Thursday, April 30, 2009

Round two scouting reports

A few days ago, we took a look at the NHL's 22 losers that are sitting at home. Now let's turn our attention to the teams that are still alive, with a round two scouting report.



Washington Capitals


Strengths:
  • Are wisely keeping starting goaltender Jose Theodore extremely well-rested.
  • Have so much depth that they were somehow able to win a game seven despite absence of Donald Brashear
  • Intimidating fans are known to loudly questions opposing players' sexuality, which is pretty rich coming from guys who chant "We Want Semin".
Weakness:
  • Star player Alexander Ovechkin often spends as much as four of five minutes every period just sitting on bench, doing nothing.
How to beat them:
  • Let Ovechkin get a few goals early; hope he tires himself out celebrating.

-- vs. --


Pittsburgh Penguins


Strengths:
  • Feature a roster full of excellent young players due to strong scouting, patient coaching, and drafting first overall ten years in a row.
  • Have drawn inspiration from undisputed locker room leader, the mummified corpse of Gary Roberts.
  • In the long history of talented players to come out of Russia, Evgeni Malkin will quite possibly go down as the second best one to ever play in this series.
Weakness:
  • Extra slippery ice at Mellon Arena sometimes causes team's star players to fall down for no reason at all.
How to beat them:
  • Don't punch the crap out of Maxime Talbot, apparently.



Carolina Hurricanes


Strengths:
  • Coach Paul Maurice has referred to leadership core as "easily the most dedicated group of players I've seen in, oh, three years".
  • Enjoy unrivaled home ice advantage thanks to savvy fans who save up energy by only remembering that hockey exists once the playoffs start.
  • Is probably not mathematically impossible for them to win the Cup this year.
Weakness:
  • Are still, when you get right down to it, the Hartford Whalers.
How to beat them:
  • Employ a goalie who is not so fat that he gets winded at the very end of every close game.

-- vs. --


Boston Bruins


Strengths:
  • In recent big games, have been pretty good at remembering how many players you're allowed to have on the ice.
  • Zdeno Chara able to calmly clear puck from goalmouth scrambles without leaving bench.
  • Will be feeding off the energy of an entire state full of douchey, bandwagon-jumping sports fans who haven't had a championship to celebrate in like ten whole months
Weakness:
  • May be rusty coming off of first-round bye.
How to beat them:
  • Remind Tim Thomas that he is, in fact, Tim Thomas.



Anaheim Ducks


Strengths:
  • Roster was largely assembled by Brian Burke, who is unanimously considered the smartest man alive.
  • Disorient opponents by annoyingly playing all their home games way later than everyone else.
  • Virtually every player on roster is an experienced fighter not intimidated by violence, which will come in handy if team bus breaks down on way to arena in Detroit
Weakness:
  • It's possible that Ryan Getzlaf may have got some choking loser germs on him while fighting Joe Thornton.
How to beat them:
  • Somehow trick them into thinking it's the regular season.

-- vs. --


Detroit Red Wings


Strengths:
  • Are known for superior conditioning, which will allow players to recover more quickly from Chris Pronger cheapshots.
  • Are so solid defensively that even terrible goaltender Chris Osgood can win multiple championships for them.
  • In a pinch, some guy they drafted 200th overall last year will just emerge as a future hall-of-famer.
Weakness:
  • Might be getting bored of winning the Stanley Cup by now.
How to beat them:
  • Get to overtime of game seven. Let tiny Russian man-child do the rest.



Chicago Blackhawks


Strengths:
  • Winning percentage is significantly higher indoors than out.
  • Martin Havlat has bought into team's disciplined approach so much that he hardly ever kicks anyone in the groin any more.
  • Somehow managed to turn an old man dying of cancer into a feel-good story.
Weakness:
  • Winning game one of the Flames series 12 seconds into sudden death was a foolish waste of an opportunity to amass valuable overtime experience.
How to beat them:
  • Hold all games in a nightclub that checks ID, thus eliminating most of the Hawks best players.

-- vs. --


Vancouver Canucks


Strengths:
  • Have this guy named Sedin who is so lightning quick that he often sets himself up for one-timers.
  • Own an excellent record when scoring first, largely because their goalie gets a shutout every game.
  • Are lead by veteran Mats Sundin, for whom "winning a Stanley Cup" is unquestionably a top ten non-poker-related personal goal.
Weakness:
  • Players run slightly higher than average risk of contracting lice due to habit of pulling opponent's hair when getting ass kicked in fight.
How to beat them:
  • Hope that Roberto Luongo's wife has a baby three or four times during the series.




Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What went wrong? Excuses from the NHL's losers

Almost seven full months after the start of the regular season, we are down to eight. Eight teams with a shot at the greatest trophy in all of sports. Eight teams, each well and truly worthy of being celebrated.

But of course, that's not how things work around here. Because there are also eight teams that have just been sent home, not to mention 14 more that didn't even make the playoffs. That makes 22 teams that didn't manage to win so much as one single round.

In other words, 22 losers.

What happened? What went wrong? I decided to find out. So I used my connections to reach out to each team, and asked them to provide an official excuse for their failure. Here's what they told me:


Phoenix Coyotes - Wayne Gretzky's entire coaching style involves playing a video of himself from 1983, pointing at screen, and yelling "do that!"

Tampa Bay Lightning - Everyone always told us to always ask selves "What Would Gary Roberts Do?", so we quit mid-way through the season.

St. Louis Blues - Could not realistically have been expected to overcome crushing mid-season loss of Lee Stempniak.

Florida Panthers - Heard rumors that Florida fans react to playoff success by pelting players with rodent carcasses.

Calgary Flames - Despite tireless efforts to prepare for opponents, were caught off-guard by Blackhawks' never-before-seen trick play called "Martin Havlat actually does something in the playoffs".

New York Islanders - Gosh, hard to say. Suppose it could have had something to do with not having any NHL-caliebe players on the roster.

Ottawa Senators - Gave up after captain Daniel Alfredsson privately guaranteed team would miss playoffs, because man, that guy is never wrong.

Atlanta Thrashers - Like everyone else in the hockey world, completely forgot we existed.

