Archive for the ‘Puck’ Category

Airing of Grievances III

Posted: April 23, 2012 by centennialsports in Puck

By John Spurr

Playoff hockey at its finest


I don’t know if it’s just the NHL playoffs that has me especially fired up but I’m really getting pissed off by this hockey is too violent claim.

The first few games of these playoffs have been awesome, offering an amazing level skill, speed and hits!!! Unfortunately, it seems that all the major sports outlets have officially decided that the intensity of this playoffs is just too darn much. This is complete bullshit, playoffs have always been violent, as the level of competition is amplified. I keep hearing that “players are hitting to injure because the players don’t respect each other,” this is garbage.

I’m gonna tell you the three reasons why these hits are hurting people so much more than in the past, none of which are the reasons that you ever hear from the major networks.

1) Hard metal shoulder and elbow pads: It used to be that players had tiny plastic pads but someone decided that it would be safer to make these pads out of Kevlar… safer for who? Players didn’t often take full speed runs at each other with the dinky little plastic pads because they could actually hurt themselves but with the Kevlar pads they are fully armored and can simply throw themselves around. When a player used to lay a big hit and make some contact to the head the player would get back up, at least most of the time. Now with the metallic armor, a big hit leaves the victim cloudy and stumbly.

2) Taking out the redline: When the NHL took out the redline and allowed the two line pass it accelerated the speed of the game, which is fantastic!! It allows for more open ice and room for brilliant plays. Unfortunately, it also accelerated the speed of the f*cking game!!!! Players regularly skate from one end all the way to the other end unimpeded before laying a hit, which means that they have nearly 200 feet of speed built up. Back when the redline was in play, players would have to slow down at the centre before building up their speed again. Hits today have much more momentum built up between both players and therefore a much more violent collision.

3) Training: I don’t know if you’ve noticed but hockey players today are quite simply bigger, stronger and faster. The average size of an NHL player is 6’2 and 210 pounds, as a comparison, Scott Stevens was 6’1 and 212 pounds. Stevens was considered a big defender back in the mid 90’s. The size of the players has changed because of the training programs that the modern athlete lives by. Players used to show up to training camp out of shape and play themselves into shape, all the while never lifting a single weight. The skating has improved immensely too, not necessarily the top players because nobody can skate like Mike Gartner or Pavel Bure but even fourth line forwards are really good skaters these days. Some of this is due to improved skate technology, I mean they used to skate on glorified butter knives but much of it is better technique and again stronger players.

So there are the three major reasons for the severity of today’s hits but I’d also like to address this respect myth that has somehow remained part of the violence rhetoric. Apparently players no longer respect each other on the ice, my question is when did they ever? Have you ever seen the footage of old hockey? It was stick swinging, elbowing, kneeing, just completely over the top violence. Realistically players probably like each other more today because the average player changes teams so much throughout their career that there’s a good chance that they’ve played with a few guys on the other team.

Say what you want about his suits, Donny makes some good points.


I’m curious how somebody thinks that David Shaw respected Mario Lemieux when he slashed him in the throat in 1988 and was consequently suspended for 12 games. This respect idea is especially ridiculous because in the playoffs players will do almost anything to win. The only thing that players used to respect was the fact that if they did something that was considered crossing the line, then they’d have to face music and get their ass beat by an enforcer. I’m gonna sound like good ole Don Cherry but because of the instigator rule, that fear (or respect) is gone and instead they only get a little fine or suspension. Speaking of fines, when Shea Weber went all King Kong Bundy on Henrik Zetterberg and slammed his head into the boards, he was fined $2,500. This is the same as fining the average Canadian $14, not even a parking ticket, what a great deterrent there Sandyham.

