Friday, February 29, 2008

The 2008 Deadline Disaster Blame-o-Meter

Now that the Great Trade Deadline Disaster of '08 has come and gone with nothing meaningful to show for it, there's not much left for a Leaf fan to do except point fingers. And luckily, there's plenty of targets available. You know what that means: time to fire up the Blame-o-Meter™.

As always1, we'll start at zero (no blame) and work out way up to ten (get the firing squad). Let's see where it all shakes out...

0 - The fans
Just putting this out there, since you know the Damien Cox's of the world will find a way to pin this on us. Remember folks, don't blame the victim.

1 - Cliff Fletcher
The Silver Fox did what he could, which turned out to be not much. Even though he was the guy running the show on Dud-line Day, he had little room to maneuver once the NTC 5 (a.k.a. the Loser Brigade) decided to stick around. Could he have salvaged the situation by playing hardball early on? Maybe, but at the time his nice guy routine seemed like the way to go.

2 - Tomas Kaberle
Out of all the NTC 5, Kaberle is the toughest to get worked up over. Unlike the rest of the group, he's actually being paid at or below market value, so it's tough to begrudge him his NTC. And he's played at an all-star level these past few years, unlike some other defencemen I could mention.

3 - Richard Peddie
Good old Ricky Lipsynch actually managed to stay out of the way at the deadline, probably because he was too busy screwing up the hiring of the next GM. But he's done his damage, and many of this week's problems can be traced to his moronic leadership.

4 - Paul Maurice
How can a coach be blamed for what goes down on Deadline Day? Maybe he can't, at least directly. But it's clear from the eagerness of the NTC 5 to stay in Toronto come hell or high water that the Leafs dressing room is a pretty comfortable place to be these days. The next star player Maurice benches, sends to the press box or publicly admonishes will be the first.

Yes, his dry wit and little boy smirk make him popular with the local press (who judge everyone based solely on their media availability). But if he'd bothered to ask for even a little bit of accountability from his listless veterans this year, would they have been so eager to stick around and ride out another last place finish?

5 - Darcy Tucker
Tucker has had a terrible year, and still insists on spouting meaningless platitudes about how good the team could be if they were only healthy. On the other hand, his contract isn't actually all that bad -- especially if he's been playing hurt. And he's the only one of the veterans who seems to genuinely love playing in Toronto, so his refusal to waive seems somewhat reasonable.

6 - Andrew Raycroft
He deserves some blame for this somehow. Give me time, I'll figure something out.

7 - Pavel Kubina
The other NTCers were being selfish -- Kubina was just plain dumb. He could have hand-picked a deal to a contender, but instead he'll wind up going wherever Fletcher decides to banish him. Kubina is actually a better player than many give him credit for. I hope he enjoys proving it in Edmonton next year.

8 - Mats Sundin
I've been harsh on the captain this week, arguing that Sundin is selfish and mocking his NTC stance. There's little doubt that 14 years of service has earned him the right to make his own decision -- even if that decision turn out to be disastrous for the franchise, which it will. But once he made that call, it was a given that the rest of the veterans would fall in line. With retirement looking more and more likely, it's sad to think that our final memory of Mats will be of him torpedoing a desperately needed rebuilding plan for the sake of his own personal comfort zone.

9 - Bryan McCabe
The poster child and unofficial spokesman of the NTC 5. Has the worst contract of the bunch. Toyed with Leaf fans by pretending he'd accept a deal, then joked about it afterwards. Doesn't seem to understand how ridiculous he sounds when he says the Leafs are a good team. Probably wanted to leave, but couldn't get a signed permission note from his wife. Makes me so angry I write in incomplete sentences.

10 - John Ferguson Jr.
Apparently those wild street celebrations on January 21 were premature. Thanks to his weak-kneed willingness to hand out no-trade clauses to anyone who batted their eyes at him, Ferguson's utter incompetence has derailed this franchise so badly that it could take years to fix.

The only positive aspect to this whole debacle was watching Fergie squirm his way through TSN's deadline coverage, standing meekly by while everyone else piled on. I may not know much about the machinations of NHL front office work, but I know this much: if Mike Milbury is scoring points off of criticizing your performance, you were a monumentally terrible GM.

1Note how I cleverly make this look like a regular feature, instead of something I made up today.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mats Sundin is right and you're wrong

Wow, big group here. I'd like to thank all of you for coming by on such short notice. It must be tough for so many of the NHL's most respected stars, past and present, to all get together in one room. It's really great to see all of you. How's it going Wayne? Why don't you grab a seat up here next to Ray Bourque and Marcel Dionne.

Anyways, I'm going to cut right to the chase. I have some bad news. I'm afraid that some new information has come to light that affects all of you.

You're all frauds. Mats Sundin says so.

You see, every legend in this room was traded at or near the deadline at least once. That means you were all rental players. And as we learned this week, that means Mats Sundin doesn't believe in you.

