The Maple Leafs Are Promoting Hockey in Toronto

August 30, 2009

by Tommy G… It’s been 25 years since a new public ice facility has been built in the Toronto area.  That’s going to change this September during the grand opening of the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence.

The Centre will replace the Lakeshore Lions Arena, which was built in 1951, and it will continue to be operated by the Lakeshore Lions Club.

The MasterCard Centre is a shared initiative between MLSE, MasterCard, and the Lakeshore Lions Club. It is a state-of-the-art building with three NHL size ice-pads and one Olympic size pad.

The building will be open to the public, but it will also be used for Maple Leafs and Marlies practices. On top of that, it will be home to Hockey Canada’s Ontario Regional Offices and the Hockey Hall of Fame’s archives and research facilities.

This is an excellent opportunity to promote hockey in Toronto where basketball and soccer have stolen a huge chunk of the market.

The Maple Leafs are finally realizing that their influence in Toronto is losing potency.  Hockey must learn to share with other sports and entertainment and fight for its position.

The Leafs will also be going from a $400,000 community investment, in the past three years, to $2.3 million in the next five years.

The money will be used to refurbish outdoor, city owned rinks. Brian Burke didn’t lie when he said that the Maple Leafs will increase their community influence in Toronto.

The Maple Leafs want to give every youth in the city a chance to develop their love for hockey. MLSE has had a revelation that, through community involvement, Toronto can truly become the hockey mecca and not just in name.

MLSE’s recent hockey related investments make me believe that they want to create a “hockey factory” in the Toronto area.  The Leafs want potential players that will stay loyal to the team and/or city that fostered their development.

This is a fantastic outreach program, and creating a facility where the grassroots community can skate and play hockey, on the same surface as the Maple Leafs, is an excellent marketing plan.

Not only does it promote hockey development, but it also brings NHL players closer to the public.  The accessibility to players and hockey archives allows people to study the game and mesh with the NHL community.

Suddenly, players become human in our minds and a new generation of hockey fans may develop from MLSE’s public participation.

Are Most Toronto Maple Leafs Fans a Bunch of Knuckleheads?

August 25, 2009

by Tommy G… I’m finally convinced that fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t want a Stanley Cup. They just want “Mats Sundin” surrounded by mediocrity for another 13 years.

Following the draft and free agency period many Maple Leafs fans continued to do something that drives me nuts. They called into local sport radio stations to share their asinine opinions that can be described as fantastical at best.

This time they suggested that Brian Burke acquired too many goons and checkers. We already have a team full of third- and fourth-line checkers,” they cried from the roof tops.

It sounds like these fans don’t want a winning team and would prefer an overpaid superstar or maybe a whiny baby like Dany Heatley.

As usual, I disagree but I also don’t take this breed of Leafs fan seriously. Frankly, I don’t think that they know enough about hockey to conjure up an educated comment (oops, was I supposed to say that out loud?)

Not all players with minimal stats are great checkers for the third and fourth line. So, I’m kind of tired of people who say that the Leafs are full of third and fourth liners. Checking forwards have an intangible skill and role to play and not just anyone can fill it. Can you honestly suggest that Tim Stapleton is a better third liner than Colin Stuart or Wayne Primeau? I don’t think so.

What the Leafs have on their team now is not a bunch of checkers but rather many players that want to compete for a spot on the top two lines. These types of players are not satisfied with the limited role of a checker, nor do they possess the skills necessary for this kind of player.

Not every top-six forward is an all-around great player like Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.

Yes, the Maple Leafs need a legitimate first line with at least two A-list players but above all they require better defensive players.

Scoring is essential but the Leafs were actually decent in that department. They had five 20-goal scorers if you include Nik Antropov. Isn’t that better than two 30-40 goal scorers surrounded by mediocrity?

The Leafs’ problems actually came in their own zone where they possessed some of the worst defensive and goaltending stats in the NHL.

In relation, I also refuse to blame Vesa Toskala for all the defensive woes that plagued the Maple Leafs last season. I agree that he let in a lot of soft goals but most goalies are only as good as their team’s defensive prowess.

As a result, Burke had to prioritize by building the Leafs from the net out. He simply filled the biggest holes that his team possessed and offense was not on top of his list.

Why not?

Who’s to say that Mikhail Grabovski won’t become that 30-40-goal scorer this season? But then again, it’s only Grabovski, right? I mean to most Leaf fans he still wouldn’t be considered a superstar.

That’s just ridiculous. Even Datsyuk and Zetterberg were once in the same position before they took that extra step.

Unfortunately, patience is not everyone’s virtue, but Leafs Nation must realize that Burke’s task is not easy. He can’t erase 42 years of mismanagement and self entitlement.

Leaf fans have waited long enough but Burke has just arrived. He hasn’t been at the helm since 1967. What happened before is not his problem and he can’t shoulder the impatience of his team’s supporters.

