Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Video tribute to Mats Sundin

Mats Sundin has finally retired. It was a "quick" decision compared to last season where he agonized for months before returning for one more kick at the can. He does finish after 18 seasons with 564 goals and 785 assists in 1,346 games -- tied for 20th on the all-time goals list with Joe Nieuwendyk and 25th on the all-time points list. Not bad for a guy whose prime was in the trap years.

He only logged 91 playoff games in that time but scored 82 points in the postseason, retiring without his name on the Cup. But he did win Olympic gold for Sweden, so he's got that going for him, which is nice. There will be a lot of debate about how good player and leader he was. Are his accomplishments magnified by being a Leaf? We will never know how good he was because he played in a mediocre organization for most his career. Leaf fans hold Doug Gilmour in such high regard but Dougie never won a Cup in Toronto and he posted big numbers for a shorter period of time. But Gilmour visually demonstrated his passion for the game while Sundin was much more stoic.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Maple Leafs aren't younger or bigger; they are tougher

If you compare last year's opening lineup and what you might expect on Thursday it shows a similar lineup with respect to age, height and weight. That's not to say this year's lineup won't be tougher. Replacing Antropov with Primeau may reduce the size of your average player but not toughness. Kubina and Komisarek are the same size but Komisarek adds a lot of agression.

2008-09 Opening Lineup

Blake – 35
Mayers – 34
Antropov – 28
Ponikarovsky - 28
Hagman – 28
Moore – 28
Hollweg – 25
Grabovski - 24
Stajan – 24
Steen – 24
Mitchell – 23
Kulemin – 22
Tlusty – 20
Kubina – 31
Kaberle – 30
Van Ryn – 29
Finger – 28
Frogren – 28
Colaiacovo - 25
White – 24
Schenn – 18
Joseph – 41
Toksala – 31

Average age: 27.3
Average height: 6'1"
Average weight: 202 lbs

Projected 2009-10 Opening Lineup

Blake – 36
Primeau - 33
Ponikarovsky - 29
Wallin - 29
Hagman – 29
Orr – 27
Stempniak - 26
Grabovski - 25
Stajan – 25
Mitchell – 24
Rosehill - 24
Kulemin – 23
Stalberg – 23
Kaberle – 31
Van Ryn – 30
Beauchemin - 29
Finger – 29
Exelby – 28
Komisarik - 27
White – 25
Schenn – 19
Toksala – 32
Gustavsson - 25

Average age: 27.3
Average height: 6'1.5"
Aveage weight: 202 lbs

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Looks life the Maple Leafs finally landed some young talent

Last night's 2-1 win over Detroit Red Wings helped finalize the Leaf lineup. The win was over a Red Wing team devoid of stars but the doesn't take away from the performance of some key personnel.

I have been very skeptical up to now of the prospect that Jonas Gustavsson would help the Leafs this season. I thought he would certainly be heading to the Marlies for some seasoning. Everyone quotes his stats in the playoffs last season in Sweden but he wasn't facing NHL calibre shooters. People talked about how great he was at the World Championships but overlooked the fact that when he faced teams with NHL players, he didn't look that great (gave up 5 goals in 2 periods to Team USA). But in the 3 periods he played on Friday and Saturday he has already convinced that he can play in the NHL. He uses his large frame so well to fill the net yet moves from side to side so quickly. At 6'3", he is exactly the same size as Justin Pogge but that is where the comparison ends. Based on the preseason, both Gustavsson and Joey Macdonald look better than Vesa Toskala but the reality of how NHL training camps and guaranteed contracts work, Toskala still makes the team.

For the same reason all the rookies in camp are headed to the AHL or back to their Junior team. As much as they excited Leaf fans with their play, they all have wholes in their games which will become even more glaring as the number of games pile up. Both college and Junior players play far fewer games than the NHL. Leaf management has pointed out that the rookies would have to beat out a veteran on one of the top two lines to make the team. Part of the reason is there are contract issues. Veterans must clear waivers before getting sent to the AHL but rookies do not. However, the one exception may be Viktor Stalberg. He has demonstrated that he has the size, speed and scoring touch to be one of their top 6 players right now. He is strong on the forecheck and crashes to net although his defensive game is below par. Still he appears to me to be ahead of Nikolai Kulemin and Jiri Tlusty and with Phil Kessel still rehabbing from shoulder surgery, he will likely be in the lineup on Thursday for the season opener.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Storm Nation returns for another season

The Storm had their first exhibition game today against the Leaside Wildcats at Moss Park arena. Moss Park is one tough neighbourhood - even the squirrels in the park were carrying knives for protection.

