Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Nightmare Team: Forwards

We continue our trip down miserable memory lane with the Leafs least-loved forwards. If you missed part one, be sure to check out our list of defence and goalies. Part three, the front office, can be found here.


SKATE! Why isn't he skating?
This is not a photograph. It's an
actual video clip of Allison skating
as fast as he can.
Jason Allison (2005-06)

Why we hate him: Allison was one of those signings that symbolized the post-lockout vision of John Ferguson Jr., who went for big and slow when everyone else in the NHL was going for speed and skill. He looked brutal in the NHL's first ever shootout against Ottawa on opening night, coming in so slowly that the zamboni had to come out to reflood the ice half way through his shot. Yes, that's right, Leaf fans actually turned on a player after one game.

Like every other player ever acquired by Ferguson, Allison spent one year with the Leafs and then never played in the NHL again.

Redeeming qualities: He was actually pretty productive, with 60 points in 66 games. He had an incentive-laden deal and would have earned a big bonus, but he hurt himself at the end of the year jumping into a fight to help a teammate, something no Leaf has done since.

Glenn Anderson (1991-94)

Why we hate him: Anderson was part of the big Grant Fuhr trade the kicked off the Fletcher era for the Leafs in 1991. He quickly settled into a spot on the first line and was reasonably productive. But he'll be forever remembered for taking probably the worst penalty in Leafs history, when he drilled Rob Blake into the end boards Target ad with seconds left in regulation of game six against the Kings.

That earned him a seat in the penalty box, where had a good view of the infamous Kerry Fraser whistle-choke and Gretzky's game-winning goal. It's been empirically proven that The Penalty changed the course of human history and cost the Leafs multiple Stanley Cups.

Fun bonus fact: It was the only body check Anderson threw in his entire career.

Redeeming qualities: Scored the OT winner in game five against the Kings. Should probably be in the Hall of Fame. Was dealt for Mike Gartner in arguably the greatest moustache-for-moustache trade of all time.

Dmitri Khristich (1999-00)

Why we hate him: After winning the lottery in an arbitration hearing against the Bruins, Khristich was traded to the Maple Leafs for a draft pick in 1999. He turned out to be injury-prone, bad in the dressing room, and not very good at playing hockey. Other than that, the move worked out really well.

Redeeming qualities: Was dealt to the Caps for a mid-round pick that turned out to be Brendan Bell, which years later would allow the Leafs to briefly re-acquire Yanic Perrault for the seventeenth time.

What up Curly?
He'll be played in the
movie by Ian Ziering.
Mike Craig (1994-97)

Why we hate him: Craig was signed as a restricted free agent back when the league had a complicated compensation system. The Stars asked for Kenny Jonsson, which would have been a disaster because then Fletcher couldn't have made the Jonsson/Clark/ Schneider/Luongo trade and Damien Cox would have had nothing to write about for ten years.

The arbitrator ended up choosing the Leafs offer, which still cost them the best checking center they ever had in Peter Zezel, not to mention future welterweight Grant Marshall. Coming off back-to-back appearances in the conference finals, this move was the first dent in Cliff Fletcher's aura of invincibility.

Redeeming qualities: Was rocking a sweet perm.

Benoit Hogue (1995-96)

Why we hate him: After three straight 30+ goal season, the Leafs traded for Hogue in time for the 1995 playoffs. But Hogue went all Senator-ish on us, being held pointless during a seven-game loss to the Hawks. The Leafs wouldn't win another playoff series for four years.

Redeeming qualities: Was eventually traded for Dave Gagner, which is notable because absolutely nobody actually remembers he once played for the Leafs.

Owen Nolan (2003-04)

Why we hate him: Nolan cost the Leafs a freaking ransom when he came over from the Sharks at the 2003 deadline, including future captain Alyn McCauley, Brad Boyes and a first round pick. That investment got the Leafs a grand total of zero goals and two assists in a first-round playoff loss to the Flyers. In 2003-04 Nolan had an unproductive regular season and then hurt his knee and missed the entire playoff run.

During the lockout it was revealed that Nolan has a unique clause in his contract that would see him get paid even if the entire season was cancelled. This clause, and his lingering knee injury, lead to a lengthy courtroom battle with the Leafs over how much the club owed him. They eventually settled, with rumors of a big payout for Nolan.

Redeeming qualities: Dropped the infamous "boo hoo" bomb on the Senators after the Flu Game, a moment that still drives Ottawa fans crazy.

