You may have noticed that this blog has fallen dormant over the last little while. I am a ninja, and I am here to tell you about that. Why has a ninja been sent to explain these things? Fool! It is not the right time for you to ask questions. When will that time be? Sometime shortly after the next Atlanta Thrashers Stanley Cup parade will do fine.
The Junior, Lord and Master of the Juniorvanian Realm, has been a busy Lord and Master. Not just “I need to fix the trailer tire” busy – as you have seen, he can find time to write while being that kind of busy – but Very Busy In A Work Related Way busy. Also, you may have heard that there has come a child to Juniorvania. So, Very Busy In A Work Related Way has also been augmented by Very Busy In An Emptying Diapers Way. All of which is very busy indeed.
I would think it’s fairly obvious now why a ninja has been sent to speak to you. Yes, that’s right, because of global warming.
I, the Ninja, will now bring the message to you. It is in several parts, which I have not bothered to count yet, because I have been busy sneaking around instead. You may not know this, but sneaking around is a major part of pretty much any ninja’s day. I didn’t know, before I went to ninja school. For some reason, I thought there would be a lot more singing and dancing, but I suppose I was mixed up and thinking of Broadway actors by mistake.
Anyway, here is the message:
There has NOT been an unfortunate tire repair-related explosion; The Junior is alive and well;
The Junior does plan to return to regular – or what passes for “regular”around here, anyway – blogging, probably sometime in September;
In the meantime, The Junior has written a something, once again, for Maple Street Press’ Maple Leafs Annual. The book is available for pre-order online now ($9.99 plus shipping). It will appear on newsstands throughout the GTA and in Chapters bookstores across Canada beginning August 30th.
It doesn’t take a Ninja to figure out that 112 pages of content with no ads, for less than ten bucks, is a pretty good deal. As Alec Brownscombe (esteemed editor of the mag and Resident Padishah of Maple Leafs Hot Stove) pointed out, you were probably going to spend that ten bucks on a crappy calendar anyway.
Anyway, I gotta get back to skulking around invisibly, or I’ll have to answer to my boss. Ever had your work environment supervised by a Master Ninja? Let me tell you, it’s no day at the beach; you can’t get away with anything. You can’t ever tell when he’s in the room. At least I think my boss is a male. Not sure, now come to think of it.
I was rushing home from the office with a hot meal for a sickly Spouse (I cook only the best take out dishes), late for an appointment at the bank to clean up the latest of my absurd little financial disasters.
It was Tuesday night. The Leafs were set to face off at 7:30 (ed. showing my age here) 7:00 that night against the Capitals, needing to claim all the points left on the table, and further needing the Sabres to go oh-fer, in order to have a shot at the playoffs. On April 5th, with three games left on the schedule, the Leafs were – for a change – playing a game that mattered.
I was excited, I was tired, I was harried. I was charging along possessed by that momentous urgency that develops, seemingly of its own accord, out of the need to get too many things done in too short a period of time. In addition to my pending nutritional errand and the dollars and cents issues, my mind was idly grappling with any number of a series of problems I’ve been trying to solve in this enormous and rapidly approaching assignment at work.
As I sped along Park Rd. north of Brantford, having relegated tasks concerning the operation of a motor vehicle to the hypothalmus, I was jolted from my near automatic state by a glimpse – just out of the corner of my otherwise occupied eye, mind you – of the sign pictured at left.
The car charged further north along the road, and I found myself glancing in the rear view mirror trying to make sense of the incomplete image of the letters left in my mind.
“I’m sure,” I told myself, “that the sign contained a message addressed to Brian Burke.” And I was pretty sure that part of the message was something to the effect that our “prayers have been answered.” I had to fight the urge to turn the car around and go back for a second look. “I am a grown up person,” I told myself, “late for a meeting and with a starving and sick wife at home.” This last bit, staring at myself sternly in the rear-view mirror, as I very determinedly did not slow down. Willing myself to let maturity prevail over juvenile excitement and curiosity.
I am as shocked as you are to report that my car did not slow down that night; I really wasn’t sure I had that in me.
The following morning, however, it was amazing how easy it was to talk myself into the naturalness, the reasonableness – no, the necessity of taking a slightly adjusted path to work. One that took me past the sign, with my cell phone camera armed and ready.
