Sunday, November 29, 2009

One year of Brian Burke: A look back

Brian Burke
Rare footage of Brian Burke
speaking to the media.
This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of Brian Burke being named general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's been an eventful year, with some highs and a few lows.

So break out the party hats and balloons, and let's take a look at some of the highlights of Burke's first year in Toronto.

November 29, 2008 - While outlining his strategy at his first press conference as general manager, Burke delivers his infamous quote about "proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence". Confused Leaf fans rush to their dictionaries, and are disappointed to discover that every one of those words means "terrible goaltending".

December 6, 2008 - Dave Nonis joins the Leafs front office, assuming the newly created position of "Vice President In Charge of Tampering With The Vancouver Canucks".

February 23, 2009 - Burke receives a call from Eklund alerting him that someone is impersonating him on Twitter. An enraged Burke immediately summons his lawyers and top advisors, loudly demanding to know who the hell gave Eklund his phone number.

March 4, 2009 - Trade deadline day. Despite high hopes that he could trade one or more of his top line players, Burke's plans are thwarted when he realizes other team's have actually seen the Leafs play.

April 6, 2009 - Burke names Ron Wilson the coach of Team USA's Olympic squad. Burke explains the choice by noting that Wilson has extensive experience, has coached internationally, and will have lots of time to work on gameplans since he'll be unemployed by mid-December.

April 14, 2009 - Burke surprises observers by emphatically declaring that he thinks the Leafs will make the playoffs in '09-10, although in fairness, he never specifies which millennium.

June 19, 2009 - In an effort to impress free agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson during a visit to Toronto, Burke arranges the Leafs' dressing room to highlight the team's goaltending history. Gustavsson is impressed to see Johnny Bower's jersey hanging by the entrance, Terry Sawchuk's jersey hanging in a corner, and Vesa Toskala's jersey hanging from a bathroom stall toilet paper dispenser.

June 22, 2009 - At the NHL draft, Burke turns down a proposed Kaberle-for-Kessel trade by explaining to Peter Chiarelli that the he won't include a first round pick in the deal. Chiarelli responds "Oh, don't worry, you won't be trading a first round pick for Kessel", and then laughs like Emperor Palpatine for fifteen straight minutes until a confused Burke finally hangs up on him.

July 1, 2009 - With minutes to go before the noon deadline, Daniel and Henrik Sedin each agree to an extension with the Vancouver Canucks. They then throw open the curtains on their Stockholm apartment window, revealing Burke standing awkwardly in the street below holding a boombox.

July 25, 2009 - Dave Poulin's interview for a front office position is marred by an uncomfortable silence after Poulin compliments Burke on the incredibly lifelike replica of Richard Peddie's head he has mounted in his office.

September 18, 2009 - Burke completes the long-rumored trade for Kessel. While many observers criticize the deal for including two first round picks, Burke defends the move by correctly pointing out that the Leafs wouldn't have drafted anyone good anyways.

November 24, 2009 - Burke's son Brendan announces that he is gay, with his father's full support. Leaf fans are thrilled, recognizing this as the only chance they'll ever have to see Brian Burke take part in a parade.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ten reasons the Maple Leafs might fire Carlton the Bear

Carlton the Bear
Hit the bricks, loser.
According to Sportsnet, which is a mainstream media organization with strict editorial standards and would therefore not be wrong about something like this, the Maple Leafs have fired Carlton the Bear. (Update: Carlton himself denies it.)

And while this news may come as a shock to some, sources tell me it's actually been in the making for some time. In fact, Carlton's employee file lists ten problems that contributed to his termination.

Thanks to my spies at the ACC, here's a full list of the reasons behind Carlton's dismissal.
  • Timing made sense, since comprehensive no-movement clause given to him by John Ferguson Jr. finally expired.

  • Signature "look" of a dark blue Maple Leafs jersey and no pants was widely acknowledged to have been stolen from Larry Tanenbaum.

  • Lingering bitterness over that time he killed and ate Vesa Toskala's glove hand.

  • Was never quite the same after his long-standing franchise raw fish eating record was shattered by Kyle Wellwood.

  • Turns out it was his idea to get Alan Frew to record a song about the Leafs.

  • The Blue Jays got rid of BJ Birdie in 1999, and MLSE has seen how well that worked out for them.

  • Despite being a seven-foot-tall polar bear, still whimpered like a girl every time Colton Orr made eye contact.

