Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Lows

There I was following the box score in the 2nd half, thinking the Raps were doing pretty well to hang with Chris Paul and company. Then my brain switched on to the dreaded realization we were actually going toe-to-toe with the 2-24 Oklahoma City Thunder. And by the end of it, toe-to-toe would have been a nice adjective because the Raps got thrashed down the stretch by a team with the worst name in the NBA, that hadn’t won at home in 47 days, and are on pace to establish all sorts of futility records this year. I guess there’s nothing better to soothe a vicious losing streak these days than to see Toronto on the schedule.

Other game notes:
- Outrebounded again (54-48)
- 36.4 FG% and 11.8% 3pt%
- JO chalks up another injury (shoulder)
- Even Bosh is slumping (22-70 in last 4 games)
- Somewhere, Sam Mitchell is smiling

I gotta give it to the Thunder crowd though. They were jacked up! I don’t think section “third base” (or under my financial circumstances at the time, section “500”) of the Skydome was ever consistently that loud during the Raptors inaugural season.

Next up, San Antonio. Please Mr. Duncan, be gentle. Treat us like it’s our first time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hockey Night in Atlanta

I know Atlanta has always been knocked for its paucity of fans and its awful attendance records, regardless if its teams are winning or losing. It’s all true. But I’ve also realized it’s the only large commercial city in the Southeast and thus home to many Fortune 500 companies and their legions of migratory workers. So while originally I thought it was strange how half the people I met here seemed to be from elsewhere, I now understand Atlanta is largely a city of transients. People come here often only because they were sent here and those from Atlanta don't have the generational sports roots like other big American cities do. It’s also a place that developed and grew in size/population very rapidly without much forward thinking or logical urban planning. So the sprawl is enormous, the traffic is unbearable, and the roads lead you in circles. None of this helps bring fans to the games. Moreover, it’s just not a great place for a rabid fan base to exist. No one lives downtown, there’s nowhere near the stadium that’s fun to go to before or after a game, and the racial/demographic divide is big enough that it makes it difficult to meld all the different groups together into one collective fan base.

The result is a majority of indifferent sports fans, a minority of Atlanta superfans, and a consistent cluster of fans from the opposing team on any given night. For example, I was shocked by the amount of Pens fans at the Thrashers game last night. Literally in the hundreds and highly visible and audible. But I’m happy for them because I too have reveled in being a Leafs/Raptors/Jays fan living in Atlanta, where I can show up an hour before the game, buy a ticket for $10-15, watch warm-ups from the first few rows, and basically sit wherever I want throughout the game.

Honestly, there’s a lot of upside to being a displaced “general sports fan" in Atlanta. I could never watch Crosby and Malkin back home for so cheap and in such close view. I plan to do the same with guys like Ovechkin or the young Blackhawks in the new year. And I want to see in person what makes teams like the Sharks, Bruins, and Red Wings so good. The same with the NBA – hook me up with some LeBron, D-Wade, CP3, or the TrailBlazers. Basically it’s kinda fun and certainly interesting being a neutral fan at live games. Of course I prefer the heckling and rare moments of jubilation at the ACC, but at least for downtrodden skeptics like me, it’s nice sometimes to just watch a game and not have to yell at everyone not named Bosh or Calderon for 48 minutes.

As for the game itself, I thought the Thrashers played better than they fared. They dictated the flow of the game in the first period, outshot the Pens throughout, and had more overall scoring chances. The difference – the Pens powerplay and great play from Fleury vs. horrible from Pavelic. There’s just no equivalent to goaltending in basketball – if you play poorly you can still win in hockey because your goalie can bail you out. A sloppy game in which you’re outplayed, outhustled, and outrebounded always results in a loss in basketball even if your best player scores 50. Basketball teams can’t overcome overall mediocre talent the way hockey teams can. That’s why I agree with Richie’s last post – BC needs to get off his ass and make some moves.

Back to hoc
key, the Thrashers are not even mediocre talent. Guys with names like Jim Slater, Eric Perrin, Colby Armstrong, Todd White, and Joey Crabb do not instill any fear whatsoever in me. They sound like Home Depot employees or high school phys-ed teachers. Take that into consideration Mr. Burke before you assign too much trust to the Dominic Moores, John Mitchells, Jeremy Williams, and even our beloved Ian Whites of the team. I do love watching Kovalchuk play though. He literally gives you a jolt each time he takes it from behind his own net and starts accelerating up ice. On the last play of the first period, I had predicted a coast to coast goal but it trickled just a few inches wide. He was the most exciting player in the game, followed by Malkin whose creativity and puck skills outshone Sid’s by a mile in this one. Can the Leafs free Kovy from the Thrashers (or as the guys behind me said, ‘they should just rename them the Thrashed’)?

Finally, a congrats to the Raptors for being outrebounded in 14 of their last 15 games. So much for our supposed clear advantage and dominating that part of the game. How is it that the Hawks and their 6’8” mafia are a better rebounding team? Oh yea, they have guys who can actually run and jump and play the wings. Like I said, it’s refreshing to be a neutral spectator sometimes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SHOCKER: Sundin Takes the Money

"I have carefully considered the team's request that I waive my no-trade clause," Sundin said in a statement. "I have always believed I would finish my career as a Toronto Maple Leaf so the actual request was still a very difficult one for me to contemplate."


"I cannot leave my teammates and join another NHL Club at this time. I have never believed in the concept of a rental player. It is my belief that winning the Stanley Cup is the greatest thing you can achieve in hockey but for me, in order to appreciate it you have to have been part of the entire journey and that means October through June. I hope everyone will understand and respect my decision."

--Mats Sundin, February 24, 2008 (approx)

Flash forward about 10 months, to today, December 17, 2008, when Mats finally, mercifully, ended the speculation about whether and where he'd play during the 2008/2009. And yes, to answer your question, he will be a rental player. For which team you ask? Well, brace yourselves folks, for this is about to shock you...

Mats Sundin has decided to play for the Vancouver Canucks, the team that, coincidentally, offered him the most amount of money in the offseason (2 years at $10M per).

