Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Top 10 Dougie Moments

Back in November, when the Leafs honored Wendel Clark by raising his #17 to the rafters, I spent the entire month huddled in a remote cabin typing non-stop. The end result was the Top 17 Wendel Moments list, which is currently being bound into a 32-volume series that will be sold door-to-door. I may have gone a little overboard.

With Doug Gilmour getting his turn in the spotlight tonight, I haven't done a similar tribute to my second favorite Leaf of all-time. I did toy with the idea of doing a Top 93 Dougie Moments list, but then I did the math and realized I would have had to have started in October. Also, my wife threatened to leave me.

But I just can't let the moment pass without putting something together. So while this list isn't meant to be definitive, here's my own personal Doug Gilmour top 10.

#10 - Don't fear the Reaper

This was one of Gilmour's first games as a Leaf. Late in the game, Bryan Marchment got a little too snippy with Wendel Clark, leading to Steve Smith's face exploding and, eventually, Stu Grimson going insane.

Watch at 4:00, as Gilmour executes an open field tackle, followed by what appears to be a german suplex.



Side note: I think this is the fourth time in less than a year that I've used this clip in a post. I may have a problem.

#9 - The Cow Legs

You know, I'm sure this seemed like a good idea at the time.



#8 - The Interview

Dougie always was great with the media.



#7 - The Elbow

Late in game one of the 1993 conference finals, Gilmour cut across the blue line and found himself on the receiving end of a Marty McSorley elbow. The hit dropped Gilmour to the ice for several moments, although luckily he wasn't seriously hurt on the play.

Why is this a Doug Gilmour highlight? Well, it's not, but it is an excuse to show this:



Good times.

#6 - The Head Butt

I'm a little hazy on the exact details, but at some point after their playoff run-in Gilmour crossed paths with McSorley again. They went nose-to-nose (OK, nose-to-chest), McSorley said something, and Gilmour head-butted him.

Now, it is technically true that there is an obscure and rarely enforced NHL rule against head-butting somebody in the face. But I defend Gilmour here, since a.) McSorley clearly deserved it, and b.) he was probably momentarily thrown off my the fact that half of McSorley's face was still missing, thanks to Wendel Clark.

I'm pretty sure Gilmour also head-butted Enrico Ciccone at one point. That one's a little harder top justify, but I think Dougie was just mad at him for using an obviously fake name stolen from a bad mafia movie.

#5 - For Your Consideration

Gilmour's 1992-93 season was the best any Leaf has had, ever, end of story. It resulted in Gilmour getting strong consideration for the MVP award (he ended up finishing second).

That lead to the Leafs producing this video that was sent to Hart voters, a perfect storm of highlights, a ridiculous interview, and 90s techno music.



#4 - His Hair in "The Passion Returns" Video

The problem with agreeing to appear in a video like this is that sometimes, you'll look back in hindsight and realize your hair was ridiculous and embarrassing and everyone will laugh at you for it. But enough about Damien Cox. Gilmour's hair was pretty bad too.

Skip ahead to 6:40. Dear lord.



Seriously, this video lead to about a thousand identical "Dougie Scissorhands" jokes in the first week after it was released.

And since we're analyzing hair, how is it that Wendel has a full head of hair in this video even though he was going bald during the playoff run. Did they film this in the pre-season just in case?

#3 - The Six Assist Game

Doug Gilmour has 95 assists during the 92-03 season, a fact I know without having to look it up even though I don't know when my parents' birthdays are. A half dozen of those came in one game against the Stars, tying a Leaf record.

Highlights from the game start at 1:40 of this clip:


#2 - Game Seven

The Game Seven upset over the Red Wings has become known as the Borschevsky game, and rightfully so. But the game was also one of Gilmour's finest moments as a Leaf.

Most fans remember Gilmour setting up the OT winner, but some have forgotten his clutch goal to tie the game in the final minutes. Gilmour took Wendel Clark's centering pass (thankfully stealing it off the stick of Bob Rouse) and buried it to send the game to overtime.



Side note: That tying goal was scored at 17:17, which I'm pretty sure can be taken as further confirmation that the hockey gods are Wendel fans.

#1 - The Goal

Only 48 hours after the Red Wings upset, the Leafs faced the Blues in game one of their second round series. The Leafs came out flying, and were clearly the better team. But they ran into a brick wall named Curtis Joseph, who turned in one of the all-time great games in playoff history.

While the Leafs peppered Joseph with shots (and also kicked him in the head once, probably accidentally), they couldn't beat him. With the game well into a second overtime and Joseph closing in on 60 saves, it looked like the Leafs would need some sort of divine intervention.

No problem.



Factoring in the situation and degree of difficulty, Gilmour's goal was the greatest I've ever seen. I can't find the CBC clip, but Bob Cole's call is a classic: "Solo job... and he's won it!" followed by Harry Neale's "The best player... wins the best game... in the best way".

Congratulations, Killer. It was a short run, but it was a great one. Enjoy your night.




Thursday, January 29, 2009

Live-blogging Leafs vs. Avs

I will be live-blogging tonight's Leafs/Avs game over at thescore.com. Feel free to drop by whenever the PPP game thread freezes, and find out how many Raycroft saves and/or shots of tequila it will take before I snap and get myself fired.

TheScore.com live blog - Avs vs. Leafs

(Fair warning: if the game is dull, I plan to randomly start liveblogging games from the Leafs 1993 playoff run instead.)




Has fighting really been dropping since the 90s? The numbers.

In my last post, I made reference to my assumption that while fighting may have increased this season, it's still down significantly from 15 years ago. I linked to some data from hockeyfights.com that went back as far 2001, then said this:

While I can't find any stats on fighting frequency in 1993, I feel pretty safe in saying it was significantly higher than even this season's numbers. If anyone can point to the numbers and they prove me wrong, I'll be glad to eat some crow.
An anonymous commenter, who I'm just going to go ahead and assume is Howard Berger, called me on it:

It isn't good enough for me for you to basically suggest, "I think I'm right, but if you prove me wrong, by all means. Until then, this argument stands." It's the kind of technique you'd call Damien on and it undermines your argument, in my opinion.
After permanently IP-banning him, I got to thinking about his comment. I decided to dig a little deeper and ended up finding what I think are some reasonable ballpark numbers going back to 1991.