Useless claim of the week – I have heard it mentioned that for proof of how violent these playoffs have been, people should look at the 8 suspensions in this NHL playoffs. This is the most of any playoffs and it’s only the first round. While that does sound convincing, let’s not forget that headshots didn’t used to lead to suspensions, they were simply two minute penalties for elbowing, charging or roughing. If there were suspensions for head shots back in the day, then Scott Stevens would’ve spent every game up in the owner’s box. So by my count, in these playoffs, there would be one old time suspension, to Byron Bitz for his ridiculously bad hit from behind.

Bonus Anger: I’ve been hearing rumours that if the Canucks lose to the Kings (let’s hold hands and pray this doesn’t happen), then Alain Vigneault will be fired. That really shouldn’t happen, I mean he was only missing the Danny Sedin, one part of the telekinetic Sedin duo, for the first three games. The Canucks minus a Sedin is a much weaker team, I mean Henrik inherited Max freakin Lapierre onto the first line in Daniel’s absence. Vigneault is an excellent coach, with the exact demeanor for the talented Canucks squad.

If Vigneault were to be fired, he wouldn’t even have a chance to pack up his office before he’d get offered the head-coaching job for the Montreal Canadiens.

If the Canucks organization decided there had to be a sacrificial lamb then I would be much more supportive of showing the swollen-faced Mike Gillis the door. Absolutely none of the core pieces of the Canucks team were acquired by Gillis but that doesn’t mean he’s been shy when it comes to trading. Everyone is now beginning to see what a retarded trade it was when Gillis traded Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for Zach Kassian (killing it on the 4th line) and Marc Andre Gragnani (a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs) in the name of getting tougher. When you make the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals you are plenty tough. The forgotten Gillis brilliance was the trade for Keith Ballard last offseason and in return the Canucks only sent Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier and first round draft pick to Florida. Gillis’ final gaff was signing Bobby Lou to a 12-year contract, with a no trade clause. I’m one of the biggest Luongo supporters that I know of but he’s not gonna be great for 10 more years, that contract will make moving him very difficult. Trust in Gillis, pfft I’d rather trust Kenny Powers.

Advertisements

2014….The Countdown is On

Posted: April 12, 2012 by centennialsports in Puck

By John Spurr


The 2010 Men’s Olympic Hockey final was simultaneously one of the most stressful yet ecstatic moments of my life. It validated that sense of superiority that all Canadians carry with us, whether there’s any actual reason for this is open for debate. As we turn the page on that great game versus the damn dirty yanks, we can pretend that we’re kids again getting excited about Christmas and consider what our 2014 men’s team might look like.

Does this look like the chest of a world leader who doesn't get what he wants?.....Didn't think so


Of course we haven’t been informed whether or not the NHL players will actually get to go to the Sochi games but there are some positive rumblings. NHLPA president Donald Fehr was in Moscow in February meeting with Russian Overlord Czar Vladimir Putin. Obviously the only reason that these two would ever meet would be to discuss the viability of the NHLers participation in the marquee event during the Winter Olympics. The way I see it, on his home soil, what Putin wants, Putin gets.

Onto the speculative 2014 Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team. Goaltending is probably the easiest to figure out, the two best Canadian goalies are Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price. Fleury was the third goalie for the 2010 team but didn’t get to dress for a game. He is arguably the most athletic and technically sound goalie in the NHL. Price is a beast in net, he also possesses an extremely calm in-game demeanor, which is a trait that would serve him well in a tournament of this magnitude. The third goalie is a little more up in the air; Cam Ward would make for a solid third, as would Roberto Luongo depending on his health and mental stability from the scorns of ranting bandwagon Canucks fans.

The blue line would be significantly different from the 2010 team but shouldn’t be too surprising, with Dan Boyle probably too old and Brent Seabrook no longer possessing the speed to play on the big ice, here’s my seven defencemen. Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Kris Letang, Alex Pietrangelo, Tyler Myers and Pernell Karl Subban. This group of D-men would give Canada a terrific blend of size, speed and playmaking ability, necessary for advancing the puck to the uber-talented forwards. Perhaps there is a young defenceman who is going to jump into the picture with an excellent year, Michael Del Zotto or Erik Gudbranson strike me as dark horses. Final point to consider with defencemen, the Sochi games will be played on international size ice so Yzerman might decide to go with a faster D, this could make one of those dark horse picks a reality.