  • During course of a typical home game, repeatedly violated MLSE's strict employee policy of never intentionally interacting with any fans, ever.

  • Team must respect clause in Jason Blake's contract stipulating that he always be the palest person in the organization.

  • The team has only five wins all year; obviosuly someone has to be held accountable.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wendel Clark wants you to show some heart

Leafs fan
Hey cool, his fist still has little
bits of McSorley's skull on it.

Photo credit: Roger Hallett
Maple Leaf fans spend a lot of time talking about heart. We've celebrated the heart and soul guys who've worn the blue and white. We've had our heart broken by Kerry Fraser. And we watch the "All Heart" video every hour on the hour. Or at least I do.

Unfortunately, Leaf fans also know a little bit about heart problems. In recent years we've seen Luca Cereda's career-ending congenital heart defect, Pat Quinn's playoff arrhythmia scare, and Jonas Gustavsson's ablation. Only the JFJ-era teams seemed to escape heart problems, since Ferguson made sure none of the players he acquired actually had one.

This year, why not show a little heart of your own by helping out a great cause?

The Hockey for Heart tournament is the creation of Rob Weir. In 1993, Rob watched his father Roger die of a heart attack during a game of pickup hockey. Roger hadn't realized he had a heart condition. He was 46.

Rob launched Hockey for Heart in 1995 as a four-team tournament that raised $1,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Since then the tournament has expanded across Ontario and has raised over $890,000. Along the way, the tournament has had help from hockey royalty such as Johnny Bower (Roger's all-time favorite player), Darryl Sittler, Peter Zezel and Walter Gretzky.

Oh, and did I mention Wendel Clark?

Yes, Mr. All Heart himself is on board. He's been involved in the project for three years, and will be back this year for several tournaments.

This year's schedule begins in January and features stops in Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton and ten more cities.

Wendel Clark wants you to help out. You know what you have to do.

Here's how it works: Teams or individual players can register for their local tournament. Everyone gets three games (no contact, no slappers, just a rec-level fun time). Players raise money through sponsorships, and the top fund-raisers for each tourney get to take the ice for a special game against a team of pros and celebrities.

And yes, that means that you personally could wind up sharing a rink with Wendel Clark. If that opportunity doesn't get your attention, I'm not sure what you're doing on this site.

How you can help:
  • Visit the Hockey For Heart web site for a schedule of tournaments locations and other details
  • If there's a tournament near you, put a team together
  • If you can't get a full team, sign up to play as an individual (they'll find a team for you)
  • If you know somebody who's playing, sponsor them.
  • And if there's no tournament near you, why not show your support via Rob's player donation page?
I know Leaf fans have heart. Let's take this opportunity to prove it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alexander Ovechkin's other excuses for not lighting up the Maple Leafs

Rare photo of Ovechkin not scoringSaturday night's game didn't quite go they way hockey fans were expecting. With Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps in town to play the last-place Leafs, a blowout seemed inevitable. When it was announced that struggling Vesa Toskala would start for Toronto, even the most die-hard Leaf fans was expecting the Caps to hit double digits.

It didn't happen. Instead, Ovechkin managed a goal but was largely shutdown by the Leafs during an upset 2-1 win for the home side.

Adding to the mystery was Ovechkin's bizarre post-game excuse: that he "couldn't breathe" due to the "atmosphere" inside the ACC. Yes, he really did say that.

Well, it gets even stranger. Because as it turns out, the ACC's suffocating atmosphere was only one of several excuses Ovechkin offered for failing to light up the Leafs as expected. Apparently the local papers didn't print them all due to lack of space, but I've reproduced the full list below.

  • Had specifically requested his special "too hot to handle" sticks for the game; instead, sticks were only slightly above normal temperature.

  • Entire Caps team was thrown off when, despite the tendencies they had noted during hours of film study, Vesa Toskala occasionally moved.

  • Paid too much attention to the fans in the ACCs' lower bowl, leading him to assume the pre-game moment of silence was still going on three hours later.

  • Was initially intimidated upon learning that the Leafs had spent $24M on their defence; had mistakenly assumed it might include some good players.

  • Found it hard to concentrate after suddenly getting that "Ovechkin-Laichs-Semin" joke.

  • Didn't want to single-handedly humiliate Ron Wilson and Brian Burke with completely unstoppable and dominating performance; saving that for Olympics.

  • Would have scored more, but Jonas Gustavsson kept making sprawling glove saves from the bench.

