January 30, 2008

"Keep Sundin" - Cox Bloc


Ever since joining the blogosphere about 15 months ago, I've become a reader of many different blogs. There's a ton of good ones out there. And even some great ones. When it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, two blogs I regularly visit are Pension Plan Puppets and Cox Bloc. Both are beauties, and both I suggest you visit.

I just finished reading the latest entry by Godd Till on Cox Bloc entitled "Keep Sundin" and, well, you've got to read it. Required reading it is (Yoda!) for any and every Toronto Maple Leafs fan out there. Trust me.

I love to write. I actually think I can put a pretty mean sentence together. But sometimes, someone writes something, and it's just sheer beauty. A masterpiece. That's what Till has just done, and there's nothing I could possibly add to "Keep Sundin." There's no way I could change it, because it has sent a flood of emotions and memories through my body.

Mats Sundin came to Toronto a young, taut, Swedish boy. With full and lustrous blond hair. I must admit that his blue eyes stole my heart the day he was traded here, and I've been, as those who know me best me would attest to, a staunch Sundin supporter since day one. Mats had me at hello. It was 1994; fourteen years ago. Hard to believe.

"Keep Sundin" has brought back all the Sundin memories, both bad and good. The incredible goals. The overtime goals. The playoff goals. His 500th goal. The playoff, overtime goals. The smiles. The frustration. The anger. The day he got the "C" on his shoulder. His 917th point as a Maple Leaf. The playoff victories. The playoff defeats. The tears. The pucks to the face. The emotion. His 1000th point.

I will never forget the night of April 28, 2001, in New Jersey during the playoffs years ago, when the Leafs rallied from a 5-2 deficit they were facing in the third period. Sundin led the way with three points in the final frame, and Toronto tied the game up on a last minute goal from Stumpy Thomas. The emotion on the captain's face was incredibly inspiring. The Leafs would, in heartbreaking fashion, go on to lose the game in overtime.

I will also never forget the look on Sundin's face when the Leafs were defeated in April of 2000, once again in New Jersey, after a performance in an elimination game in which they only managed six shots on goal. Three in the first period, two in the second, and - unfathomably - only one in the third. Bob Cole's words that night will forever haunt me. Every now and then my brother, for no apparent reason, still repeats them: "Six.....shots."

Cox Bloc has kept it about as real as possible with "Keep Sundin." I couldn't do Sundin, and his legacy, any more justice than Till has. Watching Sundin over the years has been a pleasure, and if he doesn't want to leave, why the hell should we trade him? The title, my friends, of the entry says it all: Keep Sundin.

Before I read the post, I was all for trading Mats - my captain, my favourite player, my heart and freakin' soul. The plan was to then cheer for the team he was traded to, and hope he would win a ring as a rental. Thank you, Cox Bloc, for having changed my mind. I don't know what the hell I was thinking.

Sundin for life.

If you haven't already, go and read the damn thing!

January 29, 2008

The Going Gets Even Tougher

The NHL All-Star game is, mercifully, behind us. The unofficial second half of the season and the mission to sneak into the playoffs begins in earnest for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. The injuries, however, continue to mount.

It is with great sadness that I tell you that The Poni Express will not be reaching its destination - 27 goals - this season. Alex Ponikarovsky, my boy, is out six weeks with a seperated shoulder thanks to a douche bag named Steve Eminger, who popped him from behind into the boards last week. Eminger got a two minute minor on the play (justice!)

The injury is another tough loss for the Leafs. Poni, with 13 goals on the season, was going to need a miracle to reach 27, but he will most certainly be missed. His 13 goals were third-best on the team, after all. I've still got crazy man-love for Poni - The Poni Express reached its destination two years in a row prior to this season - and wish him a speedy recovery.

The shoulder separation is the injury du jour for the MLSE Injury Plague these days. One night after Poni went down, both Alex Steen and call up Darryl Boyce, playing in his first NHL game, suffered separated shoulders. Steen, who was playing his best hockey since being put on the top line with Mats Sundin, will be out a minimum of two weeks, while Boyce is out indefinitely. The plague strikes again. It shows no mercy.

The good news going into tonight's matchup with the St. Louis Blues? Defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo returns to the lineup, which means Andy Wozniewski will go to the press box (hurrah!). The bad news? It's only a matter of time - and a short one at that - until Colaiacovo is injured once more. He is cursed. I'll put the over/under at seven games. What do you think?

I'm also hoping that the all the injuries up front (Boyce, Steen, Poni, Bell) means Wade Belak will get back in the lineup. I kid you not. I actually want Belak in the lineup. In the two games before the all-star break, the Leafs were thrown around by the Capitals. Poni, Nik Antropov, and Ian White were all hit from behind by the Capitals, and Jason Blake was speared in the groin, and the Leafs did nothing about it. It was a sad display. Penalties were called on the hits from behind, but Toronto's pathetic power play was unable to respond.

This Leafs squad certainly lacks identity. Teams of years gone by were a lot closer knit, and the cohesiveness doesn't seem to be there this year. Guys are not sticking up for one another. Belak's the only one who won't watch idly when someone takes liberties with his teammates. You tell me, what makes more sense? Having Jiri Tlusty play five minutes on the fourth line, or having Wade Belak play those minutes, and scare the bejesus out of the opposition? Belak is the sherriff. He keeps people in check. I have a strong feeling he'll be in the lineup tonight, as Tlusty has been promoted to the top line.

The injury woes should also get Kyle Wellwood back in the Leafs lineup. He watched from the press box, again, last week, while John Pohl got some game action. Wellwood's demise has been difficult to swallow. I was bitching and moaning to a friend last week about where it all went so wrong with Kyle. Wellwood put up similar numbers in both the OHL and the AHL as Jason freakin' Spezza. They were even traded for each other in junior. Spezza is now a superstar, and Welly is in the press box? I blame the Leafs. Not just for Wellwood. For many things.

I've also got a bone to pick with one Damien Cox. He wrote a blog post last week shitting all over Darcy Tucker and the contract he signed last year.

Here's Cox: "Instead, Tucker has become almost a total non-factor, has six goals in 43 games and seems most intent on making sure people blame all these injuries he's supposed to have rather than him."

I don't know about you, but I have not once heard Tucker blame his struggles on any injury, so how is he "making sure" people blame his injuries on his lack of production? Tucker has rarely spoken to the media this season, and it has been just about everyone else saying that Tucker is playing with a bunch of injuries, including a busted knee.

It's not surprising. Cox loves to kick dirt on a player when he's down, and if said player is a Maple Leaf, even better. Cox is sick.

I leave you with a couple of videos. If you haven't seen puppetmaster Peddie mouthing Cliff Fletcher's intoduction speech at the presser last week, well, enjoy yourself. It's a doozy. Tune in at 4:55 of the clip and watch Peddie's lips as Fletcher speaks. Peddie is ridiculous. A douche bag, and an idiot.

The last video is courtesy of a friend who is spending a year teaching science to grade seven, eight, and nine students at Doha Academy in Qatar, out in the middle East. Check it out:

video

We can rest assured knowing they're not breeding terrorists out there at Doha Academy in Qatar. Instead, my buddy Dean is breeding Toronto Maple Leafs fans.