The forwards are insane, we could make at least six lines of elite forwards but instead we will have to disappoint six or so top notch players. Our gluttony of centers is just ridiculous Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Getzlaf, Jordan Staal, Eric Staal, John Tavares, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza. By no means do I think all those guys make the team, I don’t see Jordan Staal or Spezza getting in there off that initial list. Many of these traditional centers will play out on the wing as they did in Vancouver when we had seven natural centers on the team. I seriously have no idea how Yzerman will choose but I’ll pick eight; Crosby, Stamkos, Toews, Giroux, Tavares, the Nuge(yeah he’s gonna be unreal in two years), Getzlaf and Eric Staal.

On the left wing we boast current league MVP Corey Perry as well as Jeff Skinner, Matt Duchene and Taylor Hall. On the right wing we’ll have Rick Nash, Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin. The talent across our forward lines will be staggering but it will be interesting to see the roles that various players will be asked to play. If you remember the game against the Russians in 2010, our top checking line assigned to shutting down that ultra-skilled team down was Nash, Toews and Mike Richards. Toews will no doubt be our top-checking center as he is probably the toughest two way center in the NHL.

Yzerman builds teams with an eye for the bigger picture, players have defined roles and must simply do their part for the overall success of the 23-man team. Remember, Steve Stamkos watched the Olympics from his couch, as Yzerman selected Patrice Bergeron instead to win right side face-offs in the defensive end. This team will no doubt have a few surprise players who will have very specific tasks and specialized roles.

It’s still 22 months away from happening but when that team of f*cking studs is unveiled we are gonna see a roster that is probably superior to the team that took to the ice in Vancouver and they will methodically go about the destruction of the other hockey nations.

Give Kessel Some Credit

Posted: April 4, 2012 by centennialsports in Puck

By: Mike Haimovitz

Forever United....

Before reading this article please understand a few things:
• Yes I am a Leafs fan.
• Yes I know they are a joke.
• Yes I am realistic about their abilities and who they really are.

I am not saying Phil Kessel is the greatest player in the league or even had the best season, but I am saying that offensively he does deserve some credit. The shy guy has been in the top five in points and goals for the majority of the year and no one is saying anything.

For all of you Phil Kessel haters out there, it is about time you look at the statistics before you throw him under the bus. Kessel is one of the most prolific goal scorers currently in the game, and never gets the credit he deserves.

He gets the job done.

The Madison, Wisconsin native was brought to the Leafs to do one thing and that is to score goals, and he has done a pretty good job at that. Aside from the fact he plays on arguably the most criticized and hated/loved team in the NHL, and will forever be compared to young superstar Tyler Seguin (who he was traded for, and who was the subject of the greatest sign ever made), it’s about time he gets some praise.

Since the 2008-2009 season, Kessel ranks eighth in the league in total goals scored with 135. Only players like Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Rick Nash, Ilya Kovalchuk, Corey Perry, Jarome Iginla, and Jeff Carter have more than Kessel in that time span.

Now that is a good group to be a part of.

In that same time he has more goals then superstars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex Semin, Evgeni Malkin, Danny Heatley and many more.

Kessel as well has one of highest goals per game averages since the 2009-2010 season. Fellow players like, Alex Semin, Bobby Ryan, Marian Hossa, Rick Nash, Thomas Vanek, Jonathan Toews, Martin St. louis all have lower GPG averages.

Currently Kessel is fifth in the NHL with 37 goals, which is also a career high, and there is still three games left in the season.

But Kessel sucks right?

You can look at some of the players listed above and say that overall they are better players, but as far as scoring goals goes, Kessel belongs in that discussion.
Lately, the Toronto media have been ripping Kessel hard, and some are putting the teams struggles on his shoulders.

