Raptors roll past Clippers

November 14, 2009

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by Jeremy Visser… I’ll be honest — I watched the first quarter and a bit of tonight’s Raptors game and saw them fall behind by about 20 before deciding I’d wasted enough time. To my relief, after I checked back at 88-88 midway through the fourth, Toronto went on a 16-1 run to finish the Clippers off, making the final 104-89. At least I’ll feel alright watching Sunday knowing I can do some good.

For the second straight game, the Raptors used a second half tear to pull away, outscoring Chris Kaman & co. 59-35 over the final 24 minutes to improve to 5-4 on the season. Again, having missed much of the game, I can’t really weigh in on what the difference was, though Jack Armstrong was hyping a huge defensive turnaround in what I saw late. Marco Belinelli was also a huge factor from the second quarter forward, scoring 15 points off the bench and finishing a +25 in 28 minutes.

Chris Bosh strung together another gutty performance, finishing with 21 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. Jose Calderon continued to roll, scoring 18 on 8-of-14 and adding nine assists (and no turnovers). After getting cut by a Sebastian Telfair elbow with the Raps up two with about four minutes to go, Calderon went on a tear to close things out, finishing on a layup and dropping a three for the final dagger.

Kaman did most of the damage for the Clippers, scoring 25 and making quick work of Andrea Bargnani’s “post defense” in the first half. Bargnani had his way with Kaman on the other end though, driving and scoring a few times early and finishing with a late three to help put it away. Bargnani had 19 points on 8-of-13.

The win starts Toronto’s four-game west swing on a nice note, but it’ll get way tougher moving forward — Phoenix (8-2) is next on Sunday, followed by a back-to-back with Denver (7-3) and Utah (4-5) on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ll be more than pleased with one of three.

Maple Leafs and Blackhawks in Classic Norris Division Battle Tonight

November 13, 2009

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… For those of you that remember, a Toronto Maple Leafs/Chicago Blackhawks matchup used to be a regular occurrence, a tremendous “Norris Division” battle that brought fans to their feet. Sadly, much like the Norris Division itself, a tilt between the Leafs and Hawks have, for the most part, become a thing of the past and that’s just wrong.

Tonight’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks, which is in Chi-town, will be the only meeting between these two historic franchises. In fact, Chicago and Toronto met only once in 2008 as well, a game Chicago won, 5-4 in overtime.

The Hawks, currently 10-5-2, have been one of the NHL’s hottest teams, featuring an enormous amount of young talent, including forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg and defensemen Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell and Cam Barker, all of which have All-Star potential.

There has been some finger pointing at Chicago’s number one goalie, Cristobel Huet, for his inconsistent play this season. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Huet seems to have found his groove and has been sharp in recent victories over the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings.

A win tonight would give the Blackhawks their third win in a row and sixth consecutive win at Home, where they are 8-2-1 on the season. The United Center has never been an easy place to earn two points, tonight will be no exception.

For the Leafs, tonight’s game provides yet another litmus test to see how they matchup with one of the NHL’s elite teams. Sitting at a paltry 3-8-5 on the season, the Leafs are stuck in 29th spot.

Despite some recent good play, the Leafs are coming off a 5-2 loss to the mediocre Minnesota Wild, a game in which the Leafs seemed disinterested and unwilling to hit. Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson looked shaky against the Wild but, by all accounts, will get the nod as the Leafs starter tonight.

Here’s a news flash for you Maple Leafs: if you don’t want to end up on a stretcher you better be ready to take a hit and dish them out, the Hawks come to play every night and boast one of the toughest lineups in the League. If the Leafs play like they did against the Wild on Tuesday they are going to get hurt, end of story!

A concerted effort on defense from both the forwards and the defensemen will be needed if the Leafs and Gustavsson are going to have any chance of beating the Hawks. Chicago boasts the NHL’s 14th ranked offense and their defense, ranked sixth in the league, has been exceptional of late.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, the defense squad will be without defenseman Mike Komisarek, who, after struggling to find his game at the beginning of the season, was playing better of late and was becoming a valued asset for the Leafs.

Phil Kessel, who has played well in his return and Alex Ponikarovsky, will have to continue their strong offensive effort tonight. That said, if the Leafs keep getting poor efforts form the likes of Jason Blake (two goals on the season), Matt Stajan (three goals on the season) and Nikolai Kumelin (three goals on the season), then Kessel and Ponikarovsky’s offensive efforts and the Leafs defensive efforts will be all for not.

The Leafs own the NHL’s worst penalty kill at 71.6 percent. They have the worst goals against per game average at 3.69 and, averaging 2.56 goals per game, their offense sits at 21st overall, all of which has to have the Blackhawks drooling and the mouth and ready to go on the hunt.

So, how did it come to this? Why do the Leafs and Hawks, two of the NHL’s Original Six franchises meet just once this season and just once in 2008? Read on, as I try to make sense of the NHL’s undoing of the once mighty Norris Division.

As a result of realignment, the Norris Division was formed in 1975 and lasted until after the 1992-1993 season, when the Norris Division became a thing of the past.