Pick your poison...

January 27, 2008

Calderon Being Shown Some Love

Thrust into the starting role after point guard T.J. Ford went down to injury, Jose Calderon has been everything and more for the Toronto Raptors since. Calderon has been phenomenal this season, and the NBA is starting to take notice of numero ocho.

Not only has the Spaniard put up great numbers on the floor, he's also been a big hit in the world of fantasy basketball - another reason why he's being shown some love. I'm more of a fantasy hockey guy myself, but I know how serious people take their fantasy games. For owners of teams who picked up Calderon off the waiver wire, he's been nothing short of a God-send. Rotowire's got a blurb on Calderon over at Yahoo! Sports and they're mentioning our good old Jose in the same breath as Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and, yes, Steve Nash.

Since taking over the starting point guard job for the injured Ford, Calderon has been averaging 13.4 points and 9.7 assists per game. Much has also been made about Calderon's incredible assist-to-turnover ratio: 5.54. He leads the league, by far. His nearest competition is Brevin Knight of the Clippers who sports a ratio of 4.28. Calderon simply gets all his teammates involved, and doesn't turn the rock over. He's racked up 371 assists this season, while only committing 67 turnovers. Money.

The man can shoot as well. Calderon's shot has improved by leaps and bounds since he came into the league back in 2005. In his rookie year, Calderon shot 42% from the field, only 16% from deep, and 85% from the free throw line. He didn't have much confidence in those days, and I never, ever, thought he would blossom into the Jose Calderon we are blessed with today.

His numbers this season are off the charts. A 51% shooting percentage from the field, 43% from beyond the arc, and 92% from the line. As the good folks at Rotowire were so sweet to point out, the only other cat to shoot 40/50/90 is - you guessed it - two-time MVP Steve Nash. Calderon is in some heavy company, and he deserves to be.

I figured a part of Jose's success was attributed to the fact that he was a starting point guard playing in a backup role against other team's second units, on a deep Raptors team. But Calderon has proved his worth as a starter, going up against the league's top point guards, and leading the Raptors to victory. He's the real deal and, astonishingly, only 26 years old.

T.J. Ford may not come back this season. This we know. If he does, he'll come back and play behind Calderon, as he's done before when he's been out of the lineup for an extended period of time. It's tough to argue with Calderon's success, and Ford is a team-player. He knows it's the right decision. If Ford doesn't return this year, the Raptors need to address their backup point guard situation. Darrick Martin, the quasi-coach, and Juan Dixon, are not getting the job done, and Jose is logging a ton of minutes.

Doug Smith at The Star writes in his blog that Mighty Mouse, Damon Stoudamire, is working on a buyout of his contract down in Memphis. Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Stoudamire will be waived by the Grizz on Monday and if he's not claimed in 48 hours he will be released and become a free agent. His potential destinations? Boston or Toronto. It would be tough to turn down the Celtics, especially with the season they are having, but I'd definitely be open to having Stoudamire return to Toronto, especially if Ford isn't coming back. Damon didn't leave Toronto on good terms but we're a welcoming folk, and we'd accept him back in Toronto with open arms, especially if it means Darrick Martin doesn't see any more floor time.

The best-case scenario would be the return of Ford, but who knows when he'll be ready to resume practicing with the team? Certainly I don't. Mighty Mouse, round two, is definitely an intriguing proposition.

The Raptors are on a roll, having won four out of their last five, and seven out of 10. They are starting to solidify themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the pathetic Eastern Conference, and are in a dog-fight with the Washington Wizards for the coveted fourth playoff spot, and home-court advantage. Jose Calderon deserves a boat-load of credit for the Raptors success. So, thank you Jose. You are appreciated.

I leave you, fellow Raptors fans, with some news I'm sure you'll enjoy as much as I did. Adrian Wojnarowski, a hoops columnist at Yahoo! Sports whom I frequently peruse, has picked his winners for some first-half awards, now that the NBA season has reached its halfway point. Vince Carter, that loathsome little turd who now plys his trade (read: complete indifference) over in New Jersey, was named the Least Valuable Player. Little things like that just make my day.

"Half-man, half-hearted," indeed. Even though it was one of the most one-sided trades ever, the Toronto Raptors won when they traded Vince Carter by simply getting rid of him. Addition by subtraction, my dear Watson.

Stupid question of the day: I wonder if the Nets are regretting that four-year, $62 million dollar dear they gave Carter last summer...?

January 24, 2008

Fantastic Finishes

The Toronto Raptors wanted to beat the Boston Celtics last night. They needed to beat the Celtics last night. Thanks to a huge come-from-behind fourth quarter, and some "Onions baby, onions!" courtesy of Jose Calderon, beat the Celtics the Raptors finally did.

As much as Sam Mitchell tried to downplay the importance of last night's tilt, he knew it was a big game. Look at that picture, it's all the proof you need. That's a picture of a coach who wanted it bad and who is as intense as they come. That's why I love Sam.

Why'd the Raps need this win, you ask? Because it was their fourth and final meeting with the dominant Celtics. After losing a heart breaker in overtime the first time out against Boston, the Celts turned it up a notch and spanked the Raptors in their next two meetings. Boston, whom I predicted, like Doug Smith, to struggle to make the playoffs, are good. Alright, they are very good. Alright, they are freakin' fantastic and have the division title all but locked up. I figured there wasn't going to be much sharing of the rock in Beantown and, along with that, some bruised egos. But that hasn't turned out to be the case. I was wrong. Really, really wrong. The Celts are off the charts, and are even getting production beyond the Big Three, from jobbers like Eddie House and Rajon Rondo.

I've clearly lost my train of thought. The Raptors needed the win over Boston to prove to themselves that they could play with the best of the best. They measured up last night, especially in the final stanza.

For the Celtics it was only their seventh loss of the season, and only their fourth defeat on their home court. It was also their first loss to a divisional opponent. If the Raps hadn't beaten the Celts last night, I think Boston would have swept the entire division. God knows Toronto is the only other decent team in the putrid Atlantic Division.

I'll be honest, I didn't watch most of the ball game. I was scared the Raps were in for more poundage, and I didn't need to see that again. I chose, instead, to watch the Leafs game. Yes, that does, officially, make me an idiot. But I did catch most of the fourth quarter, when I tuned in and saw that it was actually a ball game, and not a massacre.

Toronto went into the fourth trailing by seven, but they didn't quit. It also helped that they were on fire from beyond the arc all night, hitting 15 three-balls in the contest, including three in the final 15 minutes. Carlos Delfino deserves some props for his performance last night. He was money from deep (Grange picked a beauty of a name for his blog), going 5-for-5.

The catalysts of the comeback were, of course, Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon. CB4 dropped 10 in the final frame but it was Calderon who provided the heroics late. He hit two free throws with 30 seconds left to give the Raps a one-point lead, 111-110, which they squandered. With 14 ticks left on the clock, Calderon drove to the hoop off a Bosh screen for a layup. Bucket. And the foul! That's when Chuck Swirsky dropped the onions. It was a huge three-point-play. The Celtics had last shot, and even got off two attempts because the Raptors can't rebound for their lives, but it wasn't to be. It was the Raptors night.

