Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Canadian Sports Broadcasting Power Rankings

#221 Rance Mulliniks
If I turn on the Jays game and Rance is the analyst you better believe my TV is on mute while my iTunes takes over, at least for the first six innings. Because nine innings listening to Mulliniks attempt to predict the next pitch, or gush about the last pitch is too much for me to handle. He just talks and talks and talks, continuing stories from previous innings, through pitching changes, and probably through a blackout if Toronto ever got hit with another one.

#146 Michael Landsberg
Even with the improvements made to Off The Record (Up Front and Next Question), I'm not likely to tune in unless the guest is someone big. Really big, like Kanye big. I have to give Landsberg credit for being unafraid to ask the tough questions though. He'll challenge his guests and pushes the envelope considerably further than almost everyone else in the business, but it doesn't make up for how obnoxious he is. When Tony Kornheiser interrupts someone I enjoy it, Landsberg...not so much.

#53 Leo Rautins
Leo has a great voice, he sounds like a broadcaster, he's got that smooth flowing tone and he almost never trips over his own words. With the departure of Chuck Swirsky, his partner for Raptor broadcasts, it'll be interesting to see how Rautins reacts. Part of my problem with him has been his lack of intensity, I thought he and Chuck were too quick to ham it up during broadcasts but that may have been more Chuck's schtick with Leo just following suit. His analysis isn't always that strong either, there's a lot of: "Raptors need to come out and hit their shots", or "No defence Chuck, Sam's gonna have to call timeout. Good timeout by Sam".

#24 Jay Onrait
My choice as the funniest person on the list. I wouldn't say he knows the NHL inside out or even has a clue which cities have teams in the NBA, but the man can joke. He'll take chances when going for a laugh and realize right away when it it didn't work, and he'll clean it up with a quick facial segue or self-deprecating comment. Sportscenter should give him a nightly gig modeled after Saturday Night Live's 'Weekend Update' segment, Onrait could show whatever highlights he wanted from the day and just pour one-liners on top. If Gerry Dee can get his own spot, surely Onrait deserves a chance.

#9 Jennifer Hedger
Always seems like she's having a good time, like she actually cares about the results she's reading. I think Hedger understands how many of us out there care way too much about the scores and stories she reports and works hard to not let us down. Do you think Hedger plays fantasy sports? Would she play in a men's league? Maybe she's started her own leagues for women and is the commissioner for all of them? Someone should look into this.

#6 Cabral "Cabbie" Richards
I've been a fan of Cabbie's for years now. He lights up the screen and has an unbelievable ability to put athletes at ease while he interviews them. His antics are always entertaining, but now I'm at the point where I'd like to see something fresh from him and his man D. No more laying your chin on a guy's shoulder or flicking all your fingers in someone's face while questioning them. C'mon Cabbie, we know you can do so much more.

#4 Bob McKenzie
When Bobby Mac talks hockey, I listen. His word is the gospel.

#3 Don Cherry
At the ripe old age of 74 Cherry comes across a lot more ignorantly than he used to, but 'Coach's Corner' is still must-see TV. The Don is hard to understand at times because he rambles and is somewhat incoherent, but he still has his finger on the pulse of hockey. He can spot the talented player or the talented team from a mile away and is often the first to do so.

#2 Sid Seixero & Tim Micallef
The boys from the 'Score Tonight' have taken a huge step forward the last few years and now rank as my favorite tandem when it comes to delivering the evenings highlights. They laugh at and with each other and usually offer the most in-depth game highlights of any of the Canadian broadcasters.

#1 Darren Dutchyshen
The industry standard in Canada, Dutchy has been a staple for more than a decade on Sportscenter and combines humour with straightforward highlight delivery like no one else in the business. Classic Dutchyshen: A couple of years ago when Keith Tkachuck showed up to training camp with 20+ extra pounds and then took a shot off his mitt during an exhibition game, Dutchy remarks "Oh oh, I hope that wasn't his eatin' hand".

