Mikhail Grabovski: Out of Montreal, Paying DIvidends for Toronto

April 7, 2009

by Matt Eichel… With 46 points in 75 games in his sophomore year in Toronto, the future looks bright for Mikhail Grabovski in blue and white.

Yet, the Montreal Canadiens should be happy they shipped Grabovski when they did.

Known to be a player with an angry streak and a character for misbehaving, Grabovski’s antics have become known league-wide.

From his abuse of the official in a game against his former team to taking off on the a late season western road trip last season, Grabovski’s tantrums have not given him such a good reputation, especially with his former club.

During a 6-3 drubbing at the hands of the Leafs in early November, Canadiens captain Saku Koivu exchanged pleasantries with Grabovski while the latter sat on the ice.  What was exchanged was left up to the imagination.

“He gave Mikhail some special advice,” said Alex Ponikarovsky as a translator for Grabovski.

“Koivu told him something, but (Grabovski) doesn’t want to say.  Just some special advice he’ll use in the future.” added Ponikarovsky.

“Grabovski respects Koivu and he’s the only guy in the Montreal room he respects.  he thinks Koivu is a super special guy and hockey player.  He just doesn’t pay attention to the rest of them.”

And why would he?  After being shipped up and down, back and forth between the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL and the Canadiens, Grabovski had had enough and it eventually boiled over into his temper tantrum and his taking off after a game in Phoenix.

Grabovski missed the team flight on purpose, upset that he was yet again a healthy scratch.

“The Canadiens knew what they had in Mikhail, but you have to find room for people.” admits Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

“A guy like that needs to play 17, 18 minutes to be effective.”

And Grabovski’s 46 points this season shows how those minutes needed to be added to his repertoire.

“[The Canadiens] have an unbelievable group of forwards over there, so much skill.”

And thus with the Sergei Kostitsyns and the Matt D’Agostinis getting the call over Graboski, they decided to ship him to Toronto.

With so much passion and motivation when playing his former club, Grabovski has started a new chapter in the Toronto-Montreal rivalry.

Yet, Grabovski has had such a temper and been as undisciplined as Sergei Kostitsyn.  And having two of those pouty players in the lineup may not be good for any team.

Add to that the fact that Sergei and Grabovski are at each others throats every time they play each other, and the rivalry is going to pick up with Brian Burke and Ron Wilson at the helm as well.

Still, all I’ve got to say is thank goodness the Montreal Canadiens traded Mikhail Grabovski.

check out http://habsallout.webs.com.

2009 Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview: Infield

February 4, 2009

by Matt Eichel…

After an 86-76 finish to the 2008 campaign, eleven games back of the upstart Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to their up-and-coming infield to help bring a balance to the club.

With great past performances from the likes of Lyle Overbay, Scott Rolen, and Aaron Hill, the Jays have every reason to believe that the 2009 version of the Jays infield can become one of the most efficient, consistent, and successful infield squad in the majors.

At first base, in his fourth year in a Jays uniform, Lyle Overbay, 32, started to turn around after a dismal 2007 season.  Known for his consistent hitting with the Milwaukee Brewers and in his first season in Toronto, Overbay struggled in 2007, batting .240 with only 44 RBIs.

In 2008, Overbay started to regain form hitting .270 along with 15 HRs and 69 RBIs, still a far cry from his career year in 2006 with 92 RBIs and 22 HRs, his first season in Toronto.

But the Jays have alot to expect out of their first basemen this season.  If Overbay’s consistency is back, then the Jays can look forward to his presence at the plate.  On the defensive side of the ball, Overbay is a solid, left-handed first baseman with only five errors in each of his last two seasons.

Activated off the DL on November 14th, second baseman Aaron Hill is hoping to rebound after a shortened season due to a Grade II concussion suffered 55 games into his 2008 season.  Hill’s rise to become the Jays main second baseman has been slow and steady, yet his 17 HRs and 78 RBIs in 2007 shows that Hill has the tools needed to be a good second baseman at the plate.

On the defensive side, Hill is noted for making big plays when it counts.  His single error in the 55 games he played in last year is a testament to his superb defense.

Hill’s contract signed last April was a four-year, $12 million contract.  Signing Hill was necessary to lock up a full-time second baseman.  His comparisons to former Jay Roberto Alomar have come about since he hit those 17 HRs in 2007 and broke Alomar’s record of 41 doubles in a season.

At shortstop, the Jays may have their shortstop position up for grabs coming into training camp.

Many questioned the move of signing John McDonanld to multi-year contract and then signing veteran David Eckstein only days later.  McDonald, a fan favourite in Toronto, is known for his gritty style of play and his great defensive skills.  Not known for power at the plate, McDonald makes up for it with his defense.

But after Eckstein was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks in late August, McDonald’s regained the role as the primary shortstop for the rest of 2008.  Yet, McDonald and Marco Scutaro are both vying for the top job in 2009.

