Spring Cottage Life Show

January 4, 2011

Wanna catch a great show? Come and visit, its a BLAST. I go every year and suggest you do too.

Whether you are looking for a boat, deck, dock, water toy or water system, there’s more than 475 exhibitors to enjoy. Plus, there’s dozens of free seminars, cooking demos, and feature areas to enjoy.

Friday, March 30: 11am-8pm
Saturday, March 31: 9am-6pm
Sunday, April 1: 10am-5pm

TOsports website is Down for Maintenance… We’re working on it and should be back soon, very soon!!

February 3, 2010

We got Hacked, yes Hacked! I guess now we’re in the same league as the FBI, BBC and Microsoft. Must be the work of a Sens or maybe even a Habs fan… the douchebag!!

Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames Strike a Deal For Dion Phaneuf

January 31, 2010

By Bryan Thiel… What exactly made today so special?

Why wasn’t it yesterday? Or tomorrow? Or a week from now?

It was none of them. It was today, Jan. 31st, that changed the Toronto Maple Leafs, hopefully for the better.

We’ll say hopefully because, in sports, you take nothing for granted because nothing is guaranteed.

In a pair of moves that turned Leafs Nation on its head, Brian Burke was able to go out and acquire a cornerstone defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, a fast defense-first forward in Fredrik Sjostrom, a burly defensive building block in Keith Aullie, and a goalie who brings legitimate starting experience to the team in Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Phone networks in Southwestern Ontario probably crashed this morning. Hungover 20-year-olds woke up and thought they were still “celebrating” from the night before.

The buzz on the streets was about the Leafs, but it was finally something positive after months of negativity.

Like everything, though, questions remain. So let’s get some answers.

Who is Dion Phaneuf going to play alongside in Toronto?

The great thing about this is that Phaneuf gives the Leafs options.

For one, he gives the power play that huge shot that was missing since Bryan McCabe was traded to Florida. Francois Beauchemin was supposed to provide that, but his shots haven’t finding the back of the net.

Case in point: Tomas Kaberle, the man who would be setting up Phaneuf’s mammoth shot, has more goals this season (five) than Beauchemin (four).

Phaneuf also has 10 goals already on the season. The outgoing Ian White had nine to lead Leafs defensemen, and before Phaneuf’s acquisition, the Leafs had just five double-digit goal scorers (outgoing Matt Stajan had 16). While only the New York Islanders (four) and New York Rangers (three) have fewer double-digiters, the goal scoring from the back end will be welcome.

Along with that, Phaneuf can line up alongside Luke Schenn and not only teach him the nuances of playing an physically imposing game but also provide the Leafs with (potentially) one of the most dangerous pairings in the NHL over the next few years.

Between Schenn, Phaneuf, and Mike Komisarek (whenever he gets back), the Leafs have muscle. Effective muscle.

What will Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s role be?

In Ron Wilson’s press conference this afternoon, he threw around the word “mentor” a lot, which is a good thing.

Now, instead of relying on a goalie who had never been a solo starter in another market and a goaltender spending his first year in a new league, Brian Burke went out and nabbed a starter who has a track record of excellence and helping along young netminders.

Wilson mentioned the fact that Giguere was the starting goalie when Ilya Bryzgalov and Jonas Hiller hit their peaks, and to a lesser extent he helped Martin Gerber along as well.

Now the Leafs are trying the combination of Giguere and Francois Allaire together to help get Jonas Gustavsson to that same level.

Who starts between the two of them?

That’ll be an interesting question to have answered. Remember, it was just Jan. 22nd when the Leafs announced that they’d be giving the bulk of the remaining games to Gustavsson , but that was before they brought in the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner.

Now? The likelihood is that, if time isn’t split, it’ll be eschewed a little heavier to Giggy, who has one more season at $7 million left on his contract after this one.

It also lowers the likelihood that Gustavsson’s re-signing will “break the bank” this season as so many people have assumed it would because:

A) Giguere’s deal eats up that extra $7 million in cap room (Remember Toskala was a free agent after this season) and;

B) Gustavsson has done little to earn anything that could help him afford the stars and moon.

What about the other guys that the Leafs are getting back?

From Calgary, the Leafs get one of the premier defensive forwards, penalty killers, and fastest skaters in Fredrik Sjostrom. In Ron Wilson’s own words: “He could probably come in today and be the fastest guy on our team.”

Although many are complaining about the fact that the Leafs’ lost four forwards in trades today and only got one back, Sjostrom won’t really impact the offense.

A bit of expanded ice time could see him broach the 20-25 point plateau once again, but overall he’ll be expected to help the league’s worst penalty kill and keep the puck out of the net.

Sidenote: For the second-straight season the Leafs will become the first team to allow 200 goals on the season. The next closest team this year? Edmonton at 180 allowed.

Keith Aulie will give the Leafs organizational depth at defense, a talented prospect, and even more size.

The 6′6″, 217-pound defenseman won’t offer much in the scoring department, but he’s got great size and character (he was a two-time Scholastic Player of the Year in the WHL and captained the Brandon Wheat Kings last season).

While most will be excited about the acquisition of Phaneuf, Aulie is the name in this deal that could turn heads down the road. At just 20 years old, Aulie has a ton of opportunity and won’t be rushed through Toronto’s system thanks to a wealth of NHL defenders.

Toronto had to have fleeced both the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames in these deals, right?

