Weekly Preview: Farewell, Old Friend

November 24, 2014 Leave a comment

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:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.17.06 AM

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

Weekly Preview: Phil Kessel’s Job Isn’t To Be Nice To The Media And Why Do I Even Need To Say That?

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

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:

Categories: Uncategorized

Weekly Preview: Fighting Doesn’t Win Hockey Games; Stop Pretending It Does

November 10, 2014 4 comments

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.

/shotguns beer

//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?

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 2.49.02 PM

Well, shit.

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

Weekly Preview: The Leafs Are Finally Using Their Advantages, And That’s Cool

November 4, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

3-4-1 Good, Bad, And Ugly Thoughts

October 28, 2014 Leave a comment

At the time I write this, the Leafs sit at a 3-4-1 record. While much of Leafs twitter has descended into Crisis Mode™, I can only say this enough times: it’s one game. Remember how good we all felt after the Leafs manhandled the Islanders 5-2? Remember how the first line was clicking, Bernier looked great, and we all thought to ourselves that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be okay? Then the Leafs lose one game most people expected them to lose anyway, and the narrative descends to madness.

Leaf fans get mockery for being bipolar, short-term thinkers, but it’s a hard fact to argue when one game seems to swing the pendulum from “PLAYOFFS!!!1″ to “McDAVID!!!!1.” A loss to the Sabres tonight might actually convince people the Leafs are the worst team in the NHL by a country mile. Part of me actually kind of hopes we lose to Buffalo but beat Chicago, because I just happen to enjoy watching the world burn.

So, here is my scorching hot take on the Leafs eight games in: they are still a mediocre bubble team that has lost to teams better than them, and beat teams they probably deserved to beat.

The Boston game was ugly, but have we not seen that before? Even without Chara, the Bruins are a substantially better team. I don’t think this is a very controversial statement that anyone would disagree with.

Having said that, I also get why people are freaking out: it’s not just the results, but the process. The Leafs didn’t just lose to Boston; they completely laid an egg. Failed to show up for the game. And it isn’t the first time it’s happened this season.

I was going to write a post before the 4-1 Bruins beatdown, but ran out of time. Even after the loss, my thoughts on the team haven’t substantially changed since one collectively awful effort isn’t enough to judge a team or a season thus far.

So, at 3-4-1, here are eight thoughts: three good, four bad, one big fat “I don’t know”.

THREE GOOD:

1) The Leafs are a mediocre possession team so far:

*record scratch*…wait; that’s a good thing?

For most teams, no. But for the Leafs, it’s a definite yes. Remember, we are talking about a team that last season finished with the second-lowest CF% in the history of the stat being tracked. They allowed the most shots against per game of any post-lockout team; the only one that came close were the 2005-06 Washington Capitals, who finished second last that season with 70 points. They once allowed 50 shots against in consecutive games. How their goaltenders didn’t die of exhaustion is simply beyond me.

Put simply, the Leafs stunk. If stats aren’t your thing and you prefer the eye test, they still stunk. I don’t profess to be a hockey wizard, but being hemmed in your own zone 90% of the game while getting ten seconds in the attacking zone at a time is not very good hockey.

This year? Not great. But certainly better. They sit at a 49.3% CF, good for 21st in the NHL. To many teams that wouldn’t be great. But many teams weren’t a historically bad possession team last season. Seven Leafs have a CF% above 50, which is exactly seven more than they had last season. Surprisingly, that list doesn’t include the Komarov-Santorelli-Clarkson line, who have been the best puck possession line most nights, and may only get better with Corsi God Daniel Winnik™ in for Clarkson.

This is a Leaf team almost outplayed the percentages until there were 14 games left in the season in a HISTORICALLY BAD year. They still have two 30-goal scorers, two good goalies, and a top-tier PP. You should be downright salivating at the possibilities at what it could do as a mediocre possession team, should that trend hold.