The game didn't go that well either as the Storm fell 4-2. Everyone was showing their rust from goal to forward. There were missed passes, pucks over skated and misfired shots. The most embarrassing play had to be the defenseman carrying the puck from behind the net who fell leading to a turnover and Leaside goal. However, there were some good work out there as well. The line of Alicia, Caitlin and Madeleine L was clicking right from the start of the game. Kailee had a strong game switching from the wing to centre. Genevieve had some excellent scoring chances.

The first goal was scored by Alex on a shot fired from the point that went through a few legs including the Wildcat goalie. The other Storm goal was scored by Phyllis late in the game on a powerplay.

On a sad note was the news that Coach Bruce will be out of action for a little while. Bruce suffered a mild heart attack earlier in the week and is scheduled for some surgery this coming week. We all wish you a speedy and full recovery.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Presenting your next failed NHL franchise...Kansas City

Last night the NHL held an exhibition game at the spanking new Staples Center in Kansas City between Los Angeles and the Islanders. This game was heavily promoted to get a crowd out. A couple of days ago prices were dropped to as low as $10 (original prices $50 - $150) in the lower bowl to fill the seats. Can you imagine seeing an NHL game for $10? So how many of those 17,500 seats did they fill? Just 9,792.

This is the town that the NHL will eventually move the Phoenix Coyotes to. Sounds like a great place to duplicate the whole Coyote experience.

Speaking of the Coyotes. They have just announced a promotion for the home opener. All lower bowl seats are available for just $25 while all upper level seats are on sale for only $15.

Moss Park Arena Parking

Nazem Kadri's shootout goal from last night

Last night Kadri showed a glimpse of how good he will be one day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Phil Kessel vs. Leafs Highlights

Recent history of Maple Leaf first round draft picks

Well let's hope that the Leafs do not end up with a high pick in Amateur Draft next June. That's because like many years they won't have a pick in the first round. And as it stands now they won't have one in 2011 either. Below is a 25-year history of Leaf first round picks.

Year, Prospect, Rank
2011 - Traded for Kessel
2010 - Traded for Kessel
2009 - Kadri (7)
2008 - Schenn (5)
2007 – Traded for Toskala
2006 – Tlusty (13)
2005 – Rask (21) trade for Raycroft
2004 – Traded for Leetch
2003 – Traded for Nolan
2002 – Steen (24)
2001 – Colaiacovo (17)
2000 – Boyes (24) traded for Nolan
1999 – Cereda (24)
1998 – Antropov (10)
1997 – Traded for Clark
1996 – Traded for Yushkevich
1995 – Ware (15)
1994 – Fichaud (16)
1993 - Jonsson (12)
1992 - Convery (8)
1991 - Traded for Kurvers (turned out to be Niedermayer)
1990 - Berehowsky (10)
1989 - Thornton (3), Rob Pearson (12), Bancroft (21)
1988 - Scott Pearson (6)
1987 - Richardson (7)

Even Jason Allison has become trunculent

In 4 exhibition games the Maple Leafs have rung up 39 penalties and have already been involved in 12 fights. Last season the Leafs averaged 13.5 minutes in penalties per game. In the 4 exhibition games the average has been 28.5 minutes. But when Jason Allison gets into the act it just shows how the message has gotten through to the players. But here is something you don't always see, Allison has grabbed Darrol Powe's helmet and ripped it apart.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Leaf roster just got smaller

The Maple Leafs have cut 22 players which leaves the following players still in camp:

