Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Coach Willie's second round NHL playoff predictions

Well my record in the first round was a respectable 6-2 but could easily been 4-4 if the two games last night had gone differently. I missed on the Detroit-Columbus series - thought Steve Mason would be more of a factor, he wasn't. I also missed on the San Jose-Anaheim series - I make the same mistake ever year picking the Sharks.

Boston vs Carolina

The Bruins are on a roll and even a hot Carolina team won't stop them. Though the Bruins will find Carolina a little tougher to handle than Montreal. Cam Ward is playing some good hockey and Eric Staal has been inspired. Boston swept the 4-game regular season series.

Bruins in 6.

Washington vs Pittsburgh

Oh baby. Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Can it get any better than that? If Theodore was in net, I would pick Pittsburgh—better yet, the Capitals wouldn't be in the semifinals. But Simeon Varlamov is a solid goaltender, and I believe that Washington plays better defensively with him in net. I know that the Penguins have Crosby/Malkin. Washington, however, is also great offensively and are on a roll. Washington swept the 4-game regular season series.

Capitals in 7.

Detroit vs Anaheim

In the first round I picked Columbus to upset Detroit. That was wrong. But I know that an upset is waiting for Detroit. This is it. Only it's not really much of an upset because Anaheim is a better team than their eighth place finish connotes. The NHL playoffs are so grueling it is next to impossible to repeat - even for the Red Wings. The last back-to-back winners were the Red Wings but that was 11 years ago. Detroit swept the 4-game regular season series.

Ducks in 7.

Vancouver vs Chicago

Vancouver has a balanced attack for the first time and Luongo is rested and healthy. Canucks will be tough to beat. But Chicago proved that they are not going to be physically pushed around. This will be a very good series. The two teams split their season series.

Canucks in 6.

Top All-Time Toronto Maple Leafs by Jersey Numbers

#84 - Mikhail Grabovski

#88 - Eric Lindros

#89 - Alex Mogilny

#92 - Jeff O'Neill

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

So what does San Jose GM Doug Wilson do now?

After San Jose's quick exit from the playoffs last season, coach Ron Wilson was forced to walk the plank. The smart people that run the Sharks had decided that the team was not going to go any farther with Ron Wilson even though they had finished either 1st or 2nd in the Pacific Division with Wilson as coach. It was said that the players were no longer listening to him and that he had to go.

Wilson must have been smiling yesterday when the Sharks had another early exit from the playoffs. But this time Ron Wilson could not be blamed with Todd McLellan in charge.

So does Doug Wilson change coaches again? Does he step down? Tinker some more with his lineup? Or maybe just blow the whole thing up? It's becoming obvious that the Sharks cannot win with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau as their core. Although their situation is totally different than the Leafs last season, they still have to decide whether to blow up the lineup or retool. Doug Wilson has some big decisions to make.

Tim Thomas' long journey to the NHL

This week Tim Thomas was named as one of the finalists for the Vezina Trophy and he would be the favourite to win. That is quite an accomplishment for goalie who just turned 35 and was a NHL rookie at age 31. It was a long 12 year journey for Thomas who was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the 9th round (#217 overall) back in 1994.

He has played in 5 different leagues including the Finnish League (HIFK Helsinki, Karpat, Jokerit Helsinki), the East Coast Hockey League (Birmingham), International Hockey League (Houston, Detroit), American Hockey League (Providence, Hamilton), and Boston in the NHL. Give him a gold star for perseverance.

In his first full season in the AHL he was already 28 years old and statistically unspectacular with a G.A.A of 2.87 and Save% of .906. Who back then thought he would make the NHL let alone a Vezina Trophy candidate.

Which brings me to Justin Pogge. It sounds like pretty much everyone has written this guy off - Leaf management, the fans, the media, maybe his own mom. But statistically he isn't much different than Thomas 5 or 6 years ago. If it was too early to write off Thomas at 30 then just maybe we should wait for Pogge to develop. Afterall he just turned 23.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

KHL cuts salaries

The big threat from the Continental Hockey League (KHL) never really materialized. Now it appears even less likely to happen as the league is experiencing its own economic crisis.

The KHL has completed its season and held a "redraft" this week to shuffle around some of its talent, and as a result, players claimed had to take a cut on their salaries of up to 50 per cent. The process – which seems somewhat like a waiver draft – was termed an "anti-crisis measure," as were a whole host of other changes coming in for next season.

