Tuesday, March 31, 2009

R.I.P., fake Brian Burke

Farewell, old friend
I'm announcing today that I've decided to end the fake Brian Burke twitter account.

The background: Fake Brian Burke started with what was meant to be a one-off joke posted at Pension Plan Puppets. When a handful of people realized it was a real account and followed it, I started doing semi-regular updates. I watched with some amusement as things grew from there, well past anything I'd ever intended.

Two months later, the account has been covered by virtually every major hockey blog and at least four newspapers. And while it's been all sorts of fun, the idea was never to turn fake Brian Burke into a permanent fixture. So with the trade deadline past and almost three months before the draft, this seems like a good place to have it end gracefully.

I haven't decided yet what to do with account. I may have it removed, although I'm leaning towards leaving it up. But I won't be doing new updates.

Just to be clear, this is my call. Nobody involved with the Maple Leafs or Brian Burke has ever contacted me. While Burke did infamously drop an "I'm going to sue his ass" quote in the Star, there's never been any formal threat of legal action from his end. Some blogs today are reporting that Burke already "tried" to sue me -- that's 100% false as far as I know. A few cranky sound bites aside, all the evidence is that both Burke and the Leafs have been relatively good sports about the whole thing.

If you liked the fake Brian's sense of humor, you might enjoy some of the writing I do on this blog. Check out the Greatest Hits section on the right, and consider subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on twitter.

My day job is in web marketing, and this whole experience has taught me plenty about twitter, social media and how information spreads on the web, not to mention the law of unintended consequences. It's tempting to keep going and see where it all leads, but part of being a good comedian is to know when to get off the stage.

Finally, a sincere thanks to everyone who helped spread the word. Thanks for all the retweeting, blog posts and forum threads. I got pretty good at using Google Alerts and twitter search over the past month, so if you posted about fake Brian somewhere there's a good chance I saw it. Even if I didn't pop up to say hello, I was probably lurking and appreciated the support.

R.I.P., fake Brian Burke. Thanks for a fun ride.

Update: A full list of all the Brian Burke tweets can be found here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Leafs Abomination: The Leaked List of Chapter Titles

The fine folks over at Pension Plan Puppets broke the news today of a new book being released this October - Leafs AbomiNation, by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange.

Sub-titled "The dismayed fan's handbook to why the Leafs stink and how they can rise again", the book is apparently aimed at fans who thought the Macleans article from last year was great, but just wished it had been 200 pages longer and written by two NBA beat reporters. It features a front cover with a Leaf fan wearing a bag over his head and a very clever "$19.67" price starburst, which we should all appreciate now since it will be covered by an "80% off" sticker by November.

As you'd expect, the folks over at PPP have already gone negative. They assume, without even seeing the book, that it will be nothing more than a long, poorly-written screed that will recycle all the familiar cliches, void of any new ideas and ultimately blaming Leaf fans for everything. But that's not fair. There's no reason to assume the book will be long.

Anyway, I managed to obtain an advanced copy of Leafs AbomiNation. While I don't have permission to print an excerpt, I wanted to do something to give readers a taste of what to expect. So...

Here's a top secret list of the chapter titles from this upcoming masterpiece.

  • Not one single Stanley Cup in a generation: An embarrassment that could only happen in Toronto, and 14 other cities

  • An unshakable loyalty to the home team through good times and bad, and other terrible character flaws of Maple Leaf fans

  • The mysterious and spooky curse of the owner who refused to spend any money on hockey operations for 20 years.

  • First Draft Schmaft: How we managed to write this book in one weekend

  • An examination of the Leafs' futility using in-depth statistical analysis... no, just kidding, "1967!"

  • Things we imagine Leaf fans would say if we'd ever spoken to one

  • What MLSE should be doing: Business advice from two guys who make their living in an industry that won't exist anymore in ten years

  • Plan the Parade... to the recycling bin

  • Why 1927 is more recent than 1967: Advanced theoretical mathematics from Ottawa Senator fans

  • Spilling into the streets to celebrate winning a playoff game: Pathetic and lame when Leaf fans do it, admirable passion when it's Calgary and Edmonton

  • The Pat Quinn era of sustained regular season success and long playoff runs: Nope, never heard of it

  • Montreal Canadiens fans would never meekly put up with a bunch of underachieving, overpaid losers (Note: chapter currently being rewritten)

  • Leafs fans are gullible morons who'll buy anything with a Leafs logo on it no matter how awful the product is, or at least we hope so because that's this book's entire business plan

The National Post on the Brian Burke twitter account

Oh no. Another newspaper has noticed the Brian Burke twitter account. After the whole debacle with the Globe and Mail and Eklund, this can't possibly go well...

Over to you, Bruce Arthur in today's National Post:

Of all of Twitter's characteristics, necessity is not among them. In fact, the most entertaining Twitter feeds in sports tend to have nothing to do with athletes. Instead, they are satire feeds like the one lampooning espn.com columnist Rick Reilly, or the parody of Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke which includes entries like the one from Feb. 21 that read, "Just ran into Kyle Wellwood arriving at the ACC. He seemed kind of depressed. Told him to keep his chins up."

Now that's worth following. As for the rest? Bah, humbug.
Um... wait, what? Let me go back and read that again. There must be some mistake.

Where's the feigned confusion? Where's the mock outrage? Where's the implication that Leaf fans are dumb and need to have obvious jokes explained to them?

If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Arthur actually gets the joke. He seems to think it's sort of funny. Heck, he even picked an example that allows me to use my favorite tag on this post.

Sorry Bruce. You're just not going to last long in this market with that kind of attitude.

