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It’s only temporary: Rooting for the Vancouver Canucks

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It’s true: I’m rooting for the Vancouver Canucks. Have been since day one of the playoffs. It’s got nothing to do with geography, and nothing to do with the fact they’re a Canadian team. By my count, there are only five Canadian hockey teams: the Toronto Maple Leafs, Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets. The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators aren’t from Canada; they’re from hell. And, for what it’s worth, I’ve got no problems rooting for an American team. I did in 1994, when the New York Rangers won the Cup. After the Leafs were eliminated by the Canucks, of course. I cheered on the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, and the Anaheim Ducks, lord knows, in 2007.

On Twitter, I mostly follow Leafs fans. And a handful of Boston Bruins fans. They all, with intense passion, hate the Canucks. Everyone – from Krys Barch to Dave Bolland, who very creatively called them “sort of like a girl,” – hates Vancouver. And I’ll be honest: it’s that very hatred that makes it easier for me to root for Vancouver. It’s the contrarian in me. And, hey, I’ve got nothing against the west coast. I’ve visited Vancouver a couple of times, and love the city. The mountains: so pretty! The people I’ve met from Vancouver have been all class, and I’ve often toyed not-so-seriously with the notion of one day moving out there. I know, they hate Toronto. Who cares. Who doesn’t hate Toronto?

As for the Canucks, I actually do enjoy them. They’re my backup. Have been for years. The Sedins have a lot do with that. I love those two creepy bastards. I fell for the Swedish twins a long time ago, and still wonder what might have been had they become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2009. While my flirtation with the Canucks was certainly aided and abetted by Mats Sundin’s short fling with Vancouver, dominant Swedish players really do it for me. That’s just the way it is.

There’s also Ryan Kesler. I remember, years ago, when the Philadelphia Flyers signed him to an offer sheet, thinking, “The Flyers are out of their goddamned minds; Kesler can’t play goal.” Turns out, the Flyers were right. Kesler’s turned into a dominant player: a 40-goal scorer who can play, and play well, in any situation. Also: I wasn’t around last February, when Kesler pissed off our entire country as a member of Team USA, so he’s never actually given me, personally, a reason to hate him. The way I feel about Kesler is much like how I feel about one Pernell Karl Subban: I wish he was on my team.

I also happen to be a Roberto Luongo apologist. It’s the goalie in me. Even though I think it’s ridiculous that a goalie with a career .919 SV% in the regular season and the playoffs has apologists. All those years in Florida, making all those saves, while never getting a sniff of the postseason, endeared him to me. Finally, when he became a Canuck, and made the dance, his legacy was destroyed by the Chicago Blackhawks. Pulled in a pivotal game six match-up just a month ago, Luongo, the same goalie who came on in relief to get Canada to the World Cup final in 2004, and who backstopped Canada to Olympic Gold in 2010, in overtime, no less, apparently doesn’t have the mental fortitude to win hockey’s biggest prize. Right. Luongo’s endured. That’s what I love about him. He’s dealt with all the criticism and is now only two wins shy of winning the Stanley Cup. Luongo’s the goaltending equivalent of Mike Modano: no respect, until he wins it all. And perhaps that’s the way it should be.

Finally: Manny Malhotra. He’s of Indian descent. I’m of Indian descent. And there really isn’t much more to it than that. He’s representing for more than a billion of us, and that’s why he’s one of my favourite players in the game. I still can’t believe the centre-starved Maple Leafs threw $9-million over three years at Colby Armstrong, while Malhotra signed for three years and $7.5 million. An extra million and a half bucks for truculence, I suppose. Anyway, there’s nothing I want more than for “Malhotra,” as Indian a surname as you’ll find, to be etched on the Stanley Cup for all eternity.

This brings me to the second half of this post: Why your reasons for hating the Canucks are, well, a touch insane.

Look, if Jim Hughson’s a homer, what in the hell does that make Joe Bowen? I don’t care that Bowen wouldn’t be calling nationally televised Stanley Cup finals games on CBC, should the Leafs ever make it that far, which, let’s be honest, they probably won’t. That’s not the point. The point is: Hughson’s a B.C. boy, has been an award-winning hockey sportscaster for as long as I’ve been alive, and is about to watch the team he’s covered for the majority of his career perhaps win a Stanley Cup. You’d be yelling “Great. Save. Luongo!” at the top of your bloody lungs, too. Get over it.

