Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
The Phoenix Coyotes are 8-4-0 to start the season with the 6th best record in the Western Conference. If they continue to get great goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov (G.A.A. 1.77) they will be a playoff contender.
However, drawing fans to the games has been a struggle. They are last in the NHL in attendance with an average crowd of 10,700 which likely includes many comp tickets. If you exclude the season opener which was a "sell out" (tickets were being sold for $15) the average game draws only 9,000. With an average ticket price of $37 the typical gate is only about $250,000. But there payroll works out to about $1 million per home game. Then there is rent and all their other expenses.
You would think that no one could be interest in this money pit. But apparently there is interest. The Globe reports that Ice Edge Holdings is ready to buy the and the sale could be completed in the near future. Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon, co-owners of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts are supposedly also interested in the team.
One can only conclude that any purchase comes with a commitment to allow the team to move to a more economically viable city. Not likely Hamilton though.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I'm tired of the characterization that the Toronto Maple Leaf owners are not interested in winning, that their loyalty is with the bottom line, that they don't care about the fans, yada, yada yada. This is well chronicled in the recent book Leafs Abomination: The Dismayed Fans' Handbook to Why the Leafs Stink and How they Can Rise Again, by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange.
The Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund may be inept and lack any visibility but I don't believe they are not committed to winning. They are not the corporate version of Harold Ballard. Since the took control of the franchise the Fund has struggled to find the right person to run the franchise. Prior to the lockout they handed the reigns over Ken Dryden, Pat Quinn and John Ferguson Jr. The Leafs were one of the biggest spenders in the NHL leading up to the lockout which allowed them to maintain competitive and gloss over weak management. In the year leading up to the lockout the Leaf payroll was $70 US million ($100 CDN million) which hardly sounds like an organization not committed to winning.
Leaving the teams in the hands of a pretty green GM following the lockout was a huge mistake. But again the owners once again showed that they wanted to turn the team around by openly searching for the best manager that was available in the marketplace. Certainly there are better managers than Brian Burke but it stands to show whether any of them were available or interested in the Leafs' job. MLSE made a huge monetary committed to Burke and provided significant funding to rebuild the scouting and management team.
Fan impatience is understandable at this point in time but not really helpful. The team has decided not to rebuild through the draft the way that the Penguins, Capitals and Blackhawks have been built. Let's face it, the Leafs haven't made the playoffs in 4 years and a slow rebuild could easily stretch their non-playoff status to 8 years. However, this mess cannot be turned around as quickly as fans would like. So relax and wait to see what Burke can do. It's way too early to write him off.
The more frustrated fans always call for a boycott of the Leafs as a way to punish management for not delivering a winner. They are convinced with empty seats in the ACC, the owners will finally become serious about building a winner. This just nonsense. The GTA has over 5 million people with many of them avid hockey fans. The largest hockey market in the world isn't just going walk away from the game.
Okay, I'm done my rant.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Then there was Carolina's Tuomo Ruutu who was suspended by the NHL for three games after his hit from behind on Colorado's Darcy Tucker.
Anaheim forward Evgeni Artyukhin took out Dallas defenseman Matt Niskanen with a slew-foot. While the on-ice officials didn't notice the play, the NHL did. Artyukhin was suspended three games for the hit.
Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell came out of the penalty box and found himself in a position to catch Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews with his head down, and used that opportunity to deliver a crushing (and what appears to be a clean) open-ice hit.
Finally, Alex Ovechkin shows another part of his dirty side, slew-footing Rich Peverley. He got fined for the play, but in my opinion, he should have gotten a suspension. It was quite a week for hits.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
From looking at the Maple Leaf goaltending situation, it doesn't appear the team is reaping any benefits from signing Francois Allaire over the summer to work with the goalies. Allaire is known for his work with Patrick Roy and for developing Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Hiller in Anaheim. He can't be happy with his start with the Maple Leafs.
The reality is that it takes a long time for a goalie coach to reap his rewards. It's early in the season so Allaire and the goalies have likely only had time to work on how to practice, how to do different drills and prepare for games. It probably has been too early to talk about changing styles. Injuries to the team's top two goalies has only slowed that process further.
But in Leaf Nation patience is definitely in short supply. Still Allaire has to be having an impact eventually. The question will Toronto still be a position to gain a playoff berth when it does happen.
Friday, October 23, 2009
The Kingston Frontenacs hosted a Don Cherry Military Appreciation Night recently and guess who the Frontenacs dressed up as? Well Don Cherry of course.
