Being the Grim Reaper, Whether You Like It or Not

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The Grim Reaper

You don’t want to be in a position as the one who puts the final nail in someone’s coffin. And that is where the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League find themselves in right now.

I was covering the 2002 OHL playoffs between the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors and the North Bay Centennials. A month earlier, it was announced that the Centennials were sold and were moving from North Bay to Saginaw, Michigan after the season. You can probably imagine the shock and sadness in the community after learning the fate of their only major sports team.

The series was perhaps just as emotional for the Majors. After securing first place in the Eastern Conference they faced the eighth seed in the first round. And it happened to be the Centennials. St. Mike’s was a powerful team at the time coached by detail-oriented Dave Cameron. They easily took out the Centennials in a four-game sweep. The final game happened to have taken place in North Bay. The job had to be done and the Majors moved on to the next round but I would bet they would like to have done it under different circumstances.

In 2012, the Brampton Battalion were in a similar position. The lease at their arena was about to expire and the owner had an agreement in place to move the team to North Bay at the end of the season. But I don’t think there was that sentimental attachment in Brampton like there was in North Bay 10 years earlier. Perhaps it was only fitting that the Sudbury Wolves, a team located about 100 kilometres west of North Bay, were the ones to pull the plug on the Battalion in Brampton when they eliminated them in the first round of the playoffs.

Which brings us to the Belleville Bulls who will be moving to Hamilton next season. The Bulls are in the playoffs and will take on the Colts in the first round. It is almost like having to fight your best friend in order to survive. All feelings aside, the Colts will do what they have to do to advance to the next round. As they say, it’s nothing personal, just business. I suppose if there is a moral component to this story is that someday you will be in a situation where you will have to determine one’s fate and, no matter how much you try to work things through, it will not end well.

There will be situations like the one in Brampton or Atlanta a year earlier when the Thrashers quietly left the city and moved to more greener (or whiter) pastures in Winnipeg. But for the most part, no likes to see a team move out to another town especially one that has been a stable in the community for decades. And you certainly don’t want to be the one who ends up with the finger on the trigger.

Also see:

What Happens When the Passion is Gone?
Is it Always Good to Go Out on Top?
It’s Not the Size, it’s How You Use it: The St. Mike’s Arena

The Case for Dale Hunter as Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs

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Dale Hunter

Before Brian Burke settled on Randy Carlyse to replace Ron Wilson in 2012, I thought the one guy who would be well-suited as the next Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs is London Knights’ Head Coach Dale Hunter. Hunter and Burke both have a similar approach to the game. They are cut from the same cloth. With Carlyse gone, and the Maple Leafs in search for a permanent replacement, now is the time for Hunter to step behind the bench of the NHL club.

There are obvious connections. Brother Mark is currently the Leafs’ Director of Player Development, current Leaf Nazem Kadri played his junior career with the Knights under Hunter, and Team President Brendan Shanahan is a Knights’ alum. The Leafs also play some of their pre-season games at Budweiser Gardens, the Knights’ home arena. But there is more to it than that.

What Hunter will bring to the organization is some feistiness and passion that we have not seen from a Leafs head coach since Pat Burns. He will command respect on the bench and in the dressing room. Hunter has ways of handling the media and will not let them get under his skin. In fact, he has done a good job to use the media to get under other people’s skin. I have witnessed that during the 2013 OHL Finals. His Knights were down 3-1 to the Barrie Colts in the series when after Game 4 he used mind games to deflect his team’s deficiencies. That helped turn that series around and the Knights ended up winning the J Ross Robertson trophy as the league champions. Hunter is not one to throw his players under the bus. They know that he has their backs and because of that they will go through a brick wall for him.

Another quality Hunter has is that he and his brother have been able to turn the fortunes of an organization around in a short period of time. The Knights were floundering in the years prior to the Hunter brothers purchasing the team in 2000. Since then they have made the Knights into a constant winner. Under the Hunter regime, the Knights have won 3 OHL Championships and 1 Memorial Cup title. Plus, there are dozens of players currently in the NHL that were developed through the Knights’ system including Stanley Cup winners Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, and David Bolland.

OK, we’ve established that Hunter has what it takes to be the next head coach of the Leafs. The next question is: if he is offered the job, will he take it? People will point out that Hunter had a head coaching stint with one of his old NHL teams, the Washington Capitals, in 2012. After finishing the season, he left that job with the Capitals and went back to the Knights. I think the reason Hunter walked away from that coaching job was because he had no say in player personnel. By virtue of his brother Mark in the Maple Leafs organization, Dale would get that opportunity in Toronto. Another thing to consider is Moneypuck. Is old-school Hunter the kind of coach who will be influenced by analytics?

