Talkin' Loafs and 'Head Shots'

Hey! It’s been TOO long since we gazed at the Toronto Maple Loafs and their addled fans.

As I write, the Loafs hold a one goal lead over the Islanders, one of four teams in the thirty team NHL with a worse record than Toronto’s. Plan the Stanley Cup parade, girls ‘n’ boys!!!

There must be something in the water in these parts.  Loaf fans have convinced themselves that their team is making a late season playoff run.  Somehow the message escaped resident genius Brian Burke who traded away two starting defense men for prospects in the past few weeks.

From the ridiculous to good old hockey psychosis NHL style: everyone’s talkin’ ‘head shots’ and Sid the Kid’s concussion. Sports ‘journalists’ are wearing out their Blackberry digits wonderin’ jes wat the league is gonna do.  Bottom line, oh dear humans: as long as the NHL and its broadcasting partners (almost exclusively in Canada – led in the first instance on Saturday nights, by what passes for a public broadcaster) promote fist fighting as part of the game, all talk about concussions and better protecting players is sheer hypocrisy and nonsense.

P.S. 25.02.11 Son-of-a-moose!  The Loafs beat les Canadiens last night looking something like a legitimate team.  Hmmmm… 4 points out of the playoffs.  Are they preparing ‘the Leaf Nation’ for an extremely painful season ending, or will they prove me wrong, wrong, wrong? Stay tuned.

Truculence & Head Shots

Brian Burke is enough to bring a smile to my face on the grayest of November days. His “truculent” Loafs are once again the worst team in the NHL. His coach Ron Wilson is showing signs of serious brain wear. But that’s not ‘Burkie’s’ greatest achievement these days. No, it’s his response to the truculence of others that gives pause.

Burke’s acolytes among Toronto sports “journalists” are now commending him for taking charge in a recent NHL General Managers’ meeting. The panelists and scribes now assure us that there will be action against dangerous “head shots” because of the efforts of Burke and like-minded NHL hockey brainsters.  Puh-leez!

Perhaps taking a blind-side run with an elbow or cross check at an unaware opponent might merit a tougher penalty in future. How much does that really matter in a league that encourages fighting? Would any neurologist suggest that allowing, indeed inciting,  a 220 pound man to grab his opponent by the sweater and punch him in the face does not constitute a dangerous head shot? The blindness of the sports “journalists” in this regard is mind boggling.

The networks, with public broadcaster the CBC in the lead with Don Cherry basically waving pom-poms every time he sniffs a fight, are all complicit.  I shudder to think of the hypocritical sanctimony the CBC, TSN, The Score and Rogers Sportsnet will affect the first time an NHL player lapses into a coma or worse after a fight. In the meantime, the GMs and the broadcasters are equally hypocritical in feigning concern over head shots unless they’re delivered with a fist.  Ask Steve Moore whether he thought Todd Bertuzzi delivered legal fist shots to his head.


The Marvels of Testosterone

The worst start in the history of the franchise. That would be ZERO wins in seven games to date. That’s what big Brian Burke’s injection of “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” has wrought for the pathetic Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club. Pugnacity, male hormones and idiotic fighting on skates aside, the ‘Loafs’ just plain bite. Their goalkeeping is sub-standard. They have no scorers. (Woe to them if the next promised saviour Phil Kessel turns out to be another Jason Blake.) They have a defenceman Tomas Kaberle who would star for most teams, but Burke and his coach Ron Wilson spent the best part of a year denigrating Kaberle for his sophisticated approach to the position. Kaberle now appears confused. Last year’s promising rookie Luke Schenn is this year’s dull-witted, slow-footed sophomore. Maybe the startlingly handsome Schenn’s modeling assignments during the off season wore him out.

It has been a rude awakening for The Loaf Nation. The collective boy crush that the ‘sports media’ of Toronto had on Burke during the pre-season led many to predict that the Leafs were playoff bound for the first time in five years. A Toronto daily even ran a feature with admiring photos of Burke  surrounded by the supposed worthies with whom he has filled the executive suites at the ACC. Perhaps that brain trust will produce a win before November.

I’d bet that the likes of Don Cherry is delighted that almost all Leaf games feature a contrived display of fisticuffs at some point. NHL management is no doubt quietly satisfied that such displays often lead the highlight package in what passes for sports broadcast journalism. (Gary Bettman is sufficiently cynical to know that selling fighting is in fact a critical part of marketing the NHL.)

