Monday, June 30, 2008

Which Free Agents Should the Leafs Pursue?

Well Cliff Fletcher has said that he will go after free agents but not those in their mid 30s. I also don't think he wants to blow the whole budget on 1 or 2 players which rules out Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa. The Leafs have about 16 players signed excluding Matt Stajan who is a restricted free agents. Assuming he is signed for about the same money as Steen, the Leafs will have about $16 million to spend on 6 or 7 players. These figures will of course change if Kubina or McCabe are traded. I think Fletcher will leave cap room so let's just say he has about $12 million to spend. This is what he should be looking for:

Michael Ryder (27)- $3.25 million - he should be able to bounce back and score again
Radim Vrbata (27) - $2.5 million - talented scorer, something the Leafs don't have
Dominic Moore (27) - $750,000 - cheap energy player, good skater
Antti Miettinen (26) - $1.7 million - good two way player

Brook Orpik (27) - $3 million - developed into a top 4 defenseman
Mike Commodore (28) - $1.5 million - physical defenseman, loves to battle

Alex Auld (27) - $800,000 - coming off his best NHL season, good back up

These 7 players will add $13.5 million to your payroll and they all are justing getting into the prime so they should have a few good years left in them.

On July 1st, many NHL GMs will lose their minds

The NHL announced last week that the salary cap for the 2008-09 season will be $56.7 million. More importantly the salary floor will be $40.7 million. This means at least three teams - the Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Columbus - will have to jump into the free agent market to raise their payroll by at least $10 million.

The 12% salary cap increase does not mean that across the league players can expect a 12% salary increase. Afterall, almost 500 players are currently under contract. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs have 15 players already under contract for a total cap hit of $38 million which includes their buyouts. That would mean that the restricted and unrestricted free agents reap the benefit of the increase revenue available when the cap increases. Whether or not teams spend up to the cap limit, we are going to see some significant escalation in salaries when this week is up. Further feeding the frenzy will be the small number of decent free agents this year so it will be a strong sellers' market. If Marion Hossa signs with the highest bidder, he could see a contract that would put him near the top of the pay scale.

Prior to the lock out low market teams would pretty much sit out the first week of the free agent auction and move it to pick up the left overs. But now Columbus, Los Angles and Atlanta needs to spend big dollars just to reach the minimum while other big market teams that are already committed to some large contracts are the ones that will be spectators.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NHL owners are out of control

The NHL owners have continually thrown up roadblocks to prevent Blackberry Billionaire Jim Balsillie from purchasing an existing franchise. You wouldn't want to let in some riffraff into this very exclusive club. Well that is if you overlook some of the nonsense that has been taking place over the last few weeks.

Ducks owner Henry Samueli is now a convicted felon and was hit with a $12 million SEC fine and the Commissioner has also suspended him. By the way the Commissioner has also indicated that Samueli was an exemplary owner.

Last year Nashville owner Craig Leipold try to sell his failed franchise to Jim Balsillie but after the Commissioner intervened the team was sold for about $50 million less to a group headed by Boots Del Biaggio. The Commissioner arranged instead for Leipold to buy the Minnesota franchise.

It turns out Del Biaggio had no money, is now bankrupt, is being sued and is being investigated by the FBI. Wait there is more. To purchase his 27% share of the Predators, Del Biaggio borrowed money from other owners (Phil Anschutz and Craig Leipold) but no one bothered to tell the Commissioner about this little detail. Ooops.

There is also big dispute brewing between the league office and the New York Rangers. I think the Rangers are suing the NHL and the Commissioner has threatened to revoke the franchise.

Meanwhile the cash cow also known as the Toronto Maple Leafs are dismantling their team and actively pursuing executive under contract with other teams. Oh this year will mark their 42nd year without winning the Stanley Cup cause you need to make the playoffs to contend for the Cup. A minor detail.

Down in Tampa Bay the new owner Len Barrie appears to be a nut case. There are stories going around that the owners in talking trades directly with other teams and how do you explain bringing back Barry Melrose to coach.

The NHL owners have continually thrown up roadblocks to prevent Blackberry Billionaire Jim Balsillie from purchasing an existing franchise. You wouldn't want to let in some riffraff into this very exclusive club. Well that is if you overlook some of the nonsense that has been taking place over the last few weeks.

Ducks owner Henry Samueli is now a convicted felon and was hit with a $12 million SEC fine and the Commissioner has also suspended him. By the way the Commissioner has also indicated that Samueli was an exemplary owner.

Last year Nashville owner Craig Leipold try to sell his failed franchise to Jim Balsillie but after the Commissioner intervened the team was sold for about $50 million less to a group headed by Boots Del Biaggio. The Commissioner arranged instead for Leipold to buy the Minnesota franchise.

