Maple Leafs Annual 2009-2010

maple leafs annual cover

Remember the big secret, the writing project that I was feverishly beavering away at (and – miracle of miracles – actually finishing) a few weeks ago?

Well, it’s not so much a secret anymore.

The good folks at Maple Street Press (previously described in this space as “lunatic immigrant millionaires with a tenuous-to-non-existent grasp on the English language” who believe they are “allergic to money”) have published the “Maple Leafs Annual 2009-2010”, the newest addition to the Maple Street Press family of sports publications.

I am told that the book may be found in Barnes & Noble bookstores across North America beginning August 18th (oops, relied on some bad info originally) that the book is affordably priced at $12.99 and that it hits newsstands September 8th.  It will be available at all Indigo Chapters stores in Canada as well as wherever magazines are sold in the greater Toronto area, including Walmart, grocery stores, drug stores, newsstands, etc.    Should you so desire though, gentle reader, you may guarantee yourself a copy by pre-ordering here (this latter option, which involves an additional $5 for shipping and handling, gets the thing directly to your home, trailer or cardboard box, conveniently eliminating any need whatsoever for you to leave your couch, lawn chair or patch of litter-strewn asphalt beneath the highway overpass*)

I hear you now:  “Hang on just a second, there, hoss” you are saying.  Just what the hell am I pre-ordering anyway by clicking on that magic link up yonder (did you know that you talk like a cowboy with Internet access?  Well, you do.)  Let me fill you in just a little bit on the details in that regard.  Alec Brownscombe, editor of the magazine and the maître d’ at  Maple Leafs Hot Stove has posted the whole nine yards about this publication announcement here.  I don’t want you to run away across the vast expense of teh Intarwebs just yet though – who knows, all that disorganized clicking and surfing might just break the damn thing, and what a fine mess we’d be in then – so here’s a wee smidgen of what Alec is promising:

Maple Street Press is an independent publishing company that works to produce high quality, authoritative, analytical, and insightful sports publications for the serious fan. More than your generic team guide, the Annual is the first of its kind to offer a variety of comprehensive viewpoints on the topics concerning the Leafs loyalist. We’ve assembled a cast of many of the web’s most knowledgeable Leafs and hockey writers, each of whom offers a unique and insightful perspective with a finger firmly on the pulse of Leafs Nation all the while. Collectively, we offer 128 ad-free pages of relevant Leafs content; analysis, interviews, scouting expertise, in-depth statistics, key information, humour, colour photos and nostalgia included.

I am really quite honoured to have been asked to contribute a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for this exciting project, if only for the chance to get published alongside pieces by some real superstars in the hockey writing world (James Mirtle !) and others by some top-notch bloggers from around the Barilkosphere (including local favourites PPP, Chemmy, Down Goes Brown, eyebleaf, Cox Bloc, Bitter Leaf Fan and  Alec Brownscombe himself). These are the real goal scorers on our little writing team (see what I did there?  It’s called a “metaphor”, or at least I think it is.  We writers are a tricky lot);  I consider myself to be more the plucky and dogged (fourth oops, mistake pointed out by Godd Till Sept. 15/09) third line winger, the Bill Berg of  Leafs blogging.    My article focusses on the arc to be travelled by rebuilding franchises generally and compares the plan adopted by Brian Burke and the Leafs to the model apparently being used by Bruins’ GM Peter Chiarelli.   I know that a lot of the pieces that Alec commissioned for the magazine are what I think professional writers would term “long form”;  mine was over 3000 words.   I suspect that the Maple Street Press publications are unique in that they are focussed exclusively on a single organization, permitting much more in-depth analysis than the superficial league-wide season previews you’ll avoid reading elsewhere, and I can tell you from my experience writing this piece that the long form permits the writer to really try to develop an actual idea instead of just bombarding you with facts and stats.  I am excited to see my own article in print, but I’m absolutely jacked to see what my fellow contributors have come up with for this very reason.

I am also very much looking forward to actually meeting my fellow contributors and literally rubbing shoulders with them at the production wrap cocktail party, which I suppose will likely be some sort of exclusive catered affair, black tie of course, with insanely witty Leaf-related chat over canapes.  I hope that it’s “monocle optional”, as mine is in the, er, monocle shop getting repaired.  And there’s a bit of a backlog on account of the monocle repairman being so busy.  Of course, nobody’s mentioned that there are any actual plans to put on such a shindig, but I have to assume this sort of thing is customary.

