The Young Maple Leafs will Learn from Their Playoff Run

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Sunday night saw the end of the Toronto Maple Leafs season, a heart-breaking 2-1 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. As disappointing as it is to be out of the playoffs, being eliminated, especially by the league’s top team, was not the end of the world.

Rookies like William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner now have an idea about what it takes to get to the next level. They found out the hard way that they can’t go far into the playoffs by their skill alone. They realize they need to fight, both figuratively and literally, if they want to become Stanley Cup contenders. They should no longer be satisfied with just making the playoffs next season. Every one of them will now have a huge chip on their shoulder. And that, to me, is a good thing.

There will be some changes to the roster. I suspect Lou Lamoriello will be shopping around for veteran help especially on the blue line where the deficiency was glaring in the last few games of the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs. He may have to dangle a guy like James van Riemsdyk or Nazem Kadri in order to do that. Lamoriello could have acquired that kind of player at the trade deadline. But I believe there is a reason why Maple Leafs management stood pat. They wanted to see how the rookies respond when the game is on the line, when the playoffs are on the line, and whether they have what it takes to win the big game. There was plenty of effort but, as we saw on Sunday, not enough to get over the hump.

Make no bones about it. I was expecting a different outcome in the series. But like I said before, what the Maple Leafs do in the playoffs is gravy. They were playing with house money. For a roster where their best players are not allowed to drink beer in the United States, this Maple Leafs team took great strides this season. I expect to see more of that next season.

Also see:

Maple Leafs’ Season a Credit to Management
The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain
Maple Leafs Banking on Moneypuck

We Should Have Seen This Coming

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The Blue Jays are off to their worst start in franchise history. A lot of people are not only disappointed by the 2 and 10 record but are also surprised by the poor start to the season. I’m not. Not to toot my own horn but if you’ve been reading this blog over the last couple of years, I have mentioned some of the problems the Blue Jays are experiencing. The slow start should come as a surprise to no one. In fact, we should have seen this coming.

The problems began well before the start of the season, before spring training, before free agency. I would say even before the start of last year’s postseason. One of the reasons the Blue Jays are struggling is because they have been unable to gets hits with runners in scoring position. This is largely due the hitters showing a lack of patience at the plate. They didn’t show much that last September when they fell out of first place in the American League East and had to settle for a wild card berth. That same approach carried into the American League Division Series, the American League Championship Series, and the first two weeks of the 2017 season.

Secondly, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins was not able to attract any quality left-handed hitters to the Blue Jays in the off-season save for switch-hitter Kendrys Morales. Not to say the Blue Jays should have gone after a guy like Kyle Schwarber or Bryce Harper. But adding one or two players of that calibre from the left side would have easily balanced out what was and still is a right heavy line up. I can bet you no one would have been shedding a tear about Edwin Encarnacion, and perhaps Jose Bautista, leaving.

Another thing I have mentioned before is the Blue Jays have to stay healthy for the entire season if they expect to contend. Right now we have two starters (Aaron Sanchez and JA Happ) and a former MVP (Josh Donaldson) on the shelf. That’s not good. The closer, Roberto Osuna, was also injured but his stay on the disabled list was minimal.

As a result, the Blue Jays went from early season favourites to win the division to wondering if they will be sellers at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. Perhaps it is too soon to suggest the Blue Jays should trade away the veterans and go with youth. They should not approach this like the Maple Leafs did two years ago where the intention was to tank the regular season in order to draft your next superstar. Baseball is different in that aspect. But if things don’t turn around quickly, we are going to be in for a long season even before summer officially begins.

Also see:

There is No Substitute for Patience
Is the Media Cheering for a Blue Jays Demise?
Blue Jays Need Players… Ones That Don’t Get Hurt Easily

 

 

Maple Leafs’ Season a Credit to Management

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The Toronto Maple Leafs clinched a playoff spot on Saturday. Nobody expected them to reach the playoffs this season despite an influx of good young players led by their number one pick, Auston Matthews. Brendan Shannahan, Lou Lamoriello, and Mike Babcock should get all the credit for the Maple Leafs’ turnaround this season.

Before I continue on, I predicted before the season that the Maple Leafs would make the playoffs, get 40 wins, knock the Habs out of the playoffs, and Mitch Marner and Connor Brown would each get 20 goals in their rookie season. I’m 3 out of 5 at this point. Not too shabby, huh?

