Monday, June 30, 2008

We'll learn a lot about Sundin this week

So it's all but official: Mats Sundin will become an unrestricted free agent within a few hours.

No big surprise here. We all know the story of Mats Sundin's Summer of Angst by now. The poor guy just can't make up his mind about what he wants to do next year. Toronto? Montreal? New York? Detroit? Does he even want to play at all?

In a league where atheletes seem to make career altering decisions over the course of a few hours, Sundin's drawn out thought process has been unusual, to say the least.

There are really only two explanations for Sundin's behaviour:

  • He's being sincere -- he really doesn't know what he wants to do yet, and he doesn't want to commit to anything before he makes up his mind
  • It's all been an act, part of either a bargaining tactic or a way to leave Toronto without actually saying he wants out. Or both.
Cliff Fletcher seems to be leaning towards door number two. In a quote that's had surprisingly little play in Leaf Nation, Fletcher basically called B.S. on Sundin while talking to Howard Berger.
I’ll be surprised if the reason for delaying is that Mats doesn’t know whether he wants to play again after having such a good season with us last year,” said the GM. “He told me he never enjoyed playing hockey as much as he did last season. So, we’ll see where it goes."
But only time will tell. And it will tell this week, because the game changes tomorrow.

Up until now, Sundin's indecision hasn't come with a cost. Well, that's not completely true -- it's probably cost the Leafs any chance of getting anything in return for their departing captain. But it hasn't cost him anything.

That all changes tomorrow. History has shown that free agents who want the big dollars almost always sign on July 1. Sometimes you can wait a few days and still get paid. But once the initial gold rush is over and cap space has vanished, teams tend to get pretty stingy in a hurry.

Every day Mats waits now will cost him. If he waits weeks or even days, it could cost him millions. So put aside whether he signs with Toronto or elsewhere. We're going to learn a lot about Sundin and his summer sideshow this week.

If Sundin is still on the sidelines after this week, we'll at least know that his indecisiveness is sincere. On the other hand, if he's signed on the dotted line this time tomorrow, we'll know it was all a big charade, a public relations campaign to get him through to July 1 and the big money he was waiting for.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What the Leafs should offer Sundin

With July 1 only a few days away, and Mats Sundin still hidden away in Sweden, it seems almost certain the Leafs captain will become an unrestricted free agent. While he'll cease to be Leafs' property on Tuesday, the team can still make a bid for him. And despite everything I've written about him, I think they should bid. And bid hard.

If I'm Cliff Fletcher, here's the offers I send JP Barry at 12:01 on Tuesday.
  • A one-year deal, at a salary of $10M. This would make Sundin the highest paid player, in terms of average salary and cap hit, in the history of the NHL.
  • A limited no-trade clause, as follows:
    • On February 1, 2009, the Leafs supply Sundin with a list of ten teams of their choice
    • By February 15, Sundin must choose three teams from that list that he would be willing to accept a trade to.
    • If at any point between February 1 and the trade deadline the Leafs are among the top four teams in the Eastern Conference in points, the deal converts to a complete no-trade clause
To summarize: the highest paid player in league history, and a NTC that covers 90% of the league. Think we'd get his attention with that offer?

It goes without saying that the $10M is a huge overpayment that can't really be justified based on Sundin's play. But that's not what you're paying for. You're paying for the right to trade him in February. Essentially, the Leafs are using their financial muscle to buy a premium package of draft picks and prospects.

The Leafs have plenty of cap room, and it's cap room that they really shouldn't be spending on big name UFAs. This deal would still leave them with enough cap space to sign their key RFAs and add a player or two to fill out the roster.

Of course, there's no guarantee Sundin would accept the deal. In fact, I suspect he wouldn't. That's fine too. If a total NTC is so important to him, or he just plain wants out of Toronto, then let him sign with Montreal or the Rangers for a fraction of what the Leafs offer. That's his call.

But at least if will clearly be his choice. Nobody will be able to accuse the Leafs of not making the best offer, and Sundin won't ever be able to play the "no respect" card. If the Leafs make him this kind of offer and he still bolts for the Habs, fans everywhere will always know that there was nothing the Leafs could have done to keep Sundin. He knew he was leaving all along.

Make the call, Cliff.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Leafs need to tread carefully with McCabe

The Leafs may be getting to play serious hardball with Bryan McCabe. TSN is reporting that the Leafs may be considering telling McCabe to stay home if he won't waive his no-trade clause.

The idea has a certain appeal. For starters, it would finally remove McCabe from the Leafs roster (even though he'd be paid a full salary and count against the cap). It would also send a message to the rest of the veterans that Fletcher wasn't kidding around when he promised to make changes. And after years of seeing players hold out despite holding valid contracts, it would be nice to see the NHLPA have the tables turned.