Vancouver Canucks fans: they’re annoying. I get it. Really annoying; the worst. But they’re not the first and only team with “douchebag fans,” and “bandwagon fans,” and they won’t be the last. You know who was annoying last year? Montreal Canadiens fans. And they didn’t even reach the finals. Do you remember Ottawa Senators fans in the spring of 2007? Of course you do. Bottom line: no one, and I mean no one, will be more annoying than Leafs fans should Toronto ever make the Stanley Cup finals playoffs. Parades all day, every day. Let them have theirs. We’ll certainly have ours.

That’s not to say that Canucks fans, and the Canucks themselves, haven’t brought the hate upon themselves. When Raffi Torres is out there headhunting Brent Seabrook, when Aaron Rome makes the dumbest decision of his hockey life in drilling Nathan Horton, and when Vancouver employs the likes of Max Lapierre, yes, I can see where the hatred stems from. But the narrative that the Canucks are the dirtiest team to ever grace the ice, and the only team to ever dive, whine, and, well, bite, is wrong. Period. I certainly understand that part of being a fan of any team, in any sport, is being a hypocrite. I’m the same Maple Leafs fan that cheered and adored Tie Domi, Darcy Tucker, Dave Manson, and, yes, even Bryan Marchment, when they wore the blue and white. Every team’s got ‘em. It just so happens that it’s all good when they’re wearing the sweater you’ve chosen as your favourite.

Both teams have long-suffering fan bases. At least one’s drought will end. And I’m all for long droughts ending.

Image credit: Geoff Penn Photography

Written by Navin Vaswani

June 8th, 2011 at 7:09 pm

March Sadness

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I won’t lie: I’m a NCAA hater. Basketball and football. I’ve never quite understood the incredible popularity of American college sports in Canada. Especially in Canada. Which means that every March, I abstain from the Madness. No bracket. I think I filled one out, years ago, and, in my hating, predicted zero upsets. I had all four number one seeds meeting in the Final Four. I hate fun.

A few days ago, during the second round of games, a friend of mine asked me why the hell everyone on Twitter was talking about brackets. More specifically: broken brackets. So I gave her the March Madness primer and, after detailing the tournament’s minutiae, I said: “On the surface, this tournament sounds amazing.” So, why, all these years, haven’t I been filling out a bracket? After much deep introspection, I haven’t come up with a good answer. Haters, as the saying so famously goes, gonna hate.

I’ve never found the basketball all that appealing. Yes, the intensity’s unmatched, but the quality, at least to a casual ball fan like myself, hasn’t stood out. The games are either a blowout, or 35 minutes of rampant chucking, followed by, if you’re lucky, five minutes of, well, madness. And, in between those final five glorious minutes, timeouts. A maddening, pun definitely intended, number of timeouts. During March Madness, no timeout is left behind.

At the end of the day, I love gambling losing money. And March Madness is every gambler’s dream. So: I’m in. I’m going to continue not giving a shit about this year’s tournament, while quietly supporting underdogs Richmond and Marquette, but next year, I’m letting the Madness, and fun, in. If President Obama’s all over the Madness, so too should I be. Sign me up. Come March 2012, I’m filling out a bracket. I might even fill out two brackets. Maybe even three. Madness, indeed. Or, because it is a one-and-done tournament: Madness!!!1

Image courtesy Neil Wadhwa.

Written by Navin Vaswani

March 21st, 2011 at 11:54 pm

NHL All-Star Game Mock Draft (Schmaft)

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The title’s pretty self-explanatory, no?

Team Lidstrom won the imaginary coin-toss. They’ll have the first overall selection.

Round 1

Team Lidstrom: Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Team Staal: I don’t care.

Rounds 2 through 17

I don’t care.

Round 18

Team Lidstrom: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators.

Team Staal: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens.

Even though, according to the rules, all goalies have to be chosen by the end of the 10th round, I’m hoping Lidstrom and Staal go off the board, and Price falls to last. Dead last.

For all this seasons NHL betting visit the home of online betting at betfair canada, visit the site for more information.

Image, of the number of people who actually enjoy the NHL’s All-Star weekend, courtesy of Ronnie Yip.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 27th, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Posted in Hockey

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A paean to Kaberle

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First and foremost: Happy new year. I hope the holidays treated you well, and sincerely wish that 2011 is the best year yet, for you and me. If you read anything, anything at all, I wrote in 2010, no matter the locale, thank you. I’m grateful. My only resolution is to write that much more in 2011, especially in this space.