Originally featuring the Montreal Canadiens, L.A. Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals, the Norris was always known as a tough Division to play in and often featured bench-clearing brawls and fights.

The Norris went through a few changes over the years, first dropping the Capitals and taking on the Hartford Whalers in their place (1979-80) and then receiving a more complete face-lift in 1981-82, adding the Minnesota North Stars, Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues, while dropping the Hartford Whalers, L.A. Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Finally, in 1982-83, the NHL made yet another change to the Norris, featuring what many of us remember the Norris as being: the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota North Stars.

The Norris may not have been the most skillful Division in all of hockey, but it did feature a ton of lunch pail players, including Toronto’s Wendel Clark and Chicago’s Al Secord. Fighting was the norm in the Norris and much blood was spilled on the ice night after night, in fact, they were some of the most memorable fights in NHL history.

Unfortunately, when the 1992-1993 season ended, the NHL decided to chop up the divisions once again, only this time they took it a step further, eliminating the historic Norris, Smythe, Patrick and Adams Divisions, opting instead to go with a “less confusing” Eastern Conference—featuring the Northeast Division and the Atlantic Division, and the Western Conference—featuring the Central Division and the Pacific Division.

Once again, marketing and realignment was more important than the history of the game. The NHL cited that the majority of the U.S. fans had know idea who James E. Norris, Lester Patrick, Charles Francis Adams or the legendary Conn Smythe were and, therefore, were unable to identify with the Divisions.

So, for the “betterment” of the game, NHL fans lost a little bit of their history and, along with the name changes, lost some beloved rivalries—Chicago vs. Toronto being one of them.

It is a sad state of affairs that the Leafs and Hawks don’t meet more often, then again, given the disparity between the two teams, perhaps it is in the Leafs’ best interest to stay where they are, history be damned!

Until next time,

Peace!

Leafs Ride “Poni” & Kabi En Route To Overtime Loss To Hated Habs

November 1, 2009

by Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… For Toronto Maple Leaf players, heading into Montreal to take on the Canadiens is akin to being at the depths of hell. With that in mind, it was poetic justice that last night’s tilt between the Leafs and Canadiens in Montreal fell on Halloween night.

Keeping with the Halloween theme, the Canadiens came out wearing their historic red, white and blue striped Centennial Jerseys, which wreaked of “Costume.” The only thing missing on this night was the Leafs dressing Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson in net. Sadly, Wilson’s decision to rest the young netminder may have cost the Leafs the game.

For Leaf and Canadien fans alike, last night’s game echoed the great games of yesteryear. There were a combined 34 hits thrown, 17 penalties handed out, including the proverbial two Mike Komisarek penalties, 69 combined shots on net, a total of nine goals scored, overtime, a shootout and plenty of verbal jabs from Leaf and Canadien fans.

After playing to a scoreless tie after the first period, with the Habs’ Marc-Andre Bergeron in the penalty box, the Leafs’ Alex Ponikarovsky got things started when he put a wrist shot past Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak just 10 seconds into the power play.

The Habs responded quickly when Toronto native Glen Metropolit scored a goal from a seemingly impossible angle. Halfway between the boards and the net and positioned on the goal line, Metropolit threw the puck at the net and, with Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala hugging the post, somehow got the puck behind the stunned goalie.

Montreal scored two unanswered goals from Guillaume Latendresse and Hal Gill, respectively, before the Leafs Lee Stempniak scored a power play goal, beating Halak threw traffic on a hard point-shot.

The Habs got their two-goal lead back when Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik tipped a puck past Toskala at 9:50 of the third period, putting the Habs up by a score of 4-2.

The teams traded scoring chances for much of the third, but both goalies played well down the stretch. Then, with about four minutes left in the game, Montreal fans broke out en masse with the dreaded “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, goodbye” song.

Apparently that song translates to “Comeback” in English, as the Leafs put together three-and-a-half minutes of beautiful music on the ice and, with goals from Alex Ponikarovsky and Tomas Kaberle, tied the game to force overtime. That shut ‘em up!

Overtime solved nothing, so the teams were forced to go to the shootout to decide the game.

Toskala, who has a horrendous record in shootouts, gave up goals to the Habs’ Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez who seemingly had the book on the goalie, both scoring in the upper corner on the deflated goalie.

The Leafs answered with Lee Stempniak; yes, Lee Stempniak and defenseman Tomas Kaberle. Stempniak inexcusably shot from inside the blue line, a shot which Halak had no problem stopping. Kaberle met the same result on his attempt, but with four points in the game (one goal, three assists), you can’t fault Leafs head coach Ron Wilson for giving Kaberle a shot.

So, after fighting back on two consecutive nights, the Leafs end up with a lousy two points to show for their efforts against the Buffalo Sabres and Canadiens. Clearly, a victory against the hated Habs would have gone a long way in instilling some much-needed confidence to the hard-luck Leafs. But on this night, it was not to be.

Other game notes include Leaf defenseman Mike Komisarek getting booed every time he touched the puck. Komisarek, who was signed as a free agent this summer after spending parts of six seasons with the Canadiens, ended up a minus-2 on the night, which brings him to an alarming minus-9 on the season.