But the Leafs need to be very careful here.

I'm as tired of McCabe as anyone else. When he finally waives his NTC, I'll be first in line to drive him to airport. I may even slow the car down before I dump him on the tarmac.

But he has a contract, signed in good faith. And the Leafs will be getting into dangerous territory if they decide to punish him for wanting it honored.

We've heard endlessly how players like McCabe and Sundin are just doing what the CBA allows them to do, as if following the strict letter of the law absolves a player of any criticism. The Leafs could certainly make the same argument on their side -- that they're just doing what the rules allow. That argument could even win the day in the courtroom mediation hearing that the case would surely wind up in.

But it's not about being technically right or wrong. It's about perception, and how a move like this will look to players negotiating deals with the Leafs in the future. Will future FAs trust the Leafs when they sit down to hammer out a deal? Is it worth that risk, just to wipe the smirk off McCabe's overpaid face?

Let's be clear: the Leafs should make McCabe earn whatever role he'll have on the team. The days of automatic first-line status and powerplay icetime should be over. If his play warrants a spot on the third pairing, so be it. If he winds up in the pressbox some nights, that's the way it goes.

But as awful as he's been the past few years, McCabe is still good enough to make the team. Sending him home because he wants his deal honored is crossing the line.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why not Blake?

Plenty of folks at PPP and elsewhere are asking the question: If Tucker can be bought out, why not Blake?

The answer, of course, is that Blake's contract is so terrible that it protects him from a buyout, much like McCabe's. Tucker actually signed a reasonable deal, so he could be cut loose if needed.

The problem with Blake isn't so much the salary, although he's badly overpaid given his production. It's the length of the deal, which still has four years left to run. That means any buyout would be on the books for eight years.

How long is that? Put it this way. If the Leafs bought out Jason Blake, you could actually read this sentence some day:

"The Maple Leafs may be hampered in their efforts to lure veteran unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos, because they are still waiting for the Jason Blake buyout to come off their books."
Thanks again, JFJ.

I'm going to go lie down in traffic.

Buying out Tucker is the right move, but I don't have to like it

Somebody asked me once why I'm so hard on Bryan McCabe, but rarely say much about Darcy Tucker. They're both overpaid underachievers, they both had the dreaded no-movement clause, they both refused to waive... what's the difference?

There were three:
  • Unlike McCabe, Tucker took a discount to get his no-trade. After the year he had in 2006-7, he could have made more than $3M a year on the open market.
  • Tucker's lousy year was at least partially due to injury. And while staying healthy is part of being a top player, I'm going to cut a guy some slack when his body breaks down because he played bigger than he was
  • I can't claim to read minds, but for some reason it always seemed like Tucker genuinely loved being a Maple Leaf, while McCabe loves being in Toronto. There's a difference. A big one.
All that said, I think Fletcher made the right move here. Darcy Tucker has been in Toronto for so long that he's become a symbol of the team. He was a symbol of the plucky underdogs of 1999, he was a symbol of the borderline psycho death squad of 2003, and he was (unfortunately) a symbol of the whiny losers that the team morphed into during the Ferguson era.

Does he deserve to go? No. But the team needs a fresh start, and you can't get on if you keep the core in place. Sometimes you really do need change for the sake of change.

And yes, McCabe would have been a better choice to throw overboard, for a long list of reasons. But he won't go, and he's too expensive to buyout. So Tucker had to take the bullet for him. Another reason to give Bryan a warm welcome in the fall.

* * *

So let's all dry our eyes and look back on the good times. Here's a fond trip down memory lane:

Hey listen, it's objective and professional non-homer Dean Brown calling the game! Let's see if he can cover the entire checklist of things he's required to mention every time there's a fight in a Senators game:
  • Claim that Ottawa player is wining fight despite no visual evidence
  • Call for suspension
  • Use of term "gong show"
Yep, sounds like he got them all!

This was back at the height of the "the Leafs are out-of-control" phase that culminated in SI doing a hatchet job on the team. As part of that, the media decided that since the Leafs were evil, the Senators had to be good and pure and classy. Good times. But notice how Hnidy jumps Tucker after he fights Neil. Can you imagine if the roles had been reversed, and a Senator fought Domi only to have Belak immediately grab him for round two? They would have had to sedate Dean Brown to keep him from attacking Joe Bowen.

This was also the same game that saw Domi's gentle glove-on punch to Magnus Arvedson, who faked a broken nose so that Domi would be suspended. Also, Daniel Alfredsson tried to two-hand Domi with his stick, Hossa-style. Pure class as always. OK, I'm angry now. Time to go for a walk and do some breathing exercises.

