Saturday, February 28, 2009

Could the Leafs and Senators combined beat a good NHL team?

I'm watching tonight's Ottawa/Toronto game dressed in all black.

No, I'm not wearing a new Senators third jersey -- I'll just wait until they choose a new one next month. I'm in mourning for a former rivalry, always over-rated but usually entertaining, that's now all-but-dead. It's shuffling down the hallway like zombie, occasionally bumping into Ryan Hollweg's career and Bryan Murray's reputation.

How bad is it? I honestly think you could combine these two teams into a single 20-man roster and still not beat most of the good teams in the NHL today.

Let's try it. What would Team Ontario look like? Here's my best guess:

Line #1: Heatley, Spezza, Blake
Line #2: Antropov, Vermette, Alfredsson
Line #3: Hagman, Stajan, Ponikarovsky
Checking: Moore, Fisher, Neil

Defence #1: Kaberle, Kubina
Defence #2: Phillips, Volchenkov
Defence #3: Schenn, Kuba

Starting goalie: Toskala
Backup goalie: Elliott

Now, could this roster beat a good NHL team in a seven-game series? Let's take an honest look:

  • The goaltending is just bad.

  • The defense won't score much and has only one puck mover. They'd be decent defensively and could probably do a solid job protecting a lead if they ever had one, which they wouldn't.

  • There's no second line center.

  • The forwards could score a little, but would also make a ton of lazy turnovers and would be easy to play against physically.

  • There's no legitimate enforcer.

  • As bad as this roster is, up to a third of it will be gone by the deadline. If I made this post next week, the resulting roster might lose to a good AAA team
So how many current teams could this squad beat? Ten? Maybe 15? Could they beat a single legitimate Stanley Cup contender?

A few notes:
  • I put Blake on the first line instead of Alfredsson since all eleven coaches the Sens have had in the past few years seem to insist on splitting up the top line. I would of course reunite them immediately, split them up, reunite them again, split them up, and then wonder why my forwards couldn't seem to get in a groove.

  • I had to shift Dominic Moore to the wing just to fill out a roster. The wingers on these teams are that bad.

  • Brian Burke is GM, Ron Wilson is coach, Cory Clouston is assistant stickboy. Also, I want the Ottawa sports media, because they'd write articles about awesome this team was.

  • I'm not sure where the games would be held, but Daniel Alfredsson would still be booed every time he touched the puck.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, this combined Leafs/Senators franchise listed above would be over the salary cap by a mile, would be locked in to several bad long-term contracts, would have several known dressing room cancers, and wouldn't have a single blue-chip prospect in the minors.

Other than that, they'd be in great shape.

Anyone want to borrow my black suit?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The sales pitch: Why you need to trade for these Leafs

OK, so Brian Burke and I aren't on the best of terms these days. I want to make it up to him.

With the deadline just a week away, Burke is faced with the task of convincing his fellow GMs to trade for various Leaf players. Needless to say, this won't exactly be easy.

Like any good salesman, Burke needs to go into battle with a game plan. So I've put together a list of talking points that he could use to try to sell other GMs on his wares. They're his to use, free of charge. Consider it a peace offering.

According to Google, this is a picture of
Lee Stempniak. No Leaf fan can confirm this.
The player: Lee Stempniak
The sales pitch: Not one of those late-season pickups who will come in and disrupt precious dressing room chemistry by being noticeable in any way.

The player: Jason Blake
The sales pitch: While many have cited the length of his contract as a cause for concern, the actual salary cap implications are hard to predict since the CBA will have expired and been renegotiated three times before his deal finally ends.

The player: Curtis Joseph
The sales pitch: Will immediately begin bolstering the confidence of your offensive players during practice shooting drills.

The player: Tomas Kaberle
The sales pitch: Is so good that some teams have been willing to deal a 23-year-old future 50-goal scorer and a first round pick for him, if you can possibly believe such a thing. Ha ha. Ha. Oh god I hate my life.

The player: Andre Deveaux
The sales pitch: A trade to another team would increase the young enforcer's value by making it possible for him to some day fight Ryan Hollweg, the only player in the entire NHL he is capable of beating

This is a cool photo, except that a defenceman
was winding up at the point when it was taken
The player: Vesa Toskala
The sales pitch: Recent history has shown that every goalie who leaves the Leafs automatically becomes ten times better on their new team. Which, in Toskala's case, would make him a very solid backup down the stretch in the event that your regular backup gets injured.

The player: Nik Antropov
The sales pitch: Inevitable upcoming stint on injured reserve will clear up valuable late season cap space.

The player: Mikhail Grabovski
The sales pitch: Has been described as "fearless", party due to his habit of making risky plays in the open ice but mostly due to his willingness to talk crap about Belarusian mob underlings.

The player: Dominic Moore
The sales pitch: Future free agent can always be resigned before the off-season, which would be a great idea since career fourth-liners who have unexpected career seasons during a contract year almost always go on to maintain that level of success.

The player: Matt Stajan
The sales pitch: Has shown impressive focus; despite playing almost his entire career on embarrassingly awful teams has never complained, become dejected, or acted like he even vaguely cared.

Miscellaneous ex-Avalanche defenceman
The player: Jeff Finger
The sales pitch: Career sixth-defenceman occasionally plays so well that seasoned hockey executives have been known to mistake him for the infinitely better Kurt Sauer.

The player: Alexei Ponikarovsky
The sales pitch: Averaged 20 goals a season from 2005-08, so he'd be reasonably productive as long as your roster is so utterly devoid of talent that you're forced to play him on the first line next to a future hall of famer.

The player: Alex Steen
The sales pitch: Talented young player has shown impressive defensive acumen, occasional offensive flair, and emerging leadership skills. Is also technically now a member of the St. Louis Blues, so we can let him go for a late round draft pick.

