Sports And The City

It was 4-1.

Archive for February, 2011

Since you’re gone the moonlight ain’t so great

with 7 comments

You can also find what’s written below, my goodbye to Tomas Kaberle, at Pension Plan Puppets. Thanks for the platform, gents …

I wanted to wait a few days before writing the post I never wanted to write at all. In the meanwhile, a week has passed, the Leafs remain on fire, and, let’s be honest, there isn’t much left to be written about Tomas Kaberle that you haven’t already read. Hell, there wasn’t even any time to reflect on, or to mourn, Kabba’s departure. A few hours after the trade was announced, there was Tomas, in Ottawa, having ditched blue and white, the only colours he’d ever worn, for white, black and gold. Twenty-four hours later, the post-Kaberle era was underway in Toronto, with the Leafs and Ottawa Senators doing their best, through 65 agonizing minutes and a shootout, to slap hockey in its face.

“[Tomas Kaberle] did not want to leave. He asked for an extension several times.”

- Brian Burke

While I remain — first, foremost, and always — a supporter of the logo on the front of Toronto’s sweater, it’s impossible, over the years, to not become attached to certain names and numbers on the back of the jersey. Kaberle and his 15 were one of those names and numbers.

By now, you know how I feel about Kaberle. I wanted him to remain a Maple Leaf. More than that, I wanted him to retire a Maple Leaf. I believe he’s got years of elite hockey left in him. Another contract’s worth, at least. While Kaberle’s game is not without its obvious shortcomings, I thought he was the perfect mentor for Luke Schenn. I certainly didn’t find it a coincidence that Schenn was enjoying a rebound year while playing alongside Kaberle. And if there’s one area where Schenn drastically needs to improve, it’s with the puck. Who better than to mentor Schenn, the future captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, than Kaberle?

Don’t get me wrong: I found the return for Kaberle nothing short of astounding. Phil Kessel was traded for two high first-round picks, both potentially top-10 picks, and a second-round pick. In exchange for Kaberle, Brian Burke received a 2008 first-round pick, 16th overall, in Joe Colborne, a late to-be-determined first-round pick in 2011, and a conditional second-round pick. Two firsts, and potentially a second. It’s impossible to be unhappy with that haul. Not when it was known that Kaberle’s list of teams he’d waive his no-trade clause for was one team long. Not when Joe Colborne’s scored three goals in three games, plus one rather filthy marker in the shootout, for the Toronto Marlies.

Kaberle didn’t have to agree to leave. Frustrated by the fact Burke did nothing about his advances, Kaberle could have used his no-trade clause and stayed put. He didn’t. It became a meme on Twitter after the trade to Boston was announced, and remains just as important today: Thank you, Tomas.

Life goes on. Kaberle wears #12 now, and plays for the rival Boston Bruins. The Maple Leafs have officially embarked on their yearly quest for the promised land: Eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But in the days since the trade, since Burke announced that Kaberle wanted nothing more than to remain a Maple Leaf, I’m having a hard time buying in. Even as the Leafs slowly climb the standings. I understand why Kaberle had to go, why assets desperately needed to be recouped. But the fact Kaberle was never a Burke-type player, or a Ron Wilson-type player, while Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda are, just doesn’t sit well with me, even though I believe the Leafs, as a franchise, are headed in the right direction. I’m so confused.

I’m emotional, obviously. Kaberle was the last link to days gone by; to better days. To Maple Leaf Gardens. To the playoffs. To winning. To the end of my teenage years, and my youthful early 20s. When everything — even home-ice advantage in the first round, and division titles — was possible.

As ardent a Kaberle supporter as you’ll ever find, I found comfort in what was written, tweeted, and said about #15 in the aftermath of the trade. He was appreciated. His accomplishments, available for one and all to see in the Leafs’ record books, were applauded. Kaberle came out of nowhere to have a stellar Maple Leafs career. He goes down as one of the greatest offensive defenceman Toronto has ever seen.