Friday, September 26, 2008

Blue Jays Preview Review

This was the Blue Jays preview I wrote back in April, before this blog existed.

It was also before we knew unequivocally that Scott Rolen was done. Most everyone not named J.P. suspected as much, now we know for sure. Thank goodness we only owe him $24M over the next two years.

I clearly dismissed Tampa Bay but I'm not sure how many people correctly picked the baby Rays to contend. And maybe Britney is bouncing back. Who knew?

April 1/08

Every year it feels more and more like I'm cheering against the RedSox and Yanks, and less for the Blue Jays. Maybe I shouldn't say less, it's just that hope no longer springs eternal. At least not in the AL East.

Going into the season most Jays fans realize that we need a perfect storm to make the playoffs. And even when that perfect storm presents itself (2006), most of our guys will probably get injured along the way. Or end up fighting the manager.

The GM is a magician, no question about it. He came here seven years ago when Toronto was firmly entrenched in 3rd in the AL East. As I type this, Toronto has the look of a 3rd place team for the 2008 season. In the time between now and when Mr.Riccardi arrived, the Jays have been almost exclusively in 3rd. Well done JP, you've really raised the bar.

I guess I could pretend to be optimistic, but I fancy myself more of a realist. And this is what I know: a $200 million roster and a $160 million roster, armed with extra wiggle room if needed, are almost always better than a $90 million roster. The notable exception would be if that $90 million roster was young and improving. I'm not sure that Frank Thomas, Matt Stairs and Greg Zaun fit that description.

Bright spots? Sure. The pitching staff figures to be one of the best in baseball. In Halladay, Burnett, McGowan and Marcum, Toronto has one of the deepest starting rotations in the majors, and when BJ Ryan returns the bullpen will feature a number of quality arms. But the line-up is still extremely one-dimensional. While the rest of the league moves forward with youth, defence and speed, the Jays are once again built for the steroid era. This team would look great in 1998. Unfortunately for us (and Britney Spears), it's 2008.

There's been a lot of talk about the overall depth of the roster, about how Toronto is two-deep at many positions and thus insulated against injury better than in the past. To this I respond: if Marco Scutaro, John Macdonald, Shannon Stewart and Rod Barajas are depth and insurance, our farm system is in absolute shambles.

This is the part of the preview where I try to applaud the Glaus for Rolen trade, but it already feels like I'm going thru the motions on it. Swapping two broken-down former all-stars on the downside of their careers? Yawn. When you factor in how much Rolen and his former manager hated each other, you would think Rolen is set up perfectly for a bounceback season. Then you take the goggles off and realize he's already on the DL, and is probably making room for AJ.

What it all boils down to is this: perhaps the best part of the winter for the Jays was when Johan Santana ended up going to the Mets, staying out of the AL East. Small victories.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Last One, I Promise

First of all, I apologize for another Leafs column, this will most assuredly be the last for a while. I know many of you out there despise the Leafs and really, there are several other noteworthy subjects to discuss.

But I just can't help myself. Mistake after mistake from the Leaf organization, it's like watching Perez Hilton play scrabble.

The word around training camp is that Toronto has guaranteed a roster spot to defenceman Jonas Frogen, the 28 year-old Swede who will make his NHL debut this fall. I'm not complaining about this at all. Frogen is signed to a reasonable $1.065M per year contract, by all accounts played well at the World Championships last year in Quebec, and is precisely the type of low risk-low cost free agent the Leafs should be building with.

The real question is why they would they sign Jeff Finger to a four year $14M contract? It's not like this team was one mid-level defenceman away from winning the Stanley Cup, or even being legitimate contenders. Last time I checked, being able to score a goal was instrumental in being able to win a game. With the set of forwards GM Cliff Fletcher has assembled, scoring will be a monumental challenge. (Exhibit A: Mikhail Grabovski is the #1 center.)

And the Leafs already had numerous other viable options to plug in on defence, none of whom would've eaten up nearly as much cap space as Finger. This is a rebuilding project that has no blueprint. The right move is to stockpile draft picks and bring in players who are either young or cheap or better yet, both.

