How do you like me now?
Being branded or labeled is a common phenomenon in sports, especially when it comes to athletes. Most of the time, these two words have a negative connotation. Most of the time, itâ€™s not a good thing.
Most often, this type of behavior has a negative effect on players themselves but it does have an impact on the team and people running it. Think about it, you have a player who can have such a good credibility with his coach and the rest of the staff that they simply choose to ignore some of his bad performances. In this instance, eyes can truly see whatâ€™s been taught, corroborated by numerous prior examples of good games played by an individual. Based on this, some of his bad performances will be attributed to fatigue or simply bad luck. Hell, even he is allowed to have a bad day once in a while, right?
However, since winning is what itâ€™s all about, letâ€™s not dare to even think otherwise, even a player with good credibility runs out of time if he continues to perform poorly.
Heading into a season with the potential for a lockout, it seems like mock trade proposals and mock line combinations are less relevant than ever before. Weâ€™re about 10 months away from the draft so doing a mock draft seems pointless as well, especially since most people can only identify a handful of 2013 prospects. What I propose we focus our energy on is Mock Collective Bargaining Agreements! Fun!
It pains me to link to Michael Grange, as he co-wrote Leafs Abomination, but the fact of the matter is he seems to have the best grasp on what is happening in the NHL CBA talks. Grange wrote this article suggesting how the NHL could be fixed in five easy steps. While I think that most of what he has suggested is very â€œpie in the skyâ€ for immediately implementation I do agree his vision would produce a healthier league.
"Fair is a matter of perspective."
It’s the beginning of August, 2012. Iâ€™m at sitting home, at my desk, thinking about what my next piece is going to be about. Little ideas surface, but nothing quite worthy of putting on paper.
The Leafs. What is the state of Leafs Nation? Where are our expectations at? Unlike seasons past, I find it difficult to answer that question. Hope, itâ€™s always there, but this year it doesnâ€™t seem worthy enough of a true, better yet â€“ honest, Leafs related story.
Is it the lack of moves by our opinionated, strong willed and loud, be it eloquently so, general manager? While the case may be that he was indeed loud in stating his belief in strengthening the current roster, that hasnâ€™t happened with the signings of Tyler Biggs or Morgan Rielly.
Photo: Toronto Star
Over the past week I have been hard at work on a piece that examines what needs to be done to transform the Leafs into team with the potential to seriously contend and have prolonged success. While that wonâ€™t be available to read for a little while, it did get me thinking about the impact of the coaching change from Ron Wilson to Randy Carlyle.
Wilson had much more a free-wheeling, push the puck forward approach, and while he attempted to promote himself as a coach with a 200 foot coaching style, there seemed to be a consistent lack of defensive responsibility coupled with lacklustre positional play.
Randy Carlyle, much like every other coach in the league, also preaches a 200-foot game, but with tighter defensive systems, and increased responsibility for forwards. At the very least we will be seeing fewer neutral zone cross ice passes, and thereâ€™s a possibility that someone might cover the point when a defenseman pinches.
In the previous three seasons under Ron Wilson the Leafs have not dipped below 229 goals per season,. In the same time in Anaheim, Randy Carlyle has put up nearly identical numbers, but with arguably a more talented top six group.
Photo: Toronto Star
At this point we are two weeks past the opening of NHL Free Agency, three weeks from the draft, and five weeks from when the Stanley Cup was won. In contrast we are about 12 weeks away from the start of the regular season, assuming it opens on time. For the record, Iâ€™m optimistic it will. There is still an awful lot of off-season to go.
With that in mind it begs the question, â€œHow come we expect the Leafs to be fixed by now?â€ Recognizing that player movements start shortly after the Cup Finals end, weâ€™ve given Brian Burke a month to fix a team that had the fifth worst record in the league. Thatâ€™s a pretty tall order.
Granted, Iâ€™m as impatient as everyone else. The off season can be an incredibly painful few months if your team isnâ€™t making trades or signing players. I would like to see more done for the Leafs than adding some size to the wing, and upgrade the bottom six forward group, arguably what should have been the lowest priorities on team that has obvious issues up the middle, in net, and on defense.
