April 30, 2008

I Miss You

Reed Johnson may be gone, but he is certainly not forgotten...

April 29, 2008

Deep Thoughts Vol. 6

Do you hear that? Over in la belle provence? That's the collective "Uh-Oh" coming from the good folks in Montreal after Carey Price channeled his inner Andrew Raycroft last night in Philadelphia, allowing three goals on only 12 shots.

More and more is Price beginning to look like the 20-year-old kid he is. The pressure in the Stanley Cup playoffs is immense and Philadelphia is a tough building to play in.

Here's what I wrote back on April 3: "I think, and hope, the Canadiens end up regretting trading (Cristobal) Huet instead of keeping him as insurance for the playoffs."

Dreams, my friends, can come true. With the Flyers now up two-to-one over Montreal, I can't help but think of Happy Gilmore headbutting Bob Barker and telling him: "The price is wrong, bitch." Best. Cameo. Appearance. Ever.

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Still on the Flyers/Habs series, is Darian Hatcher not the biggest doofus in the NHL? His hit from behind on Francis Bouillon was bush-league and typical of the Philadelphia Flyers. But it takes a special type of moron to do it in the third period with his team up three-nothing. Hatcher single-handedly got the Canadiens back into the game and while I hate both teams equally, a part of me was hoping the Habs would tie it up, and even win it in overtime, so Hatcher could feel like even more of an idiot. What a douche bag. I hate Hatcher.

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Here's a video called "Hitler Loves the Flyers" courtesy of Slap Shot, the New York Times hockey blog. It was made after the Habs won game one of their series with Philadelphia so while the shots at Martin Biron are clearly unwarranted today, the numerous disses thrown at Danielle Briere are simply amazing. The video is golden. Enjoy!



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Seriously, how does Detroit do it? Johan Franzen, aka "The Mule," is tied for the NHL playoff goal-scoring lead with seven goals in only eight games.

So, uh, who the hell is this guy? Franzen scored 27 goals in the regular season to go along with only 11 assists. Eight of those goals were game-winners and 14 came on the power play. The guy's a sniper. To close out the regular season, Franzen scored 15 goals in Detroit's final 16 games. He's picked up right where he left off in the playoffs.

I must admit that I knew Franzen was poised for a breakout season. I picked him in the last round of my keeper league fantasy hockey pool. Sure, I dropped him after he opened the season with only one goal in 17 games, but, well, that's besides the point. I still knew.

Franzen is the next player on the long list of successful late Detroit Red Wings draft picks. He was chosen in the third round, 97th overall back in 2004.

The others? Pavel Datsyuk, drafted in the sixth round, 171st overall in 1998. Nicklas Lidstrom, drafted in the third round, 53rd overall way back in 1989. Dude's had a pretty good career, hasn't he? Valtteri Filppula, who scored 19 goals this season, was chosen in the third round, 95th overall in 2002. Look for him to have a Franzen-type breakout season next year. Tomas Holmstrom, drafted in the 10th round, 257th overall back in 1994, has forged a nice little career for himself. And, of course, Henrik Zetterberg, drafted in the 7th round, 210th overall in 1999, is only one of the NHLs best players.

Unbelievable, eh? Detroit's scouting and drafting department is the best in the NHL, no contest. If the Toronto Maple Leafs are serious about winning a Stanley Cup they should buy the Detroit scouting staff and get Ken Holland over here asap.

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Sean Avery has officially transcended hockey. Here's a piece about him in The New Yorker.

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Speaking of douche-baggery, here's an article I've been wanting to share for a long time, courtesy of The New York Times, on the timeless art of the face wash.

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Is it time to officially give the Dallas Stars some respect? First they shoot down the defending champion Anaheim Ducks in five games and then they go into San Jose and win games one and two on the road. Yeah, I think some respectage is due.

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Dan Myers over at Penalty Shots thinks the Leafs should be considering, get ready for this one, Bobby Clarke for the general manager position. Clarke's career record as a GM is a sparkling 714-443-199. It's tough to argue with that record, but it's not tough to argue that Clarke is a serious douche who left one hell of a mess behind in Philadelphia. While we do have what Clarke never did in Philly - a goalie - I just don't see it happening.

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The Toronto Marlies are moving on to the second round of the AHL playoffs thanks to an ugly goal by Bates Battaglia with only a minute to go in game seven last night. While I'm still losing sleep over the fact that Justin Pogge is not in net for the Marlies, Scott Clemmensen was great yesterday, making 33 saves to ensure the victory. He's keeping the hopes of a parade alive in the city of Toronto. Sad, I know, but it's all we've got.

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Speaking of Toronto, when did we become the "City of Champions"? I thought Edmonton held that title? Did I miss the memo or something, because I sure as hell haven't missed any championships.

I ask because Damien Cox wrote a blog post entitled "A Tradition of, Um, Something" in which he took the city's sports teams to task for, well, sucking. He took shots at the Leafs (of course), the Toronto Rock, some OHL teams no one gives a damn about, the Raptors, Marlies, Blue Jays, and Toronto FC. Basically, anything and everything MLSE related. It's just Cox being Cox, you know, in his tradition of, um, bad sports writing.

April 28, 2008

Uh, It's Over, Umm, Bitches...

So much for wanting to play the Orlando Magic. Just like that, the Toronto Raptors are done, eliminated in five games by Superman and his three-point shooting cronies. It was an ugly game to cap off an ugly series and one ugly season.

I don't mean to be rude, but where the fuck was Chris Bosh last night? He finished with only 16 points on 7-of-19 shooting, nine rebounds, and three assists. Most discouraging of all, he only went to the free throw line four times all game. Four times! That's it. His first trip to the charity stripe came with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Bosh's strength is getting to the line and hitting his free throws, and he was the opposite of aggressive last night. He put up some serious bricks. It was a disappointing effort by the franchise player in the biggest game of the season. Bosh had to set the tone and lead the charge and, well, he didn't.

I'm not throwing Bosh under the bus but he didn't play his best game last night. He knows it, I know it and you know it. His young playoff career has gotten off to a rocky start. In the five games against Orlando CB4 had two strong games - games two and four - and the Raptors lost them both.

It's clear Bosh needs help and it's clear he's not getting it from Andrea Bargnani, who is the definition of regression. Bargnani represents the Raptors 07/08 season in so many ways: so inconsistent, some flashes of brilliance, a ton of potential, and so God damn frustrating.

Andrea was such a tool last night. He picked up two fouls only 20 seconds into the game and, as usual, was a non-factor. He finished with four points on two-of-four shooting from the floor (his first three-point attempt didn't even hit rim!). In a touch under 16 minutes he grabbed one rebound, and I remember it clearly. It came in the second half, no one was around him and, had he not caught the basketball, it would have hit him straight in the face.

Bargnani shot 35% (11-for-37) from the floor in the series and didn't register double-digits in points in any of the five games. He pulled down a whopping seven rebounds in the five games, proving that he is in fact physically allergic to rebounding. How is it possible that the seven-foot tall Italian cannot rebound? I don't get it. It blows the mind.

This summer is a huge, HUGE, one for Andrea and the Raptors. It's clear he's lost all confidence in his shot and, well, that's pretty much all he's about. Without his shot, he's completely useless because God knows he can't defend. Bargnani's got to get in the weight room all summer and come to training camp in September with a sense of purpose. He's got to be hungry. He's got to rebound. He's got to defend. It just looks like he doesn't give a shit out there. He needs to be fighting for a job next season because I'm beginning to think he is the second coming of Shawn Bradley (Lord help us).

I think Jason Kapono was the most consistent Raptor in the series. That's pretty sad, considering he found himself on the bench for much of the second half of the regular season.

All that being said, the Raptors did play hard last night. They played hard all series. They just couldn't get the job done. At one point in last night's fourth quarter they were down 84-82. In the end, however, the Raptors were done in by their weak defense and inability to rebound. The Magic crushed Toronto on the glass yesterday 55-to-37. Dwight Howard pulled down 10 offensive rebounds, one more than all the Raptors combined.

As bad as the Raptors played in the series, the Magic definitely deserve some credit. They are a good team and they beat up on Toronto. Howard is a monster and he dominated Toronto like no one has before. He finished with three - three! - 20 points/20 rebounds games. That is completely and utterly ridiculous. In five games, Superman totalled 91 rebounds. And as much heat as the Magic took for giving Rashard Lewis that huge contract, I think it's looking like a good deal so far. Lewis had a great series and is one of many Orlando threats. Everybody on that God damn team can shoot the ball.

