TORONTO - Alex Anthopoulos is not feeling snakebit.
ďNo, not at all,Ē he said Saturday from Clearwater. ďItís baseball. Injuries are always a part of the game and luckily, none of our injuries are serious or long-term.Ē
Still, with all the optimism that somehow surrounds the Blue Jays, there is reason to wonder if spring training karma isnít somehow working against the club.
Brandon Morrow will start the season on the disabled list. Brett Cecil claims to have lost 5-6 miles per hour off his fastball. Jesse Litsch had to be hospitalized for dehydration after a spring training game.
Thatís three-fifths of the strength of the team ó the starting rotation.
The other real strength: Depth of bullpen. Frank Francisco was expected to start the season closing. He wonít. Octavio Dotel was considered a set-up man. Almost certainly heíll be on the DL with Francisco.
The injuries arenít serious, in Anthopoulosí words, or long-term, but they must be a concern to the young general manager and his new manager, John Farrell. You want to start a new season fresh and strong. The Blue Jays will be fresh. But in a city starving for a contender of some kind, any kind, just how deep their lineup is with all the arms missing will represent an early season challenge in a very deep American League East.
This and that
Officially, Ron Wilson has been granted the longest leash in Maple Leafs history. No Leaf coach has ever missed the playoffs three years in a row. In fact, every coach who missed the playoffs in two consecutive seasons before him was fired before given a third year. Wilsonís all but certain to get a fourth crack at it, which is open to debate ... A quick recap on Wilsonís 17 years of coaching in the NHL: Eight times in the playoffs, eight times out of the playoffs, this season should make nine out, eight in ... Best reason to keep Wilson: The development of James Reimer, Luke Schenn, Nik Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski; Best reason to fire him: Terrible special teams; Inability to get the team to the post-season; Some of the largest contracts on the Leafs are some of their most disappointing players (and if thatís not Wilsonís fault, the fault is then with the management team) ... If Wilson coached in the NFL, someone would demand he replace his special teams coach ... Another reason for Blue Jay concern: Tampa won 96 games last year; the Yankees 95; in an down-year the Red Sox won 89 and the Orioles, from the time manager Buck Showalter took over, played .596 baseball, the best in the division for the final 57 games.
Hear and there
The tough part for Milos Raonic starts now. Suddenly, heís not sneaking up on anybody. Heís now a target of his own success. The wins, when they come now, will be challenging ... Just by accident, wouldnít you think that one of the MLSE teams ó the Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC, somebody ó would be decent. Itís difficult to be terrible in three different disciplines all at the same time ... I hate the fact that Stephen Strasberg is all but certain to not pitch this season ... