A Big Fix for Canada’s Team

I blogged in February on The Five Big Problems of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Happily Team President Brendan Shanahan agreed on the most important point. CFeApxQXIAAM3-m.jpg-largeBy hiring Mike Babcock as the new head coach – $50 million for eight years – Leafs management sends a clear message to media, fans and players alike: this team must win now.

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 21:  Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates after scoring in the first period against the Buffalo Sabres  at First Niagara Center on March 21, 2013 in Buffalo, United States.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

There are many next steps, the most important of which is to address player leadership, but the first step is the most important.

Said Babcock this morning: “I believe this is Canada’s team and it’s time to put it back on the map. I came here to be involved in a Cup process. I have a burning desire to win. I want to build a team that the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs can be proud of.”

13-05-13 - TORONTO, ONTARIO - Maple Leaf Square erupts as the Leafs score to even it up 1-1 in the 1st period. Toronto Maple Leaf fans react to the Game 7 action in Boston between Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. The winner of the game goes on to Round 2 of NHL playoffs Rick Madonik/Toronto Star

Phil Kessel Rules: Put Sports Writers on Waivers

Phil Kessel is to be admired for more than his stick work and scoring touch. phil-kessel-dennis-seidenberg-adam-mcquaid-nhl-boston-bruins-toronto-maple-leafs-850x560He’s also good at saying it like it is, even in the face of harsh criticism. “I’m embarrassed  for you (sports writers). It’s disgusting the way people treat (Dion Phaneuf).” Screenshot (963)The sports writers surrounded him, and he stared them down. “I’ve had it. I think this city is a great city. I love Toronto. I love playing here. but I’m just tired of it. I’m sick of it. I don’t think it should go on any more. I think it needs to stop.” Screenshot (964)The likelihood of Kessel’s advice being heeded is as good as as seeing snakes fly. Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 11.10.54 AM

Or maybe it’s less likely than that.

Steve Buffrey of The Toronto Sun did his best to spin Kessel’s words: Dumping on the media makes for great copy and sound bites on sports radio. And don’t kid yourself, media types love it when players dump on the media.

The truth is, no matter how Buffrey and his cohorts try to smirk it off, these rumor-mongers are none too pleased. Cathal Kelly, of The Globe & Mail, tried to take the challenge head on: “Once (a player treats reporters with respect), you’ll never rip that guy in print. You’ll criticize, but the ripping days are over. He’s not just someone you cover any more. He’s someone you know.”

The irony here is that Kelly admits to ripping people, which is Kessel’s exact point. The job of a reporter is not to rip, but to report. (Stunning as that may be.) And the idea of Kessel of becoming invested in the personal lives of those looking to attack him just to make them write good stories about him is foul indeed.

Indeed this hubris of the sportswriter is pathetic because they have nothing to have hubris about. They lack skill, ability, insight, empathy, in fact any of the characteristics that make one human. All they seem to know how to do is stand in a clump and rip people – and maybe eat a donut at the same time. They give nothing back. Whereas, Mr. Kessel does give something back with his skill, talent and straight-forward demeanor. Screenshot (965)Phil Kessel is right. Sports writers are embarrassing. They should all be put on waivers just so they can see what they are actually worth for themselves: nothing at all.

How to Solve The Five Big Problems for the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have sunk into a terrible morass from which there seems to be little escape. The players are adrift, the coach at a loss, while the media metes out blame and the fans cry in dismay. B9G9hrkCUAAU-WoRather than plunge into some sort of Robespierre frenzy, I suggest the following:

Problem #5: Vitriolic Toronto Sports Media. The Toronto sports media, as eager to deify as they are to condemn, is comprised of knee-jerk simpletons who make as many bad judgements as they do unintelligible puns. B2yA4mcIEAANrAz.jpg-largeThese clown are stupid enough to seriously suggest that Kessel be traded – Are they nuts?!? Solution: Change the channel and watch highlights of the 1993 Playoffs instead.

4. Ineffective Coaching. Ron Wilson (2008-12) and Randy Carlyle (2012-15) provided no direction for the players, beyond yelling and making snide remarks. wilson-preachWhile Horachek struggles to implement a system, it appears that his time will also be limited behind the bench. Solution: Mike Babcock needs to be hired, and Brendan Shanahan is the man to do that.

