These aren't your daddy's Maple Leafs, oh no. After a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs are back at .500, and the season is just about 50% in the books. As of tonight, the Leafs are in 11th spot in the Eastern Conference, two points out of a tie for 6th place. It's tight. The Leafs are in a dogfight, and are probably exactly where they should be.
These really aren't the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are the Toronto Maple Marlies. I think ten players in the lineup tonight were coached by Paul Maurice in the AHL last year. Ben Ondrus, Aleksander Suglobov, Kris Newbury, John Pohl, Ian White, Carlo Colaiacovo, Boyd Devereaux, and right now I can't even remember who else. The point is, there's way too many minor leaguers in this lineup. I guess this is the reality of the salary cap era when injuries strike.
No Wellwood, Ponikarovsky, Antropov, or Peca. Darcy Tucker joined the walking wounded tonight with a bone bruise on his right foot. He's unlikely to play tomorrow against the Senators. Devereaux got the call from the Marlies to replace Tucker and assisted on the lone Toronto goal by Mats Sundin.
Poor Mats eh? Here I am always complaining that he's got the worst linemates and look who he was playing with tonight - Bates Battaglia and Boyd Devereaux, both players who didn't play a game in the NHL last season. Brutal.
The injuries provide opportunities for others to step up. Hopefully Devereaux can have a positive impact on the team and earn a long look from management. I still think the Leafs could use the playmaking abilities of Erik Westrum, who's the number one guy with the Marlies. I'm not sure why all these other guys are getting the nod in front of Westrum. It's classic Leafs management right there. Westrum won the scoring title in the AHL last season. You'd think with all the injury problems the Leafs have he'd be the first one to get a sniff. But that would be the most logical thing to do, so clearly, the Leafs won't do it. The Leafs manage their team like George Costanza - they always go with the opposite of their first, and usually most rational, instinct.
I guess all the Leafs can hope to do right now is tread water until some of the troops are ready to return to the lineup. Just stay afloat. The injury bug has seriously been an issue this year. This team isn't that good to begin with. It's so hard for the Leafs to succeed when they're dealing with injury after injury.
The game tonight was pretty weak. Aubin, who's obviously taking notes from Raycroft, let in the customary weak goal of the game. Other than that, it was all about the Pens power play. With Crosby and Malkin, it's way too much to handle. The Leafs need to figure out that they can't play undisciplined hockey against such a skilled opponent. How many times can you beat the same message over the team's head? It seems they just don't get it.
Paul Maurice's interview from practice today was rather refreshing. He said both Aubin and Raycroft had played ok this year, but neither of them are bringing their "A" game every night. So right now, he's going to play both of them, and ride the hot streak when one of them wins. The Leafs' goaltending ranks 25th in the league right now. That's just sad.
The statistic that most frightens me? Ed Belfour's GAA is only 2.71 and he's got a save percentage of .900. Raycroft's GAA is now 3.09 and his save percentage is now at a pathetic .892.
Number one goalie my ass.
As for the Raptors, they got smoked tonight by the Chicago Bulls - the 15th straight time the Bulls have beaten them.
That is whack.
TJ Ford was hurt in the game as he sprained his ankle.
Pray for him.
The injury bug that is attacking pro sports in this city cannot spread to TJ Ford. That just wouldn't be fair, it wouldn't be right.
It's been a terrible night for both the Raptors and Leafs.
So 2006 comes to a close for Sports And The City on a sour note, as I'm heading up to Lagoon City to celebrate the New Year.
If you're out there and reading, I thank you, and I wish you all the best in 2007.
I also wish a prosperous 2007 for the Leafs, Raptors, and Jays. And Andrew Raycroft. He really needs some help - some divine intervention type of stuff.
Belfour's stats are better! That makes me sick...
Goodnight, Toronto, and Happy New Year...
December 30, 2006
These aren't your daddy's Maple Leafs, oh no. After a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs are back at .500, and the season is just about 50% in the books. As of tonight, the Leafs are in 11th spot in the Eastern Conference, two points out of a tie for 6th place. It's tight. The Leafs are in a dogfight, and are probably exactly where they should be.
December 23, 2006
The holiday season is upon us and it's a busy time of year for all, as usual.
It's been almost 10 days since I checked in, and much has happened since then. I don't even know where to start.
Actually I do. I have to start this post by handing out a crazy shoutout to my man TJ Ford. This guy has just been amazing the past few Raptor games, and the same goes for his teammates. The Raptors are hot, and as of tonight, are in first place. It doesn't matter that they play in the weakest division in pro sports. There's no need to focus on the negatives anymore. The Toronto Raptors are in first place, and that's the bottom line.
Vernon Wells is OFFICIALLY a Blue Jay for the next eight years, and hopefully he and his teammates can deliver this championship starved city another World Series title, Inshallah. I thought the temptations of free agency would be too great for Wells to sign an extension with the Jays. But he proved me wrong by doing what so few athletes do these days - show loyalty. Vernon Wells, I salute you. I know he signed an incredible contract, valued at about $126 million, but the rumour was that he could have got $200 million on the market. He didn't have to sign. But the Blue Jays, in good faith, matched a number that Wells and his agent agreed to be market value. Wells, also showing good faith, saw that the Jays met his demands, and put his name on the dotted line.
Wells openly said that JP Ricciardi was influential in him becoming an all-star. JP gave Wells the opportunity to play everyday, and it was something Wells didn't forget. Wells was drafted by the Jays, and is a born and bred Toronto Blue Jay, it's that simple. He found it hard to leave the city, the team and the fans, and I can't be happier. JP and the Blue Jays management, from Ted Rogers to Paul Godfrey, got the job done.
Loyalty is there. And it's just not something you see much anymore in pro sports. The signing of Vernon Wells makes me feel all warm inside. He is what every pro athlete should aspire to be. He is a true role model. Like I said before, it's a pleasure to be given the honour to have him on our team for the next eight seasons.
How about those consistently inconsistent Maple Leafs? This team is way too up and down, and really needs to find a balance. I guess that's difficult to do when you're either getting blown out or doing the blowing out every night. After a 9-2 pasting of the Rangers last weekend, the Leafs responded by getting shollacked by the Florida Panthers 7-3. It was a horrendous game full of turnovers and sloppy play. To make matters worse, Belfour got the win - his second of the season against the Leafs. Belfour's lame. And even on top of that sour note, Gary Roberts was influential in the poundage of the Leafs.
I hate Gary Roberts. He's a prick. I wish someone on the Leafs would step up and deal with his case, but no one does, and I'm not sure why. He's not a Leaf anymore. He takes pride in beating the Leafs, yet no one seems to mind. It's disgusting. I hate his face. He plays a little dirty when he takes on the Leafs, as if he's trying to prove something. The Leafs offered him a contract when he was a free agent, but he chose to walk to Florida.
I really hate Gary Roberts.
The Leafs were downed 3-1 in Chicago tonight. The Hawks have a solid young team. They play aggressive and with lots of speed and forechecking. They like to take the body, and it was an entertaining game.
However, the hockey God's, who have already wreaked enough havoc on the Leafs this season in my opinion, are not done with this team, by any stretch of the imagination. The Poni Express has been derailed temporarily as Ponikarovsky went down in practice yesterday with Nik Antropov syndrome (that's the injuring yourself syndrome). Poni was skating around Bryan McCabe, lost his balance, tripped and slid heavily into the boards. And like the movie from Seinfeld: Prognosis Negative. He's got a shoulder separation and will be out for three weeks. Just lovely.
Kyle Wellwood is also out of the lineup for an unknown period due to a groin/leg injury. As of right now there is no diagnosis, and until there is, he won't be playing. For those of you keeping track, that's two members of the top line out of the line up for what looks to be an extended period of time.
If that wasn't bad enough, Mike Peca's season came to an end tonight. He went knee on knee with James Vandermeer, and word on the internet is that he's torn his MCL and broke his tibia. He's already had reconstructive surgery on his left knee, and now he'll have to rebuild his right knee. It's going to be a long and hellish road to recovery for Peca, and I'm not sure the Leafs will re-sign him next season coming off major knee surgery. Mike Peca, this Leafs teams best penalty killer and defensive catalyst, may have played his final game in the blue and white, and we barely got to know him. Terrible. Absolutely terrible.
And how bad was Hal Gill Tuesday night against Florida? He and McCabe have the most blatant giveaways. Right on the oppositions tape. Even tonight, two of the Chicago goals were a result of the Leafs not being able to clear their zone, resulting in turnovers.
Losing Peca is going to kill this team. I can't believe he's gone for the season. It means more minutes for guys like Stajan and Steen, and they don't deserve the increased ice time. So the Leafs are screwed. John Pohl scored tonight, and hopefully he can step up and play more of a scoring role on this team, because without Poni, Peca and Welly, I'm not sure who is going to score goals. Sundin played with O'Neill and Battaglia tonight - not exactly a line combination that is going to be scaring anybody. It's time to get either Boyd Devereaux or Erik Westrum up to the big club. John Ferguson really needs to get to work.
