Monday, October 30, 2006

I am a Hockey God...

Let's call a spade a spade folks, I am clearly a hockey god.

After correctly predicting the demise of Hitchcock a few weeks ago, I am now going to re-visit my pre-season predictions for the Leafs performance in October:

Prediction: A bunch of home games, but very tough opponents: 6W-7L (yes, I know that there are overtime games, etc, but count them for what they are, a win or a loss).

After tonights victory over Atlanta, the Buds are indeed 6W-4L-3OTL, or as I stated in my prediction, 6W and 7L. You can call me The Mad Hockey Kreskin from now on, thank you very much. Let me go out on a limb now, while i have the hot hand and predict that Don Cherry will be wearing a loud suit this Saturday, Brett Favre will come into Buffalo this Sunday and win, and Nik Antropov will get injured in the next 30 games. Oh, and a big ball of fire will come up tomorrow in the east. And Bobby Clarke will still be an ass. Wheh! I just blacked out there for a second, what happened?

Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day!

Game Recap: Leafs 4 - Thrashers 2

What a brutal game. Neither team played like they even cared if they won this game... and if not for some excessive penalty time in the opening ten minutes, this game would have basically been a 0-0 snoozefest.

Honestly, is there a rink in the league with worse ice that the Air Canada Centre? The puck was bouncing around like a superball out there, with at least half a dozen passes hopping over sticks. Getting any flow going in either direction was basically impossible, so I suppose that may account for the poor display.

Bowen and Neale commented a few times on the length of the shifts by Kovalchuk, and from what I saw, he certainly seems to be floating on the last half of them. According to, he had 27:35 of ice-time, which is mind-blowing considering he basically sat on the bench for the eight plus minutes the Leafs spent on the PP. Honestly, he must be a coaches nightmare... too valuable and dangerous to bench, but so bad defensively that you can't put him out there when the game is on the line.

The Good:

Kaberle looks to have found his game, seemed to be in much better control, and much more sure of himself. Really, is there a better tonic for what ails a hockey player than a hat-trick?

Raycroft looked sharper, which was nice to see considering how bad he has looked over his past few starts. I hope Aubin can keep pushing him.

Jeff O'Neill is quietly having a solid start to the season, which is just what the doctor ordered. Five goals, eight points in 13 games, and most impressively, a plus 1 for the season. Remember folks, this is the guy who had a team worst -19 last season.

The Bad:

A few of the Flames er, Thrashers were running around out there taking more than a few liberties, and nobody decided to put a stop to it. This is becoming a bit of a disturbing trend in my opinion... am I the only one that misses the odd hockey fight?

Wellwood looked like he was playing hung-over. Couldn't make or take a pass all night, used his creative streak to take the lazy way out numerous times. A few more games like this and he 'll be watching the top line from the bench.

The Ugly:

Bryan McCabe. Routinely getting beat to pucks, losing battles, making poor decisions, etc. If this guy isn't scoring, he simply isn't very good. And he isn't scoring.

Alex Steen looked horrible AGAIN, not sure what is going on here. Last season, he had jump, hit, scored and seemed to be one of the quicker players on the Leafs. This season, he just looks bored. Methinks the pressure to put a few points on the board is really getting to him.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Musings: Matt Stajan is Playing Great

Captain Obvious here for anyone who has been paying attention lately, but Matt Stajan has probably been the Leafs best all-around forward for the past few games. He is taking charge on the second powerplay unit, and is winning more than his share of battles on the forecheck. He is also starting to look like a real 'NHL center', in that he is finding his linemates with regularity and has vastly improved his face-off skills.

His production to date, eight points in 12 games, is nothing to sniff at, and his line with Steen and O'Neill has done a great job as of late generating scoring chances. Honestly, he seems to be improving game-by-game, right before our eyes, which is always great to see.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oy Vey... Sens 7 - Leafs 2

So, uh, how 'bout them Sabres?

What a spectacular performance. Kaberle, McCabe, Sundin, Raycroft, etc, etc should all send their pay cheques back to MLSE after that disaster of a game. Oh, that's right, games. What a showing by our big guns. They really stepped up and displayed the kind of determination and heart that a team that is short on talent will need to make the playoffs this season.

The only guys with any consistent jump were Stajan, O'Neill, Peca and Poni. The rest of the guys weren't even worth mentioning, not even worth the digital ink.

Does anyone on this squad even care? When the Sens were taking runs at each and every Leaf out there during the opening minutes, did they not say to themselves, 'Hey, my fellow millionaires, maybe we should actually respond, and you know, not embarrass ourselves out here for the second night in a row?'.

The first five games of the season are looking more and more like an aberration. It is clear that unless we can get some stability on the D, and McCabe and Kaberle can manage to pull their collective heads out of their asses, this is not a playoff team.

Leafs vs. Sens: Don't Believe the Hype?

I'm not really sure what to make of tonight's tilt in Kanata. We've all seen this before, where fans and media alike get all lathered up about the second game of a home and home tilt, only to see a game that is usually more disappointing than the Superbowl always is.

I'm not sure this is the case tonight... the way the game ended in Toronto, and the way the barbs have been flying in the local rags, leads me to believe we may actually see some fireworks tonight.

For starters, I think it is all but assured that McGratton and Belak will be dancing (assuming of course that Belak is actually in the lineup). As for Chris Neil, people would naturally assume that he and Tucker might have a go, but don't be surprised to see Big Hal take him on. The two have ^ a history ^, so don't be shocked if it happens tonight.

If the game is really as wild as some are predicting, expect Tucker and Fisher to tangle, with Fisher having a huge advantage, IMO.

Either way, I will be watching the game with a Sens 'fan' this evening (he is of the third variety, having at one time been a Habs fan), so it should be an interesting time!

Brian McGratton, Yet Another Sens Fool

I wonder what McGratton was thinking with his classless taunt of Belak, who at the end of the fight looked hurt and turned away. For those that missed it, McGratton made a 'turtle' jesture to Belak after the fight...

For those with a short memory, here is McGratton getting his ass handed to him by Peters, who had the decency to actually stop when McGratton got hurt. I wonder if big Brian realizes just how classless this makes him look?

You Won't See Tucker Doing This...

I have had no respect for Chris Neil ever since he sucker-punched Gary Roberts in a pre-season game 4 years ago...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

May Bobby Clarke's Hockey Headstone Read...

"Roger got cancer. That wasn't our fault. We didn't tell him to go get cancer. It's too bad that he did. We feel sorry for him, but then he went goofy on us."

Karma Bobby, karma. His 'resignation' couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Having grown up in Lindsay, Ontario where the Roger Neilson hockey camps were held, I can say that Roger was one of the nicest, most sincere people in the game.

Bobby, I hope you never earn another dollar in the league you classless, dirty, ankle-chopping bastard.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sainted Sens: The Parade Route Starts in Kanata

While seeing the Sens down and out is a pleasure to most Leafs fans, one could only wonder how long it would be until the Sens had a game like Saturday's, in which they pounded on the Devils 9-1.

With a home and home series starting on Tuesday this week, Leaf fans likely are happy to see the Sens get those nine goals out of their system, but probably aren't happy at the thought of a rejuvenated Sens team firing on all cylinders.

