Thursday, November 22, 2012

What The NHL Can Learn From A Twinkie

You may have seen in the news this week that one of North America's classic packaged goods companies, Hostess Brands, officially filed for bankruptcy. Company CEO Gregory Rayburn made it official on November 16th that Hostess was closing down its operations for good. He cited an antiquated business model that was no longer sustainable in today’s economic climate.

Hostess produces a number of products you’re likely familiar with including Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs; however, they are perhaps best known for their addictive golden sponge cake with the white creamy filling – the Twinkie.

Now the connection between a Twinkie and an NHL player is admittedly not obvious and most players are likely banned from consuming the classic pastry unless they sneak one in the offseason or they're Dustin Byfuglien and they don't give a $%@#.

The Hostess management team has had a trying few years, as they have been unable to develop a positive working relationship with their unionized employees, represented by Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM). The union represents a significant portion of the company’s 18,500 employees.

On November 9th the union voted to go on strike, unhappy with management’s frequent calls for lower wages and smaller pensions, which were cited as major issues in Hostess’ business model. This sent the 33 bakeries and 553 distribution centers into disarray and crippled the company’s ability to produce and deliver products.

What really struck me about the story and what scares me as a hockey fan is how the BCTGM union responded to the initial bankruptcy claim by management – they balked at it. Union leaders felt that the corporate leaders were simply using the threat of closure to force workers to cross the picket line or risk losing their jobs.

The union never expected the company to actually follow through on their threat and shut down operations for good – but they did.

When looking at the financials is where the story gets really eerie. The 2008 revenue for Hostess Brands was $2,800,000,000 - close to $3-billion dollars. The 2011-12 hockey related revenue for the NHL was just over $3 billion dollars. How many times have we heard on the radio over the past 60 days that the NHL and NHLPA should be able to come to some sort of agreement based in large part on the size of the financial pie in play?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Perception and Reality: Life As A Leafs Fan

Suzy: "I've always wanted to be an orphan.  Most of my favourite characters are.  I think your lives are more special."

Sam: "I love you but you don't know what you're talking about."

Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson's latest piece of dry whimsy.  His protagonists, Sam and Suzy, are a pair of 12-year olds who run away from their respective guardians to be alone and together.  Sam is an orphan and Suzy is a lover of teen fantasy-fiction where unusual life circumstances seem to be a prerequisite for heroic figures.  The first time we see Sam tell Suzy he loves her is preceded by an exchange that shows how little Suzy probably understands him.  Her books tell her that orphans lead charmed lives but Sam, who's lived as one, knows otherwise.

I sometimes feel like this is what it's like to be a Leafs fan.  We have a fantastic and rich history; our rafters are full of Stanley Cup banners, and the Hall of Fame is full of our heroes.  Those outside of Leafs Nation tell us that this should be our consolation when things are tough.

After a bad season or two, they may be right.  Maybe we could look back on Sundin, Gilmour, Sittler, Keon, Mahovlich, Kennedy, and Apps and feel that things weren't so bad.  After 8-years of futility, these names have become small comfort.

As sports fans, our currency is hope.  History and tradition round out the fan experience but they're no substitute for success.  Sports, at its core, is an escapist exercise, and it takes a particular breed of individual to subject themselves to an elective flogging.

But that's what we do, time and again.

That isn't to say that there's no cause for hope.  We're a team who can spend to the cap every year and should be able to lure free agents -- in theory.  We have prospects with some promise and a goalscorer in Phil Kessel who's worth the price of admission.  But even with those things, there's absolutely no substitute for winning.

After 8 seasons of poor performance, we've become the lovable losers of the NHL.  Only our most bitter rivals can still be considered rivals at all -- everyone else pities us.  We get the metaphorical hair mussing and get told to hang in there.  Being a Leafs fan is a special thing and at least we've got our legacy.

Well, thanks.  I love you but you don't know what you're talking about. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Buy, Sell, Or Stay: The Leafs' Direction Coming Out Of The Lockout

Is there a team in the league more on the fence than the Toronto Maple Leafs?

If the season started today, it would take more of the same historically bad goaltending for the Leafs to land in the draft lottery or, conversely, exceptional goaltending for them to snake their way into the playoffs.  They're occupying hockey's deadspace and that's the last place fans want them to be.

We're told that our prospects are great and in some cases it's true but I promise you, there is no magic bullet.  Our system has a lot of guys with NHL-potential but it's low on impact.

With this in mind, there are three courses of action; 1) we can move pieces of the future for the here and the now, making our best efforts to compete while Phil Kessel is still on his sweetheart contract, 2) we can divest ourselves of anything that doesn't look a piece of our core three years down the road, swallow the jagged pill and brace ourselves for more bad hockey, or 3) stay the course and see how things shake out.


One of the league's best goalies is available and can likely be had at a discount.  Goaltenders of Roberto Luongo's calibre rarely change teams unless, for some reason, they are Roberto Luongo.  By the time the NHL starts playing meaningful hockey games again, it's likely that Roberto Luongo will have been traded for the third time in his career.  I struggle to think of a star-calibre goalie who's been shipped with such regularity.

By adding Luongo, the consensus seems to be that the Leafs will compete for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and barring a major injury to one of our key players, I'd agree with that assessment.  The cost will almost certainly include futures -- whether that's Joe Colborne, Nazem Kadri, or our 1st Round selection, only Gillis and Burke can know.  The question we're then forced to ask is whether there's enough of a foundation in place to start moving out these kinds of assets or whether we're better off taking our lumps.