Columbus Blue Jackets - Are a young team that is still learning how to win in the playoffs. For example, this year we learned that it's a really bad idea to play the Detroit Red Wings.

Nashville Predators - Were distracted by concerns that team could be bought by somebody deemed unacceptable by Gary Bettman, such as a person with actual money and no criminal record.

Buffalo Sabres - Not sure where it came from, but this new Dominic Moore guy has an overpowering case of the loser cooties.

Los Angeles Kings - Were confused by NHL's increasingly strict interpretation of rulebook. For example, did you know that in really important games referees can now call a penalty when you hit somebody in the face with your stick?

Dallas Stars - Must have been some sort of conspiracy between Tony Romo and Jason Witten.

San Jose Sharks - Instead of rousing pre-game speech or quiet moment of reflection on task at hand, franchise player Joe Thornton uses final moments before every playoff game to run around locker room shrieking "I have the nervous poos!"

New York Rangers - After game four, realized that choking horrifically would be the only way to get media to stop talking about Sean Avery for three minutes.

New Jersey Devils - Should probably have reconsidered team's inspirational playoff slogan of "59 minutes? Sure, close enough!"

Edmonton Oilers - If his text messages aren't returned promptly, owner Daryl Katz will crush a player's morale by de-friending them on Facebook.

Minnesota Wild - Heart-pounding tempo of Jacques Lemaire's quick strike offensive game plan impossible to sustain over full season.

Colorado Avalanche - Employ Andrew Raycroft.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Sorry, couldn't hear your question. The acoustics are bad in this giant vault full of sweet, sweet money.

Philadelphia Flyers - Referees killed us. Which, I suppose, makes us even.

Montreal Canadiens - Many players suffered from chronic back problems and strained groins due to franchise spending entire season trying to blow itself.




Sunday, April 26, 2009

A world without Leaf fans

A few nights ago, Mrs. Goes Brown watched a TV special called "Life After People", about the fate of the world if human beings were to disappear completely without warning. The show starts the day after humans vanish, and charts the way the world would change over time.

The scenario isn't realistic, of course, but it's meant to get you thinking. And it does. In my case, it got me thinking "How can I take this serious premise and twist it into a posting on a hockey blog?"

So I started wondering: What would happen if every diehard Toronto Maple Leaf fan disappeared from the planet tomorrow? How would things change? What would become of the rest of the world?

After giving it some thought, I think I've managed to map it all out. So here, in chronological order, are some of the way the world would change if Leaf fans suddenly disappeared.

April, 2009 - Damien Cox and Howard Berger have an awkward meeting on the streets of downtown Toronto, as they almost collide while doing celebratory cartwheels.

May, 2009 - Commissioner Gary Bettman is informed of the development. After confirming that Toronto is not a city in a southern US market, he shrugs his shoulders and goes back to watching the NBA playoffs.

June, 2009 - The NHL draft gets off to a rough start when the Islanders select John Tavares, only to be informed that nobody knows where he is.

July, 2009 - Confused Ottawa Senators seasons ticket salespeople report that half the hockey fans in the city don't seem to be answering their phones.

August, 2009 - Montreal Canadiens fans realize they are now the largest fan base in all of hockey. Considering that to be a victory, they start smashing store windows and setting cars on fire.

September, 2009 - Hockey Night in Canada struggles to prepare for the upcoming season while dealing with the sudden loss of Don Cherry, Bob Cole, and every one of their senior executives.

October, 2009 - The Leafs home opener features an empty upper deck, although the lower bowl is filled with people talking on their cell phones as usual.

November, 2009 - Damien Cox and Howard Berger have an awkward meeting on the streets of downtown Toronto, as they cross paths while handing out resumes.

December, 2009 - The Canadian pharmaceutical industry appeals to the government for a bailout, as sales of anti-depressants have mysteriously dropped to near zero.

January, 2010 - Eyebleaf starts to wonder why he's the only one in the Barilkosphere who seems to update his blog anymore.

February, 2010 - The Canadian modeling industry shuts down, as there are no more hot girls left in the country.

March, 2010 - Rumors spread that every diehard Phoenix Coyotes fan has also disappeared, but it turns out he was just on vacation for a week.

April, 2010 - Sales of NHL playoff tickets: unaffected.

May, 2010 - Damien Cox and Howard Berger have an awkward meeting on the streets of downtown Toronto, as both are trying to panhandle on the same corner.

June, 2010 - Richard Peddie announces that MLSE will be raising ticket prices.




Friday, April 24, 2009

Second Toronto team bid is being lead by... Kevin Maguire?

The big news in Toronto this week was the ongoing efforts of a mysterious group to place a second team in Toronto. The group had apparently met with the NHL's Bill Daly to discuss their proposal, but until today we didn't know who they were.

Well, now we do. Or at least, we know the group's front man: it's former Toronto Maple Leaf Kevin Maguire.

Wait, Kevin Maguire?

Kevin Maguire?

The guy that topped the DGB list of the worst Leafs enforcers of all time? That guy?

Apparently so.

Now look, I find the idea of a second Toronto team kind of intriguing. And that's especially true if the team wound up in Vaughan, since that's about as close as we'll ever come to my childhood dream of my hometown of Thornhill getting a team. (Proposal: get Charles Wang to move there, and bring back the Thornhill Islanders name.)

But really... Kevin Maguire?

I'm sure Maguire is a nice guy, and I don't have any reason to think that he hasn't become an excellent businessman in his post-playing career. There's no doubt that he has plenty of connections, and in his limited public comment on the situation he's never sounded anything other than completely reasonable.

But at the end of the day, he's still the guy who once did this:



As I wrote back in November:

It's never a good idea to fight Wendel Clark, but at least guys who played for other teams had some sort of obligation to try. There was something vaguely admirable about seeing another team's enforcer challenge Clark, willing to take one for the team even though he knew he was about to die.

But when Clark is your teammate, and you still try to fight him... you, sir, are the dumbest man in the history of time.
We later learned the backstory to the fight, including the fact that after they were done putting Maguire's face back together he actually came back to try to fight Clark again, which really can't be called anything other than a suicide attempt. And also, he got taken down by Russ Courtnall.