The post-Mats Sundin years have done wonders for Sundin’s legacy. As the Maple Leafs continue to struggle to score goals, and struggle to find elite talent up front to play alongside Phil Kessel, more people are beginning to understand what a truly special and game-changing talent Sundin was.

I’m confident the same will happen with Kaberle, and the legacy he leaves behind. With time, more people will come to appreciate the way he was able to rush the puck up ice, and his ability to make that first pass. Kaberle’s vision, patience, and innate hockey sense were extraordinary, and will be very difficult to replace. While Toronto’s power play has struggled under Wilson (what hasn’t struggled under Wilson?), Kaberle was never what was wrong with it.

Tomas Kaberle was always going to leave. The writing had been on the wall for years. But that didn’t make saying goodbye any easier. Come playoff time, other than the Maple Leafs, I’ll be watching and rooting for the Boston Bruins. And until Kaberle signs a new contract with Boston, or another team on July 1, I’ll be hoping against hope that he returns. The door’s always open, until it’s closed.

Let nobody tell you otherwise: Kaberle’s a winner. He wanted to win in Toronto. Like you and I, Kaberle knows that winning the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs is as good as it can possibly get.

Image courtesy Per Englund. Life does indeed go on.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 25th, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Wallace for Gose redux

with 15 comments

In which I use my ESPN Insider subscription to mail in a post.

Noted Canada and Toronto Blue Jays hater Keith Law’s been dropping science on baseball’s best prospects for the past couple of weeks, including his organizational rankings (the Jays ranked fourth), and his top 100 list (which included seven youthful Blue Jays).

Tuesday he ranked his graduated prospects, guys “who barely exceeded the eligibility requirements for the Rookie of the Year award, making them ineligible for [Law's top 100] rankings as well.”

At the bottom of the list: Brett Wallace. Here’s Mr. Law:

The way Wallace’s rise to the majors has stalled out has been a hot topic among scouts this winter, since at the time he was drafted the debate was over whether he could play any position well enough to keep him off DH, not whether he’d hit. But the new consensus is that Wallace can’t cover the inner half because he doesn’t fully rotate his back side through his swing, ceding the inside part of the plate to the pitcher, and that it’s not fixable. If anyone can help him, it’s new hitting coach Mike Barnett, who was hitting coach in Toronto while I was in the front office … but the industry has officially jumped off the Wallace bandwagon.

“Not fixable” are the words that stand out. Especially considering Wallace is only 24 years old. And “back side,” too. Because young Wallace has what looks to be quite the hefty one.

Wallace’s 2011 projections, especially RotoChamp’s, are far from flattering. According to Law, Wallace missed the cut for the top 100 list by only 14 at-bats, but had he qualified, he wouldn’t have made the list at all. Wallace has fallen far, and fast, and while Anthony Gose didn’t make Law’s top 100 list either, perhaps the trade won’t be as one-sided as everyone feared when it went down.

I’m going to go ahead and chalk another one up for Alex Anthopoulos. Why not.

More Insider Goodness

I didn’t know this until I became an Insider at the Worldwide Leader, but Buster Olney ends every one of his columns with: “And today will be better than yesterday.” Dude is positivity, personified.

Olney’s been sharing pitching data with us, his loyal, paying customers, so I figure I’ll pass the buck around, as it relates to the Blue Jays. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Sharing is caring.

Scott Downs made the cut for “highest rate of success with two- and four-seam fastballs.” He ranked 10th in the American League, with a line of .242/.302/.352/.654. Downs never had overpowering stuff. He was a pitcher, in every sense of the word. I will miss him tremendously.

Ricky Romero’s curveball was one of the best in the business, “among the AL pitchers who threw 200+ curves.” Here’s the slash line: .133/.170/.195/.365.

Still on Ricky: his breaking ball has a release speed of 76 MPH, which is league average, and a spin rate of 2,493 RPM, also league average (2,300-2,500 RPM), and an average tilt (clock face) of 5:00.  The higher the spin rate, the better, of course. For comparison’s sake, Downs’ breaking ball was clocked at 75 MPH, with one of the better spin rates, 2,773 RPM, and an average tilt of 4:15. God, I’m going to miss that breaking ball.