Another sad reality for the Leafs is that they have two backup goaltenders. Aubin played in Chicago tonight and again took the loss. It seems the magic he had at the end of last season is gone, and the Leafs just can't find the back of the net when he's playing. Aubin and Raycroft have both been playing a lot recently, and they've both been inconsistent. They just can't come up with the save this team needs.
The Leafs are only as good as their goalie. Looking back at the last 10 years where the Leafs have enjoyed some success, it's been because of excellent goaltending. The Leafs have never employed a solid defensive unit or played solid defensive hockey. Curtis Joseph was the backbone in the late 90's and early part of this decade, and Eddie Belfour held it down in his first two seasons in Toronto.
Raycroft and Aubin are just not the answer. I'm sick of Raycroft getting beat up top, glove side. He never has his glove up and ready when he's in his butterfly position, and it's a mistake no NHL goalie should be making on a regular basis. It's no secret that the gameplan against Raycroft is to go high glove side.
I'll never understand why the Leafs just gave this guy the number one job. I'll never understand why the Leafs didn't sign Petr Sykora.
Difficult times in Leaf Nation..
On to a happier subject - the Toronto Raptors.
The Craptors no more!
As of tonight, after a 101-100 overtime win in Portland against the Trail Blazers, the Raptors sit atop the Atlantic Division with a record of 12-15. That's right, I said it, the Raptors are in first place. It's true. They've won five out of their last six games, and all five victories have come without the franchise, CB4.
How about TJ Ford? I think he is the point guard the Raptors and their fans have been waiting for. TJ Ford has arrived, and he is for real. He has stepped up in the absence of Chris Bosh and has shown tremendous leadership and confidence. He believes in himself, and his teammates believe in him.
The Raptors beat the Clippers on Wednesday night thanks to a heroic effort from Ford. He was unstoppable in the 4th quarter, hitting jumpers and driving through the lane. He hit the winning shot of the game with no time left on the clock, and I, along with Sam Mitchell, was going crazy. I went bananas. It was a great finish to a heck of a ballgame and I've never seen the Raptors bench go crazy like that before. Mitchell went nuts, Bosh went nuts, and Swirsky was calling for the onions baby, onions.
How does TJ Ford top a performance like that? He comes out and does it again, this time scoring nine out of the 11 points the Raptors scored in overtime against the Blazers. On the final play of the game, he drove, got a defender to commit, then dished the ball to Il Mago who hit a long 2-ball with 3.5 seconds left. It was a brilliant play by Ford, and Bargnani knocked it down.
Props out to Bargnani on the shot. He had just came off the bench and was cold, but he stepped up in a clutch situation to give the Raptors the win. It's great for the rookie's confidence to be trusted with the ball in a situation like that, and to make the most of it. Once again, I went bananas.
The Raptors are hella fun and exciting to watch. They play hard and they play with passion, and I think that's all that Sam Mitchell wants from them. I think Sam Mitchell and Paul Maurice have a lot in common. They're not all about talent and skills, but more about hard work. They're blue collar guys, and it rubs off on their respective teams.
I definitely thought a prolonged Chris Bosh absence for the Raptors meant certain doom. I just didn't think they'd be able to compete, but to a man, everyone has stepped up. The win against the Clippers came without Bosh, Calderon and Garbajosa. That's a team effort right there. The scoring has been incredibly balanced, and three or four guys a night are averaging in double figures. Parker, Nesterovic, Garbo have all been fantastic recently. I think Garbajosa is a hockey player trapped in a basketball player's body. He's all about grinding and playing hard. He's like a checking line winger. God bless him.
It's certainly a relief to see Fred Jones play a couple of solid games where he's been able to put up some points. This guy is a good basketball player and can take the ball to the rack like no one else on this team - he's just been snake-bitten so far this season. Hopefully his struggles are behind him because the Raptors are a much more effective team when he's on his game. He's got that explosiveness that is just contagious to a team and I'm looking forward to a few huge slams in the near future from Jones.
I also can't say enough about Rasho Nesterovic. What a pickup by Bryan Colangelo. Nesterovic has been a calming influence on D and is exactly what the Raptors have lacked for far too long. And with Bosh going down with the knee injury, Rasho has stepped up his offensive game too. He's been logging a lot of minutes and the Raptors are not afraid to run plays for him in the paint. I think he was shooting 75% from the field over a three-game stretch last week. That's on fire, NBA Jam style right there. He's also really vocal on the defensive side of the game, and he's always letting the Joey Graham's and PJ Tucker's know where to be and how best to defend. I'm a big fan of Rasho Nesterovic. He's been everything and more than what I thought he would be.
I can't say enough about this Raptors squad. I really like what Colangelo has put together here. The future actually looks really bright. TJ Ford for Charlie Villenueva. Charlie Villenueva who? TJ Ford is only 23 years old! He's averaging 15 points and 8 dimes a game. He's the pass-first point guard the Raptors have craved for so long, and without Bosh, he's been the main man on offense. TJ Ford, at such a young age, has been given the reigns to the Raptors offense. He is the main man for Colangelo and the Raptors. I'm not saying he could be the next Steve Nash. Actually, I am saying that. TJ Ford could be the next Steve Nash. It took Nash time to develop into the MVP that he now is, and the most complete point guard the NBA has seen in a long, long time. TJ Ford has the skills to do what Nash is doing. We just have to be patient, but if he keeps playing this way, I don't mind patiently waiting at all.
I'm just giddy about TJ Ford and the Raptors right now. I'm even starting to like Derrick Martin, who I used to think was the biggest joke on an NBA roster. But now I'm starting to see why the Raptors have him around - he's got leadership skills and he was the one telling TJ Ford to hold onto the rock til the last second against the Clippers.
Giddy. I swear.
Allen Iverson to the Nuggets.
Interesting trade. I don't think Iverson and Carmello Anthony will be able to exist when Anthony comes back from his suspension.
I've never really liked Iverson too much. I'm of the opinion that the point guard should play the game the way Steve Nash does, not Allen Iverson. He just shoots too much for my liking, and that's why I can't see him and Carmello co-existing. They both need the ball, and there's only one to go around.
By the way, that "brawl" at MSG between the Knicks and the Nuggets was a joke.
Carmello Anthony is officially a bitch. He sucker-punches some jobber on the Knicks then runs halfway down the court so no one can touch him. That was weak. I've never liked 'Mello much, and after that pathetic display, I never will.
And the Knicks? They're a sad state of affairs too. Isiah Thomas is a plague. That franchise is in complete shambles. And Nate Robertson looks like 50 Cent, wouldn't you agree?
I think that's it. My head hurts from all the thinking.
Merry Christmas, Happy HoliJays and Happy Festivus.
December 14, 2006
I'm not sure where to begin. I've got so much to say. I always try to make my posts short, but it never happens, and I'm not sure why. I'll try to get to everything that's on the brain right now - the Raptors, V-Dubbs (that's Vernon Wells), the Leafs. I'll try to keep it short. But don't hold your breath.
1) Andrea Bargnani
I caught the Raptors game tonight as they were in Orlando to face the Magic. And there was definitely magic in the air, in the form of the Raptors #1 draft pick. I hope Rafael Arraujo is taking notes because this is exactly how a first round draft pick is supposed to develop.
Bargnani was on fire tonight from beyond the arc. He came in off the bench and supplied some much needed offense for the Bosh-less Raptors. The first two games without CB4 were a joke, and I was elated to see Bargnani step up and hit big shots in order to get this team a win it badly needed. He hit four 3-balls in the 4th quarter. Bargnani's my boy, he's got a sweet shooting touch for a big man, and I think the future is bright for our Italian friend.
2) 7 years, $126 million
The Leafs finally won a bloody hockey game Tuesday night against Tampa Bay. The streak is over, as I said it would be. The Leafs, who blow leads with a passion, needed a game like this - a game where they came from behind.
The game started well as Poni finally got back on the Express for his 9th goal of the season. But then it got ugly and the Leafs were down 3-1 only two minutes into the 2nd period.
That's when Paul Maurice called a timeout, and the game changed. JS Aubin, who got the start in goal, was yanked from the game for Raycroft. It was disappointing to see Aubs not really play well, although he didn't have much help. He got the start and I thought he might run with it like he did last season, but Raycroft came in and played well. He let in his customary weak goal of the game, but the Leafs held on for dear life and won 5-4.
HUGE PROPS out to Paul Maurice for the timeout. That's a coach right there. Call a timeout, blaze the hell out of the troops, and change the goalie. Those are the three things Pat Quinn would NEVER do, and that's why Paul Maurice is such a great teacher for this team. He let everyone know they were not doing their jobs in that timeout, and Aubin was gone because of those around him. Accountability, baby.