  • Has been scared to score ever since seeing this.

  • During pre-game chat, Jason Blake assured him that first-line wingers could float through games in Toronto with absolutely no consequences.

  • Hasn't quite adjusted to the NHL's brand new "Alexander Ovechkin can't just go around slewfooting everyone" rule.

  • Had heard a rumor that if the game went to a shootout, entire Leafs roster would embarrass themselves with a ridiculously demeaning attempt at rally caps.

  • Um, pretty much the same reason Lebron James doesn't dunk on the wheelchair basketball guys.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The 10 types of Leaf fans (and how to deal with them)

Leafs fan
Blake has how many years left?
If you're a Leaf fan, you're not reading this because it's too hard to make out the words when your eyes are encrusted by day-old tears of blood.

But what if you're not a Leaf fan? Well, two things. First, lucky you. And second, there's a good chance you'll still have to deal with one of us eventually. And that's bad news, because these days Leaf fans are probably the most pathetic and depressing group of people you could imagine.

We know it. And we know that it has to be awkward to run into one of us. After all, what can you say? What could you possibly do to make one of wretched souls feel better about this mess? How can you avoid accidentally saying the wrong thing and winding up with your picture on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper?

It's not easy. But there is a right way and a wrong way to approach a Leafs fan these days. And the crucial first step is to figure out what type of Leaf fan you're dealing with. After all, we're a pretty varied group.

I'm here to help. So I've created this handy guide that separates Leafs nation into ten distinct groups. Use this information to figure out what type of fan you've encountered, and then follow my advice to avoid making a bad situation even worse.

Mr. Mood Swing
Description - This guy's entire mood is based around the most recent Leaf game. Or period. Or shift. When they win, he's convinced everything could still be OK. When they lose, he's despondent. When they lose in overtime, he's not sure how to feel. Thanks, Bettman.
How to recognize him - The wall behind his television has a lot of beer bottle sized holes in it.
What to do if you see one - Assuming the Leafs recently lost (and let's face it, they did), pull the fire alarm and flee the building.

The Self Loather
Description - This guy hates himself, and wants to be miserable. He craves pain, since its icy sting is the only thing that reminds him he's alive. So naturally, he's chosen to become a Leafs fan.
How to recognize him - You'll find him in his natural habitat: writing positive comments on Damien Cox blog posts.
What to do if you see one - This is the only type of Leaf fan that you're allowed to discuss the most recent loss with. Also, make a mental note to buy him Leafs Abomination for Christmas.

"Truculence" Guy
Description - A small but tragic group. Due to an acute exposure level to off-season Brian Burke soundbites, they're no longer able to form a complete sentence without using the word "truculence". (Note: Every single Leaf fan went through this phase in September, but most have pulled out of it.)
How to recognize him - He owns a Colton Orr jersey.
What to do if you see one - Do not, under any circumstances, ask him what the word means. He doesn't know, and you might wind up getting your face Matt Carkner-ized.

"Just One Cup" Guy
Description - This fan has already cut a deal: he wants to see the Leafs win one Stanley Cup before he dies. Just one. This little Faustian bargain gives him a sense of inner peace since he knows he has time, and the laws of probability, working in his favor.
How to recognize him - He says things like "wait 'til next decade".
What to do if you see one - Ask him if he enjoyed Bill Simmons' "Now I Can Die in Peace", which he's guaranteed to have read.

"Just One Cup" Guy Who's Getting Older
Description - A subset of the "Just One Cup" Guy group, this Leaf fan is between the ages of 30 and 42. He's never seen the Leafs win a Cup, but always just assumed that he would some day. But now he's getting older, he's sore in the morning for no reason, and he has hair growing out of his ears. And he's starting to worry.
How to recognize him - Every time the Leafs lose, he does an hour on the treadmill.
What to do if you see one - Tell him you read a fascinating article about cryonic suspension.

The Youngster
Description - This Leaf fan is young. He vaguely remembers the Pat Burns era, has no memory of Harold Ballard, and is still getting used to not having Mats Sundin around.
How to recognize him - He doesn't have that beaten-down Mel Gibson mugshot look in his eyes that every other Leaf fan does.
What to do if you see one - Leave him alone. He'll be miserable like the rest of us in a few years.

