Winter Classic Thrills Boston Crowd

January 1, 2010

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… After spending two days taking in the sites and sounds of Fenway Park, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers outdoor practice and numerous players and management interviews, I headed to Fenway knowing that today was the day, today the Bruins and Flyers would square off in front of over 38,000 fans. As the saying goes, “game on!!!”

On my way to the ballpark, I took in the atmosphere of the crowd, which was both playful and boisterous. Bruins and Flyers fans shared the streets outside Fenway, playfully bantering as they themselves took it all in.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino proclaimed declared Friday, January 1, 2010 as NHL Winter Classic Day. Players, media members and fans alike celebrated the day with much vigor as they paid tribute to two great franchises and the game of hockey in it’s purest form, outdoor pond hockey.

Heading into the game both teams tried to play down the event, but the smiles on their faces could not disguise their utter excitement to play in the Winter Classic as, for many players, the honor of playing in the classic was a dream come true.

The ceremonies before the drop of the puck included the singing of both the Canadian and American national anthems, during which, both Canada’s and The U.S. flag were draped over the green monster.

A stealth bomber flew over Fenway shortly thereafter. It was a sight to see, even if you could barely hear it in the skies.

Finally, after so much hype and dedicated media attention, the Players readied themselves to drop the puck. Hall of Famers Bobby Clarke (Flyers) and Bobby Orr (Bruins) were selected as honorary Captains for their former clubs, a nice touch that didn’t escape the players, media or the fans.

For the Philadelphia Flyers to be successful at Friday’s Bridgestone Winter Classic, many analysts thought they would have to weather the storm of a amped up Boston Bruins crowd.

After a rather elementary first period by both clubs, the Flyers came out of the first intermission on fire. They hit everything that moved and dominated the seemingly slow Bruins.

The Flyers kept the puck in their opponents end for most of the period which paid off when Bruins goaltender misplayed the puck, leading to Flyers defense man scoring his first NHL goal of his career at 4:42 of the second period.

When the period was over, the Flyers looked every bit the better team and the scoreboard proved it as the Flyers would enter the third period up 1-0 on the Bruins.

By all accounts, the Flyers played a perfect road game for the first two periods. They didn’t take unnecessary penalties, they didn’t take unnecessary chances they kept the Bruins in check and they scored the first goal.

After the game, I had a chance to ask Bruins head coach about the Flyers dominance in the second period and what he told his troops, to which he replied: “We weren’t shooting pucks, we were trying to make those extra plays and those extra plays were being broken up and they would turn around and get a scoring chance off those turnovers or broken plays. They were bringing everything to the net. They were doing a much better job than we were. I wasn’t very happy.”

Clearly, after such a lack luster second period the Bruins needed to dig deep and find the fire in their bellies. The Bruins played a more disciplined third period, but were not be rewarded.

Then, at 16:08 of the third period, Flyers defense man Kimmo Timonen took a tripping penalty and, just like that, you could sense the momentum was about to change, destiny seemed to be rearing it’s head and the pendulum was about to turn in the Bruins favor.

With a crowd of players surrounding him, Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, who had been very good throughout the game, watched as Bruins veteran NHL forward Mark Recchi tipped in a puck at 17:42 of the third period.

The Boston crowd, which had been eerily quiet up to that point, sprung out of their seats and erupted into cheers. Houston, we have a game…

With the game now tied and the Bruins now back in the game, Danny Briere inexplicably took a tripping call at 19:14 of the third, causing Bruins fans to once again leave their seats in excitement and anticipation of the power play to come.

The third period would end with no winner decided, which meant, this game was headed to overtime.

With the Bruins still on the power play, they came out with guns a blazing, quickly penetrating the Flyers defensive zone and attacking everything in orange and black.

Sadly, for Bruins fans, the power play ended without incident as the Bruins failed to score, the game was still tied.

With the shootout looming, fans seemed married to the fact that they would have to endure the cold for a bit longer. Then, with the puck already deep within the Flyers blue line, Bruins forward and Team Canada Olympic member Patrice Bergeron threw the puck at the net, which Germany’s Marco Sturm tipped in for the game winner.

Sturm’s goal capped off a remarkable comeback for the Bruins, one which will go down in history. Clearly, Strums goal was one of the biggest of his career. When asked about the goal Strum responded: “I just tried to go to the net. I think he (Bergeron) had Z (Zdeno Chara) open, too, a little bit, but he made a nice play for a tip-in”.

I would later press Sturm for more details, asking him if he scooped up the puck or of the NHL had it. “I don’t know anything, but I hope so (smiling), Strum responded. “You know, it;s just like I said before, it’s just one of those memories that is always going to be probably– for right now, on top of my list”.

And for many Bruins fans as well, Mr. Sturm!

For the Flyers, Sturm’s goal marked the end of an otherwise well played game. That said, their Flyers undisciplined penalties near the end of the third period cost them the game which left players and head coach Peter Laviolette reeling.

When asked about the Bruins tough play in the third period Laviolette, who was noticeably down, replied: “You know, it was probably their (Bruins) best period. I still think we were in pretty good shape going down the stretch. Yeah, I think that was probably their (Bruins) best period.

I asked Laviolette about the Flyers strong start and the teams ability to take the Bruins crowd out of the game, to which he responded: “We play a pretty good on the road. I think that’s why we found some success. We have been limiting chances. Again, they got some better looks in the third and on the power play. defensively it’s been pretty tight. It’s a good thing, when you’re playing wide open and it goes the other way, it can snowball in a different direction. It was good that we were tight”.

But not when it counted most, which, for Flyers’ fans, is a shame, as, in my opinion, the Flyers deserved a better fate then they got tonight.

I’ll have more on the Winter Classic in the coming days. For now, I’d like to say thank you to the B/R and the NHL for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime of covering the Winter Classic. It was a privileged and, on a personal note, I think I have grown tremendously as a writer, which we can all capitalize on.

Until next time,


Top 10 Most Important Games Remaining for the Maple Leafs

December 23, 2009

by Jon Neely… It’s hard to say that any one game is more important than another this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Currently in a battle for the eighth and final playoff spot with a chance at moving up in the standings with every passing game.

Every game matters that little bit more than the last and for a team that needs to continue to play well in order to make the postseason; it almost puts them in a situation where every time they step on the ice, it’s a must-win game.

The fans know it, the players know it, and you better believe Ron Wilson knows it.

But there are some games that stand out from the others as crucial to the team’s success. There are certain matchups that may be key, a certain time when a game is played that gives it extra incentive, or simply a game that from this vantage point looks like it good be vital to how the Leafs season turns out.

When the clock hits 12:00 on January 1, 2010, the Leafs will begin the unofficial second half to their season, a season that once looked terribly bleak but now that they’ve fought their way back into contention, could result in a playoff berth for the first time since 2004.

Here are the top 10 most important games remaining for the Leafs in 2010.

At the Calgary Flames - Jan. 2, 2010

Let’s face it, it’s always nice to win the first game of the New Year, and the Leafs will have the dubious task of playing in front of the boistrous Pengrowth Saddledome crowd in Calgary on Jan. 2. It will be the final game of a three-game road trip that will see them stop in Pittsburgh and Edmonton prior to this matchup.

Having to spend New Years Eve away from their families in the frigid cold of Western Canada may not be ideal for this Leafs team, but they have been successful away from home this season, and owe the Flames a hard-fought battle after Iginla and boys came into Toronto and roughed up the Leafs 5-2 on Nov. 14.

To start of the New Year with a win of any kind against Calgary on the road would be a huge boost of confidence, and will most likely be the determining factor as to whether the three-game trip was a success or not.

It’s never an easy task to beat the tough, defensive Flames who will just as easily beat you up, before they beat you, but if the Leafs can handle the physical play and find a way to beat Mikka Kiprusoff it could be one of the most impressive wins of the season for the club.

At the Washington Capitals - Jan. 15, 2010

They are currently the best team in the Eastern Conference, and the Washington Capitals are always an incredibly tough team to play against. It will be the fourth and final time this season the Leafs will play Ovie and the Caps, and it will be the most important of the four.