OK, I'm back.

Hey, while we're at it, who is the guy in the Senators gameday operations booth who sees a wild brawl break out and thinks "Man, this is crazy, what should I do? I know, I think I'll play some classical music!" (Edit: I may not be giving enough credit on this one. See the comments section.)

* * *

Finally, to all those who are hanging their heads today, here's a prediction: you haven't seen the last of Tucker in Toronto. The Leafs love to bring their warriors back for one more round (right Gary?). In a few years when the team is ready to make a serious playoff push again and needs some veteran sandpaper, look for #16 to make his return.

It's going to happen. And when it does, look out, because I think he's going to be cranky.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Leafs and RFAs

From today's Lance Hornby column.

The Leafs also can get bold and sign a restricted free agent, as long as it's between $1.3 million and $2.6 million a year, costing only a second-rounder.

I don't think the Leafs can bid on any RFAs in this range, because:
  • Teams must use their own draft picks for RFA compensation, and the picks have to be in the following year's draft
  • The Leafs don't own a second-round pick next year thanks to the Schenn trade
Please tell me I've got this wrong, because the alternative is that random bloggers like me know the CBA better than one of Toronto's top hockey writers.

Eklund's Hockeybuzz Blogger contest: The winner is...

As some of you know, this blog was part of Eklund's "Next Great Blogger Contest" over at hockeybuzz. This was a very exciting opportunity for me, because normally my only chance to write for a site full of made-up nonsense is to comment on eyebeleaf's Mats Sundin posts.

The contest got off to a rough start when it became clear that Eklund wasn't actually going to link to any of the blogs. This was a strange decision, since Eklund gets a billion hits a day and could afford to send some traffic to struggling no-names. On the other hand, it was an understandable decision because it was always possible that some immature malcontent could use the links to send subtle passive-aggressive messages, and that would be an unfair to a well-respected sports journalist like Eklund.

The first few matchups seemed to go well, with decent participation from users and some strong entries from aspiring writers. Unfortunately the updates stopped without explanation, marking only the second time in history that something being driven by an Eklund came to a screeching halt1.

As of today, the contest has been dormant for over a month and things don't look good. I don't want to say that this contest is destined to drag on forever without a satisfactory conclusion, but Eklund recently appointed Gordon Kirke to head it up.

Anyways, a top secret source tells me that the contest is done (e4)2. And that's a shame. The hockey community deserves better. So in an effort to find a resolution that will please everyone, I've decided to declare a winner myself.

Here's the methodology:

  • Eklund says he had over 400 entries that he had to narrow down to a field of 64. So obviously, any of the 340 or so bloggers who didn't make the initial cut are eliminated. Sorry, losers.

  • Of the 32 first round matchups, only 15 were ever completed. Those 15 matchup losers are out, so we're down to 49.

  • Clearly you can't win the contest without even winning a single matchup. That would be ridiculous. So everyone who's matchup never got off the ground is out too. We're down to 15.

  • There's really no fair way to narrow the field down to a final two, so we'll just have to go with first-come-first-served. Our Eklund Next Great Blogger Contest Final Two will be whichever bloggers happened to win the first two matchups. That ends up being a blogger named Kelly Faith and... whoa, hey, that would be me! Funny how that worked out.

  • So we're down to a final two: Kelly vs. Down Goes Brown. How to determine a winner? Out of respect for his site, I think its only fair to do this the way Eklund would want it done. So, I kidnapped his dog and threw ping pong balls at it until it chose a winner. And he chose me!

    (Some of you probably think this method isn't fair to Kelly. You're probably right, but from what I can tell she's a Sabres fan so she's used to getting screwed over in the finals. I'm sure she wouldn't have it any other way.)
So... congratulations to Down Goes Brown, the 2008 Eklund Next Great Blogger Contest winner!

Rare photo of Leafs celebrating a Raycroft save

The Down Goes Brown staff celebrate their victory.
(Not pictured: Voodoo doll wearing #13 Leafs jersey)

As part of my prize package, I will receive a homemade mix CD of folk rock classics and unlimited use of Howard Berger's fictional limo driver.

Also, I'm going to keep Eklund's dog. He whines a lot and poops whenever somebody big comes near him, so I've named him McCabe.

1Too soon?

2For those who don't know, Eklund's rumor rating scale is as follows:

e1 - Made up
e2 - Made up
e3 - Made up
e4 - Made up
e5 - Reported on ESPN ticker half an hour ago

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Draft weekend wrapup

Some closing thoughts on what was, all things considered, a pretty positive weekend...

