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.
For Leafs fans, the upcoming season will be an important one. Though it is (once again) extremely unlikely that the Leafs could win the big silver beer stein on offer at the end of the postseason tournament, fans of the team will be watching very closely for signs that any of the existing questions about the team might be answered. We’ll dig through the statistics like the oracles of old pawed through goat entrails, looking for evidence that augers well for a brighter future ahead. It is pretty safe to assume that Brian Burke and his staff will be engaging in a similar process.
Many of those questions concern individual players: what, for example, can we realistically expect from players like Jonas Gustavsson, Luke Schenn, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin, all of whom are approaching their likely peak athletic potential in the next few years. Other questions concern more collective issues: what improvement can we expect from the Leafs’ power-play and penalty killing units?
All of those questions merit discussion, but they all relate to issues about the players; with Ron Wilson entering his third season as Maple Leafs head coach, and keeping in mind that last season in particular represented a disappointing step backwards, it’s safe to say that questions must also remain about the suitability of the current staff for the task ahead.
One of the things I like most about the hockey blogosphere is the very strong tendency to attempt to quantify, measure and make concrete and expressible these sorts of issues. When we speak of “issues” and “questions” about the coaching staff, the reality is that there must be some set of performance metrics against which it is reasonable measure the observed outcome of this season, in an effort to dispassionately judge whether the coaches are making a discernible difference in the team’s play (and whether that difference represents an improvement).
Statistical analysis isn’t my strong suit, and I don’t pretend to have the facility with numbers that many other hockey bloggers have ably demonstrated, but I thought I’d try my hand at attempting to cobble together an answer to this last question. What types of numbers should we look for when attempting to grade Messrs. Wilson, Hunter and Acton at the end of this season. Please accept this analysis for what I hope it is: a starting point for the discussion, and a jumping off point for others with the statistical chops that are absent from my toolkit. Criticisms, comments and refinements are welcome – put ’em in the comments below!
I wish I could figure out a way to embed the tables I compiled directly into this post, but two hours of futzing about with Google, Google docs, WordPress, Excel and Numbers have failed to surrender any such secrets, assuming they exist. Unfortunately, therefore, I have to just insert a link to the table I compiled. All data are sourced from hockey-reference. com.
I thought the most logical place to start in assessing the performance of the coaches would be year over year changes in goals for and goals against. I compiled the goals for and goals against data for all 30 teams in each season since the lockout, calculated the percentage change in each from the previous year. I then tried to normalize the percentage change data by calculating the average change each year and the standard deviation of the data. I then selected out those results that lie between one and two standard deviations away from the mean (classified as “moderately exceptional”), and those results that lie two standard deviations or more away from the mean (classified as “significant”).
Assuming that the year-to-year changes are normally distributed, if I remember my statistics class correctly, the results that are interesting are those that fall more than one or two standard deviations from the mean. Those are the results I mentioned above, with the moderate desirable increments marked in light green, the significant desirable increments marked in dark green, the moderate undesirable increments marked in pink, and the significant undesirable increments marked in red.
If I’m reading all of the data correctly, it would appear that the standard deviation of the Goals Against data is typically between about 9 and 12 per cent. Thus, an increase or decrease of anything less than 9 to 12 per cent, statistically speaking, represents the mushy random middle, results in the 68% of data that cluster around the mean in a normal distribution. If I am applying the theory correctly, it would be unwise to come to any conclusion that the team’s performance had either improved or deteriorated based on data of this nature. To make that sort of judgement, I would suggest that to even make a weak judgment about significant differences in performance, we would need to observe an increment (or reduction) of between 9-12% and 18 to 24% (these would be the results between one and two standard deviations from the mean). Variances of more than 18 to 24% from last year’s data could confidently be said to represent a clear indication of differential performance.
Two thoughts come to my mind: first, it’s important to keep in mind the (perhaps obvious) but important point that increases or decreases in a team’s goals for or goals against are not solely attributable to coaching. In fact, it’s probably a live question whether coaching can be said to have a demonstrable effect upon the results at all. Certainly, the old saw is that “you can’t teach scoring,” though it is generally believed that coaches and their systems can and do have a more pronounced effect upon the defensive side of the game (and, by extension, the goals against ledger). If anyone has any thoughts on how to examine the evidence in that regard, I’d love to hear about it.
Second, the numbers involved are fairly large. I think the data seem to be telling us that wide variances in the numbers may be expected from year to year for purely random (or at least statistically uninformative) reasons.