Right now the Leafs have nine NHL defencemen in camp (Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Finger, Frogen, Mike Van Ryn, Carlo Colaiacovo, Anton Stralman, Staffan Kronwall and Ian White). Actually, scratch that. The correct number is eight because Ian White is an AHL defencemen, end of story. Luke Schenn, the 5th overall pick in this summers draft, has absolutely no business making this team regardless of how amazing he plays. It serves no long-term purpose to have him on the squad which is exactly why I'm terrified the organization will keep him around.

Any way you cut it, there are too many bodies. Someone has to go, either by trade, via the waiver wire, or being sent down to the minors. Which makes the case for signing Finger even more confusing. What did they gain by signing him? A worse spot in the draft lottery? He certainly won't be the difference between making or missing the playoffs and now he could end up forcing the Leafs to give up on a guy like Colaiacovo or Kronwall who may be just as good as Finger.

Toronto easily could have gone with Kubina, Kaberle, McCabe, Frogen, Stralman, Colaiacovo, and Kronwall on defence this year (Total Cap hit: $18.58M) and then moved McCabe at the trade deadline for draft picks and opened up significant cap space in the process. Instead they'll go with Kubina, Kaberle, Finger, Van Ryn, Frogen, Stralman and one of Colaiacovo/Kronwall/White (Total Cap hit: $17.45M) with the net result being a sacrificed 4th round draft pick (from the McCabe trade), and a worse cap situation in the long run.

The good news is that Brian Burke is officially nine months away from fixing this mess. The bad news is the Nik Antropov situation has to be dealt with before then.

Antropov is entering the final year of his contract and is coming off his most (only?) impressive season. My immediate reaction is to hope he continues to play well and put up points so the Leafs can get more in return for trading him at the deadline. But after more consideration, I'm scared a good start to the season will force Fletcher to offer Antropov a lucrative extension, since he is "our only top 6 forward".

I'm left staring straight-ahead blankly in disbelief while I consider living in a world where Nik Antropov makes $6M a year to play hockey.

On my team.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Top 10 Canadian Athletes in Pro Sports

With the NHL and NBA seasons about to begin, baseball getting ready for the playoffs and football well underway, I thought it was the appropriate time to take a look at the best Canadian athletes currently in the world of professional sports.

Again, that says professional, so don't be crying that Simon Whitfield or Cindy Klassen didn't make the cut.

And yes, I mentioned football in the opening but have no football players on the list. I was considering Nick Kaczur, Jesse Lumsden, and Jason Clermont but ultimately couldn't find room for them. Footballer Owen Hargreaves also received consideration, having been born and raised in Edmonton, but from what I can tell he was ready to suit up for Wales even before England came a knocking, so no love for him. Dwayne De Rosario has been a standout in the MLS, but that's a bit like picking the MVP of the AHL.

So with no further ado:

#10 Jason Bay - Boston Red Sox
Outfielder - Trail, British Columbia
After 4 1/2 years in baseball purgatory Bay was traded from Pittsburgh to Boston at this year's trade deadline and has instantly made an impact. His 8 HR and 34 RBI in 40 games while wearing the Red Sox jersey have helped ensure another postseason for Boston and made bar owners everywhere happy. (Who, outside of diehards and those with rooting interests, would watch the playoffs without either the Yanks or Sox to cheer against?) Bay will celebrate his 30th birthday on Saturday in Toronto and at some point over the next few days crack the 100 RBI mark for the third time in five big league seasons.

#9 Rich Harden - Chicago Cubs
Pitcher - Victoria, British Columbia
Eric Bedard and Jeff Francis have received more ink the last few years, but Harden is the most dynamic of the three Canadian hurlers. Of course the reason Bedard and Francis gained more accolades was because they actually made it to the field, unlike Harden who has missed most of the last three seasons with an assortment of arm problems. However, with the Cubbies set to make a run for the World Series, the oft-injured righty with electric stuff will have baseball's biggest stage to perform on. Hardens 2.04 ERA and 11.17 strikeouts per 9 innings this year are far and away the best of any starter in baseball. If he can remain healthy (an that's a gigantic IF) Harden has a chance to join or maybe even surpass Ferguson Jenkins and earn eternal sunshine from the Wrigley faithful.

