February 27, 2008

The Not-So-Instant Analysis

Forget "Family Day." If Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals wanted to give Ontarians a February holiday, it should have been on Tuesday so we could have all celebrated "Trade Deadline Day" at home. I guarantee it would have assured McGuinty more than 42.2% of the popular vote.

McGuinty declaring "Trade Deadline Day" a province-wide holiday likely would have found PC leader John Tory in an even bigger mess than he finds himself in today. Although, after last weekend, that's debatable.

But I digress.

Another NHL trade deadline has come and gone, but fret not internet, I'm here to offer my $0.02. In contrast to the hours and hours and hours and hours of deadline day coverage on TSN, Sportsnet and The Score - I think TSN was on the air at a ridiculous 8:00 am - which were full of breaking trades and expert opinion, I offer you my not-so-instant analysis. Better late than never, right?

First of all, Maple Leafs fans rejoice! The trade deadline is done and gone and Yanic Perreault is not a Maple Leaf for the fourth time in his career. Phew. With Toronto only six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot on Tuesday morning I was beginning to get a little worried.

I think general manager Cliff Fletcher, who is pictured above looking at the Leafs' roster the day he was re-hired in January, did the best he could. As everyone knows by now, none of the Untradeables (literally) - Sundin, Kaberle, Kubina, Tucker and McCabe - were willing to waive their no-trade clauses, so Fletcher's hands were tied. After those five, the roster was pretty thin. Sure, teams called about Antropov and Toskala, but Fletcher made it known that he wasn't even entertaining the notion of trading those two (atta boy, Clifford!).

"There were enquiries about Nik, but you have to decide where you start building. ... For us, Antropov and Toskala fit nicely into that pattern, they are two players we want to see around here and be part of a winning team," he said.

So all you suckers who wanted Antropov to be traded (Damien Cox I'm looking at you), all I have to say is: ha-ha!

As for the deals Fletcher did make, I'm in approval of all them. By trading three roster players for draft picks Fletcher proved that the organization is headed in the right direction, and Leaf fans across the land, near and far, should take solace in that. Had Fletch added a body for the stretch run (ie: "No Panic" Yanic freakin' Perreault) it would have simply been more of the same old, same old that has found the Leafs in their current predicament. And Fletcher's comments after the 3:00 pm deadline passed proved that had some no-trade clauses not been exercised, the Leafs would have been even bigger sellers.

Wade Belak to Florida for a 5th round selection in 2008

Wow. For a guy with an expiring contract who hardly plays, and is only skilled with his fists, it's pretty damn impressive that Fletcher was able to coax a fifth rounder out of the Panthers for Belak's services. Cliff really is the Silver Fox.

I will say this about Belak though: he knows his role, and he fulfilled it admirably in Toronto. It's not easy to shuffle in and out of the lineup, never playing more than a few minutes a game, and play both forward and defence whenever called upon. I'll also never forget the way Belak so graciously gave up his number two the day Toronto acquired Brian Leetch. Last season, after lousy thug Cam Janssen almost tore Kaberle's head off with a cheap shot, Belak went toe-to-toe with him in the next meeting between New Jersey and Toronto. Belak protected his teammates passionately and made sure anyone who took liberties with them was dealt with accordingly.

Wade was also a great quote and one of the funnier characters in the Leafs dressing room. He always made fun of himself, and here's the best example. Belak will be missed, and I'm glad he was able to pot one earlier this season to end a four year drought. My friend Ryan put it best: "Once you go Be-lak, you don't go back." Cheers, Waddy.

Chad Kilger to Florida for a 3rd round pick in '08

A sound trade. I grew fond of Kilger over the past few seasons, but he was one of the few Leafs who could actually help another team out there, although I figured he would go to a contender. He's under contract for a very reasonable $700 grand next season and if every player finished their check the way Kilger does, well, teams would need a lot more ice packs in their dressing rooms. The guy's a machine.

From the day he arrived in Toronto, Kilger impressed me with his work ethic. He skated hard every night and was the most dogged forechecker I can remember in a Leafs uniform. He literally hit everyone in sight. He turned out to be a useful third-line player and his 17 goals last season were a career high. If there's one thing John Ferguson Jr. can be applauded for, it's for picking guys up off the waiver wire and getting them to contribute. See Kilger, Boyd Devereaux, and most-recently Dominic Moore as examples. However, the rebuilding process is slowly but surely under way in Toronto, so Kilger for a third round pick had to be done.

Kilger's clearly going through some personal problems but I wish him well down in Miami.

Hal Gill for a 2nd round pick in '08 & 5th round pick in '09

Big Hal was another guy I figured would be relatively easy to move come trade deadline day and I'm glad he's off to Pittsburgh to play for a contender. He deserves it. At $2.1 million next season, Gill is a great number four or five defenceman who effectively kills penalties, although you wouldn't know it by looking at the Leafs' penalty kill numbers.

Gill was steady as they come in the defensive zone in his one and three quarter seasons in Toronto. While much-maligned for usually being the slowest guy in the rink on most nights, what he lacked in foot speed he made up for in size and reach. He's a stay-at-home defenceman who can play 20 minutes every night against the opposition's top forwards. What's wrong with that? I've said it before and am sticking to it: people who hate on Hal Gill don't know their hockey.

Gill's departure means a permanent spot on the blue line for youngster Anton Stralman, who looks like a promising puck-moving defenceman. I am a little concerned as for what the plan is when Carlo Colaiacovo inevitably gets injured but, hey, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

On to the trade that didn't happen - Pavel Kubina to San Jose for Kyle McLaren. Supposedly, Kubina had agreed to waive his no-trade clause and be sent out west, but after the 5-0 shelling of the Ottawa Senators by the Leafs on Monday night, he changed his mind, much to the chagrin of Fletcher.

Now Kubina has come out and said it was all a big misunderstanding. Of course it was. What really happened? Hell if I know. What I do know is that Fletcher was not a happy man at his post-deadline presser and unless Kubina is instrumental in leading the Leafs to the playoffs, his career in Toronto looks to be winding down. You don't piss off the Silver Fox and get away with it. If the Leafs do miss the playoffs, Kubina can be traded over the summer without his consent and it looks like Fletcher is going to be all over that clause like a fat kid on a smartie (a red one).

I've got to admit that I enjoyed Fletcher's pissy mood at his presser Tuesday afternoon. While he was able to pick up some draft picks, it's clear he wanted badly to move some of the Untradeables. He knows that this Leafs team reeks of mediocrity and needs to be rebuilt. It seems like he's made it his mission to fix this mess, and then sail off into the sunset of retirement as the man who fixed the Toronto Maple Leafs, or at least got them going down the right path. I don't know about you, but I like what Fletcher has done and am buying what he's selling (full disclosure: I'm a Leafs whore - I even bought what Ferguson Jr. was selling).

