The Correction: A Toronto Maple Leafs Solution



Before you start reading, please know this about your writer and his perspectives: I have absolutely nothing to do with the profession of Sports or Sports Management. I am simply an avid, yet rational Toronto Maple Leafs fan of four years, and consumed thousands of hours of hockey opinion and analysis from professionals of all the major Canadian sporting networks and media outlets.

The below is a theory on how the Toronto Maple Leafs correct the mistakes of the recent past that has left the world’s biggest Hockey Franchise in a state of disarray. Considerations towards the excessive media reaction to the team and it’s place as a major corporate entity have been factored in to my thoughts.

I understand that the concept of what I am writing is meaningless, and that there is no resolutions I have offered in terms of options for trades, or assessment of upcoming draft prospects. That is not my strong point, and without being privy to the inside knowledge of the NHL, anything I write would only be speculation and conjecture. 

The below is simply my suggested framework for success. 

The Correction: A TML Solution

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a broken hockey team.

Their recent inability has long predated my hockey consciousness, in in my short career of fanaticism of four seasons, they have reached some shockingly historic troughs. When you move to this city and hear the locals talk about the team with a shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, you wonder how much more people can take.

I’m not a hockey expert. I am a Sports enthusiast who moved to Toronto in 2008, and started watching the Leafs with regularity in 2011. Since then I’ve logged as much Leaf mileage as any hardcore fan has. While the intricacies of the game may still pass me by a little more than those of you who grew up on the ice, I do understand what I’m watching here. Whatever my opinions on players technical ability is, I do understand cap management, the media’s obsession with this team, and team dynamics.

It’s not much but it’s something.

My love of the game, and of this team, has lead me follow the work of many journalists and analysts who have provided countless number of hours on what this team needs to do to rebuild. With the nature of the industries that they work in, they generally only offer individual takes on individual pieces: Is Phaneuf a good enough Captain, Is Kessel uncoachable, Is Kadri a Number 1 Center, and so on. In isolation, these are all reasonable questions. However, there’s more than one problem with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and all of these singular problems are subsections of bigger problems.

The below is my root and branch review on how to correct the Toronto Maple Leafs.


  • Ride out the 2014/15 season;
  • Cap Space is King;
  • Rid yourself of $20 million/4 Major Long-Term Contracts;
  • Build a high-character 2015/16 team;
  • Do not offer long-term deals;
  • Draft better.

2014/15 Season:

This season is gone.

With all the talk of tanking amongst the media and the fans, it looks like Leaf Management are going to get a bit of a pass on this one. Working with the majority of players that they have now, the Leafs are going to end up with likely a top 10 pick in the upcoming draft without having to trade the big-name players and give off the impression that they are “Tanking”. Under normal circumstances the media would be having a field-day with the concept of Tanking, but the reality is that this team just is not good enough to do any better than they have been. That means the heat is on the players, and the General Manager for signing them.

This is the year to have a bad season. Analysts suggest that the 2015 draft is as deep as it has been for a while, and the Leafs are going to pick up a good prospect, maybe a great one. The fans have accepted this season as gone, so there’s no reason to hold on to anything now. It’s not salvageable.

The Key Now? Shed your assets to get as much value as you can. A major trade for a big ticket item is unlikely, but there are a few pending free agents that Leafs Management has to maximise at the deadline. The rest? If you can get a good deal before the deadline then by all means. Otherwise, let’s just ride it out.

2014/15 Player Evaluation

Using the starting point as now, with the final two months of thirty-odd games to be played, you finish your evaluation on your UFA’s. We’ve had at least half a season to digest a couple of the assets, and a lot more time to figure out what you’ve got in others. I’m sure decision’s have been made on all of them right now.

With the RFA’s, there’s nobody you have here that hasn’t been a Leaf for at least a year and a half now, so you should know what you’ve got at this stage. However, the requirement to move them is probably less urgent.

Let’s look at the UFA’s.

Cody Franson – Move

Cody Franson is going to make six million a year for at least five seasons in the open market when his deal expires at the end of the season. He’s a good player at the right age and can contribute offensively to almost any team in the league. His right-handed shot, his power-play minutes and his propensity for putting up points, all while playing for the most part on Toronto’s number one defensive pairing, equates to big dollars at free agency. For the Leafs, though, his time has past. He’s been treated poorly here and underpaid for the last two seasons. He’s been part of a lot of pain on this team, and everyone here needs a fresh start.

Cody Franson should warrant a first round draft pick this year when traded at the deadline. His cap hit is reasonable and he’s going to make a good team better instantly. The market will be hot for him over the next month, and the prospect of a first round pick is a great return for someone you’re not going to keep. This move has to happen.

Mike Santorelli – Move

Mike Santorelli follows Mason Raymond the year before him as The Leafs’ breakout star with minimal investment. This has been a good arrangement for Santorelli, who should earn himself a 3 year / $3 million per contract next year. Furthermore, he has a chance of getting traded to a Stanley Cup contender this year. He doesn’t owe the Leafs anything and management should be acknowledged for picking him up and turning him in to a potential 2nd round pick. Take it and let him hit the open market next year. There are more Santorelli’s out there in the cap crunch era.

Daniel Winnik – Keep

Dan Winnik is another strong performer this year, albeit in the context of his current deal. He has clear leadership qualities and ideally can be cast as a solid third/fourth line player for a team looking to invest in the future. Someone like Winnik can lead by example and offer stability in uncertain times. He’s a likable character who tries hard and will suit a 2015/16 version of this team that might not be very good, but should be hard-working. He hasn’t experienced the same torment here as most of his teammates too, which is important. I wouldn’t move heaven and earth to keep him, and would hesitate if it went far beyond $2 million cap hit next year, but assuming you don’t get an overpayment offer at the deadline, he has a good mix of character and ability this team will need during the transition phase.

Korbinian Holzer – Move

Fine at his current cap hit of under $800k but anything more and I wouldn’t be too interested. I’m not a prospect evaluator but I haven’t seen enough from him down the years to warrant any reason keeping him. No long-term commitment with money will be made to him.

David Booth – Move

From what I can tell, David Booth is a hard worker. Optional skates, his name is one of the few that appears to be referenced as often as any. His play on the fourth line this year has been noticeably higher quality than Trevor Smith and whoever else accompanies him. I would have no problem retaining David Booth for a couple of years in the same way I would Dan Winnik. I don’t think a pay raise is necessarily warranted so I would let him go now and see what the open market brings him. If he gets a better offer, good for him. If I was offered another year at $1.1 million for David Booth, I’d take it for what I’m trying to do for 2015/16.

Trevor Smith – Move

I have much the same feeling on Trevor Smith as I do David Booth. Another hard worker, a product of the Marlies, and someone that I don’t mind seeing on the fourth line and penalty kill. He’ll never be a game changer, but he’s not likely to hurt you too much either. Again, at a minimal cap hit I’d accept him for the 2015/16 project.

On to the RFA’s.

Jonathan Bernier – Keep

I would keep Bernier because I am not 100% sure what I have here, and yet I want to give him a chance to gain consistency in net. However, for me this has to be a bridging deal, or three years maximum. Bernier has shown enough potential to be a high-end goaltender that I’d give him the benefit of the doubt to retain him. His job, much like Reimer, has been extremely difficult these past two seasons, and in many ways he’s been the hardest player to evaluate because the team has asked too much of him. In order to try evaluate how good he can be, you have to give him a chance to succeed. The job of a Stanley Cup contending goaltender is different to the job of a Goaltender for a non-playoff team. I’d go as high as $5 million per season for 2 years with him, although they should be able to get him for around $4.5 million per.

Nazem Kadri – Keep

I think Kadri has had a good year, and I think he is a good player. He’s not perfect, but his numbers are consistent with top players in his position at his age, and he’s still young enough to develop more. I’ve seen more maturity in his performances this year, and I think what you have is someone with potential to be a 2nd line center, but ideally 3rd line on a top team. The money he will command could be high, but he’s in a position of need for a team with few options. I’d like if you could restrict him to 3 years, but I can see a 5 year deal for $5 million per being the outcome, which I would not love, but feel like he can be moved in 3 years. Mark Hunter is apparently a big fan of what he can become, so I would be surprised if he left.