In the holy crap department, Andrea Bargnani was spotted yesterday actually contributing while on the court. The dude's been missing of late, but he finally had a game. He was due. Part of the reason I haven't written about the Raptors in a while is because of Bargnani's struggles. His regression troubles me deeply. My expectations were, as I have come to realize, way too high for him this year.

Last night, however, he dropped 20 on 50% shooting and racked up seven assists. Most astonishing of all, he grabbed seven rebounds! For Andrea, that's about three games worth. We all know Sucky Soph is struggling mightily (last year he was "Big Rook," so this year he is "Sucky Soph"), but it was great to see the Bargnani of old chip in last night. He's still hella young, and we have to be patient with him. The fans in this city are way too quick to turn on young players (see: Nik Antropov) and while Brandon Roy definitely seems like the better player right now - and he is - Bargnani still has crazy upside.

Also in the holy crap department, why are the Raptors allergic to rebounding? They were clobbered again on the boards last night, and only their hot shooting was able to save their collective behinds. It's not the 39-29 advantage the Celtics had on the boards that is frightening; it's the 16-4 advantage Boston had on the offensive glass that blows my mind. 16-4! Sixteen offensive rebounds is about 13 too many. Ray Allen had as many offensive rebounds as the entire Raptors team. Sure, Toronto's shots were falling, but the last play of the game said it all. Eddie House's three-ball attempt to win the game hit rim, but Allen picked up the rebound and chucked up another attempt, this time to tie the game. Thankfully, he missed, and Chuck was able to bring out the salami and cheese, but Allen should never have gotten that opportunity in the first place. Rebounding is definitely this team's achilles heel and until they sort it out, and I'm not sure how they're going to go about doing that, how serious can they be taken?

The Raps rebounding woes didn't burn them last night and it was a scintillating fourth quarter. My man Calderon is also deserving of some serious high-fivery. Doug Smith at The Star is dead-on about the Spaniard; where the hell would the Raptors be without him? Numero ocho has to make the All-Star team. It would be a travesty if he didn't. He's a rudey. Start praying that Toronto is able to get this guy's autograph on a long-term contract.

While Ray Allen's game-winning attempt was on its way to the basket, and I was yelling "No!" like a school girl, the Maple Leafs were up to some late game theatrics of their own, courtesy of their captain. Who else?

Mats Sundin made sure Cliff Fletcher's return to the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off with a bang, and the Leafs beat the Washington Capitals 3-2, thanks to Sundin's goal with 30 seconds left to play.

It was the 544th goal of Sundin's illustrious career, tying him on the all-time list with the great Maurice "Rocket" Richard. Any time you're mentioned in the same sentence as the Rocket, you know you've done pretty damn well for yourself. This is also the 17th straight season where Mats has scored 20 goals or more. Captain consistency. Like Helen Seinfeld used to say about her son Jerry - "How could anyone not like him?" The more people talk about Sundin possibly being traded, and the more he tells the media he doesn't want to leave, the less I can picture him in another uniform. He's a Maple Leaf. For better or worse (usually worse).

Speaking of Cliff Fletcher, that's one hell of a tan he got down in Mexico last week. Must have been nice. His face at the presser on Tuesday was as red as a, well, I don't know. But, damn, it was really red. While the attitude around the Leafs was more calm than usual last night - the calm after the storm, I guess - it's good Fletcher got some sun and the vacation out of the way. Because it's all business from here on out, with the 19 month contract he has signed. It looks as if he really is going to be just the interim general manager, as the Leafs will be hiring a new president and general manager in a few months, and Fletch will then become a consultant. So, Richard Peddie may finally be getting out of the way. When that happens, when the Leafs do hire a new president and general manager sometime over the summer, it really will be Christmas in July.

The speculation has already begun over who it will be, but none of that matters right now. It's all about Fletcher, The Silver Fox, and what he can do to try and fix this team. After last night's win Toronto is only five points out of the blessed eighth playoff spot, so cue up that number one draft pick baby, because the Leafs are going to be buying at the trade deadline!

At least Fletcher knows what to expect in his second go round with the Buds. And he can't possibly age much worse than he already has. I think he's 72, but he looks like he's pushing 85. The man's got pictures of himself on the internet from 1970! At least we know he's never, ever, used any "Just For Men" products. But I digress. I got faith in the Fletch. His reputation is great, he knows how to get things done in this business, and he's got a Stanley Cup ring around his finger. That says it all.

And kudos to John Ferguson Jr. Not only did he not throw any low blows the organization's way at his press conference, he thanked the Leafs for the opportunity. JFJ's a bigger man than I am. He's reportedly already received a few job offers already, and that's not really surprising. Even though the results weren't there, I think he leaves the Leafs in better hands than when he got his job back in 2003. The Leafs have some top notch prospects coming along the pipe (Justin Pogge and Nikolai Kulemin) and the fruits of JFJ's labour won't be known until at least five years down the road. But his retooling of the scouting department and the fact that the Toronto Marlies are one of the best teams in the AHL have to count for something. Peace out, JFJ. Stay classy.

The Leafs are 4-1 in their last five games, largely due to Vesa Toskala's stellar play. Their only loss came Sunday in New Jersey, when Toskala got the night off. Andrew Raycroft was, as usual, his Raycrapian self. Toskala was once again brilliant last night, and can probably take the Leafs to the playoffs on his back if he gets hot. He's that good. With a win tonight in Washington, it might be time to dust off the blueprints to the parade route...again.

Welcome back to hell, Fletch.

January 22, 2008

John Ferguson Jr.: You're Fired!

It’s official. John Ferguson Jr. is general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs no more. He got the axe this morning. I’ve got to argue that it was the slowest, yet most obvious, dismissal in the history of professional sports.

The writing, as the kids say, was on the wall. JFJ was a lame-duck manager, without a contract following this season and, with the well documented struggles of our heroes in the blue and white, it was only a matter of time before JFJ was shown the door. Not to mention the organization’s most-public search for a replacement while JFJ was still holding on to his job. Even my mother saw this one coming.

JFJ’s treatment by the Maple Leafs was distasteful, to say the least. They didn’t show JFJ much respect and just this morning MLSE president, and douchebag extraordinaire, Richard Peddie was quoted by the Canadian Press: “I have not fired John (Ferguson).”

Not yet, at least, would have been more fair. Jeez.

The Toronto Maple Leafs: the epitome of dysfunction.

Peddie’s press release to the media was the standard upper management bullshit. It said that JFJ was not going to be offered a new contract (shocker!), so it is in the best interests of the club, and JFJ, that the transition (to continued mediocrity?) begin immediately.

JFJ told TSN that he was not offered a position in another capacity with the club. Although the Leafs weren’t able to accomplish much in his almost five year tenure, JFJ can go out with his head held high. I doubt he’ll go out kicking-and-screaming, or with anything bad to say about the organization, because that’s just not how he rolls. No one would, however, blame him ‘round these parts if he left by throwing a few low-blows, especially below Peddie’s belt. He was treated pitifully, but JFJ was the definition of class and professionalism while he was jerked around by the tools upstairs.