He can only start fresh and help ensure that the next 42 years won’t be as disappointing.

In essence, he is doing what everyone “seemed” to want: build a perennial winner at a smart and steady pace.

Part of that process is also working with what you have because, in today’s NHL, trading for star power may not always be the key to winning.

The Detroit Red Wings didn’t go out and buy Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk. They developed and groomed them for the job. The team fosters development and a great working environment. They work with what they have and they are loyal to their players.

On any other team these two athletes may not have developed into present-day superior hockey players.

Brian isn’t trading away any draft picks or young talent like Luke Schenn. He’s trying to be as honest as possible to his colleagues and that’s a good trait for any organization.

Tomas Kaberle: Deal or No Deal?

August 4, 2009

by Tommy G… “Unless we’re blown away” has become the phrase of choice in Toronto.  Whatever happened to “no comment,” “that’s none of your business,” or “that’s for you to find out and me to know”?

What’s the point of having reporters anymore?  Sports franchises are spewing it all out in the open.  They might as well directly call in every thought they have to their local media entities.

Do reporters actually have to do their jobs anymore, besides holding a recording device?  Do they even need any sources?

Obviously, I’m referring to Toronto general managers Brian Burke and J.P. Ricciardi.  More specifically, I’m focusing on Burke and his belligerent Toronto Maple Leafs.

Burke has a habit of interacting with the media and unveiling too much of his thoughts and plans.

It’s not a secret that Tomas Kaberle was on the trade block.  The Leafs began their rebuilding process by not re-signing Mats Sundin, they bought out Darcy Tucker, and then they traded Bryan McCabe.

Plus, nearly a month ago, Burke managed to dump Pavel Kubina’s rich contract after a decent, 14 goal season.

After all this maneuvering there’s no wonder why fans and the media would assume that Kaberle may be next on that list.  But Burke and the organization didn’t have to add fuel to that rumour by confirming these intentions.

What happened to denial?

Now that he has improved the Leafs’ defense, Burke realizes that Kaberle could be a valuable part of the team.  All of sudden Kaberle isn’t a trade-able commodity for the Maple Leafs.

This reminds me about the “I want Tavares” debacle leading up to the draft.  If he wanted Tavares, then he should have kept his mouth shut.

But not Burke. That’s too logical and easy for him.  He has to spew his objectives out to the media.  Then when he can’t get it done or he changes his mind, he looks like a buffoon.

Why does Burke go about doing his business in this manner?  Does he want to create a culture of insecurity in the Leafs locker room?

After all, he did say that players have to prove their worth.  He doesn’t want a country club atmosphere with any sense of entitlement.

If that’s the case, then Burke has accomplished his goal. But at what cost?

To me, he seems like a rational person who isn’t afraid to change his mind if it benefits the team.  It’s good that he realized that Kaberle is now a benefit.  Another general manager may have traded him anyway and maybe for peanuts too.

I give him praise for this move or lack thereof.

However, to many other people Burke can come across as an indecisive general manager who doesn’t know how to manage.

This state of mind could simply disappear if he became inconspicuous and less revealing.  If the media and fans don’t know what you’re planning then they can’t possibly be disappointed if a deal doesn’t workout or if you do an about-turn.

Burke has to realize that Toronto takes its sports trades seriously and fans and media are hungry for star power.  Perhaps—at the risk of being verbally lambasted—even more than championships.

Either way, Burke’s mind is an anomaly in my opinion.  But he’s doing it “his way or the highway” and that’s more than I can say about most Leafs managers in the past.  And I respect that.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ Free Agent Analysis

July 16, 2009

by Tommy G…. Last season the Toronto Maple Leafs fought valiantly as a mostly young and inexperienced squad. But they weren’t being led by those with a hostile and combative nature.

The 2009-10 season will hold a new chapter for the Maple Leafs because it will be the first full season under Brian Burke’s direction.

Through free agency and trades alone, his guidance has already resulted in a change of personnel which has re-engineered team chemistry.

Toronto is no longer a team that will be physically commandeered.

The addition of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, and Garnet Excelby means that rival forwards will dread skating into the Leafs’ territory.

Colton Orr will guarantee that Luke Schenn can opt not to drop the gloves and concentrate on developing his skills.

Every hit and jab will take a toll on the opposition and they will not feast on the fragility that has dubbed Toronto “the lovable losers”.

But it’s not all about belligerence, pugnacity, and truculence. Brian Burke also managed to sign three of the five most coveted non-NHL free agents: Jonas Gustavsson, Tyler Bozak, and Christian Hanson.

In doing so, Burke has filled a few important roles for the Maple Leafs and he has stocked up Toronto’s depleted prospect supply.

Burke was also able to sign Rickard Wallin who, in his second stint, could prove that he is ready to make an impact at the NHL level.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the Leafs are suddenly destined to parade the Stanley Cup up Bay Street. They may not even be a great team. I’m just implying that they can focus on playing hockey instead of the other teams’ elbow to their face.