Yes, the Nucks have a roster with a bunch of Swedes, including the Sedin twins, but no I don't believe they are a legit Stanley Cup contender, even with Mats, because they play in the West, and the road to the Cup goes through San Jose and/or Detroit. The other team rumored to be a final destination, the NY Rangers, would have had a far easier path to the Cup. So, ultimately, Mats chose the cash. I hope he's happy retiring at the end of this year (or next, or the one after, or whenever he finally decides to hang em up) without having ever won a Cup.

And Toronto, be sure to circle your calendars for February 21, 2009... when the Vancouver Canucks are back in Toronto.

Who's going to that game? And if so, what kind of reception will you give him? Even if you're not going, what kind of reception will you give him?


Sorry for making him sound like an ahole, but I am kind of upset. On the other hand this little post, about a guy who won a Poker Stars tournament and got to sit in a box with Mats, makes him sound like a pretty nice guy. I'll bet he was pissed too when he found out the Rangers lost the Sundin Sweepstakes.


Let me preface this post by saying I know little to nothing about basketball. I'm pretty much a pylon when I play, and when I watch, I get angry that guys don’t use the backboard as much as they should. That being said, I haven’t been to a Raptors game for a few years, so I was jacked when I got two tickets to last night’s game against the Mavs. I don’t know if it was the two hour notice I gave people or a sign of the Raps’ current appeal (or, indeed, the prospect of two hours with me asking why every free-throw deserves a round of high fives), but I couldn’t find anyone to come along. Rather than go solo, I opted to stay at home and watch the game from the comfort of my couch (leather).

As I said earlier, I’m not exactly Spike Lee in terms of being able to watch basketball, so before long I was channel surfing and came across Darts on Sportsnet.

Now, I’m not sure if it’s because I have just recently started playing darts and appreciate the game, or because the cast of characters is like the WWF in its heyday, with the crowd going fucking mental with each personalized introduction, but I got hooked. Finely tuned athletes like Andy “The Viking” Fordham (pictured), Phil “The Power” Taylor, and current world champion –gunning to defend his title this weekend at the World Darts Championship in the UK – is Canadian John “Darth Maple” Part (seriously). The commentators treat every throw like over time of game seven and the crowd seems to be on a non-stop supply of high-octane lager. Classic stuff. And while I’m all about darts at the moment, my lack of math skills really hampers my dream of becoming the announcer that gets to yell “Ooooone hundred and EIGHTY!!!” and send the crowd into a hops-fueled frenzy.

Anyway, after I calmed down a little, I went back to the Raptors game to see their early lead completely squandered and the crowd getting negative.

Bosh came out after saying that if he wanted to get booed, he’d play away from home, as if he’d never had his own fans get down on him before. This coming soon after the discussion of home support was brought up in soccer with Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue being mercilessly booed off the pitch by 50000 home fans.

I know it doesn’t help a team that’s already off their game to have their own supporters give them shit, but I’m not in favour of blindly cheering a poor, substandard effort. In my opinion, singling out one of your own players during the game and booing or even screaming, “Just pass!” every time he touches the ball is over the line. Coaches and teammates know a whole lot more than fans about what's behind a guy’s performance, and if he warrants it, you know the guy will get what’s coming to him. However, for me, booing is totally acceptable after a game when the team’s performance as a whole –players and coach - simply hasn’t been good enough. What does anyone else think about booing your own team?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Do Something!!!!!!!!

A pathetic loss to the Nets on homecourt. Outrebounded 54-38. By whom? Bosh and O'Neal were dominated by a frontcourt of Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson and Josh Boone. Who? Exactly.

The Raptors exhibited no toughness, no athleticism and built a house with the bricks their jumpshots became. No more than a house. They built a castle in the fourth quarter.

This team is going nowhere. Quite frankly they stink. A game against Dallas on Wednesday to close out an 0-3 homestand. Bravo.

West coast roadtrip begins this Friday and includes a number of godawful teams like: Oklahoma, LA Clippers and Sacramento.

If those games are lost, we may as well give up on the season.

Hey BC! You think it's time to make a move yet?!?!?!?!?!?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend Transaction Roundup

In Leafland the Buds called up Jeremy Williams earlier this week to see what he can bring to the team if given the proper opportunity. Ron Wilson will be giving him the chance to center a line with Jason Blake and Dominic Moore. His skills are on the offensive end of the ice and the traditional knocks against him are his lack of strength and weak back checking. Will he stick this time? Early returns seem good as he has scored a goal two games straight, both of which were Leaf victories.

The AJ Burnett saga has mercifully come to an end. In an absolutely ludicrous signing, the Yankees have decided to give him $82.5 million over five years. Why would any team give that ammount of money to a pitcher who only shows up for contract years? A five year contract for a player who will be 32 when the year starts and who is chronically injured? Will he collapse under the pressure of the New York media? From my point of view the answer is yes, it is only a question of how soon.

Who will be his replacement for the Blue Jays? Apparently Rogers has decided to pocket the savings due to the financial crisis. Great. Friggin great.

The Raptors have made quite possibly the least interesting roster addition in the history of any professional sports league by bringng in Jake Voshkuhl. This journeyman center has played for Colangelo before in Phoenix and will bring a bit of toughness to the end of the bench. Interestingly, this signing does lead to a lot of questions. Does this mean that we can offically say that Nathan Jawai's season is over? With the Raps now into the luxury tax will they make a move to shed salary?

Monday December 15 is the day that all NBA players will be eligible to be traded. Will we bid farewell to some Raptors? My gut tells me that traditionally healthy players like Anthony Parker and Kris Humphries who have found themselves on the injury report lately, may simply have been sitting out to ensure that they would be healthy for tomorrow when they will need to pass physicals.