Below is an ode to Tomas Kaberle, cross-posted from Pension Plan Puppets. There’s no better way to celebrate the beginning of a new year than to celebrate one of the greatest to ever play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Kaberle is love

On October 13, 1998, Tomas Kaberle, then a boy, only 20 years young, registered the first point of his NHL career. It was an assist, of course, on a Garry Valk goal. And it came on the power play, of course. Little did we know at the time, but the assist would be the first of many.

On December 20, 2010, to little fanfare, Kaberle, now 32 years old, tallied assist number 419 of his career. It also came on the power play, this time on a John Mitchell goal. I know what you’re thinking: What in holy hell was John Mitchell doing on the power play? But that’s not the point. (The point being: Fire Wilson.) Along with his 81 career goals, Kaberle’s 419th assist gave him 500 points.

Kaberle, an afterthought, drafted 204th overall in 1996, whose rosy cheeks came out of nowhere in 1998 to make Pat Quinn’s new-look Toronto Maple Leafs, had done it: 500 points. In the long and storied history of the franchise, only 10 players, and only one other defenceman, the legendary Borje Salming, have put up more points. Think about that for a minute or two. Ponder it. Have a coffee, stare out your window, and contemplate the fact.

For comparison’s sake, 22 Montreal Canadiens have registered 500 or more points. Kaberle’s milestone is no small feat. From Garry Valk to Mats Sundin, Sergei Berezin to Steve Thomas, Jonas Hoglund to Derek King, Tie Domi to Darcy Tucker, Alex Mogilny to Gary Roberts, Eric Lindros to Jason Allison, Nik Antropov to Alex Ponikarovsky, Phil Kessel to Kris Versteeg, and finally Mikhail Grabovski to John freakin’ Mitchell, Kaberle, like you and I, has been there through it all; has assisted on goals by each of those guys. In the end, no matter what you think of him, give it up, and show Kaberle some love.

A throwback

I’ve always held Kaberle in high regard; always had a soft spot for him. (Not where you think, sicko.) But I’ll be the first to admit that Tomas is not without his faults. He’s never been the physical defenceman so many want him to be. He’ll always be a touch too soft. Tomas, lord knows, will never shoot the puck enough. But it’s through those faults that I’ve come to appreciate Kaberle even more. Like you and I, he’s not perfect. He’s done the best he can with his abilities, and he’s done pretty well, wouldn’t you say?

Over the past two years, I’ve embraced advanced baseball statistics. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted at FanGraphs. Today, I’m a contributor at NotGraphs, FanGraphs’ alternative baseball blog. While I’ve waded into the sabermetric deep end, and mock with my fellow sabernerds those who still come at me with a baseball player’s OPS, I can readily admit that I know next to nothing about advanced NHL statistics. Corsi Ratings, Fenwick Numbers, Zone Starts, Quality of Competition, they’re all gibberish to me. I’m a journalist. Numbers, of any kind, prove difficult. I’m not sure I can be a two-sport sabermetric nerd, the blogging equivalent of Bo Jackson, or Deion Sanders.

I bring this up because, in a sense, it’s all worked out rather conveniently. I watch Kaberle night in and night out not worried about his Corsi rating, or his Fenwick score. I watch Kaberle as a sort of throwback defenceman. I sit back and appreciate what I’ve always appreciated about Tomas Kaberle: His innate ability to pass the puck; his skill in rushing the puck up ice, and, on the power play, taking the opponent’s blue line; his patience, the juking and jiving, along with the head-fakes. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed watching Kaberle for his tremendous abilities in the basics of this beautiful game of hockey that captivates us all.

Through the wire

In the final year of his contract, every game could be Kaberle’s last in Toronto. I don’t expect Tomas to be a life-long Maple Leaf. I think I’d only be setting myself up for disappointment if I did. But I believe Kaberle when he repeatedly says, as he did over the excruciating summer, that he wants to remain a Maple Leaf, and retire a Maple Leaf.

You see, Kaberle’s not so different from you and I. Like us, Kaberle has lived through both the good and bad times, the good and bad teams, in Toronto. And much like us, he wants to stick around. As we soldier on as Maple Leafs fans, so too does Kaberle as a Maple Leaf. Tomas isn’t interested in jumping ship. Why? Because, like you and I, Kaberle knows how good it can be around here. And I’ll never flog him for that.

