Category Archives: Hockey

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.

On rebuilding

I read an article on general borschevsky’s Maple Leafs blog the other day that contained the following text at the bottom:

Brian Burke believes Mats Sundin is not interested in returning to Toronto. No one seems to mind. Despite the obvious need for a top line centre, despite the need for veteran leadership, despite the fact that this team is already better then last year’s team and that the playoffs are just a short win-streak away,…

As soon as I saw the line about “the playoffs are just a short win-streak away“, I cringed. I immediately commented on the article, saying that this is why many people think that Leafs fans are stupid. No matter how bad the team is, these die-hards always seem to think that if we just make the playoffs, the Cup is ours. Or that making the playoffs, even if you get swept in the first round, makes the season a success. I wrote a little while ago about delusional Leafs fans who think that every year is the year. I, on the other hand, have accepted the fact that this year’s Leafs are not a contending team, and are likely not even a playoff team. In the long run, this is probably good, in that they will get a higher draft choice, and Our Saviour will pick the next Sidney Crosby.

For the record, general borschevsky is neither delusional nor stupid. He responded to my comment, saying that making the playoffs may not mean a Cup victory, but it does mean that we’ll be watching the Leafs in the playoffs, and it’ll be exciting and entertaining. And for those of us not employed in the sports industry, that’s what sports is, isn’t it? Entertainment? This is a good point — neither Toronto nor Pittsburgh won the Cup last year, but I am quite sure that Pittsburgh fans enjoyed last year’s playoffs a lot more than Leafs fans did.

There are three reasons a team misses the playoffs:

  1. Your team sucks because you are rebuilding, and after a few years, you will be a contender.
  2. Your team sucks because you are rebuilding, but after a few years, you will still suck.
  3. Your team just sucks.

Of course, the difference between groups 1 and 2 can only be seen through hindsight. The Leafs have missed the playoffs three years in a row, and I think they were squarely in group 3 during that span. They were not rebuilding — you don’t trade away a prospect and a draft pick for Yanic Perrault if you’re rebuilding. But the Leafs are clearly rebuilding now, so if they miss the playoffs this year, it will be because they have moved to either group 1 or group 2 — only time will tell which one.

I have been a Leafs fan my whole life. In that time, I have never watched a Leaf game hoping that they lose. So why is it that I cringe when someone suggests the possibility that the Leafs might make the playoffs this year? Because I have managed to convince myself that in order to get good, the Leafs will have to suck for a while. I mean really suck. It’ll be a tough couple of years (or more), but if Our Saviour does what everyone seems to think he will do, the Leafs will be a really good team in four or five years. I know that there’s no guarantee (losing is a necessary but not sufficient condition for building a winning team), but I have some confidence, so I’m willing to put up with the sucky years, mainly because the only other option is stay mediocre-at-best for the rest of whatever. So I’ve convinced myself that the Leafs will suck for a few years but in the long run, this is a good thing. I’ve braced myself for the pain. Then someone says “the Leafs could make the playoffs!” and I realize that if that happens, the pain will likely still come, it’s just been postponed.

I love analogies. I’m not always good at coming up with them, but I love them. So here’s my analogy. Sorry if you’re reading this over lunch.

You went for dinner at the local greasy spoon and had the monster chili burger with onion rings and big piece of coconut cream pie. And a Diet Coke. Man, was that good. But a couple of hours later as you’re sitting down to watch the Leaf game, you realize that the Diet Coke just isn’t sitting well. Damn, shoulda had the chocolate shake. The discomfort turns to pain, and a few minutes later, you start to wonder if your dinner might, ahem, come back. Twenty agonizing minutes later, you’re now hoping it will come back, since that will likely make the pain stop. You make your way to the bathroom not looking forward to what’s about to happen, but ready for it. But when you get there, the bathroom door is locked — your roommate, who went for dinner with you, is in there already with similar issues. Do you bang on the door and thank your roommate for allowing you to put off the inevitable upchucking? No, because as unpleasant as it’s going to be, you know it’s necessary, and you’ve braced yourself for it.

Dumb analogy? Well, sure it is. Dinner is likely coming back up anyway, whether the bathroom door is locked or not, whereas the pain of not making the playoffs but not getting any better either can continue indefinitely. So here’s another one:

You’re in the dentist’s office getting a filling. The dentist is about to stick that four-foot needle in your mouth (and then wiggle it around just in case you can’t feel it). You grip the armrests, leaving visible dents that patients that use that chair the next day can still feel, bracing yourself for the most unpleasant part of any dentist visit. (Aside: I’ve had many fillings and four or five root canals and crowns, and for me, the needles are always the worst part.) Just before the dentist gives you the needle, he remembers something. “Oh, hold on” he says, puts the needle down, and starts fiddling with some other equipment. You breathe out, having been given a little reprieve. A minute later he picks the needle up again and says, “OK, I’m ready now”. You grip again, and again he says “Oh, wait a sec” and puts the needle down. Now say he keeps doing this, several times. First off, you might want to find a less forgetful dentist. Secondly, by the seventh time he does this, you’re ready to yell “Just give me the damn needle, will you?” Do you want the needle? No, but you know it’s necessary and you’ve braced yourself for it.