Alexei Ponikarovsky scored two goals on the night and now sits second overall on the team with five goals on the season, one goal behind teammate Nik Hagman.

Leafs defenseman Ian White had another solid game. His flawless pass to Ponikarovsky led to a beautiful goal and put his team in the position to tie the game and force overtime.

White has had a solid season to date. In fact, outside of Kaberle, White has been the Leafs’ best defenseman this season and I suspect he will be rewarded with an increase in ice time very soon.

With the win, the Canadiens leap-frogged the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and the surprising New York Islanders and, with 14 points earned, secured the seventh overall spot in the Eastern Conference standings, one point ahead of the aforementioned teams all knotted up at 13 points a piece.

With a record of 1-7-4 on the season, the Leafs sit 30th overall. On the positive side, there is nowhere to go but up for the Leafs and there is good news coming in the form of Phil Kessel.

Next up for the Leafs? A home tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, a game which should see Kessel make his season debut for the Blue and White.
Kessel’s addition to the lineup couldn’t come at a better time as it has become very clear that the Leafs need more offense, something Kessel should be able to deliver.

Until next time,

Peace!

The Toronto Maple Leafs Long Ride on the Losing Side

October 28, 2009

by Bryan Thiel… Most times we’d start with something profound. Perhaps a quote, or a line weighed down by cliches, alliteration, or metaphors.

How about this:

It’s about [expletive ] time.

For the past three and a half weeks, its been all about “the sky is falling” and “woe is us” in Leafs’ Nation. And with good reason: We didn’t expect the team to be breaking any wins records or setting the mark for scoring proficiency, but we didn’t expect that to happen either.

0-7-1? No one deserves that. Not even Mike Keenan.

No wins. One point. Eight games. Even someone stuck in grade five math can tell you that’s a terrible ratio.

That same fifth grader could probably tell you that you aren’t going to win many games without a healthy goalie when you score two or fewer goals in six straight.

He (or she) may even be able to beat the Leafs at dodgeball—but seeing as schools have yet to keep formal statistics on that sport, there’s no actual proof.

What’s even worse—if it gets worse than losing to that ten-year old at dodgeball—was that they had owned a lead for all of six minutes this season.

You spend an hour of your life per day waiting in line. It takes at least 10 minutes to make Kraft Dinner (or Hamburger Helper for the Americans in class today). Bill Simmons’ articles are even measured in “lengths of time spent in washroom”—you better believe those are longer than six minutes.

Essentially, six minutes is not a long time. And for a professional sports organization to play eight games and only own a lead for that long—unacceptable.

But here’s the good news: It’s all changed now.

Granted, there’s no guarantee that the Leafs will win again this week. Hell, they may not even win their next game, but that all important “first win” is on the board.

Immediately a ton of pressure is lifted.

Suddenly the question doesn’t become “when are you going to win?” but “when are you going to win NEXT?”. See? That NEXT in there signifies that they’ve won before. Don’t you feel better now?

Now try this on for size: 1-7-1. Not great, but getting better.

On top of that, a team that didn’t have life, that needed (in the words of Brian Burke) “a puck to go in off of someone’s ass” got exactly that.

For once, they weren’t the ones leading the parade to the penalty box. They were getting athletic, cross-crease play out of their goalie (In fact, they even got saves—25 of them!) and they weren’t giving in and slouching during the action.

A week ago, if a puck was dumped out of the offensive zone on a 5-on-3, there’s no guarantee that the Leafs would drive the zone again. Last night? They not only got the puck back in, but they scored.

The forwards played with jam. They went to the net looking for rebounds and looking to cause havoc, while those with the puck concentrated on one thing: getting it to the net.

The defense did it’s job. While it wasn’t spectacular (and there were probably more than a few fans holding their breath when Corey Perry made it 6-3), they got the job done.

And that’s all anyone was asking. Just get one. We only need one.

Watching that the other night…it was refreshing. Maybe it was all of the pent-up frustrations of the past few weeks, maybe it was stress, or maybe just that it’s so hard to enjoy something amidst turmoil, but last night took me back to what hockey used to be like.

I started out worried and nervous about what would happen. A puck would roll off the end of someone’s stick and it was the end of the world. But then, the players started to play like they were actually having fun. They’d score a goal and they’d smile. It was as if it was a game all over again.

And that’s how I treated it.

I moaned at the lows, but I yelled and screamed—and even jumped up and down—at the ups. Probably not the best choice in an Eastern Time Zone during a West Coast game, but hey—we get one warning on noise violations.

For a night, hockey was fun to watch, which is all I needed.

The Leafs have no quick fix. It’s not just going to be Phil Kessel and it’s not just Jonas Gustavsson. Long-term it has to be a team-effort.

But for one night, all of the problems went away. It was a win. It was high-scoring and fun. And if they’re only going to win once a month but I’ll feel like this after? I can accept that.

In other words: don’t get ahead of ourselves Leafs’ fans. Baby steps.

Baby steps.

