Monday, April 28, 2008

The Price is wrong

The magic hockey jersey could
predict a player's post-season GAA

Clearly, the big story in the Habs/Flyers series so far has been Carey Price. There's no nice way to say it, the kid looks very shaky right now.

That said, if the Toronto media has taught me anything it's that the Canadiens organization is smart and wise and can always be counted on to make the right move.

So don't fear, Habs fans. I have no doubt that they'll make the obvious decision, and switch to Cristobal Huet for game four.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

If MLSE made their own beer

The comment section for my last post ended up being sidetracked by a discussion over what would happen is MLSE went into the booze business. This was frustrating for me, because the post was clearly intended to be sidetracked into a discussion of Al Bundy quotes.

Nevertheless, I have to give my readers what they want. So with a tip of the cap to Navin, Loser Domi and Jaredoflondon, here’s my view of what would happen if MLSE decided to make and market their own brand of beer.

  • Richard Peddie would hire a brewmaster who had no experience making beer

  • Every bottle produced would have to be taste-tested by each director at the next regularly scheduled board meeting and approved with a majority vote

  • Each case would come with one outstanding Swedish premium brew... but for some reason the beers on the left and right of it would always be terrible.

  • Every year, the beer would be ice cold from October through February, warm up unexpectedly in March, go completely flat in early April and be discontinued by spring

  • The McCabe Lager would come with its own can opener

  • The Tlusty Pale Ale would be refreshing, but the front label keeps slipping off

  • The Colaiacovo Pilsner bottle would shatter as soon as you took it out of the case

  • When you tried to take the empties back for your deposit, you’d find out that half the bottles came with a no-returns clause

  • You’d always have to drink straight from the bottle, since nobody involved in making it would have the slightest idea how to lift a cup

  • You'd spend all your time thinking "This sucks, but at least I don't have to drink that swill they make up in Ottawa".

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Burke staying in Anaheim

I'm a Leafs fan and a Leafs fan only until the day I die (which will be this summer, by the way, of self-inflicted head wounds when we don't get Brian Burke).
- Me, from a post two weeks ago

Well, full credit to the hockey gods. They ball-kicked us much earlier than expected on this one.

Burke is apparently not going anywhere, according to TSN.

Is Oprah right?
Are you a big fat woman?

I remember the episode of Married With Children where Al is looking for an obscure record of a song he can hum but not name. At the end of the episode he finds a store that specializes in exactly what he wants, but they tell him they can't help him. He reacts by looking skyward, smiling knowingly, and asking "Not even this, huh?"

That's how I feel. Not surprised. Not even disappointed, somehow. Just vaguely annoyed at myself for getting suckered in in the first place.

There's a very small part of me that's almost eager to see how badly the Leafs will screw this up now. At least that would bring entertainment value. Who's the worst possible candidate they could settle on? Muckler? Healy? I know, what about bringing Ferguson back? You could make him wear a paper bag with a giant frowny face at all times.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go look for a shaving mirror and a hammer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Ten Most Memorable Game Seven OT Goals

Welcome to the club, Joffrey Lupul.

With his goal tonight, Lupul became the 30th player in NHL history to score in overtime of a game seven. Time will tell how this one will be remembered, but in the meantime here my picks for the ten most memorable overtime game seven winnners in NJL history.

#10 - Dale Hunter
Capitals vs Flyers
1988 Patrick Division Semifinal

Playoff warrior Dale Hunter scores on a nifty breakaway move. Revenge would come 20 years later.

#9 - Andrew Brunette
Wild vs Avalanche
2003 Western Conference Semifinal

While the goal was memorable for Brunette and the Wild, it will probably be best remembered for ending the career of Patrick Roy.

#8 - Stephane Matteau
Rangers vs Devils
1994 Eastern Conference Final

The ugliest goal on the list by far, but certainly memorable. Fun fact: According to ESPN Classic, the 1994 post-season is the only one ever played in NHL history.

#7 - Pat Lafontaine
Islanders vs Capitals
1987 Patrick Division Semifinal

Definitely not the prettiest goal on the list, but one that ended what was at the time the fifth longest game in league history. Long OT games have become more common during the dead puck era, but in the 80's a quadruple overtime game was virtually inconcievable.

#6 - Nikolai Borchevsky
Maple Leafs vs Red Wings
1993 Norris Division Semifinal

This is probably the most memorable goal of the post expansion era for the Maple Leafs, whatever that tells you. The Leafs were emerging from Harold Ballard's reign of terror, but despite the additions of Doug Gilmour and Pat Burns weren't really taken seriously as a contender. (For more on the unintentional comedy goldmine that developed in the aftermath of this goal, read this post.)

#5 - David Volek
Islanders vs Penguins
1993 Patrick Division Finals

The Penguins had won back-to-back Cups and were coming off arguably their greatest season. To this day, I still can not believe this actually happened.

#4 - Pavel Bure
Canucks vs Flames
1994 Smythe Division Semifinal

Pavel Bure was the original Ovechkin. In 1994 the Canucks fought back from a 3-1 series deficit, winning three straight overtime games capped off by Bure's breakway goal and helicopter stick celebration in double OT.

#3 - Todd Marchant
Oilers vs Stars
1997 Western Conference Quarterfinal

A classic first round upset by the Oilers, largely thanks to Curtis Joseph's standout goaltending. His breathtaking overtime save set the table for Marchant to turn on the jets.