While that’s probably the popular thought amongst many Leaf fans right now, it may not be necessarily true.

Consider the fact that Matt Stajan was miscast in Toronto as a first line centre thanks to necessity. In fact, Stajan goes to the Flames as their second-leading scorer behind Jarome Iginla, and his 51.6 percent success on faceoffs is tops on the team, overlooking rookie Michael Backlund’s limited sample (three games).

The Leafs also lost a very underrated scorer in Nik Hagman. The Flames pick up a guy who will strengthen their offensive attack and could hit the 30-goal mark this year. Hagman is also 10 points away from re-establishing his career-high in points for a third straight season, and at 30, he can still be a key piece for the Flames for a few seasons.

A few weeks ago we talked about Ian White being the most affordable 30-point defenseman in the league, as he immediately becomes the Flames’ top-scoring defenseman.

Jamal Mayers wanted out, so the fact that he goes to a potential playoff team could light a fire under his game, while that would give him a shot at a Stanley Cup later in his career.

As far as the Anaheim deal goes, the Leafs were able to get something for Vesa Toskala, who’ll get a new lease on his career and try to re-invent himself as the backup to Jonas Hiller. He also returns to the Pacific Division, where he had the most successful run of his career with the San Jose Sharks.

For Jason Blake, he gets his release from—what has to be—one of the most stressful situations of his career. Since he signed with Toronto, the expectations were always high because of the fact he was coming off of a 40-goal season and coming in with a $4 million cap hit.

Unfortunately for Blake, if he was in Toronto under, say, a $2.5 million contract, things may have been different for him.

Who are the winners and who are the losers?

In a way, each team wins.

Calgary frees themselves from Dion Phaneuf’s contract while offsetting the offensive loss on the blueline (slightly) and providing depth up front.

Anaheim ensures that they’re not trapped with two highly paid goalies after signing Jonas Hiller to an extension on Saturday while getting some lower-line, veteran help in Jason Blake.

And Toronto? Well they get another defenseman to build around, setting up a formidable top four, a goalie who could rediscover his mojo to become dynamic, and shaken up a roster that could use something to light their fire.

They also get the chance to integrate a few more guys in the lineup up front (the names of Rickard Wallin and Jonh Mitchell have been thrown about) and call up a few players to get them some NHL minutes.

What’s the best thing to come out of this deal?

The fact that Leaf fans can now use jokes featuring the words “Finger” and “Giggy” and have them reference hockey.

Chris Bosh: No, He’s Not Leaving the Raptors!

January 30, 2010

by Stephen Brotherston… Through the first two months of the season, there was constant speculation that Chris Bosh was on his way out of Toronto. Speculation that ran rampant, despite Bryan Colangelo’s statements that he intended to re-sign Chris at the end of this season.

But the rumours persisted.

Authors wrote that Bosh would not want to remain in the oft-ignored, frozen wasteland north of the U.S. border, that all players had become frustrated with the hardships of U.S. Customs, and, of course, that Bosh was on his way south to join up with James, Wade, Howard, or Bryant to form the next NBA dynasty.

Of course, these rumors largely ignored logic.

Chris Bosh is part of the class of free agents who are expected to be offered maximum contracts by their current team—contracts worth at least $30 million more than any other suitor is in a position to offer.

The logical expectation should have always been that Chris Bosh is not going anywhere !

In a recent interview with Michael Grange of The Globe and Mail , both Bosh and Bryan Colangelo confirmed the obvious.

When Bosh was asked if he expected to be traded, “I doubt it.”

Asked if he wanted to be dealt, “No, no, no, no.”

When Bryan Colangelo was asked about his intentions with Bosh, “I have no intention to move him, and have absolutely every intention to keep him long term.”

When Colangelo was asked if the Raptors owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), were willing to become a luxury tax-paying team, he replied, “They want to win and they’re committed.”

MLSE was a tax-paying team in the years after the Raptors had their first playoff run with Vince Carter. The Raptors were willing to pay whatever it took to keep that team together and bring in more talent. Just because that didn’t work out as planned is no reason to believe the owners won’t do it again now.

For all those who believed Bosh was going to be traded because the Raptors just were not a good enough team this season, try to remember the 2006-07 Raptors that brought in nine new players and were 22-22 in January after a rough 7-13 start, just like the current team.

Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors management believed that these Raptors could win 50 games ! This season’s roster changes were eerily similar to the changes made by Colangelo in 2006-07, which leads some to believe that the Raptors will bounce back for a 47-win season again.

If one looks around at the major basketball sites now, the rumors of Bosh leaving are drying up as quickly as the Raptors’ scores in games. Media are now focused on players like Amare Stoudemire, Andre Iguodala, and Caron Butler.

One can safely believe Bosh will still be with the Raptors in April and will likely still be with the team for many years to come.

Brothersteve’s Green & Red Raptor Blog

Do the Olympics Impact the Stanley Cup?

January 23, 2010

by Jeremy Gibson… In 1998 the International Ice Hockey Federation and the National Hockey League came together to forge a bold new initiative – allow NHL players to participate in the Olympic Games. For many this was a dream scenario. Fans loved the idea of witnessing a best-against-best world tournament, something not seen since the NHLPA fabricated Canada/World Cup series. For players, it was an opportunity to represent their country on the grandest stage in sports, and play for a prize that very few hockey players own – an Olympic gold medal. For Canadians, it represented our best shot to reclaim Olympic hockey glory, a feat not accomplished since 1952.