Robert Reichel (2001-04)

Why we hate him: Reichel had been playing in Europe for two years when the Leafs decided to trade for his rights. The deal with the Coyotes cost the Leafs defenceman Danny Markov, who was rumored to be an alcoholic, was certifiably insane and happened to be completely awesome.

Like absolutely every other forward acquired by the Leafs via trade in the past ten years, Reichel was terrible. His most impressive stat was probably his grand total of two goals scored in 37 playoff games for the Leafs. He was probably best known for scoring the shootout goal that beat Canada in the 1998 Nagano Olympics. When its a big game, you can always count on Reichel to help make sure the team wearing the maple leaf loses.

Redeeming qualities: During the 2002 playoff run, he was memorably removed from a game against the Islanders before the opening faceoff after the Leafs submitted an incorrect lineup card. That turned out to be the best game he ever played as a Leaf.

Two heads are better than one
Raise your hand if you want to play
with a guy who's ten times better
than you
Jonas Hoglund (1999-03)

Why we hate him: Hoglund was a cheap free agent signing in 1999 who had a productive stint with the Leafs, including a 29 goal season on 1999-00. Unfortunately for him, he wound up spending a lot of time on Mats Sundin's line, which means Leaf fans hate him. Let me explain.

One of the enduring legacies of Sundin's time in Toronto is the accepted fact that he never had any good linemates to play with. And its absolutely true (as long as you ignore Mogilny, Roberts, Gartner, Gilmour, Clark, Andreychuk, etc). And somehow along the way, Jonas Hoglund became the poster child for crappy Sundin linemates.

If you want to have fun with a Leaf fan, try this: casually mention the word "Sundin" and "linemates" in the same sentence, and time how long they can last before starting to complain about Jonas Hoglund. The current record is seven seconds.

Redeeming qualities: Had the exact same smug look on his face in every photo of him ever taken.

Jason Blake (2007 - present)

Why we hate him: In yet another moment of Ferguson brilliance, Blake signed a ridiculous contract as a free agent and was pencilled into a first line spot next to Mats Sundin. Then he found out he had cancer. Then Leaf fans found out he had no hands.

Blake spent all of last season firing weak wrist shots into goalies' chests from 40 feet out. He seems to have lost several steps and is clearly on the downside of what was already a pretty average career. Did I mention he's under contract for four more years, at which point he'll be 38?

Redeeming qualities: It's tough to hate a guy with cancer. Tough, but not impossible.

Shayne Corson (2000-03)

Why we hate him: Literally abandoned the team during the 2003 playoffs, citing mysterious medical issues. Once was suspended for a game seven for trying to kick somebody in the head. His sister was married to Darcy Tucker, which was probably just awkward.

Redeeming qualities: His departure from the team may have been due to legitimate anxiety disorder. Also, kicking somebody in the head during a hockey fight is kind of funny when you think about it.

Kyle Wellwood (2004-2008)

Why we hate him: He showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie, confusing Leaf fans who didn't remember what a "prospect" was. Then he got hurt. Then he got lazy. Then he got fat. Then he let somebody take this photo. The end.

Because this is the Leafs, Wellwood is virtually guaranteed to light it up in Vancouver and haunt Toronto for years a la Steve Sullivan.

Redeeming qualities: Makes an adorable giggling sound when you poke him in the stomach.

Forwards who also received consideration:
Sergio Momesso, Jeff O'Neill, Marius Czerkawski, Jamie Baker, Nathan Perrot, Mike Krushelnyski

Forwards who did not receive consideration:
Eric Lindros - Yes, he was another Ferguson failure. But Lindros gets a pass because there's no question that he always wanted to be a Leaf, and even took a hometown discount to do it. Besides, I don't believe in kicking a guy when he's down. And as hockey fans have come to learn, Eric Lindros is always down.

(To those of you paying attention: Yes, that's only 11 forwards. Let's just say we're keeping a spot open on the first line for a certain indecisive Swede.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Nightmare Team: Defence and goalies

(This is part one of a three-part series. You can find part two, the forwards, right here. Part three, the front office, is here.)

Leafs blogger General Borschevsky recently unveiled his all-time Leafs dream team. And while its always nice to think back to the good times, my readers know that I sometimes have a little trouble staying positive when it comes to the Leafs.

So I got to thinking, what about the other side of the coin? What about those Leafs that we all loved to hate? Or, in some cases, just plain hated?

I humbly present my selections for the all-time Leaf loser squad: the players we'd all rather forget. As always, this list includes players from my roughly 25 years as a fan. Sadly, it wasn't very difficult to come up with a full roster.

Today, we'll focus on the defencemen and goalies.