#2 - Yvon Lambert
Canadiens vs Bruins
1979 Wales Conference Final

This is the infamous "too many men" game (although that famous penalty lead to the tying goal, not the winner). With a weak Rangers team waiting in the finals, this game was essentially for the Stanley Cup. Guy Lafluer sent the game into overtime and Yvon Lambert won it, continiong the Habs dynasty, sending Don Cherry on the road to Coach's Corner, and making Bill Simmons' nose bleed.

For the life of me, I can't find a clip of this goal. If anyone has a link, please let me know and I'll update.

#1 - Steve Yzerman
Red Wings vs Blues
1996 Western Conference Semifinal

This one ended a 0-0 tie in double overtime. Quite possibly the greatest goal of Yzerman's career, set up by his neutral zone steal off of, of all people, Wayne Gretzky. While the long distance shot looks like a bit of a weak one at first, the replay shows it to be the perfect shot -- Yzerman practically turns the puck on its side to sneak it past Casey.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Follow the leader

This is a tale of two cities.

Two hockey teams. Two embarrassing seasons. Two fractured dressing rooms. Two (and soon to be three) coaching changes. Zero playoff wins.

And two players, the undisputed and unquestioned leaders of their respective teams, who apparently don't deserve an ounce of blame.

In Toronto, the Maple Leafs have just suffered through a third straight season without a playoff berth. The team is a mess, from ownership through management, down to the lame duck coach and (especially) the can't-win-when-it-matters lineup.

But fans and media agree: You can't blame Mats Sundin.

Mats SundinThe occasionally feisty Toronto media regularly writes adoring fluff pieces about Sundin's leadership. When a critical piece does appear, such as Steve Simmons' recent and relatively mild swipe, Leaf fans react with outrage.

You can questions his teammates or his coach, and even (every once in a while) his play. But on one point, there's unanimous agreement: You simply can not question Sundin's leadership.

Why not?

It's clear that the Leafs dressing room is a mess. A group of cozy veterans refuse to waive no-trade clauses, apparently perfectly satisfied with perpetual losing. Kyle Wellwood is handed the second line center's job, and responds with a slothful offseason. Jason Blake follows a $20 million contract with an embarrassing season, then gripes about his playing time. Players young and old have mastered the art of whining and moaning their way through loss after loss, all the while spouting empty excuses about injuries or hot goalies or bad luck.

But the man everyone agrees is the team's leader gets a free pass. He's a great captain. Beyond reproach. Pay no attention to the flaming wreckage behind the curtain.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the Senators have completed a season that may have been even more pitiful than Toronto's, if only because there were actually some expectations.

The Senators are a team in turmoil these days. The dressing room in fractured, with several young stars with big money contracts who seem more interested in living the good life than in winning hockey games. Players are late for practice, teammates fight on the ice, big money free agent signings all but beg for a chance to leave town, and as the season went on the team's stars made it clear that a full effort every night was just too much to ask.

But again, the unquestioned leader doesn't have to take a drop of the blame. Sens fans, while eager to pick apart the rest of the roster, refuse to hear a bad word about Daniel Alfredsson. Meanwhile, the media is ready to deify him.

AlfredssonDon Brennan all but wrote Alfie a love note, even as the Senators stumbled to an embarassing sweep. "Stop the questions" ordered Bruce Garrioch in his season wrapup, awarding Alfredsson an A+. Even Erin Nicks, usually one of the Ottawa media's few reasonable voices, used her weekly newspaper column to insist that the captain is above criticism.

Alfredsson's early return from an apparent torn MCL was certainly courageous, and worthy of the praise that the adoring Ottawa media heaped on it. But it's not unfair to point out that the so-called miracle comeback was utterly ineffective.

The night of the captain's emotional return also saw the Sens lose battles all night long, Chris Neil take three selfish penalties, and Jason Spezza quit on a backcheck on the Penguin's insurance goal. Imagine what the night would have been like without Alfredsson's aura of leadership lighting the way.

Sundin and Alfredsson may not be the cause of their teams' problems. Both are classy veterans who shine on the ice and keep their noses clean off it. Neither has had so much as a whiff of scandal or controversy. Both are clearly their team's best players, and are popular fan favorites.

But the fact remains that both are also the leaders of teams in turmoil, presiding over rotten dressing rooms populated by losers and quitters. All the fan worship in the world can't change the facts.

How many icebergs can a ship hit before the captain takes some of the blame?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ottawa Senator what-if's

One last Senators post, before we return to the quality Maple Leafs coverage you've come to expect (i.e. wah wah, the Leafs suck, abandon all hope, etc.)

Despite what you might expect, I'm not here to shovel more spiteful dirt on the Senators' grave. Yes, they've embarrassed themselves again. Yes, it seems like this will finally be the collapse that spells the end of this version of the team. Forgive me, though, if I have a hard time getting too worked up about one team's failure when my own is in shambles.

If anything, I find the Senators meltdown fascinating. Over the past few years, the team was both a bulldozing powerhouse and an ultra-fragile trainwreck-in-waiting -- often both at the same time. While the Maple Leafs were seemingly doomed to years of bitter failure the moment JFJ frowned his way through his first press conference, the Senators recent history has been filled with key moments that could have changed their path.