The player: Luke Schenn
The sales pitch: Is excellent at defending odd-man rushes. Which will come in handy, since the asking price is your entire roster and a first round pick.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A word about the Brian Burke twitter controversy

So, this whole Brian Burke twitter things seems to have gotten away from me over the weekend.

Here's the background: Blogger creates parody twitter feed. A handful of people have a laugh about it. A few blogs post links. A few forums start threads. Word spreads. A mainstream reporter writes a story that, predictably, misses the point entirely. Lawyers become involved.

OK, that last one hasn't happened yet. Unless you count Burke himself, who apparently had to take time out of his day to assure the Globe and Mail that the account isn't his.

A few notes:

  1. Yes, it's a parody. No, the real Brian Burke does not publicly tamper with Rick Nash and the Sedins, isn't planning on shooting any players, and did not try to drown Jeremy Williams in the Atlantic Ocean. He also may be aware the Lee Stempniak is on the Leafs roster, although that one's a little less certain.

  2. If you were genuinely confused about #1 at any point, then... well.. the good news is you're apparently qualified to work at a major Toronto daily.

  3. No, the account hasn't been shut down... yet. The Twitter terms of service is very clear that parody accounts are permitted. Then again, I guess it will depend on who's doing the complaining, and how loudly.

  4. No, I don't know who's doing the 20+ other fake NHL twitters that have shown up in the past few weeks. But feel free to check them out; many are listed here.

  5. If you are the real Brian Burke and you're reading this... get back to work! You have like 19 guys to trade by next Wednesday. Stop screwing around on the internet!
I think that covers it. If you're new to Down Goes Brown because of the twitter link or the coverage around it and you'd like to see more of what I've done, check out the greatest hits section. And if you can't get enough of social media parody, don't miss the fake Maple Leafs facebook page.

If you like what you see, please stick around. If not, don't worry, I won't spam the Burke twitter feed with blog ads.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Coming up soon, an 8,000 word post about Felix Potvin punching Dino Ciccarelli in 1993, more waffling on Mats Sundin, and a dozen more "Kyle Wellwood is fat" jokes.

Update: In a twist to the story that makes my head hurt, Eklund has announced that he contacted Burke to confirm it wasn't him.

I'm not sure which is stranger, the idea of Eklund taking a stand against anonymous online fakers, or that even when reporting the incredibly obvious Eklund is still 12 hours behind the mainstream media.

While I'd feel genuinely bad if Burke himself actually does think I'm "scum", getting a lecture from Eklund about how I've "deeply sets back the cause" of hockey bloggers is just a little rich.

Update #2: Just got an e-mail saying "David Shoalts is now following you on Twitter!" This can not end well.

Update #3: Puck Daddy has more on my side of the story.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Take that, Mats

We wondered if anyone would take a swing at Mats Sundin in his return to Toronto. This wasn't quite what we were expecting:

So I guess Mats was right all along: bad things happen when guys decide to wave.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why it's OK to boo Mats Sundin

This is a cross-post of my Sundin article at Pension Plan Puppets. For the other side of the Sundin coin, see eyebleaf's post.

Let's start off by making one thing clear: Mats Sundin had every contractual right to exercise his no-trade clause. And throughout the entire drawn-out ordeal that saw him finally wind up in Vancouver, he never once broke a rule or violated the letter of any contract. Nobody has ever argued otherwise.

If that's all you think anyone had a right to expect from the long-time Leafs captain, you can stop reading. You have no reason to object to anything Mats Sundin did and I won't try to convince you otherwise.

You certainly won't be alone. The media stars who brag about not being fans are right there with you. And so are plenty of fans who've grown cynical about big time pro sports over the years, and not without reason.

On the other hand, after fourteen years and almost 1,000 points and millions of dollars and a few long playoff runs and who knows how many cuts and bruises and standing ovations, you might think that there should be something else. You might think that both sides owed the other a little more than that.

And if so, then you have every right to boo Mats Sundin on Saturday.

Mats Sundin was the best player on the roster for his entire 14-year career in Toronto, and belongs in the conversation for greatest Leaf of all-time. He played hard. He put up numbers. He never complained, never held out, never got into trouble and didn't rock the boat. He did everything a fan could have asked of him.

And based on that, Sundin earned the right to expect a few things from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He earned the right to control his future. He earned the right to choose whether to stay or go. He earned the right to finish his career in Toronto, whether that meant now or years down the road. He also earned the right to walk away. He earned the right to chase a Stanley Cup with a contender of his choice.

Mats Sundin had earned a lot in 14 years. The Leafs held up their end of the deal.

By all accounts, Cliff Fletcher's pitch to Sundin went something like this: If you want to go, if you want to take a shot at a championship, then we'll make it happen. And yes, that's probably what the organization would prefer you to do. But if you'd rather stay, if you really can't imagine playing anywhere else, then let's get to work on an extension. It's up to you. You're driving the bus.

But Sundin owed something too -- to the organization, to the man who brought him to Toronto all those years ago, and especially to the fans.

He owed everyone a decision.

Stay or go. Your call. You've more than earned the right to make your choice.

But make the decision when it needs to be made. Make your decision about your long-term future as a Maple Leaf before the trade deadline.

We all know what we got instead.

Sundin refused to waive. He fed us his infamous "October-through-June" story. He talked about how he couldn't imagine playing anywhere else.

Then he refused to talk extension. Privately, some say, he sulked and pouted about even being asked to consider waiving. In hindsight, it sounds like he already had his eye on the door the day the deadline passed. Or maybe, as we'd come to find out, he just doesn't like to make tough decisions.

Look, Mats Sundin is a grown man. He knew what was coming. He had all season to think about his decision. The scenario that was unfolding -- that a chronically last place team would listen to offers for its aging star -- was so predictable and obvious that fans and media had been discussing it since the summer. Mats Sundin knew that the question was coming.

Stay or go. An awful position to be put in, maybe. A difficult and deeply personal choice, definitely. But one that needed to be made.

