Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Name is Jonas, I'm Carrying the Weight

james reimer jonas gustavsson
"God may be your saviour, James, but I'm Toronto's."
For the longest time I waited on the Jonas Gustavsson bandwagon. I waited for it to get going. I thought this is a player adjusting to a new league, and one battling a few serious health concerns to boot, he just needs some time. I gave it time. I gave it a lot of time. Too much time by most reasonable standards. Then finally, after sitting for so long and watching almost everyone get off, I thought that this bus is broken, it's never starting.

And on Nov. 9, I was off. Loudly.

In Gustavsson's next start, just over a week later against the Washington Capitals, the Monster put in a 40 save performance, holding the Capitals to just one goal, and the bandwagon was off and running. It hasn't looked back, and I'm pretending I never got off.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Toronto and Edmonton: A Tale of Two Rebuilds

stuart percy leafs brian burke
Burke explaining that the Leafs do, in fact, occasionally draft in the first round.
When Brian Burke traded two first- and one second-round pick for Phil Kessel, the prevailing thought was that Burke was foolish; you don't rebuild a team by trading away your high draft picks.

Burke boldly declared he was too impatient for a traditional rebuild and that under his watch the Leafs would undergo a radical on-the-fly rebuild. The Leafs weren't going to tank year in, year out, slowly building a team with the best young prospects available each June.

People were outwardly skeptical or the brash GM.

The Leafs began their rebuild shortly before Burke was named GM in 2008, as Cliff Fletcher took over for the deposed John Ferguson Jr. Fletcher acquired a few mid to late draft picks at the deadline and then traded up in the draft to take Luke Schenn, before fleecing the Canadiens for Mikhail Grabovski.

But aside from those two players, plus Tomas Kaberle and Nik Antropov, Burke was left with a roster deprived of nearly all talent, and saddled with seemingly unmovable contracts like Jason Blake's, which still had the next three seasons and $12 million on it.

At the same time, the Edmonton Oilers were about to embark on their own rebuild after finishing the 2008-09 season in 11th place in the Western Conference.

Over the next three years the two teams took different strategies to bring respectability back to their once proud franchises. The Oilers ended up adopting the more traditional tank hard and draft high method, while the Leafs managed to hold onto only one of their own first round picks.

Critics of Brian Burke and the Leafs pointed to Edmonton, proclaiming that the Oilers, on account of their proper rebuild, would become a better team sooner than the Leafs. Eventually, the armchair GMs said, the Leafs too would have to follow Edmonton as Burke's method was doomed to failure.

Well, three years have passed, and it is Toronto who has taken the first major step forward, sitting 7th in the Eastern Conference. In comparison, the Oilers once again sit in their customary lottery position, and can only console themselves by fact that drafting high will pay off eventually... or so they hope.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Home-Ice Advantage: Why the Jets Win at Home

winnipeg jets fans
They say in Gotham City you can buy a cop. Well, in Montreal you can buy a referee.

The Bell Centre is one of the loudest buildings in the league. The Montreal faithful pack the 21,000+ arena every night and have been accused of swaying the referees to their side by more than a few angry coaches.

But Montreal can no longer lay claim to the title of "loudest building in the league". That prestigious honour now goes to Winnipeg and the MTS Centre, home of the relocated Jets.

The MTS Centre barely holds over 15,000 and is quite small, which actually works to make the building itself louder. Plus, Winnipeg hasn't had hockey in 15 years, so the fans are just a little pent up.

And in addition to being one of the most wild, passionate buildings in the league, it seems like the fans are actually helping the Jets win games. The popular joke is that Winnipeg is the Jets at home and the Thrashers on the road. It looks like the transformation has something to do with the crowd.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Exodus of the Enforcer

jody shelley fight
"You're fucking irrelevant out here."

When historians look back on the slow, plodding demise of the hockey goon, they will reference those words as the opening salvo.

According to Mike Rupp, captured on HBO cameras in the fantastic 24/7, Jody Shelley was irrelevant.

"If you had any outcome on the game I'd fuckin' go with you, but you don't!"

But he wasn't just irrelevant in that particular game. He was irrelevant within the entire game of hockey.

And with a single sentence, Rupp removed any remaining shred of legitimacy clinging to Shelley's career, and the careers of all other players who make their living solely using their fists, perhaps even his own.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

JML: Sign, Trade, or Walk?

john michael liles leafs
Within the past calendar year, Tomas Kaberle has played for four teams and six coaches. After leaving Toronto, he was generally pretty ineffective in Boston, failing to ignite their powerplay. But he still managed to help the Bruins win a Stanley Cup (however inconsequential his contribution may have been). This season he continued his disappointing play in Carolina before finding himself in Montreal. It has been as rough as any year highlighted by a championship ring could be.

There has definitely been no seller’s regret in Toronto.

Kaberle’s replacement in Toronto, John-Michael Liles, a player who in a way was a part of the initial trade with Boston (the conditional second rounder Boston sent the Leafs was shipped to Colorado for Liles) has integrated into the Leafs lineup and filled the role vacated by Kaberle seamlessly.

Liles forms the first defensive pairing on the Leafs’ powerplay and has helped ignite a once dormant unit that was 22nd in the league last season. With Liles quarterbacking the man-advantage, Toronto sits 3rd in league, helping propel the Leafs to a top-10 offense.

Liles has 21 points on the year, which before sustaining a concussion was one more than Phaneuf, and has accumulated 10 of those on the powerplay. He was advertised as a Kaberle-lite when the Leafs acquired him, but considering the way Kaberle has played recently you wonder who the knockoff really is.

As a bonus, the Indianapolis native has provided a steady influence on the back-end, playing a pretty solid game and rarely showing the defensive deficiencies that Kaberle frequently did during his later “I don’t give a shit” years.

But these positives mean the Leafs have a dilemma.

Monday, January 2, 2012

December Recap: Same Old Situation

The only two Toronto Maple Leafs, at least according to the scoresheet.
Thankfully December is a time of holiday cheer because Leafs Nation was getting little to cheer about. It’s also a good thing that the holidays are filled with drinking and stuffing your face into a stupor because if they weren’t it would be all the more painful to realize what’s happening to the Leafs.
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