Toronto Maple Leafs’ Luke Schenn Must Be Marlies Bound

October 20, 2009

by Ben Dover… If there is one salient element to produce itself over the last 17 days of this hockey season, it is the regression of Luke Schenn on the blue line.

Schenn is currently sitting on a minus five for the season, and on Saturday night against the New York Rangers, Ron Wilson threw Schenn on the ice for only three shifts in the final period. Schenn was averaging about 20 minutes of ice time last year, This year he is considered a top four defence man.

The chemistry with Francois Beauchemin is not clicking and the young defenceman seems to be very indecisive. Some of the better forwards Schenn has opposed have highlighted some severe inexperience and confidence.

The goal last night by Enver Lisen, underlined Schenn’s complete lack of awareness. Lisen skated right behind him to knock in the rebound, Schenn looked dazed and confused. The goal by Camilleri on opening night is another example of smart, quick forward exposing some serious flaws in Schenn’s defensive skills

For the benefit of not only the player and the team’s future, Schenn needs to be moved down to the Marlies. This will remove him for the toxic atmosphere in the Leafs dressing room. It will remove him from the confidence destroying situations he finds himself in right now.

With a road trip coming next week, the leafs could end up winless in the month of October. Toronto’s palpable anger might get directed at the young man from Saskatchewan.

The Marlies will allow him to feel more secure and feel free to make mistakes as he improves his attacking skills. Confidence will improve has he feels dominant in the AHL and start beating up on some lower players.

Luke Schenn was Toronto’s fifth round pick in 2008 and has been highlighted as a future captain of the team. It would be futile to expose this young man to this kind of criticism, anger and soul destroying environment so early in his career. It is best to demote him in the spirit of future success and not short term distress.

Leafs Defence Corp Throwing Toskala Under The Bus

October 5, 2009

by Ben Dover… The game between Toronto and Washington was a prime time exhibition for the hypnotised Toronto public. An exhibition to really see how much their team has improved.

The preseason honeymoon was over and the real test had begun.

Washington, lead by Alex Ovechkin, is a cup contender and was to give a bigger test than Montreal two days before.

The game against Montreal showed some old habits die hard. The inability of the team to hold onto a lead, terrible penalties in crucial situations, and more worrisome, not playing with enough commitment on the penalty kill.

Afterwards, Toronto’s coaching staff promised to tighten things up.

The defence corp that last year was so anemic, was now “one of the best in the league”. The game against Montreal of an aberration. This season, Toronto would remove themselves from worst in the league in goals against.

Against Washington last night, the Leafs coughed up six goals. They have now allowed ten goals in two games.

Washington is a very strong offensive team, however, three goals the other night were absolutely horrible and highlight three players that were found puck watching and not hustling. It can be confidently said that three goals by Washington were completely unearned or contested by the Leafs. Three goals that left their goal tender abandoned

The most forgivable goal, and only because this player is not a veteran, was the fifth goal by Washington.

John Mitchell’s positioning was non existent in this play. At the beginning, Toronto was on the attack and Mitchell was marking Laitch. The puck was pushed towards the Washington goal, camera side board. On the turnover, Laitch quickly turned and skated toward the Toronto goal. Mitchell made no effort to follow his man. The puck was passed up the middle of the ice and Toronto now had a three on two to contend with. Morrison split Kaberle and Komisarek. Morrison, now one on one with Gustavsson made no mistake.

The third Washington goal by Laitch showed some horrible awareness of Francois Beauchemin.

The play actually started with a solid goal attempt by Toronto, with an unlucky miss to Ponikarovsky. The pucked ended up with the Caps behind the net. Laitch was at the beginning unmarked, but being watched by Grabvoski. Once Laitch noticed the turnover of the puck he skated along the right side board to the blue line. He was not followed by Grabovski. Beauchemin at this time was in the exact middle of the ice with Schen to his right. The puck was passed accurately to Laitch, and he didn’t waste the space. Beauchmin was left completely flat footed and scored a one on one against Toskala.

The most terrible of the goals, Washington’s sixth goal, can be put down to the absolute indifference of Jason Blake to do his share of defending. Semin ,coming from the right side of the puck from his own territory, simply skated without a single Maple Leaf in his vicinity. Blake was skating back towards his goal down the centre of the ice. Semin skating to the extreme right of Blake was by himself, and without anybody in sight, had Gustavson at his mercy.

