October 31, 2006

Thrashing Victory

Don't let the title of the post fool you - tonight's game between the Leafs and Thrashers was pretty much a snooze fest. The game was decided in the first period. The Leafs scored three power play goals after they fell behind 1-0 on a pretty sweet goal by Ilya Kovalchuk, which was a power play marker too. He came in the zone with some crazy speed and took a wrist shot that went right through Ian White's legs and into the back of the net. Raycroft's still looking for it.

I was totally expecting a loss from the Leafs tonight. Once they fell behind 1-0 I figured it was going to be a long night, but they bounced back quickly, and I think that was the key in the game. Atlanta's been crazy hot to start the season - they were the first team to finally beat the Sabres and keep them from a record 11-0 start. The Leafs still hold the mark for best start to open a season - 10-0 with no shootout wins in the 93/94 season. The Buffalo Sabres, their ugly fans, their ugly city and their ugly jerseys can go screw themselves. But yeah, the Thrashers have been hot, and the Leafs haven't been all that splendid on home ice. So I was Mr. Negativity tonight. I even took the Thrashers in pro line. By two! I deserved to lose that ticket, don't know what I was thinkin.

I don't know what it is about the Thrashers but they certainly bring out the best in our power play, and god bless them for that. Three power play goals tonight, two courtesy of the goal scoring machine known as Darcy Tucker. He's already got 9 on the season and I think 6 have come from the exact same spot. And the real Tomas Kaberle is certainly back, he scored another goal tonight. Glad to have you back Kabby. And Mats picked up three assists on the power play goals. Jeff O'Neill bagged the only even strength goal of the night. He's doing alright in a reduced role with the team. I guess when he's not out there that often he can't piss me off.

I was lobbying for Aubin to start tonight but Maurice made the right call by going back to Raycroft. I'm a goalie, I know how fragile a goalie's confidence can be. It's delicate. It must be nurtured. Going to Aubin tonight would put Raycroft in a position where he would start to question himself. We can't have that. Raycroft is the man right now, and Maurice made the right decision. Razor played well. That last goal was pure CHEESE thanks to the referee getting in the way, but thats how it goes. It was 4-1, so it didn't matter much.

Antropov has now played two games this season. And the Leafs are 2-0. Coincidence? Maybe not...

Who am i kidding? Of course it is! I give Antropov about 7 more games til he either:
a) injures himself skating
b) gets injured when someone lays a pinky on him

It's just a matter of time.

That's the first two game win streak of the season my friends. I shall sleep easy tonight.

Goodnight, Toronto...

October 28, 2006

Les Habitants

Leafs took out the Habs 5-4 in la Belle Provence tonight. Leafs/Habs games are pretty good these days. Pretty intense. I think the two teams are pretty equal, man for man. The games are competitive, and entertaining, especially compared to the rapings Ottawa hands us on the regular. And the crowd up in Montreal is boisterous to say the least. I wish the ACC was as loud as that, minus the weak "ole ole" chants and the counting down of penalties, out loud. That is whack.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are consistently inconsistent. And I'm not talking game to game, I'm talking period to period. One thing they are consistent at however, is blowing leads. Happened again tonight. Twice. And in the third period. Again. Not habits the Leafs want to be employing this early in the season. Every time the Leafs have a lead in the third I start looking around for the Staples Easy Button, because I know things are about to get crazy.

It was a weird game, and the Leafs dominated most of it. I mean we outshoot the Habs freakin 51-22 and we're going to overtime. Aubin didn't play all that great but he was ridiculous in the shootout, so props to him for getting us 2 points. I don't care how it gets done, it just needs to happen right now.

THANK GOD the real Tomas Kaberle came back tonight. Three goals and one assist. That's my boy! He was all over the place tonight, even forechecking and making a decent body check on his second goal. The hat-trick goal was awful, but I'm hella happy for Kabs. I don't know who that other Kaberle was, the first 10 games of the season. And how about the shootout goal? It was a beauty. I've been pleading Kabby's shootout case for the past little while. The guys we send out there just aren't getting it done, and tonight Kabby and Wellwood were the ones who won it for us. I think more people in Toronto need to be representing Kaberle jerseys. Mine is in the mail.

