December 31, 2007

It's The Goaltending, Stupid!

The Toronto Maple Leafs were a naughty bunch this past year. Santa Claus said so. Thanks to an injury to starting goalie Vesa Toskala, Mr. Claus came down the chimney bearing the worst gift of all - Andrew Raycroft.

Ah, the holiday season. A time of giving, reflection and, in my case, a whole lot of alcohol. And I'm not talking about eggnog. I prefer the hard stuff. Watching Raycroft tend goal makes one reach for the hard stuff. OK, the really hard stuff.

Raycroft's been dusted off the bench, where I almost forgot about his sorry ass, and thrust back into the spotlight since Boxing Day when it was announced that Vesa Toskala is suffering from a good old groin strain. You know, the "day-to-day" groin strain that turns into a month-long stint on the injured reserve. As if losing Bryan McCabe wasn't enough, the MLSE injury plague has now claimed the Leafs' best and most valuable player and, painfully, brought Raycroft off the bench.

It's been three games, and a whole lot of alcoholic beverages, since Raycrap's been back between the pipes and the Leafs have, surprise-surprise, zero wins to show since #1's triumphant return. In typical Raycroft-ian fashion, he has been god-awful. His rebound control is abysmal, he's let in a couple of soft wraparounds and, of course, the standard twine-bulger's high glove side. Nothing has changed. I thought Raycroft was bad last year, but his statistics have actually gotten worse! In 13 games this season he sports a trashy 3.85 goals against average and a raunchy .876 save percentage. That dirty save percentage is one of the worst in the league, and it doesn't show up in a list of the top 41 save percentage's in the entire National Hockey League. To put it in perspective, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist is ranked last in the league, 41st, with a .886 save percentage - a full percentage point better than Raycrap's. Of goalies that have played at least 10 games this season only Tampa Bay's Marc Denis has a save percentage worse than Raycroft - .859 - and Denis was sent down to the minors two days ago.

Raycroft was beaten for four goals by the New York Islanders, four goals by the Philadelphia Flyers and five goals by the New York Rangers. He let in his customary weak goal in all three games and simply does not give the Leafs a chance to win.

I can go on and on for days when it comes to Raycroft and his deficiencies. He gets beat high glove side way too often, he lets pucks come into his crease without making an attempt to deflect them away, he plays too deep in his net, and his reflexes are too damn slow. You'd think that while sitting on the bench for almost a month he'd take some pointers and watch how aggressive Toskala is in the crease. It's all about the angles, and Toskala, although much smaller than Raycroft, is always at the top of his crease not giving the opposition much to shoot at.

It is clear after watching the last three games that the Leafs are a completely different team with Toskala in goal. The boys have lost all confidence in Raycroft. Saturday night instead of watching the New England Patriots complete their perfect season, I chose to watch the opposite of perfection - Raycroft and the Leafs. I knew the Leafs didn't have a prayer in the contest against the New York Rangers, especially after the bogus opening goal Raycroft allowed, but I watched the game in its entirety and saw a team that was deflated by shoddy goaltending and, eventually, a team that left their goalie out to dry. Toronto took penalty after penalty and surrendered five power play goals to the low-scoring Rangers. With Raycroft in net, everything suffers, especially the penalty kill.

Goaltending is all about confidence and the Leafs, as a team, don't have confidence in Raycroft. He doesn't exactly instill it in the squad. You can see it in the body language and in the way the team plays. It's disturbing to watch. The Leafs, to a man, aren't stupid. They know that with Raycroft in net the odds are immediately stacked against them before the game has even started. While riding a hot Vesa Toskala, on top of his game since early December, the Leafs actually looked like a decent hockey team that knew how to play defence, and a team that was turning their season around. Not anymore. With Raycroft back in net, this team is back to looking dazed and confused.

I hate Andrew Raycroft. Can you tell? What bothers me more than his pathetic goaltending is management's and the coaching staff's refusal to get rid of him. Raycroft is goaltending garbage. Accept it. The Leafs made a bad trade in acquiring this guy and signing him to a multi-year contract. They know it, I know it, the entire league knows it. It's time to accept that Raycroft hasn't worked out and that he is not an NHL-calibre goalie, and move on. I'm sick and tired of hearing John Ferguson and Paul Maurice tell the media that the Leafs have the utmost confidence in Raycroft between the pipes. It's complete bullshit. They took a chance on acquiring him for a number one draft pick, it didn't work out, and it's time for everyone to move on with their lives. Stop the god damn insanity.

Any minuscule trade value that did exist for Raycroft before Christmas has certainly been thrown out the window. The Leafs couldn't get a 6-pack of Busch Light for Raycroft and his $2 million-dollar salary right now and that's saying a lot because, well, it's Busch Light. It's time to place Raycroft on waivers, and then demote him to the Toronto Marlies once no one claims him. Please. It's over. Let's not make this any more difficult than it has to be. Scott Clemmensen should get the start in goal January 1. It's a new year, and time for a new beginning.

A part of me feels bad for Raycroft (a very small part) because I know that he knows his career in Toronto, and even the NHL, is hanging by a thread. Toskala's injury was his chance to show the rest of the league that he could still play and have a team possibly trade for him. Now that dream, it seems, is dead. Once again, Raycroft was not able to take advantage of another opportunity handed to him on a silver platter. What a useless bum. He can't even help himself.

The Leafs head into 2008 in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, with 38 points in their first 39 games. The Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers all sit ahead of the Leafs in the standings today. Another statistic that calls for a drink, even some eggnog if that's all you've got. After Saturday's debacle, Damien Cox was on cloud nine and ripping the Leafs yet again. In Cox's opinion, every team not named the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings should tank the season right now because the Stanley Cup is handed out in January, and an 82 game season is decided after 40 games. What a smart guy, that Damien Cox.

There's still time to fix the mess known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are better than the Panthers, Islanders, Sabres and Thrashers. I truly believe that. The offence has dried up - the Poni Express is stalled at 11 goals - and the hopes of this team lye squarely on the shoulders of Vesa Toskala. I miss you, Vesa. Get well soon.

There is some good news amidst the wreckage. Carlo Colaiacovo is back! His return in Philadelphia on the 28th saw Andy Wozniewski finally make a visit to the press box. But in typical Leafs fashion, the Wizard of Woz was back on the ice Saturday night against the Rangers, and taking the bonehead penalties for which he has become all too familiar for. I wonder if he and Raycroft room together on the road? They should. They deserve to be united in their pathetic-ness.

More good news - Darcy Tucker, yesterday in practice, nailed Raycroft with a shot off the shoulder that left the goalie writhing in pain on the ice. Accident? I choose not to think so. It's about the only good thing Tucker has done all year, and makes up for the fact that he has scored only four goals in 31 games . Keep up the good work, Darcy.

Happy holidays to everyone out there, especially you. Thanks for stopping by in 2007. I appreciate it. Another year is in the books, and another one is on the way. Here's hoping 2008 is better to the great city of Toronto and its sports teams that I love so deeply.