Of course, most anyone who’s reading this is well aware by now that the jerkstore Tampa Bay Lightning were unable to conquer the Sabres that night and the Maple Leaf playoff dream died with about two minutes remaining in the Leafs/Caps 3rd period. The game was tied, the issue between those two teams not yet sorted, but the conclusion of another season foregone and unhappy. Still, with the play of James Reimer leading the way, there is much to be hopeful about among Leafs fans. It is possible to believe that the team may have turned a very important corner since the All-Star break.
We’re not in the playoffs again this year, but I am happy that this team has instilled in me a sort of hope and excitement that feels youthful. My love for the team has been re-invigorated over the last two and a half months. There is a freshness for me about the idea of being a Leafs fan again; I’d say I’m not alone, judging by the sign pictured above.
Yes, I really wish the Leafs could’ve managed to hold on to either:
(a) a one goal third-period lead vs. Pittsburgh on Saturday; OR
(b) a two goal lead vs. Atlanta this afternoon.
…but I’m really more worried about James Reimer. He’s looking more and more like the future of our team between the pipes.
Couldn’t help noticing that all those whose tongues were loudly clucking at the end of the recent Boston game (the one where Grabovski played after taking a couple hard hits and wobbled coming off the ice) were nowhere to be found tonight; no one was applauding the Leafs’ apparent cautious regard for Reimer’s health. Despite desperately trying to climb into a playoff spot, and with the young Leaf netminder nursing a shutout through most of two periods, Reimer was replaced by J.S. Giguere after taking an apparent knee to the side of his noggin from Evander Kane.
One other thing that went mostly un-noticed (though, to be fair, the Sportsnet crew was on it) was this: Dustin Byfuglien is a jerkstore. With time expired at the end of the third period, he skated up behind Freddie Sjostrom and speared him in the back of the knee. Every hockey player knows that’s a dick move that risks injuring the opponent. This particularly spear behind the knee was a cowardly attack from behind after the period had ended.
Tyler Seguin will outscore Phil Kessel tonight. There is an outside chance that it will be mentioned that Toronto traded a draft pick that became Mr. Seguin in order to obtain Mr. Kessel tonight. The over/under on the number of total references to this fact is the first Vegas over/under line in history to be expressed in scientific notation, owing to the enormous size of the number involved;
Tuuka Rask will continue to exist, while Andrew Raycroft opens the bench door for the Dallas Stars, and John Ferguson Jr. continues to have a job in the National Hockey League;
Milan Lucic will fight – and break – Mike Komisarek again.
As an aside, I noted that Boston is expected to give tonight’s start in goal to Tim Thomas; no doubt the insertion of the burly and aggressive backstop is Claude Julien’s attempt to defend against the Leafs’ offensive plan. You know, the one where Colton Orr bowls the opposing goalie over and Tim Brent shoots the puck off him and into the net.
Sweet Jesus, I hope Kessel gets a goal tonight. Just out of curiosity, I wonder what it would take to actually shut the media up on the “Kessel can’t score against Boston” front? A hattie? A five-spot? A Sittler-esque ten point night?
It’s between the second and third period of the game against the Penguins as I type this. The Leafs are up 4-3 following another late period surge by the Penguins.
I am prepared to decree that we have a team. We have a team that skates hard and forces turnovers. We have a team that plays together. We have a team that is able to play reasonably competent team defence. We have a team that can play a smart road game – ignore the fact the zebras are screwing you, play with urgency but also discipline, pounce on the chances you get, take an early lead to get the crowd out of it and above all, stick to the plan.
We’ve got a team.
Think of this: the team effort and systematic forecheck that the Leafs have managed to consistently rely on has tonight masked relatively weak efforts by Kessel and Bozak. Kessel has been mostly a non-factor in this game so far, but it hasn’t mattered because guys like Mike Brown, Clarke MacArthur, Mike Zigomanis, Colby Armstrong and Tim Brent have been busting their butts, causing havoc (and lots of turnovers).
