If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say About Someone, That Someone is Probably Andrew Raycroft.

Okay, first things first.  I know, it’s been a while since I posted last.  Lots has happened – Casey Printers has come to Hamilton, there were earthquakes and fires in Greece, there’s an election campaign (and referendum) in Ontario, and there’s been a recent spate of civil unrest in Myanmar, which unrest has evidently been put down by the government in a brutally repressive fashion  (current events not necessarily listed in order of worldwide significance).

But I haven’t got time to write about any of that right now.  Spouse is waiting for me to take out the garbage – at least she will be when she gets off the telephone – so I have to move quickly to speak my peace.

What’s gnawing at my craw?  Andrew freakin’ Raycroft, that’s what. 

Free Agent Frenzy

So, that magical midsummer day is over.   Okay, maybe not “magical”, but it was Canada Day, so that made it feel kind of special. 

July 1st has come and gone and all the pretenders have tried to become contenders by throwing money at a (for the most part, in my opinion) badly over-hyped crop of free agents.  The New York Rangers, it has to be said, managed to land two quality fish in this year’s tournament.  Both Gomez and Drury are quality players who have shown themselves to be character guys in the early portion of their respective careers.  The Blueshirts will be a more potent threat up front than many of their Eastern Conference rivals.  I would suggest it is a mistake, however, to label the Rangers “instant contenders” as some have done.  There are glaring holes on defence that will be exposed come playoff time ’08 unless Slats gets some help fast.   Don’t get me wrong, the Rangers are better and have virtually assured themselves a spot in the big tournament if only through the attrition suffered by their rivals, notably New Jersey (hey, Devils fans – ouch!), the Sabres (hey Buffalo fans – that smarts!) and the Islanders (hey Islander fan – you two, Mr. and Mrs. DiPietro – you have our condolences);  but teams don’t dance the final dance on the card unless their are proven and capable defenders able to carry the load. 

In that regard, don’t you just hate the Red Wings?  They lose a guy like Mathieu Schneider, who admittedly played a key role in the Wings’ playoff run and whose absence after he was injured hurt them more than any Leaf fan with a memory could possibly imagine – and promptly fill the hole with Brian Rafalski.  Do you mind?   For those of you uncertain of my meaning, imagine you are in the parking lot at Wal-Mart, and your ’92 Dodge Neon gets clipped by a delivery truck.   The company is apologetic, they offer to fix your car, pay for the damage and get you a loaner while you wait for the return of your vehicle – and the loaner is a Ferrari Testarossa.   Um, and you don’t have to give the loaner back.  Actually, given the Red Wings’ embarrassment of riches over the last few years, the metaphor would be better like this:  Lance McCoolguy, the all-city quarterback for your high school football team, is driving  in the parking lot of some cool nightclub that you’ve never even heard of, when the club owner accidentally knocks over some post attached to the velvet ropes that keep people like you out of the club, and the post hits Lance’s cherry red Ferrarri Testarossa, which the owner offers to replace with – a brand new Ferrari Testarossa!  I hate you, Lance, and I hate the Red Wings too!  Do you see how I have used the power of metaphor to make you the subject of scorn and derision, driven mostly by insane puerile jealousy?

Finally, with respect to my beloved Leafs, I am somewhat encouraged.   The Leafs’ need for a scoring forward to roll with Sundin has been obvious.  I am glad the person designated to fill that role is NOT Daniel Briere, who I thought disappeared through critical portions of the Sabres’ recent playoff loss to the Rangers.   Any fan of any team would have liked to see Ryan Smyth don the local jersey, but I think the Avs overpaid for him (as the Rangers probably did for Drury, too).   The player the Leafs did get, Jason Blake, seems like a good fit and it appears as though the Leafs got him for a reasonable price.  This coming on the heels of the acquisition of Vesa Toskala – an upgrade in the goaltending department – is almost enough to wash the bitter taste out of my mouth from draft day – you know, the one that began around the time that the Hawks picked first over all and kept growing and growing until sometime THE NEXT DAY when John Ferguson, Jr. finally picked our first player, the future former professional hockey player Dale Mitchell like 74th overall.   

But please, JFJ, remeber that sitting on your arse all day at the draft only makes sense if you are going to win NOW.  Because if you don’t win NOW, and you have sat on your arse at the draft, we won’t be winning later either. 

Norwood is Lining one Up…

Game 5 of the Sabres/Rangers series was last night.  That game, to me, was an out-and-out thriller that almost got ruined by the number of penalties called.  The Sabres seemed a little like sprinters trying to run with bowling shoes on;  they just didn’t seem to be able to get going properly in the right direction until very late in the game indeed.  I suppose it’s not surprising that they had a little trouble getting the bow up on plane because they spent so much time killing penalties.  Their own forays on to the power play didn’t seem to help much either – the Buffalo power play may be one of the most inept I’ve ever seen at recovering loose pucks in the opposition zone.   This last feature of the Sabre man-advantage unit has allowed the Rangers (as Pierre McGuire has ably pointed out on many occasions during the TSN telecasts of the series) to overplay the Sabres defence and virtually eliminate at times the “D to D” pass option.  Obviously, it becomes that much harder for the Sabres to move the puck East-West if that passing option is curtailed, which means that Lundstrom is not required to move laterally very much.   Combine this lack of functionality with an apparent reluctance on the part of the Buffalo forwards to get in front of the Swede and set up a persistent screen, and the result is a power play that coughs up the puck at the offensive blue line and spends a lot of time retrieving icings. 

Like the Giants/Bills Superbowl, only different

The State of New York is holding its breath tonight .  Tomorrow, round 2 of the National Hockey League playoffs begins in earnest as the Number 1 seeded Sabres meet the 6th-ranked Rangers in what promises to be the most interesting of the two Eastern Conference semi-finals.  Don’t worry,  Connecticut, your big Empire State brother is not suffocating – go back to spawning insurance companies and please continue ignoring hockey completely.

 I have prepared a preview of the Rangers/Sabres series to help fill the empty spaces in your life.  It has also helped fill certain empty spaces in my life, given the complete absence of my Leafs from the tournament once again this year.  (*Sigh*)

The SkinnyFear not, good citizens of Buffalo – revenge of a rather unsatisfactory sort will soon be yours for Scott Norwood’s missed field goal effort against the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.  The Sabres will win this series in six games.  Oh, and sorry for bringing up that thing about the Super Bowl.  Hey, at least I didn’t mention Brett Hull’s foot-in-the-crease overtime winner.