Simultaneously, lets not pretend that the Maple Leafs are much more improved and in a better situation than a year ago.

Love him or hate him, Brian Burke has an agenda to create a winning team, which is based on his ideas and he is on schedule.

Let’s take a closer look at the Maple Leafs’ acquisitions:

Mike Komisarek—D

  • Age: 27
  • Date of birth: January 19, 1982
  • Place of birth: West Islip, NY, USA
  • Ht: 6’4” Wt: 240 lbs.
  • Shoots: R

Advantage: Komisarek is a good defensive defenseman and he delivers punishing hits. He has great size and can clear the front of the Leafs’ net which will improve his goalie’s view and also prevent crease crashing and other harassment. Mike also possesses a hard slap shot and in his own end he is a fearless shot blocker.

Disadvantage: He is a poor puck handler and needs to improve his coordination. Komisarek should also learn when to pick his spots in the hitting department, as to not get himself out of position. He lacks high-end offensive potential.

Rating the Acquisition: 7/10 because we always covet other teams’ players, but Komisarek is not worth the $4.5 million that he will be paid. He is in his prime, but he still has many flaws and for a defenseman with limited offensive capabilities, he is overpaid by one or two million dollars.

Potential:  Top four defensive defenseman

NHL Player Profiles—Mike Komisarek

Francois Beauchemin—D

  • Age: 29
  • Date of birth: June 04, 1980
  • Place of birth: Sorel, Que., Canada
  • Ht: 6’0” Wt: 213 lbs.
  • Shoots: L

Advantage: Beauchemin is a great positional defenseman that logged 24 minutes a game on an Anaheim team that had both Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. He also loves to land the big hit whenever possible. He’s a good puck handler that can easily rush the puck up ice and he can deliver one of the hardest shots in the NHL. In his own end, he makes great hockey decisions because he plays a simple game. Francois will also use his physical body frame to clear the crease and protect his goalie.

Disadvantage: Beauchemin’s offensive contributions are inconsistent, as is his decision making. It will also be interesting to witness how well he can recover from his torn ACL, which made him miss 63 games last season.

Rating the Acquisition: 8/10 because he came at a cheaper price than anticipated (three years at $3.8 million). Beauchemin is a more complete defenseman than Komisarek and he knows how a winner should feel. My prejudice might also be evident since I recommended Francois in one of my earlier articles.

Potential:  Top four all-round defenseman

Iginla vs Beauchemin May 1, 2006

Garnet Excelby—D

  • Age: 27
  • Date of birth: August 16, 1981
  • Place of birth: Ste. Anne, Man., Canada
  • Ht: 6’1” Wt: 210 lbs.
  • Shoots: L

Advantage: Excelby is a tough defensive defenseman who hits hard and often. Players try to avoid the middle of the ice when he’s playing which makes their scoring potential less effective. He is very steady in own end because he plays a simple game. Surprisingly, his best defensive game is played when he keeps his physicality to a minimum. Garnet is also great at antagonizing opposing teams and drawing penalties.

Disadvantage: Excelby has zero offensive potential. Sometimes he is caught out of position when he is trying to land one of his big devastating hits. He can get a little carried away when playing his physical game and his defensive responsibilities can suffer as a result.

Rating the Acquisition: 7.5/10 because he’s cheaper than Pavel Kubina and he will work harder in his own zone; an area where the Leafs must vastly improve. His cheaper salary also made it possible for Burke to sign Komisarek and Beauchemin, which adds more depth and defensive skill.

Potential: Top six defensive defenseman

Garnet Exelby Three Straight Hits!

Colton Orr—RW

  • Age: 27
  • Date of birth: March 03, 1982
  • Place of birth: Winnipeg, Man., Canada
  • Ht: 6’3” Wt: 222 lbs.
  • Shoots: R

Advantage: Orr will allow players like Luke Schenn to focus on improving his talent instead of his pugilism. Colton is an excellent enforcer who will protect his teammates. He is also a relentless checker who plays well along the boards and he can play a regular shift.

Disadvantage: Orr lacks the speed to keep up with the NHL’s fastest skaters. Sometimes he takes bad penalties, which can hurt his team. He has to try and limit his fighting to necessity because he can play a bigger role as a checker and energy player. Orr’s offensive skills are practically non-existent.

Rating the Acquisition: 7.5/10 because the Leafs really needed a player to play his role.

Potential: Fourth line enforcer/checking winger

Colton Orr vs Eric Godard Jan 28, 2009

Jonas Gustavsson—G

  • Age: 24
  • Date of birth: October 24, 1984
  • Place of birth: Danderyd, Sweden
  • Ht: 6’3” Wt: 180 lbs.
  • Catches: L

Advantage: Gustavsson is a tall goaltender who covers the net well and possesses good overall skills. He is very aggressive and likes to challenge shooters. Gustavsson is also extremely mentally strong and he is agile with very quick reflexes.