So, once again courtesy hockeyfights.com, here are some estimates. I took their yearly fight log for each season, and counted the number of fights listed. I call this an estimate, since I'm not sure how complete their records are (although my guess is they're pretty complete) and there may be some altercations included where both guys didn't get majors. Still, when it comes to fight data online hockeyfights.com is pretty much the undisputed champ, so I feel pretty good about these numbers.

(Update: the owner of hockeyfights.com confirmed that they're "very confident" that the data is complete, with the exception of the occasional tweak.)

Here's what the numbers show. All are for regular season only.

1990-91 - 772 fights
1991-92 - 792 fights
1992-93 - 642 fights
1993-94 - 835 fights
1994-95 - 506 fights (short-season due to lockout)
1995-96 - 785 fights
1996-97 - 907 fights
1997-98 - 838 fights
1998-99 - 660 fights
1999-00 - 573 fights
2000-01 - 684 fights
2001-02 - 803 fights
2002-03 - 668 fights
2003-04 - 789 fights
2004-05 - No season
2005-06 - 466 fights
2006-07 - 497 fights
2007-08 - 664 fights
2008-09 - 784 fights (projected)

In graph form (minus the lockout years):


So was my assumption about fighting dropping over the past 15+ years correct? Mostly, with a few caveats.

There's clearly been a downward trend since the early 90s. The drop doesn't actually seem to start in earnest until the late 90s, which is later than I had assumed. There's a big drop in 1998, a climb back up, and then fighting falls off a cliff after the lockout.

I made the point that even if fighting reaches its projected level for this season (which is unlikely since fighting usually declines late in the season), it would still fall far below the levels seen in the 90s. That turns out to be true, although perhaps not as significantly as I would have expected.

Beyond that, my reference to 1993 actually turned out to be wrong, at least as far as the 1992-93 season goes. That year saw fewer fights than even last season, which seems surprising. It was also an out lier, far below the average of other years in the early 90s.

Why? What happened in 1992-93? Answer: The instigator rule. The rule came into effect that year, and initially caused a significant reduction in fighting. Those who were fans back then will remember how haphazardly the rule was applied in that first season, with referees trying to call it on virtually every fight. Sometimes it seemed that if your gloves hit the ice a fraction of a second early, you got an extra two.

The rule helped keep fighting low that season, but the effect was temporary. After some tweaks to the rule and how it was called, fighting went back to previous levels.

One additional point to consider: While this list includes total fights league-wide, the NHL has been adding teams since the early 90s. There were only 21 teams in 1999-91, compared to 30 now. More teams means more games, so all else being equal we'd expect the numbers to be trending upwards.

So for example, this year's projected 784 fights would be an average of 0.64 fights per game. That would actually equal the 0.64 average of 1992-93 (when there were 24 teams, and the league played 84 games), and would be far below the per-game averages in other years from the early 90s despite the grand total being comparable.

The verdict: My general claim of fighting levels dropping over the past two decades was right. My specific claim about 1993 turns out to be wrong (it's even, but not higher) because I had the misfortune of picking a year that turned out to be an aberration due to the instigator.

I suppose that means that I do have to eat a little bit of crow. But I think the overall point stands. Fighting has been trending downwards for a long time, and the numbers back it up.




Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Damien Cox responds to Down Goes Brown. But he's still wrong.

As I joked over at PPP last week, I've been riding a streak of several attempted comments over at Damien Cox's "blog" being rejected by moderators. That streak ended today, and then some -- with Cox actually responding to my comment directly.

You can read his original post (about today's Harris-Decima survey that suggest that most Canadian want fighting banned, but most NHL fans support it), my comment, and replies from him and others here. The actual survey report is here (.PDF link).

Beyond hilariously referring to me as "Mr. Brown" several times, Damien makes a few points I'll respond to.

Damien here. . .interesting that Mr. Brown accuses me of failing to go into sufficient depth. Then again, he says fighting "has been on the decline for 15 years." Not really. It's up 24 per cent from last season.
So the past 15 years can be summed up by referencing a trend that's one year old? I stand by my "not enough depth" accusation.

But fine, let's look at the stats, courtesy of hockeyfights.com. Fighting is up this year, and has been trending up the past three seasons. But that's largely due to an enormous drop post-lockout.

But remember that fighting tends to decrease towards the end of the season, as games become crucial. You would expect fighting numbers to be high mid-season. Let's wait and see how they look at the end of the year.

And of course, the hockeyfight.com numbers only go back to 2001. I made reference to the last 15 years. While I can't find any stats on fighting frequency in 1993, I feel pretty safe in saying it was significantly higher than even this season's numbers. If anyone can point to the numbers and they prove me wrong, I'll be glad to eat some crow.

Also, you'll always notice that the pro-fighting crowd, when it doesn't get the answer it wants, simply disenfranchises people. Don Cherry will say if you didn't play pro hockey, well, it's none of your business. Mr. Brown, on the other hand, gives more weight to the thoughts of those who identify themselves as NHL fans, dismissing other respondents.
Yes, I think the NHL should pay more attention to fans than non-fans. Like any business, you look after your customer base first. Is this really controversial?

Put it this way: When they do various customer satisfaction surveys, does the Toronto Star care more about the opinions of long-time subscribers, or Toronto Sun readers? This is just Business 101. It's always nice to expand your audience. You don't risk losing your current customers to do it.

What would have been nice is a followup question to the survey: Would you be more or less likely to watch the NHL if fighting was banned. That would have given us some real data to chew on.