As an aside, I would never have guessed that Brad May would be on the cover of a Maple Leafs-related publication but I would suppose that I am no more astonished by that development than Mr. May and his family.  Also, to answer the inquiries of my wife: no, I do not know why Luke Schenn doesn’t have a hockey stick in his hands in that photograph.  It is safe to assume, however, that the picture was taken just moments before the untimely passing of a brave, if not particularly intelligent, opponent.

In closing, I am not just asking but rather begging you to purchase a copy of this wonderful magazine.   Please don’t make me ramp this up a further notch to “threatening.”   It would be nice if Maple Street Press actually found this exercise to be a productive and financially rewarding one so that they might consider someday publishing another such magazine and including another such contribution from yours truly, in which case I could ask you to buy yet another magazine and I might be able to then afford to pay the ransom demanded by those kidnappers and get my uncle Russell out of the Sudan safely**.  The publisher can’t say stuff like this (you know, on account of consumer protection advertising laws and so on) but, in addition to containing all kinds of wonderful content devoted exclusively to consideration of your Toronto Maple Leafs (individual player profiles! history, analysis and humour! colour photographs!), and apart from the fact that it’s provided to you in a handsome, durable format that is advertisement-free (you’ll need to order your sea monkeys and x-ray specs from another publication), I am told by a reliable source’s best-friends uncle’s cousin twice removed that the magazine also has the salutary effect of causing its purchaser to become instantly more attractive to persons of the opposite sex.  Moreover, it cures baldness, premature ejaculation, bad breath, rickets, all golf-swing mechanics problems including both “hooks” and “slices”, leprosy and spontaneous human combustion – at least, there’s no reliable proof yet that it doesn’t do these things.

So, in summary, you should buy it or you might instantly burst into flames.


*assuming you have a ready and reliable supply of snacks already sorted out

**no warranty is made that any actual kidnapping occurred or ransom was demanded.  And even if it was, no promises are made that any funds obtained will be applied to the aforesaid ransom demands.  Sorry, Uncle Russell***.

*** Uncle Russell may not actually exist.

Anton Stralman Traded

Anton Stralman is not now, nor will he ever be, Bobby Orr.

Realistically, Stralman has failed to crack the Leafs lineup over the last two years under either Coach Wilson or Paul Maurice.  The Leafs’ defence has been paper thin in this time period.  Stralman is not old at 23, but it’s fair to say that his failure to impress when given an opportunity suggests that losing him is no big deal.

Remember too, Leafs fans, that your blueline is stacked and set for a number of years.  Stralman didn’t figure realistically in Burke’s plans;  better that he gets converted into an asset for the future rather than burying him in the minors to waste away and bugger off next year for no return whatsoever.

Wayne Primeau?  It’s all about shuffling around salaries and such.  Burke gave Calgary a bit of soothing cap relief and basically got a 2nd rounder out of the deal.  Whether Primeau plays centre on the first line or sells beer in section 504, it matters not.

Decent deal for both teams.

Message in a Bottle: Project C’est Something Nice Continues…

Ladies and gentlemen, Mirinov’s nose has been at it again.  I have not yet updated the Project C’est Something NIce main page, but do yourself a favour and click through to learn the secret truth underlying the Canadiens’ offensive strategy.

Thanks everybody for all your submissions – I think we’ve got to be getting close to 40 jokes or so now.  Please keep ’em coming.   I didn’t have much time to put into teh Intarwebs today, but this is my latest contribution to the list:

Educational opportunities abound: the moral of the Montreal Canadiens’ story is that having too many Molsons may make you small, soft and unable to score.

Was that a dick joke?  I think it was!

Oh, and I thought of this one too:

Sponsorship dollars roll in as Gomez, Cammalleri and Gionta appear in ad campaign for world famous software manufacturer.  Slogan:  “We are Microsoft.”

Update:  Monday July 13, 2009: Just phoned in by friend of the blog the Paris Goose:

Canadiens become official hockey team of the Walt Disney company;  extensive retrofit of the “It’s a Small World” ride expected to include animated puppets wearing Brian Gionta jerseys.

I Feel Like Sally Struthers…

…only instead of dollars, I’m begging for jokes. Oh, and I’m not trying to feed starving African children, I’m trying to ensure that we take the piss out of Habs fans.  This shouldn’t be hard;  it’s not like Gainey hasn’t given us material to work with.

Here’s where we’re at: 1/3 of the way there. Thirty four bits have been submitted.  I can’t say “34 jokes”, because each one is, uh, “special”.  You know, unique like a snowflake or a learning disabled child.

