Monday, November 30, 2009
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.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
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.
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, François 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Go Storm Go!
Friday, November 20, 2009
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.
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
4 Wins, 13 Loss es, 3Ties 11Pts
OK, maybe this will put a smile on your face:
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
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.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
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.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
After getting annoyed with the officials, he totally lost it and threw everything on the ice but the kitchen sink.
Last night the Maple Leafs did a tribute to the Leafs of the 1980s. They invited Wendel Clark and Russ Courtnall, 2/3 of the Hound Line for a pre-game ceremony and showed tons of videos from 1980 teams. Wisely, Gary Leeman must have decided to stay at home.
Any Leaf fan, even the most rabid ones knows that the 1980s was a disaster for the Leafs. There were very few highlights and way too many low-lights. What marketing genius came up with this one?
The Leafs didn't have a single winning season that decade and the best season was only 75 points. Four seasons they didn't make the playoffs and in 1984-85 they finished last oveall with only 48 points. They only advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs twice.
Owner Harold Ballard was the linchpin to this disastrous period. It began with the return of Punch Imlach as coach and GM. Imlach traded Lanny McDonald to undermine his friend Darryl Sittler's influence on the team. Sittler himself was gone two years later. The McDonald trade sent the Leafs into a downward spiral that took a decade to recover from.
Despite finishing near the bottom of the standing each season, they only had one successful high draft pick, Wendel Clark in 1985. There were a few highlights including Rick Vaive's 3 straight 50-goal seasons.
For the last 3 seasons in the 1980s the team didn't even have a captain. The coach and GM offices had to be fitted with revolving doors. GMs included Imlach, Gerry MacNamara, Gord Stellick, Floyd Smith. The list of failed coaches is even longer: Floyd Smith, Imlach, Joe Crozier, Mike Nykoluk, Dan Maloney, John Brophy, and George Armstrong.
There were some awful trades in the 1980s. Here are some of the worst:
Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville for Wilf Paiement and Pat Hickey
Darryl Sittler for Rich Costello and Peter Ihnacak
Russ Courtnall for John Kordic
Perhaps the darkest hours of the decade were revealed years later when it came out that boys were sexually abused at the Gardens. Fortunately Ballard died in 1990 which allowed the team to restore some respectability though not much more success.
So we lost to the Wildcats 5-1. We see who comes out on top at the end of the season.
GO STORM GO!
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Now even the officials are doing in the Leafs. During their 3-2 loss to Chicago on Friday night, there was one of those no-goal calls. Although you could see on replay the puck went into the net, the league officials ruled the replay to be inconclusive. A strange call since few replay calls ever are more conclusive than this one. Ron Wilson showed little emotion when another call went against the Leafs. The man is in serious need of anti-depressants. The call certainly had an impact on the game since the Leafs fell short by one goal.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Tomas Kaberle is in his 11th season with the Leafs and probably enjoying his best season ever. He is the team offensive engine with 20 points. Considering the Leafs have only scored 41 goals this season, he has gotten a point in just under 50% of the team's goals. The only players who has been as important to his offensively is Anze Koptar of the Kings who has gotten 30 points out of his team's 63 goals.
Kaberle leads all NHL players with 18 assists and is also leads all defensemen in scoring. He also quarterbacks the NHL's second best powerplay and is second in the league in powerplay points. He averages over 24 minutes in ice time per game. Kaberle is on pace to easily exceed his best single season in scoring (67 points in 2005-06). Just imagine how many goals the Leafs would have scored this season had they traded Kaberle last summer.
Kaberle has been an NHL all-star on four occasions. Isn't about time he got appointed captain? Not just based on tenure but he is one of the only true stars on the team. Those who think Luke Schenn should be the next Leaf captain are getting a little ahead of themselves. Schenn is 6th on the Leafs' depth chart for defensemen while Kaberle is 1st. Luke is years away from being captain material. In the meantime what about Tomas?