All three goals mentioned above, created one-on-one situations with Toronto’s goal tenders. Toskala and later Gustavsson had absolutely no help from their defence. Wilson needs to tighten this ship up and quickly or he’ll not only lose Toskala but maybe Gustavvson as well.

From Russia with Love: Can the Leafs’ KGB Line Be a Force in 2010?

April 12, 2009

By Ben Dover… As we close down another Maple Leafs season and we look at the past in perspective, one positive shift for Toronto in recent months has been the forward line of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolai Kulemin.

Since, the trade deadline in March 2009, all three players have improved considerably in their overall production. Combined, the three have improved on average their goals by 13 percent, assists by 27 percent, points by 41 percent, power play goals by six percent.

Ponikarovsky in particular has really started to find his feet the year, almost doubling his total points from last season, being particularly successful in finding his open team mate for the score and the assist.

It seems all Ron Wilson needed was to combine the three Soviets and channel the spirit of their forefathers from 1971 of Petrov, Mikhailov and Kharlamov.

Another handy skill is that all three can communicate in their mother tongue. Something both Kulemin and Grabovski have appreciated as they try and comprehend the English language.

However, how productive has this line been?

Well, compared to another just constructed line of Crosby, Kunitz and Guerin of Pittsburgh, a line the Penguin’s hope might salvage a Stanley Cup.

The Toronto line is going quite well.

Since March 2009 the Crosby line is only outscoring the KGB line by one goal, two assists, three points, one power play goal and parity within goal winning goals.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Toronto Maples Leafs and the current roster.

There are a few potentially great combinations within the team they could catapult the team into the playoffs. The KGB line is just one bright prospect of hopefully four strong lines next year.

Don Cherry Creating Storms in Tea Cups

March 12, 2009

by Ben Dover… In recent weeks, reading through the Toronto rags, I have noticed in most sports opinion and fan pages an almost continuous reply and response to Don Cherry’s eccentric opinions. In the Toronto Sun, Steve Simmons even gave old “Grapes” a full page write up. It seems, every Canadian sports fan has got something to say about Cherry, taking him at face value or as a joke.

When I first moved to Canada and first saw Coach’s Corner, I thought it was quite odd to have an affectionate but irreverent parody on Hockey, during a live telecast of an NHL game. It brought a wry smile to my face, much the same way the great Australian sport humorists Roy and HG, or the 12th Man did back home. (See video).

However, unlike the Australian equivalents above, this wasn’t tongue in cheek, this segment was taken seriously.

To an outsider, the man is quite a contradiction, it’s hard to make sense of him.

Is Cherry a performer or a pundit? The distinction is not very clear.

To be sure, I like that he is patriotism about Canada. In a country where patriotism is not particularly encouraged, it is refreshing to see an identity show some Canadian spirit.

He shows great passion towards Canadian players and athletes in general. He is eager to exhibit the strong, tough, and skillful attributes Canadian athletes have in spades.

Unfortunately, he likes to really bag foreigner players, and in the past, Canadians from Quebec.This distracts from his message and makes his opinions seem bigoted and ignorant, further making him less meaningful and less able to take serious.

A recent example of this, is Cherry’s criticism of Alexander Ovechkin and his post goal celebrations. In his opinion, Ovechkin behaviour is similar to what soccer players perform. Over the top and “goofy”. Cherry then compared Canada’s Jarome Iginla’s low key celebrations, making the point that Hockey doesn’t need this excessive jubilation. Canadians don’t go on like this.

The contradiction here is that Cherry is all about pomposity, grandiose, and prima donna behaviour. His outrageous suits, his controversial opinions, his own, on field behaviour (see him behind the Boston bench during his coaching days). It’s like taking economic advice from Bozo the clown.

Why Cherry get’s some much attention is that the NHL is void of any real characters. It is the characters that make a sport. Hockey’s pinup boy Sidney Crosby is about as bland as they get. Yet it’s a systematic problem with quite a few sports, especially Tennis and Golf.

Hockey is a great game, but without the characters to jeer or cheer for, what’s the point of watching?

