Previously on Gracepoint……
In news that shocks nobody, the Oilers have fired Dallas Eakins, their coach of 18 months. Yes, 18 months. When you look at their recent history, that’s actually a fairly long-term relationship by Oilers coaching standards. Now Craig MacTavish will take the reigns as the interim guy to the interim guy, while Todd Nelson will be the interim guy.
If this confuses you, just remember that “Edmonton Oilers Head Coach” ranks somewhere below “Prime Minister of Italy” in terms of job stability. Going back to MacTavish’s first tour of duty that ended in 2008-09, Nelson will be the sixth coach in seven seasons. And there’s no guarantee he’ll last longer than this season, meaning there may even be a seventh coach in eight seasons. This of course won’t count MacTavish’s two non-consecutive terms, making a potential eight coaching regimes in eight years. I don’t think they even change the role of Dr. Who this much.
Firing the coach is an easy fix. When a team isn’t performing to expectations, it’s easier to take away one person’s job than to do the same to a 23-man roster. It’s also an easy way for a GM to remove the heat from himself for the fact that his roster may be a little less than optimal.
So was it Eakins’ fault? While he’s probably not a great coach, the answer is probably not. The Oilers’ underlying numbers are improved from last year, but they’ve had a combination of bad luck and terrible goaltending. Also, that roster. Go look at their D right now. Do it. Just do it. Yeesh.
All three of you who read this regularly may recall that, in the summer, I compared Eakins to “the equivalent of someone trying to win Masterchef with ramen noodles on a hot plate.” Whether he’s a legitimate NHL coach or not, he was never given the ingredients to succeed in Edmonton. This is common sense; again, Edmonton will be on its sixth coach in seven years this year. I can’t stress that part enough.
Think of it this way: if I take my car to six mechanics in a fairly short duration, the same car problems persist, and it continues to break down, what’s the real problem: did all six mechanics have no clue what they were doing, or do I just own a crappy car?
The Eakins firing reminds me of a debate Leaf fans had internally last year, especially around 18-wheeler season: was the Leafs collapse the fault of the players, or Carlyle? While nothing is ever 100% absolutely one side’s fault, there was considerable evidence that a lot of the Leafs’ underlying problems plagued any Carlyle-coached team not containing at least two Hall of Fame blueliners. For example, one can either blame Dion Phaneuf for not raising his compete level high enough, or realize that perhaps the system he was playing under consisted of being poked with a stick and being told “C’mooooooon; be Chris Pronger.”
So, to answer the question in the title: usually common sense can help dictate where fault lies. On to the weekly preview:
Dec. 16: vs. Anaheim Ducks (a.k.a. “Patient Zero”), 7:30 PM EST, TSN4:
The Anaheim Ducks are on fire, having won seven straight games. They may also actually be inflamed, presuming that’s a symptom of the mumps. Luckily, the Leafs may have some surgical masks left over from the SARS era.
Both Carlyle and Joffrey Lupul are ex-Ducks, and strangely enough, they have both been undefeated against the Ducks in their time with the Leafs (2-0 for Carlyle; 3-0 for Lupul). Since this is a Tuesday game against a Sun Belt team, expect goals from Francois Beauchemin (token ex-Leaf) and Andrew Cogliano (prominent GTA boy).
The Ducks biggest offensive threats are Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, in that the existence of both of them is literally offensive. Turning to actual scoring, their leader is Ryan Getzlaf, who is bald. Very bald.
Dec. 18: @ Carolina Hurricanes, 7:00 PM EST, TSN4:
A WILD ROAD GAME APPEARS! I realized that the Leafs have had so little of those lately that seeing them in white jerseys almost doesn’t make sense. Anyway, since the Leafs haven’t been past the Mason-Dixon Line all year, here’s a musical interlude:
By the way, for all the talk of the Oilers sucking, the Hurricanes SUCK. Like, they play in the decidedly weaker conference, and are tied in points with the Oilers. Which really SUCKS. Which probably means they’ll feast on the corpses of the Leafs.
Also, I can’t imagine any reason why the Hurricanes would be not goo- WHOAAAAAAA LOOK AT ALL THE MARGINAL EX-LEAFS ON THIS ROSTER. Jay McClement AND Tim Gleason? No wonder they suck so much; this is pretty much Randy Carlyle’s ideal lineup! The good news about being a fourth line/third pairing player on the Leafs is it pretty much guarantees you a contract with the Hurricanes afterward! TWO FOR ONE DEALS! CAN’T BEAT THOSE BARGAINS!
Dec. 20: vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7:00 PM EST, CBC (National Game):
The Leafs host the Flyers for their first matchup of the season and the Leafs’ last home game for a looooong time (until sometime in 2015, guys!). The Flyers have been nothing short of a mess this year, and surprisingly, Steve Mason is not the culprit. He’s been a respectable .918 this year. It’s almost as if replacing Pronger, Timonen, and Carle on D with Luke Schenn, Michael Del Zotto, and Andrew MacDonald is not quite a recipe for instant success. Put simply, their defense is as loose as Del Zotto’s philosophies on dating.
Since the Flyers’ cap situation makes Claude Loiselle seem comparatively like a genius, we now present you the FLYERS AWFUL CONTRACT POWER RANKINGS™:
- Andrew MacDonald; POSITION: Subway Turnstile; CAP HIT: $5,000,000
- Vincent Lecavalier; POSITION: Healthy Scratch; CAP HIT: $4,500,000
- RJ Umberger; POSITION: Not Scott Hartnell; CAP HIT: $4,600,000
- Luke Schenn; POSITION: Definitely Not James van Riemsdyk; CAP HIT: $3,500,000
Dec. 21: @ Chicago Blackhawks, 7:00 PM, City TV (National Game):
Oh hey! A back-to-back on the road against one of the best teams in the league on national TV? How could this possibly go wro- /VOMITS ALL OVER SELF
If only we had someone who has a recent track record of playing that well in tough B2B situations like this one and maybe even against this tough Chicago team. But nope, I can’t think of anyone; can you?
We’ve now reached the now quarter mark of the NHL season!
Okay, actually we reached that about a week ago, but since I have nothing better to write about, I’ve basically decided to review the season thus far by picking a dozen Leafs at random and writing up their performance reviews in haiku form. Hey, when you write something weekly, sometimes you just run out of ideas.