No, really, boo.
Larry Murphy (1995-97)

Why we hate him: Murphy is the poster child for Leaf fan whipping boys. He's used as an example in the 50% of Leafs coverage that mentions how unreasonably demanding Toronto fans are (as opposed to the other 50% of Leaf coverage which mentioned how Leaf fans are gullible patsies who never boo anybody). Everyone now agrees that Murphy got a raw deal in Toronto from dumb fans who didn't recognize a superstar when they saw one.

There's one problem with that storyline: Murphy was absolutely terrible with the Leafs, and he deserved every boo he heard. For whatever reason Murphy never found his game in Toronto, playing the worst hockey of his otherwise excellent career. At the 1997 NHL All-Star game, the league invited Murphy to skate five strides behind all the players during the breakaway competition just so Leaf fans would feel at home.

Redeeming qualities: First ballot hall of famer. Won the Stanley Cup pretty much every year he wasn't playing for the Leafs.

Bryan Marchment (2003-04)

Why we hate him: Probably the dirtiest defenceman of all-time not named "Ulf", Marchment made a name for himself in the early 90s by going after the knees of Leaf players like Peter Zezel, Glenn Anderson and Wendel Clark. That last one turned out to be a mistake, since Clark eventually almost killed him during a brawl.

He ended up playing for the Leafs for a season, which normally is enough to wipe the slate clean. Not for this guy.

Redeeming qualities: Still pees himself whenever he walks by a Wendel Clark poster

Tom Kurvers (1989-91)

Why we hate him: Kurvers was acquired in an infamous deal by GM Floyd Smith that saw the Leafs trade their first round pick in the 1991 draft to the Devils. While most bad deals are only truly awful in hindsight, this trade was immediately labeled a disaster since Smith had apparently forgotten that a.) the Leafs sucked and b.) 1991 was the Eric Lindros draft year.

Once it became apparently that the Leafs had essentially traded the next NHL franchise player for a journeyman defenceman, Smith went into full-on firesale mode to ensure the Leafs would only finish second last. They did, but the Devils still used the pick to draft Scott Niedermayer, which Leaf fans then had to hear about every single time they played the Devils until he was mercifully murdered by Tie Domi in the 2001 playoffs.

Redeeming qualities: Not really his fault that Smith was a moron. Is apparently now a decent up-and-coming hockey executive. Was traded for Brian Bradley, who had a funny helment.

Andy Wozniewski (2005-2008)

Why we hate him: He was really, really bad at hockey. That wouldn't be that big a deal, except for the fact that he somehow wound up playing hockey for the Maple Leafs. Professionally. Which he was bad at.

Seriously, when you're a defenceman for the 2007 Leafs and you're known as "the bad one", you suck.

Redeeming qualities: Gave hope to a generation of children who dreamed of playing in the NHL even though they couldn't skate.

I miss the mohawk
His barber refused to waive
his no-mullet clause
Bryan McCabe (2000-forever)

Why we hate him: After several years as a fan favorite, McCabe's career went off the rails starting with his epic playoff meltdowns against the Flyers. He signed a massive contract in 2006 that included a now infamous no-movement clause, and almost immediately fell apart as a player. His mental lapses have become legendary, and at one point last year his defensive zone coverage was so awful that Paul Maurice briefly considered cutting down his ice time before going back to thinking up funny one-liners for the Toronto media to lap up.

When not scoring into his own net in overtime, Bryan enjoys whining to referees and telling the media that the last place Leafs are a really good team. There is at least a 10% chance that Cliff Fletcher is going to sneak into his house and kill him before training camp.

Redeeming qualities: Can be counted on to always make sure you don't feel so bad about your own haircut.

Jeff Finger (2008-present)

Why we hate him: Signed a four-year, $3.5 million contract during the 2008 off-season, which would be fine except that nobody had ever heard of him. This was the signing that made everyone stare at Fletcher with that "maybe Grampa should move into the assisted living facility" look. It was later revealed that the Leafs may have had him confused with Kurt Sauer. That last line was easily the funniest one in this whole post, which is sad because it's actually true.

Also, his last name resulted in eight million variations of the exact same "Fletcher gives the Finger" jokes in the first 24 hours after he signed, half of which appeared in the Toronto Sun.

Redeeming qualities: Technically hasn't played for the Leafs yet, meaning his reputation will never be better than it is right now.

Defencemen who also received consideration:
Aki Berg (somehow left off my original list), Garth Butcher, Calle Johansson, Pavel Kubina, Drake Berehowsky, Jim Korn

Defencemen who did not receive consideration:
Todd Gill - Look, I know some fans still blame him for the giveaway against the Hawks in 1989. Those fans are idiots, and you should ignore them. Gill was awesome. I'm not going to argue about this.