Sport is theatre, it is a symbolism of war, it needs differing characters to keep people, outside of core hockey audiences watching. It proves that someone like Sean Avery, a villain, isn’t such a bad thing for the game.

Cherry gives hockey an entertaining voice. If you take him at face value or for a giggle, be sure, that even watching another woeful Leafs season, you will get something to smile or grimace about in his weekly ten minutes on a Saturday night.

Mats Sundin: Cheering Swedes, Hissing Canucks

February 22, 2009

by Ben Dover… Last night brought an end to all the hoopla regarding Mats Sundin’s return to Toronto. All week, hockey fans and pundits speculated about the reception Sundin would receive. Would he receive cheers or jeers?

In the end he got a little bit of both.

Toronto fans and the media are quite savage but not that savage. Most hockey fans in this town have a long memory. After the hurt of losing the only player they admired in recent times, they reconciled with Sundin and gave him the reception he deserved.

Coming close to tears, after a brief highlight reel on the JumboTron, Sundin rose and waved to Toronto public. In the end, he realized that he still felt some warmth in a city gripped in long cold winter. During the game though, on each touch, he received an accompanying blast of negativity.

In the Coach’s Corner segment after the first period, Don Cherry was quite miffed at why Canadians, generally, render applause for international stars who walk away, but always jeer their Canadian brethren.

Citing the recent return of Bryan McCabe, who upon stepping on the ice at the Air Canada Centre, was booed, hissed at, and spat on for the entire game. Cherry also mentioned the oft-cited fans who booed Bobby Orr, arguably Canada’s greatest player.

It is an interesting question. While McCabe did play below his best for the Leafs in his final years in Toronto, he still won National Selection and was an All-Star in his time there.

To a degree, Toronto fans still have some sore feelings about its old captain Sundin. Even though he received a great ovation at the ACC last night, there is still some hurt in the eyes of most Leafs fans.

Sundin left after thirteen years in Toronto without the Stanley Cup. Sundin is loved, but he is loved like on old girlfriend who broke your heart. Sometimes those feelings of betrayal bubble up to the surface.

The truth is that no great player, be it Gilmour, Clark, or Sittler, is honored without a touch of remorse. No player representing Toronto has held up the Stanley Cup for more than forty years. Toronto wants a Stanley Cup, the city aches for it.

When you put on a Maple Leafs jersey, your nationality disappears. You now are Maple Leaf; you now are a Torontonian. So, be you Canadian, Dutch, Australian, or from Papua New Guinea, playing for the Leafs, scoring 90 goals a season, and being the best you can be might not be enough in Hogtown.

In the end, if you leave without a Stanley Cup do not expect to be completely embraced by Leaf Nation on your return.

“Inches Make a Champion”: The Leafs Against the Champions of Old

January 25, 2009

 

by Ben Dover… ”He who is small in faith, will never be great at anything but failure.” - proverb

Funny how contradictory this quote applies to Toronto Maple Leaf fans. I would think only Boston Red Sox fans would be the only club that would come close to such zealousness for a championship. Both teams have an interminable hope for success. Fortunately for Boston, this came in 2004 and again in 2007. Toronto are still dreaming.

Toronto is currently “rebuilding” itself for greatness. Jesus Christ in the mould of Brian Burke, has been given the reins to shape Toronto into a Stanley Cup contender, but how far does Burke need to go to get Toronto to the Stanley Cup finals?

A review of NHL.com for past statistics you can objectively point out the distance Toronto needs to come. How this is achieved is for Brian Burke to discover, however, you can contrast the numbers of previous champions against the Maple Leafs or years gone by.

The three previous Stanley Cup champions have been Detroit, Anaheim and Carolina. During the regular season, these three teams have averaged the following. 

