The NHL Off-Season: No Rest for the Wicked

The long, arduous playoff journey has come to an end, and when the final buzzer sounded it was Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins who emerged victorious as the 2009 Stanley Cup Champions.

Make no mistake, congratulations are certainly are in order. After all, the Pens did defeat a very solid Detroit Red Wings team, and did so after falling behind in the series 2-0 after a couple of bad bounces in Joe Louis Arena. They displayed their testicular fortitude (although admittedly not as much as Nicklas Lidstrom) by not backing down and ultimately persevering when they could have simply rolled over and quit against nearly impossible odds.

Yeah, that's nice. Now get back to work, slacker!

Yeah, that's nice. Now get back to work, slacker!

But you know what? All of that is completely and utterly irrelevant. The 2009 NHL season is but a distant memory now, a faint speck of recollection drifting toward the horizon of foggy reminiscence. Indeed, Pens fans, it’s time to stop living in the past — because the 2010 season starts in just over one week’s time!

Football teams get an entire week off between games. Hockey teams get two weeks off between entire seasons.

That’s right. Party’s over. Get the Cup out of Mario’s pool, because with the Draft coming up next weekend and the insanity of Free Agency only two weeks away, there’s a hell of a lot of work to be done.

So many questions to be answered, all with a massive impact on next year …

  • In which city will Dany Heatley continue be a one-dimensional, whiny little bitch? Will Jason Spezza cry himself to sleep once Heatley is finally traded?
  • Who will the Islanders select first overall? John Tavares or Victor Hedman? Or will Garth Snow continue the fine Long Island tradition of trading away can’t-miss prospects for a dozen pucks and a sack of magic beans?
  • Which GM will foolishly overpay for the likes of Mike Cammalleri and the Sedin twins?
  • Will Vincent Lecavalier get traded at the Draft? Even if he doesn’t, he should show up in Montreal wearing a Habs hat, you know, just to mess with the Montreal media. That would be fun.
  • Will Ty Conklin sign with the Boston Bruins, since they are hosting the 2010 Winter Classic? I mean, you can’t have an outdoor game without Conklin, right? It’s in the rulebook, I’m pretty sure.
Ty Conklin loves playing in outdoor games almost as much as he loves losing in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Ty Conklin loves playing in outdoor games almost as much as he loves losing in the Stanley Cup Finals.

  • Just what exactly will Brian Burke do during his first summer with the Maple Leafs? Will he move up in the Draft? Will he sign a big name free agent? Will he make Justin Pogge cry?
  • Will any free agents actually want to come to Montreal, knowing full well they’ll have to play for Jacques Martin? Oh, wait … no free agents wanted to play for the Habs before Martin took over, either. My mistake.
  • Will Marian Hossa sign a deal with Pittsburgh, believing that they now offer him the best chance to win the Stanley Cup?
  • Will Marian Gaborik tear his groin simply by answering the phone on July 1?
  • What type of Reebok-sponsored abominations will various teams unveil for this year’s crop of alternate jerseys?
Somebody actually thought this was a good idea. And they got paid for it.

Somebody actually thought this was a good idea. And they got paid for it.

And those are only a handful of the pressing issues that teams across the league have to contend with over the next couple of weeks. Indeed, it seems as though the NHL season truly never ends (well, I suppose there is that dry patch in August when all of the big name free agents have already been scooped up and the only players left are guys like Anson Carter). But really, as a hockey fan, you gotta love it. It sure beats watching MLB highlights on SportsCentre, that’s for damn sure.

NHL Trade Deadline Recap: Pray for Poni

So, the lamest NHL Trade Deadline in recent memory has come and gone, and I already forget what happened. Oh, that’s right — absolutely nothing of consequence.

With the biggest name to change jerseys today being perennial underachiever Olli Jokinen, this year’s Deadline certainly lacked the flair and emotion of previous years, when players such as Marian Hossa and Ryan Smyth suddenly found themselves apartment hunting in new cities.

The talking heads like to declare “winners” and “losers” when the dealing is done. While its clear that the Calgary Flames made some real big strides toward competing with likes of Detroit and San Jose come playoff time, and the Phoenix Coyotes did an excellent job of getting the most out of their assets, there is only one true loser of NHL Trade Deadline 2009:

Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Keep you chin up, bucko, it ain't so bad. Oh, wait ...

Keep you chin up, bucko, it ain't so bad. Oh, wait ...

Reminiscent of that classic Valentine’s Day episode of The Simpsons, at approximately 2:47 p.m., Darren Dreger and the crew at TSN announced that Poni’s eternal soulmate, Nik Antropov, had been traded to the New York Rangers … and at that very instant, Poni’s heart broke in two, his entire world coming crashing down around him.

First Sundin leaves him, and now Antropov. His two best homies he ever had … gone. Dust in the wind.

Ponikarovsky is like a lost puppy now, scared and confused in a terrible new reality that he is not yet prepared to face. How can he possibly go on? How can he continue to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs without his BFF, his rock?