2) The Leafs have two good goaltenders, and the best may be yet to come:

I’ll just come out and say it: I don’t get this Bernier/Reimer goaltending controversy that forces Leaf fans to pick sides as if we were a bunch of teenage girls fawning over Twilight characters. I just don’t. It’s stupid, and it should make you feel stupid.

Why is it stupid? Here’s a long list of reasons why: Ed Belfour (past his prime), J.S. Aubin, Mikael Tellqvist, Andrew FUCKING Raycroft, Vesa MOTHERFUCKING GODDAMMIT I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HAAAAATE YOU Toskala, Curtis Joseph (way past his prime), Justin “The Future LOL Maybe Not” Pogge, Martin Gerber, Jonas Gustavsson, J.S. Giguere (broken groin edition!).

This is every goalie that played for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005 to 2012. Only three of these goalies put up a SV% over .900 in a season. Only one exceeded .905, and it was Giguere in not even a half season in 2009-10.

Long story short: the Leafs goaltending fucking sucked pretty much forever until the Magic Angel Robot From Winnipeg™ (h/t Steve Dangle) came in and led us all to salvation. And then Bernier came in also played pretty fan-frickin-tastic as well.

People have said both Reimer and Bernier “suck” this year. These people should be strapped to a chair like that kid in LOST who got kidnapped by the Others and forced to watch endless clips of Vesa Toskala giving up a goal to his own goddamn glove hand.

Reimer has put up a .914 this year, which is decent. But for one game against Detroit where the whole team sucked and it isn’t really his fault Zetterberg is so gosh darned good at hockey, he’s been great. Bernier sits at .904, but worth noting he had an AWFUL start to the season and played a game against Boston where the team decided not to show up. His SV% will only go up.

The fact is the Leafs goaltending through 8 games hasn’t been as good as it could be. Why is this a cause for optimism? Because I can’t see it going anywhere but up. Because, y’know, our goalies are actually good and don’t suck anymore.

The cliche, but true, principle is good goaltending can keep you in any game, on any night. The Leafs have good goaltending. Whether you start Reimer or Bernier on any given night, Leaf fans don’t have to worry that the goaltending is going to suck.

3) DEEEEEEEEPTH! DEPTH! DEPTH! DEPTH!

Perhaps the two biggest positives on the Leafs so far aren’t their best players, but their second and third lines. Lupul and Kadri look just great, with Lupul playing what has in my books been some of his best hockey in a Maple Leafs uniform. Winnik has stone hands, but drives possession. Komarov is tied for the team lead in assists, and he has looked great possession-wise with Santorelli. Clarkson is…..still the worst contract in the NHL, but better. I mean, it’s not humanly possible for him to be worse, but he at least looks like he’s kinda calmed the fuck down and stopped trying to do everything while succeeding at nothing. Baby steps.

Results-wise, this hasn’t resulted in more offensive output- the pre-jigging first line still has more points combined (21) than the second and third lines combined (19). But, this is more process and results. The way these players are playing, there’s at least optimism the results will come.

However, this last point segues me perfectly into the bad…..

FOUR BAD:

1) The team is still living and dying on the first line:

Here’s a not so fancy stat for you: the Leafs are 3-0-0 when Phil Kessel finds the scoresheet, and 0-4-1 when he does not. The three wins by the Leafs so far featured the top line front and centre. Kessel and JVR ran over the Islanders and Rangers. Kessel scored an unbelievable OT winner on Varlamov that [awful domestic violence joke that would be tempting to go here omitted because it isn’t funny]. Not many teams can say their first line boasted two 30-goal scorers, but that’s exactly what the Leafs had last season.

But, here’s the problem: what happens when the offense isn’t there for them? The results haven’t been good. Note that in the 2-12-0 collapse to finish last season, the first line scored at a wayyyy lower rate than it had all season. The early returns on this season seem to show a similar pattern. First line doesn’t click offensively, team loses.