Phil Kessel Isn’t the Leafs’ Solution to Everything

October 20, 2009

by Bryan Thiel… Whenever a team stumbles out of the gate, the popular thing to do is to pick on them.

Granted, there have been a lot of people poking fun at the Leafs, including their own fans , but it’s hard not to do when you’re looking at the last-place team in the NHL.

Besides, after years of giving it out, we here in Leafs Nation had to be prepared for a taste of it eventually. I mean, you can only buy playoff berths for so long and the salary cap saw an effective end to that strategy.

Then again, I think two books talking about the same things may be overdoing it a tad, but to each his own.

So right now, as the Leafs sit with just one point in the basement of the NHL standings, everyone has a theory about what’s going wrong and what can fix it.

For a lot of people, that theory starts with Phil Kessel.

The Leafs’ prized off-season acquisition has begun skating and practicing with the team in hopes of returning at full-strength from off-season shoulder surgery. The Blue and White can’t stop wringing their hands at the prospect of his return.

One of eight teams without a four-goal scorer and one of just three without a five-point player, the Leafs need that offensive strength—whether Kessel’s going to be a 25-goal scorer or a 40-goal scorer.

But for everyone saying that Kessel’s going to be the savior of this 0-6-1 team, it’s not likely to happen in one simple return.

Because of the Leafs’ slow start, the fashionable thing is to continually re-open the Kessel trade. Due to the fact that they’re last, the “Haul for Hall” is full-on, with the Leafs entirely out of the running (although their play will determine the seedings) as Boston owns their entrant.

Talking about it more won’t change the trade or the season results so far. It also won’t make him the be-all, end-all solution.

Phil Kessel won’t solve the injury problems in the crease, nor will he help anyone back there play with more consistency. Good luck getting him to help out the defense. And the likelihood that he’s going to bump up the penalty kill?

It’s not very high. After all, it took the Leafs until Saturday night, seven games into the season, to get above the 50-percent mark.

What Kessel will solve is the 29th-ranked 2.00 goals-per-game average. While the shots-on-goal mark isn’t anemic (31.3 per game), he’ll help to increase that (which will help that 29th-ranked stat) and the 16th-ranked power play. (At 20 percent, it’s not terrible, but he’ll help it).

He may also help out the small fact that the Leafs have yet to score first in a game. Though they’ll have probably scored first in a game by the time Kessel gets back in the lineup, with him in it may happen more than once or twice in…an eternity.

Brian Burke didn’t acquire Phil Kessel to be the final piece of the puzzle—he is simply a piece. A piece that won’t solve every problem, but he’ll help dig the team out of a few of their early holes.

He’ll do his job, but don’t distort hope. Kessel or no Kessel, the Leafs need more than one more piece.

Toronto Falls Short, but the Monster Is Solid Against Ottawa

October 7, 2009

by Mark Gregory… Jonas Gustavsson got the start last night against Ottawa, and looked solid in his first NHL start.

Hockey is a game of millimeters and that continued to be the case tonight as a reviewed goal—disputed over a questionable high stick by Donovan batted the puck past Gustavsson—put the Senators ahead to stay.

Alfredsson scored on a penalty shot which turned out to be the winner. Both were scored in the second period after a scoreless first.

After the Leafs’ defensive acquisitions in the offseason, a 2-1 score is probably typical of the low-scoring game Burke and Wilson envisioned the Leafs to play.

The Leafs came out flat in the first two periods, but after Stajan’s power play goal, his third goal in three games, the Leafs had several opportunities which made the game interesting—the best of which was Komisarek’s shot that hit both goal posts.

Mitchell and Stempniak were among Toronto’s best forwards again, but for the most part, Toronto generated very little offense until late in the game. Ottawa out-hit Toronto and played just well enough to win this contest that seemed to lack the intense rivalry atmosphere that has characterized Leafs-Senators games in the past.

Victor Stalberg wasn’t on the bench in the second period as he took a hard hit by A. Volchenkov at the Ottawa blue line. That forced Wilson to juggle the forward line combinations for the remainder of the contest.

Kaberle had a strong game but for the third game in a row, Beauchemin looked like he was fighting the puck.

If the Leafs can find any consolation in this loss, it was the stellar play of Gustavsson who shut the Senators out in the third and kept the game close.

Leafs next game is Saturday against the Penguins.

Mark Gregory

Argos look build off win, face B.C. Saturday

September 19, 2009

by Jeremy Visser… In case an overtime win against Hamilton last Friday wasn’t enough to boost the Argos’ spirits, they’ll regain another edge tonight with the return of special teams standout Dominique Dorsey. Dorsey, the 2008 CFL Special Teams Player of the Year, makes his season debut Saturday when the Argos (3-7) face the Lions (4-6) at B.C. Place.

The Argos added the return specialist to their roster earlier this week when he was a last-second cut by the NFL’s Washington Redskins. The five-foot-seven running back was originally told he’d stick as a member of the team’s practice squad, only to have the decision changed on Sunday. Now he’s back in Double Blue and ready to contribute — whether it’s just on special teams or also in the backfield will be determined by head coach Bart Andrus come game-time.

