Category Archives: Hockey

I Believe in Our Saviour, The Brian

So the Leafs haven’t started the season so hot. In fact, they can’t really be any colder than they have been. Every part of the team is having troubles, and word on the street is that this is the worst team in the league, which means that the Leafs might have sent Boston a first overall draft pick in exchange for Phil Kessel. There’s been a lot of talk about some of Burkie’s deals, and the fact that he is so obviously building a team full of fighters and tough guys. But surely there’s a method to his madness: his teams in the past have always had tough guys protecting his skilled players and allowing them to do their job. Nobody was going to run Teemu Selanne because they knew Chris Pronger or Brad May or someone would be on top of him in a second. This gave Selanne a little extra space, which he used to his advantage. That’s the strategy that Burke is using in Toronto as well – get a bunch of tough guys to protect the skilled players. Of course the problem is that there are no skilled players to protect. That’s why Colton Orr is only averaging 7 minutes a game – he’s got nothing to do, so he’s always hanging around Phil Kessel’s house.

But if you are planning on purchasing a fifty-karat diamond, wouldn’t you get the state-of-the-art security system installed first? You’re not going to buy the diamond and then leave it on the kitchen table until the security system gets installed a week from Tuesday. You make sure that the security system is in place and working flawlessly before you go pick up the diamond. So when Phil Kessel returns and Burkie trades Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, and a third round pick to Washington for Alex Ovechkin, he’s already got the protection in place.

Of course, that trade isn’t going to be quite that easy. Might have to bump the draft pick to a second-rounder.

Please note that this article might be one of the only ones written this season about the Leafs and Brian Burke that didn’t use the word truculence once. Go me.

European coaches in the NHL

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, there were only a handful of European-born or Russian-born players in the NHL, a few Americans, and a ton of Canadians. You had your Borje Salmings and your Peter Stastnys and your Jari Kurris but it wasn’t until the late 80’s and early 90’s (after the breakup of the USSR) that you really started seeing a lot of Russians and Czechs and Slovakians and such in the NHL. So over the last twenty years, there have been hundreds of European-born players in the NHL, and many of them have had long playing careers. Some have even made the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So where are all the European coaches?

Former players moving on to coaching is commonplace: of the thirty current NHL head coaches, twenty of them played in the NHL at one point. (In case you’re curious, the ten that have not are Paul Maurice, Ken Hitchcock, Peter DeBoer, Todd Richards, Jacques Martin, Barry Trotz, John Tortorella, Cory Clouston, Todd McLellan, and Andy Murray.) But not one of the thirty current NHL head coaches was born outside of Canada or the US.

Are Europeans simply not interested in coaching at the NHL level? Are they being discriminated against somehow? I don’t have any insight or opinions as to why this is happening, but I think it’s an interesting question.

Balsillie vs. Bettman, Round Two

So it’s down to the NHL vs. Jim Balsillie now. Should the NHL be allowed to own of one of its own teams? I would have imagined that the league owning a team would not be allowed, though I suppose MLB owned the Expos for a short while. The really weird thing about this – scratch that. One of the really weird things about this is that the NHL has publicly stated that if they win the auction, they will consider moving the Coyotes out of Phoenix.  I beg your pardon? Isn’t that one of the main reasons that they refuse to let Balsillie into the club? They keep saying that an NHL team can be successful in Phoenix (despite the fact that it hasn’t been in fourteen years), so why would they need to move them? And if they’re not against moving them, what’s the problem with letting Balsillie do it?

The NHL has stated that the other main reason that they’re so dead set against Balsillie is because of his supposed “lack of integrity”. Right. Because NHL owners are just packed to the gills with integrity. Here is an article listing five former NHL owners who have spent time in prison, and that doesn’t include the recently-convicted Boots Del Biaggio.

But even if the NHL wins the auction, then what? The number of season tickets sold in Phoenix for this year is in the hundreds (compared to the twelve thousand plus for the Leafs), they’ll have the same trouble finding sponsors and selling advertising that the previous owners had, and they’ve stated that they may move or sell the team. Jim Balsillie is the only one currently interested in buying the team. So the league will spend well over a hundred million to buy the team, lose millions of dollars operating the team, and then either move it anyway, or sell it at a loss. That’s a lot of money to spend just to spite Jim Balsillie. And if they end up selling it to Balsillie anyway, it will all have been for nothing.

Stephen Brunt said on Prime Time Sports the other day that if the NHL loses this auction, Gary Bettman’s days as commissioner are numbered, and he’s probably right. Which means that Bettman is gambling not only hundreds of millions of dollars of the NHL’s money, but his job as well. Is keeping Balsillie out of the ownership club really that important?

