December 23, 2006

A Busy Time of Year

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.

Goodnight, Toronto...