Forwards: Jason Allison, Jason Blake, Tyler Bozak, Tim Brent, Jamie Devane, Andre Deveaux, Alex Foster, Mikhail Grabovski, Niklas Hagman, Ryan Hamilton, Christian Hanson, Nazem Kadri, Nikolai Kulemin, John Kurtz, Jamal Mayers, John Mitchell, Ben Ondrus, Colton Orr, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Wayne Primeau, Jay Rosehill, Viktor Stålberg, Matt Stajan, Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty, and Rickard Wallin

Defence: Francois Beauchemin, Garnet Exelby, Jeff Finger, Jonas Frogren, Carl Gunnarsson, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, Todd Perry, Luke Schenn, Barron Smith, Mike Van Ryn, and Ian White

Goalies: Beau Erickson, Jonas Gustavsson, Joey MacDonald, Vesa Toskala

If we assume the Leafs will be leaving camp with 2 goalies, 8 defenders, and 13 forwards, that means that half the forwards still have to be cut, 4 defenders will be chopped, and 2 goalies will be working elsewhere when the season starts. To help I have listed the players who I think can be sent to the minors (or back to the Juniors) without having to clear waivers in italics. So a player that can be sent down has to be a lot better than a roster player to make the team because it gets messy getting rid of the veteran player. Some will clear waivers but not all. Also, you aren't going to replace a 4th liner like Jamal Mayer with a skill player like Tyler Bozak but you might give Andre Deveaux his spot on the roster.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Maple Leafs finally land Phil Kessel

The media is reporting that the trade between the Leafs and the Bruins for Phil Kessel has been consummated. The Leafs are shipping the 2010 first round pick, the 2011 first round pick and the 2010 2nd round pick. It's a deal Peter Chiarelli absolutely did not want to make. There is no way he wanted to see Kessel playing for a divisional rival but none of the other bidders were offering as much as Brian Burke. In addition, by the end of the weekend Burke was going to give Kessel an offer sheet that would likely have been front end loaded and therefore difficult for Boston to match.

Kessel is still recovering from shoulder surgery so we won't be seeing him in a Leaf jersey until November. The debate will now begin as to whether the Leafs paid to much to land Kessel. Certainly the price was very high. I know some people will be comparing this deal with all those other deals involving Leaf draft picks. I still remember when the Leafs picked up Tom Kurvers from the Devils for a first round pick. The Leafs collapsed the following season and that pick turned out to be Scott Niedermayer. But this trade is different. Instead of dealing picks for a veteran on the downside of his career, the Leafs have picked up a 21 year old who is still a few years from his prime.

The college free agent signings this summer allowed this trade to happen and I expect more signings this coming summer. The Leafs now have prospects that didn't come out of the draft and created some flexibility. Nashville was the other leading contender but they were offering a mix of prospects along with the NHL rights to Alexander Radulov. No one knows when Radulov will return to the NHL if at all.

The other consideration is that Kessel was a 5th pick and during his draft year was at one point considered for the first pick overall. The jury is still out whether he will be a franchise player but if the 2010 and 2011 picks are in the middle of the round, they won't be players as good as Kessel. However, if the Leafs crash and burn then the will be much angst in Hogtown.

At 21, Kessel finished 12th in the NHL last season in goals scored, ahead of Malkin, Iginla, Datsyuk and Crosby while playing 10 fewer games than most of these players. There are some concerns about his attitude but both Burke and Ron Wilson are very familiar with Kessel through Team USA and do not seem to have any concerns.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that this one finally works out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Battle of the Blades

My guess is that everyone will be watching Battle of the Blades beginning in a couple of weeks. Can you imagine Bob Probert figure skating? Will they make the hockey players wear sequin outfits? And when did Tie Domi learn to skate? Some of the hockey players actually tried to skate with figure skates but went back to hockey skates after taking some bad falls (no pads between you and the ice). The reality TV show was filmed at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Participants: Hockey Players: Tie Domi, Bob Probert, Glenn Anderson, Craig Simpson, Stephane Richer, Claude Lemieux, Ken Daneyko, Ron Duguay
Figure Skaters: Jamie Sale, Barb Underhill, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Isabelle Brasseur, Marie-France Dubreuil, Christine Hough-Sweeney, Jodeyne Higgins, Kristina Lenk0

What ever happened to that souvenir ball?