Two goals from Kilger, that was good to see. He works hard out there, and always finishes his checks. I love that about Kilger. The effort's always there, even if the results are not.
OK so my calls for Steen to be sent down to the minors were not necessary, because it's not going to happen. It can't happen. He's got to clear waivers if he gets sent down. So that idea's out the window. Now, instead of bitching him out, I'm going to support him. He's hit rock bottom, and there's no place to go but up.
My favourite part about the Leafs' first victory in almost 3 weeks? Matt Stajan watched most of the match from the bench, where he belongs. He played less than 7 minutes, and John Pohl took most of his icetime. It's about time Stajan took a seat, and I like Pohl and don't mind seeing him play a bit more at all.
December 11, 2006
It was the Sunday of Sports.
I caught a lot of action today on the tube, and unfortunately I did watch the Raptors lose to the Portland Trail Blazers, minus the franchise Chris Bosh.
I fully expected the Raps to win this game. They play good ball at the ACC, and I think the Raptors are a better team than the Blazers. I almost had it labelled as a "for sure win." Now I don't know why I think the Raptors are entitled to any "for sure win" games anymore, but clearly they're not ready to be given that right.
The Raptors played like the Craptors, let me tell you. It was a sad performance that highlighted the teams weaknesses, and without Chris Bosh, who's out for a few games with a sore knee, the Raps didn't have a chance.
Weakness #1: Way too much perimeter shooting
Why do the Raptors love to just jack three ball's all day long, when none of them are dropping? Why do the Raptors love to take the long jumper, that don't usually go in, and have no one under the bucket to rebound? Why are the Raptors so reluctant to drive to the basket?
Toronto shot 35% from the field today. They pulled down a measly 34 rebounds. They played with zero energy and zero intensity. If this team continues to settle for the jump shot, they simply won't win ball games. Granted, they were missing their best player and inside performer, so other guys had to take more shots. Mo-Pete and TJ Ford were those guys tonight. Ford was 7-19 from the field while Peterson was 8-15. Ford has got to be better than that, and he needs to look for the pass a little bit more. The Raptors simply didn't share the ball much today, and I think that was mainly due to the fact that the team was minus CB4.
The Raptors shot only 26% from beyond the arc. 6 out of 23. That's not NBA-calibre shooting, to say the least. The team has simply got to be more aggressive, cause right now it's just too easy to beat the Raptors.
Weakness #2: The Raptors have no clue how to play defence.
Forget about their shooting woes, the team can't play defence very well either. That's been a problem for years now, and the Raps miss Bosh's presence on the boards too, big time. The Blazers were blazing and shot over 50% in the first half. The Raptors just didn't bring it today, and it was evident in the game. Portland had far too many easy looks.
Not a very good game to watch. Now the Raps are off to Florida to face Miami and Orlando. The Raptors are a pathetic road team, and without Bosh, it's going to be a wee bit difficult on the road.
After the debacle by the Raps I settled in to watch the Buffalo Bills take on the New York Jets. It was a big game for the Jets, who's playoff aspirations could have gotten a huge lift had they beat the Bills.
Buffalo played a great game and won it 31-13. JP Losman and Lee Evans hooked up for another long touchdown pass. They've got great chemistry on the long passing plays. That's about all JP Losman can do, but he has been better as the season has gone on. The Bills are at 6-7 and are still mathematically alive in the playoff race. Progress people. Progress.
Props out to Willis McGahee today. He was fantastic and rushed for 125 yards on only 16 carries. After his 57 yard touchdown run in the first quarter I was up on my feet yelling "What you talkin 'bout Willis!" repeatedly. He was sick too, literally. Puking on the sidelines in the first quarter. He's a soldier though, and stayed in the game and dominated the Jets defense. McGahee has struggled a bit this season, and he's always got nagging injuries, but games like today's make you see that he really does have the potential to become one of the NFL's better running backs.
The Bills played a perfect road game. The offence played well. Losman finished with two touchdowns and the defence was solid in shutting down Chad Pennington.
The playoffs are a stretch but hopefully the Bills can finish the season above .500, and build towards a playoff run next season.
The Bills make me wanna SHOUT!
Other interesting tidbits from the day in sports:
- LaDainian Tomlinson is a touchdown machine. He broke the single-season touchdown record today, with this 29th TD in only his 13th game. That is ridiculous. That is more touchdowns than the Bills offence has all season. LT is far and away the best running back in football, and it's not even close.
- Welcome back Martin Havlat. With another 2 points tonight, that's 5 in two games since coming back from an ankle injury. The Hawks won both games and they're clearly happy to have him back. The Hawks are playing well since the coaching change that brought in Denis Savard. Gotta love the Savardian Spinorama!
- How bad is Martin Gerber? Very bad. The Senators lose back-to-back games on the weekend after getting pasted by the Blue Jackets 6-2 in Columbus. Gerber played a horrendous game and was replaced by Ray Emery. The Gerber signing is clearly turning out to be a mistake, and Ottawa must be regretting it, especially after tonight. The Ottawa media is going to be all over Gerber and the Sens, and Emery has got to be the number one man in the crease. As a team, they've been extremely inconsistent. With 31 points they're tied with, guess who, the Maple Leafs. That's got to be pissing them off a bit too. And so is watching Martin Havlat tear it up, I'm sure. Good call letting him walk away for nothing! I'm definitely enjoying that one. And they should have kept Chara, not Redden, who can't stay healthy this year. Hopefully our rivals in the capital can keep up the good work.
- Andy Pettitte is returning to the Bronx to pitch for the Yankees. Great news for Blue Jays fans. And the Cubs are reportedly going to sign Jason Marquis to a 3 year deal worth around $20 million. Marquis' ERA last season was above 6.00. This signing has made me reach a decision - my son, when I have one, is going to be a pitcher. Even the bad ones make millions.
- As of tonight, there are only 3 teams in the NBA's Eastern Conference that have a winning record; Detroit, Cleveland and Orlando. The Atlantic Division, in which the Raptors play, does not have a team with a winning record. The Western Conference, in contrast, has 9 teams with more wins than losses. Disparity, please.
- Steve Nash is once again improving on his incredible statistics of the past 2 years. He's in line to win an astounding third-straight NBA MVP. Steve Nash is a true Canadian hero, and I like the fact he cut his hair. I never really was feeling the long locks.
December 10, 2006
December 08, 2006
The Toronto Maple Leafs are officially out of the top 8 in the Eastern Conference, following another third period collapse and another loss to the Boston Bruins. 3-1 final, and the losing streak is now at 6 games, with no end in sight. Nursing a lead has become pretty much all mental right now, as the Leafs just don't have the confidence to pull through and get a win. They played a pretty solid road game and were up 1-0 going into the third. Ripe for the picking, I guess.
I'm frustrated as a fan, so it must be really frustrating for the players themselves. I'm not sure what it is about Boston, but the Leafs just can't generate offense against them. The Leafs have only managed four goals in the last four games against the Bruins, who have now pulled to within one point of the Leafs, with four games in hand.
Aubin did get the call for the Leafs, but it didn't really matter. The Leafs didn't play well in front of him in the third period, and although the second goal - the backbreaker - was Aubin's fault, as he let up a HUGE rebound that Primeau drilled into the back of the net, I can't blame him for his one and only mistake, because the guys in front of him made even more. Props to Aubin for coming in and giving the Leafs a chance to win tonight.
What can I say? The Leafs are in a serious funk and are going the wrong way in the Eastern Conference. The offense has totally come to a standstill - the well has runneth dry. The defense has just been atrocious, especially in the third period. When a team continuously blows leads the way the Leafs are, you know it's all in their heads. There's no confidence left in this team right now, and I'm not sure how they're going to turn it around. They've got just got to come out Saturday night and try to keep things simple, and hope for some bounces to go their way. What else can they do right now? Aubin, had he won, I think would have gotten the start on Saturday, but now I think Maurice will go back to Raycroft in the motor city.
Brutal night for my boys Poni and Sundin. They were on the ice for all three Boston goals in the third period, and both ended up -3 on the night. Unacceptable. Sundin can't be beaten in a battle by a guy like Brad Boyes, and he needs to take this team by the throat right now and get them a win by any means necessary. And you know Poni is struggling when he fans on a shot on a 2 on 1. Brutality is there.
The sun will rise tomorrow. Hopefully the Leafs can figure this out before it seriously gets too late.
Baseball's winter meetings have come to an end, and the Jays left Disneyworld with Matt Stairs. That's it. Just Matt Stairs. No Ted Lilly, no Gil Meche. No pitching at all. I was expecting some major fireworks. I knew it was a stretch for JP to think that we could get both Lilly and Meche, but I truly believed he would come home with at least one of them. Once again, it shows how much I know.