Here's a look at seven intriguing "What If?" scenarios from recent Senator history. Change the outcomes on a few of these, and where would this team be now?

What if: The Senators land Marion Hossa at the deadline?
Bryan Murray had been harshly critical of John Muckler's inability to land a big name at the deadline. When he took over the GM reigns in 2007/8, he wasn't shy about letting everyone know he was looking to make a major move, and his top target was former-Senator Marion Hossa. As the deadline approached, the Hossa sweepstakes seemed to have come down to the Sens and Habs. But on deadline day, it was the Penguins who snuck in and nabbed him, paying a ransom in the process.

Would the addition of Hossa have prevented the Senators' meltdown? Would he have provided the secondary scoring that Ottawa so desperately needed as the season ticked away? He wouldn't have hurt, although we'll probably never know how high the price tag would have been.

Hossa wound up playing a role in the Pens dismantling of Ottawa, although the series was so lopsided that it's doubtful he would have tipped the balance by switching sides.

What if: Wade Redden waives his no-trade clause?
In the weeks leading up to the deadline, word got out that Murray had approached Redden about waiving his no-trade clause, apparently for a deal to the Sharks. Redden refused, and once the story was leaked (apparently by a Redden family member) the spotlight on the former fan favorite intensified.

The biggest impact of this non-deal may end up being felt in San Jose. Instead of acquiring Redden, the Sharks pulled the trigger on a deal for Brian Campbell. He had an instant impact, and seems like a great fit.

What if: Daniel Alfredsson sees Mark Bell coming?
Bell's blind-side desecration of Alfredsson was a signature moment in a season full of bad memories for Sens fans. The hit knocked Alfredsson out of the first two games of the playoffs, and he was far from healthy when he did take the ice, contributing little.

However, Alfredsson had been playing hurt for most of the season. His back and hip problems were a recurring story, and he rarely seemed to be 100% during the season's second half. There's no doubt he would have had an impact on the Penguins series if he'd been able to play each game, but realistically it's unlikely he would have made a difference in the final outcome.

What if: John Muckler wins the power struggle with Bryan Murray?
Muckler's track record as Ottawa GM was spotty at best. He made the best of a bad situation with the Heatley/Hossa deal, but his free agent signings were iffy and his trade deadline moves were disastrous. But if he had managed to stay on as GM and push Murray out, it's unlikely ha would have picked Paddock as coach. Who would he have chosen, and it would it have mattered? We'll never know.

Remember too that Gerber was a Muckler signing. If he was still running the show, would he have signed Emery to the sort of big money deal Murray was willing to offer? And would he have been as forgiving of Emery's petulance?

What if: Ray Emery never hurts his wrist leading up to the 2007 playoffs?
Emery's sore wrist set off a chain of events that helped derail the 07-08 campaign. While the injury wasn't considered serious, his recovery from off-season surgery caused him to miss the opening of training camp. That gave Martin Gerber a chance to win the starter's job, which in turn started Emery's season-long sulking routine that eventually fractured the dressing room and cost John Paddock his job.

If Emery is healthy at the start of the season, he likely keeps the starter's job to start the season. If that leads to him behaving himself, team chemistry looks a lot different.

What if: Muckler pulls the trigger for Gary Roberts?
Of everything on the list, this is the one that will haunt Sens fans for a long time. At the 2007 deadline, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk apparently instructed Muckler to get Roberts. But Muckler felt that Jacques Martin's asking price (believed to be Patrick Eaves) was too high, and Roberts went to the Penguins instead.

(Later, we heard rumors that Martin was just toying with the Senators and had no intention of trading Roberts to the team that fired him. It's a nice story and it gets Muckler off the hook, but its never been confirmed by anyone in the know. Would Martin really have taken a substandard offer just to annoy Muckler? Doubtful.)

Roberts didn't have much impact in the 2007 Sens/Pens matchup, and aside from game one he didn't do much in the 2008 series either. He was injured for most of the past season and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard when he did play.

But many observers argue that the Senators have never had a heart-and-soul veteran like Roberts. If Roberts had become a Senator in 2007, would he have been able to prevent the dressing room problems of this year? Could he have helped mould Spezza and Heatley into playoff performers, instead of regular season warriors?

What if: They kept Chara instead of Redden?
Despite a half-hearted effort to keep the big Slovak, the Senators clearly felt that they had to choose between their two all-star defencemen at the end of the 2006 season. They chose Redden, largely based on performance but at least partly based on his popularity in the community. Since then, Redden's game has steadily deteriorated to the point that Sens fans aren't shedding any tears over his imminent departure.

Chara received a huge payday and had an uneven first season in Boston, but has been excellent this year. Even factoring in salaries, there seems to be little argument over who's the better defenceman right now. With Redden about to walk away for nothing, it's hard to view this decision as anything but a disaster.

What if: Dominik Hasek doesn't go to the Olympics?
Hasek's 2005-6 campaign in Ottawa has been largely forgotten. That year's Senators were a regular season powerhouse, but their playoff run ended quickly at the hands of the Sabres. Hasek watched from sidelines, thanks to an abductor injury suffered in Turin.

If Hasek never gets hurts, do the Senators beat Buffalo in 2006? Not necessarily, although Ray Emery's meltdown in game one of that series seemed to be the turning point.

But beyond that, a healthy Hasek likely would have earned at least one more season in Ottawa rather than being cut loose and heading to Detroit. It's not hard to imagine that he could still be the Sens' goalie today.

