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

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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

Family feud

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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

Tim Brent: Storm Chaser

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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

Bizarro world

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I’m still reeling over what happened Tuesday night out in Silicon Valley. The turn of events that led to the Maple Leafs defeating the Sharks were unprecedented. As George Costanza would put it: There was no precedent, baby!

Think about it. First and foremost: James Reimer. James motherfucking Reimer. The keeper who’s come out of nowhere and swept a hockey-mad city, one that wants nothing more than replacement-level goaltending, off its feet. Through two periods, Reimer had stopped 33 of 34 shots, including all 21 he faced in the second period. With Toronto trailing 1-0, Reimer was doing what goalie after goalie after goalie had failed to do so for the Maple Leafs since the goddamn lockout ended years ago: keep his team in the game.

In the second period, the Maple Leafs killed five San Jose power plays, including a short two-man advantage, and one four-on-three advantage. Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, coached by Ron Wilson and, among others, Keith Acton. Five power plays. In one period. In one game. I celebrated with drink. Reimer, of course, was a big part of the effort. And one of the penalties, the final one to Francois Beauchemin, was complete bullshit, a retaliation call after he was dangerously tripped by Devin Setoguchi in a race to the puck.

When trailing after two periods, Toronto’s record was 1-17-2. But they came out in the third period with a purpose. You know, to win. To not waste the solid effort from their rookie between the pipes. And it was Phil Kessel, of course, who tied the game at ones. His goal, number 19 on the season, good enough for eighth in the NHL, was a dazzling display of skill and patience, as if to justify Kessel’s selection for the all-star game.

Four minutes later, Toronto’s power play struck. Clarke MacArthur’s backhand found the net, after a beautiful pass from — who else? — Tomas Kaberle. And that power play, which couldn’t buy a goal early in the season, is now top-10 in the league, rolling at 18.9%. Ben Eager’s thank you card is in the mail.

A minute later, San Jose tied the game. Typical. Surely the Leafs, in the second of back-to-back games, would fold. But they didn’t. Cue more bizzaro happenings.

Like defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, for some reason skating by the front of the San Jose net, deflecting a Dion Phaneuf shot from the point past Antti Niemi. It was only the eighth goal scored by a Maple Leafs defenceman all year, and would eventually be only the second game-winning goal courtesy the back end. The point is: Maple Leafs defencemen don’t score. Especially not on the road in a 2-2 game in the third period.

Could the Leafs hold on? Again? Just as they did the night before in Los Angeles? If there was any doubt, Dion Phaneuf erased it by almost ending the life of Dany Heatley as he skated into the Toronto zone. Phaneuf clocked him. It was the finest hit I’d seen Dion throw as a Maple Leaf. The bodycheck I’d been waiting for.

Reimer shut the door, of course. Just like he did in Los Angeles. He stopped seven of eight shots in the third period. The Leafs won important faceoffs in their own zone, and iced the game thanks to another MacArthur goal, this time into an empty net, which, let’s be honest, is just as intimidating as Niemi. Four wins in a row. Five straight victories on the road. Likely the apex of 2010/2011 Toronto Maple Leafs fandom.

In the end, Ron Wilson had victory number 600 in his back pocket, becoming only the seventh coach in history to reach the milestone. And it came against his former team. I won’t lie: Based on Wilson’s time in Toronto, I was still in disbelief he’d won 599 games before Tuesday night. But it’s not too late for Wilson. Should the Leafs turn it around, Ron may get his own statue yet. (Looking smug, of course.)

The power play’s working. There’s a guy in the crease playing as big as his six-foot-two frame. Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail “Mickey Grabs” Grabovski, Kris Versteeg, Kessel and MacArthur are all on pace to have career offensive seasons. Luke Schenn has found his game. Kaberle is reborn. The penalty kill, the useless goddamn penalty kill, hasn’t allowed a goal on the road trip. It’s 10-for-10. It’s creeping towards an 80% success rate, and respectability. Believe it or not, after the bizarro Leafs assured themselves of a winning road trip (!) Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps Wilson hasn’t been given enough credit.

While I’m doubtful Toronto Maple Leafs hockey can get much better than it was on Tuesday, all I ask is that there be no return to regularly scheduled programming. Fuck losing. And poor goaltending. They’re both bloody exhausting.

Image of a beaming Clarke MacArthur courtesy of Reuters via daylife.