The Bandwagon Jumper
Description - This guy is a diehard Leaf fans... as long as they're winning. He loved the Burns era, and was a big fan of Pat Quinn. He has no idea that Kirk Muller ever played for the Leafs, but he owns three Doug Gilmour jerseys. He swears he's a Leaf fan, but admits that he also has a few other favorite teams. He probably cheered for the Senators in 2007.
How to recognize him - Right now? You won't.
What to do if you see one - Stab him. Repeatedly.

The Fixer
Description - This guy wants the Leafs to win, and they would, dammit, if they'd just listen to him. He has the blueprint all laid out. And he wants to tell you all about it. In detail.
How to recognize him - He's probably posting a trade proposal thread at right now.
What to do if you see one - Listen patiently to his explanation of why a Stajan/Blake/White package could probably land Ilya Kovalchuk and a pick, nod pensively, then encourage him to phone a radio call-in show to reach a wider audience.

The Delusional Idiot
Description - This fan sincerely believes that the Leafs will win the Stanley Cup every year. No matter how bad things are, how thin the roster, how glaringly obvious the holes are to anyone who can breathe through their nose -- this guy is utterly convinced that ultimate glory is right around the corner. He thinks that nobody associated with the Leafs can do any wrong, and will never criticize the team. When the team wins two games in a row, this pathetic loser runs around shouting "Plan the parade!"
How to recognize him - You won't. He's a fictional character created by Howard Berger.
What to do if you see one - Tell him to say hi to the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Berger's limo driver.

The Realist
Description - This guy is a true blue fan. But unlike the unfair various stereotypes of the passionate fan, he's still able to view the world objectively. His longterm outlook isn't clouded by short-term emotional swings, but rather by a steeley-eyed realism based on a rational analysis of the Toronto Maple Leafs' current performance and chances for future success.
How to recognize him - He shot himself after the Calgary game.
What to do if you see one - Try to wait until after the holidays before you hit on his girlfriend.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Maple Leafs 80s night: a sneak peek

OK, hold up one finger for
every winning season.
On Saturday night, the Leafs will host the Calgary Flames. In keeping with the club's new Mandatory Pre-Game Ceremony policy, the game has been designated "80's Night".

Much like the recent Maple Leafs 90s Night, 20 former players will be honored during the pre-game skate. Fans can vote on their favorites from the decade by visiting a page on the Leafs' official web site that is also the #1 result if you run a google search for "unbelievably awesome moustaches".

But it goes without saying that a night this important will include far more than just a few retro jerseys. In fact, the night will feature several nods to the Maple Leafs of the 1980s. Here are just a few:
  • Allan Bester will be honored with a highlight video, drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff, and then immediately take Vesa Toskala's roster spot.

  • One lucky fan will win a 1982 AMC Eagle.

  • Brian Burke will reveal that his entire strategy for making the playoffs this year hinged on recording a 52-point season and finishing one point ahead of the Minnesota North Stars.

  • A special scoreboard video will celebrate the careers of blue chip Leafs defensive prospects like Jim Benning, Gary Nylund and Drake Berehowsky, after which Luke Schenn will proceed to center ice and hang himself.

  • Fans in the upper section will only have to pay $12 to get in. The other $288 will be paid on the way out.

  • In the spirit of every other Leafs/Flames game from the 1980s, fans will be encouraged to boo the hell out of that annoying little bastard Doug Gilmour.

  • For the entire game the ACC will only feature cheesy music from the 1980s, instead of only featuring cheesy music from the 1990s like they normally do.

  • Half-price hot dogs for all fans named "Mirko".

  • A random draw will be held to select one of the organization's talented young forward prospects, who will immediately be traded to the Habs for George Laraque.

  • MLSE president Richard Peddie will give a presentation titled "The Harold Ballard era of incompetent, meddling, morale-destroying ownership: Hey, good thing we don't have to deal with that anymore, am I right?"

  • Any Maple Leaf player wearing a jersey number in the 80s will be excused from all physical play and backchecking duties for the entire game.

  • Floyd Smith will remind everyone that trading your first round pick is probably a bad idea if you plan to finish last overall.

  • Nazem Kadri will appear via satellite to point out that, just like every other player the Leafs will ever draft from now on, he wasn't even alive in the 1980s. There will then be a moment of silence for the rest of us to ponder how old we suddenly feel.

  • The team will promise not to win a Stanley Cup for at least 25 or 30 more years.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The NHL's top secret flow chart for handing out suspensions

The NHL's discipline policy has been in the news again lately. We've seen various incidents involving Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Richards, Curtis Glencross, Colton Orr and others, not to mention the OHL's season-long ban to Mike Liambas.

