Thursday, December 31, 2009

What could be clearer than this sign?

Just take a look at this sign. No ambiguity here. What could be clearer? The only thing I can think of is a sign that says "This is a sign." Or maybe a statement like the Toronto Maple Leafs will NOT win the Stanley Cup in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My top 10 players of the decade

10. Scott Niedermayer

9. Chris Pronger

8. Joe Sakic

7. Jose Theodore

6. Jaromir Jagr

5. Pavel Datsyuk

4. Martin Brodeur

3. Sidney Crosby

2. Niklas Lidstrom

1. Alex Ovechkin

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Will return on January 3rd

Same old story for the Maple Leafs

As I watched the Leafs fall behind 2-0 to Montreal last night, I turned to my out of town guest and predicted the Leafs would tie the game up in the third period and loss in overtime. He laughed and asked how I could be so sure. Because the Leafs are the most predictable team in the NHL.

Sure enough the Leafs peppered 49 shots at Halak last night but lost in overtime 3-2. In the 10 games where the Leafs have had their highest shot total, they only won once and that was against Anaheim who at the time had a record worse than the Leafs. Five games were lost in overtime or shootout. You would think that the Leafs are just running into a string of great goaltenders. But that isn't really what is happening.

In the offensive zone the Leafs are aggressive on the forecheck and winning a lot of battles for the puck. It is producing a high number of scoring opportunities but with a lack of snipers, the number of shots are pretty much meaningless. Many are harmless and with the lack of large forwards, they often take long shots without screening the goalie. Meanwhile the Leafs often have poor starts and fall behind early in the game. This forces them to take too many chances in their own end which leads to turnovers and goals. You are more often than not going to lose to Washington if you try to outgun them. They have too much firepower. Meanwhile strong defensive teams like Buffalo will sit back and wait for you to make a mistake.

Winning game starts in your own end. Something the Leafs have yet to learn.






OT Loss



OT Loss



OT Loss





Tampa Bay

OT Loss



SO Loss













Friday, December 25, 2009

Time lapse video of Fenway rink

This is a pretty cool video from of the entire building process for the rink at Fenway Park for the 2010 NHL Winter Classic.

Matt Stajan is playing his way off the Leafs

Matt Stajan has looked very good of late. However, I'm afraid he has looked too good. He is having a career year playing centre to Phil Kessel and is the leading all Leaf forwards in scoring with 28 points. At this pace he will score 24 goals and 61 points.

Stajan is also 26 and a UFA this summer. His salary is a comfortable $1,750,000 is you are Brian Burke. The problem is that UFA with Stajan's stats are getting $4 million per season. Nik Antropov scored 59 points last season and is earning $4 million; Johan Franzen scored 34 goals and 59 points last season and is earning $5.5 million (with a cap hit of $3.955); The Sharks' Ryane Clowe is earning $3.5 million and in his best season he scored 52 points; Alex Frolov of the Kings is earning $4 million (but cap his only $2.9) and his best season was 67 points; and finally the Devils' Travis Zajac who had a career year of 62 points last year and is earning $2.75 million (the cap hit is $3.888).

But is Matt Stajan really a number 1 centre? I don't think so. Playing along side Kessel and inflating his numbers. The Leafs have signed Grabovski for 3 years to centre a 2nd line who is another small centre but with more offensive potential. Do you think Brian Burke will want to pay a centre easily knocked off the puck and who relies on linemates to pick up points $3 to $4 million?

However, as was the case with Moore and Antropov last season, the ideal time to maximize your return is to trade a player who is having a career year. Don't be surprised to see Stajan moved at the trading deadline this season. I would rather see Jeff Finger or Jason Blake but there isn't a market for these overpriced commodities. My guess is Burke will continue to search for a legitimate 1st line centre and look for a more physical centre to put on the 3rd line. Now I would rather keep Stajan over Grabovski for the 2nd line but the Leafs lack creative players with the puck so Grabovski will likely stick around.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kulemin is beginning to show he belongs

When Nikolai Kulemin joined the Leafs last season there was a lot of optimism as well as speculation that he might be a useful 2nd line forward. Well so far that hasn't been the case.

Kulemin is the product of the Metallurg hockey system that has also produced other strong young prospects like Evgeny Malkin . He worked his way up through Metallurg’s system, delivering two strong campaigns with the club’s junior farm team before getting an opportunity to skate in the Super League during the 2005-06 season. Kulemin also skated for Russia’s 86 born U18 squad in several tournaments, including the 2004 U18 WJC.

During the 2005-06 season, Kulemin made his Super League debut and while this young forward was expected to play a strictly supporting role on the deep Metallurg roster, he managed to make a lot of impact and earned significant minutes on the club’s third line, and spent some time skating with future Pittsburgh Penguins super star Malkin.

As a 20-year-old Kulemin led his Russian league team in goal scoring with 27 goals and, really, it wasn’t even close as the next player had only 17 goals. The Leafs drafted him 44th overall.