Now, settle down Chris Chelios and Larry Murphy. Wipe those tears away, Mike Gartner and Joe Nieuwendyk. Chin up, Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Bure. It's better that you hear this now than continue to live a lie.

Is Butch Goring here? Butch, I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you to return that Stanley Cup ring from 1980. It doesn't count anymore. You what? You say you "earned" it. Well, yes, we thought so too, but apparently we were all wrong. Mats has set us straight. Stanley Cups don't count unless you were with the team for the entire season.

So Butch, if you could just line up over there near that big garbage can labelled "Unearned Stanley Cup Rings". Yes, that's right, over there behind Glenn Anderson, Mark Recchi and Ron Francis. Thanks.

Oh, hey, speaking of which. Mr. Francis, when you're done returning your 1991 Cup ring, I need you to come over here. Could you stand next to Brian Leetch and Doug Gilmour? I have some especially bad news for you three. You see, you guys have something in common. No, I mean besides that you'll all be in the Hall of Fame some day. You were all "rental players" acquired by the Maple Leafs during Sundin's captaincy. And I'm afraid I have some especially bad news for you.

Remember when you were acquired by the Leafs, and you walked into that dressing room? Remember how Sundin shook your hand and welcomed you, told you how glad he was to have you on the team? Well, it turns out he was lying. He thought you were doing things the wrong way, because you hadn't been on the team since October. Yes, I realize he sounded convincing. But it turns out he didn't even want you around. It would be hypocritical for him to feel any other way.

Now, is Brad Richards here? What about Brian Campbell and Marion Hossa? OK guys, I have some good news for you. You were dealt at the deadline this year, but you still have time to make it right. Listen carefully: do not report to your new teams. Tell them you'll see them in October, because you want to do things the right way. And for gosh sakes, next time remember to get a no-trade clause.

What's that Brad? You say you did have a no-trade clause, but you waived it. Why would you do something like that? Because you "want to win a Stanley Cup"? Oh dear. Brad, I'm going to need you to stay behind after the meeting. We're going to have to really have a talk about your poor attitude.

OK, did I see a hand raised somewhere? Is there a question? Hm, interesting, did everyone hear that? I'll repeat it for those in the back.

"If all these great players, with all their Stanley Cups and individual awards and first-team all-star selections, could accept being rental players... then why can't a guy like Mats Sundin, who has never accomplished any of that, do the same?"

Hmm. That's a good question. And I'm sure there's an excellent answer. But unfortunately, we're all out of time. Sorry everyone.

And again, thanks for taking the news so well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What Fletcher should have said

So now we know.

Cliff Fletcher tried to play the nice guy. He tried to finesse it. He went for the carrot, not the stick. And he got burned.

It was clear from Tuesday's press conference that Cliff is ticked off, and rightly so. He never expected that every one of the NTC 5 would hold firm, he doesn't understand why they're so adamant about staying, and now he knows he's going to have to get his hands dirty in the off-season.

In hindsight, he should have taken a different approach. He needed to play it tough. No, not to a ridiculous extreme like Damien Cox and the Sportsnet panel suggest, sending guys to the minors just the embarass them. That's not how you do business, at least if you ever want to attract another free agent.

But now we know that Cliff needed to go in front of the cameras two weeks ago and said something like this:

It's time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to move in a new direction. We feel like we have a lot of talent on this roster, but the results haven't been there and it's time to make the necessary changes to help us compete in the future.

As part of that effort, we expect that we'll be approaching some of our veteran players about the possibility of a trade to a contending team. These players have spent years in Toronto, and have worked hard to bring a winning team to the city. Many have no-trade clauses, which they've earned and have every right to enforce if they choose.

However, as general manager it's my job to position this team for the future by whatever means are available to me, including trades, buyouts and other transactions. Accordingly, it's my plan to work with our veterans over the next few weeks to find a situation that works for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the individual player.

The trade deadline will present us with a unique opportunity, one that doesn't exist at other times during the year. I expect that players will have personal preferences as far as which other opportunities they'd be interested in exploring, and we'll do everything we can to ensure we meet those desires. I believe that's the least we can do for these players.

Classy. Respectful. And not in the least bit subtle with the underlying message: "We can do it your way now, or my way in the summer."

Oh well. Chances are the Leafs will be in the exact same predicament next year. Maybe the new GM can use my script next time around.

Fletcher's press conference

This is fascinating television. Cliff is clearly doing his "I'm incredibly pissed at the NTC 5, but I'm going to bite my tongue and hope you can all read between the lines" routine.

He's promised twice that next year's opening night roster will be significantly different from the current one. Buyouts are "absolutely" an option. Meanwhile, when asked about McCabe he says there was "no interest". None of this was delivered with a hint of a smile.

Now we can all speculate as to which player had agreed to a deal yesterday and then changed his mind. Kubina is the most likely suspect. I'm betting Fletcher trades him to Edmonton at 12:01 on June 15, just out of spite.