In a recent article by Toronto Star writer Damien Cox, he said that perhaps the Leafs brass should give up on Kessel and trade him. He agrees that Kessel is a highly talented goal scorer, but says that he is not a leader and “not combative or a fierce adversary.”

Kessel was brought to the Leafs for one reason, and that was to score goals. He was not brought in to be a grinder in the corners or be the captain of the team. His job is to fill the back of the net with pucks, and he is doing that.

The public’s player evaluation or expectation of him is very misguided, and I am not sure where it comes from. When Brian Burke brought him to the Leafs after a trade with Boston, he never once said we are bringing in a future captain or leader of this team. He never once said he is bringing in a sand paper type player. All he said was he is bringing in a highly skilled player who is capable of scoring a lot of goals and creating a lot of offensive opportunities.

When evaluating Kessel for the player he really is, he deserves a lot of credit. Not only does he have four seasons in a row of 30 or more goals, but you also have to look at who he is playing with.

When he was on the Bruins he had one of the best set up players in the league with Marc Savard. Many commentators thought that he would not be able to produce as much in Toronto then he did in Boston, however those people have been silenced by now.

He has achieved better numbers, and for much of the time in Toronto has been doing it by himself. The Leafs aren’t going to win unless Kessel puts in a performance like this guy.

Sure the Leafs have many problems, in which I do not want to get into, but to say that Kessel is the problem or they should move on is very untrue. They can probably trade him and get a lot in return, but it should not be based upon his play or the type of “leader” he is or isn’t.

He is one of the fastest skaters with the puck, and has one of the quickest releases in the current game. He has been a goal scorer his entire life and he will continue to be one. His role is not to fight, or stand up in the dressing room and give and inspirational speech. It is to score goals.

People should start giving credit, where credit is due.

The Norris Trophy: Youth should be served with Karlsson

Posted: April 2, 2012 by centennialsports in Puck

By John Spurr

In 1968, Bobby Orr won the Norris Trophy for the league’s best defenceman, at age 20. This year Erik Karlsson should win the

Pretty elite company for Karlsson

Norris and become the second youngest recipient ever, at age 21.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and predict that in the next three games Karlsson will gain four more points, surpassing Nick Lidstrom’s 80 point season in 2005-06 and claiming the title for highest point total by a defenceman in the post-lockout era. It is equally amazing that Karlsson has a 26 point lead on the second highest scoring d-man this season, Brian Campbell, who has tallied 51 points (not too shabby either). This will make Karlsson only the fourth defenceman ever to lead all point men by 20 points or more, joining the likes of Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Dennis Potvin (that is a Hall of Fame club).

Watching Karlsson play is a truly unique experience, he will often make a quick outlet pass and then immediately jump into the rush as a fourth forward. Thus, putting a ton of pressure on the other team’s forwards not to get stuck too deep into

A-Rod and Karlsson may have something in common with this half horse-half man look...

the Senator’s zone. If his initial burst of offence doesn’t pan out, he’ll simply slide back to the blue line and quarterback the Sens offence from the point. Karlsson’s success begins and ends with his amazing skating ability, the type that comes around once a decade. His instincts and ability to the read play are what allow him to use his speed so masterfully and make the most of his time on the ice. He is almost never out of position and sees holes in teams defence that allow him to create chances that are unseen by most. Seeing this young Swedish gazelle play hockey is a real treat but the scary thing is that his ceiling has not been fully realized yet.

Pundits who claim that he may not win the Norris point to Mike Green’s 2009-2010 season, when he didn’t win the trophy despite tallying 76 points. Immediately let’s consider the talent he played with, that season the Moscow Missile (Ovechkin) had 110 points, Nicklas Backstrom had 101 points and Alex Semin had 88 points for a Capitals team that scored 3.82 goals per game. Therefore, Green was only one cog on an incredible offensive machine. This year’s highest scoring team is Pittsburgh who average 3.25 goals per game and Ottawa score 3 goals per game, so obviously that Capitals offence was a true juggernaut.