Obviously, the big news this weekend came from TFC. Please check out the posts below for more info on DeRosario.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

While Brian Burke has enacted a holiday moratorium on trades, TFC GM Mo Johnston has come correct with a Christmas Cracker of a deal the sees Toronto get Dwayne DeRosario from Houston for allocation money and Julius James. It’s pretty safe to say that TFC were on the nice list; in DeRo, the reds get a hometown guy who’s never missed the playoffs and got several years of MVP caliber play ahead of him, in return for a pittance of their allocation money (MoJo’s been hoarding it like Scrooge) and a “prospect” in his mid-twenties (in today’s reality, soccer prospects tend to be closer to 16). The fact that this trade was pulled off without using up the Designated Player spot leaves TFC fans licking their lips at the possibilities for the upcoming transfer window in January.
Despite the questionable hair styles and the "disabled chicken" goal celebrations, I might just have to get the DeRo jersey.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The 'Stache Strikes Again

"Men always talk about the most important things to perfect strangers. In the perfect stranger we perceive man himself; the image of a God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of wisdom of a mustache."
--Gilbert K. Chesterton

It may not have been strong, and it certainly wasn't pretty, but it went in. Ian White's not-so-twisted wrister got thrown on the Buffalo net with about 8 mins left in the game and somehow, miraculously, found its way to the back of the twine. Yes, the PK unit did a hell of a job with the game on the line. Yes, Vesa came up big, despite our constant harping on him. Yes, Jeremy Williams continued his strong play since being called up by scoring the game's opener. And yes, Van Ryn came back and played a solid 19+ minutes, with 4 SOG and a stable +1. However, what I'll remember about this relatively nondescript game was that it signaled the continued resurgence of the man with the best looking mustache since Wendel Clarke donned the Blue and White. A good win for the Leafs against not a great team, but a potentially dangerous one, and one that is currently in a playoff spot.

I'm driving up to LA for the weekend to brave the mid-50 degree weather. Hope you all get outside and enjoy a rare weekend without the Leafs on HNIC. Even those of you with exams. I'll check back in next week. Go Leafs Go.

TFC Sign DeRosario

TFC have just announced the signing of Canadian international, four-time MLS Cup champion, two time MLS Cup MVP, back-to-back Goal of the Year winner and three-time MLS All-Star - Scarborough's own Dwayne DeRosario, from the Houston Dynamo in exchange for Julius James and allocation money. (Developing - more to come)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

As the Tradewinds Blow

So Richie and I have been having many discussions about potential deals that the Raptors could make. I am going to outline our 2 favorite deals (one I like, and one he likes). Both of these deals are based on previous media reports of either Raptor or counterparty interest. Also, both deals have been put through the ESPN Trade Machine to ensure that all salaries, trade restrictions, and BYC factors have been calculated. Note, I am not saying either deal WILL happen, I am just saying they are the 2 most deals that make the most sense given the Raptors overall cap structure, desire to win in the short term, and maintenance of cap flexibilty with an eye towards 2010.

Deal Number One: Richie's Dream Come True

Raptors trade Andrea Bargnani and Jamario Moon to Golden State for Brandon Wright, Anthony Randolph, Marcus Williams, and Marco Bellinelli.

Rationale: Well Wright and Randolph inject instant athleticism into the Raptors lineup, and Bellinelli gives them another shooter that they can roll out there since AP is fossilizing before our eyes. G State has been calling BC about Bargnani since last season, and its clear that Nellie LOVES the idea of trying to turn Andrea into the next Dirk. Now, you could argue that Wright and Randoph is a very high price for Andrea, but also keep in mind that Nellie hasn't played either, and Andrea gives them a legit 3 pt shooting PF to play with Monta, Capt Jack, Maggette, and Ivan Drago. As for the Raps, this trade turns Bargs into some big time upside pieces that let's them turn up the volume and pump up the jam on the 1st and 2nd units. While, this trade doesn't address the immediate need of a SF for the starting lineup, it does allow the Raps to play Joey and Kapono in the starting unit, while allowing AP, The Laptop Thief, Brandon Wright, and Bellinelli to provide the Raps with a serious 2nd unit. As a plus, with Roko on the roster as well, we can thankfully never ever have to watch Will Soloman on the court again.

Deal Number Two: Billy Bee's obsession comes true

Trade: Raptors trade Jermaine O'Neal to the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion, Joel Anthony, and Dequan Cook.

Rationale: Look, I love JO as much if not more than most of you. However, I think its safe to say that the Raps are probably only going to be a .500 with the given talent. Getting Marion let's the Raps transition to a more wide open style, and Andrea has shown just enough to throw him to the wolves at center again. Marc Stein on ESPN has reported several times that BC is focused trying to acquire Marion from the Heat. JO fills a huge hole for Miami in the middle, and trading Matrix let's Baez step into the starting lineup.

Trading season begins in earnest in 3 days. Let's hope BC has some tricks up his sleeves better than what I just proposed. Apparently, there is a rumor going around that the Raps are probably going to get Caron Butler. I have heard this from a couple different people, so it can't be completely insane. If Butler ends up a Raptor, this will be the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER, and BC is more powerful that Santa Claus!!!!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rough Weekend for Toronto

Just to recap the obvious, the Leafs came out flat against an injury depleted Capitals team and lost a game they probably should have won. More bad news came with the grogginess that Niklas Hagmen suffered, which I think we can leap to judge as a minor concussion.

Even more worrisome, was the injury sustained by rookie phenom Luke Schenn. After a hit from Ovechkin he came up gimpy and the early reports say he will be out two weeks with some sort of knee injury.

The Raps finally showed signs they could compete in the NBA after some blowout losses. Jermaine O'Neal played an inspired game. Unfortunately for the Raptors, an inability to grab rebounds in the closing moments led to a broken play where Steve Blake knocked down a three over Calderon. Triano missed his first win in the league by 1 measly point.

If anything though, it was somewhat encouraging to see the Raptors show signs of life again.

On a positive note, the NFL seems to be getting closer to our fine city. I'm a sentimental guy who hates the idea of teams moving. So I must say, I do not support the idea of stealing Buffalo's team. I mean, hell, what else does Buffalo have going for it? Taking their Bills would be the equivalent of ripping their city's heart out in a brutal, ritualistic Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom kinda style. I hope Toronto gets an expansion team for the sake of the fans who suffered through four consecutive Superbowl losses.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Painted into a Corner?