So I offer JFJ my condolences on his new-found joblessness, and thank him for his time and effort here. As terrible of a job as he did around here, and his legacy will most-certainly be defined by the Tuukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft trade (oh dear), he tried. As much as I have hated the many moves he’s made over the years, right now I can’t hate on JFJ. He’s been treated horribly enough. Maybe in a few days, after I’ve thought about how he’s screwed us over the last few years, I’ll rip into him.

In typical Maple Leafs fashion, the team has started up the good old time machine for a solution to their woes. In the blast-from-the-past department, Cliff Fletcher, a hockey dinosaur who was paid to stay the hell away from the Phoenix Coyotes organization, is the new interim general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Cliff Fletcher. The man who delivered us Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin, but also the man who cost us a chance at Roberto Luongo. You have mixed feelings about him? Yeah, me too.

I doubt he’ll be the general manager next season, but since every instinct I have is wrong, I expect the interim tag next to Fletcher’s name will be dropped in June, sometime before the entry draft.

I expect Fletcher’s number one priority will be to convince captain Sundin to waive his no-trade clause and help infuse the franchise with some young talent it so desperately needs. Also on the to-do list will be to rid the club of some of their expensive contracts, and rid the team of the disease known as Andrew Raycroft.

I also expect there to be multiple post-it notes stuck to Fletcher’s monitor at his desk that say: “Do Not Trade Draft Picks!!!!” I find those little post-it notes help me to remember important work-related reminders. I think they would go a long way in making sure the Leafs do not compromise their future anymore by trading away draft picks.

But who knows? Another three-game win streak, which will kick start dreams of the eighth playoff seed, and the Leafs just might, as they do with freakish regularity around here, make a pitch for Yanic Perreault. It’s about that time of year.

So it’s a new day, and another new (or is it old?) beginning for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Like Ben Knight from The Globe and Mail’s On Soccer blog always says: "Onward!"

Yes, unfortunately, we have to.

Thanks JFJ for, uh, well, nothing. But, shit, thanks anyways.

January 17, 2008

It's Time To Re-Sign John Ferguson Jr.


For the past three seasons I have believed that the Toronto Maple Leafs were a playoff team. Clearly, my instincts have been wrong. Ok, horribly wrong. It's time for some George Costanza inspired thinking. It's time to re-sign general manager John Ferguson Jr. to a multi-year contract.

Like Jerry Seinfeld told George, "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right." My instincts are telling me that John Ferguson Jr. needs to be fired and jettisoned out of this town, and fast. So, with that in mind, lets get his signature on a long-term contract. JFJ got us into this mess, lets give him a chance to get us out of it.

While everyone is enjoying shitting on JFJ (I've done it too, I admit it is rather enjoyable), I think the man is deserving of some serious props. He's trying to do his job in one tremendously fucked up working environment right now, yet he's still been accessible to the media. There he was Tuesday night doing an interview on Sportsnet during the second intermission of the Leafs game saying that, yes, at the end of the day, he was accountable for Toronto's lack of success. The man isn't hiding behind a rock, although he has every reason to be. He's facing the heat, and I've got to show him some love for that. His job is hanging by the thinnest of threads, and it can't be good times in the Ferguson Jr. household.

I can't also forget to mention the douchebag JFJ has to report to - his boss, the ever-popular, Richard Peddie. Peddie's the moron who passed on Scotty Bowman - passed on freakin' Scotty Bowman - and who publicly said that JFJ's hiring was a mistake. It's also common knowledge that Peddie and the Leafs are, and were months ago, looking for a replacement for Mr. Dead Man Walking, JFJ.

The thought has crossed my mind as to why JFJ simply hasn't quit. Why he hasn't gotten up one morning and said, "You know what? Fuck this. I'm gone," is beyond me. I'm sure there are financial reasons involved, but he has chosen not to take the easy way out. I send more props his way.

I mean, you've got Scotty Bowman coming on national television saying he was interviewed by Peddie and co. and Cliff Fletcher-mania all over the media in the last few days. JFJ isn't stupid (although many think he most-certainly is and, based on his track record, it's tough to argue he's not). He sees the media vultures circling his soon-to-be canned carcass, and his team, every day. My question is: how the hell is this man supposed to get any work done in such an environment? He still is, after all, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The same Toronto Maple Leafs that have won two games in a row, baby (and last night's victory was in a shootout, to boot)! But, in all seriousness, how is Ferguson supposed to make a trade when rival general manager's know he's a lame-duck manager and almost certainly on the way out, be it in the coming days or weeks, or in the off-season. I don't think it's possible. Every other general manager should be trying to rip Ferguson off right now and if they're not trying to, they're not doing their job. If JFJ is desperate to make a trade to try and save his behind, he hasn't let it be known, and hasn't made a deal, and I give him credit for that. He's sticking to his guns, even though he's flat out of ammunition.

The reality of the situation is that decisions need to be made in regards to this Leafs squad. Vancouver had a couple of scouts in Toronto to watch the Leafs on Tuesday night and Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter took in last night's game in Boston vs the Bruins. The Leafs have a ridiculously tradeable asset in Mats Sundin, and someone, whether it's Ferguson or his replacement, needs to start working the phones. JFJ needs to know whether he'll be pulling the trigger on any potential trade, doesn't he? Only in Toronto, I swear.

JFJ's treatment by the Leafs is pretty pathetic. Either show him the door, or give him an extension. The fact that they would leave the man's fate hanging in the balance like this is sad, and shows complete and utter disrespect for the position, and for JFJ. After this most-public humiliation of JFJ, who in their right mind would want to come and join the toxic environment that is the Toronto Maple Leafs front office? Ownership should be ashamed of themselves, but they're probably too busy doing laps in their swimming pool's of dollar, dollar bills, y'all.

As for Richard Peddie, I'm sick of hearing the catcalls for his firing. Peddie isn't going anywhere. He should be removed from the hockey department, as he was with the basketball department (hence the Raptors meteoric rise), but the man isn't going to be fired. He's simply made MLSE and the teachers way too much loot. According to his most trustworthy wikipedia entry, since taking over MLSE, Peddie has tripled its value to over $1.5 billion. Peddie, although a douche, ain't going nowhere. Deal with it.

The JFJ tenure in Toronto hasn't gone exactly to plan, although since his arrival in 2003 the Leafs have reached the 40-win and 90-point mark in each of his three seasons. Injuries have screwed JFJ and the Leafs, royally, the past few years. A completely healthy lineup is a luxury this team hasn't been able to have. Sure, every team and every general manager has to deal with injuries, but the Leafs, as I've documented, have been cursed by the MLSE injury plague.

One needn't look further than the recent injuries to Carlo Colaiacovo and Mark Bell. Colaiacovo injured his knee, the same knee he had surgery on a few months ago, while skating innocently to the bench after the referee blew the play dead a couple of weeks ago against Philly. He collided innocently with Flyers forward Jim Dowd and, just like that, it was back to the injured list for Carlo. I can't, in good conscience, even call it a collision - they just bumped into each other. Carlo simply cannot catch a break. Bless his heart, the poor guy.

