Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This is the kind of article that makes the front page of Sportsnet...

I would love to begin with a catchy introduction that relates to something funny, such as a Scotiabank commercial or farting, but my mind has been reduced to the consistency of cottage cheese after reading today's front page story from Sportsnet. Jim Kelley is a REGULAR writer for Sportsnet, and after piecing together a lovely piece of art such as this article, he is in line for a promotion... perhaps to hockeybuzz or the News Herald blotter. Anyway, let's talk about the Leafs!

It was two years ago Monday that general manager Brian Brurke (sp) introduced himself to hordes of Toronto Maple Leaf fans and almost as many members of the media by stating that the Leafs, as a team, require "proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That's how our teams play," he said then.

And that's how they play now. Generally, they hit, they rub you out along the boards, they don't usually back down from a glove in the face and, overall, they are a far cry from the Leafs of recent vintage or at least the years before coach Ron Wilson and, later, Brian Burke arrived.

I might have to disagree with ya there, champ. If you consider playing physically a "far cry" from their style of 2008 and afore, then sure, they have made some great progress. I feel like we're forgetting a few things though... oh! Offense, defense and goaltending? We won't be needing any of that with all the rubbing out we'll be doing! We might have lost another game, but we have three more teeth to add to our Mats Sundin bench doll!

But here's the real rub: Going into Tuesday, the Leafs have played 22 games this season, their supposed go-forward season and have won eight and lost 11.They've banked another three "wins" in overtime.

Progress! I'm sure by "wins", you mean "losses", since they're 8-11-3 thus far. It's okay, we all make that mistake from time to time. Perhaps this is why the Islanders are so "great" (or maybe "terrible" is the word I'm looking for; I get those mixed up, too)~!

If you check the financial pages, I'm sure you'll find a few more wins created under a scam by Enron and monitored by the Bank of MLSE as well as a few goals credited to Phil Kessel left over from a bank for players like Washington's Alex Ovechkin via the likes of Bernie Madoff (150 years in federal prison) and Allen Stanford (indicted in a $ 7-billion Ponzi scheme centered on fraudulent certificates of deposit issued by his offshore bank in the Caribbean). What, you don't have your own bank in Antigua? Check Ovechkin's deposit slip from Sunday night.


What is this article supposed to be about again? These rash assumptions are really plucking my feathers. I may have my own bank, but it only holds all of my Nesquik savings bonds from losing in the first round of Legends of the Hidden Temple every week. We all can't be so fortunate. Can we start talking about hockey now?

By contrast, the Capitals, not off to the greatest start in the history of the NHL, do lead the league in the standings with 25 games played (tied with several and one behind Chicago (26) for most games played going into Monday's schedule, they have 17 wins, six losses (a deserved five more than the Caps) and two overtime losses, one more than the Caps and 19 points, a goodly amount fewer than Washington.

I have (officially (due to this awkward format (displayed above (cited from sportsnet (a Canadian website))))) gone crazy.

Well, we're in the right direction now, but isn't this supposed to be an article discussing the progress (or whatever the hell you may call it) that Brian Burke has made in two years as General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs? So far, we have touched on off-shore banks, rubbing one out, and the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks. Quit being distracted!

But I did not come here to dazzle you with the incomprehensible NHL standings;

I came to point out that I was around when the then expansion Caps regularly took losses like 14-2, (Dec. 21, 1975 in Buffalo). I believe I was at that game, but it was nearly 35 years ago and if I'm wrong, I'm certain the Caps excellent PR staff will remind me and the rest of the electronic world with a world-wide flashing red tweet.

Oh, right. I forgot about the 1975-76 Washington Capitals that allowed 12,123! goals over 70 games. Give Kolzig a break, man. Rookie goaltenders had it tough in the pre-defense NHL. They actually did let in 394 goals over 80 games that year, though. While I was far off, that is still pretty terrible. I take back any bad things I have written about Jim Kelley and his crooked, half-assed, smut-peddling writing style.

The Caps know losing. They put together losing streaks of 37 games including one that stretched from Oct. 9, 1974 to March 26, 1975 and earned them the title "hapless". There was a run, 13 losses (1981) in late December and most of January and then 12 losses (you can look it up in their media guide if necessary) and home losing streaks of 13 games (once in the spring of 1975) and three winless streaks of seven games (one in the fall of 2007, another in the fall of 1981 and yet another in the Christmas period of 1975-76).