There are many who are quite surprised of the turnaround that the Maple Leafs had this season. It was one year ago that the Buds were dead last and were a lottery ball away from officially drafting Matthews. But it didn’t surprise me, mainly because there was a management team in place that believed in them. They drafted, developed, and played them in the minors. They believed enough in them that they didn’t go out to land a major acquisition at the trade deadline. Now we are seeing how they fare against the big boys.

Another thing to add is health. As of Saturday, 9 players have appeared in all 81 games. 4 more missed a total of 16 games due to injury: William Nylander (1), Tyler Bozak (4), Marner (5), and Morgan Reilly (6). You can’t make the playoffs with your best players on the sidelines. Part of it is luck but how you manage those injuries is also key and that is where good management comes in.

Frederik Anderssen rebounded after a slow start, Nazem Kadri is playing like he did when he was a star with the London Knights under Dale Hunter, and Bozak and James van Riemsdyk are having a revival thanks to the infusion of youth. If the Maple Leafs hadn’t had blown so many third period leads early on in the season, they would have been challenging the Habs for first place in the Atlantic and Washington for the President’s Trophy.

People who spent the entire season second-guessing decisions of management, or were banking on a late-season collapse, are going to be on a steady diet of crow the next few weeks. What the Maple Leafs do between now at the end of the playoffs is gravy. The fact that they exceeded everyone’s expectations should make this season a success. And you can thank the three amigos for it.

Also see:

Why Not Shanahan?
The Leafs Got Babcock… Now What?
The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain

 

Have Attitudes Towards Athletes Who Boycott/Strike Changed?

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News of the United States Women’s Ice Hockey Team threatening to boycott the upcoming IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships in Plymouth (near Detroit) sent shockwaves especially on this side of the border. The women wanted USA Hockey to pay them the same wage as their male counterparts. The boycott, however, gained so much momentum that the US Men’s Hockey Team was considering not taking part in this year’s IIHF Men’s World Championships to show their solidarity with the women. Other American female athletes such as soccer star Alex Morgan and former tennis champion Billie Jean King have thrown their support behind the US Women’s Hockey Team.

The good news was that a deal had been reached days before the tournament was to open. The US Women’s Team dropped their boycott and participated in the tournament as scheduled starting with their opening game against their main rivals, Canada. Everyone in the end was happy. Now, was the threat of boycotting the tournament made by the US Women’s Hockey Team changed people’s minds towards athletes threatening not to play over money? CHL players are currently looking to unionize and asking to be paid minimum wage. How will hockey fans in Canada react to that? How will the public react when the next professional sports league decides to halt the game over money? If you change the word ‘strike’ to ‘boycott’, does it become more acceptable? What about the idea of organized labour? No union argued on behalf of the US Women’s Hockey Team and yet the players were able to reach a settlement. We have seen in the past player’s unions decertify or consider decertifying which has led to collective agreements being reached more quickly.

Public opinion towards work stoppages in sports have not been kind to athletes in the past, or owners for that matter. If it’s two sides bitching about money, fans don’t want to hear about it. So now you have the US Women’s Hockey Team in a dispute with USA Hockey over money. Not much positive reaction towards the women but hardly any negative ones either. I would hazard to guess because there is money involved, there is that same sentiment from fans if it were professional players. But  you also have to consider the players on the women’s team don’t make millions of dollars like their male counterparts in the NHL. So you kind of have to see their side for taking this course of action. One other factor that no one is bringing up is gender. No one dares to raise their voice towards the US Women’s Hockey Team for fear of criticism. Yes, opposing their boycott of the World Championships could be seen as sexist. Men, however, remain fair game.

I’m of the belief that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I’m not in favour of any level of government offering any kind of financial assistance to corporations. But I also think corporations should be able to apply and receive such funding if it’s available. The reason being is that taxpayer’s money is there for everyone to benefit from. EVERYONE. No matter how big or small you are. Therefore, if it is acceptable for the US Women’s Hockey Team to carry out their threat to boycott, there is no reason not to give any other organization the same benefit of the doubt. This is suppose to be about treating everybody equally. So the next time baseball, hockey, basketball, or football players threaten to walk off the job over wage disputes, let’s give them the respect that they deserve, or risk having your pinko card revoked and being forced to wear a “Make America Great Again” cap.

Also see:

A CFL Strike? It is Bound to Happen
Sports is Not a Platform for Activism
Olympics are All About the Games