The Raps took another on the chin last night, this time during a nationally televised game in the States on ESPN, by a score of 114-87 against the vastly superior Utah Jazz. A rousing debut for Triano! Sam lost by 39 but Triano only lost by 27! Maybe Van Gundy could only lose by 15? I jest. Could it be that Sam was not the problem? Well, the early results certainly look that way.

I’m not the only pessimist either. The usually upbeat Raptors HQ have already gone on record and stated “Frankly I don’t think BC is going to be any happier with the results brought about by this coaching change.”

Lets not worry too much about the game yesterday or the one coming up on Sunday against Portland and their jealous inducing roster of young, top-tier talent. Instead I will take a crack at trying to figure out exactly what the hell Colangelo is going to do with this mess. I figure there are 3 potential routes he could take for the rest of this bumpy looking season.

Option 1: Tinker. Based on the fact the Raptors bench is horrible he could try to tinker with the backups. After all, the Raps had been successful the past two seasons by utilizing a deep bench. His trade chips include Joey, Hump, Kapono, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. In other words, he’s in a weak position to bargain with these characters.

Colangelo was quoted this week as saying he has been scouring the trade market “for a big.” A BIG?!?!?! What about a small forward, shooting guard or backup point guard???

That comment ranks pretty high on the scale of “nonsensical GM smokescreen language” I hope. In fact, a big man is the only thing they don’t really need.

The question becomes, is this enough? Maybe taking a character risk on a guy with athleticism like JR Smith to replace Parker could pay off? Could bringing in some minor reinforcements help right the ship? Ummmm. Dubious.

Option 2: Trade One of the ‘Big Four’ now
. When I say this I am fully aware that it will not be Bosh or Calderon - which leaves Bargnani and O’Neal.

O’Neal likely won’t be dealt now due to his health concerns and the fact that his contract is MASSIVE. His deal will be much more valuable next season when teams are acquiring expiring contracts in the hopes of making a run for Lebron James. Read: New York Knickerbockers. There is good reason to believe that O’Neal’s contract will become a Raptors treasure chest at that point.

Which only leaves Bargnani. Is it even conceivable that Colangelo and Gherardini could give up on their pet project to go in a different direction? He has been showing signs of life this season and there is reason to believe he could be worth a fair amount on the open market.

What if the Raptors could ship out 3 or 4 players (including Bargs and Kapono) to Golden State and receive in return a package that includes two or three players from this group: Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, Brandon Wright, Marco Belinelli, Marcus Williams. What about the Bulls, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Clippers or Wizards?

Option 3: Wait it out. Colangelo could potentially make Triano grind this mediocre team into a low playoff seed and subsequently be demolished in the first round. Then in the offseason drop the nuclear bomb that will include:

A) Hiring a new coach. The smart money is on Etorre Messina leaving CSKA Moscow to come over. It has been speculated on by such diverse sources as Draft Express, Michael Grange and Italian newspapers as recently as yesterday.

B) Trading the aforementioned O’Neal contract for a goldmine of talent and promoting Bargnani to starting center.

C) Sign a couple of free agents who should be in the league – ie not guys like Hassan Adams and Will Soloman, while also trying to avoid overpaying for bums like Kapono.

D) Using their draft pick to actually select someone useful.

E) Finding themselves an identity. Are they a free-wheeling offensive club or are they going to be a more traditional half-court team? Bosh, O'Neal and Calderon seem to fit better into the latter category, yet Colangelo has been talking about how he wants Triano to get them some easy transition hoops. I'm a tad bit confused.

Option 3 is a risky strategy because of the fact Colangelo has already acknowledged how important it is for him to keep Bosh happy. I see this option as the least likely of the three. I'm hoping for 2, but expecting Option 1.

What do you predict?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Kaberle's Future

The Internets are abuzz today with talk of the Leafs dismal performance against the Sharks and Coyotes, but also, more dramatically, Wilson's benching of Kaberle for the whole first period last night.

Our good buddy Eyebleaf is pissed off by the move, and even went so far as to say that he's "off" Wilson because of it. While our not-so-good buddy Cox took it so far as to say that "...the gauntlet has been laid down. And Kaberle, it's clear, is in his final weeks as a Maple Leaf."

Woah, easy on the brakes, Champ!

Thankfully, though, DGB brings some much needed levelheadedness to this issue by telling us all to calm down, and assuring us that Kaberle's trade value isn't necessarily in a freefall because of recent events.

I want to take that line of thinking even further though, and contend that its premature to say that just because Kaberle got stapled to the bench last night automatically means he's gone. As has been mentioned, Wilson really only has a few tools at his disposal to deal with players. He either skates them at practice, calls them out in the media, benches them during a game or sends them to the press box. That's really about it, and Wilson has used 3/4 of those against Kabs - with the 4th still at his disposal. I couldn't agree more that he's not playing well right now, that he probably could use a trip to the press box, and of course that he screwed the team over by refusing to be traded to Philly last year. However, all of that doesn't mean a) he's going to waive his NTC now and/or b) that Burke is even going to ask him to waive it, so that he can package him up and ship him out ASAP. Remember, Wilson and Patrick Marleau didn't get along swimmingly in SJ, yet Marleau is still employed in that town... and Wilson isn't. Kaberle is merely the latest vet to be on the receiving end of Wilson's tough-as-nails approach. And I guarantee he won't be the last.

Kabs is in a funk, but he's still a highly talented player with a skillset that is valuable to this club... and many others. Ask yourself: would you rather see Finger running the PP? If the goal is to tank this season and make a run at a top pick - then maybe he's on his way out. Or, of course, if the goal is to move him for a younger, up-and-comer (or picks), then he's on his way out. But I don't think this team will - or should - trade him just for the sake of it. Or that Kabs is any closer to letting them trade him.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

View from Above the Tunnel: Strategic Plan for the Rest of the Season, and a fond farewell to Sam.