Mark Bell, on the other hand, is plain old stupid. When he was traded to Toronto over the summer I heard he liked to chuck knuckles. Well, turns out that was just a rumour. He doesn't do much knuckle-chucking, but he sure is on the receiving end of a lot of 'em. The man can't fight, but he keeps on dropping the gloves. I'm not sure if Bell was preparing for his upcoming springtime sojourn to, umm, jail, but it's safe to say he won't be fighting for the next little while. A few weeks ago in Pittsburgh, Penguins forward Ryan Malone broke Bell's face in a fight (if you could call it that). Bell went under the knife recently to repair facial fractures (ouch) and will be gone eight weeks. So much more Bell being the dark horse in the Vesa Toskala trade, eh?

The goaltending has also been unkind - ok, very unkind - to the JFJ years. JFJ, in his second year with the team, and coming off the lockout, re-signed Eddie Belfour and watched as Belfour had his worst season in a Leafs uniform. The Buds ended up missing the playoffs by two points, but JFJ was his own worst enemy. He had only himself to blame, for he should never have re-signed the old and creaky Belfour, especially to a ludicrous two-year contract.

JFJ's solution to the Belfour debacle? Good old Razor Raycroft. I'm not even going to go there. However, as bad as the Belfour and Raycrap moves were, JFJ rectified the situation this time around with Toskala. Vesa is one of the few bright spots this year on a moribund Leafs team.

Let's not, however, get it confused - I'm not making excuses for JFJ, even though it seems like I am. The Leafs haven't made the playoffs two out of the three seasons he's been at the helm, and the playoffs are looking like a pipe dream this year as well. That's really all that matters. And, in the understatement of the year, JFJ has made some seriously fucked up personnel decisions. Raycroft's at the top of the list, that's for sure, but there are a ton of others that simply didn't, and haven't, worked out: Eric Lindros, Jason Allison, Jason Blake, Mark Bell, Marius Czerkawski, Brian Leetch, Tie Domi, Andy Wozniewski, and more. I'm not including in that list guys like Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina, but I'm sure others would put them at, or near, the top.

I'm rambling now, but there is a point to all my drivel (isn't there always?). JFJ is man who has learned while on the job, and why not give him a crack at turning this ship around. Sure, we can bring in someone new and change everything up, but there are no guarantees in life. It's why I voted Liberal in last October's provincial election. Did McGuinty and the Liberals do a super job the past four years? Uh, not quite. Were they on the right track? In my opinion, yes. If we keep changing our government every four years, what the hell is going to get done around here? Not much.

Changes, especially the systematic ones that the Toronto Maple Leafs so desperately need, take time, and it's time we learned some patience in this town. So I'm all for rebuilding this Leafs franchise, from the bottom up, and I'm saying lets give JFJ a shot at it. Even George went up to that woman in the coffee shop and told her that he was unemployed and lived with his parents. He did the opposite, and I suggest we do the same with our beloved Maple Leafs. We must follow the lead of George Louis Costanza, one of the most brilliant, and most neurotic, minds of our time...

January 13, 2008

Paul Maurice Needs A Hug

In the wake of another blown two-goal lead and another heartbreaking defeat, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Paul Maurice got emotional. His job is not an easy one. He is a man in desperate need of a hug.

When asked about the effort of his team in a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks, Maurice immediately choked up. The Leafs were, after all, a team that the media were reporting had quit on their head coach, but Maurice stood tall in praise of the men he commands.

"See, a big chunk of our problem is not lack of effort. It's wanting it so bad you're paralyzed by it," Maurice said.

Being paralyzed, especially in the defensive zone, and if your name is Andrew Raycroft, is certainly part of the Leafs' modus operandi, but I will agree that the Leafs played with much more determination, grit and heart in losing to the Sharks. As Damien Cox writes, the result was the same but there was actually some pride out there on the ice last night.

Now, I've watched many a post-game media scrum in my time as a Leafs fan, but never one quite like yesterday's. When asked whether the team's effort showed that the Leafs had in fact not quit on their coach, Maurice fought back tears, and I mean he really fought back tears. Losing 11 of the last 13 games has taken its toll on the coach, and it all came out last night. While the ship has slowly but surely been sinking, Maurice made it known that he was proud of each and every one of his men. His display showed me that he doesn't, not for even a split second, believe in his heart that the boys have quit on him.

Maurice's Hillary Clinton-esque moment also showed me how much of a competitor he is, how troubled he is by the Leafs' struggles, and how much he truly wants to win. Those bags under his eyes are real, and the plight of the Leafs is weighing heavily on his shoulders. While people all over this town, myself included, call for his dismissal, Maurice is at the end of the day just another working man, with a mortgage to pay and a family to feed. While his job of course pays more handsomely than most, it comes with the same amount of job security as losses this season for the New England Patriots: none. He could be unemployed by the time you read this, who knows? And that can't be a good feeling, especially when he is currently working what he calls "the job of his dreams."

As for the game, the Leafs blew a two-goal lead for the sixth time this season, this time a 2-0 margin in the third period. Toskala got the start in goal with Raycroft serving as his backup and Justin Pogge watching from the press box. Toskala, facing his former team, was brilliant. He did everything he could to try and get the Leafs a win, but it wasn't to be. My heart goes out to Vesa, who I know really wanted to win last night's tilt. He's been phenomenal for the Leafs this season. Along with Sundin, they have been about the only things that have gone right in a season gone so horribly wrong.

Going into the third period up 2-0, and down a man thanks to a Boyd Devereaux penalty, a Leafs collapse almost seemed inevitable, especially if San Jose was able to convert on their early power play. Convert they did, when Hal Gill was unable to clear the puck out of the Toronto zone. Gill then exacerbated the situation by inexplicably trying to play goal in front of Toskala. Patrick Marleau's point-shot went off Gill's stick, through Toskala's pads, and in. Cue the opening of the flood gates. The Sharks were then all over Toronto like Roger Clemens on a steroids syringe and the Leafs proceeded to take another couple of bonehead penalties (read: Jiri Tlusty is an idiot). With nine minutes left in the third period Toronto was suddenly down 3-2 and, like Vic Rauter always says, "you can make the final."

In the completely useless department, Dominic Moore made his Leafs debut last night and, well, debut is about all he did. He isn't going to be making much of an impact around here.

Ron MacLean, Don Cherry's whipping boy, pointed out that amidst all the turmoil and rumours surrounding the Leafs, it was fitting that they were finishing their hellish California road trip in the "Shark Tank." I couldn't agree more. It was a straight-up shark attack in the third period and the Leafs head home no longer an extremely fragile squad, but a broken one.

An interesting segment from last night's CBC broadcast was an interview with Scotty Bowman, who divulged that in August he did interview for a position with Toronto, even though he's denied it for months. Bowman said he had interviews and meetings with Larry Tanenbaum, Richard Peddie, and other members of the MLSE board, and that he was looking for a Bryan Colangelo type-deal with the Maple Leafs, at about the same price tag as the Raptors president and general manager ($3 million a year). Bowman wanted full control of all hockey operations. His track record, 10 freakin' Stanley Cups, speaks for itself.

So why the hell is John Ferguson still the general manager of our beloved hockey team? Because The Leafs passed, choosing instead to stick with JFJ and co. The Toronto Maple Leafs had a chance at Scotty Bowman, one of the greatest and most successful hockey minds of all-time, and they passed. Pardon my language, but that is un-fucking-believable. And deeply disappointing. Who knows when, or whether, the chance to bring in someone of the ilk of Bowman will come again. With decisions like these being made up at the top, it's no wonder the Leafs find themselves in the predicament they are in today - 16 wins, the fewest in the NHL, and 40 points, four away from being the worst team in the league. And lets not forget - nary a Stanley Cup sighting 'round these parts since 1967.