Look at, say, the Blackhawks as an example. If the Toews line has an off-night, the Kane line can still burn you. Ditto Crosby/Malkin on Pittsburgh, or even Bergeron/Krejci in Boston. The Leafs, despite some improvements on depth, just don’t have the ability to split up talent of that calibre. They simply don’t.

I could remind you that this was the same team that took what was an excellent second line under Ron Wilson, broke it up, and shipped it out of town for absofreakinglutely nothing in return, but who thought that’d be a bad idea? I mean, aside from everyone and their dog.

The worst part is while the first line hasn’t seemed itself this year offensively, the other side of the coin is they have been terrible defensively. First line competition has run them over entirely. All of them are between 42-44% CF. JVR is their best player at 44%. Not. Good. Enough.

Will splitting up JVR and Kessel work? I’m not certain that it will. But trying Lupul-Kadri-Kessel together, perhaps against easier competition while letting the Corsi God line handle tougher minutes might work. Offensively, though, the Leafs need to do something to ensure this team isn’t a one-trick pony, but that’s easier said than done when the team may just be bereft of high-end offensive talent beyond four or five players.

2) Randy Carlyle is still the coach, and still doing Randy Carlyle things.

After a 2-12-0, I thought Carlyle would be done. Sure, water carriers in the media still bellowed “BUT WHO WILL REPLACE HIM?” but the facts don’t lie and every single coach in recent history got the axe for far less heinous crimes. A similar collapse felled Ron Wilson in 2012. Paul Maurice wasn’t so much fired as given an indefinite time out for never calling one. Hell, Pat Burns was fired for less in 1996! Also, Burns was indisputably the best coach this team had in years and was replaced by a guy who called his players “nimrods” and never coached in the NHL again. Let’s not even start on Pat Quinn, fired for missing the playoffs once in seven seasons. Hey, remember when a first round exit was a disappointment and not the best case scenario? Anyway, moving on.

Who will replace Carlyle? Well, putting aside the fact Dan Bylsma is sitting at home and waiting for his phone to ring, how about- I don’t know- ANYONE? Any living, breathing human being?! I’d venture to say the Leafs have two guys on their own bench that would probably make better head coaches than Carlyle! “BUT WHO WILL REPLACE HIM?” is just BS-speak for “I don’t want him replaced because he gives reporters belly rubs and makes us feel like special snowflakes after Ron Wilson was such a meanie to us.” Just say what you mean.

Now, the writing is on the wall for Carlyle. Shanahan has brought in a whole new group of people to answer the tough questions that Carlyle cannot, such as “What is puck possession?,” “There are four lines on an NHL team?,” and “Toast goes where?” Carlyle’s days as the Leafs coach are clearly numbered. That’s good. But, Carlyle is still currently the head coach, and still doing things that are damaging to the team. That’s bad.

Perhaps the most damning indictment has been the lack of a fourth line. Despite promises from Shanahan that the team would roll four lines, and finally exiling Carlyle’s beloved rock ‘em sock ‘em robots to the AHL, Carlyle continues to barely play a fourth line. None of the four players that have played on the fourth line have cracked 7:30 of ES TOI per game. Holland has the highest of the group at exactly 7:30, which is 4:22 less than the next highest forward (Leo Komarov). Brandon Kozun has 7:25, somewhat buoyed by playing two games on the second line. Richard Panik has 6:25. Matt Frattin has 5:59. If you know anything about Carter Ashton’s whereabouts, please call 1-800-555-LOST immediately.

Things have taken a turn for the crazier in recent games, where Carlyle refused to ice a fourth line at all, instead playing 7D and double-shifting one of the RWs with Holland and Panik. This is a team that has blown countless third period leads, and collapsed in ways that I will only be describing to a therapist someday. You don’t think fatigue factors into that at all? I’m not saying rolling three lines is the cause, but it certainly does not help.