I'm sorry, I can no longer take this second team bid seriously. It's being front by a man who once thought it was a good idea to fight Wendel Clark when they were on the same team. His judgment simply can not be trusted.

Then again, we all knew MLSE was going to crush this bid under the mighty corporate boot. So if you're going to try to start a fight that you know you're going to lose, I guess Kevin Maguire is your guy.




Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fun with Google's new "Similar Images" feature

The big news in the web marketing world this week has been Google unveiling a cool new feature: Google Similar Images. This new tool allows you to find an image that interests you, and then search for other images that are similar.

Here's an example. The image on the left is a shot of a Leafs goal that I found, and the image on the right is one that Google says is similar.

Not bad, eh? At first I assumed that Google was just relying on the image name and surrounding content, and maybe cross-referencing with some basic image attributes like orientation and maybe dominant color.

Boy, was I wrong. After all, this is Google we're talking about. They're probably the smartest people in the world. And this new image similarity search is scary good.

Don't believe me? I spent some time randomly searching for hockey teams and players. Check out some of the "similar" images Google came up with.
































Saturday, April 18, 2009

An Open Letter to Kyle Wellwood

Vancouver Canucks center Kyle Wellwood was recently quoted making several disparaging comments about the Maple Leafs organization and the city of Toronto.

Wellwood makes several valid points, and is certainly entitled to his opinions. However, in the spirit of respectful dialog, Down Goes Brown would like to offer the response below.


Dear fat ass,

Put the donut down for a second. We need to talk.

Based on your recent comments, you seem to feel like you were somehow mistreated by the Leafs and their fans. And further, you seem to feel as if the success the Canucks have had this year vindicates your views.

I don't think you've got the story right. So let's take a look back at your career and see if we can't get on the same page.

You played your first full season with the Maple Leafs in 2005-06, after scouts discovered you during an intermission timbits game. In your second season, you managed an impressive 42 points in just 48 games. That's when things went bad.

After the 2007 season the Leafs gave you an off-season conditioning plan, which you claimed to follow. When you showed up at camp, your father told reporters that you'd actually taken the summer off.

Some people accused your dad of throwing you under the bus, but that wasn't fair. After all, the average bus has a wheel clearance of only 36 inches, making you too fat to fit under one.

During a disastrous 2007-08 season, you were often a healthy scratch, or at least as "healthy" as a scratch can be with vanilla frosting coursing through their arteries. You struggled to get back into the lineup, much like you struggle to get out of a deep couch.

You vowed to work harder during the 2008 season, but that promise turned out to be emptier than a carton of Haagen Dazs fifteen seconds after you've opened it. When these infamous photos surfaced, your career as a Leaf was finished.

Your comments indicate that you don't think you got a fair shake in Toronto, and you may be right. But in fairness to the Leafs, whenever they did give you a fair shake your jowls would jiggle for three straight days.

At one point it was rumored that you'd asked for a trade, the first known instance of you demanding something other than another helping of fried cheese. The Leafs did their best, but were unable to move you. Not a trade -- they physically could not get your fat carcass out of the dressing room.

So they waived you. You were claimed by the Canucks, but then they waived you too. You were being waived more often than your own pudgy hand as you try to flag down the guy pushing the desert cart. What's worse, when the Canucks waived you you went unclaimed. You were completely unwanted, like the side salad that comes with your ribeye.

To your credit you did manage to make it back into the Canucks lineup, largely because structural engineers warned that the GM Place pressbox couldn't support you. The Leafs felt that you would never reach your potential as an offensive center, and you've certainly proven them wrong. It takes a truly special playmaker to play an entire season and record single-digit assists.

Sure, your offensive output this season wouldn't even have cracked the top ten on a Leafs team that only has about three actual NHL players. But on a points-per-game basis you did wind up slightly ahead of defensive defenceman Jeff Finger. Take that, Leafs front office.

Recently you've re-invented yourself as a somewhat dependable defensive forward. Your play in the defensive zone has been admirable, in part because of your renewed focus on positioning but mostly due to you being so fat that the other team gets tired from skating around you.

You've said it was difficult playing in Toronto, whereas people in Vancouver are more appreciative of your presence. It's certainly true that you're popular with local surfers, since your gravitational pull causes the Pacific Ocean waves to come in higher. But Vancouver will turn on you too, Kyle. Just wait until the entire population of potheads look up from their bong hits long enough to realize you've eaten every bag of ketchup chips in the city.

It didn't have to be this way. All that Toronto fans ever wanted you to do was show a little bit of pride when you pulled that size XXL jersey over your head and looked down at the Maple Leafs logo trapped between your jiggling man boobs. But apparently that was too much to ask. So now you can look forward to wearing a different uniform every year for the rest of your career. And that's just if you stay in Vancouver.

So enjoy your time in the spotlight. When the Canucks make their inevitable second round exit, followed by every decent player on the team departing as a free agent during the off-season, the front office will ask you to step up and fill the void. And lord knows, if there's one thing you can do well it's fill up space.

Maybe it will all work out. Maybe some day you'll understand that being a professional athlete is a 12-month job, and that fans deserve to watch players who are committed to being in peak physical condition. Maybe then your talent will actually shine through. But it's clear that it was never going to happen in Toronto. And that's why Leaf fans don't miss you, and never will.

Besides, when your time in the NHL is over you can still try a different career, like acting. I hear they're looking for somebody to play the Pillsbury Doughboy.

(Don't worry, they can use special effects to make you look tall enough.)

Your friends,
Leafs Nation




Thursday, April 16, 2009

Down Goes Osborne

Mark Osborne
Pre-crushing defeat
There may not be a fan alive who loves the 1992-93 Leafs more than I do.

Now that's a bold claim, but I think I can back it up. After all, I'm the guy who wrote this. And this. And this and this and this. I named my blog after a long-forgotten fight from that season. I once showed my future wife a game-used Bill Berg stick to try to impress her. My infant daughter learned to identify Wendel Clark in photos before she recognized her own grandparents.

And please note that I didn't say I "loved" that team. No past tense. I still love those guys. Every one of them.

And that's why it's so difficult for me to publicly humiliate one of the members of that team.