Mats Sundin is an ex-Leaf. It's all but official now. Even if he doesn't wind up with the Habs, it's clear that Fletcher has figured out that Mats isn't coming back.

At this point Mats Sundin is the unhappy girlfriend who, rather than just break up with you, decides to give you the silent treamtent. So she pouts about how you don't respect her and stops returning your calls, all the while hoping you'll break up with her so that she can cry to her friends about how badly she was treated.

Well, Cliff has been around long enough to know the game, and he's not having it. The question now isn't whether Mats comes back -- we know he isn't. It's whether Cliff can manage to get something worthwhile for him.

If Fletcher manages to extract a first round pick for Sundin, or anything of significant value, I'll be doing cartwheels. The rebuilding Leafs will be better off without Sundin at this point, so anything Cliff can get is gravy.

At first, I wasn't sure about the Luke Schenn pick. The price to move up was high (thanks, Paul Maurice), and I get nervous about using the #5 overall pick on a guy who's considered only fourth best at his position.

Then I heard Pierre McGuire call him an "eraser" and a "one man wrecking crew", and I was excited. And then, as the first round went on, I heard McGuire get equally excited about every single other player who was picked. He loved every single player for three straight hours.

I guess he's only critical when he's bashing about the Leafs on Ottawa radio to make the morning show crew giggle.

Jimmy Hayes is an interesting choice. Hayes was considered a top-ten pick heading into the season so he could be decent value in the late second, and he's got plenty of size. But scouts soured on him because he doesn't play hard and often looks like he does't care.

You know what that means: he's ahead of the game! It usually takes a Leafs prospect years to learn the dressing room culture. Once McCabe teaches him how to blame injuries and use the phrase "we've got a great group", this kid could be captain material.

Mikhail Stefanovich seems like a great value at #98. Unlike Hayes, Stefanovich was well-regarded through most of the year. The Hockey News had him going in the top 20 of most of their lists throughout the year and he went #25 in the most recent mock draft, so he was certainly worth a shot in the late third.

If you missed it, here's a funny pre-draft take on Stefanovich from AOL Fanhouse.

How long did the last six rounds take? An hour? I heard on the radio that teams had 30 seconds to make a pick after the first round. How is that possible? I can't even get the guys in my fantasy football league to make a late-round pick in less than ten minutes.

Finally, you know the Leafs must have done something right this weekend because even Damien Cox can't find anything to criticize. It's true - here's Damien's Sunday column.

Yes, you can always tell when Cox thinks the Leafs have done something right, because he finds something completely different to write about for a few days.

Seriously, the Leafs draft a franchise blueliner, load up on size, and part with Mats Sundin all in one weekend... and Toronto's top hockey columnist files a glorified fluff piece on the new Lightning owners for his Sunday piece? This is the best we can expect?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

You stay classy

Remember when Mark Bell laid out Daniel Alfredsson, and Sens fans went on and on and on and on and on for days about how Leaf fans were "classless" for cheering?

Apparently, we now have a rule of thumb:

  • Cheering when a player on the other team receives a clean body check: classless

  • Booing an 18-year-old kid on his draft day because you don't like his new team: pure class
Glad we cleared that up.

Questions about the Mats deal

This is what we know: Cliff Fletcher has given the Habs exclusive negotiating rights to Mats Sundin.

And tha'ts pretty much all we know. This being the Maple Leafs, the army of reporters covering the team are more interested in offering up opinions on the deal than in actually finding out the details. Why bother with all those boring "facts", when speculation is so much more fun.

So since they're not asking the right questions, I figured I'd give it a shot. If anyone has seen these questions answered anywhere, please post a comment and I'll update as we go.

- Do these "exclusive" rights mean the Leafs can't talks to Sundin either? Howard Berger seems to think so. Other articles don't mention it. This seems important, no?

- We all assume that there's a conditional deal in place if Mats signs in Montreal. But has anything been filed with the league? Even conditional deals have to be written down somewhere. Look at the Prospal trade this week, which was basically a conditional deal with a seventh-round pick as a placeholder. Did the Habs and Leafs file anything? Or is this a gentleman's agreement with Fletcher and Gainey? If so, is it even enforacable?

- Is there any compensation involved if the Habs don't sign Sundin? Obviously it wouldn't be much, but are the Habs getting a 100% risk-free window here, or are they paying a price just to pick up the phone? Similar deals in pro sports have happened both ways.

- Why would the compensation only apply until June 30? Several articles, including Damien Cox, mention that the conditional deal would only be in place until the start of free agency. Why? If the Habs can work out a deal with Sundin, whether its tomorrow or in July or in August, what difference does it make? And if the trade is only in place until June 30, what's to stop the Habs from waiting until 12:01 on July 1 and signing Mats then?