Let’s also consider the team that Karlsson plays for, the Sens were chosen by The Hockey News to be the league’s worst team because of their youth and inexperience. The Sens have enjoyed the rare health of their other stars Jason Spezza (aka Goofy)…

and the elderly Daniel Alfredsson, resulting in strong season for both players. Let’s not make any mistake though, the main difference between this team and last year’s dreadful team is that Karlsson has improved immensely.

Last season, Karlsson certainly showed glimpses of his offensive prowess but he was a staggering -30 in plus minus and therefore wasn’t able to play as many minutes. This season logging an additional two and a half minutes of ice-time Karlsson has improved his plus minus to +18, which ties him with Shea Weber, who will be one of his fellow Norris candidates. Further proof of his improving defensive abilities, Karlsson leads all defenceman in takeaways with 63, employing one of the leagues quickest sticks.

His current 19 goals and 58 assists are both first in the league for defenceman but the 58 assists are actually good for third most by any player in the entire league. His 49 even strength points shows that he is not just a power-play specialist and show how much he can change a game at 5-on-5, a rarity among most elite defensive point getters. At 6’0 and lean 180 lbs Karlsson does not fit the mold of your typical NHL defenceman but it is this same uniqueness that is going to win him the Norris trophy.

He was too risky for 14 teams to draft him, hence why this brilliant young player was taken with the 15th pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, when the Senators traded up two spots to acquire him. Karlsson’s amazing season is probably just the first of many and like Harry Howell said the year before Bobby Orr won his first Norris trophy “Orr will probably own the trophy from now on,” the same might said about Karlsson.

Dear Winnipeg Jets,

I apologize for this formal and outright old-school way of letting you know how I feel, but Blake Wheeler won’t respond to my persistent tweets about Tobias Funke (his dog) and I’m not sure how else to get through to you.

Seriously.

I can remember the day that hockey broke my heart. I remember it like it was yesterday, I mean, mostly because I refuse to believe that my age is relevant, and that 1998 was actually just mere seconds ago. 98 Degrees announced their reunion this week, so I think I’m right about this.

Everything fell apart for me when the ultimate gentleman, Paul Kariya had his face taken off in 1998 by Gary Suter. And it wasn’t the first time little, swift, heart-of-gold Paul had been viciously smashed in the head by someone larger than him, and surely wouldn’t be the last. My mum would tell me these things happen because someone is jealous of you. I see you, Gary. I’m looking right into your jealous soul. You too, Patrick Kaleta, and especially you, Scott Stevens.

 

But this letter isn’t about the pain or the years that followed, wherein hockey and I didn’t see eye-to-eye. This is a letter about hot, lusty attraction.

When I was sent packing (with my arms crossed, pouting through the airport) to Winnipeg for work, I set my sights on going to a Jets game, and I can’t explain it. It’s as if all of the stars had aligned into the shape of a fictional fighter plane, and some mystic force disguised as -20 degree weather was pulling me towards that hangar where I would be the only person that wasn’t clad in the right (or wrong) colours that night in February. My ticket purchase was like a sketchy drug deal and to be honest, I kind of liked it. Dangerous and sexy, just like the movie ‘Entrapment’ with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

And in I went, to the NHL’s little-engine-that-could venue, the MTS Centre. With my arena-pizza and large soda in hand, I was among friends. The excitement amoung the 15,004 fans was a force, exactly the way I imagine it feels to be in the front row at a Justin Bieber concert where he actually touches your outstretched hand and then you vow never to wash that hand again. It’s also equally, if not louder than this alleged Bieber show I’ve never been to.

It was there, on that February night that I was seduced by the bright lights, the announcer’s voice, and the mass booing of Chara whenever he was within ten feet of the puck. I heard Chara is a really nice guy, but I mean, NOT IN YOUR HOUSE. My version of the ‘Go Jets Go’ chant perhaps borderline made people think that my pizza was laced with caffeine pills (or crack).