The Raptors are heading into another long off-season. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Not after Toronto finished with 47 wins last year and captured their first Atlantic Division title. They were supposed to continue their evolution but instead took several steps backward, finishing .500 on the season and getting spanked by the Magic. Toronto was consistently inconsistent all year and never really posed a threat to a superior Orlando squad.

Questions abound as the season officially ends: has T.J. Ford played his last game in Raptors red? I think most people will agree that this team is better with Jose Calderon driving the bus, but can Bryan Colangelo find a taker for Ford's contract? And who becomes the back-up point guard if Ford leaves? Will Carlos Delfino, a free agent, return? I sure hope so. What to do with Andrea Bargnani? This guy is just killing the Raptors right now. And what about Sam Mitchell - is his job safe? The Raptors had two God-awful first quarters in the series and were never able to come up with an answer to the hot-shooting Magic.

It will be a most-interesting off-season indeed but, damn, I'm just really not looking forward to reading Dave Feschuk's column today in The Toronto Star.

April 25, 2008

It's A Series, Bitches!

Yes, Raptors! We're back in it, baby. Back on our floor in front of a raucous crowd, the home team did not disappoint. Toronto now trails Orlando 2-1 and this series is far from over.

I wasn’t able to watch the game, save for the final seven minutes at a downtown establishment with my good friend Hoegarden. And, trust me, I enjoyed those seven minutes.

As I was perusing the box score after the game, it was clear why the Raptors were victorious: point guard production.

I was all over T.J. Ford after game two but, boy, did he ever come back with a strong game. He and Jose Calderon (Jose, JoseJoseJose!) dominated Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo.

Here’s the line from the dynamic point guard duo:

39 points off 13-of-19 shooting from the floor, 12 rebounds, 16 assists, two steals, and only four turnovers.

That, my friends, is domination. If the Raptors can get production out of Forderon such as they received last night, this series is ours.

I was wrong, as usual, about the changes in the starting lineup. Ford was still in there and instead of Rasho was Moon.

I’ll give Mitchell some props. Ford could have easily come out of the lineup, and Moon had no business being inserted, but both moves paid off.

Ford, who couldn’t hit a shot in the first two games, was confident from the get-go. Say what you want about him, but the little engine never stops believing in himself. He hit his shots last night, as did Moon, and the Raptors won because of it. So after roasting him on Tuesday night, I offer him huge props today. I’m not the only one, either, as Doug Smith informs us that Ford received a standing ovation at a restaurant where he went to grab a post-game meal. Well deserved.

Same goes for Moon. Five-for-nine from the floor and 10 boards. Beauty.

It was definitely a team effort as six Raptors ended up in double figures. Toronto racked up 31 assists, compared to only 15 by Orlando, and won the battle of the boards 42-34. When the Raptors share the ball and hit the shots they should be hitting, they win. Last night was textbook Raptors basketball.

A big, big win and now we look forward to Saturday. This series is going back to Orlando tied up. And Dave Perkins is right: the Leafs suck, the Jays are doing their best Leafs impersonation, and the Raptors are all we’ve got. Let’s enjoy ‘em.

April 24, 2008

Shattered Dream

Brian Burke will not be riding into town on a white horse, the man ready, willing, and able to fix the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's staying in Anaheim. Pardon my language, but, well, fuck.

Burke, and his 2007 Stanley Cup championship ring, still has one year left on his contract as general manager of the Anaheim Ducks. He's going to serve it.

I so thought Burke was coming to Toronto. I've been telling people for about two weeks now that it was only a formality, that once the Ducks were eliminated from the playoffs the wheels would be set in motion. Well, no more motion. Hell, the motion never even began. The dream is dead.

Sean over at Down Goes Brown called it a couple of weeks ago. For those of you that aren't familiar with his blog, he's a Leafs fan living in Ottawa - yes, you should feel sorry for him - and let's just say he's a, uh, glass half-empty type of guy. Check out his blog, it's good stuff. He's our source for what's happening in that God-forsaken city.

Anyway, here's what Sean had to say: "I'm a Leafs fan and a Leafs fan only until the day I die (which will be this summer, by the way, of self-inflicted head wounds when we don't get Brian Burke)."

Wow. Didn't even get to summertime. Stay away from sharp objects, Sean.

Here's what makes the events of yesterday so depressing: even Sean was beginning to believe the hype about Burke, and he's about as optimistic about the Leafs as I am about peace in the Middle East. It ain't happening. Not in my lifetime, at least. If Sean at Down Goes Brown thought Burke might be on his way to town you know that I, the ultimate homer, believed in my heart of hearts, without a shadow of a doubt, that Brian Burke was going to be the next general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Wrong. Again. I am an idiot. I am Vaswani, lord of the idiots.

What next? Whom shall I anoint as the next general manager of the Leafs, only to likely be proved wrong once again? Jim Rutherford? Neil Smith? Colin Campbell? Ken Holland? Scotty Bowman (cue: salivation)? Bryan Colangelo?

You know what? I say we keep Cliff Fletcher. Why the hell not? I liked what he did when he stepped in for John Ferguson Jr. He made some decent trades at the deadline. Remember, he did manage to get a draft pick for Wade Belak. Now I loved Belak as much as the next Leafs fan, but it's Wade Belak. And he's set to become an unrestricted free agent. It's a pretty damn impressive trade. Perhaps Clifford can pull another rabbit out of his hat and trade Andrew Raycroft.

Hold on, give me a second. Sorry about that, but even I found that one funny. Trade Raycroft! Imagine Fletcher actually trying to make that trade?

Cliff Fletcher: "Hey Darryl Sutter, Fletch here from Toronto. How are ya? Sorry about that game seven loss. Kipper really let you down. Speaking of goaltending, CuJo's a free agent so, uh, any, umm, any interest in Andrew Raycroft?"

Darryl Sutter: "Is this some kind of sick joke? Fuck off, Fletcher." *CLICK*

Cliff Fletcher: "Hey, George McPhee, Cliff Fletcher here. That was a great series, young man. A bright, bright future you got there in D.C. Looks like you're in the market for a back-up, any interest in, umm, Raycroft?"

George McPhee: "I need a back-up, Cliff, not a sack of shit."

Cliff Fletcher: "Oh, yeah, well, you're right. Thanks anyways." *CLICK*

Cliff Fletcher: "Hey, Garth Snow! Fletch from Toronto. Getting used to being a GM yet? No? Great. Listen, Dubie's a free agent, any interest in Andrew Ray..."

Garth Snow: "AHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHHAHAHA"

Cliff Fletcher: "Is that a 'no', Garth?"

Garth Snow: "AHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAAHAHHAHHHAHAHHHAHAHHAHAA"

Cliff Fletcher: "I'll take that as a no. How about Bryan Mc..."

Garth Snow: *CLICK*

Cliff Fletcher: "Mike Gillis, congratulations on the new job in Vancouver. How about Andrew Raycroft to back-up Robby Luongo?"

Mike Gillis: "No."

Cliff Fletcher: *awkward silence*..."Please?"

Mike Gillis: "No."

Cliff Fletcher: "Can't you do me just this one solid?

Mike Gillis: "I don't even know you."

Cliff Fletcher: "I don't even want anything for him. Just take him."

Mike Gillis: "Gotta run!" *Click*

Apologies. I've gotten completely and ridiculously off-track. This isn't about Andrew Raycroft, it's about Brian Burke. And Cliff Fletcher. So, seriously, let's hand the reigns to Fletcher for one year, pray to God Burke doesn't sign an extension with the Ducks, and, if we have to, beg and plead for him to come to Toronto in April 2009.

Fletcher, and his right hand man Dougie Gilmour, had a close eye on the team post-JFJ. Clifford did what he could at the deadline, and had deals in place for those with the no-trade clauses in their contracts. Once the season ended, he maintained there would be significant changes to the roster. Let's let him make those changes. He's already kicked the tires on guys like Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, and Darcy Tucker.

Right now my mind state is such that if I can't have Burke, I don't want anybody else. Well, other than Clifford, but he's already here. Oh you know what I mean: I'm willing to wait for Burkey.

And, who knows, if the Leafs do keep Fletcher around, perhaps he can take the time to show #93 Doug Gilmour the ropes. Maybe we might not need Burke then after all...

April 23, 2008

I'm Off Disney World, Huge

I'm beginning to hate Orlando. And I've never even been there. The city has not been kind to my Toronto Raptors or Toronto Blue Jays in recent days. I thought Disney World was where dreams come true?

I don't know about you, but I'm still having nightmares from the first quarter of game one between the Raptors and Orlando Magic. You know, when Orlando scored 43 points on 80 percent - 80 freaking percent - shooting from the floor, including nine of 11 from deep. I'm still waking up in a cold sweat after seeing Maurice Evans, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson drain three-ball after three-ball after three-ball in my sleep. What a frightening 12 minutes of basketball.

You could take that first quarter and label it "How Not To Play Defense". Make it an instructional video, or something.

Toronto, unbelievably, got off to another porous start on Tuesday night, allowing 35 first quarter points. It's an improvement on 43, but unacceptable nonetheless. While many are quick to blame Sam Mitchell for the team's apparent lack of preparation, I can't do that. He's not on the floor.

Thankfully, the Raps did wake up in the second quarter and dropped 39 on the Magic. It was a see-saw battle the rest of the way but, most unfortunately, the dream of splitting the first two games on the road in Disney World ended when Chris Bosh's jump shot with 1.9 seconds left on the clock hit rim. 104-103 final, Orlando.

I'll give the dinosaurs some credit. They did make a game of it. But this is the playoffs, and moral victories count for nothing in the second season.

What did you think of the final play? Would you have drawn it up the same? It was another Jose Calderon/CB4 special and, just like last year in game six of the playoffs against the Nets with the season on the line, it didn't work. No disrespect towards Bosh. Dude was unconscious on Tuesday. But he's the obvious play. Why not look for Jason Kapono, who was dynamite off the bench in each of the first two games? If the Raptors were going to give it to Bosh, and they did, I'd much rather him drive and try to draw a foul instead of settle for the jump shot. Alas, you live and learn.

Speaking of learning, SMitch has made it clear that there will be changes in the starting lineup tonight for game three. And by changes I'm sure he means Calderon will start at point guard and T.J. Ford will come off the bench. At least that's what I'm assuming. I am, of course, usually wrong, but in my humble opinion Calderon can no longer be allowed to play Mr. Nice Guy. He's the better point guard, he's playing better than Ford right now, and the Raps are a better team when he's on the floor running the offense. So he should start, n'est-ce pas?

Here's the line on Ford after two games: he's two (2!) of 17 from the floor for a whopping 11.8 field goal percentage, seven of seven from the stripe, and he's totalled seven rebounds, 12 assists and 4 turnovers. I'm not saying that Ford is the reason we're down two-nothing in this series, because Jose was just as bad in game one, but Ford and Moon were abysmal in game two. Ford was one for eight from the floor on Tuesday and his turnovers in the first quarter (three of them, I think) and his lazy coverage of Jameer Nelson really hurt the Raptors. Until he finds his game and his confidence, Jose's got to carry the load.

As for Moon, well, he should just be banned from shooting the jump shot. He was one for seven Tuesday night and Orlando has simply stopped guarding him. They're letting him have the long jumper because, well, they know he can't make it. And they're right. Jamario simply has to be more aggressive and take the ball to the rim. He's too athletic and has too much hops to be chucking. I know it's important for him to have confidence in his jumper, but we need him to be rebounding and drawing fouls, not chilling on the perimeter and tossing up bricks.

I'm not going to say much about the heartbreak kid Andrea Bargnani. I thought he was pretty brutal in game one and so-so in game two. One thing, though. He played a touch over 18 minutes on Tuesday night and picked up one rebound. One rebound.

Huge shoutouts to Kapono and Carlos Delfino. Kapono, the forgotten man, came back with a vengeance in Orlando, shooting 67% from the floor, and 67% from beyond the arc. The sweet-shooting JKap has playoff experience and boy did it ever show. The Raptors are going to need him to come up just as big if they want to get back in this damn thing. Same goes for Delfino. He played almost thirty minutes Tuesday night and picked up 16 points, six boards and three dimes. Most importantly, he was aggressive. He didn't settle for the jump shot (I'm looking at you, Jamario).

And, umm, that Dwight Howard guy, umm, yeah, he's good. Twenty-twenty two games in a row? Ridiculous. He's a freak. Superman is a most fitting nickname.

Oh yeah, if you're looking for anything and everything Raptors-related, check out my man Chris Black at T.Jose Caldeford. Dude's been featured on Michael Grange's blog, From Deep, at The Globe and Mail and he is, needless to say, on point.

The Raptors cannot under any, ANY, circumstances come out flat tonight in the first quarter at the The Hangar. The fans are going to be rocking the red, Washington Capitals style, and a big opening 12 minutes is vital if the Raptors want to get back in this series. Come on Raptors. Orlando took care of business on their home court, we must do the same.

As for the Blue Jays and their series with Tampa Bay at Disney World (literally), Toronto lost on Tuesday and again last night. Give the series victory to Tampa Bay. The Jays are clearly struggling. When they lose a series to Tampa Bay, that pretty much goes without saying.

If there's one team I can't handle the Jays losing to, it's the Rays. They are the definition of pathetic. And, well, last place. Since their birth in 1998 the Rays have finished last in the American League East every year except for 2004, when they finished fourth with 70 wins (yes, the Jays finished last that year with 67 wins...*shudder*).

Everyone knows what ails the Jays. They can't hit with runners in scoring position. They were zero for eight tonight and are eight for their last 69. Yikes. Until that changes, the losses will continue to pile up. It is still early but the Red Sox, those fucking Boston Red Sox, are already beginning to heat up. The Jays need not take a page out of the Raptors book and dig themselves a hole too deep to get out of.

I listened to last night's post-game show with Mike Wilner, and J.P. Ricciardi made his first appearance on the program. It was riveting stuff, as always. I love the fact that J.P. makes himself available and takes questions from the fans once a week.

J.P., like me, like you, and most Jays fans, is frustrated. He knows the team isn't hitting and, in a classy move, is holding himself accountable. He said the calls for John Gibbons' head aren't warranted because Gibbons isn't out there hacking at the plate. Ricciardi said if the Jays don't hit, it's his fault, because he put this team together. And he's right.

He also touched on the Frank Thomas situation. To me, the situation stinks because it seems like it's only about dollars. The Jays didn't want to pay Frank $10 million next year so they let him walk. Of course, it isn't as simple as that. Ricciardi touched on the fact that Thomas was not in the dugout and didn't come out to high-five his teammates on Saturday, the day he was benched. J.P. said Thomas' actions showed his state of mind and that the Jays, with a sulking Thomas, were a team of 24, rather than 25. It's a mighty good point. I wonder if T.J. Ford and Frank Thomas hang out?

Ricciardi also spoke about the big-headed one, Barry Bonds. While he said the Jays have thought about it, it isn't something that is likely to happen. And not because Ricciardi doesn't want it to happen. It sounded like he does. I hate Bonds, but I'm a hypocrite and would take him on my team right this very moment. Why? Because he'd make the Jays a better team, and that's all that matters to me. Ricciardi sees what all Jays fans do out there, that Bonds would help this team immensely. He's not stupid. He just can't make the move because Ted Rogers won't sign off on it. That's the bottom line. Don't blame J.P. Ricciardi for Bonds not becoming a Blue Jay. Blame Ted Rogers. He's not willing to make it happen. If he was, Bonds would be a Blue Jay tomorrow. Think about it, you know, every time you pay Ted Rogers that God damn system access fee.

Before I forget, there have been a number of baseball blog additions to the blogroll. I urge you to check them out: The Mockingbird, where Jon Hale satisfies all your pitch f/x needs; The Tao of Stieb, because more people need to know that Dave Stieb pitched a remarkable 103 career complete games; Miked Up, because Mike Wilner is a whole lot of awesome; Fire Joe Morgan, because they write some of the funniest stuff on the web; and Major League Bastian, because he actually gets paid to cover the Jays. And don't forget the always reliable, and thullied, Drunk Jays Fans, who have officially sold out and who will be taking over the world in the days to come. Oh yeah, and the grumpy dude, Jeff Blair.

You know, Tuesday night was pretty awful on a number of fronts, now that I think about it. Every team, and person, I was cheering for lost. My Raps dropped a heart breaker; The Capitals went down in game seven, in overtime no less, to those damn Philly Flyers; San Jose pummeled Calgary in their game seven (what the hell has happened to Miikka Kiprusoff? Pulled twice in the series? Oh my.); the Jays lost; and my main man Barack Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary. Brutal.

Ahh, I told myself I'd make this post short. I swore I would. Once again, I have failed. Miserably. If you've made it this far, cheers. Your dedication is nothing short of exemplary.

Anyway, I hate the Rays. And the Magic. Fuck Disney World.

April 22, 2008

Deep Thoughts Vol. 5: Playoff Hockey

Even though the Maple Leafs are off enjoying the marvelous spring time weather these days in Toronto (read: they're golfing), I still find myself glued to the television each night to watch playoff hockey. The playoffs are a beautiful thing.