Quick side note - how about Captain Mats? He was a monster in Florida last night, rallying the Leafs from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2, and scoring the tying goal with just over a minute left to play in regulation. The Leafs went on to win the game in a shootout and have now won five of six. The Leafs have commenced their standard late-season push and mission squeak into the playoffs is under way in earnest.

In the two games since refusing to be traded out of town, Sundin has tallied three goals and one assist. This is why I have no qualms about him staying in Toronto. He is the Maple Leafs. A friend of mine, Rav, was pretty upset after reading Dave Feschuk's column in the Star on Tuesday. Upset enough to send me an email announcing his hatred for all things Feschuk, who was all over Sundin for not agreeing to be traded. Hey Dave, Sundin did hold all the cards, and deservedly so. He didn't want to go and play for the Montreal Canadiens because in his heart he's a Toronto Maple Leaf. Any true fan will tell you that they understand that. If Sundin is a Maple Leaf in his heart, putting on the Habs sweater, or the Senators sweater, the jersey of the enemies, is akin to blasphemy.

For Feschuk to justify Sundin's numbers by saying, "But playing for a bad team, facing mostly B goalies and opponents' C games, is one of easiest ways to put up good numbers in pro sports," is completely ludicrous and tells you why Feschuk is the Star's basketball columnist. Stick to hoops, bro.

Alright, I'm glad that's off my chest. On to the rest of my better-late-than-never trade deadline thoughts. Other than the "my jobber for your jobber" trades and teams looking to get rid of their expiring contracts trades, only a few of the deals really were shockers - Brad Richards to Dallas, Cristobal Huet to Washington, and Marian Hossa to the Penguins.

Richards to Dallas, in my opinion, makes the Stars the team to beat in the Western Conference. I know the Ducks are the defending champions but the Stars have been quietly putting together a superb season, and Richards is going to explode now that he's finally out of Tampa Bay. While he certainly does make a lot of coin ($7.8 million a season!) he'll only be 28 in May, and already has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe on his resume. Not too shabby.

I actually had a dream about Brad Richards once. I dreamt that he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. I swear. It felt so real. I must say it was pretty awesome. Until I realized it was only a dream. Then it sucked.

I definitely did not see the Huet to Washington deal coming. I don't think anybody did. At first, I figured it was the pre-cursor to another trade, as both Alex Tanguay and Marian Hossa were rumoured to be headed to la belle provence. But, nope, Huet for a second round pick was all the Habs did on Tuesday. Huet, turns out, is a free agent, and with Carey Price in the mix the Habs had no intention of bringing him back, so they got what they could.

No doubt it's a risky move by Bob Gainey. He's got balls of steel, that Gainey does. But his track record speaks for itself. I think Habs fans are lucky, and appreciative, to have Gainey steering their ship. Price, the future, is only 20 years old, and is now the new number one goalie in Montreal. I guess the future is now.

A risky move, yes, and while Montreal isn't exactly the easiest place for a young goalie to step in and lead the team to the promised land, I believe the Canadiens have been through something like this before. Back in 1986, some guy named Patrick Roy played 47 games in goal for the Habs during the regular season before being handed the reigns in the playoffs. The end result? Montreal won the Stanley Cup, and that Roy fellow won the Conn Smythe as MVP. I think that Roy dude ended up having a pretty decent career.

Oddly enough, in 1985 Roy came out of nowhere to lead Montreal's farm team, the Sherbrooke Canadiens of the AHL, to the Calder Cup. Last season, Carey Price came out of junior hockey to lead the Montreal farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, to the Calder Cup. The similarities are downright scary.

What's left? Ah, yes, Marian Hossa, the biggest name on the market. I'm not sure what the folks down in Pittsburgh are smoking but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's some pretty good stuff. The Penguins, by trading Colby Armstrong (age 25), Erik Christensen (age 24), Angelo Esposito (age 19), and a first round draft pick to boot, grossly overpaid for Hossa and journeyman Pascal Dupuis. They basically gave up three first round picks (both Armstrong and Esposito were selected in the first round of the draft) and a young player with decent finish around the net to acquire a soon-to-be free agent who disappears in the playoffs.

It's one thing if they were getting a proven playoff performer, but Hossa's playoff stats are abysmal. In 55 career post-season games he's managed to score only 13 times and put up an uninspiring 35 points. Dude's invisible when the games really count. Last season, when Atlanta was swept by the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, Hossa went out with a whimper, registering only one assist and a -6. Grossly overpaid is an overstatement. I know the Penguins wanted someone to play with super Sidney Crosby, but they gave up a nice chunk of their future to get Hossa, who I'm not even sure they'll be able to re-sign after they hand Evgeni Malkin a blank cheque (seriously, when did Malkin become the league's leading scorer?!?!?).

If Hossa could command such a price from the Penguins, imagine what Sundin would have gotten the Leafs in terms of young players and draft picks? It definitely makes you think. While I'm more than happy Sundin is still in Toronto, I can definitely understand why Fletcher was peeved. The Untradeables really made his job a lot tougher than it needed to be, and Fletch only has John Ferguson Jr. to blame for that.

Now that the deadline has passed the games start to get really interesting. The intensity kicks up a notch as the playoffs creep closer and closer. This is what it's all about. This is the time of year I live for, especially since the Leafs don't make the playoffs anymore. Unfortunately, the stretch run has become my "playoffs." Here's hoping, err, praying, that changes.

February 26, 2008

I Ain't Mad At Cha

After refusing to waive his no-trade clause, Mats Sundin remains, for better or for worse, a Toronto Maple Leaf. Amidst intense speculation, the Captain couldn't abandon ship. To quote the late, great Tupac Shakur, "Shit, I'm wit cha, I ain't mad at cha. Got nuttin but love for ya, do your thing boy."

Only a couple of days ago I wrote on this very blog that loyalty in pro sports is a myth, and that it simply does not exist. Mats Sundin proved me wrong. He showed that an athlete, in today's day and age, can be loyal to a franchise, and to his teammates.

There are those who will chastize and rail on Sundin for refusing to leave town at management's request. How these people can do that is beyond me. Mats did nothing wrong. He did what he felt was right in his heart and, man, it just makes me feel all warm inside.

For Sundin, it was a no-win situation. If he accepted a trade out of town, there would have been those who would have been labelled him a quitter and a selfish hockey player. By choosing to stay in Toronto, those same douche bags are calling him selfish and disloyal to the franchise that made him a star. I've heard that if Mats "really" loved the Leafs, he would have left. Yeah. Okay.

In the end, Sundin exercised a negotiated clause in his contract, and had every right to do so. Deal with it. You don't have to support his decision. I can even understand, to an extent, why people are upset with Sundin. But I believe that after his 14 years of service in the blue and white, to a man we should all respect his decision.