And Mats, even my mom knows you're gonna shoot high glove side in the shootout. Change it up once in a while!

We got two points. But we gave Montreal one point, which they totally didn't deserve. The Leafs have handed away a lot of points already this season. Idiots. I think Aubin should play again on Monday night, especially after he redeemed himself in the shootout. He'll be confident after tonight.

I don't understand why Maurice basically only runs five defenceman. Harrison played only 6 minutes tonight. I think he's able to play at least 12-14 minutes a night. He's got to be. White played almost 25 minutes tonight! It's kinda crazy because I don't think White is that good. He's definitely at the top of the depth chart when it comes to all these young d-men we've got, but easy cowboy. I think the Leafs are seriously stunting the growth of Harrison. Bell has looked good, and I think Harrison has some potential. Although I can't wait till Kubina and Colaiacovo can come back, those guys are the real deal. We just have to play.500 hockey until we get some bodies back.

Antropov played tonight. We won. Coincidence.? Yes. Not just a coincidence, a BIG coincidence (memories of Elaine Benes telling Raaaaava about the degrees of coincidence).

It was a tough week. I'm not even going to get into the Ottawa games. I was going to write after we lost the second one, but it would have been full of hatred and anger, so I aborted. I'm getting used to them kicking the living crap out of us. That's disturbing. I even sit through the entire games! I'll be honest, I like the fact that Leafs are pretty much, by definition, sore losers. We go out like pure bitches, especially against Ottawa. But I dig it. If we're getting our asses kicked, we might as well go out like a bunch of idiots. How much dignity is left when you're down 7-2?

We'll get those bastards from Ottawa...we'll get them one day...

Goodnight, Toronto...

Dream Weaver

The never ending baseball season has, well, come to an end. The St. Louis Cardinals are the World Series champions tonight, and are probably ridiculously drunk right about now.

Three things stood out for me tonight as I watched St. Louis capture the title.

1) The Cards play in the best named stadium ever - Busch Stadium
2) It shouldn't be called the "World Series". Hello, the Japanese won the World Baseball Classic.
3) The Cardinals won 83 games this season, and are the champs. The Jays won 87 games this season, and missed the playoffs by 8 games. That makes me angry, and sad, at the same time. Such is the life of a Blue Jays fan.

The Cards won the least amount of regular season games of any playoff team, but they're goin home with the hardware. It goes to show that a team just has to get hot at the right time. Once the playoffs start, everyone's on the same level and the regular season is deemed meaningless.

One player who can attest to that has gotta be Jeff Weaver. What an incredible ride this season was for him. And what a way to end it. Weaver pitched a tremendous game tonight, and it was good to see a guy who's been torn apart everywhere he's been have some success.

Weaver's story is like a fairytale, and I'm sure he thinks he's dreaming tonight.

He started this season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (I wonder what genius came up with that name) - his fifth team in the last six years. He started his career in Detroit, then wore Yankee pinstripes, then Dodger blue, then became an Angel. It's how he became a Cardinal that I find so fascinating.

Weaver's got a lifetime record of 94 wins and 115 losses. But he's the type of guy who will always have a job in somebody's rotation, and he takes home a pretty decent paycheque. He's just got so much potential. That's been the story of his whole career. He's got all the tools and the talent, he just can't seem to put it together mentally. Gee, where the hell have I heard that before? Freakin A.J. Burnett. Yes, Blue Jay fans, A.J. Burnett is the second coming of Jeff Weaver!

Anyway, back to this season. Weaver was, well, even worse than usual for the Angels. His younger brother Jered Weaver, also a starting pitcher and also on the Angels, was called up early in the season to fill in for an injured Kelvim Escobar. Jered Weaver was "off the heezy, indeed", like the Schick Quattro commercial. Jeff Weaver, not so much. The older Weaver went 3-10 for the Angels, with a NASTY 6.29 E.R.A. before he was designated for assignment by the ballclub at the end of June.

Designated for assignment because of your younger brother. Out of a job because of baby bro. That's got to be a little tough on the ego.

On July 5th, Jeff Weaver was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for some jobber.

Can you say destiny?

Weaver pitched ok for the Cardinals down the stretch - he was his usual "Jeff Weaver makes me want to pull my own hair out" inconsistent self. But he was a different Jeff Weaver in the playoffs. He went 4-2, with an E.R.A. under 3.00, and he pitched 8 superb innings tonight to clinch the title for the Cardinals.

How freakin improbable is that? He loses his job to his baby brother, gets one last chance with St. Louis, and gets torn apart in the media that he's soft and that he'll never get it right.

Well, he got it right. Jeff Weaver is a champion, and he's got one helluva story to tell his grandchildren. I hope the first telephone call Jeff Weaver made after the game was to his brother Jered, to thank him for taking his job, and getting him traded. Nobody could have written a better script.

And I'm not sure why, but I'm happy for the guy. For a man who's taken so much grief in his professional life, I think it's safe to say he deserves this.

Like Jerry Seinfeld said - "it's karma, Kramer."

Goodnight, Toronto...

October 27, 2006

Leaf Thoughts - Oct 10th, 2006

Well folks, the Leafs season is under way. Here at Sports and The City, it’s all about my opinion, and you’re going to get a lot of it here. With that said, here’s the first of what I so creatively call: Leaf Thoughts – my take on the happenings in Leaf Nation.

Well, it’s been a week since the freakin’ Ottawa Senators came into town and ruined opening night. They’ve done that two years in a row now. You’re damn right I’m keeping score, although last year was just down right embarrassing. Battle of Ontario? It was more like the Beating of Ontario.

Although the Leafs lost, they played with the Sens. They actually had a decent game against them! A regular season game! One that counts! Right now, to begin this season – moral victories definitely count. Yes, the Leafs beat Ottawa in the final game of the regular season last year, but it was a completely meaningless game. After getting beaten like the piƱata in the Troy Glaus commercial all season, it didn’t matter. It didn’t hide the shame. After a couple of those Leafs/Sens games last year, I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, because I could swear Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza were still coming for more. Those merciless bastards.

The Sens definitely look like a different team – the loss of Chara really looks like it’s going to hurt. And the losses of Havlat and Smolinski are definitely noticeable. But they’re still a talented club.

The Leafs are certainly younger and quicker, and it showed. The score didn’t do the game justice, because the Leafs deserved a little better fate, although Gerber was solid. I still don’t think he’s the answer to Ottawa’s lifelong goaltending problem, but that’s better for Toronto.
Don’t get me wrong, the Leafs lost and it would have been a big boost to everyone – new coach, new approach, new attitude, new players – to start off with a win. It made the rematch against Ottawa all the more important, and I liked that. I was really curious to see how the Leafs would respond to another loss to Ottawa. Obviously, they didn’t want to lose two games to Ottawa to start the season. That would have been unacceptable.

Ahh, the rematch was a thing of beauty, eh? 6-0. Complete domination. Ruined their home opener. Sent Gerber to an early shower. It couldn’t have been better. Raycroft played well in the opener but he was fantastic the next night in Ottawa. He really stepped up. I couldn’t have written a better script.

There’s nothing like a solid beating of Ottawa. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with beating them, and it’s even better when it’s a laugher. I guess I can understand why they enjoyed kicking the crap out of the Leafs over and over and over and over again last year. It just doesn’t get old. I was on a Leafs high that night. I felt great.

Right then and there I knew this is different Leafs team. How about Kyle Wellwood? 4 assists. This kid has skills, and he’s going to get a chance to thrive playing with Sundin and seeing a lot of ice. He’s living the dream.

I’ll keep it simple. I’m liking what I see. The Leafs have already had two games in which they’ve managed to fire more than 45 shots at the opposition’s net – twice in the first four games. That only happened twice all season last year!