#1 in your program, #52 in save percentage
Rare footage of Andrew
Raycroft not being scored on
Andrew Raycroft (2006-08)

Why we hate him: Like a lot of players on this list, Raycroft serves as an enduring testament to moronic reign of John Ferguson Jr. With Ed Belfour on the way out of town, Ferguson decided to deal the organization's top prospect, Tukka Rask, to the Bruins for Raycroft in 2006. The deal seemed sketchy at the time, looked bad during the season and finally assumed full-fledged disaster status as Raycroft floundered.

Raycroft hit rock bottom during the 2007 season finale against the Habs. With a playoff spot on the line, he was pulled after giving up three soft goals and then told the media he was happy with how he'd played. The next year, he engaged in a battle for the starter's job with Vesa Toskala that was roughly as competitive as the Clark-Fetisov fight. He spent the rest of the year sitting on the bench with a baseball cap pulled down to his waist.

Redeeming qualities: Doesn't play for the Leafs anymore.

Scott Clemmensen

Why we hate him: Clemmensen is one of the rare players who've managed to annoy Leaf fans both before and after arriving in Toronto. He first made a name for himself on the final day of the 2006-07 season, when as a New Jersey Devil he had a chance to put the Leafs in the playoffs by beating the Islanders. In a dramatic shootout, Clemmensen chose to debut his patented "stand completely still while everyone scores on you" move, and the Leafs were eliminated.

His demonstrated ability to torpedo the Leafs playoff hopes made him irresistible to John Ferguson Jr, who signed him to a minor league deal that presumably included a no-trade clause. Having already destroyed the Leafs' past, Clemmensen set to work on the future as a Marlie by somehow convincing head coach Greg Gilbert to nail top prospect Justin Pogge to the bench for the entire playoff run.

Redeeming qualities: Appeared in three games for the Leafs, winning one. Which is one whole game more than you or I have won.

Goalies who also received consideration:
Curtis Joseph (now redeemed), Mikhael Tellqvist, Trevor Kidd

Goalies who did not receive consideration:
Allan Bester. Yes, yes, I know, the Momesso goal in 1991. Believe me, I know, I was there. But Bester stood on his head for some truly terrible Leaf teams in the 1980s. He doesn't deserve scorn, he deserves a medal.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Down Goes Brown: Now in Facebook form

Much like the Maple Leafs, I'm a proud believer in jumping on a trend two years after everyone else has already tried it and moved on to something else. In that spirit, I'm proud to announce the Down Goes Brown now has its very own Facebook page.

If you've ever wanted to be able to add your favorite Leafs blog to your Facebook profile... well, you can't, because Pension Plan Puppets doesn't have a page yet. But we do.

(True story: It took an extra week to get the page setup because Facebook auto-screening software thought the name of my blog sounded obscene. Maybe the NY Times was on to something.)

Because the Internet is a scary and confusing place, I've included some questions and answers on this exciting new development.

How do I become a fan?

Simply visit the Down Goes Brown facebook page and click the "Become a fan" link in the top right corner.

What do I get if I become a fan?

All sorts of things. You'll find links to all of our greatest hits, and a gallery of some of our favorite images from the site. And you can interact with other Down Goes Brown readers.

Let me rephrase that. What do I get that I don't already get from just visiting your blog?


(Crickets chirping)

Yeah, OK, I'm still working on that part. Anyone have any ideas?

Wait, is this one of those goofy Facebook application things that sends spam to all my friends telling them that they've been turned into vampires?

Absolutely not. No way. At least not yet.

What are the odds that you lose interest in this facebook group after a few weeks and abandon it?

Probably better than 50/50. I'd move fast if I were you.

What is this "Facebook", I've never heard of it?

Hi mom!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wow, I'm famous... wait, WTF?

I'm a few days late on this, but apparently this humble blog was mentioned on One of their hockey bloggers saw my recent Favre vs. Sundin post, and was kind enough to include a link. Very cool.

But... um... I'm not sure I like the new name they gave me:

Canada's best UPS-themed porn site?
I can think of a few things that could mean, and none of them are good

I get a sense there may have been some awfully disappointed visitors around here this week. Even moreso than usual.

Update: Down Goes Brown made another appearance on the Times blog a few days later, and they got the name right this time. Blog author Stu Hackel took the news the typo with good humor and seems like a cool guy. All is forgiven.

You should have a Leafs blog. Yes, you.