Here's the deal: The Score has organized a "bloggers vs. experts" challenge that will see their Sports Federation bloggers go head-to-head with their Hardcore Hockey Talk experts to see who can do the best job of predicting the playoffs.

And I'm calling out Mark Osborne.

Now make no mistake, I plan to win the entire challenge. I mean, who's going to beat me, Al Strachan? But like a crazed Patrick Roy during a minor scrum, I'm skating out to center ice and singling out the one guy I want.

It's you and me, Ozzie.

Visit Fantasy Hockey Scouts for the full details of the challenge. You can see my picks here. Osborne's are here.

As you can see, Osborne and I had the same picks in the series that opened last night, except for one: I have the Penguins, he has the Flyers. In other words, I'm already stomping him. If he wants to just concede defeat now, I'd be fine with that. If not, then it's going to get ugly.

Down Goes Brown vs. Mark Osborne. Stay tuned for updates through the post-season1.

1Unless I'm losing, in which case you'll never hear about this again.




Wednesday, April 15, 2009

10 Memorable Playoff Fights

The playoffs are here. And you know what that means: the usual suspects will start endlessly pointing out that there's no fighting in the post-season.

Which, of course, isn't true. While there's certainly far less fighting in the playoffs, it doesn't disappear entirely and never has. In fact despite the league's steady stream of rule changes and near-constant finger wagging from the media, some of the more memorable fights in recent years have come when there was the most at stake.

We've already done the fighting debate song and dance around here, so let's save that for another day. Instead, let's just enjoy ten of the most memorable playoff fights of the instigator era.

Thanks to all the fine folks at hockeyfights.com for their help with this list.

#10 - Tie Domi vs. Donald Brashear
2003 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals

Domi always seemed to have trouble against much bigger guys like Brashear. And by "always", I mean "always, except for here".



Odd stat: Donald Brashear is now 0-2 lifetime in the #10 spot of DGB Top Ten Lists.

#9 - Bob Probert vs. Chris Simon
1996 Western Conference Semi-Finals

Veteran heavyweight Bob Probert takes a run at Joe Sakic. Bad idea, as it turns out.



This fight was important because it allowed the 1996 Avalanche to get all that violence out of their system before their upcoming series against the Red Wings.

#8 - Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings
1997 Western Conference Finals

This isn't one their best efforts, but it's not bad. And I can't do a "best fights" list without including these two teams somewhere.



And no, I have no idea how Patrick Roy didn't wind up in the middle of this.

#7 - Zdeno Chara vs. Vincent Lecavlier
2006 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals

Two things we know for sure about fighting: it doesn't exist in the playoffs, and only no-talent goons do it.



Why are two franchise guys like Chara and Heatley fighting for the Senators? Well, that's what ends up happening when your so-called tough guy does stuff like this earlier in the game.

#6 - St. Louis Blues vs. Detroit Red Wings
1997 Western Conference Quarter-Finals

Gary Bettman can change the names around all he wants... sometimes the Norris is still the Norris.



Nice cheap shot by Pronger. Guess he was mad that he couldn't find anyone to elbow.

#5 - Shane Churla vs. Darin Kimble
1991 Norris Division Semi-Final

Five seconds to go in the game, and these two are not kidding around.



Hey, remember when "setting the tone for the next game" meant doing stuff like this, not whining to the media about how you weren't getting enough power plays?

#4 - Shayne Corson vs. Eric Cairns
2002 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals

This gong show of a series is still the most vicious I've ever seen. This is the fight that saw Corson suspended for trying to knee Cairns in the head, one game after Tucker and Roberts eliminated Peca and Jonsson. I blame you for all of this, Steve Webb.



And since I feel dirty for posting a fight that a Leaf lost, here's what happened a few minutes later to cleanse your palette.

#3 - Garth Snow vs. Steve Shields
1997 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals

Garth Snow does a masterful job of looking tough, right up until the moment when the fight actually starts.



This was the most one-sided beating of Snow's career. Or at least it will be, until the next few weeks when he tries to talk trade with Brian Burke.

#2 - Jarome Iginla vs. Vincent Lecavlier
2004 Stanley Cup Finals

The two best players in the Stanley Cup finals decide to drop their gloves. Other than that, pretty standard.



Needless to say, the crowd is outraged and boos throughout the entire incident.

#1 - Wendel Clark vs. Marty McSorley
1993 Campell Conference Finals

This is not just the greatest playoff fight of all time, it's also the greatest moment in all of human history.



And of course, a glove tap to Todd Gill and Dave Taylor on the undercard.

A few honorable mentions:




Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Would you trade our next two firsts for Tavares?

So Brian Burke says he's trading for John Tavares. Cool. So now that we know who the Leafs are drafting, we can turn to the question of what it will cost them.

Howard Berger floats the first possibility in his blog today:

...the Leafs’ first-round pick [No. 7 overall]; at least one second-round pick; Luke Schenn, and a wad of cash [i.e. taking an existing contract off the Islanders’ roster]?
Now most Leafs fans aren't interested in hearing Schenn's name in trade talks, and that includes me. But Berger's on the right track here, because the price for moving up will be skyhigh. So let's swap out Schenn for an asset of comparable value: the Leafs' first pick in next year's draft.

Would you be willing to move the Leafs first round picks both this year and next as part of a deal to move up to get Tavaras? I floated the idea over at PPP earlier today and the initial response wasn't positive. Too steep, some said.

Wrong.

If the Islanders were willing to move the Tavares pick for a pair of firsts and some other secondary assets (and there's no reason yet to believe they would), Burke should pull the trigger and not look back.

The bottom line is that guys like John Tavares don't come around often. No, he's not a once-in-a-generation talent like Gretzky or Lemieux or maybe even Crosby. But he's no Patrick Stefan either. Tavares is an elite prospect who most seem to consider to be about as close to a sure thing as any developing 18-year-old can be.

Burke is making noise about the playoffs next year, which suggests he thinks next year's pick may be in the mid-teens. Maybe, although I'm not buying that until I see some serious roster turnover. But let's assume he's wrong, and the team is just as bad next year as they were this season, maybe even a little worse. Let's say they wind up in that same 5-10 zone they've been stuck in lately.

Would you deal two picks in that 5-10 zone for a #1? Yes, absolutely.

