Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 22-20-6   Maple Leafs 25-16-7

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago, NHL Network

ALL DAY: Pension Plan Puppets 

We’ve been doing this all season. The Hawks string together two or three wins, generally over bad teams, and look good in at least one of them, and a part of you wants to believe that something has clicked and just might go on a run to make the season interesting. They’re only four points out of a playoff spot, with only one team between them and that last wildcard spot, and you don’t even have to squint all that hard to make a case they could make a run at it. Especially when they’re chasing the Oilers, who are more guaranteed to have their intestines fall out than the Hawks. Vancouver and Arizona could also still make a thud.

And then usually they get thwacked by a good team and we start this all over.

So that’s what feels like is about to happen tonight, as the Hawks take their three wins against the Ducks, Sens, and Habs up against a real team. And the Leafs are the fully operational annoyance that they were forecasted to be. Casting off the shackles of Mike Babcock has had the effect that Kyle Dubas would have hoped, as Sheldon Keefe has helped everyone realize their joy again. The Leafs are more threatening, more dynamic, and quite a bit more scary now that Keefe has allowed them to “try shit.”

Which shouldn’t have been all that hard. The Leafs still have perhaps the richest array of offensive talent in the league. There certainly isn’t a team that can match Matthews-Tavares down the middle at 1-2, and Alex Kerfoot has enjoyed the sweetheart spot that used to belong to Nazem Kadri. Nylander, Marner, Hyman, Johnsson, Kapanen certainly don’t lessen the threat on the wings. If they’re on song, they can put up a touchdown on you before you’ve finished your Timbo’s.

But the problems for the Leafs are still the same, and they’re exacerbated now. Both Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin are out for weeks with a broken foot each, and this wasn’t a great defense to begin with. It’s lead them to give Travis Dermott top pairing minutes, and use Tyson Barrie as a defensive specialist, neither of which is a path you’d choose lest your life depended on it. Keefe has at least kept Cody Ceci away from the top pairing.

And the goalie is far from sure either. The Leafs haven’t had a solid backup all season, as you saw evidenced by Michael Hutchinson KICK-ing every puck into his own net here in Chicago last time they met (get it?). But Fab Five Freddie Andersen has been bad for six weeks now, partly due to exhaustion. Also he’s Freddie Andersen, which is the definition of “just good enough to break your heart.”

For the Hawks, Brandon Saad could suit up tonight, but that’s looking like a gametime decision. Brandon Hagel could make his NHL debut after being Rockford’s leading scorer. With optional morning skates we’re guessing along with all of you. Corey Crawford will get the start, with Lehner taking the back half of the double tomorrow night at home against Winnipeg.

Once again, the Hawks have risen to at least the discussion of a playoff spot. But now they’ll be facing two teams that are either good or competing with them for that spot, and it’s a spot where they’ve generally fallen flat on their face. The Leafs aren’t invulnerable here, given the state of their defense and Andersen’s level right now. But getting into a track meet with this team almost certainly equals death, and yet the Hawks don’t have the structure generally to keep things tight. They did so for most of the game against the JV version of the Leafs in Montreal, but this is the real thing.

They were able to hilariously add on to a Leafs crisis last year in T.O, even though Duncan Keith did his best to ruin all that work. It’s a big stretch here on the weekend and then Quenneville Bowl on Tuesday. The Hawks have to put it together now, so five of six points is minimum before we even consider believing they can actually take this to the wire.

Plus, beating the Leafs is always fun.

Everything Else

“You’re not special. So who you foolin’?” – Axl Rose

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games. And really, that’s it. But for Leafs fans and media, it can’t be that simple. It has to mean something. Not just that, it has to epically mean something. Maybe even epically mean something. Because everything around the Toronto Maple Leafs has to be definitive or a referendum not just on the team, but on the entire sport and city and possibly society. Because to everyone associated with them in any way, the Leafs have to mean more. They can’t simply be just a hockey team, even though that’s what they are. They’re in Canada’s largest city, the only team there, and even though Canada is a vast nation they’ve dubbed themselves the epicenter and YOU WILL PAY ATTENTION. But it’s just not the case.