Disadvantages: Gustavsson has little major weaknesses, but he can work on redirecting rebounds more effectively.

Rating the Acquisition:  10/10 because the Leafs have nothing to lose and the entry level contract is not an economic burden. He’s not proven in the NHL but, for now, Gustavsson can be a better backup goalie that pushes Vesa Toskala to play well. At best, he can compete like a bona fide NHL goaltender and take over the No. 1 spot.

Potential: NHL starting goaltender

Jonas Gustavsson Slutspelet 08/09

Rickard Wallin—C

  • Age: 29
  • Date of birth: April 09, 1980
  • Place of birth: Stockholm, Sweden
  • Ht: 6’2” Wt: 185 lbs.
  • Shoots: L

Advantage: Wallin is a good two-way player that reads the game well. He has been described as having a strong winner’s instinct with great leadership qualities. He is adept at winning faceoffs and is versatile; he can play every forward position. Wallin is a decent offensive player who can set up teammates on the powerplay and he possesses even more effective penalty killing skills. He also has an edge to his game which makes him effective down low in front of the opposing goaltender.

Disadvantage: Wallin might not be quick enough to keep up with the best skaters in the NHL. He could also afford to put on a little more muscle mass in comparison to his height.

Rating the Acquisition: 10/10 because the Leafs have nothing to lose and the entry level contract is not an economic burden. At best, he can be a decent two-way center who can win faceoffs and kill penalties. At worst, he’ll be playing for the Toronto Marlies for most of the year. The Leafs have nothing to lose and if signing Wallin helped Gustavsson make a decision, then it was a great move.

Potential: Second or third line two-way center

Färjestad 2009 SEL Champions: Rickard Wallin

Colin Stuart—LW

  • Age: 27
  • Date of birth: July 08, 1982
  • Place of birth: Rochester, MN, USA
  • Ht: 6’2” Wt: 205 lbs.
  • Shoots: L

Advantage: Stuart has a good work ethic, which is visible in his attributes. He is the kind of player that plays hard defensively. When Stuart is in the offensive zone, he does his best work down low and has a nose for the net.

Disadvantage: Stuart’s career has mostly been spent in the AHL and it’s questionable as to whether his game translates well to the NHL level. He doesn’t have enough of an offensive arsenal to play a top-six role.

Rating the Acquisition: 10/10 because Colin is cheap, disciplined, and he plays a really strong defensive game. The Leafs could have used a top-six forward instead of a checking role player. However, the Atlanta Thrashers didn’t really have much to offer for Pavel Kubina. In the end, the Leafs also need checking players that know how to play their role well. It’s just as much of skill as scoring and, just as well, not everyone can thrive.

Potential: Third line checking winger

Colin Stuart Angry About Penalty (AHL)

Tim Brent—C

  • Age: 25
  • Date of birth: March 10, 1984
  • Place of birth: Cambridge, Ont., Canada
  • Ht: 6’0” Wt: 188 lbs.
  • Shoots: R

Advantage: Brent plays a solid, all-around game with leadership qualities and great face off expertise. He has offensive upside and isn’t afraid of playing in high-traffic areas or initiating physical contact. Brent has the ability to pounce on rebounds and is an elusive puck handler with decent speed.

Disadvantage: Brent needs to build a little more muscle mass and prove that he can withstand the pounding at the highest level. He plays well in the AHL, but he must put points on the board in the NHL.

Rating the Acquisition: 10/10 because the Leafs have nothing to lose and his contract is not an economic burden. He’s a great performer in the AHL and he has potential. Brian Burke knows his potential considering he traded him from Anaheim to Pittsburgh in 2007 and he’s a good replacement for Tim Stapleton.

Potential: Third or fourth line checking centre

2008 Calder Cup Finals Game 2 – Tim Brent Goal

Tyler Bozak—C

  • Age: 23
  • Date of birth: March 19, 1986
  • Place of birth: Regina, Sask., Canada
  • Ht: 6’1” Wt: 180 lbs.
  • Shoots: R

Advantage: Bozak possesses enormous tenacity and a competitive nature. He is a great two-way player with the ability to win faceoffs and both capabilities are desperately needed by the Maple Leafs. Bozak also has a great offensive upside. Overall, he has an excellent work ethic, both on and off the ice with terrific leadership qualities.

Disadvantage: Bozak might be too small to withstand the NHL’s physical pressure. He should work on building overall muscle mass and recuperating from his knee injury.

Rating the Acquisition: 10/10 because the Leafs have nothing to lose and the entry level contract is not an economic burden. He has enormous potential and his work ethic alone is worth taking a chance on Bozak.