What if Jim Kelley never knew of the Washington Capitals' media guide? History Will Be Made (if necessary).

This is not to rag on the early days of the Caps whose turnaround has been majestic or what truly is a rebuild of the Maple Leaf from the ground up, but while the Leafs keep talking about a grander, quicker plan here, there is a similarity at work. True the Capitals started out with a blank sheet of paper but the Leafs are doing something akin to the same. The two goaltenders seeing action on a regular basis are Burke's goaltenders of recent acquisition, Jonas Gustavsson, the one he turned up in Sweden as a free agent and the one he recently won a Stanley Cup with while in Anaheim, J.S. Gigure.

This article is flowing as smoothly as my last period. Washington walked into the league with a selection of hand-me-downs from Value World dressed in hockey equipment and somehow won eight games in their first year. Toronto has had the tools to become a playoff team every year since the lockout, but have fallen short each year. In 05-06 and 06-07, Toronto missed the 8th seed by no more than three points. They wouldn't finish as close in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but remained in the playoff race well into March. Last year was the anomaly, as their terrible start kept them from the playoff picture all season. Yet, much like the previous few seasons, they played well towards the end. The ability on their roster is not, nor has it been, the issue. However, they have easily been one of the most inconsistent teams since the lockout.

In your comparison to starting with nothing, I would say Giguere and Gustavsson are a little more stable of a tandem than Ron Low and Michel Belhumeur. Throw Toskala into the argument and I might give your claim some warrant.

On defence, it's virtually all of Burke's recent acquisitions with Keith Aulie, a former fourth-round pick of the Calgary Flames who came over before ever playing an NHL game. Francois Beauchemin, who also came from Anaheim; Carl Gunnerson (sp), a 2007 seventh-round draft pick from Orebro, Sweden, originally drafted by the Leafs; Korbinian Holzer, a Leafs pick in the fourth round of the 2006 draft; holdover Tomas Kaberle, a 1996 draftee; Mike Komisarek, a former first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens and the seventh pick in 2001 draft whom the Leafs signed as a free agent as well as Brett Lebda, a 28-year-old native of Buffalo Grove, Ill. and a healthy scratch several times this season as he tries to break into the lineup on a regular basis.

Of the seven defensemen that are listed, four of them were acquisitions by Brian Burke. 57.1% = "virtually all"? I learned something new!

Why even mention Korbinian Holzer? He has played two games this season and has been SUCH a stud, hasn't he? Aulie has played six games. Beauchemin could rip a hole through the net with his shot if he ever took off his blindfold. Kaberle is still there, being moderately effective on the powerplay. And of course, All-Star Mike Komisarek. Did the 74-75 Capitals have an All-Star on their team? (I expected the answer to be a resounding "FUCK NO!", but Denis Dupere made the cut. Dupere enjoyed a 20 goal, 35 point season and finished -41, almost identical to Komisarek's stats in 2008-09. My argument has been countered.)

Of course the big acquisition, currently injured, is veteran defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who is expected to anchor the power play and the defence, captain the overall squad and steady the kids, especially the highly-regarded Luke Schenn who was the Leafs’ first-round pick and the fifth player taken overall in the 2008 draft.

If that's not a major rebuild, please explain what is.

How about a defensive squad made up of "Teddy Peckman", Jason Strudwick, Ladislav Smid, Jim Vandermeer, Kurtis Foster, Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney? Or how about Mike Mottau, Radek Martinek, Milan Jurcina, Bruno Gervais, Jack Hillen and James Wisniewski? Toronto's situation could be much worse. And don't forget to include Phaneuf and Schenn into Burke's acquisitions (since Burke stole the show by drafting him fifth overall in 2008). Updated representation of "virtually all": 55.5%

Burke tends to build his team from the goal and defence out and having what he thinks are the proper pieces in place for netminding and defence he's starting to work now from the front to the back.

People complain about the speed -- or lack of same -- in the process, but there is a top scoring right winger Phil Kessel (acquired in a controversial trade with Boston) in place. There are some gritty two-way forwards in Colby Armstrong, Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur (all acquired in trades), some tough guys in Colton Orr and Mike Brown and, to a limited degree that should flesh out over time, some offence up front as the kids get more accustomed to their roles and the new talent works its way through the top two, perhaps three, lines.