So, how about Martin Brodeur's pure snubbage of SuperDouche Sean Avery after the Devils were eliminated on Friday night? Pretty low of Brodeur if you ask me. Well, even if you didn't ask me, I'm telling you. That's, umm, kind of the point of this blog.

Anyway, I think it (the snubbery) only proved how effective Avery was at throwing Brodeur off his game. Marty didn't have a Brodeur-type series. Far from it. He finished 1-4 with a 3.19 goals against average and an .891 save percentage and was a big reason why the Devils were dispatched so quickly in five games (I predicted the Devils to win, of course). Avery was in Marty's head, no doubt.

George Vecsey wrote an interesting column about the Avery/Brodeur drama in the New York Times. Check it out here.

On a side note, is New Jersey not home to the most pathetic fans in the entire NHL? It was shameful to see that many New York Rangers fans in attendance at all three Devils home games. It simply isn't fair that a team with a fan base as sorry as the Devils is, in recent years, a multiple Stanley Cup champion.

Back to the the point. Do you think Brodeur, regardless of Avery's childish antics, should have shaken his hand when it was all said and done? Yes, Avery is a big time motha sucka, but I think you still shake hands. It's part of the game. You go to war in a playoff series but when it's over you say "congratulations" or "good luck" and shake hands, even if it makes you sick inside to do so. Hockey's the only sport with this tradition and Brodeur should have respected it.

At the same time, it's hard to put the words "respect" and "Sean Avery" anywhere near each other. He clearly doesn't have respect for his fellow hockey players, and many argue that he doesn't have any respect for the game. It's a tough call. My brother thinks Brodeur did the right thing, while loyal SportsAndTheCity reader Karan in NYC believes Brodeur's move was classless.

At the end of the day, it's pretty much impossible to be less classy than Sean Avery. Check out his comment after the game:



What a lousy douche, I know. And yet I still want him to be a Maple Leaf (my brother thinks I am deranged). He's simply too good at what he does - it's just "Avery Being Avery" - and the Leafs, well, they need all the help they can get.


Alexander Ovechkin is back. Not that he ever really went anywhere. But he's back. He struck for two goals, and his first since game one, last night as the Washington Capitals staved off elimination once again to force a game seven with Philly tonight in D.C.

The Caps were down two-nothing in the second period yesterday and looked to be finished before they stormed back. Ovechkin bagged the game-winner with a beautiful breakaway goal. He was due. Four games without a goal for this cat is about four games too many. Pierre McGuire said it best: "How do you spell game breaker? O-V-E-C-H-K-I-N!"

The Caps have an incredibly young and inexperienced squad, but the youth dem are making Caps fans proud. Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green (with one hell of a hip check last night) and Ovechkin have been huge. The future is bright in Washington, man (read: I am jealous as fuck). It would be a monumental comeback and here's hoping they can finish off Danielle Briere (props to PPP for that one) and the Flyers tonight.


Speaking of game seven, I think the Boston Bruins forgot they were to play in one last night. Full disclosure: I was cheering for Boston. Big time. I fully wanted the Montreal Canadiens to lose last night and blow their 3-1 series lead. It would have been pretty sweet. Look, when you're a Leafs fan and your team is on the outside looking in again, all you've got to look forward to is the demise and, preferably, the collapse, of your enemies (hahahahahahaha, Ottawa Senators, hahahahahahahahaha).

But, because I'm relatively good people, I'm still able to give credit where credit is due. And Carey Price deserves some credit. Kid was phenomenal last night, especially in the first period when the Habs came out flat. It could have easily been 3-to-1 for Boston if not for some terrific saves from Price early on. He kept his team in the game and they came out possessed in the second period, out-shooting the Bruins 17-6, outscoring them 2-0, and effectively finishing them off.

Price was calm, cool and collected in the biggest game, so far, of his NHL career. He rebounded from a couple of shaky outings and proved that he's got the perfect mentality to play goal in a city as crazy as Montreal.

Damn Price. I would have enjoyed seeing him falter, but now I only want Justin Pogge to follow in his footsteps.

And, for the record, Price might be the worst interview ever. He always looks ready to pass out and almost put me to sleep with his post-game interview last night. But, damn, he's a good goalie.


Before I leave you, I've got some links and videos to share with you. Sharing, like my mother taught me, is fun. The blogroll here at SportsAndTheCity is always growing and one blog I've subscribed to recently is Slap Shot, the New York Times hockey blog, and I urge you to check it out. I know, hockey isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think "New York Times", but it's a pretty good blog. Trust it.

The writers of the blog are passionate hockey fans and they've been sharing with me some great videos, which I thought I'd share with you. Remember, we all benefit from the cycle of sharing. Enjoy.

Old school highlights, but still pretty awesome:



Miikka Kiprusoff's stalker:



"The Greatest Fans on Earth" (stay classy, Philadelphia):

April 20, 2008

Bye Bye Big Hurt

This just in from the Holy Shit Department: Frank Thomas has been released. After benching him yesterday afternoon, the Jays handed The Big Hurt is walking papers this morning. Colour me surprised. And perplexed.

I was going to write about Thomas' benching last night. I even had a title - "Trouble Brewin" - ready to go, in honour of the cancer that Frank was about to become in the Toronto clubhouse. It didn't happen and I woke up this morning, headed over to TSN.ca, and there it was. I guess the Jays had to act fast in order to keep the infection known as the Frank the Tank from spreading.

Thomas' release is all about $$$$$. When he signed his two-year, $18 million deal with Toronto in 2006, it included a $10 million option for 2009 based on plate appearances. Frank was healthy last season and healthy so far this season, and was inching ever so slowly to locking up that $10 million. Heading into game one of the season, he needed only 376 appearances in the batters box to do so.

The Jays will argue that the release is about production, not dollars. They have a point, although I'm not sure it's enough to convince me. Thomas is a notoriously slow starter. He was atrocious last year in April and May, and was up to his same old tricks to start this season. In 16 games, and 60 at-bats, Thomas was batting .167 with three home runs and 11 runs batted in. Eight of those ribbies came in the home-opening series against the Red Sox, when the Jays swept Boston out of town, large in part to Thomas. Other than that series, he's been a non-factor.

Thomas will be 40 years old on May 27. There have been rumours about his decline being permanent and age-induced. His bat speed has simply slowed down, and it's not coming back.

Thomas was livid after yesterday's benching. I can't really blame him.

"They told me that I'm not playing. Gibby told me that he can't guarantee that I'll be in the lineup."

"They do that after 16 games, after 60 at-bats. That's bullshit. We all know what's behind this. What else could be behind this but the money?"

"What the fuck is that, with my track record, they know what I can do. I tried to be the nice guy, the gentleman. I've kept my mouth shut."

"But I know I can hit. One good week and I'd be back on top. I know I haven't hit the ball that well but I'm not the only fucking player. Look at (Gary) Sheffield with Detroit, (David) Ortiz with Boston. I know I can hit, that I can get on fire."

"But I didn't expect this at all. This is a shocker. It's terrible. Don't tell me I can't help this team win. If they don't want me here, then why not just cut me and then they wouldn't have to worry about the $10 million next year?"

Clearly Thomas was pissed. And clearly Thomas can predict the future. His tenure in a Jays jersey is over.

This is a tough one for me to swallow. I think Thomas makes a good point about Sheffield, Ortiz and Jim Thome. He's certainly not the only designated hitter stinking up the joint. I thought Hurt was going to be a big part of a Blue Jays playoff push this season. Not anymore. It looks like Matt Stairs, who is batting a very tidy .333, will take over the DH duties, along with Rod Barajas. And it's assumed that Adam Lind will get the call from Syracuse. Lind has been ripping it up in AAA but if he comes back up to the big club and swings at everything, I'm going to be pissed.

I'm sure this was a tough decision for the Jays brass. At least I hope it was. Tough decisions are easy to look back on. Like, say, picking Shannon Stewart over Reed Johnson. Stewart's batting .235 with only one extra base hit and four runs batted in. Johnson, on the other hand, is enjoying his new surroundings in Chicago, batting .349 with seven runs batted in. At the end of the season if the Jays haven't received 20-plus home runs and 90 RsBI from the DH position, I think this move will have been a mistake. It's cut and dry for me.

There is definitely a sense of urgency when it comes to the 2008 Blue Jays, another reason why Thomas is a goner. They couldn't afford to wait for him to heat up, and that's why he's no longer part of the team. With a record of 9-9 after 18 games, the Jays know they can't fall too far behind in the standings. The Red Sox are already beginning to heat up, 8-and-2 in their last 10, and in first place in the AL East with a 12-7 record.