As much as I would love to see an NHL team in Hamilton, I can’t say I support the way Jim Balsillie has done this. His tactics have been heavy-handed and he’s certainly not making friends of the other owners nor the league executive. Would an NHL team work in Hamilton? I think so. There are enough hockey fans in this area, plus there would be lots of people from the Guelph-Cambridge-Kitchener-Waterloo area that would come, not to mention all the GTA people who can’t get Leafs tickets. I found it amusing a couple of years ago when a group of people who wanted to bring an NHL team to Hamilton proposed boycotting pre-season NHL games in Hamilton to “send a message” to the NHL. Good thinking guys – show the NHL how wrong they were by allowing them to hold a pre-season game here to an empty arena. The next time they’re considering expansion or moving a team, they’re not going to remember a boycott, all they’re going to remember is playing to an embarrassingly small crowd in Hamilton and quickly scratch the name off the list.

Opponents of an NHL team in Hamilton point to the lack of interest in the Hamilton Bulldogs as proof that the NHL won’t work here. But that’s a faulty argument, and here’s why.

I am a Hamilton resident who would be interested in watching and supporting a Hamilton NHL team but isn’t interested in the Bulldogs. I’m sure the Bulldogs are full of talented young players, but honestly, they’re a farm team. The whole idea of the team (and the AHL in general) is to give the players experience and get them ready for the NHL. It’s really hard to get pumped up for a team whose players would leave in a heartbeat if they get a call from the big club. You can’t blame them for that – getting to the NHL has likely been a dream for every one of the Bulldogs players since they first laced up the skates as a child. The AHL is mainly made up of three types of players: those too young or inexperienced to be in the NHL, those who simply aren’t good enough to be in the NHL, and those who have had a taste of the NHL but were the lowest on the totem pole when it came to sending someone down. But the NHL is the pinnacle of professional hockey, containing the best players in the world. Any way you slice it, the quality of players in the AHL is lower than in the NHL. Doesn’t mean that AHL games can’t be exciting – as long as two teams are roughly equivalent in skill level, you can have an exciting game at any level. But if you combine the lower skill level with what I said before about players bolting the second they get the chance at an NHL team, I cannot see how the argument can be made that a city that doesn’t support the AHL won’t support the NHL.

Sid the Kid

What is it about Sidney Crosby that he can’t buy respect? Seems that either hockey fans love him or hate him. But those who hate him don’t seem to be saying “I respect that he’s a great player but I don’t like him”, or “I don’t like this particular aspect of his game” or whatever, it’s more like they think he’s overrated and simply not that great a player. I don’t understand this.Respect?

In his four NHL seasons, he’s been named to the All-Star game three times, won the Art Ross (most points), Lester B. Pearson (best player as voted by his peers), and Hart (MVP) trophies, and he’s only 21 years old. According to Wikipedia, he’s the youngest player in NHL history to:

  • record 100 points in a season
  • record 200 career points
  • have 2 consecutive 100 point seasons
  • be voted to the All-Star game
  • win the Art Ross
  • win the Lester B. Pearson
  • named to the first all-star team
  • named full team captain
  • captain a team to the Stanley Cup

Most importantly, he took the Penguins from worst team in the league to Stanley Cup contenders in three years and Stanley Cup champs in four. Sure, he didn’t do it alone, Messrs. Malkin and Fleury helped, among others, but the acquisition of Crosby by the Penguins turned that team around in a big hurry. He’s been called a whiner, but so was Gretzky when he was young, and if that’s the worst thing you can say about a hockey player, that’s not bad.

People can have whatever opinion about Crosby that they want. Is he the best player in the league? Probably not, I think Ovechkin has him beat there. It could be argued that given Evgeni Malkin, he’s not even the best player on his own team. But given the stats above, I don’t understand how anyone can question that he’s one of the top five.

Note: the picture was stolen from

How not to make your point

I got an email from Jim Balsillie’s group today, asking me to send an email to Gary Bettman asking him why he’s against having another NHL team in Southern Ontario. While I applaud the content of the message, did anyone from the MakeItSeven camp really think this through? Great idea guys, let’s show Mr. Bettman the error of his ways by flooding his inbox with tens of thousands of identical form emails. That’s bound to convince him to think about the issue objectively.

I disagree with Gary Bettman on this issue, but he’s no idiot. Trust me, Bettman knows about the MakeItSeven thing and he knows that there are many thousands of people in Southern Ontario signed up for it. Spamming him is going to do nothing but piss him off.

Balsillie vs. Bettman

Gary Bettman says that the fact that he’s opposing Jim Balsillie’s attempt to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes is not in any way personal. Seeing as this is the third time that Balsillie has attempted to buy an NHL franchise and Bettman has prevented it every time, this is a little hard to believe. Jim Kelley wrote the other day about the number of NHL franchise owners that have been in prison over the last few years, including “Boots” Del Biaggio, who borrowed money from Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold to buy the Predators. Let me say that another way – Del Biaggio borrowed money from Leipold to buy a team owned by Leipold. Then it turned out that the remainder of the money Boots claimed to have didn’t exist. Even after Del Biaggio declared bankruptcy (and headed to prison for fraud), Bettman blocked Balsillie’s attempt to buy him out. And Bettman himself chose Del Biaggio over Balsillie. Balsillie has zillions of dollars, loves hockey, and most importantly he wants to be an NHL owner. Is he not the kind of guy that Bettman should be trying to get as an owner? Why is there even a question here?

