Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
Sure, I get the anger. I get the energy. I even get the need to be demonstrative. Brett Lawrie brings a ton to the table for the Toronto Blue Jays, and I totally understand most fans can’t bring themselves to be fully objective about THEIR players or THEIR team. I hear you. I always thought Alan Trammell was truly as good as Cal Ripken Jr. He was great, but he wasn’t.
While Dan Marino played, there wasn’t ANY quarterback I’d have rather had under center for the Miami Dolphins. That was shortsighted. There were QBs that had just as much around them who played bigger in bigger moments. I lacked objectivity. If you’re somehow suggesting Brett Lawrie didn’t embarrass himself and potentially cost his team dearly with his actions last night, it’s going to be tough to find much middle ground on this issue.
He got hooked by Bill Miller behind the plate on the 3-1 pitch. An awful call. A horrible decision. Maybe even a vindictive one. But you might have been like me and said it on the full-count pitch in the bottom of the ninth last night after Lawrie sprinted out of the batter’s box, got 30 feet down the line, stopped, rolled his eyes skyward, and slowly and dejectedly shuffled his way back to face the 3-2 pitch — if it’s EVEN in the same GALAXY as Lawrie’s strike zone, Miller will ring him up. And he’ll be gleeful about doing it. It was. He did. He was.
Am I suggesting Lawrie should have “swung at Ball 4″. Yeah, in that case, knowing what you know, doing what you just did (again, nothing illegal or immoral but the sixth sense has to kick in — THAT ump is not giving you THAT call now), Lawrie can’t take a pitch that close and expect to be rewarded for it. Players hit singles, doubles, triples, and home runs night after night, in park after park on “non-strikes”.
Was the pitch Joe Carter golfed into the left field stands off Mitch Williams in 1993 a strike? Hell no. I’m not even sure if Dennis Eckersley’s famous pitch to Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was.
And then there’s the reaction. You can tell me all you want Lawrie didn’t mean to hit the umpire with the helmet. I don’t have to accept that because we’ll never know. The raw physics of the “baseball helmet bounce” would suggest that 4 times out of 5 the helmet IS going to hit Miller when you bounce it with tremendous velocity about 18 inches from his feet. If anything, Lawrie’s “lucky” it didn’t bounce up and hit Miller in the groin or even in the face or head.
If it’s the worst thing Brett Lawrie does embarrassment-wise as a Blue Jay, we’re in for a nice long ride and a full, rich, dedicated, and, yes “passionate” career as an elite Major Leaguer. If by his fourth or fifth year as a Blue Jay, this incident is the third or fourth-worst thing he’s done on the field, then we’re in some trouble. I don’t have an opinion either way on Lawrie’s character. Your actions define you in life. It seems like, especially in sports, we get the “he’s a good guy” or “he’s not that type of player” defence remarkably frequently. You kind of “are what you do”, are you not?
I’m not attempting to kick Lawrie when he’s done. How could anyone not learn from this. You can’t fight City Hall and you can’t get justice from MLB umpires. You have to play the game with them — Lawrie, unquestionably took it one step too far, and I applaud the objective listeners to my show and followers of my twitter feed, because there seem to be PLENTY of you who think the Blue Jays are getting a reputation for complaining and whining too much about calls in the field of play. I never want to judge people by their stoicism or their facial expressions, and I realize he’s hitting under .200 and his OBP and OPS is nowhere near last year’s heights, but Jose Bautista doesn’t look like he’s having a lot of fun right now. He certainly has body language that suggests he doesn’t think he gets either a fair shake or quite possibly, the “shake” he should get and is entitled to as a player who’s put up shockingly impressive power numbers these last two seasons.
Folks, you can’t have it both ways – you can’t judge Lawrie by his aggressiveness, passion, and energy positively and then tell others to turn a blind eye to the grim and irritated nature with which Bautista seems to be addressing his tasks. I would never dispute both players want to win and succeed to similar levels.
Part of what I believe MLB’s discipline czars will weigh here is the fact this wasn’t a player like Jermaine Dye three seasons ago, who while walking away, slammed the helmet down, and it happened to bounce back and land at an umpire’s feet, grazing him. This LOOKS worse than that, and again, fair or not, how things appear often plays a significant role in how it’s judged.
All the factors work against Lawrie. He had stopped his second consecutive jog to first base. He had time to collect himself. He knelt down AND THEN sprung up like a lion out of a cage, got close enough to Miller, where, as noted, there’s almost no chance the helmet isn’t going to bounce up and hit Miller. Was more coming before Blue Jays manager John Farrell could get out of the dugout and separate the two men? It’s unfair to guess, because we’ll never know. But if YOU were Miller, would YOU have been frightened? Fearful of being physically accosted? Hey — the guy disgraced his profession last night with the 3-1 pitch, there’s no arguing that, but he has every right not to think he’s about to be physically assaulted.
Again, perception blends into reality sometimes. We don’t know all that was said, but Lawrie also might have done favours with Bud Selig’s office had he sought Miller out after the game and apologized to him for his rage instead of doing it in front of a microphone. If he did so, we don’t know about it yet. Should Lawrie have to, of course not — but would it go a long way in minimizing the suspension that the Jays should be panicked about will be double-digits? I’d say that’s fair.
Either way, it’s a learning experience. These umpires aren’t crooked, and they aren’t corrupt — but they’re remarkably unaccountable for their actions, and like you having an argument with your boss, or pleading with your college professor to give you a higher mark, you won’t win the case — even if you might be right.
Monday, May 14th, 2012
I get very little “stick” from listeners or viewers in the United Kingdom of the popular BBC Five Live show, “Fighting Talk” which has helped establish the fact that I don’t spend every waking hour on pronounciations geared towards the “Queen’s English”. Then again, no Queen worth her salt would approve, in any language, on any continent of my infamous 2004 pronouncement of “Yak-a-boo” as a player to keep an eye on. I was, remarkably, correct about the player, less so, how to say his name.
My affection for soccer hit high tide upon my first visit to London, England in the summer of 1996. I’d wangled myself an “internship” at BBC’s Greater London Radio 94.9 FM and though I’d done some on-air phone hits in the prior couple years to my first trip across, it was a remarkable adventure for me filled with bizarre occurences, a shocking (for me, anyway) pattern of nightly drinking, but also a full-on affair with “The Beautiful Game”. Euro 1996 was in full-swing throughout my visit, and despite getting to Wimbledon one day, and covering the Queens’ Club warm-up (still get misty at the very mention of Baron’s Court tube stop), I only managed to see one game in person — a quarter-final match between Portugal and the Czech Republic.
One of my great, and lifelong friends, Simon Crosse, before rightly mounting the ladder and becoming a remarkably successful executive producer for programs on the BBC, secured two tickets to that particular match on a Sunday night at Villa Park. Bizarrely, I recall hearing what I think what was a live Sex Pistols gig from Finsbury Park (they’d famously and FINALLY reunited for a sweet grab at the cash that spring and were in full obnoxiousness-mode) on the way back after a clinical, if unspectacular win by the Czechs, on the way to actually winning the tournament.
But I was hooked — I was always near a television with a Euro 1996 match on. I found myself back in the UK covering Wimbledon (daily) for GLR in the summer of 1998 and the only drawback in a dream gig was often not getting out of the grounds until after 7pm and missing good chunks of the evening World Cup matches from France, including Iran famously pounding the USA.
