Friday, June 30, 2006

JR Part Two

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Not that anything Jeremy Roenick is thinking is ever a state secret, but it looks like I was on the money last night regarding his possible desire to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs next season. Of course, that should be no surprise anyway - every available free agent wants to come to Toronto. Just ask any Leaf fan.

Seriously though, yesterday, Roenick told crack beat writer Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun that Toronto and Ottawa are his two favoured destinations next year:

"I've always had a lot of respect for the Senators and I know that they would be a great team to play with because they've got a lot of talent and a chance to win the Stanley Cup," said Roenick.

"As for Toronto, that would be great as well. Toronto is the hockey mecca. People live and breathe the game there. They care about it. They are such passionate fans. What hockey player wouldn't want to be part of something like that? It would be special for that to happen."

It all makes sense. From the Ottawa angle, Roenick is comfortable in the nation’s capital, having played in junior across the river for the Hull Olympiques, correctly believing it was his path to the NHL (I can’t resist quoting this man):

"It's not my fault (Garth Snow) didn't have any other options coming out of high school. If going to college gets you a career backup goaltender job, and my route gets you a thousand points and a thousand games, and compare the two contracts, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out whose decision was better."

And of course, Ottawa remains Vegas’ odds-on favourite (6-1) to win the Cup next year. The Toronto reasoning is even more obvious - in his own words, Roenick sees the city as the “hockey mecca.” And beginning with Punch Imlach, no team in the league has a history of recycling formerly-successful personalities like the Leafs do.

Roenick is pulling out all the stops in his crusade. Just in case any fans living in a cave didn’t notice his interview with TSN or the Sun, he also spoke last night with Eklund’s hockey blog, leaving an open letter on the site declaring his desires. It’s strange though, that he left the teams unnamed here for “politically correct” reasons, but cited them for Garrioch’s notepad. Oh well.

“People who live and breath (sic) hockey as Canadians do, I've always respected that. I don't know if it will be this year but I do have a couple teams high on my wish list for that to happen. I'm hoping there is interest by these teams in mind, cause as you know, they have to want ME as well.”

You can’t help but laugh. Not only has Roenick, at the lowest point of his career, decided who he’s going to play for, but the “couple teams” in this contest to win the contract of the American Idol are going to have to pick up the phone and ask him to suit up. Pretty please. But Roenick wouldn’t be who he is without the all the grandstanding moxie; that’s just JR, being JR.

Part of me knows Toronto should walk away and let Roenick fulfill his Canadian hockey dream in Ottawa instead. I know there are so many other, more suitable players for the team to sign instead of him. There’s a rebuild underway - isn’t there? I know that Roenick has proven himself to be a lightning rod for controversy, is a distraction, is a player on the decline, and with his concussion history, could be one bodycheck away from never playing another game.

But another part of me sees a heart-and-soul player with a proven playoff record, who loves and honours the game like nobody else, playing himself into the shape of his life so that he can “ give back to my fans the player that once was.”

This is the whole Charlie Brown and the football thing again. Yet another former all-star wants to play for Toronto. I can’t believe I’m even considering this. Should the Leafs take a chance on Jeremy Roenick?

“I know I'm long winded, but I do care. It's going to be a blast trying to get that Cup, and a thrill if I can show all my nay-sayers which one of my fingers is the longest.



36, that’s not too old - is it? Maybe there’s room on the third line…

Yeah, I know. I’m a dope.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Shootin' JR

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Is that a Frankenstein mask?
No, that's just Jeremy Roenick.

Any other week, Jeremy Roenick’s proclamation to the media that he intends to play in Canada next season would rate front-page news in the Toronto dailies.

But with the free agent season looming only hours away, and other signings, trades, and possible infidelity of NHL superstars making headlines, Roenick’s latest outburst has gone virtually unnoticed.

"I've always said I would like to play in Canada before my career is over," said the 36-year-old Boston native. "And it's one thing that I'm really anxious in doing. Don't be surprised if I end up on a Canadian team next week.”