In other news, Cliff all but confirmed that a Sundin trade would have brought in more than what the Thrashers got for Hossa. That hurts. I wonder if the Anaheim deal was ever actually on the table. Part of me doesn't even want to know.

Some good news: He just referred to his successor as GM as "the ultimate man". Sweet, I didn't even know Wendel was in the running.

Ah well. I'm past the depression/anger stage and into acceptance. The team we all love is full of complacent losers, and we're probably stuck with them for years to come.

Deadline day: Lunch time musings

  • It was nice to see Damien Cox make a peace offering to Cliff Fletcher this morning. Damien is willing to forgive all of Cliff's past sins, real or imagined. He'll even stop with the constant "draft schmaft" references. All Cliff has to do is go out and get Edmonton's first round pick from the Ducks, and all is forgiven.

    Sure, given that everyone with any trade value has a NTC and can't be dealt, the idea of landing that pick is absolutely impossible to the point of being ridiculous. And yes, a cynic would say that Cox is setting the bar impossibly high jut so he can skewer any move Fletcher does make. But let's look at the bright side: this is probably the only kind of sort of semi-positive thing Cox has had to say about anything all year. So it's a start.

  • I know these things are planned well in advance. But given how the Leafs are being looked at as a soft team with a country club atmosphere, is it really appropriate for them to be spending Deadline Day frolicking on a beach in Florida?

  • If I was a GM of a team headed to the playoffs, I'd target Chad Kilger as a depth acquisition. He's big, can play a little, and he's cheap. Let's see what Cliff can get for him. Hey, anyone know if the Ducks are looking to move a first round pick?

Deadline day: Quick early morning thoughts

  • Pavel Kubina is getting bad advice if he refuses to waive. Let's assume the reports of his NTC being lifted in the off-season are true (and not just more confusion, a la Kaberle's no-trade clause). He can either accept a deal now, when he has some control over his destination and would almost certainly go to a contender. Or he can wait until the off-season and go wherever Fletcher wants to send him, with no input and no guarantee he won't wind up in an even worse situation than Toronto.

  • Kyle Wellwood has requested a trade. If possible, he would also like a chocolate milkshake and a bag of funions.

  • I sense I'm on the outside of the Leaf Nation consensus when it comes to the Sundin decision. Fair enough. But this article in the Star captured my feelings today.

  • Am I seeing things, or was there a very odd reaction to Moore's goal last night? Or more specifically, a non-reaction. He scores a one-man highlight reel goal, peels into the corner, raises his arm and... nobody's there. The other players just go to the bench and leave him standing there by himself, looking around, before skating off. Maybe the Leaf players have rejected Moore -- after all, he hasn't been there since October, so Mats doesn't believe he's a real teammate.

More to come as the day goes on...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sundin's move sends a strong message to the kids... unfortunately.

Those who are trying to spin Sundin's decision as a Good Thing have thrown various ideas against the wall. One of them is that Mats is sending a powerful message to the team's young players about loyalty and leadership. On the surface this makes some sense, but I wasn't sure.

Luckily, with the Leafs currently holed up in an Ottawa hotel before tonight's game, I was able to sneak over and infiltrate their team lunch and listen in to a conversation between Mats and the young players.

Here's the undedited transcript. I think it sheds a lot of light on the direction the team will be heading.

Scene: A private booth in the lobby restaurant of the Brookstreet Hotel, Kanata, Ontario.

Steen: Uncle Mats, the newspapers say you turned down a chance to go to another team for a "playoff run". What are the "playoffs"?

Sundin: Gather 'round, children. I have magnificent tales to tell.

Stralman: Are the playoffs very different from the regular season?

Sundin: Yes, they are. For example, you play the same team over and over again. For like two weeks. It's actually kind of like we do once a year with the Bruins, but for two straight months.

Tlusty: Is it true that the games are all... how you say in english... "important"?

Sundin: Please put your pants on Jiri.

Tlusty: Oops.

Sundin: But yes, the games are very important. Remember that one game we played at the end of last year against the Habs, where it actually mattered whether we won or not, and we all agreed to at least kind of try?

Steen: Vaguely.

Sundin: Well, in the playoffs, every game is like that.

Wellwood: mrphl mrblm frfllf

Sundin: I can't understand you Kyle. Finish the donut and try again.

Wellwood: Forry. (Gulp.) Is it true that there are no shootouts in the playoffs?

Sundin: Indeed. In the playoffs, if you want to skate in slowly and indecisively and then miss the net, you have to do it five-on-five.

Everyone: Wow...

Sundin: And here's the most amazing thing. You know how we go on losing streaks all the time, and nobody does a thing, and nothing ever changes?

Everyone: (Nods)

Sundin: Well, in the playoffs, if you lose four games out of seven, they make you go home.