Burke’s belligerent band battles Bruins but are still beaten

The new look Maple Leafs sure looked different – they are so big. Not since the obstruction days when Pat Quinn threw in the towel and began collecting heavyweights has the team looked so bulky. In the first exhibition game we saw 2 goals, 4 fights and a loss.

The first goal was scored by rookie Tyler Bozak at 13:38 of the first period. It was a highlight-reel goal (see below) but by that time there had already been two fights – one involving Andre Deveaux (also below) and the other involving Jay Rosehill. Later Phil Oreskovic “outperformed” his teammates by getting into 2 fights. Deveaux tried his luck at a second fight but was only assessed a roughing penalty. Garnet Exelby at one point wanted to get into a fight with Brad Marchand but he wouldn’t bite. I hope both players get brownie points from Brian Burke for at least making the effort.

So how was the Leaf power play? Not so good – they only killed off 2 out of 4 chances. But the linemen earned their pay breaking up the numerous combatants. However, be prepared for longer games this year as they sort out the penalties after each scuffle.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coyotes draw flies (and that's about it)

Coach Wayne Gretzky wasn’t at the Phoenix Coyotes preseason opener in Glendale Tuesday, and neither were many hockey fans.

About 1,000 people were at the 17,800-seat Arena for the Coyotes preseason 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, according to stadium personnel and others. As a result some seating sections and some food stands were closed. However, the team did not promote the game. Still they may not draw more fans than protest signs for opening night.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bobby Orr vs. Wayne Gretzky

Younger fans will tell you that Gretzky was the all-time best. I've watch almost 50 years of hockey and I've never seen anyone as good as Orr. His end to end rushes were electrifying. He had the most accurate shot I've ever seen. He was the puckhandler I've seen. And I don't think I've seen a faster skater. When he was on the ice, the puck was always on his stick. No defenseman ever won the scoring title until Orr and it will likely never happen again.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An incredible shot by Roger Federer

It wasn't a hockey shot but it was amazing. Roger Federer delivered one of the greatest shots in tennis history. Not only was it a through-the-legs trick shot, it went by a stunned Novak Djokovic for a winner.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Things you should know about Phil Kessel

A must-read is the recent blog post by Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports, who has some strong comments about Phil Kessel's reputation.

Friedman says he is an incredible talent, but an exasperating one.

He's a walking contradiction. An almost total non-talker in public, but phenomenal when it comes to charity efforts in private. A guy who beat testicular cancer, but wouldn't play through last season's shoulder injury until teammates pointed out they were playing through worse.He suggests that the Bruins are concerned about shelling out $4.5 million a year to a player that hasn't bought into the team concept. He are the other points made in the post:

  • Kessel needs a playmaking centre like Marc Savard to succeed.
  • He needs strong teammates around him.
  • He does not respond well to criticism and needs to be treated softly (not quite Ron Wilson's style).
The bottom line is this: It is a mistake to acquire Phil Kessel without proper structure. The structure he already has in Boston.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

So you think soccer players are tough?

It's auction time in Phoenix

September 10th and 11th are the dates of the long awaited auction to determine who will own the Phoenix Coyotes. Judge Baum has indicated that he will not announce his decision this week but will make his decision known before the start of the NHL season. The judge plans to take his time writing up his decision with the full knowledge that however he rules, it will be appealed.

Now that Ice Edge has dropped out of the bidding it is down to Jim Balsillie and the NHL. Though the battle for control of the franchise has always been between these two antagonists even when a surrogate such as Jerry Reinsdorf was involved. I would be very surprised if Judge Baum orders that the team be sold to Balsillie but here are the considerations for both sides.

Jim Balsillie

· His bid is currently $100 million more than the NHL’s. That is a lot of money and will satisfy the largest proportion of creditors and the judge’s obligation is to the creditors and not the NHL.

· The latest bid now offers cash to the City of Glendale. The NHL has only indicated that a settlement would be worked out in the future.

· Balsillie is offering compensation to current owner Jerry Moyes who claims to have sunk $300 million into the franchise. However, Moyes is not really a creditor.

· He has now indicated a willingness to keep the team in Phoenix for one season which creates less of a disruption to the NHL schedule.