I truly believed in my heart Sundin was a goner by today's trade deadline (speaking of the deadline, Ross McKeon over at Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Dallas Stars have acquired Brad Richards and the Montreal Canadiens have landed Marian "I completely disappear in the playoffs" Hossa). While I felt moving Sundin was in the best interests of the organization, I can't say I'm surprised or disappointed that Sundin chose to remain a Maple Leaf. Hell, it's what he's been saying all along. Mats said from day one that he wanted to remain in Toronto and regardless of how bleak the situation was (and still might get) around these parts, his decision wasn't going to change.

Sundin is, clearly, a man of his word, and a man of principles. He doesn't believe in being a rental player. His heart wasn't set on going to a new team and, potentially, winning hockey's holy grail as a late-season addition in an unfamiliar dressing room. His decision to stay in Toronto and rough it out is extremely honourable and classy.

It would have been easy for Mats to leave. He could have agreed to get as far away as possible from the train-wreck known as the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I would have understood. He could have agreed to go and play for a true contender. He could have agreed to go and join a team where he could have played with the quality of players he has not had the opportunity to play with in recent years in Toronto (read: good players). But Mats Sundin doesn't roll like that, and I'm proud of him. He didn't jump at the opportunity to leave town for greener pastures. Far from it. By all accounts, it was an agonizing decision, and Sundin couldn't get himself to leave.
He's like the captain of the Titanic. Or the dude's playing in the band on board. Pass him the violin. He's going down with the ship.

Sundin is hockey's anti-Vince Carter, and hockey's anti-Jason Kidd. In other words, he isn't an ego-maniac who only cares about himself. Sundin is, of course, looking out for himself by not waiving his no-trade clause. He's earned that right. But for those of us who have had the pleasure of watching him over the years, we know how much he values his teammates. They are his family. He'll never throw them under the bus. One of his main motivations in rejecting a trade out of town was that he couldn't leave his teammates and join another team. That says all you need to know about Mats Sundin right there.

Would Sundin agreeing to a deal have helped out the franchise? Absolutely, although I'm convinced Sundin wasn't going to command as high a price as people were expecting. The market, after last year's craziness involving guys like Forsberg, Tkachuk, and Ryan Smyth, is much more subdued this season. But it isn't Sundin's job to fix the terrible mis-management that has plagued the Maple Leafs for so many years. A friend of mine, Ryan, said it best: the Leafs made their own bed, and now they've got to sleep in it. Sundin is the only player on the team deserving of a no-trade clause, and it is the other no-trade clause contracts handed out to the likes of McCabe, Tucker, Kubina and Kaberle that have handcuffed the Leafs not only this season, but also in the years to come.

Sundin is my boy. He's been my boy for years, and will be my boy until it's all said and done. He is, in my mind, the greatest Maple Leaf ever. A sense of calm has come over me now that I know he will remain in the blue and white, and with the "C" on his chest. Too many Maple Leafs captains before Sundin, many of them great ones, have been shipped out of town without a proper and respectful salute: Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Wendel Clark, and Doug Gilmour. Mats Sundin has always maintained that he wants to retire a Maple Leaf and we should all respect his one wish. We owe him that much, don't we?

Sundin is, of course, a free agent at seasons end and there has been speculation that the Leafs, to spite the fact that Mats has refused to waive his no-trade clause, will not offer to bring him back for another season. Sundin has also hinted that he may retire. I still think Mats has at least three solid years of hockey left in him, and if the Leafs even entertain the thought of not offering him a contract, well, shame on them. The Maple Leafs are already pretty much a laughing stock and I think they would be stapled to the cross if they pulled a stunt like that. At the same time, I can't put it past the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are the epitome of lunacy.

Mats Sundin, a Toronto Maple Leaf for life. The best ever. At the end of the day, Mats simply couldn't put another jersey over his shoulders, and how can I be mad at him for that? I can't. No way.


With Sundin-gate finally behind them, and their Captain still driving the bus, how would the Maple Leafs respond on the road against the hated Ottawa Senators last night? By spanking them 5-0, that's how! Yeah, I totally saw that one coming.

Of course, Sundin opened the scoring for Toronto, after a ridiculous feed from Kaberle on the power play. It was fitting that Mats got the Leafs on the board first. Yesterday was the first day of the rest of Sundin's life as member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sundin's goal set the tone. The Senators, who are looking extremely vulnerable heading down the stretch, were dominated by the Buds, in their own building no less. After all the severe beatings Ottawa has shoved down Toronto's throat the past few seasons, last night was, well, freakin' sweet. I've said it before - no matter how bad things are going or going to get, beating teams like Ottawa and Montreal is still extremely gratifying.

There was something in the air last night, though, that's for sure. The Leafs were buoyed by their Captain's decision to stay on board, even as the ship slowly takes on more and more water. The team played with heart and determination that has been sorely lacking all year. In the first period both Carlo Colaiacovo and Bryan McCabe gave up their bodies to block shots, setting the tone for what was one of Toronto's better efforts all year.

Darcy Tucker chipped in with two goals and an assist and continues to make me wonder where the Leafs would be in the standings had he shown up all season.

Vesa Toskala was his usual brilliant self, although he owes Kaberle a dinner at Mendy's after Kabby saved the day, and the shutout, by robbing Mike Fisher, who had an open net to shoot at, late in the game. Kaberle's goaltending exploits did not go unnoticed and the next time Toskala is injured, Kaberle will be strapping on the pads. After that one save last night it's obvious he's a better goalie than Andrew Raycrap, the forgotten man.

It's also pretty amazing to see what happens when the Leafs actually score on their power plays, and kill off their penalties. Really makes a difference, eh? Who knew?

There is a large group of fans out there who surely weren't too happy with yesterday's results. Why, you ask? Because they want the Leafs to lose. They want the Leafs to finish as low as possible in the standings in order to secure a higher draft pick, and maybe even the top pick overall. Me, I can't do that. I can't cheer for my boys to lose. It's not in me. And knowing the Leafs' track record in the draft, well, if we do manage to get the top pick (Steve Stamkos, please!) we'll manage to screw it up somehow. It's what we do best.

In addition to wanting to see Sundin leave, there are those out there (Cliff Fletcher included) who want the Leafs to trade McCabe, Kubina, Kaberle and Tucker. Well, it ain't happening, because they've all refused to waive their no-trade clauses. Deep down, I'm glad they did. It's kind of sick, but I don't want any of them to leave. Especially McCabe. Say what you want about him, but the Leafs are a much better team when he's in the lineup. Since he returned to action on February 7th, after missing seven weeks with broken bones in his hand, the Leafs have won six of their last nine games. I'm tired of McCabe being the scapegoat.

Basically, I'm willing to give all these guys a mulligan this year. Don't trade em, Cliff. They're all under contract for next year so lets giv'er another shot next season. I know it's not exactly the smartest idea around, but, well, I love these guys, and for some really stupid reason, believe in them.