Non-Leaf fans across the country routinely erupt in outrage at the suggestion that players actually want to play for Toronto, but make no mistake – Roenick meant that he wants to be a Leaf.

Last December, Roenick was interviewed during his swing through town:

"This is my realm here," Roenick told reporters. "Sometimes I feel this is where I was born to play hockey. I've scored more points against this team than any other team in the League. This city has been really good to me outside the rink. It's been real fun for me. I always circle the date on my calendar every year when the schedule comes out.”

Another time this season, Roenick was miked during a game, and was caught on the bench after scoring a goal. “That was good. Not as good as scoring one in Toronto, but still good.”

Should Toronto make a play for him? By his own admission, he’ll come cheap, which is music to the ears of any modern-day GM. And Toronto could use some depth at centre – with Allison, Lindros, and Wilm uncertain/unlikely to return, it’s basically Sundin and some other guys down the middle. Oh wait, my bad. They signed John Pohl yesterday. Sundin and Pohl, then.

I have always liked Roenick. I like his brash, edgy style, I like his passion for hockey, I like how he wears his heart on his sleeve. He says some ridiculous things, but his heart is in the right place. He loves hockey, so he’s okay in my book.

“Yeah, I'm cocky and I am arrogant. But that doesn't mean I'm not a nice person.”

(There are just too many great Roenick quotes to insert here. Do a Google search and see for yourself.)

And signing a player like Roenick might appeal to John Ferguson. For all those who complain about Ferguson’s alleged conservatism, they haven’t been paying attention - his record has proven him to be a decisive riverboat gambler.

Consider the dramatic trade he executed to land Brian Leetch in his attempt to bring a Cup to Toronto (and hauling Calle Johansson out of retirement for almost a million dollars at the same time), the unbelievable, horrible contract he gave Ed Belfour (without requiring a physical!), betting the labour strike would not last an entire season, his choice to buy out absolutely no players last summer - the only team in the league other than St. Louis to make that decision (and they were a team for sale at the time – maybe they couldn’t) because he felt the large, slow players from the old NHL the Leafs had in stock were enough to make another run to the final –

(Taking a deep breath)

-his decision to trade for a guy whose brother had just died, with a reputation for dogging it, and who refuses to fly on airplanes (Jeff O’Neill), a player who hadn’t played a hockey game in two and a half years (Jason Allison), a player with a long history of concussion problems and a primma-donna attitude (Eric Lindros), and his recent decision to trade a blue-chip goalie prospect (Tuuka Rask) for Andrew Raycroft, who literally had the worst statistics of any regular NHL goalie last season. Yikes!

You know, as I read that over, I'm thinking Ferguson just might be on the phone to Roenick’s agent right now.

But even though I like JR, I think the time to bring him to the Leafs, if there ever was one, is over. He's 36. He's had more concussions than Lindros (which might help explain some of what he says). His statistics have been in decline for five straight seasons; Kurt Cobain was still alive the last time Roenick was a dominant player.

If a team is to contend, it should take as few gambles as possible. That means saying no to Gary Roberts’ request to play in Toronto again. (Unless - Ferguson can unload the buyout for either Tie Domi or Ed Belfour to Florida, cancelling out Roberts' $2.25 million salary. No way should they trade a useful asset for him though.) And they should probably say no to Roenick. There are just too many other, better players out there for the Leafs to focus on now.

Sad, maybe. But it’s for the best. And last year, Roenick knew it too:

"You think Tie Domi is big here? If I'd have played here...oh man."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

At least the Leafs don't have Muckler

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Yesterday, the Ottawa Senators declined to make a contract qualifying offer to Tyler Arnason before the deadline expired, making the forward a free agent free agent on July 1st.