Finally, from Olney, tracking extension on fastballs; “pitchers who release closest to the plate, or those who get the most mound extension.” All this data, by the way, comes to Olney via TrackMan, who’ve got 3D Doppler radar systems up and running in a few major and minor league parks, and David Purcey and Brandon Morrow made the list, in this case.

Purcey:

Extension from mound: 6’8″

Release speed: 93 MPH

Spin rate: 2,230 RPM

Time of flight: .404 seconds

Effective velocity: 95 MPH

Morrow:

Extension from mound: 6’6″

Release speed: 95 MPH

Spin rate: 2,289 RPM

Time of flight: .398 seconds

Effective velocity: 96 MPH

Do with that information what you will. All I know is that I’m excited to find out what role John Farrell has for David Purcey; I can’t wait to watch Brandon Morrow pitch, period; and Ricky Romero’s your Opening Day starter.

Image courtesy Scott Pommier.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 8th, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Family feud

with 6 comments

I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.

- Pedro Martinez

Everyone’s got a daddy. Ryan Miller is Toronto’s. Twenty-four wins, and a .931 save percentage, in 32 career games against the Maple Leafs; a formality when the two teams hook up. Looking at Miller’s splits, his track record against the Northeast Division is stellar:

VS Boston: 19-5-7, .914 SV%

VS Montreal: 18-8-5, .919 SV%

VS Ottawa: 12-15-2, .914 SV%

Go figure, the Senators are the only team Miller loses to with any regularity.

Enough about Miller, though. In the aftermath of another Leafs beating at the hands of the Sabres, it’s not all bad news. Phil Kessel and Ron Wilson are feuding, with Kessel being demoted to a new line in practice, leading to #81′s now infamous quip: “Me and Ron don’t really talk — that’s all I got to say about that.”

Dysfunction! It’s entertaining. Wilson vs. Kessel is fantastic, because it’s a battle Wilson cannot, under any circumstances, win. Brian Burke and Ron Wilson may be BFFs, but Burke’s got only one horse in that race.

Also, a query: What the hell does a demotion from a line with Tyler Bozak and Joey Crabb look like? Ah, Darryl Boyce in the middle, instead of Bozak. Right. And here I was all excited that the Crabb and Kessel experiment was over, after Wilson finally moved Crabb off the line Saturday night in the second period.

Kessel’s right; it’s not working out. Crabb’s played 20 games with the Leafs, the majority of them on a line with Kessel, and hasn’t scored a goal. Kessel is goalless since January 11th, when the Leafs were on the west coast road trip of our dreams. I know Kris Versteeg’s found some chemistry on a line with Colby Armsrong, but when the Leafs are so thin up front, trying to spread the offence over three lines isn’t an option. What happened to the top six, bottom six mantra? Versteeg on the left wing, Kessel on the right, and Bozak in the middle. If that’s not an option, and Wilson wants to keep Versteeg and Armstrong together, I’d rather see Nazem Kadri playing on the wing instead of Crabb. And at what point does the Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur line have to be split up in order to get Kessel going? That -22 is murdering the hopes and dreams of kids across the land, and my fantasy team.

It came as no surprise that the Maple Leafs followed up their best effort of the season Saturday night with one of their worst. It was a game full of poor decision making, fanned shots and passes, and a ton of turnovers. A humble reminder that we are Leafs fans, and that, no, we can’t have nice things.

James Reimer’s candidacy to lead our great nation is on hold. Until he wins his next game. But it really doesn’t matter who’s in net when: a) Luke Schenn and Armstrong choose to go up the middle in their own zone; and b) the Leafs can’t kill penalties.

I don’t know about you, but the past five years have made everything seem daunting. An 82-83% penalty kill rate? Only in my dreams.

Penalty Killing:

2005/2006: 80%

2006/2007: 78.5%

2007/2008: 78%

2008/2009: 74.7%

2009/2010: 74.7%

2010/2011: 76.9%

The standings are that much more disheartening. Five games above .500? An impossible mountain to climb.