With Sundin's decision to stay in Toronto, coupled with last night's beautiful win, I'm hoping the Leafs go on a run. For Mats. They've got to make the playoffs for Sundin. To prove to all the douche bags out there that he made the right decision. That his faith in his teammates was justified. Oh, it would be the stuff of legends and lore.

With 18 games remaining on the schedule - that's 36 points for you math whizzes out there (don't worry, I used my calculator) - the Leafs can finish the season with, potentially, 99 points. To do that, they have to win all of their final 18 games. Yes, I am delusional. Realistically, and this is where it all goes to hell, the Leafs need to win at least 15 of their last 18 games. That would give them an additional 30 points and a total of 93, and likely sneak them into the second season. The odds of that last scenario happening? Not bloody likely. But I'm a dreamer, and if Mats Sundin has taught me anything, it's that dreams can come true (no, not the dream of winning the Stanley Cup, but the dream of Mats retiring as a Maple Leaf).

The Leafs, going into trade deadline day today, sit six points, and four teams, out of the final playoff spot. It's going to take a miracle. So put on your rally caps, my friends. Do it for Sundin because after his decision to stay, and the heroics of last night, a miracle is exactly what we are about to witness.

February 23, 2008

A Dying Dream

The wheels are in motion. It's actually happening. Mats Sundin is on the verge of being traded. Tonight, at the Air Canada Centre, may be Sundin's final game on home ice as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. My dream of Sundin hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head in the blue and white is dying a slow and painful death.

The dream has been on life support for some time now, and Cliff Fletcher is reaching for the cord. He's pulling the plug. As difficult as it may be to do so, it's the right thing to do. The time has come. The moment has passed us by.

The odds of Sundin remaining a Maple Leaf after Tuesday are looking mighty slim. TSN "hockey insider," and long-lost twin brother of John Ferguson Jr., Darren Dreger, reported yesterday that Cliff Fletcher asked Mats Sundin for a list of teams he'd be open to being traded to (assumed to be Anaheim, Detroit, Vancouver, and maybe even New Jersey or Montreal). Fletcher apparently asked Bryan McCabe the same. Come Wednesday night down in Florida, the Leafs could potentially be sporting a new lineup minus their Captain and alternate captain. That would be something.

By asking both Sundin and McCabe for lists, Fletcher is showing he means business. He knows the Leafs are out of it, and don't have a prayer at the playoffs. Toronto, as James Mirtle has so graciously informed us, has been the worst team in the Eastern Conference since the start of 2008, with only 10 wins in 23 games. On Thursday night, The Buffalo Sabres hammered the final nail into the coffin of the 2007/2008 Toronto Maple Leafs with a resounding 5-to-1 thumping of the Buds. Stick a fork in 'em, they're done.

I've got to give Fletcher some props. He knows the Leafs are one pathetic hockey team and he's taking the job of setting the table for the next general manager seriously. Fletcher knows that with Peter Forsberg's return looking doubtful, Sundin is the hottest cat on the market. Pulling the plug on my dream hurts, but trading Sundin is the best course of action for the franchise.

Will Mats come back? He is a free agent come seasons end, but who, other than Sundin, really knows? It's a risk. But one I think the Leafs have to take. If Sundin really loves the blue and white and truly desires in his Swedish heart of hearts to retire as a Maple Leaf, he can come right back home in the summer. Toronto will always be his home, and the door will always be open. I believe he's got at least three solid years of hockey left in him.

I do have something to get off my chest though. I'm sick and tired of hearing the word "loyalty" being thrown into the discussion in regards to the Sundin situation. There have been a couple of douche bags writing in the papers and online (I'm not going to link to these pieces because, one, I'm too lazy, and two, they're written by douche bags so there's no point in reading them) that Sundin "owes" it to the Leafs to accept a trade out of town.

Sundin doesn't owe the Leafs a damn thing. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. He signed a contract given to him by the Toronto Maple Leafs and he has the final say in whether he uses his no-trade clause. Sundin didn't put a gun to any one's head demanding the terms of the contract and a no-trade clause, so how does he owe the franchise anything? It's up to him. If he chooses to stay, that's his right. Same goes for Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle and Darcy Tucker. They all have no-trade clauses and can exercise them if they please.

Frankly, it's agitating to hear about how Sundin should be loyal to the franchise and accept a trade. There is no loyalty in pro sports. It simply does not exist. Sundin can help the Leafs out by accepting a trade, yes, absolutely, but I don't think refusing a trade makes him any less loyal. He's been more than a dedicated soldier to this team.

Speaking of Tomas Kaberle, Fletcher also inquired whether Kabby had any interest in being moved. Kabby said no, and that he was committed to the Toronto Maple Leafs and wants to remain with the club. This corner is glad Kaberle doesn't want to go anywhere, because I don't want to see him leave. He comes at a decent price ($4.25 million) and is still one of the best puck-moving defencemen in the league. TSN is reporting that Philadelphia was offering up Jeff Carter and a draft pick for him. Carter's no slouch and has a decent career in front of him, but I've got a special place in my heart for Kabby and am glad he's sticking around.

And you can take Alex Steen's name off the list of potential trade bait. Word is that he's been signed to a two-year extension at $1.7 million per-season. Steen's 26 points in 56 games don't exactly knock the socks off my feet, and while he is a decent hockey player, I'm beginning to wonder if he'll ever be more than a third-line, defensive checker. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

It's going to be an interesting, and nerve-wracking, few days up until the trade deadline. Sundin could be dealt at any moment. Hell, he may be traded by the time you read this. An era is on the verge of ending.

Truthfully, it still hasn't kicked in. It won't, probably until after I watch Sundin play a game in a new uniform with a new team. One can never really prepare for something like this. Sure, I think about it, but until it goes down, Sundin is still a Maple Leaf, and still the Captain. He is so until Cliff Fletcher announces that he's traded away the man he traded for 14 years ago.

Whatever Sundin decides, I support him 110%. If you're at the game tonight, give it up for Mats. Show him some love on my behalf. Lord knows the man deserves it.

No one knows what the future holds. There are no guarantees in life, and if Sundin chooses to continue his career elsewhere in the fall of 2008, I'll understand. He's got to chase the dream of winning the Stanley Cup. Even if he wants to return in the off-season, it doesn't look like the Leafs can offer him much in the hopes of winning a championship. So even if Mats returns in July, if he does get traded in the next three days, my dream leaves with him.

Whether tonight is his final game in a Leafs uniform, or whether it's Monday night in Florida, I only want to say "thank you" to Mats. The Sundin era in Toronto will live on forever through people like me. I will spread his gospel across lands near and far. It has been an honour watching you, Mats; cheering for you, and following your lead...

February 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Mats!

Dear Mats Sundin,

Happy 37th birthday, big fella! Old? Hardly! You've still got the goods, my man.

I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all the best on this very special day. Hopefully after you blow out the candles, you can take to the ice and blow out the Buffalo Sabres. And let me take this opportunity to pass along my sympathies to you for having to spend your birthday in Buffalo. That is just awful.

