Sep 302009
 

I am sure you have all heard by now that Judge Baum has issued a ruling in the Phoenix bankruptcy case. In short his ruling states that he cannot award Balsillie the team and allow it to relocate to Hamilton because over ruling the NHL’s ability to choose its owners and the locations of the franchises is not something that can be done within the rules of a bankruptcy court. (sidenote: it may be possible in an anti-trust lawsuit though) With respect to the NHL’s bid, Judge Baum rejected it stating that the NHL can’t pick and choose which unsecured creditors get paid and which do not. Specifically, he stated that the NHL cannot choose to pay off in full most unsecured creditors while not leaving much money for Wayne Gretzky and Jerry Moyes, but he left the door open to the NHL to submit a revised bid. So where does that leave us now?

With respect to Balsillie, he has issued a statement saying he will not appeal the decision and has accepted the judges decision.

“From the beginning, my attempt to relocate the Coyotes to Hamilton has been about Canadian hockey fans and Canadian hockey. It was a chance to realize a dream. All I wanted was a fair chance to bring a seventh NHL team to Canada, to serve the best unserved hockey fans in the world. I believe I got that chance. I respect the court’s decision, and I will not be putting forward an appeal.”

“Nobody can deny that we are now a big step closer to having a seventh NHL team in Canada. It doesn’t matter who owns that team. When that day comes, I will be the first in line to buy a ticket to the home opener.”

“I want to take this opportunity to thank my family for all their love and support. I also want to thank the more than 200,000 fans who supported the bid online and the countless others who contacted me personally to show their support. This bid always was about the game we all love.”

It sounds as if Balsillie has given up on his quest to be an NHL owner, but he hasn’t outright stated that. Time will tell, but I’d be shocked if someone so eager to get an NHL franchise will five up on owning one forever. Maybe he will wait it out and take a mode passive approach. Maybe he brought on Doug MacLean in part to attempt to try and smooth things over with the other owners and attempt once again to try and get in the front door. Maybe he is going to wait until some NHL team comes calling for a new owner and the NHL is unable to find one. Maybe he is going to hope that the Coyotes situation doesn’t turn out well for the NHL and they get stuck with the team and stuck funding substantial losses and it all backfires on Bettman and he gets fired and a new commish is brought in with a new plan and direction for the league. Who knows what Balsillie has planned now, but I have a hard time believing that his quest for an NHL team is done for good.

As for the NHL, what is there game plan now. They have successfully blocked Balsillie from owning the team, but weren’t able to gain ownership themselves. But maybe that was the best possible outcome. Does the NHL really want to own the Coyotes? Is there really a benefit to the NHL to submit a revised bid and take ownership of the franchise or is it best to just let the franchise wallow in the bankruptcy court for the time being while the NHL works behind the scenes to scrounge up another suitable potential owner that will put in a bid in the coming months. Whether they own the team outright or the team remains in bankruptcy the situation is more or less the same, the NHL is going to be spending the next several months looking for a new owner. The difference is, if the NHL owns the team outright they will be responsible for the losses from this point on, if the team is still in bankruptcy the NHL will still fund the sale but they will be the first to be paid when a sale is eventually made. I suppose there might be an advantage if they owned it outright in that sale negotiations can be made in private, as opposed the the public nature of bankruptcy court, but is that worth the potential losses the NHL will be responsible for? Who knows. We’ll soon find out if the NHL is really interested in owning the team or whether they just wanted to get rid of Balsillie. The future of the Coyotes is still undetermined.

Sep 302009
 

I am going to come out with complete 2009-10 season predictions for the eastern and western conferences later today or tomorrow but for now let me focus on my favourite team, the Maple Leafs.

Coming out of training camp there is a lot to be optimistic about the Leafs future. Nazem Kadri showed very well in his first NHL training camp and gave every indication that he has a bright future in the NHL. Youngsters Hanson, Bozak and especially Stalberg all played quite well and all showed that they have a future of some kind at the NHL level, especially Stalberg and Bozak who should make an impact this season. Furthermore, come some time in early November the Leafs should be inserting a 36 goal scorer into their lineup when newly acquired Phil Kessel returns from his shoulder injury. At that point there will be more speed and skill on this Leafs roster than we have seen since before the lockout. On defense the additions of Komisarek, Beauchemin and Exelby add additional toughness and a more balanced grouping and Ron Wilson informed us all that Tomas Kaberle is no longer fat so we can be optimistic that he can return to his 60+ point form.