With Hasek in place, the Senators don't need to hand Martin Gerber a big free agent deal. What's more, Emery probably never gets his shot at the starter's job, the big contract and everything that came with that.

Do the Sens still go the Finals last year with Hasek in net instead of Emery? Do they win? How different does the team look this year with a Hasek/Brian Elliot goalie tandem instead of Gerber/Emery?

I'd love to hear your thoughts -- especially from all my new Senator fan friends who enjoyed my Sens Traditions article so much.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Oh sweet god make it stop

Remember that post yesterday about how the Senators should come up with their own traditions?

Yeah, turns out I was wrong. The Ottawa Senators should never, ever try to be creative. Never.

This is from last night.

I can't figure out what I like best:

  • The "WTF" look on the players' faces at the very beginning
  • The way his mic keeps cutting out
  • His helmet almost falling off a minute in
  • The Penguins/refs coming out towards the end, causing the crowd to boo right when he's hitting the "rise up" climax
  • His speech being taped to the inside of his shield
I take it all back, Ottawa. You go ahead and steal whatever you need to steal. Let's never speak of this again.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Ottawa Senators: A tradition of... not having their own traditions

This year's mission: don't get swept

Post-season hockey returns to Ottawa tonight, as the Senators host the Penguins in game three of their four game series. In addition to desperately trying to fill the building (good seats are still available two hours before game time), the Senators are encouraging fans to buy red "Sens Army" wristbands.

Putting aside the wisdom of promoting your fan base as an "army" when the real military is off fighting a war, aren't red wristbands supposed to be for AIDS awareness? Yes they are, and that makes them the perfect candidate to be the newest Ottawa Senators tradition.

You see, the wristbands are only the latest in a long line of Senator traditions that have been borrowed, copied or flat out stolen from other sources. Let's take a stroll down memory lane.

Wow, there must be... dozens of them

Tradition: Sens Mile

Stolen from: Calgary and Edmonton

One of the defining memories of the back-to-back Finals runs from Alberta's NHL teams was the raucous post-game street parties. The Flames kicked things off with the Red Mile in 2004, and the Oilers took the baton in 2006 with the Blue Mile. When Ottawa made a finals appearance in 2007, the city's fan base was faced with a challenge: How can we take this tradition, strip it of all spontaneity, and make it safe and non-threatening for Sens fans? A dozen city zoning committee meetings later, Sens Mile was born.

Results were mixed. While Calgary's Red Mile was known for hot girls flashing their boobs, Sens Mile focuses on Ottawa fans' favorite pastimes: yelling "Leafs Suck", awkwardly high-fiving, and then passing out in a bicycle lane after three beers.

Tradition: Thundersticks

Stolen from: The 2002 Anaheim Angels

Ah yes, those demon-spawned balloons that are banged together to produce a delightful "PING PING PING PING PING PING PING PING" all game long. The Senators started handing these out to fans during the 2003 playoff run, about six months after the rest of the sports world had made simple possession a crime punishable by death.

These handy tools were a godsend for fans who wanted to make noise but felt that clapping and cheering were just too much work. They haven't been seen lately, meaning the only over-inflated Senators prop that makes repetitive, annoying noises these days is Bryan Murray.

Tradition: Cheering for the Leafs.

Stolen from: Toronto Maple Leaf fans.

(Technically this tradition only applies to games against the Leafs. But thanks to the league's unbalanced schedule, Ottawa and Toronto play once a week during the season so we can include it here.)

There may be no stranger sight in the NHL than a Leafs/Sens game in Ottawa, during which Toronto fans take over the arena and drown out the hometown crowd. Unlike their fellow fans at the mausoleum known as the ACC, Ottawa-based Leaf fans will actually make noise. Fill one half of the building with bitter Leaf fans and the other half with typically timid Sens supporters, and the result is a one-sided embarrassment that culminates in franchise player Daniel Alfredsson being booed in his own rink every time he touches the puck.

In fairness, Sens fans did manage a breakthrough this year when they finally responded to the Alfredsson booing by (meekly) booing Mats Sundin. And it only took four years.

A real White Out

Tradition: The White Out. Or maybe the Black Out. Wait, let's try a Red Out!

Stolen from: The Winnipeg Jets.

Easily one of the NHL's coolest traditions, the Winnipeg Jets "White Out" was a spectacular sight in the 80s and 90s. The Jets left Winnipeg in 1996. When the Senators began making playoff appearances shortly after, they tried to bring the White Out to Ottawa.

There were two problems with this idea. The first was that changing out of the gray suit they wear to their government jobs was too much work for Ottawa fans. The second was that the Jets franchise still existed, in Phoenix, and fans there wanted to keep the tradition alive. A short-lived White Out battle ensued. You can probably guess how that turned out for Ottawa.

In subsequent years the team tried to revisit the idea. Showing the daring creativity the city is known for, the Senators first encouraged fans to wear black to games, and later red. Neither attempt caught on, largely due to the confusion caused by the Senators being one of those NHL teams that insists on gouging fans by redesigning their uniforms every six months.

Tradition: Actually making the playoffs

Stolen from: Not the Leafs, that's for damned sure

Choke and die, Richard Peddie.

Tradition: Playing Blur's "Song 2" (aka that "Woo-hoo" song)

Stolen from: Your favorite 1997 mix CD.