The two saddest crowds I’ve ever been in the midst one are probably not actual funerals (yes, often awful sadness, but there is that sense of “celebrating one’s life” who has passed) were pubs in 1996 when Gareth Southgate couldn’t convert on the penalty against Germany, and two years later, the remarkably heartstopping Argentina defeat in France ’98′s Round of 16 which featured so much: Owen’s goal, Beckham’s card, McManaman’s hustle, and another crashing out on penalties. Three of the four most famous English penalty defeats in the last 20 years, I’ve been IN ENGLAND for — you can imagine the effect it’s had.
I got back in the fall of 1996 from England and did everything I could to follow and devour the sport and the still-a-toddler-age “English Premiership”, but it wasn’t easy. The internet was still in its infancy, so you were able to keep up with scores, stats, and stories, but forget streaming video (or even audio, really, for that matter) and live matches were few and far between, let alone the concept of seeing the division below (now the “Championship”).
So while I’m not a born-and-bred soccer fan, and it was hardly passed down in a NFL/NHL/MLB household, it quickly became pretty close to my favourite sport (and the Premiership being my favourite league) to watch. But even what happened on Sunday had me astounded, had me screaming, had me rolling my eyes, had me punching the air, and had Manchester United secured YET another title, could have had me punching a wall.
To go as simply as possible explanation-wise. If Manchester City win, the Premiership title is theirs — the first in almost a half-century. If they don’t win at home against Queens Park Rangers, then more than likely, despite hustling like mad and doing all that was necessary to get back into the title hunt, they lose and watch their more popular, previously richer, and certainly more upper-crust brethren, Manchester United steal the glory and the title.
The Champions League was all up for grabs. Third place in the EPL means an automatic spot in the Europe-wide tourney and millions more in revenue, 4th spot gets a chance (with minimal guarantees and tons of risk) to qualify for group play in the Champions League in August, and 5th place gets a set of steak knives and a spot in the Europa Cup. Thus, Arsenal, Newcastle, and Spurs all had an extremely impactful 38th match out of 38 to be ready for.
Relegation? Oh, there’s that also. QPR while, away from home, had the monsters of Manchester City to hold off, while also hoping Bolton didn’t defeat Stoke simultaneously.
The day had it all, and even with the Champions League Final this Saturday (on Sportsnet, 2pm — Chelsea v. Bayern Munich IN Munich, no less), and Euro 2012 less than a month away, the reverberations from this dramatic day are still shooting around the globe.
It bears the question. Is the Premiership as big as it can get right now? It can’t be argued that it’s never been bigger, and maybe soccer as a whole hasn’t. I won’t lie — the MLS has yet to “win me” as a fan and observer. I like it, mind you, and I’d rather HAVE a team in my hometown now, than NOT HAVE one, but it’s left something to be desired, and perhaps always will, especially given the time of year it’s played.
The Premier League is getting coverage as it’s never received before — television-wise — in both Canada and the United States. Matches and competititions we’d struggle to be able to view in our own homes even ten years ago are now readily available and well worth the price. I recall paying $25 cover to go a Troy, Michigan bar and watch a handful of England qualifiers for Euro 2000, and the same just to see some of the Euro 2000 knockout rounds after I got back from travelling Belgium and Holland to see matches in the Group Stages.
But the game’s being seen in greater numbers than ever. More players are bigger household names than ever before, even than during David Beckham’s prime (say, with the “Treble”-winning Manchester United squad of 1999). Television staggering matches has worked wonders. Getting to see six hours of the Premiership live on Saturday mornings and another four on Sunday was never a possibility before the last few years, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. How long does a match take? TWO HOURS. Perfect for busy lives, and a stark contrast to 3-hours plus for most Major League Baseball games and nearly 4 hours for a top NCAA college football game.
We’re barely 24 hours from the Premier League’s conclusion, and I’ve already thought about the upcoming fixtures for next season, and the fruits the transfer market will bear out — all of which is odd, given I’m “burnt out” of NFL immediately after the Super Bowl, and similiarily with MLB and NHL. Enough’s enough and you need the break from those leagues. The EPL runs basically nine months, but beyond the obvious fatigue, emotionally and physically the players have to handle, I’m not sure their fans ever walk away from the dining table not able to handle more.
It’s without question the most popular league in North America which doesn’t play a meaningful game in North America. Maybe that will change someday soon, and maybe it won’t, but look at the television ratings, the web traffic, and the hats, and kits sported around an amazing cosmopolitan city like Toronto (without question, the BEST city in the world to be in for a major international soccer tournament, given its melting pot nature). It’s a game and league on the rise, and I’m quite sure the domestic leagues with teams actually here in North America, and yeah, in Toronto, are already well aware of its influence and sway.
Five days until West Ham v. Blackpool — the soccer drama never ends. We’ll all have recovered from Manchester City’s miraculous performance by Saturday at 10am, won’t we?
Thursday, May 10th, 2012
Yeah, it’s back. For now. Or for a long time. Or a good time. I don’t know.
Please enjoy from the summer of 1984 when Billy Idol was at his peak, a seemingly lathered-up Idol on with David Letterman.
Great stories about his drugs being named, and whether his videos are too violent (1:30 in). He’s so ironically funny, it’ll give you a chortle.
He also keeps rubbing his nipple…..we’ve all been there, I suppose. Or we will be at some point. Enjoy.
Thursday, May 10th, 2012
It’s real easy to be a “Doubting Thomas” when it comes to the Toronto Blue Jays. How could it not be? Only the Royals, Pirates, and Nationals/Expos have longer playoff droughts. They haven’t been a NINETY-win team, let alone a playoff team since the very moment Joe Carter faced Mitch Williams on that Saturday night in late October 1993. “Hey, you can’t win or succeed in the AL East unless you spend like the Yankees or Red Sox!!!” — oh, ok, seems to me the Tampa Bay Rays are well on their way to going to the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
Saying all that, the possibilities seem stronger than ever due to various circumstances that the Blue Jays will at worst, play “meaningful September baseball” at the Rogers Centre for the first time since 1998 (the only year they finished with the 5th-best record in the 14-team American League), and at best, will be fighting for a Wild-Card position this fall.
I don’t like the wild-card format. It should be a 2-of-3 series. Your fans pay the freight for 81 regular season games, and many travel on the road as well, and they deserve, at minimum, one home date. But things being what they are, here’s why I think the Blue Jays, despite a LOT of things not necessarily going as planned out of the gate, are in real good shape. In fact, this odd year in the American League, it may not take 90 wins to make the postseason. Last year, the Red Sox, despite the poor start and eventual epic collapse squeeze in at 90 wins, and in the National League, the Braves make it with 89 wins.
1. The Blue Jays are doing a lot of things wrong. The law of averages dictate that won’t hold up. They’re hitting poorly as a team — as of today (May 10th), they’re 12th in batting average in the American League at a paltry .237. Weirdly, with a lot of their players struggling for power, the team is 5th in AL home run totals with 39. The team they play this weekend, the lowly Twins, have 18 by comparison.
2. The bullpen’s been a mess. Sure it has, you know it and I know it. The good thing for the Blue Jays is so many AL teams have “major closer issues” either with injury and consistency. Sergio Santos has been both, unfortunately — when healthy, he’s been inconsistent, and now he’s not healthy. Luis Perez and Carlos Villaneuva have been consistently strong, and now, a great question is whether Francisco Cordero can adapt to a role he hasn’t performed in almost a decade — spot relief duty.