But what Leaf fans need to be most optimistic about is goaltending. Ok, I realize that some of you may still be skeptics considering that Toskala gave up 7 goals on Sunday and looked bad and his backup is a raw rookie with just 3 periods of exhibition play, albeit good play. But what Leaf fans really need to be optimistic about is that last season the goaltending was truly dreadful and it is almost impossible for this seasons goaltending to be worse. As bad as Toskala was last season, and he was quite bad, the trio of backup goaltenders (Joseph, Pogge, Gerber) that were used were significantly worse. Last season Toskala had a record of 22-17-11 while the backup goalies had a record of 12-18-2. Even if Leaf fans assume no improvements in the forwards and defense and that Toskala is just as bad in 2009-10 as he was in 2008-09, if the backups, be it Gustavsson or MacDonald, can even be just as good as Toskala they would have posted a 17-14-1 record. Yes, if the backup goalies last season posted a similar record to Toskala, who was still a bad goalie, the leafs would have had 9 extra points. That would have given them a total of 90 points, just 3 points behind 8th place Montreal.

So, even if Toskala remains the same and the backup goaltending improves from horrific last season to a Toskala-like bad this season, the Leafs should be in playoff contention. If you believe that a now healthy Toskala can even be a little bit better or that Gustavsson is the real deal or if you believe that the there are improvements on defense or up front, you have to be optimistic that the Leafs have a very good shot at obtaining a playoff spot. If the Leafs goaltending can be anywhere close to middle of the pack they are probably a lock for a playoff spot. Even if they only take their save percentage from .885 to .900, which would put them on par with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders of last year, the Leafs should make the playoffs.

In short, Leaf fans should be optimistic because the goaltending was so horrific last season that improving goaltending enough to make the playoffs is not really a difficult task and certainly one that the trio of Toskala/Gustavsson/MacDonald should be able to accomplish.

Sep 252009
 

As a Leaf fan I follow the Leafs quite closely, but as a resident of Ottawa, I also am very familiar with the happenings and goings on with the Senators. From this perspective I have observed many things, the first being that the Senators fans have to be among the more optimistic fans in the NHL. They always have high hopes for their team and always seem to have a positive outlook on the team heading into the season. Last season they started to get a little down on the Senators, but a late season surge after Cory Clouston took over a coach and their optimism made an equally dramatic surge. Leaf fans on the other hand are often pessimistic and are often very critical of their players. Even though there have been dramatic improvements to the Leafs team heading into the 2009-10 season, many fans are still pessimistic about their chances of making the playoffs, or even competing for them. Yeah, I am generalizing here and there are definitely exceptions to both those generalizations of Senators and Leafs fans but that is my basic observations. But where Sens fans and Leaf fans do not differ is their excitement level and probably excessive exuberance over the prospects that each franchise has in their organization.

For the Senators, this training camp has all been about how center Peter Regin and defenseman Erik Karlsson have impressed in camp and made a strong case for making the team and the play of journeyman AHLer forward turned defenseman Matt Carkner has also been impressive in camp and may have earned a spot on the regular season roster. For the Leafs young forwards Kadri, Bozak, Hanson and Stahlberg have impressed at camp and everyone also expected that Jonas Gustavsson was a lock to back up starter Vesa Toskala if not challenge for the starters role.

For the Senators this has put General Manager Bryan Murray in the position of having to seek a trade to see if he can open up room for Regin, Karlsson and Carkner. The problem is, he can’t seem to find any takers for what he is offering. Specifically, winger/defenseman Christoph Schubert, defenseman Alexandre Picard, forwards Chris Kelly and Jarko Ruutu. There really is no surprise here. Chris Kelly makes over $2 million as a third/fourth line player that has seemingly forgot how to play with a bit of an edge, and Ruutu earns $1.3 million as an fourth line player, and Schubert and Picard may have been edged out on defense by Carkner, a 28 year old journeyman AHLer with 2 NHL games under his belt and who played more games as a winger than a defenseman last season for the Binghamton Senators. If Schubert and Picard can’t make the Senators roster over Carkner, is there really much chance that anyone else will want them? Bryan Murray will have some decisions to make when finalizing his 21-22 man roster but it seems unlikely he’ll get any help from anyone else via a trade.