This game will mark the first of a five-game road trip for the Leafs that will see them stop in Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Florida following their stop in the Nation’s Capital.

Because it’s the first game of the trip it will be important for the Leafs to get off to a good start, especially when facing such a formidable opponent.

It’s also a great test for which ever goaltender is playing, as they’ll undoubtedly have to face a barrage of shots from three of the leagues most potent offensive stars in Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and Alex Semin.

Toronto has been excellent against the Caps in their first three meetings, going 2-1-0 so far; their last meeting a convincing 6-3 win at the ACC.

If the Leafs can walk out of DC with a win and a 3-1 season record against one of the best teams in the NHL, they will no doubt feel very good going into the rest of their games on the trip.

New Jersey Devils - Jan. 29, Feb. 2, Feb.5, 2010

After this span of games, the Leafs and Devils will most assuredly be sick of one another. The two teams will play each other three times in eight days, which could be a major turning point in the Leafs season.

If they can’t hang with the powerful Devils and lose two or three of the games, it could be extremely detrimental to their playoff chances. Two of the three games are in New Jersey as well, and playing Brodeur at home is never easy.

Actually, if there’s an easy place to play Brodeur, no one has ever found it.

The Leafs will be home to the Vancouver Canucks Jan. 30, so they will have a one-game break from their frequent foes, but it will feel somewhat like a mini playoff series with the Devils who have been sitting at or near the top of the standings for the majority of the season.

The Leafs will be hoping Brodeur will have his mind elsewhere (say, the starting job at the Olympics maybe?) but they shouldn’t count on it.

Brodeur will be looking to pad his lead as the all-time wins and shutouts leader for goal tenders.

Not the kind of records Leafs want to be apart of this season.

At St. Louis Blues - Feb. 12, 2010

This game in St. Louis will mark the final game before the Olympic break in the NHL for the Leafs. They will not play again until March 2, so it will be important to get a win, or have to wait almost three weeks thinking about their last loss.

Surprisingly, after this game is played the Leafs will only have one more game against a Western Conference team, the Oilers, in March. Other than that, it’s all Eastern teams.

This game might be tough for some of the Leaf players who will have been chosen to represent their respective countries in Vancouver, and may be looking ahead with excitement to their chance at Olympic Gold.

They only have five games in February, but they are all tough ones. Two games against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, followed by another installment of the battle of Ontario before hosting the West leading San Jose Sharks.

It will end with the rare visit to St. Louis, which hopefully the team can take away a positive from, and go into the break with confidence.

Carolina Hurricanes - Mar. 2, 2010

You guessed it; the next ‘most important game’ for the Leafs is the first one back from the Olympic break. It will have been almost 20 days since they last played a game and could be a sloppy one between the two teams, each with players who will have been in Vancouver.

Always important to get off to a good start, and this game will be no different as the Leafs will be looking to get a win in the first game of the final stretch of the regular season.

A lot will happen between then and now, but it could be especially important depending on where the team sits in the standings. Either fighting for their playoff position or battling for that final playoff spot; this game could be the start of an excellent final run in the home stretch.

Edmonton Oilers - Mar. 13, 2010

It will mark the return of the man who had the most success as a head coach with the Leafs in recent history. From 1998-2006 Quinn posted 300 wins, which trails only Punch Imlach for franchise wins as the Leafs’ head coach.

The team made the playoffs six out of the seven seasons he was there, including two trips to the Conference Finals.

Quinn was also the Leafs GM until 2005, when John Ferguson Jr. came in to replace him, and then turn around and fire the older, more experienced Quinn just a year later (don’t get me started on that one).

The man famously known for his vigorous gum-chewing and expletive-filled rants with the refs was one of the best coaches the Leafs have ever had and since his departure the Leafs haven’t been in the playoffs, nor have they been anywhere as close as competitive as when Quinn was at the helm.

The tough-as-nails coach will always be remembered for coaching a string of games sporting not one, but two black eyes from separate events on the bench. The man was one of a kind in Toronto.

Who knows where this team would be if Quinn had been able to stick around for a few more seasons, but one thing is for sure; the man deserves a standing ovation when he steps out onto the opposing bench for the first time.

He was blue and white through and through and the city of Toronto loved everything about him. It’s great to see him back behind the bench in the NHL, and will be great to see him chewing his gum in the ACC once again.

At the Ottawa Senators - Mar. 16, 2010

The final ‘Battle of Ontario’ of the regular season is always a heated affair, and this one should be no different. The rivalry was thought to be dead coming into this campaign, but the games so far have proven that though the players have changed, the hatred still remains.

How the Leafs do against the Sens will no doubt affect the playoff standings for each team. The 12 points that are up for grabs in the teams’ six games are of the utmost importance, and these will be the final two points up for grabs between them.

It’s far too early to say whether we’ll finally get to see yet another classic playoff matchup between the Leafs and Sens, but fans across Ontario have been waiting with bated breath for years since their last real battle.

But right now their only thinking about just getting to the big dance first, they’ll let fate worry about who their partners will be.

We can only hope they’ll find each other.

At the Pittsburgh Penguins - Mar. 28, 2010

With only seven games remaining in the regular season the Leafs will travel to Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon to face-off against the defending Stanley Cup Champions; who will no doubt be gearing up for a third-straight visit to the Finals.

Any win at this time of year will be important for the Leafs, but this one especially because of who the opponent will be. If the Leafs want to go anywhere once the regular season is over, they’ll have to prove they can beat teams that are significantly better than them.

Pittsburgh will offer them that challenge, and if they can win the game, they should gain the confidence they need to make a final push in their last six games.

Fans hope Crosby and Co. will be on cruise control by this point.

Four Game Home Stand - Mar. 30 - Apr. 6, 2010

The final four home games of the season for the Leafs, an excellent chance to go on a winning streak that could take them right to a playoff spot. They will play the Thrashers, Sabres, Bruins, and Flyers on the home-stand, before playing their final two games of the season on the road.

If there was ever a time for the Leafs to show they can win at home, these four games will be it. Over the past few seasons, okay, since Pat Quinn left, the Leafs have been pitiful on their home ice, but if things are to change around the ACC, they need to go out with a bang at the ACC.

If they do so, and win at least the majority of the tough games left on the docket, they could be opening the building for a home playoff game for the first time since 2004.

And that is a home game fans have been waiting for a long time to see.

At Montreal Canadiens - Apr. 10, 2010

Final game of the regular season. In Montreal. Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Just a few years ago it came down to this very matchup in a game that should have seen the winner go to the playoffs. The Leafs won the game, but due to a shootout victory by the New Jersey Devils, they didn’t make the post season.

This year could see similar circumstances, and similar stakes up for grabs in a game that could decide the season for both teams. Right now both teams would be out of the playoffs, but both are only a few points out of that eighth spot.

This game could be the single most watched game of the season for both teams if they’re battling neck-and-neck for a chance at the Stanley Cup.

It’s far too early to tell how each teams’ season will look in April, but a small part of every fan wants to see this one game decide the teams fate, or heck, maybe even this game will be the deciding factor that has the Leafs and Habs meet up in the first round of the playoffs.

But know I’m just getting greedy.

If You Could Turn Back Time: 30 Players the Leafs Could Have Drafted, but Didn’t…Since 1979

September 26, 2009

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter…

Hindsight. It’s a word that oozes possibilities and, in the case of Toronto Maple Leaf fans, a word that haunts them in their sleep like an evil Gremlin.

Over the years the Leafs have had the misfortune of drafting in some very admirable positions. That said, many of the Leafs’ draft picks have not panned out, in fact, the Leafs have the reputation of leaving talent on the table.

With that in mind, it is interesting to note the top pick’s the Leafs left on the table at the draft. In part one, we will take a look at draft years 1979-1989. Which players could the Leafs have drafted but chose to pass on the offer.

Let’s take a closer look…

1979- Laurie Boschman

1979—The Leafs drafted ninth overall, selecting Centre Laurie Boschman of the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL). Boschman had a decent, if not unspectacular career, netting 229 goals and 577 points in 1009 career NHL games.