As you can see, I'm conflicted about Thomas' release. I understand why it was done, but don't agree with it 100% either. What if Scott Rolen gets injured again? What if Stairs can't keep up his pace? What if Lind can't get the job done? These are the questions that haunt me. At the end of the day, the Jays chose to eliminate 26 home runs and 97 runs batted in from their lineup.

And I'm not sure I agree with how they went about it, either. Thomas is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, after all. Does that entitle him to more respect than another player? I'm not sure. That's a tough one. But Thomas is among elite company. He's one of only four players in baseball history to hit for an average of at least .300, swat 500 home runs, score 1,500 RsBI, 1,000 runs, and tally 1,500 walks. The other three? Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams. Elite company, indeed.

No doubt Thomas is going to have a lot to say about his release. And it isn't going to be pretty. It should be interesting to see how it all shakes down today and in the coming days. It's a shame it had to come to this. But I wish him well. Thank you, Frank Thomas. Good luck to you, mate.

April 16, 2008

See Ya

Sometimes pictures are all you need...





April 15, 2008

Sean Avery: Super Douche, and Hopefully Future Maple Leaf

If you were to look up "douche bag" in the (urban) dictionary, you'd find a picture of Sean Avery. He is the ultimate douche. The lowest of the low. I hate him. And that's why I want to see him become a Toronto Maple Leaf.

Avery's been all over the news for his most recent antics on Sunday night against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. If you haven't seen Avery's latest douche-baggery, check it out, because it's pretty unbelievable what this guy is capable of.



Pretty wild shit, eh? Not only did Avery screen Brodeur in a way no player ever has before, he ended up scoring on Marty after the fact. Salt in the wounds, man. And, as the picture above indicates, there isn't a worse goal-scoring celebration out there than Avery's. Dude is incorrigible.

The only people who can stand Avery and his shenanigans are his teammates and New York Rangers fans. Avery's the type of guy everyone hates. Unless he plays for your team. Then you love him. He is Darcy Tucker, circa 1998, on steroids.

I wasn't too fond of Tucker back in those days, when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning. I remember a game against Toronto, back in good old Maple Leaf Gardens, where Tucker took a run at Mats Sundin. Steve Thomas came to the defense of the Captain and dropped the gloves with the feisty Tucker. Suffice it to say that after that game Tucker was enemy number one around these parts. Until he was traded to Toronto. I couldn't have been happier the day he became a Maple Leaf. Once in the blue and white, Tucker quickly became one of my favourites.

As much as I hate Sean Avery, I know I'd love him in a Leafs uniform. Hell, I'd worship the cat. Admit it, you would too. We all hate the Tucker's, the Boogard's, and the Avery's until they put on the uniform we cherish. Say what you want about Avery, but he's great at what he does. Nobody can get more under the skin of his opponents than super douche Sean Avery. It's a gift. He's the type of guy you hate to play against but would love to have on your side.

On far too many nights the last three years the Maple Leafs have been way too easy to play against. Especially on home ice. Avery's presence in the Leafs lineup would change that. No one likes to play against him. He chirps and chirps and chirps, even in the pre-game warm up (as we learned back in November). Avery draws the ire of everyone around him, from coaches to players and even play-by-play announcers. He even pisses Don Cherry off, and Cherry loves a good shit disturber.

While he is by far the biggest trash-talker in the league, Avery has proven he can play. He's a major reason why New York has a 2-1 series lead over New Jersey in their quarterfinal series - Avery's scored in each game so far, one of them a game-winner, and has added an assist. Not only does Avery piss you off with his extra-curricular activities, he's all over the score sheet to boot.

Avery has tallied 48 goals in the last three regular seasons, and put up a career-high 48 points with Los Angeles and New York in 06/07. This season he scored 15 goals in 57 games. Yep, that's as many as Jason Blake potted, and in 25 fewer games.

The Rangers' record with Avery in their lineup speaks for itself. When he suits up, New York has compiled a record of 50-20-16. In the 25 games Avery missed, New York won only nine games, lost 13 in regulation time, and lost three in overtime and the shootout. He's clearly a big part of that team.

Come July 1st, Avery will be an unrestricted free agent, his services available to the highest bidder. His salary this season? Only $1.9 million. That's less than what both Mark Bell and Andrew Raycroft pulled in this season ($2 million). While Avery is due for a raise, the Leafs will have the cap space to make him an offer. Toronto desperately needs to become a tougher team to play against. Sean Avery would go a long way in doing just that.

Don't get me wrong - I hate Sean Avery. But boy would I love to see him in a Maple Leafs uniform next season...

April 11, 2008

Best Save Ever

This just in: San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov is good. He robbed, and I mean robbed, Owen Nolan last night. They don't come much better than this, folks:



The Calgary Flames/San Jose Sharks series is turning into a beaut. Two great teams, and two unbelievable goaltenders. The series is tied 1-1, and I'm beginning to smell a game seven.

Ain't nothing like the first round of the NHL playoffs.

I am going Cup crazy. And the best - Ovechkin - is yet to come.

April 09, 2008

Concerned

Jeremy Accardo blew the save. Second game in a row where he's given up the game winning run. Not good. I'm becoming a little concerned about our closer.

Nursing a 3-2 lead, Accardo beaned the first batter he faced and then gave up a triple to Jays killer Mark Ellis. He then struck out Daric Brown and intentionally walked Jack Cust before being relieved by Brian Wolfe. As a matter of fact, I'm not really feeling Wolfe all that much either right now.

Give Accardo a blown save and the loss, his second consecutive one. After being charged with four earned runs, Accardo's ERA is now 10.38. Even more disconcerting is that opponents are batting over .360 against him. Yikes.

Let me be clear: I'm not worried about Jeremy Accardo. He proved last year that he could be an effective closer in the American League East, and I'm not about to write him off after five games this season. I'm just a little concerned.

So, umm, B.J. Ryan, how you doin' buddy?

And on a side note, why can't the Jays hit rookie pitchers? It's fucking annoying.

First Round Predictions

The Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight. Sixteen teams are on a mission to be the one to hoist the most beautiful trophy in pro sports. It's time for me to predict, with stunning accuracy, who will still be standing after the first round.

Since everyone and their monkey - that's Maggie the Monkey - are offering their predictions, I figured I might as well get in on the party. Before I begin I must admit that today is a sad and most difficult day because, much like me, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be watching the playoffs on television. I shouldn't be writing about my predictions for the first round. I should be writing about the start of an epic Toronto/Montreal first round playoff battle. It is truly a shame that the Leafs suck.

Let's do this.

Eastern Conference

Montreal (1) vs Boston (8): Montreal in five games.

Two things I can't for the life of me figure out: how Montreal finished first in the East and how they beat Boston eight times in the regular season. I don't get it. I believe Carey Price is the real deal in goal, and Montreal's mastery over Boston should continue. Although if I think it will, it probably won't, and Boston will sweep the Habs and prove that the regular season doesn't mean a damn thing. But I'll stick with the Habs, mainly in hopes of jinxing them.

Pittsburgh (2) vs Ottawa (7): Pittsburgh in six games.

The war of words has already begun between these two teams, and that always makes for good playoff hockey. The Penguins look hungry, while the Senators look fragile and vulnerable. The facts speak for themselves and they're yelling loud and clear that Ottawa is simply not a good defensive team. Of the 16 playoff teams this season Ottawa surrendered the most goals - a whopping 247. Pittsburgh, in contrast, only allowed 216. Without Daniel Alfredsson (thanks again, Mark Bell) and Mike Fisher, and facing the high-octane Pittsburgh offence, this one could be over in four (and that would feel like Christmas in April). Oh, and here's hoping Gary Roberts goes apeshit on the Senators like days gone by.

Washington (3) vs Philadelphia (6): Washington in seven games.

This is a tough one to call, as both teams are evenly matched. I have, however, adopted the Caps as my playoff team, so there is a conflict of interest. But who cares? Let's go Caps! While I do like Huet in goal over Biron, the big question is whether the Flyers can shut down Alex Ovechkin. If the answer is yes, they'll win the series. However, no one's managed to shut Ovie down yet, and I'm not sure the Flyers will be able to unless they resort to their thuggish ways. If - actually, when -the Flyers get dirty, and we all know they will (lousy thugs), I'm looking forward to seeing how Ovechkin reacts. Look for Ovie to rise to the occasion and propel the Caps to victory.

New Jersey (4) vs New York (5): New Jersey in seven games.

