Witt Sucks, Stapleton OK

Dear Brendan Witt,

It's not our fault you play in New York. I hope Don Cherry doesn't defend you on Coach's Corner. It would be the last straw for Grapes and me. Don Cherry said, "What a WARRIOR! Look, he comes back after getting stitches on a losing team! Good old CANADIAN boy!" Guess what, Hagman has 19 goals and is pretty much our best player besides Blake, on a losing team. That's guts on a non-playoff team, not head-hunting people because you broke your stick. Was Hags going to score a goal if he got by you? Maybe. Does he deserve to have brain damage? Of course not. I really hope for Hagman's sake that it's a broken jaw and not a concussion. My greatest hope is that the Leafs keep Hagman off the ice for the rest of the season. DO NOT bring this guy back this season to get his bell rung again like Van Ryn. Let's not ruin a career that's really just taking off to put him in danger again.

On a more positive note, I would have to disagree with PPP's early assessment of Tim Stapleton. Other than donning the fattest number in Leafs history, he actually kind of reminds me of Steve Sullivan. You can be compared to worse small Leafs. I think he was fore-checking great and actually threw a few Blake-like hits behind the net. He had more than a few chances that didn't bounce his way. Stapleton's passing ability is apparent and obviuosly he can shoot a dec ent wrist shot if you saw the shootout. I'm not going to bother commenting on the goaltending, other than to say, "Go under the knife now and give my heart a rest, Vesa."


Stapleton Makes Debut

Tim Stapleton will make his Leafs debut(about time!) and Stralman will be on his 43rd call up this year. Anyone know how Sifers is keeping his job? Stralman's callup will be followed by his going back down to the farm Saturday when Mike Van Ryn and Tomas Kaberle return against the Senators. Any takers on A) How long Kaberle remains a Leaf and B) What injury Mike Van Ryn will sustain against Montreal on Sat Mar 21, 2009?

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

After singing Kulemin's praises for months now, I was ecstatic to see him play as well as he did last night. He easily was the Leaf with the most jump. While watching the recorded game on my PVR, I noticed that I hadn't recorded long enough if the game were to go into overtime. With 3 minutes to go in the OT period my TV froze and a stifled "Awwwwwwwwwwww" came from my lips. I hustled to the computer and watched the Game In 6 Minutes. I re-watched the entire set of highlights, wondering how the Leafs stayed in the game as long as they did, having 2 shots in the first period. After the huggy, kissy time between Ian White and Markus Naslund(?) had fired up the crowd, the game took no discernible turn. Kulemin had 4 shots last night and deserved at least 2 goals for his efforts. Before even sitting down to watch the replays, I was wondering if Wilson would be smart enough to use Kulemin in the shootout. Turns out he was and Kulemin scored on pretty much the same shot he could have gotten off during his earlier break-away if it hadn't been for a missed hooking call. One last thing of note for me was a FOURTH solid outing in a row from Vesa Toskala. The ting to watch for here is if he starts to wane in the next 4 or 5 games it could be a flare-up of his bum hip. Why not have the surgery now? Why not, indeed. TANK!


We'll See Mark Bell Tonight?

Brian Burke said that some of the guys on the Marlies deserved a shot in the NHL....maybe just not with the Leafs. Here's Mark Bell's chance. Here's betting he scores if he plays......


Who Should Go

Here's a shorter list today of who has to go, for the sake of the future.

Nik Antropov: This move will break my heart a bit, only because Nik is finally healthy all the time. We've been waiting on potential to shine through to actual production and that is happening this season. Too little, too late? Yes. Actually the timing couldn't be better. I've heard rumblings(mostly from wishful Edmontonians) that Nik could end up with the Oilers. They need a big fella there at center(like every other team) and him plying with Hemski would be interesting. What could we get for him? Burke is looking for a first rounder and a cup cozy. He'll probably get it.

Jason Blake: Guaranteed rental for a playoff team. Thanks for finally coming around Jason, but we're not going to make any noise in the post season for quite a while and that's not something that bodes well for a 35 year old(not if you want a cup, anyways). What Burke could get back for Blake is irrelevant. Let's not get greedy, there is a $4 million salary to dump here.