Boschman only played for the Leafs for parts of three seasons 1979-80, 1980-81, 1981-82. He was a valuable member of the now defunct Winnipeg Jets from 1982-83 through 1989-90, where he netted a career high 32 goals and 76 points in the 1984-85 season.

Clearly, 229 goals and 1000 plus career NHL games is nothing to sneeze at, but the Leafs passed on NHL All-Stars, Tom McCarthy, Mike Ramsey, Paul Reinhart, Brian Propp, Brad McCrimmon and Kevin Lowe. They also passed on NHL Hall of Famer Michael Goulet, who netted 548 goals and 1152 points in 1089 career NHL games.

1980- No Pick

1980—The Leafs did not have a first round draft pick in the draft. Instead, as if afflicted with the Leafs’ curse, the Detroit Red Wings were in possession of the Leafs’ pick, with which they selected Right Winger Mike Blaisdell.

Blaisdell would go on to have a terrible NHL career, scoring an abysmal 70 goals and 154 points in 343 career NHL games.

On the surface, the numbers don’t look too bad, but it should be noted that Blaisdell spent more time in the minors, playing for 10 different outfits, including, former Toronto Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, Newmarket Saints.

Players passed up by the Red Wings included, NHL All-Stars Berry Pederson and Brent Sutter.

1981- Jim Benning

1981—The Leafs drafted sixth overall in this draft, selecting Defenseman Jim Benning. Benning played 605 NHL games, compiling 52 goals and 191 points.

Benning, who, to say the least was a few notches short of spectacular, was selected in front of NHL All-Stars Mark Hunter (7th), Garth Butcher (10th) and Toni Tanti (12th) as well as NHL Hall of Famer’s, Grant Fuhr (8th) and Al MacInnis (15th). Ouch!

1982- Gary Nylund

1982—The Leafs held the third overall selection in this draft. Surely, not even the Leafs could screw this up, right? Wrong!

The Leafs selected Defenseman Gary Nylund in the number three spot, passing on the likes of NHL All-Stars, Phil Housley (sixth), Dave Andreychuk (16th) and, to the dismay of Leaf fans everywhere, the Leafs also passed on legendary NHL Hall of Fame Defenseman, Scott Stevens who went fifth overall to the Washington Capitals.

Oh, what could have been???

1983- Russ Courtnall

1983—After two brutal draft years in a row, you’d think the Leafs brass would get this one right. No…

The Leafs held the seventh overall pick in the draft, selecting future NHL All-Star Russ Courtnall. When you consider some of the stiffs the Leafs had drafted in the past, Courtnall was a pretty great choice. That said, two picks later the Vancouver Canucks selected NHL Hall of Famer Cam Neely.

Neely, who was forced to leave the NHL due to injuries, defined the words “Power Forward”, he was a “franchise player” and very well may have led the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory if not for his well documented injuries.

Neely compiled 395 goals and 694 points in 726 career NHL games. He also added 1241 Penalty Minutes.

Courtnall was a good pick. He played in 1029 career NHL games, compiling 297 goals and 744 points in the process. Courtnall, who played parts of six seasons with Toronto, played 19 seasons in the NHL and was an All-Star in 1994.

1984- Al Iafrate

1984—The Leafs drafted fourth overall, selecting Defenseman Al Iafrate. This was a very strong first round draft, one in which the legendary Mario Lemieux went first overall.

Iafrate, who was the first American Born player ever drafted by the Leafs in the first round of the NHL entry draft, is best known for his lightening fast slap shot, which was clocked at 105.2 MPH. His great shot and gritty play earned him four appearances in the NHL’s All-Star game (1988, 1990, 1993, 1994).

The Leafs passed on the Likes of Shayne Corson (8th), Gary Roberts (12th) and Kevin Hatcher (17th). Any way you slice it, the Leafs did well for themselves by selecting Iafrate.

For the record, legendary Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy was drafted 51st overall by the Montreal Canadiens, fellow Hall of Famer Brett Hull was selected 117th overall by the Calgary Flames and, yet another NHL Hall of Famer, Luc Robitaille was selected 171st overall by the Los Angeles Kings. Apparently, every team was off that day!

1985- Wendel Clark

1985—In an Otherwise Weak draft year, the Leafs got it right when they selected rugged Left Winger Wendel Clark with the first overall pick.

Clark, who was the heart and soul of the Leafs for over a decade, played 793 career NHL games, compiling 330 goals and 564 points, while adding 1690 penalty minutes.

Clark’s totals, while adequate, do not tell the whole story. Wendel had the rare ability to get fans out of their seats. He was able to change the course of a game by throwing a big check or by engaging in one of his legendary fights.

A fan favorite, Clark earned the nickname “Captain Crunch” for his ability to hit opposing players. Statistically Clark may not have been the best Leaf ever, but many fans, especially those who grew up watching the Leafs in the ’80s and ’90s, would argue that Clark was the best player the Leafs ever had.

Other notable draft choices in 1985? NHL All-Stars Dave Manson (11th), Sean Burke (24th), Joe Neiuwendyk (27th) and Mike Richter (28th).

1986- Vincent Damphousse

1986—The Leafs drafted sixth overall and they did well, landing offensively talented Centre Vincent Damphousse. The trouble is, the Leafs failed to hang onto him.

Damphousse, who was a three time All-Star (1991, 1992, 2002), compiled 432 goals and 1205 points in 1378 career NHL games. He scored 35 goals or more four times (1991-92, 19992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96), which is more than most Leafs scored throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

Clearly, if the Leafs had managed to keep Damphousse in the fold he could have helped. Sadly, the Leafs failed to keep him and, as such, missed out on an otherwise impressive draft choice.

Other notable players chosen in 1986? Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch was selected ninth overall.

1987- Luke Richardson

1987—This one really hurts. The Leafs picked seventh overall, selecting defenseman Luke Richardson.

Richardson, who had a decent NHL career, played four seasons with the Leafs (1987-88 through 1990-91). Early on, Richardson did not meet expectations and, as such, the Leafs parted ways with Richardson after the 1990-91 season.

Richardson played parts of 22 NHL seasons, compiling 33 goals and 192 points in 1417 career NHL games. Known more for his stay-at-home style and rough and tumble play, Richardson carved out a nice career for himself. However, he never achieved the level of play that is expected out of a seventh overall selection.

Other notable players chosen? Future Hall of Fame inductee Joe Sakic was selected 15th overall by the Quebec Nordiques.

Sakic, was a 13 time All-Star, two time Stanley Cup Champion (1996, 2001) and multiple Gold Medal winner, who compiled an astonishing 625 goals and 1641 points, ranking him 8th overall in all-time regular season points.

Clearly, Sakic is one of the best players in NHL history, which makes the fact the Leafs failed to draft him extremely frustrating to say the least.

Needless to say, by drafting Sakic the Leafs would have altered their destiny, perhaps even a Stanley Cup Championship would have been achieved. Sadly, Leaf fans can only dream…

1988- Scott Pearson

1988—Quite possibly the most disastrous draft in Toronto Maple Leafs’ history. Picking 6th overall, the Leafs selected Left Winger Scott Pearson.

Pearson was a marginal NHL player, spending more time in the minors as he did in the NHL. In 292 career NHL games Pearson compiled 56 goals and 98 points. With all due respect, Pearson was a terrible player and, as it turns out, a wasted pick for the Leafs.

Other notable players chosen? NHL All-Stars Jeremy Roenick (8th), Rod Brind’Amour (9th) and Teemu Selanne (10th). Are you kidding me??? No need to get into the details, all three of these players careers speak for themselves. All three may very well find themselves in the NHL’s Hall of Fame someday. Pearson? Not so much…

Missing out on Sakic in 1987 and Roenick, Selanne or Brind’Amour in 1988 is like adding salt to an already very open wound. Yet another example of the Leafs inability to identify talent…pass the bucket, I’m gonna

1989- Scott Thornton

1989—As painful as the 1988 draft was, a case can be made that the 1989 draft was just as bad.

