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