Dominic Moore: I know I may take flack for this one(I like him, too). He plays bigger than his size, plays with emotion and could net 50pts this season. He is also 28 and hasn't shown that he can play as he has been on a consistent basis. Another thing to wonder is if Blake is gone, is Moore's production gone with him? Basically, I think we might get a decent second rounder and maybe a player for the Marlies.

Alexei Ponikarovsky: Poised to have another groundhog day-like season of roughly 45pts, some team may need a 2nd/3rd liner that can jostle(I'd like to say "bang" but with Poni I would be lying if I said that) in the corners and pot the odd goal from 2 feet of the crease. He can block out the sun, so screening a goalie wouldn't be a problem on the powerplay. I don't think Poni's stock is ever going to rise above what it is, but saying that, he is a consistent contributor, just not an elite player. I am sure a 2nd rounder or marginal prospect in return would be ok. Moving forward, he is a an ok 3rd line winger, but I'm not sure what he kind of money he makes to completely kibosh keeping him as a minor roll player.

Tomas Kaberle: Yeah, I know he's been around forever, is cheap for how he performs and is amazing for an 8th round pick, but He's not at an age that he will be around when the Leafs actually get good. Once this contract is over he will want more $$. He gave the Leafs a hell of a home team discount on the last deal, cinsidering what M32?cCabe got. What are the odds that he will do the same when he is 32? Kaberle is one of the few assets the Leafs have that can garner an immediate and future return. I'm hoping they can get an actual asset instead of a draft pick. (sorry, people, I'm not sold on having Tavares, even if we could get him).

Pavel Kubina: I've always liked Kubina. The only problem with trading him is I think any GM worth his salt will try to low-ball Burke on him. If that's the case I would rather keep him. He has been getting steadily better(both with points and being physical). Being realistic can you get another 6'4", 244lb defenseman with a Stanley Cup Ring in the next 3 years to replace him? My guess is no. If you are going to keep one veteran forward and defenseman, Kubina should be that defenseman. All that being said, I am fairly sure that Burke will find a dance partner to trade Kubina to. Just like everybody else, I keep hearing San Jose still wants him(he'd look good there).

Matt Stajan: Ok, Matt is officially this generation's Gary Valk. He's basically on the team to talk to the media and say the right things. I have missed him on the ice and have no idea why he continues to be on a line with Antro and Poni. We won't get much for him, but at least he'd be gone. Not sure what it is, but something bugs me about him. I get tired of seeing him flop to the ice when he "hits" someone.

I may have started coming off a little wishy-washy with Kubina, but these are my picks to go.


Who Should Be Untouchable?

I have a fairly short list of Maple Leafs that should be untouchable come the trade deadline. The Robbie Earle trade a few weeks back was an indication that the focus on bonafide NHL-caliber prospects that will see time in some role with the organization was now in effect. Robbie had some value to the last administration, but apparently not the current one. Below is a list of my untouchables and why:

Luke Schenn: I don't think I need to say why to Leafs fans, but I will. Luke's big and will get bigger. He's kinda fast and will get faster. He's already crushing NHL sized men with open-ice hits and hips into the boards. What's not to love?

Nikolai Kulemin: I can't say enough about this kid. It keeps me scratching my head how Kulemin gets scratched over some others. Nikolai is fast has decent hands and loves to bang in the corners. He is one of very few Leafs that finish their checks. Two or three more years of seasoning and he could be a pretty good two way player that can score 20 goals.

Nik Hagman: Eighteen goals on the season and he can play with whoever you line him up with. Niklas looks great quarterbacking the powerplay from the sideboards. He just turned 29 and has a good 5 or 6 years left of 50 pts/season.

Mikhail Grabovski: Mikhail has been showing more and more maturity as the season goes on. Hopefully, the days of demanding first class tickets are gone. If Grabs can get his ego under control he can put up some decent numbers in this league. They will need to find him some top 6 level wingers to play with on a consistent basis, though.

Lee Stempniak: Lee has his best years ahead of him and I believe the criticism he garners is mostly unwarranted. He looks good handling the puck and likes to throw the body a bit for a lighter guy. I'd say keep him til he's 29 and see how it plays out.

Honourable Mentions:

Ian White: I'd love to keep him, but I don't consider him a franchise player. He might bring back someone who's better down the line if the right deal is made. An Ian White for Brad May trade wouldn't look great, but I'd consider a package deal that brought a solid, young top 6 player in.