Think of it this way: Would you rather have Alex Ovechkin, or Blake Wheeler and Devin Setoguchi? Would you prefer Sidney Crosby, or Setoguchi and Phil Kessel? Rick Nash, or Joffrey Lupul and Thomas Vanek? Vincent Lecavalier, or Nik Antropov and Tim Connolly?

I'm guessing you wouldn't. Maybe you'd think about the Nash deal. But you'd laugh at the others.

Those are the last four players that came into the league with as much hype as Tavares. And the proposed deals include the best players who were taken 5-through-10 in their draft year and the one after.

All of this is a bit of a silly way to make the point that the dropoff from a stud #1 to the next tier of high first rounders is often steep.

Maybe it's not a fair comparison. Some of those drafts were more top-heavy than this year, which should produce some very good players in the later half of the top ten. But again, I took the best 5-through-10 player I could find from each draft -- needless to say, there were also several duds picked in those spots.

Let's be clear: the two first rounders on their own wouldn't be enough. But they could form the core of a solid offer, and it's safe to assume that if the Islanders were interested then a handful of extra picks and/or salary dumps wouldn't get in Burke's way.

We've all heard the sermon about building patiently and holding on to draft picks at all costs. That's a good strategy under normal circumstances. But the chance to land Tavares isn't normal circumstances. If there's a chance to make it happen and Brian Burke needs to load up both barrels, then Leaf fans should be cheering him on all the way.




Monday, April 13, 2009

Top 10 Leafs moments of 2008-09

While General Borschevsky largely beat me to the punch on this with his excellent rundown of The Top Ten Leaf Games of the Year, I'm taking a slightly different approach with my list. The idea here is to capture the ten best moments on the Leafs season.

A note: While I haven't limited the list to just on-ice plays, I've only included moments that Leafs fans could have actually witnessed. So things like "Burke accepts GM's job" or "Leafs sign Tyler Bozak" or "somebody tells Damien Cox to start doing video blogs or he's fired" won't be on the list.

#10 - Schenn destroys Vermette

This was one of the first signs that the Leafs really had something in Luke Schenn. Well, that and the way all the statues in Toronto cried tears of blood when he was drafted.



The Senators later traded Vermette for violating the team's strict "never be involved in any physical contact" rule.

#9 - Moore's stickless breakaway

Even though they didn't score, two things about this Dominic Moore "breakaway" get it a spot on the list. First, it was something I'd never seen before in 25+ years as a hockey fans. And second, it may have helped convince the Sabres that it would be a good idea to trade a high draft pick for Dominic Moore. Oops.



Hey, speaking of inanimate objects being brilliantly kicked around...

#8 - Wilson vs Berger

Leaf fans threw in the towel on Berger earlier in the year after he wrote a bizarre blog post insulting fans and bragging about how much money he makes. But fans got the last laugh when Berger was eviscerated by Ron Wilson in a post-game press conference for suggesting that late season Leafs games didn't matter.



On the subject of one-sided fights..

#7 - Mayers vs Kotsopoulos

Everyone remembers Tom Kotsopoulos' attempted murder on Mike Van Ryn. In the next game between the two teams, the only question was which Leaf would be first in line for payback. Jamal Mayers won the race, narrowly beating out Brad May who decided to beat up the next Canadien who made eye contact with him instead.



Later that same game...

#6 - Grabovski flips off Habs fans

I'm on record as not being a fan of Grabosvki's whole "hold me back" routine, which ended with him getting a three-game suspension for his tickle-fight with a linesman. That's not the moment I'm recognizing here.

But all that said, his flip off to Habs fans gets funnier every time you see it. This would seem bush league if anyone else did it, but Grabovski already seems like such an annoying little dink that it somehow ends up being high comedy.



Incidentally, Grabovski later explained that he held up two fingers at Habs fans to signal how many of their players would later be found to be palling around with mobsters.

#5 - Hagman's shift

Fall down, get hit in the face with the puck, deke out entire team, score. Not sure what the big deal was, actually, since I do two of those things pretty much every shift I take.



Bonus points for completely no-selling the celebration. If that had been Jason Blake, he'd still be fist-pumping like a teenage boy who just got internet access for the first time.

#4 - Schenn destroys Malkin

Here's a few tips about playing against Luke Schenn:

1. Keep your head up.
2. If you fail to follow rule #1, check to see if you're still alive.
3. If so, warn your teammates not to try to fight Luke Schenn because he will kill them.

Malkin, needless to say, goes 0-for-3.



Luke Schenn's left hand is the second worst thing to ever happen to a Kennedy's skull.

#3 - Fans say "thank you" to Mats Sundin

My thoughts on Sundin are well known to readers. But it can still be said that the Leafs handled his return perfectly, and this ovation was as memorable as it was well-deserved.



I can't remember whether the Leafs won that night. I must have blocked it out for some reason.

#2 - Curtis Joseph's final stand

In a Leafs season that was about watching for signs of a future, it was nice to have a chance to say an on-ice goodbye to one of most important players in recent franchise history. We got that chance during the bizarre game against the Caps that saw Curtis Joseph play six minutes, make 87 saves, punch Alex Ovechkin in the throat, and score the shootout winner.



Years from now, we will all agree to pretend this was Cujo's final appearance with the Leafs.

#1 - Wendel Clark's banner is raised

This one probably won't come as much of a surprise to anyone since as you may know, I kind of like Wendel Clark.



What? No, don't be silly man, I'm just having some trouble with a contact lens. Anyone have a tissue?

Honorable mentions: The Gilmour ceremony, Brad May's 1000th game, Nikolai Kulemin scoring his first NHL goal on a nice backhand-forehand move that we'd later learn was the only one he has, Johnny Mitchell single-handedly beating the Rangers, Brian Burke watching a fight with binoculars, and the three dozen ridiculous highlight reel goals the Leafs managed to score in shootouts without ever actually winning one.




Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Top 10 Dumbest Moments in the Battle of Ontario

On Saturday, the Leafs and Senators will end their seasons with a head-to-head matchup. The game will feature a pair of terrible teams, little or no intensity, and two fan bases who will be secretly hoping their team loses for a better draft spot.