â€œWe need a number one center.â€
- Every Leafs Fan
While it may not be seen as the organizations top priority, it is safe to assume that most people who have followed the Leafs in the post-Sundin era have been left wanting in this area. Personally Iâ€™d prioritize goaltending, followed by a top four defenseman, but thereâ€™s no denying that first center is a glam position and itâ€™s more fun to talk about the guys who score goals than the guys who prevent them.
Thatâ€™s not to say that Grabovski hasnâ€™t been a revelation, and certainly he can be considered a top center in some capacity, but Connolly and Bozak would be the greater cause for concern.
I didnâ€™t like the Connolly signing, and he didnâ€™t have a great season. That being said, itâ€™s clear heâ€™s capable of more, and a large part of what held him back was that he was focused on filling the duties of a third line role player, not the playmaking center he is capable of being.
"I learned about comically large contracts from Dad. I learned about giving them to deserving players from...not Dad." | Getty Images
"I learned about offering comically large contracts from Dad. I learned about giving them to players that deserve them from...not Dad." | Getty Images
Fan sentiment is a strange thing. Not that I’d claim to know much about the NBA, but I seem to remember the response to Lebron James and his free agent cronies deciding to play together in Miami being… decidedly negative. Two short years later, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter – by far and away the best two NHL free agents available this summer – colluded ever so slightly to sign matching (cute!) contracts with their hometown Minnesota Wild for 13 (ha, wink!) years’ worth of probable playoff contention. It’s almost poetic. (Links after the jump)
How dare he!?
A fairly big portion of Leafs Nation is freaking out about Burke doing â€œnothingâ€ in free agency. First of all, this is an insult to Jay McClement and Mike Kostka because I donâ€™t think they consider themselves â€“ nothing.
Then thereâ€™s the notion that we should have overspent on players like Brandon Prust, Jordin Tootoo etc. because nothing will solve our team needs more than overpaid fourth liners. Leafsâ€™ biggest needs are goaltending and top six talent (preferably size and skill at the C position) so naturally they fit the bill. The amount of sheer irrationality is staggering.
I want to make something perfectly clear, simply because this writer doesnâ€™t realize how itâ€™s not perfectly clear already. Weâ€™re at the beginning of hockeyâ€™s summer and the Leafs roster looks like it needs re-tooling/is set up to be re-tooled.
“(We) keep the puck out of our end zone and play in their end zone, in laymen’s terms, that’s the best way we try to help him. We’re going to block shots, we’re going to defend the proper way, but that’s the best way we can help him.”
That was John Tortorella speaking about how the Rangers would attempt to help out goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was keeping them afloat, during the playoffs.
It wasn’t the first time he made a comment regarding puck possession and driving play in to the opposing team’s zone. I must have heard him talk about it a million times during the 24/7 television series leading up to the Winter Classic. His team wasn’t good enough to actually do it, but the idea is right on.
Toronto native Matt Finn
With their first pick of Day 2, the Maple Leafs quickly snap up one of the top leftover talents in defenseman Matthew Finn. The 6’0 Guelph Storm blueliner shares many similarities to the Leafs’ 2011 first round pick Stuart Â Percy as another complete package on the back end. During his rookie season in the OHL, Finn struggled at times with inconsistency and was criticized for his conditioning level. He responded in a big way the following summer with a tremendous work ethic and headed into last season in excellent shape.
On the ice, he’s a reliable defender with a solid physical game. His stick and positional instincts aren’t quite on Percy’s level but Finn offers more in the way on lower body strength and ability to clear out the dirty areas. He’s an effective member of the penalty kill, showing a willingness to get in the shooting lanes and sacrifice his body to make a play. On the offensive side of things, Â he plays well with the puck on his stick. He thinks the game quickly and effectively, enabling him to move the puck effectively in transition. Finn possesses an above average point shot and does an admirable job quarterbacking the Guelph powerplay.
In summary, you’re looking at a solid two-way defenseman with an high Â hockey IQ, but one whose whose potential is hampered somewhat by his average skating ability. The upside is here for a top four defenseman who can contribute at both ends of the ice as well as on both special teams units. This is a player who should have gone between picks 15 and 25 in my opinion (and Bob McKenzie’s), so there could be excellent value here.