This move is just the latest in a long line of failures John Muckler has executed on the behalf of the Senators. The evidence supporting this accusation is damning, and can be rated only as an incredible misread of Arnason's "talents." Think:

1.) The biggest concern in Ottawa's lineup at this season's trade deadline - other than the one in net - was to acquire some quality depth at centre. An experienced veteran, capable of taking some key faceoffs, who could deflect some of the pressure from number-1 centre Jason Spezza, and could shoulder some of the burden of making a lengthy playoff run. In 19 games with Ottawa, Arnason totalled o goals, 4 points, and was a healthy scratch for every minute of the post-season. That should be no surprise though, since he had been a healthy scratch for the Blackhawks earlier this year. From Chris Stevenson's March 10, 2006 breakdown on the trade:

"Arnason was a healthy scratch for one game last month with the 'Hawks when coach Trent Yawney felt he wasn't getting enough out of his talent. 'He's been given enough rope to show us what he can do,' Yawney said at the time. 'He's played with players he wants to play with. He's played every power play and every offensive situation, and his play isn't at the level I think it should be.'

Said Arnason after that: 'They want me to play better, so I guess I have to try harder.' "

I guess Tyler didn't try hard enough.

2.) Fairly or not, Ottawa has been accused for years as a team lacking grit. In Arnason, Muckler managed to obtain a player who totalled 6 hits the entire season. The figure is embarrassingly low considering he appeared (so the boxscores say, anyway) in 79 games. To help put that figure in perspective, Jason Spezza, one of the most un-physical players in the NHL (I know - tell that to Carlo Colaiacovo) managed 12 hits in 2005-2006. Again, from Stevenson's article:

"(Bryan) Murray knows of Arnason's reputation as an underachiever.

'He hasn't run into me yet,' chuckled Murray.

'He'll come in, I believe, highly motivated.' "

3.) Chicago's asking price for Arnason was a 2nd round pick, and a decent prospect in Brandon Bochenski. Since Arnason contributed, literally, almost nothing to the Senators' cause during his time in Ottawa, Muckler essentially donated these assets to the Blackhawks. But hey, prospects are just a gamble. You always trade the coin-flip minor-leaguer for the can't-miss veteran talent, right?

4.) In Chicago, probably in part due to the reasons I touched on above, Arnason was nearly beaten to death by his former coach, Brian Sutter. Okay, not to death.

Given the above points, it's possible to argue that Muckler got the exact opposite of the player the Senators needed for a successful playoff performance.

How does a general manager of an NHL hockey team look at everything I listed above - and Arnason's reputation was no secret before the trade was made - and pull the trigger anyway? At best, this is irresponsible arrogance. At worst - total negligence.

Why do so many blame Alfredsson, Emery, Heatley, or anyone else for the failures of the team, but the guy in charge of running it - with the existing core of players present from the day he was hired - is unaccountable?

But you know what? Senator fans shouldn't worry too much about what the team gave up for Arnason, though. Boo-Boo Garrioch reported Muckler's comments on the trade today:

"Who said (Bochenski) was a good prospect?" said Muckler. "He had a good training camp and he had other opportunities when he was called up from (Binghamton), but he was a guy that we deemed to be expendable."

Who said he's a good prospect? Only a guy named John Muckler:

"Here's a player (Bochenski) who has scored in every league he's played in and everyone questions it?" Muckler said. "The same thing will happen when he plays in the NHL. He has great hands and he gets his shot away very quickly."

Did I say Muckler is "negligent"?

I meant, "senile."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Chris Pronger - Maple Leaf?

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A popular hockey blogger is reporting tonight that the Toronto Maple Leafs have made a pitch for the disgruntled (I love that word for describing angry athletes - "disguntled." I always imagine a clucking chicken, scooting away from you in the barnyard with its feathers ruffled), MVP-quality defenseman the Oilers now seem forced to trade.