It turns out Del Biaggio had no money, is now bankrupt, is being sued and is being investigated by the FBI. Wait there is more. To purchase his 27% share of the Predators, Del Biaggio borrowed money from other owners (Phil Anschutz and Craig Leipold) but no one bothered to tell the Commissioner about this little detail. Ooops.

There is also big dispute brewing between the league office and the New York Rangers. I think the Rangers are suing the NHL and the Commissioner has threatened to revoke the franchise.

Meanwhile the cash cow also known as the Toronto Maple Leafs are dismantling their team and actively pursuing executive under contract with other teams. Oh this year will mark their 42nd year without winning the Stanley Cup cause you need to make the playoffs to contend for the Cup. A minor detail.

Down in Tampa Bay the new owner Len Barrie appears to be a nut case. There are stories going around that the owners in talking trades directly with other teams and how do you explain bringing back Barry Melrose to coach. And Ottawa Senator owner Eugene Melnyk is being investigated for insider trading at Biovail.

Yup it's never boring down in NHL headquarters.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sign up that ball girl!

Actually this is a fake. It was used for a Gatorade commercial and the girl was rigged with wires to climb 10 feet. Great clip though.

Why the Maple Leafs should avoid Restricted Free Agents

Although on occasion teams have tabled offers to restricted free agents (RFAs), it doesn’t make sense to do so. When the collective agreement was being negotiated, the owners made sure that the price would be very steep for those who tried to grab another team’s RFA. The chart below sets out the compensation for signing RFAs and its based on the salary offered to the player.


Compensation Due

$863,156 or less


$863,156 - $1,307,811

3rd round pick

$1,307,811 - $2,615,623

2nd round pick

$2,615,623 - $3,923,434

1st and 3rd round pick

$3,923,434 - $5,231,246

1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick

$5,231,246 - $6,539,061

Two 1st's, one 2nd, one 3rd round pick

$6,539,061 or more

Four 1st round picks

I can’t think of any RFAs for which I would be willing to give up 3 or 4 draft picks. If you take a player like Anaheim’s Corey Perry or Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter, it would take a huge offer to convince their existing team to not match the offer. That would have to be well over their market value so it would be in excess of $7 million per year. They just aren’t worth giving up 4 first round draft picks in particular if you rely on those picks to rebuild.

Which leads to the question why did the Leafs waive Kyle Wellwood and not let another team sign him as a RFA? In order to retain his rights, the Leafs would have to make a qualifying offer which I believe might have to be no less than 10% what he was being paid this year ($855,000?). The risk is that he might actually accept it. And the type of contract that Wellwood might attract even if he were to reject the Leafs offer would not bring much compensation if any.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dave Nonis joins Burke but not in Toronto

It seems to be generally accepted (maybe even in Anaheim) that by the start of the 2009-10 NHL season, Brian Burke will be running the Toronto Maple Leafs. So as the Maple Leafs go through the process of interviewing and hiring new personnel, the speculation has been that everyone being hired had some past relationship with Burke (e.g., former college teammate Ron Wilson).

Shortly after Vancouver fired Dave Nonis, the Leafs received permission to speak to Nonis who had worked under Burke when they both worked for the Canucks. Nonis reportedly spent 3 days in Toronto and it was assumed he would sign a contract with the Maple Leafs. However, last week he instead signed a contract with Anaheim to be special advisor to Burke.

So what gives? Why didn’t the Leafs hire Nonis? It was initially assumed that the Ducks would release Burke this summer after the entry draft and free agent signing frenzy ended. The current consensus is that Burke will complete his contract with the Duck and be free to sign elsewhere next summer. As a result, the Leafs let it be known that Cliff Fletcher will continue to manage the hockey team and there was no urgency to signing Nonis. So Nonis signed instead with the Ducks. Now it’s never been announced the term of his contract with the Ducks but it’s unlikely to be beyond Burke’s stay in Anaheim. That would mean that both men would be free to sign elsewhere by next July.

I also have an alternate theory. Burke is also the type who might assist in finding his successor in Anaheim. So if Nonis does not move with Burke, then he may have been brought in as a possible successor. Nonis has indicated a desire to find another GM job and there may be an opening in Anaheim in about 12 months.

Ladies and gentlemen, the NHL free agency derby is about to begin

The pickings are pretty slim when the NHL free agents hit the street at the stroke of midnight on July 1. Teams have been locking up potential free agents for the last couple of seasons because under the current collective agreement each team can only carry a limited number of big contracts so you need to ensure that you have the right ones lucked up. One of the miscalculations by ex-Leaf GM John Ferguson was that he would be able to pick up a successor to Mats Sundin that he anticipated around this time. Well they aren’t going to be out there.