But there were other groups who were not as thrilled about the NHL’s participation. For NHL coaches, trainers, and general managers, the “dream” initiative brought with it a number of new difficulties during the course of the season. One such challenge was a compressed schedule, caused by the league shutting down for three weeks in February to accommodate the Games. Suddenly an 82 game season was squeezed into a 24-week stretch instead of the customary 27-weeks. Fewer off days meant fewer practices and a higher level of fatigue. A second impact was the addition of more games to the schedule for those elite players who would represent their countries. Additional games would substantially increase the risk of injury to the players that teams could least afford to lose. Finally, the Olympics posed a psychological challenge to NHL clubs in two ways: would a three week layoff impact momentum for teams or players, and would players experience a letdown upon their return to the NHL? Playing in a gold medal game in front of hundreds-of-millions of viewers is obviously much more thrilling than playing in Atlanta on a Wednesday night in front of a few thousand.

With the NHL on the verge of shutting down for its fourth Olympic Games, the debate still rages today about whether the league’s involvement is good or bad. There’s no doubt the excitement level and buzz around hockey is second-to-none these days, but what if the Olympics threatened a team’s chances to win the Stanley Cup? Would the excitement abate?

To see if the Olympic Games have had any impact on NHL teams, I studied data from the three past Olympic years (1998, 2002, and 2006). Looking at each country’s Olympic roster I was able to determine how many players each NHL team sent to the Olympic Games from its active roster. Then I analyzed where each team finished in the NHL standings and how they performed in the playoffs. The hope was to determine if a 3-week NHL shutdown, a compressed schedule, and extra games for a large number of players in any way impacted the prospects an NHL team had of winning the Cup. The table below summarizes the findings, showing the teams that sent the most players to the Games. For comparative purposes the Stanley Cup finalists are shown in grey.

1998 - Nagano Olympics

Rank

Team

Olympic Players

Regular Season

Playoffs

1

Philadelphia Flyers

9

3rd - East

Lost 1st Round

T2

Colorado Avalanche

8

4th - West

Lost 1st Round

T2

Pittsburgh Penguins

8

2nd - East

Lost 1st Round

4

Chicago Blackhawks

7

9th - West

-

T5

Anaheim Ducks

6

12th - West

-

T5

New York Rangers

6

11th - East

-

T13

Detroit Red Wings

4

2nd - West

Won Cup

T21

Washington Capitals

2

4th - East

Lost Cup Final

2002 - Salt Lake City Olympics

Rank

Team

Olympic Players

Regular Season

Playoffs

1

Detroit Red Wings

10

1st - West

Won Cup

T2

Colorado Avalanche

7

2nd - West

Final Four

T2

New York Rangers

7

11th - East

-

T2

Toronto Maple Leafs

7

4th - East

Final Four

T4

Chicago Blackhawks

6

5th - West

Lost 1st Round

T4

Edmonton Oilers

6

9th - West

-

T4

Philadelphia Flyers

6

2nd - East

Lost 1st Round

T4

Pittsburgh Penguins

6

12th - East

-

T4

San Jose Sharks

6

3rd - West

Lost 2nd Round

T23

Carolina Hurricanes

2

3rd - East

Lost Cup Final

2006 - Turin Olympics

Rank

Team

Olympic Players

Regular Season

Playoffs

1

Colorado Avalanche

11

7th - West

Lost 2nd Round

T2

Detroit Red Wings

9

1st - West

Lost 1st Round

T2

New York Rangers

9

6th - East

Lost 1st Round

T2

Philadelphia Flyers

9

5th - East

Lost 1st Round

T5

Ottawa Senators

8

1st - East

Lost 2nd Round

T5

Vancouver Canucks

8

9th - West

-

T25

Carolina Hurricanes

3

2nd - East

Won Cup

T25

Edmonton Oilers

3

8th - West

Lost Cup Final

There is an obvious pattern in both 1998 and 2006. In ‘98, of the six teams that sent the most players from their active rosters to the Games, three missed the playoffs and three lost in the first round. More stunning is the fact that all three first round losers were legitimate Cup contenders, stocked full of superstars such as Eric Lindros, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, and NHL scoring champion Jaromir Jagr. Those teams combined to send a total of 25 players to Japan, and maybe it was the added competition that aided their downfall. On the other hand, the eventual Cup final pitted Detroit against Washington. While both had very good regular seasons, neither team ranked in the top half of players sent to the Olympics. Perhaps the relatively fresh legs helped them in their respective runs.

The same story played out in 2006, with the top player providers falling victim to an early playoff exit. This time the eliminations were more pronounced with the top seeds in each conference failing to make it past the second round. Detroit, who sent nine players to Italy, was stunned by the 8th seeded Edmonton Oilers, while Ottawa, a provider of eight players to the Games, fell to Buffalo in round two. In fact, none of the six top Olympic roster providers tasted playoff success, as all six failed to advance to the conference finals. And again, just like 1998, the last teams standing were comprised of mostly non-Olympians. Only six Hurricanes and Oilers went to Turin, or about half of what Colorado provided on its own. Armed with a bonus three-week mid-season break, those teams appeared to have more gas in the tank in April and beyond.