And that's where Mats let everyone down. He decided not to decide. And in doing so, he ended up choosing the only wrong answer there was: to stay when they wanted him to go, and then to go when they wanted him to stay.

The rest of the story has been beaten to death. Sundin all but went into hiding. He dithered all off-season, stringing teams along, unable to decide if he still wanted to play even after months of vacation. The ongoing drama went from intriguing to aggravating to embarrassing to pathetic. All his post-deadline rationalizations turned out to be worth nothing. All the praise heaped on him for his loyalty became a joke.

In the end, it wasn't about a championship or a journey or even the money. It was about finding the last team left that was still willing to talk to him.

None of that should really matter to Leaf fans. It was apparent early on, well before free agency opened, that he wasn't coming back to Toronto. The rest of the sad saga, all the flip-flops and dithering and punch lines, is just noise. Leaf fans can feel embarrassed for him for that, but not angry.

It's all about the deadline, and the weeks that followed. It's about Mats Sundin doing enormous damage to the franchise's rebuilding efforts. And all of it, we came to find out, for nothing.

And through it all, he hasn't offered a meaningful word to the fans who worshiped him for 14 years. No explanation. Certainly no apology. No wish that somehow, things could have turned out differently. When it comes to addressing the past 12 months -- really addressing it, not just repeating some well-rehearsed PR-approved drivel -- Mats Sundin is once again making the choice he seems to like best: To do nothing. To take the easy way.

That's why he deserves to be booed.

And here's why he deserves to be cheered: 420 goals. 567 assists. 987 points. Fourteen years.

We'll all forgive him some day. We know this. We've forgiven Curtis Joseph and Robbie Alomar and everyone short of Vince Carter. Mats Sundin will see his jersey hanging in the rafters some day and he'll get a long ovation as it goes up.

All those cheers will come when the time is right. For some of us, that day is today. For others, it will take some more time. It turns out that Mats isn't the only one who can take his time.

So cheer if you want, boo if you must. Mats Sundin is absolutely deserving of both. And don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

Mats comes home

So Mats is back.

Good. Let's get it over with and move on.

I've written more than my share about Sundin, starting in the run-up to last year's deadline and everything that happened after. I should be pumped for tonight. I should have about a dozen posts ready to go.

I don't. I'm just tired of the whole story at this point. I'm tired of Mats, I'm tired of the boo-or-cheer debate, I'm tired of reading increasingly ridiculous arguments on blogs and forums (from both sides).

And I'm definitely tired of the lectures from other fans and media about how Leaf Nation should react. Save it, guys. Only Leaf fans get a vote in how they feel about all of this.

I'll have a guest post up at PPP later today which argues that fans have every right to boo Mats tonight, and I'll post a link here once it's up. (Update: here it is.)

If you missed it the first time around, you can find my post about why Leaf fans are mad, and my farewell message to Mats.

Fans can boo or cheer during the warmup tonight. But I think we all should join together in a long and loud ovation at the final buzzer. Not for Mats, but for this story finally being over.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

10 Things I Miss About Maple Leaf Gardens

Last Friday marked the 10th anniversary of the last game at Maple Leaf Gardens. This weekend, the Leafs will hold a ceremony marking the anniversary of the first game ever played at the ACC.

Now I don't want to be one of those guys who hates everything that's new and improved and spends all his time pathetically wishing for the good old days. So I'll just say that the ACC is a corporate mausoleum where the real fans are almost entirely locked out by high ticket prices, empty suits close business deals while stuffing overpriced sushi into their soulless corporate faces, and Toronto's reputation as a hockey city goes to die a slow and lonely death.

Other than that, it's great.

But this post isn't about the ACC. It's about Maple Leaf Gardens.

I didn't get to spend a lot of time at the Gardens as a kid. My dad would try to get the company tickets once or twice a year, usually as a Christmas gift. I probably made it out to maybe 20 or 30 games there in my life.

But I miss the place. I miss everything about it.

So at the risk of being a cranky old man, here are ten things I miss about the Gardens. Not ten players or ten moments -- there are others who could do those subjects more justice than I ever could. No, this is just ten obscure things that made the place great.

10 - The escalator

If you had seats in the greens or greys, you needed to take the escalator to get to your seats. That could a challenge since the Gardens escalators were about 18 inches wide, and were apparently operated by two skinny guys in the basement slowly cranking a giant stone wheel.

If you were a little kid, you'd be bounced and jostled around by the grownups until you emerged at the top, then squeeze your way through the crowd until you found an opening. And then you'd catch your first glimpse of the scoreboard, the crowd, the ice. And you realized you, wow, were actually at Maple Leaf Gardens.

9 - Whatever that was on the roof

If you ever sat in the last few rows at the Gardens, you got a good look at the roof since it somehow blocked your view of the ice even though that should be architecturally impossible. And you wondered: what the hell is that strange, off-white foamy substance covering everything?

Does anybody know? Was it some sort of ancient fire protection? Or was it some sort of organic substance that just grew out of control, like mold in a forgotten cupboard? I had a friend who climbed up to touch it once. Is it safe to assume he died a horrible death shortly after?

8 - Banana Joe

"Banana" Joe Lamantia was the crusty old penalty timekeeper at the Gardens. Back in the 80s, fights that started on the ice would occasionally spill into the penalty box as players shouted, threatened, and threw water bottles at each other. Banana Joe could always be found in the middle of the action.

During one game in the 80s, he was hit in the head with a puck. Not one to miss a day of work, he spent the next several games wearing a helmet. There was just something about the Gardens -- even the timekeepers were tough.

7 - The shot clocks

The shot clocks at the Gardens were located at either end, behind the nets above the gold seating. If you had the right seats in the Blue section, you could rest your drink on top of them. And of course, in between was a long stretch where a narrow ad could fit.

To this day, I can't see a Yellow Pages logo without thinking "Man, I can't believe the Leafs had 60 shots against Cujo in game one".