This is another tough one. These two teams hate each other, as do their fans, and this series should be one of the more exciting one's of the first round. But I've got two words for you: Martin Brodeur. I simply cannot bet against him.


Western Conference

Detroit (1) vs Nashville (8): Detroit in five games.

I still don't understand how the Nashville Predators made the playoffs. Their Peter Forsberg rental last year was a complete bust, they traded away guys like Kimmo Timonen, Scottie Upshall, and Scott Hartnell, they lost Paul Kariya to free agency, and they didn't get a single game out of Steve Sullivan all year. Yet here they are, in the playoffs. If Barry Trotz, the only coach the franchise has ever known, doesn't get serious consideration for Coach-Of-The-Year, something is tremendously wrong. But the poor Predators still don't have a chance at beating Detroit. Sure, the Red Wings look vulnerable in goal, but when don't they? Detroit simply has too much talent to lose this series.

San Jose (2) vs Calgary (7): San Jose in six games.

It may finally be San Jose's time. In particular, it may finally be Joe Thornton's time. The Sharks had a tremendous year, and the addition of Brian Campbell on their blue line was a great move by general manager Doug Wilson. Their NHL-best road record is what impresses me the most: 27 wins, 10 losses, and four overtime losses in enemy territory. While the inconsistent Flames will win a game or two thanks to Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff, I can't see them winning this series.

Minnesota (3) vs Colorado (6): Minnesota (by coin toss) in seven games.

I think this is the most difficult series to call in the first round. So I flipped a coin. Minnesota Wild it is. I just don't trust Jose Theodore.

Anaheim (4) vs Dallas (5): Anaheim in seven games.

The Ducks got off to a slow start this season but ever since Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne returned, they've been flying like the Ducks of last season who won it all. While Dallas is a great team, it seems like the arrival of Brad Richards really screwed up their mojo. They struggled down the stretch and I can't see them beating Anaheim, especially without Sergei Zubov. Plus, it's hard to bet against an Anaheim defence core of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Mathieu Schneider, Francois Beauchemin, Kent Huskins and Sean O'Donnell.


There you have it. And I just realized that I picked the top seeds (one through four) in each conference to win their respective series. No upsets. What is this, the NCAA (chuck a) basketball tournament?

Before I leave you, here are Maggie the Monkey's - TSN's esteemed playoff prognosticator - picks for the first round:

Montreal, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Detroit, San Jose, Minnesota, and Anaheim.

Other than Philly, the monkey and I are on the same page. I guess Maggie's more of a Crosby type of girl.

Enjoy the first round.

April 08, 2008

I'm So Excited And I Just Can't Hide It

I'm beginning to get super excited about the 2008 Toronto Blue Jays. Sure, the uber-long baseball season is only six games old, but it seems there's something different about this Jays team.

It's true, folks - I'm thinking playoffs. Yes, Already. I've got visions of a pennant dancing in my head.

After playing well in the season-opening series against the New York Yankees but winning only one of three in the Bronx, the Jays came home and swept the road-weary Boston Red Sox right out of town. It was a statement sweep. A "we aren't going to finish third in the AL East" sweep. And I'm pumped up about it.

I was at the home opener on Friday night. It was a doozy. The Rogers Centre was full and the alcohol was certainly flowing. There were half-assed streakers, a few Massholes, and a ton of fights. Up in the 500 level where I was seated, Jays fans were even fighting each other. It was pretty ridiculous. The Jays fans-on-Jays fans violence has to stop.

Anyway, I'm tickled with excitement about the pitching staff. It has come as advertised: one of the best in the American League. Through six games, the Blue Jays sport a team ERA of 2.94. Only the Oakland A's and Kansas City Royals have been better on the mound and, well, we all know that ain't going to last.

To a man, the rotation has been solid. AJ Burnett was downright filthy in his start against New York, as was Dustin McGowan. Shaun Marcum, except for one bad pitch to JD Drew in the opener on Friday night, cut through the Red Sox lineup with disregard, striking out eight while only allowing three hits in seven innings. Even Jesse Litsch contributed. He battled against the Red Sox, gave up two runs in five innings of work and ended up getting the win on Saturday. What more do you want from your fifth starter?

If I'd have told you that Roy Halladay would have given up 15 hits in 15 innings of work in his first two starts, including four home runs, and the Jays would be 4-and-2 after six games against the two Evil Empire's, I think you'd be pretty pleased. I am, especially knowing that even when Doc isn't at the top of his game, the Jays can still pull out a victory.

The Jays have gotten quality starts almost across the board and when the bullpen has had to come in, they've been lights out. Brian Wolfe is the only reliever who's surrendered a run, and that came against New York. In 13 innings of relief the bullpen has allowed only that single run, while striking out 10. And we haven't even seen Brandon League yet.

Are you beginning to see why I'm excited?

The boys are hitting as well. After a sluggish start in New York, Toronto scored 23 runs in three games against Boston. Frank Thomas was the catalyst. He had an absolute monster series and finished with eight RBI.

I'm stoked about big Frank. He hit the game winning double in Friday's home opener, a two-run bomb to dead centre on Saturday afternoon, and added a grand slam in Sunday's series finale. And he looked about excited doing it as I am right now. His eight RBI now lead the American League.

Thomas already looks more comfortable in a Toronto uniform than he did last year, and is taking on more of a leadership role with the team. There was some serious fist-pumpage after his huge double on Friday night and upon entering the dugout after his grand slam on Sunday, Thomas was clearly emotional. He even got a curtain call, and I'm starting to see why those damn Yankee fans love it so much. It was pretty sweet.

Alex Rios and Aaron Hill have picked up where they left off last season, and it's hard not to be excited about their recent contract signings. They're both locked up for years to come and while the future in Toronto is certainly bright, I'm starting to believe that the future is now.

Vernon Wells isn't off to one of his no-no-no-notoriously bad starts, Marco Scutaro has been a pleasant addition and David Eckstein is one hard working dude. Who else sprints to first base on a walk?

And in a tell-tale sign that injuries may not wreak havoc on this team any more than they already have (knock on wood; I'm serious, do it), both John McDonald and Wells were able to stay in the game after a scary collision in centre field on Sunday.

Toronto, at 4-and-2, finds itself one game behind the American League leading Baltimore Orioles. Go ahead, take a second and have a good laugh over that one. It's not often you'll read "Baltimore Orioles" and "American League leading" in the same sentence. If there's ever been a sure bet in life, it's that the Orioles will not win the AL East.

But I digress. What makes Toronto's impressive start all the more encouraging is that the Jays have managed to do all of this without BJ Ryan and Scott Rolen, two very important pieces of the puzzle. I get giddy thinking what this team is going to be like when the two return.

Don't believe me when I tell you I'm excited? While the Jays were completing their sweep of the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, I, along with my brother and two friends, purchased a 20-game Blue Jays tickets flex pack. But that's not all. Taking a page out of JP Ricciardi's book, we back-ended the flex pack, and bought seats to all the games versus the Red Sox and Yankees at home in September. Why? Because we smell a pennant race. This, my friends, is the year the Toronto Blue Jays return to the MLB playoffs.

In honour of the title of this post, and the Blue Jays' boner-inducing play early on this season, I leave you with a video from my youth. The video first of all proves that everything is available on YouTube. Secondly, it has a lot to do with my relationship with the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Toronto Maple Leafs as well, and the belief that they will make the playoffs every single year. It starts with a whole lot of excitement, leads to substance abuse, and culminates in one major breakdown. Enjoy!

April 07, 2008

A Long, Long, Long Off-Season

The season is finally, mercifully, over. For the first time since the 1997/1998 campaign the Toronto Maple Leafs finished with fewer than 90 points. We're in for one long off-season my friends, and I've got a ton of questions that need to be answered.

It hasn't actually set in that the season is over. It feels a little bit surreal, even. Like I'm trapped in this three year nightmare, with a playoff game nowhere in sight. I guess it'll hit home once the second season begins and I'm cheering for the Washington Capitals instead of my Leafs.

These are difficult times, indeed. The franchise is in dire straits. It's impossible to know whether the Leafs can pull a Montreal or Philadelphia and be competitive one year after missing the playoffs. There are simply too many questions to be answered.

In honour of that beautiful segue way, lets do this: 20 Questions, Toronto Maple Leafs excruciatingly long off-season edition.

1. Will the Leafs target Brian Burke as their new general manager? The search for a new president and GM, in typical Leafs fashion, doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Perhaps the Leafs are waiting for the playoffs to end so they can approach Burke with an offer he simply can't refuse. Or perhaps not. Who the hell knows.