Our team dominated the first half of the first period so thoroughly, the Penguins didn’t have a shot on net until the fourth minute of a Luke Schenn high-sticking double minor. Poor fortune saw the shot go in, and worse fortune saw the Penguins (who seemed to briefly come out of a coma following that goal) add another late in the period. Refusing to surrender, the Leafs stormed back out in the second period and once again imposed their will on the Penguins with speed and determination. They regained the lead and The Monster came up with an enormous post-to-post save on Max Talbot (UPDATE: right, except that the save was on Pascal Dupuis, as NHLCheapshot points out in the comments below) to preserve a one goal margin at the time. Shortly thereafter the Leafs counterpunched again and built the lead to 4-2 on a bang bang pass from Grabovski to MacArthur in front of the Pittsburgh net.
The Penguins turned up the heat late in the second and for the last four minutes or so of the period, carried the play. Gustavsson came up with another huge save on Malkin on a play that saw Malkin awarded a try from the penalty spot – that the enigmatic Russian promptly fired wide. A late marker from Crosby (on which the Monster could not be faulted) raised the possibility of a third period collapse and a mere moral victory.
It could still happen. As I type this, there are 14:00 left in the third period, and it has to be said that the Penguins look more desperate and a bit more organized. Orr has left the game after getting clobbered by Engellard (who?) and Grabovski has taken a shot off the foot, leaving the Leafs possibly undermanned. Clarke MacArthur has just deposited the puck in the stands to give the Pens a power play.
But I don’t think it’s going to happen. I believe in this team. I believe in them so much, I’ve switched seats in my living room. They can overcome any jinx that would ordinarily prevail. The Leafs will win this game and go 3-0.
Who the fuck is Tim Brent? It’s a question that has circulated in the Barilkosphere – sometimes semi-seriously, mostly in jest – since some time after he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization as a free agent on July 6, 2009.
Now, there’s “Ilya Kovalchuk free agency”, and then there’s “Tim Brent free agency.” This past summer’s production of Waiting for Kovalchuk, for example, featured (in the pre-circumvention ruling days, anyway) daily updates from multiple media sources about the complete absence of any development relating to Kovalchuk’s status. To give you an idea of the level of media interest in Burke’s signing of Tim Brent, a Google News archive search shows that the Toronto Star has exactly one reference to Brent’s career with the Maple Leafs in 2009; it’s an almost parenthetical reference to the fact that Brent had signed a one-year deal with the Leafs, wedged into the body of an article that is 100% about something else – the signing of Francois Beauchemin.
The Barilkosphere’s own beloved meeting place, Pension Plan Puppets, had (on the front page*) but an offhand reference to the acquisition of Tim Brent: again, an almost throwaway mention of Brent’s contract in a larger piece devoted to the signing of Rickard Wallin, for goodness sake. Keep in mind that PPP is a site frequented almost exclusively by highly motivated Leaf fans; the kind of place that generated weeks of discussion and heated debate over the signing of Brett Lebda this summer. On the day AFTER Lebda signed, PPP Princess Karina was moved to put up a post reassuring PPP users that the apocalypse had not occurred and seeking to heal rifts of geologic size that seemed to be developing among the faithful on this most contentious issue. It generated 310 comments.
There is a reason for the differential level of interest of course; Ilya Kovalchuk had 338 goals in 621 NHL games when his marriage with the Devils was finally given the Blessing of Gary this past September. Tim Brent, by contrast, had exactly one goal in 18 games (over 3 separate seasons) with Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Watched the Leafs’ home opener last night; originally scheduled to be at a prenatal class, my plans changed when Spouse came down with a cold. Because of work thingys, I ended up getting home a little late, which was fine because we could PVR the game. It rocks skipping over commercials, and my timing was pretty awesome because I ended up catching up to real time right in the middle of the second intermission, so I could watch the end of the game with my virtual peeps at PPP.
From scanning the Interwebs earlier today, there seems to be a lot of angst out there about the opening ceremonies before last night’s game. Whatever, I zoomed over most of the malarkey before the game. Was happy to see the 48th Highlanders still a part of opening night tradition, and I stopped fast forwarding (that’s a verb, right?) when I got to the part with the water from all the ponds being collected and used to make the Leafs’ ice.