This brings us to the curious case of Jake Gardiner. I will admit that Gardiner could be better. I will also admit that I don’t know how Gardiner is going to get better by riding the pine and eating a $10 hot dog in the press box. The Carlyle-Gardiner relationship is reminiscent to me of Stand and Deliver, with Carlyle giving the exasperated Edward James Olmos line of “HOW DO I REACH THESE KEEEEEEDS?” Except, y’know, the part where Carlyle actually reaches these kids.

Gardiner is a curious case. He does make those mistakes that just make you shake your head. The blown coverage against Boston and bad clearing attempt against the Penguins are decent examples. He’s also money offensively, and one of the better puck possession defensemen on the team. The positives he brings to the table far outweigh the negatives, yet there appears to be a lot of emphasis on the latter given the high profile caliber of what few mistakes are made. It’s been proven time and time again that scratching him serves no benefit to him or to the team in the long run, so it’s curious why Carlyle would continue to hang his hat on that hook.

The bottom line is that Carlyle has better personnel. Mike Santorelli is far superior to Jay McClement. Peter Holland and Richard Panik are better than Orr and McLaren, both of whom would probably be on this team if Carlyle completely had his way. But even with better players, he will not change. He has spent years trying to recreate the 2007 Anaheim Ducks system minus having two Hall of Fame blueliners to pull it off, and I don’t think he knows how to do anything else. A leopard cannot change his spots.

Carlyle isn’t the only problem with the team that requires change (and nor does anyone sane argue that), but it’s hard to argue that replacing him wouldn’t be an improvement on the status quo.

That said, it isn’t entirely on Randy because…

3) The fourth line still stinks.

Okay, bear with me a little bit here, because it may sound like I’m contradicting myself.

Is the fourth line better without Orr and/or McLaren? Unequivocally yes. Neither are hockey players. Both are healthy scratches in the AHL. A fourth line should be replacement level, and those guys are not even replacement level by AHL standards.

Should the fourth line be trusted with more ice time? Yes. All successful teams can roll four lines, and in the interest of tiring out the top nine, the Leafs need to follow suit.

But, here’s the Catch-22: the fourth line has looked horrific for the most part. No good. Very bad. Like, better than if they iced two goons, but still awful all the same. In terms of the eye test, and stats both of the fancy and non-fancy variety.

The fourth line has put up two points all season. TWO. One Richard Panik garbage time goal (assisted by not fourth liner Tyler Bozak) and one Peter Holland assist (on a goal by maybe-not-a-fourth-liner-but-definitely-not-paid-by-one David Clarkson). Bottom line? As a unit, the fourth line itself has contributed for zero. Zilch. Nada. Niente.

The fancystats tell an even sadder tale. The highest CF% player to play on that line is Peter Holland, at 42.9%. Richard Panik has 36.3%. Brandon Kozun has 35%. That’s WORSE than the aforementioned first line that’s been getting run the fuck over. But, the first line at least has the excuse of playing against really, really good players. The fourth line plays against….well, fourth liners! Also, they’ve been given cushier deployment. Holland is second in offensive zone starts to only Kadri. It’s not as if this line is being completely buried. They’ve just been bad.

As much as I’d like to criticize the 7D decision, there’s a counterpoint that, well, it worked. The fourth line did look better, at least against the Islanders. Probably because there was a Not Fourth Liner playing on it. That still isn’t a sustainable solution going forward. I’m not sure what is.

Basically, points 2 and 3 are a bit of an endless cycle: Carlyle won’t play the fourth line because he’s Carlyle, but the fourth line also won’t earn ice time because it’s kinda sorta sucked all year.

4) The D is still in shambles.

While I will give the D credit for being improved possession-wise (4/7 D actually have positive CF%!), there’s still a major problem with the blueline: who the fuck do we even play with whom?

Gardiner/Rielly seemed like a great idea on paper, until it didn’t look so hot in practice. Phaneuf has had his ice time scaled back by about a minute per game, but still lacks an optimal partner. Robidas has been absolutely run over all season. Polak has been okay, but has the speed of a drunk Jason Allison. No matter how you shake out the D pairings, there’s going to be one awful pair with no chemistry that just gets annihilated, especially with Stuart Percy in the AHL. It’s like a really morbid LSAT logic game.