You're a Leaf fan, and you don't have a blog?

Start one. Now. There's never been a better time.

The world of Leafs blog (a.k.a. the Barilkosphere) is expanding rapidly. There are about a dozen active blogs that have formed a loose alliance, centered around the mothership over at Pension Plan Puppets. According to Die Hard Blue and White, there were only three major Leaf blogs when he started just two years ago.

I'll have to take his word for it -- I've only been doing this for five months. I'd been toying with the idea for months before that, and finally decided to get off my behind and get started. I'm glad I did.

Since then, we've seen plenty of new faces show up. General Borschevsky has been at it for two months now, and has already produced some absolute classics. Then The Ballad of Wendel Clark showed up. And then Toronto Sports Media.

You should join them. Here's why:

  • Blogging is easy. You don't need to be a techie. You don't even need to be smart. You can literally be up and running in minutes on a site like blogspot or wordpress. Most Leaf blogs are running on one of those sites (except PPP, which has to be hosted with special servers because it gets a billion hits per day).

  • Now's the best time. Blogging is easy, but blogging well takes some times. It usually takes a good blog a few months to find its voice. If you start now, you'll be humming by the time the season starts in October. And you'll really be at the top of your game when the Leafs are eliminated from playoff contention in November.

  • We're taking over. Other major sports teams have large and vocal blogging communities. For whatever reason, the Leafs never really established one. Well, we are now. Might as well get in on the ground floor... within months, we'll be storming Richard Peddie's office and making Damien Cox cry. Join us.

Have I talked you into it? Cool. Then get going. And don't forget to introduce yourself in the comments below or over at PPP so we know where to find you.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mats Sundin vs. Brett Favre: One is worse

As the Mats Sundin watch appears to near an end (update: or maybe not) after four agonizing months, the (apparently former) Leafs captain finds himself with some company. After perfecting the art of playing the extended game of will-he-won't-he spotlight grabbing, Sundin is suddenly being upstaged by the NFL's Brett Favre.

The similiarities between Sundin and Favre are numerous:

  • Both guys are icons in their cities, arguably the best player their team has ever had, and heroes to thousands. Both are respected by fellow players, the media, and even by fans of other teams.

  • Both guys have spent the summer playing a game of "should I stay or should I go" that's essentially handcuffed their current teams attempt's to build for the future.

  • Both guys have at least hinted that at least part of the problem is that their teams didn't make them feel wanted enough -- Favre because the Packers didn't try harder to talk him out of retiring, and Sundin because the Leafs considered trading him at the deadline.

  • Both guys have previously claimed that they would never want to play anywhere else, claims that have turned out not to be true. In fact, both guys have even been eyeing spots with their current team's biggest rival, moves that could only be described as betrayal.

But despite the similarities, the cases are not identical. And on the blame scale, they're not equal. In fact, one guy's act is far worse than the other's.

Brett Favre is behaving worse than Mats Sundin.

Here's why:
  • Sundin never committed to anything, at least on paper. You could argue that Sundin owed the Leafs and their fans much better treatment than he's given him (and I've argued that several times). His refusal to waive his no-trade clause, followed by his (apparent) willingness to sign with the highest bidder, have been frustrating and have tarnished his legacy.

    But Sundin hasn't done anything he didn't have the right to do, and he never made a firm commitment to the Leafs that he'd do otherwise. Favre, on the other hand, did make a written commitment to the Packers when he filed his retirement papers. He wants to go back on that now, and that makes his situation a different ballgame from Sundin.

  • Sundin isn't playing the PR game. While Sundin's silence over the months has been maddening, its certainly been preferably to Favre's recent PR blitz that saw him doing whiny interviews with Greta Van Susteren of all people. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt, right Brett?

  • Favre's act is impacting a Packers team that came within an overtime loss of the Super Bowl last year, and who are following a long-planned rebuilding blueprint around young QB Aaron Rodgers. In short, the Packers have a good thing going and Favre seems to want to make as big a mess as he can until he gets his way. Sundin is leaving behind a situation in Toronto that could best be described as depressing, and could be called a complete disaster.

    True, the Leafs would be in better shape if Sundin had just waived in the first place, and it could also be argued that the Canucks aren't much better. But Packer fans may end up pointing to the Favre fiasco as one that derailed a championship contender. Leafs fans, um, won't.
A final observation: while the hockey media loves to praise Sundin and has taken every opportunity to point out how unfair Leaf fans like me have been treating him, we can't hold a candle to how many NFL fans are carving up Favre right now. He certainly has his supporters, but the majority of fans and media are lining up to take their shots right now. Sundin gets the occasional wrist slaps from blogs like mine; Favre gets treatment like this and this and this.