Still better than your best guy
Get away from me
Struggling on the left
Main object of vitriol
Glad he kept the ‘stache
Pride of Mimico
Much improved from last season
Though that isn’t hard
Still stops lots of pucks
His play, as inspired as a
Mandela free throw
Man of mystery returns
Consistency an issue
Don’t blame his wife, ass
Best surprise this year
Special teams and shootout man
Just ignore his D
Solid top six guy
Much improved possession game….
And he’s hurt again
Admit it, Leaf fans
You forgot he existed
Until I wrote this
Our new fourth line stud
Flaunts skill instead of punching
Leads league in bad puns
Still the coach somehow
Better results from changed team
Still can’t make breakfast
Ever the fickle ones
Throw jerseys, expect salute?
*Middle finger* THERE!
(17 syllable fart noise)
Your weekly preview:
DEC. 9: vs. Calgary
PDO Flames, 7:30 PM EST, TSN4:
The Flames have been the pleasant surprise of the season! They’ve skyrocketed up the Western Conference standings thanks largely to unsustainably high shooting percentages and lights out goaltending that can be attributed to only one thing; that’s right:
[buzzing noises, neon lights flash, balloons and streamers fall from the ceiling, Randy Carlyle does a jig]
The Flames boast three players on their roster that used to play for the Leafs: Mason Raymond (which I forgot about until today), Matt Stajan, and Joe Colborne. Luckily for the Leafs, all three have just returned from injury! So, basically, this means the Leafs will need at least four goals to offset the “ex-Leafs burn former team” voodoo. Or three and lose in a shootout. Whatever. I’m not your mother.
Also, they’re a fun team to watch if you haven’t this year. They’ll surely crash and burn, but entertaining and bad can still go together, like….oh, I don’t know…..some other team that Burkie might have run for a few years there?
DEC. 10/DEC. 13: @/vs. Detroit Red Wings, 8:00 PM/7:00 PM EST, SN/CBC (National Games):
Since this is a home-and-home for the Leafs, I’m basically just going to count these two games as one entity for this preview. Kinda like the Sedins. Or that really clingy couple you hate and refuse to hang out with anymore.
Detroit is on fire (no, not literally, although I’m sure the bankruptcy joke you had in mind was HILARIOUS), having gone on a 9-2-0 stretch, tying them points-wise with the Lightning for first in the Atlantic. That’s the bad news. The good news is that one of those two losses was to none other than the Leafs!
Both games are on back-to-backs, Bernier is the confirmed starter for tonight’s game, and there’s no way that he wouldn’t start against his former team on Sunday, so you know what that means: DOUBLE REIM TIME! A WILD JAMES REIMER SET OF BACK-TO-BACK STARTS APPEARS!
DEC. 14: vs. Los Angeles Kings, 5:00 PM EST, SNO:
The defending Cup champions come to Toronto for what appears to be the first Sunday matinee game at home in roughly 368 years or so. This is the first matchup against the Kings of the year; their last game against LA came in what was indisputably the Leafs final game of the regular season last year.
While not much has changed for the Kings roster-wise, their style of play is somewhat different. LA’s possession metrics have been downgraded from “Corsi Gods” to “Just Okay.” The goaltending they’ve been getting from Jonathan Quick has improved from “Laughably Overhyped” to “Now He Actually Matches The Hype So Maybe Y’All Were Just Thinking Ahead To This Season.”
Since it’s been a while, here’s your recap of last year’s season series against the Kings:
- Due to some Freaky Friday-esque moment causing the teams to temporarily switch bodies, the Leafs lost to the Kings while outshooting and outpossessing them.
- Joffrey Lupul gets into a fight with Slava Voynov; HBO picked up Lupul calling him a “fucking piece of shit,” which made him just the first of thousands to say that about Voynov.
- We got to see the Kings purple jerseys!
- The Leafs hung on for dear life to beat the Kings in LA after both their goalies got either injured or hit in the head, which I’m sure would in no way negatively impact the rest of the Leafs’ season or anything like that.
In November, the Leafs went 7-4-2, which is probably to be expected for a not-great-but-not-awful-either mushy middle team like the Leafs.
In true Leafs fashion, it isn’t what their record was, but how they achieved it. How many games they won and lost was nowhere near as surprising as what games they won or lost and how they did it.
The Leafs followed up a huge win over the Blackhawks with a sloppy loss and shootout loss to the lowly Coyotes and Avalanche, respectively. They manhandled the Bruins 6-1, then get their arses handed to them by Buffalo, a frontrunner in the McDavid Sweepstakes. After allowing 6 goals to the lowest-scoring team in the NHL, and 9 goals to a team that’s middle of the pack, they then hold the highest-scoring team in the NHL in the Lightning to 2 goals in a 5-2 win! The Leafs went on 6-2-1 and 3-0-1 runs that bookended what were two awful, demoralizing losses that made it seem like the world was caving in.
These are the Leafs we’ve come to know and love/hate.
There is maybe only a couple of games in November that didn’t surprise me. The Leafs lost 2-1 to Pittsburgh in a “played well, but better team was better” style of game. They beat Ottawa in a 5-3 game that made us question if anyone on either team knew how to play defense (they don’t). But, other than that, it was a weird month.
And you know what? That’s what this team is.
They’re a mushy middle team that is going to outplay some great teams some nights, and play lousy against bad teams on others. Guaranteed wins and losses do not exist with this franchise. They play the Kings, Ducks, Hurricanes, and Flyers in the space of a week, and I could very well see them go 2-2-0 by beating the former two while losing to the latter two. When the top line is buzzing and the goaltending is going, they can beat anyone. When neither is playing particularly well, it seems like they’ll never win a game again.
I’d like to say December can’t get weirder, but it can and will. Your weekly preview:
Dec. 2: vs. Dallas Stars, 7:30 PM ET, TSN4:
The Stars have been the surprise of the season, and definitely not in a good way. They were expected to be a contender, and look more poised to be a lottery team. Their 992 PDO also seems to indicate that this is not necessarily a spell of bad luck from which they can easily break out. Aside from their top line production, including a breakout year from Tyler Seguin, there’s not much going on here. UFA signing Ales Hemsky has disappeared and, honestly, his family is kinda worried about him so tell them if you know of his whereabouts.