(In case you're wondering, the fake Rick Reilly account Arthur mentions was briefly shut down by twitter before being resurrected two weeks ago. That account is run by the folks from Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber, two of the most popular sports blogs on the planet. And thanks to their constant updates and high profile promotion, fake Rick Reilly has gone on to become the second most popular sports parody twitter in the entire world. Keep up the good work, guys!)

Monday, March 23, 2009

New ideas for Alex Ovechkin's next celebration

The debate over Alex Ovechkin's "too hot to handle" 50th goal celebration rages on. Harmless fun? Contrived nonsense? Great marketing? A blight on the game?

Lost in the all the debate was the fact that, as far as pre-planned celebrations go, this one was kind of lame. Pretending that a hockey stick was hot? Let's just say Terrell Owens probably isn't losing any sleep.

No, he didn't have much to work with. But even with little more than a hockey stick at his disposal, the most creative player in the league should have been able to come up with something better.

So, with the Capitals in town to face the Leafs on Tuesday, I humbly offer Alex a few suggestions. Here are some stick-based celebrations, inspired by his fellow NHL personalities, that I hope to see Ovechkin use the next time he scores a big goal.

The "Sidney Crosby" - Place stick on ice. Skate towards it. Once within a few feet, dramatically hurl self into the air even though stick never touched you. Watch with satisfaction as stick is given a double minor.

The "Jason Spezza" - File blade of stick down to an illegally small tip, then use that blade to make spectacularly creative drop passes to opposing team for game-losing goal. Giggle girlishly upon learning that coach has been fired.

The "Eklund" - Copy a celebration you saw on TSN and pass it off as your own.

The "Teemu Selanne" - Hold stick like a rifle, throw glove into the air, and pretend to shoot at it until it crashes lifelessly to the ground.

The "Wade Redden" - Hold stick like a rifle, throw New York Rangers salary cap situation for the next six years into the air, and pretend to shoot at it until it crashes lifelessly to the ground. Then pee on it.

The "Damien Cox" - Come up with two, maybe three different celebrations. Recycle them endlessly, changing only minor details, for several years. Wonder why nobody takes you seriously anymore.

The "Marian Hossa" - Swing stick wildly in the air, then place novelty fake eyeball on the end of the blade. Watch as the Ottawa Sun sports department refuses to acknowledge that your celebration ever happened.

The "Derek Boogaard" - Look at stick with confusion, trying to figure out which end is supposed to go on the ice and what exactly you're supposed to do with it.

The "John Tavares" - Pull out a newspaper and read the bottom of the NHL standings. Repeatedly smash stick into own temple.

The "Martin St. Louis" - Hold stick vertically over head. Standing on tippy-toes, unsuccessfully attempt to touch crossbar.

The "Daniel Alfredsson" - Break stick, then hilariously pretend to throw it into crowd. Once laughter has subsided, smile knowingly, wink at fans, then get crushed by Mark Bell so badly that you end up twitching on the ice, coughing up a misty cloud made from the powdery dust that was once your sternum.

The "Carey Price" - Use stick to swat large beach ball into net.

The "Mats Sundin" - Paint the logos of all thirty NHL teams in a circle on the ice. Place stick in the middle and twirl it, spin-the-bottle-style. Allow stick to continue spinning until everyone else completely loses interest.

The "Down Goes Brown" - Make the observation that Mats Sundin is indecisive. Use stick to beat this joke into the ground for months on end.

The "Gary Bettman" - Douse stick in gasoline and light match. As fire roars uncontrollably, fiddle.

The "Dion Phaneuf" - Pick up somebody else's stick after they've already finished using it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NHL parody Twitter accounts - the full list

The fake Brian Burke twitter account first appeared in late January, intended as a one-off joke over at Pension Plan Puppets. Since then the account has been covered on Yahoo, misrepresented by the Globe and Mail, blamed by Eklund for causing the downfall of the sports blogging industry, and become one of the most popular hockey feeds in the world, before finally settling back into relative obscurity where it belongs.

But maybe most interesting of all, the account seems to have been ground zero for an internet mini-trend, as dozens of other parody accounts have appeared in recent weeks. Yes, the NHL may not have much in the way of TV presence or sports fan mindshare these days, but when it comes to the "fake twitter comedy account" online micro-niche, this league is seriously dominating.

While the fakes initially included other NHL GMs, there's now a long list of coaches, players and media personalities as well. None were associated with the original Burke account, and with only a few exceptions I have no idea who is behind any of them.

Below is a full list of all the parody accounts that I know of (feel free to let me know about any I've missed). Some are dormant, most are active, some are very funny, and others not so much.

Again, none of these are the real deal -- they're all parodies. Have a look and follow anyone who seems like they could give you a laugh.

Front Office
Brian Burke
John Ferguson Jr.
Cliff Fletcher
Bob Gainey
Ken Holland
Brett Hull
Les Jackson
Dean Lombardi
Kevin Lowe
Bryan Murray
Dave Nonis
David Poile
Jim Rutherford
Glen Sather v1
Glen Sather v2
Ray Shero
Darryl Sutter
Garth Snow
Steve Tambellini
Don Waddell

Peter Deboer
Paul Maurice
Tom Renney
Michel Therrien
John Tortorella v1
John Tortorella v2
Ron Wilson

Daniel Alfredsson
Jason Blake
Adam Foote
Dany Heatley
Shane Hnidy
Ryan Hollweg
Alexei Kovalev
Evgeni Nabokov
Andrew Peters
Justin Pogge
Chris Pronger
Petr Prucha
Wade Redden
Miroslav Satan
Luke Schenn
Alexander Semin
Jose Theodore
Jonathan Toews
Vesa Toskala
Kyle Wellwood

Howard Berger
Don Cherry
Nick Kypreos
Mike Milbury
David Shoalts

Tiny Dictators
Gary Bettman

By the way, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Elias are both real, although neither has updated since the all-star break. (Update: Looks like Elias is back at it again.)