Richard Panik – Move

He was worth a try, and he’s shown glimpses of the player he could be, but ultimately he’s of no worth to this team this season. He’s an ok player but probably not what the Leafs need right now. Worth it at under $1 million, but otherwise I don’t think he’s going to come back to bit anyone in a major way.

Petter Granberg – Move

Leaving behind Petter Granberg is unlikely to prove to be one of the Leafs biggest mistakes in modern times from what I can tell, and it doesn’t sound like a major commitment to money and term is coming his way. Again, $800k players are not going to kill you, especially on a two-way deal.

So far the only major decision we’ve made with regards moving players out is Franson, while we have retained the services of bigger question mark players of Kadri & Bernier. Kadri, in particular, is a lightning rod for controversy for the Toronto market and media which is something I’d love to try and steer clear of, but the reality is that Toronto always picks on somebody. Kadri has been sheltered a little bit by the likes of Phaneuf and Kessel in recent years, and my major fear about keeping him would be that he’d become more of the focus, something I don’t think he will respond to well. Kadri is a good player who I’d be sad to see leave, but he’s been through a lot here, and if the right deal came along then I’d accept a departure there too, if you’re so inclined.

The Big Cap Save

Right, let’s get down to the big ticket items, and ultimately what I’ve got to focus on: The Big Cap Save.

The Big Cap Save is a simple concept that may be almost impossible to execute. The Maple Leafs are committed to a $48.5 Million cap for 2016/17 as it stands right now, that’s one and a half seasons away. My proposal is as follows:

Shed $15 million worth of cap space by the start of the 2016/17 season dealing any of the following players:

Dion Phaneuf (7m)

Phil Kessel (8m)

Tyler Bozak (4.2m)

David Clarkson (5.25m)

James Van Reimsdyk (4.25m)

Jake Gardiner (4.05m)

Leo Komarov (2.95m)

Joffrey Lupul (5.25m)

In my eyes, literally any one of those players can be moved. There is not one player in that list that I would absolutely keep for the future. Each, in isolation, has offered some big performances for this hockey club. Each would bring back varying degrees of assets, and rightly so. Most importantly, each can offer a lot to a lot of teams.

The reality is that some of these contracts are unmovable, whether it be because the deals are terrible or because the asset return just wouldn’t make it worthwhile. My below proposal is done with the idea that Cap Space is the most important asset the Leafs can attain in the next two/three years, and while I’ve tried to be realistic about what can and can’t be done, the Leafs management needs to get to the magic number of $15 million worth in space by the 2016/17 season out of the above assets while allowing for the fact that they will likely take back salary from others.

In my estimation, the first two players I’m going to mention have to be moved in order for this team to properly turn the page.

Dion Phaneuf – Move

How do you move an overpaid defenseman who’s got six years left on a deal paying $7 million per? I don’t know, frankly. What do you get back for this asset? I don’t know that, either. Here’s what I do know: Dion Phaneuf has been miscast as captain and a number one defenseman in Toronto. He’s been a lightning rod of fan discontent for years. He’s overseen an epic collapse with Ron Wilson, a nightmare play-off collapse with Carlyle, a mid-season collapse with Carlyle and another meltdown this year. His play has not been all bad, but the pressure of who he is, playing where he is, has beaten him down. It’s not his fault. He was put in a position where success was nearly impossible. The team needs a new captain and a fresh start. Unfortunately he is exhibit A of what was the Brian Burke/Dave Nonis era.

So what do we need back for him? Well, we need something useful. Whether it be a pick of note or a prospect, or a player that’s going improve a position, we need something. I’m not sure what kind of bargaining power Leafs management has, but Phaneuf is a useful player to a lot of teams, and should be marketed as such. What absolutely has to happen, in my view, is that the Leafs need to create at least a notable amount of cap space from a move, whether it be now or in a contract that is to expire in at most three years. It may be asking a lot, but this is something a good general manager needs to negotiate for.

Phil Kessel – Move

I love Phil Kessel. He is my favourite hockey player. He’s fast, he’s exciting and he scores goals. For a team that’s ready to push for the cup, he is your top line winger. The Leafs positioned themselves so that now was the time for Phil to shine on a team that was ready to get there with him. That hasn’t happened, and it’s not going to happen for the remainder of Phil’s best years. Kessel, like Phaneuf, has never been given the platform to fully succeed. Unlike Phaneuf, Kessel has delivered exactly what he was asked to deliver. Heck, imagine if he had a center like Toews or Kopitar on his line what he may have achieved? Instead he’s had Tyler Bozak. Years and years of Tyler Bozak.

Phil is the other major media lightning rod, and although far more beloved by the fans, he has had his hands on the wheel of the bus that went over the cliff these last four years. Is it his fault? I don’t think so. He’s probably been the best player on the team throughout that time. But the best player needs to set an example on and off the ice. Kessel can’t be what the younger players on this team coming through the ranks see as the top dog because his philosophy of the game is different than what this team needs it to be. Kessel is a small-town guy who needs to be kept out of the spotlight and not scrutinized. Toronto is the wrong place for Phil now.

So what do we get back for him? I think much the same as Dion. It’s a huge contract he holds, which is the biggest problem. But Phil is worth a lot to a lot of teams, and he is an asset to the Maple Leafs. However, like Dion, cap space has got to be the ultimate goal. You’ve got to find space over the next few years with him being moved on, and you should get at least one top six forward/top 4 D man or a top pick for him because he’s worth that to someone.

Joffrey Lupul – Keep

Joffrey Lupul is a good, level-headed and experience hockey player who is capable of playing top line minutes, and is potential captaincy material. He possesses the qualities that make you believe he may be capable of sticking around and managing the media’s expectations for the next two years while the Leafs try to make themselves relevant again. His production can be up to a point-per game and he could take the torch of being the lightning rod, assuming the media is going to need one here.

The problem is Lupul, obviously, is his injury record. It’s not worth trading Lupul for that very reason, because he’s a devalued asset. A good player that struggles to make 60 games of an 82 game schedule, his 5.25 million cap hit for the next four years is going to be too difficult to move for anything really worthwhile. His presence in Toronto is probably more valuable than it is elsewhere in the NHL, and the fact remains that when he’s on the ice, he’s a good player.

I don’t want the Leafs to finish 30th in the NHL in 2015/16. I want to see a good team that works hard on the ice and wins hockey games. I want the young players that join this team to learn how to win here. Lupul gives the Leafs that chance when he plays. No team is going to offer a lot for him given his injury background, and that’s ok. I think he is a player that can set a tone for this Hockey Club and I want him here if I can’t get something very useful in his place.

David Clarkson – Keep

Look, I’d move Clarkson in a heartbeat. I would literally move him for nothing and retain as much salary as is allowed just to get his cap space. Unfortunately, I don’t think any other team in the NHL would take him for free and pay half his wages.

The guy is a good guy who works hard, but his contract might be the worst in hockey. Nobody is going to want him, and I can see why. Keep him here, keep him on your fourth line and hope that he continues to work hard and is a good influence on the next generation coming through. Take him off the power play and do not give him too much ice-time because he’s ruining those around him. I’m sorry.

Tyler Bozak – Move

Bozak has come in for a lot of derision from the fans, particularly those who pay any attention to advanced metrics. The reality with Bozak is that he too has been miscast as a first line center. Conventional wisdom is that he is a good third-liner, or maybe a low-end second line center. The problem with that is that he’s being overpaid by about 1.2 million bucks for that role, maybe more. It increasingly looks like Leafs management banked on his steady improvement of point production to continue, but the fact is that it hasn’t. He has been at the helm of the Leafs disasters in what should be the Leafs’ second most important position of first line Center. Bozak’s trade assets will probably not be anything to get too excited about, but let’s remember the aim of the game here: cap flexibility.

