Way back in mid-July, confident that the Ilya Kovalchuk free agency mystery would surely be over in a matter of days, I sat down and started writing the piece that eventually turned into “Full Speed Ahead”, my contribution to this year’s Maple Leafs Annual. “Full Speed Ahead” is an effort to expand upon the ideas I developed in an article called “Tanks But No Tanks: We’ll Go Our Own Way”, which appeared in last year’s Annual.
Now, I know that Tom Petty says the waiting is the hardest part, but – at least for me – when it comes to writing, ol’ Muddy Wilbury is wrong. It’s not the waiting but the starting that I find most difficult. Once I’ve come up with some idea about what to write about, it is always a struggle to gin up a graceful and effortless introduction to the subject material. Some would argue that this paragraph and the one preceding it are evidence of their own truth. How meta is that?
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I often spend hours writing an introduction that ends up getting wholly or largely cut from the final piece. I think the opening I wrote to last year’s article went some 1,200 words, none of which survived my first re-write. It was a good decision to cut each and every one of those words last year, I’m convinced of it. The material just wasn’t strong enough to warrant inclusion in the final piece. This year, something similar happened when I put my fingers on the keys and started to write, though the excised portion was positively tiny compared to last year’s behemoth orphan.
The other difference this year is that I actually found what I had written in those initial opening paragraphs to be reasonably entertaining. It made me laugh. I thought I could usefully post them here and kill two birds with one stone: on the one hand, they represent an instant blog post, complete with previously produced blood sweat and tears, and on the other I can do my little (admittedly belated) bit to help pimp the Annual.
Here, then, are the paragraphs I ended up chopping from the beginning of “Full Speed Ahead.”
Alec Brownscombe, the esteemed editor of the Maple Leafs Annual, has asked me to contribute a piece updating readers on Brian Burke’s progress towards a successful rebuild of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As I sit down on the front porch this mid-July afternoon to commit my thoughts to paper – the weather pleasant, a cold beverage close to hand, comfortably seated in my grandfather’s best Thinkin’ Chair™ – it may shock you to learn that I find myself after a time idly pondering whether it would be morally wrong to wish, however fleetingly, for some calamity to befall our Mr. Brownscombe. You might wonder how this could be so, as he seems an amiable and pleasant enough fellow. In view of the inherent difficulties associated with the task he has assigned me (more on this in a moment), however, I can only conclude that he takes some perverse enjoyment in the knowledge that I am suffering. Thus do my thoughts wander; I can’t, in good conscience, go so far as to wish him any violent indignity, but I do wonder about the efficacy of voodoo and whether it would be possible to thereby arrange the universe so as to ensure that each and every time he eats something with mustard, a little drop of yellow revenge attaches itself to his shirt, decorates his tie, or does to the crotch of his pants what Colton Orr regularly does to Matt Carkner’s face.
Comfortable chair and cold beverage aside, there are pitfalls along the path for those who seek to evaluate the Leafs‘ progress to date; chief among the obstacles for the aspiring analyst is the fact that the team is clearly in a state of great change. The fact of change should perhaps come as no surprise: noted hockey theorist Heraclitus believed in the centrality of change as a force in the universe, illustrating his point cleverly by observing that water is ever flowing and that therefore one may never step into the exact same river twice. On the other hand, it is also true that nobody likes a smartypants and for that reason many people feel that Heraclitus can get stuffed and proceed to ignore him.
Obviously, it is a bit rich to complain about the challenges that change brings to an article about the rebuilding of a team; it is, after all, impossible to rebuild a team without altering it. Still, so much happened to the Maple Leafs roster over the last half of last season, trying to get a fix on the progress of this voyage toward competitiveness seems especially difficult.
Most often, when you watch the “deleted scenes” section of a DVD it’s painfully obvious how and why the scenes in question were banished into obscurity. Would Sophie’s Choice have been the same with the robot battle sequence in the middle of Act Two? Would people have responded positively to the Broadway dance number originally slotted to end Raging Bull? And what about the sex scenes in Toy Story? Cutting all of these things from the final product was probably the wise decision, and truthfully, it was the right call in relation to the above paragraphs too, which are excessively concerned with excuses and my struggles to write. They are, and were, ultimately unrelated to the topic at hand, so they had to be chopped.
Other things I think you should know about this year’s Maple Leafs Annual: I got overruled on what I think was the funniest photo caption I wrote. At the bottom of page 108, there’s a picture of Kris Versteeg hoisting the Cup after the Blackhawks’ victory over Philly this past June. The caption I wrote was “Be honest: if we’d told you last year that there would be a picture of a Leaf forward raising the Cup in this year’s magazine, you would have wet yourself.” C’mon, it’s PEE humour!
I haven’t finished reading the whole Annual yet. I have forced myself to read in bits and pieces, rather than devouring the thing in a single sitting. Gus Katsaros and Gabe Desjardins have really outdone themselves on the statistical profiles that appear in the front portion of the magazine – an entire page devoted to each of the Leafs’ 18 major players, with some smaller profiles dedicated to more peripheral cast members and prospects. These things are chock full of advanced statistical analysis and insightful scouting assessments. My MLHS colleague Garrett Bauman has a terrific interview with Dave Poulin, and Jonah Sigel of torontosportsmedia.com scored an interview with Our Angry Irish Overlord himself.
All of the above are terrific. There are also standout pieces from Michael Forbes of Bitter Leaf Fan (about the Leafs’ approach, such as it is, to social media) and Sean McIndoe of Down Goes Brown and the National Post.
There are pieces too from Julian Sanchez (PPP of Pension Plan Puppets), Jason Orach (Chemmy), Alex Tran, a fellow named [edit, Sept. 24/2010: name removed by author’s request] who I’m pretty sure is daoust from PPP, Steve Burtch, the Puck Daddy himself, Dirk Hoag and of course Clayton Hansler. I haven’t read these pieces yet, so I can’t honestly say how good they are, but based on their previous output on the web, I’m very confident that I’m going to enjoy it all. You probably would too.
Based on what I’ve seen so far, I think this year’s version of the magazine is even better than last year’s first installment in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I thought last year’s Annual was a terrific read. If it had one flaw, however, there were a number of articles that seemed to cover very similar ground. Not so this year; Alec has rather smartly divided the content into four discrete sections, one focussing on the current Leaf players, a second dedicated to the Marlies and other prospects, a third relating to the management of the team, with the fourth and final section dealing with some history and the experience of being a Maple Leafs fan.