So when someone suggests that the Leafs might make the playoffs this year, I say no. Not because I want them to lose, but because they are rebuilding and they need to lose for a while in order to get better. It’s necessary, and I’ve braced myself for it.

Straight outta left field

Just announced: Brian Burke is the new Leafs President and GM. Wow, didn’t see that one coming.

I was going to call it the worst-kept secret in sports, but I don’t think anyone attempted to keep it secret, even when Burke was still employed by the Ducks.

Now that Our Saviour has come, the Leafs are a lock for the Stanley Cup within three years, right? If you believe the Toronto sports media who have been going apeshit over Burke for a year, you might believe that too. Personally, I will reserve judgement for a while. At least let the man arrive in Toronto before you start planning the Stanley Cup parade.

Leafs fans are revolting

Howard Berger posted an article last week on his blog that insulted Leaf fans in every way possible. He called us sheep, delusional, easily placated, and said that we have “an insatiable willingness to accept whatever garbage is tossed [our] way”. His point is that the powers-that-be at MLS&E are getting rich off of us stupid Leaf fans who continue to buy tickets and merchandise in record numbers. He even brags about how much money he personally is making from Leafs fans who read his blog. Then after all that Leaf-fan-bashing, he adds the postscript: “p.s. You’re the very best, most devoted fans in the world… don’t change a thing” If you asked every sports writer in Canada to write something more patronizing and ass-kissing, I doubt anyone could.

After posting this garbage article, he then has the nerve to disallow comments on it. Well OK, he hasn’t formally disallowed them. Comments are moderated, which is fine, but in the four days since the article was posted, he hasn’t seen fit to approve a single one. I left one myself that hasn’t been approved, and if you think that mine is the only one, you’re as delusional as us Leaf fans.

Update: Between the time I wrote this article and the time I published it, Mr. Berger and/or the Fan blog people approved 25 comments on this article, including mine.

Are there delusional Leaf fans out there who see a three-game win streak in October and want to plan the Stanley Cup parade? Sure there are. Are there delusional Leaf fans who hate a particular player and want to trade him for a bucket of pucks one day and then want to nominate him for the Hart trophy the next? Sure. Are there Sens fans who do the same? Yes, absolutely! Canadiens fans? Yes! Red Wings fans? Yes! Predators fans? Well, probably not. But Berger lives and works in Toronto, probably the biggest hockey market in North America, if not the world. In absolute numbers, there may be more hockey fans in Toronto than any other city in the NHL (with the possible exception of New York City, just because greater New York has four times the population of the GTA and two NHL teams — three if you include New Jersey). Every city has its share of delusional fans, so it stands to reason that if your total number of fans is higher, you’re going to have more delusional fans. And guess what? These delusional fans are also frequently the loudest, so a sports writer like Berger is going to hear from them a lot more than from us realistic fans. But Howard Berger has covered the Leafs for years, so I would have thought that by this point, Berger would be smart enough not to paint all Leafs fans with the same brush.

Even my favourite sports broadcaster, Bob McCown, has talked about Leafs fans as sheep in the past. He doesn’t say it because people buy lots of tickets or merchandise, or even because they support a team that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in forty years; he says that people that cheer for a team that so openly treats them like garbage are sheep. I guess I can understand his reasoning, but I’ve grown up in Toronto and have been a Leafs fan all my life. I can’t just up and change teams, though I do admit to having had doubts in the past.

A bunch of Leafs blogs have gotten together and written an open letter to Leaf fans saying that we’ve had enough of media types criticizing and insulting us. They suggest a “revolt” of sorts, saying that we do have alternatives to these media types who blame Leafs fans for failings of Leafs players, coaches, and management. These blogs provide commentary and insight on the Leafs without the condescension of Mr. Berger and other Toronto sports writers because they are written by actual Leafs fans. I don’t have the time to read all of these blogs myself, but I do read Down Goes Brown, which I find quite insightful and thought-provoking and sometimes just funny. Pension Plan Puppets has some good stuff as well, though there seems to be less discussion and analysis and more “Go Leafs Go!” on that one.

For my part, I have removed the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox’s blog from my blog list. I have only been reading it for a few weeks and I never found it all that insightful anyway. I never subscribed to Berger’s blog in the first place. Now I’m posting this article in support of this “boycott” of sports writers who think of Leafs fans as moronic sheep while they make money off of us.

Having said all that, I’m not going to stop listening to McCown.

The hockey story that just won’t die

Mats Sundin had a physical in Toronto the other day in preparation for his return to the NHL. Toronto apparently has cap room to sign Sundin, but why the hell would they? They’re trying to rebuild and are letting the young kids play to see what they’ve got. Would Sundin make the team better? In the short term, yes, but at the expense of taking playing time away from the kids. They’ve already got veterans like Blake and Kaberle for the kids to learn from. News flash (via Ron Wilson): the Leafs are not going to contend for the Cup this year (or likely for at least the next couple), so what would be the point of signing Sundin?

