Enjoy the view from Cloud9

Cloud9 Sports: Opinionated musing on the sporting world.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why are the Maple Leafs still starting Vesa Toskala?

In the midst of a post-deadline mix-up that saw the Toronto Maple Leafs trade away three role players in an attempt to build for the future there seems to be a conflict of interest between the suits in the suites and boys behind the bench.

Prior to the aforementioned moves the Maple Leafs telegraphed their intentions to wipe the slate clean by replacing defunct John Ferguson Jr. with current interim GM Cliff Fletcher. This signaled the well overdue rebuilding process had initiated itself, and while the most significant trade deadline maneuvers were those that couldn't happen, Toronto punctuated its commitment towards short-term loss for long-term gain by picking up four future draft picks.

Their path to ascendancy is slowly being etched out from below the layers of incompetence, but is there some resistance remaining? It would seem so -- irrespective of the parallel commitment made by management, media and the fans -- given the contentious conduct of the coaching staff over the past two weeks. The agreement to rebuild was broadcast loud and clear, unfortunately for Toronto fans it appears to have been lost in translation when passed down to the coaching staff. What else would account for Paul Maurice's decision to continuously overwork starting goaltender Vesa Toskala in lieu of falling in line with his superiors?

Paul Maurice is not a stupid man. He recognizes the state of limbo which his employment lies. His leadership has been questioned and his methodology flawed based on his failure to maximize the below-average talent on his current roster. This all but punches his ticket to the unemployment line, if and when, his team fails to make the playoffs for the third season in succession.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

Just like the famous feline from Lewis Carrolls' Alice's Adventures in Wonderland the last sentence of the above paragraph magically presents itself to answer the question that has puzzled many Leaf fans; the same question lends itself to the title of this piece: why is Toskala still starting in goal? Because it is the only way to save Paul Maurice's job – and potentially – his career.

Toskala is overworked having long eclipsed career highs in starts, minutes played and shots against, while defending the goal of a team that needs to win at least 75% of its remaining contests in order to realize their playoff intentions. Notably, of those remaining contests 16-of-17 are against teams with a superior record, making the task measurably more difficult and unlikely.

So in light of this seemingly incurable illness that has precipitously sunk the Leafs into the basement of the Eastern conference, Coach Paul Maurice has diagnosed more Vesa Toskala to benefit himself and his future as a head coach in the NHL, at the expense of the organization in Toronto. The sooner Maurice and the Maple Leafs correctly assess their potential the better, as it will open a window for Raycroft to start and potentially boost his trade value (while concomitantly improving their draft lottery status).

Maurice can argue that his distribution of playing time amongst his goaltenders is done merely out of necessity. However, it is through this very decision that his firing is thus equally necessitated. The rebuilding process is already slow and painful enough, and I begrudgingly urge Trader Cliff to hasten the process by dismissing Maurice and abolishing the deleterious conflict of interest that currently exists.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Hockey Herald Podcast #3

For your listening pleasure I present to you the best post-deadline podcast availible. This podcast contains a look at NHL Insiders and how they operate, plus a more detailed breakdown of the Top 10 Moves of the NHL Trade Deadline. Enjoy!

Thanks for listening. Cheers, Derek.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Top 10 Moves of the NHL Trade Deadline

If you woke up this morning thinking that it might be a quiet one, you aren't the only hockey fan who's nighttime sediment is complete shock. As much as we expected a few big names to move, I'm not alone feeling a bit overwhelmed with the magnitude of todays trade-dealine player transactions. I will take a more in-depth look on these topics and others in my podcast tomorrow, but for now here is a summary of the Top 10 trades made on deadline day.

10. Hal Gill – he is worth two picks? Questionable value aside, the Penguins are now a lot bigger on the blue line, something that will go a long way in wearing down teams with an aggressive forecheck or a down-low puck possession game.
Winner: Toronto by a sliver. They need young bodies, so acquiring two picks for an average blue-liner with no place on the current Leafs roster was a win for Cliff Fletcher.

9. Vinnie Prospal –
not a blockbuster by any standards, but a good acquisition for a struggling Flyers team who were able to add an offensive contributor without losing any significant roster players.
Winner: Flyers. They gave up a defenseman in need of a few years maturation and a conditional pick to help replace a host of valuable missing pieces up front. Philly is praying this shake up leads to wins – and so is GM Paul Holmgren.