Then there’s Cody Franson. I’m not sure what to make of him. There seem to be, as with EVERYTHING Leafs, two distinctly polarized camps: those who like him because of his puck possession, and those who absolutely detest him because of his defensive miscues. I personally don’t get why it has to be one or the other, and admit to having my foot in both camps. I think Franson contributes positively by ensuring the Leafs top pair spends less time in its own zone, but contributes quite negatively by handling the puck like a live grenade in the defensive zone. That he’s dead last on the team in offensive zone starts should probably scare you shitless for that reason.

But, this is how badly in shambles the Leafs D situation is: I don’t see a better option than to pair Phaneuf with Franson. For one thing, Phaneuf has looked better with Franson. More importantly, I have no idea who else you can put up there. I’m not confident Rielly is ready for those minutes yet. Gardiner would be just about the same story. Robidas looked downright awful on the first pair, did the polar opposite of driving possession, and Phaneuf looked downright terrible with him. Polak would be a terrible, terrible idea. What other choice do you really have?

If I’m picking the D pairings, I have to keep Phaneuf and Franson together. That will lead to some very bad plays converted into goals against by some very good players, but there really isn’t a better option. The fact that there isn’t a better option should tell you exactly what’s wrong with this defense.

THE WILD CARD:

1) I have no idea at all what to make of this team anymore:

This much should have been made clear from the very beginning, and further solidifed by the fact I constantly contradict myself in this post. That’s because this team is just rife with contradictions. The Leafs have more depth, but they’re a one line team. They need to play the fourth line more, but it sucks. The D is better with possession, but is still a landmine.

I have no idea what to believe this team is or isn’t. I can offer two certainties: this team will not be winning the Stanley Cup, and it will not be drafting McDavid or Eichel. There are a finite number of teams in the NHL that are that good or that bad, and the Leafs don’t have a foot in either camp. The Leafs are not the Blackhawks, but they’re also not the Sabres. That said, this is true of many NHL teams, so there’s a lot of real estate to cover between these two extremes.

So, what are the Leafs? That’s a tricky question. We know they have some top-heavy offensive talent, two good goaltenders, an excellent PP with no shortage of solid point shots. They also have no tangible depth, no bottom six production, a D in shambles, and are mediocre at best when it comes to possession. Trying to predict anything about this team is impossible. You’d have an easier time doing PR work for Roger Goodell.

On paper, this looks like a 4-5 team in the Atlantic primed to probably miss the playoffs, but maybe just scrape enough points on offense and goaltending to grab a wild card seed. Maybe if all goes right for them and wrong for another team, they’re even 3rd in the division (but probably not). If all went completely to hell in a handbasket, maybe they hit 6th or 7th (more likely than 3rd, but also probably not).

It’s not just the team. I don’t know what to make of the players. Franson is a great example for reasons outlined above. Roman Polak is a guy I’m still not convinced one way or the other on. I’m not sure what David Clarkson is. Or Daniel Winnik. And while Santorelli and Komarov have been money together possession-wise, do the percentages say the offense will come, or is that line just destined to be one big Lee Stempniak 2.0? This team is beyond coin flip. It’s shaking an 8 ball and consistently having it come up “Outlook hazy; please ask again.”

But that’s not all. The biggest mystery of this team by far is why it not only has completely laid eggs in three games, but done so while playing relatively decent until the first goal against. The games against Pittsburgh, Detroit (at home), and Boston were complete mail-ins. They were also games the Leafs started strong at 0-0, but the opposing team got the first goal. Then the Leafs just lay down and died.

Why?

I’m not one to waste my time thinking intangibles are the be-all and end-all, but this may very well have an intangible answer. How does a team start strong, allow a goal, and then just completely give up? How does a team just completely not show up for games as it did against the Bruins? What is going on? Is it systems? Confidence? Something else between the ears? I think it’s an intangible thing simply because I can’t figure out what’s going on, and I doubt anyone else can.