3. Infantile Fan Base. Sports fans are not known for a generosity of spirit nor intelligent analysis. For a market like the Leafs, where hockey is religion, it is all the worse. The symbolic throwing of team jerseys is emblematic of these childish reactions. imageSolution: Encourage your neighbor to give his jersey to a kid and maybe yell at the Flyers/Canadiens/Bruins/Rangers instead.

2. Lack of Team Leadership. Being captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a heavy burden to bear. It is not as much a matter of talent as it is of a confident, under-stated personality such as Dave Keon, Wendel Clark and Mats Sundin all had. 12822218153230Dion Phaneuf is not like these men. As skilled as he might be, he talks too much, often out of turn. Solution: Trade Dion Phaneuf and appoint a new captain in the off-season. James Van Reimsdyk is a good option to consider.

1. Team Management in Disarray. The ownership is weighed down by a bureaucratic board of governors, focused on making too much money, burdened by a history of poor management practice. 940-ballard-8colThis problem is the trickiest of the lot. Hopefully these suits can be swayed by Brian Burke’s wisdom: “They’ll name a street after whoever brings the Stanley Cup to Toronto.” Solution: Remind the board that they hired Brendan Shanahan to be president, and to let him do just that.

Fandom: Not the Right to Be a Jerk

As is readily apparent to anyone reading this blog, I am an avid fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Screenshot (406)As a kid, I kept a scrapbook of every Leaf game. I remember exactly where I was when Wendel Clark was traded for Mats Sundin – looking down at a sad-looking plant on a small wooden table in a tiny Roman hotel. My mood shifts from win to loss and win. 20140505_205011I look forward to absolutely every game and get anxious for the season to start over the summer months. However one thing I never miss in July – in fact abhor – is the way so many of the Leaf followers use the Leafs to vent and criticize. Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 8.28.36 AMIt’s one thing to have to listen to moronic sports reporters dribble and spew – after all they get paid to write stupid things – but entirely another to hear supposed supporters spout their vitriol.

As much as these people claim to be fans of their teams, the truth is they’re not. Their anger has nothing to do with support, but instead reflects their pathetic isolation and bitter self-reflection on lives ill-led. Nothing more.imagesAs frustrated as I might get with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I always support them, yes, through the six-game losing streaks, the disappointing seasons and the 47-year Stanley Cup drought. While I can be critical, the Leafs are my team. It’s not a complicated thing. leafsGo Leafs Go. (And to you fickle fans, I say “Go away.”)

My New Year’s Wish for the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most talented teams in hockey, and yet, as CBS Sports wrote,”They are extremely streaky and volatile. You never know which team is going to show up and what exactly is going to happen.”leafsThese players know how to play. They know how to pass. They know how to score. They know how to defend. They just need a coach to move them in the same direction.kesselCurrent head coach, Randy Carlyle, is the one to blame for this inconsistency. As he admitted himself after the team lost recently to Carolina, the team with the worst record in the league: ”I don’t think we were mentally ready to go out and play the type of game that was required. Simple as that.” randy randy(Whose job is that? Oh, right, the coach.)

And so as simple as that, Carlyle has to go. Sign Dallas Eakins for the rest of the year and see how that goes.eakins If it doesn’t work out, get Babcock. Now is the time to win.

Looks like 2015 might be a good year after all: Leafs Fire Carlyle.

I Will Be Content After This Drink

I just need this drink to be content. 20140828_160719Just that, the refreshment, the alcohol in my blood at the right percentage. 20140917_183324Ah, yes…there! I am content, genuinely and truly so.

It’s nice to feel like this, to have everything set, the holidays approaching, the weather cool and crisp, all emails answered, assignments managed, my work going fine. Screenshot (1014)My Bad Side will be published one day, The Ark is finally coming together, and the first draft of Glenayr is almost there. Friends and family are healthy – Micaela happy and More Art prospering – and the Leafs are actually winning.Screenshot (406)

Yes, everything is all right…although, now that I think about it, the Leafs could be more consistent, especially in the defensive end.

20140323_201436And, well, my brother won’t talk to me, and More Art could use more grant money.  Glenayr lacks a clear antagonist, and, to be honest, The Ark will be impossible to finish. images-4An email from Fedex? Claim rejected? Damn it, I forgot to call my doctor, and I have to set up the website for next week. Yeah, and it’s going to snow.

blizz1What? And the bar is closed? 20140404_221149No, that’s not good.