It’s not surprising since their D and goaltending have been ATROCIOUS. The Stars’ top pairing in TOI/G is Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley, which is pretty not good. They’re so desperate that they traded for Jason Demers and have been playing a guy who I’m pretty sure is made up. Also, Kari Lehtonen has a .905 SV% and Anders Lindback is exactly as you remembered him in Tampa Bay.
In typical Leafs fashion, this is the kind of struggling team that can only be expected to beat them 4-1 or 5-2 or something.
Dec. 4: vs. New Jersey Devils, 7:00 PM ET, TSN4:
So, the Devils signed Scott Gomez this week! That’s neat! It seems as though they’re going to ride a line of Elias-Gomez-Jagr all the way to winning the 2000 Stanley Cup again!
Beyond that, I have not a whole lot to say about the Devils, so here’s Phil Kessel scoring an amazing goal against them:
I’ve also obtained some stats on Cory Schneider’s usage in net this year:
Dec. 6: vs. Vancouver Canucks, 7:00 PM ET, CBC (National Game):
Oh, won’t this be lovely? Join thinly-veiled Canucks homer Jim Hughson as he attempts (and fails) to call this game impartially in a way that totally won’t be insufferable, I promise. Watch as most of British Columbia have rediscovered that the Canucks and hockey do, in fact, exist after winning a lot of games and have jumped off the Seahawks Super Bowl bandwagon juuuuust long enough to take the mothballs off their jerseys. Remember, this was a team that couldn’t sell season tickets at the beginning of the year. The commercials they aired were reminiscent of an Obama campaign ad in 2008, minus the idealistic optimism. “CHANGE IS COMING! WE’RE NOT SURE WHAT KIND OF CHANGE BUT IT’S CHANGE! JOIN US! WE’RE DIFFERENT THAN LAST YEAR!”
Anyway, the new pieces are working out well for the Canucks. Radim Vrbata is the new hotness because apparently playing with the Sedin Twins makes you look unbelievably good at hockey. Not that Anson Carter, Taylor Pyatt, or Alex Burrows could have told you that or anything. Nick Bonino is WAY BETTER THAN KESLER YOU GUYS even though Bonino’s S% has now come down to a reasonable level and only one goal and one point separate the two now, with Kesler still shooting at 8.8%. And that isn’t something I say lightly, since Ryan Kesler is a monster that was constructed in someone’s basement made up entirely of rat feces, belly button lint, and human tears. Also, Ryan Miller has played lights out and quickly become a fan favourite in Vancouver, which surely means he’s already halfway to being run out of town by fans when this team is a first round exit.
The Canucks are playing well, Miller always kills the Leafs, and the Leafs have beaten the Canucks once since I’ve lived in the province of British Columbia. Might switch from beer to hard bar for this game.
The good news is my original plan to write something about #SaluteGhazi won’t happen and we can finally just let that whole damn thing go. The bad news is this had to happen to make that happen.
Pat Quinn, at the age of 71, has died.
A lot of hockey figures have passed away, and none have really impacted the way this one did. Even Pat Burns, while sad, was something we knew was coming for years and years. With him, it was a matter of when, and his death brought a sort of finality to a man who appeared to spend his last days in pain and suffering. This was sudden. This was unexpected. This blindsided me like a Darcy Tucker open ice hit.
This is a hard post for me to write, in part because I much prefer being comedic and snarky to writing seriously. But what makes it a really hard post for me to write is the impact Pat Quinn had on my life without even having met him.
The Pat Burns Era was a lot of fun, sure, but I was young. Being a Leaf fan was a thing I did because the kids at school in Grade 1 kept talking about the game last night and Gilmour, Potvin, and Clark. It wasn’t a thing I knew or understood; I just did it. When Burns’ tenure with the Leafs came to a close, I was eight years old. I liked Joe Sakic and the Avalanche because I, like all children, was a snot-nosed bandwagoner. I cared about the Leafs, but not in the way I do now.
Maybe this is the part of the story where I become an Avalanche fan, sit through another Stanley Cup, and write about a distant Denver team under a different pseudonym. I may not have cared about hockey much, but that is the direction things were going.
Pat Quinn changed all that.
In the fall of 1998, I still didn’t really consider myself a Leafs fan. The team was dreadful for two straight seasons, and although there was a lot of change- new conference, new coach, new goalie- it wasn’t expected to change much. The team had 68 points in 1996-97, and 69 points in 1997-98. For reference, that’s at least 15 points worse than even any recent Leafs team, and there have been a lot of bad ones. Again, I didn’t care about the Leafs. It was hard for an apathetic elementary school kid to care.
Pat Quinn’s teams made me care.
The 1998-99 Leafs were good. And not only good, but exciting. They led the NHL in goals. Cujo stopped a lot of pucks. They played tough, firewagon hockey with high-caliber goaltending and it was a hell of a lot of fun. They had exciting young guys like Berezin, Modin, Kaberle, and Markov. They made the Conference Finals.
I went to three playoff games that year, each one a win. There was Game 2 against the Flyers on my 12th birthday. The memorable Game 5 OT winner against the Flyers. Game 2 against the Sabres, their only win in an unfortunate series they could have- nay, should have- won. I thought there was a chance that team could end its then 32-year old Cup drought then and there. It didn’t, but it made a fan of me for life. I was hooked.
What followed next only cemented it.
Quinn assembled the nucleus of the best I have Leaf teams ever seen. They lost to the Devils in 2000, so Quinn signed some sandpaper in Gary Roberts and Shayne Corson, at least half of which worked out okay. They lost to the Devils again in 2001, so Quinn went and signed one of their best players- and the best linemate Sundin ever had- in Alex Mogilny.
Then there was 2001-02. I may have been a Leafs fan by this point, but without this team, I’m probably not passionate enough to sit through hours of games every week and otherwise devote a big chunk of my life to this team. I still watch old game clips of this postseason on YouTube, because that’s how much that year meant to me.
Everything about that year was amazing. Cujo was injured in late February and we abandoned all hope, but backup Corey Schwab briefly turned into magic, and the Leafs comfortably finished 4th in the East, with the 3rd best record overall in the NHL.