#8 Vincent Lecavalier - Tampa Bay Lightning
Center – Ile Bizard, Quebec
If you had asked me five years ago who would have the better career, Lecavalier or Joe Thornton my answer would've been Thornton in a heartbeat. Now, it has to be Vinny. He's one of the scariest players to have breaking in on you as a defencemen because he has so many different ways to beat you: speed, power, finesse, deft passing. Some guys do one or two of those things well and have good careers. Lecavalier has them all and can do it in the playoffs. (Sorry Joe). He also did a great job portraying Jean Beliveau in the 'Rocket' film (which if you've never seen, is absolutely worth watching), and happens to have the biggest contract ($77M over 9 years) of anyone on the list, which I feel is definitely worth something.

#7 Russell Martin - Los Angeles Dodgers
Catcher - Montreal, Quebec
In only his third big league season the Montreal native has become one of the best all-around catchers in the majors, and is astoundingly durable having put together back-to-back years of 145+ games caught. Martin, a two-time All-Star, has stolen 38 bases over the last two years, a career OBP of .371, and the best catcher ERA in the game. He may or may not be dating Alyssa Milano, but then again you could probably say that for half the Dodgers so no bonus points there.

#6 Mike Weir - PGA Tour golfer
Bright's Grove, Ontario
The 2003 Masters champion has eight career PGA Tour wins and is currently the 15th ranked player in the world. Consistently one of the Tour's best wedge players, Weir had two near-misses in the first two events of the 2008 FedEx Cup playoffs and appears to be regaining the form that allowed him to rise to #3 in the world five years ago. Have you ever noticed that NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller, who is notoriously critical (read: awesome) of everyone, has a soft spot for his fellow Brigham Young University graduate? Most guys make a mistake and Miller shreds them, Weirsy coughs one up and Johnny makes excuses. Just sayin’.

#5 Jarome Iginla - Calgary Flames
Right Wing - Edmonton, Alberta
The only player to make this list who actually plays for a Canadian squad, Iginla is consistently among the league leaders in goal scoring and might be the best captain in the NHL. Iginla's 252 goals over the last 6 seasons are the most in the league during that span and his combination of power and skill is unmatched in the world of hockey. I can only imagine the joy a Flames fan feels when Jarome puts one in the net and reaches to take out his mouth guard while a huge smile erupts from his face. And getting that feeling up to 50 times a year? Priceless.

#4 Martin Brodeur - New Jersey Devils
Goaltender - Montreal, Quebec
The Three time Stanley Cup champion will go down as the greatest goalie the NHL has ever seen and will own several records including the two biggest for a goalie: most wins and most shutouts. Brodeur has never fully gotten the respect he deserves because pundits all across the league argued his stats were artificial due to the suffocating defensive style his teams used. But that's a copout. Brodeur has been consistently excellent far longer than anyone has the right to be and deserves to be celebrated. He's Barry Bonds without the asterisks.

#3 Justin Morneau - Minnesota Twins
First Base - New Westminster, British Columbia
The two-time All-Star and 2006 AL MVP has been the best first baseman in the American League the last three years, dominating opposing pitching while piling up home runs and RBI's at a rate no Canadian has ever matched. If his buddy Joe Mauer can stay healthy and provide some protection, Morneau could surpass Larry Walker's all-time Canadian record of 383 home runs.

#2 Steve Nash - Phoenix Suns
Point Guard - Victoria, British Columbia
The two-time NBA MVP is the man most responsible for ushering the NBA into the aesthetically pleasing and team-oriented game we see today. He's lead the league in assists 3 out of the last 4 years and hasn't finished outside the top 3 in 5 years. Nash made passing and playing as a team cool again. Even though Chris Paul and Derron Williams have probably climbed ahead of him in the point guard rankings and a whole slew of other players are closing in on him, Nash remains an elite floor general and one of the best three point and free throw shooters ever.