Everyone: (Gasps)

Sundin: They make you clean out your locker. You're not allowed to play any more.

Steen: Oooh, I don't like the sound of that.

Wellwood: Sounds scary.

Stajan: I just peed a little.

Sundin: Oh, don't worry boys. You play for the Maple Leafs. You won't have to worry about those scary "playoffs" for a very long time. So my advice would be to just negotiate a big contract, don't forget your no-trade clause, and settle in for the long haul. Winning's over-rated. Staying all snug and warm in your personal comfort zone is the important thing.

Everyone: Thanks Uncle Mats! Now we know what it means to be a Maple Leaf!

For what it's worth...

I'm based in Ottawa. I'm not shy about being a Leafs fan, so various Sens (and Habs) fans know where to find me when they want to talk hockey.

There's been a steady stream coming by my desk today to talk about Sundin. Without exception, they're thrilled. Big smiles all around. They were hoping against hope that Mats wouldn't waive, and now it's happened.

If you don't like the Maple Leafs, today is a wonderful day.

You don't measure what's right or wrong for a team based on what other teams' fans think. But it puts a certain perspective on things, even while others try desperately to spin this decision as good news.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is Sundin's decision selfish? Yes.

Mats Sundin has made it official. He's not waiving.

There's been a lot of speculation and debate leading up to this announcement. And one of the many questions that Leaf fans have been debating is "Would it be selfish for Mats Sundin to refuse to go?"

And the correct answer is "Yes, without question."

Make no mistake, this is a selfish decision. Sundin is putting his own interests ahead of the team's. That's the very definition of selfish.

He may very well have earned the right. Fourteen years buys you a right to some self-interest. He negotiated a no-trade clause in good faith, and he has every right to use it if he chooses. And one selfish act doesn't negate all the good he's done for this franchise over the years. He doesn't deserve to be painted as the bad guy. He doesn't deserve to be booed.

But the fact remains that the Maple Leafs are further away form a Stanley Cup tonight than they would have been if he'd agreed to be traded. And they're further away because their leader chose to put himself ahead of the team.

You can support his decision. You can still be a fan. You can even admire his loyalty. But let's not pretend this isn't a selfish move. There's no better word for it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The myth of the fickle Leafs fan

I wound up having an interesting discussion with Steve over at this afternoon. Among the topics we covered was how Leaf fans would react to a rebuilding effort. You can find the full discussion here.

(By the way, if you're a Leaf fan and you don't have on your list of sites to check regularly, add it now. There's a lot of great stuff there.)

Anyways, I made a point that I've made elsewhere before, but not on this blog. Here's the gist of it.

There are two common criticisms that are levelled at Leaf fans. These come up fairly often in general, and have been almost constant this year.

  • Criticism #1: Leaf fans share much of the blame for the team's lack of success. If they rose up and demanded excellence then ownership would have to respond, but because they keep filling the building every night, there's no motivation for the team to improve and nothing will ever change.

    Damien Cox is the undisputed champion of this argument, but he's far from alone. Many have also compared Leaf fans unfavorably to Habs fans, who would never show up in droves to support a loser. Pension Plan Puppets looked at the numbers and found that there's actually no truth at all to that theory, but don't expect it to go away any time soon.

    Bottom line: Leaf fans end up being perhaps the only fanbase in sports history to be criticized for selling out the building and supporting the team through good times and bad.

  • Criticism #2: Leaf fans wouldn't accept an honest-to-goodness rebuilding effort. They're all about the quick fix and won't stand for a short-term stay at the bottom of the standings even if it meant long-term gain.

    Sometimes this argument is made as a straightforward observation (as was the case in Steve's posts in the discussion linked above). More often, it's accompanied by an unstated but obvious implication: Leaf fans don't have the sophistication to understand how the league works. They're too dumb and impatient to let the team do what it needs to do.

Let's put aside the question of whether either of those arguments are valid, or even fair. We know they're out there, we hear and read them all the time.

Now I don't want to go all Lt. Kaffee on you, but here's my question:If Leaf fans are gullible sheep who won't hesitate to embrace a loser, and they'll pack the building every night regardless of whether the team is good or even competitive... why wouldn't they accept a rebuilding effort?

It doesn't make sense. We've heard for years about how Leaf fans are too dumb to demand a winner. But now, on the verge of a long-needed rebuilding effort, we're supposed to believe that the fans will rise up and demand a contender?

Sorry, folks. I know there's lots of fun to be had and money to be made by bashing Leafs fans. Some of it is no doubt deserved. But on this issue, at least, you need to pick a lane.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Only one team is a perfect fit for Mats Sundin

Unless Cliff pull the trigger early, Mats Sundin will play what could be his last game in Toronto on Saturday. Then on Monday, he'll play what could be his last game in front of a building full of Toronto fans, when the Leafs visit Ottawa.