Send help.

Image courtesy Mike Bayne.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 7th, 2011 at 11:55 am

First world problems

with 7 comments

As the remarkable unfolds in Egypt, with incredible journalism coming daily from the streets of Cairo, we’re reminded, once more, that sports are nothing. They’re absolutely, completely and utterly meaningless. Nothing but a diversion.

While Egyptians throw rocks, finally demanding some of what we consider to be the most basic of human rights, I’m mostly worried about Jonas Gustavsson’s mental health, now that he’s been sent to the AHL. How’s Jonas doing?

The Ack breaks it down quite reasonably: Yeah, baseball’s only a game, but when you’ve got no real grievances to air, it’s a pretty big deal that pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in less than two weeks. Who’ll be the closer? Which of the kids — Gose, Lawrie, Thames, d’Arnaud, or Stewart — will shine? What will John Farrell’s lineups look like? Can Jose Bautista do it again?

Friday night, I wasn’t out on the streets demanding the end of authoritarian rule. I just wanted the Raptors to end their 13-game losing streak. And they did. DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson — The Young Gunz — shot a combined 70% from the floor, on 26-for-37 shooting. Jose Calderon dropped 19 dimes, tying his own club record. For all the garbage Calderon’s been through as a Raptor, he’s always left it all on the floor. Pure class.

I might have all the democracy I can get my hands on, but that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine. Andrea Bargnani’s taller than Minnesota’s Kevin Love. I Googled it. Proof that rebounding isn’t all height. I wish Bargnani had more Love in him, obviously.

Bottom line: The streak’s over. Until the next one begins. Time to focus on what’s next, on what matters: Can James Reimer beat the Buffalo Sabres? In Buffalo? It’s not the long-term future of my country I’m worried about; only the instability — years! — between the pipes for the Maple Leafs.

Life is crazy.

Image courtesy Getty’s Peter Macdiarmid, via Foreign Policy.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 5th, 2011 at 3:42 am

Posted in Reflection

Tagged with

Tim Brent: Storm Chaser

with 5 comments

There’s a theory in and outside of Toronto that we, Maple Leafs fans, are most enamored with the blue-collar guys. The Wendel Clarks, Tie Domis and Darcy Tuckers of the world. I’m not here to argue that hypothesis. I loved those guys. But that theory holds true across the board. Who wouldn’t love a guy like Tim Brent, and put him on a pedestal, after what he did Thursday night?

It takes a certain type of individual to haul himself in front of slapshots. Repeatedly. His team down two men halfway through the game, and only leading by one goal, Brent put on a display that would have made Mike Brown proud. Three blocks. One without a stick. Visible agony. And, finally, a diving play to clear the zone. What the fuck’s not to love?

I like to think I’ll remember Brent for his Mats Sundin-like backhand goal, and faked shot-then-snipe on Cam Ward last week. But I won’t. I’ll remember Brent for his one minute shift on the penalty kill, and his self awareness. Brent’s a grinder. And he knows it. A guy who, before the 2010/2011 season, last scored an NHL goal in 2007, when he was an Anaheim Duck, getting his first taste of the show. Blocking shots and winning faceoffs are what will keep him in the league. Tim Brent knows his role, and that might be the biggest compliment I can give him.

Shutout

For the first time in 362 days, the Maple Leafs kept the opposition off the scoresheet. Really, it shouldn’t have taken this long.

I don’t remember the first four games — wins — of the season; the contests inbetween have led me to drink far too much since then. But I’m quite certain Thursday night’s whitewash of the Carolina Hurricanes was the best the Maple Leafs have played all season. It’s amazing what happens when the defence doesn’t blatantly turn the puck over. And dare I say it: Mike Komisarek has played the part of useful, NHL defenceman over the past two games.

I’m glad, though, that the perfect effort came against Paul Maurice. He deserved it. And I was glad to see Jay Rosehill avenge the honour of Nikolai Kulemin, and fight Tim Gleason. Rosehill’s efforts, by the way, prove that, at $1,000,000 a season, Colton Orr is, on top of being almost completely useless, overpaid.