Finally, if you're a hockey fan on twitter please consider following this blog at twitter.com/downgoesbrown.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Toronto Maple Leafs in the community

Our friends at PPP had a nice writeup about Luke's Troops, a program in which Leafs' rookie Luke Schenn donates a pair of seats for each game to a member of the Canadian Armed Forces returning home from service.

While this program is certainly admirable, it got me wondering about what other types of charitable donations and community service the Leafs are up to. So after making a few phone calls, I've compiled this list of programs that current and recent members of the Maple Leafs organization are involved in.

Burkie's Boys
A local orphanage receives a donation of a nickel every time Leafs GM Brian Burke makes a media appearance. Note: shortly after the trade deadline, the orphanage relocated to a small Caribbean island they'd purchased.

Howard Helps Out
Leafs beat reporter Howard Berger donates his time to the local sick kids hospital. This program has been dormant for several months, since Berger did all his giving in November when it actually mattered.

Fergie's Friends
Selected charities are given the opportunity to approach former Leafs GM John Ferguson with a request for what they feel would be a fair donation. Ferguson then immediately responds by offering them triple that amount, every year, for all of eternity.

It Could Be Worse
Victims of serious car crashes, workplace accidents and other life-altering injuries are shown videos of Wendel Clark fighting guys like Dave Mackey, Slava Fetisov and Bob Brooke, and come away realizing that things could be a lot worse.

The Martin Gerber Second Chance Program
Out-of-work derelicts who have been deemed unemployable due to a lack of marketable skills are given an opportunity to work again. Note: Gerber himself is not actually involved in this charity; it's named after him because he was the program's first recipient.

Kyle's Kupboard
This popular program by former Leaf Kyle Wellwood encouraged fans to drop potato chips and candy bars into a large box near Wellwood's locker. While nobody's sure exactly which food bank received the donations, they obviously worked fast because by the next day there was never anything left but empty wrappers and crumbs.

The Mats Sundin "Entire Journey" Program
This program was established by Mats Sundin when he first arrived in Toronto fifteen years ago. As of today, no final decision has been made on the campaign's format, goals and participants.

Pogge's Posse
Young fans who would otherwise have only a slim hope of ever being part of a Maple Leafs game at the ACC are invited to spend some time commiserating with Marlie's goalie Justin Pogge, who informs them that he can definitely relate.

Gabbing with Grabby
Mikhail Grabovski speaks at local high schools, reminding socially challenged kids that it's still possible to be marginally successful in your chosen career even though you're generally creepy and weird and everybody you meet feels a strong urge to punch you.

Blake's Buddies
Jason Blake speaks to cancer patients about his own battle with the disease, giving practical advice such as "Make sure you sign your $20M contract before the final tests come back," and "Look on the bright side, at least this will give everyone something to talk about instead of your albinoism".

The NHL's Revenue Sharing Program
Don't spend it all in one place, Phoenix.

Habitat for Kubanity
Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina performs advocacy work on behalf of Toronto's many homeless squatters, due to his deep personal empathy for people who absolutely refuse to leave a hopeless situation even though it's obvious that nobody wants them there anymore.

Rolling the Dice With Dominic
Buffalo Sabres forward Dominic Moore returns to Toronto periodically to lecture on the dangers of gambling, delivering a moving speech called "How trying to get a little more money can unexpectedly result in you winding up stuck in a terrible hellhole that reeks of misery and hopelessness".

Mike Van Ryn Inspirational Hospital Visits
In an attempt to raise spirits and bring a sense of hope to a difficult situation, local children go to the hospital to visit Mike Van Ryn.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Top 10 "Staged" Hockey Fights

NHL GMs have signaled their intention to eliminate "staged" fights -- those fights that occur right after a faceoff. I've already explained why I don't think the new rule will work. But there's another problem with the idea: most hockey fans don't seem to mind "staged" fights at all.

Instead, many (even most) fans seem to want to get rid of meaningless fight, the ones where two guys square off for no reason beyond padding their stats and justifying their ice time.

But does every so-called staged fight that happens right off a faceoff fall into that meaningless category? No. In fact, some of most memorable fights have been "staged".

Ah well. Let us not mourn our friend the faceoff fight. Instead, let's celebrate him. Or it. Whatever, let's get to the fight videos.

Here's a hastily assembled list of my top ten fights in NHL history that happened within seconds of a faceoff. Enjoy them now, since apparently the league has decided we won't be getting any more.

#10 - Belak vs. Brashear

Let's star the list with a recent bout. Journey back with me in time, all the way to... Monday.

As you can tell by the reaction in Nashville, this sort of nonsense is just killing fan interest in the southern US.

#9 - Twist vs. Odjick

A solid bout between two of the most memorable heavyweights of the early 90s.

This fight is so staged that the shocked commentators start speaking in some weird moon-man language!

#8 - Stock vs. Peat

A pair of cruiserweights make the highlight reel. This is the highest rated NHL fight on hockeyfights.com

Incidentally, this is last time Canadian hockey fans would hear the terms "PJ Stock" and "highlights" without cringing.