In stark contrast to last year's winter meetings, the Jays went to the meetings this time around as major players. Last year, JP flew under the radar and it was huge news for the Jays to land both BJ Ryan and AJ Burnett. No one was expecting it. This time around, the Jays were just like all the other big boys at the party, ready and willing to overpay for mediocrity.
Baseball truly is an amazing sport, where mediocrity is rewarded and the salaries just keep getting crazier and crazier. After all, baseball is a game in which a batter is considered successful if he fails 7 out of 10 times.
Ted Lilly, with a career record of 59 wins and 58 losses, will now make $10 million a year to pitch for the Chicago Cubs. Poor Lilly? Hardly. Gil Meche, 28 years old with a similar unspectacular career win-loss record, is now a 5 year, $55 million dollar man, after signing a deal with the pathetic Kansas City Royals.
Both Lilly and Meche said there were interested in going to teams that were ready to compete and challenge for the playoffs. Granted, the Cubs have spent about a billion dollars this off-season in attempts to improve, but Meche picking the Royals over the Jays is a joke, and Meche's credibility just hit the floor. Even JP said it might have been a blessing in disguise to lose the Meche sweepstakes, because if this guy wants to pitch in Kansas City, you have to question his attitude and motivation.
Richard Griffin, the great Toronto Star columnist, said earlier in the week that the Jays should forget about both Lilly and Meche, and put the money towards a contract extension for Vernon Wells.
With the winter meetings over, the discussion will undoubtedly shift to Wells. The $100 million dollar question - will Vernon Wells resign a multi-year deal with the Jays? With the way salaries are being handed out this off-season, I don't think it's going to happen. Why would Wells not test the market? That's what free agency is all about. He knows he's about to hit the jackpot, and can have at least 10 teams bidding for his services, so why would he sign long term with Toronto? It just doesn't make sense. The Jays will try to get his name on a contract, it's the right and only thing they can do, but I just don't see it happening.
This means JP has to explore trading Vernon Wells. Now that he missed out on Lilly and Meche, he's got to trade Vernon Wells for some quality pitching. Now I want Wells to stay just as much as anyone else, as I'm sure JP does, but the reality is that he will test the market as a free agent. I would if I were him. You would too. Remember, Carlos Delgado walked away at the end of his contract and the Jays got nothing in return. Delgado had a no-trade clause, so trading him was impossible. Wells has no such clause, so the Jays have to move him if he won't sign long term. JP said he'll know where Wells stands in a week or two. Getting nothing in return for a sensational, 5-tool player like Wells, who is only 28, is simply not an option. Wells will get Soriano-type money on the free agent market, money I don't think Ted Rogers will be willing to pay.
JP said the Jays will now look at Plans B and C for pitching, both via free agency and trades. Guys like Jeff Suppan, Mark Redman and Jeff Weaver are still out there on the market, but JP said he's going to explore the trading front first.
As for in-house possibilities, the Jays still have the disease known as Josh Towers under contract, and it looks like he will get a chance to be the 5th starter in the rotation. Shaun Marcum is another possibility. Dustin McGowan might be a prospect JP thinks about trading, while Casey Janssen, who showed some potential last season, is still on the map as well.
Like I said, it's all about Vernon Wells now, and it should be an interesting couple of weeks ahead, as the Jays look to finalize their 2007 roster. If Wells does get traded, I hope the Jays get some quality pitching, and maybe an outfielder, in return. JP's got to do what he's got to do. If Wells won't sign an extension, it's clear he's pretty much as good as gone, and it has to be done. In a perfect world, the Jays can sign Wells long term and add another starter to fill the third spot in the rotation. But as the winter meetings proved, things hardly ever go as planned.
Remember folks, in JP we trust.
And a big Sports And The City welcome to Matt Stairs, the newest Blue Jay. He's a solid bat off the bench, and you can't go wrong with some home-grown Canadian content.
I'd like to thank Bengie Molina for his one year of service in Toronto, after he signed a 3 year deal with the San Francisco Giants. Molina had a great season with the Jays, and it was fun watching his pudgy ass round the bases.
One of the most exciting moments of the 2006 season for me was watching Molina hit a triple in Tampa Bay. He was chugging like no tomorrow and was going so slow. I stood up and was like Kramer at the racetrack, using the newspaper as a whip and cheering on his horse - "COME ON! COME ON! COME ON!" Bengie slid in safely with a triple, the entire Jays bench went bananas and Bengie had the biggest smile on his face. The Jays bench even asked the umpire for the ball, and it was rolled into the dugout by the umpire! That ball is definitely going onto the mantle, because I don't think Molina will ever hit another triple.
That's it for now. Here's hoping Vernon Wells can somehow stay a Blue Jay.
Blue Jays baseball - You Gotta Believe.
December 06, 2006
These days I find myself walking the streets aimlessly with my head down, wondering where it all went wrong for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The cold winter weather has arrived in the great city of Toronto, and with it, a draft of some god-awful Leafs hockey. The frigid temperatures pack a punch, and I'd love to get a few of the Leafs in a room and do some punching of my own. Ian White, Matt Stajan, or Alex Steen. Preferably Steen, but I'm not picky.
Enough with the melodrama. It's official ladies and gentlemen, the Leafs suck again. The wheels have fallen off. Press the Staples Easy Button - repeatedly. SOS. Hockey team in distress (sort of like PIMP IN DISTRESS!)! Pick your cliche, whichever one works for you. The bottom line is this team can't win a game right now, and oh mylanta it has not been pretty.
The Leafs have lost five in a row, and have one point in their last 10 games. They're well into the losing streak I said they simply couldn't afford to have. They've lost to Boston and Atlanta twice in the past 10 days, along with an overtime loss to the Habs. That's three huge divisional losses, and two conference losses. The Leafs are now clinging to the 8th and final playoff spot, and like the monkey at the start of Ace Ventura 2, they can't be saved. All the teams behind them in the standings have at least two games in hand. It's only a matter of time before the Leafs are on the outside looking in.
The road ahead isn't going to get any easier. Tomorrow night it's another meeting with - who else? - the Boston Bloody Bruins in Beantown, and Saturday the Leafs are in Detroit to face the Red Wings. Seven game losing streak anyone?
Being a Leafs fan, I come standard with a lot of hope. I go into each and every season thinking "this could be the year." But I'm also a realist. And it's time for a reality check, sobering as it is.
And here it is: the Leafs are not a playoff-calibre team.
It's as simple as that my friends.
The statistics don't lie. The way this team blows multiple goal leads on numerous occassions, doesn't lie.
If you think about it, and you look at the facts, not much has changed from last season. The Leafs can score goals, they just can't keep them out of their own net. Think of Jerry Seinfeld at the car rental place - anyone can take reservations, it's the holding part that is most important. Anyone can score goals, it's the saving them part that is so important! The Leafs have given up 97 goals against so far this season in only 29 games. That's third-worst in the Eastern Conference. They're a terrible team 5-on-5, just like they were last year. They've struggled mightily at the ACC and consequently have a losing record on home ice. Only six players on the team are even or plus in the plus/minus department. Darcy Tucker, the teams leading goal scorer, is a team-worst -9. Without the power play, this Leafs team would be where Philadelphia is today.
Do those statistics look like those of a playoff team? Uh-uh.
I thought the Leafs patched up the defense this off-season, but it doesn't look it's working. It's slightly off, wouldn't you say? If you think about it, the Leafs have used a 5-man rotation on defense all year. Belak has dressed as the sixth man on the blue line most nights, and he plays about 6 minutes. It's unheard of, and I can't seem to remember ever seeing a team employ a 5-man defensive rotation. Six is the norm, and some teams even dress seven d-men. But 5?
Speaking of not working, what the hell happened to Ian White? He's taken 3 delay of game penalties in the last 2 games for chucking the puck over the glass. First of all, my SUPER BEEF of the season so far is this penalty. It's got to be one of the dumbest penalties ever thought up. Nineteen times out of twenty when a man shoots it out and over and the glass, it's a mistake. Yet it results in a two minute penalty. Against Montreal, up 3-2 in the third period, White took such penalty, Koivu tied the game on the power play, and the Habs end up winning in a shootout. Against Atlanta, up 2-0 in the third period, weathering a sea of terrible penalties, White chucks the puck over the glass (for the second time in the game), Atlanta finally gets on the board, the floodgates open and it's 5-2 Atlanta while I'm left slapping my forehead numerous times.
I was at the game against the Atlanta Thrashers Tuesday night. Took the woman to her first hockey game. Gold seats. Not too shabby, but a freakin' waste of money thanks to the Leafs' pathetic effort. It was all going so well until the 3rd period, and I wouldn't blame the woman for never wanting to go back to watch the Leafs. They played uninspiring hockey to say the least.