It goes like this:

  • All salaries of players not involved in the redraft were reduced between 5 and 20 per cent
  • The league's salary range was set at $5.9-million to $18.2-million (U.S.) with one "star" player exemption per team
  • Players who make less than $88,000 a year will not have their pay cut
  • Teams that have unpaid salaries from the 2008-09 season have until May 31 to pay up
  • Teams are limited to five foreign players (only one of whom may be a goalie)
  • Measures will be taken to get players pensions after their playing days and arbitration rights
It won't come as a big shock to see NHL talent like Jagr and Radulov returning to North America next season.

Ovechkin scores with someone riding on his back

Friday, April 24, 2009

If it's not a door, then what is it?

Hey there, I'm the new reliever

I observed an incredibly bizarre series of events during Wednesday night's Blue Jay - Ranger game. During the 11th inning with the game tied 7-7, the TV camera flashed to the the Texas bullpen. One of the relievers was shaking hands with the other pitchers in the bullpen as if he was introducing himself. The announcers indicated that it was Darren O'Day who had just been picked up by the Rangers on waivers from the Mets.

O'Day had been designated for assignment by the Mets and was at home in Florida when he was called early Wednesday afternoon to be told he had been claimed. He hopped on a plane to join his new team in Toronto. The original plan was to meet the team at the hotel after the game. Afterall he didn't arrive in Toronto until 9:45 pm and the game was in the 8th inning. But O'Day got a text message indicating that he should come to Rogers Stadium instead.

He was told to get dressed when he arrived at the club house. The game was now in the 10th inning. Because the Rangers were on the road they didn't have a jersey for him. But they did have several spare jerseys of Ranger minor league callups. So he put on the jersey of Kevin Gabbard.

So there he was introducing himself to the other guys when the bullpen coach picked up the phone and then you could see him point at O'Day to warm up. You could see the shock on his face. In the meantime C.J. Wilson had walked Wells who led off the bottom of the 11th. Snider sacraficed him to 2nd. Then Wilson was about to intentionally walk Rolen when the Ranger manager walked on the field to talk to his pitcher and buy some time as O'Day warmed up. After Rolen was put on 1st, out ran O'Day to take the mound just barely 20 minutes after arriving at the stadium.

You could see the Ranger fielders staring at O'Day. They knew it wasn't Gabbard on the mound. So who was this guy? They hadn't seen this guy in the clubhouse at the start of the game. The next batter, Kevin Millar, looked up and thought it was Gabbard on the mound warming up. Then you saw this puzzled look on his face because Gabbard is a lefty but the pitcher warming up was a right-handed side-arm pitcher.

Unfortunately for O'Day, he didn't get the job done because Millar drove a ball into the gap for a walk-off win. What a strange ending.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NHL GMs are making a mockery of the salary cap

It may be legal but clearly Red Wing GM Ken Holland has figured out how to cheat on the cap and others will follow. Henrik Zetterberg recently signed a 12-year contract for $73 million which averages out to just over $6 million per year. But the last 3 years of the deal are for only $5.3 million. So if the Red Wings decide to buy out the last two years of Zetterberg's contract (which they will likely do) then the contract really works out to an average of over $7.5 million per year. Holland has saved himself $1.5 million per season on the salary cap by tacking on those last three years.

Holland signs Johan Franzen to the same type of contract. His is worth $43 million over 11 years for a cap hit of $3.9 million. His last three years are worth just $4 million. So if he is bought out then he will earn on average $4.9 million per season and Holland saves the Wings $1 million per season of the cap.

But Holland wasn't the first. Last summer Vincent Lecavlier signed a lifetime deal with Tampa Bay for $85 million over 11 years. So the cap hit will be about $7.7 million. The contract is also frontend loaded with the last 3 years worth only $6.5 million. So when he is bought out he will earn on average $9.8 million which provides Tampa Bay with a savings of over $2 million on the cap.

Gary Bettman has expressed concern over this practice but there is nothing he can do. It is totally legal under the current collective agreement. My guess is that who ever signs Jay Bouwmeester will be offering a similar deal.

Maple Leafs are closing in on Jonas Gustavsson

Some of the mainstream media are reporting that the competition for Swedish free agent goalie Jonas Gustavsson is down to Toronto and Dallas. If that is the case, then look for Toronto to sign the Swede. Gustavsson's agent has stated that his client not only wants to play in the NHL, but have a chance to start. The Stars have a stellar goalie in Marty Turko while the Maple Leafs' goaltending situation is anything but settled. If Gustavsson is as good as they say, he will have a shot at winning the starting goalie position from Toskala.