Ah, the late 90s. Internet stocks were on fire, Monica's blue dress was in the news, and Blur had a minor hit with this catchy number. For much of 1997 and 1998, you could count on hearing Song 2 blared over the speakers at just about any major sports event.

Now, since then just about every other team in the universe has long ago abandoned the song, relegating it to the "sports novelty music" shelf next to "Woomp there it is" and "Who let the dogs out". But not the Senators. No, they've decide to stick with it, and still break it out every chance they get, especially at playoff time.

Little know fact: During the 2000-01 regular season, the Senators arena staff played this song after goals so much that Ottawa players refused to score any home ice goals for an entire post-season just so they wouldn't have to hear it again.

No, you're really not

Tradition: Calling their town "Hockey Country"

Stolen from: The Detroit Red Wings

Any hockey fan knows that Detroit is "Hockeytown". While you could argue the merits of the nickname as compared to, say, Montreal or Toronto, there's little doubt that Detroit is one of the great hockey cities. Thanks to a rich NHL tradition, several recent Stanley Cups, a thriving college hockey community and a working class fanbase, Detroit is one of the few US cities that can be truly be called a hockey market.

A few years ago the Senators decided to blatantly rip off the nickname. But in an amusing act of passive aggressiveness, the upped the ante by going with "Hockey Country". Get it? A country is bigger than a town. Burn on you, Detroit!

Side note: Nobody outside of Ottawa has ever referred to the city as Hockey Country. Ever.

Tradition: The goal horn

Stolen from: Chicago Stadium, Buffalo Auditorium

In fairness, the Senators are far from the only team to have borrowed this little piece of hockey nostalgia. In fact, just about every team uses some variation these days (including the Maple Leafs). But what the Senators lose in originality, they more than make up for with enthusiasm.

Yes, the horn operator at ScotiaBank Place apparently gets a nickel per blast, because you can count on him wailing away like a frustrated Family Feud contestant on even the most inconsequential goal. My one-year-old daughter shows more restraint on the Baby Einstien learning sounds piano.

Ottawa scored a goal. We get it. Dial it down a little there, Samuel Morse.

You're doing it wrong

Tradition: Always finding new and exciting ways to lose the big one.

Stolen from: The Buffalo Sabres.

Whether it's losing to the Leafs four straight times, choking away game seven at home to the Devils in 2003, being humiliated by the upstart Sabres in 2006, or getting curb-stomped by the Ducks in front of the entire hockey world, the Senators keep finding new and creative ways to torture their fans. It's not just that they lose -- they lose in ways that nobody could imagine.

This is a team whose last three playoff runs have ended thanks to Patrick Lalime's infamous game seven meltdown, Jason Pominville deking out the entire team to score the series winning short-handed goal in overtime, and scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal into their own net while the other team was changing lines.

What will they come up with this year? The mind boggles.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Early thoughts on Penguins-Senators

A (somewhat) neutral view of the Sens/Pens series from a hockey fan living in Ottawa...

Congratulations to Martin Lapointe on becoming the first Senators trade deadline pickup in histoty to have an impact on a playoff game.

I'm a big believer that you can learn a lot about a player by the way they celebrate goals. With exception of Ovechkin, players who jump around like little kids usually aren't much to worry about. On the other hand, players who act like they're not especially surprised or impressed about a goal are usually the most dangerous guys out there -- they expect to score. Think back to Doug Gilmour's nonchalant arm raise celebration.

With that in mind, Evgeni Malkin should terrify Senators fans right now. Twice he's set up Sykora goals with perfect cross-ice feeds. And twice he hasn't reacted to the goal at all. He just pops out his mouth guard, skates over to pat his teammates on the head, and then leaves. No smile, no stick in the air, nothing. All business.

Malkin looks like a guy who believes he's only in week one of a two-month tournament. He could be right.

Kevin Lee at Hockeybuzz is reporting that "There is a strong chance that Daniel Alfredsson could dress for Game 3 in Ottawa on Monday night". Wait, I thought he was out for two weeks! What a remarkable and shocking recovery! Who could have possibily predicted such a thing?

Anton Volchenkov gets full point for taking a slapshot in the face and returning to play the next game. However, he still has a way to go to match Danny Markov in that department. Markov once took a shot in the face against the Senators and managed to trash-talk the Ottawa bench on the way off the ice.

The lesson, as always: Danny Markov is freaking insane.

By the way, now that Volchenkov is back in the lineup, do Sens fans (and Mike Fisher) still think that a guy wearing a full cage isn't allowed to throw a body check? Just checking.

It appears that Chris Neil has officially entered the "Matthew Barnaby" phase of his tough guy career: overrated, utterly harmless, but non-threatening enough that the media will sing his praises over even the smallest contribution.

After the Senators were embarassed by Gary Roberts in game one, Sens fans were hoping that somebody would respond. Taking a page out of his playbook from the aftermath of the Eaves/Tucker fight, Neil decided to do what he does best: make sure the camera catches him giving a stern pre-faceoff lecture, then do nothing else the rest of the game. No big hits, no fights, one fluke assist on a banked in goal, and a seat in the penalty box on the Penguins opening powerplay goal. And the talking heads loved every minute of it.

