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Two seasons ago I was watching the Minnesota Wild play the Calgary Flames when Brent Burns was dubbed by Jim Hughson as a rising defensive star who was in the same class as Dion Phaneuf and Mike Green. He was a sure thing to play on Team Canada in the upcoming Olympics and had just signed a long-term contract.
Today I ask myself what went wrong. Injuries, to start with. In the last three seasons Brent’s games played have gone like this: 82, 59, 47. Young players, especially those playing on the blueline, need playing time to develop and Burns hasn’t played enough to do that.
Secondly, Coach Lemaire screwed with his head by playing him at wing whenever Jacques felt like it. The Wild, as always, lacked a scoring punch and Lemaire felt inclined to play the gifted defenseman at wing to see if it would ignite the team. All it did was take Burns out of his natural position and forced him to play in a spot where he didn’t succeed.
And finally, most of us are coming to the realization that Burns just isn’t going to be a great player. He’s certainly got the tools, but sometimes I question his makeup. Does he have the grit to make a #1 defenseman? It looked like he did in the playoffs against Corey Perry and the Ducks a few years ago, but I haven’t seen that since.
Burns is a good player, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I don’t believe he’s going to be a great one, and unfortunately that’s not what the Wild want to hear.
So what’s going on in the world of minor league hockey? Anyone? No one knows? I’ll never quite understand that. I get that the AHL lacks the big names that the NHL has, but the game is the same. In some ways I think it’s better, though in the end I do care about the Stanley Cup a whole heck of a lot more than I do the Calder Cup.
Every year around this time I glance at the rosters of junior hockey and minor league hockey teams. I do this because I know that someday, one of them might be on my favorite team. Some of them could end up with their names on the Stanley Cup or in a race for the league scoring title. They’re unknown to me now, but maybe not in a few years.
Howard, Crosby, Doughty… All three are well known around the league now, but look back 5 or 6 years and they were pretty much unknown. They’re rich and famous today, but they got their careers started by riding buses and washing off in a shower with no hot water.
So this year, in the middle of all the stress, anxiety and joy of this years NHL season, don’t forget your local minor league team. You might catch a glimpse of future (or even past) greatness. And when you see one of those guys screw up and you think, “Wow, he sucks.”, don’t forget that we all gotta start somewhere.
And you can’t beat the price of admission.
After enduring a devastating 5-3 comeback loss to the Vancouver Canucks on January 30th last season, Brian Burke took action by accentuating the Leafs lack of accountability within the organization. Burke wowed the hockey world by orchestrating separate trades to acquire former Calder and Norris Trophy nominee Dion Phaneuf and former Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup Champion Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Burke also managed to unload the ugly contracts of Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake in exchange for former Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup Champion Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Most of the talk during the fallout of the trade were focused around the acquisition of Phaneuf and the unloading of Toskala and Blake, but the addition of Giguere was perhaps the largest gain to further the betterment of the franchise. He has only been with the Leafs for a few short months, but his impact to the Maple Leafs organization has paid immediate dividends.
Giguere is coming off a disappointing season in which he began as the backup in Anaheim behind Jonas Hiller. He only began to regain his status as a bonifide starting goaltender after being reunited with Brian Burke and godly goaltending coach Francois Allaire in Toronto. Giguere posted only 4 wins, along with a bloated 3.14 goals against average and 0.900 save percentage in 20 games with the Ducks. His numbers drastically improved upon arriving in Toronto, where he managed back-to-back shutout in his first two starts with the Leafs. His 6 wins in 15 games with the blue and white wasn’t overly impressive, but showed that he is still capable of carrying a team.
The concept of academic extra credit has forever puzzled me. Despite the occasional motivation to exploit it, the notion of offering additional points as a means of atonement for under-performance has always felt fundamentally wrong to me.
Academic instructors typically distribute a syllabus at the beginning of each semester which, among other things, outlines the course’s key dates and includes a grading plan which specifies a value by which a student’s performance is ultimately evaluated. The National Hockey League has such an outline which contains similar criteria; although the NHL refers to theirs as a season schedule.
Like the aforementioned syllabus, the NHL’s season schedule consists of key dates otherwise known as games in which the league’s students—referred to as teams—are tested with points awarded dependent upon performance in those “exams”. While the number of tests each team receives is equal, the tests’ cumulative value is not.
How can this be you ask? Extra credit, of course.
In my column from Friday, I suggested the Maple Leafs take a run at free agent Tim Kennedy after Buffalo gave him the pink-slip. Yet a few hours after posting, this – or the addition of any scoring forward – seemed unlikely. As he often does, though, Leafs GM Brian Burke surprised me with his ability to make the best of a bad cap-situation
A trade with Tampa Bay late on Friday added Matt Lashoff to Toronto’s defense corps, bringing their number of NHL-level d-men up to nine and pushing them within $1.5 million of the cap ceiling. Although Lashoff has only played 63 NHL games over the last four seasons, he’ll have to clear waivers this season to be sent down to the AHL, so it looks like the Leafs want him for big-club duty.