Earlier this month, Gustavsson, 24, led his Farjestad team to the championship, losing just once in the playoffs, registering five shutouts and finishing the post-season with a .961 save percentage, less than a single percentage point behind Henrik Lundqvist's 2005 record.

Top All-Time Toronto Maple Leafs by Jersey Numbers

#71 - Mike Foligno

#72 - Mathieu Schneider

#80 - Nik Antropov

Is that you Bob Gainey?

Montreal fans show they have no class

Despite what Montrealers think of themselves, they hockey fans have no class. There was an unmistakable echo of "Boo" filled the arena before Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in Montreal between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. It wasn't directed at the Bruins. They weren't booing the official. Not Bob Gainey either.It was for the Star-Spangled Banner.In an utterly disgraceful showing of classlessness and disrespect, Canadiens fans joined together to boo the American anthem. It's great to have passion for hockey but that display had nothing to do with hockey. But afterall this is Montreal. The Hab fans are most famous for rioting after Rocket Richard was suspended for attacking an linesman back in 1955.

It was for the Star-Spangled Banner.

In an utterly disgraceful showing of classlessness and disrespect, Canadiens fans joined together to boo the American anthem. It's great to have passion for hockey but that display had nothing to do with hockey. But afterall this is Montreal. The Hab fans are most famous for rioting after Rocket Richard was suspended for attacking an linesman back in 1955.

"Month of Lies"

Someone once described tryouts as the "Month of Lies". People will say anything when it comes to tryouts. I usually can't wait for it to be over. It's stressful for everyone - players, parents and coaches. Players want to play with their friends. What will the dressing room be like? Will these coaches be fair or will they have their favourites. Some people get what we call the "letter syndrome". All that is important is that they make a "AA" or "A" team. What they often find is the calibre of these teams can be poor and are they can be very uncompetitive. Each year we have players from higher levels come down to play because they just want to enjoy hockey again . I've seen parents take their daughters from one tryout to another to the point where they can't really skate very well because they are exhausted. It's no fun for coaches either. They hate having to tell players that haven't made the team. You hope that you make good decisions based on skill and team chemistry but how can you really evaluate someone properly based on drills done over an hour with 25 or more players on the ice. I've seen players who can do these drills very well but have no hockey sense. While others are not that flashy during the drills but turn out to be higher energy players during games. We try to get out to see other teams in our organization where you might draw players from so that you can have some idea what the players who may come to tryouts look like in games. When it's all finally over - the lies, the tears, the dealmaking, you can go back to playing hockey and having fun.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

John Tavares: Brian Burke wants you!

With an equal amounts of bravado and bluntness, Brian Burke declared yesterday that it didn’t matter where the Leafs were picking in the Amateur Draft, he was targeting John Tavares. Now who can blame him? Tavares is the Ontario Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer and labelled a franchise player. But I’m sure 30 General Managers long for Tavares in their line up. Sure Burke has been there before with Pronger and then the Sedins but can he really do it again?

Well the first prerequisite is an interest in trading their first pick by either the Islanders or Tampa Bay. Last year, Tampa Bay announced on the evening they won the first pick in the lottery draft draw, that they were not entertaining offers and were going to draft Steve Stamkos first overall. No such announcement has been made this year. Although there is some mixed signals about the possibility of a trade it has been suggested they could be persuaded to part with their first pick – for a package of 5 or 6 players. I am thinking that they would not want to see players like Ryan Hollweg, Jason Blake and Jonas Frogren in that package. So what kind of package might land Tavares in Toronto?

Let’s start with the only Maple Leaf “untouchable”, Luke Schenn then throw in their first round pick (7th overall) and two second round picks. That still might not persuade the Islanders but it sure would get Garth Snow thinking. Remember the Flyers gave up 6 bodies plus $15 million for Eric Lindros back in 1992. The likelihood of a trade is slim unless New York passes on Tavares and goes for Hedman. The Lightning might be more willing to talk trade since they have their marquee young player already in Stamkos. Trading this year’s pick would speed up their rebuild.

The Gospel according to Brian

Brian Burke the communications savant running the Toronto Maple Leafs knows how to take advantage of a dead day in the NHL schedule. He is a sports columnist’s best friend. His frank discussion with the media regarding his pursuit of John Tavares gained him headlines across the continent. But for me it was his comments regarding the future of the Leafs that caught my attention.