#7 - Avery vs. Tucker

Sure, these two guys hate each and have a long history. But I think we can all agree that it would be far better to force them to wait until somebody actually did something during a play to cause a fight, like throw a questionable hit or otherwise anger the other team. Because neither of these guys would ever do something like that.

And yes, I'm still mad that nobody signed Tucker, Avery and Jaarko Ruttu last off-season and formed the R.A.T. line.

#6 - Probert vs. Kocur

This isn't the first Probert/Kocur fight -- that happened when Probert was still with the Wings and Kocur had gone to the Rangers. But this time, Kocur is back with the Wings and Probert is on the other side.

To this day, it still doesn't feel right to see Probert in a Hawks uniform. He'll always be a Wing. In fact, let's move right on to...

#5 - Clark vs Probert

Anyone who's familiar with this blog knew I'd find a way to work Wendel Clark into the list, even though he almost never fought right off of a faceoff. This is from Probert's much-hyped return to Canada after his drug-related legal problems were resolved. It's also the most memorable fight in the Clark and Probert series.

After this game, Probert went to the Supreme Court to ask that his ban on entering Canada be reinstated.

#4 - Crosby vs McLean

OK, just kidding...

#4 - Shanahan vs. Brashear

The brash young heavyweight champion is challenged by the grizzled, respected veteran standing up for his team. Awful. You can even hear the MSG faithful screaming their disapproval.

Not sure what Ward did to deserve that cheapshot. Probably said something along the lines of "Watch out for Wade Belak in about two years".

#3 - Lemieux vs. McCarty

Fighting two seconds into a game? How contrived and meaningless! You can even see them planning it out beforehand. Obviously nothing could have happened between these guys to cause them to want to fight.

Incidentally, the pre-faceoff chatter involved a bet that the loser of the fight would have to keep playing until he was 50.

#2 - Flyers vs. Senators

This memorable series of fights started off with a Rob Ray/Donald Brashear tilt that spilled into a line brawl. That turned out to be just the start of the fun, as a series of "staged" fights followed until both benches were virtually empty.

By the way, that clip is the most-watched hockey video on youtube, and it's not close. Apparently somebody forgot to tell over 12 million viewers that hockey fans hate this stuff.

#1 - Domi vs. Probert

This is round two. In the first bout, Domi made his name by handing Probert a beating in Detroit and then skating off the ice doing the "I have the belt" gesture. The rematch was hyped for weeks, was the hottest ticket in New York, and provided one of the most memorable moments in MSG history.

In hindsight it's a good thing Probert got the decision, since if Domi had won in front of the MSG crowd he might still be celebrating today.

RIP faceoff fight. You've provided some memorable moments over the years, and you will be missed. Just try to understand when we all have to pretend to be happy to see you go -- after all, we wouldn't want the media to call us unenlightened.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Did NHL GMs make the right recommendations on fighting? Yes and no.

Damien Cox is reporting that NHL GMs are recommending a pair of changes to fighting rules.

The first change would see a ten-minute misconduct handed out to players who fought right after a faceoff. This new rule would be meant to eliminate "staged" fights (like this classic), and it would apparently be left to the referee's discretion to determine how much time and/or game action needs to pass before players can fight.

I'll predict it here now: this change is going to backfire.

Yes, some of these faceoff fights are the meaningless kind that nobody seems to like -- two heavyweights squaring off for no reason beyond padding their stats and justifying their nightly four minutes of ice time.

But many faceoff fights aren't meaningless at all. In many cases, it's simply the first opportunity between two guys with legitimate reason to fight. For every Laraque/Ivanans, there's a Mayers/Kostopoulos, or Belak/Janssen.

But even putting that distinction aside, it's hard to see how this new rule will dissuade two players who want to fight from doing so. Instead, we'll get players half-heartedly "playing" for a few seconds to avoid an additional penalty. A shove here, a push there. Maybe skate a few strides and then "accidentally" collide, and off you go. If you thought some of these fights seemed staged before, wait until you watch players go through the motions before finally dropping the gloves.

Meanwhile, without clear direction from the league referees will be on their own to decide when to hand out the additional minutes. Think back to the instigator rule's debut in 1992 and the confusion around how to call it, with different referees interpreting the rule in shifting and confusing ways.

Let's hope the rules committee will polish the rule before it goes into effect. Otherwise, we could be looking at a season's worth of silliness.

The second change is intended to curb instances of players responding to clean hits on a teammate by initiating a fight, a trend that appeared to increase dramatically this season. No new rule will be introduced, but referees will be encouraged to apply the instigator rule in these cases.

While I realize from past discussion that I'm all but alone on this, I like to see a guy come to a teammate's aid after a hit, even a clean one. Players often have a choice between trying to take an opponent out of the play and trying to take him out of a game, and I don't mind seeing teammates hold guys accountable for choosing the latter option.

That said, there's absolutely no reason why these sorts of reactions shouldn't fall under the instigator rule. Apparently referees need a reminder of that, and I have no problem with the NHL giving them one.

So did the NHL GMs do the right thing? Let's call it even.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Behind the scenes: the Leafs deadline day war room

Hockey fans love trade deadline day, even though few of us will ever know what really goes on behind the scenes.

Well, I decided to find out. So with the help of some top secret internal sources (thanks Cliff!), I was able to plant several microphones and hidden cameras around the Maple Leafs war room on deadline day.

What follows is a never-before-seen level of detail on what an NHL front office looks like on the busiest day of the year.

8:45 a.m. - Leafs GM Brian Burke arrives early, and immediately begins furiously working the phones in an attempt to line up his media appearances for the day.