“I’m looking to do anything for this team at any given time,” Dorsey said Thursday. “I’m looking forward to having my hands on the ball in some type of way. If it’s in the near feature, then all the better.”

While Dorsey’s offensive role will likely develop as he adapts to Andrus’ playbook, the Argos coach can continue to count on running back Jamal Robertson, who rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Hamilton. Robertson is fifth in the league with 654 rushing yards and tied for second with six touchdowns. He has also emerged as quarterback Cody Pickett’s top target, catching a team-high 46 passes.

Robertson rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns last week against Hamilton

Robertson rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns last week against Hamilton

“He’s a great player,” Pickett said after practice Thursday. “Anytime you get the ball in his hands good things are going to happen.

“Even in our passing game — he’s a huge part of that. If they’re soft and leave him alone in the backfield, you give him the ball and big things can happen.”

Pickett overcame a personal obstacle himself last week, earning his first career win in his sixth start. He completed 20-of-31 passing attempts for 254 yards, and currently sits third in the CFL with a completion rate of 65.3%. In four starts and a relief appearance, Pickett has thrown just one interception.

The Lions, meanwhile, received some bad news regarding their starting quarterback yesterday — Jarious Jackson, who led a B.C. fourth quarter comeback against the Argos at Rogers Centre last month, will be sidelined at least three weeks with a rotator cuff injury. Buck Pierce, who started B.C.’s 36-28 win over the Argos but left with a concussion, returns to start Saturday.

The loss to B.C. was the second in a string of three straight home games the Argos lost after holding a fourth quarter lead. Against Hamilton, Toronto held a 19-12 lead before allowing Tiger-Cat quarterback Kevin Glenn to scramble 18 yards to tie the game with 25 seconds remaining. Though Andrus was pleased with the team’s defensive stand in overtime against Hamilton, he’d prefer the defense to finish things off in regulation.

“The stop in overtime was big,” Andrus said. “I would’ve prefered to see it in the fourth quarter, but we’ve learned from that.

“I think our defense is playing with confidence now,” he added. “We’re tackling well, defending the pass well. We’ve taken steps to improve, and hopefully we can make it a different outcome than when they came to our building.”

The Argos and Lions kickoff at 10 pm Eastern — seven local.

That’s what I’m saying, guy…

Wendel Clark- Legend or Letdown?

September 10, 2009

by Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter…

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark. Purolator Courier had set up a photo op at the Air Canada Centre and for $5 bucks you could get a picture with the legendary Clark.

Being a huge fan of Clark’s, I stumbled up to the podium, paid my $5 bucks and proceeded to grin ear to ear while I awaited my turn. As I waited to get my picture I started thinking about Clark’s great career and what his place was amongst the greatest Maple Leafs of all-time.

The first thing that popped into my head was Wendel’s toughness. The fights between Clark and Detroit Red Wing bully Bob Probert were legendary. Clark’s ability to lift the entire team with a drop of the gloves was unparalleled. That said, did Clark deserve all the accolades Toronto fans threw at him throughout his career?

Ask any Toronto fan who watched the Leafs in the 80’s and 90’s who the heart and soul of the team was and you will get the same answer over and over again, “Wendel”. Nobody else even comes close, not Rick Vaive, not Darryl Sittler, not Gary Leeman, not Mats Sundin, there was Wendel and then everyone else, period…

Clark, who was drafted by the Maple Leafs first overall in the 1985 NHL entry draft, came into the League on a mission. He racked up an incredible 227 penalty minutes in his rookie year, backing down from no one.

At 5’11 and 200 pounds, Clark was a tad undersized for a “Tough guy”. That said, Clark quickly established himself as one of the Leagues toughest players, fighting the likes of Craig Berube, Bob Probert, Cam Neely, John Kordic, Marty McSorely and Garth Butcher, all of whom were much bigger players and established fighters.

Not only could Clark fight, he could also throw a hit and score a few goals along the way. As his hitting reputation built, Clark earned the nickname “Captain Crunch”. He also established himself as an offensive threat scoring 34 goals in his rookie year and following that up with a 37 goal effort in 1986-87.

Unfortunately Clark’s reckless style caught up with him in 1987-88. Playing in just 28 games, Clark scored a respectable 12 goals, but it also marked the beginning of Clark’s lingering knee and shoulder problems. He would follow the 1987-88 season up with seasons of 15 games played in 1988-89 and 38 games in 1989-90.

After spending three seasons mostly on the sideline, Clark, who only knew one way to play the game, was forced to tone down his fighting and his aggressive style of play. He reinvented himself, but was no-less effective, he still was the heart and soul of the Leafs and the fans cheered for him every time his skates touched the ice.

Although Clark’s penalty minutes declined, his ability to be an offensive force increased, reaching it’s pinnacle in the 1993-94 season when Clark scored a career high 46 goals and 30 assists, good enough for 76 points.

After the 1993-94 season, then Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM Cliff Fletcher orchestrated a multi-player trade with the Quebec Nordiques that would essentially see Clark leave Toronto for a talented youngster named Mats Sundin, a player that would be the cornerstone of the Leafs’ franchise throughout the mid-nineties until his departure at the conclusion of the 2007-08 season.