Last season when he was brought in my immediate conclusion was that he just wasn't ready for the NHL. Although there were some instances of good hockey, for the most part he was invisible. For a short time he was lined up with Grabovski and Ponikarovsky and the trio appeared to have some chemistry. His lacklustre play continued in the early part of this season.

However, that all seemed to change in the past month. He has begun to use his speed and size. He is not afraid to battle for the puck along the boards and has become very responsible in his own end. He is now playing with Primeau and Stempniak to form a pretty good shutdown line. It now appears that it will only be a matter of time before the offensive side of his game catches up to the defense. He is listed at 6'1" and 125 lbs so he can certainly handle the physical stuff. Although he is just 9th among Leaf forwards in shots, he is 3rd among forwards in hits.

It appears that Kulemin is developing into a similar type of player as Ponikarovsky with a physical side to his game and some scoring. This summer he becomes a RFA and at 23 I can't see why Brian Burke wouldn't be bringing him back. He will remain affordable for some time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Roloson makes more incredible saves

What to do with John Mitchell?

John Mitchell’s recent knee injury strangely seems to have actually improved the Maple Leaf lineup. Back in late November, Ron Wilson was still playing around with different line combinations to find the right centre for Phil Kessel. Although the initial paring had Matt Stajan as centre he was replaced by Mitchell and Stajan was on the third line with checkers. After Mitchell was knocked out of the lineup on November 23, Wilson returned Stajan to centre the #1 line with Kessel and Ponikarvosky and the trio has looked good ever since. Meanwhile Wayne Primeau has been promoted from the 4th line to the 3rd line and has made the checking line much more effective. Primeau has very much been ignored early in the season in favour of younger centres. Rickard Wallin is now either on the 4th unit or in the press box. His reduced ice time has been a blessing.

Since Mitchell’s injury the Maple Leafs have been 7-5-1 and both their offensive and checking game has improved. So what happens to John Mitchell when he recovers? He may be headed to the Marlies but if not, he will likely only see 4th line duty. Sometimes injuries work in your favour.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Vesa Toskala continues his string of bad goals

Friday night against Buffalo...

Let's not forget this beauty (short-handed no less)...

Protesting the MLSE ripoff

The card posted below was being handed out to fans outside the ACC tonight prior to the Leaf game. About 4,000 were handed out. No doubt it's being handed out at other games. It is a group protesting the high prices being charged by the Leafs and they have a website The site indicates they have 1375 members which suggests there isn't that many disgruntled fans with tickets.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

37 SHOTS!!

Give the girls some credit. After an incredible stinker of a game, the Storm dumps all over Leaside. They unleashed 37 shots at the Leaside net and only some stellar goaltending kept the score respectible. Only two late goals in the third period got by the goalie who was both good and a little lucky. Meanwhile Bianca cruised to a 9-shot shutout. There were parts of the game where Bianca could have gone to the snackbar for a cup of coffee, whipped off a couple of text messages and got her nails done and not missed a shot on net. Big kudos to the Kailee-Phyllis-Alex line who worked their butts off and made things happen. Caitlin and Gabby were flying down the ice all night cause havoc. Goals by Gabby and Maddie L iced the win for the Storm.

Darn but I really enjoyed that one - afterall it was Leaside. A nice way to go into the break.

NHL Power Ranking: Leafs finally move up

For the first 10 weeks of the season, the Maple Leafs have been occuping either 29th or 30th spot in the various power rankings posted online. This week they have finally moved up although they remain in the bottom 1/3 of the league. Hopefully, for not much longer. Here is a sampling:

The Hockey News - 19th (+5)
CBS Sportsline - 20th (+7)
LA Times - 21st (+6)
CBC - 21st (+5)
NY Daily News - 23rd (+3)
TSN - 24th (+5)
Sportsnet - 25th (+4)
ESPN - 26th (+3)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Check this goal out

Parity has definitely arrived at the NHL

OK, even the biggest cynic has to admit the Toronto Maple Leafs are hot. They are winners of 7 out of the past 10 games and earned 20 points in the past 14 games. So here is the weird part of this. The Maple Leafs have only moved up 1 spot in the standings. They are still 29th overall and 14th in the East although tied with 4 other teams. Yet they are only 2 points out of a playoff position.

In the incredibly tight East, there are 3 points separating 8 teams. The Leafs are no where near being a Cup contender but they also don't look like a team that will be handing over a lottery draft pick to the Bruins this spring.

What turned this mess around? Well decent goaltending has been the main contributing factor. Also a consistent sniper (Kessel) has made the team much more effective during 5 on 5 situations. You can't win games by totally relying on your powerplay for goals. Most encouraging is that they play an entertaining game.

I don't see the Leafs maintaining a winning percentage of 70% but I don't see them going losing 8 games straight either. I guess the boo-birds have stopped calling for Ron Wilson's head - at least for the time being.