The Frontenacs wore the Don Cherry hockey jerseys as part of their Military Appreciation Night promotion to honor troops at Kingston's Canadian Forces Base Kingston. Cherry, an avid supporter of the military, was on hand for the annual event. As a tribute to Cherry, each player wore a special jersey that looked like a red plaid blazer complete with a tie and flower in the lapel.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
According to the Ottawa Sun, the Florida Panthers are trying to trade young forward Nathan Horton, who has just two goals in six games this season. Horton, 24, had a poor season last year and isn't off to a hot start this season.
It has been widely reported over the last few seasons that much like Jay Bouwmeester, Horton isn't entirely fond of playing in South Florida and would prefer to play elsewhere. Horton, who has a $4 million cap hit, was drafted third-overall by the Panthers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
That brings us to the Maple Leafs. You could say that their top six forwards are on the puny side except for Ponikarovski. Horton is 6'2" and 230 lbs which is the kind of dimensions that Brian Burke is looking for in a power forward. Most of these rumours are just idle speculation but if Horton is being shopped around, Burke will be kicking some tires. Too bad he's out of first round picks for half of his tenure with the Leafs.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
The Maple Leaf organization became obsessed in early 2008 with Brian Burke. He was literally anointed their messiah and pursed despite the fact he was under contract with Anaheim. It seems no other candidates were seriously considered. The day he was actually hired, he became the face of the franchise. He also created quite high expectations in Leaf Nation. He declared the Leafs would not be rebuilding and would make the playoffs this coming season.
So what’s with Toronto’s obsession with Brian Burke?
Now I understand that the Maple Leafs haven't provided much to cheer about on the ice and haven’t for a while. I know that fans of the team have turned their teary eyes toward this blustery native New Englander with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger in the hope that he can bring them out of the wilderness after 42 years of futility. It's also well known that Burke never saw a microphone he didn’t like and the Toronto news media is malnourished when it comes to good hockey news so this was a perfect marriage. Just look at what occurred in the past week when the Leafs played no games for 5 days. The media began reporting the score of dodgeball games played during a practice in the week.
In all his maneuvering for John Tavares, then Brandon Schenn, and finally Phil Kessel, Burke failed to secure a good first string goalie. No team in hockey can succeed without a great goalie between the pipes. You build a winner from the net out. Truculence won't stop pucks from going in the net.
So with each loss more and more fans are jumping off the Maple Leaf bandwagon. There are stories circulating in the media that tickets are no longer hard to come by - at any price. And the messiah has become strangely silent. So after 42 years of wandering in the desert, we seem to be farther than ever from the Promised Land.
It was a far cry from a year ago when the team went undefeated in the tournament over 5 games. This year it was a learning experience for the young Storm team. Certainly there was a lot of positive things displayed during the game. The fast-skating Storm team dominated games at times but were unable to capitalize on numerous scoring opportunities. This will change over the course of the season.
Friday, October 16, 2009
In the first period, Gabby broke through the Tiger defense for a breakaway and range a shot off the inside of the post but the puck bounced out. It turned out to be the difference in the game. The defense and penalty killers were solid. The Tigers had only 2 shots on net in 3 powerplay opportunities. Paulina had a strong game and came up with some great saves when she had to.
The other Pool A game had Blenheim and Clarinton playing to a 0-0 tie.
The Bool B results were:
Durham West 2
North York 0
Parry Sound 0
Scoring for the Storm was Caitlin who fired a low shot between the goalies legs in the slot just 2 minutes from the start of the game. In the second period Gabby beat the Shark goalie on the powerplay but shortly after that Scarborough scored to make it a one-goal game again. The final goal was scored by Genevieve later in the period as she broke in down the left wing and fired a shot in the top corner of the net.
In addition to scoring a goal, Caitlin had a strong game with 3 breakaways and she continually powered her way past the Shark defense. Madeleine Amestoy stood out in the third period on the penalty kill as she ate up long periods of time off the clock ragging the puck. As well, a newly formed line of Phyllis, Genevieve and Amanda created numerous scoring opportunities.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
So how bad has it been? Let’s look at the numbers.
It should come as no surprise that the Maple Leafs are last in goals against average (4.67) and save percentage (.441) with Toskala leading the way with an ugly 5.57 GAA and .812 SV% - worst in the NHL. With those kinds of numbers you could do just as well with no goalie and an extra defenseman. Specialty teams are similar to last year with the powerplay ranked 8th overall (27.8%) but the penalty killers ranked 29th (58.3%) The opposition is scoring on almost 1 out 2 chances.
The offense at even strength has been impotent. The Leafs are scoring only 2.17 goals per game which ranks them 27th overall. They have only scored 8 even strength goals in 6 games. So goaltending isn’t there only problem. After playing three hundred and sixty-four minutes and forty seven seconds of hockey this young season, the Leafs have held a lead for all of six minutes and forty seconds. So who is the worst performer? Well Jason Blake is a -6 which ranks him 3rd worst in the NHL but he gets some credit for shoving Chris Drury into Toskala this week and partly addressing the goaltending problem.