Toronto fans were devastated at the news of Clark’s departure. Many fans lobbied to have management bring Wendel Clark back to the Blue and White. Their loud voices paid off when in March 1996 Clark was acquired from the New York Islanders along with with Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith for Darby Hendrickson, Sean Haggerty, Kenny Jonsson and Toronto’s 1st round choice (Roberto Luongo) in 1997 NHL entry draft.

Unfortunately Clark was not a good fit for the Leafs. As a result, to the chagrin of many Leaf fans, Clark signed with the Tampa Bay Lightening in the off-season.

Clark would bounce around the NHL from 1998-99 through 1999-2000, playing for the Tampa Bay Lightening (1998-99), Detroit Red Wings (1998-99 trade deadline/playoffs), Chicago Blackhawks (1999-2000) and ending with one final 20 game stint with the Leafs, ending his NHL career at the conclusion of the 1999-2000 season, scoring two goals and adding two assists for the Leafs before playing in six games in the playoffs where Clark notched one goal and one assist.

In the end, it is the sum of Clark’s game that separated him from his peers. Clark was never an “elite” player, in fact, he played in just two NHL All-Star games, albeit thirteen years apart, 1986 and 1999. All-Star appearances and stats aside, Clark meant much more to Toronto than many realize.

Clark’s passion for the game, fearless disregard for his own well-being, ability to change the composure of a game with a single hit or timely fight and his unwavering leadership qualities combined to make Wendel one of the most popular players in Toronto Maple Leaf history.

Was he the best Maple Leaf of all-time, quite frankly, no. Most popular? Probably…In the end, with a total of 330 goals, 234 assists, 564 points in 793 career NHL games Clark’s numbers were “good” but not “great”.

Wendel may very well be the most beloved player to ever dawn the Blue and White and in the hearts of many Maple Leaf fans Wendel stood for everything a Maple Leaf fan loves in a player, toughness, grit, the ability to give an honest effort and the heart of a lion.

Statistically there may have been better players that played for the Leafs, but no player ever captured the imagination of Leaf fans the way Wendel did, for that he will always be remembered as one of the greatest players in Maple Leaf history.

Odds are there will never be another Wendel Clark in Toronto, thanks for the memories Wendel, you were/are a class act and a legend in the hearts of every Leaf fan from coast to coast.

Until next time,

Peace!

Argos, Ti-Cats set for Labour Day Classic

September 7, 2009

Arland Bruce III is on the opposite sideline this time around

by Jeremy Visser… Last Labour Day, Arland Bruce III had 10 receptions, 149 yards and a touchdown to lead the Argos to a 34-31 win over the Tiger-Cats. He’ll be looking to put up similar numbers this time around, except he’s now a member of the opposite team. Bruce faces his former teammates for the first time when Toronto and Hamilton meet Monday afternoon at Ivor Wynne Stadium in the annual Labour Day Classic.

Bruce, the Argos’ leading receiver in 2008, was traded to the Tiger-Cats on July 29 following a public fallout with head coach Bart Andrus. In four games with Hamilton, Bruce has caught 18 passes and three touchdowns.

“It’ll be exciting facing him,” Argos linebacker Willie Pile said last week. “We know what kind of competitor he was — he treated every practice like it was gameday.

“It’ll be interesting going up against him, but I think we’ve got the personnel to match up with him. We’re excited to be getting after him and going after their scheme.”

Toronto — last in the CFL with a 2-6 record — opened the regular season with a 30-17 win in Hamilton on Canada Day. Since then, a lot has changed — Bruce, of course, has switched sides, and Andrus made a change at quarterback, replacing Kerry Joseph with Cody Pickett. In two starts, Pickett has thrown for 637 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Hamilton, meanwhile, has gone in the opposite direction since the opener. Since the loss to Toronto, the Tiger-Cats have won three straight home games and four of seven games overall. Rookie running back DeAndra’ Cobb has emerged as one of the league’s top rushers, entering Monday’s tilt with 501 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Quinton Porter and Kevin Glenn have split the quarterback duties effectively, combining for 11 touchdowns and over 2,000 yards.

The challenge for Toronto’s defense will be playing a full 60 minutes. The Argos surrendered fourth quarter leads to B.C. and Calgary in their previous two games after strong first half defensive efforts. Toronto gave up game-winning touchdowns in the final minute of both games.

“It’s a matter of staying hungry,” linebacker Zeke Moreno said of the late collapses. “It’s hard to put a finger on it, but we lost that edge. We started playing on our heels and that momentum just wasn’t there.”

Monday’s game is the first of a home-and-home series between the two teams, with the second coming Friday at Rogers Centre. The Labour Day Classic kicks off at four.

Raising Stock: Buying Low, Selling High at Maple Leafs Training Camp

September 2, 2009

by Derek Harmsworth… When it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, if one thing is certain, it’s that nothing is certain.  A group of players that has Leafs Nation divided, particularly on what their season stats may look like, and whether or not they can even make the team.

With something like twenty forwards realistically having a shot to make the team, and ten defenseman, training camp will be very interesting this year, perhaps the most interesting camp the club has had in recent years.

It will be exciting.  Edge of your seat television.  Players chances of making the cut will go up by the day, down by the shift.  Every moment matters.

In fact, to think about it, it’s going to look something like the stock market has over the past few months, though Leafs fans hope the overall numbers are far higher than what we have experienced through mid 2009.

Ron Wilson and staff will be looking to buy low, and sell high.  They’ll be looking for that next big stock (being the player) which could take their entire portfolio (the team) farther then they could have ever hoped.

And with that, I present to you the Leafs Nation Live training camp stock market chart.

Okay, one thing to get out of the way.  Number one, I wish we had a catchier name, but we don’t.  Any suggestions will be taken from our readers.  If you’re name suggested is chosen, you’ll get a free mystery prize, just for getting in touch with us!

Each player that has a realistic shot (as determined by myself) will be assigned a value.  In this case, it’s a dollar value, but it’ll also act as a percentage.  The players with the highest stock going into camp will have a value of $93.  The players who have the lowest percentage will obviously be considerably lower.

With each passing day of rookie tournament, training camp, and pre season action, players values will increase or decrease, depending on performance, injuries, and other elements and variables.

Of course, just like the real stock market, you have to pick a few long shots to grab some real good “cash” on your investments.  For instance, a player like Tomas Kaberle, while a safe bet to get on the team, won’t get you nearly as much return as a player like Christian Hanson, who, though he has a good shot to make the team, would have a significantly less dollar value.

Without further adieu, I give to you, the list of forwards I feel have a shot at making the Toronto Maple Leafs this year.  Along with each player, you’ll see a little blurb about them, as well as a dollar value assigned to their “stock.”

Forwards

Jason Blake $90

Jason Blake had an interesting season last year.  While he rebounded from his disastrous year two seasons ago, he is still not worth the price the Leafs are currently paying him.  Due to his price tag and age, the Leafs are unable to move him for some extra cap relief, and in fact will have to do nothing more than be content with the numbers he puts up in Blue and White for the next few seasons.  If he can at least match last season’s efforts, most in Leafs Nation will be happy.

Darryl Boyce $60

Boyce has spent a cup of coffee in the NHL with the Maple Leafs.  His development has been slowed quite a bit due to a shoulder injury, but still, the Leafs feel Boyce can hopefully one day be a part of this team in a bottom six role.  He will be given a long shot opportunity to make this team out of camp, though he would certainly have to turn some heads, and look for some luck to go his way.

Tyler Bozak $85

For all the hype surrounding him, there are plenty who feel Bozak is still a long shot to start the year with this team.  While I am not sure I feel that way, in fact, I have him pencilled in pretty high on the depth chart (though I am an eternal optimist.)  Still, Bozak is looking like a pretty sure bet to make this team, though he could certainly cement his spot with a strong rookie tournament and pre-season.

Andre Deveaux $60

A player who spent some considerable time last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Deveaux looks to be one of many odd men out after the Leafs apparently decided to fill his role with veteran players in the bottom six.  Still, it’s known that Burke does like Deveaux, which gives him a fighting chance.

Mikhail Grabovski $93

The first of the $93 club, Grabovski is as close to certain as they come to make this team.  Placing him at $93 allows you to at least collect a maximum of $7 on your investment though.  Grabovski will be counted on heavily this year to be a key cog in Toronto’s offense.  While he showed flashes of brilliance last season, another lengthy goalless drought could prove disruptive to Toronto’s offense this season.

Niklas Hagman $93

I have long been a fan of this guy, was begging for the Leafs to sign him when he was a free agent, and have supreme confidence in Hagman.  A skilled forward, Hagman, in my opinion, would have at least matched his career high in goals last season had he not suffered a few concussion related problems.  A healthy Hagman would greatly help Toronto in their search for offense.  All but guaranteed to make the team, Hagman should play top six minutes all year with the Leafs.

Ryan Hamilton $65

Hamilton, acquired in a trade with Minnesota in exchange for Robbie Earl, is a guy who likes to play physical.  Like Deveaux, he may be a victim of one too many grinders, and is a long shot to be in the lineup on opening night against Montreal.

Christian Hanson $78

A player who could gain you supreme return on a low investment.  One of the players I am looking forward to watching closely, Hanson didn’t look out of place in his short time with the Leafs last season, and the team loves his work ethic, character, and attitude.  Here is a guy I would certainly have pencilled into my bottom six, but some in Leafs Nation aren’t too sure.  There is definitely a logjam on forward, and a slow camp could mean riding the bus to start the year for the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish centre.

Jiri Tlusty $83

Lots of people, myself included, are expecting a lot out of Tlusty.  Flashes of brilliance have been followed by streaks of invisibility.  Something not uncommon for young players.  Still, many are expecting Tlusty, a player who lit up the American Hockey League following an early season demotion last year, to deliver big top six numbers.