Interesting to see that Emery has replaced Gerber as the defacto #1 man in net... wonder what the fallout will be for a goalie making north of 3 million dollars with the 26th best GAA and just one win... that is an expensive bench warmer!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Video Clip: Tucker Rocked by Krusty

We showed Tucker rocking Kapanen earlier in the week, so turn-around is fair play:

Philly Meltdown

Looks like my earlier prediction of Hitchcock getting canned was correct, not that it was rocket science or anything.

One thing I didn't see was Clarke getting shown the door as well (it looks like he retired, but I think Mr. Snider likely gave him the option given his years of service...)

"I felt strongly that from the end of last season on, I don’t know if I was burnt out or tired or something, but the decisions that had to be made, I was not willing to make them and I was letting other people make them," Clarke said.

Look for some interesting stories out of Philly in the coming days.

Friday, October 20, 2006

In-Game Goat-Horns

God bless the Internet... 10 years ago you would have waited eagerly for three weeks to read in-game comments from a random guy sitting in front of the TV... uh, right.

Looks like more than a few Leafs are being sized up for the goat-horns through 1+ periods tonight. I won't mention names, don't want to jinx anyone, but my pick so far has a name that starts with 'K' and ends with 'aberle'. Ugh, another brutal effort so far.

Man, can Zherdev dangle...

Hockey 101: What the Heck is a Blue Jacket

Seeing as this is pretty much the first time the Leafs have ever played the Blue Jackets, I was curious... which of course led me to Wikipedia ^:

The team's nickname was selected from suggestions by fans. There are at least four possible factors that may have contributed to the selection of the name:

  • At the time the name was first announced, some media reports speculated that because team owner John H. McConnell's favorite color is blue, he had directed that any name selected for the team must contain the word blue.
  • The initial logo for the team featured "an insect with an attitude," suggesting that the name is a play on the term yellowjacket. It may also be a reference to Ohio's hockey teams of the past, including the Toledo Hornets and the Cincinnati Stingers. The insect logo was reduced to secondary status before the team began play and was eliminated entirely during the 2003-04 season. The only remnant of the insect theme remains with the team mascot, a big green bug affectionately known as "Stinger".
  • The term "Blue Jacket" is a reference to the uniform of the Union army in the American Civil War to which the state of Ohio provided a large number of soldiers (in fact, more than any other state). A third team logo featuring a Union soldier hat and custom Union soldier paintings on goalie Pascal Leclaire's helmet supports this as the team's official explanation of the name.
  • The name may also have been intended to honor the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket, who lived in the region, but the team has not used any Native American references in its marketing, as have the Jackets' Central Division rivals Chicago Blackhawks.

So, it looks like the team was initially named and marketed after a wasp, which was changed to an imaginary insect, a 'bluejacket', because the teams owner is partial to blue. These references to the non-existent insect, which appears to still be used as the team mascot, were later dropped in favour of the much more logical (and more historically significant) reference to the Union soldier... right.

You see how badly marketing and corporate types can sh!t the bed on even the simplest of tasks? This is just one of many reasons MLSE shouldn't even have a whiff of day-to-day operations.

Good on Columbus for having the genius or dumb-luck to be able to fall back onto a worthy mascot. If only we could find a secondary meaning for 'Ducks'...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Video Clip: Tucker Destroys Kapanen

Obviously, I am bored and surfing YouTube... kudos to Kappy for making it to the bench...

I Hate the Shootout

This is in response to an absolutely great post over at Leaf Club ^. He is 100% correct in that we have absolutely nobody on this team outside of Sundin who even puts a kink into the other teams stomach.

My feelings on the shootout... I hate it.

Ok, hate isn't the right word... fear might be closer to the truth. Whenever a game goes into OT, I am usually very confident. The Leafs, if anything else, have shown a penchant for scoring OT goals, especially when it counts. But as the seconds wind down, I start to squirm and twist, my mind flooding with memories of loss after loss last season in this side-show spectacle.

Jason Allison taking one stride at center-ice then coasting the rest of the way in has officially replaced my recurring nightmare where the Leafs actually make the Stanley Cup final, only to lose in four straight 10-0, 10-0, 10-0, 10-0.

Side-bar... I actually saw a guy wearing a Jason Allison Leafs jersey two days ago... I don't even know where to begin on that one, except to say that it must have been his brother. Now that I think of it he was walking at a rather glacial pace.

My solution to this guaranteed loss? Suglobov. Since he can't seem to crack the lineup, and doesn't seem to know where his own end is, put him out there in the one place he does seem to excel... skating as fast as humanly possible away from the Leafs zone. Give him a puck and a stick and, who knows, he might actually score for us.

Video Clip: Ryan Shannon vs. Marty Turco in the Shootout

This is pretty amazing stuff...

According to one of my favourites over at Scarlett Ice ^, who has much more time than we have, perfectly legal as well ^.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Game Recap: Avs 4 - Leafs 1

Seems like the team had a huge let-down tonight, following the big Saturday night win and the 500th goal... in short, they played brutal. Sundin was given a golf vacation to Ireland by his teamates for the milestone, and it looked like most of the guys spent the game dreaming of the emerald isle.

Scary thought, I had a flashback to the Leafs team of last February, rather than last week. Losing most puck battles, not getting shots on net, and I swear they didn't string more than one pass together all night.

The last half of the game was played on what appeared to be slush. The Sundin line was ineffective, and clearly Jay Harrison is not an NHL-ready defenseman.

The Good:

Hard to find anything positive in this match, as the Leafs failed to generate any scoring chances, failed to establish any forecheck and failed to basically show up.

The Bad:

Mike Peca might have been the least worst Leaf forward tonight. He made a number of sound plays, and probably saved at least one goal with his smart decisions. Took yet another penalty, which is a no-no for this penalty-killer deficient team.

Matt Stajan also had a few good chances, and was one of few Leafs that managed to actually maintain puck control in the Avs zone.

The Ugly:

How about everyone but Stajan and Peca...

The entire Sundin line was outplayed by the Sakic line, Ponikarovsky and Kilger were AWOL and Raycroft let in a few softies.

As I mentioned earlier, Harrison is not NHL ready... which isn't entirely his fault, but he looked very shaky and took a few penalties to boot. Hal Gill was his usual self, meaning he should be the #5 guy, but is playing #3 minutes. Kubina can't come back quick enough.

Special mention goes to the ice at the ACC, which must be the worst in the NHL. The Leafs are looking to play an up-tempo game that features lots of passing and forward movement, but the puck has been bouncing around like a super-ball all season at home. If they can't figure out the problems in the next month or so, this issue could really start to cost a skating team like the Leafs points in the standings. Absolutely inexcusable given the resources of MLSE. Seriously, pay the guy from Edmonton to come in and show the ACC people how to fix the problems.

Coaching Watch: There's Blood in the Water

Well, consider this a follow-up to the post about the Flyers/Sabres debacle from October 17, 2006.

It is clear early this 2006-2007 season that several teams widely chosen to compete are playing well below both their talent level and expectations. Two teams in the Eats that stand out for me are the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Tampa Bay Lightning. We look now at each situation.

John Tortorella - Tampa Bay Lightning:

The Lightning are playing, well, terrible. Their big stars, especially Lecavalier and St. Louis, appear disinterested, and the team is .