The 2002 season, however, tells a different story. Two aging Detroit Red Wing superstars, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman, helped Canada erase 50 years of Olympic hockey futility, outlasting the USA in the gold medal game. That American team had two of its own aging Detroit Red Wing superstars – Brett Hull and Chris Chelios. Six other Red Wings participated in the Salt Lake Games: Dominik Hasek, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Fredrik Olausson, and Tomas Holmstrom. Most of those players were on the downside of their careers. Yet that Red Wing team, full of veterans, survived the Games and went on to become Stanley Cup Champions. Similarly, Colorado and Toronto (yes, the Leafs!), both in the top four Olympic providers, made the conference finals. In other words, what happened in 2002 was almost the exact opposite of what happened in ’98 and ’06.

But consider where the Games were played that year, and the results do not seem as surprising. While the 1998 and 2006 Olympics were in Asia and Europe, 2002 took place in Salt Lake City, meaning the Olympians avoided the travel, the time change adjustment, and the culture shock that greeted athletes in Nagano and Turin. There was no need to acclimatize to a different country, play the tournament, and then re-acclimatize to life in North America – all in a few weeks. Athletes are very routine-oriented, with strict fitness and nutrition programs during a season. Playing in North America meant only minimal interruption to those routines. Not only does this help explain the success of Detroit, Toronto, and Colorado in 2002, it also gives some hope to the San Jose Sharks this season.

Barring injuries, this is the breakdown of NHL club participation for the Olympics in Vancouver:

2010 - Vancouver Olympics

Rank

Team

Olympic Players

1

San Jose Sharks

8

T2

Detroit Red Wings

7

T2

Anaheim Ducks

7

T2

Vancouver Canucks

7

T5

Chicago Blackhawks

6

T5

New Jersey Devils

6

T5

5 other teams

6

Detroit has been hit hard by injuries, and is currently on the outside looking in at a playoff spot. Anaheim is currently sitting 11th in the Western Conference, and barring a late season run, is unlikely to make the postseason. Vancouver, while certainly a contender, has an extremely difficult quest ahead. Not only are they sending seven players to the Olympics, they are also being forced out of their home by the Games with an NHL record 14 game road trip from late January until mid-March. Surviving that would be nothing short of miraculous.

So that leaves the Sharks, Blackhawks, and Devils, currently 1st, 2nd, and 4th overall in the NHL standings, as the contenders being most impacted. San Jose, with its vast array of playoff failures weighing heavier by the year, has the most to lose. Anything but a deep playoff run, if not a Stanley Cup championship, and the season is another failure. But Chicago and New Jersey also have to hope that the Vancouver Olympics follows the script written in Salt Lake. Both are sending key components of their teams to the Games.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you are looking for a team to be the next Carolina Hurricanes and advance to the Stanley Cup Final with an Olympian-light roster, there are two candidates: the New York Rangers (4 players) and the Calgary Flames (3 players). Both have teams capable of making noise in the playoffs and both will be relatively rested come April. A strong playoff run by the Flames and Calgarians will be thanking Steve Yzerman for leaving Regehr, Phaneuf, and Bouwmeester off the Canadian team.

Of course there are flaws with the theory – it is a very small sample set, and many more factors contribute to who wins the Stanley Cup – but it does appear that the Olympics has been an issue for several teams in the past. When held overseas, the NHL teams with the fewest participants benefit the most. When held in North America, teams with the greatest number of participants seem to reap the greatest reward. It will be up to San Jose, Chicago, or New Jersey to prove the theory again in Vancouver.

To read more from Jeremy Gibson check out his blog postings at www.fadoo.ca.

Dream or Reality: Could Ilya Kovalchuk Actually Become a Toronto Maple Leaf?

January 21, 2010

by Jon Neely… It’s a question that most teams are asking themselves these days, ever since the Atlanta Thrashers and their superstar, Ilya Kovalchuk, have been rumoured to be extremely far apart on a new contract extension.

Could Kovalchuk actually be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Of course, not every team is asking themselves if he would go to the Leafs, but you know what I mean; there isn’t a single team in the league who wouldn’t want the Russian sniper suiting up for them.

But when it comes to the Leafs, and more importantly Brian Burke, the question is do they actually have the personnel it would take to snag Kovalchuk? It’s possible, sort of, but a lot would have to happen before they could even consider it.

First of all, Burke must decide who is staying with the Leafs after the season and who is leaving town. Two big names that are certainly on the top of the Leafs re-sign list have got to be Jonas Gustavsson and Ian White. Both are young players not yet in their prime, and both will be looking for a pay raise if they’re to stick around.

Re-signing those two players to bigger contracts means less money in the pot for Kovalchuk, who is looking for a contract in the 10-year, $100 million range, but there is no shortage of ways the Leafs will save money at the end of this season.

Vesa Toskala’s $4 million contract runs out at the end of this season, as does the oft-injured Mike Van Ryn’s $2.9 million contract. Throw in Matt Stajan ($1.75 million), Alexei Ponikarovski ($2.1 million), and Lee Stempniak ($2.5 million) all coming to the end of their contracts, and it’s clear the Leafs have the opportunity to let players go and free up over $12 million in cap space.

Obviously they’ll have to use some of that money to either re-sign those players or pay new additions, as well as consider the salary cap dropping next season, but it looks as if the Leafs could cough up enough dough to pay the goal-scoring assassin.

Another issue they face, and quite frankly the biggest one, is who they would give up in a trade to acquire Kovalchuk.