In defense of Don Cherry

Renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator is a leading expert on head injury so when he speaks people listen. He has seen the irreparable damage that can take place following a head injury and is a strong advocate for preventative measures. This past weekend he got a lot of attention his fight against head injuries by labeling Don Cherry as a negative influence by promoting violence in hockey.

People by now know that I’m not a big Cherry fan. Mostly because of his right wing and xenophobic views rather than his views on the game. His flamboyant approach reflects his desire to promote Don Cherry. Hockey is actually second on his list of priorities. However, Cherry’s views on the game reflect the public views and not the other way around. When you go down to the ACC or any arena, a breakaway doesn’t bring people out of their seats unless the home team scores. Yet, every fight brings people to their feet even the reserved Toronto crowds. The game is physical and violent, even the girls game. Don Cherry can’t change that.

Don Cherry does not promote a reckless, dangerous style of hockey. He like many fans of the game like the physicality and believe that fighting actually curtails the dangerous use of sticks. Clearly his approach sees the game teetering on the edge between controlled and uncontrolled violence. Occasionally players go too far and cross the line. The game then has to deal with those individuals and ensure that everyone else gets the message as well. I am not a fan of fighting but I also understand that it cannot be eliminated from the game. Sure there are other sports where any amount of fighting is not tolerated. However, hockey has had fighting since its inception and you just can’t start from scratch. Also Cherry and others are correct. A good on ice beating sometimes works better than a 3 game suspension as a preventative measure in the bad stuff that goes on.

The game has evolved much faster than those “in charge” can adjust to these changes. Protective equipment like elbow and shoulder pads are as effective as weapons as they are in preventing injuries. Hip check virtually disappeared when molded plaster shoulder pads were introduced. Meanwhile, helmet technology has not moved ahead as quickly as say stick technology. Rink also design contributes to injuries. Players do not take proper measures to protect themselves by wearing a chin strap that keeps their helmets on. The game is faster and high speed collisions are more likely to occur with negative consequences. Eliminating obstruction has in fact high speed collisions. Nothing Don Cherry can say is going to change how this game develops. He is merely stating what he likes and doesn’t like. And so is Charles Tator.

We stunk the joint out

The third game of the weekend did not go well. Maybe we were tired. Maybe it was the weather. But we had no jump. It was 3-0 for Scarborough after easily beating them in the first 2 games this season. Hey it's going to happen a few times in the course of the season. We'll get it back against Leaside on Wednesday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Storm leave Twisters in knots

Game two for the weekend was in Milton for our first game against the second place Norht Halton Twisters. It was another close up and down game that wasn't decided until late in the 3rd period. While earlier in the season the Storm faded in the third period, now we are scoring key goals late in games. This game was a scoreless tie until with less than 2 minutes remaining Alicia intercepted a pass in the Twister end and drove to the net. She deked the left and try to slide a backhand past the goalie who made a pad save. Caitlin who was trailing on the play fired the rebound past the goalie for the only goal of the game. Both teams successfully killed off 5 on 3 penalties in the second period when it looked like the game might have been broken open. Bianca finished the game with her second shutout on 16 saves.

The win also moves the Storm into 6th place for the first time this season.

Storm at the half way point

Yes it's already half way through the season. Well this young team is starting to come together and playing some good wide open hockey - just what I like to see. We don't get pushed around and we never give up.

The team record is just 3-5-2 but they have only lost once in the past five games and the lopsided losses seem to be a thing of the past. In 10 games the team has scored 16 and given up 23 but 10 of those goals given up were in just 2 games. Over the remaining 8 games were have actually scored more goals (15) than have had scored against us (13). Although the team sits in 7th place, it has 3 or 4 games in hand on most of the teams in front of it so the remaining 3 games this week will largely determine how high they will finish. Third or fourth is not out of the question.

Leading in points including league, tournament and exhibition games is Gabby with 13 and she also leads the team in goals scored with 11. Alexa leads the team in assists with 5. Caitlin has been in the penalty box for 18 minutes which is tops on the Storm. There are 6 skaters that have played in all 22 exhibition, league and tournament games - Madeleine A, Madeleine L, Caitlin, Amanda, Alexa and Gabby.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gabby comes through again

With just over 3 minutes left in the game, Gabby slips a backhand shot past the Lightning goalie for a powerplay goal to give the Storm a lead for the first time in the game. It was Gabby's 6th goal in the past 4 games. It wasn't enough as the Storm gave up a goal just 20 seconds later and finished the game at a 1-1 draw. It was a tough battle and the tie was only possible because of a series of big saves by Bianca. She made several key kick saves with her right pad as the Storm stumbled slightly in the second period. With just 2 minutes remaining Alexa was imprinted into the boards giving the Storm a powerplay. Unfortunately they were unable to get the lead back. A surprise guest was former Storm player Jackie in from Montreal.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The record they thought that would never be broken

Terry Sawchuk's 103rd and final shutout came with the Rangers, a 6-0 blanking of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden in 1970. He died shortly after that. At the time it was believed that the record would never be broken. It was like Hank Aaron's home run record. So when Martin Brodeur passes Sawchuk later this season, the same thing will likely be said. No one will touch the new shutout record.