What would the answer have been? I don't know, but I'm willing to bet that the NHL has done similar customer research. The fact that Gary Bettman says banning fighting isn't even up for discussion might give you some clue as to the results they got.
Finally, he talks about success in U.S. markets, or the lack thereof. Again, given that fighting has always been part of the NHL game, we don't know how fans in certain U.S. cities would respond to a league that didn't have fighting. We sure know their lukewarm at best about the NHL with fighting as part of the package.
No, we don't know how fans would respond to a league without fighting. But this argument could be applied to any rule change.

Would fans like the NHL better if the nets were 15-feet wide and the games were played two-on-two? No? Well, how do you know that?

This seems like a pretty transparent ploy by the anti-fighting side. "Just give it a try," they say, "and see how fans respond". What they don't say, of course, is that once fighting is banned in the NHL it will never come back. Even significantly rolling back the instigator rule seems all but impossible now. Imagine if the NHL banned fights and found that fan interest plummeted -- do we really believe Damien and friends would accept a return of fighting?




Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why I'm not ashamed to like fighting

I tried. I really did.

I tried to stay out of the recent fighting debate, which predictably re-ignited after the Don Sanderson tragedy and seems to have its second wind after Friday's scary Garrett Klotz injury.

I think most of the back-and-forth over fighting is disingenuous, an example of media (and some bloggers) jumping on a controversial subject just to get some attention. And I've also come to learn that people generally visit this blog for OCD-level nostalgia and Kyle Wellwood fat jokes, not serious hockey talk. Which is fine.

But I have a problem. My side of the argument doesn't seem to be represented in the debate.

So here's my stance on fighting:

  1. I find it entertaining.
  2. I think the reduction in fighting during the Bettman era has contributed to a less interesting product.
  3. I'm not ashamed of #1 and 2.
Apparently I'm not supposed to say that. No, if I want to support fighting, I'm supposed to frame the argument as a safety issue (players must police themselves, they need an outlet, there must be accountability for cheap shots, etc).

Well, all of that may be true, or it may not. I don't play in the NHL, so I don't think I'm really qualified to say.

But I am a fan of the NHL, and I think that fans should be able to talk about what they do or don't find entertaining about a sport. And I thought the NHL was a lot more fun to watch when there was more fighting.

Is it insensitive to talk about entertainment value when we're dealing with the possibility of players being injured or even killed? Probably. But the NHL is an entertainment product. The league will grow or fade based on whether people think its product is more or less entertaining than any of the many alternatives.

Any discussion of a major rules change that ignore the impact on the entertainment value of the games is a meaningless exercise. It's fine as a philosophical argument, but not a real world one.

And before the anti-fighting folks feign their well-rehearsed outrage that we're even talking about entertainment, let's not forget that it used to be them who were banging that drum. Remember when the NHL just had to reduce fighting to help grow the game in the US, especially in non-traditional markets? Now that that strategy has been shown to be a failure, we're supposed to pretend that it was never about ratings in the first place.

Well frankly, I'm getting a little tired of hearing reporters who haven't bought a ticket in 20 years dismiss the feelings of fans. I'm getting a little tired of the holier-than-thou lectures -- all delivered over endless highlight reels of fights, of course. Got to grab those viewers, after all.

I think Don Sanderson's death was a tragedy, but I don't think it changes anything about the fighting debate. We always knew that a player could die in a fight. We also knew that it was extraordinarily unlikely. Both are still true.

But apparently only those who want fighting banned get to mourn Sanderson. Here's how one blogger put the argument: "People who defend fighting in hockey need to stop acting like they think every incident is a huge tragedy. If you really thought that, you'd ban it."

Bull. I can mourn Sanderson and I can cringe when a player gets hurt, and I can still believe that fighting has a place in the game. Hockey is a dangerous sport. Players take risks every time they take a hit, block a shot, or go into a corner. We've seen some horrible injuries over the years thanks to headshots, slapshots and stray skate blades. Accepting that a high-speed contact sport will carry a certain level of risk doesn't make me a caveman.

Look, I like fighting and want it to stay in the NHL, but I can also recognize that there are good arguments against it. I find it painful to have to listen to a guy like Mike Milbury talk about fighting's opponents as pansies and granola-crunchers.

Maybe the players are just too big and strong these days. Maybe our better understanding of concussions should change the discussion. Maybe something needs to be done about meaningless fights that don't seem to have any point beyond padding PIM totals.

Personally, I think the NHL should enforce better rules about helmets and chin straps. I think that a rule against slewfoot take-downs during fights sounds like a good idea.

I think there are lots of folks who want to see the NHL go even further who have their hearts in the right place. I just don't agree.

And I'd appreciate a little respect from the other side. It should be possible to like fighting -- not just support it or tolerate it, but actually like it -- without being dismissed as a knuckle-dragging thug.

Or at least it should. So save your lectures, media stars. I'm a fan. My voice counts too.




Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to fix All-Star Weekend

Let's face it, all-star weekend sucks.

The young stars game is a joke. The actual all-star game is a complete writeoff, since nobody plays defence, the "one player per team" rule dilutes the roster, and anyone with so much as a hangnail decides not to play.

The skills competition is probably the highlight of the weekend, but that's not saying much. While the NHL has tried to spice up the events over the years, there's still an element of "been there, done that" to the whole proceedings. Does anybody really want to see another puck relay?

The NHL needs to get creative. So in the spirit of innovation, here are a few suggestions for new events the league could add to better capture the current flavor of the game.


Who are you and
why are you yelling at me?
Mainstream Media Fake Outrage-a-thon - Media superstars such as Pierre McGuire, Nick Kypreos and Mike Milbury will be given a controversial subject to discuss and will earn points by screaming well-rehearsed sound bites at each other while a producer shouts into their earpiece to be more animated. Topics will include fighting, the CBA, head shots, fighting, goalie equipment and also fighting. As in the real world, the media members will only be told which side of the debate they're on shortly before they go on air.

