Saturday, May 30, 2015
Authors Posts by Andrew R

Andrew R


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Photo Credit: The Star

Back on December 1st 2010, the Toronto Star broke a story which, if accurate, was poised to change the sporting and business landscape in this city and country forever. It would also represent the largest sporting transaction in Canadian history and will likely represent the most significant indication of the inevitable merging of the telecommunications, media and internet industries of our generation. This transaction will play a huge and direct role in transforming the way business in these sectors is done moving forward in this country.  The story literally broke out of thin air.  The concept that the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) would be selling out of their cash cow that is MLSE was nothing more than a fantasy which most Leaf fans would not allow themselves to even consider as a possibility. Now, several months later, and despite repeated denials by everyone involved including the OTPP, MLSE, Rogers, etc., the matter has gone purposefully and strategically public and what was once only a whisper and a rumour has now become a verified fact. The OTPP are mercifully on their way out and will be selling off their ownership stake (66%) of the MLSE sporting empire.

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After surviving fans literally chanting for his head at the ACC, receiving the backing of Brian Burke with a very believable reaffirmation and absorbing the endless abuse from fans on every Leaf related website on the internet, Ron Wilson is still left standing.  The scape goat that the entire Leafs Nation wanted to noose for their team’s lousy performance coupled with the potential consecutive lottery pick finishes without possessing a lottery pick seems to be getting the last laugh. Burke did the right thing by refusing to scapegoat Wilson.  Will he now retain Wilson for next season and possibly sign an extension for beyond?

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Phoenix moved Wojtek Wolski today to the New York Rangers for Michal Rozsival. Wolski represents the prototypical power forward/winger that Brian Burke has insisted that he may be after in leu of a legitimate front line center most are reporting the Leafs most desperately require.  Was Brian Burke trying to acquire Wolski? Absolutely…

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The potential sports story of the decade for the city of Toronto, and more specifically, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs is unfolding right before our eyes.  The legitimacy of the potential sale of MLSE to Rogers should not be easily dismissed.  The rumoured sale simply makes sense for all parties involved.  The recent announcement of the pending retirement of MLSE CEO Richard Peddie now starts to bring the picture into focus and adds significant legitimacy to the Toronto Star report of MLSE share sales from the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) to Rogers Inc.  The fact that the Richard Peddie retirement was announced just before this story broke, absolutely stinks of premeditated public transition planning.  Personally, I must admit, I knew there was much more to the Mr. Peddie pending retirement announcement, but, I simply had no idea how deep this rabbit hole would go.  Speculation and associated questions today, from all corners of the sports and business communities is running rampant.  Why would the OTPP sell off their stake in this cash cow?  What Return on Investment can Rogers Inc garner on a $1.3B purchase of an asset generating an approximate $160M in profit each year, especially considering that the real estate assets are thought to be excluded from the deal?

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There has been extensive and rampant debate, spanning almost two full seasons, on the value of one Mikhail Grabovski.  I personally have had more than a few pleasant debates in the comments section of MLHS specifically regarding this player and his skill sets.  Oddly enough, even now, when his contributions border on the insanely obvious, Grabovski’s name is often overlooked when discussing the reasons for the Leafs early success.  I know and understand that many on this site, including the more prominent bloggers, are not fans of Mr Grabovski’s game.  I am here to ask you all to take another look.

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Brian Burke has done an outstanding job of refacing the Leafs organization in a very short period of time.  I for one am predicting a very surprising season from the Leafs as early as next year or the year after, once again propelling them into the playoffs and a very respectable playoff drive.  The cumulative effort of acquiring several players and prospects that are “NHL ready” is absolutely and positively an impressive feat.  Acquiring a player with the pedigree of Dion Phaneuf for almost zero significant cost was sheer brilliance.  His relentless pursuit of, and ultimate acquisitions of players like Bozak, Hanson and Gustavsson inspire the type of confidence and hope that has been lacking in this city and in this franchise for almost a decade.

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I have been listening and watching Toronto media members discuss the Maple Leafs and am honestly beyond annoyed at their commentary and observations around the Leafs performance since the trade deadline.  I am not even certain if this is “blog worthy” (shameless “sponge worthy” reference), but I have officially reached my “B.S.” tolerance threshold.

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    Being a General Manager of an NHL Hockey team is quite similar to sitting down at a high rollers table at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and having a marathon session of no-limit hold’em poker versus some of the biggest and meanest sharks in the ocean.

    With a Leafs team stuck in the bottom 5 of the league from the first day of the season, and after public proclamations of being aggressive at the draft and public and vocal assurances that he has built one of the better defensive units in the East.  Additional proclamations that it would be reasonable to expect the Leafs to compete for the playoffs this year, spending right up to the salary cap, trading away the clubs next 2 1st round picks and trading away some of the organizations mostly highly thought of prospects for practically zero return, it is safe to say at this point, that if being an NHL General Manager were a game of poker, Mr Burke is “All In” and has absolutely zero chance of winning this round.  He has been effectively cleaned out.