Sure Hunter is pretty comfortable where he is now as Team President and Head Coach of the Knights. He has enjoyed plenty of success in London, why would he want to move? But I also think Dale is someone who likes a challenge. Turning the fortunes of the Maple Leafs around, and end a Stanley Cup drought that is going on 48 years, would definitely be a challenge. Plus, there is the appeal of coaching an Original Six team. To borrow a line from “The Godfather”, it is an offer he can’t refuse.

Some would say Dale Hunter is not on the Leafs’ radar. The same was said when Mark joined the organization earlier this season. Here’s a bold prediction: Dave Nonis will be fired sometime between now and the draft, Mark is installed as the general manager and Dale becomes the head coach, and, unless the Leafs get the first overall pick, they will take Mitch Marner of, guess where?, the London Knights at the draft. We’ll check back in few months.

Also see:

Maple Leafs Banking on Moneypuck
Get the Right Player First, then Spend the Money
Why Not Shanahan?

The Point Where Haters Become Worse than Those You Hate

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Nickelback

I hated Nickelback well before it became popular with social media trolls and the like. I never cared for their pop-style ballads that passes for rock music. But it is coming to a point where their growing detractors are becoming worse than the band itself. It’s almost like a cult and makes you have second thoughts about your allegiance to these groups. If I had to choose, I would now side with Chad and company. It’s like that old saying: better the devil you know than the one you don’t know.

Which brings me to hatred in sports and in particular the Toronto Maple Leafs. No one will argue they are a bad team and the players treat each game like it is a beer league. There are those who like to kick them when they are down. But you won’t see me joining the choir. I like to think that there are some standards when it comes to criticizing a player or a team. One of them is telling the truth. A quality that seems to be missing in recent weeks.

I don’t mind people voicing their displeasure at other people, places, hockey teams, etc. In fact, hate is a very useful tool in shaping society and our lives in a positive way. It is a starting point to finding a solution to problems, not just on sports teams, but in communities we live in. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the next angry man or woman you meet. He or she might have something that will benefit you in the long run.

But right now, hate is being bastardized to a point where people now do it just for kicks. There’s another word for it, bullying. When you see these goons stoop so low as to bring up a player’s sex life and have it defended as “free speech”, you know there’s something wrong. Just listen to them laugh at the expense of others. They could care less if the Leafs continue to lose. Are these the kind of people you want to be associated with? Someone needs to smack them in the back of the head so hard it will knock the paper bag off with the head still in it.

We continue to see those who are more than willing to champion this behaviour. The media often do a good job escalating it for more than what it’s really worth. For the sake of hate, it is about time we stop taking these people seriously.

Also see:

Getting Dirty About Talking Sports
Why You Won’t See Me Piling On Ray Rice
Are You Really a Habs Fan? Or Do You Just Hate the Leafs?

Could Dean Blundell Be What the Doctor Ordered?

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Dean Blundell

This week marks the return of former Edge morning man Dean Blundell to Toronto radio after a 14-month hiatus. This time he will be quarterbacking the morning show on the Fan 590.

Blundell is radio’s version of Darcy Tucker, a guy who can get in your face and be a key offensive piece. He may be the guy who can liven up what is traditionally a dull media market. There will be those who will say: Dean is not a sports guy, why is he on the Fan? My response is: neither is the rest of the sports media in Toronto, so in that sense he should fit right in.

I don’t think it will be a difficult transition for Blundell from the Edge to the Fan. The two stations are geared towards a male audience and Blundell often talked about Toronto sports teams, especially the Leafs, when he was at the Edge. He often had Leafs players on his show especially the late Wade Belak. The banter between the players and Blundell made for great radio. Blundell also seems to be the only media personality, other than Don Cherry, who is willing to defend Toronto’s turf. Remember when he sent Todd Shapiro to agitate the Philadelphia Flyers when they were in Toronto during the playoffs? Can you name any current media type who had the balls to do that?

But with that being said, Blundell is on a leash. Perhaps not short but long enough for management to handle. I will guess that people will listen and watch him closely to see if he trips up again. The scrutiny Blundell will be under will be no different if he was playing for the Leafs.

Judging by the reaction to the news, it is no surprise that those who are in shock that Blundell is back on Toronto radio are the same ones who also want to sanitize hockey. I saw one article that suggests sports radio should have more women. I’ve got four words: The Fabulous Sports Babe. She was the best when she had her show in early 2000s yet these same people could not stand her. They feel sports talk should be more like “The View”? Isn’t there already one like that on TSN called “The Reporters”?

Like I’ve said before, the sports media in Toronto is boring. Someone needs to drop some ice into people’s pants. Blundell is capable of doing it. The question is, will he?

Also see:

Sports Media is Becoming Boring
In Defense of George Stroumboulopoulos
If It’s Panned, It Must be a Good Move