Cheers, and Happy New Year.

December 21, 2007

A Disheartening List

Another last-minute loss for the Buds last night, 2-1 to Tampa Bay. Another sublime effort in net by Vesa Toskala all for naught. Most disturbing of all, another loss to a no-name goaltender. Who the hell is Karri Ramo!?

It was the third straight game where Leafs captain Mats Sundin failed to record a point and, subsequently, the Leafs' third straight loss. The secondary offence just isn't there. With the Sundin line finally slowing down, Toronto has only bagged four goals in their last three games. That just ain't going to cut it, folks. Teams are getting it - shut down Sundin and no matter how well Toskala plays, the Leafs are beatable.

Darcy Tucker, Jason Blake, and Kyle Wellwood deserve the lion's share of the blame. I don't know what the heck is wrong with Tucker, but he's a shadow of his former self. He simply isn't contributing, at all, to this team right now. The same goes for Wellwood, who I think needs to be moved to the wing on a permanent basis. He was to be counted on heavily this season, but has only registered eight points in 20 games. As for Jason Blake, he's been a bust, plain and simple. Not one of his only five goals have come on the power play, which he was supposed to contribute to heavily.

I figured Karri Ramo, the rookie who was between the pipes for the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, would get a "W" against Toronto. It follows a most-disturbing trend from the first 35 games of the campaign. Here's a list of goaltender's that the Leafs should have defeated, but failed to do so, so far this season:

Danny Sabourin - Pittsburgh Penguins backup goalie

Patrick Lalime - Chicago Blackhawks backup goalie, who really, really sucks

Jocelyn Thibault - Buffalo Sabres backup goalie, who sports a nasty .862 save percentage

Johan Hedberg - Atlanta Thrashers backup goalie

Stephen Valiquette - New York Rangers backup goalie, who has started only four games

Carey Price x 3 - Montreal Canadiens backup goalie, who I'll reluctantly admit is pretty good

Tuukka Rask - Boston Bruins third-string goalie, who beat the Leafs in his NHL debut

Alex Auld - Boston Bruins backup goalie, who was in the minors a day before he beat the Leafs

John Grahame - Carolina Hurricanes backup goalie, who sports an ugly .878 save percentage

Karri Ramo - Tampa Bay Lightning third-string goalie, who beat the Leafs in his first-career NHL start

Not exactly candidates for the Vezina Trophy, eh? Brutal.

I need a drink...

December 19, 2007

A Rally in Raleigh

The Toronto Maple Leafs were up to their old tricks last night in Raleigh. Up 2-0 with a minute and a half left in the game the Leafs once again imploded, in fine fashion I might add. Chalk up another overtime loss for the boys in blue and white.

Ah, the dreaded 2-0 lead. The worst lead in hockey, so they say. Whoever "they" are, the Leafs are proving them right. Toronto just couldn't hold on, even when it seemed like they were going to ice the game with an empty-net goal with 30 seconds left on the clock.

The Leafs have played a lot better with the lead, especially the 2-0 margin, since the start of December, but it wasn't to be last night. They had 58 excellent minutes of hockey in the bag, and I had already penciled in a win thanks to another textbook display of great goaltending by my new favourite goalie Vesa Toskala.

Unfortunately, Toskala can't do everything out there. Like score on an empty net. The goat horns were being worn by one Alexei Ponikarovsky last night, that's for sure. I've got a soft spot for Poni, but boy did he pick the worst time to have a brain cramp. At the Carolina blue line with 30 seconds to go Poni could have attempted to fire the puck at the empty net. He could have dumped the puck deep into the Hurricanes zone. Or he could have fed Mats Sundin, who was open on his left wing. Instead, Poni did nothing. He had his pocket picked from behind by Cory Stillman, the Hurricanes went the other way, and before I could yell "what the f**k!?", the game was tied.

Poni's misery, and mine, didn't end there. He took a penalty in overtime and was in the sin bin, along with Nik Antropov, when the Hurricanes bagged the winner on the power play.

The Leafs lost this game for three reasons:

a) Poni, God bless his heart, fucked up;
2) The Leafs' defense was dog-tired by the end of the game because they were, essentially, a five-man unit all night long;
d) The officiating was, as usual, bogus.

Poni made a mistake. I'm over it. I suggest you do the same. He's an important piece of this Leafs team and I have no doubt he'll make up for his gaffe on the rest of the road trip.

As I predicted in my previous post, Toronto called up Anton Stralman to replace the injured Bryan McCabe. The logical choice would have been, in my opinion, Derrick Walser, but he's got contractual issues, as I assumed. Thanks to David Shoalts at the Globe for letting me know that Walser, if called up from the farm, would have to clear waivers on his way back down to the Marlies.

I still think Walser should have been recalled, and I honestly don't give a damn about his contract situation. You want to know why? Because Stralman played less than five minutes last night. Someone, anyone, please explain to me the rationale behind recalling a player from the Toronto Marlies whom the coaching staff has absolutely no confidence in sending out on the ice. What's the point? This is clearly the case with Stralman, who I don't think played one shift in the third period of last night's game. Maurice and company have no confidence in the kid, and they're totally messing with his head by sending out Andy Wozniewski for a regular shift while Stralman sits and watches. It is incredibly infuriating. If this is the solution while McCabe is out - to play Stralman less than five minutes a night - the Leafs are in a world of trouble.

Stralman's ass on the bench effects the rest of the defensive unit. Pavel Kubina was about to pass out by the end of the game. His legs were seemingly on fire. The gas tank was empty. Use whatever analogy you want, but he needed a breather. The Leafs, however, couldn't afford him one. On some nights in the NHL, teams dress seven defenceman. Last night Toronto played with five.

I hate to bitch and moan about the officiating, but it was brutal last night. It seems like it's always Toronto versus not only the opposition, but also the referees. The penalty calls against the Leafs in overtime had me throwing stuff against the wall. Ponikarovksy was called for tripping literally five seconds after he was dumped in front of the Carolina net. While Antropov's penalty, to make it a five-on-three advantage for Carolina in the extra session, was justified, Eric Staal should have been called for holding on Mats Sundin while the Leafs were killing off the penalty. The winning goal by Scott Walker came on Carolina's second five-on-three advantage of the game. Now I know the Leafs have discipline issues, but they deserved a better fate from the stripes last night.

As tough a loss as it was to swallow - blowing a 2-0 lead with less than two minutes to play broke my heart (and had me reaching for the bottle) - I've got to show the Leafs some love. They did play a strong game, and hell, I'll take the point. It should have been two points, but it's better to leave Raleigh with something rather than nothing. Although in the long run, I know it's games like these that really come back to bite you in April. The Leafs, as we all know so well, missed the playoffs by a point last season. One point. One measly point, like the one they gift-wrapped for the Hurricanes last night. Merry Fucking Christmas.


The penalty killers were on point last night, especially Kubina and Hal Gill. Kubina's still finding his legs after missing 10 games in November and early December, but he was a horse last night, logging a shade under 33 minutes of ice time. Gill played 29 minutes and is the leader of the PK unit, which shut down the potent Hurricanes power play until the overtime session.