Take the opponent. Leafs Nation will have you believe that the Boston Bruins are some mythical monster conjured by some wizard twisted on quaaludes  specifically to keep the Leafs down. But it’s not really the case. In truth, lots of teams lose to the same team twice in a row. Sure, Leafs fans will rush to remind everyone about 2013 (Sir, this is the DMV), but this is a completely different Leafs team. Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri were the only Leafs on that team and this one, as we know Kadri wasn’t even really on this one. That series doesn’t matter to this team. Fuck, the Rangers and Capitals played way more than this recently in the playoffs, and you don’t hear anyone describing it as fucking Helm’s Deep, do you? The Leafs were lucky to be in those playoffs at all, certainly never deserved to be in a Game 7 against a pretty-close-to-a-juggernaut Bruins team. It has nothing to do with this one or the last one.

But that’s not enough for THE NATION. They can’t just lose to a team. They can’t just play a pretty decent series against a pretty good team and lose a coinflip Game 7, which they all are. Because that would just make them normal. That would make them just another team. And they’re not! Don’t tell us they’re not! These are the Leafs AND THEY ARE SPECIAL WHY CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND DON’T YOU SEE THE LATEST DIPSHIT IN SOME RIDICULOUS OUTFIT OR DOING SOME JACKASS STUNT THAT JUST GOT HIRED BY SPORTSNET?! CLEARLY WE’RE SPECIAL! PAT MY HEAD!

But they’re not.

Take a look at how they view their best players. Any player can go two or three games without scoring. No one scores a perfectly regimented one goal every two games. But Auston Matthews goes to or three without a goal and he’s not just going through the normal course, it’s a referendum on if he can handle playing at the epicenter of the universe and on his entire being and oh god maybe that contract was a terrible idea! He’s fine, it’s not, it’s just what happens. Patrice Bergeron didn’t score last night either. I guess he sucks too? But no, that can’t happen to the Leafs, because it’s no epic enough. It must be an exquisite choke-job that can only happen to players under the unique crush of being a Leaf. A crush that they themselves created.

Take the bleating about 1967. But no one really cares, because it’s not like there’s been a ton of close calls and heartbreaks. There was basically one on a missed call in 1993, and if you don’t know about it Down Goes Brown has been writing a weekly column about it for 12 years. And all that would have done is set the Leafs up to get stonewalled by the Canadiens and specifically Patrick Roy just like the Kings did, and imagine how much more unbearable both fanbases would be if that happened. All the talk of THE WALL here wouldn’t be pointed south but north and everyone would be in agreement on it construction.

The Leafs and everyone around them want to be the pre-2004 Red Sox, but also the Lakers. But there’s no Impossible Dream, there’s no Fisk Homer, there’s no Bob Stanley in 1986 (which is who Sox fans really hate, or did, instead of Buckner). There’s no story. And there’s no winning tradition. They want both, and they aren’t either. The Leafs are scenery, but scenery that wants to chew itself.

It can’t just be that Mike Babcock isn’t quite the coach they’d hoped. He arrived as a messiah, because only messiahs take the Leafs job (even if they can’t make toast). And now he’s a relic, a dunderhead past his sell-by date. Could it just be he’ll get out exactly what the roster you give him is capable of, no more no less? Give him the best roster in the competition (’08 or ’09 Wings or Team Canada) and he’ll win it or come within inches of it. Give him a mediocre team (pretty much every Wings team after those) and he’ll get you mediocre results. Give him a bad one and they’ll be bad. Give him a pretty good one and he’ll get you a loss against another pretty good team. But no, it can’t be that easy in Toronto. He must’ve lost something, or Toronto did something to him, or he’s been replaced by a collection of hyper-intelligent roaches wearing a Babcock suit a la MIB.

Kyle Dubas must be a genius…because he figured out to sign the most prized free agent in years? Keen strategy. But now if he doesn’t go out and bring PK Subban or Drew Doughty home (and I suppose there’s a symmetry to a rape-apologist acquiring a rapist) he won’t just be another GM who can’t get his team over the hump. He’ll be The Great Miss, the Great Lie Of Modernity, The One Who Let Us Down.