The unrestricted free agents (UFAs) are largely older players that Cliff Fletcher had indicated would not be of interest to the Leafs. In addition to Mats Sundin (37) that list includes some other goodies but oldies such as Teemu Selanne (37), Jaromir Jagr (36), Brian Rolston (35), Brendan Shannahan (39), Pavol Demitra (33). There are still some younger ones that will hit the market but the competition will be fierce: Marion Hossa (29), Sean Avery (28), Brian Campbell (29), Ryan Malone (28), Brad Stuart (28), Michael Ryder (28) and Wade Redden (31).

The focus may very well be on restricted free agents (RFAs). As teams look to get younger, they are looking at other teams RFAs despite the fact that they must compensate the other team with draft picks. During the past 2 seasons big contract offers were made to Ryan Kessler, Tomas Vanek and Dustin Penner. Vancouver and Buffalo matched the offers so only Penner switched teams. The message was clear to GMs – lock up both RFAs and UFAs. So during the regular season scrambled to lock up potential Anaheim locked up potential RFAs like Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Philadelphia’s Mike Richards. Then at the trading draft the Flyers traded R.J. Umberger because they knew they didn’t have enough cap space to re-sign him.

All eyes will be on players like Jay Bouwmeester, Jeff Carter, Pierre-Marc Bouchard Pascal Leclaire, Mike Green and Corey Perry as the prime RFAs. I expect most will be signed before July 1. However, if they aren’t there will be some aggressive GMs who will attempt try to sign some of these players and hope that their existing teams can’t match their offers because of limited cap space. Anyone of these players would look just great in a Maple Leaf sweater and with $41 million in salaries committed next season, they could accommodate one of these RFAs. Though Fletcher has not signalled that this was one of the routes he would take to change the character of the team. The costs will be extrodinarily high.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

That was some hail storm

My deck had a layer of ice 2 inches thick. I could literally shovel it. It's still around 2 hours after we got hit.

Ambidextrous Pitcher meets Switch Hitter

Saturday, June 21, 2008

World's Ten Greatest Athletes

Of all newspapers, the Wall Street Journal selected the world's top 10 athletes. They gave the performance stats and achievement records of 79 male athletes to a panel of 5 judges, and asked them to rank the competitors based on six criteria: speed; vision and reflex; stamina and recovery; coordination and flexibility; power, strength and size; and success and competitiveness. The final category examined success—records held and victories—as well as competitiveness, based on the sport's popularity. Soccer, for example, the world's most popular sport, was judged the most competitive. The panel gave a total score for each athlete in the first round. Sixty athletes were eliminated in the second round, either because of low scores or because they were not first in their field. The panelists then made the final ranking. Yale statistician John Emerson helped normalize the scores so no single panelist could exert undue influence.

AND THE WINNER IS: ROMAN SEBRLE. The Czech decathlete could jump over Shaquille O’Neal. He could throw a 16-pound ball the length of a 53-foot yacht. From a running start, he could leap over a two-lane highway. Mr. Sebrle has ideal size, according to physiologists, and expertise over a range of athletic pursuits, employing the speed of an NFL back and the vertical jump of an National Basketball Association forward. Some judges questioned whether Mr. Sebrle could withstand a tackle by an NFL lineman, but none questioned his talent in the 10 track and field events that make up the decathlon. He has won Olympic gold and silver medals for the Czech Republic and is the current world champion.

The rest of the list are:

1. Roman Sebrle (decathalon)
2. LeBron James (basketball)
3. Floyd Mayweather (boxing)
4. LaDainian Tomlinson (football)
5. Roger Federer (tennis)
6. Sidney Crosby (hockey)
7. Liu Xiang (track and field)
8. Jeremy Wariner (track and field)
9. Ronaldinho (soccer)
10. Alex Rodriguez (baseball)

Most people will not be familiar with very many names and will wonder why Tiger Woods was left off the list. Go ask the judges.

Trader Cliff makes draft day deals

The Maple Leafs went to the NHL Amateur Draft with 10 picks but before they made their first selection they were already down to to 7 picks. Prior to the draft a 3rd round pick was shipped to St. Louis for Jamal Mayer and at the draft 2nd and 3rd picks were handed to the Islanders so the Leafs could move up 2 slots in the order.

The trade with the Islanders makes sense. The quality of players dropped off after the fifth pick and the Leafs are in need of a franchise player. The Islanders took another approach and moved down a further 2 slots by trading the Leaf's 1st round pick for Nashville's 1st and 2nd picks. So they move down just 4 slots and gain 3 more picks in later rounds.

The Mayer trade makes no sense to me. Sure he is a strong, physical player with good defensive and leadership skills, he is also 33 years old. It doesn't make the Leafs younger. The only Leaf player older is Jason Blake. They have an abundance of 3rd and 4th liners but few players that can play on the top 2 lines.