What price victory?

I like the deal to move up and grab Schenn. But I couldn't help but think about the price tag: two good draft picks to move up from #7 to #5. That's a lot. But it was necessary, because the Leafs had the #7 pick in a draft with five (or six, if you consider Filatov signable) elite players.

A little refresher:

The Islanders had 79 points last year. The Leafs, thanks to their traditional late-season surge after they were already all but eliminated from the playoffs, had 83 points.

You no doubt remember how that final stretch unfolded: Toskala being played into the ground, the veterans getting all the ice time, no look at the younger kids, no Raycroft until the very end. And all because Paul Maurice was coaching for his next employer instead of his current one.

So let's take a moment today to thank Maurice. They say you can't put a price on winning, but now we can. Two more meaningless victories, four more lousy points, at a cost of a second rounder and a third.

Good work, Paul.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Love Guru: Fact vs Fiction

Love Guru PosterThe Love Guru opens today. As a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, the film will no doubt be seen by a lot of non-hockey fans. This is great news for the NHL, which needs all the publicity it can get.

However, as with any movie the Hollywood version has taken some liberties with reality. Movie goers may be left with some false impressions about the NHL in general and the Toronto Maple Leafs in specific. To avoid confusion, Down Goes Brown attempts to sort out fact and fiction.

Hollywood version: The Leafs' young superstar, Darren Roanoke, is African-American.

Real life: As any hockey fan knows, this is a politically correct Hollywood invention that can only be called pure fiction. The Leafs have never had a young superstar.

Hollywood version: All the Leafs problems are caused by their star player being estranged from his wife.

Real life: All the Leafs problems are caused by their star players being so whipped by their wives that they're not allowed to accept trades to contending teams. A few trial separations would be just what the doctor ordered.

Hollywood version: The Leafs win the Stanley Cup.

Real life: Yeah, not so much.

Hollywood version: In the crucial series between the Leafs and Kings, the hated villain is played by Justin Timberlake.

Real life: In the crucial series between the Leafs and Kings, the hated villain is played by Kerry Fraser.

Hollywood version: The Leafs are run by Jessica Alba, best known for a pair of boobs that everybody loves.

Real life: The Leafs are run by Larry Tannenbaum and Richard Peddie, best known as a pair of boobs that everybody hates.

Hollywood version: Bob Probert makes an appearance on the ice in Toronto, portraying himself.

Real life: Bob Probert makes an appearance on the ice in Toronto, portraying Wendel Clark's personal speed bag.

Hollywood version: The Leafs spend $2 million on Mike Myer's character in an attempt to win.

Real life: The Leafs spend $2 million on Andrew Raycroft in an attempt to lose.

Hollywood version: Jessica Simpson appears as herself: a whiny blond prima donna with an overinflated sense of entitlement who hasn't done anything noteworthy in two years and who everybody wishes would just go away.

Real life: Role played by Bryan McCabe.

Hollywood version: Verne Troyer portrays 32-inch-tall hockey coach, even though he isn't one in real life.

Real life: Kyle Wellwood portrays a 32-inch-tall second line center, even though he isn't one in real life.

Hollywood version: After the Leafs win the championship, everybody is happy.

Real life: After the Leafs win the championship, Damien Cox writes an angry column about how they should have done better.

Leafs acquire Mayers

The Leafs have acquired Jamal Myers from the Blues in exchange for a third round pick.

So... Who had "June 20" in the "When will the Leafs start trading decent picks for 33-year-old fourth liners" pool?

The only good news here is that Mayers brings some sandpaper, meaning we may be on our way back to building a team that's at least a little bit tough to play against. That's something. The Leafs desperately need somebody to throw over the boards if things get out of hand. Is Mayers that guy? I suppose he is now, by default.

Still... no more trading picks, Cliff. Stop it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A few random and unrelated observations

The NBA has recently had to fend off accusations that it actively worked to ensure that large market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers advanced in the playoffs. Even if the new allegations are false, the league has long been suspected of assigning specific referees to playoff games in an attempt to subtlety influence results and ensure that big market teams did as well as possible. There have even been whispers for years that the league has rigged its draft lottery to ensure that teams in big markets have an advantage.

Major league baseball currently has a salary system that greatly favors large market teams, virtually ensuring that several teams from markets like New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles are contenders every year. Fans in small markets complain, but nobody in ownership or the players union seems to mind.