Jonas Frogren: I think he's coming along nicely, even though he coughs a puck up once in a while. He's a servicable 5th or 6th defenseman. I don't think he has enough of a reputation yet to bring anyone better than him in a trade.

Jeff Finger: I don't think we've seen enough of Finger yet to make a decision on dumping him. His contract isn't being earned yet, but veryt well could be before it is over. I don't mind watching him crunch people. I could deal without the give-aways, though.

That's pretty much my whole list. Anyone else is fair game. The veterans can be ably replaced by similar veterans. I'd like to see a better back-up goaltender solution, as much as I love Cujo. I still vote him taking over for Corey Schwab.

P.S. Down Goes Brown is hilarious....keep it up. I think Burke privately finds it funny as hell.


NHL Trade Alert

Mike "I can't believe I'm this big of a douche, either" Comrie has been traded to Senators for some unknown reason, since they have no chance in hell of making the playoffs. And what would Comrie add to the mix, anyways? Maybe more teen pop fans come to Scotia Place?

I Take It Back, Justin

Dear Master Pogge,

I may have been wrong about you earlier in your career(the first 6 games of it). Although I stand by the fact that your lateral motion as a goaltender at the highest level is weak, your play cannot be held against you.....yet. You played well against Columbus and deserved a better fate. Please don't let the Jason Williams goal eat you up inside, like it eats me up inside. Please enjoy the rest of your yo-yo season with our tank-alicious team.

Love Far Away Leaf


Buffalo In Town

The Sabres are 3-3-1 in January and have been running around .500 since the new year. They do, although, sit 12 points ahead of the Leafs in 7th place(tied with Florida). They are getting a little excited, as they are already pedaling playoff tickets on their website. With 7 teams between 60 and 69 points, I wouldn't get ahead of yourselves.

I think it is almost time to start a pool to see how many points Blake and Moore will get in the next game. I'm wondering if their "sudden" success is due to the Leafs being as bottom feeder and teams taking them a little less seriously. I'm not sure how I would find it out, but I'm curious to see what caliber of teams, the Blake line has been playing against.

With how long Pogge usually spends with the big club, it is almost a certainty that he will play tonight. Hopefully he will go up against Miller as they have a similar tall, skinny playing style. It would be cool to watch the head to head. ALthough, reading up on the Sabres website, "Miller, who needed only 16 saves for his shutout on Feb. 4, has allowed three goals on 77 shots in starting all 2008-09 games versus the Maple Leafs, improving to 14-7-0 with a 2.43 GAA in 21 career starts." Daunting to say the least, but what does press mean when you're out of the playoffs and playing to keep your career alive(I'm talking about you, Mitchell, SHOOT MORE damnit). That being said about my continued frustration with Mitchell, has anyone seen STajan lately? That kid has DISAPPEARED.


Return Of Pogge

Pretty excited about Pogge coming back up. I haven't been very kind, often forgetting that the team in front of him stinks. Maybe we can bring in some young defense when trading off Kaberle and Kubina. It would be a great strategy if Pogge could run off a bunch of starts with the defense in front of him that will be there in the future. Therefore, Frogren, Schenn, White and ????? Stralman has had a few cameos this season, but he's been as successful as a Tlusty sitcom. Here's hoping that Pogge can play as well as Cam Ward(HAHHAhhahhaaaaaa....cough cough HAHAA) and shut the Sabres out.


Pogge Answered A Mail In

Thanks to Mike at Torontomike.com for using my question when interviewing Justin Pogge. I asked a smart-assed version of a real question and he answered it. Maybe I have a future in asking people what to ask people! The "transcript" of my question is below and the whole interview is here:

Q: What role does Curtis Joseph play when you're up for one of your fly-by, drop-in performances. Are you buddies?
A: He's great, we can talk about anything. And he's got a wealth of knowledge and experience. We're buddies.



Slap Fight

Just read at Sportsnet that Blake and Grabovski had a roll in the hay. I wonder if Grabs threw the bird to the crowd after the fight?

