hard work and dogged determination. Kennedy was never known as a gifted skater, but his persistence earned him the esteem of teammates. They looked to 'Teeder' as living proof that good things come from a consistent effort, and as the player uniquely capable of captaining the very talented Maple Leaf teams of the 1940s.

ed Kennedy's #9 and Syl Apps' #10 were the first sweater numbers officially honoured by the Maple Leafs. The ceremony was extra special for Kennedy, who held Apps in great esteem. Kennedy inherited the Captain's "C" from Apps in 1948, and looked to the consistent Apps as a true team leader. Kennedy played every game of his career in Toronto, and showed his dedication to the Maple Leaf franchise by coming out of retirement in 1956-57 to help the injury-riddled team.

• Honoured Jersey Number, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1993-94
• Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, 1966
• Awarded J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1955
• Awarded Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP, NHL, 1954-55
• NHL Second All-Star Team Centre, 1953-54
• Awarded J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1953
• NHL Second All-Star Team Defence, 1950-51
• NHL Second All-Star Team Defence, 1949-50

The Number 10

Syl Apps:

Syl Apps
The skilled centre spent ten pro seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and served seven of those as team captain. He was awarded the Calder Trophy as outstanding rookie in 1936 and the Lady Byng for gentlemanly play in 1942. Apps also led his team to three Stanley Cups. (Apps spent his entire career in Toronto) and was selected as an All-Star seven times. Jack Adams, for whom the NHL's current Coach of the Year award is named, once referred to Apps as "the greatest centre I've ever seen".

Syl Apps led the Leafs to an emotional four-game sweep of "Terrible" Ted Lindsay's Detroit Red Wings to capture the Stanley Cup in 1948. Apps retired at the top of his sport just weeks later, his status as a hockey legend secured.

• Honoured Jersey Number, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1993-94
• Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, 1961
• NHL Second All-Star Team Centre, 1942-43
• Awarded Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, NHL, 1941-42
• NHL First All-Star Team Centre, 1941-42
• NHL Second All-Star Team Centre, 1940-41
• NHL First All-Star Team Centre, 1938-39
• NHL Second All-Star Team Centre, 1937-38
• Awarded Calder Memorial Trophy, NHL, 1936-37

George “The Chief” Armstrong:

"George Edward (Chief) Armstrong"
At a 1950 junior tournament George Armstrong was given the nickname "Chief Shoot-the-puck" by a Native Canadian tribe in Alberta. The name "Chief" stuck with Armstrong.

Armstrong was perhaps the most effective leader in team history, captaining his team for 13 (1957-69) of 21 seasons in the league. The "Chief" accepted the Stanley Cup on behalf of his teammates in 1962, 63, 64 and 67, wore the captain's "C" with pride in the community, and has secured his unique place among the legends of the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey club.

On May 2, 1967, Leaf Captain George Armstrong accepted the Stanley Cup on behalf of his team and proudly lifted it above his shoulders. It was the fourth and last time Armstrong, the longest serving captain in team history, would pose for a picture with the trophy and the last time for any Leaf captain.

George Armstrong didn't light-up the scoreboard like some of his teammates, but his sound positional play, dependability and strength of character made him one of the most important players to ever wear the Maple Leaf on his chest. His contributions went beyond the score sheet. Armstrong certainly chipped in offensively, recording 713 points in 21 seasons with the team, but it is his leadership and resilience for which he will be most remembered
George Armstrong lives in Toronto and is still a member of the Maple Leaf scouting staff. After retiring, Armstrong spent time coaching the Toronto Marlboros and, for a brief time (1988-89), the Toronto Maple Leafs.

• Honoured Jersey Number, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1997-98
• Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, 1975
• Awarded J.P. Bickell Memorial Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1959
• Toronto Maple Leaf record for career assists (417) and points (713) by a RW
• Toronto Maple Leaf record for career seasons (21) and games (1,187) played.

Nov 14, 2009

To Sit, or Not to Sit ...

To sit or not to sit, that is the question.
It seems that Ron Wilson has a decision of Shakespearean proportions. That decision is in regards to his young sophomore defenseman, Luke Schenn. To sit, or not to sit is the question he must certainly be entertaining as Schenn is having a tough time adjusting to his second season in the NHL.

