Deep Blue, See?

January 5, 2007

Back after an extended holiday vacation. (Best Christmas presents: a new Stiga table hockey set in the standard Leafs vs. Detroit configuration, an extra set of Leafs players in their home blues and a bottle of white Testors clear-coat enamel. A quick coat of paint on the extra mini-Buds and the Bluebud household has been intra-squad scrimmage city since Boxing Day morning).

Here’s what I want to know following the undefeated start to the new calendar year: is there a deeper team in the NHL than the Buds? Consider who’s been missing during the Leafs’ recent burst into Eastern Conference playoff position:

  • Darcy Tucker, who remains tied for the league lead in power-play goals (13) even though he’s missed 6 games;
  • Kyle Wellwood, whose 31 points in 35 games would have him on the inside track for the Calder Trophy if he were a rookie;
  • Evgeni Malkin had honored his contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and Slovenia had a decent pro league to keep Anze Kopitar out of the NHL;
  • Michael Peca, who routinely has been one of the Leafs’ top 3-4 centres, and last but not least
  • Alexei Ponikarovsky, the team’s top Ukrainian-born player.
  • With holes this big in the side of the boat, it wouldn’t shock even the most ardent Leafs fan to see the vessel taking on water. Instead, The Good Ship BlueBud is steaming toward a pier in Playoff Harbour. (As this is typed, the Leafs are in eighth place in the East. Think the conference-leading Buffalo Sabres—who have already lost two games in 2007—are grateful the playoffs don’t start tomorrow?)


    Let’s Make A Deal!

    December 20, 2006

    In central Alberta, everybody hates Joffrey and the Oilers need a veteran defenseman.

    In. T.O., two co-future Norris Trophy winners (Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe), and two rising future superstar backliners in the making (Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo) mean that the Buds probably could afford to part with a certain veteran blueliner. Meantime, up front, the right side is populated with more left wings and centres than natural right wingers.

    Allow Johnny Bluebud to toss out a kill-two-birds-with-one-puck solution. That’s right, we’re talking a good old-fashioned, man-for-man swap: one J. Lupul for one H. Gill.

    What the Oilers give up in age and potential, they more than get back in…size!

    Silver Lining A-Plenty

    December 20, 2006

    Okay, so last night’s tilt vs. Florida wasn’t exactly a perfect 60 minutes of hockey from the Toronto perspective. From the mug-is-half-full side of the bar, however, the positives are as easy to spot as empty seats at a Blackhawks home game. A sampling:

  • The Leafs, who had every reason to pack it in after being down 6-1 after two, checked their guts and took the third period, 2-1, out-shooting the Panthers 18-10 in the process.
  • Jean-Sebastien Aubin boosted his season save percentage .001, to .883, with nine saves on 10 shots in the final frame.
  • Carlo Colaiacovo potted his second goal in four games since making his season debut, putting him on a 25-goal pace for the year. (For perspective’s sake, 2005-06 Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom had a mere 16 goals.)
  • Just a thought: Considering Colaiacovo’s Orr-esque pace and continued excellence of Messrs. Kaberle and McCabe, it’s conceivable that this season, for the first time ever, the NHL will have to award the Norris Trophy in thirds.

    Let’s see, Mahovlich-Lindros-Gartner…

    December 18, 2006

    Still time to chime in on ESPN’s “Top Line of All Time” voting, where you assemble trios from a pool of 50 forwards and submit them as “your top line of all-time.” Thankfully, the “experts” (ESPN’s word) that assembled the pool saved Leafs fans some headaches. No need to agonize over Darryl Sittler vs. Teeder Kennedy vs. Syl Apps at centre–they’re not among those offered up by The Worldwide Leader. (Thankfully, though, a formidable 1-2 punch of Doug Gilmour and Eric Lindros are there to satisfiy T.O. fans’ needs down the middle.)

    Penguins fans have no such luck–ESPN is forcing them to choose between Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby on a top line.

    And woe the poor fans of Le Grand Club. Habs backers must weigh a list that includes both Richard boys, Jean Beliveau, Howie Morenz, Dickie Moore, Guy LaFleur, Boom-Boom Geoffrion, Yvon Cournoyer, and even Bob Gainey. At least they don’t have to fret finding a slot for Guillaume Latendresse….

    Eyeing Sittler’s 916

    December 17, 2006

    Mats Sundin garnered much coverage as he skated by Dave Keon on the Leafs’ all-time scoring list this week with a three-point night at Carolina Friday. (He also got career goal no. 508 in that game, surpassing Montreal centre Jean Beliveau on the all-time list and officially putting an end to that debate once and for all.)

    Not to be out-done, Sundin’s linemate Kyle Wellwood continued his torrid pace. In Saturday’s 9-2 pasting of the Rangers, Wellwood potted a trio and added two helpers for a career-high five points, giving him an ice-melting 8 points (3g, 5a) in his last four games. That surge has pulled him to within 840 points of Darryl Sittler’s all-time Leafs mark of 916 career points. If he maintains his 2006-07 pace of .91 points per game and avoids major injuries, Wellwood would surpass Sittler sometime in the second half of the 2016-17 campaign.

    For Those Keeping Track…

    December 16, 2006

    …tonight’s cakewalk over the Rangers and their gritty captain, Jaromir Jagr, makes three consecutive wins for the Buds against three of the last seven Stanley Cup winners. Fifth place and rising….

    And how about that Chad Kilger? Tonight’s two-hit performance gives him a bone-rattling 19 hits and a pair of goals during the three-game march of domination. With Todd Bertuzzi gathering dust on the shelf like an unwanted library book, might it be time to start wondering if Kilger is evolving into the East’s next elite power forward?

    An Honourable Honour

    December 16, 2006

    Bitter Leaf does a fine job of breaking down this dog’s breakfast of a post by Ken Campbell on the Globe and Mail’s hockey blog. Allow me to play third-man in against Mr. Campbell:

    So, Kenny, the current Leafs regime made too big a deal when Pat Burns took in a game at the ACC Tuesday and had a mini-reunion with players from the ’93 near-Cup champ club, huh?

    [T]he Maple Leafs…decided to fete them at every opportunity during stoppages in play as though they were Stanley Cup champions.

    Since when are Stanley Cups a pre-requisite for pomp and circumstance at an NHL barn? Should the Leafs pull Darryl Sittler’s #27 or Borje Salming’s #21 from the rafters becase they never won, or even played for, a Cup?

    Toronto fans never seem to get tired of being reminded of the times they almost came close to winning something, but it makes the organization look bush league when it does things like this.

    Is the Jack Adams Trophy, which Burns earned for his 1992-93 efforts, not “something”? And is that “something” not worth noting during stoppages on a Tuesday night in December?

    Let me state for the record that I expect such gestures out of classy organizations like Toronto. I mean, if the Leafs ever capture a post-expansion-era Hart Trophy or Calder Trophy (and, while we’re at it, the franchise’s first-ever Norris Trophy), and that trophy winner comes back to Toronto post-retirement to take in a tilt, I’d want his mug plastered all over the jumbotron whenever play was stopped.

    Like Bitter Leaf says at the bottom of his post, there’s a team or two in every sport that fans love to hate. Dallas in the NFL, the Yankees and Red Sox in baseball, the Lakers in the NBA, and–so it seems–the Leafs in the NHL. Success breeds contempt, I guess, and in the case of this elite club, if you’ve won a crown in the last 40 years, it seems your franchise earnes a target along with the accolades.