Thursday, December 18, 2008

Random Thoughts a Week Before Christmas

Who at this point of the NHL and NBA seasons correctly predicted the Leafs to be closer to a playoff position than the Raptors? Anyone? Buhler?

When thinking of the Raptors’ current situation (mostly with my face in my hands and shaking my head) I can’t help but be reminded of the classic Ron Burgundy line from ‘Anchorman’: “Boy, that escalated quickly…I mean that really got out of hand fast!” From a 3-0 start, to firing Sam Mitchell only 16 games in, to an awful 5-8 record at home.

At least Chris Bosh looks fresh.

And two things about the Leafs:

1) Brian Burke has been in Toronto for nearly three weeks and we’ve hardly heard a peep out of him. I wasn’t expecting daily appearances on the Up Front segment of ‘Off the Record’ or one-on-one interviews with the Star or Globe taking readers inside his new Rosedale digs, but…nothing? Couldn’t someone from the middle of the media scrum lob in a Kevin Lowe question and then duck? Is that too much to ask?

2) For all the Leaf fans salivating at the thought of pushing Tomas Kaberle out of town: Calm down. His salary is a very reasonable $4.15M a year. Or less than Mathieu Schneider, Ron Hainsey, Lubomir Visnovsky, Kim Johnsson, Sheldon Souray, Roman Hamrlik, Michal Rozsival, Wade Redden, and Eric Brewer. Would you really take any of those players over Kaberle? I wouldn’t. Has he looked great this year? No. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still extremely valuable (perhaps the Leafs' best player) and again, is tremendously affordable. Unless a team wants to overpay, I don’t think Burke moves him. How do you replace what Kaberle provides at that price moving forward?

As for a certain former Maple Leaf Captain who is reportedly set to join the Rangers, I ask: What happened to your refusing to be dealt at last year’s deadline because you “never believed in the concept of a rental player” and felt that to truly appreciate winning a Stanley Cup “you have to have been part of the entire journey and that means October through June.”

If your goaltending tandem consists of Alex Auld and Martin Gerber, and your defence is as mobile as Kurt Warner in the pocket, can you really be surprised or upset that you find yourself on the outside of the playoff race?

In Montreal fans and media alike are jumping all over the Habs powerplay (or lack thereof after going 2 for their last 37 which has plummeted the unit all the way to 29th in the league) and overall lack of intensity and urgency, but I think Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey are quietly comfortable with their position. This season, the 100th in the illustrious history of the Canadiens, was always going to be a grind no matter how it played out. With the extra CBC games providing even more exposure, the huss and fuss over the All-Star Game including the ballot-stuffing efforts of the local faithful, and the plethora of impending free agents, expectations and pressure could easily get out of hand in Montreal. The ‘slow’ start has tempered that, and it’s probably a good thing in the long run. Let Boston deal with the spotlight for now and focus on building momentum towards the playoffs.

While I wrote that paragraph the San Jose Sharks won three more times and now have a remarkable 124 points through 30 games.

The NHL isn’t exactly experiencing a scoring renaissance: Total goals per game are up slightly, but still remain at less than 6 per contest, a far cry from the free-wheeling days of the 80’s and early 90’s. On the flip side however, more players are stepping up their production to the point that we could see the league’s largest group of bonafide snipers since the turn of the century. As of this morning five players are on pace for 50 goal seasons (Ovechkin, Vanek, Carter, Kessel, Parise) and another eight are on pace for 40+ goals (Sharp, Gagne, Iginla, Marleau, Hossa, Boyes, Setoguchi, Zetterberg).

Fantasy Sports tangent: For me, Kessel is a player whose performance is bitter sweet. I drafted him each of the last two years expecting him to break out only to suffer through terrible seasons. This year I stayed away and sure enough he summons his inner Ovechkin and goes on a tear. It’s times like these when I consider whether investing so much time admiring or cursing my roster, and contemplating trades is worth it. (Thinking...) Yes. Yes it is.

The best part of Angelo Esposito finally making the World Junior Team in his fourth attempt was not having to watch him give another choked-up interview at six in the morning minutes after being cut. That would have been tough.

A month into baseball’s free agent season the Yankees have spent $250 million upgrading their rotation and the Rays and Red Sox will both return nearly every key player from last year’s playoff rosters. The Jays answer? Signing Matt Clement and Adam Loewen to minor league deals. Do the Orioles smell blood?

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