Well it might take another 39 years or maybe longer. Because if you look at the career shutout leaders, they are all oldtimers. Even the great Patrick Roy had only 66. No active contemporary of Brodeur is even close. The active leader is Chris Osgood with 51 and he is older than Brodeur. If Brodeur plays another 3 seasons the record will be that much more unreachable.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Priciest goal scorers in the NHL





Chris Drury




Scott Gomez




Jason Spezza




Simon Gagne




Martin Havlat




Rod Brind’Amour




Vincent Lecavalier




Nik Antropov




Daniel Sedin




Andrei Kostitsyn




Eric Staal




Top 10 General Managers in the NHL

Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports has listed his picks for the top 10 GMs in the NHL. Actually, the list is a bit of the challenge because managing in the league has changed considerably post-lockout. Some decent GMs have struggled since the lockout.

10. Darcy Regier

Fiscally handcuffed at times, Regier's seen some very good players leave for other places upon free agency, and is infamous for failing to make significant moves at the deadline to bolster his team's chances.

9. Jay Feaster

Feaster was the GM of the Lightning from 2002-Koules/Barrie, and helped build the team's only Stanley Cup champion. The Bolts won two division titles and made the playoffs in four straight seasons. He is a lawyer rather than an ex-jock who wisely hired Bill Barber to be his hockey personnel man.

8. George McPhee

The decade timeline for the Capitals: Division titles, Jagr, payroll explosion, extreme purge of talent to cut payroll, 59-point season under Bruce Cassidy, Ovechkin, lockout, Backstrom, Boudreau, division titles. Bottoming out helped rebuild the team, but McPhee made some solid moves to expedite the process and capture the imagination of a fan base again.

7. Pierre Lacroix

Nothing was going to top the construction of the 1990s Avalanche teams built on the foundation of the Patrick Roy trade. But just like back then, Lacroix again augmented the talent in his lineup by trading for established stars in early part of the decade: Making the Ray Bourque trade in 2000 and dealing for Rob Blake before the 2001 playoffs.

6. Ray Shero

Detractors will claim Shero had an advantage over others because the Penguins went in the tank early in the decade, and they have a valid point: He took over a team in 2006 that had the advantage of drafting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury. But to win a cup he had to make some astute moves at the trading deadline and during the summer free agent season.

5. Doug Wilson

The San Jose Sharks have made the playoffs in each of Wilson's five seasons at the helm, winning three division titles and making the conference finals once. He's made some bold decisions beyond the Thornton trade.

4. Jim Rutherford

There are different sides to Rutherford. There's the safe side that drafts Eric Staal and brings in an old friend like Paul Maurice when he needs to fire a coach. Then there's a gambler; the guy who aggressively believed that his 2006 team would win the first post-lockout Cup, to the point where he added Doug Weight and Mark Recchi at a time when other teams were shedding salaries.

3. Brian Burke

Burke is unafraid to make big, high-risk moves if he thinks it will improve his team. In Vancouver, he managed to cut payroll, make the Canucks better and fill the building. Burke can be confrontational and brash, but he's also terrific at what he does. Sure there were some questionable draft choices in his tenure with both the Canucks and the Ducks but he also has a Stanley Cup.

2. Lou Lamoriello

One of the most respected and successful executives in NHL history, Lamoriello did some remarkable things. Please examine the rosters for the 2000 Stanley Cup champion Devils and the 2003 Cup champion team. Separated by only a few seasons, there are significantly different pieces that fit for the titles, beginning with the coaching staff.

1. Ken Holland

The winner of four Stanley Cups with the Wings overall and two in the last decade, Holland tops the list as the leader of the most impressive front office in the NHL for the last 10 years. Winning the Cup with this roster in the bloated payroll days of 2002 and with this roster in the spend-thrift days of 2008 is nothing short of remarkable.

Storm battle hard but come up short in Barrie

The bottom line is that you can't be competitive in a tournament when you give up 13 goals over 3 games. Despite getting some good offense, the Storm walked away with only a tie over the weekend. Certainly there was a terrific work ethic right through the weekend, even when behind by 4 goals in the final game. Gabby was red hot on the weekend, scoring 5 of the Storm's 7 goals including a hat trick in game #2. The Alex-Alexa-Gabby line was very effective at cycling the puck and controlling the play. Other strong performers were Alicia, Skye and Paitra with her first goal while playing left wing. We just need to cut back on our goals against.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

OK, who picked John Stevens as the next coach to be fired?

Not too many. But few coaches had more pressure on them. GM Holgrem thought he had the missing pieces for a long run in the playoffs by bringing in Chris Pronger and Ray Emery. He was sure he could compete with the Penguins with this lineup. Instead the they are in a fight just to make the playoffs. I think you will see more of these types of firings. Teams rebuilding are less likely to waste money by firing coach and having 2 on the payroll. With the cap, you can't make trades to shake up your team. It's a lot easier to fire the coach.

