Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lackluster Draft!

The 2010 NHL Entry Draft has come and gone, and it was a rather boring affair from a Leafs standpoint. But, did we expect anything less, since the Leafs weren't slotted to make a pick until the third round? Everyone knows why we didn't have a pick in the first couple rounds, so I'm not going to rehash it. The Leafs did make a trade to move up in the draft and chose forward Bradley Ross with the 43 selection overall. Ross said he is a lifelong fan of the blue and white, and models his game after Darcy Tucker. For a look at the Leafs other selections, check out the Leafs official website for in depth coverage. Heading into the draft weekend, rumors abound with Kaberle trade talks. I'm shocked to tell you that Tomas Kaberle is still a Leaf (read with sarcasm for full effect) Apparently, Burke said there were three offers management considered, and described a fourth offer as an insult. So, from the abundant 10 offers the media speculated on, there were actually 3. I appreciate that Burke is holding out for the best return for Tomas Kaberle, but I caution him; if you're hoping to get a guy that can walk on water, there's only one person who has been credited with such ability, and last I checked, he didn't play hockey. Leaf Nation doesn't need a person who can walk on water, just one who can skate on a frozen pond. And if said individual can perform minor miracles with a stick, all the better....(cough Jordan Staal cough)

Speaking of trade speculation, sources indicate that the Boston Bruins are looking to trade centre Marc Savard. Marc Savard has a no trade stipulation in his contract, but is willing to waive his no trade for either the Ottawa Senators or Toronto Maple Leafs. According to reports, any transaction between the Bruins/Leafs regarding Savard would NOT involve Kaberle, but possibly Nikolai Kulemin or Mikhail Grabovski instead. This would be a good thing as Kulemin is a restricted free agent who's agent is asking for far to much money. Kulemin is a good two-way player who played on the first line, out of necessity. His grand total of 31 points is nowhere near deserving of a first liners paycheck. Trading a player with a potential upside, for a proven top six forward is a smart move if Burke can swing it. Sure, Savard is 32, and suffered a concussion last season. Let's remember though, that every good team has a skilled veteran to mentor the teams youth, and not every player who suffered a concussion will turn out like Eric Lindros. Besides, when Savard and Phil Kessel were line mates in Boston, the pair had more chemistry then Romeo and Juliet. In their last season together, the dynamic duo posted a combined 148 points. Need I say more?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Leafs Launch Season Versus Rivals!

In the midst of all those Kaberle rumors floating around, official news has surfaced from the Toronto Maple Leafs. No, Tomas Kaberle hasn't been traded...yet, but the team has officially released the schedule for the 2010-2011 season. In a repeat of last year's season opener, the Leafs will face off against their historically hated enemies the Montreal Canadiens, or as I like to call them, the NHL's version of Garden Gnomes on skates. Two nights later we battle our provincial rivals the Ottawa Senators.....a.k.a. the official spokes-team for Trojan Condoms. For the rest of the schedule visit Let's hope the strong finish last season carries over to this new campaign, and Leaf Nation won't have to wait until the end of October for the teams first win. They say hope springs eternal. Hopefully this season, hope will last all 82 games and beyond, instead of fading away in December. Let the countdown begin!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Leafs Go Back to the Future & Name New Captain!

It was a historic day for the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday on two fronts. The team unveiled a new jersey that the team will wear this coming season. When the hockey club hits the ice for the 2010-2011 season, what's old will be new again. Brian Burke and Ron Wilson said that with the new sweaters the team is looking to return to its roots, and by the looks of things, mission accomplished. The jersey's feature a string and a collar. Also the shade of blue seems to be slightly darker then in recent years. The two stripes at the bottom of the jersey have made a return and there are also two stripes on the sleeves. Also back by popular demand is the vintage Leaf logo on both shoulders, while the lettering and numbering has gone back to a standard format, rather then the outlined letters and numbering. With this "new" design the franchise has clearly gone back to the future and spliced together elements from the 1967 and 1993 sweaters. I'd say if we're trying to recapture the glory of yesterday, those are definitely the years of success to strive for. All that's left is to hop into the DeLorean, fire up the flux capacitor, grab Dave Keon, Johnny Bower, Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, from their respective era's and Stanley, here we come. The sweaters are classy, elegant, and embody the tradition that is synonymous with this franchise. The only question is, do I get a Phil Kessel or a Dion Phaneuf?

Speaking of Dion Phaneuf, the worst kept secret in hockey was made official. As the Leafs revealed their new attire, they announced Dion Phaneuf as the 18th captain in team history. This is a title that has been vacant for two years, since Mats "Poker Star" Sundin, decided to be a hypocrite, go on a 6 month vacation, return for a short, and fruitless playoff stint with Vancouver before retiring. Quite frankly, the franchise was right to hold off on naming a captain,
because up until now, there was no one who stood out as captain material. Being the captain of the Maple Leafs is a tremendous honour, that comes with great responsibility. To follow in the footsteps of some of the great legends of the past is a daunting task.

