Thursday, December 31, 2009

What could be clearer than this sign?



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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My top 10 players of the decade

10. Scott Niedermayer





9. Chris Pronger





8. Joe Sakic





7. Jose Theodore





6. Jaromir Jagr





5. Pavel Datsyuk





4. Martin Brodeur





3. Sidney Crosby





2. Niklas Lidstrom





1. Alex Ovechkin



Sunday, December 27, 2009

Will return on January 3rd

Same old story for the Maple Leafs

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

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

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

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


SHOTS

OPPONENT

OUTCOME

61

Islanders

OT Loss

49

Montreal

OT Loss

46

Montreal

OT Loss

42

Buffalo

Loss

41

Tampa Bay

OT Loss

40

Washington

SO Loss

40

Calgary

Loss

39

Minnesota

Loss

39

Anaheim

Win

38

Buffalo

Loss


Friday, December 25, 2009

Time lapse video of Fenway rink

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

Matt Stajan is playing his way off the Leafs


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kulemin is beginning to show he belongs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Roloson makes more incredible saves

What to do with John Mitchell?


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



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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Vesa Toskala continues his string of bad goals

Friday night against Buffalo...




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

Protesting the MLSE ripoff

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

37 SHOTS!!

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


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

NHL Power Ranking: Leafs finally move up

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Check this goal out

Parity has definitely arrived at the NHL


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

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

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

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

In defense of Don Cherry


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

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

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

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

We stunk the joint out

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Storm leave Twisters in knots

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

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

Storm at the half way point

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gabby comes through again

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The record they thought that would never be broken


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

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

Monday, December 07, 2009

Priciest goal scorers in the NHL

Player

Team

Goals

$/Goal

Chris Drury

NYR

2

$1,342,000

Scott Gomez

MTL

3

$889,000

Jason Spezza

OTT

3

$889,000

Simon Gagne

PHL

1

$750,000

Martin Havlat

MIN

2

$667,000

Rod Brind’Amour

CAR

2

$600,000

Vincent Lecavalier

TAM

6

$588,000

Nik Antropov

ATL

2

$583,000

Daniel Sedin

VAN

2

$554,000

Andrei Kostitsyn

MTL

2

$541,000

Eric Staal

CAR

3

$500,000

Top 10 General Managers in the NHL


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

10. Darcy Regier

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

9. Jay Feaster

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

8. George McPhee

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

7. Pierre Lacroix

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

6. Ray Shero

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

5. Doug Wilson

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

4. Jim Rutherford

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

3. Brian Burke

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

2. Lou Lamoriello

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

1. Ken Holland

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

Storm battle hard but come up short in Barrie

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

Saturday, December 05, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 04, 2009

Storm comes back to tie Lightning

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Jonas Gustavsson tour bus has left the Bell Centre


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