Thursday, November 12, 2009
His death brought about rule changes including mandatory helmets. But like every change in hockey, there are always unforeseen consequences. When players began using slapshots, goalies responded by wearing masks. Mandatory helmets allowed players to carry their sticks higher without the fear of whacking someone in the head. When leather elbow and shoulder pads were replaced by molded plastic, players switched from hip checks to full body checks because the person throwing the check was better protected. And when obstruction was eliminated, defenders slowed down speeder puck carriers by trying to catch them with their head down - or in some cases by blind-siding them.
So you get hits like the one by Michael Liambas of the Erie Otters landed on Ben Fanelli of the Kitchener Rangers. The hit landed Fanelli in the hospital and might have killed him. It also earned Liambas a season-long suspension that turned out to be more controversial than the actual hit.
This is not an isolated incident. Players have been knocked silly since the start of the season by some very dangerous hits. The NHL has reacted by announcing a review of blind-sided hits. But rest assure, not much will be done because most NHL people are concerned that you will alter the game too much if you come down too hard on hits to the head. The real problem is the culture the dominates the sport. There is little respect for opposing players today which contributes to reckless and dangerous plays. I'm not so sure that further rule changes will do much to bring about an attitude change in the NHL. The NHL doesn't need another Bill Masterton.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
For the fourth straight year, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the NHL's most valuable team, according to Forbes magazine's annual survey.
The Leafs are worth $470 million (U.S.), an increase of 5 per cent over last year. They easily are worth more than the next franchise, the New York Rangers at $416 million, up just 1 per cent. Yes just another example of how the rich get richer. No stimulus money needed at MLSE.
Chicago has the biggest rise in value, up 26 per cent, followed by Washington at 15 percent to $183 million. A sudden rise in the standing affects the bottom line (except if you own the Leafs).
The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins rank 11th at $222 million.
The average value of the 30 teams is $223 million, a slight increase over the $220 million of 2008.
Not surprisingly, the Phoenix Coyotes, with all their ownership issues, have the lowest worth, $138 million. And 14 teams – nearly half the league – went down in value, ranging from Colorado decreasing by 11 percent to Philadelphia falling 1 percent.Toronto has, by far, the most operating income, $78.9 million, Forbes reported. Second in operating income is Montreal at $31.3 million. Less than half the Leafs' income.
The Leafs are tops in revenues, too, at $168 million, followed by the Rangers at $139 million.
See the full list here.
Monday, November 09, 2009
The team badly needs a leader to step up and take charge. The players have to show more of a commitment to a team concept. Otherwise this could turn out to be a long long season.
Well there is always room for hope. Cause we play Leaside on Sunday!
Sunday, November 01, 2009
The media provided extensive coverage this weekend to the 50th anniversary of the date Jacques Plante got fed up with getting hit in the face. As result he revolutionized goaltending by putting on a goalie mask.
Plante was not the first to wear a mask. That distinction goes to Hall of Fame goalie Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons in 1930. He wore some contraption on his face that sort of looked like a mask after his nose was broken by a Howie Morenz shot.
Before the mask, goaltenders moved their bodies to get their feet in front of shots. After, it became far more common for them to drop to their knees, fan their legs to the posts and get their torsos in the way of pucks or to dive headlong into goalmouth scrambles to cover the puck. Those are movements that barefaced goalies did at great risk. I remember when I was young many goalies pinned down in their crease actually lifting their heads to block shots.
Fast forward to November 1, 1959 and Plante's face was sliced open on a backhand shot by Andy Bathgate. Goalies would just get stitched up and within 15 minutes be back in the net. But on that night Plante, who had been using a mask in practice, came back out with his mask. Montreal coach, Toe Blake, was adamant that he wouldn't allow his goalie to wear a mask in a game but that night he had no choice. Plante had refused to return to the game without it.
The rest is history.
The third period collapse was quite understandable considering the fact that we had not played a game in 2 weeks. The team looked rusty but hung in there for the first two periods. We also were out shot 14-11 which was the first time this season that we gave up more shots than we took.
Next game will be against Etobicoke in a week from now.