I really appreciate what Gill brings to this Leafs team. A lot of people in this town love to hate Hal Gill, for reasons I will never quite understand. He led the Leafs in plus/minus last year, and is once again having a quiet but sound season. He's a defensive specialist who plays the man and plays hard every night, but this year he's even become somewhat of an offensive juggernaut, with a goal and 13 assists to his name (that's, umm, more points than McCabe!). Gill always makes the smart, safe play and keeps his game simple. It's the little things that Gill does that impress me the most. If he's got the puck at the blue line in the offensive zone, he'll never try and shoot it past a bunch of bodies and towards the net. He'll always send it back around the boards to the goal line, and I dig that. And you've got to love his reach. Can't beat the Hal Gill six-foot-seven reach. If you don't like Hal Gill and don't appreciate what he does, you don't know a damn thing.

Toskala also deserves a shout out, because he was phenomenal last night, especially in the first period. He made a number of fantastic saves early on to weather the storm (hurricane?) and has continued to provide stellar goaltending to a Leafs team that clearly needs it. I thought for a few moments in the third period that he'd be leaving North Carolina with a shutout and first-star honours. I guess not. But I've got still mad love for my man Vesa. He's the real deal between the pipes.

A tough loss is in the books and the Leafs continue their trek south to Florida for games against the Lightning and Panthers on Thursday and Saturday. They've got three out of a possible six points on the road trip so far - .500 hockey. I'll take it.

My only wish? Get well soon Carlo Colaiacovo. We're desperate over here, man...

December 16, 2007

The Plague Strikes Again

The Toronto Maple Leafs were all but fully healthy and, finally, playing good hockey. In retrospect, it was only a matter of time before the MLSE injury plague struck this team again, and strike did it ever last night. With a vengeance.

The Leafs lost much more than their game to the Montreal Canadiens last night. Gone is their momentum from the last two weeks and, more importantly, gone is Bryan McCabe, lost for two months with a broken hand. He's scheduled to go under the knife tomorrow.

Wonderful. Just wonderful. McCabe had been playing his best hockey of the season in the last couple of weeks. He was logging a ton of ice time and was focusing on the defensive aspects of his game. Best of all, he was playing with confidence, something he lacked throughout October and November (I guess own goals and headlines like "Bryan McKlutz" in the local papers will do that to you).

I can't say I'm surprised. Someone was bound to go down. It was only a matter of time. I figured it would be the oft-injured Nik Antropov. He's been playing phenomenal hockey all season and hasn't missed a game all year. That - thirty-three games played in a row for big number 80 - is an accomplishment in itself for Antropov. It has got to be a personal record for the big man from Kazakhstan.

The McCabe injury means JFJ is going to be dipping into the farm once again. It won't be Staffan Kronwall getting the call. He's injured too. He's got about as much luck with injuries as Carlo Colaiacovo, and that ain't a good thing.

Anton Stralman might get the call, but it should be Derrick Walser. Walser has been a force with the Toronto Marlies and is second on the club in scoring, with 21 points. The defenceman is actually tied with Kris Newbury for the team lead in goals with nine. He's also tied for the team lead with five power play points. Walser's got a respectable shot from the point and has 91 games of NHL experience under his belt. He's the logical choice, which means Stralman will probably be on the blue line for the Leafs in Carolina on Tuesday night (you know how we do!).

The McCabe injury also means more ice-time for Pavel Kubina, especially on the power play, and (gulp!) Andy Wozniewski. Kubina paired with Tomas Kaberle on the power play might be a good thing, because the Leafs' power play has continued to do, well, nothing. It's sputtering along and I'm welcome to any changes in order to get it going. As for more ice time for the Wizard of Woz, well, I'm not even going to go there. There's no point. Although the Woz does have more points on the season than Darcy Tucker. Tucker should be deeply, deeply ashamed of himself.

As for Carlo Colaiacovo, he's back on the ice skating again and reportedly will be ready to join the Leafs by the end of the month. If I was a betting man, and I am, I'd put money on that not happening. He'll suffer a setback. He always does. Before he does return he'll likely join the Marlies for a conditioning stint, so I don't think he'll be with the Leafs until at least the new year.

People in this town love to hate on Bryan McCabe and his salary, but he's an important part of the Maple Leafs. He will definitely, and sorely, be missed. The Leafs know the drill by now. Someone has got to step up. It's practically this team's mantra.

Toronto is on a season-long seven game road trip (with a 1-1 record to show so far), and now have to finish it without one of their top defenceman. With solid play in the last two weeks the Leafs have managed to salvage their season but, without number 24 and his 30 minutes a game, the going just got a whole lot tougher...

December 14, 2007

Steroids!?!? What Steroids!?!?

It's time to weigh in, my friends. Here's what's on the dish, and it's baseball heavy: the Mitchell Report, Greg Zaun, Alex Rios, Josh Towers, David Eckstein, T.J. Ford and our dinosaurs of the hard court the Toronto Raptors, and Bates Battaglia. And maybe some more. You'll have to read on to find out!

The Mitchell Report (cue dramatic music):

So, uh, baseball's got a steroids problem. Who's surprised? Who cares? This isn't news. Every one's known for quite some time that all baseball players are, or have been, on the juice. A most credible source - one Jose Canseco - told all of us years ago.

So why all this fuss over the Mitchell report? Leave it to baseball to let a director of the Boston Red Sox lead an investigation into drug use in the sport. In an absolutely shocking turn of events, no Red Sox were named on the list.

If you haven't seen it already, here's the report. It was actually a rather enjoyable experience to skim through it. If you're looking for a list of names, here you go.

Long story short - baseball players have been juicing for years and the Mitchell report named some names.

A few big names did come out of the report. Barry Bonds took steroids?!?! Like, no way! On a more serious note, the real big names were: Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Eric Gagne and Miguel Tejada. And Toronto's own Greg Zaun! Give it up for Zauner!

Clemens, it was reported, took his first injections, in the buttocks no less, in our great city of Toronto, while he was dominating the American League for none other than the Toronto Blue Jays. I feel, kind of, honored. I always thought Clemens was some sort of freak of nature who could pitch, pitch and pitch some more. But now it's come to light that he's a steroid-using douche bag. Oh well, his couple of years in Toronto were still great, although he does deserve a swift kick to the nuts.

As for Gagne, Pettitte, and Tejada, I can't really say I'm surprised. If you were surprised by the Mitchell report, you've been living under a rock. Baseball's been juicing for a long, long time. Deal with it.

Greg Zaun:

Clemens as a Blue Jay wasn't the only connection from the Mitchell report to my, our should I say our, beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Like I said, it looks like good ol' Greg Zaun is a steroid user and abuser. I have, after a few hours reflection, already forgiven him. Like I said, everyone was juicing. Zaun's been a borderline major leaguer for, pretty much, ever. If I was Zaun and I saw the dude I was battling against for a job taking steroids, I probably would have done the same. Can't blame the guy.