The Leafs drew the Islanders in a series that can only be described as murder on ice. Tucker hit Peca, Roberts hit Jonsson, Corson tried to kick Eric Cairns with his skate, Steve Webb tried to kill a bunch of people in blue and white. What you may not remember is that between all the hits and the fights, some good hockey games broke out. That series gave us the Shawn Bates penalty shot GWG in Game 4, an insanely high-scoring Game 5, and still one of the best Leafs Game 7s I can remember. Robert Reichel had to miss Game 5 due to a comical lineup card error. The home team won every single game. To this day, it remains the most entertaining playoff series I have ever watched.
Then there was the Ottawa Senators. If nothing else, Pat Quinn brought us an intraprovincial rivalry akin to the rivalry between the roadrunner and the coyote. 2002 was the year it finally seemed like the coyote was about to pull it off. The Sens had dominated most of the series, led 3-2, and were up 2-0 in Game 6. This appeared to be it for the Le-…..oh wait, Persson just checked Domi into the boards. Then, much like when the coyote finally thinks he has that pesky roadrunner on the ropes, the Acme dynamite blew up in his face. Leafs won 4-3 in large part due to an extended powerplay, then dominated Game 7 in a 3-0 win thanks to based Mogilny.
It’s worth noting at this point that the Leafs didn’t have Sundin for really any of this. Or a lot of other players. They also lost Tucker to that Alfredsson hit/GWG combo in Game 5 of the Sens series. They were beaten up. They dressed AHLers with virtually no NHL experience in games. They continued to prevail, thanks largely to heroics from Gary Roberts and Alyn McCauley, and as always, solid goaltending.
Then came the Hurricanes. Another conference final, another opponent that had no business being there. The Leafs were the 3rd best team in the NHL. They were- and this feels so weird to type now- an Eastern Conference juggernaut. Carolina barely had any business being in the postseason. They rode an always weak Southeast Division to a 3rd seed they didn’t really deserve. In any other division, that was not a playoff team. The Eastern Conference Finals was the Leafs’ to lose.
So you can figure out exactly what happened next.
It’s not just that they lost, but how. Three times, the Hurricanes held a one-goal lead. Three times, the Leafs scored in the last minute to tie it, including what has to be the most memorable goal of Mats Sundin’s career. Each time, the Hurricanes won it in OT. Even one OT goes the other way, and it makes you think what could have been.
2003-04 brought us what has to have been the best Leafs team I have ever seen assembled. And it, like all Quinn teams, was so much fun to watch. Cujo had given way to Belfour in a fairly seamless transition. They had 103 points that year, fifth-best in the NHL, six back of the President’s Trophy-winning Red Wings, and three back of the Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting. A small handful of wins separated the Leafs and the league’s elite.
Above all else, 2003-04 was the most fun I’ve had watching regular season hockey. That year brought us The Streak, a 14-0-1-1 point streak spanning over a month. Look at these games:
In sixteen games, the Leafs collected 30 of a possible 32 points. They dominated games against the likes of Detroit, Boston, and Tampa Bay. This is something we haven’t seen since, and may not see again for years. It was a very fun time to be a Leaf fan.
The playoffs didn’t go the way we would have hoped that year, but it was still a fun season.
Pat Quinn’s time as coach, like all good things, had to come to an end. The Leafs had an aging roster unprepared to handle a new style of game, and Ed Belfour a shell of his former self. They finished 9th in 2005-06, spelling the end for Quinn.
All we’ve been trying to do ever since is recapture that magic, those teams. Leafs fans just shuffle along, chasing that dragon that Pat Quinn’s teams left in our souls. We may never find it again, or so it feels some days. The team may never have won, but it was something special and memorable to a lot of us.
Thank you for everything, Pat. Rest in peace.
Life, and hockey, continue to march on. Your weekly preview:
Nov. 26: @ Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 PM ET, SN (National Game):
Sportsnet is really following in the mold of NBC in trying to sell this as some sort of “rivalry” game. Watching the commercials for this game is pretty depressing: “The Penguins have dominated the Leafs all season! They started this whole jersey-throwing craze! Think they can actually finally win one? TUNE IN AND FIND OUT!”
The Penguins have a +25 goal differential. That’s first in the East by a mile; +8 on Tampa Bay and +14 on the Islanders, who are 2nd and 3rd. The Leafs? +4. That’s actually kind of impressive when you remember they’ve had five bad blowout losses accounting for -20 in goal differential. The Leafs have been +24 in sixteen other games. They’re the Jekyll & Hyde of hockey teams.
David Booth is expected to return to the lineup, which is the first reminder we’ve had this year that David Booth is even a Toronto Maple Leaf. Did you remember that? I honestly forgot. It’s like when you schedule a dentist appointment six months in advance, and completely forget about it until the receptionist sends you one of those passive-aggressive “friendly reminder” cards. That’s what David Booth is to the Leafs: a dental checkup. He’ll probably be gone again for six months in an hour, too.
Nov. 29: vs. Washington Capitals, 7:00 PM ET, CBC (National Game):
Has anyone really heard much about Washington this year? Other than commentators continuing to talk about Ovechkin’s MYSTERIOUS ENIGMA RUSSIAN-NESS, I can’t say that I have. They’re pretty much in the middle of the standings, just kinda there. They do have a 53% CF (5v5 close), which is 7th in the NHL, so I guess there’s that.
The Caps are middle of the pack in goals per game. That’s so weird. Remember when this team was an offensive juggernaut? Like, no defense, barely any goaltending, just all goals, all the time? I miss that Capitals team. I know it’s not a sustainable model, but at least those Capitals were fun to watch. Now they just kinda seem like a neutered puppy. I’m really struggling to find things to say about the Washington Capitals, in case you couldn’t tell.
The Leafs went 1-2-0 against the Capitals last year. That one win was in a shootout. That said, they usually are dominated by the Caps in Washington, and haven’t lost to them at home since February 25, 2012. I really wish that was the other way around. That stupid fire truck siren goal horn is the most annoying thing ever.
CLASSIC LEAF GAME OF THE WEEK:
This is a new feature highlighting a classic Leaf game. In honour of Pat Quinn, here’s that aforementioned Game 7 against the Islanders on April 30, 2002.
-Alexei Yashin scores to make it 1-0 Islanders. Reminder: Alexei Yashin is still counting against the Islanders cap. It is 2014.
-“There’s been some talk around the NHL, and it may not be the kind of talk Darcy Tucker wants to hear” is a thing that sounds about right.