If any good comes out of this mess, maybe we'll finally see the death of the myth of Tornto being such a tough place to play. Brett Favre wishes he had it so bad.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

MF37 speaks the truth

I don't normally do posts that have no content besides a link to another site. But everybody should make a point to read this post that just went up over at Bitter Leaf Fan.

It's probably the best Leafs-related blog post of the year.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Leafs add Hollweg

The Maple Leafs, still claiming to be on a youth movement, have once again sacrificed the future by trading a valuable future draft pick for a veteran of questionable worth, this time in the form of talentless thug Ryan Hollweg. While Cliff Fletcher's latest head-scratcher may draw chortles from league executives, it will no doubt be welcomed by the delusional masses who continue to fill the ACC night in and night out. "Draft schmaft" indeed.

The preceeding paragraph was my attempt to predict the lead in tomorrow morning's Damien Cox column. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

So yes, the Leafs have picked up Hollweg. As Steve points out, Hollweg fights often and wins rarely. Combined with the Jamal Mayers pickup, this means the Leafs have added two fourth-liners who are willing to drop the gloves but can't really be called heavyweights. Let's be honest, when Mats Sundin and the Habs come to town I don't think Georges Laraque will lose any pre-game nap time over these two.

While I'm all for the Leafs adding somebody, anybody, who won't piddle themselves as soon as the going gets tough like the rest of these guys do, I have to wonder... couldn't Ben Ondrus and Kris Newbury fill those roles? Perhaps even with a little of that youthful enthusiasm we've heard so much about but rarely seen around here?

Mayers at least brings some veteran leadership to the table. Fletcher gets some credit for filling that void, even though it's a void he helped create in the first place.

Hollweg, on the other hand, is good at getting hit in the face with a stick. That's a skill the Leafs haven't had since Bryan Berard was here.

(And by the way, has anybody already called him "Hollweg the Angry Inch"? Because if not, I'd like to start.)

Anyhow... because I love linking to youtube fight videos, here's a reminder of what Newbury and Ondrus can do. Enjoy them now, it may be your only chance to see these guys do their thing this year.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How Bryan McCabe can fix this

I would have gone with McChoke, myself
And these were the good times

Right now, it looks like Bryan McCabe is headed for a September showdown with the Leafs. Cliff Fletcher doesn't want him around, but McCabe has a signed contract, and the NHLPA ready to break out the big guns if the Leafs tell him to stay home.

Public sentiment is firmly on the Leafs' side. McCabe has become the poster child for the post-lockout Leafs: a whiny, entitled underachiever who makes superstar money while looking ordinary at best on the ice. Oh, and he has a no-trade clause. That he absolutely, positively will not even think of waiving.

Other than that, he's great.

All this could mean that McCabe is in for a fan reception that will make the Larry Murphy experience seem like Wendel Appreciation Night. It could get so bad that even the 100-level suits may look up from their business deals long enough to boo him.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Bryan McCabe can fix this if he wants. Not all at once, and not to the point that he'll be welcomed back to Toronto with standing ovations. But he can defuse what's shaping up to be a nasty situation if he's willing to swallow his over-developed since of pride.

Here's the five-step plan.

1. Acknowledge why the fans are angry

It's time for McCabe to stand up and take some responsibility for this mess. No, it's not his fault that John Ferguson whimpers like a schoolgirl every time an agent looks at him sideways. But he signed a big ticket contract that created expectations, and his play hasn't lived up to them.

The first step in any sort of McCabe reclamation project should be some sort of statement to the fans. Not an apology, of course -- that would asking too much. But at the very least, McCabe needs to acknowledge that his play over the past two years has been a disappointment, to the fans and to himself. The fans have a right to expect more of their highest paid player, and he should promise to work hard to make sure they get it.

Which means...

2. Enough with the whining and excuses

Shut up, Bryan
Less of this...

McCabe has always been known as a crybaby on the ice. He's yet to take a minor penalty he felt was deserved, and seems to spend half the game waving his arms around in mock frustration. That needs to stop. From a fresh-faced rookie, it looks bad. From a so-called veteran leader, it's pathetic.

Worse, McCabe has developed a maddening habit of insisting that the Leafs are a good team, despite all evidence to the contrary. He seems to think this makes him sound like a team-first, never-say-die warrior. It doesn't. It makes him sound like a delusional half-wit. Leaf fans don't need more smoke blown up their behinds -- that's Richard Peddie's job.