6 - The Mickey Mouse hands

Here's what I know about the Gardens scoreboard: it was about 16x16 resolution, had four colors, and was presumably run off of a borrowed Vic 20. It had a few pixels that were always on, even if the scoreboard was supposed to black. And it had maybe four animations that it would cycle through all game long.

My favorite was the clapping hands. Whenever the scoreboard operator wanted noise, he'd fire up his trusty animation of two white-gloved hands banging semi-rhythmically together. Picture Mickey Mouse half-heartedly trying to kill a fruit fly and you'll have the general idea. This was somebody's idea of firing up a crowd.

Did it work? Of course it did. We were Leaf fans in the 80s, it didn't take much to impress us.

5 - The Nachos

Let's get this out of the way first: the nachos at sporting events today suck. They do. Just stale chips piled into a plastic cup with a baggy of lukewarm cheese goo. If you like them, there's something wrong with you and I don't really want you reading this blog anymore.

But the Gardens... the Gardens had real sports nachos. (And yes, "sports nachos" in an official culinary category, separate from real nachos.) Sure, the chips were still stale, but there wasn't any lukewarm cheese goo. No, the Gardens had boiling hot cheese goo. And they didn't drizzle it into some fancy side pocket -- they dumped it over the chips with a ladle until you begged them to stop.

And Gardens nachos weren't served in a plastic container. They were served in a flimsy cardboard box that had holes in each side, so the lava-hot cheese goo could drip onto your hands and leave you with third-degree napalm burns.

And you weren't done yet. Have you ever asked for salsa on your nachos at a sporting event these days? The kid behind the counter probably tripped a secret alarm to alert the manager. But at the Gardens, you could have as much salsa (or jalapenos!) as you wanted. It was all right there in a little serve-yourself bowl next to the concession stand. Sure, some drunk had probably spilled half a beer in there by the time you arrived. That made it better!

By the time you got back to your seat, you had a leaky box full of soggy chips that had melted and then congealed together, a potent salsa/cheese goo mix, a pile of jalapenos that you'd regret for the rest of the night, and at least one hand that would need an emergency skin graft after the game.

Good god, I'm hungry right now.

4 - The ushers

Yes, I'm sure the ACC has ushers -- or, as they're probably known now, "seating area customer service representatives".

But the Gardens had real ushers: old men in uniforms who would take your ticket stub, wave in the general direction of your seat, and go back to watching the warmup. After all, most of them were retired guys who'd taken the job so that they could watch the Leafs for free. They were probably the biggest Leaf fans in the building.

Anyone remember the one guy who would run down just as the camera focused on the crowd whenever the Leafs scored a big goal, pumping his fist and slamming his hands together with joy? Sure, he probably trampled a few kids on his way down the aisle after an overtime winner. That's what they get for being in the trolley tracks.

3 - "And now, Jimmy Holmstrom at the organ."

There's no room for organists in today's NHL. No, that would mean interrupting the steady stream of sponsor messages and hot dog cannons and screeching rinkside hostesses and early 90s techno that blares through every second of downtime.

The Gardens didn't have that. It had Jimmy Holmstrom at the organ.

Back before their was such a thing as a mashup, Jimmy Holmstrom would play a version of Van Halen's "Jump" combined with Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" as the teams circled the ice before the opening faceoff. I was too young to even know those were real songs, so I assumed he had made the whole thing up on his own. I think the first time I heard "Smoke On The Water" at a party years later, I thought it was some rock band covering Jimmy Holmstrom. In fact, I probably said that out loud to try to impress a girl, then spent the rest of the night playing NHL92 in a corner.

My point is this: I would trade the entire contents of my ipod for an mp3 of Holmstrom's Jump/Smoke medley right now.

2 - Camera shakes

Because the Gardens was built in the 30s, it hadn't been designed with the needs of a TV crew in mind. And since Harold Ballard was a cheap SOB who wasn't going to spend a penny more than he needed to just to make fans happy, the Gardens was always a bit of a challenge for broadcasters. There wasn't a good spot for the TV cameras, so they wedged them in wherever they could find enough room.

Occasionally, when the Leafs scored a big goal or there was a fight or Wendel Clark looked at somebody sideways, Leaf fans would rise to their feet and block the camera. If they stayed on their feet, the broadcast would have to switch to the upper-deck camera (which is why the endings of so many Leaf playoff games seem to have been shot from a helicopter).

And if something happened that was so exciting that fans literally jumped out of their seats, well, whoever was sitting directly under the camera stand would wind up with a concussion, and viewers would see the camera shake and zig zag all over until the cameraman could get it under control again.

Check out Gilmour's OT goal against the Blues for a famous example of the classic Gardens shaky cam.

1 - Paul Morris

With apologies to Bob Cole and Joe Bowen, long-time Leafs PA announcer Paul Morris was the voice of Maple Leaf Gardens. His distinctive nasally voice was a Gardens trademark.

Two things you need to know about Paul Morris:

1. He didn't take shortcuts. When it came to announcing penalties, Morris announced everything. There was none of this "double minor" or "five minutes each for fighting". No, Morris announced each individual penalty, line by line. If that meant that he had to talk for 20 straight minutes after a bench clearing brawl, then that's what he did.

2. He never raised his voice. Ever. It didn't matter if it was the first period of a pre-season game or the dying moments of a game seven, Paul Morris had his monotone and he stuck with it. It was his trademark, so much so that every Leaf fan during the 80s and 90s has done an impression of Morris dispassionately announcing a Wendel Clark Stanley Cup winning goal. Yes, every single one of us.

Even through the 90s, as other PA announcers worked to outdo each other with hyperbole and gimmicks, Paul Morris was a true professional. The Leafs still have him do spot duty from time-to-time. If they ever make it to a Cup final, I hope they let him work the final game.