Phil Kessel’s Admirable Disdain for the Sports Media

Last Friday, Toronto lost to Buffalo, the worst team in the league, and Phil Kessel, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ star forward walked away from the media scrum, telling them, “Leave me alone.”

The jilted scum (sic) made a story out of that. As Mr. Kessel admits, his answers rarely offer them anything much. “I’m a guy that likes to go out and play hockey and have some fun.” kessel Break 2Teammate Nazem Kadri, victim of as much negative press as anyone, gave his point of view: “When (Phil) doesn’t feel like he can trust anybody, he gets a little bit shy and a little bit timid in that regard. It’s really nothing personal.” Screenshot (177)Let me put it differently and not so nicely: sports reporters are lazy and judgemental. They do not pose insightful questions that develop understanding of the nature of the game nor the player, but instead pose trite statements with question marks at the end, searching for a quote that they can insert into their pre-written narrative.

These are the statements/questions Kessel avoided: “What are your thoughts on losing to the worst team in the league?” james_vanriemsdyk.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterbox“How disappointed are you in the team’s efforts?” “How can the team improve?”

Phil Kessel is a great hockey player not only for his skill and humility on the ice but also for his most admirable disdain for these morons he must endure.Screenshot (1133)

Watching Beckett One-Acts on Leafs Opening Night

Not I:  What? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing . . . dull roar . . . in the skull . . . and the beam . . . ferreting around . . . painless . . . so far . . . ha! . . so far . . . then thinking . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash Screenshot (406)Footfalls: Not enough, what can you possibly mean, May, not enough? May: I mean, Mother, that I must hear the feet, however faint they fall. Screenshot (409)RockabySo in the end/close of a long day/in the end went and sat/went back in and sat.Screenshot (413)

Chronicle of Wearing a Maple Leafs Hat in Boston

I admit that I went to Boston with an attitude. As a fan of Toronto Maple Leafs, I do not think kind thoughts of anything Bruin, and so donned my Leafs cap to represent the true blue and white. 20140505_205011I didn’t have to wait long for a reaction. “You guys have been losers since 1967.” The guy stared at me deadpan at the bus station.

My comeback wasn’t a classic. “At least I don’t live in Boston.”

It was going to be a long weekend, but I was up to it, and went straight into a bar called The Tam to watch the Bruins-Canadiens game, now in overtime. Montreal Canadiens v Boston BruinsI received a few glares and just one muttered comment – “I think this guy is messing up my karma” – but that was it. I almost felt bad when the Bruins lost the game.

The startling silence continued over the next day – perhaps because I was at a writer’s conference? 20140502_133530It wasn’t until I arrived in Cambridge that things picked up again. 0722_tstop_harvardsq_msA square-jawed, almost pleasant-looking man leaned out from an alley. “Leafs are the only Original Six team that didn’t make the playoffs. Did you know that?”

I wasn’t sure if he was right. It took me a couple of blocks to think it through and another few to think of my comeback. “Now I know I’m in fucking Harvard.”

I continued on to The Sinclair, preparing for the next attack.

“Love the hat, man.”

I wanted to detect a tone but couldn’t find one.

“Got to wear your colors,” said another. “I respect that.” 20140503_215803It wasn’t until I ran into an old friend at the show that the antagonism returned. “I looked up, saw the Leafs hat, and thought what an asshole. I knew it must be you.”

My Stupid Freewill

I am dumb, looking at the screen.Screenshot (1172)Only just able to raise my finger, I click again. Screenshot (1170)I am non-thinking, the opposite of my brain working, and believe there to be a link, somehow secret, that will inspire, move me in a direction, anywhere.

Screenshot (1171)But I stay thick and slow, stuck. There is nothing. Screenshot (1170)I go around again, the same pages, the same things, the same morbid reflections, the same sentimental desires, and I know that I will not click on anything new, that I will keep circling in, trapping myself in this concentric hell. Screenshot (1172)An email arrives and I have to respond to that. I have to get up. I have work, things I must do, and already am thinking back to just now, having this time to do whatever I wanted and doing nothing, absolutely nothing.esk-compI should have done something real and certain. I promise myself that I will do that, the next chance I have.