What better way to end another installment of the most over-rated rivalry in hockey?

While any fan can see that the Battle of Ontario is dying, the truth is that it was never much to get excited over in the first place. The Sens always win in the regular season, the Leafs always win in the playoffs, and every incident that showed the slightest hint of bad blood was immediately ruined by horrified cries for everyone involved to be suspended.

The rivalry has featured a handful of legitimately memorable moments, such as Alfredsson's hit from behind, a pair of game sevens, and Gary Roberts killing and eating anyone who looked at him sideways. But the honest truth is that it's been much more likely to feature cringe-inducing moments of embarrassment and stupidity.

While it took some work, I've managed to narrow the list down to a top ten. So here they are, the Dumbest Moments in the History of the Battle of Ontario.

#10 - McCabe vs. Chara

Sens fans are unanimous in their love for the famous Youtube clip of the massive Zdeno Chara rag-dolling a helpless Bryan McCabe. It's basically their "All Heart" video. And let's face it, Leaf fans started to enjoy it too once they turned on McCabe in recent years. In fact, it's quite possible that this is the most famous one-on-one fight in Battle of Ontario history.



Here's the problem: it was pretty much the worst fight ever. Nobody threw a punch. The referees didn't even hand out fighting majors. And while people forget this now, Chara ended up missing time because he wrenched his back flinging McCabe around.

That's right, the most famous fight in this so-called rivalry involved no punches, and the guy who won hurt himself. Ladies and gentlemen, the Battle of Ontario!

#9 - The jersey bylaw

Frustrated with the way that Toronto fans continually took over the building every time the Leafs came to town to play the Senators, Ottawa city council passed a bylaw in 2004 that banned the wearing of Maple Leafs jerseys at the Corel Center. That would be one of the funniest lines I've ever written, except that it's true.

While the rule was meant to be "tongue-in-cheek", Ottawa city council still took the time to make it an official order. Leaf fans who wore their jerseys to the game would be "fined" a canned food donation, with proceeds going to the Ottawa food bank.

Toronto city council considered passing a retaliatory motion that would similarly fine anyone wearing a Senators jersey at the ACC, before realizing that the Toronto food back didn't really need three cans of food.

Instead, the Maple Leafs themselves stepped up with a $5,000 donation to the Ottawa food bank, and invited the Senators to match that with a donation of their own to the Toronto food bank. Nobody can find any evidence that the Senators ever did.

#8 - Every regular season game between 2002 and 2007

There were two things you could count on every single time the Leafs and Senators played each other during this stretch: The Senators would win 8-1, and every Senator fan would immediately declare that this meaningless regular season win made up for all the playoff losses.

The only exception to this rule was the opening game of the 2005 season, when in an act of abject cruelty the Senators intentionally let the game stay tied so that Leaf fans would be forced to watch Jason Allison's shootout attempt.

#7 - Tucker vs. Eaves

In October 2006, midway through one of those Senator blowout victories, Darcy Tucker got into a fight with Patrick Eaves. While Eaves wasn't much of a fighter, he did his best. In the end he ate a few rights, shrugged his shoulders and skated to the penalty box.



End of story? No, of course not, because this is the Battle of Ontario and every minor scuffle has to result in the Senators calling for a suspension. So Ottawa fans, coaches and media spent two days sobbing about how awful it was for Tucker to pick on a poor defenseless player who, after all, was only two inches and fifteen pounds bigger than him.

The Senators, most notably Chris Neil, spent the next 48 hours telling any reporter within earshot that Eaves would be avenged. In doing so, Neil repeatedly reminded everyone of how badly Eaves had been pummelled. Sure, by the end of it Eaves looked like he wanted to hang himself, but it made Chris Neil look good and that was really the entire point all along.

When the teams met for the highly anticipated rematch two night later, Neil lined up across from Tucker on the opening faceoff, leaned in and ... said something to him.

That's it. That's the end of the story.

Nothing else happened the rest of the game. After two days of swearing revenge into any TV camera he could find, Chris Neil gave Darcy Tucker a stern talking to and then called it a night.

Word is that if that hadn't worked, the Sens were going to have Brian McGrattan write Tucker a strongly worded letter.

#6 - Cory Cross scoring an overtime goal

When Cory Cross is scoring overtime goals, your rivalry sucks.

#5 - "We're Gonna Kill 'Em!"

In 2004, the Leafs and Senators were set to meet in a deciding game seven. With tensions high and nationwide media attention focused on the series, rookie Senators owner Eugene Melnyk decided it would be a great idea to publicly guarantee an easy win.

"We're going to kill 'em," Melnyk told the Toronto Star. "We're going to go in there and beat them on their own ice in front of their fans!"

Now, it was one thing when Daniel Alfredsson guaranteed that the Sens would win the series after a game five loss. After all, Alfredsson made guarantees that didn't come true all the time. And at least he was a player, meaning he could have some impact on the game's outcome. (He didn't, of course, because it was a game seven and he's a Senator. But he theoretically could have.)

Melnyk was different. Here was some guy in a suit running his mouth in a cheap bid for media attention. What did he think he was, an Ottawa city councillor?

After the Leafs were done curb-stomping the Senators in game seven, Tie Domi thanked for Melnyk for providing the Leafs with extra motivation. For his part, Melnyk learned a valuable lesson and didn't get into any more trouble for advocating killing until this year, when he suggested that any Sens fan who was unhappy with the team's miserable season should strap a bomb to themselves.

#4 - Domi vs. Arverdson

In a late season game in 2003, Tie Domi became involved in an altercation with the Sens' Magnus Arverdson. A frustrated Domi eventually punched Arverdson in the face with a gloved hand, at which point Daniel Alfredsson attempted to swing his stick like a baseball bat at Domi's head.

Hey, I'll bet you can't guess which one of them got suspended!

The league banned Domi for three games, largely based on the news that Arverdson had been diagnosed with a concussion and a broken nose. After the suspension was announced Arverdson miraculously recovered and played in the Senators' next game without any facial protection, while everyone agreed to just never mention his "injuries" ever again.