It's tough not to wax nostalgic on a day like today, especially when your future in Toronto remains so cloudy. Will you stay? Will you go? If you go, will you come back? Tough questions. In a couple of weeks we'll have the answers, but I just want you to know that no matter what decision you make, I, and most other appreciative Maple Leafs fans out there, will support you. We owe you that much.

You came to Toronto a boy and I have watched you age gracefully into a man. It has been a pleasure. You've been my favourite player since I was 13 years old. Thirteen - the day of your birth, the number on your back, and the day of my birth, in September, and the number I've worn, as well. Coincidence? I think not.

You are like a fine wine - you get better with age. And now, today, when I look at you, I still see one hell of a hockey player, with a lot of gas left in the tank. More importantly, I see a leader of men. You inspire your teammates and your fans. You want to complete the "journey" and go through the trenches with your comrades in order to win a Stanley Cup. You don't want to win it as a rental player, on a team new in a new city, because it's just not the same. That's what makes you so special, Mats.

Your birthday present on this special day? With the return of Alex Ponikarovsky, you're getting a healthy Maple Leafs team. Well, Mark Bell is still on the injured list, but let's be honest, other than getting beat up he wasn't doing much when he was in the lineup.

Cheers, Mats. Here's to you. And another 37 years. You're my man, for life.

Your homeboy,


February 12, 2008

Mats On The Move?

The NHL's trade deadline is exactly two weeks away. In 14 days, Mats Sundin may no longer be a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kevin Dupont of the Boston Globe is reporting that Sundin has given his blessing to be traded--but only to the "right" team.

Dupont writes that two general managers, who won't go on the record, have said that Sundin has given a trade the green light, but only to the team of his choice.

Dupont, logically, thinks it's Detroit. Everyone knows Sundin would fit in well with his Swedish comrades down in Motown. The Wings are the class of the NHL and, as always, have a great chance at winning the cup (provided they sort out their goaltending). Detroit is only a stones throw from Toronto and Sundin could stroll back to Toronto in the off-season, possibly a Stanley Cup champion.

The other team Dupont mentions is the Anaheim Ducks, who would become instant favourites to repeat if they land Sundin. Dupont writes: "the image of him feeding Teemu Selanne borders on the obscene." Can't argue with him. That would be something else. Sundin down in either Orange County or Detroit would make for some intriguing playoff hockey.

While I wouldn't be mad at Sundin if he opted to not waive his no-trade clause and stay in Toronto, if Dupont's reportage is true, Sundin is one swell cat. He's putting the franchise's interests first - he doesn't have to - and for that he deserves our undying gratitude. Mats Sundin, a true Swedish hero.

While the thought of Sundin in another jersey still makes me want to reach for a bottle of Appleton's, if it's for the betterment of the franchise, it's got to be done. And I know Sundin knows that.

Word is that the Sundin sweepstakes won't begin in earnest until the Peter Forsberg situation sorts itself out. Bob McKenzie is reporting that Foppa will make a decision by the end of the week on whether his foot is in decent enough shape for him to return to the NHL. If he does, the smart money says he's going back to Philadelphia to once again don the orange and black.

The ball got rolling yesterday in the trade department with the Ottawa Senators sending Patrick Eaves and Joe Corvo to the Carolina Hurricanes for Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore. It's a great deal for both teams. Like PPP says, Ottawa is definitely more of playoff team today than they were yesterday. With the deal, the Senators add secondary scoring in Stillman, some sandpaper in Commodore, and both are free agents at the end of the season. Not to mention the fact that they have three Stanley Cup rings between the two of them.

The Hurricanes get Eaves, a promising young forward who's been hampered by injury, and a power play quarterback in Corvo. Jim Rutherford knows what he's doing down in Carolina. Who knows, maybe we'll see him move to Toronto to be the next GM of our beloved Leafs.

The focus now shifts to the two big Swede's - Forsberg and Sundin. Once Forsberg decides on his future, the focus will be solely on our Captain, who turns 37 on Wednesday. It shall be a most-interesting couple of weeks, indeed.

Thanks to leafersutherland of The NHL Arena and Alin Mateescu of Rumor Me This for the scoop.

February 10, 2008

Don't Trade Antropov

His three game suspension over, Nik Antropov returned to the Maple Leafs lineup with a bang yesterday afternoon. The lanky Kazakh tipped in Anton Stralman's shot from the point to give the Buds a 3-2 overtime win against the NHL's best Detroit Red Wings.

So, looking back to last Saturday, the Leafs have defeated the Ottawa Senators (#1 in the Eastern Conference), the Montreal Canadiens (#2 in the East), and the Detroit Red Wings (#1 in the NHL). Between the victories over rivals Ottawa and Montreal was an 8-0 shelling, on home ice no less, at the hands of Florida Panthers, the twelfth-best team in the Eastern Conference (or the third-worst, depending on how you look at things in life). Go figure. The Leafs are one strange hockey team.

What made the past week even more perplexing is that the Leafs were able to beat the Senators and Canadiens without their second-leading scorer, Nik Antropov.

Yes, you read that right. Antropov is second to only Mats Sundin this season, with 42 points in 54 games. Although I hate to think that I might be jinxing him, I think it is fair to say that Nik Antropov has, finally and mercifully, arrived. His goal against the Red Wings, to give the Leafs one hell of an improbable win, was his 19th of the season and a new career high. Last season, Antropov was limited to only 54 games because of injury, and potted a personal-best 18 goals.

It's kind of fitting that yesterday was his 54th game of this season. For once, and knock on wood (seriously, do it, please, for Nik), Antropov is healthy. The three games he missed while suspended were the first games he's missed this season. For Antropov, that's nothing short of a miracle. That's like Carlo Colaiacovo playing 30 games in a row. It's unheard of!

I've got to admit, I've got a little bit of a man crush on Antropov. He's always had so much potential and he seems to have finally developed. He's a big boy, strong on the puck, beauty down low in the corners, physical, and for a big man has a pretty sweet pair of hands, which he displayed early on in his career. He also shows emotion, even though this particular display got him suspended. I have enjoyed very much his success this season, especially after some people I know ridiculed the fact that he was signed to a two-year deal in the off-season for just over $4 million. At that price, the man is a bargain.

Of course in this town, where no one is ever satisfied, the calls to deal Antropov before the trade deadline have begun. I've heard people tell me trading Antropov is a great idea because his value has never been higher, along with the regular psycho's calling in to the radio shows saying that he must go.

Trade Antropov? I don't think so, Homey don't play that. Sure, his value has never been higher, but that's because he's finally performing and living up to the potential of a player selected 10th overall in the first round of the NHL entry draft. The Leafs selected Antro back in 1998 and, here we are, 10 years later, finally getting a decent return on our investment, and now we should trade him? I'm sorry but I don't understand that logic.

