Sunday, December 20, 2009

Leafs have Monster of a Game!

     There's no doubt the Toronto Maple Leafs have their fair share of faults, but one thing they do have going for them is good timing.  Just when I thought they were slipping back to the form that found them in danger of being O for October they bounced back with a shutout against the Boston Bruins.  There's really no bad time for a win obviously, but the timing on this one was perfect.
     This was Jonas Gustavsson's first game back after his second heart operation.  Although he wasn't exactly overworked, he did make all the right saves at the right time.  His presence in net seemed to restore some of the teams confidence coming off back to back losses this week.  In both games Toronto looked terrible in almost all aspects of their game but in Friday's game against Buffalo it was definitely a lack of timely saves that let them down.  Actually any saves would have been good.
     It was also about time they came up with as good effort against the Bruins.  They've been owned by this divisional opponent and needed this win to prove to fans and critics they can beat teams of this caliber.  The fact that it was a shutout at home on a Saturday night was even more icing on the cake.
     Vesa Toskala has been very good this month and should take a lot of credit for the Leafs return to the playoff race.  Having said this, it was clearly time for a break.  After being pulled in Buffalo it was easy to see.  With the Monsters return that's now possible.  With a 7 - 4 record so far this month and 5 games left, a winning record for the month of December is definitely within the realm of possibilities as well.
     More great timing was provided by Nikolai Kulemin as well.  He probably played his best game this year blocking shots and provided his usual strong defensive play.  Other credit should go to Francois Beauchemin and Jason Blake.  Both players have picked the most demanding part of the schedule this season to play their best hockey.
     There's no doubt Leaf fans have put up with a lot this season.  October was horrendous.  November was better but not good enough to make us ALL believers.   The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't been perfect this month, but just when we needed them to be great they have been.  They've vaulted back into the playoff race by gelling as a team and for the most part sticking to Ron Wilson's game plan.  Their good players have been good and their one or two great players have been great.  When the new year rings in, they could find themselves a five-hundred hockey team with a playoff position.  Not bad for a team with  only 1 win in their first 13 games.

     As tough as the schedule has been In December, it does`t look like January is going to get much better.  What are your thoughts?  Are they up for the task or will January's pace return them to mediocrity?
Toronto 2 Boston 0


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Leafs are Listening to Wilson.

     The last time I checked the standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs were still in second last place.  They still had to overtake six teams to achieve a play-off berth, and they were still a sub five hundred hockey team.  After acknowledging these thing I asked myself, "Why am I smiling?"  The answer was was right in front of me.
     A closer look at the standings showed our Toronto Maple Leafs with 10 wins  in their last 23.  In six of those losses they gained  a point because the game went to overtime.  This still doesn't make them a five hundred team, but it does give Leaf fans hope for seeing them play at least one round in the playoffs.
     The Leafs picked a very good time to play their best hockey.  December's schedule is brutal.  They play 13 games between the first and the 23rd.  They don't have more than one night off during that stretch and end the months schedule with three games in five nights between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve.  Of those 16 games, 13 will have been against a conference opponent.  Six of those games are against teams within 7 points of the Leafs in the Eastern Conference.  A good month means a legitimate shot at the playoffs.  So far it's been a good month.  Except for two losses to a very good Boston Bruins team, they've been very good.  The Leafs started the month with a shut-out win against the hated Habs, very convincing wins against Columbus and Atlanta and a good character builder against the Islanders where they squandered a 2 goal lead, but went on to win.  Going into tonight's game against Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals, they are 6 and 2 in the month of December.
      So why are the Leafs looking like a team on a mission?  It might be because Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek have finally found their games.  Maybe it's because Jason Blake has found his scoring touch.  Might it be a result of Stajan, Grabovski, and Kulemin.  All three of these Leafs are playing their best hockey this season.  Matt Stajan is even emerging a team leader again.  Vesa Toskala is stopping pucks and even Luke Schenn is starting to come out of the funk that has been tempting fans to call for his demotion to the minors.  Most significant in this is we can finally praise the play of Leaf players without mentioning Niklas Hagman and Phil Kessel.  Both players are clearly their most gifted forwards, but with the help of the aforementioned players, they don't have to carry this team any longer.
     As good as the players have looked recently, the most credit should go to their coach.  Thank goodness it's an Olympic year.  Had it not been, Ron Wilson may have been fired in October.  Wilson wasn't fired obviously and like his team he didn't quit either.  Instead he kept preaching his system to the struggling Leafs.  Wilson convinced his team they could win by simplifying their game.  He knows the kind of team he has.  A good, tough, defensive core, with speed to burn upfront.
     When Wilson has his team listening and playing THEIR game, they're usually rewarded.  They can block shots, and wear down their opponents with relentless forchecking and crushing hits.  Their forwards have enough backup to be able to live infront of the oppositions net without having to worry about reprisals from the other teams  tough guys.  In short, Ron Wilson has them playing old style hockey.  Nothing fancy, but tremendously entertaining most nights.  If he can maintain their attention, they have a chance to bury the past and make a legitimate playoff run.  If they stop listening like they did losing both games in Boston, we can forget about any hope of an extended season.  Here's hoping they listen.
     What do you think?  Who should get the credit?  Do they have enough to be a playoff team? What's the next move for Brian Burke?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Leafs Get Humbled in Boston.

     After last nights embarrassing loss to the Boston Bruins I asked myself, "should we really be surprised?"  Ofcourse we can be dissapointed, but surprised?  I don't think so.   This time last month this team was in complete turmoil!  We had only won two games and were wondering if this could be our worst season ever.  Luckily much has changed since then.
      Saturday night's 7-2 loss in Boston was the Leafs 28th game of the year.  This puts them one third of the way into the season.  If we break down these games into thirds what do we find?  What I see is a struggling franchise making small improvements.
      We all know how this team started the year.  One win in nine games.  The second nine weren't much better.  They managed 2 wins.  Since then however, the Leafs have been quite respectable posting five wins in nine games.  Maybe all this means nothing, but I think it shows a team that is slowly, but steadily, improving.  This brings us back to last nights game.  The 7-2 score was actually quite flattering to the Leafs.  They didn't score until well into the third period.  It was disappointing because a win would have given us our first winning streak of the year ( no, two wins in a row is not a streak).
      It's not surprising because, while the Leafs have been quite entertaining of late, they still have only managed to win eight games in twenty eight.   These are not the stats of a contender.  Boston on the other hand is a contender.  Even with the injury problems the Bruins have faced they still have almost twice as many wins as Toronto and sit third in the conference.  The Bruins are a team with legitimate stars at every position, a well stocked farm, a wealth of draft picks and a history of using them well.   The good news for Leaf fans is it wasn't that long ago, that Boston was exactly where the Leafs are now.  The unfortunate part for Leaf  fans is they were right there with them, but we'll leave that for another post.