The opposition has found the twine behind Raycroft only 8 times in the first four games. That is the antithesis of Maple Leafs hockey! The Leafs on a couple of occasions in the last 3 years if I remember correctly, have let in eight goals in a single game - I try to block them out, but the memories haunt me.

The Leafs are skating hard and playing with speed through the neutral zone. The Florida game saw a couple of great back to back action moments. It was beautiful hockey to watch. The product on the ice is improved, and Maurice has brought with him a work ethic that this team needs.

Sundin looks great. He’s like a fine wine, he seems to get better with age. I know its early, but Raycroft is making it easier for me to sleep at night. Kubina has looked amazing out there! I’m almost giddy. But now he’s out 4-8 weeks. That’s a tough loss. I don’t want to think about it right now. Someone’s gotta step up.

My only beef? Belak, get him out of the line up!!!! He’s brutal. And Stajan. I don’t like Stajan.
A good start was crucial for this year’s edition of the Leafs. I’ve got a spring in my step. The hockey has been entertaining, and if the team continues to work hard like they are now – they will be competitive. As of right now, I’m buying into what John Ferguson Jr. and Paul Maurice are selling. Here’s hoping they can keep it up…

Goodnight, Toronto...

Let's Get This Party Started - Oct 4th, 2006

Sports and The City has officially begun! Thank you for joining me on the journey. I was thinking of the best way to commemorate the "grand opening" of the website, and I must say I came up with a pretty good idea - open letters to the General Managers of the Leafs, Jays and Raptors. I've got a lot to say to each of them. Since the NHL's regular season opens up tomorrow with another installment of the Battle of Ontario - it wasn't much of a battle last year eh?- I thought I'd start with good old John Ferguson Jr. of the Maple Leafs. So without further adieu, lets get this party started!

Dear John,

It’s late Tuesday night as I write you this letter. You must be tossing and turning in your bed. A new season full of new expectations gets under way tomorrow night. You must be nervous. I’m nervous for you. This is finally YOUR team, with YOUR coach and YOUR players. It’s all about you now John - and you’re going in with no contract after this year. I haven’t even heard a whisper about an extension. That’s rough. You scared? Yeah, if I were you, I’d definitely be scared. You know what happens if the team stumbles out of the gate, right? You’re gone. Fired. See ya! And we’re playing Ottawa four out of the first twelve games. Someone seriously needs to slap the schedule maker. But back to my point, your neck is definitely on the line. Sorry, I know, I’m stating the obvious.

John, I’m not going to hide the way I feel anymore. I’ve got to be honest with you. It’s the least I can do, and I think you deserve it. I’m worried. I’m scared. I need to know that you’re committed to this relationship. I need to know that we both want the same things. You know I’ll never leave you, and sometimes, I feel like you take advantage of that. We missed the playoffs last year John. Not one measly round. I know you’re trying your best, and I know a relationship like this will have its ups and downs, but you said you would never hurt me intentionally. Missing the playoffs hurt me John. It hurt me bad. The Leafs had been a serious Cup contender since 1998, until last year. I need to know that you’re doing all that you can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

I know you’re still relatively new as a General Manager. But John, that excuse can only fly for so long. Last season, you signed Jason Allison, Eric Lindros and Alex Khavanov. And you gave Belfour and Domi new contracts too. John, what the HELL were you thinking? You know what, I’m not going to go back into the past. There’s no point. I just need you to learn from your mistakes, and you’re not showing me that you are John.

You obviously figured out that defense and goaltending are our biggest problems - congratulations, that certainly must have been difficult. I was optimistic at first about the signings of Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina, but are they really the answers? Gill’s a beast, and I love his physical play, but he’s exactly the antithesis of the “new NHL”. I think if he and Jason Allison were to race, I’d probably fall asleep. Or stab myself with a pen. And $5 million for Kubina!? That’s Tomas Kaberle money John, and Kubina is no Kaberle. I know, I know, you have to overpay in free agency. But I just feel like giving guys like Brendan Bell, Jay Harrison, Staffan Kronwall and Ian White a shot at permanent NHL jobs was the better way to go. These guys are young and they’ve got speed, something both Kubina and Gill lack. And a three year contract for Gill? You’re killing me John.