John Tortorella, the Tampa coach, is known for his in-your-face style and is not afraid to bench his players, including his stars. While this is a style that may work in the short-term, it will ultimately result in your players tuning you out. If the Lightning play of late last season and the start of this season is any indication, the players have long ago decided that 'Loud John' is no longer worth listening to.

As is always the case, especially with their big three locked up to such long-term contracts, the coach will get thrown under the bus. Unless the lightning turn it around in the next two weeks, Tortorella will be gone.

Ken Hitchcock - Philadelphia Flyers:

Much the same as Tortorella, coach 'Hitch' tends to tell it like it is and is known to use not-so-gentle prods to encourage his players. Consider the brewing conflict between Hitchcock and backup goaltender Robert Esche, who stated yesterday that Hitchcock had an empty head ^. This is par for the course lately for Hitchcock, and if the brutal start to the season is any indication, the players are sick of his games. Of course, one could hardly lay all of the blame at Hithcock's feet. The players are floating badly out there, showing no jump and no life. Since when does a team get taken apart 9-1 and not even try to throw a few momentum changing bodychecks, or heaven forbid, start a fight? And really, does anyone believe the pylons like Rathje and Hatcher are NHL quality defensemen anymore? Bobby Clarke can be blamed for assembling a team that appears to have been built for 2003, and the contrast between this team and the 2006 Sabres could not have been clearer.

There is plenty of blame to go around here, from floating players, to poor management to innefective coaching, but since Clarke and Flyers owner Ed Snider are tight, expect Hitchcock to get the can tied to him unless the team miraculously turns it around.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ouch! Flyers get Waxed in Buffalo

Over the past few hockey seasons, the Buffalo Sabres have initiated a rich tradition of truly and utterly embarrassing the Philadelphia Flyers. I can't be the only person that remembers the 8-0 drubbing in the playoffs a few seasons ago when ESPN decided to pull the plug on the game in the third period, or the pair of beatings from the playoffs last season, 8-2 and 7-1 respectively. Tonight, however, the Sabres took it to a new level of spanktitude, taking the Flyers to the woodshed 9-1 ^...

The scary thing is that it could have easily been 12 or 13 to 1 if not for some stellar net minding by Esche in the first period. Seriously, Esche actually played OK hockey, stopping 12 first period shots, including many point-blank attempts.

If you are a Flyers fan, what can you possibly take away from this game and their overall 1W 5L start? They are getting out-skated, out-worked and ultimately, out-scored each and every game. Looks like they have completely tuned-out Hitchcock, who pulled a real 'classy' move by sacrificing Esche tonight.

Would anyone else be surprised to see Hitchcock, or for that matter, GM Bob 'Don't Call me Bobby' Clarke get the axe? This is a team without direction, with a lumbering defence, below average goaltending and a disinterested captain in Forsberg.

It will be interesting to see how things shake out in Philly over the coming days...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Site News: A Shorter URL

Well, we have a shorter URL for you to remember if you want to access The Mad Hockey Blogger:

This will forward you to this page and all the latest posts. Just think, this will save you three to five seconds each and every time you visit the website (over the older, longer url). Over the course of a year, that is enough time to, say, clean the garage or write sports-related haiku's...

Spezza floats up ice,
He loves the lazy drop-pass,
Defense is unknown.

Milestone Watch: Mats Sundin

What a great performance from Mats last night. Truly amazing. The guy is playing the best hockey of his career right now, and looks to be absolutely loving the extra ice-time under Maurice. Good for him!

Now, I was going to post a Milestone Watch today, mentioning that Mats was closing in on 500 goals, but of course, he had to go ahead and blow it... ;-)

So here it is, a little late of course:

Career Milestones:

500 Goals: He achieved this on Saturday, October 14 in just about the most exciting way possible in the regular season. Hat-trick, short-handed, in OT to win it past arguably the best keeper in the league in Kiprusoff. Nice. He joins only 34 others in NHL history to score 500 goals.

700 Assists: He is 15 short of this mark as of today. Only 42 other players in NHL history have recorded more assists than Mats.

1200 Points: He is just 15 points short of this mark as well, something only 41 other NHLers have managed to accomplish. It is highly probable that Mats will be in the top 30 all-time for points by the end of this season.

Points-Per-Game: Right now, Mats has a career points-per-game average of 1.02, the same number as Darryl Sittler, and #29 on the all-time list (only retired players, so guys like Jagr and Sakic will obviously be on there as well when they retire). This leads us into our second section, Leaf records.

Leaf Milestones:

389 Goals: This is the magic number, the most goals scored by any player while in a Leafs uniform. The record is currently held by Darryl Sittler, but Mats now has 365, tied with Dave Keon for second all-time. At his current pace, Mats will eclipse Darryl sometime in February of 2007.

916 Points: Mats has 841 points as a Leaf, needing 75 more points to tie Darryl Sittler for first on the points list as well. 75 more points would give Mats 83 for the season, which looks to be well within his reach given the way he is playing and with how well he and Kyle Wellwood have gelled so far. This will be a nice late-season treat, hopefully along with a playoff birth.

Length of Captaincy: Mats is entering his 9th season as Leafs captain, third all-time behind George Armstrong (12 years) and Hap Day (10 years).

There you have it. Should be a great ride, keep it up Mats!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Musings: Suglobov Looks Terrible

This guy is by all accounts a real offensive firecracker, but he has looked capital B brutal out there in his limited opportunities. I hope that he shows the hockey sense to figure out where his own end is, but I fear that he would only really work in the Leafs lineup on lines #1 or 2, not as a fourth line 'grinder'.

If Suglobov plays tonight, it will be his make or break moment for the first-half of the season. If he stinks the place out again, he will be dispatched to the Marlies to see if he can learn to play a more complete game. If he plays well, he could easily and immediately gain more ice-time. As coach Maurice has demonstrated in spades this young season, guys WILL be rewarded for their efforts ^.

No Lead is Safe

Leaf fans can attest to that after that terrible third period they played on Thursday.

It is one of the great things about the re-birth of the NHL. Teams are never out of a game, no matter the goal differential. I used to be a big fan of the grinding style of play we saw just a few years back, but in 2001, a two goal lead in the third was money in the bank. Heck, a two goal lead in the second period and it was pretty much game over as the opposing team would simply throw a blanket over the other team in the neutral zone.

Not in the 'new' NHL. The Leafs, not used to playing with a lead over the past season or so, clearly gave a demonstration in what not to do with a lead. They should have kept blasting Marty with pucks, they should have kept skating... but they choose to sit back, taking a number of stupid penalties. Throw in some non-stellar work between the pipes from Aubin, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Calgary tonight, which should be a real barn-burner in terms of energy and atmosphere. Man do I wish the Leafs had Iginla...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

So 40 is the new 30...

Which explains the Leafs start to the season nicely. The Buds are averaging exactly 40 shots a game so far, which is nothing short of amazing considering they might have only passed the 30 shot mark something like -10 times last season.

Sure, they won't avaerage 40 a game, but damn it is refreshing to see the Leafs getting the opposition back on their heals for a change.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Game Recap: Leafs 2 - Panthers 1 (SO)

The first home win of the season for the Leafs, although they could have easily lost thanks to Auld... his performance was something special.

