We are just over a day away from the beginning of the season so it's time to make predictions for the upcoming season. Throughout the day we'll have a number of previews and first up are Steven Spielberg and my compadre - Greener and Norte from He Score, He Shoot.
As summer '08 gives way to the autumn of same, the time comes when hands reach back into any number of closets, grasping for the trappings of fall: The comfortable sweater knitted with earth tones. The kid-dreaded "Back to School" fliers from Zellers, and the compulsory team/division/conference hockey preview.
Well, your bro-felds at He Score, He Shoot are no different from you and your blog/text messages/drunken ramblings. We have a history of previews on our site, and, in doing research for this piece, I've noticed that they've been pretty much all been written by my...well, I almost said friend. How about "guy I made the mistake of mentioning doing a blog to", Moose. Since PPP has brilliantly devised a way for people to do his work for him (just by asking, you conniving bastard!) and to do a Leafs season preview, I thought I'd look and see what Moose wrote about the Leafs in his NHL season preview a mere year ago:
3. Toronto Maple Leafs: After writing that about Ottawa, I suddenly want to put the Leafs 2nd. See Leafs fans, you've improved already! Ironically, the Leafs look a lot like the Oilers on paper. Good goaltending, dangerous PP, but concerns about secondary scoring and defence. I think the addition of Jason Blake and another year of development from Wellwood, Steen, and Ponikarovsky, should allow them to score enough goals. The defence is still a concern. It's strange how hard I try to like, no, accept the Leafs for Greener's sake. Fuck, I'm a really good friend.
A few things. First, I am not his friend. I can't stipulate that enough. Secondly, this was after he chose Buffalo to win the Northeast with the Leafs third and Montreal 4th! And lastly, who the fuck cares what he just wrote about Ottawa! This was during a dark period in our blogs' history when Moose actually wrote a lot, usually about a team in the Western Conference...The Something Somethings...oh, who cares. The point is...here's He Score He Shoot's Leafs Season Preview!
Joining me on the journey will be my compatriot on this Blue and White Brick Road, Norte! Yes! Awesome! Who cares! Well, we're going head to head today, point/counterpoint style. It's He Score, He Shoot: He Said, He Said. Or: "HS/HS/HS/HS"
GREENER: I've written recently about my Zen master's ability to put aside all yearning for the seemingly unreasonable things in my Leafs life, like "a Stanley Cup win", or "a playoff berth". Such are the whimsical fantasies of a child-like, yet sexily handsome (...ladies...?) young dreamer. I know the truest path towards the Leafs 08/09 season fulfillment, and it's through the forest of realistic expectations.
With the Leafs this truly begins and ends with the forwards. There's not a lot to demand out of this group, just a lot of possible surprises to be had. Can Nik Antropov finally build on a great career season and, you know, be good for two years in a row for the first time ever? Can he pull guys like Ponikarovsky along with him? I hope the Leafs don't rely on Nikki too much in the leadership department. I don't think he's the "respond to responsibility" type of guy. Too much pressure and he's more the "Wow, Nik must have the flu again" dude. He slumped last year while wearing an 'A', so lets just quietly ignore him and let him score 25 goals, shall we?
Another couple of mysterians are A. Steen and M. Stajan. Poised on greatness (ok then, goodness) for so long, this really is a case of since Mats isn't around to carry everyone, look for one or both of these guys to be significantly better. Stajan must hear a lot of the "future captain" talk, and if it's his ring to grab...then, uh, he must grab it! (nailed that one.)
In the TBD file, I'm putting any number of Grabovski's, Kulemin's unt Hagman's. I've been tantalized by promises of hot-shotness before (and I still think Alexander Suglobov can make the team), so I'll just let these dudes go out and have fun and delight in playing in the greatest uniform since nudity. If they want to score 20 apiece and dangle Chris Phillips out of his tiny jr. jock, then fine by me.
Lastly, I want to say that I actually got excited by Ryan Hollweg's suspension today. I can't wait till the Leafs start being those guys again. The kind that used to be detestable for all the best reasons. My darling Darcy could only do so much after Domi and Roberts left. I'm fucking happy that if the Leafs have to lose a game, then at least they'll kick the Jesus Christ out of the opposing team for doing it.
NORTE: I wish it were only a question of diet, and a simple answer of not enough meat as to why the Toronto Maple Leaf forward core are the most anemic crew since the Vegan information tent at last year's Lilith Fair. I don't want to say these guys are a bunch of pansies, but yesterday my neighbors Dalmatian took a dump on Anton Stralman.