Sure he migh improve the chemistry on the team but how will he bring the Leafs closer to a Stanley Cup? If the Leafs are too rebuild, that is how each trade must be examined. The only explanation I can suggest is with the departure of Mats Sundin, Mayer has been picked up to wear the "C" for the next couple of seasons until a younger player grows into the role. But I still wouldn't make that deal.

Muskoka Five will get smaller

The group of Maple Leafs who refused to waive their no trade status at the trading deadline have been dubbed by the media as the Muskoka Five - because their desire to stay with cosy, country club Leaf environment rather agree to move to a contender. The label is a little unfair because most players in the league will not waive their no trade contract because its something they feel they earned through negotiation. It is rarely given up.

When Cliff Fletcher announced that he had given the Montreal Canadien permission to negotiate a contract with Mats Sundin before he became a free agent on July 1, I think the media is correct to label it as the end of the Sundin era in Toronto. Although Fletcher would dearly like to re-sign Sundin, it has become evident that Sundin plans to look elsewhere. Giving another team exclusive rights to negotiate prior to July 1 will at least bring the Leafs some compensation. Last year the Flyers sent Nashville a first round draft pick when they were allowed to negotiate and sign Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell prior to July 1. It has been suggested that Sundin wants to stay in Eastern Canada so that explains why Montreal has exclusive negotiating rights. It's going to hard to watch Sundin in a Hab sweater.

As for the remain members of the Muskoka Five (Tucker, McCabe, Kubina, and Kaberle), the agents of Tucker and McCabe have already responded to suggestions that they might now agree to play elsewhere. In both cases, the agents have suggested that if management no longer wants their clients they would have to buy them out. This is why few players ever waive their no trade contract. A buyout provides you with 2/3 of your remaining contract and allows you to negotiate with any team. In the case of Darcy Tucker, if the Leafs hand him $6 million dollars and he can negotiate a 3 year deal with another team at $1.5 million per year, he will actually end up earning more that his original contract. So why not hold out for free agency? It is unlikely that Kaberle will agree to move and the Leafs are less inclined to want to move him.

But as of yesterday, Fletcher has a 6 week window to trade Kubina. San Jose was interested in February so they still may be interested. The Muskoka Five may be down to Three by early July.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Yes, I'm envious kid

Gary Bettman vs. New York Rangers

The NHL was seeking a declaration from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, authorizing its board of governors to proceed with disciplinary actions against the Rangers for “materially breaching their contractual commitments to the league and the other 29 member clubs - as well as for compensatory damages stemming from those breaches.”

The war between the Rangers and the NHL started over who controls the rights to new media (ie, the Internet) and the potentially lucrative revenue streams that it produces now and down the road. Three times, the Rangers' lawsuits have gone to court; three times the NHL won its case. Instead of understanding the old maxim that three strikes and you're out, the Rangers have challenged the NHL on an anti-trust basis – essentially arguing that everything the league does is unlawful.

An MSG spokesman accused the league of using bullying tactics to get its way. The NHL labels MSG's behaviour as a frontal assault on the league's very economic foundation.

Wow this is getting messy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Try the General Tao Kitten...I mean Chicken

Love Guru

Mike Myer's Love Guru is coming out on June 20th and it;s sure to do well in Toronto because it focuses on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maybe the worse movie to be released since Ishtar.

Clip from the Air Canada Centre

Disgusting behaviour of Celtic fans

Much like Red Sox fans, there was a lot of senseless violence last night in Boston. I guess we may never know if Maple Leaf fans are any better. Finishing 23rd doesn't get very many people excited.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A draft day risk that could pay off

It didn't get much media coverage but the agreement between the NHL and IIHF on player exchanges has expired which means the free market reigns.

What does it all mean? Some aren't too concerned but gradually the Russian Super League has been signing NHL calibre players. The number of Russians in the NHL has dropped off considerably. You are going to now see individual owners in the Russian Super League aggressively protective of their young stars, using a fists full of cash.

The old agreement had NHL teams pay just $200,000 for each departed player. Any player worth a $200,000 transfer fee to an NHL team is probably worth that or more to his home club. So if NHL owners want these players, they’ll have to offer either huge salaries, or richer buyouts to the clubs. But the NHL collective agreement limits the amount a team can pay for an entry level player.

I believe this fear will play itself out at the Amateur Draft this weekend. Russian power forward, Kirill Petrov has the potential to be as good as Steven Stamkos and has to be a top-5 pick by talent alone. But he might not go until late in the first Round because of concerns about signing him.

If the Maple Leafs are looking for a franchise player this might be the guy. They could draft him with their 7th pick or pick up lower first rounder in a trade to use to draft Petrov. Then just buy his way out of Russia just like what the Red Sox did to get Daisuke Matsuzaka. It's not like the Leafs don't have the cash.