It's fitting that the Leafs would play their Deadline Eve game in the nation's capital. Because right now, the Ottawa Senators are the best possible fit for a Mats Sundin trade.

Here are three simple reasons why:

  • They have some decent young players to offer, such as Vermette, Meszaros, and Nick "Son of Mike" Foligno. (Come on, you want to see the headline "Fletcher acquires Foligno" just so Damien Cox's head will explode.) The story goes that Bryan Murray doesn't want to move the team's first round pick since the draft is in Ottawa this year, but that shouldn't be a deal-breaker considering it will be in the late-20s.

  • Mats would almost certainly be willing to play there. Ottawa isn't far from Toronto, and he could play with his Olympic linemate Alfredsson. Unless he's decided that he's absolutely not going anywhere, it's hard to imagine him turning down a trade to Ottawa.

  • They have a GM who is willing to overpay to make a major deal. Do not underestimate this one. As coach, Murray spent the last two years seething over Muckler's refusal to make a big deal at the deadline. It was the main factor in the rift between them that ended in Muckler being forced out. Now that he's the man in charge, Murray needs to back up his big talk. I think he knows it, and I think he's ready to push his chips into the middle of the table.
Some have argued that the Leafs wouldn't deal Sundin to a divisional rival. I don't buy it. For one, calling the Senators a "rival" at this point may be stretching things. The fabled "Battle of Ontario" rivalry was always over-rated, even at its peak. But right now, it's on life support. It may be revived some day, but only if the Leafs can get their act together and start contending again. And to do that, they need to take the best deal they can get for Mats and leave the politics behind.

(Side note to Sens fans: You may be wondering to yourself, "Hey, if we trade for Sundin and win a Cup, will bitter Leaf fans try to diminish our championship by claiming we needed their captain to help us do it?" Spoiler alert: Yes. Yes indeed we will.)

So let's say Ottawa does win the sweepstakes. With recent talk that Cliff wants to make the deal before Tuesday, that could lead us to a surreal sight on Monday night: Mats Sundin, making his Ottawa Senators debut against the Leafs. It would be a scene reminiscent of the 1990 Toronto/Winnipeg trade that saw Ed Olczyk making his Jets debut at Maple Leaf Gardens only hours after the deal -- except exponentially more important for both sides.

Imagine the ovation Sunin would get. Could this be the first time we see the fans in the stands for at Leafs/Senators game in Ottawa unified on anything?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Russ Courtnall for John Kordic was a good trade. No, I'm not drunk.

Russ CourtnallAs we approach the trade deadline, let's take a look back at one of the most infamous deals in Leafs history: the 1988 deal that sent Russ Courtnall to the Canadiens for John Kordic.

All things considered, this was a good deal for the Leafs.

(Sound of needle screeching off of a record.)

Yes, you read that right. I defend the Courtnall-Kordic deal. And yes, I realize I'm the only person in the world who does.

Everyone else thinks it was a terrible deal. Even Gord Stellick calls it a bad trade. In fact, it's become the gold standard of bad Leaf deals, even above the ridiculous "Tom Kurvers for a first round pick" deal that set the franchise back ten years. Even people who don't follow the Leafs and couldn't pick Russ Courtnall out of a lineup will mention it. Do a google search for "Kordic" and "Courtnall" and "Worst Trade" and you get almost 200 results.

So am I right and everyone else in the world is wrong? Yes, actually, and I'll tell you why.

First, the facts.

Fact #1 - The Leafs team of the late 80s had a decent amount of skill. They had three 30-goal scorers (Olczyk, Leeman and Marois) as well as a young Vincent Damphousse, decent second-line talent like Tom Fergus and some skill on the backend with guys like Salming and Iafrate. But they were soft. Like, squishy-donut-filling soft. Like, teddy-bear-right-out-of-the-laundry soft. They were so soft that they're probably the only team in history that could be pushed around by this year's Leafs.

The team did have the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion of the universe, Wendel Clark. But this was right in the middle of the three-year stretch where Clark played only 73 games total (including only 15 in 1988/89) so he couldn't help much.

The previous year's team had been soft too, and since then they'd parted ways with Al Secord and Dave Semenko. The 88/89 squad opened the season with one marginal tough guy in Brian Curran, and that was pretty much it. Other than Curran, do you know which opening night Leaf went on to have the most PIM that year? Mark Osborne. That, my friends, is soft.

Fact #2 - The Leafs played in the Norris division. For you youngsters who are too young to remember the Norris, let me try to describe it. Remember those Red Wings vs. Avalanche games a few years ago? That was the Norris division, every night. And with eight games against each division rival, the Leafs spent almost half their schedule playing Norris games.

Here are some players on Norris division teams that year: Bob Probert, Basil McCrae, Joey Kocur, Mark Tinordi, Kris King, Shayne Churla, Link Gaetz, Todd Ewen, Dave Manson, Bob McGill, Craig Coxe and various Sutters.