#1 Sidney Crosby - Pittsburgh Penguins
Center - Halifax, Nova Scotia
Entering his fourth season Crosby has become the face of the NHL and is arguably the best hockey player in the world. When it comes to skill and excitement, only Alexander Ovechkin can match Sid the Kid, and Crosby is almost two full years younger. With 294 career points at the tender age of 21, Sid could conceivably join the Great One as the only players to ever surpass the 2000 point plateau.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Team Canada 2010

With the news Monday that Wayne Gretzky will not return as the executive director of the Canadian Olympic hockey team for the upcoming Vancouver Games in 2010 (Gretz took himself out of the running for the GM position, but is still interested in other roles), speculation will run rampant until a new leader is named.

Will it be a tag-team effort from Ken Holland and Steve Yzerman? Maybe Kevin Lowe or Brian Burke? Or if Team Canada really wanted to take the pressure off the players and move it to management, how about both Lowe and Burke together?

The possibilities are almost endless, as will be the rumours that are sure to whip Canadian hockey fans into a frenzy. When it comes to hockey, and more specifically Canadian hockey, we're like 13 year-old girls at a Jonas Brothers concert.

But my question is, does it really matter? I mean, couldn't 90% of the Canadian public put together this roster, or at least 3/4 of it?

The way I see it, 11 forwards are absolute locks for the squad that will attempt to recapture gold in Vancouver:

Jarome Iginla
Sidney Crosby
Vincent Lecavalier
Dany Heatley
Ryan Getzlaf
Rick Nash
Eric Staal
Joe Thornton
Mike Richards
Brendan Morrow
Shane Doan

Yes, there are six centers in that line-up, but I don't see how any of them can be left off the roster. Two of Staal, Vinny and Getzlaf will have to play the wing. The checking-line is set with Morrow, Doan and Mike Richards.

From the looks of it, Canada will be searching for a winger to play in it's top 9 and a 13th forward, one of whom has to be able to kill penalties. If Simon Gagne is healthy and returns to form this season, he fills in the first slot. So all the bubble guys (Jonathan Toews, Martin St.Louis, Jeff Carter, Brad Richards, Patrick Sharp, Nathan Horton, Scott Hartnell, Jordan Staal, Patrice Bergeron, Sean Avery) will be battling for the final spot up front.

Just kidding. The only way Sean Avery will be in Vancouver for the Olympics is if Vogue needs a coffee boy.

One final thought on the front end: Would it be totally ridiculous to consider selecting a shootout specialist? If we've learned anything over the past 15 years in international competition, it's that every game has the potential to be decided by a shootout and odds are that at least one of the biggest games will be. So why not make Toews or Sam Gagner lucky number 13?

The makeup of the back end is in a transitional stage and competition is wide open. Chris Pronger, Dion Phaneuf and Brian Campbell will definitely be on the team. If Scott Niedermayer doesn't retire (or unretire's at any point) he's an automatic. After that, things are pretty hazy. You have several young guys who all have different skillsets but roughly the same amount of overall ability (Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Green, Shea Webber, Dan Hamhuis, Marc Staal) and a few leftovers from the old guard who may or may not have enough left to make a contribution (Robyn Regehr, Wade Redden, Dan Boyle, Ed Jovanovski, Scott Hannan).

One unmentioned name thus far, and a guy who I believe will make the team is Minnesota defenceman Brent Burns. His NHL stats have improved every year and he was easily Canada's best defenceman at the last World Hockey Championship.

Barring injury it's safe to assume Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo will be the first two goalies named to the team, and rightfully so. Marty is perhaps the best goalie ever to play and certainly the most consistently dependable goalie we've seen in 20 years. Luongo didn't have a great season last year, but when it comes to goaltending it's still those two and then everybody else.