So that's my list. I know I've left plenty of great memories out. The blue and white silhouetted players at the College Station subway stop... watching Coach's Corner in the concourse with 100 other fans... Harold Ballard posting pro-Ticat, anti-Argo messages on the scoreboard during intermission...

I miss the place. We'll never see another building like it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lie to me

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made. --Jean Giraudoux

Say what you will about Ron Wilson and Brian Burke, but we know one thing: they're honest.

If they like you, they'll say so. If not, they'll say that too. And for the most part, that's been a breath of fresh air for Leaf Nation.

The John Ferguson/Paul Maurice era was marked by a relentlessly cynical optimism. Ferguson always liked the team, no matter how bad they looked on paper. Maurice famously thought they were going to make the playoffs and compete for a Cup. And the players always claimed they were just one bad bounce away from being really good.

Burke and Wilson came in started to tell it like it is. I loved it.

But here's the thing about honesty. It's not always the ...

Crap, wait a second, I just remember my wife reads this blog sometimes, and she won't like what I'm about to say. Um, hold on.

Hi honey! Say, have you seen the highlights from the Puppy Bowl? Weren't those little guys adorable? They were so just so scrappy!

OK, now that she's gone, let me get back to my point.

Here's the thing about honesty: it's not always the best policy. Sometimes, telling the truth just for the sake of it is dumb. And Ron Wilson and Brian Burke have been treading into that territory in recent weeks.

First, a little history. From the very start, Ron Wilson has refused to sugarcoat the quality of the roster. He told us in September that the team wouldn't be very good, and he's been proven right. When guys like Matt Stajan, Jason Blake and Tomas Kaberle weren't playing at the level they needed to, Wilson didn't worry about protecting anyone's feelings. He made each guy accountable, the way a good coach should (and bad coaches don't).

When Brian Burke joined the fold, he kept the honesty flowing. He didn't try to shine up a turd.

All that honesty created an atmosphere of accountability for a team that had been missing it for years. Suddenly, a locker room that had become used to being treated with kid gloves had to deal with a stiff dose of reality. Not everyone responded, but most did. And a willingless to tell the cold hard truth meant that when a player did hear praise, they knew they'd earned it.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Wilson and Burke called out goalie Vesa Toskala for his poor practice habits. Good. Toskala's a veteran and he's paid to play at a high level. If he's not committed to doing so, he should hear about.

But recently, Wilson and Burke have gone too far. And now, they may be hurting the team.

First, there was Burke's bizarre announcement that he wasn't interested in resigning Nik Antropov. While there's no doubt Burke meant what he said, his honesty probably didn't accomplish anything beyond lowering Antropov's trade value.

Next up was Dominic Moore. A few days ago, Wilson said that fans were getting "carried away" with Moore's production, and pointed out that he wouldn't be good enough to have the same sort of offensive numbers on a better team. "Scoring points on a really bad team, that's really all it is," Wilson said.

Was Wilson wrong? Probably not. But why dismiss Moore's accomplishments right before the trade deadline? And beyond that, Moore is a long-time fourth-liner who's about to taste unrestricted free agency after a career year -- what kind of coach publicly cuts a guy down under those circumstances?

Then came today's comments from Burke about rookie goalie Justin Pogge. "He has not earned the right to be here," Burke said, going on to explain that Pogge was getting NHL starts primarily to try to motivate Toskala even though the kid didn't really belong in the big leagues.

Again, brutally honest and probably 100% correct. But Pogge is a borderline prospect having an underwhelming AHL season, forced to audition for an NHL role behind a terrible defensive team. He'd hardly be human if his confidence wasn't already shakey. What possible good can come from hearing his GM cut him down to size on the radio?

For the life of me, I can't figure out what these two are thinking with some of the recent comments. So I'll take a cue from Wilson and Burke and try a little honesty myself: They sound like two guys who have suddenly become a little too interested in the sound of their own voices, and have forgotten that they're here to win.

Winning over the media folks who love a good sound bite doesn't go very far towards building a contending team. But a little bit of well-placed B.S. just might.

Lie to me, guys. Or at least play the part of the good husband, and learn when to change the subject.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I may have made a slight miscalculation on this whole Jason Blake thing

There's something you should know about me. When it comes to the Leafs, I'm wrong. A lot.

I've only been blogging for about a year. Which is good thing, because if I'd been around much longer then there would be post in the archives with titles like "Paul Maurice is a perfect hire for the Leafs" and "Rask, Smchask - Why the Raycroft deal is a steal of the Ferguson and the Leafs".

Which brings us to Jason Blake.

It's quite possible that, when it comes to Blake, I was wronger than I've ever been wrong about anything, ever.

Here's a little secret. I keep a short list of posts that I plan on writing, usually with a few notes and sometimes with whole sections pre-written. That way, when things are slow in Leafland or I'm too busy to put any time into something, I can still go find something to post about.

I've had a post on my list all season called "Jason Blake is Playing Great" that I was saving for the weeks leading up to the deadline. It was going to be a long post about how well Blake was playing, how his stats didn't show his true impact, how he was doing all the little things right and making everyone around him better and how with a little bit better luck he'd have fantastic stats.

Then, about an hour after posting that, I was going to do a shorter post with the punch line: that the "Blake is Great" post was a fake, and that Leaf fans should all start writing similar stuff in various places in a co-ordinated effort to fool some dumb fanbase into deciding they wanted him. And then we could be rid of this useless player and his terrible contract. It was worth a shot, right?

Well, let's just say I don't think I'll be writing that post now. Because somehow, some way, in the past two months it's all come true.

Jason Blake is one of the best players in the NHL right now.

I keep reading that last sentence, but my brain can not comprehend it.

But it's true. With a glove tap to article1 over at PPP, here's how Blake compares to Alex Ovechkin in 2009:

Ovechkin - 18GP 13G 9A 22Pts EV
Blake - 19 GP 13G 10A 23Pts +9

I mean... how is this... what could it... gah.