If you would permit me a couple of observations at this point:

  1. I want to party with kidkawartha.  Dude is nitroglycerin in a jar, man;  crazy and scattered in a way that makes me feel naughty.  Don’t go changin’ etc. etc. kid;   and thanks for the multiple submissions.  You are a man of great compassion.
  2. Mirinov’s Nose.  Read the submission (it’s comment #14 on this page).  Defying convention, it refuses classification.  I can’t decide whether it is the punk rock or experimental jazz of Habs jokes.  I know that I liked it immediately, which suggests to me it’s more Social Distortion than John Zorn.  You decide.
  3. Not to denigrate any of the fine work submitted to date, but I feel as though we’re still striving to hit our stride on these.  Consider the first 33 submissions akin to the pre-season and a Wednesday night in October against Atlanta; we played hard and all, but the competitive juices just weren’t flowing at maximum capacity.  Well now it’s metaphorical November, bucko, and we all know what that means:  time to bring your “a” game.  I want all of you who previously offered submissions to review the tape, look at what you did right and take note of what you did wrong;  then I want you to get out on that (still further extended) metaphorical ice and take your best shot.  Or two.  Or 66.  At the Habs.  Those of you who didn’t even show up to play?  Get out there and show me what you can do.
  4. I know it’s summer holidays ‘n all, but can somebody put the bat signal up for Godd Till and Kim Jorn, late of the Cox Bloc?  First, everybody knows those boys can bring the sass, and sass is what this project is all about.  Second, I feel like – karmically – they kind of owe it to the universe to participate in this exercise on account of this abomination, which (much like porn) makes Baby Jesus Cry.  Contact Godd or Kim and tell them about the Project.  Tell them the cool kids are doin’ it;  they’ll get on board – just like teaching kids to smoke at daycare.
  5. Chemmy.  Vitriol + ridicule + hatred of the Habs.   This is right up your alley, brother.   I need more than one goal out of you if we’re going to win this thing.

Once again:  your mission, should you choose to accept it (and you should choose to accept it):  offer up something “positive” we can say about the Canadiens’ upcoming season.  Leave your japes in the comments below.

Also – I’m collating all the submissions to date on to a single page – there should be a link to a “Project C’est Something Nice” page at the top left corner of your browser, near the links for home and aboot.  You can click on the link at the top of the site’s homepage at any time to get to the complete list of well-wishery.

Lastly, I offer up my eighth submission to the project:

Exclusive, Unique Marketing Opportunity: the Habs can become the only NHL team to offer actual size Bobblehead Dolls.

Project “C’est Something Nice”: Talking to Habs Fans

There has been much joy and mirth not only in these virtual parts but also elsewhere in the Barilkosphere of late.  Brian Burke’s succesful efforts to assemble a Brobdingnagian blueline and to complement it with a Colossus in the crease have been largely responsible for the festive atmosphere in Leafdom.

But it has to be said that it is not just the Leafs’ good fortunes that have sparked the positive mojo; also playing a role in Leaf fans’ gleeful anticipation of the coming season are the disasters-in-waiting being presided over by Messrs. Murray and Gainey in Ottawa and Montreal respectively.   It cannot be denied that a healthy dose of schadenfreude in relation to our divisional rivals’ struggles is spicing the Blue and White soup of excitement just so, turning this particular dish into a gourmet delicacy upon which the faithful are gratefully gorging themselves.

I can’t help but think that we owe our friends in Montreal and Ottawa a debt of gratitude for the enjoyment we’ve received from this most delicious and nourishing meal (trust me, I’m going somewhere with this).  Accordingly, I have a proposal, set out in more detail at the end of this post, for a way in which we might show our appreciation for our rivals’ hospitality.

But first, a little refresher on the facts.

Gator 6685
Even this guy is crying tears for the Habs. Yes, I know it's a gator but I don't have a picture of a crocodile. Sue me.

The Senators contributed the first ingredient or two to our delicious repast, first with Dany Heatley’s ridiculous team-chemistry destroying trade demand (followed up expertly by his refusal to waive his no-trade clause upon the conclusion of a trade agreement with Edmonton).  Next came that delightfully flavourful moment at the draft, thankfully captured for posterity by TSN cameras and microphones, during which our angry Irish overlord produced, with the unwitting assistance of the beleagured Murray, the most astonishingly public gobsmacking in recorded history.  Just a few days ago, Murray put the cherry on top of his part of this concoction, signing the chronically apathetic Alexei Kovalev to a contract so unbelievably lucrative that I originally assumed that the financial figures must have been reported for some reason in pesos.

