The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain

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The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of RainThe Toronto Maple Leafs sit quietly in the bottom of the NHL Eastern Conference. But unlike previous seasons, there are no calls for the head coach to be fired, underachieving players traded, or management spend money on free agents that will end up turning into underachieving players that we want to see traded. Instead, there is hope and optimism in Leaf Nation. This is what having low expectations can do to a hockey mad city like Toronto. Compare that to the turmoil happening in Montreal.

The development of young players is progressing and the Leafs have jettisoned enough contracts to open up cap space to sign free agents this off-season. But I wouldn’t go after just any player, unless you want another Phil Kessel or Dion Phaneuf. There is a certain type of player the Leafs need. Someone who can put up offensive numbers, be a force at both ends of the ice, and provide leadership. But perhaps most importantly, he must be able to take the situation by the horns and run with it.

When the Blue Jays acquired Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics in 2014 we knew we were getting a great player. But we had no idea what a huge impact he made the following season. Gold-glove calibre defense, clutch hitter at the plate, and excellent baseball IQ. Add to it, he woke up a sluggish baseball town and brought it to its feet. These qualities enabled Donaldson to help lead the Blue Jays to the American League East title and become the American League’s Most Valuable Player. The Maple Leafs need to have that type of guy in their locker room if they seriously want to win the Stanley Cup. In other words, the Maple Leafs should be looking for their own Bringer of Rain.

So who will that player be? Steven Stamkos? William Nylander? Mitch Marner? Auston Matthews? Whoever that player is, he will need to be much like Donaldson: someone who lets his actions do the talking. Not only will this player have to make spectacular plays but he will need to do it in the clutch. When the spotlight is on him, he will raise his level another 3 or 4 notches. You can’t be that kind of player with talent alone. The Edmonton Oilers have found that out the hard way over the past few years much to the dismay of those who believe grit is overrated.

If there is a hockey version of Donaldson right now it would be Jonathan Toews. The last player the Leafs ever had that came close to the likes of those two is Doug Gilmour. So if you do the math, that is about 20 years. In fact, when did any Toronto team during than span had that kind of impact player? Vince Carter? Carlos Delgado? Mats Sundin? All three were close.

If Lou Lamoriello or Brendan Shanahan can find that player, the Leafs will win the Stanley Cup. Perhaps not next season or even the one after that. But you can bet whoever the Maple Leafs acquire that fits that bill, they will one day be hoisting the Cup in Big Smoke.

Also see:

Leafs Nation Needs a Housecleaning
How to Determine Who’s MVP Worthy
Things are Going Good for the Leafs

Backers Abandon Cam, Broncos Win One for Peyton

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Backers Abandon Cam Broncos Win One for Peyton

48 hours after the dust settled, I am still dumbfounded at the way the Denver Broncos were able to smack the Carolina Panthers around and win Super Bowl 50. The professor, Peyton Manning, was able to get the better of the student, Cam Newton, in this match up of two former first overall picks. While there are those who are picking apart what went right for the Broncos and what went wrong for the Panthers, there are two things to take away from this game.

People give too much credit to the Bronco’s defence for winning the Super Bowl. While Denver’s pass rush was great, their secondary couldn’t keep up with Carolina’s receivers. Guys like Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Olsen, and Corey Brown were able to get open or make catches despite the coverage. It was the offensive line of the Panthers that could not protect Newton. They were being dominated by the Broncos’ defensive line letting get to Newton time after time. That really was the difference in the game. Had Newton been able to find his receivers, this Super Bowl would have had a totally different outcome.

Newton took a lot of heat after the game, mostly from those who believed the Panthers would win the Super Bowl. To hear them criticize Newton is outrageous. They point specifically to one play where he got stripped of the football and didn’t try to recover it in the scrum. But they fail to notice that he was playing with a bad left shoulder throughout the game. Then there was his post-game news conference where people got on him for saying very little. It goes to show how ignorant fans and the media can be. They slowly coddle players and then are quick to turn on them. But there is nothing you can do about it. Backstabbing is part of the game.

On the other side of the field, Manning didn’t have a great game. Compared to his previous Super Bowl appearance in 2014, he should have lost this one too. But you hear how Denver players say after the game that they won this for Peyton. That to me says something about the respect Manning has with his teammates. Even through the bogus HGH allegations against Manning, they were willing to go through a wall or stand in front of him to stop a bullet. That to me exemplifies a championship team.

I had my money on Carolina, but I also felt good that Manning is getting an opportunity to go out on top like his predecessor and current boss, John Elway. There is nothing like walking out as a champion. Someone better start carving out a bust of Manning.

Overall, this was a pretty good Super Bowl. Sure, it would have been nice to see Manning and Newton show off their stuff. But it was relatively close through the most part. A low-scoring, one-possession game is better than a one-sided affair. I’m sure Newton will take this game as a learning experience and it will motivate him to get back to the Super Bowl. As for Manning, he will be riding off into the sunset on his way to Canton.

Also see:

Is it Always Good to Go Out on Top?
What Happens When the Passion is Gone?
Still Think Defense is Overrated?

The Habs’ Season has a Familiar Ring

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The Montreal Canadiens 2016 18 WheelerFans of the Montreal Canadiens are in disbelief of the fortunes of their team. But they should have seen it coming. The Habs started this season flying and it looked liked they are going to end Canada’s 23-year Stanley Cup drought. Then their star goaltender got hurt, their forwards had trouble scoring, and things went downhill from there. If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because that is what the 2011-2012 Toronto Maple Leafs went through.

The Habs are this season’s version of the 18-wheeler driving off a cliff. Those were Brian Burke’s memorable words when, as the Maple Leafs General Manager, his team had a playoff spot in their hip pocket only to go into a tailspin and ended up missing the playoffs yet again. It is not hard to make the comparison. Both teams had hot starts to the season, coasted midway through, then starting getting mired in injuries and inconsistencies. Finally, a string of losses that resulted in falling out of a playoff spot.

A collapse like this would bring out the calls for the head coach to be fired and some top-end players to be traded. But GM Marc Bergevin took the high road and didn’t throw anyone under the bus. He said: “It’s on me.” My good friend Frank is a die-hard Habs fan and loves nothing more than to see the buds mire in mediocrity. But one day he took to social media to proclaim that the Canadiens’ are no different than that of Maple Leafs teams that he and others have been ridiculing for years. That takes a lot of guts for him to admit it, unlike his comrades in red who continue to want to put the blame on Gary Bettman or find other excuses for the Canadiens’ choke job.

I have been trying to avoid piling on the Habs. But it is hard not to recognize the downfall they have been experiencing of late. I can’t shed a tear for people who believe that the colour or the logo on the front of the jersey outweighs a player’s heart. That’s what Habs fans have been blindly buying in for the last 3 decades and they are still sold on that theory today. And they call us Leafs fans delusional. Please.

There is still time left for the Canadiens to get their act together. But since the same people gave the Leafs little hope of making the playoffs then, I wouldn’t hold my breath that the Canadiens will defy the odds this season. Perhaps if they call up All-Star MVP John Scott…

Also see:

Habs Fans Becoming Snobs
Are You Really a Habs Fan? Or Do You Just Hate the Leafs?
The Leafs Bring Out the Worst in People