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

A humble request

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First things first: Maple Leafs fans in Edmonton set the bar pretty high Tuesday night, during round two of the Rebuilding Bowl, now tied at one apiece. I hope Leafs fans in Calgary and Vancouver are up to the task.

Secondly: I found Brian Burke’s comments Tuesday afternoon, assessing Toronto’s and Edmonton’s competing rebuilding philosophies, rather poignant. Usually when Burke talks to the media — when he’s either defending the Phil Kessel trade, or telling paying customers they’re “disgraceful” for booing Dion Phaneuf, or claiming Leafs fans aren’t upset about the state of the union – I want to punch myself in the face.  But on Tuesday he actually made some sense.

For all the Oilers’ drafted talent, it’s Burke’s Leafs who are the youngest team in the NHL. The two teams are truly going about their respective rebuilds in a different manner, and no winner can yet be declared. After 30 games this season, the Leafs have 28 points, and Edmonton’s got 27. After 82 games in 2009/2010, Toronto finished with 74 points, and Edmonton with 62. While they are talented players, Edmonton’s first round picks from the past four years — Sam Gagner in 2007, Jordan Eberle in 2008, Magnus Paajarvi in 2009, and Taylor Hall in 2010 — aren’t exactly helping Edmonton climb the ladder. Not yet, at least. The Oilers remain a last place team.

Would I rather Burke have gone the Oilers’ route? Yes. Absolutely. But he didn’t. I’m sick of rehashing the Kessel deal. I’m sick of reading others reevaluate the Kessel deal. It’s done. The draft picks are never coming back. I always said I wanted a rebuild. It’s certainly not by the book, but it is a rebuild. And there’s no guarantee it won’t work out just as well, or as poorly, as the Oilers’ rebuild.

Both teams have bad contracts: Shawn Horcoff and Nikolai Khabibulin in Edmonton, and Mike Komisarek, Brett Lebda and, arguably, Colby Armstrong  in Toronto. I’d argue Toronto, with Jonas Gustavsson and Jussi Rynnas, have more depth in goal than the Oilers. I also hope and pray that all the kids Edmonton drafted in 2007 through 2010 turn out to be the reincarnation of their teammate Andrew Cogliano. Or at least that Nazem Kadri’s better than all of them.

Ironically enough, both teams, with 52 games left on this season’s schedule, find themselves eight points out of a playoff spot. And that brings me to my next point, and, eventually, the point — my humble request — of this bloody post. On Monday afternoon, the incorrigible Steve Simmons wrote:

The conclusion to [the Leafs' recent strong play combined with their inability to climb the Eastern Conference standings] is two-fold: One, the Leafs are playing better. Two, they have no chance, absolutely none, of making the playoffs.

Absolutely none? With 50 games left to play? I refuse to believe it. Crazier things have happened. Like, I don’t know, the 1992/1993 season, when after 30 games, the Leafs had the identical record they do today: 12-14-4.

It’s not impossible, but it won’t be easy. Nothing comes easy in Toronto. But I won’t stop believing, because of all the Leafs on the current roster, including heartthrob Luke Schenn, there’s nothing I want more than to see Mikhail Grabovski suit up for the Leafs in the playoffs. Preferably against the Montreal Canadiens. Grabbo’s success — he’s on pace for a career year — is that much sweeter because he’s a Habs castoff. And props to Francois Beauchemin for stepping up for #84 after he was Stortini’d. Love.

Okay, we’ve finally made it. My request: When the Maple Leafs make the playoffs, the night they clinch a spot during the regular season, I ask that they be allowed to celebrate baseball style; I humbly request champagne. Because 2004 was a long, long, long time ago. Because life’s too short to not celebrate (appropriately) small victories.

Image courtesy this isn’t happiness.

The week that was

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We have officially begun week 50 of 52. It’s about the time of year when I curse my immigrant parents for choosing Toronto and not, say, San Diego, and when I try to remember where another 12 months have gone. Time flies when none of Toronto’s pro sports teams make the playoffs.

Goodbye

Scott Downs joined the Toronto Blue Jays almost six years ago to the day as an afterthought. He became so much more than that. Today, he’s an Angel. And he will be sorely missed. Oh, Snakeface. Where do I even begin?

Signed to a minor league contract by J.P. Ricciardi in December 2004, Downs did it all for the Blue Jays. He came out of the bullpen. He mopped up. He made spot starts. He even closed. Through it all, and to very little fanfare, he became one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Left-handed or right, it didn’t matter to Downs. He made outs, while seldom walking a batter.