2. Like those "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, the questions surrounding Mats Sundin's future will loom large over the franchise until the Captain makes his decision. So, what will Mats do? It's a question that has caused many restless, sleepless nights. Will he retire a Maple Leaf, even though he enjoyed a tremendous personal season? Will he sign another one-year contract with Toronto? Will it include a no-trade clause? If the Leafs stink, will we go through the entire process again next year? Will he sign as a free agent with another team, after refusing to be traded at the trade deadline and costing the Leafs valuable draft picks? Oh dear, pass me the TUMS. I'm going to have severe indigestion for the next four freaking months.

3. When will Paul Maurice be fired? It's no longer if, but when. The Leafs finished the season with one of the worst home records in the league, and the NHL's worst penalty killing rate - 78%. The players will be held accountable, but so should the coaches. Maurice is finished, and should be canned sooner rather than later. Which means he'll be fired in August, a couple of weeks before training camp; you know how we do!

4. Who will the Leafs select in the entry draft with their top-10 pick? Unfortunately, it certainly won't be Steve Stamkos or Drew Doughty. With Vesa Toskala signed through 2010 and Justin Pogge already dubbed the future in net, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the Leafs drafted a goalie.

5. Andrew Raycroft has one year and $2 million left on his current contract. No general manager, unless drunk out of their mind (and even that's a stretch), is going to trade for him. Will the Leafs take the hit and buy out his contract? Will he be banished to the minors next season? One thing is for certain, if Raycrap is still a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs come September, I'm going to have rethink this whole Leafs fan thing.

6. Will Bryan McCabe accept a trade to the New York Islanders? More importantly, will the New York Islanders actually trade for him? One of Pavel Kubina or McCabe's salary must come off the books, and most will agree McCabe should be the one to go. Even I've given up on him. The Islanders are our best hope as McCabe's wife still calls Long Island home. At this point, I'm willing to take back a single prospect, or even a second-round pick, for #24.

7. If McCabe refuses to leave town, or no team is willing trade for him, will the Leafs bite the bullet and buy him out?

8. Sundin can probably fetch $6.5 to $7 million on the market. If he stays with Toronto, will he give the Leafs a discount? If he wants the team to be the least bit competitive, we straight up cannot afford to pay him in the $6-to-$7 million range. I'm thinking more like $4.5 million, and I don't think that would go over too well with Sundin. Excuse me, I said pass the TUMS!

9. Can we throw in Jason Blake if we trade McCabe to the Islanders? Perhaps they would like to have him back. After all, Owen freakin' Nolan scored more goals than Blake this year.

10. I know it was a great body check - probably the best of the year - but is Mark Bell really worth $2.5 million next season? Like McCabe, no one's going to trade for the guy, so will his contract be bought out?

11. Will the next general manager of the Leafs entertain any thoughts of bringing back Pat Burns behind the bench? That would be a whole lot of fucking awesome.

12. If the Leafs do find a suitor for McCabe, how about bringing back Danny Markov? Markov spent the past year in Russia and will be 32 in July. I doubt he'd cost much ($1.5 or $2 million), I think he's still got some hockey left in him and, boy, was he ever a beauty during his first stint in Toronto. What do you think about a defence of: Kaberle/Kubina, Markov/Colaiacovo, Stralman/White?

13. Will Matt Stajan and Kyle Wellwood still be in the blue and white come September? Both are restricted free agents. I think it's a sure bet that Stajan will be back. I hope the case is the same for Wellwood, but I'm not too sure. After another surgery on his groin, who knows what his conditioning will be like. I'm still of the opinion, however, that he's too young and too skilled to simply be given up on.

14. What about John Pohl, Scott Clemmensen, and Dominic Moore? Other than Sundin, they are the only unrestricted free agents of note on the club (Andy Wozniewski is unrestricted as well and here's hoping he, well, goes straight to hell). I think Pohl is done with Toronto, while Clemmensen might be re-signed for another go with the Marlies. And I think Moore has played well enough as a waiver pick up to merit another contract with the Leafs. Dude works hard and should be rewarded.

15. What to do with Darcy Tucker? He finished the season with 18 goals but barely existed for the first four months of the season. He also looked slow out there all year. He was never the fastest skater to begin with, but it seemed like he lost a step. While he does have a no-trade clause, I think Tucker's got too much pride to stick around if he's no longer wanted. And I definitely believe there is a market out there for him. It would be extremely painful to see him go, but it may be time for the Leafs to turn the page.

16. Where have all the twenty goal scorers gone? Other than Sundin who always does it, only one other Maple Leaf scored more than 20 goals this season. It was Nik Antropov, probably the last guy you thought would do it. Sure, the Leafs did have seven players with 15 goals or more, but they need better finish in and around the net. They need a sniper who can get the job done. Blake was brought in to score goals and, while he did put up a respectable 52 points, I was expecting at least 25 to 30 goals from him.

17. Will our new general manager be shopping on July 1st when the free agent markets opens? The crop isn't the greatest, although I definitely wouldn't mind seeing Daymond Langkow in a Leafs uniform as the team's second centre behind Sundin. Other big offensive names on the list are: Kristian Huselius, Markus Naslund, Ladislav Nagy, Brendan Morrison, Sean Avery (imagine him in a Leafs uni?), and Brendan Shanahan. None are guys you can build around, but the Leafs need some proven goal scorers.

18. Who's ready for a full-time promotion from the farm? Are guys like Jeremy Williams, Robbie Earl, Staffan Kronwall and Kris Newbury ready to contribute to the big club all year long? Kronwall hasn't looked all that great and it doesn't seem like Newbury will be much more than a fourth line guy who plays only a few minutes per game. While Williams and Earl looked alright, I'm not sure they are ready for prime time.

19. Are Jiri Tlusty and Nikolai Kulemin sure fire prospects? Tlusty had a decent rookie season all things considered. From his nudey glamour shots to limited fourth line duty, his 10 goals were a pleasant surprise. Will he find himself a fixture on the top two lines come next season? And will Nikolai Kulemin, the best prospect the Leafs have, be ready to play in the NHL in September? Will he be the sniper the Leafs so desperately need, or will he join the long list of Maple Leaf entry draft busts?

20. Will Wade Belak return to the Leafs? Belak's rental experiment didn't work out too well in Florida as he couldn't lead them to the playoffs, and he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Without Wade on the roster, no one on the Leafs can fight. God knows I could go without seeing Bell and McCabe ever drop the gloves again.

I wasn't lying folks. We're in for one hell of a long, and definitely most interesting, off-season. I say bring it on. After a season like this one, we can only go up from here. At least I hope so.

April 04, 2008

Mark Bell Rules

I have been waiting years to see Daniel Alfredsson get hit the way he did last night. Thanks to one hell of a body check, Mark Bell completely redeemed himself of one horrendous season. Thanks to one hell of a body check, I want Bell to stay in the blue and white.

If you didn't see the hit, check it out. Grab some popcorn, a drink, and get comfortable. I think I've watched it about 57 times now, and it is just, well, awesome. And it's even better in slow motion.



Alffy is done. Bell sent him back to the 613 area code. That's what Alffy gets for cutting through the Leafs zone, head down and admiring his pass. It's about God damn time someone layed him out. Alfredsson won't suit up tonight for Ottawa, and word has it that he may even miss the first round of the playoffs. While the Leafs couldn't bring the Senators down with them, at least they got Alfredsson. That's one trade off I'll take with open arms.

One second, I'll be right back. Going to watch the video again...

Ok, I'm back. Sorry about that. But, wow, what a beauty of a hit. Shoulder, and some elbow, right into Alfredsson's mug. It's like art. Beautiful, expensive, art.

Other than the hit, the game was a joke. The Senators, fighting for their playoff lives, destroyed the Maple Leafs. Silly me, I was actually really excited about last night's game. I figured the Leafs would step up and do their best to mess up Ottawa's season. But, as keeps being proven, every instinct I have is wrong.

Honestly, an 8-2 final for the Senators was all good with me. The hit on Alfredsson made the final score absolutely meaningless. The Leafs are brutal and everyone knows it. Some serious roster overhaulage is in store.

The Washington Capitals, my adopted team for the rest of the season, beat the Lightning anyway, and now occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. They don't need the Leafs' help. God knows we can't help ourselves, so how the hell were we going to help someone else? I'm an idiot.

Anyway, right after Bell cleared Alfredsson's sinuses, my boy Alz sent me a text message: "Bell just validated his write off of a season." I couldn't agree more. I've been a big time Bell-hater. He disappointed me greatly these last few months, and I was all for buying out his contract or having him toil in the minors next season. Not anymore. After that gorgeous hit on the super douche bag captain of the Ottawa Senators, all is forgotten. Well done, Mark Bell, and I look forward to seeing you in training camp in September.