And as always, the NHL's suspension decisions have been criticized. It's the usual refrain: discipline is handed out haphazardly, almost randomly, and there doesn't seem to be any sort of consistency.

Nonsense. The criticism is unfair and unfounded. The NHL has a clear policy when it comes to suspensions, and the policy is followed faithfully. The league just hasn't decided to share it. So I'm doing it for them.

Yes, I have a copy of the NHL's discipline policy. And given recent events, I think it's only fair that hockey fans everywhere get to see it.

So here, straight from the desk of Colin Campbell himself, is the super top secret policy for handing out suspensions:

By the way, it should go without saying that this policy applies only in the regular season. There's a separate policy for the post-season, which can be found here:

There. So much for "random suspensions". Don't you all feel silly now?

Other DGB posts like this one:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Leafs vs. Wings - My night at the ACC

Photography is hard.
Saturday night, I was at the ACC to watch the Leafs take on the Red Wings.

This was a big deal. While I did manage to make semi-regular trips to Maple Leaf Gardens, I've been living in Ottawa for the entire ACC era. I got to one game in the early days, but nothing since.

So this game marked only the second time in a decade that I've seen the Leafs play a home game. Unless you count every game they play in Ottawa. Which I do.

An occasion like this deserves a play-by-play. So here's an in-person breakdown of the Leafs first home win of the season.

6:50: We settle into our seats. The fans around me for this evening will include: "Guy who keeps yelling 'MONSTER' after every Gustavsson save"; "Guy who ends every sentence with the word 'yo' "; and "Guy who complains 'he cost us our future' every time any current or former Leaf is shown on the scoreboard"

And finally there's... well, there's really no nice way to say this... there's "nice young female Red Wings fan who doesn't seem to realize she's showing the entire section her butt crack every time she stands up". She's sitting directly in front of me, by the way.

On the bright side, the preceding paragraph was the first one in history to include "Red Wings" and "crack" but not "Bob Probert".

6:55 - True story: my phone refuse to connect to twitter from within the ACC. You win this round, Burkie.

6:58 - The Leafs show a clever pre-game video highlighting the eight-decade rivalry between the Leafs and Wings. It somehow leaves out Mike Foligno and Nikolai Borschevsky, but it does include a shot of Wendel Clark pummelling Probert, so I'll give it a B+.

7:00 - The Hall of Fame ceremony begins, with the introduction of various living Hall of Famers.

9:15: The Hall of Fame ceremony ends.

(I kid, I kid. Great ceremony. We all enjoyed every second of it.)

7:05 - Brian Leetch is introduced to the crowd. "He cost us our future!" protests the guy behind me, in his best Adam Sandler's mother voice. I can see his point. Maxim Kondratiev and Jarkko Immonen turned out to be awesome.

7:07 - The inductees drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. The Leafs are represented by Johnny Mitchell, in what may be the single best argument for maybe picking a real captain once and for all some time soon.

7:10 - The ceremony ends. All the inductees leave the center ice area, except for Brett Hull who circles around waiting for a breakaway pass instead of backchecking.

7:12 - Your referee for tonight's game: Kerry Fraser! I immediately start trying to figure out how many security guards I could fight off. Answer: zero.

7:15 - The game begins. Our seats are in the corner, four rows back of the glass. I'm literally a few feet from the ice, watching everything from the comfort of my seat. I feel like Vesa Toskala.

7:35 - The Leafs get on the board first, as Wayne Primeau beats Chris Osgood cleanly on a two-on-one. I'm not an NHL goaltending coach, but I'm pretty sure "getting beat clean by Wayne Primeau" isn't a good sign for the rest of the night.

7:42 - Gustavsson looks sharp tonight. "MONSTER" guy two rows behind me is already getting hoarse.

7:50 - I get to see Phil Kessel's first goal as a Leaf from about 20 feet away, as he swats home a Jason Blake shot that was going to go in anyways. This leads to an awkward post-goal celebration right in front of us, as Kessel apologizes and Blake pretends he doesn't care, then barely fights off the urge to smash his stick over Kessel's head as soon as his back is turned.

7:52 - Speaking of Jason Blake, is his "Come on Toronto, let's make some noise!" scoreboard appearance available as a standalone DVD? Because I'll buy it. Seriously, MLSE, name your price.