The Leafs, however, must soldier on. The team is off until Tuesday, and who knows if Ferguson and/or Maurice will still be with the team by then. If Maurice is let go, and I doubt he will be before Ferguson, he leaves not as a coach but as a fighter. I'll never forget the way he stood up for his team. He is a man of great integrity. I've said a lot of bad things about him in the past few months, but he gained a ton of my respect last night. It is when a man struggles that you learn the most about him.

The countdown until the axe falls continues. Will today be the day? We'll soon find out. It could very well be Sunday bloody Sunday. All in all, Paul Maurice isn't the only one that needs a hug. I think I do, too.

Tough times...

January 12, 2008

The Lunacy Continues

Thursday night's embarresment in Los Angeles made for one helluva interesting Friday in Leafs Nation. Roster moves and rampant speculation were the order of the day. I have to admit that it sure is entertaining following the train wreck known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. Good times, indeed.

Friday began with The Toronto Star's Damien Cox reporting that John Ferguson was frantically pressing the Staples Easy Button. In a move that only signals sheer panic and desperation, blue-chip goaltending prospect Justin Pogge has been recalled by the parent club and will be in the lineup Saturday night. The future, it seems, is now.

At around 1:00 pm yesterday afternoon I learned that the Leafs dipped into the waiver pool and acquired Dominic Moore from the Minnesota Wild. Moore has one goal and two assists in 30 games with Minnesota this year.

Well, whoop. Dee. Doo. Problems solved! Throwing a rookie goalie, who is to be the future of the franchise, into the fire, and picking up a discarded forward famous for attending Harvard and being the brother of the guy who got his ass kicked by Todd Bertuzzi.

Pardon me while I uncork the freakin' bottle of Bambino champagne (only $12.15 a bottle at your local LCBO).

At 3:00 pm news hit the wire that the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves had been announced. Tomas Kaberle was going to Atlanta for his third all-star go-round but, astonishingly, Mats Sundin wasn't.

The rest of the day was all about coach Paul Maurice and general manager John Ferguson. My man David Shoalts at The Globe wrote a beauty of a piece saying that it's all but over for Ferguson. He's not going to finish the season as the GM of the Leafs, and could be out of a job by Monday. While Ferguson has not asked management's permission to fire Maurice, Shoalts says it ain't going to happen anyway, even if Ferguson did ask, because Ferguson's tenure in Toronto is down to its last few days. Maurice's fate looks like it will be decided by the next general manager of this pathetic team, but with a couple more efforts like the ones in Orange Country and Los Angeles, I wouldn't be surprised if the Leafs don't have a coach or general manager come next week. They can't play much worse without 'em.

I've got to give Ferguson some props though (maybe his last props?). While he's watched the team he built get flushed down the toilet, he's stayed 100% loyal to his coach. Kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

I can't remember the days when the Leafs took so much flack in the papers, on the internet and on the radio. I'm even hearing parallels to the Harold Ballard era, when the Leafs were one of the league's perennial doormats.

I've got a feeling that Damien Cox has got an extra spring in his step these days, and a perma-grin to boot. He must be enjoying the Leafs' free-fall thoroughly. Like Godd Till at CoxBloc pointed out, this is a man who actually titled a column he wrote: "Not So Cocky Now, Eh Boys?" Cox gets a stiffy when the Leafs suck this good.

I can't blame the media for most of the negative coverage, though. The Leafs are a sad state of affairs. Dominic Moore? Give me a break. Give me a Kit Kat. The Leafs are a team full of guys like Dominic Moore. He's nothing more than a fourth-line player, another Bates Battaglia, or Kris Newbury. Ferguson said Moore will be in the lineup Saturday night to provide "energy." My question is, why not summon Newbury, or Jeremy Williams, or Robbie Earl, from the AHL-best Toronto Marlies? It boggles the mind.

And the promotion of Justin Pogge to the Leafs is my worst nightmare. The Leafs simply couldn't afford to mess with this kid's development, and they may now going to throw him into the pressure cooker head first, while everyone's ass is on the line. Oh yeah, I really like this idea. Pogge was having a solid season in the AHL and while he may be hungry to get some NHL action, keeping him in the minors for the full season would have made him even hungrier.

When will these douchebags ever learn? I blame Ferguson, Maurice and Andrew Raycroft for this pathetic last stand in Justin Pogge. First of all, I blame Andrew Raycroft for being such a pathetic excuse for a goalie. I think the summonage of Pogge may finally mean that Raycroft is done with the Leafs (read: the silver lining). He cannot play in this city any longer. He doesn't have, and I'm reaching back to my WWF days for this one, the testicular fortitude to get the job done. And testicular fortitude is quite essential to tend the twine in this town. Quite.

Raycroft's incompetence set off a chain of events Thursday night that led to Pogge being called up to the show. Vesa Toskala was forced into action after Raycrap's brutal first period, in which he let in four goals on 11 shots (a typical Raycrap night). Toskala apparently reinjured his groin while he mopped up Raycroft's mess. Instead of playing goalie carousel with Scott Clemmensen (who was ironically sent back to the Marlies on Thursday afternoon), the Leafs chose to phone Pogge, for reasons I will never understand. Like I said, It stinks of a general manager and coach trying to save their bottoms, and is the worst possible scenario for Pogge to join the Leafs, with rumours of a team having quit on their coach flying around the dressing room and following the team like a virus.

Now I've read, and I think it was Shoalts, that Toskala has announced himself fit and ready to go tonight in San Jose, so I don't know who's getting the start and whether Vesa is really injured again. If it is Toskala between the pipes against his former team, look for Pogge on the bench and Raycroft...well, who cares where that douche is, as long as he's not with the team.

If Toskala in fact has been reinjured, I'm going to be mighty peeved at Maurice. He had absolutely no business putting Toskala into a game in which the team was down four-to-nothing after 20 minutes and showing no competitive spirit whatsoever. Vesa had just returned to action for the first time in three weeks the night beofre, for Christ's sake. It was a move akin to playing with fire, and it simply shouldn't have been done.

But, most importantly, Maurice wouldn't have even needed to think about sending in Vesa had Raycroft not shit the bed entirely. I read a comment on TSN's website after the LA Kings debacle that read:

"If Andrew Raycroft were a horse................we'd have to shoot him."

I couldn't agree more, and believe me, I've tried. It's time to put Raycroft, that mother sucker, down, and bury the memories of him far, far, really far, away.

As for Sundin, I think his All-Star snub is a good thing. Mats has been to a boatload of the games over his career and, well, shit, it's the All-Star game, so who really cares? Mats' odometer has put on some serious miles over the years and a weekend off can't hurt the man. It will give him some time to contemplate his future, and hopefully decide on a team he would like to be traded to at the deadline. Here's one for you: Sundin to the San Jose Sharks for Patrick Marleau and a draft pick or two. What do you think? Marleau's been brutal this season, but I'd take a chance on him in a heartbeat. And Sundin would give the Sharks the secondary scoring Marleau was supposed to provide. Imagine a one-two punch at centre of Joe Thornton and Mats Sundin. Very excite!