Even the Leafs playoff series drought isn’t that much. 15 years is a while, but it isn’t unheard of. The Panthers have a longer one, in fact. The Islanders had a longer one. Until this season the Avs were working on a 10-year drought. The Sabres haven’t won a series in 12. While it’s certainly one of the worst streaks around, it doesn’t stand on its own. Like just about anything else concerning the Leafs, if you really look beyond the noise.

It can just never be simple. This loss means that there have to be massive changes and new directions and severe internal study and possibly a few defenestrations. But we didn’t learn anything new about the Leafs. We knew they didn’t have a very good defense and a shaky goalie when things really mattered. Why’d they lose? Because they couldn’t keep the Bruins best players on a leash and then their goalie spit up a bad goal or two in Game 7. Which is what teams with bad blue lines and questionable playoff goaltending do. It doesn’t need to be decoded in the stars or a team on NASA engineers. It’s an easy fix, if you can find the players. But no, that explanation won’t do for a blue-clad mob that has to be more important than everyone. Their problems are bigger, don’t you see, and you wouldn’t understand. You’re not here, you don’t know what it means, you can’t, you won’t, it’s just different here.

It’s not, though. The Leafs are just a team. A pretty good one struggling a bit to take the last step. Happens a lot. Happens to most. Maybe they’ll get there, maybe they won’t. What it won’t be is unforeseen or unheralded or unparalleled. Nothing about the Leafs is. They may scream different, but it’s the truth.

 

 

Everything Else

Boy, controversy seems to follow Kyle Dubas around.

Nothing will come of Morgan Rielly’s escape of being labeled a homophobe officially, though some will never forget. It would have been hard to miss the story, but if you did, on Monday night, on-ice mics caught Rielly saying something that sure sounded like “faggot” at an official. The NHL launched an investigation, and yesterday it cleared Rielly after talking to him and the ref, Brad Meier. Still, Rielly’s defense of, “I’m 100% confident I did not use that word” makes it sound like he as an observer rather than the center of this story. It doesn’t instill 100% confidence in anyone else who has anything of a skeptical eye. Whatever, here we are.

What’s frustrating, or one of the frustrating aspects, is that the NHL, Rielly, Meier, or anyone hasn’t been forced or compelled to tell us what he did say. When seeing and hearing the footage, it’s hard to conclude he said anything else. And the fact that no one has sought to clarify what it was that did escape his lips, it raises a lot of doubt. Because this being the NHL, and we know their favorite tactic when dealing with anything controversial is to imitate an ostrich. And just wait until Don Cherry gets his grubby paws on this on Saturday. At least when Andrew Shaw went through this for the second time, he or someone was allowed to show what he was actually saying and what amateur lip-reading would have mistaken for that slur. There’s been no such impetus from the Leafs.

Brad Meier saying nothing was directed at him certainly is encouraging, but if Rielly were using that word simply as an expletive or exclamation, that’s no better. But we’ll never get there, so let’s deal with what we can.

What the NHL can do is empower its refs to eject and report any player they hear using that word or anything like it. It is purely farcical to believe that slur has only made an appearance on NHL ice on Monday and caught by a mic. This is a league populated by barely 7th-grade educated peons who have grown up and spent a great majority of their lives in one of the most closed and poisonous cultures we know. Surely something is getting said in scrums, and yet NHL refs have never ejected or penalized anyone for that kind of use. At least that we know of.

What’s likely here is that Meier doesn’t really want to start a furor, hears that word enough, and much like the rest of hockey culture thinks it’s ok to just muscle through it. Or that it’s not a big deal. Until someone proves what Rielly said or meant, there’s going to be a heavy level of doubt.

While it does share characteristics of victim-blaming, the NHL could use the opportunity to empower its refs to start penalizing and ejecting any type of inappropriate and offensive language on the ice. That doesn’t mean swear words obviously, but racist and homophobic slurs for sure. And they’re there. We know they are.