These events, though, have in truth paled in significance when compared to the struggles of one Robert “Bob” Gainey, the manager of generalities in Montreal.  On the heels of the “centennial” season that wasn’t, the laughable drive for 25 that ended up as a bug to the Bruins’ windshield and widespread public dissatisfaction with the Habs players (I’m looking at you, Carey Price) and management, Gainey gave Leaf fans another gift or two.  In the early hours of free agency, Leafs fans were like disappointed children on Christmas morning (having opened a box containing Colton Orr when the Sedins had been expressly requisitioned of Santa Claus) but Gainey gave us something to focus on and deride:  his trade for the enormous contract of a tiny underachieving centreman: Scott Gomez.  The trade made no sense, even to Leaf fans, who are especially adept at attempting to piece together the demented and alleged logic underpinning the roster moves of our own organization;  why would the Habs take on a massive salary, give up their best young prospect and get back so (literally) little player for their troubles?  Just as the startled laughter began to fade over this move, along came the punch line:  Gainey apparently designed and built a nuclear powered money-throwing machine that he immediately deployed to assist him in propelling currency at both Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, which currency the two gnome-like wingers quickly stuffed into their tiny pockets.

Then the Fun Train really got chugging along as the Leafs signed Mike Komisarek – a big part of the physical presence on the Montreal blueline – and  Gainey fired his riposte,  an overpayment for defenceman Jaroslav Spacek to the tune of $11.25 million.  It was as if the spirit of a drunken, brain-injured John Ferguson Jr. had inhabited Gainey’s body, and (predictably) had begun rampaging through the Habs’ organization like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man, with nary a Ghostbuster in sight.  Fans of the Blue and White couldn’t get enough of this poltergeist’s mischievous destruction.

Leaf fans have been wiping away tears of laughter ever since.  Sure, Mike Cammalleri is a talented player, and the Leafs even wanted to sign him up to the hometown squad, but Mike Cammalleri is no Steve Austin;  he just isn’t a Six Million Dollar Man.  Gionta and Gomez were/are also vastly overpaid, but more amusingly – I don’t know if you’ve noticed this – they’re all rather diminutive.   It occurred to Leaf Nation – and approximately 100% of the rest of humanity not pulling on the controls of the Hab machinery – that this might not be the best plan ever concocted for success in the National Hockey League.

Gentle reader, it’s a known fact that people can be cruel about such things.  I am saddened to report that some among the Leaf fans gathered at Pension Plan Puppets even succumbed to their lesser nature and fashioned a jest or two thousand premised upon the central organizing conceit that Montreal Canadiens forwards, this coming season, might be somewhat smaller than average.  I have even heard the occasional jape fashioned around the notion that Alexei Kovalev might not exhibit the sort of leadership that even, say for example, a fourth grade hall monitor might.  Shocking and misguided, I know.

Watching the whole series of events unfold in the Twitterverse, I’ve started to get the feeling that Habs fans were feeling a little down about the whole thing (side note: is there a collective term for Canadiens fans?  Is there a “Habs Nation” or are we just sticking with “that bunch of fickle pricks chanting `na na na na’ and singing fucking soccer songs”?  Yeah, I thought so.)  I started to wonder whether, in the spirit of good karma, we Leaf fans ought not to pitch in to cheer the fuckers up.  I got to thinking about the many ways that the Leafs’ free agent signings had improved the general welfare of the universe and it occurred to me that there MUST be something positive, from a wider societal perspective, to say about the Montreal transactions (we know they’re no damn good in terms of improving their chances of winning hockey games, that’s for sure).

As for Senators fans, well they’re a bit different.  The thing about the Sens fans is, bless their little hearts, they don’t understand how totally screwed their team is.  They have, to put it mildly, a problem.  I have a suggestion about how to help fix that for them (watch this space in the coming days), but – for now – the immediate concern is our depressed friends in the bleu, blanc et rouge chandails.

So here’s my proposal.

To thank the Montreal Canadiens and their fans for the part they played in cheering us Leaf fans up, I propose that we come up with a series of 100 simple statements (one for each year in this, the REAL centennial) about the state of the Canadiens’ franchise along the lines of a positive affirmation for our friends.  Each statement should delineate some beneficial feature of the Habs’ present predicament that represents a silver lining in the storm clouds gathering over the Bell Centre, along the lines of the model set out below.  Let’s collect a hundred such statements (remember, it’s their centennial), package them up with a nice bow, and send them off to our friends at Habs Eyes on the Prize with our compliments;  after all, they’ve been so supportive of us during the last few difficult years, I truly feel this is the absolute least we can do.

Here’s my first contribution to Project “C’est Something Nice!”:

In the future, the Montreal Canadiens will be leaders in the field of hockey equipment innovation and research: the Buster Brown shoe company, for example, will be retained to design and manufacture special “right-sized” skates for the Habs’ forwards.