James Van Reimsdyk – Move

JVR has been a solid player for the Leafs since arriving here. The stench of collapse hasn’t stuck to him like it has others, mainly because we’ve seen steady point-production coupled with relative cap value. What should frustrate everyone is that he seems unlikely ever to take advantage of his considerable size, but that’s not to say he would not be a great second line player. JVR is the kind of player I would happily keep, but his moveable assets should be worth more to the Leafs than he is. He is likely the easiest of all the Leafs big ticket items to move, so they should get a good reward back for him.

Leo Komarov – Keep

Leo is a fan favourite in Toronto. He is a hard-working, honest hockey player of limited skill, which some would argue is the problem with him. What Leo can offer is a level of stability, a strong work ethic and an ability to shoulder some of the load of the big minutes for this team. While his injury problems this year should be of some concern, Komarov is a stout penalty killer and a strong third-liner who has showed flourishes of offense this year. Like Daniel Winnik, he is the kind of player fans can get behind during a couple of years of transition. Dont trade a fan-favourite because you want people to stay interested in the next two years.

Jake Gardiner – Keep

There’s been a recent financial commitment to Jake Gardiner which I think means there’s no point in thinking the Leafs are actively trying to offload him, regardless of whether I think they should do or not. Jake Gardiner is an exciting hockey player with a lot of upside, but whose career has been littered with moments of poor decision making. However, that is not uncommon for a young player. What you’d like to see, in time, is the slow elimination of these errors, which remains to be seen. Gardiner has the look of what you expect Defensemen are going to be more like in five years’ time, and I’d be inclined to give him more time to develop. The likelihood is that he has enough skill and upside to attract suitors in one or two years if you don’t believe he’ll ever get to the point you need him to, and on a contract that is not impossible to move.

Cap Saving: $23.5 Million in a two/three year period.

This could be wishful thinking, I get it. I haven’t offered trade alternatives, ideas of what to get back or anything else, I get it. I don’t want to guess as to what they could or should get for any of the above, because honestly I don’t really know. I’ve heard rumours and reports from journalists, but I don’t know what can realistically be done. Here’s what I do know: the most important thing, regardless of what return any of these assets get, is that A) core players in a team that have experienced too much failure will be gone and B) their loss needs to clear cap space in two/three years.

There’s a remaining list of players on the current active roster that decisions need to be made on one way or the other in the coming years. There is one who is an absolute keeper at this stage.

Morgan Reilly – Keep

Since Carlyle’s firing, Morgan Reilly has arguably been the Leafs best player. A hotly-tipped prospect, Reilly has flown under the radar to the rest of the league for the most part, but the kid has been extremely reliable and wise beyond his years. Whether he matures in to a top defenseman remains to be seen, especially given Toronto’s recent record of developing blue-line talent, but the fact remains the Leafs have a young, exciting player who makes few mistakes, and generates offense.

He is a key reason why you need to think about avoiding a complete bottoming out. He needs to be part of a winning culture, a team attempting to try and get better, and in an environment that fosters success. Surround him with pieces to help turn him in to a real asset, even if they’re not the most talented players you can get. Give him a foundation from which to grow, and make him part of your next core. He is an exciting prospect and needs to be nurtured.

Beyond 16/17, Reilly is going to command a decent contract which will be hard to deny. A bridging deal would be likely, and it would probably touch close to $4 million if he continues the upward trajectory. Let’s say $3.75 and hope Leafs can strike themselves a bargain.

Roman Polak – Keep

While losing Polak would not be the end of the world, his is the Komarov/Winnik school of grit which fans here will appreciate during a transition (Do you see a trend here in what I am trying to sell you on the transition?) Polak has shared a lot of time with Reilly, and I think he is the kind of player that would help Reilly flourish. His presence on the blue line alongside Mo should add a level of stability to what could be a turbulent couple of years. Polak is a solid player with a manageable cap hit, there’s no need to give it up unless you’re getting something of real value in return. There’s no long term commitment to him, either.

Stephan Robidas – Keep

It’s only because you have to, really. He’s over 35 so he’s guaranteed with a no-trade clause, but he’s not a bad guy to have around. He’s struggled with fitness this year, and that’s not going to get any better, but he’s a veteran who can provide leadership and shoulder a burden in the back end for the young guys. He’ll be off the books in two years and that $3 million will be valuable once open.

Peter Holland – Keep

A young, controllable asset who plays at center, shown improvement this year and only costing $775k against the cap? I’ll keep it all day. Interesting to see what becomes of Holland and if he can show any signs of growth in the next 18 months, but he’s playing above his contract right now. There’s time to make a determination on what he’s worth.

James Reimer – Move

Last, but by no means least, Optimus Reim. Goaltenders are going to have it hard in Toronto, and Reimer deals with the media probably better than anybody on the team. He is a good goalie. I’m not sure he’s a number one, but he’s a great back-up. $2.3 million for the next season is fine, but after that he doesn’t need to be kept here for anything more. Don’t overpay a backup goalie, you can’t afford it right now. Reimer is not content to be a back-up in the league, and that’s fair as he feels he deserves a chance to play having taken this group to the play-off’s in 2013. However, I don’t believe here is where it will happen for him.

2015/16 Season

In an ideal world, you will be able to shake as many of these big ticket contracts as possible, and with minimum commitment going back the other way. However, that may not be realistic, and in reality we’ve got to allow for this transition to spill over in to next season. The idea of the “rebuild” in the media will be the hardest thing to contend with to start the season. Some of your top stars may be gone and there may not be an obvious replacement for them.

How to contend with that? Build a gritty hockey club in the short term. They don’t have to be the most talented group of players, but they have to be tough, they have to do the fundamentals and they have to work damn hard. The Leafs fans and media have watched a club lacking bite for numerous years now. The one exception? The lock out shortened season. Fans can get behind a hard-working team, and if they display a notable increase in effort that sets up a strong locker room culture to build upon for the next wave of players.

I’m not saying we go back to the Goon Hockey of Orr and McLaren. Far from it. What we want is hard checking, maximum effort and high character individuals to lay a foundation. The talent will follow in time. A team with Lupul, Winnik, Komarov, Holland, Booth, Robidas and other high-character individuals will give Leafs fans something to cling on to for the season, and see where it takes you.

Overall Goal of Cap Commitment for 2016/17:

Lupul:                   $5.25m

Clarkson:             $5.25m

Kadri:                   $5m (est.)

Komarov:            $2.95m

Gardiner:             $4.05m

Reilly:                  $3.75m (est.)

Bernier:               $4.5m (est.)

Robidas:               $3m

Buyout:                $1.3m

Total:                    $35.05m

Cap Commitment from Assets Trading “Big Ticket” players:

Total:                     $8.5m (est.)

Overall Cap hit for 2016/17 season:          $43.55 million

Saving to current:                                            $5 million

Granted, looking at the lay of the land now you’ve not made any significant saving – what you have bought yourself is future flexibility, and a new core from which to build around. Furthermore, by 2016/17 you can make clearer determinations on:

  • Jonathan Bernier as a starting goaltender;
  • Jake Gardiner as a top defensemen;
  • Nazem Kadri as a Centerman;
  • William Nylander as a prospect.

What we don’t want:

#Tank Nation

I am not convinced by the notion of “Tanking”, especially in Toronto. The fan base here is loyal, but it has also been beaten down to within an inch of its life. There is a potential lost generation of Leafs fans here, and it will affect the brand in the future. The city is dying for a contender, and with the rise of the Raptors, there’s a real chance here that Hockey could start dissolving some of its power.

Toronto’s hockey team might not need a Top 3 pick every year for the next 3 years. Bottoming out is not something I can get behind, because in this day and age there is a race to the floor, and you may not be able to get all the way to the bottom here. Bad teams lose hockey games. Good teams try to build a culture of success by winning, not by losing. While it helps to get the first overall pick, the damage you do to get that top pick may negate the repair a top prospect can bring. Case and Point: Edmonton.