If nothing else, on the lowest level, the NHL might want to look at just how much abuse it wants its officials to deal with every game. Think about how many unsportsmanlike conducts springing from yelling at a ref calls you’ve seen this year. One? Two? Compare that with flags in the NFL, technicals in the NBA, or ejections in MLB (ok, that last one is probably too much, given that most MLB umps are babies). NHL refs hear it from every angle while reffing by far the fastest game there is. Perhaps allowing officials to throw a few more minors at coaches and players who get particularly yappy, and you may indirectly shrink the area where much more ugly stuff tends to slither out.

Game #70 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

 

 

Everything Else

We only wish it was Grand Theft Auto. Most of the people we find for this don’t want to be identified because either they’re people looking for them, don’t want to be associated with us, or both. This is yet another case. Dark things lurk in the musty corners of Twitter, and we found this one called Zubes. Follow him @the_Zubes…if you love the absurd. 

While we’re sure you’re basically in a state of hysteria all the time with the rest of Leafs Nation, tell us why this blue line will be better than we think.
– It starts with addition by subtraction. Prior to the first game of the season I can admit that I didn’t know what an Igor Ozhiganov was. BUT, from the same line of thinking that brought you, “We need to get rid of Matt Stajan even if it means taking on Dion Phaneuf” and “We need to get rid of Dion Phaneuf even if it means we get literally nothing” and “We need to get rid of Phil Kessel even if it means we are gift-wrapping Pittsburgh two Cups”, they needed to get rid of Roman Polak, even if it meant throwing a random collection of vowels on the bottom pairing.
Ultimately, the answer to your question comes down to Jake Gardiner. You’re either a “Jake Gardiner is better than you are giving him credit for” or you’re “Jake Gardiner isn’t as bad as you’re saying he is.” The issue this year is that he eventually has to get paid and no matter what he gets it’ll be the wrong amount. Every year around the deadline Maple Leafs fans convince themselves the team is about to cash in on the forward depth (we’re the only team with good young forward prospects – the AHL team is almost TOO talented) and add a difference maker back there to ease the load on everyone’s back. Having already pushed so many chips into the middle with the Tavares move, the shouts to do that very type of trade will be louder than ever and I think most of us are assuming this is the year something along those lines actually happens.
If they don’t make any moves though? Oh, we’ll just add a random AHL defenceman. The Marlies are so good, man.
Also, why we’re at it, why Fredrik Andersen won’t shit a chicken in a Game 7 again. If he has a major dip in the regular season would the Leafs think about going to get someone else?
– Similar to the Jake Gardiner split, a lot of people decided to stake their reputations on Freddie (we call him Freddie because it makes him sound more Canadian) being very slightly above average last year while taking more shots than Ed Belfour before he tries to bribe a cop with a billion dollars. A lot of people are going to hope that the answer to question one will help out here in question two, but I have very little faith. The brain boys in charge seem to be all hyped up on blog posts that explain to rubes “Puck possession is all that matters and goaltending is unpredictable, no we aren’t just saying that because it is hard to quantify”, but count me in the camp with basically no faith in the goaltending. They just let two reasonably okay backups go on waivers (Wow, the whole league wants to gobble up players that couldn’t crack this roster, what a blessing to have so much talent) so I think the powers that be have more faith – way too much faith – in him than I do. It will end in tears, especially when the same problems are lingering on the blue line and crease come deadline time and all that ends up happening is a deal for a 4th line centre.
Backup goalie Garrett Sparks (with a name like a YouTube star) cried the first time he played a game here because he’s a local, so expect his leash to be longer than you would think from the average backup.
Are the problems between Auston Matthews and Mike Babcock real? Will Babs finally take off the tire chains for a team with this much firepower?
– Much like Roman Polak, the first thing noted NJPW weeb Kyle Dubas had to do with the forward group is take away Babs’ toys and force him to not play absolute plugs like Matt Martin and Leo Komarov for half the game. I think the 5-on-5 lines will remain a mix of things like “Tyler Ennis and Zach Hyman on lines with the two best players” but the powerplay units should be as legit as they come. Failing to be a top powerplay team this year would be an unanswerable failure.
More than one person that is closer than I am to the team has whispered that most of the young guys just sort of roll their eyes at Babcock, but does anyone under 25 in the NHL really like their coach? Dubas is letting them grow beards and wear whatever number they want, so the hope is that having a “successful older cousin that talks to you about emo at Thanksgiving and tags you in memes on instagram” type matters to them more than the military dad that yells at you in the car on the way home from your games.
How does this whole William Nylander thing end?
Baldness. And I think Dreamboat Willie will end up around $7M x 6 or so, but it won’t happen for another few weeks. Also, William is starting to lose the wings of his hair first, so he will keep it long so people don’t see how thin his hair is getting. It will be buzzed / shaved before whatever contract he signs is over.