Feel free to leave your own efforts in the comments below.  Let’s make this happen, Leaf fans – I know you have this kind of compassion in your souls.

Update, Thursday July 9 8:30 p.m.: Well, folks, we’ve only managed to gather together an even dozen zingers so far.  Quite frankly, that’s a Kovalev-ian effort, dammit.  We are far, far…erm….”short” of our goal of a century of zingers soothing mottos to package up for the burning cop car/broken windows at the depanneur set.  I know there are some of you who have more love to give.  Maybe you’re uncertain whether your first attempt at soothing the Gallic pain will hit the mark;  no problem, leave a couple of attempts in the comments below.  Let’s work this bee-yatch up, yo.

My second contribution to the project:

Corporate cash cow: sales of official Montreal Canadiens “game-used booster chairs” expected to skyrocket in 2009 – 2010 season.

Monster’s Inked: Jonas Gustavsson is a Maple Leaf

Citizens of Monstropolis Hope Gustavsson Doesnt Wear Number 2319
Citizens of Monstropolis Hope Gustavsson Doesn't Wear Number 2319

Last night, I painted a metaphorical picture of  Maple Leafs’ defenceman Francois “Happy Trails” Beauchemin and his bulky blueline brethren as  each being rather like a rampaging Godzilla, treating the opposition like so many unfortunate stomped-upon movie extras.  Today, Brian Burke brought us a real live Monster;  the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to a one year entry-level contract.   For those of you who are heavily medicated, have severe brain injuries, or are Ottawa Senators fans, I will explain slowly and carefully: the nice man who used to wear the yellow and blue hockey sweater has a funny nickname – that’s a name that isn’t his real name, but which people use to refer to him anyway – and that nickname is “Monster”.  Yes, that’s right, just like Jason Spezza is known as “Giggles” except, you know, about 100 bajillion times cooler.

No doubt Don Cherry will rant that the Leafs have blasphemed by signing a foreign Monster, when good Canadian beasts like Ogopogo or Champ can’t catch a break in the NHL.  Cryptozoological curiosities aside, however, I am very much encouraged by today’s news.  Not only the Toronto Maple Leafs, but indeed society at large will enjoy many advantages as a result of this development.  In an effort to foster reasoned, objective and complete debate about all of the many wide-ranging positive ramifications of this acquisition, Heroes in Rehab: the blog has developed the following Monster quick-reference fact sheet:

Benefits of The Monster:  a preliminary (but holistic and societal) estimate:

FACT: Unless my old Dungeons & Dragons papers have gotten mixed up with these scouting reports, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now the only NHL club whose goaltender shoots left, catches left, and has a fiery breath weapon that does 8d10 damage.  Note:  simple chronic halitosis doesn’t count as a “breath weapon”, or Henrik Lundqvist (who presumably eats rather a lot of lutefisk) might have qualified here.  Gustavsson’s fiery cone of destruction is advantageous because the repeated immolation of Ottawa Senators forwards on national television, in additon to being profoundly entertaining, will teach young children not to crash the crease irresponsibly unless they are willing to man up and make a saving throw with 2d10 or (in the alternative) are impervious to fire.   Wait; come to think of it, I might be slightly confused about this one.

FACT: Sports headline writers throughout the mainstream media learned of this signing today and instantly burst into tears of joy.  They immediately saw that (as a result of the off-the-charts pun potential of Gustavsson’s nickname) they could seriously elevate the already considerable level at which they are just fucking mailing in their work, and that this profound apathy can reliably be expected to continue until the end of Monster’s contract year or until newspapers themselves become officially extinct, whichever comes first.   In any case, the world has thus been spared the possibility of these ink-stained wretches having to actually work, becoming unhappy, and going postal on a Mickey D’s while screaming incoherently about not being able to come up with any new foliage-related bon mots.

FACT: Rodan and Mothra are now 38% less likely to attack and destroy the Air Canada Centre during a Leaf game – which is good for MLSE and its shareholders, mostly for insurance reasons.  Oh, and also, there is also some non-financial (but still desirable for MLSE anyway) benefit to the fact that 18,000 Leaf fans won’t be slaughtered in their seats by giant prehistoric monsters bent on destruction.  This is also good for beer sales.