Anywho, it's amazing the way the Leafs somehow manage to squander multiple goal leads in the third period of hockey games. They've done it with astonishing regularity this season, and it's absolutely unacceptable. They dominated Montreal Saturday night, and should have got 2 points plain and simple. To go into the third period against Atlanta up by 2 goals and come out losing 5-2 is, as Mike Peca rightfully called it, "a disgrace."
My neck hurts from all the head-shaking I've been doing recently. I just don't get this team. The team played well while Sundin was out, and since he came back, they've got zero wins and five losses. Sundin clearly doesn't have the step he had before he got injured, and it doesn't even seem like he's at 100%.
It's time to play J.S. Aubin. In the 16 games he's played over the end of last season and this season, he's only lost one game in regulation. I think John Ferguson Jr. has told the coaching staff to stick with Andrew Raycroft, so Raycroft can prove he's a number one goalie and lead this team. That's not how you run a bloody hockey team. I said it at the start of the year, Raycroft doesn't deserve to just be handed the number one job, he should have to fight Aubin for it. Raycroft has been only OK this year. At times he's looked great, but he's also been very beatable, and that's a combination of a team that just doesn't know how to play team defense in front of him. At the end of the day, when the Leafs desperately need a save, Raycroft hasn't been getting it. Right now, the team is not winning with Razor, so Aubin simply needs to play. Come on Maurice, put him in there tomorrow night. Aubs played well against Boston last time, and deserves another shot.
This edition of the Leafs just isn't that good. It's a grim reality. One I'm struggling to come to terms with, but one I'm accepting more and more each day. It hurts because with each passing day, and each passing loss, it's becoming more and more clear that Mats Sundin will never win a Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs. It's simply not going to happen. Not this year, not next year, not for a while. Maybe never, the way things have been going the last, oh, 40 years. It hurts to type that. It's been my dream for a long, long time, to see it happen. As my dream fades away, it only leaves a hole, one that will never be filled. Mats deserves it. He's been a phenomenal Maple Leaf. The best ever. It's a damn shame...
The holes on this team are visible for everyone to see. Like I said, a 5-man defensive rotation, but there's more.
Matt Stajan is the second line centre for the Maple Leafs, and I don't care what anyone tells me, he has no business being a second line centre on the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's far too easy to knock off the puck, he doesn't win a lot of faceoffs, and he's not gifted in any particular part of the game. He's a third line centre or winger at best, and it just disappoints me to see him play the amount of minutes he does, with nothing to show. Even his slapshot is weak. I'm off Stajan huge, and will continue to hate on him until further notice.
Jeff O'Neill and Mike Peca are shadows of their former selves. I thought Poni had trouble finishing, but O'Neill definitely takes the award for least-capable finisher. It's hard to believe O'Neill was one of the more feared snipers in the NHL in the early part of this decade. These days, he can't buy a goal. The last goal O'Neill scored didn't even come off his own stick - it was an own goal by Buffalo Sabres centre Michael Ryan.
Now don't get me wrong, I like what Mike Peca brings to the Leafs. He's a fabulous penalty killer and third line centre, but he's just not the player he used to be. Peca used to be one of, if not the, best two-way players in the NHL. He was tremendous at both ends of the rink, and was a solid 20 goal scorer in this league. He used to throw devastating open-ice bodychecks and cause other teams to be aware of his presence at all times. While he has almost perfected the defensive aspects of the beautiful game of hockey, he's forgotten how to play in the offensive zone. And we're 30 games into this season, and I haven't seen one solid Peca bodycheck, the ones he was known for, and the ones which made me secretly long for him to wear the blue and white. He's the perfect third line centre for this team, and brings so much to the penalty kill and the dressing room, but I long for the Mike Peca of old.
I don't even want to get started on Alex Steen. One goal in 29 games. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Look up Sophomore Jinx in the sports dictionary, and you'll find a picture of Mr. Alexander Steen. I read something absolutely hilarious, yet sad, in the newspaper the other day - Steen has had as many children as goals this season - one. At least he's scoring in the bedroom. On a serious note, it hurts to see him struggle this bad. He was benched for the third period against Montreal. I think the Leafs should seriously send him to the minors and let him try to get his confidence back, because he's running on empty right now. Send him to the freakin' minors JFJ!! Enough is enough. I don't care who he is, he's got to be held accountable for his play.
I talked about Ian White - he's struggling like crazy. Along with Hal Gill. Gill has made a couple of seriously bonehead pinches, and ridiculous crosses in the defensive zone lately. It's like his head is completely out of the game, because they are major mistakes a veteran like him shouldn't be making. Gill, you're slow as hell, don't pinch when Marian Hossa - you know, the NHL's leading scorer - is on the ice. Jesus. And White needs to watch a game from the press box. He's played ok, just really terribly recently, but we have to remember he was thrown into the fire and elevated up the depth chart because of all the injuries to the back end. Carlo Colaiacovo, the most unlucky athlete ever it seems, is almost healthy (is that even possible for him!?!?). Hopefully the injuries are behind him and he can step into the lineup and help out the defense, because it could really use a hand right now.
And guess what? Nik Antropov has injured himself, yet again. He's actually played well this season, and it's shame, although we all knew it was bound to happen. It happened in practice today.
"He rolled his ankle," said head coach Paul Maurice. "There wasn’t anybody around him and down he went."
I think I'm done venting. Reality bites.
Oh wait, one more thing. How BAD has Pavel Kubina looked these last few games? Oh dear. I don't think he's the saviour I thought he was. $5 million a year for this guy? That could be the worst free agent signing in the NHL. That money should have gone to a proven wingman for Mats. It sucks to see him continue to fly solo. I'd like Maurice to put Tucker and Sundin together. He might as well. What more do we have to lose?
As bitter as I am right now, I'm a Leafs fan til I die. The blue and white still runs in my body, and will continue to do so until I leave this world, whether this team ever wins or not. I believe tomorrow could always be the day it all turns around, the stars align, and the hockey gods shine down on Toronto. As bad as the Leafs are, as little hope they show me, I still believe it could happen, and I'll always hope for it to happen. The Toronto Maple Leafs are my team. My bitterness is simply my passion, because there's nothing I want more than for the Maple Leafs to win Lord Stanley's Cup.
I leave you with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, which has absolutely nothing to do with sports, and deals with issues much greater and much more important than sports. I'm absolutely taking it out of context here, but it's a fantastic quote, one I truly believe describes my life as a die-hard fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope."
-- Martin Luther King
November 30, 2006
It's an exciting time for sports fans in Toronto. The Leafs are well into the hockey season, the Raptors have played 15 games, and J.P. Ricciardi is probably one of the busiest men on the sports planet as the Jays have come out swinging again in baseball's offseason.
First things first, let me officially welcome Frank Thomas to Toronto. He talked about looking forward to playing in baseball's "glory division", the American League East, and that sits well with me. This division ain't no joke, and a healthy and productive Thomas will be crucial for the Jays to continue up the AL East ladder. The Jays made the Rogers Centre a home run haven last season, and here's to Thomas joining the party.
Gregg Zaun is also officially back in the mix for the Jays, and that didn't look like it was going to happen a couple of days ago. The Jays had an agreement in principle with Rod Barajas, but it broke down Tuesday night, after Barajas apparently backed out of the deal. Now I wasn't too sure why JP and the Jays had all this interest in Barajas. He's not even that good. He's a tad bit younger than Zauner, and throws out a few more guys, but other than that Zaun's a much better player.
I'm really glad Zauner is back in the fold. I logged onto tsn.ca late Tuesday night and saw that the Barajas deal fell through and I was pretty shocked, but happy, about it. Sort of like George Costanza - restrained jubilation. It just didn't make sense, because Barajas was supposed to just take a physical, and would be introduced at the same press conference as The Big Hurt.
Now I've heard that Barajas got cold feet, fired his agent and then wanted to renegotiate. I also heard that the MLB Players Association also gave him a call, and asked him what in God's name he was doing taking a paycut as a free agent. Either way, something happened, he backed out of the deal. JP got pissed, called Zaun, and they were able to hammer out a deal. I read in the Star that Zaun had cancelled his cell phone service and was to go to New York to talk to the Yankees about joining them as a backup catcher. That says a lot. He totally believed his time with the Jays was done. But Zaun's back, and he's glad to be back. I like Zauner. He's a patient hitter, he takes walks and his on-base percentage is way higher than Barajas'. And Zaun wants to be here - he likes the team and the city. He's one of the more vocal guys on the team and is definitely a leader.
I like to root for guys like Zaun. He was a backup catcher his whole career, and never really gave a damn about anything. He started drinking and became possessed by the demons of alcohol. A serious drinking problem and terrible attitude pretty much killed his baseball career and he was released by the Expos in 2004. He signed on as a backup catcher with the Jays, gave up the alcohol, and changed his attitude. He got to play due to injuries with the Jays, and really made his mark. He didn't complain once when the Jays screwed him and signed Molina last season. He just said he would put the team first, and he did his job pretty damn well. He put up solid numbers and proved he should be a starter. He supposedly stood up to Shea Hillenbrand during the whole Hillend-gate fiasco, he works well with the pitching staff, and he's a good role model for the young players. It's pretty uncommon to turn a career, on life support, around at age 32. Props out to my man Zauner.