9:24 - Leafs assistant GM Dave Nonis takes a call from a rival GM asking what the Leafs would want in exchange for Luke Schenn. While talks are initially encouraging, they ultimately fail after Nonis is still listing players and picks when the 3:00 deadline passes.

10:00 - Concerned about the recent winning streak and its impact on draft position, Burke meets with Vesa Toskala in the parking lot to suggest that the red-hot goalie should go on the IR. When Toskala protests that he's not injured, Burke nods in the direction of Tim Hunter, who emerges from the shadows holding a baseball bat.

10:05 - Vesa Toskala agrees that he needs to go on the IR.

10:32 - Burke calls Montreal GM Bob Gainey, only to find out that Gainey has taken the day off.

10:57 - For the fifth time that day, a rival GM calls the Leafs front office asking to speak with John Ferguson Jr. and is devastated to learn he no longer works there.

11:12 - Burke calls Panthers GM Jacques Martin to ask for a scouting report on Jay Bouwmeester, his health records, and information on his salary demands. When Martin asks if he can call him back in an hour, Burke says "no problem, I won't actually need any of this until July 1."

11:27 - Struggling somewhat on his first deadline day in a front office, Joe Nieuwendyk accidentally trades himself to the Devils.

11:45 - Disguising his voice, Burke calls Kevin Lowe to ask if Dustin Penner is available, then laughs hysterically at how excited Lowe gets.

12:15 - With a sinking feeling, Leafs assistant GM Jeff Jackson realizes that the note on his desk that reads "Jeff, please pick up Gerber" is not actually in Brian Burke's handwriting, seems to be from his wife, and probably refers to baby food.

12:37 - Burke takes a break to update his hilarious DownGoesBrown twitter parody.

12:56 - A confused Pavel Kubina phones to ask why the guy in charge putting together the Atlanta Thrashers 2009 media guide just showed up to take his picture.

1:05 - The entire Leafs front office gathers around a computer to read Eklund's latest updates on Hockeybuzz, gaining valuable insight into which rumored trades are guaranteed not to happen.

1:20 - Burke steps out for some fresh air. Upon seeing a homeless panhandler pathetically begging for scraps of food and spare change, Burke makes a mental note to start calling southern market teams to see if he can buy their draft picks.

1:45 - A fellow GM calls to ask Burke if he'd be interested in a Lee Stempniak deal. After Burke angrily explains that the last thing he needs is some underachieving fourth-liner, the other GM is forced to awkwardly break the news that Stempniak has been playing for the Leafs for four months.

2:11 - While discussing details of a proposed Nik Antropov deal, New York GM Glen Sather offers to throw in a conditional draft pick if the Rangers make it to the conference finals.

2:14 - After three straight minutes of listening to Burke laugh and pound the table, Sather informs him that he was actually serious about that.

2:42 - In a tragic misunderstanding, Burke responds to Dominic Moore's plea that "I just want to play in front of 19,000 diehard Leaf fans every night" by trading him to Buffalo.

2:57 - With only minutes to go until the deadline, Burke turns down last-minute offers of a second round pick for Ian White, and a first round pick for Ian White's moustache.

3:45 - As he prepares for his post-deadline press conference, the rest of the front office bets Burke that he can't talk about fielding offers for Tomas Kaberle and claim that he never asks players to waive their NTCs in the same sentence without at least somebody in the Toronto media catching on.

5:30 - Sitting alone at the arrivals gate of the Nashville International Airport, a confused Alex Ponikoravsky wonders why nobody is coming to pick him up.

6:30 - Before heading home after a busy day, Burke slides a slice of stale bread under the door of the storage closet where Richard Peddie has been kept chained and bound since November.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Burke fails to impress

So Brian Burke's first trade deadline with the Maple Leafs has come and gone, and it could be described as "underwhelming".

He had to trade pending UFAs Moore and Antropov, and he managed to get a couple of second rounders in return (the conditional pick in the Antropov deal is a fourth rounder that apparently only kicks in if the Rangers go to the semi-finals). And he added an additional pick from the Lightning.

Other than that, nothing. And in this case, nothing just isn't enough.

There were any number of rabbits Burke could have pulled out his hat today, and he came up empty:
  • Find somebody will to pay his ransom for Tomas Kaberle? Nope, although maybe you give a pass there due to the hand injury.
  • Trade a young-ish veteran like Ian White or Alex Ponikarovsky? Nope.
  • Find a GM in panic mode to take Jason Blake's contract off his hands? Nope.
  • Find a new home for veteran grinder Jamal Mayers? Nope.
  • Throw us all a curveball by doing something unexpected? Don't be silly.
He does get credit for an unusual deal with the Lightning that sees the Leafs essentially buy a fourth round pick and a middling prospect. That was at least creative, a sign that Burke was at least trying to make things happen.

In the end, all Burke managed to do with the current roster was move the team's only two UFAs. And he couldn't even get as much as he'd hoped for those two.

Not one single prospect to get excited about. No first round picks. No deals that will have any impact at all on next year's cap situation.

In fairness, the trading landscape in the NHL these days is a tough one. The cap made things hard, and the coming financial meltdown makes it worse. We were reminded of this a dozen times today. We get it.

But at the same time, just because the class is difficult doesn't mean the students get an A for showing up. If the job was going to be easy, Burke wouldn't be making the big bucks to do it.

Are the Leafs in significantly better long-term shape now than they were yesterday? Are they even significantly different than they were the day Burke took over? If so, I'm not seeing it.

And yes, over the next few days anyone who expected anything more than this will be lectured about having unrealistic expectations. The experts will shake their heads over dumb Leaf fans who actually thought that a rebuilding team would use the deadline to, you know, rebuild.