And we’ll start with the one guy everyone thinks about when the word “trade” is said in Toronto: Tomas Kaberle. He would have to be in a deal, no questions asked, which is a major issue because he has that ever-popular no-trade clause in his contract.

And if he’s going to be asked to waive it, you would hardly think Atlanta would be a place he’d want to go. Actually, let me answer that for him. There is no way Kaberle would want to play in Georgia—because really, most people there aren’t even aware they have a team!

But if Burke somehow convinced him to waive the no-trade, whether with the use of drugs or not, another issue would remain—the Leafs have no valuable draft picks this year or next, and you know the asking price would include at least one first-round pick.

That is a problem, since Burke gave up the Leafs 2010 first and second-round pick along with the first-rounder in 2011 for Phil Kessel. So unless Burke unloads the Leafs third-round picks for the next 13 seasons, they’re beat in that sense.

So, for the purpose of this article having any point, we’ll just say that Kaberle accepts a trade to Atlanta, and they don’t ask for a draft pick (yeah, right). The Leafs would still need to give up more if they were even to get a sniff at Kovalchuk.

Some offense, of course, probably in the form of Niklas Hagman or Jason Blake (or both) as well as at least one prospect. That prospect could be Viktor Stalberg, or one of the many other young men who haven’t stepped foot on the ice for the Leafs yet, like Chris DiDominico.

So if the Leafs were to make a trade along the lines of Kaberle, Hagman, Stalberg, and another prospect, it could be possible, although there will most likely be much better offers from other teams dangling those beloved first-round picks.

All in all, Burke would have to work some serious magic to make this trade happen before the trade deadline in March, and though it’s highly unlikely he would come to the Leafs, it’s still possible.

He’s arguably the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL right now, with a lethal shot and untouchable speed, who would be worth giving up almost any player in on your team for, especially when it comes to teams like the Leafs.

But since this story is far from over, fans in Toronto will have to wait and see what happens in this latest superstar contract saga. But even if it’s just a small glimmer of hope for fans to see Kovalchuk in blue and white before season’s end, the image of having a first line consisting of him and Kessel, two snipers, is only going to get stronger as the trade deadline gets closer.

It’s likely a dream never to come true in Leaf Nation, but like so many other stories to come and go, the talk will not stop until Kovalchuk is shaking hands at a press conference, either in Atlanta or somewhere else.

Team Canada II: What If Canada Sent a Second Hockey Team?

January 18, 2010

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… For years, many Canadian fans have debated whether Canada could send more than one team to the Olympics and be successful. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to draft Team Canada II.

Obviously, any and all players chosen by Steve Yzerman and Co. are off the table. That said, Canada is deep in talent at every conceivable position, so there will be no problem drafting a second team.

For the purposes of this exercise I will draft 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. Much like Team Canada itself, I will put an emphasis on building a “team,” not simply throwing out the players with the best statistics.

Criteria for the players will include, offensive stats, plus/minus rating, face-off percentages, checking abilities, special teams ability, skating, past participation in the program/Olympics, speed, and leadership.

Goalies:

Cam Ward: Through 30 games, Ward has a record of 9-15-5, posting a 2.88 goals against average and a .907 save percentage, not bad considering your team (Carolina Hurricanes) is sitting with a 14-24-7 record.

The Hurricanes are ranked 29th overall in both goals for and goals against, leading me to believe that, despite his team’s misfortunes, Ward’s numbers are solid.

Ward is a former Stanley Cup winner (2005-06) and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner (2005-06) to boot. He is more than capable of stealing a game and he has the ability to get hot in stretches—as seen in the 2008-09 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Ward most recently represented Canada at the 2006-07 and 2007-08 World Cup, winning gold in 2007 and silver in 2008. Ward posted combined totals of nine wins and one loss with a 2.39 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

When everything is all said and done, Ward gets the nod as Team Canada II’s starting goalie.

Dwayne Roloson: With a record of 18-7-6 through 31 games with the New York Islanders, Roloson, who just might be the NHL’s most underrated goaltender, is a must-have for Team Canada II.

The Islanders have a 20-19-6 record on the season; the fact that Roloson has accounted for 18 of those wins is phenomenal. Simple math tells us that Roloson has started in goal for 90 percent of his team’s wins.

With a save percentage of .913, Roloson ranks fourth overall, his 2.70 goals against average ranks him seventh overall, making Roloson a prime candidate to assume the No. 2—if not No. 1 goaltending assignment for Team Canada II.

Forwards:

Left Wing-                Centre-                       Right Wing-

Mike Cammalleri     Steven Stamkos       Shane Doan
Patrick Sharp           Vincent Lecavalier   Nathan Horton
Alex Burrows           Jeff Carter                 Brad Richards
Ryan Smyth             Jordan Staal              Scottie Upshall

The first line of Mike Cammalleri, Steven Stamkos, and Shane Doan combines grit (Doan), scoring prowess (Stamkos) and the ability to create offense (Cammalleri).

Stamkos, while young, has already established himself as an elite NHL player, and with the additions of veterans Doan and Cammalleri, would be capable of leading Team Canada II offensively.

The second line of Patrick Sharp, Vincent Lecavalier and Nathan Horton combines hard work (Sharp), scoring ability (Lecavalier & Horton) and grit (Horton). Sharp, Lecavalier and Horton all have their fair share of supporters and critics; I am relying on their Canadian pride, heart, and integrity to get them through, emerging as a solid unit rather than individual players.