Apparently, the Leafs have offered Tomas Kaberle and Matt Stajan, but the Oilers want Alexander Steen instead of Stajan. And the kicker! The Leafs are reportedly "very serious about getting this done". Here's the full post, in case it disappears (great editing, by-the-by):

"According to sources the Leafs ar making a serious pitch for Pronger...Reports have the Leafs willing to trade Kaberle and Stajan...The Oilers want Steen instead of Stajan...The Leafs are "Very Serious" about getting this done, according to one of my most trusted sources..."

When statements are floated like, oh, the Oilers want Steen, not Stajan (who wouldn't, for crying out loud?), the breathless reader can almost visualize the phone lines burning up over the particulars of the trade. Why, with the Oilers demanding Steen over Stajan, this deal is all but done, right? With the principals decided on (Pronger, Kaberle), the decision on the other player involved is only a minor detail standing in the way of Pronger pulling a Leaf sweater over his head by Monday night. The cherry on the sundae is the fact that the rumour arrived thanks to, possibly, the "most trusted source."

Maybe it was a slow day on the internet (Sundays are notorious for lousy internet traffic - and just look at the weather out there), and Eklund wanted to crank up the hits today. There's nothing like a Maple Leaf rumour to get the forums hopping.

This poster also reported these other Pronger moves since yesterday:

1.) phillips, emery, and eaves from Ottawa for pronger (e1)

2.) Strong Rumor (e3-4) Redden has re-signed with Ottawa, and Ottawa has traded Havlat, Phillipa and #1 for Pronger

Yet today, we learn that Toronto has all but landed the monster defenseman, if only they can agree to let go of Steen.

I'm not saying it won't happen. I'd be ecstatic. But something this crazy, I'd have to see it happen to believe it.

When it comes to rumourmongering, I'll quote my old grampa: "You throw enough bullshit at a wall, some of it is bound to stick there."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Al Strachan: A "big windbag"

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I don’t like Al Strachan.

My friend Matt had a good line about him once. We were watching Al grinding an axe one night on Hockey Night in Canada, and Matt said, “It looks like God made Strachan out of the crap he had left over when he made Mike Keenan.”

I know, I know. It’s cheap to take a shot at a guy’s appearance. It isn’t just his looks that bug me, though. It’s the entire package – the way he’d nag behind Ron Maclean on Hockey Night, taking potshots on the Hot Stove panel on issues he knew nothing about, the whining voice – I’m not alone, either. Just ask Brian Burke or Howard Berger what they think of Strachan. And it can’t be mere coincidence that he was dropped from the show this year.

Today in his Canada-wide column, Al was up to his old tricks:

"Don't be surprised if the Oilers trade Chris Pronger to free up some money. He has a whopping salary and the return could be significant."


This idea is so decisively absurd, I barely know where to begin.

First of all, the Oilers traded a significant chunk of their future to obtain Pronger last summer, and awarded him a five-year deal to lock him up for the long term. At 31 years old, Edmonton made the executive decision to build their team around Pronger – why would they get rid of him after one season?

Pronger is likely one of the top three defensemen in the league, after Scott Niedermayer and Nicklas Lidstrom. He finished ninth in points this year, it’s true, but he played a good percentage of games this season with a broken foot. He is a consistently high point producer, and has won the Hart Trophy, the Norris Trophy, an Olympic Gold medal, led the league in +/- twice, and is an eight-time NHL all-star. At 6’6”, 230 pounds, Pronger is a virtually irreplaceable blueline asset. Don't make me haul out the list of Cup winners that had a legitimate number-one defenseman like Pronger on their teams.

Pronger’s average salary of 6.25 million per season might look “whopping” at first glace, but once Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara, Bryan McCabe, and Wade Redden ink contracts this summer, Pronger’s deal is going to look very reasonable by comparison. Besides - Edmonton knew what they were getting into with his salary from the outset, and that was before they realized they might have put together a contending team. If money is the issue, the team sold out every single seat in the arena this year, including of course, all playoff dates, which ended with a Game Seven appearance in the Finals. In short, Edmonton is rolling in money this season.

