March 29, 2010

Beautiful Struggle

My new t-shirt, courtesy of twoeightninetshirts and set to join my closet in a couple of weeks, says a lot about why I'm a fan of the Buffalo Bills:

1) I'm a masochist. That list of quarterbacks, post the great Jim Kelly, proves it.

2) The Bills are losers. I was born to cheer for them. They belong in Toronto, even if it means sharing them with Buffalo. After all, that city doesn't have much anything.

The t-shirt does bring back some fond memories -- Flutie Flakes!!1 Actually, that's about it. Other than that, it represents failure, heartache, and disappointment. To this day, I still wonder what Wade Phillips was thinking 10 years ago when he started Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie against the Tennessee Titans. As for the Music City Miracle, hadn't the Bills, and poor Buffalo, been through enough? More questions: what in God's name was I thinking when I bought that Drew Bledsoe jersey? Four quarterbacks were drafted in the first round in 2005, which one doesn't belong: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, or J.P. Losman?

But there's more to that t-shirt. It doesn't represent the past, no. It represents the struggle. Because the day will come when the name of another quarterback is added to that list who need not have his name crossed off with red ink.

Be sure to follow twoeightnine on Twitter for more great t-shirts, and some excellent photography.

March 23, 2010

Delhi Daze

My days in Delhi are numbered. For the past two weeks, I've done nothing but eat, drink, sleep, and watch cricket. Of course, I've also had a lot of time to reflect. And if I've learned anything at all over the past six months, including the past two weeks, it's that nothing ever goes according to plan. That no matter how many times you're thrown a curveball, and go down swinging like Vernon Wells, you've got to keep trying to make contact ...

1. To say that cricket-obsessed India has fallen in love with the Indian Premier League is a gross understatement. It's kind of a big deal out here; all IPL, all the time. And with the value of an IPL franchise set to soar to $500 million in the near future, making the league's next team more valuable than even the Toronto Maple Leafs, the world is beginning to take notice. As for me, I've fallen in love with cricket all over again, especially the Twenty20 format which, undoubtedly, is here to stay.

2. Delhi is my Indian hometown, which means I've thrown my support behind the Delhi Daredevils. The club opened the tournament with back-to-back wins; playoffs!!!1 But, true to form for any team I grant my exclusive fandom, they've dropped three in a row, including an utterly embarrassing loss to Mumbai by a ridiculous 98 runs. Luckily for Delhi, I'm about to say goodbye.

3. The rallying cry in the front office of the Toronto Raptors isn't "Playoffs!!!1" It's got to be "Playoff Revenue!!!1" One round's better than nothing, right?

4. If Andrea Bargnani is lazy, what does that make Hedo Turkoglu?

5. It is every Indian woman's responsibility to complain about her servant, maid, driver, and/or child care provider. While at the same time realizing that she couldn't survive without any one of them.

6. Seriously, my cousin asked me: "How do you survive without a servant?" Incredible India.

7. No pressure, Shaun Marcum.

8. If there's one thing I wish for more than anything else this baseball season, other than Vernon Wells winning the triple crown and MVP, it's that V-Dub walk up to home plate at the SkyDome to Soulja Boy's "Turn My Swag On."

9. In the fight to restore Wells' good name, this type of stuff from Jeff Blair really doesn't help:

"Turkoglu in particular is so abject and so low energy and has such awful body language that it is not a stretch to repeat the sneaking suspicion he is this franchise's Vernon Wells."

It's true. But it doesn't help. Let's just leave Wells out of it. Of the Joe Mauer contract extension discussion, too. Please and thanks.

10. Is Adeiny Hechevarria a Toronto Blue Jay or what?

11. I can't fight it anymore. Because it's official: "The Manager" is no longer named "Cito." From this day forward he shall be known only as "Clarence." Well done, Drew. I salute you.

12. Now that Jason Blake is no longer with us, I believe John Mitchell is the owner of the Maple Leafs' most impressive fist pump.

13. I've seen Dion Phaneuf play one game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yet I'm proud to throw my support behind his bid for the vacant captaincy. Such is the power of a Garnet Exelby recommendation.

14. The curious case of Lee Stempniak: 11 goals in 61 games as a Maple Leaf last season. Fourteen goals in 62 games as a Maple Leaf this season. Suddenly, nine goals in nine games as a brand new Phoenix Coyote. I know he can't possibly keep up that pace, but it truly begs the question: what the fuck?

15. Martin St. Louis is tied for fourth in the NHL in scoring. Why does this shock me? Does it shock anyone else?

16. Five of the NHL's top 10 scorers are Canadian. Three of them - the aforementioned St. Louis, Steve Stamkos, and Brad Richards - didn't play for Team Canada at the Olympics. But second-guessing Steve Yzerman's roster would be pretty pointless now, wouldn't it? However, it's certainly obvious after the fact that Patrice Bergeron had absolutely zero business being in Vancouver.