Say what you will; yes, it’s corny and cheesy, but I liked it. I liked that the whole ice surface got turned into water by the lighting effect. I liked it (among other reasons) because Spouse pointed out that water douses fire, and the Habs do that thing where Brian Gionta a much larger child skates around with the torch before a game, then touches it down at centre ice and sets the ice “aflame”. Water douses fire, as sure as paper beats rock. Eat it, Habs.
Thoughts about the game: Gunnarsson was bad. Schenn looked shaky at times, as did Beauchemin in the early going (though I thought Francois turned it around later in the game, with one notable exception I’ll talk about in a minute). Komisarek was awful. Kaberle was excellent, showing on a couple of smooth solo forays up the ice the apparently effortless way he can dart somehow calmly up ice past all (or at least most) defenders in a flash. Terrific. Phaneuf had a solid first game as Captain, I thought.
At forward, there was less that was remarkable. Nice to see Tim Brent notch a goal to start this season; it would be nice if that were some sort of omen about this mostly under-talented team adopting a lunchpail mentality and chipping in with a concerted effort to score by committee as and where it becomes necessary. Kessel looked very good and sincerely happy to be back playing games that count. Versteeg had some nice moments on the Power Play. Kulemin played a solid two-way game and continues to get better. Nice goal from Clark MacArthur; more worrisome was the somewhat underwhelming performance down the middle from Bozak and Grabovski, though neither made enormous glaring mistakes of any consequence.
More than anything, the story of that game was the steadiness of J.S. Giguere. The Leafs were up to their old tricks, taking a late penalty and then brutally brain-cramping in the closing minute of the game. Our defensive coverage for the final eighty or ninety seconds of that game looked as though it was planned as an homage to everybody’s carnival favourite, the Tilt-a-Whirl, with Leaf players orbiting one another, spinning and lurching around unevenly and generally making one feel nauseous. Francois Beauchemin in particular looked bad during this final sequence, weakly attempting to clear the puck at one point on a backhand to the right point that instead made the shallow carom off the boards and failed to clear the zone, setting the scene for one final frenetic scramble in front of Jiggy and a game-saving stop that mercifully prevented yet another Habs OT game. That stop – it had a reassuring and cathartic quality to it, as Bruce Arthur noted in his column today. Begone, ghost of Vesa Toskala.
One game, and one game only. Two points under the W column, and cue the chorus of clucking MSM journalists who take time out from their shrill blizzard of sage columns pedantically warning Leaf fans (unspecified, figurative, mostly non-existent outside of talk radio) not to obsess, despair and overreact about the future of Nazem Kadri, to write a shrill blizzard of sage columns pedantically warning Leaf fans (unspecified, figurative, mostly non-existent outside of talke radio) not to obsess, celebrate and overreact about a single win in an 82-game season.
Last week, I shared with you The Maple Leafs Song, my homage to Adam Sandler and truculence.
In honour of the commencement of the 2010-2011 NHL Regular Season tonight, I give you once again, The Maple Leafs Song – now with BRAND NEW VIDEO GOODNESS! (I learned that last bit from a marketing guy).
Spouse and I have the third installment of our pre-natal classes tonight; class begins riiiiiiiiiiiight around the time that the puck will be dropping. I believe this was purposely arranged to reinforce for me the concept that very soon, I will never again be able to watch the Leafs, or indeed anything else I’m interested in, on TV in an uninterrupted fashion.
I will be PVR’ing the game, so friends and family can expect that I will be entering a strictly enforced zone of radio, telephone, television and Internet silence, so that I may enjoy the game without knowing its outcome. Don’t expect to convese with me in this time period, it ain’t gonna happen unless you’re sitting on the couch next to me. And even then, I’m not making any promises.
My thoughts will also be with the various gatherings of PPP users assembling at pubs, watering holes and anywhere there’s a free TV to watch the first game together. Cheers, y’all, I’m with you in spirit.
