Brian Burke is Too Confusing

Dion Phaneuf is just one in the long list of disappointments for the Toronto Maple Leafs

It might be a bit generous to describe what Brian Burke has done with his Toronto Maple Leafs as two steps back and one step forward. In just over 2 years as General Manager, Brian Burke has been unable to dig the NHL’s most important franchise out of its deep, dark hole. After another confusing trade today it is apparent that Burke is guiding the Leafs down a pathless wood.

The Tomas Kaberle saga is finally over in Toronto. Kaberle waived his no-trade clause and has been dealt to the Boston Bruins in exchange for prospect Joe Colborne, their first round pick in 2011 and a conditional 2nd round pick in 2012. This is the Leafs 3rd deal in a little over a week. Coincidentally, in a little over a week Brian Burke has changed the direction of this team around 180 degrees.

While not conceding that his initial decision as GM to win right away was wrong, Burke’s dealings over the past week have done the talking for him.

He traded away Francois Beauchemin back to his former team the Anaheim Ducks for Joffrey Lupul who have both had disappointing seasons. Both teams are hoping that the solution is a new environment for their overpaid underachievers. He also traded away off-season acquisition Kris Versteeg to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 1st and 3rd round pick. Versteeg was had by the Leafs for a number of prospects including Viktor Stalberg.

Right now it would seem that a headless chicken would have a better sense of direction than this Toronto Maple Leafs team. Win now? Go young?

The Leafs have an interesting mix of veterans and young players, but nothing that is near ready to compete at a high level.

Their franchise player, Phil Kessel, who they paid a pretty penny for (2 first rounders and a 2nd rounder) has simply been a disappointment for Leaf fans. Lack of production and effort have highlighted the season of the supposed franchise. Inadequate line mates could partially be responsible for this but it’s clear that Kessel is not worth the value that Brian Burke initially placed on him.

Captain Dion Phaneuf who they received from Calgary approximately a year ago is also not performing close to the level that they hoped he would.

However, Toronto is witnessing breakout seasons from their 3 leading scorers. Young guns Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin are all having career seasons. The issue here is that trade speculation has surrounded these guys as MacArthur and Grabovski are restricted free agents at the end of the season.

What to do? At some point you have to pay your young up and comers, but are these guys the ones you want to move forward with? Going even younger is exactly the opposite of what Burke says he wants to do, but with his recent trades who the hell knows what the Leafs front office wants anymore.

Regular readers of mine will know my thoughts on rebuilding and in June I wrote how the Maple Leafs had set themselves up for a future of mediocrity. As of right now I can’t see how this has really changed despite these last two trades that look to signal rebuilding. The Leafs are still facing a number of bad(ish) contracts so in actuality they are not even starting from scratch at this point, rather they are restarting from a hole that has been dug by Brian Burke trying to win with an unwinnable roster. Rebuilding, a slow process in itself, will likely take a greater length of time for the Maple Leafs.

It looks like Burke is finally taking the proper route in rebuilding this team, but the drastic change in the appropriate direction could also mean that another 180 degree turn isn’t out of the question. With this always entertaining drama in full motion and the pieces of the puzzle still scattered, is it possible that the Toronto Maple Leafs situation is even more confusing than it was on November 29, 2008 when Brian Burke was appointed General Manager?

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NHL Head Shots

Matt Cooke has become the most hated player in the NHL

Despite self-serving pronouncements, the NHL head office has been very apathetic over the past couple of years in its efforts to crack down on players who recklessly cause head injuries. In fact, the only cracking that we have seen is the heads of the players who continue to be illegally targeted by these cheap shot artists.

However, it is possible that the NHL may now have wakened up to the issue because the biggest star in the NHL constellation – Sidney Crosby – has been seriously injured by an illegal hit to the head. Although Dave Steckel was not suspended for his dirty hit on Crosby at the Winter Classic, head of officiating Colin Campbell and the NHL handed down a 6 game suspension to Calgary Flames Tom Kostopolous for his brutal shot to Brad Stuart just a few days later.

The injury to Crosby, from which he has still for recovered, had motivated the NHL to finally do the right thing and give a legitimate penalty that will deter players from committing these illegal acts in the future.

It seemed like a step in the right direction.

However, this prettier picture was short-lived. The NHL doesn’t seem to understand what it takes to actually stop the hits from coming because following an intent to injure knee on knee by Matt Cooke on arguably the NHL’s most popular player Alex Ovechkin, Cooke was not suspended. Surprise.

Wouldn’t you know it, Matt Cooke then made sure he was suspended for this hit from behind on Fedor Tyutin of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He got 4 games.