7:58 - The first period ends. Time to go figure out what everyone in the platinum seats is doing during intermission that keeps them from getting to their seats in time for the start of the next period.

8:03 - Fun fact: the restaurant below the platinum section serves a "Platinum Burger" that costs $38. It comes with foie gras torchon, sautéed shallots, and a picture of the starving African child you could have fed for a month with $38.

8:06 - People are walking into the restaurant, sitting down and ordering full course meals. During the first intermission. I'm seriously considering flipping over some tables.

8:11 - On the way back to our seats, we walk by the fabled platinum lounges. These underground bunkers can best be described as standard NHL luxury boxes, but without an actual view of the ice. For many hockey fans, that would be considered a problem. The folks at the ACC don't seem to notice.

8:15 - The teams switch sides for the second period, meaning Jonas Gustavsson will be guarding the net right in front of us. So if you're hoping to read any more close-up descriptions of goals, you're going to need to skip ahead.

8:27 - Jeff Finger scores to put the Leafs ahead 3-0. First Primeau, now Finger? If Rickard Wallin scores tonight, Osgood may hang himself.

8:32 - Every time Kessels on the ice, "He cost us our future" guy is borderline apoplectic. I'm desperately trying to think of a way to get within earshot and casually mention the Owen Nolan trade.

8:35 - Highlight of the period: Gustavsson freezes a shoot-in with his glove. After a delayed whistle, referee Eric Furlatt skates over to have an extended conversation with Gustavsson about delay of game rules. A few seconds into discussion, Gustavsson turns away, rolls his eyes, and pretends to be deeply interested in his water bottle. Furlatt keeps talking to the back of his head, leading to Mike Komisarek eventually coming over and subtley steering him out of the crease. As far as I know, Furlatt is still lecturing Gustavsson from Philadelphia right now.

8:50 - "MONSTER" guy is looking a little flush.

8:55 - Second intermission. Under advice from my doctor, I decide to stay in my seat.

9:17 - The Wings pull to within 3-1 on an early goal by Dan Cleary. I call the ACC game day staff and cancel my "Jonas, will you marry me?" scoreboard message.

9:28 - The Leafs restore the three goal lead when John Mitchell tips in a Phil Kessel shot. Wait, no, that wasn't accurate, let me try again: Phil Kessel's shot happens to hit John Mitchell's stick on the way into the net. Seriously, Mitchell had no idea. He stole that move from me, by the way. Except instead of going into the net, the puck ricochets into the corner. And instead of my stick, it's usually my groin.

9:32 - Gustavsson crosses the 30-save mark. "MONSTER" guy is no longer wearing pants.

9:36 - Despite a lifetime of attending live sporting events, I've never caught a puck or a foul ball. But my luck may be changing. Tonight, I caught Jason Williams' fibula.

9:45 - During the dying moments, Gustavsson skates over the Leafs bench, punches Toskala in the face, and returns to his crease in time to stop a 3-on-0.

9:50 - The final buzzer sounds, and Osgood storms off the ice. Or, more accurately, he storms over to the door leading off the ice -- and then gets rejected by an usher, who refuses to open the door because there's going to be a post-game ceremony and the Red Wings aren't allowed to leave yet. Apparently nobody told them.

So we get to see the entire Wings team forced to line up on the blue line to watch Gustavsson get "player of the game" honors. As Gustavsson awkwardly tries to figure out how to accept a trophy from Johnny Bower, the Wings look at each other with "wait, are we allowed to leave yet?" expressions on their face. High comedy.

10:00 - We file out of the ACC. After an almost ten-year absence, I've witnessed Kessel's first goal, Gustavsson's best game, and the first Leafs home win in seven months.

Is all of that completely, utterly, 100% due to me being there? No, of course not. The real percentage is probably only in the 80-90% range.

But let's not take any chances, ACC -- get those comped season tickets in the mail now. I'll be there for you. I'm all about the team.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Phil Kessel is amazing and that makes me sad

Maybe I'll pass to Blake.
Oh man, I crack myself up.
Phil Kessel made his debut for the Leafs tonight. You may have heard about it, since there were apparently one or two media stories about the whole thing.

The best line of the night came via twitter from @Archimedies, who observed that "Phil Kessel plays like an NHL10 Be A Pro". And he does. Specifically, he plays like me playing Be A Pro. I kept waiting for Kessel to stay on the ice for an entire period, score twice into an empty net and then start a fight with three seconds left to pad his PIM totals.