For the record, I used to really like Chris Kelly. He used to play with speed, intensity and a dash of feistiness despite his small stature. But the last season or two he has lost his edge and while he’ll score you a dozen goals or two and can kill penalties, he isn’t worth anywhere close to $2 million if he isn’t playing with intensity and an edge to his game.

For the Leafs, their young prospects have played exceptionally well too. Kadri has shown some good offensive flair, Stahlberg has shown exceptional speed, Bozak has shown good hockey sense and all round play and Hanson has been effective as well. Problem is, unlike the Senators, the Leafs just don’t have many roster spots open. If there are 13 roster spots open for forwards Blake, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, Grabovski, Stempniak, Hagman, Mitchell, Primeau, and Orr are a lock for 9 of them. Coach Ron Wilson has stated that Rickard Wallin has probably done enough to earn a spot and although he has been unspectacular this preseason I expect Kulemin to keep a spot as well. So that leaves maybe 2 spots left, one which will be given to Kessel when he returns in November and other more experienced options for the final position are Jamal Mayers and Jiri Tlusty.

In essence there really wasn’t and forward spots available on the Leafs heading into camp and barring a veteran just not playing well or a rookie absolutely playing lights out it would be tough for one of the youngsters to make the team out of camp. Adding to the young players challenge is it seems both Burke and Wilson are intent on playing players where they project them to be playing in the future. By that I mean, if they envision Kadri to be a top six player, he will only make the roster if he earns a top six roster spot. Being better than Jamal Mayers isn’t good enough. Same for Bozak, Stahlberg and Hanson. Because of this, barring injuries or a trade Leaf fans should be prepared for the possibility that none of these young forwards breaks camp with the Leafs.

As for Gustavsson, he is unlikely to break camp with the team as well. Ron Wilson has stated that he isn’t yet ready to play a full game and will only play one period or half a game tonight and then maybe another period or two tomorrow night. Are the Leafs going to take Gustavsson who hasn’t yet played a full game over MacDonald, who has played very well? Probably not. More likely Gustavsson gets sent to the Marlies for a week or two to get into game shape. Are Leaf fans prepared to watch a Leaf team starting the season without Kadri, Bozak, Strahberg, Hanson and Gustavsson? I don’t know, but they should get prepared. It could happen.

Sep 232009
 

In an interesting and unexpected development today Jim Balsillie has made a slight adjustment to his offer to purchase the Coyotes and move them to Hamilton. The new offer includes giving the city a non-refundable $25 million payment if Balsillie won the auction and the second payment of $25 million when the team relocates. In short, if Balsillie won the auction but it was overturned during an appeal process then the City of Glendale would get to keep the initial $25 million. Not to shabby of a deal really.

But the offer gets even better for Glendale. If Balsillie wins the auction the City of Glendale (and the NHL) will still have until the end of this year to find a buyer willing to keep the team in Glendale so long as the prospective owners are willing to pay at least $140 million plus additional debt (the amount required to pay off all the secured creditors). Additionally Balsillie’s is willing to let the team play in Glendale through the end of the 2009-10 season though there may be a window open to relocate the team to Hamilton during the Olympic break.

In essence the new Balsillie offer is giving Glendale pretty much everything that the NHL is giving Glendale plus the potential for an additional $50 million in lease buyout costs which the NHL is not offering Glendale. The only other difference is the cost required for a new buyer looking to purchase the team and keep it in Glendale. If the NHL won the auction they would have the option to choose to sell it to a prospective owner for something less than the $140 million plus additional debt if the NHL chooses to absorb the additional losses. Depending on whether the NHL is willing to lose money on the transaction that may or may not be a significant difference but this latest offer has to be quite interesting to the City of Glendale and may decide to support the Balsillie bid. That would be a coup for Balsillie as Glendale and the NHL have seemingly been in lockstep all through the bankruptcy process.