Acquiring Luongo and fast-tracking this team into competitiveness also serves as a carrot to a strong upcoming UFA crop.  Losers overpay for free agents in a way that winners don't have to and, more often, never even get the chance to seriously bid.


There are assets here with value and some of them may be on the clock.  MacArthur, Lupul, Bozak, and maybe even Connolly depending on his start, are all guys with expiring deals that competitive teams may have an interest in.  Burke track record with trading established players for prospects is pretty strong;  Gardiner is clearly the gem of the group, Joe Colborne is a player with a chance to have a meaningful impact, Keith Aulie was a good prospect for a while and when it looked like his value was starting to diminish Burke deftly moved him out for Carter Ashton.  The only serious whiff on Burke's resume in this regard is Luca Caputi.

Selling will mean more suffering but it's also a fast track to a lottery pick in a year where the prospect pool certainly looks to be deeper than most.  What it also means is that you're either dramatically overpaying for free agents or not getting them which is a significant consideration given next year's potential UFA group and the tight constraints many teams will be under with the shrinking cap.

Also of note is the message you're sending to your two best players, Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel.  These guys are two years away from unrestricted free agency and another two years of futility would leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth.


The Albert Einstein quote about insanity, while tired, is probably apt here and proceeding with business as usual may seem absurd but there is some merit to it -- maybe.

With the injury to Reimer and Scrivens' great season with the Marlies in 2011-12, there's a chance that we have league average goaltending at an affordable rate and a chance that we have historically bad goaltending.  Those outcomes may not sound particularly promising but historically bad goaltending lands you in the lottery which isn't such a bad result.  Conversely, if Reimer or Scrivens end up being league-average goaltenders then you're probably further ahead with a cheap Reimer than a pricey Luongo.

Staying the course gives you more information with which to make a decision by the time the trade deadline rolls around but it almost certainly takes you out of the running for Roberto Luongo.  By choosing to stay rather than buy, you're seriously damaging the team's playoff chances in 2012-13 but the best-case payoff moving forward is arguably higher.  Still, that's a risky gamble.

The Answer

I really don't have one but I sure hope Burke does.  What I know for sure is that we can't keep finishing in the 17 - 25 range and expect things to ever get better.  What the Leafs need is a direction, up or down, and either way we can't afford to wait another year.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Roster Management: What Would It Cost To Retain Our 2013 UFAs?

I've been having a lot of discussions lately about whether or not a year-long lockout would be good for the Leafs and the pros and cons associated with playing the season or not playing the season.

On the one hand, if we wiped out 2012-13, we're guaranteed no worse than a ~6% chance at the 1st overall pick.  Getzlaf and Perry would go straight from being property of the Ducks to UFAs with no exclusivity period.  Maybe most importantly, the Leafs will have shed all of their bad money with the exception of J.M Liles and the final year of the Komisarek deal.

In shedding their inefficient deals though, they'd also be losing guys like MacArthur, Bozak, and Lupul.  Let me start by saying that I realize that these three players are some of the more polarizing guys on the team.  Some people would trade Lupul for a ham sandwich while others will put the blinders on and look exclusively at last season's production.

If we're going to decide whether or not we want to retain these players, a good place to start is probably by looking at what kind of contract we'd likely be committing ourselves to.

Clarke MacArthur

If the season started today, MacArthur would be making $3.25M against a $70M cap meaning that he accounts for 4.64% of the salary cap.  Since joining the Leafs, MacArthur has posted seasons of 62 and 43 points and has reliably pushed play in the right direction.  As far as what we can expect from MacArthur, I would say it's reasonable to split the difference between those two years and say that he's probably good for 50-something points.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Day Dreaming: Former Leafs We'd Like to See Return

The NHL lockout talks have been heating up this past week (they even met in person, yay!), but in the spirit of the old adage ‘once bitten, twice shy’ we here at BCP aren’t getting our hopes up just yet. Taking a break from all the talk of HRR, contract length, revenue sharing...etc we wanted to do some reminiscing.

Interesting news surfaced this week regarding the Toronto Raptors and their former star Vincent Lamar Carter, also known as Air Canada, the human highlight reel, or as he was known to me in the summer of 2004: the man that forever shattered my fragile teenage heart.

While speaking on the radio to Tim and Sid of the FAN 590, Carter confirmed that he would consider coming back to Toronto and the Raptors. The question was seemingly asked as more of post-retirement, type of return, as in would Vince consider coming back to the ACC to have his number 15 retired. Carter said he would come back in a heartbeat, going on to say that all of his career highlights came in a Raptor uniform.

The mainstream media has picked up this story and ran with it (as they’re wont to do) claiming that the 35 year old Mavericks forward would welcome a trade back to Toronto as a player. Having heard the discussion and read the reports I’m not ready to say that. However, he does appear to have warmed considerably to the city that he so desperately wanted to escape from, going so far as to demand a trade, fake knee injuries, and refuse to ever dunk again – for you non-basketball people, think 1986 Wayne Gretzky refusing to pass the puck again – ever – because he didn’t feel like it.

Whether or not Carter is serious about a return is very much up in the air. He’s an above average veteran bench player who is currently producing well for the Dallas Mavericks. At 35, his value to a non playoff team in the midst of a lengthy rebuild is questionable, nostalgia aside.

All this talk of comebacks got me thinking about Maple Leaf players that have left the city, and ones that I might like to see come back for one last hurrah.