The third line of Alex Burrows, Jeff Carter, and Brad Richards is capable of providing offense and shutting the opposition down. All three players are comfortable on any line and in any situation. It is this versatility that makes this line so important.

The fourth line of Ryan Smyth, Jordan Staal, and Scottie Upshall would be an absolute nightmare to compete against.

Smyth, Staal and Upshall represent three of the hardest working players in the entire NHL and, much like the third liners, are not opposed to playing on any line and/or in any situation.

Other Notables: Dustin Penner, Mike Knuble, Wayne Simmonds, Mason Raymond, Kris Versteeg, Rene Bourque

Defensemen

Mike Green                    Dion Phaneuf
Jay Bouwmeester        Rob Blake
Willie Mitchell                Marc Staal
Kyle Quincey

Other Notables: Ed Jovanovski, Cam Barker, Jeff Shultz, Brian Campbell

Blessed with speed, power, scoring ability and leadership, Team Canada II looks good on the back end with the likes of Mike Green, Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, Rob Blake, Willie Mitchell, Marc Staal, and Kyle Quincey leading the way.

Green and Phaneuf bring a great combination of size, skill and offensive ability, while Bouwmeester and Blake bring great skating ability (Bouwmeester), size and leadership (Blake).

Willie Mitchell and Marc Staal would be tasked with shutting down the opposition while Kyle Quincey can fill just about any role in the event that there is an injury.

Power Play:

1st unit:

Cammalleri—Stamkos—Horton

Green—Phaneuf

2nd unit:

Sharp—Lecavalier—Carter

Blake—Bouwmeester

Penalty Kill:

1st unit:

Smyth—Staal—

Staal—Mitchell

2nd unit:

Doan—Upshall

Phaneuf—Bouwmeester

As with any tournament, special teams are going to be a huge factor in any teams success at the Olympics. As such, I chose the power play units with an emphasis put on scoring goals and offensive creativity.

Alternatively, the penalty kill units were put together with the sole purpose of shutting down the opposition in mind. Both Brad Richards and Jordan Staal have a reputation for scoring short-handed goals, which, while not a huge factor in my selections, will give the opposition something to think about nonetheless.

There you have it, Team Canada II. Disagree with my selections? Left somebody out? There are bound to be 50 different takes on this list, all of them legitimate in their own way. Let me hear your opinions in the comment box!

Until next time,

Peace!

So Far So Good For Alex Anthopoulos

January 10, 2010

by Jeremy Gibson…  When 32-year old Alex Anthopoulos became the fifth general manager in Toronto Blue Jays history, it came with little fanfare. Most of the media attention focused not on who was hired, but on who was fired – the much maligned JP Ricciardi. Ricciardi was hired in 2001 to restore the Blue Jays to their winning ways. Despite his efforts, his failure to produce a playoff spot lead to his dismissal, and at the same time brought out the vultures to second guess his every move. The team that he leaves behind is probably the weakest Blue Jays club since he took over eight years ago.

The squad that Anthopoulos inherited on October 3rd was not good enough at the major league level, thin at the minor league level, and faced two major concerns: a dwindling fan base, and the impending exit of their franchise player. Roy Halladay is likely the greatest player the Blue Jays have ever produced – an outstanding athlete, a hard worker, a positive influence on teammates, and a model citizen. But above all he is a winner, and with Toronto unable to offer him a realistic opportunity at the post-season he was not going to return after his contract expired. In the summer, Ricciardi alienated and angered his star player by hanging him out to dry during trade talks. Anthopoulos had to be careful to not do the same. Not exactly the greatest welcoming gift.

It is impossible to judge how well a general manager has fared until the games on the field are played. For Anthopoulos it will take a few years to see the true picture of his accomplishments this winter, as all depends on the successful development on acquired prospects. But on paper, the first three months of his tenure have been a success, equally in terms of the moves he has made, and those he has avoided.

The Moves He Made

The Halladay Deal

Roy Halladay to Philadelphia for Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis D’Arnaud. Michael Taylor to Oakland for Brett Wallace

It’s difficult to picture a more daunting task than what confronted Alex Anthopoulos upon his coronation as Jays GM: trade Roy Halladay. Accomplishing a trade is difficult enough in modern sport, but the Halladay deal added three further complexities:

  1. The need to appease Halladay, who had a full no-trade clause, was upset with the way Ricciardi treated him in the summer, preferred a contender, and deserved to be treated with utmost respect.
  2. The need to appease the fans already jaded after last year’s debacle of a season.
  3. Trying to get full value for Halladay when every team in baseball knew full well that a trade had to happen.

With that in mind, it is amazing that Anthopoulos was able to pick up the prospects that he did. Think back to the summer when Ricciardi was negotiating with the Phillies. He would not trade Halladay unless 22-year old pitching phenom Kyle Drabek was part of the return package. Philadelphia balked and the trade died. Yet when Anthopoulos released the names of the players acquired from the Phillies, who topped the list? 22-year old pitching phenom Kyle Drabek.

By expanding the deal to include Seattle, Anthopoulos ensured that the Phillies received solid prospects, thus restocking their system to help offset the loss of Drabek. Ricciardi was not able to accomplish that in the summer, through lack of time or effort. In addition to Drabek, Toronto acquired Michael Taylor and Travis D’Arnaud, Philadelphia’s 3rd and 4th highest rated prospects according to Baseball America. D’Arnaud joins JP Arencibia as Toronto’s catchers of the future, giving them a very solid outlook behind the plate. Taylor was subsequently flipped to Oakland for Brett Wallace, a power hitting corner infielder and one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Wallace was traded virtually straight up for slugger Matt Holliday last summer, giving an indication of his value.