Antro should be one of the few guys the Leafs should hold on to. I waited 10 freakin' years, and through two devastating knee injuries, for this guy to become a decent NHLer. I don't want him to go anywhere. The point isn't to groom talent and trade it once it starts contributing. What are we, hockey's Montreal Expos (RIP), or Florida Marlins? Antro is scheduled to make $2.15 million next season and for someone set to become a 25-goal and 65-point man, that is a steal. And he's turning only 28 years old next week. Considering all his injury problems and how long it has taken him to find his game, he's only entering his prime.

Antro's only three points away from his career high of 45, set eons ago back in the 2002/2003 season, when he played 72 games, another career high. While #80 does take the occasional moronic penalty - ok, occasional is being generous - he still brings a lot of positives to this Leafs team. This season, he's second to only Sundin in goals and points, and he leads the team in power play goals with nine, and in game-winning goals with four.

Nik Antropov is in the midst of his best season as a professional hockey player, and all a bunch of the Toronto faithful can think of is trading him. Don't do it, Fletch...

February 08, 2008

Deep Thoughts Vol. 4

Damon Stoudamire didn't become a Toronto Raptor for the second time in his career this week. Instead, the Raptors got even better news on Monday. T.J. Ford came back. Welcome back, Little Engine. You've been missed.

Watching Ford check into the game Monday night in Miami was something I won't soon forget. He had a huge smile on his face and Jose Calderon gave him a hug, a tap on the head, and some words of encouragement. Calderon seemed genuinely happy and excited about Ford's return, and that is exactly why I dig Jose. He's the ultimate teammate. He's not thinking that the Raptors number one point guard is back in the lineup; he's thinking that his friend T.J. Ford is back in the lineup.

The Raptors were buoyed by Ford's return. They made sure T.J. would get some minutes by absolutely thrashing the Miami Heat 33-12 in the first quarter. The game was over after 12 minutes. It was the perfect scenario for Ford to return to. Ford looked good in almost 17 minutes on the floor. After the brutal fall he took that night in Atlanta almost two months ago, it was great to just see him back doing what he loves and is pretty damn good at. The Dinos are a much, much better team with both Ford and Calderon in the lineup.

Speaking of Jose Calderon, it's a shame he didn't make the all-star team. He certainly deserved to. In Ford's absence, he logged a ton of minutes and his game didn't suffer. It actually got better. Jose's an all-star in my heart and surely in the hearts of many in Toronto.

The Raptors, however, will be well represented at the Association's all-star weekend in a couple of weeks. Chris Bosh made the team as a reserve, and is well-deserving of the honour. After a slow start, CB4 turned it up a notch the last month and a half. His youtube video helped, too. If you haven't seen it, it means you a) don't read Doug Smith's blog (which you should) and b) you live under a rock.

Jason Kapono will be defending his three-point shooting competition title - that'll be the only "defending" he'll be doing all year (zinger!) - and Jamario Moon will be taking part in the dunk competition. I am seriously stoked about Moon being in the dunk-off. It should be a doozy. Dude's got some hops.

Tonight the Raptors take on the visiting Los Angeles Clippers, and it is regular season game number 1,000 in franchise history. That means I'm old. And that time flies. I still remember that first game against the New Jersey Nets on November 3, 1995, at the freakin' SkyDome. If you're trying to wax nostalgic, Alvin Robertson hit a three-ball to open the game. It was the beginning of something special, but the best times are still to come. Here's to a thousand more...

So, how about those Toronto Maple Leafs? They bounced back from their worst beating of the season, a forgetful 8-0 whitewash courtesy of the Florida Panthers, and came out of Montreal with a 4-2 road win. Go figure.

The Leafs actually came up with a pretty solid effort last night. Inconsistency, and the inability to play 60 minutes, has really done a number on this team. But last night's affair was entertaining hockey, and a Toronto/Montreal game at its finest. It was fast-paced, chippy, emotional and intense - the type of game the Leafs have failed to play on too many nights this year. Although the Leafs do stink and need to lose more games in order to set themselves up for a shot at the number one draft pick, there still is a palpable sense of satisfaction that comes with beating teams like the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.

I've got to admit, though, that the Habs are a pretty sweet team. They're only three points out of first place in the Eastern Conference. They've got great goaltending (Carey Price is only 20 freakin' years old!) and every player on that team, to a man, can skate like the wind. They are fast. Tomas Plekanec is turning into one hell of an offensive player and Alex Kovalev is playing with a sense of purpose. When Kovalev is in the mood, and he's definitely in the mood this season, he's one of the best in the business. Not too many guys can dangle in the opposition's zone the way he can. He is tremendous.

Bryan McCabe made his return to the Leafs lineup and the team played solid defense. I still stand behind McCabe and his $5.75 million-a-year contract. The Leafs record without #24 in the lineup speaks for itself. They were only able to win seven of the 22 games he most recently missed.

In the where-have-you-been department, Darcy Tucker, with two, and Kyle Wellwood tallied markers for the Buds last night. For Tucker, it was his first two goal game all season, and for Wellwood his first goal in 17 games. Both Darcy and Kyle have been huge disappointments this season, but it was good to see them contribute last night. Imagine where the Leafs would have been had these guys shown up all year?

Shout outs to Vesa Toskala, who was great in goal last night, as usual. He's the real deal. And I love him.

And before I bid adieu to the Leafs, how about that Mats Sundin fellow? He came to the defence of his young rookie winger Robbie Earl after Mike Komisarek took him out with a hit. Komisarek followed the hit with a couple of cheap shoves to Earl's head and back while he was on the ice - that's how Komisarek rolls. Sundin got right up in Komisarek's face and the two of them tussled. Sundin, it seems, must do everything. But that's why he wears the "C" on his shoulder. He is a beauty. And Komisarek is a douche. If there's one guy on the Habs I want to kick square in the groin, it's Komisarek.

Back to basketball for a second; Shaq traded to Phoenix? Wtf? I definitely did not see this one coming. I don't think anyone did. First of all, the trade says a lot about Shawn Marion, who would rather go to the absolutely pathetic Miami Heat than play for a title with Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns. Clearly, his motivation isn't what it should be. In my books, that makes Marion a douche.

It's understandable to write this deal off as a bad one for the Suns. Many already have. Adrian Wojnarowski really doesn't like it. The reasons are rather obvious. Shaq is breaking down physically at 36 years old, and he doesn't exactly fit in to the run-and-gun Phoenix offence. I don't, however, think Shaq can be written off completely though. He is a winner, and he wants to win again, and he gives the Suns the big man down the middle that they've lacked. Shaq's presence means Amare can play power forward, which will definitely suit him more. If Shaq can somehow get healthy, and embrace a defense-and-rebound-first type of role, I think he can help Phoenix, and hopefully get Nash a ring...

