Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brian Burke and the Future of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Patience seems to be wearing thin with Brian Burke these days.

On November 30th, SkinnyFish over at Pension Plan Puppets put up a post on How Cup Winners are Built where he looked at teams that had reached the pinnacle of success in the last 20 years of NHL hockey.  The conclusion he arrives at is that most teams breakdown of forwards among their top six scorers would be 3 drafted, 2 acquired via trade and 1 acquired through free agency.  As an extension of this, he argues that Brian Burke's 'July 1st is our draft' mantra means that he's not the right guy for the job.

Firstly, I think it's difficult to look at any team building that took place prior to the salary cap and use it as a model for how teams should or even can be built within it.  With free agency occurring at a younger age and teams being restricted in the dollars that they can spend, the dynamics of team-building are very different now than they were prior to the lockout.  This makes using stats extremely difficult as sample sizes are necessarily small and smaller still if you consider that very few teams have actually been built without the legacy of the pre-cap era.

Where the PPP article is bang-on (though it is never explicitly stated) is that it is enormously difficult to land a franchise player anywhere other than the draft.  These guys, even in a cap league where spending is restricted and UFA years come sooner than later, simply don't hit the market.  You'll get the occasional Hossa, Gaborik, or Kovalchuk but forget any pipedreams about Stamkos coming to a team near you.

Today's elite teams such as Chicago and Washington are successful precisely because they were able to land franchise talent in the draft by tanking out.  Other GMs have taken notice and first round draft picks have appreciated in value to a point that in my mind is patently absurd.  This means that everyone is trying to build through the draft now.  In some ways it makes perfect sense but in other ways it doesn't.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Early Season Report Cards

With the season a quarter done we here at BCP feel it’s time to hand out some report cards. As a Maple Leafs fan the ride has been much like a roller coaster these first few weeks. From the hot start, to franchise long losing streak, to the recent bounce back (led by my guy Nazem Kadri) – it’s been anything but boring.

Some players have greatly exceeded our expectations, while others have struggled to produce. Below are the early season report cards for some notable Leafs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Unsportsmanlike Activities Out of the Game

Everyone agrees that referees have a tough job.  They're expected to make split-second decisions on the activities of 12 different players on the ice at any given time in one of the fastest games in the world.  It's enough to make your head spin.

Making this more difficult are the "fake artists" (trademarked, Colin Campbell - not really) of this world.  Call them whatever you like, they're bad for the integrity of the game and they make things extremely difficult on the referees.

This week, it wasn't a fake artist but another type of unsporting activity coming out of Ottawa (no surprises there).  In a game against Los Angeles, Matt Carkner appeared to intentionally lift the net out of position to prevent a goal by the Kings.  The play went to review but the referee was powerless to determine whether there was any intent on Carkner's behalf and could instead only pass a ruling on whether the net was on its moorings when the puck crossed the line which, of course, it was not.

From Carcilo's faked high-stick in the playoffs to Carkner's net push, these plays cheapen the game and the referees are essentially at the mercy of these slimy players. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dion Phaneuf Deal

We all remember the day we heard the news.  I was in my car on my way to Chapters listening to sports radio when I first heard.  Within minutes I received a flurry of text messages from friends who were eager to share the news.  Who was heading out didn't much matter at the time.  We knew it wouldn't be Kessel or Schenn and anyone else was completely expendable.

As near as I can tell, the move was met with near unanimous approval among Leaf fans - which is no small feat.

As time has gone by, the shine has started to come off.  The Leafs' record has improved since the deal but Phaneuf's cap hit of $6.5M is well above the standard of play he's provided the team thus far which has left many Leaf fans wondering if the deal should have been made in the first place. 

The way I see it, there are two things that matter in any deal in a cap world - dollars and talent. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Brad Richards - Is He the Answer?

Today at work I overheard some interesting water cooler Leafs talk (ok we don’t actually have a water cooler – it’s a coffee station – water cooler banter just sounds better). Two guys were going on and on about how good Brad Richards would look wearing the beautiful colors of the blue and white.

The Dallas Stars' 1st line center, Richards is currently playing out the final year of his massive contract and is garnering interest from a number of teams around the league. Normally a player of his calibre would be a candidate for a long term extension; however ownership woes in Big D will likely result in Nieuwendyk sending Richards out of town at the deadline for a package of picks and prospects.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sh*t My Girlfriend Says (While Watching Hockey) Vol. 2

Three games this week as the Leafs beat both the Predators and the Devils before losing to the most disgusting team in the NHL.  With the Predators' game being the rollercoaster that it was, my girlfriend was in predictably fine form.  I've also included a gem from the past for your reading pleasure.

Context: Nashville scores their first goal of the game.