17. Tuukka Rask is the owner of the league's best goals against average (2.08), and second-best save percentage (.928; .001 behind Ryan Miller). This was bound to happen.

18. If there is a God, Boston will not end up drafting Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall.

19. Personal hygiene doesn't rank high on the average Indian's priority list. And that's cool; who am I to judge? But the smell of a jam-packed Delhi subway car on a day when the thermometer touches 40 degrees Celsius cannot be described, only experienced.

20. I'm officially templed out. You've seen one, you've seen them all.

March 17, 2010

The New Deal

I've spent the past few days in Delhi thinking about Tomas Kaberle. And Tyler Bozak. (Who's not thinking about Bozak?) And Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, of course. Along with Nikolai Kulemin, Viktor Stalberg, and the streaking Mikhail Grabovski. Luca Caputi and Luke Schenn, too. But mainly about Tomas Kaberle. And that shouldn't surprise you; not in the least.

India is no hockey hotbed. I haven't watched the Maple Leafs in action since February 2. I know, I should be counting my blessings. But I miss the poor bastards. Especially #15. Who, by all accounts, is playing some of the worst hockey of his life. In nine games since play resumed after the Olympics (Gold!!1), Kaberle is a -6, and has one meagre assist to his name. His -16 rating this season is by far the worst of his career. And it's no coincidence that the Leafs' power play has suffered along with Tomas, and now ranks 28th in the league at 15.3%. Kaberle, like many before him, clearly doesn't react well to uncertainty surrounding his future.

But you know me. I have trouble letting go. I'm not ready to concede that the Maple Leafs will be a better team without Tomas Kaberle, regardless of what comes back in return for his services. The Toronto Maple Leafs need Tomas Kaberle. The Toronto Maple Leafs' power play desperately needs Tomas Kaberle. Which is why I refuse to discuss what might happen this summer when Kaberle's no-trade clause temporarily goes out the window. Because Kaberle, 32-years old, must be re-signed.

Five years, $23.75 million; a cap-hit of $4.750 million per season. The new deal, front-loaded, would kick in at the start of the 2011/2012 season, after Kaberle plays out his current contract - one year remaining at $4.250 million.

2011/2012: $6.500 million
2012/2013: $6.000 million
2013/2014: $4.00 million
2014/2015: $3.625 million
2015/2016: $3.625 million

Obviously, no no-trade clause. Thanks to John Ferguson Jr., no-trade clauses can go to hell. Instead, a list of five cities/teams, of Kaberle's choosing, where he can never be traded. Hockey purgatory. For example: the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, Edmonton Oilers, and, of course, the Ottawa Senators.

Be true to yourself: can you really say no to Kaberle at a cap-hit of $4.750 million a season? I guess it all depends on how much you value the fluid breakout passes, immaculate rushes, and incredible -- like you won't believe -- cross-ice passes.

Think about it: if an NHL general manager was willing to take Jason Blake's contract off Toronto's hands, Kaberle's new deal could hardly be called an albatross. Kaberle would get what he desires: stability, and a Maple Leaf still on his sweater. And we (or is it just me?) would get what we want: #15 in the blue and white for, hopefully, the remainder of his career. (Which will include, Inshallah, a return to the playoffs!!1 I've heard nothing but good things about the post-season.)

March 09, 2010

The Land of Kings

I'm about set to depart Rajasthan, "The Land of Kings." My train leaves in two hours. Udaipur has been most pleasant; I prefer small-town India to the chaos of the big cities. Some sports and India related nuggets for you to chew on, before I head for the station ...

1. It hasn't gone unnoticed out here, by me at least, that the Toronto Blue Jays are playing .833 baseball, and tied for first place, so far in Grapefruit League action. I'm not going to say it, because it would be totally ridiculous, but you know I'm thinking it.

2. The smell of feces is far too commonplace, and far too acceptable, in India. But with cows, millions - it seems - of stray dogs, horses, mules, monkeys, goats, pigs, and the odd camel roaming around, I guess there isn't much anyone can do but accept the stench. Perhaps, after another month or two on the subcontinent, I too won't be bothered by the smell. But I doubt it.

3. In seven games for the Maple Leafs, J.S. Giguere is sporting a .917 save percentage. Boners abound!!1 But, since I've only watched him play one game, his first, you tell me: has Giggy played as well as that number above suggests? Or are his first two games in the blue and white, back-to-back shutouts, distorting the view?

4. I'm as liberal as they come. I believe marijuana should be legalized, and I'm all for gay marriage, and gay rights. But this one I don't quite get: heterosexual Indian men - best mates, let's say - who walk down the street holding hands. I'm talking really holding hands: fingers locked between each other's. Maybe it's me. Perhaps I'm just not that in tune with my sexuality, but the thought of holding hands with a male friend of mine while we walk down the street makes me slightly uncomfortable. I couldn't do it.