Believe it or not, I like Chris Neil. I always felt bad for him during his early years under Jacques Martin, who emasculated him to the point that its a miracle he stayed in the league. Who can forget the pathetic sight of Neil being challened by Tie Domi, and having to look to the Sens bench for permission to fight (with Martin sternly shaking his head "no", like a parent denying his teenager use of the family car). The fact that Neil didn't hang himself after that scene shows he has more character than most of his teammates. He seems like a solid kid and he's become a decent player.

But at some point, he's going to need to decide if he's an enforcer or a pest. An intimidator, or an agitator. You can't be both. You can't wave to the home crowd after every fight like a heavyweight, and then turtle against also-rans like Chris Dingman.

And if you're the toughest guy in the lineup of a team that's getting run out of the building, then cuddling with Sidney Crosby and whispering in Gary Roberts ear won't get the job done.

Prediction for the rest of the way: the Sens refuse to go quietly with a solid win in game three, lose a heart-breaker in game four, and the series wraps up back in Pittsburgh in game five.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Capital punishment

The gang over at Pension Plan Puppets have adopted the Washington Capitals as their temporary team.

Here's PPP's reasoning:

We're officially cheering on another team. Yes, I know I wrote an entire post about playoff hate but the consensus has been that you can't hate teams that have not done you any harm. The Leafs have never met in the playoffs, the two teams have never played any big regular season games, and any problems the Leafs have had recently with the Capitals have been self-inflicted.
Now, I like the Caps. Their fans have waited a long time for something to cheer about. They were kind enough to give us Peter Zezel and Bob Rouse, I always liked Dale Hunter, and Alexander Ovechkin is pretty much the coolest guy in the league.

The MCI Center even provided one of my favorite non-Leaf NHL memories. A few years back we were in Washington to visit the in-laws and had a chance to take in a Habs/Caps game. The arena was half-empty, of course, so we were able to pick up cheap tickets in the lower bowl. Halfway through the first period, a pane of glass pops out almost right in front of us and there's a long delay while they try to install a new one.

As we're sitting in the dead quiet arena, we notice a certain well-coifed official is supervising as the replacement pane goes in. My lovely wife suddenly stands up, leans towards the opening, and shouts "Hey Fraser, you jerk, you blew the Gretzky call and ruined my husband's life!"

He skated away -- I'm not sure if he heard her, or just saw a reflective surface somewhere he could gaze into lovingly. But some friendly Caps fans wanted to know the story behind it. After I told them about that game (which takes me about 45 minutes start-to-finish and involves profanity, hand gestures and an improvised Euler diagram), they agreed it was a travesty and bought us beer.

So I'll always have a soft spot for the Capitals. But I can't do it, PPP. I can't jump on another team's bandwagon, even temporarily. I'll watch. Maybe even cheer. But I won't call the Caps my team. I'm a Leafs fan and a Leafs fan only until the day I die (which will be this summer, by the way, of self-inflicted head wounds when we don't get Brian Burke).

Bottom line: I can't have a second-favorite team any more than I can have a second-favorite wife.

(Which, after double-checking, I'm told I definitely can't do.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Playoff injuries: Would I lie to you?

There are two rules when it comes to injuries at playoff time.

1. Everybody lies
2. If somebody swears they're telling the truth, see rule #1.

Everyone knows this. And yet, every year, the media allows itself to be played by clever coaches who feed them misinformation. Why? Because it gives them a neatly wrapped plot line to bang out a few stories with.

Let's look at the arguably the biggest injury story heading into this year's playoffs: Daniel Alfredsson.

To review, Alfredsson is KO'ed by an open ice hit from Mark Bell. The next day, Sens coach Bryan Murray immediately announces the Alfredsson has knee and neck injuries, and will be out for two weeks. Later, Murray hints that Alfredsson could be back for later rounds, but is definitely, positively out for the Penguins series.

The media dutifully writes down everything Murray says, and repeats it back on your nightly newscast and in the morning paper.

So Bryan Murray, a long-time veteran of NHL wars, sees his best player gets hurt right before the playoffs start, and he graciously volunteers to tell everyone exactly when he'll be back.

He's also kind enough to give specifics about the type of injuries. It's well known that Alfredsson has been dealing with back and hip issues for months, and the hit snaps his head back and leaves him crawling around the ice glassy eyed. But Murray clarifies that no, it's not his back or hip, and it's certainly not a head injury -- it's his knee and neck.


Now maybe Murray is telling the truth. Maybe he's just an honest guy, and he feels that personal integrity is more important than winning.

Or... maybe he's full of it. Maybe "two weeks" and "knee and neck" are just the latest in the proud history of playoff smokescreens.

And if so, Sens fans have to wonder: did Murray lie on the high side, or the low? Is he covering up for an Alfredsson injury that's more serious than he's letting on? Or is he setting the stage for the captain's dramatic "early" return?

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, the storyline has been all about the Penguins resting Sidney Crosby in the season finale.The media has been breathlessly speculating about the Penguins' motive, and have concluded that they must have tanked the final game so that they could play the Senators and avoid the Flyers.


Just so we're clear, we're all supposed to think the Penguins are eager to play the defending conference champions, the team that happened to eliminate them easily last year. And they're trembling at the thought of playing the Flyers -- the same team that everyone was picking to miss the post-season a few days ago, and who recently lost back-to-back playoff atmosphere games to Toronto.