3. The Red Sox. They’re off to their worst start since 1996. They’re 12-18 and unlike last season, they don’t have their MVP candidates from last year like Ellsbury and Pedroia playing as such, and they’d actually be far worse off without a resurgent David Ortiz. Bobby Valentine is already digging his heels in and though it’s not imperative players LIKE him, it is imperative they RESPECT him, and there’s some stark early signs that they simply do not. Couple that with having to jerk a promising arm like Daniel Bard out of replacing Jonathan Papelbon as long-time closer into a starting role is far from ideal. If you have to make a move in early April out of necessity, it’s not a good thing. I’d argue that was the case last year, even here in Toronto, with no pitcher among the three they had (Rauch, Francisco, Dotel) able to establish consistency as a closer, and with Jose Bautista hoping from right field to third base, and at times, back again. We can wait this out, and sure, there’s the trademarked disclaimer (“it’s early”) but Boston doesn’t look like Boston, and that’s all that matters.
4. The Angels. Sort of the same story although their starting staff is fantastic, they haven’t all performed like it. I think all the stories make sense…Pujols will get on track, so will Ervin Santana and the Angels won’t not make a move or several to get themselves in contention.
5. The lack of competition from the other 7 teams in the American League. I asked Mike Wilner this morning about this and he agreed: there’s nothing we’ve seen from the Athletics, Mariners, Indians, White Sox, Twins, or even, yes, the Orioles to make myself OR him think that any of those teams will be competing in September. Sure the Orioles look a bit better than last season, when they started dreadfully, but there are still major roster holes and despite Arrieta and Hunter pitching well early, yes, again, it IS early. It doesn’t mean they won’t fight to be a .500 team (which I actually, and wrongly thought they’d be in 2011, only to finish 69-93), but it does probably mean they aren’t built for the long haul, and of course, we’re still not sure the Blue Jays are, either.
There’s more, of course — the Tigers are out of the gate and really struggling. Cold bats, the Delmon Young problem, really inconsistent position players, and a lack of reliability from the back end of their starting rotation. But the Tigers WILL win the AL Central, and no wildcard team is coming out of that division.
The simplicity is this: I’d concede the division to the Tampa Bay Rays. I picked them to win the division, and they’ve been even better than I thought and this may be the year they don’t go meekly in the ALDS (which they admittedly have the last two Octobers). So if we assume Tampa, Detroit, and Texas win their divisions and maybe all will by a minimum of 5 games, that leaves two spots. Your competitors, and your ONLY competitors are New York, Toronto, Anaheim, and Boston. If either Boston or Anaheim finish ahead of Toronto, odds are real slim the Blue Jays can be that playoff team. But it’s a four-horse race, and a 50 percent chance. There’s many ways you can spin it, but we’d all be shocked if the wildcards are any other teams except those four squads.
You can always spin the Blue Jays in different ways, and it is premature. The Blue Jays led the AL East in late May 2009 with a 27-14 record, but there was no buzz. The team felt “wrong” is the best way to put it. The Yankees and Red Sox were still who they were, and who they have been, in essence, the last dozen seasons or so. With the Blue Jays now, you can say Bautista will pick up the torrid pace of his 2010 2nd half and his 2011 1st half, and I can counter by suggesting Edwin Encarnacion won’t stay on his pace. You can claim the bullpen will get more consistent, and I can push back suggesting the starting rotation will start to have fewer quality starts as a whole than they have so far.
The Blue Jays are 19th in MLB in team ERA, and 15th in WHIP, yet it feels like they’ve pitched quite well as a collective entity. But every game matters, even right now. You can tell, and based on the slow starts and discord surrounding the Angels and Red Sox, the Blue Jays might be able to benefit and deliver a playoff spot, without having to be tremendously improved themselves.
Thursday, April 12th, 2012
When it comes to NHL discipline, we’ve always gone from expecting the “right thing” to be done, to hoping the “right thing” might be done, to emotionally disengaging from the entire process.
From Matt Cooke, for all intents and purposes, ending Marc Savard’s career with as blatant a targeting of the human head as we’ve seen in the sport in the last several years, to countless other weak suspensions for similar hits, it’s really difficult to take things seriously which the NHL comes down with.
So I think all of us who saw Shea Weber’s disgusting actions of a punch to the back of the head of Henrik Zetterberg, followed by the slamming of Zetterberg’s skull into the glass at extremely close range, are all HOPING the right thing is done, but it’s so tempered by expectations. The NHL loves to talk the talk about wanting violence out of the sport. Trust me, it doesn’t. They feel like they have to target the younger demographic that is so infatuated with the NFL, and especially the group (note I didn’t say “subculture”, that’s a bit heavy-handed) that enjoys the UFC/MMA cards.
Shea Weber certainly DESERVES more than one game, and that’s even taking into account who he is, and of course, who Henrik Zetterberg is — and that’s for the last six or seven seasons, the Red Wings best forward in the playoffs. I love Pavel Datsyuk as much as the next hockey fan, but Zetterberg usually outscores Datsyuk in the postseason and also draws a much tougher checking assignment — he gets assigned the other team’s best shutdown defender, and during those shifts, has to check the other team’s best centre.
But I can honestly say this is the first year I’ve looked at the Red Wings since 1993 and not seen a Stanley Cup contender. The first year if you’d give me only five teams that could/should win the Stanley Cup (and usually there aren’t any more than five) that the Red Wings aren’t on the list. That’s a hell of a run, and I’m not sure the Red Wings are going to miss the playoffs any time soon, but I really do believe that more talented teams than Detroit (San Jose, for example) have missed recently, or almost missed this year as the Sharks nearly did.
San Jose’s roster was lauded in two tight series against Detroit for having many more talented younger players, and some of those have been high draft picks, but others have developed through their system. Who’s Detroit’s best player under 30? Well, it’s either Val Filppula or Ian White and both are 27 years old. There’s really no other options, and nothing against Jimmy Howard, who’s one of the best twelve or fifteen goalies in the NHL, but I’m not so sure he’s elite either. That’s not even to say Howard may not be better than Chris Osgood as a “skilled” goalie but he hasn’t got near the team in front of him any of Vernon, Osgood, Hasek, or, yes, Curtis Joseph had, in the last 18 years or so. Let’s not forget this team made a star out of Manny Legace, a journeyman goalie before he got to Detroit, and a journeyman goalie after he left Detroit, with no playoff round wins, I should add.
San Jose’s players under 30 who are better than any of their under-30 Red Wings counterparts when they played the last two springs? Sit down, I don’t want your joints to stiffen up. Logan Couture (22), Joe Pavelski (27), Ryane Clowe (28), Brent Burns (26), Jamie McGinn (moved to Colorado this spring) (23), and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (24). That’s not to say Filppula isn’t “better” than McGinn right now, for example, but it speaks to what a seemingly now “average” Western Conference team like the Sharks had/have as a young commodity that the Red Wings don’t.
Are the Wings to blame for this? If you can’t sign young players via free agency, and for the most point, you cannot as UFAs anymore, and teams aren’t stupid enough to trade elite talent in their early-to-mid 20s to your team, then how do you get them?