JP wasn't done there. He's supposedly signed Royce Clayton to a one year, $1.5 million contract. Clayton's not a very good hitter, but he's good with the glove. This means Hill is the everyday second baseman, and this kid's only going to bet bettter, so its nice to see he'll have some stability on the field. I don't mind Clayton. JP tried to get Adam Kennedy, but he went to St. Louis. Either way, the question mark that existed in the middle infield, no longer exists.
JP's also been wooing Gil Meche. He was in town and was treated to dinner and a Leafs game. In a perfect world, the Jays could resign Lilly and pick up Meche, but the chances of that are slim. I wouldn't mind either one of those two pitchers, although I'd probably like to have the southpaw Lilly a bit more.
Speaking of pitchers, I wonder what the Jays are going to do with Josh Towers? He's still under contract next year at over $2 million. That bastard.
Anywho, what does it all mean? It means the JP and the Jays are really trying to take the next step, and I commend them for that. In JP Ricciardi I trust - it's been my motto for a few years now. The guy just looks like he knows what he's doing. Baseball's annual Winter Meetings get started on Friday, and there's definitely going to be some fireworks, and hopefully we'll have a pitcher, or two, by the time this weekend is through. Good luck JP, bring home the bacon!
Back to back losses on home ice for the Leafs against the Bruins. Not exactly what the team was looking for, eh? What makes it more disheartening is that the Leafs had Sunday and Monday to watch film and figure out how to beat those bloody Bruins. They trapped it up again but the Leafs can't be faulted for their effort. They had 46 shots, I beleaf, on Tim Thomas. In Washington, everything went in. Against Boston, nothing went in. What can you do? That's how it goes, especially in a game of inches. Just got to keep on skating and firing pucks to the net.
Big game tomorrow night in the A-town facing the Trashers. The Leafs have lost three of their last four. Any prolonged 8 or 10 game losing stretch will cost a team a playoff spot this year. Consistency is the only way of getting into the playoffs. The Leafs went on a big losing streak last year in January, and that's why they missed the dance. I'm interested in seeing how this team bounces back from a few losses, especially a difficult one on Tuesday against Boston. Paul Maurice has to prepare this team. He's got to make sure everyone knows what is at stake. Certain players, like Mats, and Kabby, and Darcy have to make sure this team doesn't slide into a prolonged funk. This team simply can't afford it.
I read before Tuesday's game that some players on Boston were going to shoot up high on Raycroft, because they know his tendencies. Wouldn't you know it, the first two goals by the B's were up high, glove side. Raycroft's got to be a little more solid in the net for the Leafs, and when the team is down 2-1, he just has to make sure he keeps the score that way.
Oh, and JFJ made a trade! Mikael Tellqvist for a 4th round pick and agitator Tyson Nash. This trade doesn't mean all that much. Tellqvist had his chance last year, to become the goalie of the present for the Leafs, but he blew his chance. Aubin came in, and the rest is history. I'm not sure he'll ever be more than a backup goalie in the NHL, but I wish him well, and thank him for his service. As for Nash, he'll be joining the Marlies, where he should be staying. He's annoying, and just takes penalties. And isn't that what Wade Belak is for? I'll take the 4th round draft pick for Tellqvist anyday.
Oh, one more thing. Does anyone else find it extremely exruciating to watch Alex Steen struggle so mightily? He had 45 points last year. Now he's on pace for 4 goals. Brutality is there.
What does it all mean? It means that the next couple of games will really test the mental fortitude of this Leafs team. The Leafs were taught a valuable lesson last year when their losing slide cost them a playoff spot. Here's hoping they learned it.
The Raptors lost to the Dallas Mavericks tonight, a game they didn't have a prayer winning.
I haven't written about the Raptors yet, but they've now completed their first month of the season, with a record of five wins and ten losses. Last November, they won one game. Like I always tell my girlfriend, I'm all about progress. Four more wins! We're going in the right direction. The best part is, the Raps are only one game out of first place in the division. New Jersey, along with the ultimate bitch Vince Carter, lead the division with a fantastic 6-9 record. That's just pathetic, but great for the Raptors.
It's hard to imagine where this team would be without Chris Bosh. He's averaging a double-double a night, and has turned into a force in this league. Only in his early twenties, he's the face of the franchise and a leader on the court. His maturation process has been quick and smooth, and it's been a pleasure watching him develop into the player he is today. He really could turn out to be the next Kevin Garnett, and that's music to my ears. There was a game against Golden State earlier on in the year, where Bosh went ballistic on #1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani got beaten on defense on back-to-back possessions and Bosh just let him have it. It was great to see Bosh getting emotional and trying to set a fire under Bargnani. Props to Bosh, for signing a contract extension and leading the way for the Raptors.
I like what Bryan Colangelo has done with this team. I'll devote a post to the Raptors soon enough.
Calderon is playing great and with 25 x the confidence he had last year. I like Garbajosa, he's a blue collar guy who fights under the glass. Rasho Nesterovic provides inner defence the Raptors so badly need, and another big body under the glass. Anthony Parker hasn't really got his offensive game going yet, but he's a solid defender, and you can never have too many of those. Fred Jones has been inconsistent, but he's got the ability to take the ball to the rack, and he'll be successful when he does that on a regular basis. TJ Ford has come as advertised - he's quick as hell. Sometimes too quick for his own good, as he gets under the rim so fast that it's like he doesn't know what to do once he gets there. He likes to pass the ball though, and that's refreshing. He had a game where he picked up 20 assists, and that's certainly encouraging. He's also so young, and Colangelo has locked him up for a few years, which is good to see. The foundation is there.
Speaking of foundation, how about my main man Andrea Bargnani? This kid has been, pardon my Italian, mucho bella! After riding the bench to start the season, Mitchell has increased the kids floor time and he's proving it to be a good decision. Bargnani is 7 foot 1, but he can put the ball on the floor and drive, or pull up for a jumper. He's got fantastic range and also isn't afraid to jack it up from behind the arc. I'm really tickled with excitement about this kid. He really does seem to have limitless potential, and although I know it's early, just like my man JP Ricciardi, I trust in Bryan Colangelo. Just look at the way he dresses. Always in an immaculate suit and looking fly. How can you not trust a man that looks that good and that confident? Do your thing Colangelo.
Interesting tidbit. The Raps were down about 20 points tonight in the 4th quarter, and their streak of hitting a three ball in 628 straight games was about to end. They got the ball with about 15 seconds to go and Derek Martin was dribbling out the clock. With about half a second left, he jacked up a three ball and SWISH! I found it rather amusing that in a game the Raps lost 117-98, Chuck Swirsky ended the game yelling "OH MY GOODNESS ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!? ONIONS BABY ONIONS!!"
Such are the times in Raptor-land.
What does it all mean? It means five wins is better than one, and that the Raptors are getting better. It means Chris Bosh is still only 22. It means for Andrea Bargnani, the sky is the limit. It means we have to be patient. As of tonight, we're only a game out of first place. I can't complain about that.
November 27, 2006
It was quite the intense weekend.
It began with the 7-1 beating the Leafs handed down to the Washington Capitals. What can I say? It was just one of those nights when the Leafs had all the bounces and everything was going in. Seven different goal scorers, and still missing Mats Sundin. The recent stretch without the Captain has shown the character of this team. At the start of the year I, along with most everybody else, was wondering who the heck was going to score goals on this team. Behind Sundin, the offense looked a little weak. But 25 games into the season and the Leafs have scored 89 goals, good for second-best in the Eastern Conference, and third in the league! The scoring is there, and it's pretty spread out. On top of those pretty darn impressive numbers, Sundin has missed time, and guys who were being counted on like - cough cough - Alex Steen, have produced next to nothing (one bloody goal, and it was while he was on his rump in front of the net against Calgary). I got to shout out the Captain. In training camp Sundin was one of the few guys saying that he believed this team could score, and had the talent to do so. He was right, and he is wise.
Saturday the Bruins came to town. The schedule is rearing its ugly head again, as these teams met for the third time in a week. I'm hating the 8 divisional games, and this is exactly why. Boston plays some incredibly boring hockey, and I don't really want to see them this often. It's not fun. It's not the "new NHL". The Bruins are great at shutting down the attack through the neutral zone, and the Leafs just can't do anything against them. I believe they are emplyoying the dreaded neutral zone trap, and it's working against the Leafs, who cannot be successful unless they can play the strong forechecking game that has become the norm under Paul Maurice. The game ended 3-1, and Tim Thomas played well for the Bruins again, although he wasn't tested as much as he should have been.