One month ago, I did a mid-season value ranking of all the Leafs, and I had Blake dead last. As in, behind Curtis Joseph and Ryan Holweg. Here's what I wrote:

His play has picked up modestly lately, but he's still a borderline third-liner on any decent team. Given his age and production curve, his contract has to be among the worst in the league.

See? Like I told you, I have the ability to be really, really wrong.

I'd always held out hope that Blake could do enough this year to be worth a trade at the deadline. Not because we'd get anything good in return, but because we could unload his long-term contract and clear up cap space. That was my absolute best possible scenario.

I think we may have gone beyond that. I think it may be time to stop asking if the Leafs can trade Blake, and start wondering how much they can get for him.

At this point, if you're a contender, how do you not want to trade for Jason Blake? Even if this year is a fluke and he falls off a cliff in the off-season, you still get an amazing player for the playoff run. You keep him for another year after that, and then buy him out for a relatively cheap $5.5M spread over four season. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? And that's the worst case.

I'll go one further: if you're a contending team, how do you not want to land Blake and linemate Dominic Moore? The two have been a perfect match, and Moore has 17 points in his past 13 games. We thought Moore was having a career year over the first few months, but it turns out he was just warming up.

Brian Burke should be asking a fortune for speedy center. Which would make it the second time he's put a price on a Moore's head.

(Too soon? OK, moving on.)

Through this entire Blake streak, I've stayed low key. I knew it was all a fluke and he'd go back to being his old, lazy, waste-of-a-roster spot self any day now. But something changed this week. I think it was during the Tampa Bay game, when Blake had a partial breakaway and I was absolutely stunned that he didn't score. I had already counted the goal in my head, because after all, this was the unstoppable Jason Blake.

So I take back all the negative value ratings and "harmless wrist shot" jokes and fake posts that never were. I'm on the bandwagon. I have no idea how this is happening, but Jason Blake is dominating the NHL right now and I'm loving every second of it.

You know, for two more weeks. Right up until Burke trades him at the deadline for a nice little return.

And you can bank on that, because I'm never wrong.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Great Obscure Moments in Leafs History - That time Mike Foligno kicked Curtis Joseph in the face

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

Curtis Joseph has had an up-and-down history with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

There was his amazing acrobatics against the Leafs in the 1993 playoffs. He was on the receiving end of the Gilmour spinarama and the Wendel waster. He signed with the Leafs in 1999 and lead them to ten playoff rounds in four years. He ripped out Leaf fans' hearts by defecting to the Red Wings in 2002. Then he returned this year for a final season.

And, of course, there was today's obscure moment: that time Mike Foligno kicked him in the face.

Now, if you're too young or didn't really follow the Leafs back then, you probably hear "Mike Foligno kicked Curtis Joseph" and think "Hm, Cujo must have been scrambling for a rebound, and Foligno skated in and accidentally nudged him with a skate."

Artist's conception
And you would be wrong. No, Mike Foligno skated in at full speed and round-house kicked Curtis Joseph. In the face. Chuck Norris style.

Here's the setup: It's the second round of the 1993 playoffs. Less than 48 hours after Borschevsky's goal to eliminate the Red Wings, the Leafs are hosting St. Louis at the Gardens.

The game turned out to be a classic, and was tied 1-1 after regulation. Felix Potvin was solid, but the story of the game was Blues goalie Curtis Joseph. He was unbelievable, seemingly robbing the Leafs on every shift with increasingly spectacular saves. The Leafs would end up taking over 60 shots in the game, but Joseph seemed unbeatable.

Midway through the first overtime, Gilmour cuts over the line and fires a wrist shot. Mike Foligno, who is playing on Gilmour's line because it's the playoffs and Gilmour is being quintuple-shifted, drives hard to the net as Garth Butcher reaches out an arm and twists him off-balance.

Foligno loses his balance, spins 360 degrees, and for some reason swings one foot out, squarely connecting upside Joseph's head. Joseph's mask pops straight up in the air, as Leaf fans hold their breath in hopes that his head might be in it. Joseph skates towards the bench with his gloves covering his face, possibly because the impact has temporarily allowed him to see into the future and read his 2008-09 stat line.

Some people forget this now, but a shaken up Joseph actually left the game for several minutes. That forced Blues backup Guy Hebert into the game, ice cold and mid-way through a playoff overtime. He ended up making an outstanding save on Mark Osborne to keep the game live until Joseph returned at the next stoppage.

Hebert is a footnote in the story now, but imagine the reaction if he'd lost that game. Blue fans still whine incessantly about the 1996 playoffs, just because Nick Kypreos intentionally snapped Grant Fuhr's ACL one little time. Imagine how mad they'd be in the Leafs had snuck one by Hebert while Joseph was having his head glued back on.

The game ended up going into a second overtime, where Doug Gilmour finally ended it on perhaps the greatest OT goal in NHL history. Joseph would go on to steal three games and nearly the series, before finally bowing out in a game seven blowout.

A few more thoughts on the moment:
  • Fifteen years ago, a guy getting kicked in the face was pretty funny. If the same play happened today Pierre McGuire would demand a national inquiry, Damien Cox would insist that the NHL expand the crease to the size of the NBA's three point line, and Professor James Cullingham would call on the NHL to ban skates. Instead, we all made Street Fighter II jokes and moved on with our lives.

  • Not really related to anything, but did you know that Guy Hebert was an American, and that his name was actually pronounced "Guy Hibbert"? People assumed he was french and called him "Gee Hee-bahr" for his entire career, and he just went with it. That cracks me up.

  • I get a little too excited for Leafs/Sens games this year, just for the chance of some sort of encounter between Joseph and Nick Foligno. Would Foligno try to finish the job his dad started? Or even better, would Joseph be looking for revenge? Wouldn't you love to see Nick Foligno standing on the blueline during the national anthem, only to be super-kicked Shawn Michaels style by Joseph? What would the NHL do, suspend a guy who never plays anyways? Do it, Curtis!