I mentioned on Twitter the other day that I was working on something special in my secret lair. Here it is, in honour of the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs’ season: The Toronto Maple Leafs Song. (Update1:12 a.m.: I’ve been trying on and off all night to post a link to the .mp3 file on this blog, but WordPress wants me to learn new swear words instead. So here’s a link to my Tumblr, which apparently has somewhat more delicate ears. )
I can’t believe I have spent as much time as I did over the last few days working on this thing. With Furious G on the way in about eight weeks’ time now, and a busy early 2011 ahead of me work-wise, I have a feeling that the fooling-about time I’ve managed to scrape together over the past couple of evenings may well be the last opportunity I’ll have for a while to focus on ridiculous projects, but I hope everybody in the Barilkosphere enjoys it. If nothing else, have sympathy for the brave men of The Execrables – my PPP Phantasy Puck Team sacrificed their season in the name of this little project. I just couldn’t drag myself away from the production process long enough to pay any attention at all to the fantasy draft, and the autodrafter ended up selecting such luminaries for me as “Marc Savard and his head full of Jell-O”.
Anyway, it all started when I was fooling around, rhyming “Caputi” with “Verbeauty” (the nickname some folks at Pension Plan Puppets have for Kris Versteeg). Before too long, I ended up going Adam Sandler on the Leafs’ lineup.
Enjoy, I hope it gives you a laugh or two.
Here are the lyrics, in case anyone is interested:
THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS SONG
Toronto is the centre of the world
Maybe not, but it’s where the Leaf flag gets unfurled
Our teams have missed the playoffs for many, many years
But this group of Leaf players is tops with the Barilkosphere.
‘Cause we’ve got filthy Phil Kessel, he’s Tyler Bozak’s wing
Kulie and Grabbo just keep on attacking
Monster and Jiggy will prove your offence lacking
While Colton Orr and Komisarek will give you a shellacking
Colby Armstrong has a job cause Matt Stajan was sent packing
Let’s hope we’ll all be cheering wins instead of Prozac-ing
We might not still be playing, when May turns into June
But that’s okay we’ll draft our way to the top
(Wait, what?) Too soon!
Tomas Kaberle makes cross-ice pass like you won’t believe
Still some folks dream of draft picks that we might receive
But I say to keep him, he’s talented and handsome
He better be – he’s passing to John Mitchell and Christian Hanson!
Francois Beauchemin, Luca Caputi
Nobody dangles like Kadri and Verbeauty!
Dion Phaneuf will do his Captain’s duty
And ladies tell me that Luke Schenn looks good in a suit-y
Mueller, Blacker and Aulie all seem like good recruitys
Ian White’s moustache is gone now but we’ve got Mike Brown’s fu manchu-ty
It might not be so bad, now that Toskala’s gone
Forget about the last few years, and help me sing this song:
I like Gunnarson’s acuity, hope Sjostrom stays here too-ity
Jeff Finger’s large annuity makes him a Marlie in perpetuity.
Let there be no ambiguity, show the Leafs that you are true-ity
Habs fans have no clue-ity, and Sens fans are sniffing glue-ity
Support your Toronto Maple Leafs, with all your ingenuity
Engage in promiscuity, if you can find someone who’ll do it-y
Just be sure there’s continuity, in your support for white and blue-ity.
Put on your white and blue
Make some noise and ballyhoo
Even if you speak Urdu
And haven’t watched hockey hitherto
Plan to use a big kazoo
Just be sure you follow through
Bang a chair with a wooden shoe
Make some noise for the white and blue
A few days ago, tentative as a newborn horse, I took my first steps towards bashing together some statistical analysis of my own. I was trying to help address one specific issue that might be relevant to the upcoming Leafs’ season: against which statistical measuring geegaws, come the end of the season, should we assess the performance of the team’s coaching staff? In other words, what numbers should I look at to try and figure out whether Ron Wilson and his staff are doing a good job?
The first conclusion I came to was that it is incredibly difficult, possibly related to some sort of an international conspiracy, to embed any kind of a chart in WordPress. The second, perhaps more illuminating conclusion was that there appear to be wide year-to-year, essentially random, variations in teams’ goals for and goals against ledgers. Absent an enormous – on the order of 20% or more – change, therefore, it is probably not possible to confidently ascribe any meaning to differences in the year to year totals. In other words, if you’re trying to divine something about the efficacy of an NHL team’s coaching staff, you might as well dig through goat entrails as comb through the Goals For and Goals Against numbers. They’re likely equally informative on the subject.