Yes, the Leafs were absolutely demolished in their final home game of the regular season. The 8-2 final score was completely embarrassing, but fitting, because it was likely Paul Maurice's final game behind the Leafs bench as head coach (why the hell didn't he pull Toskala!?!?!?). I can't think of any other team that is blown out of their own building as often as the Leafs are. It's a bloody disgrace. I'm tired. I'm done. This season, with mercifully only one game left to play, can't end soon enough.

Yes, the Senators kicked collective Maple Leafs ass last night, but, well, who cares? It's nothing we haven't been through before. Just thank Mark Bell, scroll up to the video, and click "play." It'll make you feel better.

UPDATE: It's morning. I woke up and the first thing I did was think about the hit, and smile. A huge smile. And it's snowing outside. The Leafs lost 8-2 last night, and I'm still straight giddy over that hit. I think I have no choice but to buy a Mark Bell jersey. He is the greatest.

April 03, 2008

Believe The Hype

It's not often that I write about teams who don't call Toronto home, but the Washington Capitals are doing something special right now. Only two points out of a playoff spot, the Maple Leafs can help out the Caps in a big way by beating the Ottawa Senators tonight.

The Capitals, led by phenom Alexander Ovechkin, are on a mission. Now in his third and most prolific season in the NHL, Ovechkin is done with missing the playoffs. He's going to the dance, come hell or high water.

While I think Sidney Crosby is one hell of a hockey player, I think Ovechkin is the better player. The kid does it all, and with pizazz. He bangs, he crashes, and boy does he ever score. While Crosby is a superstar in his own right, I think Ovechkin is the best thing to happen to hockey since Wayne Gretzky.

I travelled down to Washington, D.C. with a bunch of friends back in early March to take in a Leafs and Capitals game. I saw Ovechkin play, and score. He is, for lack of a better phrase, fucking awesome.

Funny story: We were sitting about eight rows behind the glass and amidst our drunken yells for Ovechkin to "Chill!", we also saw Pat Sajak taking in the game. When the game ended and fans, including Mr. Sajak, began walking up the steps to the tunnel, a number of us started yelling "Wheel...Of...Fortune!" in unison. Inebriation had clearly set in at that point, but Sajak still gave us the head nod. He's good people. And after the game, as we bumped into other Leafs fans who were basking in the glory of a 3-2 win outside of the Verizon Center, an impromptu "Jamario Moon! Jamario Moon!" chant broke out. Good times indeed.

Anyway, Ovechkin is the real deal. Thanks to #8, so are the Washington Capitals. It's time to believe the hype.

The Caps, who are in ninth place in the East as I write this, are only two points out of sixth spot. And guess who's in sixth? Yep, those douche bags the Ottawa Senators. The Maple Leafs know what they have to do. A Toronto win over the Senators tonight, combined with a Washington victory over Tampa Bay (which should happen), will give Ottawa and Washington identical 42-31-8 win-loss record's. And the Caps own the tie-breaker, having owned the Sens and winning all four contests between the teams this season. Ottawa, "The Dynasty That Never Was" (a beauty coined by Die Hard Blue And White), are on the verge of a collapse of biblical proportions. The Leafs must do their part to ensure the collapse becomes a reality. We're going down, so we might as well bring the Sens down with us.

And, don't forget, you spell "choke": O-T-T-A-W-A S-E-N-A-T-O-R-S.

The Capitals have won nine of their last 10 games. Sure, they haven't exactly beaten up on the best the NHL has to offer lately - the nine wins have come against NHL powerhouses Carolina (twice), Atlanta (twice), Boston, Florida, Nashville, Calgary and Tampa Bay (only Boston, Carolina and Calgary are playoff teams) - but it doesn't really matter. They're hot at the right time, and as some fool said, "a win is a win is a win."

Ovechkin has been ridiculous down the stretch. Since March 1st, he's registered 27 points in 15 games, and is a +18 over that span. For a guy who was -19 last year, Ovechkin has improved his defensive game a ton. His 63 goals and 110 points are both tops in the league and if he doesn't win the Hart Trophy, well, somebody fucked up, because Ovechkin has been in on 110 of the 249 goals the Capitals have scored this year. He accounts for an astonishing 44% of the Washington offence.

Alex The Great is also getting some help in pushing the Capitals to a playoff spot. Rookie Nicklas Backstrom has had a great season, and really stepped up once Michael Nylander, the Capitals' big free-agent signing, suffered a season ending shoulder injury. While everyone talks about Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, I think Backstom should win the Calder as rookie of the year. His 53 assists and 67 points lead all NHL rookies. I know, even my mom could rack up that many assists if she played with Ovechkin, but, well, still.

Defenceman Mike Green (who?) has 53 points in 80 games for the Caps. This is the same guy who put up 12 points (2 goals and 10 assists) in 70 games for Washington last season. Who does he think he is, Bryan McCabe?

And while everyone in Montreal is singing the praises of Carey Price, Cristobal Huet is doing pretty good for himself down in the American capital. In 11 games since being acquired by Washington, Huet is 9-and-2 with a 1.75 goals against average, a tidy .933 save percentage, and two shutouts. Not too freakin' shabby. I think, and hope, the Canadiens end up regretting trading Huet instead of keeping him as insurance for the playoffs.

Hold up. Imagine a Montreal and Washington playoff series in the first round. Wouldn't that be something? Oh my. I don't think Huet would have a problem getting up for that series. And it's not out of the realm of possibilities.

It would be great for the NHL, and for hockey in general, for Ovechkin and his Capitals to make it to the post-season. I've seen both Crosby and Ovechkin live in action on their home ice and, while both make you respect and admire their tremendous skills, after watching Ovechkin work his magic, it's hard leaving the building not having become his fan.

April 02, 2008

The Leafs Suck At Everything

As much I hate Andrew Raycroft - and those of you who read this corner regularly know I really, really don’t like the guy – I hate the Buffalo Sabres even more. With a chance to kill Buffalo’s season the Leafs, and Raycroft, did what they always do: fail.

Credit’s due where it’s due, and Raycroft was certainly not Raycrap last night. He was on point in the first two periods for the Leafs, shocking for a guy who hasn’t played in an NHL game since January. While his rebound control was once again atrocious, he just didn’t get burned by it last night.

The Leafs jumped out to a two-nothing lead after twenty minutes. You know, the dreaded “worst lead in hockey.” I would argue that any lead held by the Toronto Maple Leafs is the worst lead in hockey, because you know it’s not going to last.

It didn’t last night. Up 2-1 going into the third, Buffalo tied the game on a phantom goal. The Leafs responded, though, and went up 3-2 thanks to a nifty goal by Alex Steen. Props out to Anton Stralman and The Poni, who both made great passes on the play.

There I was, pissed off about the Blue Jays’ opening night loss, but hoping the Leafs could rescue the night and dash the playoff hopes of those losers down in Buffalo.

Cue the standard bonehead penalty by Bryan McCabe and power play goal that I knew was coming. Tie game, three apiece, and the Sabres are still alive in the hunt for eighth.

In overtime, after Tomas Kaberle rang one off the cross bar, Pavel Kubina was called for the most unbelievable cross-checking penalty I have ever seen in my life. He barely touched the Buffalo player, who didn’t even go down on the play, and the Sabres were given a gift in the form of a man advantage.

They couldn’t capitalize. A shootout ensued, and the Leafs were unable to get ‘er done. Ryan Miller was solid in net for the Sabres in the one-on-one challenge, while Andrew Raycroft continued to show why he is one of the worst goalies in the shootout, ever.

I think Raycroft made two saves, and one of them was by accident. The Sabres either missed the net or rang pucks off the post.

I figured the Sabres, who always get screwed in every sport and on every call, didn’t have destiny on their side. But, in the end, they did have something going for them: Raycroft was in net.

Sure, he played a good game, but in the end, Raycroft was the losing goalie last night, as he always is. It was a fitting end to a game in which the Leafs had two leads in the third period.

The Leafs can’t do anything right. They win when they should lose, and lose when they should win. They’re about as good at playing the spoiler as they are at playing the playoff team.

They better get their act together quickly, though, because they’ve got a chance to drive a stake through the hearts of the Ottawa Senators and their freaking-out fans on Thursday night, in what should be a doozy at the Air Canada Centre.

The Leafs aren’t going to the dance, but if they can do their part and keep the Senators on the sidelines with them, man, that would almost single-handedly salvage this bullshit season.