The NFL recently opened the door to dropping its suspension of star cornerback Adam 'Pacman' Jones. Jones had been suspended indefinitely while playing for the small-market Tennessee Titans, but the league softened its stance shortly after he was traded to the league's flagship franchise, the Dallas Cowboys. The NFL also raised eyebrows by declaring the Spygate scandal investigation closed, in a move that many saw as an attempt to protect the big market New England Patriots.

Meanwhile, Gary Bettman and the NHL have taken a break from actively obstructing the Maple Leafs pursuit of a big-name general manager to announce that they are going to court in an attempt to remove the New York Rangers owners. When not making trouble for their biggest market teams, Bettman and friends appear to spend all their time trying to keep the small market American teams happy.

In completely unrelated news, the NBA has set attendance records three years in a row, MLB business is at an all-time high, and the NFL is the most powerful and successful sports league in North American history.

Meanwhile, the NHL struggles along. Revenue is up thanks mainly to the Canadian dollar, but business in the US is flat and the league continues to need to pad its announced ticket sales with freebies in order to claim that attendance is rising.

So good work, Gary. Keep working hard to pick fights with those big markets. You obviously know something that all those other league's don't.

A simple request to the NHL on draft day

Dear Gary Bettman,

While I know you're brilliant and always have this league firing on all cylinders, here's a crazy idea you may want to try on draft weekend.

At the beginning of the draft, you go up to the podium and announce that you checked with all 30 teams, and they would all like to a.) thank Ottawa for hosting, and b.) congratulate the Detroit Red Wings for winning the Stanley Cup.

Then when it's their turn, tell the teams to just skip the preamble, make their freaking picks and get the hell off the stage.

We could get this whole thing done in an hour.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hey Caps fan: Scoreboard

A quick observation from five days spent just outside of Washington, DC...

Total Capitals' logos spotted: zero. Not a one. Not on a fan, not on a bumper sticker, not hanging in a store window. Nothing. Even after Ovechkin's big night on Thursday, the Caps have zero summertime presence around here that I can see.

Total Maple Leafs' logos spotted: about a thousand. That number breaks down like this: one on my infant daughter's shirt, and the rest on ads for The Love Guru. That damn movie is everywhere. We were at the local mall today and its covered floor to ceiling in posters, cutouts and murals, and they all feature the Leafs logo.

Now I'm as big a Leaf fan as there is, but even I have to wonder about that strategy. My gut tells me that if you have a Maple Leafs logo in your movie, and you have Jessica Alba in your movie... you might want to go with a little extra Alba on the posters. Just saying.

Anyways, as best I can tell this is the Leafs first post-season road win in four years. The Ron Wilson era is already paying off.

Friday, June 13, 2008

They'd better be right

Hello from Washington DC.

Since I'm on the road, postings over the next week will be sparse. I'm not even going to have a chance to write my rebuttal to Steve at, explaining why he's wrong about the Leafs benching Darcy Tucker. (Short version: they have the right to ask him to waive and they have the right to buy him out, but benching him as punishment for wanting to honor his contract goes too far, is beneath the franchise and sends a terrible message for future negotiations). All in all this is probably a good thing since Steve is about 300% smarter than me and would probably respond with the intellectual equivalent of the Clark-Mackey fight.

But I do want to touch on the Fletcher announcement.

Basically, the cards are on the table now. Talking to Nonis was a hint. Hiring Wilson was a giveaway. But this seals it: The Leafs Plan A is Brian Burke, and there is no Plan B.

Well, that may not be totally true. Plan A is to put so much pressure on the Ducks that they get Burke this summer. Plan B is to get him next summer. But all roads lead to Burke right now, or they lead nowhere.

So my opinion is: They better be right.

If Brian Burke ends up being the next Leafs GM, then all of this will have made sense. The Leafs are often accused of not having a plan, but they clearly have one here. And they're executing it, even as the media screams and Gary Bettman stews.

But it has to work, because if it doesn't they'll be laughingstocks. Again. If you click over to one day and see that Brian Burke has signed an extension in Anaheim, then this whole process will have been a disaster.

So will it work? I have no idea. But I'm betting that Peddie, Fletcher and Kirke do. They must know something that the rest of us don't. They must feel like they can risk their credibility (well, at least in the case of Fletcher and Kirke, who still have some) on a roll of the dice. They must know that Burke is on his way, and that the plan is a sure thing.

They'd better be sure. This franchise, from ownership to management to coaches to players, has had five years of wrong answers to just about every important question that's come along.

They need to be right this time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Richard Zednik thinks this is the cut throat move of the year

TSN is reporting that CTV and TSN have snapped up the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme song. Or, as it's apprently known now, "The Hockey Song".