In a perfect world Halladay would have remained a Jay. But a perfect world it is not, and with his hands tied, Anthopoulos made out like a bandit. While the true value of the acquired prospects won’t be known for several years, ending up with three of the top prospects in the game sets Toronto up well for the future.

Brandon for Brandon

Brandon League and minor leaguer Johemyn Chavez to Seattle for Brandon Morrow

Brandon League was Toronto’s closer of the future, complete with electric stuff and a menacing, tattooed appearance. The problem for League and the Jays was that he was also Toronto’s closer of the future back in 2004, 2005, 2006, etc. He was never able to harness his vast potential in a Blue Jays uniform. Last year was his most complete season, with 76 strikeouts in 74.2 innings pitched. But he also sported a 3-6 record, blew three saves in three attempts, surrendered eight home runs, had an unsightly 4.58 ERA, and ranked 6th in the American League with nine wild pitches. He was as maddeningly inconsistent as ever, and it was clear he was never going to be anointed Toronto’s closer.

Maddeningly inconsistent also describes Seattle’s handling of Brandon Morrow. Drafted 5th overall by Seattle in 2006, Morrow had the tools to become a dominant starting pitcher. However, in 2007 Seattle promoted him to the major leagues as a reliever. In 2008 he filled in for injured closer JJ Putz, and finished a solid 10/12 in save opportunities, seemingly finding a place in the bullpen. But upon Putz’s return, Morrow’s career stuttered. The Mariners shifted him to the rotation to finish ’08, then moved him back to the bullpen to begin 2009, before once again converting him to a starter at the end of last season. His numbers dipped as a result of all the changes, but he finished strong, with eight shutout innings of one-hit ball in his final start.

Most telling about Morrow was the fact Seattle fought hard to hang on to him in the Halladay trade talks, preferring to part with top pitching prospect Philiipe Aumont instead. The fact that Anthopoulos was able to pry him from the Mariners is impressive, as is Toronto’s potential top three starters in 2010: Shaun Marcum. Ricky Romero, and Morrow. A great trade by the new GM.

The Shortstop Situation

Signed Alex Gonzalez (1 year, $2.75M), re-signed John McDonald (2 years, $3M), did not re-sign Marco Scutaro (received two compensatory draft picks from Boston)

The initial reaction on hearing about the signing of Alex Gonzalez was disappointment. Though he slugged 23 home runs for Florida in 2004, he is traditionally a weak hitter who can’t get on base and strikes out too much (career .247 avg, .294 OBP, nearly 4 strikeouts per walk). Paired with Johnny Mac, Toronto now had two all-glove/no-bat shortstops. The signing also signaled the end of the Marco Scutaro era.

But hearing Anthopoulos explain the rationale behind the signing, as reported by Will Hill of tsn.ca, brightens the picture substantially. Toronto quite possibly has the best 1-2 defensive punch at short – if not in baseball, then definitely in the AL East. Toronto also has one of the youngest pitching rotations in the league now that Halladay is gone. Take your pick from the following: Morrow (25 years old), Marcum (28), Romero (25), Litsch (24), Cecil (23), (24), McGowan (27), or Purcey (27). Not only are those pitchers young in terms of age, they are also babies in terms of major league experience. With immaturity and inexperience comes fragility, especially in confidence. Nothing shatters confidence more than weak ground balls skipping to the outfield, botched double plays, or inaccurate throws to first allowing base runners. When things go awry defensively, young pitchers have a tendency to try and strike every batter out, leading to further trouble both mentally and on the scoreboard. By keeping the infield defense airtight, Toronto is only going to help build the confidence of these young pitchers, not destroy it. Re-signing a 34-year old shortstop coming off a career year with average to below-average defense to a multi-year/multi-million dollar contract would have been ill-advised. Kudos to Anthopoulos for recognizing this and accepting the two compensatory draft picks to help build for the future.

The Moves He Avoided

Overbay for Snyder

Catcher has been a revolving door for the Blue Jays since the days of Ernie Whitt and Pat Borders. Many different players have crouched behind Toronto’s plate in the last several years, including Darrin Fletcher, Benito Santiago, Bengie Molina, Kevin Cash, Guillermo Quiroz, Rod Barajas and Raul Chavez. Though Barajas hit 19 HR last season, his .226 batting average and horrific .258 on-base-percentage were among the worst in all of baseball. The decision to let him leave as a free agent was not surprising. What was surprising was the rampant rumour that Toronto was on the verge of acquiring Chris Snyder from the Arizona Diamondbacks for first baseman Lyle Overbay.

It is no secret that Overbay is not the player he was in 2006, his first season in Toronto, likely the result of a hand injury suffered a few seasons ago. But over the past three seasons his slugging percentage, on-base-percentage, doubles, and home runs have actually increased each year, and he still plays a serviceable first base. Chris Snyder gets on base much more frequently than Barajas did, but hits for a lower batting average and only slightly more power. He is often injured, including a gruesome testicle injury that made him the punch line of many pop culture jokes, and an ongoing back problem that saw him miss over 100 games last season.