The big loser in all of this is Jerry Moyes. It was apparent that the Balsillie camp fought hard through the summer to get the deal finalized before the 2009-10 season which would have maximized the return to Jerry Moyes. With the start of the NHL season only a week or so away Balsillie has decided that trying to force a resolution before the start of the season was not possible and rather than risk having his bid tossed out completely he would reduce what would go to Jerry Moyes and set aim on having the team start play in Hamilton for the 2010-11 season. I am sure Jerry Moyes was aware that Balsillie was going to make these changes to his bid and this is what prompted Moyes to make a last ditch effort to come to a quick resolution by asking the judge to force mediation on the NHL. It might be a $50 million dollar difference for him in having the closing delayed until a later date.

In essence what these changes accomplish is it makes the Balsillie bid much more on par with the NHL bid with respect to time lines (removes NHL’s challenge that relocation for 2009-10 season not possible) as well as leaving open the possibility of finding an owner interested in keeping the franchise in Glendale. What this does is remove and question marks as to whether Balsillie’s offer is better, from a financial or structural point of view, than the NHLs. With these changes the only thing left for Judge Baum to decide is whether legally he can over rule the NHL board of governors decision to disapprove Balsillie as a prospective NHL owner and in turn allow Balsillie to relocate the Coyotes to Hamilton. That is still a very large hurdle for Balsillie to overcome, but these changes give Judge Baum all the time he needs to explore those questions fully. It would not shock me if a ruling is still weeks away.

Sep 222009
 

A year ago Cliff Fletcher as interim general manager of the Maple Leafs suggested that the Leafs had only one top 6 forward, that being Nik Antropov. With Antopov now gone there was ample discussion among the media and fans about how dismal the Leafs offense will be and despite the upgrades Brian Burke made on defense the Leafs lack of scoring will likely lead them to another missed playoff. Brian Burke has addressed that in a major way by acquiring what everyone will agree is a top 6 forward in Phil Kessel, but is Kessel enough? To answer that, we need to get a clearer understanding of what a top six forward actually is because there seems to be a misunderstanding.

The obvious answer is that a top 6 forward is a player who can play on your top two lines. Most people also seem to believe that to play on a teams top two lines you have to produce offensively. So for the purpose of this analysis let me assume that ‘top six’ really means ‘top six offensive forwards.’

Since there are 30 teams in the NHL to be considered a top six forward you could consider the top 180 offensive forwards in the NHL to be top six forwards. On a points per game basis for players with at least 41 games played the 180th player on the list was Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers with a points per game pace of 0.49 which equates to just 40 points over the course of an NHL season. Yup, score 40 points and you can be considered a top six player. Maple Leafs among the top 180 include Jason Blake (57th), Ponikarovsky (78th), Stajan (85), Hagman (114th), Grabovski (129rd), Stempniak (139th). Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore were also among the top 180 offensive players in the NHL.

Of course, a top six player on the New York Islanders is completely different than a top six forward on a cup contending team. The top teams in the NHL will surely have a better top six than the bottom teams. To find out, I looked at the top 96 offensive forwards on the 16 playoff teams from one year ago. The bottom players on this list were Markus Naslund and R.J. Umberger both of whom had 46 points in 82 games for a points per game pace of 0.56. So, to be considered a top six forward on a playoff team you have to be capable of producing at a pace of 0.56 points per game. Even with this higher cutoff Blake, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, Hagman, Grabovski and Stempniak would still be considered top six forwards as was Antropov and Dominic Moore was right on the cutoff.

Heading into this season the Leafs still have Blake, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, Hagman, Grabovski and Stempniak on the roster and now with Phil Kessel (46th overall and 32nd on the playoff team list) in the mix they arguably have 7 top six forwards on their roster and that is without factoring in what youngsters like Kulemin, Tlusty, Bozak and others might do. I am sure many in the media are surprised by this but yeah, the Leafs have more than enough top six forwards to compete for a playoff spot.

Yeah, I know, the critics are going to come out and say ‘well, ok, but they don’t have any first line players’. Fine, let me address that too. The 48th leading point per game producer on a playoff team was Brian Gionta who produced 60 points in 81 games for a point per game pace of 0.74. Jason Blake and Alexei Ponikarovsky along with new addition Phil Kessel meet that threshold so all three can be considered first line players on a playoff team and Matt Stajan was just short of that threshold at 0.72 points per game pace.