But according to Strachan, the team needs to trade one of the best defenseman in the league, to "free up money"?

In the playoffs this year, Pronger carried the Oilers on his gigantic shoulders, leading the team in points (21), average ice time (30:57), and +/-, (+10) registering his presence on the ice during every single game.

And besides all this, prior to Strachan's absurd article, there was absolutely no hint, no suggestion, no rumour whatsoever that Pronger will be doing anything but leading the team next year, just like the Oilers had planned all along.

Edmonton has some hard salary decisions to make, but Pronger isn't one of them. No way is he going anywhere.

Strachan pulled this "story" from his rectum.

Update: If my cutthroat analysis wasn't good enough for you, how would you like to hear Kevin Lowe's take on Strachan? Blogger Colby Cosh had this to say today (June 23rd):

"Strachan just appeared on Team 1260 radio in a taped interview from his cabin in New Brunswick. He not only stood by the comment (obviously written between trips to the minivan with camping equipment), he claimed it was only "fifty-fifty" that Pronger would be back.

Needless to say, Kevin Lowe came on the line immediately and started goofing on Strachan. "Sounds like there's a lot goin' on!" he said to host Bob Stauffer. "How'd you enjoy your summer?" He went on to call Strachan a "big windbag" and to describe his comments as "unethical." "


I honestly don’t know why I read Strachan’s stories. It’s like he only noticed Pronger’s salary yesterday and somehow drew a connection between that and his availability. Why does this guy get a nationwide column, when a zesty writer like Erin Nicks freelances in the Ottawa Sun on Sundays only?

And I know it’s always easier to cut apart work somebody else put together, to analyze (read that as “slam mercilessly”) something rather than to write something original yourself.

It’s so much more reactive and passive; you wait until you see something you don’t like, and then you whip out the knife and go to town. Working this way, your positions are never up for debate; strategically, it’s easier, because by the nature of the criticism, you’re the one doing the attacking, and it’s the other guy who is scrambling to defend his positions.

But Strachan writes poorly-written (“It’s not just the Pronger line,” Sancho told me earlier. “He also wrote, ‘in today's National Hockey League, the off-ice developments are nowhere near as ideal as the off-ice developments.’ What does that mean? And I didn't know Edmonton had nine 'unconditional' free agents - is that different than 'unrestricted'? ”) unsubstantiated pulp on a regular basis.

For instance, earlier this season, he unloaded a baseless attack on Ed Belfour’s character, accusing the goalie of faking an injury with absolutely no proof whatsoever, suggesting that “the only thing hurt might be (the) Eagle’s pride.” A few days later, it was revealed that Belfour was done for the season, having a ruptured disk in his back seriously enough that he required surgery. Oops. Of course, Al was man enough to admit he was wrong in a future article, right?

(crickets chirping)

I don’t have the time or inclination to research and post all of Strachan’s egregious, ridiculous assertions, but I’m sure he'll groove me another creampuff or two to tee off on. In the near future.

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The Sun's popular initial choice
for Strachan's column photo

In interview this season, Strachan said, “I write what I believe.”

Me too, Al. I believe you’re the worst hockey writer in Canada.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


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As I wrote recently, there is some confusion surrounding the direction the team is taking with certain player personnel. Yesterday, the Toronto Sun attempted to pump John Ferguson Jr. for some much-needed information:

Regarding Tie Domi - is there any possibility the team might buy out his contract?

He remains a Maple Leaf, there is no change," Ferguson huffed. Of course, that doesn’t mean the situation can’t change, only that it hasn’t. Yet.

But don’t feel bad, Leaf fans - Pat Morris, Domi’s agent, told the Fan 590 yesterday that Ferguson has left him in the dark on Domi’s status as well.

“That idiot hasn’t said ‘boo’ to me,” Morris harrumphed. “I feel like beating him to death.”

Okay, okay, so Morris didn’t say that. I just thought it would be funny to write that. But still, Morris has no idea what the Leafs want with Domi, if anything.