I do, however, have some advice for Zaun, and a number of other idiots who were named in the Mitchell report thanks to evidence that they paid for their steroids by cheque. If you're going to buy the stuff, pay with cash, morons. That's all.

Zaun even had the nerve to trash the Mitchell report to the National Post before it got released yesterday. Not smart, Zauner, not smart. Especially when you're in it! Oh well, you live and you learn. Zaun, a recovering alcoholic, probably needed a drink last night. I wonder what he'll say today?

Troy Glaus:

Still on the Jays and steroids, super douche Troy Glaus was named in the report as well. Not a surprise, as he was linked to steroids at the end of last season. Major League Baseball has, however, cleared him of any wrong doing because there apparently isn't enough evidence that Glaus used steroids. He just bought them, that's all, and what? Did he sit on his couch and stare at them? Talk about getting off easy, eh? Give me a break. The Glaus story is exactly what is wrong with Major League Baseball. Now Glaus will never have to explain his steroid controversy, and that just pisses me right off. I'm still off Glaus, huge...

Alex Rios and Tim Lincecum:

Enough about steroids. The San Francisco Giants yesterday signed Aaron Rowand to a five-year deal. The free-agent signing took Tim Lincecum off the table, and that means Alex Rios is going to remain a Blue Jay, at least for the time being. At the end of the day, the Giants couldn't part with Lincecum's arm, and I can't really blame them. The kid's going to be special. At the same time, I can't be mad or disappointed, because Alex Rios is a rude boy and still a Blue Jay. I think the Jays should now make a whole-hearted effort to get Rios' name on a contract extension before they explore trading him again.

Here's hoping that Rios doesn't take the attempt to trade him personally. It was strictly a business decision, especially in light of the "cha-ching" Rios will soon be hearing. The smart money (that would be me) says that Rios does end up taking it personally. However, I'm not all that smart, nor do I have much money, so what the hell do I know...

Josh Towers:

Jeff Blair at The Globe, and millions of other Jays fans, were given an early Festivus present by JPeezy last night. Josh Towers was not tendered a contract. He is officially a free agent. His career with the Blue Jays is officially done. Finally. No more Josh Towers. Say it with me. It feels so good. Yes, that is dancing in the streets you're hearing.

Towers was god-awful the last two years. I know it, you know it, and even he knows it. I would quote Towers and his reaction to becoming a free agent but, really, who gives a shit what he has to say? He made more than $5 million the last two seasons. I feel like he stole the money, because god knows he didn't deserve it.

I will give some credit, though, to Josh Towers. He's a millionaire. And he stinks. Therefore he's the reason my unborn son will become a major league pitcher. So thanks, Josh, for something, at least.

David Eckstein:

Still on the Jays, they announced the free-agent signing of David Eckstein yesterday afternoon. Welcome to Toronto, Mr. X Factor. It's a one-year deal for $4.5 million and Eckstein will, at that price, surely be the starting shortstop come April.

I definitely didn't see this one coming, especially after JPeezy went out and acquired Marco Scutaro to backup John McDonald. I feel for Johnny Mac. It seemed like he finally had the starting job locked up, and now this. He's a backup once again. At the same time, I can't be mad at JPeezy for going out and signing Eckstein, who will be batting in the lead-off spot (making Reed Johnson expendable?). Worst comes to worst, the Jays have another decent guy on their bench, either Johnny Mac or Eckstein. If there was one glaring weakness for the Jays last year it was their abysmal bench. Now it's much better, and supreme jobbers like Howie Clarke, Hector Luna and Ray Olmedo can go back to the minors where they belong...

T.J. Ford:

My man T.J. Ford is doing alright after he was mugged by Al Horford in Atlanta on Tuesday night. The Raptors came up big a night later, with T.J. in attendance in street clothes on the bench, against the Dallas Mavericks.

I got a bunch of feedback about my comments about the Ford incident and how I thought one of Ford's teammates should have stepped up and had a word with Horford. Some people disagreed because Horford was quick to show remorse, while others said that someone should have at least had a word with the Atlanta rook.

Horford was definitely remorseful after his bonehead play on Ford. He went to the hospital after the game on Tuesday night to talk to Ford and to make sure he was alright. The Atlanta rookie spent more than two hours at the hospital. Good on him, because it was the right thing to do.

I, however, stand by my decision. I appreciate Horford going to the hospital, but I made it clear that I knew Horford didn't mean to hurt T.J. Ford. Of course he didn't. But that doesn't change the fact that someone has got to get in his face and at least ask him what the hell he was thinking. There's a way to foul a guy, and it certainly doesn't involve smacking wildly at a guy's head. Again, I know it was an accident, but still. Maybe it's the hockey attitude in me, I don't know, but regardless of the intentions, Horford needed a word. Just a word. Not a punch, or a fight, or a shove. Just a word.

As for Ford, it looks like he's going to miss at least a week of action, if not more. He flew back to Toronto Wednesday morning, after his charter plane made a pit stop in Baltimore. Why Baltimore, you ask? To pick up injured Raptor Jorge Garbajosa, who had surgery on his ankle and leg. Gotta love the service, eh? Only for a Toronto team suffering from the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment injury plague does a plane go around picking up injured guys across North America. Unbelievable. Get well soon, boys...

Bates Battaglia:

To some hockey news. My man Bates Battaglia has been waived by the Toronto Maple Leafs and will now report to the Toronto Marlies. Battaglia has watched most of the season from the press box and when he has played, his ice time has averaged less than five minutes a game. It sucks, because I like Battaglia and what he brought to the Leafs last year. He was productive, with over 30 points, and he played around 10 to 12 minutes a game.

This year, he's been a casualty to the Leafs depth and it's unfortunate because he finally seemed to be getting his career back on track. The Leafs should try and trade him because Battaglia is not an AHL hockey player. He can play in the NHL, there's no doubt about it. It's a shame he loses a roster spot to someone like Wade Belak, who scores one goal every four years, and is the toast of Toronto.

Here's hoping Bates lands back on his feet.

Peace out, Toronto.

December 12, 2007

A Beat Up Ford

If you were watching the tilt between the Toronto Raptors and the Atlanta Hawks on the tube last night you saw T.J. Ford hit the deck. If you were in Atlanta at the Philips Arena, you heard T.J. Ford hit the deck.

The Toronto point guard was enjoying a fine evening - 26 points on 11 of 15 shooting from the floor, eight assists, two rebounds and only two turnovers in an efficient 29 minutes - before his night was cut short by Hawks rookie Al Horford.

While going to the bucket for what I thought was going to be an easy basket, Ford was tomahawk-slapped by Horford on the face. Ford lost control, landed hard on his back, and his head bounced off the court with some serious authority. It wasn't pretty. Neither was the replay, which the good folks at The Score gave me the privilege of viewing about nine times.

He's definitely got a concussion. If that's all he's got, he's a very, very lucky man today. Ford lay on the ground motionless for 10 minutes before he was taken off in a neck brace on a stretcher. The Raptors won the ball game, 100-88, but the outcome became secondary after the flagrant-2 foul by Horford, who was ejected.

Now I know the Toronto Raptors are a team chalk full of "nice guys," but where was the outrage? Why didn't anyone get up in Horford's grill? No one even verbally abused the Atlanta rookie after the foul. Sam Mitchell, the Raptors coach, was the most disturbed by the incident. It seemed to bring the former NBA player in him back to life, and he ran all the way from the Raptors bench to the scene of the crime, visibly upset, and shouting obscenities at Atlanta coach Mike Woodson. Mitchell had to be physically restrained by the referees. I think I saw steam physically spewing out of his ears. It was another example of why I love Sam Mitchell. He's ready to go to war with, and more importantly, for his players.

My beef is that it shouldn't be Sam Mitchell running on the court and being restrained by the referees. It should be one of Ford's teammates. If the Raptors are such a close knit team why weren't they upset that their talented point guard was lying on the ground in obvious trauma? The Raptors were up 92-84 at the time of the foul, with only 90 seconds left on the clock. The game was over. Horford didn't need to commit a hard foul. Regardless of the intentions, it was completely uncalled for. Yet no teammate came to T.J.'s defense. It was almost pathetic.

Don't get me wrong, I know Horford didn't mean to hurt T.J. Ford. The look on his face after he saw Ford hit the floor made that clear. He was visibly concerned, and remorseful after the game, but there's a code in sports. If you mess with one member of a team, you mess with everyone else wearing the same uniform. I'm not saying someone should have clocked Horford upside his head like he did to Ford, but someone should have at least got in his face and given him a tongue-lashing.

If the Raptors want to be an elite team and want to contend in this league they need to get tougher. They need to get meaner. They need to channel the spirit of one Charles Oakley. Oak will diss your mother if he has to. Just ask Vince Carter. The Raptors need to develop a swagger. A demeanor. One that translates into: "do not fuck with us." Antics like Horford's should not, and cannot, be tolerated under any circumstances. Toronto must rid themselves of this "nice guy" label. Until that happens the Raptors will not be able to take the next step.

T.J. Ford, only 24 years old, already has a history with devastating injuries. His health is, of course, the number one priority to the organization, his teammates and even to fans like me. Doug Smith at The Star reported at 11:30 pm last night that Ford had feeling and movement in his arms and legs, but would be kept in an Atlanta hospital overnight. He'll obviously not be in the lineup when the Dallas Mavericks visit the ACC tonight.

The Raptors welcomed back Chris Bosh on Sunday, and Andrea Bargnani last night, but the injuries continue to mount. Ford wasn't the only casualty last night. Jason Kapono was lost in the second quarter with a sprained left wrist, and he's day-to-day. Garbo also had his second surgery on his leg and ankle, and he's gone, likely for the year. The Raptors do have a deep bench, but the injuries are getting ridiculous. The well can only run so deep.

The truth is, I'm disappointed in the Raptors today. Ford's health is of utmost concern to me, as it is I'm sure to all the Raptors, but someone should have stepped up in the Little Engine's defense last night. After the game, Anthony Parker asked why Horford had to swipe so hard at Ford's head on a play with the game pretty much decided. That's a mighty good question, AP, so why the hell didn't you ask Horford yourself?

Some words, maybe even a little shove. Anything. Here's hoping the Toronto Raptors grow some balls and go to bat for their teammates the next time a rookie, or anyone for that matter, takes a run at one of their own.

December 10, 2007

A Change Of Heart

After some reflection and reconsideration, and some advice from my man Jeff Blair at The Globe, maybe Toronto trading Alex Rios for pitcher Tim Lincecum isn’t so bad after all. I’ve had what is called a change of heart. Let’s do the damn thing.

I’m an emotional guy. When I heard JPeezy was dangling Rios in front of the Giants I acted, well, emotionally. No shit. It’s what I do. Rios is the man, the future, the latino heat. My initial reaction was: “What the $#@!? Rios, one-for-one for a pitcher? Can’t be done. No way. Abort mission.”

In my emotional state, I shot off an email to Blairsy at The Globe. Turns out, the email made his mail bag. Here it is, in all its glory:

Loyal reader, who is extremely nervous after reading your blog that says Ricciardi is willing to trade Rios for Lincecum. Please tell me this isn't going to happen. Say it ain't so. Tell me you think the Jays should keep Rios. Don't you? Don't you?!

I needed to be told it was all going to be ok. I needed a shoulder to lean on. I was distraught, damn it! Blairsy, Mr. Calm, Cool and Collected, was there for me. He laid it down, straight:

Eyebleaf: Each night after MacLeod and I wrapped up our work here, I'd head down to the lobby bar to corner Blue Jays types or executives from other teams or agents with whom I have any kind of rapport. The deal was all we'd talk about and I have to admit I'm still going back and forth on it, because I think Rios is an uncommonly talented offensive player and when I hear a former manager I trust tell me Rios reminds him of Dave Winfield, I kind of pay attention. But considering how this market's going, I'm beginning to wonder if the Blue Jays don't think Rios is on the verge of just about putting himself out of their price range, considering how much money they owe Vernon Wells. And I also think they've taken a peak ahead to post-Roy Halladay, and view Lincecum and Dustin McGowan as front-of-the-rotation guys. Based on what I've seen teams do here - yeah, I make the deal if I'm the Blue Jays.

Blair’s right. Blair’s keeping it real. Cue the reflection and the reconsideration. I took a look at Lincecum’s stats from last year as a fresh-faced rookie with the Giants. Pretty impressive, man. Here’s the line:

Games Started: 24
Innings Pitched: 146.1
Hits Allowed: 122
Earned Runs Allowed: 65
Walks: 65
Strikeouts: 150
Earned Run Average.: 4.00
WHIP: 1.28
Batting Average Against: .226

For shits and giggles, let’s take a look at the line of one A.J. Burnett:

Games Started: 25
Innings Pitched: 165.2
Hits Allowed: 131
Earned Runs Allowed: 69
Walks: 66
Strikeouts: 176
Earned Run Average: 3.75
WHIP: 1.19
Batting Average Against: .214

Well slap me in the face and call me Sally Fields, because those numbers are mighty similar! Burnett pitched 20 more innings, but they all came in September when the Jays were, as usual, playing out the bloody stretch. Lincecum, a 2006 draft pick, was on a tight pitch count all season.

Blair hit the nail right on the head: Lincecum has A.J. Burnett-type nasty stuff, without the A.J. Burnett bullshit-attitude. Lincecum can pitch, pure and simple, and he’s only 23 years old.

This is, without a doubt, Burnett’s final year in Toronto. He’s got an opt-out after his third-season and you’re about as smart as George Dubya if you think he’s not going to use it. Hell, I’d use it too. Buh-bye, Burnett, don’t let the door injure your shoulder or your elbow on the way out. He should change his name to D.L. Burnett. Like Peterman told Elaine when he came back to the catalogue: “Kudos, Elaine, on a job……………..done.”