The Flyers are now 10th in the conference and have gone eight periods without a goal, plummeting to ninth in average goals-scored per game (2.96). They're on a 3-7 skid.

The Flyers have 10 games in the next 17 days; all of them in the Eastern Conference, and all but two of them against teams that are ahead of them or tied with them in points. It's an absolutely critical time for the team to snap out of its slump.

Stevens is just not the right guy for a pressure cooker environment like Philadelphia (it's not just Toronto that is a tough market to coach in). Peter Laviolette is much more appropriate and may be more able to light a fire under this team.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Storm comes back to tie Lightning

After giving up the first goal, Paolina got her revenge as she held the Storm in the game long enough to earn the team a tie. Going back to their first game of the season things didn't go quite as well. But the Storm are a different team now playing a faster and more aggressive game. In the third period while on powerplay Gabby picked up her own rebound off the boards on a shot that went wide of the net to drill a shot past the Lightning to tie the game. The rest of the way the two goalies shut the door and the game ended 1-1. The single point keeps the Storm ahead of the last place Leaside Wildcats.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Jonas Gustavsson tour bus has left the Bell Centre

You think it might be time to add another veteran goalie to the roster? Martin Gerber where are you?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Goaltending, Goaltending, Goaltending

I've always said that goaltending is everything in hockey. The Maple Leafs have certainly learned that of late. Most people would agree that the Leafs have played pretty good hockey over the past 10 games. However, there record is only 3-5-2 over that span for a net of 8 points.

Well that's because they have had a streak of top goalies in that timeframe. Including tonight, they have faced 5 out of the top ten goalies based on GAA and SAV%. That group includes Miller, Vokoun, Niitymaki, Kiprusoff and Huet. In most of these games the Leafs outshot their opponents by quite a margin.

Poor Jonas Gustavsson is just no match for these veteran goalies, most of whom will starters in the Olympics for their national teams.

Where's Rob?

A great stunt by the New York City-based comedy troupe “Improv Everywhere.”

Muppets do a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody

Sunday, November 29, 2009

One year under Brian Burke

It has been exactly 365 days since MLSE announced that Brian Burke would be the Toronto Maple Leafs' 13th General Manager (excluding those who held the job on an interim basis). It seems longer because Burke's name kept coming up for about 9 months, ever since John Ferguson was fired and Cliff Fletcher brought back as an interim GM. Burke supposedly was hired for 6 years with an annual salary of $3 million so despite the complaints of some fans, Brian isn't going any place real soon. Some other strong candidates were seriously considered (eg., David Poile) but Burke was selected because of his experience, his availability and interest and the fact he could handle the pressure-cooker environment. So what have Burke accomplished in the past year. A small group of inpatient fans have already written off Burke. Not sure that is fair considering the team he inherited.

Management Team

Shortly after his own hiring Burke offered Dave Nonis the position of Senior Vice-President and Director of Hockey Operations for the Maple Leafs. This is the third time Nonis has held this position under Burke. Ron Wilson was retained as coach. The two have been friends for decades but had never worked together until Toronto. When Joe Nieuwendyk left to become GM of the Stars, Burke replaced him with Dave Poulin. Cliff Fletcher also remained as a special advisor. There weren't many other changes. Anthony Belza was promoted from the Marlies to be the Leafs' conditioning coach. Francois Allaire left Anaheim to be a goaltending consustant with the Leafs. For those who thought there would be massive firings and hirings in the front office, that hasn't happened.

Stocking the Marlies

To compensate for the lack of young prospects in the Maple Leaf organization, Burke aggressively pursued college and European free agents. No question he came up big on this front. He signed the most pursued European free agent - Jonas Gustavsson. There is all types of speculation on what was the key to the signing - an agreement to bring over teammate Rikard Wallin, a call from Borje Salming, Toronto's reputation as a hockey mecca. The likely reason is that Toronto had no bona fide first stringer and no competition for even a back up goalie. He only needed to show up and remain healthy to make the team (that almost didn't happen). As for college grads, the Leafs grabbed Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson - 2 of the 3 top college free agents (the other Matt Gilroy signed with the Rangers). Joey Macdonald was signed to back up James Reimer, the Marlies young goalie prospect. Other prospects sent to the farm team were Carl Gunnersson, Viktor Stalberg, Ryan Hamilton, and Jiri Tlusty. To match the direction of the Leafs, some additional muscle was brought on board including Richard Greenop and Troy Brodie.