What I enjoyed most about Downs was that he wasn’t a flamethrower. He was a pitcher. Fastball, curveball, slider, and a changeup. Nothing overpowering, yet always effective. That curveball; I’ll never forget it.

Over the years, Downs shared the bullpen with the likes of Miguel Bautista, Vinnie Chulk, Josh Towers, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet, Brandon League, B.J. Ryan, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, Josh Roenicke, Brian Wolfe, Jesse Carlson, Jason Frasor, and Kevin Gregg. Save for B.J. Ryan’s freakish 2006 season, I was never as calm as when Downs was on the mound. Above all else, Downs was reliable, and it’s that reliability I’ll miss most.

By signing with Los Angeles, Downs nets Toronto a supplemental draft pick, and the Angels’ second-rounder. That could change, though, and Parkes has you covered on the details. In the end, Los Angeles isn’t Boston or New York, and you’re damn right I take solace in that. Unless Jose Bautista has something to say about it, and, believe me, I hope he does, I’m quite certain Downs will go down in history as Ricciardi’s best acquisition as general manager of the Blue Jays.

Thanks, Scott Downs. Was a pleasure. Enjoy Orange County, and may you write the initials of your children in the pitcher’s mound’s dirt forever.

Winter Meetings

As much as Brett Lawrie wants to begin his Major League Baseball career, there’s no chance that’s happening in April 2011. Lawrie will start the season with the Las Vegas 51s, which means we’re probably in store for more colourful pictures of his time spent away from the ballpark. I can’t wait. Because Lawrie’s the first 20-year-old to have ever been photographed in a compromising situation. In all seriousness, it’s the right move, especially if he’s taking up a new position …

Chalk one up for sanity: Alex Anthopoulos won’t be trading Travis Snider and Kyle Drabek for Zack Greinke. Personally, I don’t believe Anthopoulos considered it. Not even for a second. If we learned anything last week, it’s that Dayton Moore, the man who targeted Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, should be getting Anthopoulos coffee, not putting together a Major League ball club …

I’m now more intrigued about the prospects of Magglio Ordonez in a Blue Jays uniform than Manny Ramirez.

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

I’ve watched the video countless times. If only Brett Favre was on the field, alone, at the time.

In the aftermath of the Metrodome’s collapse, I couldn’t help but wonder: Imagine Toronto was hit with the mother of all snow storms, and our very own SkyDome caved in on itself. Rogers would be forced to build a ballpark. And if they’re serious about buying MLSE, lord knows they can afford a new stadium. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, would spend a season playing in Montreal. Everybody wins.

Make it happen, Mother Nature. As much as I’m a Rogers Centre apologist, I wouldn’t mind some new digs, and this scenario is the only plausible one I can think of.

Saving Bryan Colangelo

On the evening of December 7th, based on Andrea Bargnani’s and the Toronto Raptors’ stats up until that point, here’s what C_R_Black at T.Jose Caldeford concluded:

In summation: Toronto’s offence is 3 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; Toronto’s defence is 12 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; and Toronto’s rebounding is 3 percent better when Bargnani’s on the bench. …

In another (final) summation:

1st point: Despite being the team’s focal point on offence, Bargnani is not a good passer.
2nd point: Despite being a 7-footer (and having a pretty soft touch inside), Bargnani remains a jump shooter.
3rd point: Toronto is better offensively with him on the bench.
4th point: Toronto is better defensively with him on the bench.
5th point: Toronto is better on the glass with him on the bench.

On December 8th, Andrea Bargnani scored 41 points. In one game.

On December 9th, The Globe And Mail’s Michael Grange wrote:

The extension [Bryan] Colangelo signed [Bargnani] to in the summer of 2009 might have looked rich then, but now? The four years and $42-million Bargnani has remaining on his contract look like spectacular value. … It might even make up for signing Hedo Turkoglu.

Conflicted? I’m not. For all his faults, I love the lanky Italian. Nothing would please me more than for Bargnani to be the best player to come out of the 2006 draft. Bryan Colangelo told us to give it five years, at the very least. While Brandon Roy paid early dividends in Portland, Bargnani might have been the best long-term option. I look forward to finding out …

Back to the timeline: On December 11th, Saturday night, after a 1-for-9 performance the night before, December 10th, Jerryd Bayless couldn’t miss. Making his second start at the point, Bayless scored 31 points to lead the Raptors to their largest ever come-from-behind victory. Stuck 25? No sweat. (The Detroit Pistons are AWFUL.)