  • You know you're having a rough series when getting kicked by a hockey skate at full speed is only the second worst thing that happens to your face.

  • When Nikolai Borschevsky gets his own talk show, and Pinky Finger sits next to the guests flipping them off, I want each interview to end with a flying Mike Foligno kick to the unsuspecting guest's head. Why is this show not on the air yet?

Here are ESPN's highlights of the game, the only footage I could find on youtube. The flying roundhouse comes at 1:20.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

One year of Down Goes Brown

One year ago today, I decided to finally start blogging. I'd been thinking about it for months, and finally decided to just go ahead and do it. I figured it would be fun, even though I wasn't sure anyone would ever read it.

Twelve months and almost 100,000 page views later, it's still fun. And I'm still trying to figure out who exactly is reading (but hello to all of you in Malaysia, where apparently I'm huge).

It's been an interesting year. Here are some of the highlights...

Feb. 8, 2008 - The Leafs are terrible, but at least they just beat the Habs. DGB makes an understated debut with a short game recap of the Leafs win over Montreal. It takes exactly one paragraph to get to the first "Kyle Wellwood is fat" jokes.

Feb. 9, 2009 - One day into the blog's history, we get the first of roughly three dozen posts to feature the Stu Grimson video.

Borschevsky tummy pokeFeb. 12, 2008 - The first "Obscure Moments" feature, with an in-depth breakdown of the Ron MacLean-Nik Borchevsky interview. Readers begin to wonder if maybe I have too much time on my hands.

Feb. 20, 2008 - The infamous Russ Courtnall for John Kordic was a good trade post. This post has become the #1 Google result for most combinations of Kordic and Courtnall's name, and still drives hundreds of visitors to the site, none of whom agree with me.

Feb. 24, 2008 - Two days before the trade deadline, Mats Sundin announces he won't waive his no-trade clause. I begin writing anti-Sundin posts, a temporary phase that readers assume I'll grow out of quickly.

March 6, 2008 - I make the argument that the Leafs are the softest team in the NHL. Somewhere, Brian Burke nods sadly.

March 26, 2008 - Thanks to Patrick Roy's lunatic son, I write what still stands as the most popular post in DGB history: How To Fight When You Don't Want to Fight.

April, 2008 - Inspired by Mark Bell murdering Daniel Alfredsson, April somehow becomes Beat Up The Senators month. We have some fun at the expense of shameless Sen homers Bruce Garrioch and Don Brennan, and then point out that the Senators steal everyone's playoff traditions. And then, rock bottom for Sens fans: this happens.

May 6, 2008 - Stung by accusations of being too negative, I try to come up with 20 good things about the 07-08 Leafs. For some reason, commenters accuse me of being insincere.

May 26, 2008 - The second Great Obscure Moment - Everything that happened after the Clark/McSorley fight. Sadly, my quest to determine the identity of Pinky Finger remains unfulfilled.

June 20, 2008 - June is a slow month, both for the Leafs and the blog. I do get a chance to make fun of The Love Guru, though. The post is read by hundreds of people, making it more popular than the movie.

June 24 - Down Goes Brown wins Eklund's "Next Great Hockey Blogger" contest at hockeybuzz.

July 1 - Free agent signing day. The Leafs sign unheralded defenceman Jeff Finger, who I know nothing about. I ask the folks at the (now defunct) Avs blog In The Cheap Seats to write a guest post about him. Puck Daddy links to it, and confused Leaf fans flood the site for the biggest single-day traffic in the blog's history, by far. That's right, my all-time biggest traffic spike was due to a post I didn't write. I think that tells you something.

July 24 - DGB makes the New York Times, except they don't get the name quite right.

July 29 - I set out to name the Worst Leafs of All-Time. This ends up being a three-part series, after I edit it down from its original 100,000 words.

August 13 - I write a sympathetic post about how Mats Sundin should really wait until mid-season to return to the NHL, but clearly can't because he said he'd never be a rental and obviously he's a man of his word. Yeah. Keep your day job, Nostradamus.

August 31 - I give Bryan McCabe a rousing send-off on his last day as a Maple Leaf. To be honest, I was just angry that the Leafs had parted with McCabe, Wellwood and Raycroft within a few weeks. In the first six months of this blog, 80% of the writing consisted of the same three jokes: Wellwood is fat, McCabe scores in his own net, and Raycroft has no glove hand. That was it. I was terrified that I'd have nothing to write about.

September 14, 2008 - Spiralling into depression, I set out to answer the question: Is this the worse it's ever been? Spoiler alert: Yes.

September 22, 2008 - EA Sports releases a commercial for NHL 09 that features Kyle Wellwood. I'm thrilled, because I get to use up all my leftover Wellwood jokes in one post.

September 29, 2008 - Maple Leaf Media Cliche Bingo debuts. Fifteen seconds later, Damien Cox has filled in his card.

October 15, 2008 - I count down the Top 10 tough guys from the old Norris Division. The list ends up being somewhat anti-climactic, since all ten spots are awarded to Wendel Clark's various knuckles.

October 30, 2008 - Somebody who makes more money than him makes Howard Berger feel inadequate, so he takes out all his dashed aspirations on Leaf fans with a legendary post.

November 3, 2008 - I start writing about Wendel Clark, and don't stop for three weeks. The Top 17 Wendel Moments series dominates the site for the rest of the month, covering goals, hits, fights and more. We even find out who made the All Heart video.

November 19, 2008 - What's the difference between this blog and a hockey game in the southern US? This blog can sell out.

December 16, 2008 - I post about my most-wanted Maple Leaf collectibles. The entire post is just a thinly-veiled excuse to make some Al Iafrate jokes. God I wish I had a blog in the early 90s.

December 18, 2008 - Mats Sundin finally signs with the Canucks. I write a message to Mats, as well as an explanation of why Leaf fans are so mad at him. Somebody sends the link to Sundin, but it takes him two months to decide whether he wants to click on it.