A lot of people are taking the opportunity to roast JPeezy on Burnett. Whatever. We took a chance on his arm, and it didn’t work out because the man can’t stay healthy, or pitch through pain. The opt-out lets us cut our losses. We can use the money elsewhere folks, so don’t get your panties tied up in bunches.

I’m going to give JPeezy and the Jays credit because they’re looking to the future. Lincecum has five years on his contract before he becomes elegible for restricted free agency, and he’s not exactly breaking the bank right now. Speaking of the bank, Blair is right, Rios is going to become one of those cash-money-millionaires, with all the bling, the ice, the rims, the hoes, and all those expensive liquors. You get the point. The market is crazy. Andruw Jones parlayed one of his worst seasons in to a two-year deal worth over $36 million. It defies logic. If Jones is making that type of money while on the downside of his career, imagine the loot Rios is going to demand?

The more I think about it, the more this deal needs to be done. I’ve gone from hopping mad and praying that the Giants would reject, to eagerly anticipating an announcement of the deal. Word is that it might not happen until the new year, if it happens at all.

Imagine a rotation (with Burnett still around in ’08) of Halladay, Lincecum, Burnett, McGowan and Marcum. That’s money, right there. I’m positive JPeezy is doing everything he can to trade Burnett, but I doubt there will be many takers when it’s no secret he’ll be hitting the market again next summer.

And the post-Halladay years, as difficult as they are to think about, are approaching. Doc’s not getting any younger. He’s going to have to pass the torch on eventually, so who better than to mould this stud Lincecum than the Doctor?

Hitters, they say, are a dime a dozen. Great pitchers aren’t. The outfield, without Rios, consists of Wells in centre, Adam Lind in left, and a platoon of Reed Johnson and Matt Stairs in right. With the exception of Lind, we know what those boys can do. Once Lind learns not to swing at every god damn pitch, he’ll be more effective. In the meanwhile, he’s got power, and if he plays everyday I think he can jack 20 home runs. And Toronto’s 2006 draft pick, Travis Snider, is supposedly going to be the real deal in the outfield as well. He’s on his way and scheduled for arrival in 2009. Bottom line is that the offense, even with Rios in the lineup last season, was useless. The only way the Jays compete is if they get quality pitching and everyone in the lineup pulls his weight (Wells, Overbay and Glaus – I’m looking at you, fools).

Pitching wins championships. Just ask all the drunken hooligans down in Boston. The Red Sox won because they had the arms. Coco Crisp and J.D. Drew, two of their starting outfielders, could have put up similar numbers if they batted with toothpicks all of last season, but it didn’t matter, because, say it with me now: pitching wins championships. JPeezy is figuring that out. The Jays had a great staff last year, and in order to keep up with these fools in the American League East, we’ve got to join the arms race. That’s why getting Lincecum is so important, even if it costs us Alex Rios, God bless his heart.

Both Blair and Tom Verducci over at SI gave one example of a trade where a team sent over a great young hitter for a young pitching prospect. It was November of 1993, the Jays were coming off back-to-back World Series championships, and everything was right in the world. That November, The Montreal Expos traded Delino DeShields, one of the best young hitters in the game at the time (that’s disturbing in its own right), for a young pitching pup named Pedro Martinez.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Expos won that trade.

One can’t assume that Rios is going to turn out like DeShields (a bust) and Lincecum like Pedro (a special, special arm). But I think in both the long term and the short term, this is one trade that benefits the Jays, even though Rios is well on his way to superstardom. So come on, San Fran. Pull the trigger. The anticipation is killing me.

At the end of the day, it comes down to wins and losses. The only way the Jays are going to make the playoffs, if they ever do again, is on the strength of their arms. The Jays’ staff was ranked second in the league last year. Lincecum can hopefully make it number one.

Tom Verducci, in his column about the Jays on November 20th, delivered some statistics that have haunted me since the day I read them:

No team has won more games over the past two seasons (170) without making the playoffs. No team has won more games over the entire wild-card era (1,022) without making the playoffs. Such is life competing against both of baseball’s evil empires in the American League East.

Breaks your heart, don’t it?

December 06, 2007

Baseball On The Brain

It's December 6th. We're two months into hockey season and a month into the basketball campaign. It's already butt-numbing cold outside, but I've got the boys of summer on my mind.

First of all, great move by the Toronto Blue Jays to bring back the retro uniforms (pictured) for Flashback Friday's this season at the Rogers SkyDome Centre. I've always loved the old-school logo and these days it's all about the "throwback" jerseys with the kids. But, damn, that's a lot of baby blue.

Lets get down to business now, shall we? Baseball's winter meetings are set to wrap today in Nashville and I'm praying that Alex Rios is still Blue Jays property when it's all said and done. I went to bed distraught last night, after reading Jeff Blair's blog post on The Globe's website. He's saying an offer has been made and as of last night at 11:44 pm, it's still on the table: Alex Rios for San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum.

What in the name of Cosmo Kramer is going on here!?!? Why is J.P. Ricciardi even contemplating trading Rios? Richard Griffin, reputed columnist at The Star, said in his column yesterday that the Jays were only "kicking the tires" on Lincecum and were looking to lock-up Rios long term, which makes a hell of a lot more sense than trading the two-time all-star.

JPeezy, what's the deal? Rios was the teams best and most consistent hitter last year. He was the lone all-star and the lone bright spot on a pathetic offensive team, and the Jays were sold to me and everyone else in this town as an offensive juggernaut. And now you're going to trade our most promising player, straight up for a young pitcher? Say it ain't so!

I don't care how good Lincecum is, or is supposed to be down the road. The Jays have already got a bunch of quality young arms that emerged last year - Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo. Even the five-inning wonder Gustavo Chacin is still around. None of this is making any more sense to me right now than it was last night. This is one trade that cannot be done. The offer needs to come off the table. It was the Jays offense that was the problem last year, not the pitching. Had the Jays offense performed, the season wouldn't have been over come July 31st.

Alex Rios is a bona fide star in baseball. He's the type of guy you can build a team around. I believe that he's going to be a better all-around player than even Vernon Wells. He finally put it all together the last two years and started jacking some balls over the fence. He can hit for average, power and, like Frank Costanza said to George Steinbrenner, "he's got a rocket for an arm!" If JP trades Rios for this Lincecum fellow, I think I'm going to have a break down.

Another pitcher from the Giants that has reportedly piqued the interest of the Jays is Matt Cain. The Jays, though, are higher on Lincecum, hence the Rios offer (still can't believe it!!!!). I guess the Giants are really high on this Lincecum kid if they haven't accepted the Rios offer. You'd think they'd jump at the opportunity to grab Rios, especially after cutting ties with that melon-head and soon-to-be convicted felon Barry Bonds. I do, however, find it funny that the Jays inquired about trading for Cain. They could have drafted him back in 2002. Let's take a trip down memory lane...