The third period in the game was definitely extremely entertaining. Way more than the second. I'm not sure how many rum and cokes I had, although I was starting to get up there, but I thought the third period was as good as any period I'd seen all year. The Leafs were down 2-1 and were pressing real hard. They were skating well, and generating chances. The play was back and forth and it honestly felt like a playoff game, and I was sure the Leafs were going to tie it up. But Boston did get the go ahead goal, and ironically it was Brad Boyes, the former Leaf who was traded for Owen Nolan.
Big Mats returned for this tilt, and almost typically after a 7-1 blowout, Sundin was the only one able to get one past Thomas. Those ten minutes in the third made the game. Otherwise it was another snoozer.
Thanks to the wonderful schedule the Bruins are in town on Tuesday as well. Hopefully the Leafs can adjust and take it to the B's this time. Oh, and props to Darcy Tucker for absolutely shollacking Zdeno Chara in the corner. Chara's a HUGE dude. We all remember how he bounced Bryan McCabe on the ice like a rag doll. It takes quite a lot of testicular fortitude to attempt and successfully knock him down with a good bodycheck. That's the beauty of Darcy Tucker. He has no fear, and doesn't play as if he is only five foot nine. He's an Alberta boy, that Tucker, but he's a born and bred Maple Leaf. God bless him.
Sunday was the annual trip with friends to the disgusting city of Buffalo for an NFL game between the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. First of all, I want to thank God for the beautiful weather he blessed us with on this trip. This was the third year in a row I've gone down for a game with friends, and the weather the last two times hasn't been that great. This time it was sunny and almost 12 or 13 degrees celsius. Splendid weather!
I'm not sure I'll ever understand why people tailgate and get hammered so early in the morning to watch a football game, but it's fun to do once a year. I can't imagine how much alcohol is consumed before and during a football game in Buffalo. It's actually kind of disturbing. One ritual that my friends and I employ, which I absolutely love, is the beer session outside the gate of the stadium. We stand in a circle, pop open a number of beers, and everyone takes a swag or two or three and passes it on, till all the beer is done. Sounds charming eh? I know. It is.
I lodged on the American side of Niagara Falls, for the first time ever in life, on Saturday night. The American side of the falls is a disgrace. It's dirty. It stinks. It's just a very shoddy place. The Canadian side is hella better. I can't believe how terrible the U.S. side really is. It's not developed at all, and the casino looks like a convention centre turned casino. And the casino took a lot of my money. That adds to my disdain of the city.
I guess Niagara Falls, New York is a lot like Buffalo, New York. I'm so glad I don't live in Buffalo. It's a hideous city. The houses look terrible and very old. I'm hating, I know, but it's really bad down there. Toronto's marvellous, and the two cities can't even be compared. I guess going down there just makes me appreciate Toronto and it's people even more.
I'd definitely encourage sports fans to go to an NFL game once in their lifetime. It's a very interesting experience. Like I said, there's alcohol galore, and almost everyone is intoxicated. Men, women, children. Ok, well not really the children, but I wouldn't be surprised if a few were. Our group - Forty's 20 - had endzone seats that were pretty damn good. It was our first time in the endzone, and let me tell you, I've never been in a louder stadium.
It was a close game, the Bills won 27-24 on a last second field goal. The Jags tied it up with less than a minute left in the 4th quarter, and on their drive, they took 2 offside penalties that were a direct result of the crowd. The crowd really becomes the 12th man in football. It was pretty intense to be a part of that.
I'm not sure how old Ralph Wilson Stadium out in Orchard Park is, but Ralph, if you can see this, you need to invest in new washrooms. It's a pretty strange set up they got going down there. The men's washrooms employ the trough-style urinal. One long communal pisser. Everyone's hammered, and the line's get tremendously long. It's also a bit intimidating, because of the lack of privacy. A couple of us were talking about "stage fright" and all the pressure due to the ridiculously long lines. It's true! It's not a comfortable situation to be going to the washroom, especially as a young, brown fellow, amidst a sea of George W. Bush loving white men.
Anyway, the sink to wash your hands is like the one from my old high school - a communal sink, where u press the lever with your foot below, in order to get the water to come out. Now get this - the lines for the washrooms were so long, that fully grown men were relieving themselves in the sink. It was one of the most disgusting things I have seen in a long time, and I couldn't believe the amount of people doing this. I mean come on. We've all got to use the urinal, and we've all got to wait. For grown men to stoop that low was sickening. It turned me off of the Bills, the stadium and the city of Buffalo. Certainly there's no shout outs for the people of Buffalo. Damn sickos.
All in all, it was a great weekend. I hate to end the post on the washroom ettiquite of Buffalonians, or lack there of, but it was quite the pathetic display.
My friend Mike put it best:
"Stay classy, Buffalo!"
Goodnight, wonderful city of Toronto...
November 23, 2006
Difficult loss for the Leafs down in Buffalo tonight. 7-4 final. The score doesn't do the Leafs justice though. They fought back from being down 4-2 and the game was tied at 4 with about 6 minutes left. Raycroft messed up. It was a bad clearing attempt behind the net, and the puck ended up in our net. Just one of those things that happens every now and then. It was just brutal that it happened tonight. Excruciating timing. Raycroft's not going to get a lot of sleep tonight. But it happens. I'm a goalie too, I know how it feels. And believe me, it's not a good feeling. Knowing that you've let your teammates down, the guys you go to battle with, is not a pleasant feeling. But that's life - I trust that Raycroft will bounce back.
My two beefs of the night:
1) I hate that bloody horn down in Buffalo. It's not like other goal horns. It's louder. And comes off as too aggressive and abnoxious. The fact that I heard it seven times tonight probably made it get under my skin a little more, but that doesn't matter. I'm not feeling that horn.
2) What's up with the Sabres celebrating every goal like it's the greatest goal ever scored? They seem to be loving the arm pumpage. Afinogenov did it, Novotny did it, and Briere did it twice. Briere's game winning goal was absolutely brutal. Raycroft was on his derriere, after he tripped over himself, and Briere had an open net. Yet there he goes, skating into the corner, pumping his arm as if he'd just deked out the entire team. Briere needs a beating. The Sabres are annoyingly fast and extremely agitating. But they need to relax on the celebrations, otherwise it will come back to haunt them.
The Leafs should have had a point tonight as it was there for the taking. I hate games like these because these days it seems like every point squandered will come back to get you. The Leafs are done one quarter of their season, and are sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Games like these bother me, but I can't be upset with how the team has performed so far. In my last post, I asked for the hockey Gods to throw us a bone, and ease up on the injuries. The next night, Raycroft went down with his groin injury. Then Aubin missed a game with the flu. It's been one thing after another, and with all the injuries, I must admit the Leafs have done well so far through the first part of the season.
In this era of the salary cap, it's a lot more difficult to make trades, especially when injuries strike. The Leafs have been able to win games with a patched up defence core and without Mats Sundin. It's a testament to the system John Ferguson Jr. has set up in Toronto, and I think it's fair that he's been given a contract extension. But Johnny boy, don't take my words as a vote of confidence. I've still got my eye on you.
Sundin's been out for 6 games. I miss you bud. I hope to see you back on the ice on Saturday. The Buds have won three games, and lost three games since the Captain went down. I'll take that record without our best player. All I wanted was for us to stay afloat, and play .500 hockey. Kudos to guys for stepping up and playing well in Sundin's absence. I don't know who that guy wearing #80 is out there for the Leafs, but it's definitely not the Antropov of old. This is the Antropov that teases us with all the potential. And he's doing it again. My brother said it best, it's just about time he gets injured again. Wellwood has been great moving back to centre, and Poni is just evolving into a fantastic winger. I love the way he cuts in and drives to the net, using that big body of his. Only 13 goals to go baby!
The offence sputtered for a couple of games without Sundin, both losses to the Bruins and Devils, who play the most boring hockey ever. Both games were incredibly boring. I'm falling asleep just thinking about them. Back to my point - Sundin's a huge part of this team, and I think overall the team has done well without him. Peca has been a force on the PK all year, and although I long for the days when he could score 20 goals, I think he's doing a superb job with this team.
I can't say enough about Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe, and most of all, may main man Tomas Kaberle. Tucker's got 15 goals, McCabe and Kaberle are I think tied for the top scoring defenceman and I truly believe that Kaberle is one of the most gifted defenseman to ever play for the Leafs. This guy can just pass the puck like nobody's business. It's beautiful to watch. The grace, the composure. Kabby is just a pleasure, and I can't wait to get his number 15 printed on the back of my jersey. So good, yet still so underrated.