Where's Dany? - After Dany Heatley is hypnotized into believing he's playing in an important playoff game, all 20,000 fans will be given binoculars and forensics kits to see if they can find any evidence of him being in the arena.

American Anthem Endurance Contest - Wannabe singers and American Idol rejects from around the United States will compete to see who can take the most time to sing the pre-game national anthem, completely sapping any energy from the players and crowd. Last singer standing wins. Fans are encouraged to participate by throwing coins and shoes.

Credibility-Destroying Fan Ballot Box Stuffing Contest - Oops, they did that one already.


Let's just save time and
leave the red light on
Vesa Toskala Accuracy Shooting - From the slot, NHL snipers try their best to take shots that actually make contact with Toskala's glove or blocker.

Revenue Share Scramble - Representatives from southern US markets have sixty seconds to crawl around on their hands and knees and grab for any loose change that falls out of the pockets of the Leafs, Habs and Rangers. Special bonus: During this event, Gary Bettman will stand in the background and proclaim that the game's economics are just great.

Neglected Toddler - During the downtime in between events, Sean Avery wanders around the ice begging someone, anyone, to pay attention to him.

Goal Judge Skills Competition - Video replay goal judges from around the league compete to see who can up with the most unique and creative way to screw the Buffalo Sabres.

"How Much Was It Worth?" - At the conclusion of the All-Star game, one lucky fan gets to spin the Gary Bettman Wheel of Randomness to determine how many points the game was actually worth.

Delay of Blame - A puck is flipped up into the stands from the defensive zone, and six players per side compete to see who can be the first to point, wave their arms and otherwise browbeat the referee who actually did know that rule already, thanks.


Looking to go five-hole
Sissy Fight! - Skill players compete in a series of events to see which player fights most like a girl. Events include the Alexander Semin Slap Party, the Mikhail Grabovski Linesman Tickle, and of course the Sidney Crosby Package Punch

Icing Murder - Players compete to inflict the most damage to a helpless defenceman on an otherwise meaningless icing play. Bonus points will be awared for broken bones, career-ending injuries, or fatalities. (Note: In order to make this event competitive, members of the Montreal Canadiens will not be allowed to compete.)

And finally...

The NHL Superstar Decision-Making Sprint - NHL stars such as Mats Sundin, Scott Niedermayer, Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan are given a list of basic decision-making tasks to complete. Events will include ordering a sandwich at a deli, accepting or declining a new Facebook friend, and choosing their next Netflix rental. (Note: This event is expected to conclude some time in early 2010.)




Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's not too early

Image Courtesy lordosis via PPP

As part of my continuing attempts to deal with Stage Five...

Let's assume that the Islanders have wrapped up last place. If the Leafs can continue their climb fall plummet into 29th, what would that mean in terms of the draft lottery? In a draft that has plenty of talent but only two blue chip franchise prospects, what would it mean if the Leafs entered the lottery in the #2 spot?

Assuming that the lottery rules are the same as previous years (with the same distribution of odds, and the rule that no team can move up more than four spots), here's how the odds break down.

18.8% - Odds that the Leafs win the lottery and move up to #1
25.0% - Odds that the Islanders win the lottery, meaning the Leafs stay at #2
39.2% - Odds that a team behind the Leafs wins the lottery and bumps them down to #3
17.0% - Odds that a team behind the Leafs wins the lottery, but does not move up far enough to bump them out of the #2 spot.

In other words, if the Leafs can finish 29th they'll have an 60.8% chance at landing Tavares or Hedman.

Yes... we... can!




Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Maple Leaf salary fun facts

Here's a couple of loose ends from last week's Mid-Season Value Ranking post. While putting the post together, I did some research into the Leafs' current contract and salary cap commitments. I learned a couple of things that I found interesting.

Fun fact #1: The Leafs highest paid forward is Jason Blake, thanks to his Contract of Eternal Damnation™. Next on the list is recent FA signing Nik Hagman. Do you know which Leaf forward is their third highest paid?

No, not Antropov. No, not Poni. Not even Stempy. Give up? It's this guy.

Fun fact #2: Unlike many teams, the Leafs don't have much in the way of long-term contracts. In fact, as of today the team only has a cap commitment to one player beyond 2012. Can you name him? Answer: this guy.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, this.




Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday thoughts

A quick collection of Sunday night thoughts, as I try to figure out how to care about the NHL between now and the deadline...

  • The Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals. The running joke of the NFL, riding a 61-year championship drought. A team that earlier this year won it's first home playoff game ever. A team whose most notable recent achievement was spending a high draft pick on a superstar QB prospect who turned out to be a bust. A team that had people calling for the NFL to revamp it's playoff format just for letting them in. Those Cardinals.

    The lesson, once again: Anybody who tells you they can predict anything in the sports world is lying to you. Nobody ever knows what will happen until it happens.

    And these days, that's about as close to good news as Leaf fans can find.

  • In case anybody's wondering how I feel about the rebirth of Jason Blake, so soon after I trashed him in my mid-season value rankings... well, let's just say I'm treating this the way I treat potential no-hitters in baseball. I'm sitting quiety, trying not to think about it, and praying it keeps going until the end of the ninth inning. Or in this case, the trade deadline.

  • There was a revealing moment in Damien Cox's mailbag this week. Here's a question and answer that ran in the column (edited for length):
    Q: Hi Damien, My question is simple and may clarify the story surrounding Mats Sundin for everyone in Leaf Land and how he should be received on February 21st. I believe the real truth surrounding Mats is the Leafs said thanks but no thanks... I feel it is reasonable to identify why Mats didn't want to leave...

    I recommend that the real story be identified, that it was the Leafs who rebuked him, not the other way around. He does not deserve to be admonished or rejected for a second time of Feb. 21st when Vancouver visits Leafland.

    A: Interesting thoughts, Dave. But really, you’re just speculating upon what you believe to be the "real" story, and there’s not really any facts to support your version. Does it really matter any more?
    Take a look at what's happening here. A fan points out, correctly, that we really don't know the whole story. So he does what seems like a reasonable thing: he asks a reporter to go and find out. He invites Damien, or somebody else in the Star's sports department, to go out and actually do a little journalism.