"A player's here long enough, he starts thinking, `I'm special, because there's 20 people who want to talk to me.' No. They're there to talk to whoever comes off the ice with a Maple Leafs uniform on. And I think players confuse their role on a team that's struggling with being a good hockey player. `Oh, I'm on the second power-play unit. I must be a good hockey player.' No. We don't have a very good team, and so you get that ice time."

"All we've done here is put in accountability, and try to say, `That's not good enough. This isn't good enough. This group has to aspire to higher levels of achievement or we need different athletes,'" said Burke. "That's how pro sports are supposed to work. That's why these guys make the big bucks. And yes, there's been a culture of entitlement here, and we're trying to change that, and we will change it."

He is bang on once again. Playing in Toronto provides players with a distorted perspective of their ability and importance to the team. Who is to fault? Well historically fans have blamed the owners or management. But everyone is at fault.

The owners who are flush with money tend to pamper the athletes. They are provided with world class facilities and paid very well – often in excess of their true market value. Management has always looking for a quick fix to keep the team competitive and to ensure that the lineup had enough “star” attractions to justify the high ticket prices. Players who might be 2nd or 3rd liners on contenders are provided with significant ice time. But it doesn’t end there. The media are also to blame. The 24/7 coverage of the Leafs also distorts the players’ perception of their contribution. Any reporter that dares to be critical of players or writes about the goings on in the dressing room is bound to get the cold shoulder find interviews harder to come by. Leaf fans dump on reporters like Damien Cox who they perceive to be too critical of their beloved Leafs.

But maybe the guiltiest party is the loyal faithful fan base. They fill those seats every game, buy Leaf merchandise and will parade down Yonge Street after a single playoff win. They have set the bar so low for the players that every player can walk away at the end of the season convinced they gave it their best. Sure most seasons there is one player that ends up being the scapegoat for the fans’ frustration (eg. Larry Murphy, Jonas Hogland, Andrew Raycroft) but everyone else is pretty much off the hook. Players on other franchises are not pampered like Leaf players. In New York and Philadelphia uninspired play will get you showered with garbage. Fans will scream obscenities at you from their car.

Brian Burke has signalled that even if the fans and media continue to fawn over anyone wearing blue and white, management will be singular focused on results on the ice. No one can feel secure or safe if the team falls short of his high expectations. There will never be another Muskoka Five on his watch.

I can’t wait!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Top All-Time Toronto Maple Leafs by Jersey Numbers

#56 - Andre Deveaux

#59 - Jaime Sifers
(Bob Wren)

#67 - Robert Svehla

Coach Willie's first round NHL playoff predictions

Boston vs Montreal

Boston has a clear edge in size and physical play. Tim Thomas is a Vezina Trophy favourite. Their powerplay is 4th best in the NHL. Montreal limped into the playoffs with indifferent play from star players most of the season. The goaltending has been a worry. In the last two weeks the line of Kovalev-Koivu-Tanguay has come alive. Bruins won 5 out of 6 head-to-head games during the regular season.

Bruins in 5.

Washington vs Rangers

The Rangers have an edge in net with Lundqvist but that's about it. Washington not only has Ovechkin but Semin, Backstrom, Federov and Green - a lot of fire power. Washington ranks 2nd in powerplay but New York is 1st in killing penalties so powerplays should be interesting. Washington won 3 out of 4 head-to-head games in the regular season.

Capitals in 6.

New Jersey vs Carolina

Conventional wisdom would say that the Devils should easily win with Brodeur back in net and with the most balanced attacking in the 15 years. But not so fast. Carolina was out of the playoffs when Paul Maurice took over and since then they have been the hottest team in the NHL. Cam Ward is playing like he did when Carolina last one the Cup and Eric Staal has been a dominate player this season. And since breaking PAtrick Roy's all-time win record, Brodeur's game has gone south. Carolina won 3 out of 4 head-to-head games in the regular season.

Hurricanes in 7.

Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia

This is my favourite series in the first round. These Pennsylvania rivals don't like each other. Both have dominant players who can break a game open - Crosby and Malkin for Pittsburgh and Carter and Richards for Philadelphia. In addition, the Flyers have Gagne and Briere to provide a balanced attack. But the Flyers' goaltending has been inconsistent while Fleury has been solid for the Penguins. In addition, Pittsburgh added much needed grit at the end of the season with Guerin and Kunitz. Pittsburgh won 4 out of 6 head-to-head games in the regular season.

Penguins in 7.