And again, the Leafs had Brian Curran and, um, Mark Osborne. See a problem here?

OK, this next one is important, so pay attention.

Fact #3 - Russ Courtnall wasn't that good. Yes, I said it. Courtnall was a decent player with great speed, who showed occasional flashes but was generally inconsistent and soft. And that's about it.

Here are some quick facts about Russ Courtnall. Keep in mind that he played during the highest scoring era in hockey history.

  • He had one 30-goal season in his entire career. One. Tom Fergus had two. Daniel Marois had two. Marion Statsny had two. Russ Courtnall, who everyone thinks was really good, had one.

  • He never had a point-a-game season. Not once. His career best season was 80 points.

  • He wasn't on the Habs team that won the Cup in 1993. This is really irrelevant, but it bugs me. He played for the North Stars in 1993. You just think he was on the Habs because he was still on their top line in NHL 93.

  • When the Leafs traded him, he had two points in nine games.

So why does everyone think he was superstar? Largely because the Toronto media feels a need to ridiculously over-rate any young player who the Leafs trade away. They did it with Courtnall. They did it with Kenny Jonsson. They're doing it now with Brad Boyes, even though he's halfway to his goal of playing for every NHL team in his career.

The bottom line
Imagine this scenario: You're an NHL GM. You have a lineup filled with reasonably skilled but generally soft players, playing in the toughest division in hockey. You need a heavyweight to protect them. You have a chance to acquire one, but it will cost you a skilled young winger who's shown flashes of brilliance in his early years. Are you a dummy if you make the deal? Would it be one of the worst trades ever? If you said "yes", then you owe Cliff Fletcher an apology, because he made the exact same deal three seasons later when he sent Daniel Marois to the Islanders for Ken Baumgartner. See, you fell right into my trap! I'm so frightfully clever. If anything, Marois had been a better player in his career before being traded than Courtnall ever was -- he was two years removed from a 39-goal season. But the Leafs needed a heavyweight, Fletcher made the deal, and it worked out brilliantly for the Leafs. Marois was out of the league within a few years and Baumgartner was a small but crucial piece of the early 90s Leafs resurgence.

Kordic, meanwhile, did everything the Leafs asked of him for two season, going toe-to-toe with any heavyweight he could find. But he had severe personal problems (which the Leafs may or may not have known about when they made the deal) and died in a drug-related incident when he was 27. So why is one deal applauded and the other is the "worst ever"? Hindsight, of course. Now we know that Marois had peaked, and Courtnall would have a solid career, and Baumgartner would become a crafty veteran, and Kordic was a ticking time bomb. It's easy to look at trades in hindsight and pick winners and losers. But that's not the way that NHL GMs have to make deals. They have to go based on what they know, and what they can project, at the time the deal is made -- with all the risk and uncertainty that involves. It's not fair to evaluate a trade any other way.

So fall back on 20/20 hindsight if you want to. But at the time the Kordic-for-Courtnall deal happened, it was absolutely the right move for the Leafs.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

These are the days of Tomas Kaberle's NTC

Let's recap what we know about Tomas Kaberle's no-trade clause (NTC).

Nothing, apparently.

Well, that's not completely true. We've heard plenty about it over the years. Let's walk through the timeline:

- When he signed his deal, there was confusion over whether it included a NTC. Shortly after resigning, he was heavily rumored to be part of a package headed to Edmonton for Chris Pronger. Perhaps due to confusion caused by those rumors (his NTC wouldn't kick in until his old deal expired), several reports listed Kaberle as not having a no-trade clause.

- Except that... Kaberle did have an NTC. So over the past year, the articles started listing Kaberle as a member of the NTC brigade, just like Sundin, McCabe and Tucker.

- Except that... Over the weekend, a handful of reports began to mention that there was a crucial exemption to the clause, and that Kaberle could be traded during the summer following a non-playoff season. In other words, he was safe at the deadline but could be moved after this season. The obvious implication was that he may be more likely to waive his clause now if the right deal came along, since he'd lose all control in a few months.

- Except that... Today, Howard Berger is reporting that this exemption on Kaberle's no-trade clause doesn't kick in until the final year of the deal -- meaning he's safe through 2010.

My head hurts.

Hey, here's a question: How is it possible that nobody knows this stuff?

The problem isn't limited to Kaberle. Pavel Kubina's clause may not be a blanket no-trade -- it may only allow him to specify a limited number of teams he could be dealt to. Or maybe not. It depends which article you're reading on which day.

And here's the twist: I don't think this is a media problem. Those guys get kicked around plenty (including here) and it's usually deserved, but not this time. This is an NHL problem. The league needs to make sure that this sort of critical information is readily available and reported correctly, and they're not doing it.

Here's Mike Brophy writing on The Hockey News web site. Not only does he report the (apparently wrong) information about Kaberle's NTC voiding after the Leafs miss the playoffs this year, but he lists Kubina as being tradable to "pre-specified teams". OK. Which teams? How many? Specified by who? And when? Is there already a list in place?