After listening to Colangelo during his press conference to announce the firing of Sam Mitchell, I found some of his quotes to be especially telling of the decay that had transpired in the relationship between the GM and coach. I believe these words below give us some real insight into what has been transpiring in Raptorland lately. My analysis of the future of the Raptors follows the highlights of the press conference...

"This is not just an issue about Sam Mitchell failing as a head coach. This is a question about the team under achieving. This is about the roster underachieving, some injuries that have happened…but its about the failures that this team has had this season."

"Are the Raptors improving as a team? Is it just the coach? If it isn't the coach, then more dramatic roster changes must be made, but we need to figure out what the problem is."

"This is an attempt to stop the downward spiral of the team."

"I don't think you can play the game of basketball with success without any transition activity…as of last week, we were 29th in the league in fast break points."

"That was a concern to all of us. There was talk about running, but I'm not sure that was something we really … practiced to the extent where it showed on the court with any kind of regularity."

"We are not a basketball team without faults…but we have not lost faith in the players, but you're right, there is no more I going to lose some of my political clout with the organization, of course, but I am willing to wear that in order to move this team forward."

"We all felt (speaking about the organization, coaches included) that this is a roster that we could win with."

"Once again, we are off to a slow start, we are seeking solutions instead of looking ahead…the situation just warranted a change."

"Rather than blowing this thing up, our goal is to continue to improve, and look for ways to improve this team…but we are always looking for ways to improve our roster."

"I think it's safe to say that Sam had a very good run in Toronto…but there comes a time when the best way to improve a situation is to make a change at the top and make a change to the voice."

A lot of food for thought is dispersed amongst these lines. It is clear that Colangelo feels that the Raps need to alter their offensive strategy. He tried winning Mitchell's way, but now its time to change the gameplan. If the players still can't execute the game plan, then its time to start to dealing significant parts in the summer (specifically JO, and his $20 million expiring contract to teams that are obsessed with the "summer of LeBron." Wilson Chandler, David Lee, Chris Duhon would look pretty good in Raptor unis).

It is now time for the Raptor players to step up.

I think Jay Triano has to implement 2 key strategic intiatives.

1) Triano must implement an up-tempo offensive scheme that the Raptors were sorely lacking. While some of you may want to see the Raps revamp their somewhat stale half court offense, I would argue that their main sets are Mitchell legacies that are worth keeping. Triano should tweak some of the motion to get Kapono some open looks, but the main thrust should still be Chris and Jose in the high pick and roll. The MAIN problem that I had with Mitchell's offense was its refusal to turn the wings loose to fast break.

The benefits of pushing the tempo offensively have so many advantages. Joey and Moon are terrible ball handlers, and have no ability to drive, but if they are let loose on the wing, their athleticism up the court is hard to match. Say what you want, but both guys are great dunkers. (For an example of this phenomenon look up 2005 Shawn Marion (first year with Nash) and 2008 Marion, wasting away in Miami). I think the Raptors have a team that posses SFs that will be able to score in transition. Scoring in the half court will be as difficult as it is right now, BUT with CB4 we will win enough of those battles. We need to produce more easy buckets in Toronto.

Ultimately, I think Jay Triano will be an improvement over Sam Mitchell if he is able to turn up the volume on offense. I spoke about this strategy in an earlier post this year, and I maintain that the Raptors MUST be able to turn their rebounding and steals into transition buckets.

2) On defense, Jay Triano has 1 mission. Completely scarp Sam's help based defensive scheme, and install a simple man-on-man defensive philosophy. Schemes can only go so far on defense, at the end of the day, everyone on the Raptors need to be going all out on every play in their own end, and their sole mission should be to never allow their man to score. Pointing a guy at his opposite number and saying "stay with him no matter what" sets players free from worrying if they are in the right spot, and if they should be the helper. Switch and blitz screen rolls, get in the grill of shooters, make slashers pull up, just implement the scouting reports, and play defense like you're on an island. If Joey or Moon don't live up to these expectations, then nail their ass to the bench. The point is that Joey and Moon need to know that they don't need to worry about anything else defensively, and both of them MUST be held accountable. Whoever is dragging ass on defense, they don't get to play, period.

Here's the rotation that I think Triano should implement to pull off the 2 strategies I outlined above:

Starting Five:
1. Jose
2. AP
3. Joey
4. Bosh
5. JO
6. Andrea
7. Kapono
8. Hump
9. Ukic

I think Friday night is a toss up for the Raps. The Jazz are a tough team, but they have to be able to show that they are starting to make adjustments. Look, if the Raps fall flat on their faces, and they get torched trying to open the offense up, then so be it. The point is that BC believes that a team must be able to score in trasnsition to be successful in the L. Now, if this strategy is implemented, and the Raps still suck, then it will be time to consider taking an axe to the roster.

I want to applaud BC for taking a pro-active step and making a move on Sam. It shows that BC is not hamstrung by decisions in the past, and he is not afraid to take risks.

I want to share a personal story about meeting Sam Mitchell in an ice cream store once in Toronto. It was the day after the Raps have drafted Charlie V and Joey, and Stephen A mocked the Raps on camera. I went up to Smitch, and asked him if Danny Granger was injured. In fact, I pleaded with him to tell me that Granger was injured, and that was the reason that the Raps picked Joey instead. So, Sam stares at me, and goes "after a day like today, you're seriously asking me that?" in an extremely exasperated and annoyed tone. I have to say, I was genuinely scared that he might body slam me into the mint chocolate chip. Anyway, he told me I should wait and see about the kids, and that Stephen A Smith is an idiot. I loved Smitch after that, mainly because I respected him for taking the time away from his ice cream cone to address the question of an average fan. As much as I've been driving the "fire Sam Mitchell" bus lately, I was once one of his biggest fans. When they were on their way to winning 47 games, and Sam was on his way to COY, I figured that he had figured it out, and the sky was the limit. But Garbo's ankle exploding, and Al Horford decapitating TJ Ford changed all of that. Sam will land on his feet. A young team like the T-Wolves or Bobcats could use a guy like him. Sam helped Bosh and Jose get to where they are today, and as a part of the Raptor Truthers, I want to say a heart felt thanks to Sam Mitchell, all time leader in coaching victories in Raptors history.