-Gary Roberts ties it! 1-1! And I had forgotten Chris Osgood was the Isles goalie that year until just now.
-As an aside, I’m pretty sure Roberts played about 97.5% of these playoffs with a shiner under his left eye. It really just added to the mystique.
-Mogilny makes it 2-1 Leafs! I really don’t think we appreciated just how good Mogilny was as a Leaf, even in his later years.
-Travis Green scores to make it 3-1. Can we talk, Osgood? When Travis Green of all people snipes you high glove side, it’s time to log off. THE BOOK ON CHRIS OSGOOD IS OUT.
-Isles cut the lead to 3-2 on a Kip Miller goal, which is probably the first time anyone has mentioned Kip Miller in years. Is that even a real name?
-To remind you that Pat Quinn’s victories weren’t always pretty, here’s Yashin on a breakaway during an Islanders powerplay.
-Mogilny empty-netter clinches the series for the Leafs! Two-goal game against the Islanders, and he had another two-goal game against the Sens in that Game 7. Again, I don’t think we appreciated just how good he really was. He outscored Sundin one year, for crying out loud!
What a game. What a team. RIP Pat.
At the time I write this, Phil Kessel is fourth in the NHL for points (22) and tied for third in goals (11). For those keeping track at home, Kessel is currently on a 50(!!)-goal pace. He’s been top 10 in NHL scoring each of the last three years. He has put up 30+ goals every season dating back to his final year with the Bruins in 2008-09. Along the way, he’s even become a playmaker, presumably because playing alongside the likes of Lupul and JVR is better than Joey Crabb or whatever bag of wet leaves Ron Wilson decided was worthy of first line duty pre-2011. Of everyone in the 2006 draft class, Kessel is first in goals and second in points. He has more of both, by the way, than recognized Superior Franchise Leader™ Jonathan Toews.
You would think this kind of resume would be more than enough to be beloved in Toronto. Then you remember that the Leafs media is something that just can’t let us have anything nice.
See, it’s not enough that Kessel be a nice guy, try hard, love the game, AND be good at it. He also has to be a savvy media presence. Does anyone remember Kessel when he came into the league? He had the social skills of that IT guy in your office with the unibrow; in fact, that comparison might even be insulting to Bradley (the IT guy’s name is always Bradley, for some reason). He’s come a long way since then, but “great with reporters” was never expected to be a skill set that Kessel brought to the table.
And you know what? That’s fine. Because outside of any accredited member of the Leafs media, literally nobody cares about what he says/does with the media.
Today’s manufactured outrage is that Kessel told the media “get away from me” following a 6-2 loss to the Sabres. That’s it. That’s all. The Leafs had, minutes earlier, completely laid an egg to what is the worst team in the league by a wide margin. They had just been blown out by a team that is actively trying to tank for Connor McDavid. That’s beyond embarrassing and the Leafs should be embarrassed. And I bet they were. And Kessel was. While I don’t profess to understand anything about being a professional athlete, I could imagine after losing to that kind of game to that kind of team, you’re not in the mood to have a reporter get all up in your personal space.
“But it’s about accountability!” they shout. First of all, Phil Kessel is not the captain; Dion Phaneuf is. And Phaneuf held court with the media and made himself “accountable” for the loss. Most importantly, Kessel’s job is not to be media-friendly. It’s to score goals and get points, both of which he does well. He is an employee of the Toronto Maple Leafs, not the Toronto Star. He is accountable only to his teammates, coaches, and the management that signs his paycheques, not to some buzzard waving a microphone two feet in front of his face after a bad loss now acting like a petulant child because he couldn’t get some five second soundbite.
There are a lot of teams in the NHL that would kill to have a Phil Kessel. If they did, they would treat him with respect and dignity, not bellyache about how often he doesn’t talk to the media. I can’t believe we even need to have this conversation anymore.
Speaking of which, it’s fitting on a week I bitch about being a giant media megamarket, the Leafs play two successful small market teams. Your weekly preview:
Nov. 18, vs. Nashville Predators, 7:00 PM ET, TSN4:
Nashville has been one of the more surprising teams this year, putting up an 11-4-2 record and sitting 2nd in the Central Division. Goaltending has been the big difference this season. The Preds have the best team EVSV% in the league, at .948. They’re getting .930 team goaltending compared to .904 last year. Carter Hutton had the highest SV% of any goalie last year, with .910. Nashville is able to stop pucks now is kinda the point I’m getting at here.
The weird thing is that people seem to attribute this to new acquisitions. Despite signing every third line centre within a 50 mile radius as if they were voraciously swiping some Tinder-esque app, and trading for James “People’s Elbow” Neal, they’re scoring less this year. The Preds are currently averaging 2.47 goals per game, which is actually down from 2.61 last season. Goaltending does wonders, doesn’t it?
Here are some other facts about the Preds you may not have known!
-Their nickname is SMASHVILLE (Get it? It rhymes?)
-Their logo is a sabertooth tiger, a prehistoric predator which pays homage to the era in which Mike Fisher’s political views are based.
-Pekka Rinne is in fact not a pasta or seafood dish, but a human goaltender.
-Mike Ribeiro looks like a guy who went to ALL THE RAVES in 1999.
Nov. 20, vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:00 PM ET, TSN4:
It should be no surprise that the Lightning are good. I mean, they were everyone’s “dark horse” pick until we realized everyone was making that same pick, and then it no longer really became much of a “dark horse” because how can something be a “dark horse” if everyone- crap, I’m rambling again.
Anyway, what’s surprising is not that they’ve been good, but who has contributed. Tyler Johnson is tied with Stamkos with 19 points in 18 games, which is weird because he’s a sophomore and no one apparently gave him the memo that he is therefore supposed to suck. Nikita Kucherov has 15 in 18. Vlad Namestnikov only has 7? I thought that was higher. SO MUCH ENIGMATIC RUSSIAN ON THIS TEAM.
Also, I don’t care how it’s *supposed* to be spelled; I am only going to refer to him as “Name-Stink-Ov.” Deal with it.
While this is a home game for the Leafs, can we talk about the Lightning arena for a second? It’s now called Amalie Arena. This puts Tampa Bay squarely in the lead for “NHL arena that sounds the most like the name of a porn star.”