    There is a silver lining however, as Mr Burke is flush, sitting on a recently signed multi-year, multi-million dollar deal and has an opportunity to buy back into the game and try again.

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      After recovering from the initial shock of the Leafs trading yet another highly rated, potentially top end prospect (Tlusty in this case) for picks, prospects (Paradis in this case) or players who at best can be defined as “depth” acquisitions, I decided to sit back, absorb all of the feedback and coverage from this transaction and form an opinion based on rational thought processes and any available factual information.  Past my initial, oh no, here we go again feeling, I was uncertain as to my actual opinion on this deal.  After all, I have never seen the young Paradis play, knew very little about this prospect, and the only information I had available was that he was a late 1st round pick in last years entry draft.  So, I decided to err on the side of caution and keep my initial opinion on this transaction to myself.  After researching this prospect, reading the various scouting reports and watching some film, it became rather apparent that Mr Burke had traded a potential top 6 type of sniper for a 3rd-4th line character guy.  Someone who was physical, had speed, was fearless and could become a real heart and soul leader on an NHL roster one day.  Considering the intangibles this player could potentially bring down the road, I was willing to overlook the obvious imaginary offensive upside Mr Burke was touting with this prospect and the projections of a top 6 “power forward” type in the NHL and was settling in with a comfortable neutral, “Wait and See” decision on this transaction.

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        I have always believed that a persons real intelligence level is a sum of what they allow themselves to learn from others.  Book smarts, education, degrees, etc are all an indication of knowledge – but, nothing adds to a persons real world IQ more then lessons learned.  Real intelligent people are able to learn by watching and listening to others rather then needing to learn everything themselves – you know, the hard way (sadly, the path I usually end up taking).  I am continually striving to get better at learning from others and gather as much IQ as I can from the experiences, observations and hard knocks others are willing to share with me.  As this pertains to hockey specifically, I had an opportunity to watch a Leafs game with Gus Katsaros last week and also the opportunity to meet with and speak to Garrett Bauman.  Gus and I had some nice seats for the New York Islanders game sitting at the face off circle in the offensive zone where the Leafs tallied some 50 of their 61 total shots.  I had meant to do a post game blog at the time, but, life got busy and I guess it is too late for that now.  However, that day yielded several interesting hockey learning opportunities for me personally and I decided that these lessons alone would make great blog material.

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          Having literally begged and pleaded since before the pre-season for the Maple Leafs to run with their youth and play any semblance of NHL ready prospects and players available to them, is this horrific start actually bad enough and embarassing enough to force Mr Burke to finally and mercifully bring on the youth movement this team has so desparately required for the last decade?

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            Watching the Leafs play this season has already clearly demonstrated 3 distinct and separate teams.   Team1 started the season on a dreadful 0-6-1 streak.  Team2 surfaced on the teams first extended raod trip, and although losing the opener by the closest of margins in Vancouver, they managed to rally off a string of impressive games, still falling short and losing in extra time or in a shootout.  Team3, continued to pick up a point in games and more recently have managed to win their last 2 in a row.  But, I was left asking the question, why the turn around?  If one was to read the various media reports, 1 man alone was responsible for the Leafs woes early on (Toskala) and now one man alone is the saviour and is responsible for the Leafs turn around (Gustavsson).

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              Wanted to take a minute and congratulate our very own Gus Katsaros on his segment on the Fan590 this afternoon.  Outstanding analysis of both the Phil Kessel/Savard relationship and analysis of the Boston Bruins schedule last year vs this year.  The little snip at Mr MacLean at the end was priceless as well..  Congrats Gus, and again, wonderful work..

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                I must confess, I bought in.  I bought into the mantra of improved team toughness, improved goaltending, improved and revamped defense, and an improved top6 forward unit possessing speed and skill who would be protected and insulated by a tough as nails complimentary group of players.  I watched the pre-season and was salivating at the skill, speed, and determination exhibited by the up and coming Leafs prospects.  But, then something very strange happened, something I cannot comprehend nor understand.  Every single player (with the exception of Stalberg), which had led to such optimism and belief of brighter days ahead – were demoted to the OHL or the AHL.  I sat there shaking my head, and privately and publicly went on and on about how this team could not succeed without the youth.  Ironically enough, I had absolutely no idea how right I was and how bad this could and would get.

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                  Since taking over the reigns of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke identified several glaring weaknesses in his team.  In several press conferences, he clearly and succinctly described these weaknesses and his intention and plans to amend his product.  Being one of the more active General Managers, commencing with the NCAA free agent period right through til today, Mr Burke has lived up to the expectations most Leaf fans would have.  Commencing with the signings of Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson, followed up with deadline trades to acquire draft picks, drafting London Knights sensation Nazim Kadri, signing key UFA’s specifically addressing his teams needs and the signing of top European goalie Jonas Gustuvvson led to renewed optimism amongst Leaf supporters – not of an imminent Stanley Cup victory, but, rather of a renewed direction and focus, once again bringing hope of a contending Leafs team being iced in the not too distant future.