I can almost see Ron sitting in his office after the games in which Luke makes a serious blunder. He's at his desk staring at a tiny Luke Schenn bobblehead that is perched on his palm and then he begins talking to it, "Alas, poor Luke. I thought I knew you, a player destined for greatness" and then continuing. "All the world's a stage and one man, in his time, will play many parts." "Greatness is nothing to be afraid of. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some just have greatness thrust upon them." "But today, today of all days is the day that I have to ask myself, to sit you or not to sit you?"

Big decision to make regarding his No.1 Draft pick Luke Schenn.
Poor Ron must be going nuts trying to make this decision. On one hand, you continue to play him, show confidence that he will turn his game around and hope that he eventually does. On the other hand, you sit him for a game or three and hope that he returns to play with a hunger to not be sat again. The fear though is that sitting a young player will dent his confidence and that he doesn't recover to ever play well until he is ultimately moved on to another team.

When it comes to Luke, I don't think anyone is harder on criticizing him than he is himself. So you have to know that he has already beat himself up for his give-away against Chicago. To his credit, he responded really well against Calgary even though the team lost the game. But Schenn could likely still benefit from a session of press box viewing. Being benched, as has occurred this season already, only short-hands the team by having to play with five defensemen. An all out scratch is what is needed to send a firm message. That message to Luke would be that Ron still believes in him, but he wants him to sit in the press box and watch the game and see the mistakes that his teammates are making.

Carl Gunnarsson takes a break during opening day of the 2008 Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects Camp. (DAVE ABEL, SUN MEDIA)

From that, he can learn how he would avoid making the same ones and possibly pass that information along to his mates. Healthy scratches for the point of sending a message always has the hope that the player, while observing the game has an epiphany moment and realizes what is missing from his game.

I believe that Luke will be able to learn a great deal from sitting in the box for a few games, especially with Carl Gunnarsson entering the picture and playing so well against Calgary. In my mind, now is the perfect opportunity to give the young Schenn his time in the press box before Komisarek returns to action as well.

Now, as long as Ron Wilson doesn't start looking for a Capulet he should be able to successfully find the answer to this hot topic question.

Nov 8, 2009

The Sixty-Million Dollar Leafs

If this was a 70's television show like "The Six-Million Dollar Man" we'd be listening to a narrative right now ... "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. We can make him better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster." Perhaps that was in some form the pitch that Brian Burke made to MLSE prior to his hiring and the hiring of his staff.

"Gentlemen, we can rebuild them. We have the knowledge. We have the capabilities to build Toronto a Cup competitive team. The Maple Leafs will be that team. We can make them better than they were before. Belligerent, Stronger, Faster and Truculent"

If this were a 70's television show we'd also be listening to some cheesy opening theme song right now and looking at a show title of possibly "The Sixty-million dollar Leafs"

"The Monster" The highly touted goaltending acquisition that gives the team hope for the future
But, this isn't the 70's, nor a made-for-TV series. This is a professional sports team that is 15 games into the most solid "rebuild" of it's 42 year Cup-less drought. While the Phil Kessel trade will continue to be viewed with skepticism for several years yet, in the immediate term, Phil is providing a credible scoring threat and confidence to the team. Jonas Gustavsson, a highly touted goaltending acquisition over the summer, has panned out even though the skeptics warned that he'd never played an NHL calibre game. "The Monster" in the net has become a soothing influence on the play of the defensemen in front of him and has provided an awe-inspiring save in every appearance thus far.

These changes are showing up in the win column as the Leafs are now riding a two game win streak and have received points in the last seven games.

Where do they go from here?