And: James Reimer. “Optimus Reim.” He’s got a .940 save percentage. In only one game, a 5-1 loss to Phoenix, has it been lower than .932. At even strength, it’s .944. On the penalty kill: .920. And in Toronto’s crease, nine games is a huge, a massive, a larger-than-life sample size. Reimer’s the guy moving forward. Overachieving, obviously, but poised and positionally sound beyond his years.

I want to say that, about Reimer, I won’t get my hopes up. But it’s too bloody late for that. A goalie! One hasn’t been seen around these parts in years. And much respect to J.S. Giguere. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been hard on the guy; it’s nothing personal, I just hate him. As a goalie. But, by all accounts, he’s been great in the room with Reimer, teaching and supporting the future between the pipes.

What? Who the fuck is Jonas Gustavsson?

As of Friday, the Leafs are 10 points out with three games in hand. It’s that time of year. I say it every fucking season, and, in the end, crazier things never happen. But: Crazier things have happened.

One more thing: Jiri Tlusty. First round, 13th overall, in 2006. Draft schmaft.

Image courtesy Reuters, via the fine folks at daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 4th, 2011 at 4:59 am

Starting the year off right

with 10 comments

The Raptors won two games in January. Better than I remembered, actually. I thought they only beat the lowly Cavaliers, back on January 5th. But there was that magical Sunday afternoon, January 9th, when DeMar DeRozan scored 28, and Andrea Bargnani 30, against the Sacramento Kings, when the Raptors last tasted victory. They may never win again.

Twelve straight losses. At what point, exactly, does Bryan Colangelo fire Jay Triano? Is there a magic number? Say, a 15-game losing streak? Twenty, a nice and nasty round number? I wonder. And at what point does Colangelo himself get fired? I can’t imagine the suits at MLSE are looking to the Raptors’ final 33 games to make a decision regarding their lame duck GM. Bottom line: Do something. Shine the Wayne Embry signal into the Toronto night sky, if you must. Anything.

All that being said, I’ve grown rather fond of Triano. At the very least, he at least acts like he gives a damn, and that’s more than you can say for his players some nights. Surprising to absolutely no one, it was Triano who was most upset at Indiana’s Darren Collison for jacking a three with a second left on the clock in an already decided game Monday night. If I had to choose one of Triano and Colangelo moving forward, I might just pick Triano.

Let’s say for a minute, though, that Colangelo does get re-signed. Does he get a raise? How the hell do you spin that on the paying public? So many questions!

Earlier today, The Score’s Scott Carefoot tweeted a link to a rather depressing Sports Illustrated article, “On Andrea Bargnani and the East’s other pathetic team,” by Zach Lowe. That “other pathetic team” would be the Raptors, hence the whole depressive vibe of the piece. But at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A couple of lights, actually: Ed Davis’ strong play, and the team’s 2011 first-round pick in tow. And, yes, it does feel fantastic to be able to write that.

Finally, on Bargnani: Since he began averaging more than 30 minutes on the floor per month, dating back to January 2009, Il Mago’s never had a poorer shooting month from the floor — 40.9% — and from beyond the arc — 27.9% — than January 2011. If that performance isn’t the definition of bad timing, I’m not sure what is.

Here’s to the next 11 months. Cheers.

Addendum:

Great column here by the National Post’s Bruce Arthur. Losing is okay. Losing is better than okay; it’s good. Losing is productive. And that bodes well, because lord knows we’re used to it around here.

I hate to say use the following, I really do, but: The Raptors are who we thought they were. Perhaps there won’t be any changes. Perhaps Triano and Colangelo will both be around next year, and maybe even the next year after that. Why not?

More good news: DeMar DeRozan’s off to the Rookie Challenge. And that’s exciting. I’m excited. I think. Yes, I am.

Image courtesy Andrew Stark.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 1st, 2011 at 4:24 pm