Scutaro’s breakthrough season in 2008, mainly due to injuries to Eckstein, Rolen, and Hill, may have earned him the starting role in 2009 at short.  His consistent play at the plate (.267 average) and his 60 RBIs along with his great defense has given rise to another shortstop dethroning McDonald from the shortstop position.

Depending on what happens in spring training, Scutaro is likely to be the starting shortstop in 2009.

At third base last season, vetern Scott Rolen’s position as the primary third baseman was seen as a welcome addition after the fiasco with former third baseman Troy Glaus.  Rolen’s twelfth season in the MLB was mediocre and did not start off on the right foot after a fracture on his right middle finger.

Being on the DL twice, the other time due to his shoulder, Rolen knocked in 50 RBIs and hit 11 HRs and had a decent .262 average.  His leadership and experience in a great addition to the Jays and hopefully he can contribute even more in 2009.

Another long shot at getting a starting position is Joe Inglett.  Known as “Voodoo Joe”, as he was nicknamed by former manager John Gibbons, Inglett also played a substantial amount of time in the Jays lineup in 2008.  In 109 games in 2008, he hit home 39 RBIs while batting .297.

However, with Scutaro likely to get the starting job at short and Hill slated to be back at second, Inglett may be called upon as a backup to both Hill and Scutaro along with McDonald.

A deadline deal brought Jose Bautista over to the Jays from the Pittsburgh Pirates.  His inconsistency with the Pirates saw him demoted to Triple-A and then dealt to the Jays.  He played in 21 games in 2008 and is known for his versatility, either to play in the infield or the outfield.

Behind the plate, after the departure of veteran catcher Greg Zaun, the main man for the job is now fully in the hands of Rod Barajas.  With a World Series ring from his days in Arizona, Barajas split time in 2008 with Zaun, playing in 104 games while hitting .249 with 11 HRs and 49 RBIs.

Barajas backup will likely be Curtis Thigpen, although the Jays have signed former San Diego catcher Michael Barrett to a minor league deal as well as former Pirates catcher Raul Chavez.  Thigpen played in ten games last season as the number three catcher.

Does Montreal Canadiens Alex Kovalev Need a “C” To Perform?

February 3, 2009

by Matt Eichel…

“If a player needs a letter to perform, well then, I’ve got a problem with that,” was the comment from Montreal Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau after another 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins Sunday afternoon.

“I’m not taking the ‘C’ off Saku’s jersey.  That’s it.”

So does Alex Kovalev really need that “C” on his jersey to perform?  Is an “A” not enough?

We saw how he performed in the All-Star Game—came out with an MVP performance worthy of that recognition.The Canadiens have played well when he was at the helm with Saku Koivu out.

But now with Koivu back, the Canadiens have slipped, winning only one of their last six games.If Kovalev needs a “C” to perform, then, the Montreal Canadiens are not the team for him.I’ve got nothing against the guy, but he just isn’t the same that he was last season. There’s no sense of passion left over from an 83-point season. And does leadership show through having a letter on the jersey?

I hope not, because then many players in the NHL are in trouble.With the story of Saku Koivu and all the years and memories he has brought to the Canadiens organization, through his battle with cancer to second-round heartbreakers, Koivu is the man the Canadiens chose at the beginning of the decade to lead and they are sticking with him.

Controversial? Oh yeah, we’ve all heard this one before.But if Kovalev needs a letter to increase his goal and point production, I think the solution is clear: ship him.Sure, sounds harsh, but in a hockey-mad city, the Canadiens lose four games in a row and the entire city is freaking out.Just imagine if this season’s St. Louis Blues or Tampa Bay Lightning had these kind of fans. There wouldn’t be any stop to all the lunacy that follows being in the cellar.

And yet with a team in the top eight and now one win in their last six games, the Montreal media need a scapegoat to the Canadiens’ problems.

Simple. Alex Kovalev hasn’t played well with only an “A”.

I’m with Carbonneau on this one.Saku Koivu’s the captain. Not Alex Kovalev.Sure, Koivu has been struggling after a red-hot start, but who doesn’t struggle from time to time?The fact remains—to say that you perform better with a letter is absurd.If you want to perform better with a “C” on your shoulder, Mr. Kovalev, then maybe you’d best be looking for another team.

‘Cause Kaptain Koivu would not be happy.

2009 Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview: Pitching

February 2, 2009

by Matt Eichel…

Thank goodness for staff ace Roy Halladay, or the Toronto Blue Jays would be having a long 2009 campaign.

After the departure of their second staff ace A.J. Burnett to their AL East rival New York Yankees, more pressure and expectations are mounting on the shoulders of the Jays’ solo ace Roy Halladay.  As well, the bullpen looks to rebound from a lackluster 2008 campaign.