     Despite our record of futility since the lock out, there is reason for hope in Leaf Nation.  We have one, new, legitimate star in Phil Kessel.  We've managed to resist panicking and trading our other star, Tomas Kaberle.   The Monster will get healthy and looks like he can be our goalie of the future, and we have at least one blue chip prospect in our system with Nazim Kadri.  Next year Luke Schenn will be over the sophomore jinx and maybe one of Bozak, Hanson, Stalberg or Gunnarsson will be living up to Brian Burkes lofty expectations.  We don't have to be reminded that we are short on draft picks for the next two years, but so far Kessel has looked great and maybe even worth the price.  I'm still undecided about whether that deal should have been made, but Kessel is quickly winning me over.  Besides with the recent trade of Tlusty for a first round prospect it went a long way to replenishing the farm.  Tlusty was never going to amount to much here and Paridis has good upside as well as being a Burke type player.
      None of this means the Leafs will win the Cup this year or next or even the year after.  It doesn't mean they'll be playing in June.  It does mean we will have more nights like last night, but with some more good moves and a lot of patience, Leaf Nation will rise again.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Now That's More Like It!

     Nothings sweeter for Leaf fans than beating those dreaded Montreal Canadians.  When Colton Orr and Jeff Finger score the first two it just get's better.  I'll give you a minute to digest that one.  Ok, get back on your chair.  That's right, COLTON ORR scored his first goal as a Leaf, the winner by the way, and Jeff Finger scored what ended up to be the insurance goal.

     Tuesday night at the Bell Center in Montreal, your Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadians, 3 - 0.  This was quite a turn around for them since they were shut out themselves Monday night against another division rival, the Buffalo Sabres.  This time it was the Leafs who quieted the crowd and set the tone of the game by luring Montreal into playing their style of hockey.  This was exactly what Brian Burke had in mind when he put this team together.  The defense was solid, getting in the way of shots and forcing a much smaller Montreal team to the outside all game.  Offensively, Toronto forwards were tough on the Habs, pushing them around and creating traffic in front of Carey Price all night.

     As usual Kessel and Hagman were Toronto's best forwards but they weren't the only ones working last night.  Mat Stajan had a very strong game keeping the pressure on Price and also chipping in with his eighth goal of the season.   He was perfect taking a pass from Kessel and going in alone, scoring  on Price's  glove side.  Mikael Grabovski also showed signs of life buzzing around the Montreal  net and creating scoring chances.  With  the exception of the first ten minutes it was all Toronto.

     This game came with two prices however.  Unfortunately for the Leafs, one was very costly.  After making eight saves in the first period, Jonas Gustavsson was a third of the way to recording his first NHL shut-out.  That's as close as he got however, as he was unable to return for the second period because of an irregular heartbeat.  Gustavsson experinced a similar problem with a racing heartbeat during the preseason and actually had surgery as a result.  According to Coach Wilson his heartbeat had actually returned to normal before being removed from the game.  Leaf officials maintain his hospital visit was simply a precautionary measure but have not reported whether he'll miss games. Fortunately Joey MacDonald picked up where The Monster Left off.  MacDonald entered the game at the beginning of the second and was perfect, helping the Leafs earn their first shut-out of the season.

     Last nights game was more proof Leaf fans are in for a bit of a roller-coaster ride this season.  Granted the Habs are not a cup contender and are only marginally higher in the standings than the Leafs.  However,  if you can have a must win situation in December this was one of them.  Toronto was shut-out at home against another division rival the night before.  Montreal is ahead of them in the standings and now within reach of catching, and a loss last night would have been the beginning of yet another losing streak.  At the end of the night we're still in second last, but with an effort like we had last night fans have a little more to look forward to than watching Phil Kessel rack up highlights.  Not to mention, we beat the Habs, and that's always a good thing.

You Have to Admit, They've been fun to Watch.

They may be in second last.  They probably won't make the playoffs.  The rebuild may take longer than exepected.  All these may be valid claims but at least for Leaf fans they do have an entertaining team on the ice.
Don't agree, no problem, you're are not alone.  Maybe this clip will help convince you though.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our Leafs Just Won't Quit!

Here we go again.  In one week The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone from Chumps to Champs.  Just when we were talking about these guys hitting rock bottom, they've put together another mini point streak.  A week ago they lost, in horrible fashion to the worst team in the league.  Not only did they lose to the Carolina Hurricanes, they did it by surrendering the lead twice, giving up a goal with three seconds left and then losing in a shoot-out.  The game before they squandered a lead to the Ottawa Senators and went on to lose to them.  The Leafs had lost FIVE in a row!  We were living a nightmare, and we couldn't wake up.

Well the nightmare may be over.  It appears the boys in Blue and White have woken up, and fans are cheering again.  Since that terrible night in Carolina, the Leafs have beat Washington in a shoot-out, lost in a shoot-out against the Islanders, and beat Tampa and Florida on the road.  That's 8 points out of a possible 10.  Not bad for a team with no skill, and for the record,  I still believe they're a team desperately in need of skilled players. 

What this team lacks in skill, they sure make up for in heart.  Sounds like another cliche doesn't it?  Well think about this.  So far this month the Leafs have out shot their opponents 40-22 against Calgary, 45-32 against Carolina, and recorded 61 shots to the Islanders 21.  They lost all 3 of those games.  This was the perfect opportunity for Leaf players to lose heart.  Who could blame them?  The fact is they didn't quit.  They don't seem to know the meaning of the word.  Add to these stats the fact that they blew a 3 goal lead in Tampa, and fell behind 2-0 in Florida in less time than it took for the P.A. announcer to read out the scorers to the crowd.  Instead of folding the tent, they fought back and won both those games on the road.

Not only have they been racking up some points, they've been doing it with style.  Phil the Highlight Reel Kessel, has been treating fans to plays we haven't seen since Gilmour, Sundin and Andreychuk were carrying this team.  He can flat out play, and it doesn't seem to matter who they put on his line.  It appears a well, that Kessel isn't the only leafs forward who can find the back of the net.  Niklas Hagman has stepped up his play with some flashy breakaways and nice goals of his own.  Another reason to cheer has been the play of Carl Gunnarsson.  He's averaged twenty minutes a game since being called up and has shown an offensive flair while managing to be solid in his own end.

None of this means this team is playoff bound.  It's still a huge long shot at best.  As good as it's been these last 5 games, they did lose 5 in a row leading up to them.  What it does mean however, is they may have enough to keep us interested during another rebuild.  The question is what's next?  Which team will show  up Monday against Buffalo?  We know Kessel will continue to thrill, but what about the rest.  Is Hagman on his way to a career year or is this just another hot streak.  Will Gunnarsson continue to improve or is he just another 7th round flash in the pan.  We can only guess at the answers, but what we do know is this team will be entertaining.  They may lose more times than not, but if they continue to battle the way they have been, fans will still have reason to cheer.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rally Caps, If Only We'd Known Sooner!!!