Guess what? Spring training starts next week! I know, it's hard to believe. Like I said, time flies, and the boys of summer are getting set to get the party started down in Florida. J.P. Ricciardi took care of his final piece of business on Tuesday, getting Alex Rios' autograph on a one-year contract worth just over $4.8 million. Rios is a certifiable rudey and one of the keys to success for the '08 Blue Jays.

It's turned out to be a pretty busy winter for J.P. and the boys. There are a number of new faces joining the squad: Scott Rolen, David Eckstein, Marco Scutaro, and Rod Barajas. Check this out for quick hits on spring training.

I haven't written about the trading of super douche Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen, and that's partly because I've been getting my Blue Jays fix over at Drunk Jays Fans. If you like the Blue Jays, booze, and profanity - not necessarily in that order - I urge you to check out the blog, subscribe to it, bookmark it; do whatever you've got to do, just read it. You'll thank me. Those thullards over at DJF are a comedic and foul-mouthed bunch, but they know their baseball.

A more-detailed Blue Jays post, and some serious Troy Glaus bashing, are to come in the near future...

Still with baseball, the Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee saga continues to play out on Capitol Hill. Clemens and his entourage continue to deny, deny, deny (read: lie, lie, lie) while McNamee is now saying he's got evidence - old syringes with Clemens' DNA - that Clemens did in fact take the juice. I find it fascinating that the U.S. government has nothing better to do than get to the bottom of this, but am looking forward to how Clemens, another super douche if there ever was one, is going to explain this one...

February 06, 2008


It's one thing to lose 8-0. It's another for it to happen on home ice and to the Florida Panthers. I'm not sure why it took so long, but I'm waving the white flag. Like George Costanza, I'm offering up the white cashmere sweater, with the red dot, in defeat. It's over.

What an absolutely pathetic performance by the Maple Leafs last night. They played with no energy, no emotion and no heart. It was a disgrace. To be humiliated like that in your own building is disgusting. The fact that it has happened on numerous occasions already this season makes it even tougher to swallow.

The Maple Leafs talk a good game. They have been for a while. Guys like Sundin and Stajan keep looking into the cameras telling people the Leafs are a playoff team. Yeah, and I'm the Queen of England. I'd like to ask that Sundin and Stajan please not insult me, and just keep it real. The Leafs are what they are, and that's one pathetic excuse for a hockey team.

Prior to last night's shallacking, the Leafs had been embarrassed three times on home ice. Two 7-1 throttlings at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals, and one 6-1 rape-age thanks to the New York Rangers. After each of those beatings, the Leafs promised it wouldn't happen again. Especially not on home ice.

Well, it sure as hell happened again, and yesterday's defeat was the worst of all. The Leafs made the Panthers look like the god-damn Oilers of the 80's and Richard Zednik like Wayne freakin' Gretzky. As the Globe's Dave Shoalts put it, the Leafs reached a new low last night.

I felt for coach Maurice yesterday. Big time. After Florida made it three-nil, he called a timeout. It was a good timeout call. I've been all over Maurice and his timeout selection but last night's was a beauty. Anyways, he ripped into the team on the bench. His face was as red as I've seen it all year, and I was able to read his lips: "Show some god-damn fucking emotion out there!" No shit, eh? The yelling fest didn't work, although it would have made my father proud. A few minutes later it was four-nothing for the Panthers. Maurice tried. He simply didn't have a prayer because his players sold him, and Vesa Toskala, out last night. And shame on them.

It's officially over. While many had already resigned the Leafs to their fate, I for some reason still believed. Yes, I truly believed. I really did. What can I say? I'm a lunatic. Want proof? I've got it for you. Here's a copy of an email I wrote to my boy Winson yesterday while I was at work, at 2:16 pm in the afternoon:

"We’re 8 points out going into tonight. But we’re going to make the playoffs. Mark my words, today, on this 5th day of February in 2008. The Toronto Maple Leafs will make the NHL playoffs."

I wish I could tell you I was drunk. I wish I could offer some explanation as to what the hell I was thinking. Unfortunately, I can't. All I can say is that I am, clearly, a moron. I've got to take another line from my hero, George Costanza: "For I am Vaswani, lord of the idiots!" I truly believed that the Leafs' win over Ottawa on the weekend would be the start of a run towards the playoffs. I don't anymore. Not after watching that game last night, no sir.

Greg Millen said it best during the third period of the broadcast - if Cliff Fletcher needed any indication of what he's got to do with the team he just inherited, he got it last night. In resounding fashion. Trade them. Trade them all.

One of my boys who I play hockey with every Sunday was at last night's game. My heart goes out to him. What a joke. This time, however, the fans didn't boo the Leafs (except for Andrew Raycroft, but he deserves it anyways). Instead, once the Panthers made it 6-0, they cheered on the visitors from Florida. It was something else, and added to the humiliation of the evening. But no doubt every fan in attendance last night at the Air Canada Centre was deserving of a full refund, no questions asked. Only one team showed up to play hockey yesterday, and it sure as hell wasn't the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Speaking of a refund, I've got a friend, Kunal, who lives out in Minnesota and who is a die-hard Leafs fan. His formative years were spent in Toronto, hence his unfortunate allegiance to the blue and white. He paid $170 this season to order the NHL Centre Ice package so he could catch all the Leafs games on the tube. Big mistake. He wants his money back, as it has been one of the most blatant wastes of money of all time. I can't really argue with him. I find it difficult enough to watch the Leafs on cable, but imagine paying to watch this team play on television?!? Ouch. That's a nightmare, and my friend Kunal is living it. Think about it, he could have fed an entire African village, or two or three of them, at that price. Sorry, hungry African children. We all only have the Leafs to blame.

As for Mats Sundin, while I'm torn and my insides churn every time I think about it, I really do believe he needs to go. My heart wants him to stay, but jeez, after last night, Mats, get out while you can, my dear. Why would he want to remain a Maple Leaf? It doesn't make sense. Fly away, Mats. It's time to leave the nest, and make it on your own. Go and win a Cup. Even if it is as a rental player. Go. Go as far away from here as you can. We're only holding you back. Fly away, Mats, my love. Fly away...

It's time to look forward to a lottery pick in the draft. PPP at Pension Plan Puppets is right, it only makes sense for the Leafs to tank the rest of the season. It's for the betterment of the franchise. Dave Perkins at the Star put it best - if the Leafs really want the number one pick this summer, they've got to play Andrew Raycroft more. It's nothing against Toskala - I love the guy - but the Leafs need to lose, and nobody does losing like Razor.

Trade Kilger, Sundin, Tucker, McCabe, Kubina, Gill, whomever. Any veteran Fletcher can trade, he should do it as soon as possible. The deadline is only mere weeks away.

For the love of Christ blow this team up, Fletch.

February 04, 2008

A Super "Super Bowl"

The New York Giants are on top of the football world after a stunning 17-14 upset of the, up until early yesterday evening, undefeated New England Patriots. For the first time in a long time the Super Bowl lived up to its lofty name.