The draft seems the only way, and the Red Wings haven’t drafted in the Top 5 since they took Keith Primeau 3rd overall in 1990, and haven’t drafted in the Top 10 since Martin Lapointe became a Red Wing in 1991 at 10th overall. That’s unbelievable but not surprising. In the past 21 years counting this upcoming draft, the Wings drafted in the 1st round 11 times, and traded the pick the other 10 times.
Who are the Red Wings’ 1st-rounders since 1992. It’s an ugly list. Behold:
1992 – Curtis Bowen (22nd)
1993 – Anders Eriksson (22nd)
1994 – Yan Golubovsky (23rd)
1995 – Maxim Kusnetsov (25th)
1996 – Jesse Wallin (26th)
1998 – Jiri Fischer (25th)
2000 – Niklas Kronwall (29th)
2005 – Jakub Kindl (19th)
2010 – Riley Sheahan (21st)
Eesh, right? Kronwall’s been a steady presence in the Red Wings Top 4 defence core for several years now, and though Jiri Fischer’s career was tragically cut short because of a heart ailment in that famous Nashville/Detroit game in November 2006, I’m sorry — he was an average defender, not as tough as his size would suggest, and he constantly turned the puck over. He was serviceable when surrounded by star defenders, but few people whose views I respect ever thought he was going to become much better than he was.
As far as forwards go, after getting Johan Franzen in the 3rd round in 2004, and Jiri Hudler in the 2nd round in 2002, they have neither drafted nor developed (yet) any frontline talent who can play in ANY NHL squad’s Top 6 forwards, let alone the Red Wings. This isn’t a “hey, we’re too deep to play talented kids” situation, the Red Wings would play talented kids if they could. But I think Jan Mursak’s size is an issue to get up to an elite forward status, and Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm are both bottom-end checking forwards or penalty killers.
It’s hard to be great forever. We see cracks in the foundation of great teams after long periods of time. We see them in other sports with the New England Patriots and the New York Yankees (and the Yankees, unlike the Red Wings or Patriots) aren’t slaves to a league-wide salary cap. I’d argue among pro sports teams, the Red Wings, Yankees, and Patriots have set phenomenal standards to be matched by teams. The Red Wings with four Stanley Cup wins and six Finals appearances in seventeen years, the Yankees with three straight World Series wins and a near-win in 2001 against Arizona, and the Patriots winning three Super Bowls in four seasons — we have yet to see a team GO BACK to the Super Bowl in back-to-back seasons once since that run. Sixteen great NFL teams have tried, and sixteen have failed.
It’s an amazing dilemma for Ken Holland and his staff. I don’t blame Holland for the lack of depth, but they aren’t re-stocking the system with Zetterbergs, Datsyuks, Franzens or Kronwalls like they did when Yzerman, Fedorov, Shanahan, Lidstrom and (insert elite goalie here) were the Red Wings core. They’ve needed a break in the Draft and haven’t gotten one. Every other team they fight and compete with has at least a few Top 10 draft picks on their roster they have to battle against.
The Wings do have former 1st-rounders on their roster, like Danny Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, and Brad Stuart (#3 overall) no less, but no one would make the argment that Bertuzzi and Stuart are in the twilights of their respective careers, and Cleary still will go down as a career underachiever, who was thrown a lifeline by Detroit several training camps ago and made the most of his opportunity.
Nashville meantime rolls with a #2 overall (1998) centre in David Legwand, a #7 overall (2003) D-man in Ryan Suter, #15 overall (2004) electric forward in the just-returned Alex Radulov, #7 overall (2008) playmaking solid centre in Colin Wilson, and likely-won’t-miss 1st rounders like Ryan Ellis (7th/2009) and Austin Watson (18th/2010).
Ken Holland’s been a fantastic general manager in Detroit, and likely has a job for the rest of his career, and he boldly dismissed an out-of-his-element Dave Lewis after only two playoff runs and Lewis alienating Curtis Joseph, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Thomas, and Brett Hull. He hired the coach most fanbases dream of having in Mike Babcock. It’s hard to say Holland has done anything less than a very good (at the worst of times) to an exceptional beyond belief (at the best of times) job. For every brilliant trade or free-agent masterstroke there’s a signing of a Derien Hatcher or Uwe Krupp.
But Holland’s never had the luxury of having bluechippers show up at the age of 18 or 19 ready to contribute, and certainly very few recently. The evolution of the Red Wings over the next three years and certainly for the first couple post-Lidstrom years will be downright fascinating. You, as a Red Wings fan, can be as loyal as you’d like to be towards Lidstrom, but isn’t the best thing for the FUTURE of the Red Wings for Lidstrom to retire this summer, and for the Red Wings to be able to sign Ryan Suter or Zach Parise? It’s been a while since the Red Wings have signed or even been able to sign financially an elite free-agent. That player was Marian Hossa and both player and team could only commit to one year and the Red Wings still won fifteen playoff games that season.
For the record, I still think the Red Wings are winning this series against Nashville — they were a lousy road team much of the year, so winning once in Game 2 or Game 5 in Nashville and protecting home ice isn’t forecasting some tremendous surprise…but it is the first time I look at the Red Wings and will be SHOCKED if they end up in the Stanley Cup Finals, and, again, imagine being SHOCKED the Yankees are in the World Series or Patriots are in the Super Bowl. We’re not there yet — I think we are with the Winged Wheelers.
Monday, March 12th, 2012
I was already thinking of the trials and tribulations of “overpaying” for a superstar a month ago when it leaked out that the Columbus Blue Jackets were attempting to trade star winger Rick Nash. It’s never easy NOT to overpay. I mean, how do you “underpay”? Borderline impossible, isn’t it. Look at the Eric Lindros deal in the summer of 1992 — not many thought the Flyers had overpaid at the time (Lindros went for: cash, a R1 pick in 1992, a R1 pick in 1993, Chris Simon, Steve Duchense, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, and Peter Forsberg). But think about it now? It’s INSANE. But it only became so because Forsberg became Forsberg — if anything Ricci was still meant to be the best player in the deal, and drafted in a Top 5 which included Keith Primeau, Jaromir Jagr, Owen Nolan, and Petr Nedved, his accomplishments don’t match up, in my eyes anyway, to any of those four.
But the Flyers were getting ERIC LINDROS! It seemed like an easy call to make, but Lindros would only play 486 games with the Flyers (just over 6 full seasons if you extrapolate that number out over 80 game seasons), and a fair chunk of those 486 were Lindros at notably less than 100 percent.
So trading for a superstar almost never works out the way you think. The comparables just don’t work out — yes, the Colts once traded three first-round picks for Eric Dickerson, but he was a fantastic young runningback who was a fully healthy, and fully known commodity. Doing what the Redskins did (trading spots in this draft…#2 for #6, a 2nd rounder this year, and first-round picks in 2013 and 2014) has considerable risk, no doubt. No team’s ever done this for a “trade up” in the draft. Some examples:
San Diego got far less for letting Atlanta go up to #1 overall and get Michael Vick. The Falcons moved #5 overall (San Diego took LaDainian Tomlinson), Tim Dwight, #67 overall and a 2nd rounder for Vick. The Chargers would take Drew Brees in the same 2001 NFL Draft — so the trade almost seemed like Michael Vick for Drew Brees AND LaDaininan Tomlinson. Big win for San Diego, especially given what Atlanta invested in Vick, and how he let them down.