    And what's the reply? Damien scoffs at him, reminds him that he doesn't have the facts, and concludes that it doesn't really matter anyways. It's not just that Damien doesn't know what went on behind the scenes -- he doesn't even see any value in asking around. He seems confused that anybody would even be interested.

    This is the same paper that brags about how many clicks it gets from gossip column articles about Sundin selling his house or getting married. But when somebody asks them to actually do a little bit of sports journalism, to dig around and actually get to the bottom of a story that fans are interested in, they don't even seem to understand the question.

  • Despite PPP's call for a boycott, I ended up having last night's Sens/Habs game on in the background last night. I didn't watch, but I listened to most of the first two periods. And when I woke up this morning and picked up the local paper, I was absolutely shocked to find out that the game had apparently been in Ottawa. Nice to see Sens fans will lay down and let Montreal fans take over their building too.

  • Speaking of the Sens, the company I work for has a private box at the ScotiaBank Place. They'll often raffle off tickets to hockey games or concerts, with half the money going into a 50/50 draw and the rest going to charity. It's not rare to raise hundereds of dollars, and during the WJC they were getting several thousand per draw.

    This week they announced a draw for tickets to the Sens skills competition on Sunday afternoon. When the draw was over, they announced the final prize from the 50/50 draw: five dollars. Yes, they sold $10 worth of raffle tickets. It turns out only one guy in the entire company bought any.

    Ottawa Senators fever: catch it!




Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Maple Leafs Mid-Season Value Ranking

As we stumble past the mid-season mark, this seems like as good a time as any to do a status report on the 2008-09 Maple Leafs. And with the trade deadline just seven weeks away, I'm going to take a slightly different approach.

I'm going to try to rank the Maple Leafs, top to bottom, based on their value. Not their production, not their potential, and not their likelihood of being dealt. I want the big picture. I want to figure out which Leafs are currently the most valuable NHL assets.

Obviously, there's no such thing as one league-wide price tag you could put on a player. The contending Sharks would have a different view of "value" on the Leafs roster than the rebuilding Islanders.

But imagine it this way: What if the NHL allowed teams to bid for a player's contract on the open market? Which Leafs would get the highest bid?

Sound like a fun time-waster? Then here are the rules:

  1. We're looking at everything: track record, current production, injury status, intangibles, and especially contract. I've included cap hit and contract length for each player. Contract status is a huge consideration in a salary cap world.
  2. To that end, I'll draw a line at the point where I think we reach negative value. Yes, a player can have negative value -- these are the guys who are overpaid to the extent that you literally could not give them away (at least without sweetening the deal, or taking back another negative value guy). Let's see how far we can get before we hit that line.
  3. I've ranked players from the current NHL roster only (although I included both Stralman and Sifers since they switched spots today).
  4. No ties. Everyone gets their own spot.
Here we go...

1. Luke Schenn ($2.225M through 2011) - An easy call here. Schenn is the only untouchable Leaf, and is their most valuable NHL asset by a mile.

2. Tomas Kaberle ($4.25M through 2011) - Not his best year, but still has tremendous talent. Given his age and track record, his contract is excellent.

3. Mikhail Grabovski ($850K through 2009) - He's young, and has already shown signs of explosive offensive potential. He's also inconsistent, has questionable character, and needs a new contract. And he's older than you think (he turns 25 in two weeks).

4. Matt Stajan ($1.75M through 2010) - Is having a career year offensively on the top line. He's a little on the soft side and isn't really an especially well-rounded player, but is capable defensively. He's also signed through next year at a very reasonable rate.

5. Nik Antropov ($2.05M through 2009) - Might be the toughest Leaf to rank, given his upcoming UFA status. Still, he's put up solid numbers two years running and seems healthy again. Would probably jump up several spots if he signed a reasonable extension.

6. Nikolai Kulemin ($1.487M through 2010) - On the one hand, he's struggled most of this year. On the other, he's shown flashes here and there. Not a blue-chip stud by any means, but I'm not sure how I could rank him much lower.

7. Alexei Ponikarovsky ($2.105M through 2010) - Certainly isn't flashy, but he keeps finding ways to score. At his current level of production, he's a bargain through next season.

8. Niklas Hagman ($3.0M through 2012) - Offensive production has cooled off recently. Still, given everything he brings to the table his contract seems like a bargain right now.

9. Pavel Kubina ($5M through 2010) - Great example of a guy who's be attractive to a contender, but has little value on a rebuilding team. Has been inconsistent through his entire stint as a Leaf, with the exception of a short stretch at the end of last year. Is overpaid, but given everything he can do his contract isn't terrible and it only runs through one more year.

10. Jonas Frogren ($1.065 through 2010) - Was a virtual unknown coming into the year, but has shown the kind of mean streak most coaches love from a second or third-line defenceman. Is too old (29) to have much upside, but should improve somewhat as he gets used to the North American game.

11. Dominic Moore ($900K through 2009) - Has cooled off significantly over the past month, but still brings a nice mix of speed and occasional offense. Short, cheap contract could make him very attractive to a contender.

12. Ian White ($850K through 2010) - Is versatile and has contributed occasional offense while leading the team in +/-. Is only 24 and is signed very cheaply through next year.

13. Vesa Toskala ($4M through 2010) - Would have been in the top three if I'd done this in the pre-season, but his value has been dropping steadily all year. Could he be significantly better on another team? Every other Leaf goalie seems to be.

14. John Mitchell ($487K through 2010) - Still has another year left on a rock-bottom deal, which means he represents solid value even if he never makes it past the third and fourth lines.

15. Lee Stempniak ($2.5M through 2010) - Is making second-line money, but often goes several games without doing anything noticable. Is probably young enough to still have some upside.