A big part of the rebuilding structure of Brian Burke. "Not bionic, but definitely competitive."
The Toronto Marlies are playing future Leaf regulars like Christian Hanson, Viktor Stalberg, Tyler Bozak, Juraj Mikus, Carl Gunnerson, to name but a few. Burke certainly hopes to add another one or two College prospects this Spring as well. He has also acknowledged that this may be the last Spring that he will be able to draw from that feeding ground as College free agents tend to be drawn to teams where they can jump right in. The Leafs hope to be beyond that stage for the 2010/11 season. The hope is certainly that Bozak, Hanson and immediately Gustavsson will compensate for the loss of the two 1st-rounders and one 2nd-rounder that was relinquished in the Kessel deal and that any player signed this Spring as another College free-agent will just be added to that list. Seems like a decent trade-off to me. We get Kessel and add him to three really decent players that have become skilled, undrafted gems for nothing but a contract proposal and we give up three draft picks that haven't even been picked yet.

The rebuild is in full swing even though some folks are decrying the deal for 21 year old Kessel as a shortcut, or a regression to the win now, Toronto mentality. When looked at thoughtfully, Brian Burke has positioned this team to be successful not only presently, but down the road as well. Not bionic, but definitely competitive.

Oct 27, 2009

Monster saves RW's job!

Jonas Gustavsson, aka, the Monster, may have won a hockey game last night in Anaheim, but more importantly he may just have saved Ron Wilson's job.

Backstopping a team that was "struggling" to say the least, and a team with a penchant for falling behind, the Monster stoned Teemu Selanne with a gutsy poke-check at the side of the net in the early minutes. Moments later he made the save of the night with a sprawling post to post pad save of an Erik Christensen one timer, much to the chagrin of the less than full Honda Center.

The Leafs fragile make-up was still evident as they did give up the first goal for the 9th consecutive game, but something was changing, and for those of us with eyes to see, it was visible. Gustavsson would not be beat easily, nor would he allow a soft goal on this night. Instead the message was clearly sent to his mates, we have a chance to win on this night! No soft goals, no two goal deficits...only timely saves when his teammates needed them most.

I've heard more than one pundit over the last few weeks use the cliche, "show me a good goaltender and I'll show you a smart coach!"

“Monster save by Jonas Gustavsson that was the game breaker in Toronto’s 6-3 victory over the Ducks

For one night at least, Leaf fans, management and their coach, can feel that they do know what they are doing and they do have a plan.

On this morning RW is once again a smart coach, having his defense in the right positon, his line combos exquisite, the power play finely tuned, while potting a bushelfull of goals, all under his watchful eye, using his system. Oh yes, coach Wilson was pleased last night.

For this one morning there will be no talk of why certain players, including Gustavsson, were not in the opening day line-up. No, instead the talk will turn to what went right when the Monster single handedly took the proverbial 800 lb. gorilla and shucked it aside.

Years ago, there was a bumper sticker made popular in Boston that read, "Jesus saves, but Espo scores!"

On this night it might be apropos to say, Jonas saves pucks and RW too!

Oct 26, 2009

What has been seen, cannot be unseen.

Former NHL enforcer Tie Domi and partner Christine Hough-Sweeney, "Toughy Houghy" as she was known in her skating days, closed out Sunday night's performances with an energetic routine to The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." (Gerard Chataigneau/FSC-SportIms)

What has been seen, cannot be unseen.

As I peruse the world wide web viewing all sorts of video, images and written reports in an attempt to absorb as much information as I possibly can, that adage is something that I try to follow. If I don't recognize the link, I don't click on it. If someone sends me a video link with high recommendations, I don't click on it without first searching the topic to see if a similar web link shows up in the results. It is with that care that I have avoided viewing some very graphic and disposition altering videos and images on the internet.

I wish I had applied that same credo to my television viewing experience about four weeks ago. It was with some apprehension that I turned the TV on for my daughter and asked if she wanted to watch hockey and figure skating at the same time. I figured it would be great for a lark to watch guys like Tie Domi, Bob Probert, Ken Daneyko, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer, Glenn Anderson, Craig Simpson and Ron Duguay trying to figure skate along side some of Canada's beautiful figure skaters. Beauty and the beast I was thinking to myself.