Goals: 264 - Assists: 459 - Team Points: 723 - Power Play Goals: 88 - Game Winning Goals: 45 - Shots on Goal: 2651 - Shots on Goal Percentage: 0.099

Goaltending: Wins 59 - EGA: 4 - Goals Against: 207 - GA Average: 2.5 - Save Percentage: 0.906 - Shut Outs: 5

Toronto has tabled the following average after three seasons

Goals: 245 - Assists: 430 - Points: 675 - Power Play Goals: 79 - Game Winning Goals: 35 - Shots on Goal:2515 - Shots on Goal Percentage: 0.098

Goaltending: Wins: 39 - EGA:7 - Goals Against: 252 - GA Average: 3.05 - Save Percentage: 0.89 - Shut Outs: 3

So, how much does Toronto need to improve to be Stanley Cup material? You will find, not an impossible task

Goals: 7.07 percent - Assists: 6.3 percent - Team Points: 6.5 percent - Power Play Goals: 9.8 percent - Game Winning Goals: 21 percent - Shots on Goal: 5.14 percent - Shots on Goal Percentage: 1.67 percent

Goal Tending: Wins: 24 percent - EGA: 42 percent - Goals Against: 21 percent - GA Averages: 21 percent - Save Percentage: 1.3 percent

Who Brian Burke plans on acquiring to get improvements is only known to him. The great debate in Toronto Hockey is what  one or two great players could potentially get these numbers to rise and more importantly, what players can be released to combat them.

What player/s can get those extra 19 goals per season, save those 45 realised goals against, gather those extra eight power play goals, raise the shot percentage up just 0.001 percent.

These numbers are so small, yet are the difference between first and tenth place.

Until Mr. Burke makes his first plays, Toronto keeps walking the base of the mountain, waiting for the signal to start climbing.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs: Losing Is a Winning Formula

January 10, 2009

by Ben Dover…

The goal is to win. It’s not about making money. I have many much less risky ways of making money than this (buying Chelsea football club). I don’t want to throw my money away, but it’s really about success and trophies. - Roman Abramovich

A recent article in Forbes magazine highlighted the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs are the most valuable team in the NHL. The current value of the team stands at $450 million, a little more than both the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens.

The Toronto teams value has topped the list for the last three seasons. The last three seasons, Toronto has failed to make the playoffs.

In the world of sport, success on the field generally equates to success in the accounting ledgers. The more you win, the more fans you acquire, greater receipts at the box office, more merchandise sold and a greater amount of sponsors come looking to gain advantage of the team’s success. Society loves winners.

Toronto throws this all out of the window. They seem to retain top billing in the NHL despite losing for 42 years.

Forbes magazine was also able to list the most valuable teams in the other major North American sports. New York Yankees in MLB, L.A. Lakers in the NBA, Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, and as an add on, Manchester United in the English Premier League.

Unlike the Maple Leafs, however, the financial position of these teams does equate to success on the field.

The New York Yankees have 26 titles, the most in MLB. They haven’t won for eight years. This is the longest drought for the Yankees in their storied history.

The L.A. Lakers last won the NBA title in 2002; they have 15 titles, only second to the Boston Celtics, who have 16.

The Dallas Cowboys have won five Super Bowl titles. The Cowboys last won in 1995 and are equally tied with Pittsburgh and San Francisco with five titles each.

Manchester United last won in 2008, and they are tied with Liverpool for the most league titles (17) in the English Premier League.

As can be seen above quite evidently, that success on the field, equates to financial success for the organisation. It seems quite evident that for an organisation to keep it’s fans, sponsors and members and city support, winning is everything.

Is it that Toronto Maple Fan’s have blind support? Are they being taken advantage of? Why is that Toronto seems quite happy to support a loser?

The discussion question here is, why are the Leafs so financially successful without winning?

Toronto Maple Leafs and John McCain: “No Change, More of the Same”

January 3, 2009

by Ben Dover… 

We are almost halfway through the season and the Leafs are in 11th place—a position fans and players alike are getting uncomfortably use to. An agonising position for everyone who follows this team. Close enough to possibly make the playoffs, not low enough to get a better chance at John Tavares and the other hot prospects.

The 2007-2008 season was a year in which coach Paul Maurice said the team had a great chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup. This season, Cliff Fletcher came out and said to the faithful to not expect anything other than failure.

The ‘07-’08 squad had, on paper, a very solid team: Sundin, McCabe, Tucker, Raycroft. The team came up short. Very short. The ‘08-’09 team was changed significantly, the top guns were traded or “retired” and in return, the Leafs acquired much less talent and less expectations.

A position above 11th position would not be expected. Some analysts predicted the Leafs would come last in the conference.