It should be one doozy of a game tonight in the Shark Tank, especially if Justin Pogge gets the nod in goal. A little baptism by fire, please! And if the Leafs get their behind's handed to them on a platter once more, Sunday will be memorable as well, I'm sure.

Welcome to the life of a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan. The lunacy continues, and Toronto is burning...

January 11, 2008

Rock Bottom

When Andrew Raycroft is in goal, anything is possible. Even a 5-2 spanking of the Toronto Maple Leafs by the worst team in the National Hockey League, the Los Angeles Kings. If this isn't rock bottom, I'm not sure what is.

The Leafs, coming off a pathetic performance against the Anaheim Ducks, were just as bad, if not worse, last night. Their lack of resolve, fire, and competitiveness was humiliating. It was tough to be a Maple Leafs fan in that first period, when the Kings jumped out to a four-nothing lead.

Let's take a second to contemplate just how bad the LA Kings are. Going into last night's game the Kings were last in the NHL with 32 points, on 15 wins and two overtime losses. Their 15 losses on home ice is tops in the league. In other words, visiting teams love playing at the Staples Center. It's usually a cakewalk.

It certainly was last night. But for the Kings. By the time the first period was over the Leafs had been out-shot 11 to six and they were down 4-0. Jam done. Raycroft was, well, Raycroft (read: garbage). His rebound control was once again deplorable and the third goal by Frolov went right through him like the goaltending sieve he is. Raycroft was on the bench, where he belongs, to start the second period. While the team once again did not show up and clear any rebounds for him, Raycroft had to have been better last night. He needed to be at least half-decent, just so Vesa Toskala could rest his tender groin for Saturday night. But Raycroft couldn't even give Toskala one night off. This guy is so bad he doesn't even belong in the minors.

In another classic example of Maple Leafs incompetence, the Leafs yesterday afternoon returned goaltender Scott Clemmensen to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. They sent down the wrong guy. Idiots. After last night's performance, I truly hope Raycroft's career with the Toronto Maple Leafs is over. I can't take it anymore. The Leafs know he's a useless sack of shit, too. As Toronto Star sports columnist extraordinaire Damien Cox reported on Tuesday, the Leafs brain trust (not sure how much brain is involved, clearly not much) seriously contemplated giving Justin Pogge, the future, the start in goal last Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

It looks like the boys in the dressing room have become resigned to their fate, and are waiting for the axe to fall. Either on their coach, Paul Maurice, who it could be argued has lost this team, or a player. How else can you explain these poor performances? They are not showing up to play for Mo, or themselves, and are waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop.

If you take a look at the box score from last night's game you'll see that the Leafs actually out-shot LA 50-to-24. Los Angeles managed only 13 shots after the first period, and once Toskala was in the crease for Toronto to start the second period, the Leafs took to it to the Kings and outscored them two-to-one the rest of the contest. But, of course, it didn't matter. The game was decided in the first period. Thanks a bunch, Raycrap.

Richard Peddie, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president, is actually on this California road trip with Toronto, so he's had a front row seat to watch this freak show. Peddie is the moron who publicly said it was a mistake to hire John Ferguson Jr. Tell me something I don't know, douchebag. And fire someone, already! Preferably yourself.

It's onward to San Jose for a date with the Sharks on Saturday. Another beating, of that I have no doubt. Astonishingly, the Leafs are still only five points out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and that's not a good thing. Ferguson is going to be looking to save his ass in the next couple of weeks and if history is any indication, he'll swing a deal in order for the Leafs to make a run at the final playoff spot, when all Toronto should be worrying about these days is the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Like PPP at Pension Plan Puppets says, it's all about being the worst right now.

These are trying times for everyone, especially captain Mats Sundin. He fired 11 shots at the LA goal last night and is looking weary and tired from all the losing. It's like a disease, and it's spreading fast. Sundin needs to get out of Toronto. He doesn't deserve this. Not after his many years of faithful service. This is not the way his extraordinary Leafs career should be coming to a close. It hurts. The dream of Sundin winning the Stanley Cup in a Leafs uniform - a dream I have held so close to my heart for so many years - is dying a most painful death...

January 10, 2008

How Much Longer?

Vesa Toskala returned to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, and it didn't change a damn thing. The Leafs were blown out of the water 5-0 by the Anaheim Ducks, and have now lost nine of their last 11 games. How much longer will the humiliation continue?

My initial reaction is, once again, to fire Paul Maurice. But I've been down that road before, and when things were just as bleak a month ago the Leafs were able to turn the ship around.

But a general manager without a contract after this season can only stay the course for so long, and the Leafs were frighteningly brutal last night. Again. Coupled with a Washington Capitals win, Toronto is now 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, and Tampa Bay is only three points back. Like Ace Ventura said, "assholes in mirror are closer than they appear."

For the life of me I can't comprehend the abysmal effort by the boys last night. It's not like they didn't have time to prepare for the defending Coupe Stanley champions - they Leafs arrived in the Golden State on Monday.

They welcomed back their goaltender Toskala - who admittedly wasn't too sharp - by hanging him out to dry. With Toskala coming off a groin injury and playing for the first time in almost three weeks, I figured the Buds would play a simple road game with tight defense and only one man deep. Well, clearly I'm an idiot. Todd Bertuzzi scored the first goal of the game on a breakaway only two minutes into the contest, while Tomas Kaberle was admiring the sights and sounds of the Honda Center and Pavel Kubina was blowing a tire.

Toronto's power play was once again impotent. The Leafs are in serious need of some power play Viagra, or Cialis, because while the mood is right, there's no power on this power play. With a man advantage the Leafs went zero-for-six, including a lengthy five-on-three opportunity near the end of the third period. They could have at least broken the shutout, for Christ's sake.

Let's keep it real for a second - a team with a 13.8% power play efficiency rating and a 79.5% penalty kill proficiency (those stats do not include last night's incompetence) doesn't deserve to make the playoffs.

As the Leafs nosedive towards the bottom of the NHL standings (only Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are worse), the media scrutiny around the team is growing. The sharks are circling, and hungry. The popular item of the week is the status of Mats Sundin - will he be traded? Would he waive his no-trade clause? What is he worth on the market right now?

Sundin is on pace for his best offensive season in a decade. He has certainly aged well. With the current state of the Toronto Maple Leafs it's really a no-brainer - Sundin must be traded. He can command NHL-ready talent, and top draft picks, everyone knows it. He should be the most saught-after player on the market, and probably already is. An argument can be made that he should have been traded last year at the trade deadline, but the Leafs were in the race for a playoff spot at the time, and right up until game number 82. This season, although there is a ton of parity in the East, the Leafs may be DOA by game 55. It's certainly looking that way and if that's the case, Sundin has to be bid adieu. For the Leafs' sake, and for his sake. He deserves to win a Stanley Cup, even if it is as a rental player, and he can always return to Toronto in the summer.

On an emotional level, I haven't dealt with the prospect of Mats Sundin donning another team's jersey. I can't go there. Not right now. I'm not ready, and I'm not sure I ever will be. A sick part of me is hoping the Captain will go down with the sinking ship.