Ron Wilson has  tried team building exercises, dodgeball, making players watch from the press box or the bench, and even criticizing them in the media to get his team back in the win column.  Funnily enough the answer was staring him right in the face, in form of Matt Stajan.  Rally helmets, WHO KNEW!

Saturday night The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the The Washington Capitals 2-1 in a SHOOT-OUT.  That's right leaf fans, a shout-out.   It was a game of firsts.  It was the Leafs first win in six games.  The first win against the first place Washington Capitals.  The first win for Vesa Toskala this season and his first win since Febuary of 26th of last season.  It was the first time this season the Leafs have gone to over time and won.  It was the first time they've won in a shoot-out this year.  This was the first time the rally helmets have made an appearance this year, and for the first time they worked.

Don't listen to Ron Wilson.  The coach of The Toronto Maple Leafs says the helmets had nothing to do with the win.  He says it was just bit of fun Matt Stajan suggested prior to the shoot-out.  Don't believe him.  Those things work.  Wilson just doesn't want us to know this because it could mean he can be replaced by an equipment manager.

In all seriousness, it was just a bit of fun.  The fact is, any idea in that vein would have had the same effect.  It wiped the usual somber looks off the the players bench and removed some of the tension usually present prior to a Leaf shoot-out.  For a few moments, they were allowed to have fun and pretend this is just a game.  They responded with two nice shoot-out goals.  The first was by Phil Kessel, his first in 2 attempts.  The other was scored by Niklas Hagman, a nifty little backhanded deek.  Vesa Toskala was equally good stopping Ovechkin and Fehr.  Vesa was so intimidating, he caused  Fehr's stick to break, and Ovechkin's shot to completely miss him and the net.  Yes Matt Stajan, "the hockey gods where with you"

The most important "first" coming out of this game was it was the first time Leaf fans could say they got their monies worth since they beat Detroit at home two weeks ago.  After losing the "Battle of Ontario" to Ottawa, and the Battle for last place to Carolina, this was a most welcome surprise for fans paying more to see their team play than any other in the league.

I would be remiss if I didn't add a few new negatives to this post.  Unfortunately it's becoming a bit of a trademark for me and this team.  Washington entered last nights game with a few key injuries.  They were missing two regular defensemen, Shaonne Morrisonn, and Tom Poti, and forwards Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin.  The impact of being without two such talents up front should be easy to fathom for Leaf fan, as they've been without like players for too long and the results are self-evident...(Phil Kessel excluded of course).  Washington did lack jump and even Ovechkin mentioned he thought his team looked tired.  Even with that they did manage two goal posts in the third that probably would have caused panic among the Leafs and cemented a win for the Caps. We also can't forget Hagman's goal.  While it did result from good hustle and the presence of mind of going to the net without the puck, it was also the result of a fortunate bounce off of a Washington defender and Hagman's shoulder.

Having said this, a win is a win and the Leafs should receive full marks for it.  Vesa Toskala was good, very good in fact.  The team had jump and outplayed their opponent again.  They threw everything but water bottles at Varlamov and were stymied all night.  They didn't give up however.  They continued their hustle into overtime and finally found a way to beat him in the shoot-out.  Not an easy accomplishment given Varlamov's outstanding record in extra time.  Leaf fans got their monies worth and Wilson and the boys got the win!  Hopefully they can build on it and provide us with more of the same excitement they gave us last night.

Click below and check-out last night's game in a nutshell.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What a Difference a Week Makes!

A little over a week ago the Toronto Maple Leafs had just thrashed the Detroit Red Wings, moved out of last place, and positioned themselves to start challenging for a playoff spot. They had a 7 game points streak and had won 2 games in a row.  Fans were talking playoffs and actually had reason to believe it might happen.  Ron Wilson was sleeping at night.  His players were finally listening.

Ten days have passed since then.  The Leafs have lost 4 games  in  a row and are back to the style of play that had critics calling them pretenders rather than contenders.  This past week and a half, has seen our Leafs lose to Minnesota, Chicago, Calgary, and Ottawa.  Based on their play this year even the most optimistic fan could never have expected them to win all of those games, but a split was definitely achievable.  Those much needed 4 points would have put them within striking distance of 8th spot and one step closer to respectability.  Instead their back in last place and back out of playoff contention.  Worst of all it appears they've reverted back to playing the undisciplined hockey that almost left them 0 for October.

It's no secret the Leafs are a little short on talent and skill.  They still need better goaltending and much better play from almost all of their forwards.  With the exception of Kessel, Kaberle and White, every player on this team has under-achieved.  Gustavsson may be entitled to a pass as he's still making the adjustment to the NHL and while Schenn is a huge dissapointment this year,  it's not completely unexpected due to his age and inexperience.  The same cannot be said for the rest. 

We could go up and down the roster rhyming off numbers, showing how unproductive the forwards have been.  We could blame Toskala for his inconsistent play and habit of giving up at least one soft goal a game.  We could talk about needless penalties and their inability to kill them off.  The fact of the matter is they have been scoring goals (well Kessel has anyway).  The penalty kill has looked better.  Our defense has been more responsible and Toskala has looked much better since the emergence of The Monster.  So why do we keep losing.

The Leafs are losing because they've forgotten how to win!  They have completely abandoned the system Ron Wilson has been trying to get them to play since he took control of this team.  Why this bunch of talent starved skaters think they can play run and gun hockey is a mystery to me.  Watching Phil Kessel pick the puck up at his blueline and blast past everyone on the ice is a thing of beauty.  The way he can explode over the opponents blueline and wrist a laser into the net gives me chills.  Unfortunately,  Kessel is only one player and nobody else on this team has anything close to his scoring ability.  So far no one, not even Ron Wilson has been able to convince them of that.  The Leafs have stopped playing like a team.  It's like watching five skaters flying around trying to win the game on their own.

The effort is there.  If it hadn't been for some good goaltending by Calgary and Ottawa, they may have indeed split their last 4 games.  Well a loss is a loss no matter how well they looked.  With all these losses fans and media have begun to ask who is to blame.  So far most fingers point to Ron Wilson.  Should he be fired?  Who knows?  It can't be all his fault.  He's only the coach.  If the players don't play, what can he do?  Sure he can bench players and limit ice time,  but with everyone playing as poorly as they are, how will this help?   One thing is for sure.  Ron Wilson IS THE COACH.  That means it's his job to teach the system he wants his players to play.  If they aren't listening he has to find a way to make them.  That's his job, his responsibilty.  Hall of Fame Coach or not, if he can't find a way to make them listen to him, his days will be numbered, and rightly so.

Give me your impression.  Agree or disagree?  Can Wilson make  this team a winner? Are these players good enough?  Is this all a bunch of dribble?   I'd love to know what you think.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Will the Real Toronto Maple Leafs Please Stand UP!