Wait a second – I’ve got an idea. A charity race between Jason Allison and Hal Gill, sort of like the one between Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson years ago, when Johnson pulled up lame. It would be a ratings bonanza! I’m sure MLSE would be up for it - anything to make an extra dollar.

Sorry. I lost my train of thought. John, I’m not going to sit here and say that everything you’ve done has been completely idiotic. Thank God you bought out Belfour and Domi’s contracts. And I’m liking Paul Maurice. It was definitely time for a fresh, new approach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maurice is the perfect man for the job and I hope he whips the Leafs into shape. And I’ll be honest with you John, all those years that Mike Peca was playing for Buffalo, and Long Island, I secretly longed for him to be in the blue and white. You can’t go wrong adding a Peca to your lineup. I know he’ll teach the young forwards how to play more responsibly.

But you’re not off the hook just yet John. Raycroft? This is your answer to our goaltending problems? Granted, it won’t take much to be better than Belfour, but Raycroft’s numbers from last year are frightening. I’m talking Borat in his neon green one-piece swimsuit frightening. And why the heck did you sign him to a contract extension?!? He’s coming off the worst season EVER and you reward him with job and financial security? Good thinking. I wish I had a boss like you. Maybe I’d be a millionaire then too. Actually, I wish I just had a job, period. Anyways, I know you’ll say Raycroft's contract is a good move because he’s locked up for the next three years at a relatively cheap price, but what if he bombs? He’s likely to bomb, John. He had one good season. And that was before the game drastically changed. I’m really worried about him John. The Leafs need strong goaltending in order to be successful. It’s not a black and white issue. You better pray that Raycroft can step up, otherwise you’re out of a job by mid-November, you heard it hear first.

And why the hell was Raycroft handed the number one job in training camp? Who made this guy a number one goalie? He certainly wasn’t one last year. John, I don’t know if you’re aware of this but J.S. Aubin HAS NEVER LOST A GAME IN REGULATION TIME since he joined the Leafs. Not one. Yet he was automatically designated as a backup with Mikael Tellqvist. And for the love of God John, trade Tellqvist. He’s obviously not the future goaltender this team was looking for. Everyone knows Justin Pogge is the next big thing in net for the Leafs, so Tellqvist is absolutely useless to us now. Do it for him. Don’t keep three goalies with the big club - trade him now. If you need help, talk to Bryan Colangelo. He got an actual basketball player for Rafael Araujo. Imagine that.

And John, all I ask is that you listen sometimes. I begged and pleaded for you to sign Anson Carter. He was exactly what this team needed – a scoring winger. He wasn’t too old, he was coming off a career year and he was only looking for a one year deal. He’s from Toronto and even said he would like to play for the Leafs. Do you need someone to beat you over the head with a lead pipe or something? I’ll gladly do it. Two years ago, you could have had Carter, and now you let him pass us by again. I’m not sure I can forgive you for the same mistake twice John. Who is going to score goals for us now? The offense is incredibly weak. Mats can’t do everything.

I’m at my wits end John. I’m not sure this edition of the Leafs will be any more successful than last year’s. I’m sure we’ll be a little quicker, and God knows that’s a good thing, but I just don’t think we are where we need to be.

And John, it’s time to give up on Nik Antropov. I came into training camp willing to give him one last shot, but he injured himself again, and I’ve had it. He just can’t stay healthy. It’s different if someone lines him up and knocks him out, but he continually injures himself. You’re lucky. You didn’t draft him, so I can’t blame you for him. But trade him. Trade Antropov and Tellqvist for a freaking scout. Or a stationary bike. Yeah, a stationary bike. And then give that bike to Jeff O’Neill and tell him not to get off it until he’s in shape.

I’m worried and frustrated John. You need to fix this. In the meantime, don’t tell me it’s all going to be okay. Actions speak louder than words. Good luck John…