The Leafs continue their odyssey through California tonight in Los Angeles against those hapless Kings. If Toronto loses to LA, well, I won't be surprised. Andrew Raycroft will be between the pipes, after all.

January 05, 2008

Golden

Canada is golden at the world junior hockey championship once again. This one came with some drama, as Canada blew a 2-0 lead but won it 3-2 in overtime. Make it four in a row, baby, for the greatest hockey nation in the world.

First of all, full marks to the Swedish junior team. They played a gutsy game in the final and pushed Canada to the brink. They were the top team in the round robin and were the first team to beat Canada in four years at this tournament.

But the serious props go out to each and every young man on team Canada. This wasn't the most talented Canadian squad sent over to the junior tournament - far from it. No big names like in years past like Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Carey Price or Jonathan Toews. Canada's squad this year was all about hard work and, once again, they got the job done.

Canada also had the benefit of some serious crowd support. There were a ton of Canadian fans in the crowd for each and every game and Gord Miller put it best when he said you would think that the tournament was being played in Pardubice, Saskatchewan and not Pardubice, Czech Republic. The tournament will be home to North America for the next four years, starting with Ottawa in 2008, and I've got to get me to one of the games. They seem like a drunken good time.

Canada was up 2-1 with under a minute left to play in the third period of the final. I guess all teams with a Maple Leaf on their chest love to blow late third period leads. It is amazing how a minor international hockey rule change can effect the game. With less than a minute to go Canada forward Shawn Matthias sent the puck down the ice from the Canadian zone and it was rolling towards the Swedish goal line. Matt Halischuk got on his horse but couldn't reach the puck in time as it hit the red line for a no-touch icing call, and the puck was sent back to the Canadian zone. With touch-icing rules, as is the standard in North America, Halischuk gets to the puck first, eats up valuable seconds off the clock, and possibly scores in the empty Swedish net to seal the deal. Sweden, however, won the ensuing faceoff in Canada's zone, set up shop, and scored the equalizer to send the game to overtime.

Matthias and Halischuk did get their revenge. In overtime. It was Matthias who took the puck to the net from the corner and Halischuk slapped it home from the crease to make Canada world junior champions for the fourth year in a row. It's becoming a winter passage. It snows in January, and Canada wins the world junior tournament. You better believe it.

Halischuk was at a loss for words when speaking to TSN reporter James Cybulski after the game. I was expecting one of the other Canadian boys to sidle up to him and say "like that time we went to Fallsview Casino!"

It never gets old watching a group of young Canadian men line up on the blue line, Canadian flags draped over their shoulder pads, locked in arms, to sing the national anthem. With that in mind, it's been a while, so why not?

Oh Canada!
Our home and native land.
True patriot love,
In all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
THE TRUE NORTH STRONG AND FREE!
From far and wide,
Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free.
Oh Canada, we stand on guard...for...thee.
OH CANADA, we stand on guard.....
For......
Thee!!!!!!!!

Like that dope Don Cherry says, "that's a beauty!"

Congratulations Canada, and thanks as always.

January 04, 2008

Penguins Layeth The Smacketh Downeth

I'm always bitching and moaning about the lack of accountability on the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club. Well, Paul Maurice and company ushered in 2008 with some changes, so I've got to show the team some respect. There's only one problem - the Leafs still stink.

Another spanking went into the books last night at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A 6-2 final, including three goals by the Pens in 48 seconds early in the third period. Three goals in 48 seconds. I can't even make myself a drink in 48 seconds. OK, well, maybe if I try really hard.

As for those changes I mentioned. Andrew Raycroft has been sent to the bench, hopefully with some super glue so he can never play for the Leafs again, and Kyle Wellwood has been banished to the press box as a healthy scratch.

Raycrap can rot in goaltending hell but it's tough times for Welly. He was supposed to be the Leafs' second-line centre this season and was expected to put up 65 points. But it's clear to anyone who's been watching him play that he just isn't the same since his groin and abdominal injuries. I gotta say that Wellwood is one strange cat. He supposedly doesn't own a television and while being interviewed on Tuesday morning about his upcoming night off he was pretty upbeat, and was even wearing a smile. Umm, Kyle, you're supposed to be disappointed. At least show me you're freaking disappointed. I think the whole camera and television thing just tripped him out. At least I hope that was the case. Otherwise he's a douche.

The lineup changes worked on January 1st, although Toronto's opponent were the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are even more pathetic than my Leafs. Haha, losers! Scott Clemmensen, who broke my heart last year, was between the pipes and the Leafs actually won a game via the dreaded shootout. Seriously, I kid you not. A shootout against Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis. That's the NHL's leading scorer (Lecavalier), a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner (Richards), and a former scoring champion (St. Louis). Typical Toronto Maple Leafs. It proves that anyone, including Clemmensen, is better than Raycroft the goaltending sieve.

Wellwood was in the press box again last night and Clemmensen got his second straight start in goal, but it didn't matter. The Leafs hung Clemmensen out to dry like he was, well, Raycroft, and I'm guessing Wellwood will be back in the lineup on Saturday night after another anemic offensive performance by the boys in blue and white.

The good news? Isn't much, other than the amazing fact that Jason Blake scored for the first time on the road this freaking season last night at the Igloo. Only took half the year. Atta boy, Blake!

Here's what I'm upset about, and I'll keep it short and simple: Paul Maurice should have called a timeout when Pittsburgh made it 4-1, with two goals in 37 seconds. Instead, play continued and the Penguins bagged another one 11 seconds later. Then Maurice used his timeout, but by then it was already sweet dreams Toronto. Way to coach back there, Mo.

And for the love of Christ, Jiri Tlusty needs to be sent back down to the minors. The rookie played less than five minutes last night. There's no point for him to be playing on the fourth line with a playmaker like Wade Belak when he can be playing 20 minutes a game on the best team in the American Hockey League, the Toronto Marlies. Tlusty is only 19 and the Leafs can't afford to mess with this kid's development, yet they already are. The mismanagement up in here is unreal.

I'm starting to feel a bit Damien Cox-ish about the rest of this Leafs season. By that I mean negative as a mother sucker. The Leafs completed game 41 out of 82 last night, and have only 16 wins to their name. That's not good. Not good at all. The Leafs were handily beaten by a better team - a playoff team - in the Penguins last night. And while we're add it, lets add Ty Conklin's name to the list of goalies to beat the Leafs this season. Brutal.

I have kept believing the Leafs would turn it around - flick the proverbial switch - but since Toronto lost Vesa Toskala to injury, things have gotten seriously bleak 'round these parts. Toronto has dropped four of their last five contests, and seven of nine. The Leafs are the 26th-best-team (got to stay a little positive) in a 30-team-league. It's painful. I'm not too sure how much longer things will be allowed to continue this way, but I've got to believe that one of Maurice or JFJ are going to be picking up the classifieds in The Hockey News in the not-so-distant future.

The only man that can save this Leafs team, and a season that is quickly slipping away, is goaltender Toskala.

Fire the flare. I'm sending out an S.O.S.

There's just one more thing - Mark Bell, please stop fighting. Watching you get knocked out every time is embarrassing.