Over to the McCabe Mishap, Ferguson reported that - there was nothing to report on McCabe’s contract status. Even though it was reported in the media as a done deal. Two weeks ago.

So - what’s the story, Fergie? Does McCabe want more money?

Did he want to see who will be coaching the Islanders before ruling them out as a possible destination?

Is McCabe’s wife actually wearing the pants in the family, as has been reported?

"I would not attempt to characterize the reason in any way," Ferguson grunted.

Swell. Everybody get that?

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...oh, god, this question sounds hard...

It turns out that the Sun managed to corner Ferguson yesterday after his return from a trip to Cleveland, where he was working through the Owen Nolan grievance hearing this week - oh yeah, that guy. Nolan wants the Leafs to pay him $10.3 million (US dollars) in lost salary, claiming that the Leafs misdiagnosed a knee injury. The grievance has been put on hold for now, and expected to resume in August. Any idea when that might be settled, Fergie?

“It could go on longer than August, it’s hard to say," Ferguson groused.

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A first rounder, Alyn McCauley, and Brad Boyes.
Hey, I'm just sayin'.

So - to summarize, Domi is still a Leaf, for now, McCabe cannot be "characterized" (what the hell does that mean?), and he has no idea when Owen Nolan’s robbery of, ahem, grievance against the Leafs might be sorted.

I wish I was making this up. Why does Ferguson talk to the media all?

“I'm not disclosed to bespeak any such information to you, nor would I, even if I had said information you want, at this juncture, be able.”

No, Fergie didn't say that. That's a line from Fight Club.

But I had you fooled for a second, didn't I?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Domi Buyout Caper

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It’s surprising that the Leaf story eating the most newspaper inches right now is whether or not the team will buy out the remainder of Tie Domi’s contract. Surprising, given that it’s been two weeks since the details of Brian McCabe’s contract were confirmed by both the team and player agent, but there has yet to be a traditional back-slapping official media announcement.

I wouldn’t put it past Ferguson to have leaked the Domi story in order to deflect media focus from the McCabe situation, which looks more like a fiasco with every passing day.

But back to Domi, the official buyout period begins tomorrow, June 15th, at which point, teams may offer a player 2/3rds of his remaining contract to go away.

Should the Leafs do it? Let’s start with some quick math:

Domi is scheduled to “earn” 1.25 million dollars for the 2006-2007 season. 2/3rds of the contract amounts to $833,333 raided from the coffers of MLSE to effect the buyout.

However, Steve Simmons reports that according to the new CBA, regardless of the buyout settlement, the total of Domi’s original contract would be applicable to the salary cap, spread over two seasons. That amounts to $625,000 per season.

Domi-less for the first time in twelve years, the Leafs would need to replace him with a body. Let’s assume for now that the team goes with somebody earning the league minimum, $450,000 for 2006-2007.

Domi’s cost for 06/07: $1,250,000.
Replacement minimum: 625,000 + 450,000 = $1,075,000.
Savings to the Leafs: $175,000.

Is it worth dumping Domi for pocket change? Simmons intimated that getting rid of Domi would probably upset Sundin.

Woo, did you hear that, Smithers? Sundin is mad at me! Sundin, Sundin!

But I have my doubts. Unless Simmons has a quote substantiating Sundin’s feelings, there is no reason to imagine he would be too upset with the loss of Domi. The only issue Sundin has griped about recently was his ice-time under Pat Quinn, and the need to re-sign McCabe. Paul Maurice decisively addressed the ice-time issue during his first official press conference, and the team seems to be doing what it can to secure McCabe. In general, Sundin cares about winning.

Can Tie help Sundin win?

Domi has been demonstrating an erosion of his abilities ever since his personal high-water mark of the 2002-2003 season, when he scored fifteen goals. He popped a Gretzky-like five this year.