What a phenomenal performance by the Giants. Some serious proppage has to be given to Eli Manning and the New York defense. What a comeback. What a game. What an upset.

And to think, It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Giants were supposed to be but the final footnote in the perfect season of the New England Patriots. Books had already been written about the Patriots and their perfect season. Well, the G-Men had other plans.

I had a feeling it was going to be close game. The Giants gave the Patriots a run for their money in week 17 of the regular season, and New York was feeling good about themselves after a marvellous run to simply make it to the biggest stage the NFL has to offer.

I didn't, however, think that the game was going to be this good. Although it was a defensive struggle, it was a game for the ages. It had it all. Great performances by both quarterbacks, inspiring defense, and big, big plays.

None bigger than Eli Manning's 32-yard toss to David Tyree, with the Giants trailing 14-10 with just over a minute left on the clock in the fourth quarter. On a third-and-five play, Manning was somehow able to avoid the sack, even though it looked like he was only a moment away from being brought down. Four Patriots were all over him, but they couldn't bring him to his knees. Manning somehow scrambled out of the pocket, got his head up, and chucked the ball, along with a prayer, down field. Into the hands of wide receiver Tyree the ball went, and somehow, someway, Tyree was able to hold on. It was an unbelievable catch; an unbelievable play to cap off an unbelievable football game. It kept the Giants drive, and their title aspirations, alive as well. After the game, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin called Tyree's catch one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. I don't think I can argue with him.

What a game-winning drive orchestrated by the young and unflappable - and Super Bowl MVP - Eli Manning. He looked confident out there. Like it was any other game. Who would have thought Peyton's younger brother would be winning the Super Bowl, and the MVP award, only a year after his older brother did the same? What a story. Archie Manning created a couple of special quarterbacks.

An 83-yard drive to lead your team to the title with just over two minutes to go in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against the heavy favourites Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. No Hollywood writer can script it any better than that, folks.

For some reason, I like Eli Manning. I like him a lot more than Peyton. Maybe it's because he was able to reach the NFL's pinnacle while playing in the shadow of his brother, and in the toughest market in pro sports. Maybe it's because he's been vilified by the New York media for so long, and had his character questioned time and time again. Maybe it's because it took the younger Manning only four years to get to the top, compared to nine years for Peyton. Maybe it's because even his former teammate - Tiki Barber - dissed Eli after he retired (how you like him now, Tiki?). Maybe it's because Peyton is so damn country it pisses me off. There's a lot of reasons why I like little Eli and after tonight's performance, there's even more.

Speaking of Peyton Manning, it was cool to see him so pumped up watching the game from a luxury suite. I'm not sure if he was so into the game because baby bro was playing in it, or because of his hatred for Tom Brady, his nemesis and sworn enemy. Either way, Peyton's got to be a happy camper today because Brady wasn't able to add number four to his Super Bowl ring collection. And he can thank baby bro for that. And by thank I mean buy him a car, or a house. Something millionaire-ish.

What makes New York's win even more incredible is that the Giants were said to have no business even being in the Super Bowl. There were calls for coach Coughlin to be dismissed only a few weeks into the season, along with calls for Eli Manning to grab some pine on the bench. The Giants were given no respect all year, but all they did was go out and play. They made the playoffs as a wildcard seed, and went on to defeat the first, second, and fourth seeds in the NFC, all while playing as the road team. They went into Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay, and came out victorious. If you know anything about football, you know that Dallas and Green Bay are two of the toughest teams to beat in their own backyard. For the Giants, their improbable victory last night was their 11th straight on the road. They had no business being in the Super Bowl? Rubbish. They had every damn right to be in the big game, and were more than deserving of the honour of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Eli Manning isn't the only member of the Giants who is deserving of some love right today. How about good old Michael Strahan? Or Strah-dog, as I like to call him. He got his ring. Finally. Back in September, Strahan was rumoured to be joining Tiki Barber on the sidelines this season. He held out of training camp while debating whether or not to return for his 15th season in the NFL. Hey Strahan, good call on coming back.

Strahan and Amani Toomer were the only current members of the New York Giants who were on the team that got spanked 34-7 by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2001 Super Bowl, and both Toomer and Strahan were huge last night. Toomer had six catches for 84 yards to lead the Giants, while Strahan was a menace on defense - the catalyst of one intense pass rush - finishing with three tackles, one sack and two quarterback knockdowns. I'm mad happy for Strah-dog right now. I hope he retires. Ain't nothing like going out on top.

Speaking of a chase for a Super Bowl ring, it's hard not to feel for Junior Seau today. I'm not sure you can get any closer to a championship than Seau did last night. On a team with an 18-0 record, and only two minutes and change away from that elusive title. Yet for Seau it wasn't to be. Now that's a heart-breaker if there ever was one. All the Patriots - especially Tom Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison - wanted nothing more than to get Seau a ring, but they couldn't get the job done. My close friends will understand this one: seau, Junior Seau.

In the what-I-thought-to-be-physically-impossible category, I also feel a little bit for Tom Brady right now. I thought it wasn't possible to feel for a guy who only wins Super Bowl's and dates and impregnates beautiful women, but I guess I was wrong. It turns out "Mr. Perfect" Tom Brady isn't so perfect after all. He is a mere mortal; a man actually capable of losing a Super Bowl game in which his team trails during the fourth quarter.

I must admit, though, that Brady battled last night. He showed a lot of grit and character. Nothing came easy for him last night, but when the Patriots were down in the fourth quarter and needed him to rise to the occasion, he did just that. He worked his standard fourth quarter magic. He marched the Pats down field and hit Randy Moss with a touchdown with only a couple of minutes left on the clock. Brady did his job. He left the fate of the game in the hands of his defense. They were unable to hold the lead he gave them.

Before I leave you, Wes Welker is also deserving of some serious butt-slappage after his performance last night. I think Randy Moss being traded to New England was the best thing that could have ever happened to Welker's career. While the defense was busy focusing on Moss and Dante Stalworth, Welker was running wild all over the field, as he did all season. Welker caught 11 passes for 103 yards and had the Patriots been able to hold on and win it all, he most surely would have been awarded the MVP award.

I've got to admit that it would have been special to watch the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl last night and complete a 19-0 perfect season. It would have been nice to be witness to history. The New England Patriots were ever so close; only two minutes and change from going down as the best team in NFL history. Talks of a dynasty, and of Brady being the best quarterback of all-time, would have begun in earnest today had the Patriots celebrated victory yesterday in Arizona.

At the same time, I always love a good underdog (who doesn't?), and the New York Giants were certainly up to the task yesterday. And, honestly, it's about time a team from Boston lost already. When it comes to pro sports, that city is out of control right now.

Congratulations to the New York Giants and all their fans. All in all, a super Super Bowl.