Your line-up hierarchy is incredible. It’s the only time in the history of the entire world that the women’s washroom line up is the sixth longest.

1. Beer

2. The other beer line

3. Mens washrooms

4. Tim Horton’s

5. 50/50 line up

6. Women’s washrooms

 

I left that night wanting more of it all. I wanted to say ‘Byfuglien’ over and over because I finally could pronounce it correctly with ease. The taste of a delicious victory on my lips, I went back again to see you trample on the dreams of the Avalanche. And then I kept following, cursing the Maple Leafs for taking up valuable air time on my Ontario television with all of their losing.

 

The flying-W on Mar. 1 was like all of my mighty childhood dreams coming true. Okay, fine. It’s not actually called a flying-W, but see if I care! It’s as if Paul Kariya and Emilio Estevez were collectively egging them on (on my behalf) to create such a magical moment. It’s no coincidence that both Jets and Ducks fly. Together.

 

 

And Ondrej Pavelec, is he even a human? Does it matter?

 

 

Last night, I regained consciousness after 16 seconds of overtime when Andrew Ladd gave the gift of official elimination from the playoffs to the Carolina Hurricanes, as you beat those pesky storms 4-3. Sure, there’s practically no chance of making the playoffs. Putting my confidence in Montreal and Toronto to both win, and on the same night? That’s far too much to ask. But as Jean Girard in Talladega Nights said to Ricky Bobby,

“I will battle you with the entirety of my heart and you will probably lose. But maybe, just maybe. You might challenge me. The Beatles needed the Rolling Stones. Even Diane Sawyer needed Katie Couric.”

 

 

There’s something to be said about rooting for the underdog. Even the roughest exterior on the team that Atlanta didn’t want gives light to an electric personality that would make even the tightest of panties get a little bit closer to dropping.

Please Winnipeg, be my Rolling-Stone-singing Katie Couric.

xoxo

Steph

Health will likely determine Cup Champ

Posted: March 31, 2012 by centennialsports in Puck

By John Spurr

In hockey the adage is that “goaltending wins championships.” While I don’t dispute this, it seems that having a healthy

Team Doctors could be the MVP of any cup run

team is becoming more important to a team’s post-season run than ever before. Therefore, I feel that this year’s Stanley Cup champion will be decided by the team that is able to avoid injuries and dress their best players late into the playoffs.

With the increased intensity of playoff games and the accelerated schedule during the post-season, the run for the cup is thoroughly demanding and is becoming more and more difficult to navigate while remaining healthy.

Last year the Vancouver Canucks were too depleted from injuries, to outlast the punishing style of the Boston Bruins and lost the Stanley Cup in seven games to Boston. Vancouver had documented injuries to 13 of the 20 players that dressed in game seven and were unable to put up much of a fight in the deciding game.

The playoff grind is so fierce and exhausting because of the magnitude of every play. The competition level is intensified and requires physical sacrifices in order to win just a single game. Injuries are sure to pile up throughout the playoffs, even for the healthiest teams, but this year many teams are already limping into the playoffs.

A healthy Crosby likely means we will be seeing this image again in June

Going into this year’s cup run it seems as if most teams have a crucial player or two who are already injured or have been for a significant period of the season. Players like Crosby, Toews, Lidstrom and Daniel Sedin have serious health concerns before entering into the grind that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The team that manages to remain healthy and have their key players in the lineup will be the team that is able to advance deep into the playoffs. The Blackhawks without Toews don’t stand a chance, neither do the Canucks sans Daniel Sedin.

Conversely, several teams have the advantage of possessing really deep rosters and may be able to overcome injuries more than others. I point to the St Louis Blues and Nashville Predators as examples of deep teams that aren’t reliant on elite players to carry their teams.

Nashville and St Louis are built similarly, from the back end out. Both enjoy superb goaltending, have a strong defensive core and have defensively responsible forwards that are relatively void of star power. They play a tight checking system and their forward lines are largely interchangeable.