In '02, the Jays drafted Russ Adams in the first round. He was to be the shortstop of the future. Now, he's not even the utility man of the future. Adams sucks. He was a mistake. He was drafted one year after the Jays drafted shortstop Aaron Hill, who has worked out rather well. Why would the Jays draft shortstop's in successive years, you ask? Ricciardi's mantra has always been to take the "best player available," regardless of his position. After the Jays took Adams, the next three picks in the draft were Scott Kazmir, a southpaw pitcher with amazing stuff, Nick Swisher, a switch-hitting outfielder who can hit for power and plays with a ton of passion, and Cole Hamels, another fireballing southpaw pitcher who strikes out a ton of batters for the Philadelphia Phillies. Later in the the same draft, Joe Blanton, a serviceable pitcher for the Oakland A's, and Matt Cain were taken. The Jays could have had any of those four pitchers, but instead took Russ Adams. And now they're offering Alex Rios for Lincecum. Ricciardi needs a drop-kick to his face.

While we're here on memory lane, let's take a look at the 2004 draft. The Jays drafted David Purcey, a left-handed pitcher, 16th overall in the first round. Purcey has struggled in the minors, and won't be up with the big club any time soon. Phil Hughes, the stud pitching prospect for the New York Yankees, was taken with the 23rd pick in the same draft. In 2006 Hughes was named the best pitching prospect in the minors by Baseball America. Could have been a Blue Jay.

It gets worse, and this one really hurts. In the 2005 entry draft the Jays selected Ricky Romero, another left-handed pitcher, with the 6th overall pick. With the 7th pick in the draft the Colorado Rockies selected Troy Tulowitzki, who has already turned into one of the game's best young shortstops. Tulowitzki led all major league shortstops in fielding percentage last year, while only a rookie. He's got some pop in his bat, too. Everyone in Toronto knows that the Jays have always been on the prowl for a shortstop, and just imagine the double-play combo of Tulowitzki and Hill. Hurts, don't it?

I know the draft is a crap shoot. I know there's a ton of luck involved. But it hurts to look back at these frightening results of drafts gone by, with JPeezy running the ship. Hindsight ain't 20/20. Hindsight's a bitch.

Another development out of the winter meetings has Paul Lo Duca possibly joining the Jays, to split the back-catching duties with Greg Zaun. The Jays don't have a backup right now, and I wouldn't mind Lo Duca. I'm indifferent, to be honest with you. A lot of people in Toronto can't stand Greg Zaun because he, well, can't throw anybody who tries to steal a bag out. He had the worst percentage last season when it came to throwing guys out, and teams abused the Jays when it came to the running game. They ran, freely. Lo Duca would help, and would give Curtis Thigpen more time in the minors.

Toronto has apparently offered Lo Duca a one-year deal, in the $3 to $4 million range, and he's mulling over the offer, along with a bunch of other ones. So, we'll see. A Lo Duca/Zaun (Lo Zauna?)combination would be a welcome one, sort of like the Bengie Molina/Zaun combination we saw in 2006.

Hard to believe that spring training will open in less than three months. I pray to God Alex Rios will be down in Dunedin with the rest of the Jays when it does.

Before I leave you, I've got a personal story about the Blue Jays I'd like to share. About a month ago, a friend of mine gave me a call. He's a few years younger than me, and I've known him for as long as I can remember. I've basically seen him grow up. He's not the biggest baseball fan out there, but knows I'm all about the Jays.

Anyways, he gave me a ring while he was at the mall. He was looking to buy a present for his brother, and had decided on a Jays jersey, but didn't know which one to get - one with Halladay on the back, or one with Wells on the back. He rang and asked for my, and I quote, "professional advice" on which jersey to buy. I guess writing about sports, and the city, makes me a "professional." Good to know.

He did, however, put me on the spot. I had about seven seconds to decide. Before I thought I made up my mind, I blurted out "Halladay. Get the Halladay jersey." My friend took the advice (why wouldn't he? I'm a professional). After I hung up, I thought about why I chose Halladay over Wells. I came to the conclusion that I was deeply upset, on a subconscious level, over Wells' terrible 2006 season. I was expecting so much from him, and he totally let me down. Halladay, meanwhile, was Halladay.

A week later, I saw my friend, and he told me his brother was more than pleased with the Halladay jersey, and preferred it to the Wells jersey. I had made the right call (phew!).

As for Vernon Wells, what's life without second chances? I have every reason to believe Wells will tear it up in 2008, return to his all-star form, and along with, I pray, Alex Rios, do all he can to send the Toronto Blue Jays to the playoffs.

December 04, 2007

Raptor Reflections

No Chris Bosh, no Andrea Bargnani and no T.J. Ford for the Toronto Raptors last night. Didn’t matter much, as the Raptors cruised to a 21-point win. Thank goodness the Charlotte Bobcats are one pathetic excuse for a basketball team.

It’s a good thing the Raptors have one of the deepest lineups in the league. Seven guys finished in double-figures in scoring last night, with Kris Humphries leading the way with 17 points in only 21 minutes on the floor. Yep, you read that correctly, the Hump was on fire last night. So was Joey Graham. He got his first start of the year last night and he chipped in with 13 points on five-of-six shooting. Good Joey was definitely in the house and he threw down a couple of sick, wicked and nasty jams to boot.

It also helped, just a wee bit, that the Bobcats shot a putrid 33% from the field. Yikes. Jason Richardson was especially inept, draining only three of his 17 field goal attempts. He was chucking like George Costanza last night.

The deep Raptors bench is coming in handy, as the team is being ravaged by injury once again. What a surprise. I’m almost used to it now. No team can hide from the injury plague that has enveloped this great city’s professional sports franchises. The Raps have been hit hard again, and fast. Only Anthony Parker, Jason Kapono, Carlos Delfino and Jose Calderon have played in all 18 of the team’s games.

Bryan Colangelo, the architect, knew depth would be the Raptors strength. That’s why he signed Maceo Baston, Kapono, the athletic freak of nature known as Jamario Moon, and acquired Carlos Delfino. After last night’s win, which pushed the Raptors record to 10-8 on the season (good for second in the Atlantic division and fourth in the Eastern Conference), the Raptors have six guys averaging more than 10 points a game on the season - Bosh, Ford, Bargnani, Parker, Kapono and Delfino. Jose Calderon is right on the cusp, averaging 9.9 points a game. Me, I round up, so make that seven guys averaging more than 10 points a game.

How about this Jamario Moon fellow? Ain’t he something? The 27-year-old rookie from Alabama has apparently played in every basketball league that exists in North America, and is finally getting his shot in the NBA thanks to the Raptors.

And his nickname sure is a beauty – Super Jamario. Best nickname in town, by far. Like Super Mario when he got a feather in the video game, Super Jamario can fly. He’s got ridiculous hops and is an animal on the boards. He’s exactly what a weak-rebounding team like the Raptors needed.

When you look at Moon’s statistics, it’s pretty amazing what he’s done for the Raptors this year, considering he was a long-shot to even make the team. He’s averaging more than 31 minutes a game, second on the team to CB4, and 7.5 rebounds a game, second, again, only to the leader of the pack, CB4. He’s shooting 44% from the floor and leads the team in blocks per game (1.6).