This Is What It Sounds Like When Doves Cry

I think Joe Bowen can finally stop puking out the stat about how many times the Leafs score the first goal.....IT DOESN'T MAKE A DIFFERENCE. And it's almost as if Stempniak read the blogosphere yesterday, with his 2 goal performance. Hagman continues to play with a pissy attitude in front of the net, which isn't too shabby for a 6' 200 pounder. I think I'd have to watch the game again to figure out how Schenn is -3 and Finger is +2???? The whole mess doesn't really come into perspective until you realize that despite how many goals the Leafs score the opposition is always able to score more. Four goals should win a hockey game in the NHL, SERIOUSLY! I've noticed that they are peeling back Schenn's ice time, only 18:15 last night from 21:31 on Tuesday. This may be from the accumulated -5 in two games, maybe? Overall, losing to a goaltender signing his first NHL contract a week ago in his second game should really sober up a team, yeah? We'll see back at home versus Pittsburgh Saturday.

P.S. Could Cujo flop around and slide out of his crease more?

P.P.S. No

New Feature!

Seeing as the Leafs have obviously missed the playoffs for 300 years, I have developed an affinity for the Calgary Flames. Yes, you read right.....Through years of Hockey Night In Canada, living on the west coast and not liking the top line of the Canucks(Brendan Morrison a first line center, really?) and my wife actually making a connection with hockey watching Kiprusoff save game after game, I have watched the Flames with growing interest. Now I want you to understand one thing, they are my backup team. I would love to follow a Canadian team in the playoffs and:

Senators: Hockey's version of a Raspberry scented douche
Canadiens: I will watch and laugh as they miss the playoffs in their 99th year
s'Oilers: Inconsistency is the new consistency! 19 goals against in two games, even if they make the playoffs, they bow out the first round
Canucks: Still love Sundin, but Luongo found a new way to let 4 goals a game in. Vanvouver Island has some great golf courses!

So, there you have it. Calgary would also be a great team to model after. They have youth, speed and a veteran presence in a great balance. Goaltending is solid to say the least. I was going to add a few words about yesterday's game, but I think I have talked about Kiprusoff enough(hint: he got a shutout)


Becoming Less-Rare Preview

So far I haven't been able to find any particular VOODOO that will sink the Leafs tonight. The "Florida Panthers not having come back from a 3 goal deficit" VOODOO worked great for them on Tuesday. I think if we are looking for baby-steps, we can watch for the Leafs to put together a 55 minute effort tonight. They will have to do it without Jeremy Williams, the recent healthy scratch against Florida and Montreal. Ron Wilson had this to say about him when asked why Williams was down to the farm and on waivers: "There are still holes in his game, a lack of consistency," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "Until a player shows that kind of consistency on both side of the puck, you have to learn your craft in the minors, it's as simple as that. If (he clears waivers), he will help the Marlies and he will help himself." So long Jeremy, say hi to Staffan Kronwall!

The Sun also mentions moving Hagman
off of the Moore-Blake line(scoring making you uneasy Brian?) so that he can spark Kulemin and Grabovski. Good luck with that.......

The last thing I'd like to mention today is the play of Kulemin
. Not sure why Wilson always seems to think that he needs a "push". The kid is a great forechecker, and unless he is a complete douche behind the scenes, will be rounding out to have a fantastic 2nd line career with decent numbers. Keep giving him 12 to 16 minutes a night and watch him get 20 goals this year. You heard it here first.......


Positive Patty

Although I am not one to look for silver linings, I'm going to pull a few positives out of the latest demoralizing catastrophe. Niklas Hagman sure looks tired of losing.....can you blame him? He looked to single-handedly win the game and was a force on the boards during the powerplay. Wouldn't you love to see Niklas playing with someone over 5'9" in front of net with some hands?

Leafspace is asking for questions to ask Schenn in an upcoming interview. Mine would be, "Has the management/coaching staff asked you to start choosing some opportunities to create some offense?" All of a sudden, since the Young Stars game, Schenn is rushing into the zone with the puck. If that is a directive he has received, now is the time to try it. The "Season of the Tank" is underway and what better time to have your 19 year old defenseman out of position? I think someone in the upper offices of the A.C.C. see Schenn as a potential Phaneuf-like player. I see moments of it as well, but don't think he'll be Al McInnis any time soon.

Although the Moore-Blake-Hagman line has been exceptional lately, they are definitely not able to win a game on their own. They came out the game all even, which is better than almost the entire rest of the team. This is actually a little more impressive when you remember that all three of them kill penalties, as well. Are they a Burke-like first line? No way in hell.