Leafs new role model: 1989 Calgary Flames

The Leafs already have Doug Gilmour and Cliff Fletcher. They've just added Al Coates and supposedly Joe Nieuwendyk will be joining the club after his contract with Florida expires on July 1. So all the Leafs need is the return of Lanny Macdonald and Gary Roberts and they will have pretty much reassembled the 1989 Stanley Cup Flame team.

Hmm. I don't remember Brian Burke being part of that team.

There must be two Milton Bradley's

Finish Line Mishaps - Watch more free videos

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cliff Fletcher Should be Quite Busy Over the Next 4 Weeks

Beginning today the bulk of off season hockey activity takes place and lasts for about 4 weeks. The way the NHL operates, your lineup for the coming season is determined in a matter of a few weeks. It is guaranteed to keep Cliff Fletcher very busy if he intends on changing the make up of the team. He has been quoted to say that he would not be signing older free agents. He would explore moving up in the draft but is satisfied with the 7th pick because the draft is so deep. It also sounds like he will take another stab at trading a big contract player though only Kubina and Blake can be traded without the player's consent.

Here is a rundown of what takes place for the rest of the month.

June 15 to June 30: Window for buyouts
June 20: Pavel Kubina’s no trade contract has an open window for 6 weeks
June 20-21: Amateur Draft
June 25: Deadline to tender qualifying offer to RFAs (Stajan, Wellwood)
June 26: Negotiations with other teams’ RFAs permitted
July 1: Free agency begins (the big names are gone in the first week)

For Fathers Day

Father and Son by Cats Stevens fits a lot of father-son relationships. Nonetheless have a Great Day!

It's NHL Buyout Season and the Leafs may be the leader

The NHL's buyout period runs from June 15-30, with most buyouts usually occurring within the first week.

Contract buyouts work like this. The buyout amount equal to 2/3 of the total amount remaining in the contract which when applied against the salary cap is spread over twice the term of the remaining contract. So if a player is being paid $3 million per year and has two years remaining then the buyout amount is 2/3 of $6 million = $4 million. The amount applied against the cap is $1 million per year for 4 seasons. Players under 26 are bought out for 1/3 of their remaining contract.

Players who will be bought out are either untradeable or have a no-trade contract and refuse to waive it. Leading this group is Ray Emery, whose inability to retain his starter's job, clashes with coaching staff and teammates and off-ice issues became unnecessary distractions last season which were partially responsible for the Senators second-half struggles. He is only 25 so his buyout will be for 1/3 of his remaining $2.25 million contract.

The rumours have the Leafs buying out Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft. My guess is they will keep Tucker around and buyout only Raycroft if Tucker is still considered a "character" player. His agent indicated to the media last week that his client will not agree to a trade so that option isn't available to the Leafs. Could there be others. Stay tuned!

The Boston Bruins could decide to part ways with veteran winger Glen Murray, who has one season remaining on his contract at $4.125 million. He only had about 30 points last season which is quite a drop from a career high 92 points 5 seasons ago.

Other potential buyout candidates include Los Angeles' Kyle Calder, Atlanta's Alexei Zhitnik, Calgary's Anders Eriksson, Carolina's Jeff Hamilton, Montreal's Mathieu Dandenault and Pittsburgh's Darryl Sydor.

Storm Pool Party

Well the thunder and lightening disappeared by morning and the sun made appearance in the afternoon. Just in time for party time at the Novaks!

The water was warm....

Stuart had the BBQ going....

Which was a good thing because people were hungry...

Then some fun and games at the park...

And in the pool.....

Can't wait for September though.

See the rest of the pictures here!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

MLSE is as dysfunctional as ever

Along with the rest of Leaf Nation, I have watched with puzzlement and despair the sad saga of the Toronto Maple Leafs. This past season started with the Leaf coach declaring the team was the best he had ever coach and would contend for the Stanley Cup. That declaration likely surprised even the most loyal Leaf fan who were hoping the team might al least be good enough to quality for the playoffs. He might have also sealed his fate at the end of the season when the team fell drastically short of his stated goal and finished near the bottom of the standings.

Although it was evident from the early on that John Ferguson had failed to build a winning team and could not be left in charge, MLSE failed to act. When he was finally fired and replaced by Cliff Fletcher, it was already January and provided the interim manager with little time to make moves that could might help the team long term. When Fletcher was hired the organization declared the following:

  1. Fletcher would serve as an interim manager until a permanent manager could be found and that he would continue as a consultant.
  2. Fletcher declared he was not a candidate for the manager's job because he felt that the demands were to great for someone is age and the organization needed someone who could do the job for the next 10 years.
  3. Finding a new manager was a top priority for the team to begin to rebuild.
  4. Paul Maurice would continue until a new manager was hired since it only made sense that the manager decide on who should be the coach.
  5. Until a new manager was hired, Fletcher would "clear the table" to allow the incoming manager to rebuild from the ground up.
So what has happened since January.
  1. In the past 5 months Fletcher has failed in his effort to "clear the table". At the trading deadline he was only able to move out 3 marginal veterans because the 5 players with no trade or no movement clauses refused to cooperate. Yet despite the fact that the team needs to go in a different direction, he is hotly pursuing Mats Sundin even though he will not be around long enough to make the team a contender.
  2. The search for a manager is no longer a top priority because the people deemed to be the most qualified are currently employed and could not be approached by the search team. So here we are again. The organization spinning wheels just as it did during the season when it couldn't decide when to fire Ferguson. Every other organization hires the best person from those who are available. But MLSE knows better. So the rebuilding process is delayed by another entire season because Fletcher has already indicated that he will not be making any long term commitments as interim manager. And what happens if all the prime candidates are offered lucrative long term deals to stay with their current team? Wait another year?
  3. Paul Maurice was fired and replaced by Row Wilson before a permanent manager was hired. Now I have no problems with Wilson who happens to be a very good coach. But there are still issues regarding compatibility with an unknown manager. Also, the next manager may decide that Ron Wilson is not the right coach for the type of team he is building or not the right coach for the current phase of the rebuilding process.

It seems when ever MLSE sets out a plan on moving forward, several weeks later the plan changes. They never seem to carry out what they said they would do. Sure they always have a perfectly good rationale for changing plans. But the constant change in direction has symptomatic of what is wrong with the Maple Leafs.

So has anything really changed at MLSE? I haven't seen it yet.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Is Ron Wilson the right man for the job?

So do the Leafs have the right guy behind the bench? Cliff Fletcher seems to thinks so. Ron Wilson told the Fan's Howard Berger:
"Cliff convinced me that I was the guy for the job. ... I was just glad I was going to be given this opportunity before anyone else and for me it was just a no-brainer."
What I'm not sure about is what direction will the Leafs be going next season. Wilson has a reputation for rebuilding young struggling teams. He did it in Anaheim, Washington and San Jose. Except at the moment the Leafs are a veteran struggling team.

The local media seems to almost be poo pooing the signing although Wilson is one of the best coaches in the NHL. Let's face it Punch Imlach is dead and he wasn't so good his second time around. The media can't really be critical of his record so they claim he won't be able to handle the media. The local media just loves to give Leaf coaches a hard time. Damien Cox, a notorious Leaf hater much like Coach Bruce (at least Bruce admits it), has this to say about Wilson.
Wilson's NHL resumé does not include, however, being employed in an over-zealous hockey market like Toronto, which has a weird and wonderful and wacky dynamic shared in intensity by only a half-dozen other cities on the circuit.

It's one thing to coach in Orange County, or the District of Columbia, or deep in the Silicon Valley, and quite another to dip one's toe into the piranha-infested waters of places like Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Philadelphia and, of course, Toronto.

Cox said the same thing about Paul Maurice 2 years ago and he did just fine with the media. Let's face it the only hockey market that eats up coaches besides Toronto is Montreal. You need to a bigger pool of coaches to choose from besides ex-Leaf and Hab coaches.

CTV gets HNIC song, CBC gets egg on its face

Hey, CBC—you wanna come over to my house for a little poker game?

CBC got called on their Hockey Night in Canada bluff today as rival CTV announced that they've struck a deal for the rights to the HNIC signature tune.

The news comes four days after the kind-of public broadcaster announced they were pulling out of negotiations for the storied 40-year-old theme, and mere hours after they suggested that they would consider going back to the bargaining table after all. I would guess the big wigs at CBC didn't see this coming. They tried the squeeze play with an 80 year lady. Looks good.

Under the new agreement, CTV will use the song for hockey games on TSN and RDS, as well as during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Jim Balsillie's NHL Dream Lives On

The one thing you can say about Jim Balsillie is that he certainly is a persistent bugger. He has been spurned by the NHL at least 4 times but continues his pursuit of an NHL franchise.

In fact, you would think that picking up a U.S.-based franchise would be pretty easy right now since it is reported that at least 8 franchise are for sale if there were only a buyer. The National Post suggested the other day that many are pursuing Jim Balsillie who has money to burn when it comes to buying a hockey team. But the weakening American economy and devalued franchises is not going to change Gary Bettman's opnion of Balsillie.

So when Bill "Boots" Del Biaggio, the second largest investor in the Nashvillie Predators ran into legal and financial trouble, he looked to Balsillie to bail him out. It was reported that Balsillie was willing to pay Del Biaggio well above the $30 millin he invested in Predators and Del Biaggio was eager to to do the deal. So when he contacted the NHL office, it was reported that he received a strong message to look elsewhere.

By the way, what is with all these NHL owners with fraud charges. What kind of person does the NHL attract? In addition to Del Biaggio, there is Henry Samueli (Anaheim), John Spano (Islanders), Bruce McNall (Los Angeles), and John Rigas (Buffalo). So how bad could Balsillie be for the NHL?