You know, I was almost relieved — for Poni’s sake — when TSN brought up a potential trade to the Nashville Predators. He’d get a fresh start in a new city, meet some new teammates, adapt to a new system — all of which would help him forget about the loss of “Big” Nik Antropov.

But no, it was merely a rumour, and when the Buds play their next home game this Saturday against the Oilers, Ponikarovsky will gaze longingly at the empty stall where Antropov used to sit … and he’ll cry. The emotion will overwhelm him and it’ll all come pouring out, and he’ll sit there sobbing and drooling into his gloves until Ron Wilson taps him on the shoulder and tells him it’s time to go. Once on the ice he’ll be unable to focus, simply floating around, taking poor penalties, and half-heartedly shooting the puck towards the netminder.

Indeed, I’m afraid that Alexei Ponikarovsky will never be the same player again. Why must you be so cruel, Brian Burke? WHHHYYYYY???

The other big news is the fact that the Maple Leafs claimed some terrible goalie by the name of Martin Gerber off the waiver wire. Seriously, he’s not good enough to play for the Sens, but he can suddenly take over the #1 job in Toronto? I suppose the price was right (the Leafs didn’t have to give up anything for him), and if Brian Burke intends to lose a whole shitload of the Leafs’ remaining games to get a better draft position, well, this is certainly one way to do it.

Martin Gerber, a Leafs uniform, and a goal against. I see nothing will be changing.

Martin Gerber, a Leafs uniform, and a goal against. I see nothing will actually be changing.

Simply due to the fact that he is once again gainfully employed in the NHL, I’m gonna go out on a limb and declare that Marty Gerber — and not the Calgary Flames — the real big winner of the NHL Trade Deadline 2009.

The Perfect Trade Deadline Plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs

No doubt about it … there’s something in the air. Must be the time of year, I suppose.

Granted, if you ask a dozen people, you’ll get a dozen different responses as to what it is you’re actually smelling. Some people will tell you it reeks of desperation and failure, while some say it smells of hope and victory. Some people have described the scent as an olfactory rush of giddy excitement, but really, that’s only a select few; and upon hearing of these accolades, scores of other people have been let down by a crushing wave of disappointment. Finally, there are some that find the smell initially pleasing, only to find that it leaves a bitter, lingering stench long after its true source has vacated the premises.

As you might have guessed (and I suppose the title of this post sorta gives it away), I’m talking about this Wednesday’s NHL Trade Deadline.

The ball is in your court, Mr. Burke. If only you played tennis or basketball ...

Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're our only hope.

Some teams dream of post-season success, while other teams dream of raking in prospects and gearing up for next year — but no matter what your team’s situation, it’s always a special day that is captivating, exciting, and full of untold dreams and promises. I’d even go as far as to say it’s like Christmas in July, but I think Free Agent Frenzy already has that covered.

As a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, this year’s trade  deadline is especially significant, as it is Brian Burke’s first true opportunity to shape this team according to his goals and vision. There are a lot of moves he could make, and a lot of moves he should make — but we won’t know exactly what the future holds in store for the Leafs until 3:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

But why wait until then to be brutally disappointed? Here’s my take on what Burke really needs to do with the Maple Leafs at this year’s Trade Deadline:

Trade Pavel Kubina, Dominic Moore, and a 1st Round Pick to CERN for the rights to their Time Machine.

There’s no denying that Kubina has been a solid player for the Blue and White this season, especially with Kaberle injured for a good chunk of the year. And while it’s true that Burke has not asked Kubina for a list of teams he’d be willing to be go to, he has asked for a list of international scientific research bodies.

While losing Kubina to the Swiss powerhouse CERN will hurt the Buds’ backend in the short run, and the loss of the 1st rounder harkens back to the days of Pat Quinn, CERN’s Time Machine (come on, you know they have one) is a vital component of Burke’s rebuilding plan.

Kubina will provide a big boost for whatever this CERN death machine does.

Kubina will provide a big boost for, well, whatever this CERN death machine does.

Using the Time Machine, convince JFJ to trade Tomas Kaberle and Alex Steen to Edmonton for Chris Pronger.

Former MVP and playoff superstud? Nah, Steen will do.

Former MVP and playoff superstud? Nah, Steen will do.

Burke’s first priority will be to go back in time and stop John Ferguson Jr. from punching a gift horse in the mouth. I mean, seriously … Steen was “untouchable”? Alex Steen? No hindsight necessary here … JFJ royally shat the bed that day.

Due to the persuasive powers of a Burkie backhand slap to the chops, JFJ will have no choice but to accept Kevin Lowe’s offer and bring the mighty Chris Pronger into the Leafs organization.

I know, giving up Steen at this point in history means that he won’t be available in 2008 to trade for Lee Stempniak, but those are the sacrifices GMs must have to learn to make at the Trade Deadline.

Using the Time Machine, convince JFJ to trade Tuukka Rask to Pakistan for a Shipment of Nuclear Fuel Cells.