I will grant critics the argument that the Leafs lack the true superstar like a Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk, Zetterberg or even someone like a Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane or Mike Richards. That was a fair argument, and to some extent may still be, but with the addition of Kessel that argument holds less weight. Yes, there is still some risk in Kessel in that he has only produced at an elite level for one year and he does have some detractors, but Kessel does have elite level talent and is more than capable of developing into a perennial 30+ goal, 80+ point player and be among the leagues elite.

To summarize, too many people have a false view of what kind of offense a top 6 forward will produce. Most top 6 forwards aren’t 30 goal, 70 point guys. The majority of them are 20-25 goal, 50-60 point guys and in that regard the Leafs are just fine. Are the Leafs going to be an elite offensive team in the NHL? No. Can they be a good one, as they have been for several years now? You bet.

Sep 182009
 

There has been a lot of discussion over the last week or so on the rumoured trade offer that Brian Burke has made to the Boston Bruins for Phil Kessel and now that the trade seems very likely to go down, possibly within hours, we may as well take a look at it. (TSN is now reporting the deal is done and pending Kessel signing a contract with the Leafs which is probably not a significant hurdle issue).

The rumour is that Burke has offered two first round picks and a second round pick for Kessel and a third round pick (no word yet if this is the actual deal though). Howard Berger has argued that it makes no sense to trade two first round picks for Kessel because the Leafs are still rebuilding and the two first round picks could be far more valuable and he eluded to Schenn and Kadri as being an example why. Schenn and Kadri are the Leafs most recent two first round picks and he wouldn’t trade the pair of them for Kessel so why would he trade the Leafs next two picks for Kessel.

To me that is a shortsighted view of the situation. First off, Schenn has one years NHL experience and he performed relatively well so the ‘downside risk’ in Schenn has diminished somewhat while much of the upside potential remains. Kadri is still an unknown asset but he was a 7th overall pick which is likely higher than where the Leafs will pick in the next two drafts so he at least theoretically is likely more valuable than the Leafs than the Leafs first round pick in either the next two seasons (and Schenn was a 5th overall pick). So in short, Schenn and Kadri are measurably, possibly significantly, more valuable than the Leafs next two first round picks.

Finally, how good are those first round likely to be. Burke has every hope to make the playoffs this upcoming season and I am sure he would show some level of truculence to me if I suggested that the Leafs would miss the playoffs in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but lets assume a worst case scenario and they do and lets assume that both the draft picks end up in the 8th to 12th overall range. How might those draft picks turn out. Lets look at past drafts 8-12 picks.

1998: Mark Bell, Mike Rupp, Nik Antropov, Jeff Hereema, Alex Tanguay
1999: Taylor Pyatt, Jamie Lundmark, Bransilav Menzei, Oleg Saprykin, Denis Shvidki
2000: Nikita Alexeev, Brent Krahn, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Alexei Smirnov
2001: Pascal Leclaire, Tuomo Ruutu, Dan Blackburn, Fredrik Sjostrom, Dan Hamhuis
2002: Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Petr Taticek, Eric Nystrom, Keith Ballard, Steve Eminger

So that is 5 years of drafts for a total of 25 players and maybe there are a couple of pairings in there among Tanguay, Leclaire, Bouchard, Ballard, Ruutu, Hamhuis and Antropov that might be worth more than Kessel but none of those players will make you regret making the trade, especially if you believe that Kessel can be a top level offensive player in the NHL capable of consistently getting 30-40 goals. And if the Leafs were better and made the playoffs in either or both of the next two seasons the likelihood of regretting the trade drops off even more. Yeah, I understand that every draft seems to produce a star player or two in the 12-25 overall range like Parise (17) and Getzlaf (19) in 2002 but those are rare and more often than not the drafted player turns out to be nothing more than a name on a sheet of paper.

Sep 182009
 

Yesterday Bob McCown interviewed Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk discussing mostly the Phoenix Coyote situation. For the most part it wasn’t a very interesting interview and Melnyk often played dumb claiming he really didn’t know much about the situation. Particularly intriguing was that Melnyk stated he really knew nothing regarding the permission the NHL board of governors gave Bettman in purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes through bankruptcy. He stated he was not at the meeting and knew nothing about anything including the cost, what they would do with the franchise if they gained control of it, who would put up money to pay for it, etc. That seems odd to me considering it may cost him millions of dollars and that he is a relatively involved owner in the Senators team itself. Me thinks he was just playing dumb. Even if he wasn’t at the meeting that granted permission you’d think he’d have received a briefing or at the very least asked a question or two to someone once it became public that the NHL was in fact going to bid on the team.