Starting Rotation

The 6′6″, 225-lb. Halladay has voiced frustrations in the past over the inconsistency of the Jays, who had the power and the potential to go far but never delivered.  Now in his 11th season in Toronto and his 10th as a starter, Halladay is expected to be the main man on the mound in 2009.

His 20-11 record in 2008 was his second 20+ win season in his career (went 22-7 in 2003).  But his frustrations of the Jays’ lack of coming through has left many wondering when Halladay will be on his way out of Toronto for good.

The 31-year-old pitcher, who has two seasons left on his contract, has battled through injuries and inconsistency of his own, but hopefully 2009 can be another successful 20-win season that the Jays expect out of their ace.

Under Halladay, the Jays’ pitching rotation has some bright spots, especially in the two and three spots in Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum.

The 6′3″ McGowan found his way into the Jays’ rotation in 2007 with a 12-10 record and followed it up with a 6-7 record before going down with a shoulder injury and the subsequent surgery.

At 27, McGowan is young and up-and-coming and a potential 15-20 win pitcher in the Jays rotation

In the third spot, Shaun Marcum, 28, also made his way into a starting spot in 2007 with a 12-6 record.  Marcum managed to finish the 2008 campaign with a 9-7 record but also went down most of the season with injury.

Hopefully, Marcum should be ready for training camp come spring 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing shoulder at the end of 2008.

Last season, the fourth and fifth spots were shared between David Purcey, Jesse Litsch, and Scott Richmond.  All three of these pitchers will be vying for those two spots, along with Casey Janssen.

Purcey, 27, got his first taste of the major leagues last season, going 3-6 in 12 starts.  His 5.54 ERA was not what the Jays were looking for, but with the situation in which Purcey was thrown into with injuries to Marcum and McGowan, Purcey had his bright spots as a potential starter.

Litsch, 23, was placed into the starting rotation in 2007, going 7-9, and followed it up with an up-and-down season in 2008, going 13-9 with a 3.58 ERA.  The Jays’ hopes for the young Litsch are that he can be a strong fourth pitcher in the rotation and that he can maintain some better consistency throughout the MLB season.

Richmond, 30, got his first taste of the major leagues as well in 2008, starting five games with a record of 1-3 and a 4.00 ERA.  Richmond was also thrown into the melee of starting pitchers that was the 2008 Jays rotation.  The British Columbia native looks to gain a spot through training camp and the World Baseball Classic, where he will pitch for Canada.

Janssen, 27, has had an up-and-down relationship with the Jays; he became a starter in 2006, going 6-10, and then was relegated to the bullpen in 2007 and missed the 2008 season due to surgery.  Janssen is looking to rebound and possibly steal the fifth spot on the rotation


In the bullpen, the Jays’ strengths are their closers in B.J. Ryan and Jeremy Accardo.

Ryan, 33, is coming into his fourth season in Toronto, where he has had success at times and blown saves in other opportunities.  In three seasons, Ryan has accumulated 73 saves in 83 opportunities.  Though he was injured for the majority of the 2007 season, Ryan rebounded with 32 saves in 36 save opportunities in 2008.

Accardo, 27, rose to the challenge of filling Ryan’s shoes in 2007 when he notched 30 saves in 35 save opportunities.  Since coming over from the San Francisco Giants in 2006, Accardo has cemented himself, with the return of Ryan, as the Blue Jays’ main setup man.  Accardo has 34 saves in 47 save opportunities in three seasons in Toronto.

The Jays’ depth in their relief pitchers touted them to be one of the better bullpens in the MLB.  But the lack of consistency on some pitchers’ parts, such as Brandon League and Jason Frasor, has left the Jays scratching their heads wondering what it will take.

With a bullpen consisting of 6′7″ Brian Tallet (1-2, 2.88 ERA), Frasor (1-2, 4.18 ERA), Scott Downs (0-3, 1.78 ERA), Shawn Camp (3-1, 4.12 ERA), and up-and-comer Jesse Carlson (7-2, 2.25 ERA), the Jays have a solid core that can fill the innings in between the starter and Accardo.

Others who are trying to cement spots in the bullpen include League (1-2, 2.18 ERA), Brian Wolfe (0-2, 2.45 ERA), and Dirk Hayhurst (0-2, 9.72 ERA).

Outlook for 2009

If the bullpen can hold down the fort late in the game before the Accardo-Ryan one-two punch comes in to close the game, the Jays stand a chance of winning games.  With their offense hoping to kick it into high gear for the majority of the season, the bullpen has the responsibility to hold games in check.

As for the rotation, there aren’t many weaknesses there.  Of course, the Jays’ top five starters will not, by any means, be among the MLB’s best, but there is potential there with McGowan, Marcum, and Litsch to form a core of pitchers that could help the Jays compete in an already stacked AL East division.