The Leafs had three first round pick’s in 1989, third, twelfth and 21st overall. Surely, with three first round draft choices the Leafs would be able to select at least one player that would be the building blocks of the future. Couldn’t they? Yeah, no….

The Leafs selected Centre Scott Thornton with the third overall pick. Thornton, who was a decent fighter, never fulfilled the expectations that were thrust upon him. Somehow, this “Dud” managed to play 941 NHL games, compiling 144 goals and 285 points.

Not to be outdone, the Leafs followed up their disastrous third pick overall by selecting Rob Pearson with the 12th overall pick. Guess what? Pearson was a marginal player as well, compiling 56 goals and 110 points in 269 career NHL games.

Selecting 21st overall, the Leafs took defenseman Steve Bancroft. With the 22nd pick overall, the Quebec Nordiques selected Adam Foote. You tell me, who made the better selection?

Other notable players selected in the 1989 draft? NHL ALL-Stars Bill Guerin (5th), Bobby Holik (10th) and Olaf Kolzig (19th) were all passed on by the Leafs.

Of note: This draft featured some very impressive “sleeper” pick’s. Future Hall of Famer’s, defenseman Nik Lidstrom was selected 53rd overall, Sergei Fedorov was selected 74th overall (Both by the Detroit Red Wings) and perennial All-Star forward Pavol Bure was selected 113th overall by the Vancouver Canucks.

Clearly, the 1980’s were a disaster for the Toronto Maple Leafs, both on the ice and in the draft department. When you consider that the Leafs had a total of ten top 10 pick’s and came away with only Wendel Clark, Vincent Damphousse, Al Iafrate and Russ Courtnall to show for it, well, it’s enough to make you sick to your pants, isn’t it?

What could have been? Obviously, you cannot turn back time and, if the Leafs did draft properly they may not have had the “advantage” of selecting in all the premium positions that they did, but, what could the Leafs lineup have looked like if they hit a few home-runs instead of hitting all those singles?

Check this out…(Grab the Kleenex box, this will even make Montreal Canadien fans cry…)

What Could Have Been???

Michael Goulet (L)—(1979)

Barry Pederson (C)—(1980)

Al MacInnis (D)—(1981)

Scott Stevens (D)—(1982)

Cam Neely (R)—(1983)

Gary Roberts (L)—(1984)

Wendel Clark (L)—(1985)- Actually got this one right!

Brian Leetch (D)—(1986)- Damphousse was a good pick…

Joe sakic (C)—(1987)

Teemu Selanne (R), Jeremy Roenick(C) or Rod Brind’Amour (C)—(1988)

Bill Guerin (R)—(1989) *Lidstrom, Fedorov, Bure, were not on anyone’s first round radar.

Olaf Kolzig (G)—(1989)

Adam Foote (D)—(1989)

Here’s a taste of the lineup—Ohhhh, what could have been…


Michael Goulet

Barry Pederson

Cam Neely

Wendel Clark

Joe Sakic

Gary Roberts

Jeremy Roenick

Bill Guerin


Al Mcinnis

Scott Stevens

Brian Leetch

Adam Foote

Olaf Kolzig (Goaltender)

That’s a pretty impressive lineup, one that surely would have brought a Stanley Cup to Toronto, maybe two or three? Sadly, it is all for not, the Leafs past “is what it is” and so, with little to show for the 1980’s we will look at the 1990’s.

With the embarrassment of the ’80s behind them, the Leafs set their sights on the ’90s.

Perennial bottom feeders, there was no way to go but up for the Leafs. Would they finally figure this draft thing out, or would they revert to their old ways, leaving tremendous talent on the table while selecting underachievers?

1990- Drake Berehowsky

1990- Held in Vancouver at B.C. Place Stadium, the 1990 draft is regarded as one of the best NHL entry drafts of all-time. Fourteen of the 21 first round picks going on to careers of at least 500 games…impressive!

With that in mind, the odds were with the Leafs; they had to have landed a blue-chip prospect, right? Well…

The Leafs held the 10th overall pick, opting to select highly regarded defenseman Drake Berehowsky. Wait for it…Berehowsky never panned out the way the Leafs had hoped (as if you didn’t see that coming).

Berehowsky managed to play 549 NHL games, collecting 37 goals and 149 points along the way. To be honest, Berehowsky was an invisible player most nights, doing everything “well” but nothing “great.”

During his NHL career, Berehowsky spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks, and the Phoenix Coyotes, mostly as a sixth or seventh defenseman.

Notable players drafted that year:

NHL all-star Keith Tkachuk was selected 19th overall by the now defunct Winnipeg Jets and Legendary/future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur was selected with the 20th selection. Here we go again!

1991- The Curse of Tom Kurvers

1991- Thirteen of the first 30 picks in the 1991 draft were, at one time or another, selected as NHL All-Stars.

Eric Lindros was chosen first overall by the Quebec Nordiques, who later traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers for a boatload of talent, which included goaltender Ron Hextall, forwards Chris Simon and Mike Ricci, and Hart trophy winner Peter Foresberg.

Back to the Leafs. In 1989, the Leafs traded away their 1991 first round draft choice to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Tom Kurvers. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but then again, so did hair styles that resembled the “Flock of Seagulls” lead singer…

The Leafs would have held the third overall pick in the 1991 draft, but instead, New Jersey used the pick to select defenseman Scott Niedermayer, who, last time I checked, was a nine-time All-Star, three-time Stanley Cup Champion, and has taken home the Norris and Conn Smythe trophies.

Needless to say, Niedermayer is a future NHL Hall of Famer and certainly one of the best defenseman in NHL history. To nobody’s surprise, Tom Kurvers’s stay in Toronto was short lived. He played parts of two seasons with the Leafs, collecting 15 goals and 40 assists in 89 games.

After his short stay in Toronto, Kurvers’s career fizzled out in 1994-95 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. He never registered more than nine goals in one season after he left Toronto.

1992- Brandon Convery, Grant Marshall

1992- Overall, not a very strong draft year. That said, the Leafs had the eighth and 23rd overall picks, with which they would choose Centre Brandon Convery (8th) and Right Winger Grant Marshall (23rd).

Convery had a tough time making it to the NHL level. In fact, in the end, Convery would play a laughable 72 career NHL games, registering nine goals and 28 points along the way. Pathetic for a eighth overall pick, isn’t it?

Marshall became a serviceable NHL player, but he hardly met the expectations of a first-round draft choice. In 700 career NHL games Marshall collected 92 goals and 239 points.

Other notable players drafted? Well, as usual, the Leafs left some talent on the table. NHL All-Star’s Sergei Krivokrasov (12th), Sergei Gonchar (14th), and Martin Straka (19th).

1993- Kenny Jonsson

1993- Once again, the Toronto Maple Leafs would have two draft choices to make, and once again, the Leafs would fall short of expectations.

Toronto owned the 12th and 19th picks, respectively. The Leafs selected Swedish defenseman Kenny Jonsson with the 12th pick and American born Landon Wilson with the 19th pick.

Jonsson became an All-Star calibre defenseman, but he was long gone from the Leafs’ organization by that point.

As for Landon Wilson, well he, like many former Maple Leafs’ first round draft choices, spent most of his career in the minors, playing 375 career NHL games over 14 years and collecting 53 goals and 119 points along the way.

Other notable players selected:

Underrated NHL-er Adam Deadmarsh went 14th overall and NHL All-Star’s Jason Alisson, Saku Koivu, and Todd Bertuzzi, went 17th, 21st, and 23rd, respectively.

1994- Eric Fichaud

1994- This time the Leafs would draft in the 16th position. For the most part, aside from a few bright spots, this was a poor draft.

Not to be outdone, the Leafs drafted goaltender Eric Fichaud. Never heard of him?

Ahh, that’s because he never managed to play a single game in the NHL. Yes, Leaf fans, yet another example of a wasted, if not, unimpressive draft choice by your fearless leaders!

Other notable players selected:

Goaltender Jose Theodore was selected 44th overall, Forward Patrick Elias was selected 51st overall, and Ottawa Senators franchise player Daniel Alfredsson was selected in the 133rd, just to name a few…

1995- Jeff Ware

1995- The Leafs drafted 15th overall, selecting defenseman Jeff Ware. Is it just me, or is anyone else noticing that the Leafs are historically terrible at evaluating defensive talent?

Ware, like many of Toronto’s first-round draft picks before him, was a terrible NHL player. He managed a paltry 21-career NHL games, collecting one assist, and 12 penalty minutes.

Really? That’s it? Are you kidding me? Fifteenth overall? No wonder the Leafs have not won a Cup in 42 years!

Other notable players selected:

Goaltender Martin Biron (16th), forward Petr Sykora (18th), and forward Aleksey Morozov round out the first round.

1996- Marek Posmyk

1996- The Leafs did not own a first round selection in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. The Leafs made their first selection in the second round (36th overall), and they selected defenseman Marek Posmyk.

God only knows if Posmyk ever played an NHL game and, if he did, it certainly was not memorable.

Left on the table? NHL All-Star defenseman Zdeno Chara and Tom Poti were selected with the 56th and 59th overall selections, and under-appreciated defenseman Colin White was taken with the 49th pick.

Just shoot me….

1997- No pick…Roberto Luongo

1997- Leaf fans were reeling from the loss of their former Captain, heart and soul winger Wendel Clark. Succumbing to fan pressure, then GM Cliff Fletcher consummated a trade with the New York Islanders to bring Clark back to Hogtown.

They say that you have to give up something to get something and in this case the Leafs gave up what would end up being the third overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft.

The New York Islanders used that pick to select perennial All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo, arguably one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in the NHL today.

Just another example of a GM’s impatience, sacrificing the future for today. Coincidentally, Clark was all but finished as an NHL player and, upon his return, he never made the kind of impact Leaf fans expected.

1998- Nik Antropov

1998- Blessed with the 10th overall pick, the Leafs selected little known forward Nik Antropov. At the time, the pick came as a shock to many, but Leaf scouts were confident that the little known player from Kazakhstan would be an impact player.

Well, hampered by injuries, Antropov has—to this point anyway—had a lackluster NHL career. He scored a career high 26 goals and 56 points in 2007-08. In 528 career NHL games Antropov has collected 132 goals and 304 assists.

So, did the Leafs get it right? Yeah, no!

The Leafs managed to leave three All-Star calibre centre’s on the table. Alex Tanguay, Simon Gagne, and Scott Gomez went 12th, 22nd, and 27th overall, respectively.

Another draft year, another “dud”…

1999- Luca Cereda

1999- Let’s make this one short and sweet. The Leafs drafted forward Luca Cereda with the 24th pick overall. Cereda was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect in November 2000 and never appeared in an NHL game. Okay, this time it was just bad luck, but, come on already!

Two picks later, with the 26th selection, the Ottawa Senators selected NHL All-Star Martin Havlat. For the record, Havlat has 169 goals and 396 points in 470 career NHL games, and he’s just getting started.

Check out part three when I’ll review the Leafs’ draft choices from the years 2000 through 2009…prepare to be dazzled…or not…

Until next time,


Bryan Berard - The Forgotten Franchise Player

August 23, 2009

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter… “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do”.
-John Wooden

There is no better quote on the planet that could describe the career of former NHL defenseman Bryan Berard.

Bryan Berard was originally drafted first overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 1995 NHL entry draft. Shortly thereafter, Berard, who had scored 31 goals and 58 assists as a member of the OHL Detroit Whalers prior to the draft, informed the Senators that he would not report to the team.

As a result of his refusal to join the Senators, Berard, along with Martin Straka, was traded to the New York Islanders for defenseman Wade Redden and goaltender Don Beaupre.

With the scandal of his refusal to play for the Senators behind him, Berard entered the 1996-97 NHL season as a member of the upstart New York Islanders.

Berard did not disappoint, scoring 8 goals and adding 40 assists, while posting 86 penalty minutes. His poise with the puck while in the offensive zone was well documented and his skating ability was off the charts, clearly Berard came as advertised, a legitimate top tier defenseman, a legitimate franchise player, or was he?

Berard was rewarded for his strong first year effort by being awarded the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. His 48 points would be the most he would score in his 11 year NHL career; curious that a player with so much potential would peak in his first full NHL season.

The following season, 1997-98, Berard would score 14 times and added 32 assists, good enough for 46 points. Offensively, Berard was quickly establishing himself as one of the NHL’s premier defensmen, but he struggled in his own zone and his discipline and decision making in his own zone was often questioned.

The following season, 1998-99, Berard would fall out of favor in New York. The Islanders, who had a reputation for having very little patience with their younger players, decided to trade Berard to the Toronto Maple Leafs for veteran netminder Felix “The Cat” Potvin.

The arrival of goaltender Curtis Joseph to Toronto had made Potvin expendable. The  question was, what made the Islanders give up on a young talented defenseman, regardless of his minor shortcomings? Fact is, giving up on Berard was a complete mystery to many in NHL circles. Sure, Berard had his faults, but at just 22 years of age, and with huge upside and untapped potential, were the Islanders giving up on Berard too soon?

In 38 games with the Leafs Berard scored five goals and 14 assists, good enough for 19 points. His impact was bigger than the stats suggested. Berard gave the Leafs a huge boost, his ability to start the rush was of enormous value and his offensive ability made the Leafs power play better. Berard seemed to be the final piece of the puzzle.

Berard would play 17 playoff games with the Leafs that season, scoring one goal and adding 8 assists for 9 points. Again, the stats do not suggest Berard had a huge impact on the team, but those who watched the Leafs playoff run know Berard was an integral part of that team.

Thinking back, Berard added to an already very talented Leafs defensive corps, one that could have been amongst the NHL’s best for years to come. Danil Markov, Tomas Kaberle, Sylvain Cote, Alexander Karpotsev, made up one heck of a defensive corps. Can you imagine if the Leafs had kept Jason Smith? I digress, back to the story…

Besides Berard’s impact on the ice he was well liked by his teammates. Berard was often spotted out in the local nightclubs with the likes of Mats Sundin, Tie Domi, Todd Warriner, Darby Hendrickson, Glen Healy and others. How do I know? I was there with them a few times…The Shark Club at Yonge and Eglington comes to mind.

To the dismay of Leaf fans everywhere, the Leafs playoff run would end in defeat, losing to the hated Buffalo Sabres in the Conference Finals. Yeah, I was in Buffalo for game three, a 4-2 loss for Toronto, can’t tell you how much fun that was!

It seemed as if Berard had found a home in Toronto. His potential was endless and he was surrounded by a good mixture of veterans to keep him in line and offer experience. Great teammates, close friendships, playing in the hotbed of hockey, clearly, Berard could be a star in Toronto.

Sadly, it was not to be.

On March 11, 2000, Bryan Berard’s life and hockey career would change forever. During a regular season game, ironically against the Ottawa Senators, Berard was high-sticked by Marian Hossa. Hossa, who had a reputation for playing with an active stick, clipped Berard’s right eye, resulting in a retinal tear and a detached retina.

The result of the injury was that Doctors felt Berard would eventually lose his eye. Berard reportedly told anyone that would listen that he would play hockey again and, to his credit, after seven tough operations in 1999-2000 he improved his vision to 20/600.

Unfortunately, 20/600 did not meet the NHL’s minimum vision requirement of 20/400, so Berard eventually settled on having a lens implanted into his eye, which brought his vision up to NHL minimum standards of 20/400.

During his time away from the game Berard was awarded a $6.5 million insurance settlement. Through it all Berard remained defiantly confident that he would emerge from his surgeries and play hockey again.

True to his words, after trying out for the New York Rangers in 2002-03, Berard made the roster and signed a one year, $2 million contract. As a result of said contract Berard was forced to give up his $6.5 million insurance settlement, a gutsy move for a player with Berard’s limited visual acuity, clearly Berard’s love of the game outweighed any handicap.