A captain needs to lead by example, on and off the ice. He needs to have an incredible work ethic, and positive attitude. When the team is struggling, he's going to have to carry this team on his back, willing them to victory. He will need to mentor those who are struggling, and share success when it finally starts to bubble to the surface. That's why Dion Phaneuf was the right choice. From the moment he arrived in town, he took charge. He brought an energy, enthusiasm, and winning attitude to a team that found ways to loose. His hard-hitting, no nonsense style, spread through the team. Dion Phaneuf's arrival was a major contribution to establishing a winning culture. Since the trade, the team maintained a winning record, that if averaged over a season puts us in the playoffs.

I find it fitting that George Armstrong, Darryl Sittler, and Wendel Clark were all present for the announcement. Arguably three of the greatest Leaf captains of all time. I believe Dion Phaneuf could join that trio. Will he be the first captain since George Armstrong to lift the Stanley Cup? Time will tell. One thing is certain, Leaf Nation has a leader. We are ready to follow, hopefully to be lead out of this long and barren wilderness, back to the promise land.

Where's Kabby?

Am I the only one feeling a sense of déjà vu? I mean seriously, Leaf fans have been hearing Tomas Kaberle trade rumours for the better part of two summers now. Well, I say enough already. Get it done! I don’t want to be sitting here next summer, hearing Tomas Kaberle trade rumours, for two reasons. First, if I’m still hearing them a year from now, it means Brian Burke will have failed to accomplish one of his goals for this off-season. More importantly, it will mean my beloved Leafs have missed the playoffs again for a seventh straight year. Emotionally, I just can’t take that. Over the last week or so I’ve read so many trade rumours regarding Tomas Kaberle, that I can’t keep track of them all. Forget the “Where’s Waldo” children books, someone should write a “Where’s Kabby” book. It would be a best seller. So with all this talk, this is the year it happens right? Here’s my take on some of the chatter I’ve read:

Tomas Kaberle and either Luke Schenn or Nazem Kadri to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan. There would most likely be more elements to a potential trade with Anaheim, because there’s no way they do a straight up Kaberle for Ryan deal. As far as I’m concerned they can have Kaberle and Schenn. Hell Burke might even throw in the John Deer tractor Luke Schenn rode in on for his first training camp. Anaheim can have anyone else off of our roster with the exception of Phaneuf and Kessel. Burke needs to leave Kadri out of any trade combination. Sure, I’ll admit I had no clue who Nazem Kadri was on draft day last year. I remember having a beer in my hand, Kadri’s name being called, and thinking, “Chi cazzo e questo stronzo!?” Boy was I wrong. Kadri had a stunning year in the OHL last year, and looks to be one of the most promising draft choices the Leafs have made in years. He’s a keeper and I do not see a trade with Anaheim working with Kadri involved.

Tomas Kaberle and Viktor Stalberg to Pittsburgh for Jordan Staal and a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick. This is my favourite of the trade rumours. It makes sense for both teams. Pittsburgh will most likely loose Sergei Gonchar in the off-season and will be looking for an offensive defenseman to fill the void. The Leafs are in desperate need of a top line centre, and make no mistake, that is exactly what Jordan Staal is. On a majority of the NHL clubs, Staal would find himself on the top line. However, the Penguins have more depth than most teams dream of, so Staal is relegated to third line. But that’s the best thing about Staal, he is a complete player, and can do it all. In Stalberg Pittsburgh would get a speedy winger with tremendous potential. Even the math supports this trade. Kaberle + Stalberg – the berg + a = Staal. Take that Einstein!

Other scuttlebutt I’ve come across would send Kaberle and Grabovski to Washington for Alexander Semin and their third goalie. This sounds farfetched to me because I don’t see Washington dispensing with one of their top offensive threats, for an offensive defensemen, one of which they already have, and a mediocre centre. Another has Kaberle off to Buffalo, with Toronto getting Drew Stafford. Drew Stafford is basically Matt Stajan with more hair on his head, yeah, no thanks.

I like Tomas Kaberle. He’s been a good player for us and served us well for the past 12 seasons. If the Leafs were in a better position as a franchise, I would say we were crazy for thinking of trading him. At $4.25 million with one year left on his contract, he’s a steal for a player of his calibre. The fact is, the Phaneuf trade makes Kaberle expendable. Not to mention, he’s really the only bankable asset Brian Burke has to offer other teams. For a player who has almost been traded twice, I think the time is now.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Boy & His Hockey Team

For my first blog, I thought I’d give everyone an understanding of why I’m such a die-hard Leafs fan. Lord knows it’s not their sparkling winning percentage, precise penalty killing, or excellent drafting. Over the last 5 years this team has been abysmal, and a disgrace to the franchise and its history. Yet, I still love my Leafs, and here’s why...

What is it that inspires ones fandom in a sports team? Is it a matter of geography? Simply a situation of following the team that represents the location of where one lives? Is it because of an admiration for the skill of a player, or players? Is fandom based on the colour and logo on the jersey? Or does the franchises history and legacy factor into the equation? There is no definitive answer to this question, as all of these reasons could be a plausible explanation for ones admiration for a hockey team. However, there are cases when a hockey team carries more meaning for someone that goes deeper then any of the “superficial” reasons listed above, and this is one of those stories.