The Leafs dominated large sections of the game, and had five or six point blank chances, including numerous posts. Auld stood on his head, and really deserved better than a shut-out loss. Good for Leafs TV for at least giving him the first star.

Late in the game, an awkward looking collision between Bertuzzi and Kubina, and it looks like Kubina mave have popped his knee. It didn't look good as he left, which will mean Belak will be back on D if he misses any time. He has easily been the most steady Leaf D-man in the last three games, he will be missed.

I hate the shootout, even if the Buds win, but they were full marks for the two points tonight. Nice job Tucker!

The Good:

Kyle Wellwood was easily the most dangerous player on the ice. His skating has really improved, and he was flying around the ice in Briere-esque fashion. His ability to handle the puck at top speed is really helping his game develop rapidly.

Great goaltending again from Raycroft, although his one area of weakness, his lateral movement, was exposed on more than one occasion. However, he played well (again) and is showing no signs of repeating last years debacle.

Hal Gill. Yep, that Hal Gill. He used his size to handle Bertuzi down low more than once, and used his reach to break up a number of Panther rushes. He didn't try to do too much, and played a solid game.

Peca was almost 100% on face offs tonight, and while he isn't showing up on the scoresheet, he does so many little things right. Steen also had an effective match, generating a few chances and playing smart responsible hockey.

The Bad:

The Leafs powerplay group gets a nod here, as they had some trouble dealing with the high-pressure of the Panthers penalty killers and failed to generate many scoring chances.

Tomas Kaberle seems to be suffering in the past few games with his legs. He started the first game of the season strong, but in recent games has been missing his typically fluid skating. It may be that the time he missed during camp is catching up with him.

The Ugly:

Ponikarovsky had a rough game, missing many passes, opportunities and ultimately taking a stupid penalty while the Leafs were already down a man. He hasn't been as effective this season as he was last, and Maurice pulled him from the #1 line late in favor of Darcy Tucker, who played very well. He has yet to bring his A game to the table, we'll see if his late-game demotion gives him a kick in the butt.

Eddie Returns!

It doesn't quite have the drama of Cujo returning (karma is a b!tch Cujo), but Eddie the Eagle returns this evening to Toronto.

There was lots of noise made by the mediots this summer about Eddie and his poor play last season (agreed), but you know what? I have no ill-feelings towards him. By all accounts, he was a 'good soldier' while with Toronto, and he certainly cannot be singled out as the only reason the Leafs missed the post-season last year. He is also not to blame for his sweet-heart contract that handcuffed the Leafs (thanks JFJ).

At the end of the day, he is a first-ballot hall of famer who played two mostly productive and one disappointing seasons with the Leafs. He never demanded a trade, or caused dressing-room drama, and he didn't turn his back on the franchise like a certain goaltender we all know.

I actually hope he plays very well this evening, just well enough to lose by a goal to the Buds!

Game Recap: Canadiens 3 - Leafs 2 (SO)

No detailed break-down on the Habs game, as I didn't really get to watch it as closely as normal. Needless to say I thought that Toronto played very well, and if not for Aebisher playing out of his melon, it would have been an easy Leaf victory. Nice to see the powerplay looking as dangerous as it does. Marurice has done a great job of preparing the Leafs to deal with teams jamming up on McCabe. Wellwood has looked like money in the bank on Sundin's wing so far, and has been masterful on the powerplay with his down-low puck control.

Given what I have seen from the Habs so far this year, I think they will have no problem making the post-season. Actually, if the North-east was to be decided today purely on how teams have played, it would be 1) Sabres, 2) Montreal & Leafs, 4) Ottawa, 5) Bruins.

Still waiting for the Sens to turn around a disappointing start. Scary thing is, their defense has looked (and played) absolutely brutally. Redden is a legend for his give-aways when pressured, but it would appear that the loss of Chara IS having an impact, at least early in the season. Redden and Phillips look lost, Mezaros and Volchenkov look out-classed. My thoughts? They simply aren't getting enough support from their forwards. Alfredsson has been invisible to date, Spezza is at his floaty best, and I don't think Heatley has actually stepped into his own end yet this season.

Game Puck: Aebisher, who I thought played outstanding. If Montreal can get this type of goalkeeping from their backup, they are in great shape.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Canadiens vs Sabres Thoughts

Maybe it's the beer talking, but these two teams are absolutely buzzing around the ice. Speed kills in the new NHL, and both of these teams have speed to burn.

Is there a better goalie in the NHL than Ryan Miller when it comes to his footwork? Pretty amazing stuff.

Glad to see a quality guy like Koivu back and healthy. I dislike the Habs as much as the next Leafs fan, but you have to give respect to a guy who has battled cancer, an eye injury and the media pressure in Montreal and continues to play with heart. Would take the guy on my team any day of the week.

Needling the 'Sainted Sens': Scowly McNeil

My new name for Chris Neil. He's got two facial expressions: an over-the-top scowl/grimace that looks like he is in a face-making contest with an eight year old kid, or the 'happy face' that he makes when he does something of acheivement (like finishing a Popular Mechanics for Kids magazine or remembering that the stove is hot and he shouldn't touch it).

Man would I like to play poker with this guy.

Game Recap: Leafs 6 - Senators 0

Wow, what a difference 24 hours can make. The Leafs decided to play with a little pride tonight, and boy did it show. Instead of playing hesitant, listless, lazy hockey, the Buds forechecked the Sens into the end of the rink, finished each and every check, and capitalized on their chances.

Simply put, that game might have been the worst beating that the Leafs have ever put on the Sens. Not that it is a huge game, being the second of the season, but this sets the tone in so many ways for the coming season. The Leafs went into their barn and made a statement that is sure to be heard loud and clear.

Raycroft played great and gets the shutout. Other Leaf forwards stepped up and carried the load. Only on D did the Leafs still struggle tonight, but their struggles were nothing compared to the Sens. Remember, this is a Sens squad missing two very solid players in Preissing and Corvo, and as the minutes started to mount, it really showed. Chris Phillips looked shell-shocked most of the game, and continued to look lost playing on his off-side. He does not seem comfortable playing the kind of minutes the Sens expect out of him (as of yet), it will be interesting to see if he can make the jump from a #3-4 guy to their prime defensive d-man behind Redden.

Apparently the search party put out by Sens coach Brian Murray and his staff were unable to locate Alfredsson before game-time. To me, he looks like he is holding back slightly, as if he may be protecting/nursing an injury.

The Good:

Almost every single forward to a man played a much better game, save for Sundin and Peca who simply continued their above average play from opening night. Wellwood, with four assists, showed the kind of puck wizardry that we haven't seen in Hogtown in years. Steen forechecked effectively and played a more physical game. Kilger and Tucker both decided to start their seasons this evening after the non-show on Wednesday night, and they both played solid games, contributing two goals apiece.

Raycroft made some great saves, and seemed very steady and sure. Even O'Neill played a decent game, with a few chances and some very effective shifts, hemming the puck in the Senators end for long stretches.