Rushing the Prospects

The Leafs are probably going to get a top 10 pick in the upcoming draft, at least. That’s going to be a good player. He absolutely cannot play for the Leafs in the 2015/16 season. He probably shouldn’t play in the 2016/17 season either. Nylander, too, should also sit out next season and gestate in the Marlies. This rush to prominence for these young prospects has got to stop, because it’s not what the good clubs do. They’ve got to be given a chance to develop their skills and prepare. Throwing them in to the deep end is not beneficial to their growth long term, and this team needs to take the long-term view for the next two years. The key is to build a receptive environment for these players to land into in two years.

No Long-Term Commitments

Cap Flexibility is such an asset in this day and age. You need to have room to capitalize on the opportunities that may present themselves. The good hockey clubs like the Blackhawks are going to have major commitments down the road, and they’re going to struggle to make room for their players. The LA Kings already have cap issues, and somebody is going to swoop in there and take one of their good players. The Leafs have to be able to have room to take advantage of this. The commitment to this core of players was the big mistake. You can’t commit to anyone unless they have proven themselves to be a great player. Don’t tie yourself to anyone unless you’re absolutely sure. Kadri’s five years should be the only one that long, and I’d rather three or four.

Think You Can Save This Team

You can’t save this group of players. They are inexorably broken. Let it be. Please.

What we want:

A Strong Foundation

Easier said than done, granted. But the key, as I’ve been saying, is not necessarily a foundation of top 30 players in the league right now because they aren’t available. What the Leafs have to focus on for the next year and a half is building a core of high-chartecter, hard-working individuals who will foster a culture that the young players whom they draft will learn from. Kessel, Phaneuf, JVR, Bozak, these guys have failed in developing that locker room.

Draft Better

Again, easier said than done. I can’t give any analysis on this though because I’m not a scout. Just draft better players. There are not enough drafted prospects in this hockey club right now. This season they should have two first round draft picks, and a high second round draft. That should be three good players. Next season they’ll have another, and you should get a smattering of decent draft picks by trading some of the big ticket assets too.

And so ends my 6,000 word thesis on how to fix the Leafs. The prospect is almost ludicrous, I agree, but you’ve got to look at what my general plan is:

  • Play out the 2014/15 season as you are, gaining as much as you can from those who aren’t going to be here next year;
  • Take this off-season and the next off-season to rid yourself of as many long-term contract players as you can, and must be at least four;
  • Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel have to go. Good players, wrong place;
  • Make your 2015/16 team a squad of hard-working, high-character professionals, building a foundation of a culture that will allow young prospects to grow;
  • Draft good players;
  • Give the prospects time to develop;
  • Don’t rush.

It’s a hard thing to do in Toronto, I know this. But at this stage, Leaf management needs to ask itself what it wants for the future of this team. The core players could show signs of contending for a play-off spot in future years, sure. But there is nobody that things this team can win a cup, and very few who believe this team will be a regular play-off contender. If you’re looking to keep selling seats and have big names then fine, but the fans have run out of patience with this group.

It’s time to move on.


World Cup of Hockey


Hockey World Cup and National Pride – The Key to Success

After years of ongoing discourse, it sounds like the NHL and NHL Players Association are preparing to announce that they are organizing a “World Cup of Hockey” event to take place in September 2016, prior to the beginning of the NHL’s 2016/17 season. It is reported that the NHL hopes to make the announcement during this weekend’s All-Star event and is expected to have a total of eight teams competing for the prize. With the success of the professional’s involvement in recent Winter Olympics providing greater worldwide exposure to the sport, the NHL and it’s players are looking an opportunity to line their pockets with many international currencies, as well as promote their game to a wider captive audience.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that they may be starting this tournament off on completely the wrong foot by introducing unnecessary gimmicks to a formula that has been tried and tested in multiple other sports.

The main problem is the eight teams they plan to have enter the tournament. There are the six traditional hockey countries that have a solid history of competing at a high level: Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. The other two teams are going to be what is cast as a “Euro All-Star” team, made up of players who are from Europe, but who do not play for one of the other four Euro teams (Chara and Kopitar, for example) and a team of “Under 24’s” from the US and Canada.

I may not know a heck of a lot about Hockey, but as a fan who grew up in Europe and whose familiar with the Soccer and Rugby World Cup’s, I know a thing or two about the importance of international competition. It can galvanize a nation like little else. It brings together talents that you don’t normally see to compete on the world stage. It can highlight new and emerging stars, and often times can create legendary sporting moments unparalleled in regular domestic competition.

USA and Canada should be no stranger to these concepts either. Take the Winter Olympics of 2010 and 2014 for the Canadian Hockey Team, for example, or even Team USA in last summer’s soccer world cup. Both became the talking point in their respective countries for the duration of their involvement in the tournament, and with it raised the profiles of the likes of Tim Howard, TJ Oshie, Sydney Crosby, Carey Price amongst others.

The idea of adding a Euro All-Stars and Under 24 team is preposterous and completing devalues the very currency of nationalism that the World Cup of Hockey needs to trade on. The concept that Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid, top US and Canadian prospects, will have to play against the United States and Canada to win the World Cup makes absolutely no sense. Eichel and McDavid grew up representing their country’s at underage level and presumably watched their heroes in the last two Olympic games, one day thinking they too could represent their country on the biggest stage. Asking them to compete against their country for up to five years before they’re over 24 turns this in to a glorified exhibition game, and goes against the national pride you’re asking fans to try and invest in.

While the Euro All-Stars is not a completely alien prospect in sports (see golf’s Ryder Cup or rugby’s British & Irish Lions) the concept is still fundamentally flawed from a potential growth perspective. Case and point is Denmark, who have recently seen young players such as Anaheim’s Frederik Anderson, Montreal’s Lars Ellar and Vancouver’s Nicklas Jensen play in the NHL. While there’s no doubt Denmark has a long way to go before they can compete with some of the established nations, they may never get to that point if they don’t begin to build a culture of top-level, high-profile competition and the national exposure that goes with it. The fact of the matter is that a Danish fan will quicker get behind a team of Danes wearing the Danish crest on their sweater rather than a watered-down conglomerate of their European cohorts whose names, culture and values means almost nothing to them. The opportunity that a team like Denmark may get to test their skills against a team like Canada can provide a measuring stick for their current talent, and a marker for their progression as a hockey nation.

A recent example I can site in this theory is Italian rugby. Italy is traditionally a soccer super power, but with a growing population of players and interest in the game of Rugby. In 2000, they entered the famous European Competition “Five Nations” (obviously changed to Six Nations once they joined) and made an instant impact with a win in their first game against Scotland. However, it took them three years to win their next game in the tournament, displaying various levels of competition throughout. The road for Italy’s rugby team was not easy, but a generation later they have established themselves a legitimate rugby nation and a threat to any of the top teams in the world.

My point is that it took 15 years for them to get to the point now where they are consistently competitive. As the level of talent ebbs and flows, their fortunes will adjust with it, but the issue is now they have grown the game to a point that they get enough national attention to be considered a tier-one nation by the International Rugby Board. To deny the Czech Republic or Latvia or Denmark that opportunity to grow with a tournament will deny the opportunity for the World Cup of Hockey to get to the level that the Winter Olympics gets.

The argument against their involvement is the perceived notion that these teams cannot compete against the big-guns. To me, this is a short-sighted viewpoint and completely undermines what the goal of this competition should be: to grow the game. The idea of growing the game is not something that immediately turns itself in to hard cash, and the rich, old white guys who make these decisions are looking for instant gratification. While that’s not surprising, what they may eventually end up with is presenting the world with a watered-down, preseason exhibition tournament which the players don’t respect, and more importantly, the fans don’t get care about.

Messing up an opportunity like this will result in more money lost than earned, and will leave the IOC laughing all the way to the bank. Don’t make it complicated – Let the players represent their country, and let the fans get behind them like they would in any other world cup.