In April of 1967, a 19 year old boy, his parents, and younger sister travel from a suburb of Pescara in Italy to Toronto Ontario in Canada. Eventually, only the young teenager would remain in Canada to start a family of his own. Upon arriving to Toronto, the boy and his family took a taxi cab to his uncle’s house, and over the next several weeks the crowded household would sit around a television and watch something magical transpire. The family watched as the Toronto Maple Leafs would make an unexpected run at hockey’s most prized trophy and eventually win the Stanley Cup, defeating their rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. At the time, the young teenager from Italy didn’t realized that what he’d witnessed was a historic moment on two fronts. First off, it would be the last time the Maple Leafs have won Lord Stanley’s cup. Secondly, the young Italian had no way of knowing that, decades later, the team he had watched win hockey’s greatest prize would ignite a passion in his youngest son. It seems as though this unborn child was destined to become an avid follower of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Several blocks away from his future father, the yet to be born child’s eventual mother would watch the same historic event unfold with her father.

Flash forward to 1989. The young Italian teenager is now a man, married with three children. The man, his wife, and two eldest children are out and the couple’s youngest son, at the age of six, is under the care and supervision of his mother’s father. The elderly man sits with his grandson, and the two watch a broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada. Once again, the forever rivals Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens engage in battle. At such a tender age, the young boy didn’t understand the details of the game he was watching, all he new was that he was spending quality time with his "Nonno". The boy was happy and that’s all that mattered. For the next couple years the boy looked forward to Saturday nights. That was the night Nonno would watch hockey with him.

Those joyous nights once a week with Nonno would come to an abrupt halt in 1992, because the boy’s grandfather had passed away. When the boy, now eight years old, was told of his grandfathers death, he was devastated. His world had been shaken, changed forever. He couldn’t reconcile why his Nonno was gone and resented God for not answering his prayers of and giving him his grandfather back. It was as though someone ripped the boy’s heart from his chest and thrown it against a brick wall. The boy was emotionally wounded and friends nor family could heal those wounds. For most of the summer of 1992, the boy cried himself to sleep at night.

That fall, the young boy started watching hockey more attentively. He remembered those nights watching games with his grandfather and watching the team that his grandfather followed gave him some comfort. The Toronto Maple Leafs had an incredible season that year, and in the spring would embark on a miraculous playoff run. The young child got so wrapped up in the excitement of it all. For him, watching that playoff run was almost like a time machine. Every time he watched a game during that spring, in his minds eye he’d recall those nights he spent watching the Leafs with his grandfather. For three hours the boy was happier then he’d been in a long while because it felt as though his grandfather was right there next to him on the sofa watching the games with him.

His grandfather and great uncle, who passed away two years later, watched as Leaf legends Dave Keon, George Armstrong, and Johnny Bower led a Leaf team that had been written off by the media achieve great success. Almost three decades later the boy was seemingly carrying on a family tradition as he watched new Leaf stars Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, and Felix Potvin carry a Maple Leafs team to improbable success as well.

The boy watched with elation as the underdog Leafs beat the heavily favoured Detroit Red Wings in a thrilling seventh game overtime victory, which saw rookie Nikolai Borshevsky re-direct a point shot by defenseman Bob Rouse pass the Detroit net minder. A mere two days later the boy, up way past his bed time, watched in euphoria as Doug Gilmour weaved his brilliance behind the St. Louis net and slipped a puck passed an unsuspecting Curtis Joseph to end a game one marathon in double overtime. Unfortunately, a couple weeks later the dream of a return to Stanley Cup glory ended in a controversial fashion. A cover up that saw an evil official dressed in his Zebra attire, with his annoyingly well-done hairstyle, protect the then NHL golden boy, dubbed “The Great One” from certain exclusion from a pivotal moment in the game. “The Great One” would eventually win the series, ending the Maple Leafs season and squashing the dream of a Stanley Cup final between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. The young boy was sad again, shedding several tears. His team was finished for the year. However, the boy learned an important lesson that summer. Nothing really ever comes to an end. The Toronto Maple Leafs would live to play another day in the fall, and his grandfather would be with him forever as long as he kept the memories of their time together alive in his heart.

The boy has since grown into a man, and throughout the years his attachment to the Toronto Maple Leafs has grown ever stronger. He’s enjoyed the highs and lows of following this team, but his support has never wavered. He was paid the highest of compliments when his mother once remarked that when he watched the Leafs he reminded her of his grandfather and great uncle. Some cynics and detractors may view this level of fandom as an obsession. If that is the case, then I am obsessed. I was that boy, and this is my story. For me, my love affair with the Toronto Maple Leafs is not just about where I live, or the players, or the jersey, or just wins and losses. It’s so much more then that. My fandom is about a family tradition, a constant connection to the loved ones I’ve lost and friends, who I value a great deal, that share my excitement for this team. As I sit here over 4600 miles away from home, admiring the mountains in the distance reflecting on my admiration for this hockey team, one thing is certain, being a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs is indeed, the passion that unites us all.