Berard played in all 82 games for the Rangers, netting two goals and adding 21 assists, good enough for 23 points. Not bad for a guy that could barely see out of his right eye!

2002-03 saw Berard sign with the Boston Bruins. In 80 games Berard scored ten goals, added 28 assists, for a total of 38 points, clearly, Berard was back!

Berard switched uniforms again in 2003-2004, signing with the Chicago Blackhawks. In just 58 games Berard scored 13 goals and added 34 assists. His 47 point effort was the most he had scored since his rookie year when he netted 48 points as a member of the Islanders.

Berard would round out his 11 year NHL career as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he played just 55 games over two seasons.

In early 2006, the results of a November 2005 drug test revealed Berard had tested positive for an anabolic steroid. The NHL did not suspend Berard, but he was suspended from international competition for two years. At the time of the test results, Berard said of the incident, “I made a mistake that resulted in suspension and, while unintentional, I take full responsibility…I am disappointed in myself.”

These days, Berard patrols the blueline for Vityaz Chekhov of the Kontinental Hockey League. In 2008-09, in just 25 games, Berard scored 17 points.

Bryan Berard had the potential to be one of the NHL’s best defensemen. Sadly, due to injury and circumstance, we will never know just how good he could have been. His heart and determination was enough for him to score 47 points in in 58 games, all with just one good eye.

To me, with that kind of heart, the sky was the limit for Berard, it’s a shame we never got the opportunity to see Berard at his best.

Until next time,


Phil Oreskovic- Toronto’s Future Fierce Friendly Giant

August 2, 2009

By Louis “King of Roncesvalles” Pisano… After his ten game stint up in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the name on the lips of every fan is that of the rugged stay at home defenseman Phil Oreskovic. This Brampton native played the majority of his OHL career with the Brampton Battalion and was drafted in the 3rd round 82nd overall in 2005 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. This 6’3 217 lbs gentle giant, off the ice, can be seen after games signing autographs for kids, and always wearing the big smile that was on his face the first time I had the pleasure of interviewing him. It was February 18th, and although I had been watching him from the press box during numerous games previously, I had never interviewed him, he was leading the Toronto Marlies in the plus/minus category, registering a plus four that game which moved him up to plus twenty on the season. When he came out to talk to me about the game he reached a huge hand forward shaking mine with vigour, saying with a huge grin “Hi my names Phil!” I asked him about being the best plus minus guy on the team, and asked him if he thought he had a chance of going up to the NHL and he said “Uh ya know I take every day, day by day, and just come to the rink, and if it’s for the Marlies or for the Leafs, I’m giving a hundred percent either way, just take it day by day, you know I’d like to contribute, to wherever I’m playing.” After this I told him, I think he should be up there getting a shot!

Fast forward to the present, he’s now been there and done that, and I wanted to know, now that he’s back with the Marlies, what the experience was like…“It was definitely a great experience, exciting for me and my family, you know home town kid, it was definitely real good, a little overwhelming ya know, it was nice to have all that opportunity, and I got pretty good ice time, it was definitely a great feeling”. I asked him about his three fights, first against Tim Jackman… “Jackman, yeah it was a good one, he’s a tough guy” and then Andre Roy, and last night, (Saturday 28thvs Boston) Milan Lucic, I said to him you look no worse for wear, he replied “Yeah, yeah, you know I’m still smiling which is the most important thing, they’re tough guys, and that’s part of my game, and you know I like to think I’m a player as well, so if I can play, and bring a tough guy role as well, and if that’s what they’re happy with, and move the puck well and just do my job.” He scored his first goal against Washington and Jose Theodore he said of this, “It was real exciting, yeah definitely!” and “It was definitely exciting to get that first goal, like I said for family and friends everyone, and I was getting text messages and phone calls and messages so, it was exciting, and it was a big relief.”

His smile is a constant, and this guy is just a pleasure to be around, in my eyes he has a bright future in the NHL. I know Toronto fans are excited about having him up there next year, and we will all be rooting for good Canadian kid! Good luck Phil, buddy Toronto loves ya man!

Thanks for the Memories, Joe: Hockey Loses a Giant

July 8, 2009

By Josh Lewis… So this is how it feels to lose an old friend.

When Joe Sakic announces his retirement from the NHL on Thursday, hockey will lose one of the best it ever had.

Aside from one of the greatest wrist shots in league history, the game will say farewell to many things when Sakic hangs ‘em up.

Class. Integrity. Leadership. Dedication. Pride. Skill.

These words don’t even begin to describe the extraordinary package hockey fans were blessed enough to witness during Sakic’s 20-year career.

In fact, we may never see such a mixture of ability, class, and success again.

That’s just the kind of player and person Joe Sakic was.

There wasn’t a person in the game or in the stands who had anything but the utmost respect for him. He made fans and admirers everywhere he went—even Detroit.

Sakic was the kind of player who attracted casual fans to the sport, and not always because of Colorado’s success.

My stepmother, as you may imagine, has never been a hockey fan. But during the Avs’ heyday in the late 1990s, after watching a couple of games, she started to watch more often to see Sakic play. Not because he had a phenomenal wrist shot, or outstanding vision, or because he and Peter Forsberg comprised the best 1-2 punch in the NHL. And it wasn’t because she thought Sakic was cute.

No, my stepmother tuned in because she respected the hell out of Joe Sakic as a human being.

Even now, without the faintest interest in who wins or loses, she makes sure to watch any time Colorado is on the tube.

The word “class” has become one of the most overused words in sports today. It seems anyone without a criminal record is eligible for class act status.

In Sakic’s case, the word fits like a glove. He may as well have it trademarked.

But how did Burnaby Joe earn his reputation? Why is he at the head of the class when it comes to hockey’s all-time good guys?

Well, there are the intangibles: The way he carries himself, his soft-spoken, respectful approach to the media, his willingness to share the spotlight.

But there are also a few distinctive moments and features of Sakic’s career that help to make him one of the greatest ambassadors the game has ever known.

First, he spent his entire 20-year career with the same franchise, starting out with the sad-sack Quebec Nordiques and leading the team up the ladder to two Stanley Cups after moving to Denver. He captained the club for 16 of those years.

In recent memory, only Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux can be placed in the same company.

But the one moment that will forever sum up Sakic’s class and selflessness in the minds of everyone who saw it came on June 9, 2001, when the Avalanche won their second Stanley Cup.

Tradition calls for the captain to receive the silver mug from the NHL commissioner and hoist it over his head.

This, however, was no ordinary Stanley Cup win.

Sakic held in the urge to raise the chalice, instead handing it to 40-year-old Ray Bourque, who tasted Stanley Cup glory for the first time in his 22 NHL seasons.

The Avs had dedicated their playoff run to Bourque, adopting a slogan of “Mission 16W”, referencing the number of wins it would take to get the legend his first Cup.

The moment Sakic handed the Cup to Bourque, 19,309 fans inside the Pepsi Center and millions more in bars and living rooms across North America grinned like Cheshire cats.

It was an unforgettable, immortal moment that brought tears to the eyes whether you were a Colorado fan, a New Jersey fan, or just a hockey fan at all. And it will forever be remembered as the moment when Sakic went from a classy player to hockey’s epitome of grace.

So, all that said, it’s fitting that Sakic would close out his career in the same manner he played it: with dignity. He didn’t hang on like so many others, marring his legacy and hurting his team.

It’s unfortunate that his final season was decimated by injury, but Sakic recognized that he could no longer contribute at the highest level. And, despite the tantalizing prospect of playing for his country in his hometown at the Vancouver Olympics, he knew it was time to pass the torch to Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and the rest of Colorado’s future stars.

Of course, there’s more to the Avalanche captain than his glowing personal attributes. There are other reasons for him becoming one of the most beloved players in hockey history.

Sakic will go out as the eighth-highest scorer of all-time with 1,641 career points. His 625 goals rank him 14th in league history.

But he cemented his dominance when it mattered: during the playoffs. Sakic is tied for seventh in all-time playoff points with 188 and his 19 post-season game-winners puts him in a tie for third, behind only Brett Hull and Wayne Gretzky.