So how are the Leafs doing in the truculence department? Well they are 1st overall in fights per game (1.5) and 7th in penalty minutes (17.8) but considering the penalty killing situation fewer penalties might be a good thing right now. Orr and Komisarek and 2nd and 3rd in the league in penalty minutes. Komisarek is also 3rd in the NHL in hits (23) and 21st in blocked shots (12) so he has more or less provided the sandpaper Burke was looking for.
With just a single point the Maple Leafs are last in the Northeast Division, last in the Eastern Conference and last in the NHL overall. That must be making the Bruins very happy. With 76 games remaining, to hit the 94 point mark (the presumed cut-off to qualify for the playoffs) the Leafs have to play .612 hockey for the balance of the season.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I was at the Maple Leaf game this evening to watch the latest debacle. This is a team that at the moment is tentative at best. Their confidence is shattered. They look lost. So what does management do to give the team a boost? Not much but they sure know how to give the opposition a big boost.
Let me explain. About 5 minutes into game during a stoppage in play, they play a video tribute to Darcy Tucker who was returning to the ACC for the first time since management ran him out of town. It was a strange thing to do considering his salary is still being paid by the Leafs and will rob them of cap space for another 4 years. At the end of the clip much of the crowd provides Tucker with an extended standing ovation.
I turn to my friend and immediately state that the tribute was a huge mistake. He replies what do you mean Tucker was a great Leaf. I indicated I didn't want to debate the contribution he had made in the past but he is playing for the opposition. The last thing this fragile team needs is an opposing player being given a boost by the crowd. Within two minutes Tucker sets up the first goal of the game. He goes on to score one himself and is named the second star of the game.
Will this team ever get it right?
Monday, October 12, 2009
Glenn Anderson/Isabelle Brasseur and Stéphane Richer/Marie-France Dubreuil landed in the bottom two which led them to battle for the opportunity to return next week. Overall, the judges were happier with Anderson and Brasseur’s performance from last night. They had removed the footwork routine that caused Anderson to fall (see below). Richer and Dubreuil would go on to win over the judges with a routine that was filled with difficult lifts and smooth skating.
The highlight on Saturday night was Jay Rosehill's first NHL goal and a decent hit on Goligoski. That was about it.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Madeleine A. first goal as a Storm turned out to be the winning goal as the Storm defeated Mississauga 3-1. Maddie's goal wasn't quite a highlight reel goal, in fact she never shot the puck. A mix up in front of the Chief's net ended with the puck behind the goal line and since Maddie was technically the last person to touch it, she got credit for the goal. Other goals were scored by Genevieve and Alexa. The Storm came out skating hard and jumped into a 3 goal lead by the middle of the second period. However, they ran out of legs in the third period and struggled to get through a rash of penalties. It was a physical game with the Storm taking 7 penalties, four in the final period.
Next game is the home opener on Thursday at Habitant arena.
Friday, October 09, 2009
The Storm began the season with some hope and optimism but the first game ended in a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Durham West Lightning. The score wasn’t indicative of the play but certainly reflects some weaknesses that need to be addressed. Against a weak skating team, the Storm had some difficulty finding their legs which eliminated a major advantage. Where the Lightning were able to capitalize on a small number of scoring chances by crashing the net, the Storm were ineffective in front of the opposition goalie. Although the Storm had a 26-13 advantage in shots on net, their shots were largely off the Lightning goalie’s pads. As well, no one was there to intercept some big, fat rebounds. The Storm also had a significant territorial advantage and won 22 out of 30 faceoffs.
The line of Caitlin-Alicia-Maddie continues to control the puck and create good scoring chances. Caitlin scored the Storm’s only goal on a breakaway with an excellent deke over a sprawled goalie. In fact the game was close until 2 late Lightning goals put the game out of reach.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
It seems many Leaf fans have been shocked by what they’ve seen from the Leafs over the first 3 games of the season. My Leaf poll on the side bar reflects much of that optimism. High expectations were created by team’s preseason record, the free agent signings, and management’s declaration that this was a playoff bound team. Truculence has been an overused description over the summer in
Now you can’t read too much into three games. You would rather want to see a strong start as opposed to a bad start. Still, there are some realities that fans need to keep in mind:
· This was a soft team last season. However, most of the toughness added this season is coming from marginal players like Exelby, Rosehill and Orr. If they only average 5 minutes per game, then last year’s soft players are eating up the other 55 minutes. It’s not like Burke added a forward like Milan Lucic who is getting close to 20 minutes of ice time per game.