Hey, the Time Machine needs fuel, and Burke is gonna need all the power the device can muster in order to get to all of the important tasks on his to-do list. And really, it’s a win-win situation for everybody. The Leafs have already lost Rask to history, so we might as well do everybody a favour and just skip over all the painful memories of Andrew Raycroft by never even bringing him to Toronto in the first place. Plus, Pakistan finally gets the world-class goaltender they’ve been looking for all these years.

Using the Time Machine, convince Pat Quinn not to dress Jyrki Lumme, Aki Berg, and Anders Eriksson during the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals versus Carolina.

Sorry, but you really sucked.

You suck, Anders.

Holy fuck, those guys sucked. Make them all healthy scratches and call up somebody, anybody, to take their place. Doing so would undoubtedly allow CuJo, Mats, Gary, and AlMo to defeat the upstart Hurricanes and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals versus Detroit.

And while the record books will show that while the Leafs ultimately lose a heartbreaker to the Wings, it will be fondly remembered as a much better series that Detroit-Carolina ever would have been.

As an added bonus, Gary Roberts unanimously wins the Conn Smythe trophy, primarily for his single-handed curb-stomping of the Senators in the second round.

Using the Time Machine, convince Cliff Fletcher to not trade Doug Gilmour to New Jersey for Jason Smith, Steve Sullivan, and Alyn McCauley.

Some people will argue that this trade was a good one for the Leafs. However, knowing how they squandered every single asset acquired from this trade, why not just say “fuck it” and keep Dougie in a blue and white jersey for a few more seasons?

Using the Time Machine, sign a Hired Goon to a one-day emergency contract in order to bust Kerry Fraser’s legs prior to Game 6 of the Campbell Conference Finals versus Los Angeles.

Without Kerry Fraser to bungle things up, Gretzky is forced to feel shame in the penalty box, Wendel Clark scores the OT winner, and the Leafs pound the hell out of the Canadiens to win their first Stanley Cup since 1967.

These men were robbed.

These men were robbed. Never forget.

And there you have it … six “no-brainer” moves that Brian Burke should do this Trade Deadline.

Of course, having the Leafs win the Cup in 1993 probably sets off a glorious chain of events that results in Burke being nowhere near the Leafs GM post come March 2009, which means he could never trade Kubina and Moore for the Time Machine in the first place, which means we’re back where we started — with a shitty Leafs club and Brian Burke with some serious decision making to do.

Man, I can’t wait for Wednesday.

The Habs are Choking … And I’m Loving Every Minute of It

Although I currently live in Ottawa, I grew up in Southwestern Ontario. As a result, I bleed the Blue and White of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark being my favourite Leafs players of all-time.

As such, I have a moral and legal obligation to seethe venom in the general direction of the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators (yes, I said legal obligation — it’s in the contract one gets when they join Leafs Nation).

In the case of the Habs, it’s a no brainer. Toronto and Montreal have been and always will be hated rivals. Heck, this very fact is taught to us in grade school as we read Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater. Well, let me tell you something … I never wanted to comb my ‘air like Maurice Richard. I’d rather have a bitchin’ Wendel Clark moustache (except for the fact that I can’t grow a moustache).

Every time Carey Price loses, an angel gets its wings.

Every time Carey Price loses, an angel gets its wings.

Even though the Leafs and Habs haven’t met in the playoffs in a million years, this long-standing historical rivalry is the very reason that I can never bring myself to cheer for the Canadiens. Ever. Not even if they were the only Canadian team left standing in the playoffs, as they were last season. The mere thought of cheering on the Habs is just plain wrong on so many intangible levels.

But Steve, you ask, shouldn’t you be a good Canadian patriot and have a burning desire to see the Cup come back home? Well, yeah, that would be great, and I was actively cheering for Calgary, Edmonton, and yes, even Ottawa to bring home Lord Stanley’s mug (partly because it would have been cool to see a Stanley Cup parade in person. But I actually rather enjoyed seeing Alfie and the Sens get dismantled by Anaheim).

But the Habs? I was hoping they would collapse completely and lose to the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs (and they almost did). I can’t quite fully explain it. It’s almost more a gut instinct, really. All I know is that the Habs must lose.

In fact, I’d rather see the Columbus Blue Jackets win the Cup instead of Montreal … which is why I derive great satisfaction from their current slump. Indeed, nothing would be sweeter than seeing the Habs miss the playoffs entirely during their centennial season. And it would be suitable punishment for the Habs fans that voted that heartless chump Kovalev into the All-Star Game starting line-up over the greatest player in the league today, Alex Ovechkin.

I mean, seriously … did you see that goal he scored the other night against Montreal? As Pierre “Monster” McGuire said, “it was insanity.”

Hey, I may be a Leafs fan, but I’m not stupid. I know they’re not making the playoffs (unlike some delusional Senators fans), so I’m throwing my support behind Ovie and the Caps. Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green are an absolute pleasure to watch.