Traditionally Canada has gone with a younger goalie as the third string which is bad news for guys like Marty Turco and J.S. Giguere who probably won't have a shot. When you consider the number of young goalies (Cam Ward, M.A. Fleury, Carey Price, Pascal Leclaire) who have developed nicely and have all worn the Maple Leaf in international competition (and won), it's likely the Team Canada brass will again take this route with the selection.

In the end whomever gets the GM job will only have a handful of genuinely tough decisions. He'll have to settle on a couple forwards, perhaps three or four defencemen and a 3rd string goalie who will never see the ice anyway.

So while Hockey Canada and the national media will conduct a full-fledged and all-encompassing search, hyping up the candidates and staging a dramatic selection process so they can find the "right man" to lead us back to Olympic Gold, most people have already figured out who will make the team.

Basically there isn't a wrong pick when the roster is this obvious. Not to say the position as executive director of our Olympic Hockey team isn't important or honourable because it absolutely is. It's just that I would trust almost any Canadian with a pulse to do it.

As long as it's not Cliff Fletcher or John Ferguson Jr., I think we'll be okay.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where's the Racquet?

After a remarkable Wimbledon final in July and two weeks of prime time television for the US Open (which wrapped up Monday with the fabulous Roger Federer claiming his 13th Grand Slam title), it seems tennis is making a bit of a comeback.

I have yet to hear people talking about their fantasy tennis leagues, but in terms of buzz and media attention, tennis is definitely on the rise.

And if you're a sports fan that's a good thing. Because even though we love hockey and/or basketball and/or baseball and/or football, there's always room for more, provided you can find someone or something to which you can attach yourself.

And that is where the problem begins for Canadians. As a country we have been starved for legitimate tennis talent. We are famished. Where is the Canadian version of Roger Federer or Serena Williams?

The only Canadian ever ranked inside the top 10 in singles on either professional tour was Carling Bassett, who ascended to No.8 in the mid 80's and even made the semi-finals of the US Open in 1984. Helen Kelesi reached as high as 13th in 1989. Patricia Hy got to 28th in 1993. Glenn Michibata rose to 48th in 1986 and Andrew Sznajder matched his ranking in 1989. Jill Hetherington hit No.64 in 1988 and Grant Connell made it all the way to 67th in the world in 1991. Sebastien Lareau topped out at 76th in 1995.

That's it, that's our list. The players mentioned combined to win a few mid-level tournaments but overall their collective accomplishments were less than impressive. To say our performance as Canadians in the tennis world has been disappointing might be too much of a compliment. Awful, pathetic, and sorry are probably more appropriate descriptions.

And not to take anything away from Daniel Nestor and his four Grand Slam doubles titles or the Olympic Gold he won with Sebastien Lareau in Sydney, but doubles tennis is just not the same. It doesn't resonate with the sporting world the same way as singles play does.

Some people are quick to point out that Greg Rusedski was born and raised in Canada, but he ultimately decided to compete under the British flag after a falling out with Tennis Canada. Rusedski was a total knucklehead (often complaining like he was Jon McEnroe) and generally acted like a big baby, but he did reach the US Open finals in 1997 and was the No.4 player in the world later that year. Mary Pierce was born in Montreal but grew up in the States and later claimed allegiance to France. She won the Australian Open in 1995, the French in 2000 and reached a career-high 3rd in the rankings in 1995.

If either of Rusedski or Pierce had committed to playing for Canada our tennis history might be significantly different. Maybe they would have inspired hundreds of young Canadians to take up the sport, or allowed them to realistically dream of following in their footsteps. Instead we've been in virtual hibernation for more than 10 years.

Which brings us to the present and Aleksandra Wozniak and Frank Dancevic, who are currently Canada's top two tennis talents. After winning a second tier event in Stanford earlier this summer, Wozniak rose to 41st in the rankings. Dancevic won a main event last year in Indianapolis and hit No.65 in the world in September 2007 but is now outside the top 100. Neither appears capable of changing the Canadian tennis landscape.