Pugnacity, Testosterone, Truculence and Belligerence

This now famous quote set the tone for the Burke era in Toronto. Right off the bat the new GM traded Pavel Kubina to the Atlanta Thrashers for defenseman Garnet Exelby and signing free agents Mike Komisarek from the Montreal Canadiens, Fran├žois Beauchemin from the Ducks and Colton Orr from the Rangers. He also picked up centre Wayne Primeau for defense prospect Anton Stralman from Calgary. These deals had an immediate impact on the team though not all positive. The number of fights shot up but the Leafs were not necessarily tougher. They spent more time killing penalties are were no more successful at it this season than the previous one. The bottom line that the top lines were still made up of small, soft players who were still easily knocked off the puck.

Restocking the Top Six Forwards

As Cliff Fletcher pointed out last season, the Leafs had only one legitimate top 6 forward and he (Nik Antropov) was traded away at last season's trading deadline. Burke made a number of wel publicized attempts to remedy that weakness with little success so far. Burke's first off-season in Toronto was sparked by public comments in April 2009, stating he was scoping the possibility of acquiring the first overall pick from the New York Islanders to select John Tavares in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Islanders GM Garth Snow caught wind of the Burke's comments and publicy critizied him for unprofessionality. Unable to trade up from seventh overall, however, Burke selected Nazem Kadri of the London Knights. Burke had hoped to take a run at potential free agents Daniel and Henrik Sedin but the Canucks signed the twins on the evening before they were to hit the market. At the Entry Draft Burke thought he had a deal to send Tomas Kaberle to Boston for unsigned Phil Kessel but that deal fell through. Burke finally landed his "franchise player" on September 18, sending theLeafs' 2010 and 2011 first-round picks with a 2010 second-round pick to the Boston Bruins for Kessel. Upon trading for Kessel, Burke signed him to a five-year, $27 million deal. He paid a huge price for the young centre who has so far actually lived up to the billing and high expectations.

So in the first year as GM, Burke had shook up the organization by challenging players to be more physical and engaged in games and brought in some muckers to show the way. His team has picked up their intensity in games with the help of Coach Ron Wilson. However, an inconsistent and often injured Vesa Toskala has been a big hole in the lineup. The rookie goalie has looked good at times but has a lot of work to do. He over plays some shots and has to rely on his athleticism to compensate. Hagman and Kessel provide some scoring up front but the top 6 remains very weak. Young players in the system may help one day but not in the near future. This remains a long term project.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Storm survives a scary 2nd to lose in 3rd

This time they didn't push us around. We pushed them around and gave them a good scare. We even took the lead in the second period. A period where we took 5 penalties and had to kill off 5 on 3 situations twice. Speaking of which did that ref have eyes in the back of his helmet? I have no clue whether Phyllis came out of the box 1 second early. But that ref must be really good because he was able to watch the play in our end, the clock on the opposite end of the rink and Phyllis in the penalty box all at once. The NHL will be knocking on your door real soon. They will be looking for a replacement for Kerry Fraser when he retires at the end of the season. Every Maple Leaf fan remembers his best call (right here).

Well our girls really crashed the net against a very large Dolphin team. They not only have the twin towers but it looked like they Big Bird and Snuffleupagus suited up in Dolphin jerseys. We actually out shot Etobicoke 18-5. We took the lead on a pretty nice play while on the power play. Off the faceoff, Gabby gets the puck back to Amanda on the point who evades a checker to wire a shot for the top corner that went off the goalie's trapper into the net. It was the only mistake she made. In the third period, Etobicoke was able to score two goals on a couple of great plays from behind the net into the slot. In both cases, Bianca had no chance. She had her third straight strong game. Glad to see her back in form. With the goalie pulled late the game, we came close to getting the tying goal. Kailee missed the net on a slapper off a faceoff and later Alexa couldn't slip the puck by the goalie at the side of the net.

This is why it cost 2 first rounders for Phil Kessel

By the way, don't think the Bruins aren't missing Kessel this season. They have scored 7 fewer goals than the Leafs but played one more game and are 28th in the league in scoring. Remember the Leafs supposedly have no offense. They said that Kessel couldn't score without Marc Savard setting him up. Well he has 9 goals in 12 games mostly playing with Matt Stajan who is at best a 3rd line centre. Meanwhile Savard has been injured but only has 9 points in 10 games this season.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

In defense of Coach Ron Wilson

There are legions of fans and sport reporters/analysts that have begun debating the merits of firing Ron Wilson. That comes with being the coach of a last place team and having high expectations placed on you. It doesn’t help that you have a personality that will rub people the wrong way. Still even the popular Paul Maurice could not hang on to his job in Toronto without delivering better results. And while everyone else is piling on, Gary Roberts told Bill Watters on his radio show that he felt that the Leafs conditioning was suspect. He did admit that he no idea what the Leafs conditioning program consisted of but that didn’t really matter much to the media. Their headline was written for them although slightly out of context.