16. Mike Van Ryn ($2.9M through 2010) - Was a pleasant surprise in the early going, but ongoing concussion problems have to be factored into his value.

17. Jaime Sifers ($505K through 2009) - Has looked like a borderline NHLer in limited playing time. His two best features are that he's young, and he's cheap.

18. Jamal Mayers ($1.33M through 2010) - He's a good dressing room guy and can kill penalties. He's also moderately overpaid for what he brings to the table.

--------------- negative value ---------------

19. Jeff Finger ($3.5M through 2012) - Has been almost exactly as advertised: solid, unspectacular, and overpaid. Could become attractive to a contender in another year when his contract is nearing the halfway point.

20. Jeremy Williams ($487K through 2009) - Puts up reasonably numbers given his limited opportunity, but nobody in the Leafs organization seems to feel he has much future.

21. Anton Stralman ($732K through 2010) - I know he's a favorite of some of you, but at this point he hasn't shown that he's going to be an NHL defenceman. He could still make that leap, but right now every team has one or two guys that are exactly like him, and many of them are cheaper.

22. Brad May ($600K through 2009) - Virtually all his value comes from his dressing room impact. Works cheap, but Leafs are probably the only team in the league that can squeeze any value out of him right now.

23. Andre Deveaux ($480K through 2009) - He's cheap, young, and tough. And so far, he hasn't shown any indication that he has much of an NHL future.

24. Ryan Hollweg ($512K through 2009) - All but useless as a player. His expiring contract is really his only virtue.

25. Curtis Joseph ($700K through 2009) - Not really playing near an NHL level these days. At least the contract is short.

26. Jason Blake ($4.0M through 2012) - 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.

So there's your list. From Schenn to Blake, all 26 current Leafs ranked in order of value. Eighteen guys with at least some value, and eight that would probably clear waivers today.

I'll be amazed if anyone thinks I got this exactly right, so let me hear it. Who needs to move up? Who needs to drop down? Who am I completely out to lunch on?




Monday, January 12, 2009

1967 vs 1961

Just a quick note that I'll be appearing on tonight's episode of the Hockeenight "Puckcast" podcast, via the fine folks at the Chicago Blackhawks blog hockeenight.com.

We'll be talking about old Norris battles, the current outlook of the Leafs, and presumably sharing Stanley Cup stories that our great-grandparents told us.

Assuming we get throuh the entire hour without them hanging up on me because I steer every conversation back to Wendel Clark killing Mike Peluso, the podcast should be posted some time late tonight or tomorrow morning. Head over and check it out.

Update: You can now listen to the podcast using the link below. Topics discussed included the Norris division glory days, the instigator rule, hockey moustaches, Stu Grimson's madness and whether Bryan Marchment was the worst human being of all-time.



And just for old time's sake:




Saturday, January 10, 2009

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Loss

There are five discrete stages through which people deal with tragedy. To fans of this year's Maple Leafs, the stages will be familiar:

  1. Denial: You know, if a few of the kids player well, and Wilson gets them playing defence, and Toskala stands on his head, and the Rangers and Penguins team planes collide in mid-air at some point... this team could make a run at a playoff spot.

  2. Anger: ARGH, DAMN YOU MATS THIS IS SOMEHOW ALL YOUR FAULT!

  3. Bargaining: Can we at least beat the Senators and Habs? No? OK, can we beat the Senators and beat up the Habs?

  4. Depression: Toskala sucks, the young guys aren't developing, we get pushed around every night, we have no draft picks, Jason Blake just did a fist pump even though we're behind by five goals, and I'm debating whether the pipes in my basement ceiling will hold my weight.
Which brings us to stage five:
  1. Acceptance
Today, for the first time, I'm admitting to myself that I've reached stage five.

I accept that this season is a writeoff. I accept that the Leafs are a bad team. I accept that there's no point getting attached to anyone because at least three-quarters of these players will be gone in two years. I accept that there is no miracle coming. I accept that it's going to take years to fix all of this. I accept that now, it's all about the draft pick.

I accept that from now on, losses are good and wins are bad.

Gah.

If I'm being honest, I've been at stage five for weeks, maybe months. Maybe even since the beginning. But I've lied to myself.

The signs were there. All year long, I've never been especially bothered by a loss. When the Leafs won, great. When they lost, oh well. I've lived my Leaf fan life in a sort of strange purgatory, going through the motions but feeling numb about it all. In hindsight, I'm surprised I didn't paint my finger nails black and start writing poetry in my algebra notebook.

You have to understand, I used to be the guy you had to avoid at work the day after a Leafs loss because he might fly off the handle and start knocking coffee mugs off of random desks. And that was in the pre-season.

Not this year. In fact, oddly enough the only games that have bothered me this year have been the OT losses. We lost the game, and we moved up in the standings? Screw you, Gary.

So it's time to stop living a lie. It's time to come clean. It's time to live in the real world. It's time to start losing.

Well, OK, it's time to continue losing. But you get the point.

Just to be clear, I will not root against the Leafs. I can't do it. I can not sit down to watch a game and cheer for the other side. I can't high-five over another team's goal. I just can't. Being a Leaf fan is in my DNA. The instincts are too strong.

But I'm also not going to pretend to be mad about losing, or excited about a win. The lie is over. I can see the big picture. We need to finish last, or as close to it as possible.

I want...

... hold on, I can do this...

I want the Leafs to lose. A lot. As often as possible. As in, every night.

I feel so dirty. Hold me.




Friday, January 9, 2009

Grabovski suspension is deserved

News comes this afternoon that the league has suspended Mikhail Grabovski for three games for abuse of officials after his little temper tantrum last night.

And you know what? They got this one right.

I'm as thrilled as any Leafs fan to see the normally timid Grabovski get a little bit fired up for a change. I think he'd be fun to watch if he played with a bit of an edge, and I hope he keeps it up. But there is a line, and he went over it last night. You can't get physical with an official. Period.