The Leafs' game plan for Kessel is apparently to play every second shift, generally ignore his linemates, and shoot at every opportunity from every angle.

And here's the thing: I don't think that's a bad plan.

Because even after just a few shifts, it was obvious that Phil Kessel is easily the best player on this team. His game sense is excellent. His release is lightning fast. He has that unteachable ability to drift into exactly the right spot at exactly the right moment.

No, he didn't score tonight. But if he plays like this every night, he'll get his 35 goals easily, and maybe a lot more.

And for those of us still aboard the Leafs bandwagon (or, as it will be known from this point on, the "Kessel Vessel"), that makes tonight a mixed blessing. Because the good news is that Phil Kessel is far better than any other forward the Leafs have to offer.

The bad news is that... well... Phil Kessel is far better than any other forward the Leafs have to offer.

Watching a talent like Kessel go to work, it's hard not to notice the skill gap between him and so-called frontline talent like Mikhail Grabovski or Matt Stajan. The contrast was unmistakable on virtually every shift. It was enough to make me want to take the pen I was using to write "Mrs. Down Goes Gustavsson" in little hearts on my three-ring binder and jam it into my eye.

In short, it's the difference between a true first line talent, and a guy who happens to play on the first line because, well, somebody has to. Kessel is the former. Everyone else on the roster is the latter.

And we knew this already, or course. But we could pretend. Not any more. Not with Kessel buzzing around, reminding us of what a good player actually looks like.

So yes, Phil Kessel seems like the real deal, an elite talent. But he brings the grand total of Leaf forwards in that category to one. And tonight was a reminder that the rest of the bunch aren't even close.

And that's why this team, even with a healthy Phil Kessel, still isn't good enough to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning at home.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ron Wilson's 15-point plan for fixing the Maple Leafs

Ron Wilson
It could be worse.
[Checks standings.]
Wait, I was wrong.
OK, so maybe October didn't go quite as well as it could have.

But that's fine, because now it's November (when it matters). And while some might point out that the Leafs have already fallen so far behind a playoff pace that the rest of the season if essentially futile, I remain optimistic. Because the Leafs still have Ron Wilson, and Ron Wilson has a plan.

How do I know? Because I've seen it. DGB spies found it in his office in a folder labeled "super top secret" and they were kind enough to send me a copy. And because I know that loyal Leaf fans could use some reassurance that everything is under control, I'm reprinting it here.

Here's Ron Wilson's 15-point plan for getting the Leafs back on track:
  • Have goaltending coaches work extensively with Vesa Toskala on positioning. Specifically, how to position his ass on the end of the bench for the remainder of the season.

  • Reconsider season-long policy of having the team's penalty kill strategy organized by the NHLPA executive committee.

  • Keep reminding Brian Burke that coaching a team full of overmatched losers who suffer crushing defeat in every game they play will actually end up being invaluable experience once the Olympics start.

  • From now on, before every game each member of the starting lineup must eat a hair from Ian White's moustache.

  • Look through pockets of pants we were wearing on July 1, see if we can find the receipt for Mike Komisarek.

  • Get everyone's mind off of current slump by taking entire team to see the big-budget Hollywood blockbuster "2012", which is presumably the true story of the Leafs' next decent draft pick.

  • I don't know, maybe ask Luke Schenn to not suck so much this year?

  • Continue to send guys like Stalberg, Bozak and Tlusty to the minors if they don't perform, sending a clear and unmistakable message that roster spots on this team must be earned (assuming you're a rookie, and not a veteran third-liner, in which case don't worry about it.)

  • Practices will no longer include an intensive drill called "How to take a lazy, momentum-killing holding penalty at the worst possible time".

  • Continue with brilliant scheme of winning one game in October, two in November, four in December and so on. By the time foolish opposition realizes our plan, we'll have clinched a playoff spot thanks to 64-win April.

  • Send Jason Blake home from practice with suggestion that he get some well-deserved rest. Then, when he's napping, quietly move his bed into the 401 collector lane.

  • Have players spend time in soundproof hyperbaric chambers to better prepare them for the atmosphere during home games at the ACC.

  • New practice drill: pointing at Tomas Kaberle and yelling "Everyone be like him!"

  • Make sure Phil Kessel understands that despite mounting pressure due to fan and media expectations, it's actually completely fine if he doesn't score a goal on a particular shift as long as he remembers to come back and score two on the next one.

  • Work on resume.