Really? 4 games? It’s unbelievable that the NHL can’t just open their freaking eyes. Matt Cooke isn’t just a repeat offender, he’s a multi-multi-peat offender.

Cooke has become a household name in hockey land for his filthy play. His elbow to the head of Marc Savard being the most well-known in his long line of “highlights,” which in hindsight may have signalled the beginning of the end of the productive career of Savard.

With the onslaught of dirty hits continuing, and the medical knowledge of the devastating effects of concussion increasing, the NHL had looked to be finally grasping the obvious point that, in order to protect its players and its game, it needs to place severe penalties on the players carrying out these actions.

I guess not.

Prior to the Tom Kostopolous suspension, most of the penalties issued by the NHL were either 1 or 2 game suspensions for hits of a similar manner. The problem is that with the amount of money these guys make a couple of games is not enough of a deterrent. Moreover, being suspended for 1 or 2 games out of an entire 82 game season does not penalize the player’s team enough either as they would only lose their player for a very small portion of the season.

20 Games, now that’s a real penalty. Is Matt Cooke or anyone else for that matter actually going to pull another one of their career threatening stunts if the possibility of being out for a quarter of the season is on the table?

Tom Kostopolous got what he deserved as someone who was a second-time offender. He sent out a statement to the NHL expressing his feelings towards the suspension saying that he was “extremely disappointed” in the ruling. Anger and resentment, those are the feelings that you want player’s to have when they get suspended because those are the feelings that will be in their minds the next time they think of doing something vicious.

What about Matt Cooke? I think he’s still applauding the NHL’s decision…even after 3 days.

Protecting their players, especially star ones, should be the number one priority of the National Hockey League because obviously if these top tier players are consistently being forced out for long periods of time as a result of illegal hits, the league itself will suffer a drop in its entertainment value. With an already struggling situation in many franchises south of the border, the league cannot afford to have their star players, such as Sidney Crosby, sit out for an extended period of time.

It may be selfish thinking, but the NHL should be protecting its players for the leagues own good, not only for the good of its player’s health and longevity now and after hockey.

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Get Rid of ‘Em

Twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks were split up for the first time in their lives via the NHL All-Star fantasy draft

I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that they have got to scrap the all-star games. No applause necessary for the originality.

On what may possibly be the worst weekend this year in sports, we saw two brutal all-star games in which even the highlights were almost unbearable. I think it would have been more fun playing scrabble on family game night. Seriously, I like scrabble.

The Pro-Bowl is as big a joke as Jose Canseco’s boxing career was. There is no reason for the NFL to play this game. Football is a game that is built off of pure intensity and violence, yet in an all-star game there is no way that guys can play with anywhere near the same passion that they do during the season. No one wants to get hurt in an all-star game and nobody wants to hurt a fellow player in something that is essentially meaningless

Might as well make it a flag football Pro-Bowl if you’re going to keep it around because what is put on display each year sure isn’t NFL level football. I mean, at one point it was 42-0 and the first half wasn’t over.

They should stop torturing the players and the fans that waste their time to watch this spectacle. At least they put the game back in Hawaii this year.

The NHL at least tried to do something this year to spice up their all-star game even if it only ever had the potential increase the hype prior to the game. You don’t see hockey as the lead story too often on major American sports sites as it was on Friday evening.

However, as much hype as the fantasy draft caused, it in no way led to the player’s to work harder during the game. If they could find some way in the NHL, as well as the NBA, to force the player’s to play some defence then maybe these games could actually hold some viewers. Alas, there probably is no realistic method for these leagues’s to follow in order to make these multi-millionaires show some effort for one extra game.

The combined goal total of 21 in the NHL all-star game exceeded the Vegas over/under set at 16.5.

Major League Baseball’s all-star game is not enjoyable because it actually means something in terms of World Series home field advantage. In fact, I think it’s stupid to decide something like that in an all-star game. It may create a little extra buzz each and every year, but in baseball there is never a reason not to try. Its baseball, how can you not put in a full effort?

The 3 other major North American sports don’t have that luxury. Moreover, with all the complaining that surrounds each respective all-star game from fans and analysts alike, it would make more sense to just abandon the game’s altogether.

The most intriguing feature of the NBA and NHL all-star games, which in my humble opinion are the skills competitions, have even lost their allure.

Keep the breaks, keep the status, but lose the game.

Maybe they should just make everyone play baseball for the all-star game.