In 1990, The Colts (yep, those crazy Irsay folks!) wanted Jeff George in the worst way. How worst? Well, they traded Chris Hinton, wideout Andre Rison, the following year’s first rounder, a swap of 3rd and 4th round picks. George was never surrounded by true elite talent, and I do think he gets a bad rap in retrospect. The guy threw a GORGEOUS ball and, again, not sure what he could have accomplished with some of the circus-type business around him. Revolving doors for coaches and players back in the early 1990s, really, until Marshall Faulk got drafted there and the team grabbed some stability.
The most recent example is obviously the Chargers having the first-overall pick, being told by Eli Manning and the Manning family that Eli wasn’t interested in playing there. The Giants traded the #4 overall (Chargers would draft Philip Rivers from North Carolina), the #65th overall, a 2005 1st rounder, and 2005 5th rounder, for Eli’s rights.
It’s a real tough trade to evaluate, and you’ll laugh perhaps at that, but Rivers is easily as well-regarded as Manning (or at least “was” until a disappointing 2011 sidetracked Rivers from “elite status”). Rivers has been to four Pro Bowls, Manning only two. Rivers is a 63 percent career passer, Manning is 58. I am totally on-board with those who praise Eli as an elite quarterback, and as much as advanced statistics has changed how we analyze sports, there still exists “big games”, and there still exists “clutch”. Eli is all that and more, but this is the very first year I’d take seriously someone who’d tell me they’d rather have Manning in an important game than Philip Rivers. I’d be shocked if we don’t see Rivers winning Super Bowls someday, but for the sake of this argument, I think we can concur, the Giants didn’t pay nearly as much as the Redskins have this past weekend to move up to get the elite quarterback they so desperately crave.
And that’s the word, isn’t it? Desperate. The Redskins ARE indeed that. They play in a conference where their quarterback has to match up against Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, AND Sam Bradford. That’s not even to mention the quarterbacks in the NFC East, and the Redskins get a 6-game yearly diet of Eli Manning, Michael Vick, and Tony Romo. Romo’s got his limitations, and I’m convinced as ever, and I’ve never wavered on this, that you simply won’t win with Vick — because of leadership and because he isn’t accurate enough out of the pocket, despite being surrounded by fantastic weapons. But despite two wins for Rex Grossman under centre against Manning’s Giants this year, the position needed an upgrade.
Since 1992, Brad Johnson and Mark Brunell both squeezed out playoff-game wins for Washington. They’re the only two to do so…two playoff wins in twenty seasons just isn’t good enough for an organization which has won as many Super Bowls as they have.
I’m OK with the Redskins paying this price. It’s a quarterback-friendly league and the Redskins need a FACE for this franchise so desperately. At one point, enough people who live in D.C. convinced me Alexander Ovechkin was more popular and well-known than any Washington Redskins player and all that without playing past the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Simply unacceptable to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and understandably so. Snyder’s been remarkably cavalier and reckless with his money, and sure it’s his money, but there’s only so much of it to spend.
Instead of being reckless with money, the Redskins are being reckless with draft picks — unknown commodities and that makes more sense. 19 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first rounds of the NFL drafts since 2004 when Manning/Rivers were both picked and not counting 2011′s crop of four 1st round QBs. Of those 19, 17 are still in the league, all except J.P. Losman and Jamarcus Russell. Some of you just realized Brady Quinn is still in the league because of his recent knocks on Tim Tebow, but, yes, in the NFL, he still is.
Of those nineteen quarterbacks, ELEVEN of them have won playoff games, and some like Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez have won multiple playoff games. Others like Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, and yes, even still Matt Ryan are going to — you know that, right?
Meanwhile, there are the Super Bowl-winners. Aaron Rodgers with one. Ben Roethlisberger with two. Eli Manning with two. Five Super Bowl wins in the last seven seasons by quarterbacks drafted 2004 and after, and it’s not worth betting against all three of them to win even more, perhaps Rodgers especially.
You have to pay to play in the modern-day NFL and teams without strong quarterback play can barely GET to the playoffs now, let alone win. Tell me, outside of Tim Tebow (yes, magical things happened down the stretch in Denver — please don’t question it, just accept that it won’t happen terribly often) the last time a “below-average” NFL quarterback made the playoffs with his team, let alone won a game. It’s not as it once was where a strong running game and a ball-hawking defence could get the job done for you.
Sure, the Redskins overpaid — but staying the course and building conventionally wasn’t getting them to the playoffs. This is a gamble worth taking and weirdly, it’s a safer gamble than paying $20 million-plus to a 36-year old future Hall of Fame and Super Bowl-winning quarterback coming off FOUR neck surgeries, who’ll have gone 20 months without throwing a pass in a game, and whose assets were starting to depreciate (if ever so slightly) throughout the 2010 NFL season.
I’m not sure it guarantees success in the NFC East for the Redskins, but if Robert Griffin III is even 75% as advertised, he’ll bring stability to a position on the Redskins where it’s been sorely lacking for far too long, not to mention get the Redskins on those Sunday and Monday Night games a touch more often than they currently are.
Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
What a day — Indianapolis Colts legend Peyton Manning gets cut today by the Colts. Who saw this coming? Well, no one 12 months ago, but 12 days ago, all of us did.
Unlike the Joe Montana trade in 1993, or even the Wayne Gretzky deal in 1988, I’m trying to think of when an iconic player who’d spent his whole career in one city and who is (and always will be) as beloved as Manning was simply, for lack of a better term, dropped by a team. We see the regular occurences of dwindling playing time, far less responsibility for one-city/one-team icons….I’d make the case we just did with Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, and we, at one point, will with Derek Jeter. In Detroit, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were shadows of their former fantastic selves by the time they retired in the mid-1990s, but Manning just FEELS so unique and different, because it is.
If it’s my team, I’d trade a significant chunk of assets AND obviously draft picks to go up and get Robert Griffin III from Baylor by working a deal with the St. Louis Rams for that #2 overall pick. I just think we’d have heard a lot more about Manning and his ability to still throw and get it down were he, in fact, able to. The guy’s been through FOUR neck surgeries, and by my math, that’s as many as FOUR MORE than most elite NFL quarterbacks. None of us want to see Peyton Manning play like Kerry Collins the last several years, do we?
Anyway, three big dominoes in motion: Where will Manning play? Who drafts Griffin? Who signs Matt Flynn as a free agent, hoping he’s the next Matt Schaub, and not the next Rob Johnson.
I’d rate it this way:
Most Likely Teams To Sign Manning: 1. Miami, 2. San Francisco, 3. Washington, 4. Arizona, 5. Denver
Most Likely To Trade Up For Griffin: 1. Seattle, 2. Miami, 3. Washington, 4. Minnesota 5. San Francisco
Most Likely To Sign Flynn: 1. Denver (I know, I know…but just watch…Elway KNOWS what Tebow is and isn’t), 2. Miami, 3. Washington, 4. Cleveland, 5. Seattle
What are your thoughts? Who ends up where?
Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
1. At first, $5.5 million/year struck me as a considerable overpayment.
2. On reflection, it’s a slight overpayment….but the Leafs had no choice but to make said overpayment.
3. It’s laughable to think the Grabovski deal with create “cap issues” for the Maple Leafs this summer, next fall, the next summer, and the fall after that.