San Jose vs Anaheim

San Jose finished with the best record in the NHL but carry the burden of being a perennial bust in the playoffs. Will this year be different? The Sharks bring a well-balanced attack as they get offensive contributions from all four lines as well as the defence. The Sharks made a conscious decision this past offseason to bring in proven winners. The blueline was restocked with Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich. The Sharks acquired a pair of players in Kent Huskins and Travis Moen, who were critical to the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup run just two years ago. So they have made the right kind of moves to change their post season record. The Ducks are still Brian Burke's team and have a good mix of skill and muscle. Giguere is a former Conn Smythe winner and Anaheim seems to have gotten hot at the right time. San Jose won 4 out of 6 head-to-head games in the regular season.

Sharks in 7.

Detroit vs Columbus

Columbus is this year's Cinderella team making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history but they are up against the Red Wing juggernaut. Detroit had the best powerplay in the league and Columbus has the worst. The Red Wings have no weaknesses, ok just one - weak goaltending. And goaltending is the Blue Jacket's strength with rookie sensation Steve Mason. The two teams split their season series.

Blue Jackets in 7.

Vancouver vs St. Louis

I predict this will be the most boring opening series. I can't get excited about either team and don't care that Sundin is a Canuck. The difference in this series will clearly be Luongo. The two teams split their season series.

Canucks in 5.

Chicago vs Calgary

Calgary's top line of Iginla, Mike Cammalleri and the newly-acquired Jokinen are as good as any in the NHL. But the Flames have been hit with so many injuries that I can't see them limping out of this series. Someone recently suggested that the Blackhawks would win the Cup in 3 years. I asked why not this year? They are a powerhouse lineup that might be short on experience but on talent. They are backedstopped by solid goaltending. Who knows where this team will be in 3 years. With the salary cap you can't assume management will be able to keep the core together. Chicago swept the 4-game regular season series.

Blackhawks in 5.

On Don Cherry's next rock em sock em hockey DVD

Monday, April 13, 2009

First triple play of 2009

New Bruins ads are cute

Top All-Time Toronto Maple Leafs by Jersey Numbers

#52 - Alexander Karpovtsev
(Robbie Earle)

#54 - Kris Newbury

#55 - Jason Blake
(Larry Murphy, Andy Wozniewski, Danny Markov)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Will the Canadiens even win one game?

I can't get very excited about Montreal Canadiens limping into the players as if they were the Maple Leafs. For the Bruins and Canadiens the past two seasons have been total reversals. After the Canadiens swept the season series between the teams last year, the Bruins won five out of the teams’ six meetings this year.

The Canadiens were the first seed in 2008, and the Bruins the eighth, but the Bruins have taken the first seed in 2009, and the Canadiens the eighth.

Carey Price went from amazing last year to below-average this year in net for the Habs, while Tim Thomas went from below-average last year to amazing this year.

he Canadiens are a carbon copy of the 2007-08 Senators, another top contender who, like the Canadiens, started falling apart mid-season, and barely hung on to a playoff spot thanks to a second-half coaching change.

The Senators got swept in the first round, and the Canadiens probably won’t do much better. They’re also quite similar to their team last year, in that no matter how well the rest of the team plays, you can leave it to Carey Price to ruin their chances at winning.

It's all about the memories

Afterall just about every team ends the season with a loss. That's just the way competitive sports works. It's really about having fun, making friends and the memories. As the ice cleared off yesterday and the players headed off to the dressing room, Jackie lingered a last few moments on the ice taking it all in. She knew it was coming to an end but so desperate to extend it for a few more moments. The Zamboni was beginning to circle the ice as Jackie imagined herself skating towards the opposition net for one last scoring chance. Then just as suddenly she stepped off the ice to strip off her Storm jersey for one last time.

The weekend in Brampton was all about extending that feeling for a few more days and a few more games. It looked like the weekend might be a reepeat of previoius tournament with two early shotout winds. But the string was broken as the Storm fell to Smith Falls 3-0 to finally end the season. For Sheri, SK, Mari, Jackie, Genevieve, Maddy and Asia, their last shift was also a tribute to their contribution to the team.

For the rest, they will have the opportunity to carry on the Storm traditions beginning April 25.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What will the Maple Leafs look like next season?

Some fans with satisfied with the progress made this season in rebuilding while others found the experience utterly frustrating. Callers on sports radio shows were rather subdued and small in number by the end of the season. There isn't much to say.