Also, check out The Everyday Man’s Sports blog for his take on this issue

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Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

Roberto Luongo is sporting a 2.34 GAA, .922 save % and a 20-8-4 record this season

For the first time in a long time the Vancouver Canucks have taken hold of first place not only in the Western Conference but in the entire National Hockey League. It is apparent that the time is now for this squad as it is most likely that their proverbial window of opportunity will not be open for very long.

The Canucks have arguably the most depth of any team in the NHL but their success still hinges on the man who was dubbed the backbone of the franchise not too long ago.

With sky-high expectations surrounding him, Roberto Luongo came to Vancouver in 2006 and did not disappoint. It was not an uncommon occurrence to witness the Bobby Lou show as it felt as thought night after night he would come up with a stellar performance. Some games he flat out carried his team to victory.

As good a team as the Canucks were in relative terms to other teams in the NHL, it was probably too often that they had to rely on their goaltender to get the win for them.

Oh how the times have changed.

After being given the key to the franchise prior to the 2008-09 season when he was named team captain and only the 7th goalie in NHL history to have that honour bestowed on him, Luongo’s play did not backup his newfound status.

His status as Canuck captain was revoked…err voluntarily given up prior to the start of this season and despite being named the NHL’s second star of the month in December, posting a 8-1-1 record to go along with a 2.07 GAA and .922 save percentage, Roberto Luongo is still the (E)X-Factor each night for this Vancouver team.

Like year’s past, the success of this Canuck team still depends on their netminder but the circumstances compared to previous season’s are drastically different.

It is not very often that these Canucks have had to rely on their goaltender to steal a game for them. Fans around the city are only hoping that Luongo can provide solid, consistent goaltending, which he has been unable to do over the past couple seasons.

The odd soft goal overshadowing an otherwise great performance is something that Vancouver fans have become all too accustom to.

The fact that backup protégé Cory Schneider has been lights out this season is not helping matters in the Luongo camp either. Schneider made 34 out of 35 saves last night as he lost his first regulation start of the season against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden 1-0.

Moreover, his “me-me” selfish attitude that is slowly rearing its ugly head is giving Luongo a reputation that is making him even less favourable to fans. Roberto Luongo on occasion has not been hesitant to throw teammates under the bus and just recently chose not to skate back out onto ice after being named first star of the game because he was upset at losing his shutout bid with 10.8 seconds remaining.

Even prior to the Canucks awarding Luongo a ludicrous 12 year $65 million contract and Cory Schneider’s impressive .231 GAA and .925 save percentage some people, including myself, wondered if the Vancouver Canucks were making the wrong decision by not exchanging Luongo for some valuable pieces while handing the reins over to Schneider a couple of years ago.

*Note — Here is the link to my facebook status not too long after Roberto Luongo signed his 12 year contract in case you are wondering if I am second guessing the contract.*

However, it is what it is and the Canucks are stuck with what they have. An overpaid, whiney, “franchise” goaltender.

Dependable goaltending is a necessity for any team hoping to make a serious run in the playoffs and this year should be no different. The past 5 Stanley Cup winning teams may not have had great goaltending throughout the season but have had their goalies get hot when it mattered most.

A big knock on Luongo has been his inability to come through in the clutch. He was finally able to get that important career defining win at the Winter Olympics last year, albeit a mediocre performance, but was unable to translate that into playoff glory.

Many have pointed out the huge workload that Luongo is burdened with during the regular season and the amount of key injuries that Canucks have had in recent years playing a part in his less than impressive playoff performance. This may be true to a certain extent; nevertheless his inability to raise his level of play in clutch time is a worrisome thought.

All excuses aside, in order for the Canucks to take the next step Roberto Luongo will need to find at least some of the form that warranted him the captain’s status and his 12 year contract. He needs to shed what has made him the ex-factor and once again become the factor.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at I am now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Note to NHL GM’s – This is Getting out of Hand

Ilya Kovalchuk signed an unprecedented 17 year contract on Monday

If you have ever wondered what it is like to run a circus you can just ask NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Since the implementation of the hard cap in the NHL, teams have started giving contracts that are almost as crazy as an elephant on the high wire. These outrageously long contracts are being given to players with the benefit of having a lower cap hit, albeit for a longer period of time. Having a cap in the NHL is a great thing but the ringmaster’s of this operation are soon going to be sorry for their short-sightedness.

Lou Lamoriello, who is known as one of the most shrewd general managers in the NHL, did something very un-Lou like yesterday by signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a massive 17 year contract worth approximately $102 million. Kovalchuk, who was probably the most sought after free agent this off-season, had been rumoured to be close to a long-term deal with the LA Kings a couple of times. It was also reported that he had turned down a 10 year $100 million contract extension last year from the Atlanta Thrashers.