Paddy’s Impressions: 2


“Paddy’s Impressions” are the random musings of what is going on around the National Hockey League according to one misinformed and misguided Irishman who’s still trying to get to grips with the game while living in the biggest hockey market in the free world.

It’s been a while! Howya doin? While the frequency of writing has tailed off a bit, the level of frantic hockey-watching has shown no such downturn. As we approach the holiday period, the season has well and truly began to take shape.

Edmonton: Suck Town, USA

Oh, Edmonton. Woe is thee.

If there’s one thing the Oilers can do better than anyone else, it’s tank. Continuously. Forever. And then some more. Three first overall draft picks in a row, followed by another one and a half inept seasons? That’s impressive tanking. Of course, the problem with tanking that effectively is that eventually you need to come out the other side of it a better team. Instead what we’re witnessing now is season after season of terrible hockey punctuated by an unforgiving Western Conference schedule that is sticking the knife in repeatedly. Six years after tanking, the Oilers are now in pole position for Conor McDavid, the prized of prized possessions.

Last week, they fired beleaguered head coach Dallas Eakins, a competent chap who clearly was the wrong man at the wrong time. Craigy McT, Oilers legend and current GM, has decided to dip his toe behind the bench alongside their minor league head coach on an interim basis to get a closer look at the steaming pile of crap he has inherited and assembled. Conversation has shifted towards trade talks, with one notable rumour being Taylor Hall deemed “un-coachable”, much to delight of the circling Boston Bruins, but the general consensus is that no major changes are coming with their trade assets unless someone blows their socks off with an offer. Inexplicably, Edmonton are now positioning themselves for another top draft pick…and McDavid/Eichal should be very, very afraid.

What’s up with Boston? 

A team with the pedigree of Boston probably shouldn’t need to panic, but with a couple of months of sub-par performances under the belt, and one of their key players beginning to show his age, there are some concerns that the Boston Bruins as they currently stand are going to struggle to make an impact in the East like most pre-season prognosticators thought they would. Tyler Seguin’s rebirth in Dallas is beginning to make GM Peter Chiarelli look bad, and the effective salary-dump of Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders has not only dropped their defensive depth, but has elevated a fellow Eastern to boot. Principally, it’s the goal scoring that has taken a hit. Being solid at the back-end stands to teams in the post-season, but ultimately the Bruins are amongst the lower scorers in their conference and need to think about this going forward. Rumours are Taylor Hall is in play and the Bruins are interested, but you get the feeling their one top player away from propelling themselves into cup contention again for another run.

No longer on an Island

The Islanders stayed under the radar this off-season as they prepared for their last season on Long Island before moving to Brooklyn, and they’ve somehow managed to position their franchise remarkably well in so doing. The pundits more astute than I were smitten with the additions of Kulemin and Grabovski (two former Leafs that I am rather familiar with) while Leddy and Boychuk at the back-end significantly upgraded a blue-line that now calls itself one of the strongest in the East. Their excellent home record has them where they are today, which may be troubling considering it wont be their home for much longer, and they’re beginning to look like the surprise package of the 2014-15 season. Still a long way to go, but they’ve got a solid core that would be a difficult out if they make the post season.

TnT: Tyler & Tarasenko

Two hyped young stars of the 2010 NHL Draft Class have risen to the top in the 2014 part of the 14/15 season: Tyler Seguin of the Stars and Vladamir Tarasenko of the Blues. As if the Western Conference didn’t have enough star power, why not add these two players in the list who are likely to cause havoc from the mid-West onwards for the next ten to fifteen years. Seguin’s reputation in Boston lead him to Dallas where concerns for unmatched potential were very legitimate, but it seems the trade was the reality check he needed in order to flourish. He now stands with 25 goals, five ahead of his nearest rival, and is legitimately in the conversation for MVP as we approach the halfway point of the season. Vlady Tarasenko has also landed on his feet with his performances in a St. Louis Blues team that are well able to support his push for top team honours this year, and his 20 goals this season keeps him in touching distance with Seguin as he is preparing to take his team deep in to the play-offs. Top draft pick that year Taylor Hall, please see above.

That’s all for now folks, enjoy the holidays and watch some hockey!

Bottom’s Up! Is Tanking Fair?

    Bottom’s Up! Is Tanking Fair?

As I’ve eluded to in recent posts, the NHL 2015 rookie draft is destined to be one of the most anticipated since Sydney Crosby’s in 2005. The reason? Connor McDavid. The kid’s good. Need another reason? Jack Eichel. Also pretty good.

The term “Generational Talents” is what has been bandied about amongst pundits in North America for the last few months, and if you check these kids’ credentials over the past few years, you can see why.

Of course, these talents haven’t just sprang out of nowhere. In Canada, McDavid has been spoken about for years as “The Next One”. 2015 was always threatening to be a banner year, and so far he hasn’t disappointed. He has made a mockery of the Ontario Hockey League playing against men with far greater experience than he. All this is to say that if you were going to have a bad year, then let it be now.

Enter the Buffalo Sabres.

When Puck Paddy sat down and watched them get abused by the Toronto Maple Leafs, only then did he realize the extent to which this team has attempted to “rip the hole out of their arse” for 2015. To get dominated by the Leafs is bad situation, because the Leafs are not a particularly good team. Of course, it’s just one game so there’s no point in getting too excited….but they took 10 shots. 10. Against a team that habitually give up 40 against average teams.

While this particular level of ineptitude is a little surprising, Buffalo has been positioning itself since last season for this draft. In fact, it was almost exactly one year ago when they bailed on their interim coach and GM to bring in Pat Lafontaine as President, who subsequently hired Ottawa’s Assistant GM Tim Murray to lead them in to what was promising to be a big rebuild. Lafontaine only lasted a few months, but Murray began a massive asset-stripping exercise by off-loading former all-star goalie Ryan Miller, Captain Steve Ott and perhaps their most prized forward, Thomas Vanek, all for first round picks in 2015.

Hmmm….2015 you say? Interesting…

Who can blame a team like Buffalo for doing this? Despite being a dwindling city in terms of influence in the United States, it has always been a solid hockey market with a good fan base. They’ve also had a pretty good team during the Ryan Miller years, and although they didn’t cement it with a cup, they have been in the cup conversation up until relatively recently. Now they’re going through the infamous “rebuild” that North American sports teams can do thanks to the glorious social equalization process that is known as the Draft.

This rebuild, or “tanking” as they say ‘round here, has long been seen as the most effective way to take a franchise to glory. Sure, you could go other routes such as trades and free agency, but there are inherent problems with both of these alternative approaches: a bad team generally can’t trade because they don’t have much worth offering to another team, and the reality is very few (if any) top players ever make it to free agency because franchises just don’t let these guys out the door without offering them the mega bucks. Both trades and free agency can certainly fit nicely in to a franchises short-to-medium term frame, but the foundation has to come through the draft.

The thing about drafting in the NHL is that you have control of your asset from anywhere from 6 to 9 years. They’re restricted from signing elsewhere without heavy compensation, and generally you can get them at vastly reduced wages that can free up all-important cap space. You can develop their abilities, promote them, empower them, and make them key cogs in the future of your franchise. Sure, a free agent may not be enamored with kicking it in Buffalo when he’s got LA knocking at the door, but the young draftee doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. He has to learn to love his new home.

Of course drafting is not an exact science. To develop a prospect and project how good he’s going to be is pretty hard to do. 2015 sounds like it’s different, though. McDavid, Eichel, and a host of other youngsters are flooding this years’ draft, and even if you aren’t “lucky” enough to land yourself with one of the big two, your likely to have yourself a fine prospect.