8. Stuart – vital addition to the Red Wings banged up blue line. He'll help the cause in a roll more suited to his skill level on a wining team like Detroit, where he won't be relied upon in the same overreaching capacity asked of him in LA.
Winner: LA. I know the Kings are awful, but a healthy Detroit roster places Stuart around 4-5 on the defensive depth chart making 2nd and 4th rounders a hefty sum for the Wings.

7. Federov – good character veteran to a young team with enhanced playoff aspirations. Gets paid a bundle, but will help if placed in the right frame of mind.
Winner: Washington. Their management made a huge commitment to the organization by making all these moves, notably bringing in a guy like Fedorov with 163 career playoff points.

6. Foote – I'm not convinced his impact will blow us out of the water. A solid defensive addition to a club with a bundle of returning players (from injuries and acquisitions alike). Their new identity will be proliferated through the new faces and hopefully trickles down unto the younger talent.
Winner: Push. His pending contract likely forced the hand of Columbus GM Scott Howson, but ultimately the Blue Jackets fans feel this the most as they secure their title of the only NHL franchise without a playoff birth.

5. Forsberg – gave up nothing to get him. Nice play Colorado. Whether or not he'll offer a significant contribution, not as likely as you might think, I fear.
Winner: The Avalanche, even if he plays at 80%.

4. Campbell – Over-achiever or real deal? His puck movement will provide the necessary help to boost the weak San Jose Sharks powerplay.
Winner: Yet another big name bounces from Buffalo, but they seemingly get good value in return. I give this one to the Sharks by a slim margin -- but much like Hossa -- this is contract-dependent and can only be judged accurately in a years time.

3. Huet – an odd move for Montreal on the surface. However a good move all things considered. Bob Gainey is willing to roll the dice on Price, who notably took over the AHL playoffs last year en route to a championship in under very similar conditions.
Winner: Washington wins short term, but Montreal knows that. They took an hit to get a solid draft pick. So much for Montreals' dreams of winning it all this year.

2. Richards – They gave up less than Pittsburgh (for Hossa) to get a player with a proven playoff record (Conn Smyth winner, 1 Cup ring) and a comparable contractual situation
Winner: Dallas steals a superstar. All things considered this was a great hockey deal that works in the favour of the Stars having Richards locked up for seasons to come.

1. Hossa – he commanded a Kings ransom. This will be the most highly scrutinized trade of the bunch this season and for good reason. Alarm bells ring anytime an organization gets rattled to this degree and their young core might react apprehensively. With solid goaltending this years Penguins squad might be able to ride their three offensive superstars (Malkin, Crosby and, Hossa) to a Stanley Cup appearance.
Winner: As much as I like Hossa on the ice, the Penguins overbid in this auction and face losing Hossa at years end. This deal can only be evaluated once Hossa's signature is placed on his forthcoming contract, but I'd be thrilled if I was GM Don Waddell of the Atlanta Thrashers.

What a ride it was today. Best sure to check out the all-NHL podcast tomorrow. Thanks for reading, Derek.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Sundin Aftermath: He stays, who wins??

It looks like John Ferguson Jr. has risen from the grave and stabbed the hearts of Leaf fans yet again. By giving captain Mats Sundin transcendental ability to veto any and all trade offers the former general manager handed the new one a shroud knot that proved too securely fastened. Yes, Mats will remain a Maple Leaf and thus divide the fans of the blue and white into one of two camps:
1. Mats is a selfish jerk. The Leafs are destined for innumerable seasons in the dumpster.
2. Mats has earned the right to choose and I admire a captain who goes down with his ship, regardless of how bad my team will be next season.

But, wait! We needn't be shortsighted and hasty to judge Mats, particularly without considering the outcome of his decision, rather than the decision itself. Its not like whatever Cliff Fletcher could have received in return for Mats Sundin would have turned them around fast enough to sneak into the playoffs. Even if this miraculous feat occurred it would be ill conceived -- they need to be bad for a good pick, so keeping the current good-enough-for-14th-place nucleus together is paradoxically advantageous -- it's just the nature of the cycle in sports where you have to be bad to be good.