So really, there’s good, there’s bad, and a lot in between. But, the recurring theme about your 2014-15 Toronto Maple Leafs is I have no fucking clue what’s really going on or going to happen.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Rabbit Hole Runs Deep (Or: Why Your NFL Boycott Is Stupid)

September 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m not one to write serious commentary so bear with me here.

I’ve seen a lot of different pieces, opinions, viewpoints on the Ray Rice incident this week. Many I’ve agreed with. Some I haven’t. I can’t try to debate every single one of them; I can only try to present my perspective. I wanted to write something about it because I seemed to have a lot of opinions about both the good and misguided. Luckily, Katie Nolan managed to put most of my thoughts together in an amazingly eloquent way. So, for starters, watch this video:

This is amazing, for two reasons: first, because she is a woman who works in sports, while I am neither of those things. Also because it touches on the one thing I wanted to put in words all week:

A NFL boycott would mean shit all, in large part because this isn’t a football issue. It’s a societal issue.

This piece was in large part meant to be a rebuttal to an article earlier this week from Jezebel. I have a policy of trying not to link stupidity, so you can go find it on your own time. In any event, the general crux was this: by watching and enjoying NFL football, you are complicit in awful acts such as domestic abuse. You condone it. Proponents of that viewpoint can dress it up however they want, but that’s what the words on the virtual paper inferred.

Let’s be honest here: the NFL won’t be hurt by losing your money, but it needs fans with a conscience. Pragmatically speaking, if fans who care about issues like domestic violence leave, that won’t bankrupt the NFL. It will only leave the fans who don’t care about these issues. Then what?

Nolan killed it on this point. If the critical voices of the NFL leave, who’s left? Drunk rednecks and frat dudebros? Do you really think that’s the kind of NFL that will suddenly become warm and fuzzy towards domestic abuse? Hell, if you buy into that, I’ve got some lovely beachfront property to sell you in Nebraska. By leaving football to the lowest common denominator of sports fans, you’re basically just setting yourself up for even more failure.

Quite simply, you will never change the NFL by leaving. You will only remove the critical voices and leave it in the hands of people whose opinions on Ray Rice or domestic violence or just about anything else you probably do not want to know.

Here’s the second point: liking a sport doesn’t make you complicit in domestic violence, or whatever other crime or Bad Thing your not-so-friendly neighbourhood athlete has involved themselves in recently.

I’ve watched the NFL for 13 years. I’ve followed an NFL team for 12. Me watching football doesn’t make me an accessory to his abuse any more than it did to Aaron Hernandez’s murders or Michael Vick’s dogfighting. Since I’m a hockey guy, what then of Semyon Varlamov, Patrick Roy, or all the coach-player sexual abuse that occurs in junior hockey? Basketball guy? Jason Kidd is a noted multiple offending domestic abuser; he’s not only not in jail, but played 19 seasons in the NBA and now coaches a team. Baseball guy? Josh Lueke still exists. But let me make this clear: none of this is why you watch the games.

You watch sports because at some point in time, you grew interested in one team winning various games involving sending some random object towards some random goalpoint. Your interest in the game had nothing to do with the fact that some person being paid millions to do something with said random object and said goalpoint happened to be a terrible person. Nor will it ever. You cannot be asked to change what you enjoy and do not enjoy because people involved in said hobby are awful. Nor does it make you bad to enjoy something because you enjoy it. It’s simply patronizing to say otherwise.

The sad reality of life is that awful people exist in every facet of humanity. If the “BOYCOTT NFL” crowd were to take a closer look, they’d see domestic abusers not just in sports, but entertainment, music, movies….probably some things that those who take the pulpit of holier-than-thou speak enjoy. To live in a world where you don’t somehow support a morally reprehensible person with your wallet is, quite simply, a world where you’re not using your wallet at all. Period.