That wouldn’t matter a whole lot if Domi was still beating opposition goons to a pulp if they dared to lay a finger on any of his teammates. Tie was once good for twenty or more dominating fights per season; this year, he dropped the gloves only seven times, the fewest of his career. And after seeing Brian McGrattan humiliate him with a single punch, it’s debatable that he should have danced this season at all.

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Until this punch, Rod Brind'Amour was
the ugliest player in the NHL.

Domi finished his season with a -10, one of the worst marks on the team. He played an average of 9:43 of ice-time per game, the lowest of Leaf regulars.

Leadership? Last summer, Domi carped publicly and bitterly to the newspapers when he felt John Ferguson Jr. low-balled him with a contract offer, and then threatened to sign with his golf-buddy Mario Lemieux until Larry Tanenbaum issued the order to give Domi what he wanted. Later this season, Domi complained publicly and vigorously when Pat Quinn dared to bench him, claiming the team needed his veteran stewardship to assist the Leafs’ aborted playoff hopes. In the 18 games following the trade deadline, Domi lit up the scoresheets with 2 points.

Wow - give the man the "C".

It’s possible to point to any other NHL roster and pick a player earning the league minimum who would be just as productive as Domi was this season. No, scratch that. It's possible to pick one from any team earning the minimum who would outperform Domi. Go ahead, pick a team. Guys who can get beaten to a pulp by Brian McGrattan and score five goals a year can be had anywhere, for a lot less than Domi’s salary. And at age 36, there is no reason to expect any improvement in his play next year. Hell, even Don Cherry toned down the calls for Domi to see first-line duty.

For what tangible reason should the Leafs keep Domi?

With respect to everything Domi has meant to the franchise, and it's been a lot, the time has come to bow out with class. If the Leafs mean so much to him, he has to realize it too. A teary press conference in front of a forest of microphones is in order, with Tie snuffling into a hankerchief, and a few mumbles grunted to reporters about how much playing for the Leafs defined who he was. Maybe with Wendel Clark standing supportively behind him. The whole ball of wax.

Yeah. That's how a Leaf hero should retire.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

So Long, Eddie

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Any day now, media outlets will report that the Toronto Maple Leafs have bought out the remainder of goaltender Eddie Belfour’s contract. With the buyout clause amounting to $1.52 million, it has been revealed that the Leafs can apply this groin-kickingly large sum to the salary cap over a two-year span. That’s just about the only positive detail a person can read in the incredible contract Belfour extorted from rookie GM John Ferguson Jr. over a barrel two years ago.

That’ll buy Eddie a truckload or two of wobbly pops. Either that, or an interest payment on the billion dollars he owes the Dallas police.

The buyout cornholing, combined with the original contract amount and Belfour’s performance this season tempts me to say good riddance to The Eagle, who on camera always looked to me as though he had just emerged from a ditch after a week-long bender.

But the fact is, this past season aside, Belfour is the greatest goalie I ever saw suit up in a Toronto uniform. That’s saying a lot, because in my time as a fan I’ve seen goalies like Fuhr play for the Leafs, and all-stars Potvin and Joseph carry the club through memorable playoff runs. All triumphant in their own way, but none of those guys carried the mystique that Belfour did.

I was lucky enough to see Belfour play in person twice. For a guy with a reputation for being an unreliable malcontent, I walked away flabbergasted by his unflappable command between the pipes. Perfect positioning, ice-cold demeanour, smothering rebound control, and tape-to-tape passes to his rushing defensemen - some things, you just know when you see them with your own eyes. Belfour was a franchise goalie extraordinaire, at the peak of his powers.

One of the games I witnessed was an action-packed playoff matchup against the Ottawa Senators that ended in a shutout for the Eagle - one of three he notched in an eye-popping 2004 playoff series. Forget Lalime’s seventh-game meltdown; the reason the Leafs won that series was because of Belfour’s sensational play. I’ll ignore for now that in the following series against Philadelphia, he became the Invisible Man. But in his defense, the Leafs were hurting, and let down as much by key misplays - I’m looking at you, McCabe - as anything Belfour did that series.

