Maple Leafs Banking on Moneypuck

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Kyle Dubas

I guess it is fitting that a professional sports team that plays in a venue on Bay Street in Toronto bring in someone who is good with numbers. With the hiring of Kyle Dubas as the new Assistant General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, hockey begins its foray into Moneypuck — managing the team and game based on stats and figures.

I use the name Moneypuck after Moneyball, the system that was popularized by Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane. Dubas has praised Beane for his ability to use numbers to help the Athletics win games and compete for division titles despite having a low payroll compared to teams like the New York Yankees. Oakland, Tampa Bay, and Boston are just 3 teams that employ Moneyball and were able to utilize numbers to their advantage. In the case of the Red Sox, that parlayed into 3 World Series championships. However, Moneyball proved to be a failure for the Toronto Blue Jays, much to the delight of the baseball writers in Toronto especially at the Star.

I have met Dubas on a couple of occasions. Once when he was GM of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, and another time when he was a player agent at Uptown Sports Management. My impression of Dubas was that he never came across to me as a “whiz kid” as the media like to label him or some kind of saviour. But he is a very bright guy with sharp hockey knowledge.

Hockey is different than baseball. Some of the reasons are obvious but one thing about baseball is that it relies more on numbers than hockey. As I’ve mentioned before, championship teams are built by getting the right players that fit the team rather than going after the best players available. But if the Leafs are going to put more emphasis on stats this season, they better get guys who have a history of scoring against opponents in their own division. For example, Phil Kessel had 37 goals and 43 assists in 82 games with the Leafs last season, 7 goals and 15 assists in 30 games against divisional opponents. Not bad but it could have been better especially in the last 8 games of the season against teams in the Atlantic Division where Kessel managed only 1 goal and 3 assists in that span. The Leafs were 14-13-3 against teams in the Atlantic last season and during that same 8-game stretch they won only once. A better than .500 record in those 8 games would have ended Detroit’s consecutive playoff appearance streak and secured a date with Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.

Something else that struck me. I can’t recall a time where there has been so much attention paid to the hiring of someone to a secondary front office position. But then again, this is Toronto — the centre of the hockey world. It was interesting to read and hear some of the analysis on this latest managerial move by Team President Brendan Shanahan. Consensus from the media seems to be split. Some feel it is a step in the right direction, others are more skeptical.

I wish Dubas luck in his new role. The media in Toronto, rightly or wrongly, can chew out a young pup but I think he can handle working in a big city like Toronto. He has a good head on his shoulders. Hopefully, the numbers will be on his, and the Leafs’, side this season.

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Blue Jays Would Get More from Lester

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Jon Lester

There is no question that the Blue Jays are going to need some help if they are serious in trying to clinch a playoff spot. While there is a concern regarding the offense, I believe GM Alex Anthopoulos should be trying to acquire a pitcher. With R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle struggling, Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ inconsistant, and the uncertainty of the return of Brandon Morrow, the rotation should be a top priority. And they should not be going after just any pitcher. With much attention being paid to Tampa Bay’s David Price and where he is going to be traded to, perhaps the pitcher the Blue Jays should set their sights on is Boston Red Sox lefty Jon Lester.

Going after Lester makes sense. Contract talks between the Red Sox and Lester seemed to have hit a snag. After management offered what many believe is an “insulting” 4-year, $70 Million contract extension earlier this season, some insiders believe Lester’s days as a Red Sox maybe over. While there are teams lining up to acquire Price, not a lot of noise is being made about Lester. This could be a good time for Anthopoulos to snag an ace right under people’s noses.

I’ve always liked Lester for a number of reasons. He is durable, a bulldog, and lives for the big game. Talent is one thing, pedigree is another. I would take the latter over the former. There is something about being surrounded with people who have been through this before. Passion can get you far, but experience can put you ahead of the pack. His presence in the Blue Jay clubhouse will rub off on Hutchison and Stroman and even veterans like Dickey and Buehrle.

Lester also has what Price doesn’t, a World Series ring (2 in fact). Lester is also good when it matters the most — in the playoffs (6-4, 11 GS, 76.2 IP, 2.11 ERA; 3-0, 3 GS, 21 IP, 0.43 ERA in World Series). Compare that with Price’s numbers (1-4, 9 GP, 4 GS, 32 IP, 5.06 ERA) and you will see that Lester is a more attractive option. When the Red Sox were going after John Farrell to be their Manager after the 2012 season, I would have asked about Lester just to see how badly they really wanted Farrell.

Now that we’ve established who the Blue Jays should get, the next thing is how much is it going to cost? The Blue Jays will likely have to give up a top pitching prospect (Aaron Sanchez or Stroman) and at least one other high-level player (Kevin Pillar or Ryan Goins) in order to get Lester prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. Add to that, there are also no guarantees that Lester will stay with the Blue Jays beyond this season. If the Blue Jays decide to wait until the off-season, there is a good chance they could land Lester as a free agent. Of course, teams like the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves will be pursuing for his services. But we’ve seen in the past that the Blue Jays come out of nowhere and sign a big time free-agent or pull off a big trade involving a high-caliber player.

With July 31st approaching, trade talks will heat up. I’m confident Anthopoulos will add a player. Erik Kratz currently wears number 31 for the Blue Jays. It will be interesting to see who wears that number for the Blue Jays on August 1st.