The Jekyll and Hyde show continued Friday night in Chicago, as the Leafs dropped their second in a row 3-2 to the Blackhawks.  It looks as though the stinker they served up against Minnesota was not a mere blip in the midst of a remarkable turnaround.  It's possible it was an example of what Leaf fans should expect for the rest of the season.

A team is never as bad as they appear during a losing streak, and never as good as they look on a winning streak.  The Leafs proved this again Friday night.  Last night Vesa Toskala showed he can be much better than he's been over the first part of the season.  It's debatable whether Patrick Kane's wrist-shot over Toskala's glove should have been stopped, but it was point blank, so maybe we'll cut Vesa some slack.  What shouldn't be argued was the rest of his play.  He looked much more confident and competitive.  There were no softies Friday night.  He made some huge saves and looked very quick going post to post all night.  If we resign ourselves to considering Toskala as a backup goalie, the effort looked even better.

More good news was provided by the play of Phil Kessel.  At least 1 of his two beauties was worthy of a highlight reel and couldn't be duplicated by anyone currently on the Leaf roster. His 4 goals in five games and points in all but 1 of them is quickly helping fans forget the 3 picks they gave up to get him.

Only in Leaf land can see good news in a loss.  Now for the reality check.  For the second game in a row we wasted strong goaltending performances.  The Leafs have looked terrible in the first period in both games this week.  Other than Kessel nobody is generating any offense.  Worst of all, the Leafs have abandoned the style of play that got us thinking playoffs again.

Let's face it Chicago is a better team than Toronto right now.  They were the favorite going into last nights game on home ice.  We were without Komisarek which finally sounds like a bad thing.  Our second string goalie was in net.  These are all valid excuses, but can't be used when looking at Tuesdays game at home against an inferior Minnesota team.  The fact is we haven't played well since that great game against Detroit.  If the Maple Leafs hope to dig themselves out of the hole they dug in October they can't squander any more games.

Back to the good news.  Tonight The Monster is back in net.  Phil Kessel is playing well and making other players around him play better.  Mike Komisarek may be gone for the next three weeks, but they have 3 or 4 players salivating for a chance to prove their worth.  Finally as bad as they've been this week, all indications show their is a quick fix.

When they were earning points, they were doing it with simple, old fashioned hockey.  Ron Wilson knows his team is a little starved for talent.  He also knows he has some solid veteran defensemen and some pretty good young ones too.  He also know his team is fast, very fast in fact.

We know Gustavsson needs to work on rebound control.  His defense has to help gobble them up like they were doing prior to this mini-slump.  The defense has to grab those rebounds and either look for the quick pass to a forward or dump the puck into the neutral zone.  No more carrying the puck, Kaberle is the only Leaf D-man who can do it (sorry Ian White but you're not there yet).  Luke Schenn should only be allowed have possesion for 2 seconds at a time ... get the puck, pass the puck or get it over the blueline.  Sorry but  making plays like he did against Chicago is only going to kill his already shattered confidence.

Finally the Leafs need to use their speed to their advantage.  They've played their best hockey by beating their opponents up ice and winning the battles on the boards.  Last Saturday they dominated Detroit by limiting the play to the outside in their own end and making those short quick up-ice passes.  For years we've seen slow footed Leaf players take lazy, holding penalties between the blue lines because the opposition was so much faster.  They can finally turn the table and force other teams to take those penalties.  We know they can play this way and we know it works for them.  Ron Wilson has the right plan to make these guys winners again, hopefully they're listening.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

It's Fun in Leaftown Again!

The only thing better than beating the dreaded Habs for Leaf fans, is beating those nasty Red Wings.  Last night that's exactly what they did.  Saturday night, at the ACC, Toronto Maple Leaf  fans witnessed a gem.  5-1 was the final.  No footnotes, no explanations, they didn't beat a last place team, or win because of good bounces or lots of powerplays.  It was a good old fashioned win against a good team.

Saturday's game gave Leaf Nation a thoroughly satisfying win.  For the first time this year they got their moneys worth.  The Leafs played a well disciplined game.  They didn't take bad penalties, refused to get sucked into playing Detroits game, and used their speed to counter attack all evening.  Gustavsson was fantastic, again, but so was the defense.  They made nice first passes, kept the front of the net clear and gobbled up all of  The Monsters rebounds. They didn't try to make something out of nothing and effectively cleared the puck from their zone when they needed to.  The few times the Red Wings did try to mount a sustained attack , the Leaf defense played to their own strengths and kept the puck to the outside, on the boards, where their size and strength gave them the advantage. They played the game Burke and Wilson have been promising us they could.

Leaf fans now know who their number one goalie is, they have a legitimate top offensive line, and best of all, they can start thinking playoffs again.  Before all those anti-Leafs out there starting groaning and twittering about how Leaf Nation is talking Stanley Cup, I should mention this club is nowhere near that level yet.  However, based on the last two weeks, I'm certain Toronto Maple Leaf players, management and fans, have the right to look forward to possibly playing hockey in the spring of 2010. 

The first four weeks of the season was disastrous for The Toronto Maple Leafs.  They squandered a third period lead in their season opener and lost with 13 seconds left in overtime to arch rivals, The Montreal Canadians.  Little did fans know this was going to be the highlight of their first eight games of the season.  They would have to wait to their ninth game of the year before earning their next point.  That span of eight games saw them outscored  35-15.  They looked lost.  Toskala was terrible and showed absolutely no confidence between the pipes and their defense looked worse.  To a player, every offseason pickup looked like a huge blunder by new GM Brian Burke.

The streak ended in Anaheim.  The perfect ending to an horrific streak.  Jonas Gustavsson, the Swedish goaltending prospect, signed in the offfseason as a major piece in Burkes rebuilding puzzle, was back from injury.  He instantly won over fans and gave them the glimmer of hope they were desperately looking for.  They won 6-3.  Their powerplay was unstoppable and with The Monster as their best penalty killer, they were almost perfect when down a man.  For the first time in 6 games they scored more than 2 goals.  No more dumb penalties by Komisarek, Beauchemin was back to playing his game, and Tomas Kaberle woke up and became the best offensive defenseman in the game.  Non-believers would say the Ducks lost the game on their own by taking so many penalties, and being so undisciplined.  Most observers agreed, but since that game a new streak has begun and it's breathed new hope into Leaf Nation.

The past seven games has seen the Leafs record a point in every one of them.  They have outscored their opponent 24-20 and have won three of those games in overtime.  They've even won their last two in a row.  They have the best powerplay in the league and the PK is getting stronger with every kill.  If this wasn't good enough, Phil Kessel joined the team and gave them a spark not seen since the arrival of Doug Gilmour.