This summer, there are no Hall of Fame-bound goaltenders available for John Ferguson to back a dump truck of money up to. And despite millions in salary-cap space to spend on other positions, 2006-2007 could prove to be yet another lean year in four long decades of lean years.

Leaf fans can only pray that one day, another .90-calibre Pezzonavante like Eddie Belfour will swagger into the Air Canada Centre and carry their beloved hockey team to Stanley Cup glory.

Party on, Ed.

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McCabe Still Unsigned

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John Ferguson Junior’s two favourite words are, “no comment”, or any other non-committal statement designed to discourage reporter questioning. How’s Eddie’s back? “No comment at this time.” Did Allison ask you for more ice time? How are you today, John? “No comment.”

With this degree of institutional paranoia, Ferguson should be directing CSIS terror investigations.

So last week, when it was announced that Bryan McCabe had agreed to a new monster contract with the Leafs, there was no reason to think it was anything but a done deal. It was mentioned that the Leafs had scheduled a press conference to release the details of the signing, and both sides had confirmed the rumoured details of the contract.

But now, nearly a week later, there is still no official media release from the team. "The deal is not done," Ferguson grumped yesterday.

With his trademark transparency, when asked what was the frickin’ holdup, Ferguson replied:

"We continue to work towards the deal.”

The GM would not say what is holding up the agreement and when asked if there was a chance it won't get done, he declined to answer.

McCabe refused comment, and so did his agent.

What the hell does that mean?

It’s easy to begin speculating that the Board balked at the terms of McCabe’s contract and demanded a more cost-effective deal.

Considering that sources from both sides confirmed the contract details, and McCabe ejaculated in the papers in March about wanting to stay in town ("I love it here. I want to be here." *BLORT!*), it’s hard to place unconditional faith in Leaf management if they somehow managed to screw this up.

Unless it was McCabe himself who queered the deal with some bizarre, final demand: “I want a jet!”

The other rumour making the rounds is that McCabe’s wife, Roberta, wants to return to New York City.

If that one proves to be the ultimate reason for the deal falling through, I leave you with a quote from a wise man: “The lesson, as always, is that women ruin everything.”

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Wait - ruin everything?
I take it back.

My Fifty Mission Cap

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My clock-radio is set to activate the radio instead of the heart-attack inducing screech most alarms come equipped with, so the first thing I was aware of this morning was the sudden blare of the Tragically Hip, six inches from my ear. “Guh!”

"…the last goal he ever scored
won the Leafs the Cup
They didn't win another ‘till 1962,
the year…he was…DISCOVERED…"

Fifty Mission Cap. Why are they always playing that song, I wondered.

While I shaved, the DJ reminded me why they were spinning the tune.

On this date, in 1962, the body of Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bill Barilko was found amid the wreckage of the airplane he disappeared in eleven years earlier during a fishing trip.

Just like the song says, Barilko’s last, and best-known act as a Toronto Maple Leaf was to score the winning goal in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens to clinch the Stanley Cup, on April 21, 1951.

As final sporting moments go, Barilko’s goal rates Pantheon inclusion in the Last Act Hall of Fame.

Rest in peace, Bill. Flying into history as a twenty-three year old champ for all time.

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My Inaugural Post

Let me just start off by saying that I've never written a blog. I've never read a blog. I'm not even sure that I'm comfortable saying the word blog. It sounds vaguely offensive. Like if Argus told me a story about a guy he knew that had a feud with his neighbour and took a giant blog on the hood of said neighbour's car, it wouldn't surprise me. It also shouldn't surprise anyone that Argus actually told me this story. Somehow he always knows these crazy stories. He's the Ernest Hemingway of poop jokes. This one is supposedly true, and happened in January no less. And you thought scraping the ice off your windows was a pain in the neck.

I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to work hockey in here somewhere. Next post, I promise…


Friday, June 02, 2006

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