Nov. 22, vs. Detroit Red Wings, 7:00 PM ET, CBC (National Game):
The Red Wings, despite being a pinnacle of mediocrity actually quite comparable to the Leafs since joining the Eastern Conference, have pretty much owned the Leafs in their short time here. They’re 5-0-1 against Toronto since last season, with the lone loss being a shootout loss in the Winter Classic. It’s not going to go very well is the general point I’m making here. Your game forecast in GIF form:
I’m going to start this post off with a necessary disclosure: I’m not anti-fighting per se. I understand it’s been a part of the game forever, and sometimes players get hot under the collar and want to settle their differences. I hate staged fighting, and I hate one-dimensional enforcers who provide no added value beyond fighting, but I don’t hate fighting.
But this isn’t about what I think about fighting. Because regardless of my opinion, I’m aware that fighting is little more than a circus sideshow to the actual hockey game being played. I’m not delusional to the belief that fighting has any actual tangible contribution to winning hockey games.
Apparently, not everyone has gotten the memo yet. These are probably the same people who still don’t put a cover sheet on their TPS reports.
Yeah, hi. I’m gonna need you to go ahead and understand the difference between correlation and causation….
The reason I say this is because this post made the rounds on Twitter this week. Let’s take a look at it bit by bit, shall we?
HARD HITTING FACT: FIGHTING HELPS WIN HOCKEY GAMES IN THE NHL
Hard hitting fact? WHOA! Well, I can’t possibly debate that. I mean here I was completely unconvinced that fighting won hockey games, but you’ve called it a “hard hitting fact,” so I guess I have to concede that point now! Plus, it’s so hard hitting because, y’know, fighting is tough. You punch hard; you hit hard; you pun hard. Like A MAN.
//drives off in giant truck
I compiled a list from 2011-12 to 2013-14 of fighting majors and points by team. Of the top 10 fighting teams in the NHL over that span, 50% of them represent the top ten teams by points in the regular season.
So, 50% of them are in the top 10! Which means that 50% of them are also not in the top ten! And three of those five teams include the Sabres, Leafs, and Blue Jackets, who nobody are ever about to mistake for a contender. But yes, clearly 50% of the time, fighting works every time!
So we’ve listed five of the top ten teams over the last three years; if fighting is so great, this must clearly mean that none of the other five teams fall in the BOTTOM TEN in fights, right? Right? Right?! Please say right.
So what about the team’s that choose not to fight? Maybe they should consider it. They represent 30% of the best teams by points during the regular season over that same span.
THREE. THREE of the best teams in the NHL over this span are bottom ten in fights. Oh, and wait, this covers the 2011-12, 2013, and 2013-14 seasons. There have been only two Stanley Cup Champions in that time: Chicago and LA. So, of course, if I look at the teams on this list, there is no way they would be bottom 10. I mean, if fighting is so important to winning hockey games, it wouldn’t be so indispensable to indisputably the best teams in the league over this span, right?
So, naturally, when your thesis of how important fighting is to the game is naturally undercut by the appearance of every Stanley Cup champion in the time span chosen in the bottom ten for fighting, you’ll find some way to address that and reconcile it with your assertion that fighting is still indeed conducive to winning, right?
Lol jk. You’ll talk about the Oilers instead.
Matter of fact, numbers suggest that the Edmonton Oilers approach of finesse forwards over the years is their biggest problem. Instead of a gaggle of Nail Yakupovs they should find one or two Brandon Prusts.
The Oilers rank 25th in fighting majors and are dead last in points over the study. Sure, you can blame lousy defense and goaltending, but maybe the opposition wouldn’t run over Oilers players as they march to the net, if there was a an ounce of intimidation coming from the bench.
Let’s put aside the fact that this is an obvious misdirection, cherry-picking the worst team in the bunch to prove a point at the expense of the fact that two excellent teams are also on said list. That’s analogous to flunking two classes in high school, but telling your parents “I got an A- in this class, so I did well this semester!” But I’ve made that point enough, and since I don’t work at a glue factory, I won’t beat a dead horse.
Moving on to what was said:
What numbers suggest that “finesse forwards” are the biggest problem? What numbers suggest anything like this? Most numbers seem to suggest that it’s everything around the finesse forwards that are the problem, but I guess that’s just nitpicky detail that comes only when you’ve actually looked at what the numbers suggest.
The Oilers gave up 31-32 shots per game in these three seasons. They had team goaltending of .904 last season. But, of course, I’m sure the problem is that their bad defensemen don’t intimidate or fight people enough. Must be why the Blackhawks and Kings are so far in the bottom of the…..oh right. Shit.
(Right, I said I wouldn’t again. Sorry.)
And yes, clearly the solution is to replace Nail Yakupov with Brandon Prust. You’ll swap out Yakupov’s 55 points in two seasons for Prust’s 27, but you’ll be ridding yourselves of Yak’s awful possession stats, and replacing them with….Prust’s also awful possession stats. This was the kind of logic that led the Oilers to bring in the likes of Mike Brown, Jerred Smithson, and Mark Fraser among others. Remind me how well that worked out again.
But now, back to the main problem: whoever wrote this obviously has no idea how correlation vs. causation works.
Back in 2012, the Associated Press’ Jim Litke wrote an article about such a study performed by powerscouthockey.com – They deduced that the offensive output 3 minutes of play after a fight, booms upwards to 76%
The research also noted that it wasn’t always the team that won the fight, but no doubt there was an uptick in momentum.
Let’s unpack this for a second: “offensive output to 76%”? And this is your conclusion that fighting helps win games?
This all is worded very confusingly, so why don’t we click on the link to see what the study actually said?
By measuring offensive output in the three minutes after play resumes, researchers at powerscouthockey.com concluded that fights produced a surge by at least one team an eye-popping 76 percent of the time. The remaining 23 percent of the time, roughly one out of every four fights, both teams raised their games.
So basically, what the study says is “one team put more shots on net in the three minutes after a fight than the three minutes before 76% of the time.” Could be one more shot on goal for all we know. Offensive output as a whole doesn’t increase 76% in the way this writer attempts to suggest.
But wait, there’s more!
Surprisingly, it isn’t always the team whose players dominate the fisticuffs that benefits and researcher Terry Appleby said more work needs to be done to determine if those surges pay off in goals or wins.
But, if fighting undoubtedly wins hockey games, why would more work need to be done? I thought the debate was over! Why do we need more research? This is a Hard Hitting Fact™!