FACT: In an unusual move, the National Hockey League will prohibit Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa from even entering the building if and when Jonas Gustavsson is present.  This ruling comes as a result of the Brian Berard incident in 2000;  apparently, the league is worried that Hossa’s casual approach to stick control might cause a similar injury to the Toronto goaltender.  The NHL is determined to avoid the significant embarrassment and notoriety resulting from the inevitable subsequent references to the “One-Eyed Monster” in net for Toronto.  The league is reported to be extremely concerned about one nightmare scenario in which a wounded and monocular Gustavsson plays poorly and is replaced during the game, in which case the wags would no doubt scandalously be talking about Ron Wilson pulling the One-Eyed Monster.¹

FACT: It’s 2009 and there’s a worldwide recession in full swing, people.  Except that now MLSE has the Monster and cross-promotional marketing and advertising opportunities abound!  New Leaf sponsors are expected to include (hey, I hear they’re so good, they even got Andrew Raycroft a new job – playing hockey!), Monster cable (I suspect somehow related to the washrooms in the ACC), Monster trucks (ACC Zambonis, suitably modified, clear the ice and crush surplus Chevy Cavaliers at centre ice during the intermissions), and the occasional monster movie (Aliens vs. Predators on the ACC Jumbotron at intermission with Gustavsson in goal for the Leafs against Nashville, naturally).  Result: Jonas Gustavsson single-handedly saves the global economy.

Some will tell you that Gustavsson’s signing is a good one because it gives Brian Burke and the Leafs some depth and flexibility at the goaltending positon with Justin Pogge still apparently developing in the AHL.  Some may say that it should have the desirable result, via the natural engine of pre-existing national rivalries and competition for employment, of spurring Finland’s Vesa Toskala to greater achievements in Toronto’s twine tent this season.  Should Gustavsson prove himself equal to the job of an NHL starter, some may even say that this signing might provide Brian Burke with the ability to trade a (hopefully) rejuvenated Toskala for some scoring depth at forward while simultaneously retaining the mobile, offensively gifted and musically beloved Tomas Kaberle.  This latter achievement, of course, would be the stick and puck managerial equivalent of the loaves and fishes miracle and would legally entitle Brian Burke to slap every other NHL GM in the face whenever he wanted, just for shits and giggles.  These are among the various benefits that some hockey analysts will identify in relation to the Jonas Gustavsson signing.

But you know better, gentle reader.  You know that the real benefit has to do with breath weapons, economic recovery and a significantly reduced risk of annihilation by rampaging mutant dinosaurs.


¹Critics will tell you this was a very long way to go for a dick joke, but I stand by my artistic decision-making process.

Happy Trails, Indeed: Francois Beauchemin is a Maple Leaf

Francois Beauchmin Introduced at MLSE Press Conference

The Maple Leafs signed defenceman Francois Beauchemin, late of the Anaheim Ducks, to a 4 year deal today.  The deal brings an annual cap hit of about $3.8 million.

I am a huge fan of this signing, for several reasons:

  1. It will be hilarious to watch Montreal’s Lollipop Guild of Cammalleri, Gomez and Gionta spontaneously pee their tiny little pantses when the Leaf defence pairings stomp on to the ice this year.   Seriously, the Leafs have more beef on the back end than Oprah, J-Lo and Tomas Holmstrom combined.
  2. The move gives Burke options.  He can trade Tomas Kaberle for Jesus Christ and a (top five) first round draft choice or he can move some of the surplus second-tier blueliners now milling about the halls of the ACC, bumping into each other and the walls (such as Stralman, Van Ryn, Finger, Oreskovic, etc.) for more urgently required spare parts:  “depth” (i.e. “crappy”) forwards or draft picks.
  3. Whatever the fate of Kaberle, adding a bona fide fearsome defender like Beauchemin on top of the earlier Mike Komisarek signing, the addition of Garnet Exelby (via trade with Atlanta) and the continuing threat of Luke “The Human Eraser” Schenn ensures that no one will come within approximately sixty feet of the Maple Leafs’ crease next season.
  4. This last fact ought to help in the “Monster” derby, the race to sign Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, which ought to help bring some depth to the goaltending position.  This is a polite way of saying that the Leafs’ goaltending sucked donkey balls last year.  I love Curtis Joseph dearly, but he did not play well, and an injured Vesa Toskala also turned in a performance best described as “weaksauce”.  Why does the signing of Happy Trails Frankie help out in this regard?   Ask yourself: if you were a young Swedish lad considering which team to join in order to make your NHL debut, wouldn’t you kind of want to go to a club where the defencemen treat attackers like Godzilla treats Japanese public transportation vehicles?
  5. It’s back to the future, man.  Back in the day, when the Leafs were the shit instead of just being “shit”, their style of play was always defined by hard-nosed defence.  The Leafs of the 50s and 60s were more about Horton and Stanley than they were about any fancypants offence.  It’s how we do things in the Blue & White:  crushing hip checks; solid positional play; gutsy shot blocks;  pick and shovel, physical defence with a soupçon of elbows, facewashes and general bad-assery.  Leaf fans have always been especially taken with the lunchpail brigade, but we are especially enamoured by players who patrol the blueline this way.  It has been this way since of Red Horner and Bucko McDonald, through the Horton and Stanley era and more recently to guys like Sylvain Lefebvre, Dmitri Yushkevich and Danny Markov.  This tradition is why Luke Schenn will be the captain of your Toronto Maple Leafs by 2012.
  6. I am really looking forward to seeing Beauchemin use his breath weapon to destroy Daniel Alfredsson.