4. Those cap issues are related to the contracts of (sit down for safety..): Mike Komisarek, Colby Armstrong, Matthew Lombardi, Tim Connolly, & John-Michael Liles…ooh, AND the fact that if they’re ever to make the playoffs, and (gulp!) advance in them as 59 different hockey collectives have done since the Leafs last did, they may need to spend money on a goaltender. Good luck there.
5. Grabovski held all the power and all the leverage in this negotiation — so of course the Leafs overspent…and it was the only course of action.
6. Once Ales Hemsky got $5 million a year (again, NOT a crazy
overpayment given market tendencies and comparable players/ages), the writing was on the wall Grabovski would do a tad better.
7. Admittedly, Grabovski got a year more than ANYONE expected in a 5-year deal, but that may be as much the Leafs wanting to keep control of him that long (until he’s 33).
8. This deal is NOT like Jason Blake’s. Blake was 34 years old when he started his Maple Leafs’ career, plus Grabovski is already a proven commodity with the team and certain linemates, and is only 28 years old.
9. Saying that, Grabovski is NOT Ryan Kesler…and Kesler signed an RFA deal and as Kevin Bieksa AND both Sedins have done, Vancouver (like Detroit) has created a culture where players are
willing to take less money to have a shot at the Stanley Cup, a culture non-existent in Toronto.
10. If you think Ryan Kesler’s not making $6.5M a year with the Canucks at the end of his deal, or even $7.25M on the open market assuming his numbers and advanced stats hold, you’re crazy.
11. It is NOT significant Phil Kessel makes LESS money now than Grabovski on the cap. In two years, whether with Minnesota, Colorado, or even staying in Toronto, he will not. Kessel by current parameters would probably command a UFA deal or hometown deal to stay in Toronto of $49M over 7 years. He’ll be 27 (or so) when he signs it.
12. I’m lost as to why people compare RFA deals to UFA deals. The UFA deals are the only ones where you can command significant raises and exert leverage over your employer, in this case an NHL team — so who wouldn’t do as such with the threat to go to market on July 1st…this deal was played brilliantly by Team Grabovski.
13. It does present an interesting RFA dilemma for Nikolai Kulemin, who will be a 26-year old this summer, going from a 30-goal season to a potential single-digit goal season, other stats be damned.
14. Kulemin’s paid to convert chances — you wouldn’t NOT pay him if he DID convert tons of chances, so you CANNOT pay him if he isn’t — I see a 2 or 3-year deal for Kulemin this summer between $2.6M and $3M.
15. Don’t forget, Grabovski came off a miserable season into RFA status and Burke locked him in at $2.9M, even with rumblings Grabovski would potentially hightail it to the KHL for more money given he, at first, seemed a miserable fit in Toronto.
16. Some have asked why Grabovski never plays with Kessel — Ron Wilson told me in more than a couple radio interviews that both players NEED the puck, and there’s probably a ton of truth to that.
17. Best potential offensive season I could ever see for Grabovski would be a 35-40-75 type year. I think a point-per-game is well out of his reach unless his status within the team changes AND he’s playing #1 PP minutes every night…which currently he isn’t.
18. This signing makes it more than certain that a Maple Leaf player will be “buried” on the Marlies next season, just as the 4-year Jeff Finger contract runs out….I feel it’s a lot more likely to be Matthew Lombardi or Colby Armstrong than it is Mike Komisarek. Komisarek will play with the big club and every single night next season, if healthy.
19. Remember, Lombardi and Armstrong would be in the AHL for only one season and the Leafs then free from the chains of their deals — Komisarek would take two more seasons, thru 2013-14.
20. The Leafs have these 12 forwards under contract next season for a cap hit of $38.2M — Kessel, Connolly, Lombardi, Armstrong, Grabovski, MacArthur, Steckel, Lupul, Bozak, Brown, Colborne, Kadri.
21. That forward group doesn’t include RFAs Kulemin, Frattin, Rosehill, or UFA Crabb.
22. If Colton Orr stays in the AHL, his $1M for next year’s final year of his deal won’t count against Leafs’ cap — Darcy Tucker’s $1M continues to for next year and the year after….soooo, that’s good, right?
23. The Leafs have 6 defensemen under contract next season for a cap hit of: $22.2M — Phaneuf, Komisarek, Liles, Schenn, Gunnarsson, Gardiner.
24. That group does not include Cody Franson, and I think it’d be a huge mistake to either trade or not sign Cody Franson.
25. In contrast to the Leafs cap hit on defense, the Red Wings best 6 D-men cost them $19M, the Rangers $11.3M (won’t last long, getting bargains for McDonagh and Del Zotto, and to some extent, Marc Staal), and the Penguins $16.2M. News to NO ONE: you could easily claim the Leafs top 4 paid defensemen are ALL overpaid, not just Komisarek.
26. The Leafs are only committed to James Reimer next year in goal at $1.8M — Gustavsson is a UFA and is a longshot to be back, and Scrivens an RFA who almost certainly is back with the Marlies. (The UFA goalie market is complete rubbish and MUCH worse than last season when Bryzgalov, Emery, Mike Smith, Theodore, and Biron all found new homes…and obviously Anderson extended in Ottawa while Elliott landed in St. Louis. I don’t know what Burke does in goal next year. How could anyone?)
27. Leafs have (rough math) $62.2M committed to one goalie, six defensemen, and twelve forwards with four key RFAs to potentially bring back. If the cap doesn’t go up (umm, we’re all even still hoping there IS a season), the Leafs will have no choice but to send loads of money to the Marlies if they can’t trade some of it away. REMEMBER, they’re the team that always could TAKE money back in a cap system. Now with Burke’s rancid 3-4 contracts, they’ll have to hope someone else does the same.
27.5 One thing I can guarantee you next season is the Leafs are hot after a great UFA talent in……
Monday, March 5th, 2012
It’s rather silly for some to suggest that in the latest battle between Brian Burke and Don Cherry that you have to pick a side. There’s a “middle” but there may not be a “side”. When you argue with people, things aren’t usually black and white — there’s loads of grey area, and on the issue of where Maple Leafs players come from, there truly is both. It’s not a silly discussion point, but suggesting that the Leafs or any other pro sports team NEEDS a quota of players from their own region is a bit of a stretch.
Jim Lang and myself interviewed Cherry again today on “Brady & Lang In The Morning”. Cherry maintains, beyond the other personal stuff, which I’ll save for another day, that Burke is trying to have his cake and eat it too (umm, regardless of where the cake was made, even the icing came from Minnesota). You can’t complain about having a “disadvantage” in home games because GTA or provincial players come in and have lots of friends, family, comp tickets, and want to do well in front of them, and THEN not expect for someone to suggest that as a GM of a hockey team in Toronto, you might want to have Ontario-born boys of your own in the lineup.
Saying that, Burke has drafted from Ontario….in all THREE NHL Entry Drafts since being here in Toronto. 10 of the 23 players Burke has drafted since June 2009 played or did play in the OHL, and the hope and plan is to see more of Nazem Kadri, and kids like Stuart Percy, Jesse Blacker, and Greg McKegg be important NHL players moving forward. Will they all be doubtful, but what Burke’s done is much more inclusive towards Ontario-born players than the years from 2002-2008.