But, this is precisely the point I’m making with correlation vs. causation. We have no way of knowing if fighting is what drives offensive output. Could be the break in play gets players rested up. Could be a number of things. Even if fighting has a positive correlation with more shots on goal, etc., there is no concrete evidence that it is in any way actually caused by the fighting itself.
When it comes to winning, it gets even more hilarious, because there is neither causation nor correlation. If fights correlated to wins positively, that would mean it would be predominantly the top teams fighting with the odd outlier sprinkled in and vice versa. But let’s review here:
-Only five of the top ten teams in fighting are top ten in the league in points. The remaining five are mediocre-to-awful.
-Three of the top ten teams in points are bottom ten in fights, including every Stanley Cup champion in the time span examined.
-The 30th place team in points is bottom ten, sure, but the 29th place team is top ten.
Do you know what these points imply? That there’s NO CORRELATION AT ALL TO FIGHTING AND WINNING HOCKEY GAMES! But I guess it’s not about correlation; it’s about ethics in gaming journalism.
When I look at this list- as most sensible people do- I see that a team that fights a lot could be just as easily bad as good. I also see that a team that doesn’t fight a lot could easily be as good as bad. This tells me literally nothing about whether fighting actually helps winning hockey games. None. Zero.
Look at the rankings for possession stats. Or, if fancy stats aren’t you’re thing, goals per game. Or shots per game. Or shots against per game. You’ll notice a common trend: with the exception of the odd anomaly here and there, good teams are at the top, bad teams are at the bottom. Now compare this to the dog’s breakfast we’re presented with here.
And you mean to tell me fighting “leads to wins”? LEADS?!
Your weekly preview of the games:
Nov. 12: vs. Boston Bruins, 8:00 PM ET, SNET (National Game):
WOO! Leafs have been 5-1-1 in their last seven! Time to keep the streak alive with the….*looks at schedule*…..OH CRAP.
The most noticeable change to the Leafs system and possession game has probably been increasing the number of shots for rather than reducing the number of shots against. So far, shots for and against have increased/decreased close to the same amount from last season’s train wreck (+2.3 for, -2.6 against), but how the Leafs play in the attacking zone is completely different. Rather than dump the puck in, pray they get it back, and set themselves up for roughly five seconds in the attacking zone, the Leafs have started to carry it in, play a more effective forecheck, and have actually tried cycling the puck, and it has resulted in more sustained pressure. The top line does it well, but colour me beyond impressed with Mike Santorelli in this regard. Easily the best new player at cycling, puckhandling, and sustaining pressure in the attacking zone. Big fan of ANNUAL GIFT MAN right here.
The Bruins have gone 5-1-0 since Chara’s injury and remain a powerhouse possession team (54% CF) without him because of fucking course. This is the team that just gave away three elite scorers for pretty much nothing! And they’re still good! Just like how the Patriots could have six one-armed lepers at wide receiver and still go 12-4. Why do Boston sports teams get so many undeservedly nice things? Boston sports fans don’t deserve anything nice.
Nov. 14: vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 PM ET, TSN4:
WOO! Leafs lost a tough one there, but they’re still 5-2-1 in their last eight! Time to get back on track against the….*looks at schedule*….OH YOU’VE GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME.
The Leafs have already played the Penguins this year, so drawing on what parts of that game I haven’t completely suppressed from my memory to save my own sanity, here are your keys to the game:
1) That Crosby guy is pretty good. Maybe we shouldn’t leave him alone and let him do Crosby things.
2) Powerplays are a bad time to give up goals; maybe you shouldn’t do that.
3) Jerseys are expensive and the only statement you send by throwing them is “I’m a stupid idiot who burns money.” This has nothing to do with the game itself, but IT’S STILL TRUE.
By the way, Marc-Andre Fleury will make $5.75 million a year starting next season. Bernier and Reimer make a combined $5.2 million.
Nov. 15: @ Buffalo Sabres, 7:00 PM, CBC (National Game):
Say what you will but the Sabres are a smart team. They know what they’re doing and they’re doing it well. As long as the NHL will continue to reward teams for tanking, it makes complete sense for a team to do so in a draft year where the best case scenario is a generational talent at No. 1 and the worst scenario a potential franchise player at No. 2.
Make no mistake, the Sabres are tanking. Hard. Obviously, the players still try to win games, and the coach still tries to win games, but management has built this roster to tank by design. The added stroke of genius was signing legitimate players (Gionta, Gorges, Moulson) to give the impression of actually trying, but look a little closer. Brian Gionta is 35 and his best days are long behind him. Josh Gorges sucks; his CF% is fifth worst on the Sabres, which is like being the fifth worst runner on a high school track team made up of fat kids and Forrest Gump. Matt Moulson has 0.73 points per game with Tavares, and 0.56 without; he’s unsurprisingly nowhere near the same player without an elite talent centering him. This is to say nothing of the rest of the roster being an unmitigated tire fire. Tim Murray probably knew all of these things.
And it’s working. The Sabres are 3-11-2, which puts them on pace for a 44-point season. Forget 44; this team could go lower. The Sabres have a 36% CF, 1.25 goals per game, and 3.38 goals against. They are on pace for a -177 goal differential all year. This team really has the potential to go as low as 35 points. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a tank this blatant. It’s downright comical; hockey is never this comical. Embrace it.
Having said all that, the Sabres will have to win games eventually, so I’ve probably just set the Leafs up to lose this one. Shit.
Much has been written of the Leafs decision to yo-yo Stuart Percy (and now, Sam Carrick) between the Leafs and Marlies. If you haven’t read it yourself, do so. While some initially called it a “paper transaction,” it is clear that it’s more than that. The biggest takeaway from these articles is it can’t be a paper transaction, since the reassigned player has to actually practice with the AHL affiliate.
That distinction is extremely important where the Leafs are concerned. Any NHL team can make a paper transaction. Not every NHL team has an AHL affiliate very close by. In fact, the Leafs are the only team in the league that can boast that its affiliate plays across the street and practices in the same facility.
This is a competitive advantage the Leafs have over other teams, and it’s about damn time they finally started using them.
Here’s the most obvious fact I could tell you: the Leafs have money. A lot of it. I imagine the MLSE front offices are probably something reminiscent of that scene where Scrooge McDuck goes swimming in a vault full of gold coins. I mean, it doesn’t quite look like Tim Leiweke has the strongest backstroke, especially in a pool full of metal, but the thought is there.