And when you get called out by your own GM (and I don't care how much reverse psychology was spun into it, it's not motivating to hear your own GM say there's only 1 top 6 forward on the team, it's like your Mom telling you you're ugly. When you hear that - guess what, you're an absolute bowser.) I have to give over to Greener about this year- His Kung Fu starring David Carradine machinations and fortune cookie soundbites regarding what can't kill him only making him stronger. He's correct. When your expectations are at absolute zero, something is better than nothing.
Our absolute zero, looks like Blake (who in this mulligan free year must re-connect with his inner-Tikkanen) and Antropov (who absolutely must not carry the weight of no Sundin on his shoulders.) Centered by Stajan. That hurts a little to even type. Should he be the Leafs 1st line center? I dunno. Should I expect anything even remotely first line from him? Meh. Yet do I expect Matt Stajan to play himself right into the Captaincy of the team? Shrugs.
If this line were an 80's Sitcom; "Perfect Strangers"
Of course with guaranteed spots also going to Poni, Steen and Moore, guys like Grabovski, Tlusty, Hagman, Mitchell, Devereuax, Mayers, Hollweg and Kulemin will be sprinkled like salt on the boiled chicken of the rest of our lines. And it pains me to say this, although Sensei says it shouldn't, that some, if not most of these guys will also do duty on the first line this year.
Dominic Moore played himself into the roll of 2nd line center by showing more hustle than a Van McCoy reunion cruise. Does it make me want to vom in my own mouth that Dominic Moore is our 2nd line center? Lalalalalalala - I can't hear you...lalalalalala - sticks fingers in ears. He is winged by Poni and Steen. When I close my eyes and wish upon the stars, this sounds like a pretty good line. But the I CHING tells me not to give a crap about that because I fear this line will never gel. And it goes without saying that Steen needs to be like last years' Antropov.
80's Sitcom Comparison: "Alf "
After that, this free for all includes a lot of seat-fillers. A 3rd line, with nothing set in stone, as some of these guys have been put on waivers, but I will say Hagman, Williams and Tlusty.
80's Sitcom Comparison: "Benson"
Watch for Devereaux, Hollweg, Mayers, Bell and Grabovski to enjoy the amenities of the Comfort Inn in Milwaukee when they play the Admirals when not playing on the first line.
80's Sitcom Comparison: "Punky Brewster"
GREENER: How fortuitous that a defense-minded coach like Ron Wilson inherits a club with so many dreamy D men. While the Leafs perhaps have a couple or three too many puck movers like Kaberle and Stralman, Cliff Fletcher has balanced out the ticket with ex-navy Seals like J. Frogren and M. Van Ryn. If Van Ryn can retain his health and play physically, say like, off the top of my head, Bryan McCabe from 3 years ago, that is a great plus. Kubina and his 2-way game keep getting better, and should finally look like a relative bargain with his 5 M salary. To put it in perspective: Wade Redden makes 6.5 M. Fuck Wade Redden. Is it crazy to think of Colaiacovo as a full-time Leaf? Of course it is. But a little Carlo goes a long way, and again, with limited expectations (ie: don't try be Chris Pronger every game), I see Carlo being strong, solid and gobbling up #3 minutes.
The D will get a lot of work done this season under Wilson, and I think the Leafs have the best combination in a long time to match those demands. As for Luke Schenn, the Leafs have the kind of problem they should be having every year: do they keep their top and best draft pick up, because he's been fantastic and deserves to stay, or err on the side of caution and send him down for seasoning? Whether or not Schenn stays with the club after 10 regular season games (I don't think he will), the Leafs have already provided us with a real and needed light upon which we can train out telescopes, in this the first of too many re-building years to come.
NORTE: I have to admit that I love the Leafs defense. Perhaps love is too strong a word. I like the Leafs defense a lot. I wouldn't marry their defense but I wouldn't cheat on it on vacation either. I like that there are 10 quality defensemen fighting for 7 spots and that not one of them is named Wozniewski. I love that one of them is a 5th overall pick, and that at 18 years old was good enough in camp to even be considered for the team. When I was 18 I still cried when I got pimples. Do I believe he will overlap his probation period of 9 games, no. Do I believe we will see the man in the boy? Yes. Yes, I do.
To me the Leafs defense is the most encouraging thing going for the team. It's less a bitter pill than the forwards, more like a cucumber sandwich made with a meely cuke.