In that era, the Maple Leafs drafted 49 players and only four (Dale Mitchell, Phil Oreskovic, John Mitchell, and Matt Stajan) were Ontario-born and OHL-schooled, and obviously of those, only Stajan played serious minutes or games for the Maple Leafs. It did seem to many, and far more so in retrospect that the Leafs pulled away from the concept of looking at OHL kids then. Was there a theory those players felt too much pressure playing in Toronto? Were the Ontario-born draft classes in many of those years deemed as lacking either skill or commitment? Who’s to say? The Leafs also, ummm, traded an awful lot of opportunities in the first or second round to draft elite NHL talent.
The 2003 Owen Nolan acquisition cost the Leafs the 21st overall pick. They could have drafted any of: Mike Richards (OHL), Corey Perry (OHL), Ryan Kesler (NCAA), or Loui Eriksson (Sweden).
The 2004 Brian Leetch rental for an ill-fated playoff run cost the Leafs the 19th overall pick. The Rangers used it on Lauri Korpikoski — the Leafs could have gone local or the US college route with any of: Wojtek Wolski (OHL), Cory Schneider (US HS), or Mike Green (WHL). It should be noted loads of OHL kids simply didn’t pan out from that draft’s late 1st, 2nd or 3rd rounds (Ryan Garlock, Kyle Wharton, David Shantz, Rob Schremp. ) Not having a 2nd round pick that year, the Leafs may have missed out on a hard-nosed player like Brandon Prust, who grew up adoring the Leafs and now is an integral part of the Rangers’ success.
The Leafs drafted Tuukka Rask 21st overall the year following the lockout in summer 2005 (good pick, Leafs!), but giving away a 2nd rounder in the Leetch deal probably cost them any of: Ondrej Pavelec (Czech), Justin Abdelkader (USHL), Paul Stastny (NCAA), or Mason Raymond (playing Tier II in B.C.). AGAIN, a lot of OHL kids like Dan Ryder, Adam McQuaid, Evan Brophey, and Michael Blunden either didn’t make it or haven’t been terribly impactful out of that draft’s 2nd or 3rd rounds.
The Leafs kept their 1st rounder in 2006, and with the 13th pick, took Jiri Tlusty, and though he’s starting to pan out in Carolina, no one predicted he would when he was traded two autumns ago. He went a pick before Michael Grabner, nine before Claude Giroux, twelve before Patrick Berglund, and fifteen before Nick Foligno when Ottawa snagged him from the Sudbury Wolves. In retrospect, Grabner or Foligno was the way to go. Yes, Giroux is NOW a budding superstar, but a lot of teams clearly didn’t see it in him and Philadelphia capitalized.
As for 2007, an absolutely horrid and indefensible trade by John Ferguson Jr. to give a 1st and 2nd in the SAME draft (!) for a non-playoff team, and they were saddled with the issues of Mark Bell, all to get an average to subpar goalie in Vesa Toskala following the Rask-for-Raycroft mistake. If you haven’t nodded off and are still following you do realize that without the Nolan trade, a 22-year old Mike Richards or Corey Perry might already be on the Leafs, and maybe that would have changed things. Do you really want to read the next paragraph? You know exactly what I’m going to do, don’t you?
The Leafs were slated to draft 13th. The Sharks took the 13th pick, packaged it to St. Louis, traded up to #9 and snagged Logan Couture. Again, this is going to hurt you. Considerably. EVEN if the Leafs stay at #13, where the Blues took Lars Eller, the Leafs didn’t have too many OHL options. Pat Kane (American-born OHLer), Sam Gagner (OHL) and Couture all went in the Top 9, but the remaining 21 picks of the 2007 1st round saw NO OHLers taken. Brett MacLean from Erie would be drafted by Phoenix with the 2nd pick of the 2nd round. Saying that, the Leafs could have drafted Max Pacioretty, David Perron or PK Subban (OHL) with the pick. Admittedly, Subban didn’t go until the 2nd round and was an early bloomer. We’re just now starting to see the development of 1st round picks in that draft like Detroit’s Brendan Smith or the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh (a Habs pick mysteriously or drunkenly packaged in the Scott Gomez deal).
In June 2008, it’s been well-documented Cliff Fletcher traded a 2nd and 3rd round pick to move up two spots to fifth overall to draft Luke Schenn. It’s really hard to call it a bad pick. Of course it isn’t. I thought that draft was so deep that for any player other than Stamkos, Doughty, or Bogosian that it would be a mistake to trade up, but really with any of: Cody Hodgson, Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson, Jake Gardiner, Michael Del Zotto, Joe Colborne (possibly…), Jordan Eberle or John Carlson, could you at all say you’d be disappointed with ANY of those players? Nope. Are all of them players you’d rather have than Luke Schenn one-for-one…and astute drafting gets you them and then you don’t give away your second and third round picks (the third was from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft).
Look, I do consciously believe the Leafs went away from drafting OHL players during that draft — saying that, with only a couple examples to counter it, they really didn’t have great opportunities to draft stars, with the exception of 2003 with Richards or Perry. Many OHL players simply didn’t pan out and develop as most scouts thought they would. But, and again, I urge you to look away if need be –
From 1999 to 2008, the Maple Leafs drafted 80 players. Only three of those players were Top 20 or higher overall draft picks (Schenn, Colaicovo, Tlusty). Only 14 of those 80 have played 200+ games. Of those 14, only Schenn, Kulemin, Steen, Stajan, and Ian White (5 of 80!) have played 200+ games for the Maple Leafs. Carl Gunnarsson and James Reimer are the only two Leafs who could, and Gunnarsson certainly will, pass that 200+ game barrier for the Leafs. It’s not good…it isn’t.
In those 10 drafts, the Leafs didn’t make a pick in the 1st round in ’07, ’04, and ’03, in the 2nd round in ’07, ’05, ’04, and the 3rd round in ’06, and ’99. You won’t win that way, and you certainly can’t build that way.
Bottom line? The Leafs DO need better result rates out of their drafts, and finding good players from the OHL is of course a key part of that. Eight Ontario-born players were on the Leafs 2002 playoff team which won 10 games and many feel could have and should have gone to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Red Wings. But lest we forget, seven Ontario-born players were on Paul Maurice’s 07-08 Leafs who finished dismally out of the playoffs and which brought the Burke/Wilson Revolution on.
I agree with all who say it — I don’t care where the player is from…but you’re doomed to failure if you ignore your own backyard, and the Leafs ignored both their backyard and the entire concept and principle of the draft in the first several years of the 21st Century, and as a result, find themselves where they are now.
Saying that, Burke hasn’t been able to sign an Ontario-born free agent, and certainly not one who would be impactful. We all know former Michigan Wolverine Mike Cammalerri had considerable interest in signing in Toronto on July 1st, 2009 and the Canadiens snapped him up instead. They also haven’t found the magic beans in an out-of-options UFA from the local waters like the Islanders did with Matt Moulson. Contrary to myth, Moulson was drafted, a 9th round pick to the Penguins in 2003. They gave up on him, and eventually so did Los Angeles after a few years in their system. He’s about to have 3 straight 30+ goal seasons with a bad NHL team on Long Island. The Leafs need a break like that — they need to find a Joel Ward (Owen Sound/OHL), Chris Tanev (Markham Waxers/Tier II), Rich Peverley (Milton Merchants/St. Lawrence University), or Andy McDonald (Strathroy Jr. B/Colgate University).