McCabe was marginally better and Kaberle marginally worse than their previous outing. The Woz played better (not hard to do) and White looked more sure of himself, making more than a few nice up-ice moves with the biscuit. However, it was Kubina who takes the honours tonight for best defenseman on the ice. He played solid D (to my mild surprise), taking efficient and direct lines to the puck and generally winning the battles. He didn't get much of an opportunity to flash his offensive credentials, but there were signs that he was more than capable of jumping up when the opportunity arises. Great first game for him in the Blue and White.

The Bad:

I hate to have anyone in this category when the Leafs win big against Ottawa, but Mr. Gill still needs to work on his game. Countless turnovers, including at least two right behind the Leaf net resulting in excellent chances for Ottawa. This guy needs to figure out how to eat the puck, because unless he can figure out how to properly clear it from his own zone, that is his only hope of playing sound D it would appear. Yikes man!

The Ugly:

C'mon, on a night when the Sens get pounded 6-0, do you think I would be such a kill-joy and list somebody in here?

Can't wait for the Habs on Saturday, as always this game should be a classic!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Needling the 'Sainted Sens': What is a Sens Fan?

Seeing as the Sens did not exist a mere 15 years ago, this question naturally arises in the minds of many Leafs and Habs fans.

Really, there are only three possibilities, in my view:

  1. The current Sens fan was so young that the Sens are in fact the team that they grew up with and naturally followed;
  2. The current Sens fan was not a hockey fan before 1992, or;
  3. The current Sens fan was a 'fan' of another team and happily abandoned their original team for the upstart Sens of the mid-90's.

[grumpy old man mode] Situation #1 means that the Sens fan in question is probably no older than say 25, and therefore we can gladly dismiss their opinions/beliefs/ideas without merit. Sure, give them another 10 years, and they will be the died-in-the-wool fans that they claim to be, but c'mon, you gotta earn it kiddies! We call these people "children".[/grumpy old man mode]

Situation #2 implies that they are likely older than 25 (much older), and are essentially a born-again hockey fan. These types of fans tend to be the most enthusiastic, and yet at the same time, the most easily dismissed. Why? Because it is very likely that they have never strapped a pair of skates on, and have never taken a half-frozen street hockey tennis-ball in the nuts. This is an automatic disqualification in the world of hockey fandom. These are your "born-agains".

Situation #3 is the saddest of the bunch. In this case, the fan is likely to be in the 25-40 year-old cohort, and probably claims to be a 'life-long' Sens fan. In reality, they were most likely a Leafs or Habs fan from birth, and only converted to being a Sens fan in the mid to late 90's when they hitched their ride to the 'new hotness' that was the up-and-coming Sens of that era. They have forsaken their original team for a temptress dressed in red and black, one that will prove to be a harsh mistress come springtime. We call these people, aptly, the "traitors".

So which one is it Sens fans? Are you a child, a born-again, or a bandwagon jumping traitor?

Fire in the Belly

As in, the Leafs will need some. After the late-game shenanigans of the unchallenged Chris Neil, the Leafs will need to come out tonight and actually, you know, play as if they want to win. I know, we can't expect the boys to get fired up for every game of the season, but certainly a season opener at home against your biggest rival should have been enough for the underdog Leafs. Of all the aspects of last nights game, it is the shoulder-shrugging attitude that bothered me most. Play with some pride!

Prediction: While the game last night was mostly boring and listless, I have a distinct feeling that both Neil and McGratton will be looking to fire up the hometown crowd this evening. Who is going to step up for the Leafs?

We can count on Mats and Peca responding, IMO, but will the likes of Tucker, Kilger and McCabe? Kubina will be an added pressence, and a few well placed early hits to Spezza would go a long way toward giving the Leafs a real shot at winning this matchup. Unfortunately, as bad as Belak was he is basically the only guy on the roster who can handle either of Neil or McGratton, so look for him to be inserted on the 4th line.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Game Recap: Senators 4 - Leafs 1

Well... what to say. The Leafs came out very strong, had the first three or four solid chances of the evening, but Gerber stood tall. The game settled into a fairly bland pace, with Wade Belak taking a few silly penalties. Some decent chances both ways, with the Sens capitalizing on them more effectively than the Leafs. An empty-netter made it a 4-1 final for the visitors.

You know, in past seasons, I would have been bitterly disappointed with the outcome, but for some reason I was almost satisfied that they were even able to hang with the Sens. Sad really.

Oh, and I'll save Damian Cox the time... this team couldn't score their way out of a wet paper bag. It is going to be a long season for Mr. Sundin.

The Good:

There were a few (and just a few) positives to take away from the game. Sundin was, besides Gerber, the best player on the ice. Great in the faceoff circle, played with an edge, scored the only goal and had numerous chances.

Peca made an impressive showing as well, he seemed to be playing with a little fire in his belly and did a very decent job winning key draws and generally playing a sound game.

Although allowing three goals on 31 shots, Raycroft seemed to be in control (of both his movements and the rebounds), and really did not give up any 'softies'. The issue here is the 31 shots, not really the three goals. If he plays like this for the rest of the season, goaltending won't be the Leafs #1 concern.

I thought Pohl would have shown more in the offensive zone, but he was very sound in his own end, winning a couple of key faceoffs. A good solid start that he will be able to build off.

Kaberle looked to be skating in a different gear than the rest of the players out there, moving the puck up the ice with a fluid ease. He actually shot the puck a couple of times as well (mark your calendars!)

Finally, I thought Kyle Wellwood played a slightly above average game, generating a few chances, and as the game progressed, he looked more comfortable on the wing. Did a nice job on the PP when Ottawa was crowding McCabe, forcing the Leafs to go to plan B.

The Bad:

Where to begin. So many players looked disinterested it isn't even funny.

Kilger and Tucker were invisible (I honestly had to go to the gamesheet to verify that they played in the first period), Steen & Stajan both looked like they were in way over their heads, maybe the worst game I have seen either of them play. They were both coughing up the puck with regularity and neither were able to establish a forecheck with any real results. Ponikarovsky did not appear to be able to keep up with Mats on half the plays tonight, and when he could he flubbed the passes/chances.

On D, McCabe looked like he was using his stick upside down half the night, and White might have played his worst game in his brief stint with the Leafs.

The Ugly:

Wade Belak. This guy got thrown into a bad situation (first game back on D in almost a year against the speedy Sens), but at this point in his NHL career, he should understand how to physically skate backwards. And the bad penalties... oy vey!

Wozniewski looked like he belonged back in junior tonight. Chalk it up to opening night jitters, but he was brutal. Maybe the only guy on the ice coughing up the puck more than Steen & Stajan.

Hal Gill is not worth $2 million, period. I know, big shock (especially to anyone who ever watched a Bruins game), but this guy simply cannot keep up with the play. He is late arriving to the offensive blueline, and late getting back. By the time he gets going with any speed in any particular direction, the play is inevitably already going the other way. Think Nik Antropov, but slower and playing 5 more minutes a game. Let's hope that Maurice can hide him in the #5-6 slot at 10-14 minutes a game in the coming weeks.

Suglobov looked to be shell-shocked by the whole experience. He looked confused out there, not sure if he was supposed to actually try to score, or to play 'defense'. It's clear he doesn't know how to do the latter, as his game tonight looked as natural as a monkey trying to hump a football. He can't be a fourth line player. He either needs to be on a scoring line, or he needs to be in the minors. Fourth-line grinding is a waste, because he simply is incapable of doing it.