It's time for McCabe to drop the excuses. No more talk about injuries (every team has them). No more complaining about bad bounces (good teams make their own luck). No more whining about the officiating (stop clutching and grabbing and maybe they'll stop calling it).

McCabe's a 12-year-veteran. It's time he started sounding like one.

3. Tell the fans why he wants to stay

Yes, he has a NTC. So does half the league, but players still accept deals. What makes him different?

McCabe has never really explained his insistence on staying in Toronto, at least in any detail. He should. We've heard vague talk about liking the city and having family commitments, but that's just generic agent-speak. If McCabe is being sincere and not just stubborn, he should explain himself.

If he loves the city and can't imagine leaving, he should say so, and why. If he's always wanted to be a Maple Leaf and can't bring himself to play for another team, he should say so. If his wife is still working through her medical issues, he should say that.

Right now, the best explanation fans have heard is that the McCabes want to stay close to her family. And while that may be admirable on some level, "I can't accept a trade because my in-laws won't let me" isn't going to do much for your reputation in the sports bars of Toronto.

4. Settle down and play the system

McCabe has never been considered a great defensive defenceman, to put it mildly. But his reputation in Toronto as a pylon is at least somewhat unfair because he's never played for a defense-first coach.

Pat Quinn had a system: score, score, score and let Cujo and Eddie do cartwheels at the other end. He won a lot of games that way.

Paul Maurice had a system: Scowl, grimace, and then say something funny for the media. He didn't win many games, but he made Rosie DiManno's tummy flutter.

For the first time in his stint with the Leafs, McCabe will be playing for a coach who preaches defence. He should listen. McCabe never looks worse than when he's trying to do too much. He should focus on settling down and making the safe play.

5. When in doubt, drop the gloves

And if he fights Chara again, he comes off the cap after the funeral
More of this.

It's true: Leaf fans love guys who fight. Wendel, Tie, Bomber, Tiger, Darcy, Belak, Roberts, Stumpy... heavyweight or welterweight, if you drop the gloves and your name isn't "Marchment", you'll never have to buy your own beer in Toronto.

McCabe used to fight semi-regularly, but as I pointed out in the Leafs are the softest team in the NHL post, that stopped once he signed his big contract. He fought 55 times before inking his deal, and only four times since.

There'd be no quicker way to feel the love from Toronto fans again than to get back to his old ways. Next year's Leaf squad will be young, fragile, and possibly even softer than last year's model. What better way to send a message that things really are different than with a big-ticket veteran sticking up for this younger teammates early on?

There you have it, Bryan. From rabid hatred to mild scorn in just five easy steps.

And if that doesn't work, here's one last step tp try: Waive the damn NTC and get out of town while the mob is still gathering pitchforks.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

NHLPA ready to rumble over McCabe

I wrote a post last month about whether we'd see Bryan McCabe sent home by the Leafs. I warned against the idea because, as much as I'd like to see the guy brought down a peg or two, it wouldn't be a good long term business move for the Leafs.

Well, Howard Berger had an excellent column yesterday that confirmed my fears. Berger asked new NHLPA director of player affairs Glenn Healy for this thoughts on the Leafs possible stance.

The entire thing should be mandatory reading for any Leaf fan who thinks Fletcher should play hardball, but here are some choice quotes.

"They do not have the right to destroy Bryan McCabe’s career. They gave him as restrictive a contract as there is in the NHL today. If they want to go to the most extreme of situations and tell him they will pay him to stay at home, the artillery will be released from our end. The P.A. will back Bryan to the grave, I guarantee it.”

“Bryan McCabe has lots of hockey left, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to tell him to stay at home… not a chance... You can’t destroy a player’s craft by sitting him at home and basically telling him, ‘your career is over.’ That type of action would be something for the legal minds at the P.A. to deal with...

With that type of a welcome mat, I can’t see why there isn’t a rush for all the free agents in the world to come and sign with the hockey club. I mean, that’s just a wonderful way to treat a player...

But, there will be absolutely no limit to what the Players’ Association will try to throw at [the Leafs]. We’ll go at it hard."
If you're a Leaf fan, that last line should scare you. I don't claim to be fluent in Healey-ese, but when he says there's "absolutely no limit" to what the PA would do, I get very nervous.

Would the PA actively discourage future free agents from signing in Toronto? We know that the PA has leaned on players in the past to make sure they got maximum value on their deals. Would they try to keep top players out of Toronto as retribution for McCabe's treatment.

Is it really worth it for the Leafs to find out?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Credit where it's due

A few days ago I wrote a post called "We'll learn a lot about Sundin this week".