There were a few surprises this season. For one, I and others had suggested that without Mats Sundin there would be no offense. But both Nik Antropov (until he was traded) and Alexei Ponikarovsky both had career years playing with various centres. Who would have figured. Matt Stajan, Domenic Moore, Ian White and Pavel Kubina also had career offensive years. In other words these players were able to step it up when given additional ice time. But the additional ice time sometimes is a reflection on the lack of depth rather than the quality of these players. Afterall would you rather have Eric Staal at centre or Matt Stajan?

The Leafs have scored 15 more goals than last season but given up 30 more. They were the worst defensive team in the NHL by a sizable margin. I think fans expected this team to be better defensively with the addition of a defensive-minded coach as well as defensive defensemen like Jeff Finger and Jonas Frogren. So what happened? Well the addition of so many new players does not created a cohesive defensive unit. There were 39 different players in a Maple Leaf jersey this season. Most nights the Leafs played 5 or 6 rookies who are all learning the game and making mistakes. The defensive core experienced a lot of injuries (Finger, Frogren, Kaberle, Van Ryn). And the goaltending was awful.

So what can we expect next season? Likely more of the same as more young players get seasoning and players not part of the future core are moved out. Here is a run down on who might be back with the Leafs next season.


Jason Blake - At the start of the season Blake had already been written off as Ferguson's worst free agent signing. But Blake was the best forward for most of the season. Most people may not realize it but he had a career high 38 assists and still led the team in shots on net. It would be an ideal time to trade him but the remaining $12 million on his contract makes that impossible. As long as he continues to contribute like he has, he does not need to worry about being bought out or banished to the AHL.

Alexei Ponikarovsky - He had a very streaky year but had a career year for goals, assists and points. He also leads the team in plus/minus. His physical play has always been lacking for a big man. He has one year left on his current contract so I expect he will be returning next season. He is a decent 2nd or 3rd line winger but will continue to play on the top line until the Leafs find better players.

Niklas Hagman - Until his two concussions he might have been the best forward for the Leafs. When he returned he lack the fiestiness that he had earlier in the season. I see him starting the season with the Leafs but could be a player that a contender might be interested in later in the season.

Matt Stajan - Scored 20 points more than the previous season but increased his physical play. Still he is not skilled enough to be a top 6 forward and not physical enough for the bottom 6. His days as a Leaf have to be numbered.

Lee Stempniak - Fletcher's last mistake that will disappear very soon.

Mikhail Grabovski - I wasn't sold on this guy and felt sure he might have a short tenure as a Maple Leaf. Now I'm not so sure. Yes, he is the first Leaf rookie in 12 years to score 20 goals. But that was Sergei Berezin and I'm not so sure that's a good comparison. But as the season wore on he played with enough nastiness to prove that he could stick in this league. He leads the Leafs in penalty minutes and has transformed himself into a Darcy Tucker-type irritant with more offensive skills. Nothing wrong with that. I'm not sure how long he can play like that at his size but while he does, he will remain a Leaf. One of Cliff's successes.

Nikolai Kulemin - I always thought he belonged in the AHL. He was a speedy winger yet having trouble adapting to the speed of the NHL game. By the end of the season he seemed to have adapted anyway and finished with 15 goals. Not bad for a rookie. Lets keep playing him and see what he can do.

John Mitchell - Like Moore, he made the most of the ice time given to him. As a rookie he scored 12 goals yet played most of the season on the 4th line. He is one of those cheap, versatile role players that you need to have on a team if you want to develop some depth.

Jamal Mayers - Mayers seems to have lost his offensive here but then he received little ice time. I think he can easily be replaced by someone younger in the organization with some toughness.

Brad May - I was also puzzled by this trade. But I have to admit I really like this guy. With very little ice time he often led the team in hits. He plays hard every shift. But he is also taking the potential spot from a young player. I think he may retire.

Jir Tlusty - Did nothing for the Leafs last season or this one. But he found his game with the Marlies and will more than likely start the season with the Leafs.

Jeremy Williams - Yes he is a sniper. But I'm not convinced he is a NHL sniper. He is small but unlike Grabovski, not very physical. He is weak in the defensive zone so I doubt Ron Wilson will have him in his starting lineup next season.

Tim Stapleton - See comments on Williams.

Ryan Hollweg- See comments on Stempniak.

Andre Deveaux - Has a decent shot as a 4th liner. Physical and eager to fight. He can also chip in with an occassional goal.

Ben Ondrus - Penalty killing skills could earn him a spot on the 4th line. Also not adverse to dropping his gloves.

Jeff Hamilton - May have earned a job in the NHL next season. But at age 31, not going to be with the Leafs.