December 23, 2008 - I write a humorous holiday post about throwing a dog into a furnace.

December 28, 2008 - I spend 15 minutes writing a post about who took out Matt Stajan, and three hours looking for angry soccer ball clipart on google.

January 10, 2009 - I officially give up on the season. Judging by the comments section, most of you were already there.

January 25, 2009 - I make a pro-fighting post, kicking off about two weeks straight of fighting debates on the site (including one with Damien Cox). Everyone pretends to be impressed by the depth of my research and the persuasiveness of my argument, while secretly wishing I'd just go back to making jokes about the 1990 Leafs.

January 26, 2009 - The Brian Burke twitter account appears, a fact that has absolutely nothing to do with this blog so why am I even mentioning it...

January 31, 2009 - I count down my personal top ten Doug Gilmour moments. While the old clips of goals and other highlights are fun, the post is most memorable for allowing me to finally create an "enrico ciccone" tag.

February 8, 2009 - Down Goes Brown celebrates its one year anniversary. The Leafs are terrible, but at least they just beat the Habs.

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. And a special thanks to those of you who've helped the blog grow by sending links to your friends and others who you think might enjoy it.

My only regret is that I didn't get started sooner. So if you're somebody like me -- a Leaf fan who likes to watch, talk and write about hockey -- and you don't have your own blog, why not start one? If I can do it, believe me, so can you.

Just stay away from Malaysia. That market is all mine.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Join us for a Habs/Leafs liveblog

I'll be liveblogging tonight's game over at There was a good turnout for last week's Avs games, and tonight's should be a lot of fun with plenty of sub-plots to follow.

  • Will Mikhail Grabovski and Sergei Kostitsyn continue their ongoing tickle-fight?

  • Will Georges Laraque politely remind Brad May and Jamal Mayers to keep their helmets on before he pounds the crap out of them?

  • How many soft goals will Toskala allow before Brian Burke rushes onto the ice and attacks him?

  • Will I remember to stop talking about Jeff Brubaker and the Kordic/Courtnall trade long enough to actually mention the score or what's happening in the game?
Join us at 7:00 to find out.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Helmets and fighting: Georges Laraque has a point

An interesting twist in the fighting debate today, thanks to Habs enforcer Georges Laraque's comments about helmets in an interview with TSN. Predictably, Damien Cox is all over the interview, holding them up as further proof that fighting should be on the way out.

I've made my stance on the issue clear over the past few weeks: I'm pro-fighting, and I'm not embarrassed to admit it.

But while I want fighting to stay in the NHL (and would even love to see if go back to the higher levels of the early 90s), I don't believe that means it has to stay exactly as-is. In the wake of the Don Sanderson tragedy, the least the NHL can do is be open to ideas about how to make fighting safer.

Laraque suggests that players be banned from removing the helmets prior to a fight or from trying to remove an opponent's, and that fights be stopped as soon as a player's helmet comes off.

He may be on to something.

The idea isn't perfect. For one, it won't seem like such a great idea the first time a player breaks his hand on a helmet or visor. And NHL linesmen may have a thing or two to say about the idea of jumping in to stop a fight between two guys who are swinging for the fences because a helmet has popped off.

But at the very least, the idea is worth a look. Combine it with new rules about tighter chinstraps and the likelihood of a Sanderson situation in the NHL would drop to close to zero.

I'm less supportive of Laraque's other suggestion, that players with visors be barred from fighting at all. We already have extra rules in place to penalize a player with a visor who instigates a fight and perhaps those could be strengthened. But beyond that, players should have a choice as to whether or not to fight a guy with a shield.

If anything, banning players with visors from ever fighting could mean that guys who play a physical game and fight occasionally (like Jarome Iginla or Luke Schenn) might feel the need to lose their shields altogether. And with apologies to Don Cherry, that's the last thing we should want.

So kudos to Laraque for raising some new ideas. And let's hope his newfound pacifism extends to tomorrow night's Leafs/Habs game. If not... keep your helmet on, Brad May.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fights per game since 1991

Several of you liked the recent post on NHL fighting frequency, but wanted to see an average fights/game number. The basic numbers I presented didn't account for the additional games played thanks to expansion and schedule tweaks.

Well, with a glove tap to commenter Leu' and the fine folks at the incredibly comprehensive, here are the average fights per game each season since 1990:

1990-91 - 1.04
1991-92 - 1.02
1992-93 - 0.71
1993-94 - 0.85
1994-95 - 0.88
1995-96 - 0.80
1996-97 - 0.93
1997-98 - 0.87
1998-99 - 0.66
1999-00 - 0.57
2000-01 - 0.61
2001-02 - 0.70
2002-03 - 0.56
2003-04 - 0.70
2004-05 - No season
2005-06 - 0.41
2006-07 - 0.44
2007-08 - 0.59
2008-09 - 0.70 (projected)

And here's the graph:

So there you have -- a pretty clear downward trend, although one with a clear upswing in the past two years. Even this season's spike will still result in fewer fights per game than we saw ten+ years ago.

This doesn't tell us whether fighting is good or bad or indifferent. But can we at least all agree that fighting has been dropping over the past two decades? Even you, Damien?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Follow DGB on Twitter

I run into a lot of people who tell me "You know, I visit DGB everyday, I subscribe to the RSS feed, and I even joined the facebook page that you never update... but I just wish there were more ways to get spam from you!"

Well, you're in luck, because DGB is now on Twitter too. Follow DGB to get automatic updates whenever a new post goes up.

There's also a "Follow This Blog" widget over on the right-hand side of this page (scroll down). I'm not actually sure what that's about, but if you follow us through that it shows your picture at something like 4x4 pixels. Good times.

And if all that's not enough, e-mail me your address and I'll come over and pound on your bedroom window in the middle of the night every time I post something.