5. I see that the Toronto Raptors are tenuously holding on to their playoff position. You didn't think it was going to be easy, did you? Also: I haven't been keeping up to date with Chris Bosh's injury woes; just tell me it's got nothing to do with either of his knees.

6. Even Ian White would be jealous of some of the epic moustaches I've seen out here in Rajasthan.

7. Before the Toronto Blue Jays were Roy Halladay's team, they were Carlos Delgado's. Now that the Halladay years have been left behind for the history books, yes, the Blue Jays are Vernon Wells' team. He is the veteran in the club house. "The player" who has won the most accolades, and represented the Blue Jays at the most All-Star games. What's wrong with him coming out and saying it? Since when is confidence, and taking charge of the clubhouse in the spring, a bad thing? Nothing, absolutely nothing, would please me more than to come home to Toronto in June to fine Wells in the midst of one fine fucking season. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: I believe in Vernon Wells.

8. The average Indian has absolutely no qualms about belching, breaking wind, picking his nose, and, if a man, urinating in public. It's these cultural differences that I find amazing everytime I visit.

9. I just brought up the Toronto Maple Leafs' player stats page on Yahoo! Sports. In one month, Brian Burke traded the team's top scorers, three through eight: Alex Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, and Ian White. I'm not sure I've ever seen this type of mid-season roster upheaval. It's a good thing: the Leafs stink.

10. Based solely on reading what my fellow Leafs fans have been tweeting, I think I'm going to grow rather fond of Luca Caputi. And he's from Toronto. Local boy!!!1

11. Not enough people hate Matt Cooke. I fear that will remain the case even after his most recent display of douchebaggery.

12. A beggar approached my cousin and I a few days ago in Jaipur, asking for money. We politely lied and said we didn't have anything to give. As the beggar walked away, he called us "conjoose;" cheap. A bad day at the office, I guess. And a terrible begging strategy, if I must say so myself.

13. I saw a photo of Ponikarovsky celebrating a goal with Evgeni Malkin. Poni must feel like he's dead and gone to heaven.

14. There's an Indian singer in heavy rotation on MTV out here named Prince. He gets a million points for originality. As an entertainer, and even an athlete, it's all about the team around you; the people you surround yourself with. I remember reading Mario Lemieux's biography, and learning that, upon entering the NHL, he wanted to wear #99. He wanted to prove that he was in fact the greatest hockey player in the world. (Full disclosure: I'm on the Lemieux side of the Gretzky/Lemieux debate.) Mario's agent at the time, I believe, or someone close to him, told him the idea wasn't such a hot one. So Lemieux flipped #99 around, and wore #66. Personally, I think the NHL would be right to - as they did for The Great One - retire #66 league-wide. No one should ever be given the option to wear it again.

15. I'm going going, back back, to Delhi Delhi. Will hit you up from there.

March 06, 2010


Greetings from chaotic Jaipur, "The City of Victory." Lord only knows Toronto will never be bestowed such a prestigious title.

I'm killing time; waiting to board a 10:30 pm overnight train to Udaipur. I thought, with NHL action having returned, it would be as good a time as any to take a peak at the standings. I haven't had a look since I skipped town back on February 2nd, the night the Dion Phaneuf era began.

It wasn't a pretty sight. As I'm sure you know. With 19 games left on the schedule, and only 50 points to show for their first 63 games, the season is over; lost. Even if, somehow, Ron Wilson's Maple Leafs managed to run the table and finish 19-0, they'd fall short of the 90-point playoff mark. Eighty-eight points is as good as it can get. And we all know, with an AHL roster, the Leafs won't come anywhere near that mark.

To make matters worse, once again, our Toronto Maple Leafs are the NHL's worst team on home ice.


It seems I picked a good time to take this trip. It has saved me from watching a lot of God-awful hockey. I'm clearly not missing much.

Although I certainly will miss Alexei Ponikarovsky. I'm not sure why Brian Burke refused to give a 29-year-old player who has improved every season, and will set a career-high in goals this season, a four-year contract, and frankly I'm tired of trying to figure out how the Toronto general manager's brain works. If, as the Leafs plummet to the bottom of the standings, which is destined to happen now that Boston owns Toronto's first-round pick, Burke continues to defend the Phil Kessel trade, and continues to say "I'd do it again," he is, without a doubt, full of shit.

I wish Burke would tell the truth. I wish he'd come out and say that he made a mistake; that he thought the Leafs would be a much, much better team this season. Hell, I've made that mistake every campaign since the lockout ended. It happens.

Pray. Clearly, it's all that's left to do. Luckily for me, there's a temple on just about every corner around these parts.

Enjoy the Battle of Ontario tonight. There are only a handful of Leafs victories left this season; here's hoping they come against the Ottawas and Montreals. I'm off to have a Kingfisher. After finally perusing the standings, I'm definitely going to need two. Cheers.