Monday, March 03, 2008

Not all doom & gloom in Leaf Nation

Hey Peeps and anyone else checking in. A special “Hey” goes out to Hazel Mae if she is checking in.

The NHL is into the stretch run, with roughly 15 games to be played and all but a few teams still in line for a shot at the playoffs – this is what the NHL had in mind with rule and schedule changes over the last few years.

If you count yourself a member of Leaf Nation these are particularly interesting times, with a number of story lines to follow – over and above this mini-run the boys in blue and white have been on, which has seen them creep to within six points of a playoff spot (albeit with a number of teams to leapfrog). Is this what the media in Toronto characterizes as a bunch of losers who play well when the pressure is off and there is little left to play for, or is it more of a case of a team that has finally gotten relatively healthy and is making a serious push to play past the first week of April?

The next five games will pretty much sort things out for the 2007/08 Maple Leafs, but you can’t help sense the unease on the part of the media who were quick to write this team off for dead after the trade deadline and lambasted them for ruining their chances at a lottery pick in the 2008 draft by actually having the audacity (they portrayed it as “stupidity”) to try and win games. You can sense the discomfort some of their harshest critics are experiencing right now with the Leafs seemingly unbeatable, while some of the teams the Leafs are chasing have fallen on some tough times.

Whether or not the Leafs make the playoffs, they are still front and center in hockey circles. Again, this has proven to be some uncomfortable times for the men and women who claim to be plugged into the NHL. When the Anaheim Ducks paid a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame in January, Brian Burke was asked about his interest in taking over the Maple Leafs in 2008/09 – Burke was his customary abrasive self when he proclaimed that he was not interested in the job. Many Maple Leafs haters in the media were overjoyed to hear the news that one of the best GMs in the league had no interest in the job – a good number of them took Burke’s statement to take a shot at the organization and claim that it was no longer the plum job many in Toronto tried to make it out to be.

Well, haven’t things changed over the last 6 weeks (or so), there is a great deal of speculation that Burke is indeed considering the job of GM of the Leafs; once this season is over and Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment makes a formal offer. According to our esteemed (insert sarcastic snicker) members of the media, Brian Burke has already received a contract extension offer from the Ducks but has not put pen to paper to finalize things. Word has it that Burke has other considerations before making a final decision on where he is going to work, namely in the form of his wife who has career interests which could quite likely bring her back to Canada.

Of course, this nugget of information wasn’t found in the daily columns of those who rejoiced when Burke issued his unofficial (albeit extremely passive) rejection of any speculation that he was interested in working at the ACC – no, these people have moved on to other “non-Leafs” stories (The Star’s Damien Cox has been particularly quiet on this front – even though he has been extremely vocal in calling for a strong GM to fix the Leafs woes). The story was part of the CBC’s Hot Stove segment during the second intermission of the Devils/Habs game (for those of us stuck in the land of the SenaTards). Al Strachan, who rivals Cox in terms of being a curmudgeon, was noticeably disgusted that it seemed like Burke was going back on his word when he denounced any interest in the Leafs. It looked like Strachan had thrown up in his mouth when CBC’s host Ron McLean said he really believed Burke would wind up in Toronto and got some level of agreement from Scott Morrison (one of the few very very good hockey writers).

I’m not going to say I called this – I’ll just point you to the entry entitled “Pope Brian I” for my reaction after Burke’s informal press conference at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Hot Stove segment was also particularly interesting in terms of information revealed about how close Cliff Fletcher was to completing trades involving Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina – there was surprisingly little talk about Sundin to Anaheim for a top prospect and the 1st round pick acquired from Edmonton (which makes me think it might not have been on the table). According to the panel, the Leafs almost had a deal with the Islanders for McCabe but couldn’t sort out the contract stuff – the feeling is that McCabe will be moved to the Isles over the summer. In terms of Kubina, the talk is that Kubina was about to be sent to the Sharks for former Bruins D Kyle McClaren – but as we all know, Kubina wouldn’t waive his NTC. This lead the panel back to talking about the Leafs moving the likes of Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Alex Steen this summer – likely to be spearheaded by Hockey God himself, who has shown a penchant for building around North Americans. It was right around this time that Strachan blurted out that Colin Campbell would be the Leafs next GM because Bettman wanted it that way.

Good times if you are a member of Leaf Nation – never a dull moment.

The 5-0 vision I had for Saturday night was actually for Sunday’s games and a great Pro-Line ticket; unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to post here so it doesn’t count on the total (which is still ugly). Tonight’s suggestions:

Anaheim over Ottawa – only in the land of the Tards could they feel good about winning one game, against a team missing two big guns; but that is how it goes up here. The Tards will be reminded how tough it is to win in Anaheim. Lay $100 on the Ducks - $140.

San Jose over Montreal – the Habs will find things decidedly tougher on the West Coast where the play is a bit more physical and they don’t have 20,000 hockey-crazed francophones screaming for a penalty every time one of their players is touched. The Sharks win this one tonight – Lay $150 on San Jose - $130.

That’s it for today gang – thanks for taking the time to check in.

Hazel, here’s hoping things are groovy in your world.

I’m Out!


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