I must admit, I love Paul Maurice. This guy is one helluva coach, and exactly the tonic this Leafs team needed. He knows when to get on the team. He knows when to lay off. He knows when to call a time-out. He just knows how to coach. A lot of media types are saying that the Leafs are the surprise team this year in the NHL. I'm not sure if I'd label them that, although I'm not really sure what expectations I had for them this year. I thought they would be competitive, but I guess they have exceeded most of my expectations. I just love the style of play Maurice employs. Everyone's got to work hard and be aggressive, and the hard work seems to be paying off. It's just such a much needed change from the laid back attitude under Pat Quinn, where players weren't really held accountable, and hard work was never encouraged. Maurice is the perfect man to be steering this Leafs ship. I've definitely bought into what he's been selling.
Before I leave you, some random thoughts:
- I read in the Star that the combined salaries of Frank Catallanotto and Shea Hillenbrand were $8.5 million last season. Both contracts are off the books now, and Thomas comes into the mix at $9 million. An actual increase of $500,000 in payroll for a DH who got some MVP consideration. Booyah! So all of you who say it's a bad signing, shutup.
- The aforementioned Catallannotto is now a Texan Ranger, and Justin Speier is now a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim. Two classy guys who played well in their years with the Blue Jays. Their service is appreciated, and I wish em well.
- Morneau wins the American League MVP. I found out from the little tv screen in an elevator at work. It definitely took me by surprise. When I read the information, I just said "What?!?" and the person next to me looked like I was crazy. I thought, and still think, Jeter deserved it. Didn't think Morneau had a shot. Shows how much I know.
- Canadian's have won the MVP's in baseball, hockey and basketball in the last year. That is pretty incredible. Well done Justin Morneau, Joe Thornton and Steve Nash.
- Just imagine how bad the Toronto Raptors would be without Chris Bosh.
- Quebec as a nation within Canada? Stephen Harper is an idiot. Someone, please remind me to vote in the next election.
November 17, 2006
Frank Thomas, the newest member of the Toronto Blue Jays. That one certainly came out of left field. Most definitely took me by surprise. It's been about 24 hours since the rumour broke that Thomas and the Jays are close to a deal. Reports out of Florida say that pending a Thomas physical, the deal is all but done and will be announced Friday.
In that case, let me be the first to welcome The Big Hurt to the great city of Toronto. A great place for him to play out the rest of what has been a solid career. Looks like J.P. Ricciardi has surprised Toronto, and the baseball world, once again.
When I first heard the news I was, first of all, very surprised. It was just so unexpected. Once I picked up my jaw off the floor I was able to say, "Yeah, one of the Jays' biggest holes is at designated hitter."
I don't care how old Thomas is - 38 by the way. I don't care that last year was his first injury free season in the last three years. Right now, all I care about is his 37 home runs and 100+ rbi's. Honestly, none of the past matters. Not to me. Not right now, anyway. I'm looking at this signing with pure, 100% optimism. JP just added another big bat to an already potent line-up.
Now most of the comments I've heard in regards to this signing have been negative. The majority of Torontonian's who follow the Jays with a passion are ripping JP for this deal. I've heard all the regular ones:
"He's too old. He's too injury prone. What is JP thinking? Why didn't we get Zito? What about Lilly? Why didn't we keep Delgado a few years ago?"
And my favourite one of all: "How could we give him $10 million!?!?"
I just don't get why people are so fixated on the salary. Really, who cares? Is the money coming out of our pockets? No. Not at all. This is Ted Rogers' money, and if he wants to spend it on putting a solid team together, who are we to argue and complain about the salary. Bob McCown is dead on - the Jays can pay him $20 million for all I care. It doesn't matter.
Now I know I'll get some people saying his salary will be reflected in Jays ticket prices, or concession prices. Something. Anything. But the truth is, even if the Jays raise tickets by $1, is that going to stop you from heading out to the Rogers Centre to watch a game? Give me a break. You know that by going to a game, you're going to spend a certain amount of coin, even if the team is crap. You know how much a ticket goes for, on average, and you know you're going to be paying too much for food. Ticket prices are always going up, and the Jays haven't been to the playoffs since my bloody youth. I'm 24. I'll pay a few extra bucks the one or two times I go watch a game if it means we make the playoffs.
Now I know it's dangerous to manage a team using the Leafs "pick up a veteran 5 years removed from his best season" mentality. It's definitely a gamble. A gamble worth $20 million. But seriously, come up with a better excuse as to why you think Thomas should not be a Blue Jay. Don't mention the money, and we can have a decent discussion on the topic. It's going on Ted's tab, so lets not go crazy over the amount, ok?
Now there are viable viewpoints out there, as to why this is not a good signing. I've heard someone say that the Jays lineup is already strong enough, why add another bat? Now my take on the situation is this: everyone knows pitching is, and always will be, at a premium. It's tough to put together a solid starting rotation. Even the Yankees and Red Sox, who have the deepest pockets in baseball, can't put together a great rotation on the regular. It's simply difficult to do. In light of that, Boston this week payed some Japanese ballclub $51 million just to NEGOTIATE a contract with a Japanese import pitcher, who's clearly the next best thing since sliced bread. That is an absoloutely ridiculous amount of money, and it clearly highlights the problems in baseball's economic system.
The thing that pisses me off is, first of all, that we are stuck in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox. I read an SI piece about how it's incredible that the Red Sox call the Yanks the "Evil Empire" when they conduct business the same way as the boys from NYC. They're both "Evil Empires" and how in hell are the Jays supposed to compete with these guys? It's infuriating. That's one thing I like about JP Ricciardi. He's trying. He's doing all he can. Last year we "overpaid" BJ Ryan and AJ Burnett, but once again, WHO CARES? JP's not creating the market. The market is being set by teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, who pay anyone anything.
The $51 million paid by Boston to the Japanese team WILL NOT COUNT AGAINST THEIR PAYROLL and therefore the Rex Sox will not be taxed for it under baseball's luxury tax system. They just paid an amount that would probably equal the payrolls of both the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, to negotiate with a player. And teams like the Royals, Pirates, and Jays, won't see a penny out of that, even though revenue sharing exists. It's absurd. I could go on, but that's my point - baseball spending is out of control, and unless the fans want to watch the team sit around and do NOTHING, we have to pay free agents like Frank Thomas the money the market defines for them. If JP could get Thomas for $5 million, I'm sure he would.
Back to my point - pitching is at a premium. All pitchers get overpaid. Wait and see the amount of money thrown at Ted Lilly, who's nothing more than a 3rd or 4th starter, with a career record hovering around .500. The Jays can't afford to match the Yanks and Red Sox when they offer pitchers ridiculous amounts of money. We just can't do it. Now we've got 2 really good pitchers, and a decent third starter. We'd love to get Lilly back, but the odds are not in our favour. If the pitching is too expensive, we might as well try and assemble the most powerful lineup that we can. The Jays already boasted an incredible offense, and with the hole at DH thanks to the departure of Shea Hillenbrand, who better to fill it than The Big Hurt? Wells, Rios, Glaus, Overbay, Thomas. It's the Toronto BOMB Jays!
We can't afford the best pitchers. We've already got the best in Doc Halladay, and if AJ Burnett can pitch how he did in the final two months of the season, Toronto will have a formidable one-two punch in the rotation. So I applaude JP for going out and signing another big bat. Why the hell not?
JP's still got lots of work to do though. Frank Catalanatto, Justin Speier, Bengie Molina, Ted Lilly and Gregg Zaun are all free agents. Supposedly JP has been talking to Rod Barajas' agent. I wouldn't mind him as our new catcher. I'm good with any of those three - Zaun, Molina or Barajas. My gut tells me Zaun will be back. I was hoping The Cat would be back in the fold but with the signing of Thomas, I doubt it. I think Reed Johnson is ready to play everyday, anyway, so I thank The Cat for his service, and wish him well. I'm really hoping there's someway we can get Speier and Lilly back, although retaining both of them seems difficult. Brandon League was lights out last season, and if Speier does end up with another team, League is going to have to step into the set-up role and take care of business.
There's also the business of assessing the middle infield. Have the Blue Jays given up on Russ Adams? I know a lot of people have. I think I'm one of them, although I don't mind giving him one last shot to become an everyday second basemen.
I love the off-season, for all these reasons and more. I also heard the Jays are interested in Mark Mulder. He'll definitely come cheaper than Ted Lilly, and of what I remember of him from his days in Oakland, I'd love to see him in a Jays uniform.
Will JP resign Vernon long term? I think it's pretty clear the Jays won't be trading him in the off-season. I think that's wise. He's under contract for next year, we might as well keep him. He's amazing. Every night before I turn in, I pray to God that Vernon will sign an extension. But I'm not going to hold my breath.
Frank Thomas, welcome to Toronto. People might be hating, but I'm happy your here.
If you're out there and reading, leave a comment and tell me what you think about the newest member of the Blue Jays family.
Oh, and thanks, Mr. Rogers.