Things are Going Good for the Leafs

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Maple Leafs Logo

After Thursday’s horrific loss to the Stars, panic seemed to set in Leaf Nation. There were the usual concerns of lack of scoring depth, defensive lapses, etc. But lets put things in perspective.

Taking the Dallas game out, the last nine games by the Leafs have been the best they have played so far this season. Pucks were being cleared from the defensive zone quickly, players were helping each other out, and no one was being left to do things by themselves. Coupled with amazing speed and digging hard for the puck along the boards has resulted in winning 6 of those games and collecting 13 points.

The addition of Tim Gleason from Carolina has strengthened a defense corp that had lacked punch when play is in their own end. I’ve said before the return of Tyler Bozak from injury was more about getting secondary scoring than it was giving the top line a needed boost. The line of Nazem Kadri, Joffery Lupul, and Mason Raymond have been generating a lot of chances since Bozak’s return. The trio have combined for 16 points in the last seven games.

There is still, however, the goaltending carousel. Rotating Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer will likely continue at least until the trade deadline. It hasn’t hurt the Leafs much to this point. I suppose if the Leafs continue to win, no one will care who starts in net.

The idea of the starter letting in a pair of soft goals, going down by 3, changing goalies, then turning it up late in the game, like the Leafs did Saturday in Winnipeg, maybe exciting for the fans but I would just as enjoy an 8-0 beat down. And as long as they continue to do execute the way they did the last couple of weeks, what’s there to worry about?

The Steven Stamko-less Tampa Bay Lightning are in Toronto Tuesday night.

Video Review: The Ultimate Blown Call

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NHL RefereesIf your child wants to become a hockey referee (or any on-field rule enforcer) when they grow up, the future is not too bright for them. Technology will soon be determining goals scored, penalties, balls & strikes, etc. for you. Major League Baseball recently instituted additional rules in order to expand the use of video replay in regular-season and post-season games. Getting the call right use to be the mantra for instant replay but here’s why proponents of video review really want it in the game: humans can’t do the job anymore. They say the game is going too fast for on-field officials to keep up. It makes you wonder if humans are becoming better physically and much more intelligent how come there’s an increasing call for video review?

It is not just because the flow of the game will slow down to a crawl, I have maintained that the more video review is implemented the more officials will become complacent thus the game will suffer as a result. Having been in the radio business for over 15 years, I can tell you that the medium hasn’t been the same since computers replaced CDs and live jocks. The best eyes are the ones seeing the action directly and not through a camera lens or TV screen. And the best position to make a correct call is on the field of play, not several feet away from it. Hell, if it is better to officiate from afar sports leagues might as well outsource their refereeing to a company in Japan. At least they have the technology to do the job.

While I don’t like to rely on video replay to determine the fate of the game, referees and umpires today are not helping matters. Over the course of the last number of years, they have repeatedly missed infractions and at the same time made quite a number of phantom calls, and most have happened in important games. Those ones are so obvious that they don’t require video review. I remember umpire Jim Joyce looking right at first base clearing blowing a call that cost Tiger’s pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game in 2010. But to Joyce’s credit, he admitted after the game that he missed it and felt very sorry about it. There should be more people like Joyce in sports but it seems referees and umpires are either very smug and elitist and feel they are more important than the players we pay to see, or they are hesitant to admit their mistakes for fear of reprimand by the league or retribution from their peers. Mind you, if you are an umpire working a Blue Jays game in Toronto, fear of retribution from media and fans is non-existent as evident on June 10, 2013 versus Texas.

Get the Right Player First, then Spend the Money

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Kawasaki

The mantra being harped by Toronto media over the years is teams need to spend money in order to compete. People have blindly taken those words as gospel. Yes, ownership may have to open up their pocket books in order to get the player they want. But management often makes the mistake of making decisions based on emotion and not on what is really needed. Take for instance Jonathan Bernier, the topic of my last post. Did the Leafs really need another goaltender if their situation in net is secure?

I bring this up because of the news of Toronto FC acquiring Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley. A lot of talk was made about management needing to get some big-name players in order to compete in MLS. MLSE had to spend some serious cash to get Defoe and Bradley. I would only hope those two are the final pieces to help turn TFC’s fortunes around.

I still remember the buzz the Blue Jays made in 1997 spending a lot of money to bring in Roger Clemens as a free agent. Clemens pitched well while in Toronto but they didn’t have the offense to contend for a World Series championship. It happened again in 2012 when the Blue Jays made that blockbuster trade with the Marlins. And the result there was a last-place finish in the AL East.