 

Game #3 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Build

 

Everything Else

It didn’t take much this summer for the hockey media to become completely agog that new GM Kyle Dubas was able to do, stick with me here, MATH to find a way to fit John Tavares into the Maple Leafs’ salary cap. That he was able to use the considerable wealth of the Leafs–y’know, the one in the biggest hockey market there is–to push a good portion into signing bonus and drop the cap hit to a more manageable $11 million per year, when Tavares could have taken up more space. It hasn’t helped them sign Michael Nylander yet, but clearly he’s just a greedy European who hates Canada and hockey and really society altogether, if the Toronto media is to be believed.

Normally, and we’ve said this before, we would want someone like Dubas to succeed. The NHL needs more minds from a different place than “played the game.” It needs more and better ideas than “hard to play against.” It needs to catch up in how the game is analyzed and how teams are built, and if you need more of a clue as to why, then check out Dubas’s predecessor immediately taking the trash off Dubas’s hands with Lou Lamiorello acquiring Matt Martin and Leo Komarov for the Islanders.

Though Dubas has been with the Leafs for a few seasons now, this is the first time he’s had any influence over their decisions. Make no mistake, he was kept in a dark room with a tennis ball to entertain himself while Lou made the calls. Which is how you end up with Martin and Komarov in the first place. And Roman Polak continually being a pothole on the defense.

But we’ll never get past Dubas’s history with the Soo Greyhounds, and his simply abhorrent and disgusting handling of rape charges against three of his players (one of which was Nick Cousins). Moreover, he’s never been asked about this by the very grunt-y Toronto media, who assuredly would rather stick their head in the sand than have to talk about anything other than why this is the year that Freddy Andersen finally gets it, only to toss him in front of several buses when he pukes it up again.

A refresher: when three of Dubas’s players were charged with rape, they were put kept away from training camp for “… attending a “confidential behavioural wellness program” because they need help dealing “with the stress associated with the charges,” according to Greyhounds GM Kyle Dubas. Despite the severity of the charges, the team has not suspended them.

Another choice quote: “We just wanted to handle things the best we could. We supported the players as best we could with what they needed off the ice.”

Want another?

“The people running the (confidential) program are going to give us the nod of approval when they feel all three young men are ready to be reintegrated back into the team,” said Dubas on Sept. 4. “They’ll give us the approval on it when they believe the boys are ready… Hockey is not the priority for them right now.”

Let’s cap it off: “The scars remain for all of the people involved. But unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about that.”

No, there is something Dubas could do, and that’s at some point, any point, to admit he got this one wrong. Let’s even back up from that. Someone, ANYONE, could ask him about it what with the changes we’ve seen in our culture in just the past year.

Would he put the players’ “stress” at the top of his priorities again? Would he make their “pain” out to be just as bad as the alleged victim’s?

Don’t worry, no one’s ever going to ask. And until someone does, and until he answers, Dubas is part of hockey’s ongoing and simply unacceptable problem with sexual assault.

Game #3 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Build

 

Everything Else

We apologize for the interruption in service over the weekend. Naturally, the site is down during a the first game Patrick Sharp has played at center in five years. In any event, here are some observations from the weekend’s games.