There are a number of problems with tanking, though. It demeans the competition, the opposition and, most importantly, the fans. It’s the fans that pay to support their team and they’re clearly being offered an inferior product. It is the great conflict of supporting a bottom-feeder. One step back to take two steps forward. There’s no fear of relegation like you would have in soccer, for example, so there are no major ramifications besides damaging consumer sentiment. In a hockey market like Buffalo, where there aren’t much alternative forms of sporting entertainment, sentiment is not likely to take a dramatic dip. That might be harder to sell in the likes of Chicago, Pittsburgh or New York.

Buffalo is an ideal candidate to tank. A small city, under the radar, with not a huge amount to lose. They’ve proven they’re loyal as they’ve continued to follow their Bills through NFL obscurity, and while being a good hockey town, they’re not about to go insane at a terrible season and implode internally. It’s on the cards. Everyone has spoken about it. And everyone’s ok with it.

That is hard to do in other markets, most notably the one I am currently living in. The idea of Toronto throwing away a season in the hopes that they can win the draft lottery and rebuild around Connor McDavid is laughable, even if that is the right thing to do. Toronto has too much to lose. Revenue, viewership, consumer sentiment. Toronto has to compete. They’ve had bad years alright, but they’ve just been poorly run. They are not afforded the opportunity that Buffalo has in 2015.

Talk of rule changes and alternatives have been thrown around by the league, and I would expect that to happen at some stage. At the moment, the draft lottery gives the team that finishes last the highest percentage chance of winning the number one pick, but I would expect that lottery system to evolve in to something that reduces the chances of the worst team to get the best player. It’s not within the leagues interest to allow a race to the bottom amongst ailing franchises, because the reality is some of the “non-traditional” hockey market teams may not care about McDavid or Eichel. And the last thing the league wants is for a future star to end up in Florida where nobody cares.

Up For the Match – Puck Paddy visits Air Canada Center


In a move that was both equal parts pathetic and a sign of my hockey fandom, Puck Paddy purchased a single ticket to go see his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs home opener in the Air Canada Center on Wednesday October 8, all whilst describing the situation in his blog in the third person. Why did I purchase a single ticket and go alone I hear you ask? For two simple reasons: 1) the tickets are ridiculously expensive and so most seasoned Leafs fans I know wouldn’t dare be so foolish to pay it and 2) even if they were foolish enough to pay it, the odds of finding two cost price tickets side-by-side were more or less impossible. Personally, I had made my peace with the decision to sit alone and enjoy the game surrounded by 22,000 of my new friends as I cheered on Hogtown against, as they say in French, Les Enemy.

This game was not my first jaunt to the Air Canada Center to watch the Leafs. In fact, I was fortunate enough to go three prior times over the course of the last four seasons. Unfortunately for me, the three previous occasions were all damp squib of games as the buds’ season outcome had already been played out. You guessed it, no playoffs. But this time would be different! Home Opener! First game of the season! Renewed Optimism! Analytics! Puck Possession! Brendan Shanahan! Culture Change!

Sort of….

For some reason, the atmosphere outside and around the Air Canada Center is often a lot better than in the actual arena itself. Because it’s attached to Toronto’s Union Station and right beside the main downtown highway, it’s already a hive of activity at 7pm at the best of times. As I entered the arena at 6:30pm and began my long ascent to the 300’s where my $150 solitary seat awaited, I was excited by the buzz around the kiosks as people lined up for beer and snacks. Feck it, I’ve already dropped a boat load on my seat, why not top it off with an overpriced beer to supplement the two I pounded before entering? This was me getting in to the spirit and getting ready to be rowdy for puck drop.

A favoured technique of mine is to get to my place early and start soaking in the atmosphere, and let the excitement build. So a full thirty minutes before the start of the game, I took my place where I was happy to see a white Maple Leafs towel waiting for me. Ok, it had a couple of Scotiabank logos on it too, but still I was pretty pleased with this gesture. I envisioned one of the great sites of my sporting lifetime, swirling my scarf proudly as the game began as Tyler Bozak wins the face-off and begins a long rally of Leaf possession in Montreal’s zone resulting in a Kessel wrister to beat Carey Price. What a moment!

Unfortunately my scarf remained shackled to my neck for most of the game.

So here’s the deal about the Hockey Mecca that is Toronto, and specifically going to a Leafs game: the atmosphere is practically non-existent for the most part. It’s Toronto’s dirty little secret, except that it’s not a secret to anyone. If you watch a game on TV, the sounds of the players cutting the ice and sticks swiping at each other kind of over-shadows generally how dull it can be in there. Once the game starts, that’s the end of it. There’s a hum of people talking amongst themselves, and general movement of fans to and from their seats, but the only time you’re likely to hear any sort of fan reaction to anything is when there’s a shot, a hit or a goal. Otherwise, that’s it. Nothing. No encouraging chants, no pre-faceoff cheering. Nothing.

What’s the problem then? Well, as far as I can tell, there are a few. First and foremost, the games are generally a corporate sporting event rather than the true sporting occasion. That’s the reason why the Leafs have so much money, their corporate sponsorship is unrivalled. I am very sure that a very significant portion of the fans in attendance (probably more than half) did not actually pay for their tickets. They were corporate tickets and they were invited by clients or colleagues or whomever. This results in, for example, the Montreal fans that I ended up sitting beside who were both drinking WINE AT A HOCKEY GAME! (damn French) Not only that, but they had no more interest on what was happening on the ice than they did texting their friends who were sitting in the lower bowl, also presumably drinking wine. My point is that they didn’t care about the game, they weren’t emotionally invested and they clearly just turned up because they could. I have no doubt that this can be said of a lot of people at that, and every Leaf game.

Which brings me to my second problem. Because Monseuir and Madame Vino had two corporate tickets instead of four, it meant that they couldn’t be beside their friends in the lower bowl to maybe talk a little bit more about the game, or maybe feel a little bit more excited about cheering on Montreal, or even anything remotely more interactive than how they were with each other. Their problem was that there was just two of them, side by side. That’s it. And that’s because the tickets are ludicrously expensive, and the corporate entity that forked out for these season tickets could only justify two for the season. That’s ok though, because there’s 41 home games, that’s plenty to dish out to clients! Two tickets is better than nothing! But the problem with everyone turning up in pairs is that it’s just that bit harder to build a group camaraderie. When you’re cheering on your team and you’re getting excited, there can a safety in numbers. If you can generate a cheer or a chant or celebration with seven of your closest friends, instead of just the one person beside you and not the weirdo Irish dude sitting by himself on your other side, then that can be infectious. That is just a lot harder in groups of two, or in my case, one.

And lastly…and possibly most importantly…is that the team just isn’t that good. And they haven’t been for a pretty long time. The product that is presented to Leafs fans has not only been sub-par from a hockey standpoint, it’s actually leaving fans bitter because they’re paying such exorbitant sums to watch such mediocre performances night-after-night. The town is bitter. They want to see their team work hard and perform like a Chicago or LA, but they just can’t. They’ve specialized in collapses, in folding, in fizzling out, in meekness, in excuses.  The Leafs can’t be accused of not trying to fix the problem, but they just can’t get it right because ultimately the market makes too much money to actually tank for a couple of seasons. The Leafs try to rebuild without knocking down the terrible foundations year after year. Never the worst team, but never good enough. These years of sub-par performances have left everyone wondering why they should bother forking out ludicrous sums.

And really, who can blame them?

The game itself was none-the-less enjoyable. 7 goals, a late equalizer followed by a late Montreal winner. Toronto nearly did enough to just about escape with the minimal acceptable standard before falling short at the end. Again. As for my solo run to the Air Canada Center, my scarf didn’t wave for any other time except for the three goals, and the despite the crowd being relatively hyped by the late equalizing goal, the experience was more eye-opening than it was memorable.

Until this team gets better, spend your money elsewhere.

A Day Late & A Buck Short – GambleBlog Season Preview


Something you must know about Puck Paddy….he likes to gamble away his hard-earned currencies on sporting events of all types. Currently, he has money tied up in golf, soccer, NFL, basketball, baseball, rugby…and hockey. Below is GambleBlog, a betting preview on the NHL’s upcoming 2014/15 season, and where you might find some value this season.