Boyd Devereaux - Will be looking for employment elsewhere next season too. He has great speed but is fighting a youth movement in Toronto.

Christian Hanson - Starts next season with the Toronto Marlies.


Luke Schenn - Not deserving of the accolades he received but this is Toronto. He is physical and block shots. Made lots of rookie mistakes but never got flustered. He was very effective at making good short outlet passes when under pressure. Whats not to like? Captain next year?

Tomas Kaverle - He is not a Burke/Wilson player but they recognize a valuable asset when the see one. He will be traded but only for a decent return.

Ian White - The surprise of the season but then White has been winning over coaches his entire career. He is very smart with the puck and surprisingly physical for a small defenseman. He will take over on the powerplay when Kaberle is traded.

Pavel Kubina - Big and strong means Burke may keep him around. He is an awkward skater but seems to get by. On the powerplay he provides that big shot after McCabe was run out of town but without coughing up the puck. He has 14 goals which ranks him 9th among NHL defensemen.

Jeff Finger - Last summer he was Jeff Who (?) and he began the season with an injury but Finger is the type of defenseman the Leafs have been lacking. He is a defensive defenseman who blocks shots and uses his body. He will be a fixture on the Leaf defense for the next few years.

Mike Van Ryn - Too fragile. Another Cliff experiment gone bad.

Anton Stralman - The prospect did not develop this year and will start the next season with the Marlies working his way back to the NHL.

Jonas Frogren - I saw nothing that would have warranted that much attention or hassle. Though he had a lot of injuries and not given much chance to adopt to the NHL. His physical ability means he will be given a shot again next year.

Jay Harrison - The previous Leaf management had this guy so low in their depth chart than he had fled to Switzerland. But he has a legitimate shot as a 6th defenseman next season. He is a physical, stay at home defenseman that will likely beat Frogren out for the last spot on the roster.

Phil Oreskovic - Another physical defenseman who will be given a shot next season. Even he doesn't make it, he will see time with the Leafs during next season.

Jaime Sifers - Not ready for the NHL. Another physical defenseman that will have some appeal to current management.


Vesa Toskala - Ron Wilson knows what this guy can do from his days in San Jose. If healthy next year he will see the bulk of games. The decision for the Leafs is what to do with him in 2010-11 considering the lack of goalie depth in the organization.

Curtis Joseph - The fans were far too kind to the fading star. In fact he embarrassed himself this season. Next season he will not be at the end of the Leaf bench - more likely on a dock off Lake Simcoe.

Justin Pogge - It's time to hit the panic button on the future franchise goalie. Burke may not be dumping him just yet but he will be bringing in at least one new prospect to compete with Pogge next season.

Martin Gerber - Played some decent hockey in his run with the Leafs but he remains inconsistent. I bet he is interested in the Leaf's backup job. Burke might find better out there in the free agent pool.

This could happen this spring

John Ferguson is currently working for the San Jose Sharks.

Any guess what 4 cookies would cost?

Friday, April 10, 2009

North York's tournament team wins again

The Storm came up with one of its best games in two months to stay in contention at the Brampton tournament. The Aurora team was chippy but that didn't matter as the Storm match them hit for hit. Team speed was once again a factor as the Storm pressed the Aurora defense through the game, crashing the net time after time.

Lauren N scored in the first period on a wrist shot from the point that never left the ice but slipped under the Aurora goalie. Maddy added a second goal in the third period from the deep slot following a bad clearing pass. Late in the period the Panthers pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. Mari took a penalty with 1:23 to play but the Storm withstood the 6 on 4 advantage without bending. Asia earned her 11th shutout and it was well deserved.

The game was not without a casualty as Lauren N went hard into the boards in second period injuring her hand. She finished the game in considerable pain and essentially playing with only one hand on her stick.

The win was the Storms' 13th in just 18 tournament games. Seven of those wins were shutouts. There is no doubt this Storm team is a tournament team.

Meanwhile Burlington defeated Markham-Stouffville by a score of 2-0. That leaves North York and Burlington tied for first place with identical records. Both teams are guaranteed to play in the quarter-finals regardless of the outcome of their game on Saturday afternoon.

Storm celebrates Passover/Easter with a win

The Storm Midget B team got back together one last time to celebrate their successful season at the Brampton tournament. Prior to the first game, Storm General Manager Anthony Mincone awarded the players with medals from LLFHL as Regular Season Champions in the Central Division.