I forgot about the MacArthur trade: "TOR trades Cap Space to abyss for Clarke MacArthur (FA)". Abyss totally robbed them blind on that one!

Colby Armstrong was a free-agent signing, as well, and an expensive one, at that. I'm sure that there were plenty of teams that were pushing $2.9 million at Armstrong on July 1, but Toronto added that extra spoonful of sugar to the deal. I'm also positive that Colton Orr and Mike Brown will be foundation blocks to this championship tower until they retire with ten cup rings each. They only need Todd Fedoruk and Derek Boogaard and they will be all set!

There's also a decent teaching coach in house in Ron Wilson and though media might not like his approach, he has a history of making his players better. He also has what could develop into a productive, if not exciting, young player in 2010 -- first-round draft pick Nazem Kadri.

Will it take time? Of course it will, especially on the offensive side, but the plan -- if you look at it as a four- or five-year plan (something all teams are loathe to openly commit to) -- it can be done. Look at teams like Ottawa (a just-missed kind of club that two years ago or so had its shot), both an early addition and the current edition of the Capitals and even last season's edition of the Chicago Blackhawks as well as a few others. That's the new normal in a salary-capped world. Still, if the Leafs keep hiding their aversion to the cap, build with as few mistakes as possible, build a scouting system and hockey department extraordinaire (like Detroit) and sell the dream to the current players that they need to keep dreaming the dream and working hard to win and it could, over time, work.

Sure. If they build a team that includes Mike Komisarek and Jeff Finger, trade for overpaid players such as J.S. Giguere and Dion Phaneuf, trade away one or two lottery draft picks, and sign a bunch of players that sing Susan Boyle songs while putting up seven goals a season, it could, over time, work.

There are lots of reasons that a plan like that doesn't work in Toronto, impatience being a primary reason, but it can happen.

It happens almost regularly in Detroit where it could happen again this spring. It happened a year ago in Pittsburgh and it could happen there again this spring. It happened last spring for Chicago and if the Caps right themselves in the post-season it will have a number of GMs rushing for copies of the George McPhee "How I Did It" book which likely would might even include Brian Burke (the NHL being a copycat league and all).

An excerpt from George McPhee's "How I Did It":

Reflecting on the 2010-2011 season and the success it has brought the Washington Capitals, I can attribute the majority of our success to these five main points:

1. Breakout playoff performances from former playoff underachievers such as Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and Tomas Fleischmann.

2. Semyon Varlamov's return to his 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals form.

3. I am not Brian Burke.

4. I am NOT Brian Burke.

5. My organization does not employ the likes of characters such as Mike Brown, Mike Komisarek, Jeff Finger, and Brett Lebda.

None of this has to be a bad thing.

Unless your record winds up at 8-61-3 at season's end. That might be bad. Don't worry though, I'm sure Boston would gladly trade away the first overall pick back to Toronto in sympathy. No team wants to do well as regularly as Detroit, Pittsburgh or Washington, and that includes Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington! Fuck success!

It will take time, however, a tremendous amount of hard work and a lot of patience. All of which are often in short supply in the Big Smoke, but that doesn't make it impossible, just that much harder.

We'll be able to rub it out if it gets that hard, though. Semin will be everywhere.

If Brian Burke has learned anything in his two years there, it's exactly that.

Happy anniversary big guy.

I feel as though I know nothing more of Brian Burke's rule in Toronto then I did before I read this. Aside from gushing about the incredible Captials of the seventies, he goes on to make a bunch of false statements about Burke's acquisitions. And this gets to be front page material on a (major) Canadian sports news network? We'll never make it to the big time, guys.


  1. Well, don't I feel like the biggest idiot of idiots. In the thirty hours since I've posted this article, Tomas Fleischmann is traded to the Avalanche, and Jim Kelley passes away. How am I supposed to defend myself? As much as I didn't appreciate his most recent (and last) article, I'm sure he will be missed. Best wishes to his friends and family.

  2. I can't believe that it took me a month and a half to notice that typo. I'm so ashamed

  3. Jim Kelley AND Derek Boogaard in the same article? What are you doing man?