This will no doubt come as a great shock to the blathering morons who had predicted that this was all a smokescreen and the song would remain on CBC.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Enough with the Hockey Night in Canada theme song controversy

I tried to stay away from this, but we're on Day Three of the nation-wide HNIC Theme Song Death Watch.

Folks, it's all a hoax. It's a contract negotiation, and both sides are playing the public to try to gain an edge. That's it.

Here's how it will play out: The CBC will claim the deal is dead and the composer's lawyers will say the same thing. CBC will stall long enough to get to launch its American Idol ripoff to find a new theme. Nobody will watch, everyone will say all the new songs suck, and a few weeks before the season there will be a shocking announcement that the two sides have reached a deal after all. The song contest winner will get played during intermission a few times, and then all of this will be forgotten.

Remember when Ron MacLean was absolutely, positively 100% not coming back? Hockey fans debated that for a week. And then the season started, and there he was. Same deal here.

When HNIC debuts this fall, the familiar theme song will be there1. Absolutely guaranteed. So settle down.

1This prediction is brought to you by the fine folks behind "Mats Sundin is just saying what we want to hear, of course he'll waive his no-trade clause at the deadline."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Congratulations to the Red Wings

Despite the longstanding rivalry with the Leafs, I've always respected the Wings. Their current roster was built without tanking or top draft picks -- just great scouting, good coaching, and an overall commitment to excellence that starts at the top and works down through every executive, coach and player.

A note to Leaf fans: The Wings have now won four Cups in 12 years. But before their win in 1997, they went 42 years without a Cup. That was 42 years of misery, including a very long stretch where the team was a complete non-factor. Then they got their act together, and the rest is history.

It can be done. Know hope.

P.S. A note to any Red Wings fans: click here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Breaking news: Leafs talking trade with Ducks

As everyone knows, the NHL held its General Managers meeting on Monday. While the focus was on rule changes and the state of the game, it was only natural that several GMs took the time to touch base with their colleagues about potential trades.

Down Goes Brown has obtained an exclusive transcript of one such negotiation. Our spies caught Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher talking trade with Ducks GM Brian Burke. Here's how the conversation went.

(Scene: A distant corner of a fancy hotel lobby. Two men in suits sit by a small table, huddled in conversation.)

Fletcher: Hi Brian. Thanks for meeting with me. I always enjoy talking about trades.

Burke: Yes. I will enjoy this discussion, which is focused solely on a potential trade between our teams. And nothing else.

Fletcher: Of course.

Burke: Absolutely.

Fletcher: So, as you may know, the Maple Leafs are looking to improve our team.

Burke: Yes. I imagine you're focused on building a core of young players while divesting yourself of veteran salaries, clearing cap room while also rebuilding a culture of winning inside the dressing room. You're looking for players with a mix of skill and toughness, preferably Canadian players who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty and can adapt to a hard-nosed, playoff style approach. Oh, and stockpiling draft picks.


Burke: I know that's what I would do if I was in your shoes.

Fletcher: Oddly enough, that's exactly what we're looking to do.

Burke: Good to hear.

(Cliff's phone rings. He looks at the incoming number.)

Fletcher: Oh, look, Ron Wilson is calling me. We've been planning to interview him for our head coaching vacancy. Say Brian, do you know Ron?

Burke: Actually, yes I do. We're very close friends. He's an excellent coach, and exactly the type of guy I would hire to coach the Maple Leafs, if I were involved in that process.

(Cliff writes something down on a notepad.)

Fletcher: So back to the trade talk. We'd love to acquire some good young players, and the Ducks have several. Would you be interested in adding some veteran talent? Or are you, Brian, more interested in building for the long-term in Anaheim?

Burke: I am not currently interested in building for the long-term in Anaheim.

Fletcher: Interesting.

Burke: My current focus is short-term.

Fletcher: As in...

Burke: Ideally a few weeks, maybe a month. One year at the absolute most.

Fletcher: Hmm...

Burke: But preferably nothing beyond the draft.

Fletcher: Good to know.

(Cliff's phone rings. He looks at the incoming number.)

Fletcher: Oh look, Dave Nonis is calling me. We're considering him for an assistant GM's role. Do you know Dave?

Burke: Yes I do, Cliff. He's a great guy, and would be an asset to your organization. I would strongly recommend hiring him as assistant to your new GM, whoever that should happen to be.

(Cliff writes something down on a notepad.)

Fletcher: So anyway... we have several players available. You've taken a look at our roster. Any interest in these guys?

Burke: To be honest, I'm not a big fan of most of them. Especially McCabe and Blake. I would not be interested in having these players on my roster. If they did somehow wind up on my team, I would probably make it a priority to move them immediately, in any way I could. I also wouldn't be interested in guys like Bell or Raycroft, although I imagine they'll be sent to the minors soon.