The Storm then went out on the ice and beat one of their divisional opponents Markham-Stouffville by a score of 1-0. The Storm had a territorial advantage throughout the game but also showed a fair amount of rust. The only goal was scored by Sheri on a backhand over the Star's goalie. Bianca earned her 10th shutout of the season.

Burlington beat Aurora by a score of 1-0 as well leaving Burlington and North York tied for the early lead. Next game tonight is against Aurora.

Following the game, the team went outside to continue to celebrate Passover/Easter.

White House Seder

President Obama hosts a traditional Seder dinner in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House on Thursday night, April 9, 2009. Some friends and White House employees and their families joined the Obama family.I just want to know who asked the Four Questions.

Best NHL shoutout goal this year

...goalie is still looking for it.

This is why you should stay in school

Top All-Time Toronto Maple Leafs by Jersey Numbers

#47 - Darryl Boyce
(Nathan Perott)

#48 - Jeremy Williams

#51 - Jeff Hamilton

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Brian Burke goes back to college

The last time the Maple Leafs signed a college free agent was in 1997 when Mike Johnson was signed out of Bowling Green. Johnson turned out to be a decent third line winger who scored over 2o goals 3 times in his NHL career. If you recall he was traded to Tampa Bay for some guy named Darcy Tucker. However, in the 12 subsequent years the Leafs either haven't bothered with college players or got out bid every time.

So things seemed to have changed under Brian Burke with the signing of both Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak this week. But let's not get too excited. Few college players are able to jump directly into the NHL. Some find it difficult to make the transition even with seasoning in the AHL. But for a team rebuilding that is neither deep in prospects nor draft picks, college free agents make a lot of sense.

Word is out that there will be more. However, as I have previously mentioned NHL teams are only allowed 50 contracts on their reserve list, and with the signing of Bozak Toronto is at 49. The Leafs are expecting University of Vermont junior forward Viktor Stahlberg, an '06 draft pick, to sign after the April 9-11 Frozen Four in Washington, D.C. That means they can't sign any more players without getting rid of someone. However, the Leafs can still sign college players to contracts post-dated to July 1. Since 13 contracts come to an end on June 30, that shouldn't be a problem.

My guess is that Toronto is hot after Northeastern University goaltender Brad Thiessen. This appears to be a no-brainer considering the goaltending situation in the organization. At the very least Thiessen can give Justin Pogge some competition for the #1 goaltending prospect ranking in the organization. So keep them coming Burkie!

My explanation of the Jonas Frogren affair

Back in July the Maple Leafs signed Jonas Frogren for $2.1 million over 2 years. The NHL immediately rejected the contract which included a $700,000 signing bonus which it is believed he used part of it to pay his Swedish Elite League club $400,000 to get out of the final year of his contract. Although he was 28 years old, the NHL believes Frogren was a rookie and subject to an entry-level contract. That would limit him to a one-year term, earning as little as $450,000.

The Leafs and Frogren's agent, Don Meehan, believe Frogren is an unrestricted free agent.

The dispute boiled down transition rules between successive collective bargaining agreements, including the interpretation of the 2005 CBA's definition of a "free agent" contrasted with Frogren's status as a "defected" player under the previous CBA. "Defected status" was his official listing, resulting from the fact he had been drafted by the Calgary Flames in 1998, but never came to the NHL.

The NHLPA grieved the NHL decision in August. Frogren was allowed to play under the terms of the rejected contract until the dispute was settled. There was an abritration hearing set in the fall but the Maple Leafs and NHL settled before the hearing. Then on April the NHL announces that Leafs must forfeit a 4th round pick and pay a $500,000 fine for illegally signing Frogren. But you don't even hear one peep out of the normally vocal Brian Burke.

That's because the penalty and fine did not come as a surprise to Toronto. That must have been part of the settlement that was negotiated back in November although no announcement was made until this week.

Suddenly that strange deal with Tampa Bay at the trade deadline makes sense. The Leafs and Bolts swapped minor leaguers, and Tampa Bay also sent the Leafs Olaf Kolzig, Jamie Heward and a 4th round pick. But since Kolzig and Heward were out with injuries for the rest of the season, Toronto actually bought a 4th round pick for about $500,000. That 4th round pick will be handed over to the NHL as part of the penalty for signing Frogren.

As I see it, Burke bought himself a pick so that the Leafs wouldn't be further in the hole on draft day. So the Frogren penalty becomes a $1 million fine and no lost picks which is fine with the Leafs. That Burke is one smart cookie.