Is it right that Grabovski gets three games for a little shove on a linesman, while Tom Kostopoulos gets the same for nearly ending Mike Van Ryn's career? Of course not, but it's an apples and oranges comparison. The rules are different for fellow players than they are for officials. And it goes without saying that they should be.

The league has specific rules in place for dealing with abuse of officials. Minor incidents are three games, major ones are ten or more. Once the league decides that abuse has taken place, there's very little room for judgement calls. Grabovski's case was clearly a minor offence, so the three games was automatic. And that's fair.

And while we're at it, let's bring it down a notch on the praise for Grabovski's tantrum. Yes, it's nice that -- for once -- a Maple Leaf seemed cranky about being on the receiving end of yet another lopsided loss. But Grabovski wasn't looking to fight. He knew where the linesmen were, he knew the situation was under control, and he was putting on an act. Let's not pretend our little guys are suddenly enforcers because they can pretend to want to fight and then wave to a crowd. That's what Sens fans are for.

So settle down, Leaf Nation. It may not have been much, but it was something and Grabovski deserves a short vacation for it.




Thursday, January 8, 2009

Leafs/Habs post-game thoughts


  • I think I'm enjoying the Brad May era. You?

  • You know those cartoons you see around New Year's, where the weak and hobbled old man representing the forgotten past gives way to the energetic baby who represents the possibilities of the future? Didn't this week kind of feel like that, with the Battle of Ontario playing the old man and the renewed Leafs/Habs rivalry playing the little baby?

  • Kudos to Mayers for taking care of business, and to May for reinforcing the point. He even seemed to have fired up Grabovski, who managed a draw in his fight. Yes, it was against a linesman, but we're taking baby-steps here.

  • And let's be honest, Grabovski-Kostitsyn would have made Semin-Staal look like Clark-McSorley

  • In all seriousness, anyone questioning the May deal is missing the point. It's not about helping the team win games. It's not even about winning fights. It's about the fact that this team had a terrible dressing room for three years, where losing was fine and excuses ruled. Fletcher rolled a grenade into the room, and it got better -- for a while. Based on Wilson's comments after the Florida game, they're heading back to their old ways.

    You can not develop young players in an environment where losing is acceptable. If May can remind the younger guys how to work hard and compete, he's worth a sixth-round pick and more.

    And if all of that sounds like an indictment of the current veteran core of the team, well, it probably is.

  • By the way, where is it written that May can't come in, play regular minutes for eight weeks, remind the young guys what a professional looks like... and then be dealt at the deadline? And if he looks anything like he did against the Habs over the new two months, don't you think the Leafs can get more than a sixth for him from a contender?

  • Seriously, what did Grabovski do that has the entire Habs team hating him so much? Is he just that much of an obnoxious prick off the ice (and face it, he kind of has that vibe), or is there a bigger story here? Did he Leeman somebody's wife? Was he one of those guys who can't have a normal conversation without quoting a Simpsons episode? Did he just walk around holding a knife and pineapple at all times and creep everybody out? What?

  • We only got the French broadcast here in Ottawa, so I was a little confused when I saw Felix and Wendel being honored before the game. For a second, I thought the league had finally got around to reversing the Fraser/Gretzky non-call and the Leafs were being awarded the 1993 Stanley Cup retroactively.

  • Hey, do you think the Habs front office invited Dave Keon to the ceremony, just to twist the knife into MLSE? And couldn't you imagine him thinking about going?

  • Unrelated note: word is just in that the Sens had to take cabs to the airport after tonight's loss to the Bruins, since their team bus has Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza stuck under it.

  • Finally, let's play a round of "write Damien Cox's Friday column for him":

    "Knuckle-dragging Leafs fans begging for fisticuffs got their wish on Thursday as the Brad May era kicked off with two fights, surely pleasing Brian Burke. But the thuggish Leafs were blown out by the speedy and talented conference-leading Habs. There's absolutely no logical connection between those two statements, but I will still attempt to passive-aggressively imply one!"

    Am I close?




Leafs/Habs - Guest preview

In anticipation of tonight's renewal of the Leafs/Habs rivalry, I received an invite to participate in in a Q+A session with fellow Score Network bloggers Lions in Winter. Both sides would send a half-dozen questions of their choosing, and post the answers they received.

You can see his answers below. My answers answers to his questions can be found here.


Is the Leafs/Habs rivalry still meaningful to you? How does it compare to, say, the Bruins these days?

I didn't grow up in the 60s, so aside from a few years when my University friends were enjoying playoff hockey and I wasn't, I've always hated the Bruins more. I'm finding it hard to hate anyone as much as smirky Lucic and his smug- (and at the same time blank-) looked coach Claude Julien. Adding Brian Burke should help stoke the fires...

What are Habs fans doing to keep busy these days, now that they've finished shoveling the last few clumps of dirt on whatever credibility the all-star game had left? Will you feel a special sense of pride when the NHL is forced to scrap fan voting next year?

You give too much credit to the Habs fans here. The credibility is as long gone as Leafs first round picks under Pat Quinn. The thing that upsets me is that the management saw it fit to make the game the centerpiece of our "100th" season. It was as shrewd a choice as choosing Tremblay over Roy in '95. It is akin to taking your wife to Tijuana for your 25th anniversary. It was tacky and wrong.

That said, I am glad the league might rethink the voting where people can vote for a bloc of players. Maybe they'll also give some thought to nominating duds in the first place...

While you were obviously happy to roll over the Kings in 1993, isn't there at least a small part of you that feels ripped off that you didn't get to play the Leafs that year? What would a Leafs/Habs Cup final have been like? Would the entire country have shut down for two weeks?

If I'm honest, the Leafs didn't become an object of obsession or rivalry until they were put into the East. Once Pittsburgh was eliminated by the weak weak Islanders, we were all thinking Cup no matter who here. It could have been Toronto, I suppose. had it been Toronto, I think I would have learned a thing or two about hockey history and this country. As it was, I had to wait for that lesson.