Potential: First or second line two-way center

Tyler Bozak—The Seventh Samurai (Fan Tribute)

Christian Hanson—RW/C

  • Age: 23
  • Date of birth: March 10, 1986
  • Place of birth: Glens Falls, NY, USA
  • Ht: 6’4” Wt: 200 lbs.
  • Shoots: R

Advantage: Hanson is a big player with power forward potential. He has an NHL caliber release and the versatility to play both wing and center. Hanson has a wonderful and infectious personality with a lot of character. He plays well defensively and his work ethic and discipline are his two best qualities. He likes to initiate contact and he’s willing to give up the body for the sake of a play.

Disadvantage: Hanson needs more work without the puck when in the defensive zone, as well as on his passing skills. He also needs to add more muscle mass and consistency with his physical game to become a legitimate power forward. Hanson has good hands and he should shoot the puck more often.

Rating the Acquisition: 10/10 because the Leafs have nothing to lose and the entry level contract is not an economic burden. He’s a big young body with potential.

Potential: Top-six winger/center

Interview: Christian Hanson

Leaf And You Shall Find Glory

June 23, 2009

By Tommy G… I don’t know if it’s something in the water or the air, but the Toronto Maple Leafs just can’t win. Since 1967 they haven’t even been able to scramble together a cup appearance.

Forget that! The Leafs haven’t even assembled a decent playoff streak. Every three or four years they seem to be rebuilding or restructuring like some old building with stressed out tenants.

They’re always trying to find the easy way out; never wanting to sacrifice the now for a better future and a long and prosperous dynasty.

The Leafs aren’t even doing that right. Most teams that use that method win a cup every once and while like the 1994 New York Rangers.

Whether it’s managerial incompetence or the curses of the late Stafford Smythe and Dave Keon, the Maple Leafs never catch a break.

In honour of this misfortune, I have comprised a list of players and personnel that found better fortune after leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.

Olczyk had a few good seasons in Toronto but he somehow ended up on the 1994 New York Rangers which just happened to win the Stanley Cup.

Ed didn’t play a huge part in the win and his name was almost omitted from the cup, but he still managed to be on a winning team. It’s more than he would have received if he had not been traded to Winnipeg in 1991 for Dave Ellett.

Leeman had lost most of his productivity by 1993 and I won’t argue that Cliff Fletcher robbed the Calgary Flames for Doug Gilmour.

The fact is that Gary ended up on the Montreal Canadiens and he won a Stanley Cup. That’s probably more valuable and memorable for him than any of the goals he scored for the Maple Leafs.

Courtnall was a great player for the Leafs, but being traded to the Canadiens ensured a better opportunity. In 1989, he reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Even though the Canadiens lost to the Flames, Russ was still able to experience better hockey than in Toronto.

It took McDonald his entire career, but he finally nabbed a cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and he made it to finals in 1986.

As much as Lanny is revered in Toronto, I believe he will always be remembered for being a Flame and that’s really heartbreaking for Maple Leafs hockey.

Burns made it to the 1989 finals before becoming the Maple Leafs coach in 1992. He found fortune again after leaving Toronto when he won the 2003 Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils.

Sullivan wasn’t good enough for Pat Quinn. When he joined the Nashville Predators he became a 30-goal scorer. He’s a tough player for his small stature and he is well respected by his peers.

Are you kidding me? Glenn Anderson was traded to the Rangers in the 1994 trade deadline and he ended up winning his sixth Stanley Cup Championship a few months later. That’s one of the quickest turnarounds for a player leaving the Maple Leafs.

In Toronto, McCauley was mostly occupying his time with getting adjusted to the NHL. In just one season with the San Jose Sharks, he became a Selke Trophy nominee for the 2002-03 season. On the other hand, Owen Nolan’s career went down hill after joining Toronto.

Hall Gill has just won his first Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins who also made it to the finals in 2008. I hope he thanks the Maple Leafs for trading him to Pittsburgh.

Smith was another player that wasn’t good enough for Quinn, but he doesn’t mind.

When Jason joined the Edmonton Oilers he became an instant success and a defensive force. In 2006, he captained the Oilers to within one game of a championship and in 2008 he captained the Philadelphia Flyers to the Eastern Conference finals.

Quinn can rejoice that he doesn’t have to trade him from the Edmonton Oilers. I guess you can tell that I’m still just a tad bitter.

Maurice coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup finals. In Toronto, he couldn’t even coach the Maple Leafs to a playoff berth. Yet, this season, Paul drags the Hurricanes into the playoffs and forces them to the Eastern Conference finals where they lost to the eventual 2009 champions.

They weren’t even supposed to make the playoffs.

If this doesn’t prove that the Leafs are cursed I don’t know what will.

Neilson coached the Vancouver Canucks to their first Stanley Cup final appearance just three seasons after leaving Toronto. He also became known as an innovator in the game of hockey.