After I posted the raw data, it occurred to me that the changes to last year’s Leafs roster following January 31st (hereinafter known throughout the land of Blue and White as “Emancipation from Vesa Toskala Day”) might illustrate the point too. It occurred to me that, given the large turnover of the roster on that day (White, Hagman, Mayers, Blake, Stajan and Toskala all out, Phaneuf, Giguere and Sjostrom in, plus help summoned from the minors), you might look at the first 57 games as one season, and the final 25 games as another mini season. I thought this would be interesting because, given the Olympic break and the compressed schedule (25 games in 68 days, including the three week break, so really 25 games in about 47 days), it was not very likely that any substantial on-ice instruction could occur in the post-trade timeframe. In other words, examining the pre- and post-trade data separately comes very close to affording an opportunity to examine two data sets in isolation from the coaching effect – because no significant coaching of a substantially changed team could have occurred following the trade.
Based on the subtraction of the alleged goaltending of Vesa Toskala alone, I felt confident that the Leafs’ goals against numbers would be vastly improved in the post-trade period. A quick look at Figure 1 (oooh, how text book-y of me) shows that the data bear out that assumption:
As you can see, I’ve taken the actual data observed in both the pre- and post-trade period and prorated them over 82 games to try and get to a place where we can compare apples to apples. Interestingly, the Leafs scoring prowess *cough* remained essentially undisturbed, as Dion Phaneuf’s Leafs continued to put biscuits in the basket at almost exactly the same rate as Team Stajan (213 GF vs. 214). As suspected, goals against took a nose-dive when Toskala was deported, changing the Leafs from a 283 goals against squad to a team that was on pace to have given up 216 over an 82 game schedule.
First things first: to go back to the original point of the exercise, the Leafs changed from a team that would surrender 283 goals over an 82 game schedule to a team that would cough up 216, and that had to have happened in an atmosphere when the coaches were unable to get the team together for any substantial on-ice drills or systems instruction. In other words, the goals against dropped by approx 67 total goals or .8 GA per game without any significant contributing coaching effect
Some other things caught my eye about the data, though: to put the apparent change in the Leafs’ defensive prowess following the Phaneuf and Giguere trades, remember that the Leafs’ went from a 283 GA pace to a 216 GA pace. The Edmonton Oilers, who finished in 30th place in the league last year, and who finished the season with the league-worst goals against total, gave up 284 opposition tallys. By contrast, 216 goals against, would have put the Leafs tied with Detroit for the 8th best GA number in the league, behind only San Jose, New Jersey, Phoenix, Chicago, Calgary, Buffalo and Boston. Among that group, only Calgary failed to reach the playoffs. That would be the same Calgary team that finished the year with Matt Stajan and Vesa Toskala on its roster. See how these things come full circle?
Lastly, I hadn’t realized that the Leafs’ GF rate went virtually unchanged in the post-trade period. It’s almost difficult to believe that a team could trade their then top point-getter (Stajan), their then leading goal scorer (Hagman) and their 2nd leading point scorer among defencemen (White), yet suffer virtually no drop off in their offensive success rate (source: NHL.com story). They also traded Jason Blake who, when not skating eighteen laps around the offensive zone in the course of a seven-minute shift, then firing a 45 foot shoot into the precise geographic middle of the goaltender’s chest protector, occasionally seemed to rack up some points.
This last point screams out to me that the players the Leafs shipped out on the 31st were nothing truly special, just a bunch of guys who got points because they were there, the skating embodiment of the “replacement player” involved in GVT calculations. I can’t support that hypothesis at this point with any hard data, but it sure looks like the points that those stiffs collected were the points that would be collected by whichever collection of stiffs the Leafs chose to throw over the boards (with apologies to Nicklas Hagman and Ian White for the “stiff” thing. I liked you both).
Obviously, there are dangers involved in extrapolating full season numbers out of smaller data sets; it’s exactly that process that every year has some idiot projecting that [insert random scrub here] “is on pace for a 164 goal season this year” as the highlights of his two-goal first game roll on TSN. I understand the dangers of paying too much attention to data from small sample sizes.
In fact, that last point – small sample size – got me thinking about another possible explanation for the Leafs’ apparent improvement in the post-trade period, one that I hope to take a look at in the next post in this series. Stay tuned.