Are you kidding me? Kovalchuk is a point a game guy who is not an experienced playoff veteran. You’re telling me he’s worth $100 million over 10-17 years?

For the most part, this off-season has been filled with more reasonable contracts, but the unprecedented Kovalchuk signing may just be the freak show that NHL GM’s needed to wake them up from this dream.

In the business of sports, winning now is one of the most important things to fans and owners alike. However, the price for winning sometimes comes at a great cost to the future.

These long-term contracts look all fine and dandy when players are in their prime and performing at optimum levels, but what happens when their play starts to digress little bit by little bit?

What is going to happen is that 5 or 6 years down the line, maybe less, these players that are being signed to double-digit contracts in the prime of their career are going to start receiving a lot of criticism for not playing to the level of their contract.

Johan Franzen was signed to an 11 year contract worth $43 million dollars at the age of 29. His best season consists of 34 goals and 25 assists in 71 games, which is less than a point a game. Franzen is undoubtedly a valuable player to the Detroit franchise, but at a cap hit of $3.9 million annually it is not going to be a bargain in the years to come.

Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg both signed double-digit year contracts

What about Henrik Zetterberg? At 28 years old he signed a 12 year deal worth an estimated $73 million for a cap hit at around $6 million per year. Zetterberg can be a plus point a game guy for a team, and is one of the best wingers in the league. However, once he starts reaching the age of 34 or 35 you are going to start to see his play drop to some extent.

Oh yeah, what the heck is a team supposed to do when their player is not performing at the level expected of them even at the supposed peak of their career?

The Tampa Bay Lighting and the Vancouver Canucks have already started to see the error of their ways in the signings of Vincent Lecavalier and Roberto Luongo respectively. In the last two seasons, Lecavalier has already started to show some possible signs of aging, where he scored 67 and 70 points while failing to reach the 30-goal mark. At the age of 30, who knows if we will ever see the old Vinny ever again.

Robert Luongo is also in the same boat, as his play has been weaker his last couple seasons in Vancouver. At a cap hit of $5.3 million, the contract is sure not looking like much of a bargain at this point.

When they signed Luongo to that 12 year contract, the Canucks had Cory Schneider waiting in the wings, who is now finally that backup goalie to Luongo. However, with very good AHL numbers you have to believe that taking a chance on Cory Schneider with a rookie contract cap hit would have been the better idea. With the extra cap space, the Canucks may have been able to acquire some better quality skaters.

When these players with big contracts stop performing at their top level, it isn’t just going to be that they are getting paid too much. Suddenly, the cap hit that seemed like such a shrewd move, is more of a garbage decision than anything.

Mark Messier was a big disappointment to Vancouver Canuck fans

If you look at some of the all-time greats there are only a select few that performed comparably to their glory days. You cannot fight age, and with these long-term contracts it should be expected that guys will have injuries that hurt their longevity. Once Mark Messier went to the Vancouver Canucks at the age of 36 his play dropped dramatically.

You can tell me that guys like Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe were able to play well later in their careers. Then are you trying to say that Hossa, Kovalchuk and Zetterberg are in the same class as these guys? Gretzky dropped from 100+ to 90+, that’s a big difference than 80+ to 60 or 70+ points.

Teams are throwing away their opportunity at future success by signing players to these ludicrous contracts, and leaving their teams only a small window for a chance to lift the Stanley Cup.

Imagine if the Chicago Blackhawks had not won the Stanley Cup this past season. They would still have their core four players of Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook, but they have had to trade and let-go of some of their key role players.

Their ability to win a Stanley Cup makes the move a success in my eyes because of the degree of difficulty it takes to win just one championship. But the ability to build a dynasty is almost out of the question. We talk about their core four, but there are also the underachieving Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa who are both in the midsts of eight and twelve-year deals respectively. You aren’t going to win many Stanley Cups with six players.

All of these contracts are constantly setting a precedent for future ones, which almost inevitably means an endless cycle of brutally long contracts. General Manager’s are digging a deeper and deeper hole for themselves to get out of, and it will eventually culminate in their demise.

Things are getting out of hand and if the NHL isn’t going to do anything about it, the only way to stop it is for every single one of the GM’s to refuse to give the contracts that the players are demanding.

This might mean that your team is not going to get the player it is looking for right now, but it will save your franchise 5 or 10 years down the road. These players do want to play, and if no one gives them the contract then they are going to have to settle for something less. Be strong and don’t give into the temptation of the lucrative deals.

Act 1 of this show has been quite spectacular and act 2 may turn out just as good. But ringmaster’s are warned that these later acts will dull as father time works his magic.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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