There is yet another simple scenario whereby Mats can atone (assuming one demands atonement, as per above) for this trade deadline decision. When he sits down to re-negotiate his contract prior to next season, he will be given the opportunity to demonstrated where his allegiances lie. Assume he agrees to a sizable pay cut; so sizable that the Leafs now have $4-5 million extra dollars in which they can do as they please. Surely having Mats in addition to $4-5mil extra under the cap would perk up a few Leaf fans on this otherwise gloomy day?

As for the other party in this negotiation, signing Mats for pennies on the dollar is the only scenario in which we'd judge Cliff Fletchers' brief reign as a success. Notwithstanding the fact that JFJ left him with an organization in the contractual Clink, Fletcher has yet to improve the Toronto Maple Leafs, precisely what he was hired to do.

Unfortunately for Cliff, it could get much worse before it gets better. What if Mats retires? Imagine the ire of the Leafs Nation in the event Mats hangs them up at the end of this season abruptly erasing the optimistic picture painted above? Cliff Fletcher would instantly be transformed from The Silver Fox to The Horses Ass. His legacy being forever tarnished in the process (once again, thanks in part to JFJ and MLSE).

Since Toronto will be talking about this for the remainder of the year -- and sadly -- for many seasons to come, I thought it necessary to enlighten my readers with the above considerations. Please go forth, and spread the reason and rationality you've gleamed from this piece throughout the streets and airwaves of Southern Ontario and save us from the clamoring fools who think Mats, JFJ, Cliff and the MLSE board should leap from the CN Tower for their injustices upon hockey fans.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Counting Down the Sundin Saga: Make or Break for Mats. (w/ Chart)

It is with a substantial degree of reservation that I throw my hat into a ring whose floor is completely saturated with those of others also speculating on the future of Mats Sundin and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fortunately for myself and my valued readership, I am much smarter than most of my colleagues, hence the necessity of my commentary on this burning issue.

That being said, I always strive to differentiate myself from the pack. Here, via a chart , is a slightly innovative way to dissect the current speculation regarding Mats Sundin and a variety of NHL clubs. Besides, doesn't reading a chart make you feel smarter and more efficient regardless? Well it should, so check this out:

Looks far more concise when framed in that manner, doesn't it? It also leaves plenty of room for explanation as well.

Please note that players named are listed as BEST-case, and under no circumstances will these players be easily acquired. It is Cliff Fletchers' job to suss out deals of this magnitude, thus we are required to consider the names mentioned.

Secondly, it is very obvious that draft picks often shape these deals. They are therefore impossible to speculate on since they are commonly used by GM's to find a common ground in the negotiation(s). Speculating on where the picks will fall is determined once the players are settled, and since we are not privy to this knowledge I didn't waste time analyzing potential draft picks. Furthermore, it is my belief that Cliff is looking for young players who currently offer NHL-level talent in addition to star potential moving forward, with draft picks being a very close secondary priority.

Lastly, the comments in the “Would Cliff Pull the Trigger?” column are terse for the purposes of space. Each one has been expanded on in great detail in several of my previous podcasts and articles that can be found here and here.

Those with a keen arithmetic sense will also note the likelihood percentages sum to 100. Yes, I think there is 0% chance Mats will stay a Toronto Maple Leaf. Surprised?

Comments and thoughts are more than welcome. Thanks for reading – Derek.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

NEW NHL Podcast: Enjoy a Refreshingly Atypical Trade Deadline Update

Here is your Weekly Wednesday All-Hockey podcast in association with The Hockey Herald.

It contains a look into the thought process(es) of GM's, and how sports writers try to elucidate potential transactions in a fanatical and exaggerated manner. Moves on to discuss what big names are actually worthy of discussion (Hossa, Richards, Boyle, Jokinen, Campbell) and outlines some of the most likely deals that NHL teams will make to improve their chances of winning the cup (Bruins, Blue Jackets, Rangers, Sharks, Ducks and more!).

Enjoy, and thanks for listening. - Derek.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Forsbergs' foot is still fooling us all. Is he back... AGAIN?

This man was the best player in the NHL, is one of three members of the double Triple Gold Club, and recently turned down numerous NHL contracts that would have enhanced his wealth and protected his family (financially) for decades just to protect his integrity. Men who care this passionately about their reputation and legacy are few and far between in North America, so perhaps Peter Forsberg owes these qualities to his modest Swedish upbringing. In any case, todays news from his Nordic stomping ground will surprise you.