Another familiar sight by the time May rolls around

Still an injury to a key defenseman like Shea Weber or Alex Pietrangelo would cripple these teams almost to the same degree that losing a superstar forward would hurt most other playoff teams. They are both the quarterbacks of their teams’ power-plays, play on the penalty kill and lead their teams in time on ice. Obviously they are invaluable pieces to their teams but are not in the mold of the league’s conventional stars.

To endure the marathon that is the Stanley Cup playoffs the teams will need their full arsenal of talent, any team with too many injuries will be shaving their beards and hitting the links.

By Chris Beaulieu

Mock cheers ring out in the bar room as the Boston Bruins fill the net behind Toronto goalies James Reimer and Jonas Gustavson on their way to an 8-0 massacre on Monday night.

It wasn’t always this way.  Rewind eight years to April 3, 2004 and a much different game was finishing up.

It was on this day that the Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators 6-0 to secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the post-season. It was also the last time they finished the regular season in a playoff spot.

If only we knew at the time, maybe we would have savoured the victory, and the two rounds of playoff hockey that followed, just a little more.  The eight years since have provided little to cheer about and plenty of heartache.

Just like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold the football, we, or at least I, keep coming back.  And every year that bitch yanks it away at the last second. Who will be our Peter Griffin?

So let us commiserate for a little while and see how Lucy keeps tricking us into thinking that this time will be different.  I’ve tossed some quotes from The Shawshank Redemption at the beginning of each year because the Leafs often make you feel like you’re in jail for a crime you didn’t commit.

2005-06

There’s a harsh truth to face. No way I’m gonna make it on the outside…All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won’t have to be afraid all the time.”

– Red

Optimism filled the air as hockey made its long awaited return after the NHL became the first pro sport to lose an entire season to labour strife.

The Maple Leafs had pieces of the teams that had made the playoffs each of the previous six seasons.  Mats Sundin produced like he always did, and Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were among the league’s most prolific defencemen, but there was little secondary scoring beyond these three.  Darcy Tucker was good, potting 28 goals with 33 assists, but he wasn’t going to win anyone a Stanley Cup.

The league had changed.

Past their prime veterans such as Eric Lindros, Jason Allison and Jeff O’Neill wouldn’t get it done anymore in a NHL hell bent on ultra-fast, high-scoring games.  The Maple Leafs did their best to compete in the new world, but eight and five game losing streaks in January and February would prove too tough to overcome.

They finished 41-33-8 and missed the playoffs by two points, costing coach Pat Quinn his job.

2006-07

 

“I wish I could tell you that Andy fought the good fight, and the Sisters let him be. I wish I could tell you that – but prison is no fairy-tale world. He never said who did it, but we all knew.” – Red

Paul Maurice was called up from the AHL to takeover behind the bench and guide the Leafs back to the promised land.

A team that was painfully devoid of speed and scoring the year before did little to fill these holes in the off-season. Promising young goalie Tukka Rask was swapped straight up for former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft to replace the aging Ed Belfour.  Everyone loves to rag on Burke for dealing the Tyler Seguin pick, but losing Rask set the franchise back more than anything else Toronto has done in the last decade.

The season came down to two games on the final weekend of the season.  A Toronto win over Montreal coupled with a New Jersey win over the New York Islanders would send Maurice’s team into the post season.

As most Toronto fans remember, the Leafs beat the Habs in a thriller on Saturday night.  The next day Wade Dubielewicz, yep, Wade fucking Dubielewicz, played the game of his life to lead the Islanders into the playoffs.   New York won 3-2 in a shootout win that saw New Jersey tie the game with less than a second left in the third period.

40-31-11, one point short of the playoffs.

I doubt anyone wants to read much about the next few years so I’ll condense the following events as much as possible.