Most impressive: Sakic is by far the NHL’s all-time leader in playoff overtime goals, with his eight doubling that of any other player to ever suit up in this league.

If that doesn’t define clutch, I don’t know what does.

Of course, Joe Sakic wouldn’t be Joe Sakic without his contribution to team success. He captained the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups, including one in their first season in Colorado, capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy that year.

Yes, those teams were stacked with the likes of Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Adam Foote and many others. But Sakic was undeniably the glue that held them together.

At the end of the day, Sakic’s most memorable on-ice achievement may have been his role in Team Canada’s first gold medal in 50 years at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

After a relatively slow start to the tournament, Sakic started to heat up during medal-round wins over Finland and Belarus. But he saved his best for the biggest stage, the gold medal game against the United States.

Sakic scored twice in the final, including the winning goal—courtesy of that potent wrist shot—leading Canada to a 5-2 win and the greatest hockey moment this country has experienced since 1972. He was named team MVP.

But the goal I will never forget was Sakic’s second, the one that put the game away with 1:40 on the clock. Bob Cole’s call of the goal (beginning at the 2:58 mark) still sends chills down my spine, and it is without a doubt the greatest sports call of my lifetime.

I will always remember where I was at the precise moment Joe Sakic ended Canada’s agonizing wait for Olympic glory.

I began to seriously watch hockey in 1994, and with all due respect to Gordie Howe, Sakic was Mr. Hockey to this wide-eyed eight-year-old.

He truly was one of my heroes, and in this age of overwhelming NHL youth, he now becomes the last one to ride into the sunset.

Only one word seems appropriate to sum up what Joe Sakic meant to me, legions of daydreaming young fans and the game itself.

Why The NHL Draft Needs To Change

May 25, 2009

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter…

Failure, for the most part anyways, is not rewarded, unless of course you are a professional sports team and it’s draft time, then you are rewarded.

The NHL draft has long been the subject of great debate, some feel the current system of the draft lottery (Heavily weighted towards rewarding the bottom 5 teams) is the fairest way of establishing which team will get the coveted first overall pick; others liked the old way of awarding the worst team in the League with the first overall pick, plain and simple, yet still ineffective in my mind. In each case the bottom feeders of the League are being rewarded for mediocrity and failure, is this the right way to do it? It says here, no!

The NHL draft lottery is in need of change, the current system still does not address the issue of teams “Tanking” in order to position themselves to be in consideration for the top draft picks. Sometimes, a team has a bad year and ends up on the bottom- key player injuries, bad luck, poor Free Agent signings and poor coaching can conspire to handcuff a team from competing, “Stuff” happens, and I am “Ok” with that. The problem I have is that we often see a string of 4-5 years where a team continually finishes in the bottom five selling their fans with dreams of “A bright future”, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins are a prime example of this. Consider this for a moment, if not for the rewards of a top draft pick, where would these two franchises be? Nowhere, that’s where, and in the case of the Pittsburgh Penguins, they would likely be in Hamilton. Why should either one of these franchises be in the position they are now when they essentially gave up? Why were these teams rewarded for being bad?

Herein lies the problem with the bottom feeders. Most of these teams do not spend anywhere near the top of the Salary Cap, most of these teams spend very little money on free agents, so from the NHLPA side of things, these teams actually bring the value of it’s membership down. Also, many of these teams bury players in the minors that otherwise deserve a shot in NHL, why bring a player up late in the year if he is going to catapult your club out of the basement, right?

Well, I have a solution. Instead of rewarding mediocrity, why not make the draft lottery a far less biased lottery? In my draft, teams that spend to the limit, develop their young players and make great managerial decisions (Builders) will be rewarded for a job well done, not slighted. My draft would feature a more balanced approach, designed to reward all teams with a very marginal greater chance of getting a top pick if your team falters, fair is fair, right? My draft would accomplish a few things, first, it would ensure that all clubs would strive to be as competitive as possible, no tanking- thus we would have a better product/more competitive product on the ice, which is better for the NHL and it’s fans alike. Second, teams would be forced to spend more on Free Agents, which is good for the players and fans. Third, it would put an end to teams being unfairly rewarded for poor play, poor management and poor coaching, essentially making each and every NHL team accountable for their results, no passengers here, just hard working franchises on and off the ice.

The thought of being exempt from consideration for a top draft pick would likely serve as a wake-up call for many of the NHL’s troubled franchises. If you force NHL clubs to be accountable for their actions or lack-thereof, you are sending the right message, essentially, “Get your S*it together”, nobody is feeling sorry for you, pick it up, or shove off, end of story….. There are consequences in everyday life for mediocrity, it’s about time it transferred into the NHL.

Without further adieu, here is a look at a more balanced, realistic draft. In order to make the draft completely void of teams “Tanking” I took into consideration how the current system rewards the bottom feeders and took that away from them. The first thing I would do is make the draft lottery a pure “Lottery”- essentially each team would have a pre-determined amount of balls put into a barrel, the first ball picked would receive the 30th overall pick, the second ball picked would receive the 29th overall pick, and so on until there was only one team left, that team would get the coveted number one pick, essentially the NHL draft would turn into Survivor! Sounds a little like the current draft, doesn’t it? Well, there is a twist (You knew it was coming, didn’t you?) My draft would be limited to a total of 100 balls, If a team finishes in the bottom 5 (26th-30th) they will receive 4 balls, thus they would have a 4% chance of getting the coveted #1 pick, the teams that finish 6th-25th would receive 3 balls, thus they will have a 3% chance of winning the number one pick, the teams that finish 1st-5th would receive 4 balls, giving the teams at the top the same chance (4%) as the bottom feeders, essentially they are rewarded for a job well done.

If the NHL adopted this draft teams would be focused on winning, not trying to ensure a better draft position. The difference in reward is so marginal that all NHL teams will be forced to be better, every move would be of the utmost importance, there would be a sense of accountability, no longer could your franchise sit in the weeds in hopes of landing the next Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos, essentially all franchises would have a realistic shot at bettering their teams, and deservedly so.

The NHL draft is in dire need of a shakeup, and the sooner the better. Let’s hope the powers that be see the value in instituting a draft like this, after all, it’s only fair to reward the franchises that do a great job, they are the ones the NHL markets itself around, rewarding failure just doesn’t make sense.

Until next time,


Paul To The Hall: Paul Henderson Should Be Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame

May 22, 2009

By Mike Allder…  “Here’s a shot…Henderson made a wild stab for it and fell.  Here’s another shot right in front…they score! Henderson has scored for Canada! Henderson, right in front of the net!” Foster Hewitt, September 28, 1972

The highlight is as vivid today as it was that sunny afternoon.

Sure it was only eight games but it was the most important eight games ever played in Canadian hockey history.

It has almost been four decades since “The Goal” by Paul Henderson sent Canada into a delirious state of euphoria—yet to this day, Henderson is still not inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Why?

Canada as a nation immortalized Paul by minting a silver coin and having a postage stamp commemorating that historic goal on the twenty fifth anniversary in 1997. Whoop dee do.

Frankly, it is sad.

A true immortalization from Canada the world’s greatest hockey country would be to have Paul honoured in the place where all great hockey players along with great hockey moments are frozen in time, defrosted back to life with a simple visit to the museum of hockey—the Hockey Hall of Fame.

True, the Hockey Hall of Fame was created to acknowledge hockey’s greatest players, a place where the greats could forever sit perched above the not so great, the goods, and the downright lousy players. The place the superstars forever could be placed upon their rightful and well deserved pedestals forever appreciated never to be forgotten.

Paul Henderson would not be classed as a great player—but he was not a lousy player either. Paul was a good player, a speedy right winger who played a dozen years in the NHL, scoring over twenty goals in seven seasons and playing in two All-Star games.  Including a stint of five seasons in the WHA, Paul ended his pro career with 1,067 games played and a total of 760 points—hardly Hall of Fame numbers in any hockey fans book.

But—and it is a big but.