But the most interesting part of the interview came squeezed in right at the end when Bob McCown asked him a hypothetical question about whether he could block a team wanting to move to Hull (for those who don’t know, Hull is really part of the metro Ottawa area on the Quebec side of the border).

McCown: Do you have the constitutional ability to block that.
Melnyk: I believe we do, yeah, we have territorial rights. Yeah, absolutely.

Maybe Melnyk accidentally let that slip out but that feeds right into the Balsillie argument regarding the Leafs having a veto to any team relocating to Hamilton. If Melnyk and the Senators have territorial rights to Hull and could block a relocation to Hull then the Leafs have the same rights to Hamilton and could block a relocation to Hamilton. Balsillie believes the league voted against him being an owner and are fighting to the end to stop him from getting his hands on the Coyotes and relocating them to Hamilton because the league cannot allow a team to relocate to Hamilton which would violate the Leafs constitutional rights with the league and could result in a lawsuit from the MLSE.

It really was a surprising statement from Melnyk who was generally cautious and reserved about giving out any information on anything important during the rest of the interview.

Sep 162009
 

There were some tweets going around this morning regarding the attendance in Phoenix and whether pre-season attendance really matters or is an indication of franchise stability etc. So I figured I would take a look at last nights attendance figures and went to the NHL.com box scores for the information.

Boston at NY Rangers: 11,111 (a curious number)
Columbus at Pittsburgh: 15,766
Minnesota at St. Louis: 10,582
Edmonton at Calgary: 19,289
Phoenix at Los Angeles: 8,432
Los Angeles at Phoenix: unlisted

Apparently the Los Angeles at Phoenix (split squad game) didn’t list an attendance figure. I found that curious so I went and checked the box scores at Yahoo and ESPN and both listed attendance at 4,643.

So that poses the question, is the NHL embarrassed by the attendance, or relative lack there of, for the Phoenix Coyotes game so much that they would deliberately hide publishing that number on their website? Curious.

Book Abomination

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Sep 152009
 

Most Leaf fans, and probably many hockey and sports fans, have heard about the recent book release of “Leaf AbomiNation” written by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange. Let me start off by saying that I have not read the book, and I probably won’t read the book, but if you want a good book review go and read one here by mf37. My beef with the book is its insistence that the Leafs have sucked for a long time and two significant reasons for that suckage (if I may use that non-word) are the fans undying loyalty to the club and the ownerships (specifically the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan) undying love of profits and not wins on the ice.

One of the authors’ central arguments about the Leafs is that fans have supported crap for far too long and that support is partially responsible for perpetuating a four-decade string of mediocrity.

This kind of thinking isn’t restricted to just Feschuk and Grange, this kind of senseless thinking permeates through much of the Toronto hockey media and thus to some extent into the fan base but the reality is it is baseless thinking. Let me first address the point that ownership, specifically the Teachers Pension Plan, is only interested in a profit. Although the Teachers Pension Plan is the majority owner, they are not the controlling owner (Larry Tannenbaum is) and they only have 3 of the 7 members of the board of directors. In short they don’t have any control over day to day operations of the franchise and they don’t even have majority control over the long term direction of the franchise. Most importantly though, I haven’t yet seen one study anywhere that suggests that not winning is more profitable than winning. Logic seems to tell me that if the Leafs were as successful as the Detroit Red Wings the Leafs would be even more profitable and my, albeit limited, business sense suggest to me that generating playoff revenue should generate more profits. So that whole argument is 100% pure hogwash.

As for the Leafs fans being at least partially responsible for the Leafs poor play, that is pure hogwash as well. If you want a list of teams that generally lead the league in being bad, just look at the bottom of the team attendance list. Atlanta, Florida, NY Islanders, Phoenix, etc. all have generally been bad and all have a small fan base and low attendance. Are the authors actually suggesting that if Leaf fans abandoned the team that they would break that trend and actually get better as the fan base disappears? That makes no sense.