Many have criticized Peter and his agent for dragging out the recent recruitment process that has been anything but cohesive and predictable. While sycophants in the press boxes have gushed endlessly about all the particulars of his return and its on-again, off-again nature, we have been throw yet another sexy glance to be undoubtedly followed with more hot and heavy action. In specific terms I am alluding to the event which followed his agents declaration that Peters' return is unlikely, in which Peter himself piped up in Stockholm and stated he remains hopeful his foot will mend before the window of opportunity closes on Feb 26th.

Huh? This dance is on again, Pete?

Startling as it may be that this continues to consume us, we mustn't heap the blame solely onto Forsbergs' shoulders, even though he has repeatedly stoked the fires and encouraged growingly disinterested onlookers to usher themselves under the Big Top. We are a part of this circus because the media knows the level of interest surrounding a great champion like Peter Forsberg. However, the resultant myopia is more dizzying than the Gravitron.

It's likely that GMs will keep their dealings in line according to the worst-case scenario to mitigate Forsberg-related uncertainty. In other words, if I were a GM at the meetings in Naples as we speak, I would essentially pretend Forsberg doesn't exist and get the best of whatever I can elsewhere. This is much more difficult for Chicago, Philadelphia, Colorado and perhaps Ottawa, Vancouver and Minnesota, who have been hanging on for dear life in the Forsberg sweepstakes. In this instance they'd be best suited to draw up an offer and let Peter know where you stand, inclusive to the treat-him-like-a-ghost caveat above.

Enigmatically and overwhelmed the GM's will grind through their meetings in Naples cautiously optimistic that Forsberg remains one of three things: in their line up, in Sweden, or in a rivals line up, but in their press box and listed as DTD. At this point, to all of us not in Naples or Stockholm, its seems although all three are equally likely. What we can be certain about however, is that the rumors won't cease until we are celebrating the 102nd anniversary of the Anti-Deficiency Act.

Thanks for reading, Cheers - Derek. PS- Check out thehockeyherald.com every Wed (tomorrow) for my weekly all-NHL podcast. This weeks' will be a beauty.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Huge Podcast Announcement + New Podcast

I have formed a partnership with Fraser at thehockeyherald.com as the official podcaster for his website. I encourage everyone to check it out, as it provides quality updates and NHL-related content -- esp. now that they've got a podcast ;).

As per the agreement, I am stoked to announce that I'll be publishing a weekly podcast (every Wednesday) for you all, and his 15000+ subscribers to enjoy. The content will be exclusively hockey-related so be sure to tune in as the deadline approaches and the playoffs near. Cheers, Derek.

Here is a sneak peak at the first The Hockey Herald Podcast, with host Derek Braid. Topics include Quicks Hits on Zednik and Moreaus' skate blade injuries, Evgeni Malkins' emergence, Hot Stove chatter about possible trades and player transactions, and lastly a chirp at the NHL-covering media and their constant bitching. Enjoy, and note the 150% less gay audio player!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

MLB: Pettitte Buries Clemens with the Truth

Here we go again with the damn congressional hearings? Aside from the fact that the media is dragging this issue out to nauseating extremes, shouldn't we question the congressional involvement?

The misconduct of the congressional committee is layered beyond what one might assume. Beneath the surface of this wasteful and unnecessary hearing is their childish and unprofessional conduct in the week leading up to todays proceedings. While anticipating questions from members of the 40-person committee, Clemens and his lawyers solicited the aforementioned cohort in their offices and willingly provided autographs and shared friendly banter. Shouldn't this be a purely ethical pursuit for justice and honest conclusions rather than a few old timers glad-handing a legend?

More importantly, does anyone actually need the findings of this hearing to draw their conclusions on Roger Clemens guilt? As I write (at 10:11am) I remain highly skeptical that anything said in front of congress this morning will exonerate Clemens in light of the overwhelming evidence supporting the contrary. In fact, I am glued to the TV solely in anticipation of Rogers' admission of guilt (or enraged physical assualt on McNamee, whichever you feel more likely).