Modin couldn’t hit the net if it was two feet in front of him with Toronto. When he joined the Tampa Bay Lightning he became a bona fide 30-goal scorer and a Stanley Cup Champion.

Legendary Leaf Trios - Part 4

May 29, 2009

By Tommy G…  Wendal Clark – LW

Doug Gilmour – C

Nikolai Borschevsky -RW

In the 1993 playoffs Gilmour was often double shifting.  He was with Andreychuk and Anderson on the first line and Clark and Borschevsky on the second line.

He helped Clark get back to his old form after two sub-par games in Detroit that had the Red Wing media referring to him as “Wendy”.

Bill Berg – LW

Peter Zezel – C

Mark Osborne – RW

Maybe adding this line is leaning toward favoritism but they prove that scoring doesn’t have to be the only attribute that gets players noticed.

This line was every bit as integral in the Leafs 1993 playoff campaign as any other line on the team.

Often they were so good at checking their opponents’ best lines that some suggest they were overused by Pat Burns.

I don’t think the Leafs could have survived as long as they did if it wasn’t for their great defensive contributions.

They wore down the other teams’ best players and gave Gilmour and company the opportunity to create their heroics.  Leaf fans will always be grateful and that’s why they will never forget to mention this line.

Dave Andreychuk – LW

Doug Gilmour – C

Wendel Clark – RW

In the 1993-94 season Nikolai Borschevsky went down with a serious injury and Clark was inserted into the Gilmour line.

They ended the season really well and this carried into an excellent second straight playoff performance.  They combined for 54 points in 18 games.

Clark finished the regular season with 46 goals which was a career high and only four short of giving the Leafs their first season with two 50 goal scorers (Andreychuk had 53).

Likewise, Andreychuck had 99 points and with one more point the Leafs could have had two 100 point players in one season (Gilmour had 111).

Gary Roberts – LW

Mats Sundin – C

Steve Thomas – RW

This line wasn’t the most dynamic but it marked the first time that Sundin had astute players on both his wings.

Roberts and Thomas weren’t superstars anymore but they were veterans that made things happen when they mattered most.

In the playoffs they combined for 33 points in 11 games.  A point per game average that helped the Leafs eliminate the Ottawa Senators in 4 games and take the New Jersey Devils to a game seven showdown.

Gary Roberts – LW

Alyn McCauley – C

Jonas Hoglund – RW

After Mats Sundin injured his hand most Leaf fans remember this trio picking up the slack in the 2002 playoffs.

Roberts and McCauley almost single handedly dragged the Leafs, kicking and screaming, into the 2002 Stanley Cup finals.

Roberts had 19 points in 19 games which was surprisingly his best post season performance considering he was on the 1989 championship team.

He too was coming back from an injury just around the time that Sundin broke his hand which makes this even more astounding.

Alyn McCauley had 5 goals and 10 assists in 20 games and this was an amazing performance when you factor in that he only had 16 points in 82 regular season games.

Hoglund also played his best hockey with 10 points in 20 games which was a career playoff high.

Obviously this line had great chemistry because Hoglund was notorious for not bringing his “A” game to the post season.

Nikolai Antropov – C/LW

Mats Sundin – C

Alexander Mogilny – RW

They were only together for the 2002-03 season but finally Sundin had a player on his line with equal skill level.  And what does Mogilny do?  He amassed more points.

Alexander Mogilny tallied 79 points versus Sundin’s 72 points which broke Mats’ eight year reign as the Leafs leading scorer.  In fact, he’s the only player to lead the Leafs in points while Sundin was a Leaf.  This was the only time this happened.

Mogilny also won the 2002- 03 Lady Byng Trophy for his efforts.  The award is given to the most gentlemanly player in the NHL and he only had 12 penalty minutes.

Antropov wasn’t too shabby either with 45 points in 72 games (16 goals, 29 assists).

Legendary Leaf Trios - Part 3

May 28, 2009

By Tommy G…

Dave “Tiger” Williams – LW / Darryl Sittler – C / Lanny McDonald – RW

Williams added some much needed grit to this line as he replaced Thompson on Sittler’s left wing.

He also played really well for Roger Neilson and in the 1978 playoffs this line was an integral part of the upset victory over the rising New York Islanders.

In the regular season Sittler had, a then club record, 117 points while McDonald netted 47 goals. This placed them 3rd and 9th in league scoring, respectively.

John Anderson – LW / Bill Derlago – C / Rick Vaive – RW

The Leafs weren’t a very good team when this line was skating together but this trio made up for that discrepancy.

They are one of the highest scoring lines in club history; Anderson and Derlago were 30-40 goal scorers while Vaive became the first Leaf to score 50 or more goals and he did it for three straight seasons.

Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy netted more pucks than Vaive during these three years.

Wendel Clark – LW / Russ Courtnall – C / Gary Leeman – RW

The “hound” line was formed half way through the 1985-86 season when the Leafs realized that Leeman was ready for the NHL.