With JP Arencibia and now Travis D’Arnaud on the way, Toronto needs a stopgap catcher for one or two seasons, not a long term addition. With Brett Wallace and possibly David Cooper still a few seasons away from providing first and/or third base help, the Jays still need a competent first baseman. Trading Overbay would force either Adam Lind to play first or the premature major league promotion of Wallace – two options that would do more harm than good. By signing John Buck to a one-year contract and hanging on to Overbay, Anthopoulos made the right move.

Jason Bay

When rumours surfaced in the Toronto Star in late November that the Blue Jays were a potential landing spot for Jason Bay, one name instantly came to mind: Corey Koskie. JP Ricciardi was three years into his reign as GM when he signed Koskie. What better way to appeal yourself to your fan base than by making a big money free-agent splash, signing a Canadian to give fans a new native son to support. Of course, Koskie flamed out spectacularly as a Jay, and was gone one year later.

It is safe to assume that Bay’s career will not flame out, but Toronto signing him was a move that did not make sense. Having a 31-year old power hitting outfielder (and a Canadian at that) in the middle of the lineup is always good, but having 20-25% of your payroll tied up with one player is not. For a rebuilding team, a huge free agent splash is very risky, and for a team that is three or four years away from contention (as Toronto likely is) it is ill-advised. By the time Toronto’s prospects would have been ready to make an impact at the big league level, Bay’s contract would have been expiring. In addition the $16-million-plus a season would have severely crippled Toronto’s payroll flexibility. It was a move that reeked of desperation to sell tickets, a move designed to give young fans a new Canadian hero. It would not have helped the team in the long term. Let’s be thankful that Anthopoulos listened to his baseball smarts and not his marketing department.

Raps Sneak Out With A Win

January 9, 2010

by Jeremy Visser… Philadelphia took Roy Halladay, so the least they could give us is the Sixers. Actually, we pretty much own them already. The Raps recovered from a rough start and held off a late rally, using a three-point play from Chris Bosh in the waning seconds to come away with a 108-106 road win.

Despite being down 13 early in the third, I had a feeling this one was coming our way in the long run. Sure enough, the Raptors capitalized on Andre Iguodala’s decision to unsuccessfully prove himself a jump shooter and some all-around ugly Sixer basketball in the quarter to swing the momentum going into the fourth, where Bosh and Andrea Bargnani had nice showings to help escape with the win. Bargnani, who finished with 23 points, made a handful of key shots in the quarter and had a clutch block in the final minute with Toronto up two and Philly in transition. Bosh had team-highs of 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

All five Philly starters finished in double digits, with LOOOOUU Williams (not to be mistaken with Lou Maxton Graham, producer of Scarsdale Surprise) leading the way with 23 and a washed-up Allen Iverson chipping in 22. Iguodala came up a dime short of a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 11 boards and nine assists, and Thaddeus Young still managed 18 and 13 despite missing about 28 shots off the front of the rim alone.

It wasn’t easy, but I’ll take any win, especially on the road. After a bit of a defensive hiccup in the first half, the Raps settled down and made life a bit difficult in the final 24 — something they’ve been doing a lot of on this current streak, with was extended to eight wins in nine tonight. They’ll look to keep rolling Sunday at home against Boston in a game I just may be sitting courtside at. Check me out!

Nazem Kadri on Right Track with Toronto Maple Leafs

January 8, 2010

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… Coming off an impressive 25-goal, 78-point season with the Ontario
Hockey League’s London Knights in 2008-’09, the Toronto Maple Leafs
rewarded Nazem Kadri by selecting him in the first round (No. 7
overall) in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

This season, with
expectations being so high for the young centre, anything short of a
breakout year would be deemed a disappointment by many. To his credit,
Kadri has played well this season, scoring 20 goals and netting 38
points in 28 games, ranking him 42nd overall in OHL scoring.

Despite missing 10 games due to his participation in the World Junior
Championships over the holidays, Kadri still leads the London Knights
in scoring. Not to be lost in his seemingly low point totals is the
fact that Kadri has improved as a player this season and, by all
accounts, is developing into a legitimate NHL prospect.

During
the WJC Kadri established himself as an offensive threat in every game.
His aggressive forechecking and ability to successfully move the puck
through traffic was constantly on display, as was his willingness to go
to the net.

With three goals and five assists in the
tournament, Kadri did not hit a home run at the WJC. That said, Kadri
was not expected to make this team by some and, by all accounts, he was
a very valuable member of Team Canada, stepping up to play on the first
line and power play when called upon.

More importantly, Kadri
played a great all-round game. His defensive efforts were duly noted
and his high-tempo/high energy game served notice to Brian Burke and
the rest of the Leafs’ staff that this kid is developing nicely and, if
all goes well, Kadri should compete for a roster spot on the Leafs as
early as 2010-’11.

Like every other member of Team Canada,
Kadri has to be disappointed in their Silver Medal effort. Hey, you
can’t win ‘em all, right? On a personal level, Kadri has to be happy
with his overall play at the tournament, which should go a long way in
furthering his development at the OHL level.

At 6’0” and just
167 pounds, Kadri still has some developing to do. An 82-game NHL
schedule takes its toll on even the fittest players, so an offseason
regimen of working out and adding muscle is a must if Kadri expects to
make the leap to the NHL.

Maple Leaf fans can rest assured
that Kadri will be a big part of their team’s future. When that is
exactly, is still up in the air.

Until next time,

Peace!

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