2007-08

 

“Bad luck, I guess. It floats around. It’s got to land on somebody. It was my turn, that’s all. I was in the path of the tornado. I just didn’t expect the storm would last as long as it has.” – Andy Dufresne

Jason Blake was signed to provide some much needed scoring punch after potting 42 the prior year.  He played all 82 games and finished with 17 goals.

Ferguson Jr. traded first (Lars Eller), second (Aaron Palushaj) and fourth (Craig Smith) round picks to San Jose for goalie Vesa Toskala and convicted felon Mark Bell.  The Finnish goaltender is remembered for playing terribly and letting in a goal from 197 feet away.

Kazakh sensation Nik Antropov was second on the team with 56 points.

JFJ was shown the door in January and Maurice followed him at the end of the season.

36-36-11, 11 points out of the playoffs.

2008-09

 

“I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.” – Warden Norton

Cliff Fletcher. Ron Wilson. Jeff Finger? Brian Burke!

The Leafs lost five in a row in October and were lousy the rest of the way.

34-25-13, 12 points out of the playoffs.

 

2009-10

“Nothing stops. Nothing… or you will do the hardest time there is. No more protection from the guards. I’ll pull you out of that one-bunk Hilton and cast you down with the Sodomites. You’ll think you’ve been fucked by a train!”  – Warden Norton

Burke trades two first round picks (Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton) and a second (Jared Knight) for Boston sniper Phil Kessel in what will likely be the GM’s defining moment with the Leafs.  Toronto had not picked in the top three pick since 1989, so it seemed like a pretty fair trade at the time.

The Leafs lost eight straight and 17-of-20 to start the season.

Toronto’s brash GM then moves a bunch of spare parts to Calgary and Anaheim for Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie (now Carter Ashton) and J.S. Gigeure.

30-38-14, good for second last in the league, but Toronto played better after Phaneuf arrived in January so next year will be better.

2010-11

“Hey, anybody come at you yet? Anybody get to you yet? Hey, we all need friends in here. I could be a friend to you.” – Boggs

37-34-11, eight points out of the playoffs.

A desperate late-season push fuelled by the previously unknown Reimer prevents Boston from picking at the top of the draft board on Toronto’s behalf for a second straight year.

2011-12

 

“You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific. They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.”  – Andy

Its safe to say there wasn’t a ton of hope for the Leafs back in October.  However, it looked like the Leafs could maybe sneak into the playoffs if the stars aligned and Reimer provided reliable goaltending.  I was cautiously optimistic.

Fast forward a month and I wasn’t the only one saying “fuck cautious optimism”.  Toronto was first in the Eastern Conference on November 5th, it was time to plan for the playoffs.  How could anyone screw this up?

A stretch of 15 losses over 17 games and we had our answer.  While in recent memory the Leafs often chose to lose early and win when the playoffs were a pipe dream, this year was different.  They won early on, that was supposed to be the hard part.

So why do we keep putting ourselves through the ringer year after year without any meaningful hockey to cheer for?

If your spouse spent a decade cheating, would you stick around?  Probably not.

If your loser son in his 20s spent 10 years living in your basement and kept saying that he would get a job and played video games instead, would you put up with it? Hell no, you’d drag him out back and beat him with a sack of oranges.

Then why do we put up with the same abuse from the Maple Leafs?
Because we remember Doug Gilmour spinning wildly behind the net before sliding the puck past a diving Curtis Joseph.

Because we lost our minds when Nik Borschevsky tipped Bob Rouse’s shot past Tim Cheveldae to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings in game 7.

Because we can still hear the mighty clang of Sundin’s slapper going bar down to beat the Sens.

All of these moments were too long ago, but damn they felt good.  So we keep the hope alive that this year will be a little better, this year will take us a little closer to the feelings we remember so well.
Remember what Andy said to his good friend Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
That’s all we can do, hope.  That maybe one day we’ll be able to walk up the beach and find our old friend Stanley working on old fishing boat with the bright blue Pacific Ocean stretching off into the distance.