Photo: Getty Images
So here we are… Draft week. Five days away from our reward for being fans of what can only be considered a pretty crappy hockey team. Of course this is also a pretty stressful time. The main reason being that, no matter what he does over the course of the next few days, Burke is essentially going to be considered wrong. Not by all fans and pundits, but no matter what the decision is, itâ€™s a guaranteed lock that majority of people watching the Leafs will label him as wrong. He now has left the â€œIn Burke We Trustâ€ stage of his tenure, and now heâ€™s residing in his own personal Kobayashi Maru.
Photo: Paul Sancya/AP
If you watched the Nicklas Lidstrom retirement press conference, which Iâ€™m sure some of you did, you undoubtedly saw the passion of Mike Ilitch Sr., who almost cried when talking about the departure of one of the best hockey players the world had ever seen. You undoubtedly bore witness to the quality of player/management personnel relationships that exist in such a world class organization.
Iâ€™ll be the first one to admit it. A part of me, the general hockey loving part, is a Red Wings fan. By that I donâ€™t mean I support the team as a jersey-wearing fan or anything like that, but I do have tremendous admiration for how they conduct business, personnel decisions and make hockey men part of their family. In my line of thinking that kind of relationship has a major impact on the continuing excellence of that franchise.
Did they just get in? Only a fool believes that.
There are two distinct stories on the surface of the upcoming Stanley Cup Finals. The Los Angeles Kings play the role of a team built for a Cup run. Deep down the middle, boasting a solid leadership group led by a hard hitting captain Dustin Brown and a veteran presence of Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi (who won the Cup with the Penguins not so long ago). Then thereâ€™s their scoring depth, their starsâ€™ willingness to accept lesser roles (Richards, Carter) and great goaltending provided by Jonathan Quick.
Then there are the New Jersey Devils. No matter how you decided to paint the picture looking at the full length of the regular season, the Kings were always in the running for this yearâ€™s Stanley Cup and that percentage didnâ€™t shrink when they traded for Jeff Carter. 8th seed or not, they always had the personnel to make that run. On the other hand, New Jersey took us completely (yes, yes it did) by surprise.
(Photo Credit: Canadian Press)
“Championship is the goal. Not to get in the 8th spot and get your ass kicked.”
- Leafs GM Brian Burke
You’ve probably seen this quote before, because it’s been repeated by Toronto media and sports fans alike throughout the NHL playoffs.
Now the LA Kings are in the Western Conference Finals and even though the Leafs haven’t played hockey in a month, many are back to pointing their finger at Burke and saying “Don’t want to finish eighth and get your ass kicked, huh!?”
The difference between the Kings and the Leafs? One team was thought of as a Cup contender before the season started, the other was thought of as a playoff bubble team, at best. I think we all know who each label applies to.
Another difference? The Kings have arguably the best goalie in the world right now on their team. As for the Leafs? Let’s just say calling their goalie situation a question mark is being generous at this point.
Goaltending. Now that’s a good place to start when it comes to the Leafs, the playoffs and this quote. Because the purppse of this quote constantly being brought up is that Burke should have made trades during the year to make the playoffs, is it not?
Photo: The Star
When Brian Burke officially came to Toronto he told everyone exactly how he wanted the Toronto Maple Leafs to play hockey.
He wants his team to be tough, physical, entertaining and to fit into a top six/bottom six scheme. Fans of the Leafs were giddy after his opening press conference. This team would no longer be soft. This team would no longer be pushed around.
Fast forward three and a half years later and they are arguably softer.
So what’s happened? This vision Brian Burke had for this team has not come to fruition at all. Did he abandon the plan? Did he all of a sudden wake up and decide he no longer likes toughness? No. He’s just built it – or at least is attempting to – in a way that none of us saw coming. Especially after he essentially started his tenure by trading two first round draft picks and a second for Phil Kessel.
Photo Credit: The Star
Brian Burke is mad. Make no mistake about it, heâ€™s mad about missing the playoffs. Despite what is written/said down below, Brian Burke is mad, not elated:
â€œItâ€™s hard to see a positive when you have the finish we had,â€ said Burke. â€œThere are some positives, some building blocks. The pieces you need, the Phil Kessels, the Jake Gardiners, the Dion Phaneufs, the second line. All those things have been put in place. Thatâ€™s what canâ€™t be overlooked as you dissect the season. Even a season thatâ€™s marked by failure, I think weâ€™re going in the right direction. Itâ€™s very hard to see that today.â€
Leafs Nation is the greatest hockey fan base in the world, no two ways about it. But that always comes with a price. Elevated expectations, partially self imposed by the teamâ€™s uplifting performances, are always present. However, unlike seasons past Brian Burke and his (for all intents and purposes) team doesnâ€™t have the luxury of time anymore.