Hey, let the testosterone flow! This hockey fan will eschew the Loafs and the absurdist,  fight-riddled NHL while looking forward to some real hockey when the women’s Olympic tourney begins in February.

The New Ballard? J.P. - It's no contest!

Those familiar with these musings will recall that last month I posed the existential question: ‘who is most likely to qualify as Toronto’s next Harold Ballard – Brian ‘Testosterone’ Burke of the Loafs or J.P. Ricciardi of the Jays ?’

As the Jays limp towards the golf courses of October for which they have been clearly pining since early July, the answer is clear. It’s J.P all the way.

Ricciardi the fellow who managed to finish fourth last year in the A.L. East when Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett combined for 38 wins, has simply outdone himself in 2009. Alex Rios? Gone..for nothing. That’s NOTHING as in nada, zilch, S.F.A. B.J. Ryan? A  franchise cornerstone who is out of Major League Baseball three years into a multi-year contract. Vernon Wells? Well unfortunately the Jays still have him, but he’s a burnt out husk; the most expensive failure playing everyday in major league baseball. It says here Wells will never again actually amount to more than the fourth outfielder on a good team.

Ricciardi has been kind of circumspect this year. I miss the days when he would come on the radio to routinely insult Jays’ fans for their lack of intelligence. Remember last year when he went off on a caller who wondered why the Jays would not go after Adam Dunn when they were still close enough to compete for the Wild Card? J.P. dismissed that fan and insulted Dunn for “not really liking baseball”. This year to date Dunn has disliked baseball enough to hit 38 home runs. That is 8 home runs more  than the spent Wells and the similarly unproductive Lyle Overbay combined.

You are a terrific judge of talent and character, J.P.!  For all of this and more, I happily reward you the title of Toronto’s Next Ballard. Only you could reduce Blue Jays’ attendance to 11,000; only you could dangle Roy Halladay in July like stale bait when the Jays had the same record as the still competitive Minnesota Twins. Take a bow, Dude. Then get back to Boston on October 4 and never return. Please. Pretty please.

The Next Ballard: Ricciardi or Burke?

It’s tough to be a sports fan in Toronto.

After an explosively successful start to the 2009 season, the Blue Jays collapsed into mediocrity or worse. The principal reason for the swoon is that two very highly paid players Vernon Wells and Alex Rios failed to provide the performance or leadership that fans in Boston and New York have come to expect of their stars.

Wells and Rios were signed to lucrative, long-term contracts by J.P. Ricciardi, Jays’ Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations and General Manager. Ricciardi believed the two together would be the big swingers on a competitive team – he believed the same thing in vain for 3-4 years. This week the Jays pulled the plug on Rios by literally giving him (and his bloated contract) to the Chicago White Sox. No such luck with Wells who is simply the highest paid failure in Major League Baseball.

As if the annual demise of the Jays wasn’t bad enough, we have another Leafs’ season just ahead of us. As August nears its end, the hockey mad Toronto media will drone on and on and on about the prospects for this season’s Toronto Maple Leaf team. The “Leaf Nation” will learn just how much the team has been improved! Don’t count your chickens, Loaf fans!

Brian Burke became President and General Manager of the team promising “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” (does that means he wants a team that fights but also sleeps together?) The fact is that in Burke’s first year, the Leafs were simply terrible.

It is true that Burke has added an impressive number of defensemen this off-season. Sadly, he did so while marginalizing and insulting Tomas Kaberle his one defenseman of all-round talent. Burke has also put the team’s fate not-so-firmly in the hands of Vesa Toskala, a goaltender who has yet to deliver. More fundamentally, the Leaf roster is singularly lacking in goal scorers. So, expect low scoring, violent hockey. It says here that if the Leafs don’t find someone who can score, they will fail to make the playoffs yet again. Only they will be more boring in doing so.

Toronto fans recall the ‘bad old days’ when Harold Ballard ran the Leafs. Ricciardi, certainly, and Burke, potentially, have no reason to feel superior. In fact Loaf fans, Harold was a Maple Leaf executive when the team last won the Stanely Cup in the 1966-7 season. Rest assured that J.P. Ricciardi’s name will never be asociated with a championship baseball team in Toronto. And I would be AMAZED if Burke’s name ever gets etched on the Stanley Cup along with a Maple Leaf team.