If that last conclusion is correct, unless there is an enormous change in the Leafs goals against totals this year (more than +/- 20%, which in practice would translate into about a 54 goal change either way), it seems that we ought not to make any judgements about the performance of the coaching staff based upon these numbers.
I had hoped to watch the Leafs – Sens rookie game last night, and maybe write a little bit here about the game.
Unfortunately, the game wasn’t on LeafsTV – hey, what are the chances that anyone who is willingly extorted by MLSE pays for this service would be interested in actual hockey being played by actual Leaf prospects – so I had to wait instead for the tape-delayed feed being shown on mapleleafs.com.
I don’t want to say that the online feed was difficult to watch, but let’s just say that what the video quality lacked in “herky”, it made up for in spades with “jerky”. The video player in my browser was delivering about six frames per second; as I tweeted earlier this evening, it occurred to me that this must be what the world looks like for Matt Carkner after he fights Colton Orr. Anyway, I quickly found myself longing for something slightly easier on the eyes, like for example an epileptic seizure. At one point, I thought the video feed had died completely, as the image on my screen didn’t appear to move at all for an extended period of time. The confusion was cleared up, however, when I realized that the camera was just showing the Senators’ Jared Cowen playing defence.
On the plus side, spending time watching the game using this feed allowed me to appreciate more fully the superior visual technologies available in today’s modern era: things like “flip-book animation”, for example.
I don’t know if anybody else was experiencing the difficulties with this feed that I was, but I sort of assumed that the Maple Leafs’ video servers were crumbling under pressure with so many people watching, just like Maple Leaf goaltenders have been doing since the lockout. I don’t suppose it’s fair for me to wonder aloud whether fault should be found with the Leafs’ IT folks; after all, after several consecutive years of hearing that the team is “building for the future”, who could have possibly known that many Leaf fans might have some interest in seeing what the prospects look like? It’s planning and foresight like this that gave us the Andrew Raycroft/Vesa Toskala era, folks.
In any event, at some point I saw Jerry D’Amigo with his arms in the air, so I assume he scored a goal. Either that, or he was trying to scare away a bear. I don’t know, it was a little difficult to follow the narrative. Are there many bears in the vicinity of the John Labatt Centre in London?
In the end, I have no insight to bestow upon you. Instead, I give you a photo of the most wicked awesome baby booties ever manufactured – these were given to Spouse and I by a co-worker the other day:
Little known fact: the Montreal Canadiens ordered several sets of these in their team colours for Gionta, Gomez and Cammalleri. Anyway, Furious G is going to have the coolest shoes on the block.
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.
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.
I’ve transcribed it here because I’m afraid the National Post will do a disservice to the history of humour in this country and consign this most excellent piece of humour writing to the digital dustbin. In the piece, DGB sets out the good, the bad and the prognosis for ten currently unsigned free agents. It features predictions that Darcy Tucker will sign with “Sami Kapanen’s sweat drenched nightmares” and opines that Anti Niemi was the “most over-rated Stanley Cup winning goalie in the entire league last year”. Beneath DGB’s estimable roster of jokes, though, some ingenious wag has written:
“the most over-rated Stanley Cup winning goalie in the entire league last year.”
Now, I pride myself on knowing more than just a little about hockey having spent the last nearly 50 years involved in the sport….but please, educate me….how many other Stanley Cup winning goalies WERE there in the league last year?? I’m not arguing he was over-rated as surely this was just another example of a goalie getting hot at just the right time but please, this statement makes NO sense what-so-ever.
I love this comment as an exercise in humour writing. It strikes the perfect balance of comic indignance, arrogance and full-throated idiocy. Displaying a masterful talent, the author delivers his belly laugh by crafting the comment in such a way that the “commenter” supposedly takes issue with the quality of analysis inherent in only one of DGB’s jokes. In this way, the author reveals indirectly that the commenter has entirely missed the point, greatly enhancing the general comedic effect. The reader is left with the mental image of an arrogant and angry man who is prepared to accept that Mirsolav Satan was an “alternate on the NHL’s milennial all-Miroslav team” and that Jose Theodore tells “made up” stories about winning the Hart Trophy, but who will not let the Niemi analysis pass without an angry outburst. Like I said, DGB’s piece had some great jokes in it, but this…this is something else. It’s a masterpiece. Only a talent of Leacockian proportions could concoct such a tremendous jest and then nestle it modestly and unceremoniously beneath the article, a comic delicacy awaiting your discovery as a hilarious and preposterous surprise.
It is made up, right? No one actually mistook DGB’s piece for a regular sports article, right?