â€œItâ€™s not easy to fix a team thatâ€™s broken. I had no delusions. I watched GMs get up on their first day and say: â€˜Iâ€™ve got a five-year plan.â€™ Theyâ€™re buying five years out of the gate. I donâ€™t respect that. My view is I was hopeful to do it quicker. We havenâ€™t. But I havenâ€™t changed the plan.â€
Faster, quicker, sooner or later, slower, more conservative, it doesnâ€™t really matter at this point, not for Burke. Unlike seasons past (not that he ever did this) we canâ€™t justify the coaching profile and Wilsonâ€™s style of play impacting Burkeâ€™s personnel decisions. After all, he hired Carlyle and, judging by past experience, their marriage is made in a truculent hockey heaven.
"Please don't ask me to go to Edmonton"
Amid all the speculation surrounding Roberto Luongo that’s starting to snowball, and will continue to do so in the coming weeks, it seems as though one of the most overlooked parts of it all is the fact that he will have to waive his no-trade clause to where he wants to go.
Luongo stirred up the hockey world quite a bit yesterday by announcing that he would indeed allow the Canucks to trade him if that’s what their plan is. But he’s under no pressure to take a less-than-good situation at this point, and to think he’ll just go anywhere to help the Canucks out is false.
Photo: Blog TO
Squeak into the playoffs this year or keep building towards a cup? Â I’ll take build towards a cup, please and thank you. And they’re closer than you think.
Rick Dudley isÂ widely consideredÂ one ofÂ the best judges of talent in hockey.
He’s certainly able to provide a balanced view after building championship teams twice this decade, with two different clubs (Tampa Bay, 2004 â€“ Chicago, 2009). Here’s his take on the Leafs, after less than one year on the job.
A prÃ©cis of the interview can be taken from two fairly potent statements:
â€œI am one of the people uniquely qualified to comment on it.â€
â€œI think this team becomes an elite team. Simple.â€
Whether thatâ€™s damage control, or whether thatâ€™s his opinion, Iâ€™ll let you be the judge.
Photo Credit: thestar.com
Let’s face it. We’ve all knew it at the beginning of the season. The best bet for the Leafs was on us being a bubble team. That doesnâ€™t exactly say â€“ confidence. We knew coming in that we probably needed some things to click for us to make the show and when those things didnâ€™t click Leafs Nation got mad. But, letâ€™s run through that last sentence again. Things needed to click for us to make the postseason. That doesnâ€™t mean things WILL click and we WILL make the postseason.
Fact is, we werenâ€™t a good enough hockey club to make it, because in the end, we didnâ€™t make it. There was a lot of stuff missing so here’s my take on what Burke needs to do to make this team a competitive hockey club once again.
Photo Credit: sportsnet.ca
Photo Credit: sportsnet.ca
It was as predictable as it was painful to read. Smelling blood in the water as the fan base angrily seeks answers for what’s been an inexplicable and catastrophic collapse, The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk turned from calling player’s moms to dialing up anonymous ex Maple Leafs to perform a hatchet job on Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf.
Feschuk takes so many liberties with his latest work, walking an ethical tight rope as a professional journalist, it’s not worth linking to, much less poring over in line-by-line detail. At one point he seems to base a hint of a rift between Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn around Phaneuf and Luke’s brother Brayden Schenn scrumming each other in front of the net the other night. He works in a shot at Burke, with whom he’s had a rocky relationship after calling up Reimer’s mom, when he wonders why he still has high regard in the hockey community even though his team played awful the last 20 games. He says Phaneuf never looks inward for blame, even though his favourite line following a loss is “we need to be better.”
Feschuk only now mentions that Phaneuf did not attend certain events during the weekend of the Sundin banner raising ceremony, and that this allegedly upset some alumni. The timing of the piece and these revelations speak to Feschuk’s moral fibre, bravely revealing them now when the team is in a lottery position, as opposed to when the snub actually happened; of course, the Leafs were still in playoff contention then. But with the Leafs back in familiar territory and the Leaf hate at full roar, the opportunistic Feschuk knew the time was now right to launch his agenda.
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