We'll be reminded that Burke isn't really a "deadline guy". Which is fine, when you're a buyer. But sellers needs to be deadline guys because that's when prices are highest. If Burke couldn't find a buyer today for more of his assets, then either he's not much of a salesman or the assets are in worse shape than we thought.

Either way, let's give Burke a C- on the day.

So what now? Well, first we ride out the last few weeks of the season. Then we sit through those games that come after the season -- can't remember what they're called, I think it starts with "p" but it's been a while.

And then on to the draft, which is the next day to get excited about on the Leaf calendar. The Leafs will have a chance to draft an elite prospect, and should be in a good position to move up if they choose. There will also be the window to move Kaberle or Kubina to any team in the league, and make any other deals that will continue the rebuild.

Or they may not do much at all. After all, maybe our expectations are too high.

Trade Deadline 2009 Liveblog

I'm a new Leaf. Kind of.
4:35 - That's going to do it for me. Thanks to everyone who stopped by today, and especially to everyone who contributed comments.

I'll be back later tonight with some additional thoughts on an underwhelming day.

4:20 - Have the Leafs acquired Olaf Kolzig? Burke is asked and won't deny it. Sounds like they've taken on his salary.

TSN is reporting: Leafs get Olaf Kolzig, Jamie Heward, Andy Rogers and a 4th rounder from Lightning for Richard Petoit.

Kolzig and Heward are hurt. Rogers is a semi-prospect, so the Leafs get him and a pick in exchange for taking on salary.

Sounds like this one will need some discussion with the NHL and may not be a sure thing to go through.

4:15 - Burke is kind of, sort of apologizing for his comments on Toskala being lazy in practice. But not really.

Premature to talk about Gerber for next year.

Says he can only call up four more guys before the end of the season, due to a "ridiculous, archaic, stupid rule".

Really hammering home the idea that they want to win as many games as they can.

4:10 - Burke says they "turned over every stone". He's not doing cartwheels, but he says it's a good day.

"I didn't get one phone call on Tomas Kaberle."

Going on and on about not asking players to waive their no-trades. I guess Kaberle did it on his own.

Says the summer will be a better time to put a stamp on the team.

Everyone is "scared to death of 2010-11" in terms of contracts and finances.

4:05 - Burke is addressing the media right now. He says there's a third deal that hasn't been announced, but it's "much smaller" and involves a minor leaguer.

Welcome to broadway.
3:35 - A few deals still dribbling in, but no indication of anything major coming.

I'll have a detailed reaction later tonight or tomorrow, but right now it's hard not to feel underwhelmed. On the one day of the year when team's can traditionally sell their assets for the highest possible price, the Leafs wound up with a handful of picks and two waiver pickups.

Yes, it was a tough market, and the buying frenzy we've seen in past years never materialized this time around. That made things difficult on Brian Burke. Then again, he didn't get that great big contract to do the easy stuff.

Think of this way: even with the Muskoka Five disaster, the Leafs arguably did better last year than this year. That's brutal, any way you slice it.

3:20 - TSN says the Leafs are officially done. Two waiver pickups, three drafts picks, and two veterans shipped out.

Did they do enough? Is it a disappointment? What do you guys think?

3:15 - The Moore deal is with Buffalo, for a second rounder.

Apparently the Poni story was false. Sure sounds like these two deals are going to be it for the day.

3:10 - The folks over at PPP are not happy about the Antropov deal. Is a second rounder enough? Tough to say. Word around the NHL is that some GMs thought Antropov was over-rated and wouldn't have been worth re-signing.

Oh wait, that was our GM who said that.

3:05 - TSN says a Moore deal is done. There also reports of Ponikarovsky going to Nashville but no confirmation.

3:00 - And the deadline has passed. But of course, plenty of deals will come in over the next hour or so.

TSN is reporting that Derek Morris has been dealt to the Rangers, and that the Panthers are going to keep Bouwmeester.

2:45 - Antropov to the Rangers per TSN. Apparently it's for a 2nd and a conditional pick.

TSN also says the Leafs are shopping Gerber. Good lord...

2:40 - TSN says the Leafs have been offered 2nd round picks for both Moore and Antropov, and are holding out for more.

Meanwhile, still no word on Jay Bouwmeester being dealt. That will be a horrible, horrible mistake by the Panthers.

2:35 - Digginto the comments...

Tom: "Who will be more disappointed at the end of the day: Leafs fans or Habs fans?"
DGB: Tough call. But of course, if those demanding Habs fans are disappointed then the Bell Centre will be empty, right?

Dan: "Whatever happened to Guerin and Morris?"
DGB: Guerin went to the Penguins. Morris is apparently close to going to the Flyers.

2:30 - Half an hour to go. Brian Burke is making $3M/year with the Leafs. He'll earn a big chunk of that in the next thirty minutes.

Any Leaf fans still holding out hope that this can be a good day?

2:20 - RDS.ca says Neil is going to the Panthers. Presumably Jacques Martin doesn't feel that he destroyed his manhood quite enough when they were both in Ottawa.

2:15 - Apparently the Wings and Sharks are bidding on Chris Neil. Does the loser make a play for Jamal Mayers?

2:00 - "Let's make it clear, having a no-trade clause doesn't seem to make it less likely that you will be traded, it just makes it more likely that you'll have to be asked." - Gord Wilson

"Hey Gord Wilson, go punch yourself in the groin." - Every Leaf fan watching

Don't look at us, Dom, we don't
know if you're traded either.
1:50 - TSN says the Leafs are denying that a Moore deal is done.