Yes, I’m VERY aware none of the above players will be the difference between winning a Stanley Cup and not, but the Leafs have been moribund at local achievements like this lately. Ontario-born players won’t guarantee success, but isn’t having NO players from a province so rich with with talent, and housing the greatest developmental league on the planet a guarantee for not succeeding?
Friday, March 2nd, 2012
So there it is. Ron Wilson has been fired. All the great ones get fired. Scotty Bowman in Buffalo….Bryan Murray in Detroit, Mike Keenan in (insert any of seven North American NHL markets here). Some of you will take great umbrage with describing Ron Wilson as a “great” coach. And that’s fair, but you don’t last as long as Wilson has in the NHL, with a tremendous international coaching resume as well by being a BAD coach.
I don’t need to defend his resume here as I’ve done previously so I won’t, but he is a lock to go into the US Hockey Hall of Fame and in the NHL, his most impressive accomplishments still remain taking the 1998 Washington Capitals, a 90 point regular season team to the Stanley Cup Finals, and winning five playoff rounds in four straight seasons with the San Jose Sharks, with the average-at-best Evgeni Nabokov as their starting goaltender.
Did he make mistakes here in Toronto? Oh sure, but I’d still maintain the same consistent comments I always have regarding Ron Wilson’s near-four year tenure in Toronto.
1. He had a team with “bottom ten” talent his first three season as head coach, and MAYBE this season, you could make a passable argument he has a roster (goaltending excepted) that is middle-of-the-pack, which of course sees its success compromised frequently by, for a fourth straight season substandard goaltending.
2. He never truly had a chance at making the playoffs with the Toronto Maple Leafs and had he made it this year, there’s no question that of the eight teams he’s coached into the NHL playoffs before (pre-Cap and post-Cap), this would have been the weakest club overall…yes, CERTAINLY including the 1996-97 Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
3. Was he abrasive too often and far too obsessed with making certain members of the media part of the story? Sure, he was. He handed Toronto poorly, no question. His boss is currently not handling Toronto much better, but where Burke has humour and charm to go with his outlandish beliefs about how chronically difficult it is to build a winning hockey team here (something he dared not suggest when he was first hired and introduced), Wilson simply seemed pissed off at it all. It was like a bad first date in some circumstances, but unlike those when you know there’s an end in sight, you somehow wake up with that person the next morning, and the next, and the next, and the next.
4. Me personally? I must have done 60-70 radio interviews with him, first at AM640, then later at Sportsnet 590, The Fan, including having a couple in-person visits with him. I never found him rude and abrasive towards me….if I asked a bad question I was never demeaned, as I’ve seen him to do to some, or he simply didn’t find it as bad or grating or mind-numbingly repetitive as he clearly has with others in this market. I make it a point to not play favourites in this business. But Ron never treated me terribly or embarrassed me, so I can honestly say I had no issue with his personality. Yet others did and I totally understood why. Why he chose to engage, again, some of the muckrackers and holier-than-thou members of the Toronto media is absolutely beyond me. I struggle with it sometimes too, far more so earlier in my career, but you simply have to not get into pissing matches with skunks. You’ll smell terrible at the end, win or lose.
I can tell you that Randy Carlyle has been in Brian Burke’s sightlines for a long time. Not quite from the moment he got to Toronto, but I had a “hockey person” I respect immensely (currently not a co-worker) tell me in Spring 2010, even, that were Carlyle to come available that summer in 2010, and certainly last summer, Brian Burke would have fired Ron Wilson then. Burke truly believes Carlyle is a superior coach. Hell, Burke believes he’s a superior coach to Mike Babcock, the coach he inherited in Anaheim. The coach who’s won the Stanley Cup, the Olympic Gold Medal, and gone to two other Stanley Cup Final Game 7s? All within the last 8 seasons? Burke gave Babcock a half-hearted one-year extension and soon after, the Red Wings had kicked Dave Lewis to the curb after two disappointing playoff campaigns and Babcock is probably now the most “un-fireable” head coach in the NHL, and maybe one of the most so in all of North American sports (Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich I’d lump in there with him).
So we’ll see — I have no personal experience with Carlyle. In scrums or in my lone one-on-one with him at a rink, he’s cordial, dry, tight-lipped, and won’t be either humourous or cuttingly sarcastic as Wilson was. Some of you will think he’s less of an asshole, others of you will find him remarkably boring.
The stupid thing is assessing whether he can “handle the market”, and given some of the ludicrous notions Burke has unleased both pre and post-trade deadline, he has some of his loyalists and water-carriers suggesting that a coach’s personality matters here.
If Ron Wilson had won a Stanley Cup in Toronto, you wouldn’t care who he treated badly, in fact as was the case with a couple run-ins with reporters, he’d be vociferously applauded for it. Pat Burns is praised universally for his time here, but he had his moments of losing his temper and treating people badly, and it was patently obvious many of his players in Toronto were sick of his act by the spring of 1996. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy than Paul Maurice, and a funny guy as well (for those slightly above the level of fart and dick jokes mind you), and most of you celebrated his firing because you thought he was a bad coach, not because he had kids who’d have to change not just school districts, but an entire nation to continue their education in.
But this team and these players had begun to tune Wilson out. There are two things I’m very firm on: Ron Wilson did not want Tim Connolly to be signed by the Maple Leafs, and Wilson was not as enthusiastic as Brian Burke was about Dion Phaneuf becoming captain of this hockey team. I still maintain, if Mike Komisarek had become the player Brian Burke paid for here, there’s every likelihood that Komisarek would have worn the “C”…not as a star player but as a dressing room leader, great with a quote, and great in the community. I am not saying Dion Phaneuf can’t grow to be those things, but I’m skeptical. Burke has failed Phaneuf and thus, failed Wilson by not placing other leaders in the sport who had “been there, done that” (let alone gone to a Stanley Cup Final) to support Phaneuf in leading the dressing room, and now, it is obvious to all who cover the team that despite that the current slump may have escalated it, there hasn’t been tremendous harmony in the Leafs room at all times this season, and there may not be until Phaneuf can be properly held in check by either younger players already here, or veterans with important and meaningful voices from other rooms across the league.
As for Wilson, he did seem to age quite a bit through his four seasons in Toronto. Again, he had no chance to make a winner out of the players he was given here by Brian Burke (and yes, to some extent, Cliff Fletcher during that magical 2008 summer). So do I approve of the change? Yes and no. Yes, because it’s the only way into the postseason this year, and it’s still going to be a dogfight even if everything goes right for the Leafs…they had no chance to make it if Wilson stays. No, because Wilson’s tenure here will be deemed by some as a failure, when in reality, the resources were never there to be a success.
Randy Carlyle DOES have a Stanley Cup ring, but he also took over a team absolutely loaded in 2005-06 for playoff success, achieved by Babcock a couple years earlier. Since Anaheim won the Cup in 2007, Carlyle’s Ducks are 11-14 in the postseason, missing the playoffs once, and they surely would have missed (and almost certainly still are) had he stayed.
Ron Wilson’s four seasons prior to coming to Toronto left him with a 28-24 postseason record, SEVENTEEN more wins than Carlyle’s Ducks over the same period, so be very careful about judging Carlyle as a more successful postseason coach. Does one Stanley Cup ring make for a great coach? It’s a dangerous observation to make.