So is Wilson doing that bad of a job? Here are some positives to dwell on:
  • Their power play is 8th best in the NHL just below the Capitals.
  • Their penalty killing is still last in the NHL but over the past 10 games has had an efficiency rate of 85% which compares with the top teams in the league.
  • They 16th in the NHL in shots given up which is a vast improvement over last season. They are spending less time in the own end of the ice. The fact that they are 4th in the league in shot taken underscores their weakness in top 6 forwards. Monday’s 61-shot loss is a prime example.
  • A number of players are having career years. Part of the reason is that many players who would have a limited role on a strong team are getting more ice time on a weaker team. But Wilson is getting the most out of these guys. Kaberle is on pace to reach a career high in points (85); Stajan is on pace to score 22 goals and 58 points; Hagman is on pace to score 40 goals and 54 points; Ponikarovsky is on pace to score 28 goals; Kessel is on pace to score 38 goals; and White is on pace to score 14 goals and 46 points.

    The Maple Leafs are 4th in turnovers and the goaltending has been miserable. The coach can’t do much about turnovers and the team supposedly has the best goalie coach on the planet but he is working with a rookie goalie and one with a wonky groin. Upgrade the top 6 forwards and goaltending and this team will be more than competitive and the talk about Ron Wilson not being an effective coach will disappear.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is it the curse of Frank Mahovlich?

A friend of mine insists the Maple Leafs are cursed after trading Frank Mahovlich. I'm not superstitious but it is a fact that the season after the Maple Leafs' last Stanley Cup win, the enigmatic left winger was traded to Detroit.

Frank Mahovlich was a talented and classy winger, a large man with the skills and hands of a pure scorer. Known as "the Big M," Mahovlich was touted as a superstar while still a teenager. Mahovlich also struggled through most of his hockey life with the stress that comes from great expectations.

In his first full season in the NHL, 1957-58, he was solid and at times spectacular and his 20 goals and 36 points were enough to earn him the Calder Trophy as top rookie beating out Bobby Hull.

His next two seasons were erratic on the ice but consistent on the score sheet. He hovered around 20 goals, good totals for a young player, but many Toronto fans wanted a superstar performance each night, on every shift, and 20 goals wasn't good enough. In 1960-61, he began to play the way everyone had always expected. Still only 23 years old, he had an exceptional start to the season and led the league for much of the year in goals. With 14 games remaining, he had 48 goals, two less than Maurice Richard's record of 50. He seemed destined to seize the position of the game's top scorer. Those final two goals never came.

Although the Leafs won the Stanley Cup for three consecutive seasons beginning in 1962, and even though Mahovlich averaged over 30 goals a year, he was the focus of much criticism and constant boos when he played in front of the home crowd. When he failed to score a goal in the 1963 playoffs, he was booed during and after the game in which the Leafs clinched the title. Even the next day the heckling continued at a reception in downtown Toronto for the Cup winners.

Mahovlich responded to coach Punch Imlach's berating by not reacting to it. He admitted later that the two men didn't speak for five years. Though the team and the doctors didn't admit it for several years, Mahovlich was hospitalized in 1964, suffering from acute tension and depression. He returned to the team but struggled on the ice, his goal production dropping to 18 in 1966-67, the year of his final Cup victory with Toronto.

The Leafs played the Montreal Canadiens on November 1, 1967 - an important game between long-time foes. Mahovlich played a wonderful game, scoring a goal and adding two assists in Toronto's 5-0 win. He was named one of the three stars of the game. The next day, with the Leafs leaving on a trip to Detroit, Mahovlich got up from his seat on the train, told a teammate he was going home and left. He was soon under the care of the Toronto General Hospital psychiatric staff. He was in a deep depression and, according to many reports, had suffered a nervous breakdown. Mahovlich stayed away from the rink to deal with his condition for more than a month, during which he missed 11 games.

Near the end of the season, the Leafs decided to part ways with their big winger. In the biggest trade of the decade, he was sent to the Detroit Red Wings with Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and the rights to another Leaf enigma, Carl Brewer, for Paul Henderson, Norm Ullman and Floyd Smith.

So maybe the team and fans are cursed for the shabby treatment given to the shy Maple Leaf star of the 1960s.

Bad calls are part of hockey

It was a fabulous weekend of hockey in Barrie despite the fumbling referees that showed up for our games. Missed goals, strange penalties and non-calls and even a goal after a whistle. Bad calls are part of hockey but you rarely see so many in a single weekend.

However, let's not forget the positives coming out of this weekend:
  • The best goaltending of the season so far
  • An incredible comeback win
  • A number of players with slow starts really stepped it up
  • The team is beginning to mature and come together
I really believe we are heading into a very strong finish to the season.

Go Storm Go!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Storm Nation rolls over Huntsville

Hey that's what hockey is all about - skating, shooting, banging, scoring, excitement, great goaltending, and heart stopping action. That was our game tonight from the opening face off and until the final buzzer. This afternoon was loosey goosey hockey but tonight was more upbeat. In fact it was nasty. People were falling down like bowling pins in front of the nets.