By Saturday though, Leafs GM Brian Burke pulled the trigger on a deal that looks even better than what I was proposing with Kennedy. Left wing Clarke MacArthur – another Sabres product – signed with Toronto for a steal at $1.1 million,after Atlanta walked away from his $2.4 million arbitration award. After posting career numbers in both games played (81) and points (31), the 25-year-old is just entering his prime.
While only a year older than Kennedy, MacArthur already has 208 NHL games under his belt, leaving him far more experienced at this level than Kennedy, who has only played in 79. Add in MacArthur’s points-per-game average at 0.42 over Kennedy’s 0.33, and the fact that Toronto will still hold MacArthur’s RFA rights after this season, it’s clear that Burke is getting the most bang for his team’s buck.
With less than $400,000 left in cap space, it’s looking like RFA Christian Hanson will be the odd man out on the Leafs roster. I’ll keep tabs on this story as it develops.
The fate of Head Coach Ron Wilson is a major issue looming over the Maple Leafs as the new season approaches. His job is secure for now, but consensus is that if the Leafs put together a start as poor as last season’s, Wilson will be out by December.
The work Wilson got out of the Leafs in 09-10 was some of the worst the city has seen in years, but in a three week stint in February, Wilson coached a rookie squad of Olympians all the way to overtime in the gold medal game against the best team in the tournament. Observing the levels of focus, commitment and execution Team USA brought to each game, it was clear the bench had bought into what Wilson – and GM Brian Burke – were selling.
The Olympic Games left Leaf fans hoping the momentum these two old soldiers brought out of Vancouver would carry over into the Leafs dressing room. In order to capitalize on their success, the path is clear for Burke: to get as many Team USA members as possible on Toronto’s roster. No easy task, as the Olympic squad was made up of some of the best young talent in the game, but Burke was able to capitalize on the Chicago’s cap-crunch and add Kris Versteeg to the Leafs’ Team USA members Phil Kessel and Mike Komisarek, who sat out the tournament with injuries.
When the National Hockey League first instituted the shootout coming out of the lockout in 2005-06, immediately there was a line drawn in the sand. To one side were those in favor of an ending more satisfying than a tie and to the other, those who labeled the shootout a gimmicky, “skills competition”.
From the start it was obvious that I was in that first group. I was enthralled by the individual show of skill. I wasn’t alone. The other 18,198 people in Madison Square Garden seemed equally riveted, standing unprompted, and remaining that way throughout.
The shootout shone a rare spotlight on individual talent. Without it, would we have gotten to see so many variations on the Datsyukian Deke?
NHL officials, general managers, and media members convened in Toronto Aug. 18-19 at the Maple Leafs’ practice facility in a veritable who’s who of league power players. They gathered to observe 33 projected top 2011 draft prospects competing in scrimmages designed to allow NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Operations Brendan Shanahan and his staff to experiment with 28 prospective rule changes and variations.
Nearly all of these proposals are either too bizarre or radically progressive to ever be heard from again (one faceoff circle centered in each zone, draws conducted by whistle rather than puck drop), but a few caught the eye of those in attendance and the Twittersphere was abuzz with speculation. Much of the discussion centered on potential changes to the icing rule in the quest for increased safety.
What caught my eye, however, was what I perceive to be contradictory philosophies employed in the support and/or rationalization of some of these proposed changes.
The debate over touch or no touch icing has been on the radar of this born and bred Minnesotan since Kurtis Foster’s leg was shattered in a March 20, 2008 collision with San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell as the pair chased down an iced puck at the Shark Tank. The event immediately brought the issue to the forefront of league discussion.
The third part in this installment was supposed to be the last, as in any traditional multi-part story, but perhaps comparisons to even the Lord of the Rings trilogy would not quite do justice to the length of the Kovalchuk saga, and it may be better reflected in a four part series. Or more. At this point, who knows. Hence Falcor.
Here are some basic facts:
Like anyone else, I have gotten angry about the hockey team I follow. But, for me, the feeling—almost always more disappointment than anger—usually fades away pretty quickly.
I understand being passionate about hockey. I think we all do.
What is hockey if not some perfect mix of beauty and pure, raw emotion?
What I’ve never understood, though, are fans who go to games and spew out nothing but bitter hostility. Aren’t they watching the same game I am? Don’t they appreciate that the world’s fastest, most beautiful game (sorry, soccer fans) is being played at it’s highest level right in front of them?
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