The point I’m trying to make here is good teams get the right players regardless of what the name is on the back of their jersey. If you can get a player that meets your needs and doesn’t require a long-term, eight-figure contract, why not get him? Mason Raymond and Munenori Kawasaki are just a couple of names that come to mind. The Raptors are leading the Atlantic division and in a playoff position with supposedly less talent than say Brooklyn or Miami. Pundits are scratching their heads as to why. Maybe it’s because the Raptors already have the players they need to compete.

I guess if fans and the media scream very loud, they will end up getting what they want. But that to me is a bad way of assembling a team, especially in Cup-starved city like Toronto.

So Remind Me Again Why the Leafs Got Bernier?

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Bernier Reimer

Back in 2012, I was one of a few, if not the only one, in Leaf Nation who said the Toronto Maple Leafs did not have a problem in net. The tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens were capable enough to handle the goaltending duties. What management needed to do was get some help up front, guys who can take opposing forwards to the boards whenever they touch the puck.

But since the Toronto media and some rogue fans urged them to get a goaltender, the Buds acquired Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles this past off-season. While the result to this date is not a total disaster, it has hardly been an improvement. What the arrival of Bernier brought was an unnecessary goaltending controversy.

Previous Toronto teams had solid goaltending from one main guy (i.e. Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph, Felix Potvin, etc.) and he would take care of the mistakes many defenseman would make when trying to generate scoring chances. Last season, Reimer was able to fill that role and lead the Leafs to the playoffs.

What we have now is a team that has two goaltenders who want to be the starter. It is kind of like having Peyton Manning and Tom Brady quarterbacking the same football team. One of the two has to be the main guy. There can be no sharing of responsibilities. And since much of the team’s resources are put into Bernier and Reimer, it does not leave the Leafs much room under the salary cap to improve on what was really needed, their defense corps.

I won’t point the finger solely at Bernier. I bet he would not agree to come to Toronto if he was not assured of getting the #1 job. But this is one mess that was clearly avoidable. Hopefully, Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyse can sort this out before the playoffs or we can add another year to the drought.

 

Disappointments are a Part of Life

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My audio commentary for the Bayshore Broadcasting News Centre:

http://www.bayshorebroadcasting.ca/podcast.php?PodcastID=17080

Lessons From the World Juniors

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World Juniors

There are some things to learn about Canada’s performance at the recent World Junior Hockey Championships.

One of which is that the most talented team, or the one with the most skill, don’t always win in the end. A lot of emphasis was placed on getting the best goal scorers on the team but there is more to hockey than putting pucks in the net. There is something to be said about having a small group of 8 to 10 players who are there simply to get into the corners and risk losing some teeth and perhaps some blood in order to generate scoring chances. Russia and Finland seemed to have it, Canada didn’t.

There is also a lot of talk about how other countries are becoming better at hockey than Canada. I can tell you one secret: most, if not all, of their players are learning their traits in Canada. Do you really think a program like Sweden’s focuses on developing tough, physical players? If hockey was a commodity, Canada would make the US look like a third-world country.

Another thing to take out of Canada’s disappointing result from the tournament is going through failure. Finland’s gold-medal victory ended a 16-year drought. I can bet you their battle with adversity played a part in their championship. Canada’s dry spell is not as long but how they handle this latest defeat will determine how successful they will be at the World Juniors next year in Montreal and Toronto.

Welcome to 2014

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Winter Classic

What a way to begin 2014 if you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. A big win over the Red Wings at the Big House.

Now one outdoor game doesn’t make a team, or a season, but the Buds displayed some determination that was rarely seen over the last few weeks. And if this team is going to go far in the playoffs, they better make sure to keep that up.

Bernier has been the big cheese in the shootout of late. He has become more brick than swiss. Bozak and Lupul seem to have not lost a step since they came back from their injuries. The return of those two hopefully will get Kadri going. He made some great moves and almost came up with the game’s opening goal. But only time will tell if that was enough to keep him out of Carlyse’s dog house.

Again, the Leafs were outshot and allowed the first goal of the game which proves two things that I have believed all along: the former is overrated and the latter means the winning goalie does not get a shut out.

Next up, back indoors in the comfy confines of the Air Canada Centre Saturday against the Rangers.