Finally, why is Triano assumed to be a joke just because he was the coach of Team Canada. That team WON games at the Olympics and almost medaled. Why is it so hard to believe that Triano has some real basketball knowledge? Yeah, he had Steve Nash, but his next best player was like Rowen Barrett. I think we need to give Jay Triano a chance to prove himself. I think he is going to surprise us.

First game of the Jay Triano Era: Friday, December 5 on the road in Utah………

Would You Rather?: TPTFUA Edition

There's a little game that has been gaining popularity in recent months that some of us at TPTFUA have been playing for a few years now. The game is known as "Would You Rather?". The basic premise is that Contestant 1 gives Contestant 2 two insanely ridiculous options, and Contestant 2 must choose which option "He'd Rather" complete if he ABSOLUTELY HAD TO DECIDE. The idea is pretty simple, but my friends, the game is not. Once you engage in a game of "Would You Rather?", you MUST answer the question you've been asked no matter how horrific the choice. They start out nicely. Feel free to answer below and add your own.

1) Would You Rather shave Kerry Fraser's head or party for a weekend with Eddie Belfour?

2) Would You Rather fight Mike Tyson (in his prime) or UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar in a street fight?

3) Would You Rather do away with the WNBA or the CFL (in hopes of Toronto getting an NFL team)?

4) Would You Rather smoke a joint with Josh Howard or with Ricky Williams?

5) Would You Rather have Shaq or Warren Sapp as your cell mate while serving a 30 year bid?

6) Would You Rather get drunk with Wendal Clark or Kelly Gruber?

7) Would You Rather punch Vince Carter in the face or bitch slap John Ferguson Jr?

8) Would You Rather have had the Hakeem Olajuwon or Andrew Raycroft experiments work out?

9) Would You Rather have the Raptors and Jays each win 2 titles over the next 15 years, or have the Leafs win 3 titles over the next 18 years?

10) Would You Rather sleep with AP's sister, Candice Parker or Vince Carter's ex-wife Ellen?

11) Would You Rather take back the drafting of Rafael Araujo over Andre Iguodala 0r losing Brad Boyes, Alyn McCauley and a 1st round pick for Owen Nolan?
(....I bet Tex would rather have not invested in a Nolan jersey)

12) Would You Rather have sex with a Raptors cheerleader dressed as Carleton the Bear or Old School "BJ" Birdie? (pictured here: not a Raptors cheerleader)
13) Would You Rather have seen Dave Winfield kill the seagull live or attended the final game at Maple Leaf Gardens?

14) Would You Rather go up against David Wells or Cecil Fielder in a chicken wing eating contest?

15) Would You Rather have had Scotty Bowman a few years ago (when Sundin still had some great years left) or Brian Burke now as the Leafs GM?

16) Would You Rather bring back the Montreal Expos or the Seattle SuperSonics?
17) Would You Rather have at your disposal the female entourage of Tom Brady or Allen Iverson? (any current relationships don't mean shit)

18) Would You Rather have your first born son look like Nick Van Exel or Mike Ricci?

(side bar: can we go back to calling it the SkyDome now???)

19) Would You Rather have the use of the SkyDome or the Raptors Dance Pack for the May 24 weekend?

20) Would You Rather see Josh Hamilton or Chris "The Birdman" Anderson make a return to the crackpipe?

21) Would You Rather have Chuck Swirsky or Charles Oakley as your father in law?

22) Would You Rather have Sean Avery or Plaxico Burress date your daughter?

23) Would You Rather have a shower with Brian Burke or Bryan Colangelo?

24) Would You Rather win a Stanley Cup this year or have Burke pull an impossible trade for Sidney Crosby?

25) Would You Rather.....?


(I like Vanessa Marcil, but I LOVE Bonnie Hunt. Look into her eyes, she will eat you alive.)


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Deciphering the Burkian Code

Tex and I have worked long and hard to put together this thorough state of the roster address as it relates to the early remarks of Brian Burke. Then Damien Cox comes along and engages in a similar project and steals our thunder on his blog. Life's a bitch eh? Nonetheless, we will proceed with the second part of our article analyzing the upcoming future of the Leafs - hopefully with more style and substance than the "Cox Block" specialist that the Barilkosphere is well aware of. I'm not even going to post a link to it I'm so disheartened.

Since Burke is a ‘shoot from the hip’ type of GM, we believe you can learn more from his remarks than a PR wizard like Brian Colangelo who soothes us with comforting yet bland statements, or a jackass like JP Ricciardi who tries to keep our hopes and dreams in the cellar by bombarding us with pessimism.

So when Toronto’s Burkian Revolution evolves into a proper ‘reign of terror’ come January, who will be the first to meet the guillotine? Based on a few of his quotes, we think we have come up with a basic criteria to help us make well-educated guesses on who stays and goes. It is our modest attempt to decipher the Burkian code. Actually wait, fuck modest, our code-cracking speculation is so sophisticated it makes Dan Brown and his Da Vinci Code look like Marty York. Let’s begin…


Burke said on the weekend, “The bottom six forwards are expected to fill and perform hard-hat functions, the plumber's function. The other guys (ie the top six forwards), maybe they're the guys sitting on top of the float in the parade. These are the guys that keep the engine running.”

It seems his vision is to construct the forward unit with a symmetrical vision of six muckers to go with six snipers. This theoretically create a cohesive whole amongst the forwards without any confusion about roles. The “Plumbers / Muckers” put in the blue collar work required to wear down opponents and provide the safety and open ice necessary for the “Guys on the Float in the Parade / Snipers” to score goals.

But as we know, not everyone who wants to sit on the float in the parade can have a spot. Who are the most likely to keep their jobs as “Top 6” or “Bottom 6” players in either of Burke’s categories? Time to separate the wheat from the chaff…

Fancy Boys on the Float in the Parade (Vying for the Top 6)

Revving the engine: Nik Antropov, Niklas Hagman, Mikhail Grabovski and possibly Nikolai Kulemin.