The basic idea was that we'd find out whether Sundin was sincere about "needing more time" to consider his future, or whether the whole thing had been a sham to drive up his asking price. I didn't come right out and say it, but I strongly implied that I thought Mats was playing games and would jump at the first big offer he saw.

Well, he didn't. And yesterday, he released a statement that he still hadn't made up his mind and didn't plan to any time soon. In doing so, he apparently walked away from a $20M offer from the Canucks.

Unlike the usual mainstream media suspects, I have no problem admitting when I'm wrong. So here goes: Sorry, Mats. When you said you needed your time, you really meant it. We're still not sure what it's all about with you, but apparently it's not just the money.

If you sign with the Habs or Wings next week I still reserve the right to be pissed. I won't forget the Deadline '08 debacle. And I stand by most of what I've said in the past few months.

But for today, at least, you're a better man than I thought you were. Good work, Mats.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sens sign Jarkko Ruutu

Wait, Jarkko Ruutu was a free agent? I didn't even realize that. And it makes me angry, because it represents a missed opportunity.

How is it possible that no team went out and signed Ruutu, Avery and Tucker to play on a line together? That would have been the most entertaining line in hockey history. I would have bought a Center Ice pacakge just to watch those three go from town to town and incite bench clearing brawls.

Geez, you could have even called them the R.A.T. Line.

Once again, the NHL misses a marketing opportunity.

It's weird how "Finger defenceman" sounds OK as a noun...

(Yes, I'm now stealing Demetri Martin jokes in an attempt to feel better.)

So I've spent the last 24 hours trying to talk myself into the Jeff Finger signing.

It's not working.

I read through Steve's analysis and MF37's mostly positive thoughts. I put on my nicest pair of homer goggles and stared at the home page for hours. But it's not helping.

This contract is a mistake. And the last thing the Leafs need is more bad contracts.

Finger certainly has his share of positives. In The Cheap Seats gave him a final grade of A-, noting that he was only a minus player in five games all year. He led the Avs in hits and was an excellent shot blocker.

But it's one thing to block shots and throw hits when you're a career minor leaguer making the league minimum. It's quite another to do it when you're a millionaire with a long-term deal. We'll have to see if he can summon the same fire with the Leafs that he showed last year.

Fletcher defended the signing by pointing out that Joel Quenneville loved him. But if that's the case, why did Quenneville banish him to the press box for half the teams playoff run? (Answer: here's why.)

Yes, everybody gets overpaid in free agency. We've known that for years. And Finger has enough positives that I can maybe, sort of, possibly understand why some team would offer him $14M.

But not the Leafs. They may have wanted the guy, but they didn't need him. When you're a rebuilding team, you need to have the discipline to walk away from the table when the numbers get crazy. Fletcher failed that test yesterday.

The worst part of this deal is that it's the first serious crack in Fletcher's armor. We've let him off the hook over a few odd moves because, after all, he's Cliff Fletcher and he saved us all once before. But this signing has to throw up all sorts of red flags. Maybe, just maybe, we wound up with the Phoenix Coyotes version of Fletcher.

I have to go drink now.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Who is Jeff Finger and why are we paying him $14M?

I'll admit it. The Leafs just signed a free agent to a pretty substantial contract, and I have no idea who he is.

So I asked somebody who would: the fine folks over at the excellent Avs blog In The Cheap Seats.

Here's their scouting report:

Jeff Finger seemed like he was going to be a career AHL guy until an injury to the Avs earned Finger a call-up late in the 2006-2007 season. He played well and ended up playing 72 games this year, averaging 20 minutes a game.

He's your basic stay-at-home banger. He led the team in hits and he blocks a lot of shots (something the Avs blueliners do a lot). He doesn't fight much, although he apparently has a history with new Ranger Aaron Voros that goes back several years in the AHL. After nearly getting hit in the eye this year with a skate or a stick (I can't remember), he started wearing a visor, but Grapes will probably still like him for the way he likes to get involved in all the little scrums in front of the net.

He's not very fast and isn't so great with the puck, but he does have a good hard right-handed shot that always seems to find it's way to the net, so he could put up some good numbers on the PP.

In short, he's a great guy to have and when the Leafs buy him out in a couple of years, I'd love to see him back in Colorado (we seem to be taking all your rejects these days). $3.5 million is too much money, but if you can get over that, you'll be happy. He's not going to turn the franchise around.

Toronto fans don't ever complain about overpaid, defensemen who like to wear mohawks, right? (Did I forget to mention the mohawk?)
I think that makes me feel a little bit better. Not much, but a little bit.

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