But maybe the biggest beef with the whole notion of the book is that the Leafs have been bad over the long haul in the first place. It seems like as deep as the authors and many in the Leafs media base all their opinions of the Leafs on the fact that they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and somehow interpret that as they have been a horrible team ever since that last cup win. That is simply not true. In fact, they have experience relatively good success the past decade and a half. Over the past 16 seasons they are 8th in wins, ninth in points, sixth in goals scored per game (how many times have we heard the Leafs can’t score goals??), and seventh in playoff rounds won. That’s not too shabby of a record and better than any other Canadian team. Yeah, they have struggled post lockout (significantly due to bad goaltending), but generally they have been pretty successful since the early 1990’s and have generally played pretty entertaining hockey (if you equate goals to entertaining as most in the media do) as well. Maybe we need a book on how success has grown the fan base of the Leafs post the Ballard era and not the fan base leading to failure.

I am not trying to say that the Leafs don’t deserve some criticism. Every franchise makes mistakes and deserves criticism and the Leafs are no exception and of course they have been unsuccessful in reaching the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. There is a certain amount of fair criticism to be made and maybe if the authors of this book, and the Toronto hockey media in general, opened their eyes to reality and took an even slightly more complex view of the Leafs than their “They haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 so they have sucked for decades” view (which is factually false) then maybe we could actually see an insightful book on why the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup and why other teams have, from a hockey, not a business point of view.

Sep 142009
 

Over the course of the summer there were a lot of people sympathetic of Wayne Gretzky and felt bad that his name and his contract was openly discussed, and often not in good light, in the courts, and sometimes that spread into the media. Over the course of the summer we learned that Jerry Reinsdorf wasn’t interested in retaining his services should he bid for the team, Ice Edge was only interested if he took a substantial pay cut to $2 million and that the NHL was not interested in retaining his contract through the auction process either. There are many that feel that Wayne Gretzky has been treated somewhat unfairly by all of this. Maybe he has, but I have no sympathy for him, especially after his no show at the Phoenix training camp this past weekend.

First off, the only reason Wayne Gretzky has been such an issue in these bankruptcy proceedings is because he is getting paid a ridiculously stupid salary to be coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. If I recall correctly Gretzky’s contract is to pay him $6.5 million this season and $8 million next season. Not only does that likely pay him more than 3 times the next highest paid coach (Ron Wilson makes $1.6 million which might be the highest for a coach) but it is probably significantly more than any other teams pays their coach and general manager combined (Burke and Wilson I think combine for a little over $5 million per season) and Gretzky signed this contract without having any coaching experience.

Before he became coach he was a minority owner and was the head of hockey operations, again with little or no experience in such a role. In that position he hired his former agent Mike Barnett as General Manager even though he had no experience operating as a general manager of the team. Since Gretzky became involved with the team they have made the playoffs just once, in 2001-02, which was also the only time they finished higher than fourth in the Pacific division. Wayne Gretzky deserves a lot of credit for what he has done on and off the ice throughout his playing career and he has been a great ambassador for the sport but his coaching and managing career with the Coyotes has been questionable at best.

There is a somewhat valid argument to be made that his salary combined with the fact that the Coyotes have never had a winning team (which he is significantly responsible for) are two of the three reasons why the Coyotes are in the financial mess they are currently in (the bad lease agreement is the other). For that alone one loses a lot of the sympathy one might have for Gretzky for having his name and salary drug through the court system this past summer but when the Coyotes training camp opened on the weekend we learned that Wayne Gretzky was a no show. In my opinion, if Wayne Gretzky deserved any remaining sympathy it was lost by him not showing up. He is the coach and the head of hockey operation and his contract is still valid and there is still a very good chance that he would have had the opportunity to coach the team for the remainder of the season. Should the NHL win the auction they have stated they would like to retain his services under a new contract and if the dreaded ‘third option’ occurred where no bid was deemed a winner Gretzky’s current contract would continue to operate. By not showing up to camp, while under contract, he is essentially abandoning the team. To me he had two options. Show up, or resign. He has chosen neither and has left the team in limbo. If this was anyone other than Wayne Gretzky he would be criticized far more than he has been (which is relatively minimal). Suck it up Wayne. Fulfill your contract or resign if you don’t want to.