They were named the “hound” line because each player was a graduate of the Notre Dame Hounds (a Saskatchewan high school with a great hockey program).

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this line was that both Clark and Leeman were defensemen in their junior hockey careers. The Leafs decided to make them both wingers at the NHL level.

These three hounds were very effective in the 1986 playoffs when the Leafs swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the best of five game series.

Then they drove the St. Louis Blues, equipped with a younger Doug Gilmour, into a seventh game where they lost a competitive 2-1 match up.

In these 10 playoff games, Leeman had 12 points, Courtnall had 9 points, and Clark had 6 points (5 goals).

In the regular season, Clark tallied a rookie team record with 34 goals (46 points) and he was runner-up for the Calder Trophy.

They were even more effective in the 1986-87 season which was their first and last full year together. The next season Clark would start having his back problems which had him playing sparingly for the next three seasons.

Nevertheless, this line helped the Leafs reach another semi final game seven. This time it was against the Detroit Red Wings after beating the Blues in six games.

Clark was much better with 6 goals and 5 assists in 13 games. He had to be in the absence of Gary Leeman who was only able to play 5 games in these playoffs.

Mark Osborne – LW / Ed Olczyk – C / Gary Leeman – RW

This was one of the best hockey lines in the 1989-90 NHL season.

Leeman became the second Maple Leaf player to score 50 or more goals with a career high 51 goals, 44 assists, and 95 points. He was one of the best right wingers in the game for that season.

Olczyk tallied 32 goals, 56 assists, and 88 points almost equaling his career high of 90 points from a year earlier.

Osborne added a solid defensive aspect to this line and he contributed in a checking role. He still managed a respectable contribution on the scoreboard with 73 points (23 goals and 50 assists).

Dave Reid – LW / Vincent Damphousse – C / Daniel Marois – RW

As if one good line wasn’t enough for the Leafs in 1989-90. This line added a dangerous one-two punch for the Leafs.

Damphousse contributed the most assists on the team with 61 to go along with 33 goals. This gave him 94 points, a good point total in the NHL and the second highest on the team behind Leeman.

Daniel Marois found great chemistry playing with Damphousse and Reid. He tapped in 39 goals and assisted on 37 more to earn 76 points; a career high in all three categories. He never found this kind of success ever again.

While Reid only had 28 points, he still added the right kind of chemistry to this line. As a checking forward he did a lot of the dirty work along the boards and he made room for Damphousse and Marois to create their offense. He was also a great penalty killer for the Maple Leafs.

Dave Andreychuk – LW / Doug Gilmour – C / Glenn Anderson – RW

Potent is the only word I can use to describe this line.

Andreychuk and Gilmour clicked from day one and they revitalized Toronto’s offense on a defense oriented team.

In 1992-93 Gilmour set a Maple Leaf record with 127 points (32 goals, 95 assists). The next season he had 111 points (27 goals, 84 assists).

Andreychuk had 25 goals in his first 31 games as a Leaf on Gilmour’s line. In 1993-94, his first full season with the Leafs, he had 53 goals and 46 assists for 99 points. He became the third Leaf to score 50 or more goals.

Anderson donated 65 points (22 goals, 43 assists) to the mix while adding the experience of playing on five cup winning teams with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.

This came in handy in the 1993 playoffs when this line combined for 72 points (29 goals, 43 assists).

They helped the Leafs come within one game of a Stanley Cup finals berth; the first in over two decades.

Legendary Leaf Trios - Part 2

May 27, 2009

By Tommy G… Frank Mahovlich – LW / Leonard “Red” Kelly – C / Ron Stewart – RW

Mahovlich and Kelly were together for a while and during that time the “Big M” had a 48 goal season in 1960-61 and Kelly had 50 assists and won the Lady Byng Trophy.

Punch Imlach added Stewart to the right wing in a crucial game five against the New York Rangers in the 1962 playoffs.

They each had a goal, including the double over-time winner by Kelly.

Game six was a more decisive 7 to 1 victory for the Leafs and then they went on to thump the Chicago Blackhawks and win their first of three straight Stanley Cups.

Leonard “Red” Kelly – LW / Dave Keon – C / George “Chief” Armstrong – RW

This trio was instrumental in winning game seven of the 1964 Stanley Cup semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens were determined to win on home ice but Dave Keon scored a hat-trick. He became the first player to score three goals for a game seven visiting team.

Bob Pulford – LW / Peter Stemkowski – C / Jim Pappin – RW

On a team full of aging superstars an unlikely line was an important factor in winning the 1967 Stanley Cup.

Pulford had 11 points in the 12 games, Stemkowski tallied 5 goals, and Pappin contributed 7 goals to the mix, including the Stanley Cup winner.