Well he has the nerve to covet a team so he can move it to Southern Ontario. And perhaps Bettman doesn't appreciate having an owner around that might be more arrogant than he is. So how long can Bettman undermine Balsillie's NHL dream? Well he has been doing a pretty good job so far. Although its a buyers market for NHL franchises, the message seems to be that if you bother to sell to the pushy Canadian, you might have a hard time getting the sale approve so why bother.

Here's what Richard Rodier (Balsillie's legal rep) told Bob McCown on the FAN590 on Wednesday:
"I think it will become apparent in the next week or so that the commissioner's view is that there are no circumstances under which he wants Jim Balsillie in the league if there is a scintilla of chance that he might be able to apply for a relocation of the team to Southern Ontario within seven years."
Yet Jim Balsillie's NHL lives on. Good luck with that Jim.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hey is it ok to park here?

Tiger Woods is no hockey fan

Details of an interview with Tiger Woods prior to the PGA leaked out recently and he didn't have very nice things to say about hockey.

JULIUS MASON: Mr. Woods, Julius Mason here. We're joined by about 75 of your closest friends and I think off the top of their head they have one burning question for you, Detroit or Pittsburgh tonight? In the Stanley Cup finals. (Laughter.)

TIGER WOODS: That's pretty good. I don't really care, let's talk about the Dodgers. (Laughter.)

JULIUS MASON: Politically correct as always and that's what we ?

TIGER WOODS: I don't think anybody really watches hockey any more. (Laughter.)

An interesting comment since TV ratings for golf have been slipping and few people bother watching if the Tiger isn't entered and battling with the leaders. The game that night was the triple overtime game and produced some of the best TV ratings in the US in years.

Mike Millbury took some shots of his own on Tuesday on TSN:

"You know what? I'm gonna change the name now. It's gonna be Tiger Wuss. Here's a guy that took about three months to get over a simple arthroscopic surgery. You look at [Pens forward] Ryan Malone. His face exploded with a slap shot last night - he's back out in 10 minutes!

"Keep your yap shut, Tiger, or I'll send a couple of wingers down there - Gary Roberts - to tidy you up a little bit, meat head."

Will the Penguins Return to the Cup Finals Next Season?

Now that the Stanley Cup has been whisked away to Motown, it seems everyone is expecting the Pittsburgh Penguins to return next season with enough maturity gained from the recent campaign to grab the Cup. Are they really the Stanley Cup Champions in waiting?

Marian Hossa is a free agent this summer. He was a terrific pick up at the trading deadline and finally provided Sidney Crosby with the sniper he so missed. But unless he provides the Penguins with a discount, he will likely be lost this summer. Ryan Malone is also a free agent and could earn $4.5 million a year contract. But since his father played for the Penguins and he grew up in the Pittsburgh area, he is more likely to return at a reduced rate. Brooks Orpik had a break out year and showed that he is a top 4 defenseman. His price may also be beyond the Penguin's budget.

Should the Penguins lose these three players, they will be a much different team and not nearly as good. The Penguins need a lot of money for new contracts for Malkin and Fleury. Also, Crosby's new contract kicks in next year.

So maybe this was the year that the Penguins had to win. Still as long as the team has Crosby, they will always have a shot at returning to the Cup finals. But it may not be next year.

What a chaotic horse race

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What Mischief are the Maple Leafs Up To?

Now that the Stanley Cup playoffs have mercifully ended, I expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to introduce their new coach, Ron Wilson by the end of the week. The recruitment of Wilson was transparent for the world to see although the team has been very secretive about their search for a general manager. Well with the exception of Dave Nonis who supposedly was in Toronto last month for 3 days to discuss an assistant manager position. Yes it does seem strange that the Leafs are filling these positions before recruiting a manager.

So what is the significance of these two public potential hirings? Well it has been well documented that Ron Wilson and an ex-teammate from Providence College, Brian Burke, have been tight for the last 30 years. And Dave Nonis and his ex-boss, Brian Burke have remained close friends. Gee what a coincidence. Won't surprise me one bit if word gets out that Brian Burke's kids have been hired as ushers at the ACC or that his cleaning lady has relocated to Canada.

How convenient to have all your buddies in one city so that when your team comes into town you can visit with them all at once. Well, if only the Ducks were scheduled to play in Toronto next season.

And that contract extension that the Ducks put in front of Burke 5 months ago still hasn't been signed even though he declared Henry Samueli as the best owner in the NHL to work for. I guess the ball is now in the Ducks' court. I can't wait for Gary Bettman's reaction to this awkward and embarrassing "non-courtship" of an executive under contract with another team.