Chuck Swirsky has now taken to saying “he just got Mooned!” whenever Moon rejects an opponents shot, and it’s usually followed by the crowd howling “Moooooooon.” It’s fantastic! The crowds at the ACC have taken to this guy, and he’s already got a loyal following. Super Jamario, indeed.

My question is: where the hell did this guy come from? He was in training camp on a tryout and the Raps cut Luke Jackson so they could sign Moon to a contract worth $487,000. Pennies! What a bargain. Once again, one has to credit Colangelo and his staff. Every NBA team had a chance to sign Moon, but he ended up in Toronto. Colangelo for President. If he can turn around the Toronto Raptors, he can turn around America.

I’ve heard rumblings that Super Jamario might enter the slam-dunk contest during all-star weekend. The contest has gotten pretty weak in recent years but I’m all for Moon entering it, and winning it. He can fly, for real.

Moon’s good fortune is, in all honesty, due to Jorge Garbajosa’s misfortune. His leg (or is it his ankle?) isn’t healed, he’s having surgery again, and he’s done for the year. Brutal.

The whole Garbo debate has been discussed at length in the Toronto media and I don’t want to say much about it, partly because it reminds me of him crashing to the ground in Boston, with his foot pointing in a direction it, umm, ain’t supposed to be pointing in. It still makes me cringe. All I’ve got to say is that Garbo is in this situation because of Garbo. If it’s true that the Raptors medical staff recommended a second surgery over the summer which he chose to ignore (in Garbo’s defense, his Spanish doctor said he didn’t need the second surgery), well then this whole mess is his own fault.

It’s tough to berate a guy for wanting to play for his country, and clearly playing for Spain in September meant a lot to Garbo. But Spain had already qualified for next year’s Olympics. The EuroBasket tournament in September meant absolutely nothing to Spain. It was a meaningless tournament and Garbo should have been looking out for, first of all, his own health, and second of all, the Toronto Raptors, the team that employs him. I’m not upset at Garbo’s decision – I can’t be mad at him for wanting to play for his country – but I think he should have been smarter about it. There was no need to go and play, especially when a second surgery was being recommended. Garbo saw, like the rest of us did, that the Raptors missed his presence on the floor after he went down, especially in the playoffs. And he knew, better than anyone else, what a horrific injury his was. Why not continue to rehab, get ready for the season and then focus on the Olympics next summer? I just don’t get it.

Garbo’s going under the knife any day now. Turns out he’s got to have that second surgery, anyways. Your guess as to when he’ll be back is as good as mine. By the time he is fully healthy, it will have been a long time since he’ll have played meaningful and competitive basketball in the NBA. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for Garbo and the Raptors. The relationship between the team and Garbo has definitely soured due to the whole mess, and it seems like years ago that Garbo arrived in Toronto and quickly endeared himself to the fans and management as a hard-working, blue-collar baller. The whole thing just stinks, but Garbo’s pain is Jamario Moon’s gain, and who knows where Garbo will find himself on the Raptors depth chart when he is ready to return. All I know is that Super Jamario is making Garbo-gate a lot easier to swallow.

I thought I said I didn’t want to say much about Garbo-gate? Jeez. On to happier thoughts, such as Carlos Delfino, the Silent Assassin. How good is this guy, eh? I’ve been so incredibly impressed by Delfino after the Raptors’ first 18 games. He brings it every night, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He’s already become the Raptors best one-on-one defender and he can rebound. He’s got a knack for the ball, and his 5.1 rebounds a game are third-best on the team.

Hard to believe that it only cost the Raptors a second-round draft pick to bring Delfino over from the Detroit Pistons. Another steal by Colangelo. Chalk it up! Doug Smith got it right when he said that the Delfino trade is right up there with Haffa for Humphries. It’s gold, Jerry, gold!

In all seriousness, I think it’s time Bryan Colangelo is nominated for the Nobel Prize. His work on the Toronto Raptors has been nothing short of spectacular.

Delfino, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite Raptors, will be a free-agent at season’s end, but the Raptors have the right to match any contract offer he receives. With the way Delfino’s been playing, I’m confident he’ll be in a Raptors uniform for a long, long time. In Colangelo I trust.

I’m sure the Raptors are not overly pleased with their 10-8 record. They’ve beaten a lot of marginal basketball teams (see: Philadelphia (twice) and Charlotte), but considering the injury problems they’ve had to deal with, a 10-8 record suits me just fine. Bosh, Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Graham and Bargnani have all missed time on the floor already this young season. The team will hopefully get healthy as soon as possible and they’re going to need all hands on deck, especially Bosh, because the rest of December is going to be tough. The December schedule is Western Conference heavy – we all know the West is best – and includes a seven-game road trip that starts on the 18th, is broken-up by the Christmas break, and ends on the 31st. Needless to say, it should be an interesting month.

Before I bid you adieu, I’ve got to show some love to Jose Calderon. He’s been about as close to flawless as one can be ever since Ford went down with another “stinger.” It’s no secret that Calderon could be a starting point guard on a number of NBA teams. He can play. He’s a pass-first point guard, but he’s also developed confidence in his shot and in his ability to drive the lane. His 7.9 to 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio is incredible and tops in the league, by a country mile.

Since Ford went down, Calderon has started the Raptors last seven games. In those seven games he’s compiled a whopping 75 assists and, brace yourself, only 10 turnovers. In a three-game stretch at the end of last month (November 24, 25 and 28 against Cleveland, Chicago, and Memphis respectively) Calderon dished out 37 dimes, scored 39 points, while committing only ONE turnover. Flawless.

It’s been a pleasure to have watched Calderon develop into a frighteningly good point guard over the last two and a half years. During his rookie year, I wasn’t too fond of the Spaniard. He had zero confidence and I didn’t think he’d be sticking around in Toronto, or the NBA, too long. Now, he is one half of the best back-court in the NBA. Sometimes I love being so foolishly wrong.

A lot of people in this (already ridiculously freezing cold) city think Calderon should start, even when Ford is healthy. Me, I don’t really care, as long as they are both playing. Mitchell employs the two of them in a system that works, and instead of griping over who should start, I’m more comfortable simply embracing “Forderon” because it’s a beautiful thing.

Calderon is also heading into free-agency, and some team out there is going to make him a very, very rich man. Remember, he’s only 26 years old. He’s only going to get better. I’m not sure what Colangelo has planned for Calderon. I’m not sure what Calderon has planned for himself. He’s always been the consummate team player, saying that as long as the team wins, he is happy with what ever role he’s given. But I’m sure he’s always dreamt of being a starting point guard in the NBA, and he certainly has the talent to do so. For now, I’m going to enjoy Calderon in a Raptors uniform, while hoping that he stays in Toronto for years to come, so Forderon can live long and prosper.

What ever happens to Calderon, whether he is traded or walks away as a free agent, I’ll deal with it. I know there’s a master plan and that the organization is in good hands. Calderon’s situation goes back to my mantra when it comes to the Toronto Raptors:

In Colangelo I trust.