Kessel blasted on the scene with 10 shots against Tampa Bay and notched his first goal last night against Detroit, the game winner by the way.  He's already on a point a game pace, but more importantly he's made the Leafs already lethal powerplay even more deadly.  As an added bonus he's inspired Jason Blake to step up his game and may have turned youngster John Mitchell into a first line center overnight.  Two firsts and a second round pick still sounds like a lot to give up but suddenly the trade is starting to look less one-sided. The most telling stat is, with Phil Kessel in the lineup they're 2-1 and have outscored the opposition 9-5. 

Since this turnaround the Leafs sit tied for 27th overall.  They're 5 points behind the Habs with 2 games in hand.  If they win their next game against Minnesota they'll move ahead of them in the standings.  They may overtake Florida and end up tied with Atlanta.  They may find  themselves only 4 points out of a playoff spot.

The Toronto Maple Leafs dug themselves a pretty deep hole in the first eight games this season.  They 're far from climbing out.  Fortunately the past seven games has shown fans, and the rest of the league, they aren't about to roll over and right off the season.  Who knows, maybe Brian Burke wasn't just blustering.  Maybe this team is better, and maybe Leaf players can leave their golf clubs at home this spring while they do battle in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Leafs can't Win in Overtime

The Toronto Maple Leafs 5 game road trip came to an end Saturday night, and while it only produced 1 win it did give Leaf fans some reasons to cheer.  Before embarking the Leafs had yet to win a game and looked terrible in all but their first game of the season.   They still won't be mistaken for a playoff contender, and remain in last place, but with points in their last four games, the bandwagon is beginning to take on passengers again.

Anyone not a fan of the beloved blue and white may not understand how  to see the good in a team with only 1 win in 12 games, but Leaf fans are experts in separating hope from despair.  So for those non-beleafers impaired by perennial pessimism, here are some positives you may not have noticed.

Last night the leafs scored first!  They hadn't done that in their previous 11 games.  In their  5 games before hitting the road they hadn't mustered more than 2 goals in a game and in 3 of them had only managed 1 goal each.  Needless to say their power play was almost non-existent and even worse their penalty kill made their opponents look like the 84 Oilers.  In today's NHL that just can't happen ... the proof being the Leafs record before going on the road.  They started the trip with both starting goalies injured.  Their 3 offseason defensive pickups (Exelby, Komisarek, and Beauchemin) were tempting Leafs fans to petition Todd Gill to make a comeback.  In short they were awful and looking like a team destined to finish last over-all.  Considering they don't have first pick for the next 2 years things looked bad!

Much has changed since then.  The Leafs have THE BEST power play in the league!  If you don't believe me look it up.  The penalty kill still ranks at the bottom of the league, but has been crawling back steadily and is no longer an automatic goal.  Their 30 goals scored ties them at 22nd best, not worst in the league.  As of last night both starting goalies are healthy and Jonas Gustavsson is showing why Brian Burke chased him all spring.

If this weren't enough, Tomas Kaberle is on FIRE!  After last nights 4 point effort (he was in on all 4 Leaf goals), he now sits tied for 6th amongst all NHL players.  Not defensemen ... players.  His 17 points puts him ahead of Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Danny Heatley.  His 15 assists is BEST in the NHL.  When was the last time we could say best and Toronto Maple Leafs in the same sentence?  Did I mention he's tied the game in the final minute 2 games in a row.   Even if you still think he should be traded this has to make you happy.

Kaberle's not the only won looking good these days.  Niklas Hagman has a hat-trick and six goals so far.  Lee Stempniak is playing his best hockey since being obtained from St. Louis.  His shot from the point on the power play has been a welcome, if not startling surprise.  An honorable mention should go the Mikhail Grabovski for his contribution to the four game Leaf point streak as well.  If he continues to play this way he may become a fixture on a line with newcomer Phil Kessel.

Tuesday night the Leafs come home to play the Tampa Bay Lightning.  They will also be treated to Phil Kessel's much anticipated first game as a Leaf. That's probably the best news so far.  This speedy winger and power play specialist enters the line-up of a team with the best power-play, best offensive defenseman, possibly the best rookie goaltender, and a 4 game regulation-time unbeaten streak.  That might be more flattering than they deserve but why should Burke and Wilson get to be the Spin-Doctors all the time.  Now if we could figure out how to score in overtime or in a shoot-out we might just be allowed to talk playoffs again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another good road effort sets the table for Kessel's debut.

Another road game, another point.  A win would have been better but for the Leafs a point is a huge success right now.  Wednesday nights 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars was the third game of a five game road trip.  The leafs started the trip without a win in their first eight games.  They didn't have a clear number one goalie, they couldn't score, their defense looked lost, and it appeared that it wasn't going to get better.

Three games into the road trip all that changed.  While they did start the trip with a  3-1 loss in Vancouver many agree they could easily have come away with a win had it not been for Roberto Luongo.  Monday's game in Anaheim gave them their first win, a 6-3 gem in which they scored 5 power play goals and killed 10 penalties.  It also showcased Jonas Gustavsson as a possible, legitimate NUMBER ONE goalie.  Last night in Dallas they lost in overtime, 4-3.  Although they did lose, they did come away with a point, a sure number one goalie, and a wealth of confidence.

No doubt this recent success has helped a lot of Leafs sleep at night.  Brian Burke and Ron Wilson should be feeling much better these days.  How long could Burke deflect attention from his veteran coach.  Sooner or later if the team played with the lethargy and indifference they had shown, a change would have to had been made.  New Leafs Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin seem to have found their game once again, and last night even Jason Blake's offensive touch resurfaced.  Leaf Nation is smiling again.

Perhaps one of the most relieved Leafs is a player who hasn't even appeared in a single game this year. This past September Brian Burke made a huge splash when he traded for Boston hold-out Phil Kessel.  The details and merits of the deal have been discussed and debated ever since.  Suffice it to say, many Leaf fans have wondered if Burke gave up too much.  Good trade or not, the pressure will be on for Kessel to live up to some pretty high expectations.  At least now, he'll be playing his first game as a Leaf,  for a team with a win, a goalie and some help up front.

At twenty-one years old, Phil Kessel could easily be stepping into the line-up as the teams best player.  His skating has been compared to fellow U.S. born star Mike Modano, and his scoring ability has been compared to another U.S. product, Brett Hull.  As a junior in 2005 he lead the U.S. under 18 team to   gold.  He was the tournaments scoring leader and most valuable player.   He was then being compared to Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.

Kessel's no junior anymore.  He's 21 and already has two full NHL seasons under his belt.  Last year he scored 36 regular season goals ... 4 more than Mats Sundin did in last season as a Leaf.  He added 11 goals in the playoffs .. sorry we can't compare this stat to any Leafs for obvious reasons.  In  06-07 he won the Bill Masterton Trophy after battling cancer.  Phil Kessel represents a new era for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  For the first time since the lockout we have a legitimate goal scoring winger.  A truly skilled player with speed and touch around the net.  Did I mention he's only twenty-one.  We have this guy at the beginning of his career.  Usually when we land a player of this ilk, it's at the end of his career.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs return home November 3rd. against Tampa Bay, Kessel should be in the line-up.  It's my guess these past 3 games have caused him to breathe a sigh of relief.  The team is playing well for the most part.  Kaberle is back, veterans Hagman, Blake, and Stempniak are chipping in with points,  and the Monster is making the big saves.  Kessel may be stepping in as the best player, but at least he won't be the only player.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leafs Win! Leafs Win! Leafs Win!