Nobody from the Leafs organization will say this out loud, but you have to know they’re thinking it: they also don’t want to be too good this year, otherwise their chances of winning the John Tavares sweepstakes get lower and lower.

Sundin has said that if he plays this season, it will be his last season. But this is the same guy who refused to waive his no-trade clause last year (when the Leafs could have gotten something for him) because he didn’t like the idea of being a rental player. He said that playing for the Stanley Cup is only meaningful if you’ve been playing with the team since the beginning of the season. And now, less than a year later, he’s sitting out until two months into the season and is hoping to sign with a Cup contender, and then he’ll retire after the season’s over. In other words, he’s sitting out specifically so that he can be a rental player.

I harbour no ill will towards Sundin; if he comes back with another team (even the Senators or Habs), best of luck to him. But part of me will remain angry with him for a while because of his refusal to waive his no-trade clause last season. He could have made the Leafs a better team in the long term by agreeing to a trade for draft picks and/or prospects, but he didn’t want to do that because (he said) he didn’t want to be a rental player and (he said) he wanted to remain a Maple Leaf. I accepted both of those statements at the time. But his actions since the end of last season conflict with both of them, and now I don’t know what to think. It’s kind of too bad that he won’t get the retirement send-off that one of the best captains in Leaf history should have had. Rather than have the big celebration of his career in his last-ever game in Toronto like Jim Veltman had this past year, the Sundin era in Toronto just faded away.

A second team in Toronto? Puh-leeze.

Let’s get one thing straight, OK? This rumour that the NHL is considering giving Toronto a second NHL franchise is complete hogwash. The NHL has gone to great lengths to make sure that Jim Balsillie cannot buy an existing NHL team and move it to Hamilton and the reason they’ve given for this is that it would infringe on Toronto and Buffalo territory. This is in itself mostly hogwash, since nothing is going to take money or fans away from the Leafs, though I suppose it could pull fans away from Buffalo. It could be argued that if that’s the case, then maybe the Sabres should be moved. Anyway, after fighting Balsillie at every opportunity, they’re not about to turn around and just give Toronto a second team.

Then there are the issues of where they’d play. The ACC already has three professional teams playing there during the winter, plus lots of concerts and other events; adding another team would cause no end of scheduling headaches. From a selfish point of view, this would likely mean that the Toronto Rock (who are the lowest team on the ACC totem pole) would be “evicted” from the ACC and have to play at Ricoh Colliseum, which would suck for us Rock fans.

Would a second team succeed in Toronto? Sure it would. First off, it would likely be possible to get tickets for the Toronto Whatevers, whereas getting Leafs tickets is an exercise in frustration. Plus, Toronto has a lot of people who have moved from other parts of Canada, and have hated the Leafs all their lives. Toronto loves its Leafs, make no mistake, but they’re one of the most hated teams outside the GTA. A second team in Toronto would give them someone to root for.

If the owners of the new team are smart, they will keep ticket prices down, since MLS&E have not. Right now even if it’s possible to get Leafs tickets, the prices are insanely high. Your average guy doesn’t want to (or simply can’t) spend the many hundreds of dollars required to take his family to a Leafs game. And if you want decent seats and a couple of drinks and hot dogs and to park your car within a mile of the ACC, you’d better be prepared to shell out half a grand for an evening of entertainment. (And the way the Leafs have been playing over the past few years, the “entertainment” part is questionable.) I’ve brought Ryan to a couple of Rock games and a Raptors game, and both my kids have been to Blue Jays games, but neither has ever seen a Leaf game live, since I simply can’t justify the expense.

The whole idea seems very unlikely anyway, not only because the NHL keeps preventing Balsillie from joining the owner’s club, but because they have consistently refused to investigate the possibility of moving one of their struggling franchises to Canada, whether to Hamilton or back to Winnipeg or Quebec City. In fact, the league seems reluctant to even acknowledge that they have any struggling franchises. From interviews I’ve heard with Gary Bettman, they won’t even acknowledge that a Canadian dollar that goes from 65 cents US up to $1.05 and then back down to 79 cents has any effect on overall league revenue, despite the fact that the six Canadian teams are pulling well more than their weight. I’ve heard a number of times that the 6 Canadian franchises (20% of the teams in the league) bring in over 40% of the league’s revenue. Bettman is determined to make the league a huge success in the US, despite the fact that every attempt to do so over the past however-many years has failed. It’s big in the traditional hockey markets (Boston, Detroit, Chicago, New York), decent in some (San Jose, Minnesota, Dallas), but downright lousy in many others (Atlanta, Florida, Phoenix, Nashville). Kansas City or Oklahoma City may do OK, but they’re not going to change the hockey landscape much or turn the US into a hockey-loving nation, and I think Las Vegas is a disaster waiting to happen.

Winnipeg and Quebec City would be great NHL markets. Each of them used to have an NHL team that moved, but that had nothing to do with support from the city or fans; in both cases it had to do with rising salaries and a weak Canadian dollar. With the right ownership, I think either of these two cities could flourish in the NHL. Of course, I live less than 12 km from Copps Coliseum, so I’d be perfectly happy with a team in Hamilton, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon either. The NHL just won’t allow it.