"Oh geez.  Even the suits aren't impressed!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Man Crush 2.0

Ah the school yard crush – what a magnificent thing. When I was 5 years old working my way diligently through the 1st grade I met a girl - Mindy McAlister. She was fantastic, my first official crush. She had it all – shiny hair, a big smile, and a blue bedazzled jacket she wore every Monday. Of course she was way out of my league, Mindy could already tie her shoes by herself, hang upside down from the monkey bars with no hands, and say the entire alphabet successfully (at least 50% of the time anyway).

Yes she was the perfect woman, but as with all crushes the changing of the seasons brought about new options and my eye began to wander. Sarah Jones kicked my shin on the playground shortly before Christmas break and with that, I was over Mindy. Sarah remained my primary crush until the summer – when she moved. Of course both Mindy and Sarah were tainted with girl coodies so my crushes never materialized into anything further then glances across the classroom and name-calling.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three Solid Games With Kadri in the Lineup

Kadri made his season's debut on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks and since then the Toronto Maple Leafs have strung together three strong outings.  Has Kadri singlehandedly plucked the Leafs out of their slump? No, of course not.  Having said this, he has provided the team with a much needed shot in the arm as well as a boost to the powerplay.

Kadri has picked up three points in his first three games since being called up which is certainly more than was expected of him at the time.  While he's still looking for his first goal of the year, he has two primary assists and two powerplay assists.  Big contributions from a 20 year old.

Whether Kadri has been on the ice or not, the Leafs' powerplay went 4 for 7 against Nashville and 2 for 3 against New Jersey.  After being abysmal through the first fifteen games of the season, it seems like our powerplay is back to being 'scary good' as it was in the preseason.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leafs Fantasy Update: Buy Low Sell High

For all my fellow poolies out there the fantasy hockey season is in full swing. With teams and players alike starting to establish themselves as pretenders and contenders, now is probably a good time to take a hard look at both your fantasy roster, and the other teams in your pool.

Once the draft ends, the only real way to improve your team is through astute waiver pickups and crafty trades. The key to winning any trade is to know when it’s appropriate to buy low, and when the time is right to sell high. Through this method you can ensure you're always getting the best value in any transaction. The trick, of course, is understanding when is the perfect time to buy and sell on your players. It’s far from an exact science, but through good research and watching a lot of hockey (I recommend ordering NHL center ice, best 30 bucks a month I’ve ever spent) you can put yourself, and your fantasy team in a position to succeed.

Thankfully, when it comes to Leafs players you have your friends at Blue Chip Prospects to update you on their fantasy value, and when to buy or sell.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So That's Why We Traded for Kris Versteeg

Fifteen games into the season and things were looking pretty bleak for Kris Versteeg.  After being crowned Brian Burke's best offseason acquisition, Versteeg had fallen out of Leaf fans' good graces.

Versteeg began the year on the top unit with Bozak and Kessel but after these first fifteen games, found himself playing on the third line having picked up a paltry 7 points.  Not exactly what we thought we were getting.

Perhaps worse than his meagre point totals was the -6 that was hanging like an albatross in his plus/minus column.  Versteeg was supposed to be a solid two-way forward that could be relied on in the defensive zone in addition to providing a boost to the team's underpowered offense.  Until tonight, we hadn't seen it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Leaf Dads Unite!

The Leafs are currently mired in a tough 8 game losing streak. With the Predators coming into town on Tuesday for a date with the Blue and While pundits and fans alike are calling for changes in Leaf land. Whether it be bringing up Nazem Kadri from the Marlies or shaking up the lines I give the buds management a lot of credit for doing everything they can to turn the ship around.

While these changes to the team have yielded less than stellar results, there is still one thing the team can do that will almost certainly inspire the boys to at the very least snap the losing streak. It’s a solution so simple, so true, and so well tested I’m disappointed it took 8 losses before it occurred to me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sh*t My Girlfriend Says (While Watching Hockey)

For the past six months I've been dating this girl and she's great.  She's pretty, she's smart and she completely supports / tolerates my obsession with hockey and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

She enjoys hockey herself and understands it fairly well, though somewhat imperfectly.  This, combined with her remarkable wit, has led to some funny perspectives and observations that I simply cannot keep to myself.

Inspired by the 'Sh*t My Dad Says' blog, I've decided to start sharing some of her comments for the enjoyment of all.

Here are a couple.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Discipline: Colin Campbell Style

Through some careful digging online I was able to obtain a copy of the transcript for a meeting between NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and lead disciplinarian Colin Campbell regarding Daniel Briere’s most recent suspension. The Flyers center was given 3 games in the press box for a stick swinging incident with Islanders forward Franz Nielsen.

Daly: Coly, after reviewing the game tape of the incident last night I think you need to come down hard on Briere. A substantial punishment will show the players that we are serious about protecting their safety. The stick is a weapon and I don’t think all of our players understand the danger it can pose to others.