Nazem Kadri $70

I truly believe Nazem Kadri will be a top six player for the Toronto Maple Leafs one day.  I have gotten the chance to watch him pretty closely the last few years, and I like his game, and how it potentially fits in this team.  Still, I just don’t think he has the ability to make this team out of camp this year.  Though he certainly could surprise me, I see Kadri taking another tour of duty with Dale Hunter and the London Knights, not that there is anything wrong with that at all.

Nikolai Kulemin $91

Like Grabovksi, Kulemin showed last season that he does have a scoring touch, and a drive to go hard to the net.  But he also at times showed timidness, a lack of willingness, and the drive that would make him a player that stood out on a nightly basis.  As he settles into his surroundings, I certainly expect more out of Kulemin this season, and see him in the top six on a line with Hagman and the aforementioned Grabovski, but Burke has shown he is willing to demote Kulemin, so he certainly needs a good camp.

Jamal Mayers $75

A veteran player, a locker room leader.  You would think I would have him higher up on this list.  However, the slew of hungry players looking to fill his role, and with a price tag of $1.3 cap hit, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Mayers and his contract relegated to the press box, or possibly the minors.

Dale Mitchell $60

I gotta admit.  I have a real soft spot for this kid.  I met Dale a few times, got to watch him a dozen more in action, and he is a great kid who plays his heart out every shift.  And while it’s likely that he won’t make this team out of camp, he could surprise fans and management alike with some early efforts.  He is exactly the type of player Brian Burke loves.

John Mitchell $91

While I can’t say for sure, I think it’s safe to assume that Brian Burke, like everyone in Leafs Nation, loves this kid.  A hard worker with some skill who’s spirit and love to play embodies what this team should be about, Mitchell had a great rookie season last year, and will be looking to add on that this year.  He may get top six minutes, but his game seems tailor-made right now for the third line centre role.

Colton Orr $80

It’s quite likely Orr will be in the lineup on opening night.  But a slow start to camp, and his role could well be filled by the likes of a younger fighter.  still, the Leafs signed Orr for four years, with the inkling to make their team more physical.  Orr certainly will do that.  A player who can drop the mits, and also play a decent game down low, he should have no problems making this team out of camp.

Alexei Ponikarovsky $89

Not exactly my favourite Leafs player, Ponikarovsky has big things expected of him this season, and will likely be given every opportunity to reach those goals.  A strong, big body with a good wrist shot, the Ukrainian born winger needs to find more consistency in his game, and use his size more to his advantage.  Ponikarovsky will likely start training camp out inside the top six, though a sub par beginning to the year could bump his stock down considerably.

Wayne Primeau $79

The Maple Leafs certainly didn’t trade for him so he can sit in the press box.  At least one wouldn’t think.  But in a world run by Ron Wilson and Brian Burke, you never can be too sure.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Primeau were platooned with some other veteran grinders over the course of training camp, to see where the best fit is on the team.

Matt Stajan $85

I wish I could say this dollar amount was higher.  It has seemed every year since he got here, Stajan has seen his future questioned by fans and management alike.  Coming off a 55 point season (third best on the team) Stajan is looking to prove he belongs this year.  While it’s hard to say Stajan is a two-way player, since he doesn’t do everything consistently enough, I would love to see him add a shot blocking element to his game, which would make him quite the potent two-way threat.

Viktor Stalberg $70

People are talking.  A Hobey Baker finalist last year, it wouldn’t surprise a lot of people on the inside to see the Swedish born Stalberg make this team out of training camp.  He is a skilled forward who always shows great confidence with and without the puck.  I think he is another young guy that will get a good, long look at camp this year.

Lee Stempniak $88

Logically speaking, the number should likely be a little bit lower.  After last season’s poor performance once coming to Toronto in a trade with St. Louis, Stempniak would be more than a bubble player on this year’s team.  If it weren’t for his contract that is.  ”Stempy” makes $3.5 million this season, and so it looks as though all the Leafs can do, save for sending him to the minors on waivers, is to see what a full year with a club can do.  After all, this is a guy who once scored 27 goals, then with St. Louis.  However, this is the year for Stempniak to show what he can do with a full year in the city, with the same teammates.  Here is hoping for a more consistent year.

Rickard Wallin $84

Wallin, a veteran of the Swedish elite leagues, was brought across the pond for a shot at being a bottom six player on this team.  He has great back checking abilities, and his penalty killing is also a big asset of his game.  Wallin, like many mentioned above, will have a hard time cracking a team that has so many players filling similar roles.  He does, however, has experience on his side, and many view him as a favourite to be in the lineup on opening night, myself included

Jason Allison $68

Allison said earlier today that he isn’t looking for charity.  He honestly feels he can make this team.  Others aren’t so sure.  Allison last played in the NHL with Toronto following the lockout in the 2005-2006 season, and while he certainly didn’t set the world on fire with his skating, he did produce points particularly on the powerplay.  It’s a long shot, but even if you’re dead against it, most everyone is interested to see what this reinvention of Jason Allison looks like.

Make sure to check out the website tomorrow, when we take a look at the defense and goaltending.

Check out Derek’s blog, for more great Leaf Stuff…http://leafsnationlive.com/

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