Frosted tips and a popped collar: Matt Stajan, Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

As we see it, those “Revving the Engine” of the parade float have a decent shot to stick around under Burke based on their inherent talents. Meanwhile their wannabe “Frosted Tips and a Popped Collar” teammates have a super chance to be traded at any moment – maybe even this week. Stempniak is the one exception in the latter category because of the fact he only just arrived. We also have a sneaking suspicion that Antropov may be on his way out as well, but not because he lacks in talent. That possibility will be dealt with further down.

The Plumbers (Scrapping for the Bottom 6)

Can lay pipe: Dominic Moore and John Mitchell

Not likely to unclog my toilet: Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg

Currently in college trying to get certified plumber status: Andre Devaux

Moore and Mitchell have both been very solid players for the Leafs this year and are the kind of teammates you want on your side when going into battle. Hollweg is a giant douchebag liability and needs to be disposed of. Meanwhile, Devaux is an unknown commodity at this point in time.

I expect that after seeing the Leafs get physically abused by the Sharks that Burke will be looking to bring in some new reinforcement Plumbers as soon as possible to try to turn around the team toughness and culture.


Likewise for the defense, Burke requires complimentary skillsets. Those designated for fighting duty will not likely be manning the point on the powerplay. Pretty basic, simple enough. In addition to this, all we need is to look to the past to see the aggressive manoeuvres he has made to acquire the likes of all-world defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer to lead his teams on both ends of the ice. It does not appear any present Leafs will ever fit into that category. Will Burke be able to acquire one?

What do we have in the cupboard presently?

Luke Richardson on ‘roids: Luke Schenn

The Spirit of Salming: Tomas Kaberle

Oh so tradable – if only: Pavel Kubina

The Aki Berg Club: Ian White, Jeff Finger, Mike Van Ryn, Anton Stralman, Jonas Frogren.

The defenseman are a bit harder to decipher who plays what role. We know Shenn is a keeper and the foundation for the future, but any of the rest could have a one way ticket to somewhere other than Toronto pretty soon. There is an argument to be made for trading Kaberle and/or Kubina if you could get them to agree to waive their no-trade clause and grab a top draft pick. As much as we all love Kaberle, his skillset is in serious demand and he could be worth a lot on the market. Kubina as well – only to a lesser extent.

Ian White should be retained based solely on his mustache and the recent Finger signing implies he will stay a while longer. As for the rest… they could easily find themselves getting a similar phonecall to the one Carlo Colaiacovo received a couple weeks back.


Possibly the most difficult move to evaluate is the goalkeeper. To trade or not to trade Vesa Toskala? That is the question Burke must answer. When posing such a quandary to the Barilkosphere heavyweights the Pension Plan Puppets on Tuesday morning it seems the jury is hung. If he can maintain his recent hot streak his trade value will soar – which would be a great time to trade him says the “sell high” mentality. If he stinks it up, the Leafs should logically keep him for next year as there is no backup ready to take his place. You gotta love it. If he’e good, unload him – if he sucks, keep him! Yet it does make perfect sense in Leafsnation. Not all is as it seems when cracking the Burkian code.

So if Burke does sell high, then the question becomes who takes Toskala’s place? Cujo is lucky if his knees can hold up for one game a week. Pogge is surely not ready for the crucible of the Toronto hockey media. I implore the Leafs not to toss him in the cauldron like Allan Bester had to suffer through. The “catch 22” of the Toskala quandary provides no easy answer.

But let’s come up with one anyhow. Sometimes you just have to put your balls on the table, so here we go... Trade Toskala. Problem solved. That was cathartic.


This is what gets the fans riled up. The BIG TRADE. Does Burke have a mega-deal in the works as we speak? Something of the Leeman for Gilmour, plus half of each roster, style trade? This is where you separate the men from the boys because to be successful it requires trading top-end talent for elite talent. Pat Gillick’s master stroke of McGriff and Fernandez for Carter and Alomar is another fine example.

The rumours out there in Leafland are swirling around players like Boumeester and Nash. Let’s be serious, you don’t get these sorts of players by trading Jason Blake. It took Wendel to get Mats – as painful as that was. As Tex mentioned the other day, the Leafs do not currently have a leader on the ice in the wake of Sundin’s departure. How can the Leafs fill the void? Who is the commodity that could be swapped? I got my money on Antropov.


We submit this to the Barilkosphere. Comments, questions, critiques, death threats and wisecracks are encouraged. Has this state of the roster address in any way helped to decipher the GM codes that Burke spoke in? Have we resolved the dialectical forces of Leafland and thus ended history? Or should our crystal ball be smashed and defecated on? Have our heavy handed gropes in the dark led to awkward moments and a general lack of satisfaction? Worst of all, has Damien Cox made us his bitch?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And so it what?

When a general manager is hired it is usually the case that they try to put their stamp on the team early. To build in the image and fashion that fits with their philosophy of a winning franchise. It is one of the most interesting sides of professional sports in the contemporary information era due mainly to the fact that, let's be serious, we all think we could do this job as well, or better, than they do.

After beginning to write this post it just kept growing and will need to be divided into two distinct parts. Today we will give the introduction to the background of the GM situation and tomorrow proceed with our predictions on how we see the Leafs roster evolving.

A couple of years ago Brian Colangelo breezed into Toronto with a revolutionary new team concept that he had invented in Phoenix. The idea was to have an up-tempo fast paced team that Sam Mitchell promised would take “mo shats” and enthuse the fans. Big Papa Colangelo shipped out the old junk quickly. Exiled were the pets of the old regime like Charlie Villanueva, Eric Williams, Matt Bonner and Hoffa.

In came a new team of high character players that could shoot and who would be reinforced by a European supporting cast. In the short-term it was hugely successful. The mid-term results have been less positive – yet still too early to fully judge. It should also be mentioned that the off-court stability and confidence he has brought to the franchise is an added bonus sorely lacking since their birth in 1995.