The harsh reality that some will never understand is that people will choose to support something because of the product its puts out rather than the values it holds. Chik-Fil-A hasn’t seen a dent in its sales since its 2012 stand against gay marriage. That’s by no means support for its homophobic position; people just like the chicken sandwiches. Such is the same with the NFL. A chicken sandwich is a chicken sandwich. Football is football.

Many will choose to vote positively with their wallets not because of extraneous messages, but because of the product being sold. These aren’t bad people condoning bad behaviour. They’ve made a conscious choice only because they like the product. If you choose to boycott, you’ve made a different conscious choice. Know, however, that your choice doesn’t automatically make you better or more moral than anyone who has deigned to make the different choice.

Let’s make this crystal clear: unless you live in a bubble and do not engage with humanity whatsoever, you are complicit in domestic abuse by this “BOYCOTT NFL BECAUSE” standard. Because the problem is just so much bigger than football. It’s bigger than sports as a whole, but I will keep the focus on sports.

That’s the next point here. Ray Rice isn’t a football problem. It’s not an NFL problem. It’s a societal problem. It is so much bigger than one league, one sport, or one person.

There are so many things that need to change, but there is one problem so big and systemic within sports that no meaningful change can happen until this problem is resolved.

I don’t want to try and speak for women, so this is entirely based on my own observations. To be frank: women are treated like second class citizens when it comes to sports.

Women in the sports world are shoved to the sidelines reading tweets, or into skimpy outfits either cheering or picking up ice shavings. The women of the sports world are essentially asked to sit down, shut up, look pretty, and tell us what men think about sports rather than actually dare to have their own opinion.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting many amazing female sports fans, but goddamn, they get a rough ride. Even the most rational, intelligent female sports fan faces an uphill battle. Just the mere act of expressing an opinion can vault them onto a quiz show where they’re forced to defend their knowledge of all things sports. The only difference with this quiz show is that the points don’t count double, nor is there an all-inclusive trip to Hawaii to play for. The only prize for them is that they might know as much arbitrary knowledge as the insecure guy who decided to call them out in the first place. Big win.

The truth is that many, many, MANY guys out there are dumb as a sack of bricks when it comes to sports. Listen to talk radio and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The problem is that society seems to not bother acting like these dumb guys exist. Or, when they’re dumb, it’s just that they’re dumb. When a girl is dumb, she’s a silly puck bunny who doesn’t get sports. Don’t believe me? Let’s see what major video games think.

This may seem totally unrelated to Ray Rice, but it’s the first problem of many in dealing with these issues in sports. We could better understand issues like domestic violence if we had more female voices. But for there to be more female voices in the sports discussion, we’d need to actually start listening to them and, y’know, treating them like equal participants in sports media and fandom. It’s simple logic, really.

Why do things like the Ray Rice/NFL incident happen? They can only happen in front of an audience that won’t demand accountability. If that audience has vocal women in it, these incidents don’t just neatly get swept in front of the rug. But before that can become a reality, we need to look at sports culture as a whole and realize it just isn’t equal.

You’re an idiot if you think boycotting the NFL- or any sport- is the answer. What sports need are more people who demand accountability; otherwise, the Roger Goodells and Ray Rices of the world will only continue to skate by unscathed. But the problem is that the people most primed to say “hey guys; domestic violence is bad and you should really do something” are not treated as equal participants in the sports discourse. And that’s a problem, but a fixable problem.

That doesn’t start with Ray Rice or the Baltimore Ravens or the NFL or Roger Goodell. That starts with us.

Categories: Uncategorized

A Hockey Fan Guide to the NFL

September 4, 2014 2 comments

The NFL starts today! Are you a hockey fan who doesn’t really know football? Don’t worry! With this handy guide, I can tell you which team is most like your favourite team, so you know who to cheer for during football season!

(Click on screencaps to enlarge)

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Categories: Uncategorized
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