UPDATE JULY 31:

The Red Sox decided to trade Lester along with outfielder Jonny Gomes to the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

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Scarborough World Order

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Scarborough

On July 11, 2014, the City of Toronto announced that it is naming a section of road in Scarborough located in the Kennedy and Ellesmere Road area after the late Peter Zezel. Zezel was a former NHL player who played for a number of teams in his 15-year career including the hometown Maple Leafs. Zezel retired from professional hockey in 1999. He died in 2009 at the age of 44 after a battle with a blood disorder.

Zezel is one of many athletes who were either born, raised, or at one time called Scarborough home and are making or have a made a mark in the sports world. Being a member of the Scarborough World Order, I had an idea about coming up with a list of athletes from Scarborough. With the news about “Zezel Way”, I figure there’s no better time to do it than now.

For those who are not from the Toronto area, Scarborough is located in the east end of the city. It was once a city of its own before it amalgamated in 1999. The boundaries are Victoria Park Avenue to the west, Steeles Avenue to the north, the Rouge River to the east, and Lake Ontario to the south. That’s the official city flag in the top right. Population stands at over a half-a-million. Not only did Scarborough produce great world-renowned athletes, it was home to others in the entertainment and media world like actor Mike Myers, musicians the Barenaked Ladies, and Playboy playmate Jayde Nicole just to name a few.

This list is ongoing so I will update it as more names come up. See if you recognize any of them.

Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Wayne Simmonds (Philadelphia Flyers)

Devante Smith-Pelly (Montreal Canadiens; FYI: Smith-Pelley, Zezel, and I attended the same high school in Scarborough)

Anthony Stewart (most recently with Carolina Hurricanes)

Chris Stewart (Anthony’s brother; Buffalo Sabres)

Brad Park (Hockey Hall of Famer)

Peter Zezel (1965-2009; ex-NHL player)

Jeff Cowan (ex-NHL player)

Mike Ricci (ex-NHL player; won Stanley Cup with Colorado Avalanche in 1996)

Rick Tocchet (ex-NHL player; currently assistant coach with Pittsburgh Penguins)

Anson Carter (ex-NHL player)

Kevin Weekes (ex-NHL player; currently analyst on Hockey Night in Canada)

Ron Tugnutt (ex-NHL player; currently assistant coach with Peterborough Petes of OHL)

Natalie Spooner (Olympic gold medallist, Canadian Women’s Hockey Team)

Orlando Franklin (Denver Broncos)

Dwayne De Rosario (Toronto FC)

Ed Werenich (world champion curler)

George Kottaras (Major League Baseball player)

Jamaal Magloire (ex-NBA player; former Toronto Raptor)

Ben Johnson (sprinter)

Paul Tracy (race car driver)

UPDATE July 19:

Here’s a video of the unveiling of Zezel Way (from MapleLeafs.com):

UPDATE September 2nd:

The Toronto Blue Jays call up catcher George Kottaras from Buffalo (AAA).

UPDATE September 21st:

Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson participated in Season 2 of The Amazing Race Canada. The final episode aired tonight and the pair finished second behind Mickey Henry and Pete Schmaltz. Good work girls!

UPDATE February 24, 2015:

Anaheim deals Devante Smith-Pelly to the Montreal Canadiens for Forward Jiri Sekac.

Are You Really a Habs Fan? Or Do You Just Hate the Leafs?

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Habs Leafs
There are really only two kinds of hockey fans in Toronto, those who love the Maple Leafs and those who don’t. So if someone says they are from the Big Smoke and is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I’d take their pledge with a grain of salt.

Those who know me or follow my blog know where my allegiance is. I can also understand one’s dislike for the Buds. But let’s be honest, unless you were born in Montreal, or have once lived or worked there, there is no such thing as a Habs fan from Toronto. They are simply lying if they claim they root for the Canadiens and have not spent one minute in Montreal. They just hate the Leafs. It’s not just the Habs, this applies to all 29 other NHL teams. I know a few people from the GTA who say they are fans of Red Wings, Bruins, and Senators. They, too, should come clean.

Even if one does fit the said criteria, people hate the Leafs more than they do the team they claim to cheer for. This is why Toronto is the centre of the hockey world and there’s been talk in the past about bringing another NHL team to the Toronto area. People in Montreal, Vancouver, and Detroit only wish they can attract the same kind of attention. Just look at the number of Leafs fans in other cities when the Buds come to their barn. That to me is real compared to the fake Habs fans (et al) living in Toronto.

To further prove my point, Steve Simmons’ puff piece in the Toronto Sun gleefully highlights the Leafs’ dismal first day of free agency. Only a complete tool would be happy at the fact that there are NHL players turning down the opportunity to play for the Leafs. That being said, I thought Josh Gorges did us a huge favour by rejecting a trade to the Buds and went to Buffalo instead. Can anyone think of the last player that the Leafs got from Montreal that made an impact with the team? Neither can I. It’s more like the other way around — former Leafs players made Habs teams better. It’s not a coincidence that players who spent time in the Montreal system flounder elsewhere.

I can go into the number of reasons why people hate the Leafs. But I’ve discovered that they fall in the same group that don’t like fighting or tough, physical hockey. That flies in the face of those who want the Leafs to adopt a system that emphasizes more on skill and less on the rough stuff. True Leaf fans want to see their team play with a mean streak (you got that, Dion?).

So the next time you see someone in Toronto proudly wearing a Canadiens jersey, they better be fluent in French. Otherwise, they are as genuine as a Rolex bought from a briefcase at a street corner. Au revoir, mon ami! A la rentrée!