· He has indicated a willingness to pay a relocation fee although his appraisal is much lower than the NHL’s.


· The NHL is willing to keep the team in Phoenix until a suitable owner is found whether it is local or in another city.

· The NHL insists that the court has no right to impose an owner on the league. The league governors rejected Balsillie as an owner in July. However, since the NHL has now submitted a bid, that puts them in a conflict of interest position.

· The NHL insists it has the right to decide where a franchise is to be located. Unilateral franchise transfers will play havoc on sports leagues. A decision against the NHL would impact on all sports leagues.

· The league would lose out on a large expansion fee if the Coyotes were allowed to move into the lucrative Southern Ontario market.

· If Balsillie is allowed to purchase the Coyotes, it may trigger other owners into filing for bankruptcy in order to dump their money-losing franchise.

Monday, September 07, 2009

2009 Rookie Tournament - Maple Leafs vs. Penguins

It appears that Jonas Gustavsson has a pretty good glove hand. And Richard Greenop has pretty good fists (I guess we will see a lot more of this). Other than that there wasn't much going on at this game.

Burke still after Phil Kessel

The hockey news is buzzing with news that Brian Burke is going to provide Bruin's restricted free agent Phil Kessel with an offer sheet. The speculation came about because the Leafs made a trade on the weekend to reacquire their 2010 2nd round pick from Chicago. The NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement requires compensation for signing restricted free agents in the form of draft picks. The higher the value of the contract signed, the more picks that must be handed over.

Here are the offer sheet compensation tables:

$994,433 or below None
Over $994,433 to $1,506,716 3rd round choice
Over $1,506,716 to $3,013,434 2nd round choice
Over $3,013,434 to $4,520,150 1st round and 3rd round choice
Over $4,520,150 to $6,026,867 1st round, 2nd round and 3rd round choice
Over $6,026,867 to $7,533,584 Two 1st round choices, one 2nd and one 3rd round choice
Over $7,533,584 Four 1st round choices

A team must own the draft picks before making the offer sheet. The trade gives the appearance that Burke needed that 2nd round pick to sign Kessel. Kessel is looking for about $4.5 million but the Leafs would likely have to go higher to dissuade the Bruins from matching their offer and taking the Leafs' picks instead. And why wouldn't the Bruins just match the Leafs' offer? Well right now the Bruins only have about $1.7 million in cap space so that's a lot of cap space they made need to clear. However, they just might have to find it somehow.

Is Phil Kessel worth it? Most people think so. He is just turning 22 next month and scored 36 goals last season after a disappointing first two seasons in the NHL. Prior to the NHL he was a goal scoring machine for the U.S. National Under-18 team and Boston took him 5th in the 2006 Draft. The Leafs badly need a sniper and perhaps handing over these 3 picks is a smaller price than giving up a 1st round pick and Tomas Kaberle.

Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has said he will match any offer and then make trades to create cap space. Is he bluffing? Or maybe Burke is bluffing about the offer sheet and is only trying to nudge Chiarelli back to the trading table. We will soon find out.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Can the Maple Leafs veto a franchise move to Hamilton?

The NHL executives have repeatedly said no. Gary Balsillie is suggesting that the Leafs insist they have a veto. Of course, MLSE has been silent through all this.

Article IV of the NHL Constitution seems to be pretty clear. Each time has exclusive control of hockey games in its territory. A team's territory extends 50 miles beyond the city's limits. For the Maple Leafs that clearly includes Hamilton. Notice the last line "No franchise shall be granted for a home territory within the home territory of a member, without the written consent of such member." That appears to be a veto to me.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Storm Nation training camp comes to an end

Storm training camp at Fierce Hockey ended today with a team that is definitely more cohesive and game ready than a week ago. Today the aches and pains weren't as prominent as a Monday. They have a slogan for the season: GH43. Sorry I can't tell you what it stands for.

Coach Willie joined the team for their off ice drills today and barely survived. But I promised that the girls will continue to do some off ice workouts throughout the season.

Thanks to Annie, Jessica and all the staff at Fierce Hockey for a great week.

Can't wait to get on the ice!