The Storm came out charged against a big and physical Huntsville Huskies team. Huskies, they were more like rottweilers. But we jumped into a quick two goal leads with some good crashing and banging by Gabbie and Genevieve. It should have been 3-0 but Kailee caught the refs taking a short nap in the game when she rang a howitzer off the inside goalpost the caught the inside of the net. You could clearly see the mesh move on the game film. That could have been costly because the Huskie came back with two goals in the second period by #12 who had some pretty good wheels. She turned a couple of defensemen inside out a few times and might have scored a couple more if it wasn't for Bianca. Well Allie plastered #12 into the boards in the third period and that pretty much slowed her down the rest of the way. Speaking of Bianca the way she played in the third you would have thought we banged a sheet of plywood in front of the net. Like nothing was going by her. Ms. Cool made a tremendous save with 18 seconds left in the game. Off the face off Genevieve drove down the ice and took a shot that forced the Huskies goalie to make a tough save but Amanda was there to bang in the rebound with 3.7 seconds left. Yeah it broke the hearts of half of Huntsville. Like when the lost the G20 summit to Toronto. Life sucks sometimes.

On a sadder note. Shrek the pez dispenser was injured in the game. He sustained a crushed foot but will likely not miss any game time.

Storm takes one on the chin

Well the Storm got an old fashion welcome from the Township of Woolwich, a thriving community situated in south-western Ontario, in the northeast section of the Region of Waterloo. It was more like a kick in the butt. You know that the predominant mode of transportation in Woolwich is a tractor. Yup. They even have winterized tractors.

Those girls from Woolwich are supposed to be a Midget B team. Well they would smack around our Midget BB team and likely the Midget A team as well. In fact, if they were to play the Maple Leafs I would guess that they beat them too (ok maybe it would take overtime for the win). How come no one is investigating the Woolwich team. I would have thought the Toronto Star and the crack team of investigative reporters (like that Rosie DiManno) would have blown the whistle on this bunch of ringers. Did you see number 12 out there? Her name was Death. That's right out of WWE. So sure we lost 5-1 but we won't be making front page news 3 months from now when some lab comes back with some strange DNA results. Oh, nice goal by Genevieve. Keep up the good work!

It's the 1984-85 season all over again

Yes the Leafs are continuing their celebration of the 1980s by duplicating the 1984-85 season. At the 20-game mark this is how the two teams match up. You think the defense and goaltending is bad now, back then it was worse. The low point was game 6 against Quebec when the Leafs lost 12-3. Oh, the Leafs finished last that season with 48 points.

3 Wins, 11 Losses, 6 OTLosses 12Pts
52GF 77GA


4 Wins, 13 Loss es, 3Ties 11Pts
64GF 96GA

OK, maybe this will put a smile on your face:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Leafs fans speak out

As the Leafs stumble through the first quarter of the season, fans have become more hysterical than ever. It's a combination of high expectations and frustration over waiting for this team to begin to compete again. I would guess that once again many fans over-rated the offseason moves made by Burke. He signed a number of unproven college free agents, an untested Swedish rookie goalie and some big tough bodies for the defense and 4th line. But the core of the team remained the same. I understand it has been 30 games since Jason Blake has scored an even strength goal and 25 games for Matt Stajan. Both are top 6 forwards on this team.

I've gathered some consensus opinions of Leaf fans based on call-in shows and blog posts. Not all the opinions are logical but arm chair GMs are never accountable:

  • As fans realize the Leafs will finish near the bottom of the standings, the overwhelming consensus is that the Phil Kessel trade was a huge mistake. They are convinced of that without knowing what players Boston eventually select with those draft picks.
  • Most fans would be glad to see Blake, Wallin and Stajan gone tomorrow. Some would throw in Ponikarovski, Stempniak, Mayers with them. Actually many of these players become free agents at the end of the season. Most will not be resigned. However, some players may finish the season with the Marlies when players Stalberg, Hanson, Tlusty and Bozak show they are ready for the NHL.
  • Many fans believe Luke Schenn should be benched or sent to the minors. Some have already written him off at the age of 20. A little bit of impatience is showing here. How many second year players don't struggle at some point?
  • Ron Wilson should be fired. I guess because he can't turn Blake and Stajan into 40 goal scorers.
  • Brian Burke is incompetent because he hasn't been able to turn around the team in 12 months at the job.
  • All will be forgiven if the Leafs can ring off 5 straight wins.

Some should warn Ovechkin about this

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Storm stomp on Sharks

Like I said on the weekend. Take you licks when you can because the Storm will be back with a vengeance. Well that didn't take long at all. We squished those fish real good. Sure the score was just 4-0 but all 4 goals were scored in the first 8 minutes of the game. It could have been 10-0 but we took the foot off the pedal.

We were skating, crashing the net, making nice plays and back checking. It like real hockey out there. Goals scorers were Genevieve, Gabby, Alicia and Alexa. Bianca earned a well deserved shut out. Maybe the nicest play of the game came with about 1 minute left when Maddie L fed Caitlin with a perfect pass up the middle. Caitlin broke in alone and made a great play but couldn't beat the goalie. It was the one of the nicest plays of the season so far.