Campbell: I completely agree Bill. Downright cowardly what Danny did. After a faceoff Nielsen had no way to protect himself and was at serious risk of being injured. To make matters worse the Flyers were on a 5 on 3 power play, meaning the Islanders had no way to defend themselves.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal: Nazem Kadri

Hope, as defined in Webster’s dictionary; someone (or something) upon which expectations are centered. It’s a simple definition for a word that can be extraordinarily complex depending on the context of its use. In this case, for Leafs fans, hope can be summed up with one singular word – Kadri.

Friday the Toronto Maple Leafs officially called up Nazem Kadri from our AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. While Nazem won’t have to travel far to the big club (the Marlies play down the road at Rico Coliseum) the road to NHL respectability may be longer and bumpier.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Time to Start Leaning on Kaberle a Little

Brian Burke strives to be a principled GM.  He has a holiday trade freeze so guys can enjoy the holiday season with their families without concerns of being uprooted, he refuses to hand out 'top heavy' contracts though if any team can afford to do it, it's his, and he wont ask a player with a no trade clause to waive it.

Principles be damned.

At the risk of betraying my overwhelming frustration at the team's lack of offense, get Kaberle the f&*# out of here!!!

3 Moments that Changed the Leafs Forever

You know those mornings where you wake up right out of a great dream. For just a moment or two you can’t figure where the dream ends and your sad reality starts. I remember years ago thinking I was actually laying in bed with a scantily clad Cindy Crawford (1990s supermodel, for you teenagers scratching your head) for a good 15 seconds after I woke up. Of course, upon rubbing my eyes and rolling over I was only cuddling with a pillow – Best 15 seconds ever though.

Yesterday, I had a very similar morning – this time no hot women or supermodels were involved – although my pillow was there. No, yesterday I had a dream about our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, and what could have been....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Things I am Looking For in a Man"

This morning, as with most mornings after I put up a post, I started my day with some toast and a quick look at my blog's stats.

Traffic has been a bit down lately after peaking at 10,000+ hits in September.  The usual suspects are generating a lot of hits for our blog as being linked on PPP and the Globe and Mail are by far the best traffic sources a Leafs blog could ask for.

Having seen results that weren't terribly unexpected, I was presented with something that was at once shocking and amusing.  Someone, somehow, ended up at our blog by google searching "things I am looking for in a man".

While this may seem initially surprising, it is less so when you dig a little deeper.  With a post titled "Man Crush" and several others expressing infatuation with various members of the Leafs' team it's a bit less surprising.  Oh, and then there's this.  Suffice to say, it isn't all that shocking.

Now, after the longest lede in the history of blogging, I've decided to make a post on what I'm looking for in a man.  Don't worry, it's strictly platonic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

If You Don't Like Your First Line Then Make a New One

Since he arrived in Toronto, I've been a Ron Wilson apologist.  I was happy when the team signed him despite many complaints from others about his lack of playoff success with the Sharks.

I understood the poor results of the past two seasons under Wilson given the relative lack of talent on the team and knowing that a team that had undertaken such a significant overhaul was bound to take more than a little time to come together.

Despite this, I've never liked his propensity for calling out his players publicly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Big Games Early On: Saturday's Tilt Huge for the Leafs

To say that Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres is huge for the Leafs isn't hyperbole. 

The Leafs have hit a rough patch that many expected despite their hot start and there's no better time for the team to snap out of it than Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres.

The reasons for the tough results lately have been a confluence of hot opposition goaltending, an inability to capitalize on scoring chances and a few poor decisions.  Ron Wilson has rightly pointed out that the team has, for the most part, played well though the results simply haven't been there.  Unfortunately, well-played losses don't give you points in the standings.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Keeping Myself Honest: Reviewing My Fantasy Advice

Through a month of the year, my own fantasy team has done fairly well.  I'm in third in the league with a very solid team but I find myself well back of the top two squads, each of whom would get a first-round bye if the playoffs were to start today.  My schedule to start the year has been a tough one with each of the three teams I've played falling inside the playoff cutoff.

Enough about me, how about you?  In the lead-up to this year's season I put out a few articles on players that I liked to varying degrees as well as a list of sleepers.  In the interest of accountability, I figure we should assess my performance. 

Here we go;

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Caputi to the First Line, Kadri in the AHL and Other Developments

Having missed the past two Leaf games, I have very little insightful to say about the team's play in the last week.  I can speak to the period of hockey I saw against the Rangers (Lundqvist robbed the Leafs) or the stats (our powerplay is still pretty woeful) but I would prefer to just toss out a series of thoughts that I've had recently, none of which are developed enough to constitute an entire post.

Firstly, Nazem Kadri is putting up some solid numbers in the AHL.  At last check he was at a point-per-game pace which is probably about what we expected from him when we sent him down.  The Globe and Mail (who are doing some exceptional work in their 'Leafs Beat' section, I should add) recently did a post on Kadri and his development in the AHL as seen through the eyes of Coach Eakins.