A typical lunch break at MLSE
A lot of teams have the problem of not having enough money to achieve its goals. The Leafs have too much money, which is a damn good problem to have, comparatively speaking. The issue in past years hasn’t been money, but how the money is being spent.
For too long, the Leafs have been reminiscent of the guy working the rigs in the oil sands that makes a killing in ten days of work, only to go home for his days off and blow it all on shit he didn’t really need. A giant condo complex here. A lavishly decadent sports bar there. A 20849639568398-inch flatscreen TV in a public space here. Seven years of David Clarkson there.
But, the biggest problem was where the money wasn’t being spent. In a salary cap world, the Leafs can’t outspend other teams on the ice, at least not by much. Off the ice, anything goes. Why not back up giant Brinks trucks full of money to the best and brightest people in hockey to make smart decisions and right the ship? I’ve seen this question posed several times, without any tangible answer.
The Leafs, to their credit, have started down this exact path, starting with the hiring of Brendan Shanahan. Before he came along, MLSE spent more money on “pennies thrown at homeless people on Yonge St.” than analytics. Now they have an entire team working on it, including the creator of one of the simplest, yet most comprehensive analytics sites ever made. They hired a capologist who actually, y’know, understands how the salary cap works. They hired one of the brightest young rising stars in Kyle Dubas, a guy so universally well-liked that both the stats and old school factions have tried way too hard to claim him as one of their own, as if he were the child of a bitter divorce or something. They brought in Mark Hunter, a guy responsible for stockpiling talent on the London Knights and finding some of the most talented players around the globe.
THIS. IS. WHAT. WE. WERE. ASKING. FOR. This is ALL we were asking for. For seven or eight or a gajillion damn years, this is all we really wanted: some kind of indication all of that money is being well spent.
The Leafs are still a mediocre team with a lot of holes. But, they have money to burn on luxuries many other teams can’t afford that can overall make them a better team in the long run.
And in Year One of the “actually spend on smart things” kick, what do we get? GOOD IDEAS! The Leafs, for all their cap woes, may piece together enough savings from the yo-yo reassignment game to think midseason acquisition if they’re in the thick of it. (They may piece together even more should one of David Booth or Joffrey Lupul remain permanently broken, which is a pretty good bet to take.)
The Leafs are not the LA Kings. But, they have a lot more money than the LA Kings. And they have an AHL team in the same city and practice facility, while the Kings have to call in guys from clear across the country in Manchester, New Hampshire. Better teams are still better, but the Leafs have these simple competitive advantages and needed to flex their muscles.
That was REALLY the kind of compete level the Leafs needed.
Your weekly previews:
Nov. 4: @ Arizona Coyotes, 9:00 PM ET, SNET Ontario:
Has anyone taken a look at the Coyotes goaltending this year? By god, it’s TERRIBLE. Mike Smith has a .873 SV%. Devan Dubnyk is the best goaltender so far this year, which are words that should never reasonably be uttered. Also, he’s only marginally better at .879 SV%. That team’s netminding is Full Toskala. You never go Full Toskala.
Daniel Winnik started his career with the Coyotes. For some reason, him being a Coyote stuck out to me despite the fact this isn’t a team I pay much attention to. And then I remember he scored his second career NHL goal in this game. I still remember watching that embarrassingly bad game and thinking “WHO IS THIS WINNIK PERSON EVEN?!” And speaking of going Full Toskala…
Also, the Coyotes changed their naming rights from the Jobing.com Arena to the Gila River Arena. I’m pretty sure that’s not a naming rights change. I think they’re actually planning on attaching the Gila River Casino to the arena to maximize revenue for the City of Glendale.
Nov. 6: @ Colorado Avalanche, 9:00 PM ET, TSN4:
The Avs are basically a wealthy abundance of loser points (they lead the West with 5, which is the only thing they lead the West in) from being the last place team in the Western Conference. They have a 41% CF at 5v5 close, which is second last only to the Buffalo “we’re really trying hard to land Connor McDavid” Sabres. This was a playoff team last year that played above the percentages. The coach is talking a lot about compete levels. All of this sounds strangely familiar for some reason.
Dennis Everberg gets the Foo Fighters song “Everlong” stuck in my head, which has nothing to do with anything, but I just felt like sharing for some reason. Also, Dennis Everberg looks exactly like the guy who sold you pot in university:
By the way, two road games against teams off to a pretty bad start after a huge win against the Blackhawks? One of these is going to be an extremely deflating blowout loss. Book it.
Nov. 8: vs. New York Rangers, 7:00 PM ET, CBC (National Game):
People seem to be talking about the Rangers’ “slow start,” as if this is something that’s completely uncharted territory. Recall that this team was 5-7-0 through October last year, and 20-19-2 by the New Year. They were three points back of a playoff spot halfway through the season. Then they won the Eastern Conference. Slow start isn’t worth underestimating this team at all. They have a 52% CF at 5v5 close and Henrik Lundqvist. They’ll be just fine.
The Leafs may have thrashed the Rangers at MSG in the last game, but this isn’t one I’d take lightly. For starters, I don’t expect Lundqvist to put up another .667 SV% against the Leafs. And while I don’t profess to be a medical professional, I’m not sure there’s a way we can ensure that Rick Nash’s wife will be able to go into labour just in time for Saturday’s game. I mean, I’m sure there’s *some* drug in the works, but it probably has about 500 side effects and hasn’t even been tested on lab rats yet. Not sure the R&D will be complete for this game.
Nov. 9: @ Ottawa Senators, 6:00 PM ET, City TV (National Game):
Remember how Sens fans seemed to enjoy every second of the Leafs unsustainably good play, waiting for it to inevitably come crashing down, then being all smug when it did? Well, Ottawa, despite a 5-3-2 record, is third last in the league at CF% 5v5 close (44%) and sports a 1021 PDO. The 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs? 44% and 1030!
Paul MacLean is my early entrant in the 2015-16 “first mention of Compete Level” pool.
Also, a weird fact about this week is the four Leafs games will likely have four different PBP guys: Romanuk, Miller, Hughson, Randorf, in that order. When has that ever happened before? Serious question. I don’t think that it has.