I’ll understand if Brian Burke asks Kaberle to waive his no-trade clause. Considering the state of the union, it would be prudent for Burke to get a return on one of the team’s few tradable assets. I’ll also understand if Kaberle and the Maple Leafs go their separate ways on July 1. It’s a business. But I’ll be damned if I won’t celebrate one of the finest players to ever put on a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, and don’t ask you to as well.

A legacy

Have a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ record books. Littered throughout, you’ll find Tomas Kaberle’s name. Eighth in games played; fifth in assists; eleventh in points. Should Tomas remain a Maple Leaf in the years to come, Rick Vaive (537), Ted Kennedy (560), Bob Pulford (563), and Frank Mahovlich’s (597) point totals are all within sight. One more long-term contract and Tomas Kaberle could go down as the seventh-highest scoring Toronto Maple Leaf, ever. Not bad for a shy young man from Rakovnik, a small town in the western Czech Republic.

Through all my years as a fan, dating back to the early 90s when this unbelievable journey began, I own two Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys. One of them is Kaberle’s. Thanks, Tomas.

Image of a smiling Tomas Kaberle thanks to The Associated Press, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 3rd, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Never in doubt

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I’m a number of light beers into early Sunday morning. Viva White Vegas. So please pardon my lack of prose as I reflect on the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

  • First, and more foremost: Fuck Vancouver’s Green Men. Bodysuits and props? Every game? Shame on CBC for giving those two clowns camera time. They’re just as bad, if not worse, than baseball’s jackass fake umpires. Has fandom stooped so low?
  • The Grabovski, MacArthur, Kulemin line is Toronto’s best. Hands down. It’s the only line that’s remained together all season. So why weren’t the trio out there during the Leafs’ 5-on-3 power play in the first period? Ron?
  • Phil Kessel looked dangerous in the first 20 minutes. His ability to dangle takes my breath away. Every time. I have to remind myself time and time again that he’s only 23 years old. As his career progresses, it’s vital that Kessel gets the coaching necessary to make sure he’s a factor on the ice, as he was on Saturday, every night. On too many nights he’s not. But he’s only 23.
  • Roberto Luongo’s Oscar-worthy performances on the slightest bit of contact are disrespectful to anybody who’s ever played goal. The man’s 6-3, and weighs over 200 pounds. When will he ever show some self-respect?
  • Colby Armstrong’s grown on me, no doubt. But I still can’t figure out why the $9 million thrown Armstrong’s way wasn’t offered to Manny Malhotra, a centre who can kill penalties, win faceoffs, and put up decent numbers. It’s mistakes like Armstrong over Malhotra, obvious to the most casual observer, that make being a fan of this team so hard right now.
  • Jonas Gustavsson looks downright angry all the time. And with good reason. Thanks to J.S. Giguere’s injuries and poor play, Monster’s had every opportunity to be the man. But he’s only been average. Then again, when I think about it, I’d be pretty pissed off all the time if I was in goal for the Maple Leafs, too.
  • On a four-on-one rush in the first period, Armstrong chose to shoot the puck, coming down the right wing. He missed the net, and it resulted in a two-on-one rush the other way, for the Canucks. It was, in a nutshell, Toronto Maple Leafs hockey.
  • Vancouver had no true enforcer in their lineup Saturday night, so why did Colton Orr have to dress for Toronto? Why not Kadri instead of Orr, with Rosehill providing the sandpaper and, if necessary, the fisticuffs?
  • There’s no need for Kadri to be up in the press box, or for Aulie to be back in the minors. What was to be lost — a high draft pick — has already been lost. Let the goddamn kids play.
  • Fredrik Sjostrom is the hardest working man in hockey.
  • Shooting the puck over the glass is a delay of game penalty. But on the penalty kill, Alex Burrows can bury the puck into the boards, blatantly, for as long as he wants with no repercussions. That’s NHL logic for you.
  • Fuck Alex Burrows.
  • Some props to the Canucks; their passing on goal number two was nothing short of sublime. Kessler’s stick taps were a beauty, loud and long, making sure Jeff Tambellini dropped the puck. That shit works.
  • After two periods of play I thought: There’s no way Toronto wins this game. Absolutely none.
  • Until Mikhail Grabovski cut the Vancouver lead in half, and gave me hope. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: How could anyone not like Grabovski? He fought Jason Blake, man. He’s one of us. To his core.
  • Mike Komisarek returned to the lineup, played 10 and a half uninspiring minutes, comically missed the net on a slapshot, and took two dumb penalties. And he’s the guy who took Tomas Kaberle’s “A.” Drink.
  • With just under 10 minutes to go in the third period, down by one goal, Francois Beauchemin, in his own zone, cleared the puck right up the middle, to no one in particular. How will firing Ron Wilson stop insane decision making such as that?
  • Kaberle getting into it with Burrows after a whistle proved that nobody can stand Alex Burrows. All Kaberle knows is love.
  • Is it wrong that when Tim Brent accidentally shot the puck into the Toronto bench, I wanted it to find Ron Wilson’s face? It is wrong. I know. But I can’t help it.
  • I thought Luke Schenn played one of his worst games of the season Saturday night. I blame Komisarek.
  • With three and a half minutes left in the third period, Jeff Tambellini won a battle down low between himself and Beauchemin. It was another reminder that Beauchemin plays far too much, too often. He logged another 26 minutes Saturday night. Once again: I blame Komisarek. Wilson can’t send #8 out there, so he rides Beauchemin.
  • Komisarek is a disease.
  • Another night of being owned on the draw. Either recall Mike Zigomanis, or hire a fucking faceoffs coach. It’s embarrassing.

