One of the reasons I started this blog 4+ years ago was to dispel some of the myths and utter nonsense that the main stream media, and subsequently hockey fans, spew. Most specifically about the Maple Leafs, but about hockey in general as well. There are a number of other good bloggers that from time to time do the same and I have frequently exchanged e-mails with members of the media to attempt to inform them on reality but sadly, most of them still spew the same nonsense. With this post, Howard Berger will be my main target.
Now, I have exchanged many e-mails with Howard over the years and he often responds and seems like a nice enough guy, but his reporting, especially of late, has been utterly horrific. On Monday Howard wrote a blog post on the Wilson/Burke relationship and that the friendship would not stand in the way of Burke firing Wilson if it came down to that. That is all fine and dandy but at the end of that he talks about the Leafs tradable commodities and how they will not land anything of significance at the trade deadline.
The Leafs’ expendable parts do not possess any such pedigree. Even Kaberle – one of the most gifted passers in the NHL – has severe limitations as a defenseman. There is no physical component to his game; his early playoff record is thoroughly unremarkable, and he can be outmaneuvered by a clever opponent, as Sidney Crosby proved by undressing him at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
For the record, only Nicklas Lidstrom has more points by a defenseman post lockout. Sure, maybe Kaberle isn’t a Chris Pronger or Zdeno Chara but I don’t think anyone has ever accused Scott Niedermayer or Dan Boyle or Mike Green or even Nicklas Lidstrom of being overly physical players. And as for Sidney Crosby undressing Kaberle, well, it is not like Crosby isn’t capable of undressing any and every defenseman in the NHL. Yes, Kaberle is no Lidstrom, and isn’t a Chris Pronger or Zdeno Chara either, but is he as good as Dan Boyle? That’s probably a reasonable comparison and that makes Kaberle an all-star caliber defenseman. It is strange how so many in Leaf land, both media and fans, choose not to give credit where credit is deserved, even with Kaberle.
Howard then moved towards the remaining potential trade targets.
Unless a rival manager takes leave of his senses, he will not trade a top prospect or a draft choice in the first three rounds for any of the aforementioned.
Otherwise, Burke has third and fourth-line commodities to offer up at the deadline. A fellow like Stajan could provide an opposing club durability, depth and character at the key center-ice position, but he will not be an impact player. Neither will Ponikarovsky, Blake, Stempniak, Finger or Toskala – several of whom Burke couldn’t give away.
The above nonsense is some of the most idiotic analysis I see and it isn’t restricted to Howard Berger. Today Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail spewed similar nonsense.
Frankly, I also have little difficulty with Burke’s trade for Phil Kessel: he inherited a club that – let’s face it – didn’t even have a second-line forward on a good team let a lone a first-line forward.
Essentially what they are saying is the Leafs, outside of Kessel, don’t have a top 6 forward, or at least anyone that would be a top six forward on a good team. Let’s start with Stajan. He had 55 points last year and is on pace for 61 points this year. I’ll assume that both Berger and Blair believe that the Washington Capitals are a good team. They are, in fact, the highest scoring team in the NHL, by a significant margin. They are, also, a team that for the most part employs Brendan Morrison as their second line center. Brendan had 31 points last year and is on pace for just 50 points this year. Are you telling me that Stajan would not fit in as a second line center for the Capitals? The Pittsburgh Penguins are deep down the center but they have exactly 2, yes 2, players with more points than Stajan. They also only have one player, and no wingers, with more goals than Ponikarovsky or Hagman. Mike Rupp and Pascal Dupuis are second and third in goals scored by a Pittsburgh winger with 11 goals each. Are Berger and Blair trying to tell me that Hagman, with 16 goals, and Ponikarovsky, with 15 goals (both very reliable defensively as well) aren’t good enough to play on the Penguins top two lines? Sorry, I am not buying it and I do believe that both Blair and Berger believe that the Penguins are a good team. Go down the list of good teams and you will find a number of spots on the top two lines for a number of Leaf players.
So, getting to Howards point that no one will give up any picks in the first three rounds of the draft for any of these players is complete hogwash as well. Lets look back to one year ago when Burke got a second round pick and a conditional pick for Antropov as well as a second round pick for Dominic Moore. At the time of the trades Antropov had 21g and 46pts in 63 games and Moore had 12g and 41 points in 63 games. Stajan is on pace to have 17g and 47 points through 63 games, which, based on last years market, should net the Leafs a second round pick should they choose to trade him, which if my math is correct, is in the first three rounds. It is hard to say if Ponikarovsky or Stempniak would land them the same value, but it isn’t really a stretch to believe that someone wouldn’t give up at least a 3rd, if not a second, round pick for these guys. Ales Kotalik, a comparable player, was traded for a second round pick last year. At the time Kotalik had 13g, 32pts in 56 games.
I look forward to reading what these guys write when Stajan and Ponikarovsky go deep into the playoffs with their new teams all while playing on a first or second line.
The Howard Berger nonsense doesn’t stop at his poor evaluation of Leaf players. In a January 13th blog post titled “Wilson Unconcerned About His Future” he falls back to his ever pessimistic fallback by once again referring to the Leafs 40 years of futility.
As such, I broached the subject of job security with Ronny after practice earlier today – while pointing out that, a) I would not endorse his dismissal with this particular team and, b) almost a half-century of idleness has proven the futility of merely changing the man that stands behind the Toronto bench.
Yes, we all know that the Leafs have not won a cup for a long time. That is a fact that we all know. My problem with Howard, and with many others, is somehow they have to relate everything that happens now to the past. Just because the Leafs changed the coach in the past and it has not yet netted them a Stanley Cup, is not a basis for an argument that the Leafs should not fire Ron Wilson today. I could apply that same logic to every other aspect of the game. The Leafs have made trades in the past and it has not resulted in a Stanley Cup, so why bother making trades now. The Leafs have drafted players in the past, but it has not resulted in a Stanley Cup, so why bother drafting now. Ditto for signing free agents. The argument is so nonsensical it makes you wonder what the neurons in Howard’s brain were actually processing when he wrote that. Message to Howard: Stop living in the past and look to the future.
Yesterday Howard Berger wrote an article on Burke’s handling of Tomas Kaberle, as well as others. I intended to comment on it in this post but I have some other work to do and this post is getting long enough so I’ll look to address some of those issues next week. Pending of course, other stupidities that might come from Berger and others in between now and then.
Update: The stupidity continues. I was just watching Prime Time Sports when John Shannon came out and said part of the Leafs problem is they are in the bottom 6 in scoring. Nonsense. They are 16 in goals per game, and they were higher before their recent scoring slump through early January. This is basic facts people. It is one thing to have nonsensical opinions like I described above, but to not know facts is just plain ignorant. It’s sad. Truly sad.