Brophy doesn't say, presumably because he doesn't know. If a senior writer for The Hockey News can't find this information, who could?

And we haven't even touched on the mass confusion over salary cap numbers. More than one reporter has taken it on himself to crunch the numbers in an attempt to estimate how much cap space the Leafs have committed to next year. That's great, but why do they need to do this in the first place? Why isn't there a page on the NHL web site that lists everything?

Can you imagine an NFL reporter not knowing where the Dallas Cowboys stood with regards to the salary cap? He'd be laughed at. But in the NHL, everyone is left to make their best guess.

This is the kind of information that's important to serious hockey fans. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any working at NHL headquarters.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Jim Hughson has a flight to catch

In the long and growing list of recent NHL trends that annoy fans, I think we need to find a place for "NHL play-by-play announcers who feel the need to act high-and-mighty when fights break out".

The most recent example is from the normally excellent Jim Hughson during Saturday's Oilers/Canucks game:

Some money quotes include:

- a disgusted "Oh, we've got more of this off the faceoff?". It wasn't quite Joe Buck-level faux outrage, but it was close.

- "They really should have just run the clock". Yes Jim, great idea, actually, if it weren't for that stupid thing... what's it called... oh yes, "the rulebook". That thing always gets in the way.

- "All this other extracurricular stuff and nonsense at the end aside...". This came right at the end, and a good thing too. I was worried that Hughson was going to violate the broadcasting code that makes at least one use of the word "nonsense" mandatory everytime an exciting brawl breaks out.

There may have been more, but I had trouble hearing Hughson's musings about how disappointing and unwanted the whole thing was, what with all that wild and enthusiastic cheering from the fans.

Serious question: Do NHL broadcasters really not understand that most fans love this stuff? Has it been so long since they've paid to see a hockey game that they've forgotten (or no longer care) what the average fan is interested in? Or do they know perfectly well what their audience likes, but feel the need to pointlessly grandstand anyways?

Ah well... Hughson probably had several thousand fans throwing their remotes at their TVs in an effort to shut him up. But he'll make Chris Zelkovich feel all tingly, and I guess that counts for something.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spoiler alert: You fail, Cliff

Unlike just about every other Leaf fan I know, I like Damien Cox. For some reason, I enjoy having a columnist who bashes the team at every opportunity -- it makes for interesting reading. Maybe that's because I've spent so much time in Ottawa, a city where the local media have had to learn to type with pop-poms in their hands. But for whatever reason, I've been a Damien Cox fan for years.

All that said, I think he's lost his mind this year,.

Of all years, this has been the one that's provided the most ammunition to anyone who wanted to bash the Leafs -- the team, the management, the ownership. Everyone has been an easy target. It should be a year full of open net tap-ins for a guy like Cox. And yet he keeps trotting out increasingly ridiculous columns, including this morning's jaw dropper.

I won't go into detail, because the guys at Cox Bloc will no doubt be all over this like Kyle Wellwood on a comfy couch, and they do this sort of thing far better than I ever could. But here's the money quote, which leads off the column:

After 50 years in the game, Cliff Fletcher has 10 days to demonstrate he's still got what it takes to be the smartest guy in the room.

Got that? After 50 years, Fletcher's entire reputation in the sport will be judged based on the next ten days. And guess who's going to do the evaluating? Damien doesn't say, but it's a safe bet that he'll be appointing himself judge and jury.

Gosh, I wonder which side he'll come down on? I can't imagine which way he'll end up going here. Will he think Fletcher did a great job, or will there have been room for improvement? The possibilities are literally limitless!

But just in case the suspense is too much to bear...

Spoiler alert: Mouse over white text below to find out what Damien will think on Feb. 26.

He hates everything Cliff did, hates everything he didn't do, and this sort of thing is exactly why the team hasn't won a Cup since 1967. Also, it's your fault. Yes, you. Personally. You dimwit.

(But try to look surprised.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Great Obscure Moments in Leafs History - Nikolai Borschevsky's post-game interview with Ron MacLean

Great Obscure Moments in Leafs History - An ongoing series to honor the greatest, completely meaningless moments in Toronto Maple Leaf history.

So we all remember Nikolai Borschevsky's goal to beat the Wings in 1993. If you're like many Leaf fans, you probably spent the next fifteen minutes jumping up and down in your friend's basement, high-fiving strangers in a bar, or tipping over cars on Yonge Street. And if so, you missed out on one of the great moments in sports broadcasting history.

Today's great obscure moment in Leafs history is ...

Nikolai Borschevsky's post-game interview with Ron MacLean after game seven of the Detroit series

Borschevsky tummy pokeIn theory, this should have been a great interview. The injured rookie scores the game seven overtime winner to complete the stunning upset and knock off the original six rival, and now you've got him for an exclusive interview on live television. What could possibly go wrong?