Being one of only but a relative few Hockey fans hailing from Western Europe, I feel compelled to flex my muscle and pretend like I know more than you about the NHL just because I understand Icing. And, you know, it’s probably true that I do know more than you, but it’s only because you probably don’t care about Hockey. Where I make my mistake is that I feel like prominent sports books from the British Isles are as ignorant about the game of Hockey as your bog-standard Joe Soap, thus making me think that I am capable of beating the bank.

As you can probably tell by the fact that I’m actually writing a blog instead of sitting on a beach somewhere in South-East Asia basking in my millions, that this is something I am not capable of.

So how can I help you? I will do it the way I help myself: by watching copious amounts of hockey and listening to analysts discuss the potential outcomes for the upcoming season, and try to identify gaps between North American discourse and Europe book-makers.


Furthermore, if I do end up getting things wrong (and by “if” I mean “when”) I can at least look back and blame the analysts for not knowing what they’re talking about. Of course, if they did know what they were talking about, they too would be on a beach in South-East Asia basking etc. etc. etc.

So without further ado, here is my gambling season preview!

Eastern Conference

Euro Sportsbooks love themselves some Boston Bruins to chalk down the East, and with good reason. The team has been a consistently solid performer for the past five years and have the pedigree of champions. Goaltending, a key ingredient to any top-tier team, is up there with the best as Rask continues to demonstrated, and the blue-line, lead by the beastly Zdeno Chara, has been solid for a number of years now. They’re a team built for the play-off’s and have great depth across all four lines, but the best price you’re going to see right now is 7/2. To me those odds are not great and would rather wait it out and see if they stray to about 6’s during the season.

The reason I say wait and see if they stray is because of Pittsburgh. The allure of Sid and Malkin lighting up regular season opponents every couple of days will result in heavy betting from those who see the big stars and think “who can beat them??”. Frankly, until Pittsburgh show they can get down and dirty with teams in the play-offs again, I want nothing to do with them. But they are a classic regular season superpower, and their current 5/1 price will certainly come in if they do what they are very capable of doing, and start to dominate their conference. That will push the value elsewhere.

Speaking of value, I like two value picks to start the season: Montreal at 8/1 and Tampa Bay at 10/1. Montreal could, and probably should have made the Stanley Cup finals last year but for an unfortunately-timed Carey Price injury. However, Carey Price may have been the top goaltender in the play-offs to that point, and with the gold medal of Sochi 2014 around his neck, he has proven top-tier talent. PK Subban is now signed on and committed, and although the team hasn’t made many significant additions over the past year, they’re a solidly built franchise moving in the right direction. Perhaps crucially, they may have Boston’s number, and for a legitimate top 3 or 4 team in the conference, 8/1 looks like a pretty good deal to me.

Tampa Bay is a team a lot of analysts like the look of this year, and at 10/1 they are nicely priced, but you would probably prefer a little more value here. A year of fully-fit Stamkos would be a welcomed addition, and they’ve made some nice additions through free agency that should offer a bit more depth to their roster. Stamkos’ goals and Bishop’s goal tending will be what really counts, though, and we’ll have to see if they’ve learned anything from last years whipping from Montreal in the first round of the play-off’s.

Want an outside bet? Why not the Blue Jackets? A lot of the league fell in love with their rousing effort against the Penguins in round one last year, and if Bobrovski and Ryan Johannsen keep their high-standards, they should be able to continue making an impact this year. Scotty Hartnell, noted Pittsburgh agitator, will also add a veteran presence to the team, and so those are a couple of feisty moves to get excited about, so at 16/1 CBJ could be worth a punt.

Eastern honourable mention needs to go to last years conference champion NY Rangers, but nobody is getting too excited about them this year. I love their coach and I love their goaltender more, but I also can’t help but feel they over-achieved last year and could regress to the mean in 2015. Rhyming, bitches.

Safe Bet: Boston 7/2 (but wait on it a bit)

Value Bet: Montreal 8/1

Western Conference

The Western Conference….Fuck Me.

Pardon my French.

It’s a behemoth. The talent is so disproportionate that there’s almost no point in betting on a team to win this conference directly because you might as well just bet on them to win the Cup. Of the last five years, Boston are the only team to have broken the cycle of Western dominance. Of course they’re capable of doing it again, but it might be worth your while going all-in, in that case. While Chicago and LA are 4/1 and 5/1 respectively to win the West, both teams have won the cup twice in four years, so perhaps the 8/1 and 9/1 available prices are what you want.

Last season, the Anaheim Ducks looked mighty during the regular season and play-off’s. They raced off to an impressive start and kept a tidy pace throughout an extremely difficult division. Perry and Getzlaf ascended to top 10 talents in the league, and each played integral roles in winning Gold at Sochi for Canada. They are, and presumably remain, Beasts. The recent signing of Ryan Kesler, a proven performer down the years for Vancouver, is a big name addition that may be one of the keys to their season. The unknown of goal tending is potentially the major concern, but Gibson is a highly-rated young stopper who showed great promise when drafted in during the post-season run last year, so at 13/1 for winning the cup, I think you’ve got to like that price, especially if they start hot again this year. Lest we forget, they took the eventual champions to Game 7 last year too. This team has a lot to prove and might be well positioned to do it in 2015.

If you want an outside hot tip then why not try Minnesota? Like Tampa Bay, Minnesota have made a few under-the-radar moves (if you call signing top-tier free agent Thomas Vanek under the radar) and could be nicely positioned to cause a bit of a ruckus in 2015. The last two years their progress has been halted by Chicago, and so that is an obvious hurdle they will need to overcome if they do want to progress, but in saying that this is a team that may be building towards a crescendo of success, slowly building quality talent and gaining invaluable experience. The West is a very hard conference to win, no doubt, but at 12/1 to progress three rounds, and 20/1 for the overall honours, I’d be tempted by that. Like Anaheim, the questions are primarily centered around goal-tending, which is problematic. But that’s why they’re 12/1.

The honorable mentions can extend almost to every play-off team from last year with this division. My American Father, Puck Daddy, sounds like he is interested in St. Louis for 2015 success and it’s hard to doubt they’re credentials, but for me the value isn’t there for a team that’s yet to beat a prominent team. Not saying it can’t happen, but just saying there’s no value there. San Jose are obviously a contender as well, but how can anyone feel good after their post-season collapse last year? Consensus on Colorado is that there’s a possibility of regression this year, which is very possible given their exception 2013/14 year, but the reality is there’s something to be said for about six of the Western Conference teams this season, so pick your poison.

Safe Bet: Toss a coin between Chicago and LA

Value Bet: Minnesota Wild at 12/1

Top Goal-scorer

The Rocket Richard trophy, awarded to the top Goal-scorer in the NHL yearly, could be changed to the Ovechkin award if he keeps at his current clip. The man has won it four times, including twice in a row, putting him second favourite behind one Stephen Stamkos to chalk it down in 2015. Either are solid bets to be honest, and if you expect Tampa Bay to be even better this year (like I do) then perhaps betting on the favourite isn’t a bad idea.

But where’s the fun in that!? Personally, I would be interested in Sidney Crosby at best priced 12/1 to take the award as it’s a good price for a man largely considered the best in hockey. Of course, what should give you pause is that he has never actually won the trophy outright by himself (tied with Stamkos one year) but with doubt surrounding his status as an all-time player, I would be interested taking a punt.

If you’re looking for a real outsider, as someone who watches Phil Kessel score a consistently large amount of goals, you get the feeling that he has a 50 goal season in him. Rarely injured and takes a heck of a lot of shots, at 25/1 you’re looking at a potential top 5 goal-scoring talent who tailed off towards the end of last year.

Safe Bet: Ovechkin 4/1

Outside Bet: Crosby 12/1

Best Defenseman

The Norris trophy is awarded to the best Defenseman, who according to Wikipedia “…demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the season”. This award has been a bit all over the map since stand-out Red Wing Nik Lidstrom surrendered the aware in 2008 (although he did nab it back for one last go around in 2011) with Duncan Keith the only other man to take it twice in the last six years. Duncan Keith is again going to be a top contender this year, with Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara always there or thereabouts.