Let’s be honest: The Leafs never had a chance Saturday night. Toronto needed to win two out of three on their west coast road trip. They didn’t. Of course they didn’t.

And about those in-game “Leafs Suck!” chants from the Vancouver faithful: Haters gonna hate.

Image by Mathew Scott.

Written by Navin Vaswani

December 19th, 2010 at 2:24 am

Two wins in a row is a streak

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I wasn’t happy when Nazem Kadri was called up to the Maple Leafs. Too soon, I said. The Damien Cox in me thought: “There goes another prospect.” Only a week later, I’ve done a complete one-eighty, and am mighty pleased with the promotion. There’s no way he’s going back. It’s obvious to any observer that Kadri is a point-per-game NHL performer, and will be for the rest of his illustrious career.

Kadri’s got vision; kid can pass. Phil Kessel and — especially — Kris Versteeg would surely agree. And Kadri’s playing his game. He’s confident. He’s trying to dangle around defenceman in the offensive zone. I like it. I like his attitude. Mike Richards probably doesn’t, but, really, who cares what Mike Richards thinks?

Now, I’m no Ron Wilson fan. I’m a hater, actually, and, well, I hate. But credit where credit’s due. Wilson’s playing Kadri. He’s got him out there with Kessel, on the top line, averaging 19:21 a game. Wilson’s giving Kadri every opportunity to succeed. And wouldn’t it be nice for young Nazem, after three assists in his first three games, to score his first career NHL goal in Montreal Saturday night, against the Habs? Yes, that would be nice. I’d like that very much. It’d let Habs fans know what’s in store for, oh, I don’t know, the next 15-to-17 years.

We all know who else played exceptionally well for the Leafs Thursday night: Mikhail Grabovski, who’s on a tear, and who I so very badly want to see succeed here in Toronto, and Kris Versteeg. Isn’t it awfully nice of Versteeg to finally join us? I think so too. And, of course, Jonas Gustavsson, Toronto’s new number one goalie. I don’t think J.S. Giguere gets his job back when he returns. Frankly, I don’t think he deserves it. And I think  Giguere’s had it pretty easy in the media so far this season, especially considering how much he talked during The Great Losing Streak of 2010. I know, I know, the Leafs can’t score. But the bottom line is that Giguere’s .895 save percentage simply isn’t good enough.

The Giguere/Gustavsson situation parallels the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays; John Buck and J.P. Arencibia, Lyle Overbay and Adam Lind. It’s no secret that Giguere, making a ton of money this season, won’t be back in 2011/2012. He isn’t part of the plan, so he doesn’t need to play. Especially not the majority of games. Gustavsson has been by leaps and bounds the better goalie five-on-five so far this season, his .933 save percentage shining much brighter than Giguere’s .905. While J.S. does have the edge in save percentage on the penalty kill, .846 to .769, the majority of the game is played at even-strength. It’s a no-brainer. It’s time to see what The Monster is made of. WilsonCity just doesn’t have the same ring to it as CitoCity, does it?

As for the New Jersey Devils, for the first time since I can remember, I don’t recognize them.

Image, one I can definitely get used to, courtesy of Reuters via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 19th, 2010 at 3:31 am