The word is Numnah

Monday, June 02, 2008

Wings fan throws octopus, kicked out of Pittsburgh arena, sneaks back in

The Penguins are 0-3 in Cup Finals games this year in which octopi land on the ice before the initial face-off. The Detroit tradition was obviously in place during the Red Wings' two home wins, but the Wings' Game 4 victory came only after a rogue fan defied Pittsburgh's effort to curtail octopus-hurling.

Zach Johnson, a 19-year-old Red Wings fan from Cleveland, purchased his octopus with his girlfriend in Detroit, drove to Pittsburgh, wrapped the octopus in plastic, taped it to his stomach under his shirt, then chucked it onto the ice just after the National Anthem. After getting ejected and threatened with arrest, he put on his Red Wings sweater and re-entered the game with a scalped ticket. Check and Playmate.

How Do the Red Wings Do It?

With the Red Wings on the verge of winning their 4th Stanley Cup in 11 years, it would be incorrect to describe this as a dynasty because of the amount of time between wins. But in today's NHL, it is an incredible feat to finish at the top of the standing each year and have a shot at the Cup for so long. It has been 18 years since they finished out of the playoffs. In the past 14 seasons they finished with over 100 points 12 times (excluding the strike shortened season). They have won the President's Trophy 6 times during that period.

So how do the Red Wings do it? Well obviously they have the strongest organization in the NHL. Great owner, management, coaches, scouts, etc. No weaknesses in this organization. They have an excellent eye for talent and seem to know how to fill in those gaps in their lineup. But as much as the Leafs like to claim how much players want to play in Toronto, the truth is that Detroit seems to be able to sign players for discounts because of their reputation.

If you look at the salaries of some of the players who dominated during the playoffs you will see what I mean:

Henrik Zetterberg, $2.7-million
Tomas Holmstrom, $2.25-million
Niklas Kronwall, $1.5-million
Johan Franzen, $900,000
Chris Osgood, $800,000

Some would say that Niklas Lidstrom at $7.6 million is a bargain. Do you think the Wings would trade any of these players for a Bryan McCabe or Jason Blake? And there are other bargains in the bin:

Daniel Cleary, $650,000
Chris Chelios, $850,000

If you want to make big money you can always sign with the Leafs, Rangers, etc. If you want to win a Stanley Cup then sign with Detroit.

Sundin Not Giving Leafs a Hometown Discount

Leaf Nation was again abuzz last week when soon to be free agent Mats Sundin suggested that although he still wants to retire as a Maple Leaf, there is a chance that won't happen. You could feel the angst from across the GTA with the knowledge that the Leafs could have received an excellent package of players and picks for Sundin at the trading deadline, if he had only cooperated.

The statement pretty much confirms that Sundin will not be retiring this summer and has begun the process to negotiate a new contract. But to re-sign Sundin, the Leafs will likely have to pay him close to market value. Last season Sundin's salary was about $5.5 million but if you include the payment that had to make for not picking up the option year of his previous contract, his full earnings was about $6.5 million. Now should Sundin's agent shop around the big Swede, he would likely receive offers of between $7 and $8 million.

So despite the fact that the team is rebuilding and there is no permanent management team or coach in place, Sundin would still like to finish his career in Toronto. But considering the other factors, there won't be a hometown discount. Afterall, it's not like the savings from a Sundin contact could be used to bring in someone who could make them a contender as is the case in Detroit. So why does he need to provide the team with any discount at all?

Gary Bettman is the King of Spin

I love to watch the annual interview of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman by the HINC's Ron McLean during the Stanley Cup Finals. This year's interview was this past Saturday. Bettman is the master of political spin (I'd say he could challenge Bill Clinton for the crown). McLean will normally challenge and attempt to deflect a question which usually leads to a feisty debate.

This year McLean tended to accept the Commissioner's responses. According the Bettman all is well with the NHL. Although some franchises may have issues, none are in "jeopardy". He deflected any suggestion that teams like Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville and Tampa Bay were having any real difficulties. When asked if the recent report was true that the Canadian NHL franchises were generating 30% of the revenue, he responded by saying the U.S. franchises were also experiencing revenue growth.

Regarding the sale of the Predators last year, Bettman re-iterated that the Canadian Competition Bureau investigated and found the NHL had not engaged in any anti-competitive behaviour after a letter of intent was signed to sell the club to Ontario-based executive Jim Balsillie.

The Nashville conversation came up in light of news this week that "Boots" Del Biaggio (part of the new ownerhsip consortium) is being sued by an investment firm that alleges he engaged in fraud to secure a multimillion-dollar loan. The San Jose Mercury News reported that he was also being investigated by U.S. federal authorities.

Bettman claimed to have no information about the legal trouble of Anaheim Duck owner Henry Samueli who is facing fraud charges and may end up doing jail time.

So the Spinmeister of the Week award goes to our own Gary Bettman.