Western connection - Olympic gold medallist Jamie Sale paired with Hockey Night in Canada analyst and Stanley Cup winner Craig Simpson. (Gerard Chataigneay/FSC-SportIms)

I was not prepared for what would happen next! CBC's Battle of the Blades was not the hilarious train wreck that I anticipated. Sure, watching Tie figure skate with Tuffy Hough-Sweeney is still funny, but Tie is actually figure skating. The last image I have of Tie Domi is him pounding on an opponents head and working him into the "spin cycle" that he liked to use. Now I can't seem to get his graceful skating out of my head! Ken Daneyko and his partner, Jodeyne Higgins were eliminated from the Charity competition this week. In his exit speech Ken Daneyko compared the feeling he got from figure skating to his experiences winning the Stanley Cup. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, a man known for finishing his checks ... HARD, had enjoyed his brief foray into figure skating.

Shae-Lynn Bourne and Claude Lemieux rock out during their performance Sunday, Oct. 4. The red-and-black clad couple opened the show. (Gerard Chataigneau/FSC-SportIms)

Then, there is Craig Simpson and Jamie Sale. Jamie is a taskmaster at her craft and her skating medals and championships are testament to that. With those qualities, she has somehow managed to turn Simpson into a pairs figure skating partner. I didn't know what a "Waltz jump" was until Craig did one on Sunday night. That is another image that will forever haunt me. To cap this all off though, Claude Lemieux, a Stanley Cup winner, a Conn Smythe winner, a warrior and arguably one of the dirtier players to ever play in the NHL. Claude and his partner, Shae-Lynn Bourne are also skating as well as any figure skating pair can. Watching Claude "emote" while figure skating ... well ... I seem to recall Claude emoting while playing in the NHL too, but it sure wasn't like this!

What has been seen, certainly cannot be unseen and unfortunately, I may actually be enjoying watching these Ex-NHLer's figure skating with their partners.

Oct 25, 2009

The "Hockey" Gods must be crazy!

The "Hockey Gods", who are they and why do they hate the Leafs?

A common phrase that everyone has likely heard from time to time is that, "The hockey gods will find a way to balance things out". This comment is usually bandied about when a normally good team starts off slow, or a normally bad team starts of really well. But what happens when a habitually "bad" team makes all the right moves on paper to be a better team, but for some reason can't get over the hump to success. Where do the hockey gods fit into this scenario?

Mike Komisarek, making a difference for all the wrong reasons.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing some really bad hockey to start the 2009/2010 season. Even when they play well enough to potentially win, something occurs that enables them to lose convincingly. Take for instance Saturday October 24, and the game against Vancouver. In the 3rd period, a period in which for the first time the Leafs appeared able to dominate a game, they were handed the opportunity to change the tide of the game when for several seconds a couple of Leafs were staring at a wide-open Vancouver net. The only thing between them and a tied game was a bouncing puck, that miraculously jumped over their sticks and laid flat for the Canucks defense to clear out. Now, any player will tell you that some games you get the bounces and other games you don't, but what is happening that the Leafs aren't getting any bounces at all? Even when a break is given, the numerous posts hit on the empty net for example, the end was never in doubt as the puck jumped right onto a Canuck stick at an opportune time and it was buried to end the misery for the Leafs. Is this the work of those infamous "Hockey Gods"?

Francois Beauchemin, uncharacteristic give-aways and bad decisions have specifically lead to goals against.

The players the Maple Leafs have on roster should be better than what they are. The acquired free agents were all coveted by other teams and were difference makers on their previous clubs. (That description pretty much describes, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek.) As a Leaf, the performance given by these players while still being difference makers, are making a difference for all the wrong reasons. Untimely and uncharacteristic give-aways and bad decisions have specifically lead to goals against them. Last season on their respective squads those players were regularly making big plays to bail out their hockey team, why not now?

Are the Leafs players waiting for Phil Kessel to make an appearance as the saviour and completely forgotten how to play until he arrives? The team cannot be as bad as the current record indicates. I believe it is safe to suggest that the presence of an omnipotent "Hockey God" is a mere fallacy. If the players all play well, minimize mistakes, take more shots, practice what is being preached to them, then it should work out that the teams fortunes will eventually turn for the better.

But, in the off chance that some ever-present Hockey deity does exist, then I think the Leafs should consider making a sacrifice to the Gods. May I suggest Jason Blake to start!
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