I won't even get started on Jeff O'Neill. He shouldn't be in the lineup right now, and I think his ice-time tonight reflects that Maurice feels the same way. No passion, no chances, no real reason to give him any more ice-time, IMO. Damn, I hate even typing that, I used to be the biggest O'Neill booster...

Only 24 hours till round 2, lets hope it isn't another snooze-fest.

Oh, and am I the only one that was plain ol' shocked with how crappy Alfredsson played? He looked like he wanted to be somewhere else out there all night. Very strange performance from a consummate professional.

The O'Neill Saga Continues ^

Looks like the drama surrounding O'Neill has already started, and we have yet to drop the puck. The best part of the article is this:

'...O'Neill implied several times that he would examine his options if the Leafs brass is not happy with his performance...'

This guy has should be pissed, and this should motivate him, but idly threatening to 'explore his options' because he is finally getting called out for his lazy, indifferent play is laughable.

Jeff, it is time to deliver something positive every game, be it a goal, a hit or heaven help us, a decent back-check, else you need to STFU and 'explore your other options' ASAP.

Predictions: Final NHL Standings

Well, I don't want to be the only blogger NOT posting my predictions for how the standings this season will shake out, so based on my lucky eight ball, the fact that I did not put my pants on one leg at a a time this morning, and that I'm bored, here are The Mad Bloggers predictions for the final NHL standings (I will only analyze the East, as I am not nearly as knowledgeable on the West):

Eastern Conference

  1. Carolina - Still strong, still in a weak division, should feast on them all season.
  2. Buffalo - Would have had them #1 overall, but I think the tough Northeast will take a bite out of the Sabres.
  3. Rangers - Many people writing them off as a flash in the pan - but they should be even better with Cullen, Shanahan and another year under Lundqvist's belt.
  4. Ottawa - Still strong, will finish with more points than Rangers, but get fourth due to the divisional seeding.
  5. New Jersey - Lou is still the man, and a healthy Elias and a signed Gionta + Gomex means a very dangerous Devils squad. Oh, and they have some guy named Brodeur in net.
  6. Tampa Bay - They will be better, as Denis is a REAL improvement in net. Watch for Richards to have an Yzermanesque season.
  7. Philadelphia - This team could finish as high as third or as low as tenth, a real wild-card. Lots of great talent up front, but will Forsberg and Nitty stay healthy?
  8. Toronto - This team will struggle all season, but with what should be the #1 PP in the league, and a solid showing from Raycroft, 8th is a slight possibility.

  9. Montreal - Will be battling with the Leafs all season. Some nice prospects, but can Huet really be 'the man'?
  10. Atlanta - Loss of Savard hurts, but I think time will show him to be a less important cog than his current contract says. Ilya could score 60, and they have improved their D.
  11. Boston - Chara and Savard are not enough. No scoring after the first two lines, and a very thin D-corp.
  12. Pittsburgh - Maybe the most improved team, or at least the team with the potential to be the most improved. They should be an exciting team to watch (at both ends of the rink!)
  13. Florida - Acquiring a dis-interested Bertuzzi does not equate to a step-up in my view.
  14. Washington - Need to get more help for Ovechkin. D is thin, but watch for LW Semin, a potential Calder candidate.
  15. Islanders - Adding Tom Poti is never a good idea. Mr. Wang will start to regret his 15 year contract with DiPietro by January.
Western Conference
  1. Calgary
  2. San Jose
  3. Nashville
  4. Anaheim
  5. Dallas
  6. Detroit
  7. Edmonton
  8. Vancouver

  9. Minnisota
  10. Columbus
  11. Colorado
  12. Phoenix
  13. Los Angeles
  14. St. Louis
  15. Chicago

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Analysis of Leafs Schedule: Second Half

To recap, this is the second of two installments, containing our pre-season prognosis. The first-half can be found in our previous post.

In this second and final installment, we look at the last-half of the season.

Second Half

Starting the new-year with two against the Bruins, the Leafs spend most of January on the road. 7 of 12 games will be away from the ACC, including a three game swing through Florida, ending in Pittsburgh to face Crosby, Malkin and Fleury. The Leafs then stop in for a single home-game, a Saturday night tilt against the Habs, and then end the month on the front-end of the longest road trip of the season (a five gamer that sees them travel as far west as St. Louis).

Highlight Game: Saturday, January 20. The Leafs end a three game trip with a Saturday night tilt in the Igloo. We should know by now whether the Crosby/Malkin show has moved from pre-season hype into full-fledged dynamic duo.

Prediction: The Leafs will be spending more time on the road than at home, which could spell trouble for a team so apt to taking penalties (victim of the long change, etc). 6W-6L

More of the same for the buds, playing 7 of 12 on the road again. The month starts with the last half of the five game road trip from January, and ends with another four game trip. Two games against the Isles and others against the likes of the Pens and Blues should mean at least a couple of wins, but all those road games are going to be taking a major toll through this typically tough part of the season.

Highlight Game: Saturday, February 17 the Oil roll into town. Will they be the same team that the surprised the hockey world and made the finals, or will they fall back to one struggling to make the post-season?

Prediction: A bad month: 5W-7L, if they are lucky.

The final full month of the season, 14 games, eight of them at home. The Leafs longest homestand of the season is just two games, and they have three of them this month. Three sets of back-to-back games during this month, almost all of them against extremely tough competition. Three games against the Sabres, two against the Sens, one against the Habs equals some serious divisional jockeying. Almost every game played at the end of the month will be a must-win if playoff hopes are still alive. The schedule makers couldn't have done a better job!

Highlight Game: A highlight weekend, really, and one that will probably decide the season for the Buds. Back-to-back tilts against the Sabres on the weekend of the 23rd. Will Briere be challenging for the league scoring title? Will the Sabres be challenging for first overall? Or was it all a flash in the pan? IMO, the Leafs will need both these games at this point, and the Sabres will be proving all those doubters wrong as they make a solid run at first overall.

Prediction: In a bit of deja-vu from 2005-2006, the Leafs will finish strong, with Mats making a run at many, many Leafs records (most points, most goals in club history), 9W-5L.

Just 4 games here, with the final game of the season against the Habs. I hope that this game is a formality, and the Leafs have squeeked in with their big March push, but something deep down inside of me longs for a one-game showdown on the final night of the season.

Highlight Game: Saturday, April 7, against the Habs at home, 'nuff said.

Prediction: Big finish, 3W-1L.

So that's it. Based on my predictions, the Leafs will be 23W-19L in the second-half, for an overall record of 44W-38L for this season. The Leafs finish 8th, battling tooth and nail with the Bruins, Habs, Flyers, Thrashers, Lightning and Pens (yep, those Pens) for the last three spots. No point even watching now, is there?

The Lou Bashing Train

A short note here...

Let me say that Lou is, in my view, one of the two or three best GM's in the NHL (wow, really sticking my neck out there...) The guy has managed to keep a competitive team through seemingly thick and thin and even though he showed a few chinks in his armour with the original signings of Mogilny and Malakhov, he has performed nothing short of a miracle to get out from under their contracts.