Fletcher: I imagine they will.

Burke: On the other hand, I like Kaberle. But I'm sure he's not available. He's probably untouchable, isn't he Cliff?

Fletcher: Yes he is, Brian.

(Gary Bettman walks by, spots Burke and Fletcher talking, and scurries over.)

Bettman: Hey! What are you guys talking about?

Burke: Just two GMs engaging in some friendly trade talk, Gary.

Fletcher: Nothing more.

Burke: Why? What did you think it was?

Bettman (suspicious): I'm watching you.

Fletcher: Hey Gary, I think they're showing an old NBA game on ESPN Classic over at the bar.

Bettman: Really? Oh goodie!

(Bettman hops up and down, claps his hands and scurries away excitedly.)

Fletcher: Well Brian, I'd love to continue this conversation, but I'm afraid I'm very busy. I have to call Ron Wilson and Dave Nonis, and then work on trading McCabe and Blake while focusing on acquiring youth and draft picks. I am so busy with these tasks, I will sadly be unable to interview any pontential new GMs until immediately after the draft, at the earliest.

Burke: That sounds like an excellent plan, Cliff. Meanwhile, I need to get back to my duties of ensuring that the Anaheim Ducks are in good shape for the next several weeks.

(Cliff's phone rings. He looks at the incoming number.)

Fletcher: Oh look, Richard Peddie is calling me.

Burke: Tell him to go fuck himself.

Fletcher: Will do. Talk to you soon, Brian.

Burke: Very, very soon.

Confirm or Deny

Any truth to the rumor that the Leafs have already agreed to a deal with Ron Wilson, but the press conference is being delayed until Richard Peddie is finished memorizing the script?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Leafs to hire Ron Wilson? is reporting that Cliff Fletcher has made an offer to a new coach, but would not name him. The site also says that former Sharks coach Ron Wilson is getting on a plane to Toronto, but wouldn't comment on whether he's the new coach.

I'm not a huge fan of Wilson, and I think it's completely moronic that the Leafs would hire a coach before a general manager.

That said, I can see where Cliff may be going with this one. Wilson has a reputation around the league as an awful coach to play for. To put it nicely, he's a jerk. This is the guy who likes to walk into the dressing room during intermission, write a player's name on the chalkboard and declare "this guy is the reason we're losing" and then storm out. Players hate him.

And after two years of the Paul Maurice Country Club, where every veteran was coddled and every loss came with an excuse, that sounds like a just what this team needs.

I sincerely hope Wilson comes in and makes these guys miserable. This pack of long-time losers could use a good kick in the balls, and Wilson sounds like just the guy to do it. What do you think about waiving that no-trade clause now, Bryan? Still want to be a Leaf for life, Darcy?

Of course, that may apply to Mats Sundin as well, but I have my doubts. It's interesting that Sundin talks publicly about the club's "direction", then meets with Fletcher just a few days before this news breaks. Could Mats be as tired of the excuses as we are, and have actually asked Cliff for a coach who'll hold people accountable?

Either way, the next few years is about cleaning house, so why not bring in a miserable jerk like Wilson to help sweep out the cockroaches? Then, when its time to take a shot at winning again, you can flush him out too and find a real coach.

I think I could talk myself into this.

Update: Check out this great five-month-old quote from Wilson, courtesy Howard Berger:

"I've talked to a few of our players -- names I won't mention -- and have said, 'Hey, if you want attention, it would be something to play in Toronto,' " said Wilson, who broke into the NHL as a defenceman with the Leafs in 1978. "They tell me, 'No chance -- there's no way I'll ever go up there and be put through that.' Unless you knew you could absolutely win the whole thing, it's awful tough to survive in that atmosphere..."

"My P.R. people show me everything and highlight it if [a newspaper] says I'm getting fired," Wilson said. "But, guys like Paul Maurice and Mike Babcock -- in bigger markets -- need things sanitized so they never have to read they're an idiot. It's hard to see that stuff about yourself."
Um, Ron? May want to stay away from this guy's column tomorrow.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

US sports fans sure do hate fighting

Last night, US sports fans could choose between the Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC, and the mixed martial arts card featuring Kimbo Slice on CBS.

Full ratings info isn't available yet, but Dave Meltzer is reporting that CBS won the matchup in the coveted 18-49 demographic, and it wasn't close. The MMA action was actually the top rated show on television in its second hour for that demo, and that was before the much-hyped Slice fight started.

Boy, it's a good thing Gary Bettman came along and got rid of most of the fighting so that the NHL could appeal to a US audience, isn't it?