And in order to arrange this favorable matchup, they tanked the last game of the season by sitting out their best player, while leaving all their other good players in the lineup, re-inserting Gary Roberts, and also starting their first-string goaltender.

This makes sense to everyone?

Isn't there a simpler explanation? Like, let's say, Crosby still isn't fully recovered from his ankle injury and needed the extra time to try to get healthy.

That would seem like a big story, no? If the best player in the league was entering the playoffs at less than 100%, we'd want to know the details. How bad is he hurt? What's the risk of re-injury. When would he be fully recovered?

But no, Crosby says he's fine. And he wouldn't lie about something like this, so the media runs with the tanking angle.

OK, fine. I'll play along. Crosby's fine. Alfredsson will be back in exactly two weeks, once his knee and neck feel better.

Just remind me to act surprised when we find out the truth.

Monday, April 7, 2008

What would it cost the Leafs to trade up to #1?

Steven Stamkos, future LeafAccording to the Toronto Sun, Cliff Fletcher recently raised the idea of trading up at the draft, including the possibility of moving all the way up to #1.

Great idea. But what would it cost?

Impossible to know for sure, of course. For one, there’s nothing to suggest the Lightning will even make the pick available. If a bidding war developed, who knows where the final price could wind up.

But just for fun, let's see if we come up with an educated guess. If the Leafs wanted to trade up to #1 overall, what kind of offer would it take to get in the door?

NFL fans will recognize this chart, which outlines the approximate values for draft picks in a given year. (If you already know what the NFL Trade Chart is and want to skip to the part about how the Leafs and Stamkos, click here.)

The values start at 3,000 for the top pick and declines for each subsequent picks. The drop from the first pick to the second is steep, the drop from second to third slightly less so, and so on until later rounds when the point values decline slowly.

This makes sense -- the difference between one or two picks is enormous at the top of a draft, gets less important as the draft moves on, and all but washes out by the end. Math fans will recognize the points distribution as resembling (although not directly based on) a power law graph.

The chart is an approximation -- it isn't specific to any particular year or draft. It goes without saying that the value of a pick, especially one at the top of the first round, will fluctuate year-to-year depending on who is available. The #1 overall pick in Sidney Crosby's draft year was worth a lot more than in Patrick Stefan's. But “The Chart” as its known in NFL draft circles, often ends up being surprisingly accurate. More than a few recent NFL draft day trades have been made that matched perfectly based on chart value.

And while The Chart was designed for the NFL, it can be applied to other sports as well, at least as a starting point. Keep in mind that both the NFL and NHL have seven round drafts and a similar number of teams (32 vs 30), so the values will fit relatively well.

So what does The Chart say it would cost the Leafs to move up? Let's take a look.

The #1 overall pick is assigned a value of 3,000 points. The Leafs hold the seventh pick, which is valued at 1,500. So we'll start our offer there, and we're already halfway home.

Now it gets tricky. The Leafs don't own their second round pick this year -- it went to Phoenix is the Yanic Perrault trade. I'll pause here so you can curse JFJ and punch yourself in the temple a few times.

They do own the Penguins second rounder, thanks to Fletcher's Hal Gill trade. That would be the #57 pick if the draft was held today, although it could shift depending on who wins the Cup. For sake of argument let's call it #57, which gives it a value of 330 points.

So far our offer includes our top two picks, and we're not even close to fair value -- just 1,830 total, well short of the 3,000 we need. The Leafs third round pick will only carry a value in the 230 range, so clearly we're not going to get far by adding more picks. In fact, the Leafs could package every pick they own and it still wouldn't get them to fair value according to The Chart.

What about trading a pick from future seasons? That's a possibility. But keep in mind that the rule-of-thumb for draft picks is that a pick loses one round of value for each year in the future you go. That means that a 2009 second rounder would only be worth the equivalent of a 2008 third rounder. We're getting into diminishing returns here.

The bottom line is that if we want to make this deal happen, we're going to need to go out and get more picks.

So let's try that. If the Leafs could acquire a mid- to late-round pick in the first, their chances start to look better. For sake of argument, let's target the #22 pick (currently held by the Rangers, but again subject to change).

Who could the Leafs deal for a pick in that range? Tough call. Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker sure aren't getting it done. Pavel Kubina might have at the trade deadline, but probably not now. On the other hand, Alex Steen might fetch a late first rounder, and Nik Antropov would be a good candidate as well assuming his knee is OK.

Let's pull the trigger for that #22 pick, which The Chart values at 780 points. That brings us to 2,610 points. We're just 390 points short of fair value now.

That's the equivalent of a mid-second rounder, which the Leafs don't have. So you're looking at moving another player off the roster. As a ballpark, players on the current roster who could fetch a second rounder would probably includes guys like Ponikoravsky, or maybe Ian White.

So based on The Chart and our imaginary wheeling and dealing, here's what that trade for the #1 overall pick would look like.

To Toronto: #1 overall pick
To Tampa Bay: #7 overall, #22 overall (at a cost of Alex Steen or Nik Antropov), the #51 pick (cost: Ian White or Alex Ponikoravsky), and Pittsburgh's #57 pick

Of course, there would be other ways to make a deal work. Tomas Kaberle has plenty of trade value, for example -- find a way to work him in and you're going to make your job easier. There's also the possibility of players coming back to Toronto in a deal, additional teams becoming involved, etc.