Growth hormone (or human growth hormone, HGH) has been likened to the fountain of youth by medical and academic professionals. It promotes muscle building and decreases body fat while facilitating increased recovery and improving energy metabolism. Do these sound like characteristics that might be associated with a sudden and pronounced resurgence in an aging athletes' career? HGH helps fuel your muscles by increasing glucose uptake, has an anabolic effect in trained athletes, and works particularly effectively when coupled with anabolic steroids like the deca-durabolin and winstrol Clemens allegedly received via injection from Brian McNamee.

Irrespective of these damning congruencies above lies the testimony of close friend and former teammate, Andy Pettitte. Exposing the cards previously tucked tightly to his pinstripes Pettittes' honest and forthcoming deposition ultimately crushed Clemens claims of innocence. The affidavit courtesy of Pettitte not only corroborated the claims of Brian McNamee directly, but also enhanced the detail in which congress and the public can use to come to judgment with numerous statement implicating Clemens and performance enhancing drugs.

To watch Roger refute these facts in front of congress with babbling and manufactured words is laughable. His guilt is worn on his face, documented in the Mitchell Report and now in a nationally televised congressional hearing. Roger Clemens now officially joins Pete Rose among baseball superstars with an eternally tainted legacy proving that the one thing fans hate more than a cheater, is a liar.

Monday, February 11, 2008

NHL Violence: Now TV commercials are a problem? PLEASE...

Talk about a polarizing subject in sports and fighting in hockey emerges like a sneaky right cross from George Parros. The volume of opinions on the matter diminish the vastness of the Milky Way while overemphasizing what amounts to a single snap, or pitch in football and baseball respectively. Does punching a man in the groin, or throwing at someones' head not glaringly eclipse the inherent danger in a good on-ice tussle? Surely objective readers will acknowledge fighting at the very least to be a necessary evil in the game of hockey.

What motivated me to take on this unresolvable debate? It wasn't a decry to thwart fighting in the NHL, but oddly, stern condemnation of their marketing partners. Plainly, a well established columnist from Vancouver, Mr. Tony Gallagher, is pissed about the NHL's associations and somehow erroneously links this with diminished interest and viewership in the game itself.

This piece from the Montreal Gazette. I'll save you the trouble of reading it with the following summary:

- I don't like UFC, and Montreal shouldn't be so excited to host the first UFC event North of the 49th.
- UFC and WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) are advertising on NHL broadcasts. This is bad for hockey.
- The commercials feature real-time fight highlights, which turn off families and woman from hockey...
- If this trend continues to larger national broadcasts, all woman will stop watching hockey.
- Kids will beat the crap out of each other after watching UFC-type commercials.
- Reverse this trend or hockey ratings will be sunk in the bottom of the can forever.

Wow. Slow news day Mr. Gallagher? There are several elements to this that bother me just enough to waste time writing about it.

For starters, the topic has been discussed on the most listened to sports radio show in Canada (Bob McCown PTS on the Fan590). They joked about it weeks ago and brought up the merits of coupling the two forms of entertainment. This illustrates not only the lack of originality, but brings up the possibility that this column evolved over several weeks of meticulous research and planning. Those who read the article will quickly realize my facetiousness as it pertains to the latter statement.

To say that violence and its associations with hockey are spoiling the sport for families is misguided and foolish. This can be verified by simply contrasting the relative fraction of on-air time received by the sum of all violent content to that which is non-violent. Fighting and the commercial advertisements that were the focus of Mr. Gallaghers' grievance are equivalent to a cliché-laiden pre-game interview: even though a certain demographic would rather not bear witness, its mere presence doesn't sufficiently reduce the quality of the overall product.

Not surprisingly it appear this piece was published in the Montreal Gazette, which is heavily circulated in a region rich with European ideals. Among these principals is a general distaste for fighting in hockey, evident in the lack of physicality and fisticuffs in the QJMHL, as well as their NHL franchise. I'd like to see the reception to this article in Mr. Gallaghers' native West, where they not only play tough hockey, but willingly endorse all the potential repercussions of a heightened degree of physicality.

If you need ways to improve the game targeting the commercials is a laughable prospect. If you are serious about increasing the following for the NHL, just read this and get on with it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Podcast #4: Shaq, Forseberg and the NHL Hotstove, Ray Emery is TO!

The best podcast to date! Check out the analysis on the Shaq/Marion deal in the NBA, the how the Peter Forsberg sweepstakes changes the NHL, and the best piece I've done yet: Ray Emery is the TO of the NHL.

Enjoy, and thanks for listening!