The obvious Leaf studs are Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina. Besides the fact that they're both obvious top 2s, they'll eat the most minutes and play the point. I worry that Kaberle will take less shots this year as he will constantly be setting up Kubina's great low shot. Besides, both know that 9 times out of 10 a "trhni sih nohou voleh" will get you a "vyser si voko".
Also does anyone remember Wilson saying that had the Sharks acquired Kubina at last seasons' deadline , he wouldn't be the coach of the Leafs right now? In non-gay man-crush terms, that's like getting down on one knee and proposing. I look at this line as our obvious number 1. Game in, game out, playing them, is tantamount to chumming the waters.
If this line were a Hollywood movie soundtrack: "The Mission"
The second line pairing. To me this is all about a phrase we are going to hear a hundred times this year: make it or break it. If the Leafs can be accused of letting guys go too early, than they can also be accused of holding onto players too long. This year that honour belongs to Carlo Colaiacovo. Maybe even more so than Steen and Stajan, Colaiacovo has to prove he isn't made of popsicle sticks. As this has got to be Carlo's coming out year, his make it and not break it. I hope- and I know this is strange to say considering how soft the Leafs are- that Carlo plays less physically. He seems to get into the most trouble when he's trying to be Scott Stevens, so for that reason I hope to see him paired with Jeff Finger. Granted Finger isn't really known for his physical play (or his offensive play either) but I believe under Wilson's tutelage, he (Finger) will allow Carlo the room to play hockey. I also see this unit playing a big shutdown roles, and being a big part of (what I believe will be) an improved Maple Leaf penalty kill.
Hollywood Movie Soundtrack: "Footloose."
3rd pairing: With Frogren and Stralman already having been paired at the Worlds, it makes sense that they'd be the Leafs #3 unit. That is very encouraging. Even though I believe this duo (which will also rotate Van Ryn in and out) will see the other team's weaker forwards, developing under Wilson, this allows Stralman a chance to be competitive offensively. For that same reason (it being a real development line) I see White as the odd man out. Although I did really like him and his right hand shot playing on the wing the other night.
Hollywood Movie Soundtrack: "Dirty Dancing". (w/ Ian White as She's Like The Wind by Patrick Swayze)
GREENER: One of the smart things that JFJ did during his reign of terror was sign Vesa Toskala to that premature contract extension. With former-former coach Wilson in charge of putting up walls of good D around Vesa, a good season of good numbers and a bad win/loss record is to follow. The games the Leafs will win will be because of him, and really that's how it should be. As for the losses, there will be a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 tallies in the box scores this season. The question with Curtis Joseph is, is a 41 year old Cujo better as Leafs back-up than say, a 31 year old Marc Denis? Money wise, yes. The same goes for the locker room. Cujo has a big role to play off the ice as well as on, and you can already smell the post-retirement job offer the alumni crazy Leafs must be making him.
NORTE: As last season came to a close I began to wonder if Mr. Hakim Optical, Paul Maurice, had started Toskala as the #1 from the start of the season, would the Leafs have made the playoffs? Granted, nobody could have predicted Andrew Raycroft would have been a terrible as he is...pardon me...was...and playing yourself into number 1 sounds good in a media scrum but it failed the Leafs badly. The Brotherhood of the Mask insists that I say that I hope it didn't completely destroy young Raycroft. (Cos I know the moustache was just a way to mask the pain). But I am glad to see him gone. Toskala is a number 1 goalie and a very good one. I see this team losing a lot of games, potentially all 82, but I don't see Toskala getting blown out.
Now we have prodigal son Jo-sieve back in the fold. All is forgotten buddy. You and your eyebrow are welcome in my uniform any time. Truth be told, I love him in this role. It's a feel good signing of course, but who better to mentor our youngins (Mssrs. Reimer and Pogge) than Cujo?
I see him playing more games than Raycroft did (I'm thinking 18 -20) and winning more than Raycroft could. However I also see him until the trade deadline where he gets shipped out for a 5th rounder.
THE OUTSIDERS CHARACTER COMPARISON :
Toskala - Ponyboy Curtis
Joseph - Sodapop Curtis
Raycroft - Johnny Cade
There you have it, He Score/He Shoot's He Said/He Said. Brought to you by your friends Greener and Norte, c/o the great PPP. We hope you enjoyed us it.
Contemporary Design Comparison:
Greener: Mies van der Rohe
Norte: Le Corbusier
PPP: Frank Lloyd Wright