It's finally sunk in, for me anyway.  The  Toronto Maple Leafs have won a game!  That's right.  No more 0 for October.  No more triangle jokes.  No more talk about the worst start in NHL history.  The best part was they looked pretty good doing it.  They were tough without being stupid.  They competed for pucks.  They took the play to the opposition.  Most importantly their goaltended played like a number one, something that hasn't happened for a very long time. 

Jonas Gustavsson wasn't perfect but he was just what the Leafs needed Monday night against the Anaheim Ducks.  In one night he helped end a horriffic losing street, squashed the Leafs goaltending contraversy, and injected a massive dose of confidence into a team in desperate need of some.  All this from a rookie playing in his second start and third appearance of his NHL career.   Maybe this guy has finally arrived to give Leafs Nation reason for hope.  Judging by his poise, speed, agility, and refusal to give up on any puck thrown his way, it appears he has.

Okay, okay, I know it's a little early to be planning a parade route or even looking forward to a playoff appearance but in a season with so much disappointment we have to grab onto any scrap we get.  With the 6-3 victory on the road, the Leafs are no longer the lowest scoring team in the league and now have been joined by The Los Angeles Kings with  the worst goals allowed record.  With Niklas Hagman's 3 goals and Tomas Kaberle's 5 points, we now have 2 players among the league leaders in goals and assists respectively.  Combine this with Lee Stempniak's goals and 3 assists and Matt Stajan's 3 assists, the Leafs offense may have just woken up.

We will have to temper some of this joy with the fact that 5 of the Leaf goals were scored on the power play.  Add to this the fact that the Ducks were penalized 17 different times during the game and must have been worn down.  The Leafs were no angels either.  They took 11 penalties of their own.  The good news in this is, the Leafs scored 5 power play goals,  they killed 10 penalties, and of 11 penalties, Mike Komisarek only took one of them.  Francois Beauchemin played over twenty minutes and while Luke Schenn's ice time was cut to 10 minutes, he was an even plus minus on the night.

So, the Leafs get that tough first win.  Their key veterans played like they need them too and their goaltending was excellent.  Joy has returned to Leaf Nation.  Let's hope it stays for a while.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's The Plan Mr. Burke?

We've heard and read a lot of discussion about all of Brian Burke's deals since taking control of the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the forefront was the trade with the Boston Bruins for Phil Kessel.  At first glance who could argue this was not a good deal for both clubs.  Kessel, a natural scoring winger with speed to burn is exactly the type of player the leafs need.  The Bruins get the Leafs first and second picks in 2010 and their first pick in 2011.  We'll have wait before we can fairly judge this one, but for now why not look at WHY the deal was made, and whether Burke over paid.

For Boston it was simple,  Kessel wanted more than the Bruins could offer because of budget and cap restrictions.  If Burke didn't get him, someone else would have.  We'll never really know how many other teams were in the bidding, but when a hot, young, talent like this comes on the market there's always a long line of GM's who are interested.  Simply put, the Leafs needed a player like Kessel and Boston had one.  The question of whether Burke overpaid is a little trickier.

Kessel was a restricted free agent.   This means Burke could have just tried to take him from The Bruins.  Had The Leafs signed Kessel to an offer sheet Boston could have matched Toronto's offer and tried to trade him later, or refused to match, let him go, and receive the leauge imposed compensation from Toronto.  Compensation for a player of Kessel's caliber would probably have been Toronto's next three first round draft picks.
In 2008 a team signing a restricted free agent to a salary averaging $2,615,625 to $3,923,437 per season will lose a first-round draft pick and a third-round draft pick to the player’s old team.
- Signing a restricted free agent to a contract worth over $6,539,062 per year costs a team four first-round draft picks.

So far it looks like the right decision, but what about the other deal Brian Burke chose to pass on?  What about the deal Boston thought they had just before the June draft?  The deal would have seen Tomas Kaberle, and Toronto's first pick (7th overall) in the June 2009 enrty draft,  go to Boston for Kessel and Boston's first pick (25th overall).  The deal fell apart when Burke refused to swap picks. 

Had this deal been made we would still have drafted in the first round last June and in 2010 and 2011.  We would still have our second pick in 2010.  Granted Kaberle would be gone but his days as a Leaf are numbered anyway.  Maybe Mr. Burke thought he could get more for Kaberle later on.  He's said many times it's much easier to trade a quality defenseman than any other position.  Maybe he can, but he clearly lost on the deal when he traded Pavel Kubina.  He didn't do too well when he traded Anton Stralman either.  So much for trading our wealth of good VALUABLE defensemen  for talented young forwards and high draft choices.

Recently Brian Burke defended the Kessel deal by saying he didn't think he could have used any of those picks to draft a player as good as Kessel and have them play this year or next.  That may be so, but their first pick this year isn't helping the team right now either.  I'm confused.  Are we building for the future?  Are growing our pool of young talent?  Are we building from the back end out?  Are we are playoff team?  Are we a tougher team to play?  Are we truculent and fearsome in the eyes of the rest of the league? All these things were to be part of Brian Burkes plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I don't see it.  Gone are Antropov, Moore, Kubina, Stralman, and 3 first round picks.  In return we get Exelby (healthy scratch most nights), Phil Kessel (still injured), and a handful of second, third and fourth picks.  We still don't have a proven number one goalie, our defense in atrocious, we can't score, we're still getting pushed around, and since we blew our only lead of the season in the third period of our opener, against our most hated rival, who incidentally was one of the teams being counted on to finish behind us in the standings, we haven't been close to winning a game.  Pardon me for being a little negative Mr. Burke but plan A,B,C, and D aren't working.  We've heard you criticize the players for not performing to expectations, how about you starting to live up to yours.   

Saturday, October 17, 2009

So Much for Optimism

Well so much for dodge ball and so much for optimism.  1 more game and 1  more loss for the falling leafs.  I'm going to go out on a limb now, ( I promise that's my last pun ).  I predict the leafs will not make the playoffs.  I know it's early and it's been a tough schedule and they've had injuries, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Unfortunately, none of these excuses amount to anything.  The fact is they just aren't very good.

So what do we do now?  Answer .... NOTHING!  There may be nothing we can do.  We can't score and we can't keep the puck out of the net.  Yes, we have some young guns on the farm and yes, some of them should be up with the team, but even if management were to swallow their idiotic pride and admit they've underestimated the players left behind at training camp, and overestimated the group they have now, what can they do about it now.