But at least we have a starting point. Two first rounders, and two seconds. That's two good young players off the roster, and no picks in between #1 and the early third round. And my gut tells me that this offer, while in the ballpark, wouldn't be enough to close a deal.

What do you think? Too much to give up? Not enough? Would you make the deal?

Friday, April 4, 2008

How we can make this up to Sens fans

As some readers know, I'm based in Ottawa. So when something interesting happens between the Leafs and Senators, I feel uniquely qualified to offers some perspective.

First things first: I actually like Daniel Alfredsson. I think he gets a bad rap from Leaf fans. He's a great player and a hard worker, he generally plays clean, and the fact that he's been booed by Leaf fans ever since his fake stick-throw has always seemed silly to me. While guys like Spezza and Heatley float their way through most games, Alfredsson gives an honest effort every night.

It's no big secret that Alfredsson has been playing hurt during the second half with hip and back problems, and that's been the biggest non-goaltending reason the Senators' collapse. If he's ruled out for the first round, the Sens are screwed. The Leafs said they wanted to eliminate the Senators from playoff contention last night, and they may have done it.

So as you'd expect, Ottawa fans have already gathered the torches and pitchforks. Government sub-committees are being formed to examine the problem. Cars around town have their ridiculous Senators window flags lowered to half-mast. And Sens fans want somebody to pay.

And this puts them right in their comfort zone. Sens fans may not be especially loud, and they may still rely on the scoreboard and PA announcer to tell them when to cheer. But when it comes to demanding suspensions Ottawa fans are the best in the league by a longshot.

Sens fans have yet to see any incident involving one of their own players going down that did not warrant a swift and serious suspension. Even those most innocent scrum -- recall Tie Domi's facewash on Magnus Arvedson -- deserves immediate action from the league. Sens fans will light up the radio call-in lines for days, write mouth-frothing blog posts, and hold midnight candlelight vigils until justice is done.

Never mind that Mark Bell's hit was virtually identical to Chris Neil's hit on Chris Drury last year, which Sens fans swore was squeaky clean. This is completely different, because this time it's their guy who's down. (And besides, Bell's hit didn't give Alfredsson any time to react. Neil's hit was clean because he was nice enough to wait an extra few seconds.)

As Toronto fans, I don't think we should take any special joy in Alfredsson's injury. Whether he misses one game or one month, it won't change the fact that the Maple Leafs' season was another embarrassing writeoff. Seeing a rival team's fanbase feel as miserable and hopeless as we do shouldn't bring much comfort.

We should be looking for a way to cheer up Ottawa fans.

So here's my proposal: Let's tell Ottawa fans that Mark Bell has been sentenced to six months in jail for hitting Daniel Alfredsson.

Think about it. Sens fans don't really follow the day-to-day news for other teams, so I think we can get away with this. Tell any Senator you know that Bell is heading to the slammer to pay for his crimes. Solemnly tell them that you sincerely hope he will learn the error of his ways.

When TSN runs a story on Bell reporting to prison in a few weeks, Ottawa fans will nod happily (although a few will insist he should have got a year). Then they'll go back to shovelling their roof and trying to figure out which pothole their car fell into.

Everybody wins. Leaf Nation, let's make it happen.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fools - NHL style

Today is April Fools day. We know hockey players love a good laugh, so in the spirit of the occasion I've prepared some suggested practical jokes that various Leafs and other NHLers can play today. No need to thank me, boys, it's my gift to you.

Kyle Wellwood - Between periods, don Timbits jersey and sneak into intermission youth hockey game. Attempt to throw first bodycheck of career. Fail.

Sean Avery - Just for today, use funny smiley faces instead of zeroes on all personal cheques written to prostitutes.

Ray Emery - Perform entire post-game interview with powdered donut on upper lip. Keep asking increasingly uncomfortable Ottawa media what they're looking at.

Mats Sundin - Call Cliff Fletcher. Explain that, on second thought, you will accept a trade if it's not too late. Hang up. Giggle.

Phoenix Coyotes - Repeatedly ask assistant coach Rick Tocchet how his March Madness bracket is looking.

Pierre McGuire - Spend day making and distributing photocopies of "McGuire's Monster".

Paul Maurice - Tell Andrew Raycroft he gets to play tonight. Watch how excited he gets. Look, he's even putting on his equipment and everything!

Alexander Ovechkin - On first shift of the game, intentionally hit both posts to give goalie fleeting sense of hope before immediately scoring on rebound.

Jeremy Roenick - Nothing. His focus is on winning, not cheap antics that serve no purpose other than calling attention to himself.

Peter Forsberg - Play hilarious joke on referee by falling down immediately every time you're touched.

Brian Campbell - When asked if you prefer living in San Jose to Buffalo, pretend to have to think about it for a few seconds.

Carlo Colaiacovo - When asked "How are you?", reply "Fine".

Dominek Hasek - Spend entire day speaking weird moon-man language that nobody can understand.

George Parros - Wear ridiculous novelty moustache over top of ridiculous real moustache.

Edmonton Oilers - Print playoff tickets.

Oli Jokinnen - Leave note in Richard Zednik's locker reading "Next time, I finish the job".

Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley - Play hard on opening shift tonight. Go into corners. Fight through traffic. Earn paychecks. Get back to bench, turn to fans, and say "no, just kidding".

Bryan McCabe - Briefly defy direct order from wife. Immediately apologize and assure her it will not happen again.