Attaboy Burkie.  I see the plan, and I like it.  Watching the reaction to the Beauchemin and Komisarek signings in the twitterverse these past few days, I can tell you that your fanbase is definitely loving it too.  (Side note:  It was absolutely fascinating watching the Beauchemin signing in particular unfold via Twitter today;  I saw a tweet that reported the signing, was able to confirm it via Sportsnet, then tweeted about the signing myself and watched as the news spread from person to person via re-tweets.  Enjoying the salty tears of disappointment shed by Habs fans despairing of a lost opportunity was especially enjoyable when experienced in real-time.  In all seriousness, though, the revolution has come.  This is the way we’re going to get our information about things from now on.)

If the Leafs can’t land an elite scoring forward or two through trades this year (most likely immediate candidate for dispatch in this regard:  Tomas Kaberle;  dark horse trade bait:  a rejuvenated and repaired Vesa Toskala), I am content to watch the young forwards like Tlusty, Grabovski, Bozak and Hanson try to make their way in the league.  Some, if not most, of them will struggle and/or fail, and the team will similarly struggle to score goals.  We may continue to lose games, and lose them often.

But I’m going to really enjoy watching this team play this year.  There will be no easy nights for the Leafs’ opposition.  Better still, I can see the foundation of the team being built and I can really foresee now, for the first time in a long time (since JFJ got his mitts on the controls, really) a time in the not-too-distant future when this team will be demanding that it be reckoned with as a legitimate Cup contender.

No Fat Lady Yet: Tidbits from the Balsillie/NHL Ruling

Not Yet Needed in a Phoenix Courtroom

I spent some time this morning (on my coffee break, relax everybody) looking at what Judge Redfield T. Baum had to say about the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy proceedings (Odin Mercer at Five for Howling has posted a link to a copy of Judge Baum’s ruling.)

Much will be made of this ruling – and properly so – as a huge victory for those intent on keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix (including the Coyotes’ fans, the NHL and one Gary Bettman).  Any result that has the effect of delaying an auction and preserving – however temporarily – the status quo concerning relocation rights, transfer fees and the NHL’s procedures in respect of these matters has to be seen as a loss for Balsillie’s side.  This is so for many reasons, not the least of which is that Balsillie has lost the advantage of surprise at this point;  with the status quo preserved and the relocation train stuck in the station, the NHL has gained an opportunity to organize a competing ownership proposal, one that addresses the league’s concerns and (you can bet your sweet ass) does precious little boat rocking in terms of territorial rights, franchise relocation, etc.

My initial sense, though, upon going through this ruling, is that the victory is far from complete for the NHL forces.  In particular, it seems likely to me that:

  1. The drama is far from played out in Phoenix as a result of this ruling; and
  2. Lawyers for MLSE will be sitting Brian Burke and the Directors down and giving them some unwelcome news:  specifically, they’ll be telling the Leafs’ brass that it probably won’t be long before they have neighbours of one variety or another.

The NHL can’t reject Jim Balsillie as an owner.

As to the first point, regarding the change of ownership issue alone (i.e. transfer of the team to Balsillie’s company PSE, absent any consideration of the league’s geographic restrictions essentially requiring the Coyotes to stay in Phoenix), Judge Baum has ruled as follows (at p.8 of the ruling):

Significant to the court here regarding the objection to the transfer of ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes is the fact that in 2006 the NHL approved PSE [a holding company controlled by Balsillie] to become a member of the NHL.  The court has the firm sense that if the only issue here was PSE purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes [no relocation term] there would be no objection from the NHL.  The law implies in every contract a covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  Even when one party retains, by virtue of the contract, a right of approval or disapproval or a discretionary power over the right of the other, such powers must be exercised within the parameters of the duty of good faith (citation omitted)…Absent some showing by the NHL that there have been material changes in PSE’s circumstances since 2006, it appears to the court that the NHL can not object or withhold its consent to PSE becoming the controlling owner of the Phoenix Coyotes.  Therefore and based upon this record, the court concludes that the NHL can not declare a default solely due to the change in ownership terms of the APA.