Having said that, I do understand the NHL’s position on the movement thing. If an owner can up and move a franchise without the league’s permission, this sets a dangerous precedent for other leagues. What if Balsillie’s wife was from Timmins? What if Joe Zillionaire buys the Detroit Red Wings or the Dallas Cowboys and decides to move them to Butte, Montana? Or northern Saskatchewan? The league needs to have a say in where its teams are and if they can be moved.

Having said that, I don’t understand why Bettman refuses to take a team that has lost money every year for fourteen years (some say they’ve lost over $350 million in that time) and move it to a hotbed of hockey. He says it’s not a Canada vs. U.S. thing, but he certainly didn’t try this hard to keep a team in Winnipeg or Quebec City. Perhaps it could negatively impact the Buffalo Sabres, but anyone who thinks it would reduce the Leafs’ profits by one penny is delusional. To my knowledge, Bettman hasn’t even investigated the possibility to see how, or if, Buffalo would be impacted.

But here’s the question that I haven’t heard Bettman answer: even if Balsillie is wrong and the team doesn’t succeed in Hamilton, would the franchise lose any more money than it would by staying in Phoenix?

Judging a book by its cover

Down Goes Brown has written a scathing review of a book that he hasn’t read. In fact, the book won’t even be released for six months. But the cover tells you that the authors believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs suck, so how can it possibly be a good book? Now, I’m a Leafs fan, so what I’m going to say here might sound like heresy, but I’m gonna say it anyway. DGB, perhaps this is news to you, but here it is: The Leafs do suck, and have sucked for much of the past forty years. There. I said it.

Have they sucked every single year in that time? No, definitely not. They made the conference finals four times between 1993 and 2002. And are they the only team to not have won the Cup in that time? No, of course not. But every other original six team has at least made the Stanley Cup finals since 1967, and all but one have won the Cup in that time (in fact, Montreal has won it ten times (ouch, typing that was physically painful)). The Leafs have not made the finals since the Original Six were the only six. The Oilers and Islanders didn’t exist the last time the Leafs won it all, and they’ve won it nine times between them. Carolina, Anaheim, and Tampa freakin’ Bay have won Cups since then. The Leafs have had some good seasons, and even a few great ones, but they’ve also missed the playoffs fourteen times since 1967. Of the Original Six teams, only Detroit (17 times!) has missed the playoffs more, but they’ve also won four Stanley Cups in that time so they get a pass.

DGB’s article is a list of chapter titles for this book, many of which are unfair:

  • “An unshakable loyalty…”: the book isn’t about how Leafs fans suck
  • “The mysterious and spooky curse…”: for all we know, half the book is dedicated to the Harold Ballard years.
  • “Things we imagine Leafs fans would say…”: again, the book isn’t about the fans, it’s about the team. And what makes you think these guys aren’t Leafs fans? You can be a journalist and a Leafs fan. Just ask Damien Cox! OK, bad example.
  • “Why 1927 is more recent than 1967…”: DGB ignores the minor fact that the Senators didn’t exist for fifty-eight of those years. The current Senators have only existed for 15 years, and they’ve gotten closer to the Cup than the Leafs have in 40.
  • “Spilling into the streets…”: It is pathetic when Leafs fans do it because of a first round win. When Calgary and Edmonton did it, it was when they won the Cup or in the recent case of Edmonton, made the finals after barely making the playoffs at all.

DGB also makes a point about the fact that this is a hockey book written by two NBA reporters. But I listen to Prime Time Sports (via podcast) every day, and Grange has been a guest on that show many times. He may be paid to cover the NBA, but he seems knowledgeable enough about other sports. Similarly, Jim Kelley has covered hockey his whole career, and is even a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. But when the topic shifts to basketball, baseball, or football, Kelley can more than hold his own. I imagine sportswriters in general get into the business because they love sports, so the fact that they have been assigned a particular sport to write about doesn’t mean they know nothing about other sports.

But even given all that, here’s the main point: there’s no indication that this is a history book. The cover of the book simply says “…why the Leafs STINK and how they can rise again”. And the Leafs do stink. They’ve missed the playoffs three years running, and are very likely to miss them again this year. Barring some incredible moves by Burke in the off-season, they will not be much better next year.

Will I buy this book? Eh, probably not. But I’m not sufficiently homer enough to think that because it says negative things about my team, it must be a terrible book.