Contrast that with the Leafs side of things. John Ferguson came into the General Manager position just after the NHL had been re-tailored to encourage offense and bring the fans back after the lockout. Being the visionary that he was (sarcasm) he began to sign big, strong, over the hill players like Eric Lindros and Jason Allison who were now dinosaurs in the new league. He furthered this brilliant (more sarcasm) plan by re-signing fan favourites like Kaberle and Tucker to big contract extensions that included no-trade clauses. Let’s not recount the rest of his steps. The downward spiral has been too painful.

Now quickly jumping to the present. Regarding the Leafs of December 2008, we should ask ourselves, what do we expect from Brian Burke?

He has stated “We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.” I’m not normally much of a fan of Don Cherry, but I think Grapes said it best on Saturday night when he said “I don’t know exactly what that (Burke’s quote) means but I think we can expect him to put together a tough team.” Since I don’t have a dictionary handy, I’m going to guess that Cherry’s translation into the vernacular is correct. Thankfully, unlike Cherry, the new GM does not have any inherent misconception that all Europeans are soft or that Kingston is the center of all civilization.

In spite of our eagerness to see the new regime make some moves, we must also respect the fact that Burke has a self-imposed ban to not make trades during the Christmas season. This period will begin December 9th or 10th. It is too tough on their families he believes, which to me sounds noble. In any case, it looks unlikely he will pull the trigger on any big moves before January rolls around. Or do I speak too soon?

Even if he does make a move, we have few more weeks to watch the current incarnation of the Leafs get out-muscled and out-talented more often than not as they slowly fall further out of playoff contention. Or does a Toskala hot-streak coupled with the fire lit by the Burke regime redirect the blue and white back into the playoff hunt? One of the more interesting sub-plots to the season for me will be how much longer they can stay ahead of the uber-disappointment who make their home in our nation’s capital. Go Sens!

Come back for part two tomorrow when we break down the roster!

Leafs 3, Kings 1 - In Words

So by now you know that I attended last night's game in LA. This was my first chance to see our new-look Leafs up close and in person. I've seen them on TV and watched the highlights on the net all season long, but of course seeing the team live and in person is a whole new experience.

Apologies to those who've followed them that way all season long, but I've got some thoughts on the game and the team more generally:

1. The game was BOR-ing for the first two periods. Not a lot of back and forth. Not a ton of hitting. 1 goal. And generally sloppy play. Shows the effects of an east coast team going west.

2. I love Grabs. His flowing mane, his speed, his flowing mane. From the Department of Redundancy Department: I think he was a steal. Burke mentioned him by name in one of his interviews on Saturday and I can see why. On a team that is lacking in a lot of areas, he could definitely be one of those "top 6" forwards that Burke wants so badly. Plus, he impressed by picking up a power play game winner. Atta boy.

3. Nothing the Kings did really impressed me. They have a few bright young stars, but for a team that's been "developing" for several years now, they just didn't do it for me. The Leafs came out and played lifelessly for the first 2 periods, and yet the Kings still couldn't capitalize (with the exception of course being their score on their first shot of the game). I sure as hell hope that the Leafs build-from-scratch effort looks more like the Penguins than the Kings 2-3 years from now.

4. Ian White. During a 4-on-3 PK (I think) that could have broken the Leafs' back, Wilson threw White and Schenn out there together. I've seen him have that kind of confidence in these youngsters before, but man its different seeing it in person. While I love Schenn, White was the key guy on that shift, singlehandedly saving a goal from going in. His stat line was a simple: 0 goals, 0 assists, even +/-, 1 SOG, and yet he was the first star of the game, in the enemy's arena. He threw hits and generally appeared to be all over the ice. I do not believe he is a front line, long term solution for this team, but benching him during the first part of the season obviously lit a fire that is still burning in him.

Ahh, who the hell am I kidding?!? Its all because of his 'stache!

5. This team lacks a go-to guy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe you already knew that. But when you see this team in person, it becomes glaringly obvious. Back in the day (if his mood was right that night), you could count on Mats to start taking over a game (in the way that he used to do it, not the way a guy like Ovechkin does it). While our guys did come back and win, the reality is that there was no one who inspired the kind of confidence that Mats used to. Maybe I've been denial about it all season, and seeing the team without him for the first time was like seeing an ex-girlfriend who you never quite got over, but man I missed Mats last night. Maybe Brophy was just speculating, but we need a big time player like Nash. Badly. In fact, we need one so badly that we'll delve into some trade thoughts in another post.

6. Vesa. It was a tense final 10 minutes as the Leafs clung to a 1 goal lead, with the Kings pressuring, throwing a ton of shots his way and crashing the net. The thousands of Leafs fans in attendance were chanting "Go Leafs Go" and Vesa stood in there. Hats off to the guy. Yesterday I predicted an ass-whooping up in tonight's game vs. SJ. However, if Vesa can play like that against his old club, our guys stand a chance. Its too early to say if he's found "it," but play like that makes you confident for the long term prospects of him in the Leafs net.

So there you have it - my thoughts on last night. And yes, to those who've asked, that was my wife and I on Leafs TV last night waving to the camera (her in a pink jersey). Thanks for all the texts, calls and facebooks messages about it!

Leafs 3, Kings 1 - In Photos

Staples Center. I made the trek so you wouldn't have to.

Pregame warm-up. Even fewer fans than at the ACC.

Starting lineup for YOUR Toronto Maple Leafs.

(No photo of the Kings' first goal. Why would I take one, anyway?)

Scrum in front of Vesa in the 2nd period.

Ian White and his incredible 'stache. More to come in my game recap, but he played some inspired hockey tonight.

Derek Armstrong getting Fingered. (That joke will never get old to me)

Celebrating Stajan's goal in the 3rd.

A couple of pics of the celebration following Grabovski's game winner. If you look really closely, they are saying "Congrats, Tex!" on adding Grabs to your fantasy roster just in time for this game.

Just one piece of equipment from LA's advanced snow removal process. It took several surgeries to get this process perfected.

Jeff Finger breaking in alone in the 3rd. He didn't score. Obviously. There's a reason he only has 2 goals this year - one of which came on an empty net a few minutes after this photo.

Final Score: Leafs 3, Kings 1. Go Leafs Go!