Whether you agree with it or not, he has found a loophole and exploited it. Fellow blogger ninja, over at Raking Leafs, has a great piece ^ on the whole situation.

Now, having said that Lou seems to be some kind of magician, I still think he is a loser on this one at the end of the day. He essentially gave up a first-rounder next season for the 'services' of M & M last season (and for those who saw them play, it wasn't worth it, not by a country mile).

Folks, you can make fun of the Devils for playing in a swamp, or playing in front of barely 10,000 fans most nights, but you simply cannot argue with success. Ultimately, players win games, but it was and has always been Lou's mastery at player management and in this case, finding 'loopholes', that has enabled this on-ice excellence.

If anyone is to blame for this, it has to be the good people at the league offices. They left the door open, and the horses are now out of the barn.

Fearless prediction: Bobby Clarke uses the 'Lamoriello rule' to get rid of Hatcher at some time this season, before the rule can be changed next off-season.

Needling the 'Sainted Sens': Corvo Ain't Exactly a Saint

Since the Ottawa Senators brought Joe Corvo on-board to help offset the loss of Chara this off-season, I have had more than a few of my sens-friends tell me what a great addition he is. They will then, as is typical, launch into some rant about what a bunch of no good, dirty SOB's the Leafs are, taking shots at various players for their apparent failures, both on and off the ice.

A refresher:

"...Prosecutors said Corvo, a 6-foot-1, 213-pound defenseman,
grabbed a 34-year-old woman's buttocks last November. Restaurant
staff told him to leave, but Corvo returned, punched the woman and
then kicked her when she fell to the ground, prosecutors said..."

Corvo later went on to plead guilty. Maybe that halo hovering over Kanata just got a little more tarnished?

Leafs Starting Lineup for the Season

Looks like the final lineup has shaken out for the Buds to open the season.

Not ideal, given the injuries and the suspension to Kubina, but here it is, in all it's tepid glory:

Forward Lines



As fellow blogger MF37 ^over at Bitter Leaf ^ mentioned, this is all 44 million dollars buys you? Sadly, when you have money left on the books from the dissaster that was Belfour and Domi over the past few years, and when guys like Hal Gill are pulling down 2 million, and Nik Antropov and Jeff O'Neill are still earning 1 million+, yes, this is all 44 million gets you.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Leafs Fantasy Projections

Well, given the dearth of scoring talent up front on the Leafs, there really aren't too many players to even consider drafting. I know I won't be playing the 'hometown homer' in my pools when we do our drafts over the next few days. Let's look at the possibilities, position by position:

With only one bonafide star player, this is going to be a short list.

  • Mats Sundin, maybe the most consistent player in the NHL over the past 15 years, should be a lock once again for around 75-85 points. It looks like he will be getting more ice-time, and as usual will be the kingpin of the Leafs potent power-play. Take him in the second or third-round for almost any style of league.
  • Darcy Tucker is definitely a late-round possibility. He blossomed on the power-play last season, and will be on the first squad again this season with Mats. 30 goals and 50-60 points is not out of the question, and making him a late-round pick could be a nice pick-up. In leagues that also reward penalty minutes, consider moving him up a round.
  • Kyle Wellwood, the second-year player with the great hands, has been promoted to both the top-line with Sundin as well as the first PP unit. Look for a 'break-out' year for Kyle, scoring ~20 goals and topping out in the low 60 point range. Again, a decent late round pick, but in leagues that reward goals over assists, consider dropping him a round.
One area that the Leafs should excel, at least from a poolies point of view, will be offense from the defense. Last season, the Leafs enjoyed the second highest scoring tandem in the league, and have only boosted these fortunes through the addition of Kubina.

  • Bryan McCabe will look to build on his coming-of-age season. Benefiting from the 'New NHL' rules more than most, McCabe spent a large part of last season menacing opposing goalies with his accurate and heavy slapshot from the point. Late in the season, teams seemed to be able to get McCabe out of his comfort zone, and will continue to try to do more of the same. Expect similar numbers to last season, with the potential for a bit of a drop-off in the first half as the Leafs try to figure out a way to get him the puck with some room (something Wellwood should help do in spades). Take him as a late top-10 to top 15 d-man, slightly higher in leagues that reward PP points.
  • Tomas Kaberle is, in my opinion, the most purely gifted defenseman on the roster. He will look to continue scoring at a pace that is now becoming the norm for him, with a ton of assists coming both on the PP and on his often spectacular break-out passes that stretch the ice to the opposing blueline. Again, take him as a late top 10 player, in the same ballpark as a Kimmo Timonen, slightly higher in leagues that reward PP points.
  • Pavel Kubina is an interesting case. He is certainly a worthy top 25 d-man, but his fortunes this season all seem to weigh on his partner. Should Maurice choose to pair Kubina with his gifted fellow Czech Kaberle, he could easily put up 40+ points this season, even as the #3 d-man. He should be anchoring the #2 PP squad, which will see significantly less ice-time than the #1 squad, but if an injury arises to either of McCabe or Kaberle, he will be expected to carry the burden (he is certainly being paid well enough to do it). A later d-man pick with some upside makes him a late top 20 pick on D.

  • The ordained #1 man to start the season is young Mr. Raycroft. I am a huge Raycroft fan and a huge Leafs fan, but I would only be taking Raycroft as my third goalie at this point. Nothing against him or his abilities, but he is likely to see a ton of rubber, at least in the opening weeks of the season. As a result, his GAA is unlikely to be in the top 10 in the league and looking at my predictions for the Leafs record in the first-half of the season, he is not likely to have too many wins either. There are better choices out there for your #1 or even #2 guy, but if he is still available in the later rounds, take a chance on him.
From a fantasy perspective, this is a pretty weak team. Maurice has to have them all pulling on the rope in the same direction, especially in the transition game, else they are really going to struggle to score goals at regular strength this season.

Analysis of Leafs Schedule: First Half

First off, the official schedule ^ is available from ^. You can even download it and add it to Microsoft Outlook, which is handy for figuring out when you will need to skip out on your kids lame school plays and, of course, your date nights with your mistress, playboy.

In this first installment, let's examine the first-half of the season.

First Half

The boys in blue start the season with 7 of their first 10 at home, and 8 of 13 at home for the month of October. As many expect, this opening month will give us a true barometer as to how the re-tooled defense, the weak wingers and the re-born Raycroft will perform for the balance. Also featured are two back-to-back tilts with the Senators, who for all their post-season impotence have managed to make spanking the Leafs by more than a touchdown a regular occurrence. The Leafs play 10 of these 13 games against teams who finished higher in the standings, which means that the Buds will be lucky to get away with a +500 record.

Highlight Game: Jerome Iginla comes to town with his new partner in crime, Alex Tanguay on Saturday, October 14. With the Flames being the class of the West, this game at home should be a great tilt.

Prediction: A bunch of home games, but very tough opponents: 6W-7L (yes, I know that there are overtime games, etc, but count them for what they are, a win or a loss).

Playing 14 games in November, the Leafs spend the majority of the time on the road (8 of the 14), including a swing through the south-east. Finally, a few 'gimme' games against teams the Leafs should be beating every night (if they have any hope of making the playoffs), but also two games vs the Sabres and one against the Devils, which have been automatic losses for the Leafs for the past 100 years.