1:45 - The Moore story is apparently coming from Tim Wharnsby via the Globe web site. It's clearly true, since the Globe and Mail has made it known that spreading misinformation online is completely unacceptable.

1:40 - Reports are trickling in that Moore is headed to Chicago. No word on what's coming back, and no confirmation from TSN or Sportsnet yet.

1:20 - 100 minutes left until the deadline. So far the Leafs have picked up a bad goaltender and a so-so defenceman off of waivers. Nothing on Moore. Nothing on Antropov. Nothing on Mayers. And no indication of anything else even being discussed.

Time for a morale boost. If you need me, I'll be watching Wendel Clark highlights.

1:15 - So far the big movers are the Flames. The Jokinen deal is official - it's Jokinen and a 3rd from the Coyotes for Lombardi, prospect Brandon Prust and a conditional first rounder. Calgary also picked up Jordan Leopold for Lawrence Nycolat, Ryan Wilson and a 2nd.

Your move, Detroit and San Jose.

A rare photo of Martin Gerber with a puck
in front of him.
12:55 - Mystery solved. Vesa Toskala is going on IR and is done for the year.

Fine. So why exactly was he playing all week?

12:35 - Remember when you saw the first movie in the new Star Wars trilogy? Remember how excited you were, and how you were convinced it would be awesome? Then halfway through you were thinking "Um, this kind of sucks. I really hope this gets better towards the end, or else this whole thing might be a gigantic bust".

I'm kind of getting that vibe right now. You?

(Edit: Further similarities between the Star Wars movie and this trade deadline -- both involve a guy wearing a Darth Vader mask who sucks.)

12:15 - The Leafs have also apparently claimed defenceman Eric Reitz from the Rangers. I have never heard of this player before, so the only thing I can say about him definitely is that he's a better goalie than Martin Gerber.

12:10 - Bruce Garrioch: "Martin Gerber has been absolutely awful in Binghampton. He's been beyond bad... I don't know what the Maple Leafs are thinking. I thought Brian Burke was smarter than this."

12:05 - The Leafs have picked up Martin Gerber on waivers.

I don't even have a joke for this.

11:50 - The Penguins have just acquired Andy Wozniewski. I guess they're making a run for Tavares.

11:30 - TSN is reporting that Olli Jokinen to the Flames is all but done. The holdup may be finding salary cap room. Is this where Burke comes to the rescue to rent Calgary some cap room for a draft pick?

11:25 - From the predictions department: "Dominic Moore is playing so well that I'm going to give him a new nickname: Dominic 'Second Round Pick at the 2009 Deadline' Moore." - That was me, five months ago. Make it happen, Burke.

Too lazy to find a Coyotes photo
11:10 - Re: picks vs prospects.

Chris says: "In general, I would say this isn't a bad policy. However, considering the franchise players to be drafted this year and the fact that Toronto desperately needs new blood, Burke should be more willing to chase some draft picks." But Burke sounds like he doesn't think he can get even a late round first today. Would you still rather have a mid-second pick over a known prospect? Less risk, but less upside.

Tom says: "I disagree with this. If the prospect plays, for example, with Ottawa, then I'd rather have the draft pick." True, although it depends how long he's been there. If you scrub hard enough, you may be able to get the loser stench off.

11:00 - Via Chris Kontos at Cycle Like the Sedins: "Guaranteed, Brian Burke turns this franchise around in a season and half. I saw it with my own eyes across town. I hate you Brian Burke. He will pounce on any other GM who is willing to overpay in the slightest... and then get him to overpay even more."

10:35 - Burke on TSN: "A prospect who's a year away from playing is a better asset than a draft pick." What do you guys think? Agree? Disagree?

10:30 - Pascal Leclaire on being traded to Ottawa: "I've watched their games, and the building is always sold out."

In related news, Pascal Leclaire hasn't watched any Senators games since last year.

10:25 - Breaking news: while I did not win my Roll Up The Rim, I am being strongly encouraged to "please play again". So I must be on the right track.

10:10 - TSN is saying that talks with Moore have broken off, and that he will be traded.

10:00 - And now we have our first deal, with Ottawa sending Antione Vermette to Columbus for goalie Pascal Leclaire and a 2nd. Wonder if that takes the Jackets out of the Antropov running?

9:55 - Scratch Ottawa's Filip Kuba from the trade watch. The Sens have signed him to a 3-year extension at $3.7M/year. This will help fill the critical "be completely unnoticeable but pick up a second assist on a meaningless goal" role for Ottawa. They're apparently also closing in on signing Chris Neil.

James Duthie: "The team has had a horrible year, and now it sounds like there won't be any changes coming".

9:40 - Some talk in the comments about Jason Spezza. Here's my take: the Sens have done everything they could to ruin this kid. Yes, he's lazy. Yes, he hates to backcheck. But he has a ton of skill, and sometimes you just need to let a young kid play. Instead, the Sens wanted him to be a two-way player right away. That's just not how it works for most young players.

If the Sens had hired Pat Quinn (instead of hiring a teenager as coach to protect Bryan Murray's power base), Spezza could have been huge. As it is, I'm not sure he'll ever be as good as he can be on this team.

"You're getting traded today? Dude, me too!"
9:25 - OK, I'm back. I'm ready to dig into my Denny's grand slam takeout. When I was ordering it, I knew it was going to be a terrible mistake that I would regret for a long time, but I couldn't help myself. So I'm already in NHL GM mode.

Pierre McGuire on TSN just said that the Leafs should trade Dominic Moore. Stunning insight there. Meanwhile, the entire panel says that there's no way Burke can get a first rounder for Antropov.