Paul Henderson – LW / Norm Ullman – C / Ron Ellis – RW

The “HUE” line, a combination of the first letter from their surnames, was an excellent mix of offense on the left and defense on the right. This was all cemented by the skillful two-way game played by Ullman at centre.

In 1970-71, Ullman registered 85 points (34 goals and 51 assists) which placed him 6th overall in the NHL scoring race. More importantly, this broke Frank Mahovlich’s team point record set a decade earlier.

Errol Thompson – LW / Darryl Sittler – C / Lanny McDonald – RW

This line was formed in 1975-76 and they had a few good years together but perhaps it’s best known for kick-starting McDonald’s career.

He had only scored 31 goals in his first 134 games and the Leafs almost traded him to Atlanta.

The first season that this line was formed he scored 37 goals and 93 points. That was followed with seasons of 46, 47, and 43 goals and suddenly Lanny was the 2nd best right winger in the NHL behind Guy Lafleur.

In 1975-76 Sittler also became the first Leaf to score a 100 point season (41 goals) and he was 9th in NHL scoring.

Thompson had a career high, 43 goals on Sittler’s right wing.

The Hockey Card: An Industry That’s Lost Its Soul

May 14, 2009

By Tommy G… I remember those days as a kid when I spent countless hours studying my hockey card collection. Who knew how much they would be worth? I just loved hockey cards, and I couldn’t get enough.

It was a form of entertainment, like watching a movie or reading a book. It was time spent with friends so that we could complete our collections via trades. Today’s youth might liken it to Facebook or Twitter.

We would memorize players’ stats and learn about the game through their mini bios. I guess this seems archaic now, but to us, it was a fulfilling hobby.

I don’t even think the majority of collectors are youth anymore. A plethora of “adults for profit” have taken over the reins.

The same baby boomers and Gen-Xers who once flipped through cards with soiled hands are now “double-sleeving” them so that they can’t be contaminated by impurities in the air.

My collection is long gone, but rounded corners and slight bends would render them valueless in the minds of collectors. In my life, these cards have a lot of worth because they filled my mind with great memories of my favorite sport.

What happened to the hockey card business, or better yet, what happened to youth? Why does everything have to be glossy with graphics that ignore the real subject—the athlete?

Some of these cards are made so thick that I can’t imagine they even need plastic for protection. Do all young people have such an attention issue that they can’t value simplicity?

Then you have game-worn jersey cards and other gimmicky cards together with so many manufacturers that even the price, which collectors value the most, is in question.

When will this insanity end? I recollect when O-Pee-Chee/Topps was the only major player with one set per season. Those were the days when collecting seemed plausible.

But then again, assembling a set was done for different reasons. I guess present-day hobbyists just want the “big ticket” cards with the dollar sign written all over.

It’s a shame how a great pastime has been stained in the name of the almighty buck.  In the end, most of these cards aren’t worth a lot of money anyway.

Check out Changing On The Fly

Jays Rolling Despite Mediocre Bullpen

May 7, 2009

By Tommy G… The Toronto Blue Jays may be at the top of their division, but their bullpen still has yet to peak.

Tested by teams like the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians, the Jays have had a great start to the season and continue to roll along.

Other teams in their division are beginning to work out their kinks and catch up. Still, the Jays proceed with poise.

Until now, Toronto’s offense and starting pitching has been picking up the slack.  But sooner or later, the Jays will need to count on their bullpen a lot more frequently.

Last year, the Jays’ bullpen was the best in the American League, but the batters weren’t producing.  It seems that every time the Jays have one thing working, another aspect of their game doesn’t show up.

So far this season, there have only been two bullpen pitchers that have been spectacular.  Scott Downs and Jason Frasor both have ERA’s below 0.80 and have yet to blow a game.

In fact, Frasor has been a part of four victories. Between both pitchers, they only have given up three runs (two of which are earned) and zero home runs.

Decent notables would be Bill Murphy, Bryan Bullington, and Jesse Carlson. But their stats are mediocre compared to Downs and Frasor.

Brandon League has already given up as many runs as he did last year in half the innings pitched.  Shawn Camp has continued to never really be effective.

Together, they have given up 17 runs and 16 earned in just under 30 innings pitched.

BJ Ryan’s velocity and pitching has been questionable and whether or not his injury has affected him is irrelevant. The bullpen must pull up their socks and go to work harder to substitute for that loss.

If the Jays can get Ricky Romero back healthy, they have a formidable starting rotation along with Roy Halladay and Scott Richmond. However, they can’t be relied upon all the time and their arms should be preserved.

The batters also can’t be taken for granted because cold streaks are inevitable during the season. So the pitching will have to start playing tighter in order to preserve any leads.

The rest of the Jays’ bullpen must improve or I can’t envision Toronto winning their division.

Pure and simple.

It’s a long season and when you have teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays breathing down your neck, it’s going to get really hairy.

Check more at Tommy G.’s blog Changing On The Fly

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