If  Burke and Wilson woke up tomorrow morning and said let's promote Tyler Bozak, Jiri Tlusty, and Christian Hanson, they could never expect them to make a big enough impact to dig them out the hole they're in now.  Even if Francois Beachemin and Mike Komisarek, were to return to the players they thought they were when they were aquired they would still have to win seven games in a row just to get to.500.

Maybe Phil Kessel can emerge from injury and score like the star he is.  Who knows maybe Burke can make that blockbuster deal for Tomas Kaberle, he's talked about it enough.  Maybe The Monster, Jonas Gustavsson, will be as good in his rookie NHL season as he was in Sweden.  That's a lot of maybes for a team that has shown nothing so far.  Well, maybe this is as good as it gets.  Not good news for a team without a decent draft choice until 2012.  I guess we do what we always do ... keep watching and wait for next year, or the year after, or ....

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is it Time to Panic Yet?

I know what you're thinking ...We're only halfway through October.  Well I would say to that ... WE'RE HALFWAY THROUGH OCTOBER!  6 games in and 1 point to show for it!  13 goals scored ... 28 goals allowed ... in  6 games!  Phew, that feels better, now let's have a look at what led up to this.

The Leafs went into their 6th game of the season against last years 3rd worst team having scored only 13 goals so far.  Thankfully Coach Wilson decided it was time to shake things up.  His solution,  scratch Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman.  Not exactly a devastating loss to most teams but when you consider Stajan has 3 goals and Hagman 2 we have to wonder whether removing 39 percent of the teams offense was the answer.  Wilson said they haven't been competing for pucks and taking hits.  I thought the idea of signing all these tough, "truculent" players was so the skilled players could play without worrying about the rougher side of  the game.  For the record they only manged 1 goal against Colorado and were out-hit 15-5 in the first period.  So much for a shake-up.

It was great to see Tyler Bozak in the line-up, even if it was at the expense of almost half of the teams offense.  Brian Burke and Ron Wilson told us Bozak, along with Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson, Nazem Kadri, are the future of this team.  Burke said having these guys gave them the ability to trade a first and a second round pick in this years draft  and a first round pick next year.  He said he thought we had a playoff team and none of those picks would be in the top ten anyway.  Burke said Phil Kessel, the player he traded for, would be better than anyone he could draft with those picks.  Kessel will be a great player but the way we are playing, those picks are getting better after each passing loss.

Maybe the future is now for these young players.  After all, everyone one of them came though the U.S. college system meaning they're not kids anymore.  It didn't go unnoticed either that Kadri, the only junior player of note was the best forward in camp.  Ron Wilson says this team is lacking energy, enthusiasm and a willingness to compete.  Maybe that's because we left it all behind when we broke camp.

Brian Burke still feels he has a few chips to play.  He says with a wealth of NHL defensemen other teams will be knocking at our door as the trade deadline and even the offseason approaches.  Judging by his first go around last deadline and offseason we have to wonder if this is true.  Last deadline we traded Hall Gill for a for a second and a fifth round draft choice.  In the the off-season we traded Anton Stralman for Wayne Primeau, we also traded Pavel Kubina, our best defenseman last year for Garnet Exelby.  Neither have made any impact whatsoever.  Burke even told us he was going to go after John Tavares.  When that didn't happen he said he would trade down for a better pick like Brayden Schenn, brother of leaf defenseman Luke Schenn.  It sounded great but all he managed to do was draft Kadri, seventh overall, exactly where he was slated to be drafted. 

Is it time to panic yet?  Maybe not, but when you consider all of the boasts, promises and predictions Brian Burke has made so far have been worthless, we have to wonder what our future really holds. I guess all  of  us Leaf fans will go on thinking happy thoughts and pray that Kessel, The Monster and Burke pan out.  In the meantime I'll just pray for a win!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Toskala serves up a turkey for Thanksgiving.

I think if you asked the Toronto Maple Leafs players what they have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, they would say their glad an NHL game is only sixty minutes.  If you asked their coach he might say he's thankful to have a 4 year contract after coaching the team to it's worst start in history.  If you asked Sean Avery he would say he's thankful Brian Burke is stubborn enough to think Vesa Toskala is an NHL goalie, let alone a NUMBER ONE!

Nice job guys.  You even made Avery look good, and that's no easy feat.  The Leafs lost their 5th straight game against the New York Rangers Monday night.  7 - 2 was the final score.  Another stellar performance by the Finnnish Sieve, Vesa Toskala.  They have never started a season this bad.  How could this be?  We have have Brian Burke calling the shots now.  We're going to make the play-offs this year.  Hmm, don't you actually need to accumulate points in the regular season to make the play-offs.  That's how it used to work.  Maybe Burkie had the rules changed.  Maybe we just have show up.  Well based on their play this year that won't even get them in.

When Burke took over last year he told us he would make big changes.  He said we would be tougher to play against.  He said we would be better defensively and be one of those teams others would hate to play against.  Well, 5 games in we have the worst home record, the worst road record, a terrible goals against average, a terrible power play, embarrassing penalty kill,  and oh ya, our starting goaltender couldn't stop a beach ball if they tossed it to him.  Tough to play against?  I doubt it.  I can just imagine the opposition scouting report.  If you lose the puck, don't worry, they'll give it back.  When you get over the blue line just shoot at the net, the defense will screen the goalie and if he does happen to see it he'll move out of the way anyway.

Burke did make some big changes.  He traded our best defenseman of last year, Pavel Kubina, for Garnet Exelby.  I think he wishes he could have that one back considering Exelby can't even crack this pathetic line up.  He also invested big bucks in two other big name defensemen, Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin.   Both have been great at helping Toskala pull the puck out of the back of the net.  Well maybe Komisarek hasn't been on the ice for that many goals, actually he's been in the penalty box for most of them.

If the Leafs are going to have any success this year they need a solid organized defensive system.  This means Beauchemin has to wake up and start playing that great positional play he's been known for his entire career.  Mike Komisarek needs to be less selfish and stop taking needless penalties.  Garnet Exelby needs to actually make the team and when he does, he has to stop handing the puck to the guys in the other colored jerseys.  Most importantly, their goalie needs to stop the puck.   That's it, nothing fancy or philosophical ... JUST STOP THE PUCK.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Good News, Bad News, for Jays fans.

The Goods news is J.P. Ricciardi has finally been dismissed as G.M. of The Toronto Blue Jays.  The bads news is, he's been replaced with his second in charge, Alex Anthopoulis.  We still don't know if he's to be the permanent or interim Gm, but if you heard him on the Fan 590 radio station this morning, he seems to think he'll be with us for a while.  If the Jays follow true to from we should receive word on his true position by Christmas of 2011.