Knowing what I know now, I think it would have been mayhem, especially in Montreal and Toronto. There probably would have had to be some shutdowns had there been a game 6 or 7. Kinda like a European town during a WC elimination match. The fallout for you guys watching us parade the cup would have been worse than any high-sticking affair...

It's been widely reported that Mats Sundin would have been dealt to the Canadiens if he had agreed to waive his no-trade clause. The Habs went on to finish as the top seed, then lose to a #6 seed underdog in the second round. Could Sundin have made a difference? Does it bother you that a deal couldn't get done?

Had we traded for Sundin and still traded Huet, it would have been clear a two-headed monster was in charge. It nearly happened that way too. Carey Price was shaky long before the playoffs and for most of the season before his call-up from the AHL in late January. Huet was no saviour, but wouldn't let in every high wrist shot on offer. Sundin would have watched those goals go in all night like the rest of the Habs, and then he'd have left in the summer. With a contingency plan in goal like Huet, Sundin could have made a difference. He couldn't have scored less than Plekanec say in that series.

I am bothered though that a deal couldn't get done, because Gainey seems to be full of rumored deals and ends up coming up with the Robert Langs in the end - lots of consolation prizes. Some of us feel he needs to take a few risks. Trade a few of the "prospects" before they either leave or turn into "once-prospects". If this playoff team is to become a contender, the feeling is Gainey will have to go beyond his comfort zone at some point.

This season, the Canadiens are celebrating their centennial by retiring numbers, hosting the all-star game, hosting the draft, and holding about a lengthy ceremony before every second game. Do you have anything planned for next season, when the team's 100 anniversary will actually occur?

It may come as a surprise to you guys in TO, because this may be the first season the CBC has shown the Habs in three decades, but Montreal has a lengthy ceremony before most games, centennial, 92 years, whatever. And the sweater retirements have been going on for three seasons straight now too. The special events are the all-star game (see above) and the draft (yippee).

Yet for all their failings, they have still done a lot of good things - reconciled with Roy, put some statues up (Morenz finally), etc. The best for me has been their history website, which if you've ever tried to write much about hockey history, is a true pleasure to look at and navigate.

As for next year, they haven't announced. A lot of people want an outdoor game (vs. Leafs at Big O?) probably on the anniversary. Who knows what else.

Mikhail Grabovski has had decent numbers for the Leafs this year, and occasionally shows some incredible moves out there. Is he the real deal? The Habs couldn't find a spot for him, what do they know that Leaf fans don't (yet)?

Grabovski is a good player, and like Ribeiro he'll put up decent numbers over his career. Also like Ribeiro, he had bad habits like fighting with teammates, showing total disregard for them and the feeling is he would be about as successful in the playoffs. But you see we (that's you guys and us over here), we don't like the same players. Grabovski might be right up your alley so long as he keeps it up with the talent.

Thanks again to Lions in Winter for participating. Be sure to bookmark them for all your Habs-taunting needs.




Wednesday, January 7, 2009

May-Day! May-Day!

New Leaf Brad May, seen here punching a man who
for some reason is naked from the waist down
The Leafs have acquired Brad May, in an attempt to partially fill their glaring toughness void.

Not much to get excited about here, although he did come cheap, costing only a conditional sixth-round pick in 2010. Acquiring a veteran scrapper also clears the way to deal Jamal Mayers at the deadline for a mid-rounder (or did you think he's suddenly killing penalties on merit?)

And, of course, we all look forward to Damien Cox's predictable "OMG, Leafs once again trading draft picks for veterans" column tomorrow.




Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Prattle of Ontario

Some observations from a Battle of Ontario debacle that may have finally shovelled dirt on this rivalry once and for all, not to mention broken my spirit as a hockey fan.

  • The Senators are terrible. I mean, the Leafs are terrible, and they still had a relatively easy time with Ottawa last night. Toronto is bad in a "well, maybe kind of sort of getting better" way. Ottawa is bad in an "abandon all hope ye who enter here" kind of way. Luckily, they have Buffalo next and you can always count on the Sabres to roll over and die in any post-Pominville game against a struggling Sens team.

  • Hey, you know what else is terrible? Leafs/Sens games. I'm seeing lots of stories in the papers and online today describing the game as "gritty". Really? That was gritty? A half dozen guys on each team all trying to play the agitator role, trying to get bumped into and then flopping to the ice and looking for a referee? We call that gritty now? Tie Domi is rolling over in his grave.

  • Word is Sidney Crosby wanted to play in last night's game but couldn't find anyone with two balls to punch.

  • Speaking of which... so Chris Neil thinks that even though the Sens dumped Brian McGrattan and signed Jarkko Ruutu, he should still try to be a "pest" who runs from Kimbo Hollweg but goes after Ian White? Really? He's thinks that's his ticket to sticking around in the NHL? OK, just checking.

  • It's official: Mike Fisher has entered the "golden boy" zone where announcers will refer to him as one of the best players on the ice no matter how awful he is. Yes, he threw some hits. He was also pointless, a minus, and lead both teams in giveaways. Also, he makes $4.2M/year. Through 2013. But he's scored three goals this season, so obviously none of this can be his fault.

  • Yes, Jason Spezza deserved a spearing major based on the rulebook, but he barely touched Dominic Moore and Moore's hunched-over attempt to sell an injury was embarassing. Remember when Toronto didn't do that stuff? At least against Ottawa?

  • And while I don't expect or want Tomas Kaberle to drop his gloves or even give Spezza so much as a girlish shove, wouldn't it be nice if his instinctive first reaction to seeing a teammate get speared wasn't to throw his arms in the air and look for a referee to whine to? Kaberle is the best player on the team, but sometimes he reminds you that he's the holdover from the old "leadership" core.

  • I'll admit, I get way too excited whenever a Leaf goalie tries to score a goal. Unfortunately, Toskala's effort ended up fluttering harmlessly into the air and was easily gloved aside by a defenceman. You know what that means: he could play on the third line of either of these teams!