This incident is notable for two things: it happened in the same game that saw Darcy Tucker dive into the Sens bench (a moment that will not make this list because, well, it was awesome), and it resulted in one of the great Nick Kypreos moments of all-time:



#3 - Joseph vs. McGeough

The Leafs and Senators met for the first time in the playoffs in 2000. After the Leafs won the first two games at home, the series shifted to Ottawa.

With five minutes left in a tight game, the Senators scored a goal on a play which saw Daniel Alfredsson appear to trip up Curtis Joseph. Referee Mick McGeough correctly ruled that because it was the post-season Alfredsson could cheat as much as he wanted to without being called, and the goal stood.

An incensed Joseph charged into the corner to argue but lost his balance and crashed to the ice instead, taking McGeough down with him. The collision was clearly accidental and, it goes without saying, completely hysterical -- especially the part where Joseph has to stop to ask if McGeough is OK before half-heartedly resuming his tirade.



How did Sens fans react? Say it with me, children: by calling for a suspension!

Even though McGeough himself said the collision was accidental and the league took no action, Sens fans insist to this day that Joseph "attacked" McGeough. The reality, of course, is Joseph didn't attack anything other his own dignity by proving that he couldn't skate fifteen feet without falling all over himself.

#2 - Chiarelli vs. Neale & Cole

If you live outside of Ottawa then it goes without saying that you've never heard of Bob Chiarelli, but he was the mayor of Ottawa for ten years. As far as spotlight-hogging mayors go, Chiarelli could best be described as "Mel Lastman without the charisma". And like everyone who lives in Ottawa, he spent most of his time unsuccessfully trying to get people in Toronto to notice him.

In 2001, the CBC assigned Bob Cole and Harry Neale to call the Leafs/Sens series. Aware that Ottawa fans hate Bob Cole, and realizing that a playoff series against Toronto meant that somebody might actually pay attention to the Senators for once, Chiarelli decided to make himself the story.

Chiarelli went to the local media and announced that Cole and Neale were "Maple Leaf homers". The idea was apparently that Chiarelli would earn some local brownie points and a little national attention, Cole and Neale would play along, and eventually both sides would bury the hatchet at around the same time that the heavily favored Sens wrapped up the series.

Instead, Neale's public response to Chiarelli was, and this a real quote: "Take a big bite out of my ass". This made for the second best soundbite in Battle of Ontario history, trailing "boo hoo" but coming in slightly ahead of "there were a couple of purse-swingings". And then the Leafs swept Ottawa.

Bob Chiarelli has literally never been heard from again.

#1 - The Stick Throw

It takes a really dumb moment to be the dumbest in the entire history of this dumb rivalry. And good god, this moment was dumb.

Midway through the 2004 season, Leafs captain Mats Sundin was suspended one game for throwing a broken stick into the stands. He missed a game against Ottawa, and during that game Daniel Alfredsson famously mocked Sundin when his own stick broke by pretending to throw it into the stands before dropping it on the ice instead.

If you read that paragraph and thought to yourself "That sounds unbelievably boring", then you're apparently not a Toronto or Ottawa fan. No, to the average Leafs and Sens fans, the series of events I just described are the most controversial thing that has ever happened.

Leaf fans were outraged that Alfredsson would dare mock to Sundin. Ignoring the fact that it was a joke, a playful jab from one friend at another, Leaf fans have booed Alfredsson every time he's touched the puck ever since. (Note: Leaf fans now pretend that booing Alfredsson started after his hit from behind on Tucker in the 2002 playoffs. They're lying.)

For their part, Ottawa fans defended Alfredsson. They were right to do so, but since this involves the Leafs, Sens fans had to go completely overboard. To this day, every Ottawa Senators fan insists that Alfredsson's fake stick throw is the funniest thing that anyone has ever done, ever. Not just in hockey -- anywhere. If you ask a Senators fans to create a Mount Rushmore of comic genius, it will include George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and Daniel Alfredsson pretending to throw his broken stick.

Seriously, the next time you find yourself talking to a Leafs fan and a Sens fan at the same time, casually mention the Alfredsson stick throw. The Leafs fan will start ranting like Christian Bale, while the Sens fan immediately starts fake-laughing like Arsenio Hall circa 1991.

At that point, you have my permission to pull out a gun and shoot both of them.

Honorable mentions: Tom Barasso swearing live on Hockey Night in Canada, Domi vs McGrattan, Ron Wilson calling for a stick measurement, the Flu Game, the "Dandyman" getting fired for making jokes about spousal abuse, Pat Quinn pretending he didn't know the names of any Senator players, "if Tie Domi had better balance we'd have won".

If I missed any, it's probably because I've blocked them out. Let me know if the comments and I'll add them.




Sunday, April 5, 2009

NHL must come down hard on cheating Leafs

Jonas Frogren
I've stayed out of the Jonas Frogren controversy, largely because I know my opinion won't be popular in the Leafs community. I'm often accused of being overly negative when it comes to the Leafs, and my critics will no doubt have a field day with me here. But so be it.

I think Gary Bettman let the Leafs off easy. I think the Cliff Fletcher and the Maple Leafs knew they were breaking a league rule when they signed Frogren and they went ahead and did it anyways -- thumbing their noses at the league in the process. And I think they need to be punished. Severely.

Losing a fourth round draft pick, which wasn't even their's to begin with, isn't enough. Frankly, it's a copout.

The NHL needs to make a stand. And they should do so by taking a page from the NCAA's book, and finally getting serious about sanctions against organizations that intentionally flaunt the rules.

Recently the NCAA discovered that Florida State had committed several academic violations and responded with a punishment that will see the school forfeit victories, including as many as 14 from the powerhouse football program.

The NHL should do the same to the Leafs. If Jonas Frogren's contract was illegal, then he should not have been playing. And that means the Leafs should forfeit any and all games in which Frogren dressed.

Harsh? Yes. Unprecedented? Sure. But the league needs to make a stand here.

If Gary Bettman has an ounce of integrity, he will immediately announce that the Leafs have forfeited the points earned in all 41 games in which Frogren played. The decision won't be popular, but truly visionary leadership never is.

Understand that as a Maple Leaf fan, I'm happy to see this whole episode swept under the rug. But as a parent, responsible for shaping a young child's view of the world, I expect more. Rules exist for a reason. Cheating has consequences. I will not lower my standards just because a hockey team I personally root for is involved.