Why so pessimistic?  I thought I was being quite optimistic actually.  We are talking about our Toronto Blue Jays.  Consider the record of the man it took eight years to decide on.  J.P. was hired eight years ago to trim the payroll while keeping the Jays competitive until they were ready to contend again.  When he took over he inherited an inflated payroll and a losing record.  He was to reshape the team using the Oakland Athletics model of money ball, invented by his mentor, Billy Beane.  He was to use his keen eye for talent and knack for finding those diamonds in the rough Oakland had become famous for.  Our team was going to win with speed, great defense,  hard-nosed old fashioned baseball.  We were going to hit-and-run, steal bases, bunt when you least expected it.  We were going to out-hustle and out-smart anyone they threw against us.

Build through the draft he said.  Keep the payroll low and build a farm system other teams would envy.  I guess he meant to say this would all start in his ninth year as Gm, because he sure didn't do it in the previous eight.  Granted, he did draft Aaron Hill, but lets look at some of the other canny moves he's made.

When J.P. came on the scene Roy  Halladay was already here.  Today he's by far our best player and one of the best in the league.  Oh ya, he's not feeling too good about the nonsense he's endured and will probably leave after next year if not sooner.  We had a pretty good prospect by the name of Orlando Hudson.  J.P.'s keen eye for talent told him otherwise so he hoodwinked Arizona into thinking he was better than Troy Glaus and made the trade. Who needs a three time gold glove contact hitter with speed anyway.  We play MONEY BALL... (you know, hit and run, steal, good defense, bunting).  Whoops.  Glaus lasted 2 years and was one of 5 starting 3rd basemen in eight years by the way.

Well, maybe he thought it more important to build up the middle.  Aaron hill worked nicely.  Not bad, one good middle infielder in eight years. At least we had strength at shortstop.  Who can argue with great names like Gomez, Adams, MacDonald and Scutaro.  Only Adams was drafted by Toronto.   He was a first rounder and was outplayed by everyone else named here.  MacDonald was a 12th round pick by Cleveland and Scutaro wasn't even drafted.  We had a guy named Michael Young but this perennial All-Star and one time Gold Glover wasn't good enough to compete with those guys.  J.P. traded  his ragedy ass butt for, wait for it, Esteban Loaiza.  Shrew, very shrewd.  Build through the draft eh ... whose draft?  Maybe they drafted well at first base.  Nope. Catcher?  Nope.  Outfield?  Maybe.  We'll give him Lind and Snyder, but so far that's only 3 position players in eight years and Hill is the only one able to field at the position he was drafted at.  Actually Hill was drafted as a shortstop.  Money Ball eh.

You can't have enough pitching.  Maybe J.P. can redeem himself here.  He did great drafting here.  And what a job his coaches and trainers did with this wealth of young arms.  Janssen, Marcum and McGowan may never live up to their potential because of various injuries.  But it's not our fault they'll say.  We can't do anything about injuries. Maybe not but when almost every significant pitcher you have in your entire organization is injured at the same time, maybe you should look at how your handling them.  Just a thought, but who am I.  J.P.'s the baseball genius.

Almost forgot.  We could have had Adam Dunn but J.P. said he lacked passion.  He even berated fans when they suggested it.  You wouldn't like Dunn he said.  He told us he knew better. You were right J.P.  That bum only had four, hundred RBI seasons in his last six and only hit 239 homer runs over that time.  That's 40 a year give or take.  Phew!  Glad we dodged that bullet.  Thanks J.P.   We had Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, and Frank Thomas.  Nice move.

Suffice it to say the guy who mentored Anthopolis was a bit of a disappointed. Should the 32 year old Gm in training even be considered anything but an interim.  Why not?  Interim in Toronto means permanent anyway.  Gaston was interim his second time around.  Even the President is interim.  He's been interim for more than a full season.  It's pretty tough to say anything bad about Paul Beeston but come on.  If you don't want the job hire a replacement already.  It's been over a year.  Consider this for a moment.  Recent reports suggested a player revolt in the Jays clubhouse.  If this had happened even two weeks ago, Cito Gaston may have been fired.  This would have meant an interim manager as well.  Wow, enough said.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My First Rant

Well, here goes. I'll begin by giving you a brief description of who you're reading.

I'm an over 40 male, who has lived in the Toronto area of Ontario all my life. I am a very proud Canadian who supports our troops, home and abroad and all of the ideals and values that make Canada the undisputed, Greatest Country in the world. I'm also a loyal fan of Toronto's 3 major sport teams ... The Jays, The Argo's and most importantly, THE LEAFS. Like most Canadians I enjoy arguing politics but don't follow it nearly as closely as I should. Also, as a proud Canadian, I can think of nothing better than being near a lake on a hot summer day enjoying a very frosty CANADIAN beer with family and friends ... and yes, EX does say it all. But enough about me. Let's talk sports.

Being a Toronto fan is not easy, to say the least. While the Argonauts have treated us to a fairly recent Grey Cup, The Jays seems to be bent on challenging the Leafs 42 year record of futility. 42 years without a sniff. This by a team boasting the "best fans" in the center of the "Hockey Universe". Leafs Rule, ya right.

42 years without a Stanley Cup, cup appearance, scoring title, significant player award, or Superstar. Granted, we've had some nice players. Darryl Sittler was truly one of classiest and talented players of his era, and was in my eyes the best example of an NHL team captain ever, but never achieved superstar status. Mostly because of his shameful treatment by Imlach and Ballard. Borje Salming opened the doors to European players coming to the NHL, and was an absolute pleasure to watch. Dougy and Wendell were simply awesome to watch, and Sundin will always be one of my favourites of all time, but can any of these players be considered Superstars. If you're still deciding think about these names. Bossy, Trottier, Potvin, Dionne, Perrault, Esposito, Orr, Yzerman, Messier, Lemieux, Lafleur, Mahovolich, Richard, Dryden, Parent, Coffey, Kurri. I know I've missed all kinds of names but that's my point. And no, I didn't forget the best of them all. I wanted to use him to prove another point.

There is only one reason why Toronto hockey has been awful for so long. It's obvious. Ownership doesn't care and anyone who thinks they do is kidding themselves. Think about this. Wayne Gretzky, the greatest of all time, asked to play for Toronto ...At a Bargain!!! They said no. They fired Cliff Fletcher, who incidentally, approached them with Gretzky's offer ,in favor of ... are you ready for this ... Ken Dryden. Then ownership endorsed Dryden's decision to hire Mike Smith, the only choice available capable of doing a worse job than Dryden. Smith was replaced by Pat Quinn ... HIS COACH!! And then the icing on the cake. Leaf ownership hired John Ferguson Junior. A man who's only experience was as assistant Gm to the St. Louis Blues, one of the few teams with a worse history than theirs. To make matters worse, the following year they hired Fletcher back, (only after everyone else refused the position) as Ferguson's mentor!! What a flash of brilliance. A mentor for the GM of the center of the hockey universe. Enough said.