Um... did anyone check to see if he knows how to speak english? Oops, too late!

(Actually, that's not completely accurate. Borschevsky knew one english word: "unbelievable". Or, more specifically, "un-bee-leeb-abba". More on that in a minute.)

MacLean seems to sense he's in trouble right away as he asks for an apparently non-existent translator before deciding to solider ahead. After MacLean spends several moments trying to explain the concept of "feelings" (helpfully clutching at his heart at one point), Borschevsky finally understands the question and begins a rambling answer that's completely incomprehensible, causing MacLean to start making subtle "get me out of here" faces at the camera. Borschevsky, frantically gesturing with one hand, finally punctuates his mumbling soliloquy with the classic "unbeeleebabba" line

MacLean takes that opportunity to cut the interview short, but not before inexplicably ending things by gently poking Borschevsky in the tummy.

This was quite possibly the greatest few minutes of comedy the CBC has ever aired.

I'm saying it now: Nikolai Borschevsky needs to be given his own talk show where he brings out guests, just stares at them as they talk, then finally shakes his head and says "unbeeleebabba" before throwing to commercial. I would watch this show every night. Make this happen, CBC!

The full interview is here, beginning at 3:25 (although you're going to watch the whole clip).

Monday, February 11, 2008

These are the jokes, folks

One of the downsides of being a Leafs fan living in Ottawa, besides being repeatedly asked to explain the offside rule and having to drive two hours to an abandoned farmer's field to see a hockey game, is that everyone you know feels the need to send you every Leafs e-mail they get.

If you see a Sens fan at a computer, chances are he's either pleasuring himself to old Brian McGratton highlights1, or forwarding me that Peter Pan guy with the photoshopped Leaf logo. Yes, yes, he's a Leaf blower. We get it.

This month, for some reason a list of incredibly old hockey jokes has resurfaced. I'm not sure if Leaf fans in Toronto are getting this thing sent to them every day, but if not you're missing some prime mid-80s hockey humor. They have the one about the Leafs being like the Titanic (great until they hit the ice), and the one about the Leafs not being able to drink tea because the Habs have all the Cups.

I'll pause here to allow your hysterical, thigh-slapping laughter to subside.

Anyways, here's my favorite from the list:

What's the difference between the Leafs and a cigarette machine?
The cigarette machine has PLAYERS.

(And yes, it always has "PLAYERS" capitalized. You know, just in case the punchline was too subtle.)

Now, I love a good Leafs joke as much as the next guy. But really, a cigarette machine? In the words of Gary Gulman -- "Wow, very funny. Um, what century is this?" Has anybody actually seen a cigarette machine lately? There are probably people reading this who don't even know what one looks like. What's next, Sens fans, an especially clever rotary telephone anecdote?

Meanwhile, did you hear that Andrew Raycroft was so depressed recently that he jumped in front of the team bus? It beat him high to the glove side.

Hm, that one may need some work.

1 Like there's any other kind.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

So predictable

So to summarize, this week the Leafs played the two best teams in the East, the best team in the West, and the Panthers. They ended up being outscored 14-11 in those four games.

Yep. Sounds about right.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Have we seen this before?

A few Hockey Day in Canada thoughts...

- The Leafs beat the Wings in overtime, thanks to their European forward tipping in a low point shot from the pinching defenceman. I could swear this reminds me of something, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

Any Red Wing fans want to help jog my memory?

- Linesman Pat Dapuzzo getting kicked in the face, suffering a broken jaw and 60-stitch cut, and then shoving the ref out of his way to go break up a fight was the most badass thing I've seen all year. The NHL should use that clip in their advertising.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Leafs 4, Habs 2

Last night saw a marginally entertaining win for the Leafs, highlighted by a pair of Darcy Tucker goals, one of which even went past a goalie. In his post-game interview, Tucker reiterated his intention to enforce his no-trade clause, causing the dozen or so pro scouts at the game to pretend to be disappointed, then laugh hysterically before going back to watching Mats Sundin game film and fondling themselves.

Kyle Wellwood also scored for Toronto. Unfortunately, the act of high-fiving his teammates afterwards left him too exhausted to continue with the game. He's listed as day-to-day with "fat".

Carey Price started for the Habs, in accordance with the new league bylaw which states that every team must start their backup goalie against us. The loss ended Price's undefeated streak against Toronto, meaning the only goalie left who can guarantee a Leafs loss just by showing up is Andrew Raycroft.

Next up -- Detroit, in a game that will have a playoff atmosphere. Unfortunately, that's because it will be played at 3:00 on a weekend afternoon and nobody in the US will be watching. By the time the Leafs are ready for another playoff run, the NHL will probably be playing its post-season games at 4:00 a.m. to make Versus happy.

Wait a second... with Osgood and Hasek both playing as well as they are, does Detroit even have a backup goalie? Better get on that, Detroit.