Now, there is the small matter of the NHL standings, which of course would need to be updated to reflect the forfeited games. The Leafs would now find themselves in last place overall by a wide margin. This change should be made immediately.

What's that? The draft lottery? Hm. Good point. I guess the Leafs would now be in position to receive the first overall pick. I hadn't thought of that.

Oh well, no time to bicker over minor details like who gets to draft John Tavares. This is about integrity. Nay, this is about the very essence of right and wrong.

So make the call, Gary. Do it right now. Or at least, as soon as possible. Definitely before the draft lottery.

And for the next two decades, every time Leaf fans watch John Tavares suit up and lead the team to yet another victory, let it serve as a reminder to all: cheating never pays.




Saturday, April 4, 2009

Liveblogging tonight

Three quick hits, before I go put my head back in the oven after last night's performance...

  • I'll be liveblogging tonight's Leafs/Habs game over at TheScore.com. Feel free to drop by and join in the fun. Word is the Leafs will be switching goalies before every faceoff tonight, and may even try a few goalie changes on the fly. Should be fun.

  • I had somebody contact me today to ask if I minded when they post links to DGB content in forums. Not only do I not mind, but you're doing me a huge favor by helping to expose the site to people who may not know about it. In fact, I have no objection if you post full cut-and-paste versions of anything I post, as long as there's a credit and link somewhere. I know some forums discourage that, so if the mod gives you crap just point them back to this post.

  • Finally, a quick thanks to everyone for helping DGB to its highest traffic numbers ever in March, doubling the previous record. For a great discussion of why traffic to Leafs blogs is skyrocketing at the same moment that traditional media claim fan interest is dropping, visit Sporting Madness




Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ottawa or Toronto? Let's help Tyler Bozak decide

Future HOFer
and/or money-grubbing bum
One of the biggest stories in the NHL these days is the status of star college center Tyler Bozak. The highly sought-after free agent has been courted by as many as 20 teams, and has apparently narrowed his options down to a short list. According to TSN, the two top teams on Bozak's list are the Maple Leafs and the Senators.

Bozak is a playmaking center who was passed over in the 2007 draft because of concerns over his size -- he was only 155 lbs at the time, but an emphasis on conditioning has allowed him to fill out to 180 lbs. And while gaining 25 lbs in just two years is impressive, it's worth noting that it still falls well short of the record set by Kyle Wellwood during a single morning at Denny's during the 2008 off-season.

Bozak's decision had been expected on Wednesday, but as of Thursday night he was apparently still considering his options. While no reason has been given for the delay, Bozak's apparent inability to make a simple decision about which team he wants to play for has many Leaf fans calling him captain material. But I can sympathize with the kid.

As someone who grew up in Toronto and now lives in Ottawa, I know how difficult it can be to choose between the two cities. So as a favor to Bozak in these final hours, I'd like to help nudge him along with my unbiased views on some of the pros and cons of either destination.

Coaching
Toronto Maple Leafs - Would have the opportunity to play first few years as a pro under well-respected head coach Ron Wilson.

Ottawa Senators - Would have the opportunity to play first few years as a pro under anywhere from four to six well-respected head coaches.

Opportunity
Ottawa Senators - Based on current organizational depth, would enter training camp with realistic chance of securing job as second line center.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Based on current organizational depth, would enter training camp with realistic chance of securing job as starting goaltender.

Local atmosphere
Toronto Maple Leafs - Would need to be careful to stay focused on hockey, avoiding distractions poised by city's exciting night life, excellent dining, vibrant ethnic communities, world famous theater and cultural attractions, not to mention the presence of the MLB, NBA and NFL.

Ottawa Senators - Would need to be careful to stay focused on hockey, avoiding distractions poised by Local Heroes wing night, the Blockbuster down the street, the experimental farm, and that other Blockbuster a little further down the street.

Fan loyalty
Toronto Maple Leafs - Opportunity to play in front of 19,000+ die-hard Leaf fans every night.

Ottawa Senators - Same.

Travel
Toronto Maple Leafs - Central location means it only takes a few hours to make plane trip from downtown Toronto to cities of division rivals.

Ottawa Senators - Central location means it only takes a few hours to make bus trip from downtown Ottawa to the ScotiaBank Place.

Fan knowledge
Ottawa Senators - Staying focused on the game can occasionally be difficult due to unsophisticated fans mindlessly screaming in your ear all night long.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Fans appreciate the importance of focusing on the task at hand, and will leave you alone with your thoughts by vacating the ten rows behind the bench during the first half of every period.

Hero worship
Toronto Maple Leafs - While it would be exciting and flattering at first, the constant praise, autograph requests and almost sickening level of devotion could eventually wear thin and lead you to dread contact with fans.

Ottawa Senators - While it would be exciting and flattering at first, the constant praise, autograph requests, and almost sickening level of devotion could eventually wear thin and lead you to dread contact with local media.

General Manager
Toronto Maple Leafs - Brian Burke, who is credited with building a Stanley Cup champion in Anaheim.

Ottawa Senators - Bryan Murray, who actually did build a Stanley Cup champion in Anaheim.

Ownership
Toronto Maple Leafs - Team is owned primarily by a pension fund, meaning ownership is often perceived as being focused on profit and not especially accountable to the city or fans.

Ottawa Senators - Team is owned by Eugene Melnyk, a wealthy businessman who is passionately committed to the city and its fans and will tell you this whenever he is interviewed via satellite from the home in the Barbados where he spends 51 1/2 weeks of the year.

History
Ottawa Senators - As a relatively recent expansion team, the franchise has a limited history from which to draw.

Toronto Maple Leafs - The team has a long and rich history, and the friendly local media will be more than willing to constantly remind you of fascinating facts such as what year the team last won a Stanley Cup, and how long it's been since the team last won a Stanley Cup

Women
Toronto Maple Leafs - Players can count on having plenty of opportunity to court the beautiful local women.

Ottawa Senators - Players can count on having plenty of opportunity to court the beautiful local women, unless both of them happen to be sick that weekend.

Update: He chose wisely.