For me, you can look no further than Drew Doughty. He is absolutely unquestionably going to win a Norris Trophy at some stage, and with the LA Kings still a super-power, it’s just a question of whether they are going to do enough in the regular season to win the award. Anyone who watches him play cannot deny his ability to go forward, and with an extremely strong supporting cast around him, he’s only going to look better this year. 7/1 is a nice price for such a good player.

Former champion P.K Subban is another guy I expect to have a strong year. He won the award two years ago, earned himself a beefy new contract and will excel in the Eastern Conference if he continues to lead a strong Montreal team towards the top of the standings. He’s a bit better at marketing himself and 14/1 for a recent for winner is another tasty figure.

The reality is this award is a bit all over the map and there’s a lot of potential contenders, so if you like the cut of someone’s defensive prowess then go for it.

Safe Bet: Doughty 7/1

Outside Bet: Subban 14/1

Vezina Trophy

In many ways, this award can generate the most heated debate as goal tending metrics have not advanced the same way other positions have. There’s a bit more interpretation as to what constitutes a great goaltender and who actually deserves to win it, and recent trends have been towards some of the biggest names in goal-tending, between Tukka Rask, Lunqvuist, Miller and Tim Thomas (when the latter two were actually good)…

The obvious candidates are two prior winners, Rask and Lunqvuist, who again benefit from being in the favourable conference to save many shots. Jonathan Quick, a goal-tender I love, has got to be under consideration as well. For me, the main man needs to be Carey Price. For the year 2014, there has been nobody better in my estimation, beginning with the Olympics and going all the way to his injury in the play-offs. He was the main reason the Bruins went no further, and if he continues at this pace then I can’t see anyone beating him out at 15/2.

My slight outsider again comes from the East, and also focuses around a slightly under-the-radar pick. My feelings towards Tampa Bay are now out there, and if they’re to have the season that some analysts project then their goaltender Ben Bishop needs to be strongly considered. Last season he was probably in pole position until his injury, so at 8/1 I’d like my chances again. Honourable mention to Miller in Vancouver…although I don’t know why….

Safe Bet: Carey Price 15/2

Outside Bet: Bishop 8/1


Look, people love themselves some Sidney Crosby. I get it. He’s pretty good. He romped to the award last year and is prohibitive favourite again for 2015. It could be a very safe bet. Center’s do have a strangle-hold on this award, unless they perform great feats of scoring (see Ovi & Corey Perry) so there’s a formula for success here. But here I go again getting on the Tampa Bay bandwagon…

Look, I don’t think Tampa Bay are going to become the NHL’s next great superpower. Far from it. I’m just saying they’re playing in a weaker conference, they have a couple of big names and they’re building towards something. Stamkos is a top 5 player in the league, though. People are ready to crown him after last season’s return from injury. 6/1 for Stamkos to win the Hart Trophy, I like it. He fits two key criteria for the aware: he’s a center and he scores a heck of a lot of goals.

There has been a buzz about Anze Kopitar in LA recently too which has to be acknowledged. He doesn’t grab many headlines but he is a really excellent player. 14/1 isn’t a bad shout but he’s kind of the hockey hipster pick. Am I a hockey hipster? I suppose I want to be, I write a hockey blog and I’m from Ireland, where we call it Ice Hockey…

Want a real good player at a real good price? Then consider this scenario: Sidney Crosby, notorious for getting headaches, get’s a headache. He misses a few weeks. Weeks turn to months. Pittsburgh’s headline-grabber out of the picture for various reasons. But wait…the Penguins are still winning games? How is this possible without their best player? Oh that’s right, they have that great player Evgani Malkin dragging them towards success.
I’ve just described 2011/12 to you. Geno won the Hart that year. This year he’s 40/1. Tempting…

Safe Bet: Stamkos 6/1

Outside Bet: Malkin 40/1

Puck Paddy Series: Picking your Team – Part 1


NHL Hockey: A New Fan’s Guide to Picking your Team

I have a certain amount of envy towards you, the new hockey fan not living in North America. You are the unspoiled virgin of hockey observers. Innocent. Pure. You probably don’t know many of the second-tier players in the league, or even the names of all 30 teams, how cute! You are one of the lucky ones.

Does it sound like I’m being condescending? Well it should, because I’m a Toronto Maples Leafs fan, an original six franchise and financial powerhouse of the league. And unfortunately for me, despite not being born here, I landed in this market five years ago and surrendered myself to Leaf Nation. I’ve signed the papers, I’ve sang the anthem, and I’ve put my hand on my heart and swore to the gospel according to Burkey. It’s too late for me. Don’t cry for me, I’m already dead.

But you! There’s hope for you. Maybe you’re living in Europe without a real clue of where to look when it comes to hockey. Perhaps you’re on these isles and have the NHL on your doorstep, but are not ready to tie yourself to the local franchise just yet. Or maybe you just haven’t found “The One” and just want to coalesce with Sydney one night, Ovi the next, and maybe have a three-way with Toewes and Kane in Chi-town the night after, only to leave before they finish the third period (we’re still talking about hockey, right?)

Well allow me to help you with your decision! Below is an idiot’s guide on how to pick your NHL team, written by an idiot, for idiots. Please enjoy.


A term used to describe the first six founding teams of the NHL. Fans of these teams have appear to have an inflated sense of importance in the grand scheme of the league, and also have inflated historical cup victories due to the fact that they had limited competition back in the day. Those six are:

1) New York Rangers

Reigning Stanley Cup finalists. Currently, a relatively likeable team with a good coach and a sexy Swedish goaltender who radiates class, both in front of net and in front of the camera. Old-style jersey gives them a classic look that’s hard not to like, but of course it’s New York so they’re going to grab some headlines even when they don’t deserve it.

Likeability Grade: B

2) Boston Bruins

Aka the Big Bad Bruins. Boston are an unapologetic bunch of thugs who are well organized and have a lot of very good players, but perhaps no “star power”. Success is almost guaranteed if you support the Bruins, but you will also potentially be lumped in with the stereotypical “Mass-hole” crowd normally associated with sports teams from this region. If you don’t care what other people think and respect well-run, solid hockey teams, this is for you.

Likeability Grade: C minus

3) Chicago Blackhawks

Perhaps the closest thing to a modern-day dynasty in the making. Two cups in four years, and could have made it back-to-back this season but for being thwarted by their dynasty-rival LA Kings. Similar to the Bruins when it comes to how right their front office has been, but with a bit more star-power. Potential to be seen as a band-wagon jumper if you follow, but there will be still plenty of success to look forward to in the future even after two cups in the bag.

Likeability Grade: A

4) Montreal Canadiens

Somewhat a black-sheep of the league, Montreal is the team with the most decorated history, and perhaps the most rabid fan base. On the ice, they are a couple of years in to a resurgence and have potential to be cup contenders over the coming years. A few troublesome players make them a little hard to warm to.  The whole francophone thing may or may not be your cup of tea. I wish I moved to Montreal.

Likeability Grade: B

5) Toronto Maple Leafs

Financial powerhouse, most historically mismanaged team in the league, and a beleaguered fan base that are unable to afford to attend the games due to the corporate monster that is this franchise. Few redeeming qualities except for the fact that you may be able to get on at the ground floor of a team that be starting to show signs of figuring it out, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. If you like to know pain, here’s your team.

Likeability Grade: F

6) Detroit Red Wings

Detroit’s plucky underdog story continues despite their twenty-plus year streak of making the post-season. Former superpowers who are beginning to show signs of waning, this team has a culture most franchises would kill for. Hitching to this wagon may not look smart in five years time, but Hockey Town has been through worse. Datsyuk alone can be worth the price of admission.

Likeability Grade: A minus.

Tune in over the coming week for more.