Let us look statistically (with some degree of error for the ‘07-’08 season), at where the Leafs were this time last year and where they are today. Thanks to ESPN and NHL.com for the numbers. (The 2007-2008 season will always figure first.)

After much consideration, however you regard these things—positive or negative, statistically—the Leafs haven’t shifted a bit. The Leafs look like finishing the regular season in between ninth and twelfth.

At the halfway mark last year, the Leafs had won about 16 games; this year, they have won 15. Goals for the Leafs in ‘07-’08 stood at 114, for this season, similar at 114. Goals against, 199 to 198. Total team points, 313 to 312.

Where the Leafs of this season have improved marginally is in the Power Play Goals. Season ‘07-’08 stood at 31, this season 34. Power play assists sit at 58 to 60. Shots on goal slightly less at 1271 to 1234 and conversion percentage .089 to 0.92.

The 2008-2009 Leafs have improved on the power-play goal percentage 17.8 to 20.4; however, they have dropped off on the Power-Play Kill percentage, 78.2 to 73.2.

At home this season, the Leafs are 7-7-4. At the end of the regular season of 2007-2008, Toronto at home had a record of 18-17-16. Away, the Leafs of this season are at 08-10-2, the 2007-2008 Leafs Away record was 18-18-5.

So what can be gleamed then from all of this? The many theories as to why the Leafs failed last year are numerous. There is no doubt though, that the team of 2007-2008 was a stronger outfit than the team of 2008-2009.

What can be said quite confidently is that the team of 2007-2008 played below expectations. The team of 2008-2009, even though not a Stanley Cup contender, are playing above expectations.

So where does this leave the organisation, trying to rebuild, trying add some first-round prospects into the cupboard. Coming in 11th again in 2008-2009 does not help the Leafs rebuild and does not make the fans any happier missing the playoffs for another year.

Brian Burke has a dilemma. Should he push (under pressure from MLSE) for a playoff berth this year with some big trades? Or as he has stated publicly, trade his stars for draft picks and lesser players, destroy the current outfit, and hopefully finish in the deep bottom of the conference?

What Burke does between now and trade deadline will have a lasting effect on the hopes of the Leafs, eventually bringing home a Stanley Cup.

 

Leafs Not Getting Value From Lee Stempni-Ache….

December 30, 2008

by Ben Dover… In the minds of most Toronto fans thought they were getting the best of the deal. Alexander Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo were both huge underachievers for the organisation, Steen had at trade time only lodged two goals and two assists in his twenty-odd games and Colaiacovo due to his constant injury problems, the most dispensable of Toronto’s packed blue line.

At the time of the trade, Stempniak was performing quite well for St Louis, 13 points from 14 games made up of three goals and 10 assists. However, since joining his new team, Stempniak has struggled to keep the momentum going. After 15 games with the Leafs, Stempniak has only two goals and five assists, an almost 50 percent decline in production in a similar time frame.

So what can be attributed to his loss of scoring fortune. Obviously, joining any new team can have its curtailing affects. New coach, teammates, strategies and location, all go hand in hand in settling a player. Finding a comfort level in a new organization is a huge hurdle to overcome, more so playing in hockey-mad Toronto.

The truth is though, that professional hockey players need to be mobile and ready for upheaval. Professional athletes can be traded and moved at any minute, and are expected to perform regardless of the shift.

Could it be that Stempniak is skating on a lesser line, God forbid, a lesser team? Stempniak started out on the second line with Grabovski and Hagman, displacing Kulemin. As much as Wilson hoped, the line just was not generating any chemistry.

Wilson gave Stempniak his fair chance up front and he now finds himself since the game against New York on the fourth. Since joining the Leafs, his shots on goal percentage has dropped to 0.063 and his shots fired to 32, 11 less than his time with St. Louis at the start of the season. Arguing that his skating partners are not the strongest is tough, as Hagman and Grabovski have been one of the better and most consistent of the Maple Leafs this season, combining 22 goals between them.

Before the game against the New York Islanders, Stempniak told reporters “It seems like I’ve been getting some chances, but I’m just not cashing them in.” Stempniak is going to have start cashing in big time if he plans on having a future with the Maple Leafs. His $6 million, two-year contract is being paid for bigger things. The goals better start coming or he will find himself on Brian Burke’s chopping block in the not-too-distant future.