· During the preseason, many regulars did not see much ice time. Their contract situation more or less guaranteed them a spot (at least in the short term). Management used those games to evaluate younger players – Stulberg, Bozak, Kadri, Hanson, Rosehill, Gunnarsson, Tlusty, Deveaux. Reimer and Macdonald were in net for many of those games. Now most of these players are with the Marlies and we are seeing a lineup that is more similar to last season’s – which wasn’t very good.
· The defense has 3 new players who are not familiar with their partners and the team’s defensive approach (assuming they have one). They are going to get better but it’s going to take time.
· Goaltending is about the same as last year – bad! I thought at the end of the preseason Joey Macdonald would be the starter by Christmas and nothing has made me change my mind. Toskala has about month to straighten out his game. In mid-November Phil Kessel comes off the injury list which will create a cap problem for Burke. He could dump some underachieving forwards to create cap space or just waive Toskala. The way he is playing, he won’t be missed.
· Every GM has to announce to their fans that their objective is to make the playoffs. Doesn’t mean they actually believe it.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Obviously fans are already buying Kessel jerseys. This one was picked up during the CBC telecast last night. Isn't it early to be wearing these things? He has yet to even practice with the team.
Friday, October 02, 2009
The Storm played a strong physical game against a larger and better conditioned team. However, by the third period, Georgina began to take command as the Storm players began to run out of gas and began making a series of mental errors. The Hawks capitalized on the opportunities and tied the game with just 2 minute remaining. The game finished in a 3-3 tie. Beyond the mental errors there were a lot of positives coming out of the game. The Georgina goalie faced some very difficult shots and had Storm players crashing the crease throughout the game. The passing and team play was also improved. It is apparent that the team is slowly getting in form for the start of the season.
Mike Komisarek must have been pretty hyped up for his first game as a Maple Leaf. To boot the Leafs were up against their historical rivals and his former team. But he's going to have to reign in his emotions just a tad if he intends on surviving the season. The official position of management was that they were "happy with his play". But were they really? He had 5 minor penalties and a fighting major. At this rate he will finish the season with 1230 penalty minutes (the NHL record is 472 minutes by Dave Schultz). He is too important to be spending a quarter of the game in the penalty box. And while he was killing time in the box, the Canadiens scored 2 powerplay goals. Playing physical and intimidating hockey does not mean playing stupid hockey.
But the most annoying part of last night's game for me was the fight between Colton Orr and Georges Laraque at the 1:51 mark of the first period. Talk about staged fights. What could have triggered a fight with only 1:51 gone in the first period in the first game of the season? They both looked light dumb stooges fighting over nothing. I can except signing physical players to make your team tougher if they can play hockey. However I'm not so sure Orr fits into that category. If he really is a hockey player, then why did the coach only give him 1:28 minutes in ice time? You hand out a $4 million contract to a guy who spend less time on the ice then the guys who scrape the snow away during commercial breaks?
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Coach Bruce had successful bypass surgery on Tuesday and is doing fine. Thank you for all of you who have expressed concern. He expects to be home by the weekend and will be back at the rink before you know it.
Just one cautionary note - defensemen no giveaways in front of our net for a while. We're not sure if Coach Bruce will be able to handle the stress.
No one should be surprised by Jim Balsillie's failed attempt to acquire the Phoenix Coyotes. He went about it the wrong way from day one. He liked to characterize the NHL as conspiring to keep him from purchasing a team to move to Hamilton. But really it has been Balsillie who has been conspiring to undermine the league rules.
Balsillie could have spent the past 3 years shmoozing the league owners and executives. Afterall, you need 20 or so Governors on your side to purchase a team. Or he could have positioned himself to be first in line for an expansion team. All he had to do was prove that he was a great guy, with lots of money and a love for hockey that was willing to play by the rules. He did the opposite. He has developed so much animosity that there is no chance that he will ever get a team now.
Craig Leipold, the previous owner of the Predators at one point was willing to sell Balsillie his team. Now the owner of the Minnesota Wild, Leipold was testifying as part of the high-proﬁle bankruptcy proceedings of the Phoenix Coyotes, recalling the six months of fractured negotiations in 2007 when he’d tried to sell the Predators to Balsillie. For two years, Leipold had kept his feelings about the Canadian billionaire largely to himself. Now, he is ready to be first in line to tar and feather Balsillie. Leipold isn't alone. This is not Gary Bettman conspiring to keep the NHL out of Canada. Balsillie made himself an NHL pariah.
In the end, Judge Baum had no choice. He gave Balsillie every opportunity to make peace with the league. Instead he continued to antagonize the owners who he needed on his side to purchase a team. The Judge understood that it would be too disruptive to force Balsillie on the league. After all, this was not just a bankrupt company looking for a white knight. This was a sports franchise that is part of a network of 30 franchises that must cooperate with each other