Consider if Paul had not been the sharpest shooter during that ‘72 series, scoring on an astounding twenty-five percent of his shots on Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak (who just so happens to be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame).  Paul scored seven goals on a total of twenty eight shots—and the last three goals were all game winners, all clutch goals. When Team Canada needed three wins, Paul delivered.

Consider what might of been had Team Canada not come away from the Luzhniki Sports Palace victorious.  I could not imagine how we has a nation would have dealt with losing to the Big Bad Russians. After all, so much was expected, so much was demanded—and thanks to Paul Henderson scoring with thirty-four seconds left in the final Game Eight, so much was delivered.

Thank you, Mr Henderson. Whew, that was close.

As I glance at my framed Team Canada ’72 picture on my den wall, I count a total of fourteen players who played in that series have been inducted into The Hockey Hall of Fame. (Fifteen players if you count Bobby Orr, who did not play due to injury.) Harry Sinden, who coached the team, was inducted in the builders category.

Disgraced hockey czar Alan Eagleson was head of the NHLPA at the time.  He was the most instrumental in the birth of the Summit Series, but resigned his post in 1998 after the Hall of Fame had threatened to expel him.  He had also been inducted in the builders category.

So the Hockey Hall of Fame had sixteen total inductees from Team Canada ‘72, but now only fifteen plaques appear in the Great Hall. I am proposing that Paul Henderson be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and bring the total inductees from Team Canada ‘72 back to sixteen honoured members.

Team Canada ‘72 was one of the greatest moments in the history of Canada, let alone the history of hockey. It is a shame that the one player who if not for his timely, clutch goals, Team Canada ‘72 would of been long forgotten decades ago. I mean does anyone ever talk about Team Canada and the Summit Series ‘74?

It is now the time for Paul Garnet Henderson to have his rightful place amongst hockey’s greatest all-time heroes. It is now time for Paul Garnet Henderson to be inducted into The Hockey Hall of Fame.

My Hall includes Paul.

The NHL Instigator Rule, And What The League Needs To Do With It

May 15, 2009

by Derek Harmsworth…

First, a confession, I hate the instigator rule.

I don’t hate it because it discourages retaliation, or late game fights.  I don’t hate it because in some cases it allows the league’s pest to hide behind the rule while running amok on the ice.

No, there is a completely different reason I hate the NHL’s instigator rule.

With all due respect to the league’s officials, they simply have no idea how to use it properly, which seriously puts a dent into its credibility and raises questions to its mere existence.

All of this would be a moot point if it weren’t for a recent trend that has developed this season: players who throw clean hits, and then have to answer the bell in terms of a fight.

While this trend is not the biggest issue in hockey right now, it is becoming an annoyance. Furthermore, I think if you look back to all those instances in which a player had to defend himself in a fight following a clean hit, you will find one similarity. There likely was not an instigator rule handed out in any of the cases.

By definition, and I will be paraphrasing here, a player instigates a fight when he drops the gloves first, or grabs another player, and begins throwing punches without the other player having a say in the matter.

Saturday night’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins is another example in the latest saga of instigator misuse.

After Leafs’ defenseman Luke Schenn delivered a solid, yet perfectly legal, hit on Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Kennedy, who had come off the bench in the midst of a post-whistle line change, grabbed Schenn and began a shoving match, which escalated into a fight.

Coming off the bench, grabbing a player, and getting into a fight breaks a few rules, but apparently the instigator rule is not one of them.

For the record, Kennedy has been suspended for one game by the NHL for coming off the bench and engaging in a fight.

And while I hope people don’t look at this as pro-Leafs banter, the time is now for the NHL to decide where to go with the instigator rule.

Do they keep it? And if they do, will they finally begin to enforce it properly?

While it seems to be on the agenda at every general managers meeting, the time may finally come for the league to take a serious look at the rule, and whether it serves a purpose in today’s NHL.

All of this will surely be a double-edged sword considering the talk of banning fighting all together.

Playoff Overtime, Like It Or Not, It’s Here To Stay…..

May 6, 2009

By Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter…

There is nothing more exciting than NHL playoffs, the hard hits, the great saves, the late period heroics, the heart the players exude, the sacrifice the players make, the importance of every minute, every shift, every play, add it all up and you have the recipe for great hockey. NHL playoff hockey is (As they say) the “Shizzle my nizzle”, it drips with intensity and passion, you can’t beat it…or can you? Well, there is one way, throw in a little overtime and you have yourself the ultimate in a playoff game, “Sudden death” (As it is also known) adds a whole other dramatic dimension to an already tense affair, and I for one hope they never change it.

Recently, there has been some debate as to weather or not the NHL should “Tweak” their overtime policy in the playoffs. The argument is that while many NHL fans love the dramatic finishes overtime brings about, they would like the finish to be quicker. Some have proposed the NHL should go to 5 on 5 overtime for the first overtime period, 4 on 4 for the second and 3 on 3 for the third overtime. The rationale is that games that go to double or triple overtime are just too long and ultimately take away from the strong play that got the teams to this point. Fans don’t want to spend 4+ hours watching hockey, especially when it happens during a late West Coast tilt. If the games were settled in a more timely manner the level of play would be greater and the fans would be more apt to stay awake and watch the match until the finish. What? Who’s coming out with this crap? Why the heck would you want to ruin the great thing that IS overtime in the playoffs? If you ask me, the people that are suggesting this (Probably full-time hockey helmet wearers who took short buses to school) ought to have their collective heads examined,

Overtime has been a part of the NHL playoffs since Heinz started making ketchup, there is nothing wrong with the ketchup and there is nothing wrong with endless overtimes in the playoffs. If you can’t stay awake to watch the game use your PVR and record the game. Don’t have a PVR? Get out the old VCR, record the game and watch it in the :Am, or better still, rest up the night before “Sally”, this is the NHL playoffs, there is no time like overtime and there is no time for sleep, get your priorities straight, will ya?

Why is it the non-traditionalists are always trying to take away the best parts of our game? Changing the foundation of what has always been a part of the games heritage would be an act of stupidity and should be vigorously fought. Have you ever seen the players smile more than in the grips of double overtime? Have you ever heard a louder crowd than game seven of a playoff series that goes to OT? Have you ever seen an empty house when a playoff game goes to OT? The answer is “No” all around, fans and players alike love overtime, it is a part of the game and in my mind the fairest way to decide a game. It is what the players play for, that rare opportunity to be the hero and win the game/series while every hockey fan is gripped to their TV, there is nothing like it in all of sports, overtime separates the men form the boys, and it needs to stay.

The whole argument for change is bogus. Ultimately it is the players that pay the price in overtime, so why the heck should the fans sleep, or lack-thereof, come into the conversation? Having the Stanley Cup playoffs decided in a 4 on 4 format or 3 on 3 format would be an act of stupidity, the scenario rarely comes up in the regular season so why would you  allow it to enter the conversation when it comes to the playoffs? I liken the scenario to deciding the World Championships and Olympics via the shoot-out, I have never understood why these tournaments are ever decided this way. Sure it’s great when Canada wins it in the shoot out, but what about the alternative when they lose? It makes me crazy to think that a World Championship can be decided by a skills competition, I mean, what’s the hurry anyhow? Each time Canada has been on the losing end I am left pretty pissed off, there is nothing worse than taking the heart, passion and physical play out of the game in order to get a decision, let them play all night for all I care, it’s better than watching a shoot-out or 4 on 4 for that matter, isn’t it?

The playoffs is a time for players to showcase their talent, it is a time for heros to be born and for the unknown to be “Known”. If you take away or change the format of playoff overtime you are messing with the very fabric of the game, I for one hope sanity prevails and the NHL leaves well enough alone. Mr. Bettman, Fans, give your heads a shake, why would you take the most exciting part of the playoffs out of the game? Some of the best playoff games of all-time have been played well into double overtime, there is no substitute for “Sudden death”. Should the NHL facilitate some changes? Hell no! The NHL should leave well enough alone, Change is not necessary, and if you do make changes, you’re an idiot!

Until next time,


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