8:00 a.m. - Welcome to the 2009 NHL Trade Deadline liveblog! Or, as it will be know starting at around 11:00, "that thing that somehow seemed like a really good idea on Monday".

Here's how it will work... I'll be updating this post all day long with news, views, rumors and blatant stalling tactics. New updates will go at the top of the post. That means you'll have to reload occasionally to see the latest content. Anyone viewing through the RSS feed should see updates, but you may be a few hours behind. I'll also be making occasional updates at twitter.com/downgoesbrown.

Please jump in to the comments section. I'll be posting and responding to some of the more interesting comments as the day goes on. And if you have trade deadline coverage on your own blog or a site you like, let me know and I'll head over and steal your ideas post a link.

Right now I'm heading out to take Baby Goes Brown to daycare (don't worry, I gave her my ipod touch so she could keep track of the deadline deals). Then it's off to Tim Hortons for a day's supply of coffee, and I should be back in time to really get going around 9:30.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Liveblogging tonight's Devils/Leafs game

Just a note that I'll be liveblogging tonight's game over at thescore.com.

Why is this important? Well, consider this:

Leafs average goals/game when I liveblog at thescore.com: 6.00
Leafs average goals/game, all other games this season: 2.93

Now if I understand statistical probabilities, and I think I do, that means the Leafs are absolutely guaranteed to light up Martin Brodeur tonight. The only question remaining is whether they'll also spray snow in his face.

Feel free to drop by tonight at 7:30 to discuss the game, the deadline, or anything else:

And don't forget about tomorrow's Trade Deadline liveblog, which will kick off shortly after 8:00 a.m.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Burke can't lose his nerve now

With less than 48 hours to go until the most important trade deadline in recent Leafs history, some of us are getting cold feet. There's a lot of talk out there about keeping this guy or that guy, about players who may have earned the right to stay, and about not expecting all that many deals after all.

Stop it.

We knew this day was coming. We knew the deadline would spell the end of this team as we know it. This is no time to be losing our nerve and talking ourselves out of what needs to be done.

Here's what we know: The Leafs are a bad team this year. All signs point to them being just as bad next year, if not worse. With a little luck, the team could be good in 2010-11, if you consider contending for a playoff spot to be "good". Some people would call even that view incredibly optimistic, and it is, but it's the best-case scenario right now.

So that means that there are two, and only, reasons not to trade any player on this roster right now:

  1. The player could be an important contributor to a winning team in 2010. Not just a spare part, but a critical piece of a winner.
    - or -
  2. The player could have significantly more value in a trade some time between now and then
That's it. If a guy doesn't belong in one of those two categories, then Burke should be burning up the phone lines trying to trade him.

And it won't come as any great shock to hear that most of the current roster doesn't fit into either of those two slots.

Tomas Kaberle fits into both categories. He's an elite player on a very good long-term contract, and Burke seems to be playing his cards perfectly. If a team is willing to overpay, make the move. If not, hold onto him until somebody will, or until the team is good enough to win with him.

There are a handful of other guys in category #1. Luke Schenn is the obvious one. I'd put Pogge and Kulemin there too, and probably Grabovski although I'm still not sold on him. Beyond that, maybe Hagman's solid production and long-term deal makes him a keeper.

The only player I see fitting into category #2 is Vesa Toskala. While Toskala has had some success in the NHL, he's been lousy this year and his value is nearing zero. Hold onto him, and hope he turns it around in time to be traded at next year's deadline.

That's it, as far as I can see. Burke should be shopping everyone else. Aggressively.

Nik Antropov has to go, of course, unless Burke was bluffing about not resigning him. Pavel Kubina should go too, although it sounds like that will happen in the summer. And if anybody so much as starts to make an offer for Jason Blake, Burke should have the paperwork faxed into the NHL before they finish their sentence.

Mayers, Ponikarovsky, Stajan... all nice players, all solid contributors, none worth holding on to if a decent offer comes along. Same goes for Ian White, moustache and all, if Burke can get an offer he likes.

Which brings us to Dominic Moore.

Moore sounds like a nice guy and he seems to desperately want to continue his career in Toronto. That's wonderful. Burke should be in touch when free agency opens on July 1.

But Moore's trade value is as high now as it will ever be. Punch his ticket. And as many of his teammates as possible right along with him.

Now none of this means that we should expect a dozen trades on Wednesday. And it doesn't mean Burke shouldn't demand fair value, and walk away from any deal where he can't get it. Not every guy I mention will be dealt -- you still need to ice a team.

But it does mean that it's not unrealistic to expect four or five deals between now and the deadline. Anything less will leave fans demanding answers, no matter how hard Burke seems to be working to lower expectations leading up to the big day.

Steve at hockeyanalysis is on the same page, and he worries that Burke may be getting sucked in by the recent win streak. The GM's (seemingly endless) recent media appearances seem to support that. I think it's an act. I hope it's an act.

Remember: This is a bad team, and a short win streak doesn't change that.

"Stay the course" is no course at all. Pull the pin, Burkie. Fire in the hole.

Live-Blogging the Trade Deadline

A quick note before I go back to frantically googling "Joe Colborne"...

I'll be live-blogging the Trade Deadline all-day Wednesday. This is the most important day of the year on the Leafs calendar, and I'll have thoughts on every move, non-move, rumor, made-up rumor, and e5 right up until my bladder gives out.

Be sure to check in frequently so you can fully appreciate my descent from optimism to disappointment to betrayal to alcoholism. And that's just before noon!

The live-blog will kick off first thing Wednesday morning. Hope to see you there.