The first Canadian to ever crack the top 100 singles rankings was Rejean Genois who did it in the 70's. Four decades later and we haven't made much progress.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Each day is more painful than the one before it

With a headline like that you'd probably think I was going through a tough time personally, having suffered the loss of a close friend or contracted some strange virus.

But thankfully it's not like that. Simply put: I am a Leafs fan.

I love hockey, love the NHL, and like many others I follow the pro game very closely. But the Maple Leafs are my team. And it just hurts so bad.

Since the lockout year in 2004-05, the Leafs have been trending down and it doesn't appear they've bottomed out yet. Two near-misses from playoff action were followed by a 23rd place performance last year, and a bottom five (perhaps three even?) seems inevitable for this coming season.

When the Leafs fired John Ferguson Jr. as GM I accepted the second coming of Cliff Fletcher only because I assumed Brian Burke (or Scotty Bowman or maybe even Ken Holland) would be taking over in the summer and Fletcher would just be keeping the GM's seat warm in the meantime. Okay, maybe I didn't assume it would be any of those names mentioned above. 'Hoped' is probably closer to the truth, maybe even 'wished'. Anyway, the point is that I believed someone, anyone, would be hired to right the ship.

Eight months later I feel like Adam Sandler in 'Reign Over Me', my headphones glued to my ears protecting me from the outside world, quickly changing the subject should I find myself in a situation where someone mentions the Leafs.

After watching Fletcher mishandle the entire Mats Sundin drama (first at the trade deadline, then again this summer), trade valuable draft picks for 3rd and 4th liners (Grabovski, Mayers), buy out Darcy Tucker for a net savings of almost nil, throw borderline insane free agent dollars at marginal talent (Finger, Hagman) and tie up valuable future cap space, it's clear the Silver Fox is not merely holding down the fort. He's making plans. He's putting his stamp on the team instead of clearing the deck for the next guy. In short: Cliff Fletcher is more Rob Babcock than Wayne Embry.

By all accounts, Bryan McCabe will be traded on Tuesday. The Leafs will finally rid themselves of a defenceman they openly announced they no longer wanted. Apparently the deal, McCabe to Florida for Mike Van Ryn, was agreed to a few weeks ago but has been held up by a roster bonus due to McCabe on September 1st. The bonus was $2M and payable by the team that held his rights on that day which of course is why the trade won't officially happen until Sept.2nd. That means in the final three years of his contract Florida will pay McCabe a very reasonable $12.45M (only $4.15M a year). Including the Sept.1st bonus, Toronto will have paid McCabe $16.3 million for two years.

Unless the idea is to further sabotage the team's chances, why make this trade? Van Ryn is a fourth or fifth defenceman who can't stay healthy. His $3.35M salary for each of the next two seasons is only slightly cheaper than what McCabe will earn and Van Ryn isn't half the player.

On the other hand, if the idea is indeed to sabotage, to get worse at whatever cost, well, surely there could have been easier (and more beneficial) ways to do it. Oh I don't know, maybe you hold on to the draft picks you just traded for? Or go with a much younger and greener team to ensure another lottery position?

Certainly giving away a power play specialist defenceman who can play 25 minutes a night and cutting a consistent 20 goal scorer who wears his heart on his sleeve are not the right moves. Why give away assets at the absolute bottom of their value? Especially when you have to turn around and replace them?

Why sign mediocre free agents to long-term deals in the middle of a rebuilding plan? Why continue to bring back former stars, both on and off the ice, who are well past their glory days? When will management get proactive and decide to follow the lead of the Red Sox and Yankees and start outspending teams in areas that aren't capped like scouting and player development?

Such is life as a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many, many questions. Very few logical answers.

It's been 41 long years since the Stanley Cup was paraded down Yonge St. by a victorious Leaf squad. After a fair amount of playoff success and a couple of close calls in the final years leading up to the lockout produced reason to believe...times have again grown grim.