This would seem to be a very powerful signal from the court that Balsillie can’t be rejected in good faith by the NHL as an owner, provided that he comes up with an offer for the team that otherwise would conform with the bankruptcy code.  As I see it, in this portion of his ruling, the judge has signalled that the race is on – he’s telling the NHL to get its alleged competing bidders together and get them to the table with their best offers, because Mr. Balsillie – if he wants to – can buy this team.  The judge is telling the NHL, “You can’t say Mr. Balsillie is an unacceptable owner.  You’ve already accepted him in principle into your club.”

What’s the big deal about that, you might ask; Balsillie wants a team in Hamilton, not a team in Phoenix. If he can’t move the team, he won’t want to buy it, right?  Well, maybe – but maybe not.

2009 Memorial Cup Champions: Turning the Page on 1988

2009 Memorial Cup Champions - Mickey Renaud's Jersey Front & Centre

It had no effect on the players, of course.  It couldn’t have – most of the guys wearing Spitfire sweaters today weren’t even born when it happened, so how could it have any effect on them?  Nonsense.  It did, though, have an effect on their fans.  I know that to be true.

“It” was the 1988 Memorial Cup Final game.  Two months ago, I wrote that the City of Windsor needed a Memorial Cup Champion more than any other place in this country.  The case that I laid out for a Rose City Champion included consideration of economic factors (heavily dependent upon the suffering North American auto manufacturing sector, Windsor has the worst unemployment in the country);  it included consideration of the tragic death of the team’s young captain last year (Mickey Renaud, from a hidden heart defect);  and it included reference to some dicey circumstances for the franchise itself (a notorious hazing incident and some ownership instability, along with the perennial struggle to get a new place to play in).   All of those things are true, and all of them make a compelling case for the Spitfires as Memorial Cup Champion.

But the factor that tipped the scales, in my humble (and biased) opinion, was the gut-wrenching history of the Spits in the Memorial Cup tournament.  After years of mostly disappointing teams (only one trip to the league final, in 1980), the Spits finally had a powerhouse team in 1988.   The one and only time the club had made it to the big dance in 1988, the team was a prohibitive favourite.  That team won 39 of its last 40 games.  It went undefeated – UNDEFEATED – in four rounds of the OHL playoffs (just imagine that).  It skated through the round robin portion of the Cup undefeated as well.  And it jumped out to a 3-0 lead over its opponent, the Medicine Hat Tigers.   Coached by Tom Webster (later the bench boss of the Rangers and Gretzky-era Kings – just prior to Barry Melrose’s Mullet –  in the NHL).  The Spits were a lock to hoist that Memorial Cup trophy that day;  I remember it.  I remember lusting after that moment on that day.  As a Spits fan, someone who had followed the team as a young boy since the inception of the modern franchise in 1975, it was finally going to be our turn to hold the trophy that ordinarily got won every year by somebody else from a bigger, better city or a more famous junior hockey program.  It was time to walk on to the big stage with all the other Grade “A” franchises.

The thing is, though, the hockey gods do not like it when things are so predictable and certain.   And so the hockey gods threw Spitfire fans a curveball that day.  I remember they were leading going in to the third period, and I remember thinking they had the game in hand.  When the buzzer sounded at the end of the game though, they had lost 7-6 to Trevor Linden’s Medicine Hat Tigers.  Somebody else was carrying our trophy around the ice;   the team that had lost one game in forty was only second best.

Go Spits Go! One More for the Memorial Cup

160px-Windsor_Spitfires_logo new
Go Spits Go, One More Time This Year!

I will be watching on a slight tape delay for much of the first part of the game – yard chores kept me a little bit later than I thought today – so don’t nobody call me on the phone and be giving me updates about what’s happening.

One game for the big trophy.  Winner takes all;  the Memorial Cup delivers up a notional game 7 for the Championship each and every year.  I can’t bear blogging along with the game;  my father-in-law and I are camped out on the couch with beers in hand ready to take it all in.  I hope it’s a good game, and I hope my Spits are holding the hardware at the end of the day.  I’m gonna say it again:  this tournament owes us one.  It is dangerous to demand satisfaction from the hockey gods, but perhaps a subtle reminder of an existing imbalance in the hockey cosmos will persuade them to rectify the historical imbalance of karma.

Go Spits Go!!!

UPDATE: Twenty minutes to go for a Memorial Cup Championship?  Kelowna is going to come at us like crazy, but that late goal from Ellis is huge and makes the Rockets’ mountain a tall one to climb.  I am not assigning any numbering to any sort of poultry, but this is an excellent position for the boys to be in.  Go Spits Go!!!!