Bayless for Jarrett Jack might be Colangelo’s Brandon Morrow for Brandon League. Like it or not, Colangelo’s getting an extension. And for the record, I like it. Colangelo’s entertaining. The roster turnover year-to-year in Toronto is nothing short of amazing. So many years later, and I’m still impressed at how immaculately Colangelo dresses. He still exudes confidence. And if the past seven days were any indication, there’s never a dull week.

Road Trip

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season could have effectively ended Saturday night, after a stretch of fives games against the Eastern Conference’s five best teams. Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal. I figured they’d win one game, and lose another in a shootout. Three out of a possible 10 points. Instead, they picked up six. Of course they did. The misery must be prolonged. Heading out west, the Leafs find themselves nine points back of Atlanta for the coveted 8th and final playoff spot. Once again, if you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs, the playoffs will take place in mid-December, and early January …

Regular season playoffs!!!1 It’s just not the same …

If the Leafs are serious about making a run towards the promised land, the 8th and final playoff spot, their road record must improve; 3-8-1 just won’t get it done. And we’ll find out just how serious the Leafs are about turning around their season Tuesday night in Edmonton. The Leafs need to take this one. By any means necessary. I’m thinking 8-0. Or 3-2, in the shootout, using double and triple spinoramas. Hell, if the game is decided by penalty shots, I’m all for Phil Kessel skating backwards from centre ice on his attempt. The Oilers need to be embarrassed on home ice the way the Maple Leafs were. Period. And if Ron Wilson’s players don’t come out ready to play, that’s not on Wilson, that’s on each and every Maple Leaf on the ice. I’m so sick of excuses …

Speaking of excuses: Mike Komisarek. He is one. To quote a good friend of mine, Komisarek’s “THE WORST!” …

Mea culpa: I take back every bad thing I ever said about Colby Armstrong. Money well spent …

Waffles: The worst of our many humiliations …

Moving forward, do you go with J.S. Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson? In 15 starts, Giguere’s faced 406 shots, and stopped 363 (.894). Gustavsson, in 14 starts, has faced 407 shots, and stopped 367 (.902). I guess the difference is negligible. And that’s a shame …

Was that Clarke MacArthur/Jaroslav Spacek fight not one of the strangest altercations you’ve ever seen? …

One day, Nazem Kadri will score a goal. There might be a parade in celebration …

Thursday night, in Dion Phaneuf’s triumphant return to Calgary, do you think Flames fans have a “Sloppy Seconds! CLAP-CLAP-CLAPCLAPCLAP” chant in them? Props to them if they do.

Image of our frigid city courtesy Fuck Yeah Toronto.

Rough Weekend

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Four games, two each for the Maple Leafs and Raptors, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Four losses. Another shutout of the Leafs’ so-called “offence.” Another broken foot for Reggie Evans. His other one, believe it or not.

I miss the Blue Jays. No, they didn’t make the playoffs. They weren’t even close. But they won more games than they lost. And that fact wasn’t lost on my mental health.

I picked the wrong time of year to quit drinking for six weeks. But, deep down, I know the truth: There’s no right time to quit drinking. Not when you’re immersed in Toronto’s postseason abyss.

Jay Triano, fast becoming the best quote in town, with the final words:

“You go one-through-five. I’m not going to pin it on DeMar. DeMar got outplayed by Joe Johnson. Jose got outplayed by Mike Bibby. Andrea got outplayed by Josh Smith. Sonny got outplayed by Marvin Williams. Joey got outplayed by Al Horford. Fuck. Okay?  … I mean, I’m not picking on our starters for getting outplayed. Amir didn’t outplay anybody on their bench either. Leandro didn’t… They beat us. Every single position. Every single guy got beat.”

Drink.

Image, most apt, courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 28th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Perspective

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“It is conventional to call ‘monster’ any blending of dissonant elements. I call ‘monster’ every original inexhaustible beauty.”

        – Alfred Jarry

Jonas Gustavsson’s save percentage is up to .922, good for eighth in the NHL among goalies who have started eight or more games.

Five-on-five, it’s a marvelous .945. Few goalies are better.

Jarry’s all poetic, but I call Monster a number one goalie.

Image courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 23rd, 2010 at 2:12 am