Highlight Game: Thursday, November 9 the Leafs play in the Gawden/Fleet/TD North/Purina Dog Chow Center in Boston in what is Andrew Raycroft's homecoming of sorts. Here's hoping he can stick them with a goose-egg.

Prediction: Venturing out onto the road, with mixed results: 7W-7L.

13 games here, 7 of them at home. The trend of no long home-stands continues, with the longest through this part of the season being just two games. Three sets of back-to-back games during this month will lead to a team feeling like they can never build any momentum. Some winnable games in here, especially in the latter half of the month.

Highlight Game: Saturday, December 9, the Leafs play at the Joe in Detroit. Always a big tilt when these two teams meet, this game could be a watershed moment for the Leafs in determining if their rather slim playoff hopes are justified.

Prediction: The first positive month, 8W-5L.

So there you have the first 40 games of the season. According to my fearless predictions, we are looking at a record of around 21W-19L, which would look to be a bubble team at best to make the playoffs, given that the buds had no extended road trips in here, and played 21 of 40 at home. Yeesh, pretty grim stuff. One more prediction. I expect Damian Cox to write his first JFJ obituary in mid-November, telling his readers how silly JFJ was to fail to bring back Allison when it is/was clear that the Leafs lacked in scoring. *shudder*

Look for our second-half analysis tomorrow.

Update: O'Neill Will Not be Sent to the Marlies

According to reports out this morning ^, Jeff O'Neill will NOT be sent down to the Marlies, at least not for now.

Form our previous post, we can see now that for the short-term, Jeff O'Neill's career, at least with the Leafs, appears to be in limbo. BY opting not to send O'Neill to the AHL Marlies today, Maurice is sending O'Neill as clear a message as one can; pick it up or pack it up. O'Neill will be on the hot-spot for the coming few weeks, essentially proving to his coach and GM that he is worth the roster spot and the ice-time.

This also demonstrates that Maurice is a man of his word. He said he thinks the world of O'Neill and that he may just need a bit more time to get his timing back. Well, now he appears to have it.

Speaking of 'bubble' players, our favourite whipping boy Nik Antropov had just over 4 minutes of ice-time against Detroit last evening after sustaining a 'lower-body' injury. At this point, would or should anyone be surprised to see him demoted? And how can Leafs brass justify paying this guys $1 million dollar salary, but couldn't be bothered to offer the same amount to Lindros, a guy who actually contributed last season?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My Kingdom for a Winger...

I know I am just repeating what every single Leaf fan has heard, thought, dreamed, translated into Esperanto, but seriously, why can't the Leafs draft and develop a single top 50 NHL forward to play for them?

I urge you to name the last great forward that the Leafs have actually developed in-house. The Sens, for their part, have managed to bring up a Hossa, Alfredsson, Yashin, Havlat, etc. Sure, they sucked for about a decade and typically had a great draft position, but what about a team like Detroit? They were and are perennial favorites, have drafted lower than almost any team in the league and have still managed to draft and develop the likes of Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

Don't get me wrong, even through their inept drafting, a few decent prospects HAVE worked their way through the system and are now playing in the NHL. Just on different teams, of course. Take Brad Boyes for example. Shipped to the Sharks for Owen Nolan, and mystifyingly traded to the Bruins shortly after that, he has begun to blossom into a legitimate first-line NHL player, and would have made a serious run at the Calder last season if not for a certain pair of generational phenoms in Pittsburgh and Washington.

Or how about Jarkko Immonen, sent to the Rangers to rent Brian Leetch for a few short weeks? Immonen went on to lead the Rangers AHL affiliate in scoring last season, and appears as of this writing to have made the big club in the big apple. Look for a solid season out of Jarkko.

Maybe young Czech Jiri Tlusty, drafted in the first round of this year, is a step in the right direction. Refusing to part with Alex Steen in the rumoured Pronger deal is also a positive sign. It is certainly a refreshing change of course that has seen picks and what little prospects the 'Buds' have being shipped out every spring in a desperate attempt at a Cup run.

Only time will tell of course. Oh, and the answer to the question above, 'name the last top 50 forward that the Leafs have actually developed in-house...' is Vincent Damphousse. Scary, isn't it?

Jeff O'Neill's Future in Doubt?

We shall learn shortly whether one Jeff O'Neill, former 40-goal scorer and current under-achiever, has a future with the Leafs.

It has been recently rumoured ^ that the enigmatic forward may be on the 'outs' with new Leafs bench-boss Paul Maurice. Maurice and O'Neill have a long history from Carolina, with Maurice having the advantage of seeing O'Neill at both his energetic best (circa 2000-2001 through 2002-2003) and at his slow, defense dodging worst (2003-2004, last season).

Paul Maurice was quoted this morning as saying that he thinks Jeff is 'an outstanding player', but that he is not where the coaching staff wants to see him in terms of his effort and his results. With O'Neill sitting for both of the final pre-season games against Detroit, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that O'Neill, barring an unforeseen turn of events, will NOT be in the Leafs starting lineup on Wednesday vs. the Ottawa Senators.

Now, clearly Maurice has taken a different tack than his predecessor Mr. Quinn in deciding not to treat his veteran players with 'kid gloves'. It appears that nobody in the Leafs lineup is guaranteed a starting job, regardless of history or past production. This should be a welcome change to long-suffering Leaf fans everywhere. We can only hope that Maurice and neophyte GM John Ferguson are given free-reign to shape the on-ice product of this team, without interference from the business side of MLSE (see Domi and Peddie, among others).

So, with all that being said, what does the future hold for O'Neill if he is indeed sent-down? Never a defensive specialist (Jeff has only ever been a + player in one of his 10 seasons in the NHL, and was, along with Jason Allison, absolutely brutal last year in his own end), Jeff will have three choices.

  1. He reports to the Marlies, and works his butt-off trying to recapture a very promising NHL career;
  2. He demands a trade to another team, which given his offensive pedigree and relatively low salary (final year of a $1.5 million/two year contract) is highly probable for a pick (a similar trade to the one that brought him to Toronto), or;
  3. He retires. Given he is just 30, and given the potential money involved, this would seem improbable, but rumours this summer pointed to this as a real possibility.
Luckily for us who are impatient, we will likely have our answers by the end of this week. I personally hope O'Neill can turn it around and play a gritty, responsible game. By all reports he is a genuinely nice guy who has had a very rough go of it over the past few years. But the Leafs may be reaching the point of having to fish or cut bait with O'Neill.

Which segues us nicely to a future post; just who does Nik Antropov have pictures of?

Addendum: given the lack of scoring depth on the wings, sending O'Neill would mean that Suglobov is likely a lock to make the team. He adds some intriguing offensive abilities, but little improvement over O'Neill defensively. Right now, the Leafs most dangerous offensive player on either wing will be Darcy Tucker... yikes.

Welcome to the Mad Hockey Blog

The Mad Hockey Blogger
Welcome to what should be an almost daily Leafs/NHL related 'blog'. There are of course many out there, but they all seem to either: 1) suck, b) be run by complete fan-boys or, iii) appear to be written by a monkey mashing a keyboard.

I will strive to be no more than one of the above at any given time. Now, on to the rants!