There was a "minor" trade a few weeks ago, bringing in Ryan Hamilton. Ryan does seem to be a Burke-like player, so why not bring him up? I'm not sure exactly why, but John Mitchell drives me nuts. I still think if you're truly tanking, I mean rebuilding, let's have a look at the farm kids. How many times do I need to recommend it before someone does it? Yeah, let's see the kids.


What They Could Do With Two Days Off

Here's a few ideas for some of the Leafs with their days off before Saturday's lamb slaughtering:

  • Thomas Kaberle - Start looking into real estate in the USA
  • Mikhail Grabovski - Boxing training for "Round Two"
  • John Mitchell - Hit the Shooter Tutor
  • Jamal Mayers - Paint his jersey florescent yellow so we can see him on the ice
  • Ron Wilson - Send himself for a bag-skate for not being able to motivate his team(maybe it's not them?)
  • Alexei Ponikarovsky - Grease op his gloves to void clasping on to any jersey not the same color as his
  • Ryan Hollweg - A portable Simon game for the press box
  • Pavel Kubina - Give him the "C" already, I guarantee a carreer year if you do

Pogge Gets Shelled

Justin got stuck behind a uncaring, lazy group of men last night. With a grand total of 16 sterile shots for and 32 potent shots against, the Leafs never showed up in Buffalo. The book may not be out on Pogge yet, but the pamphlet loudly reads "Go cross-crease on this kid". And they did. By recollection, like the recollection one has of being beaten in a school ground fight, I believe that 3 of the 5 goals were lateral moving one-timers. Vanek's natural hat trick was the only thing of note other than the fact last night's game let the Leafs know that they are sorely missing an agitator. Kaleta ran willy-nilly(I'll use that phrase often from here on out on Far Away Leaf, it's just not used enough in print), pissing everyone off. One thing that really stood out for me was John Mitchell. I have a little advice for John; Shoot or get out of the slot! Back-peddling through the slot is getting really frustrating, at least for me. SHOOT THE GD PUCK.

Luke Schenn is definitely getting direction behind the scenes that last few weeks. That direction must be, "Why don't you go ahead and take some risk offensively when you see the opportunity?" Luke was having no problems getting caught up ice until the All Star Break. A Lame stat; Luke leads the NHL with 58 shots with no goal.


Vesa VS Bryan

Joe Bowen spoke the words at the beginning of the third period: " Florida is the only team in the league to not come back from going into the third period down a goal or more". And this the stage was set, it was time for the VOODOO to return. If Joe Bowen would have said "No hummingbird has ever tickled a monkey", Vesa would have found a way to make it happen. I'll be honest, I FFed through the final minute of the third after the penalty was called. A) because I knew they would and B) because I knew the outcome. Man, our penalty killing stinks. If you want an idea of how frustrating it can be to play for a team as bas as the Leafs, check out the determination of Hagman to get to the front of the net and score. I know this post is all over the place, just like the down low coverage of the Leafs. I think I may keep a bottle of Bromo-Seltzer close for the remaining games this season. One final note; what the hell was Bowen saying when he was trying to pronounce Skrastins? Stnshuns, Xschkkcns?


Rare Game Preview

I hardly ever do previews of upcoming games. Mostly because the only thing that is even remotely easy to predict is the final outcome; a Leafs humiliating loss. The theory from earlier in the season that we were "watching an entertaining brand of hockey regardless of the outcome" may be somewhat back on track for the last two games. The Leafs have scored 12 goals in the last two games against suspect goaltenders in downward spiraling teams. I was somewhat shocked when presented by the headline on Mapleleafs.com that the Leafs were going for their 3rd win in a row. After witnessing Toskala letting in unscreened, on the fly slapshots from 50 feet out against the Penguins the last thing I would be typing would be "prospective 3 game winning streak". That being said THE LEAFS COULD BE GOING ON A 3 GAME WINNING STREAK! ALthough that win could come against a team that is 6-2-2 in the last 10 games. Vokoun has a 2.62 GAA and a .919 S%, but is only sporting a 14-14-3 record. Craig Anderson has been a pleasant surprise for them with lofty stats with a 2.47 GAA and a .930 S%. Vesa doesn't have a chance.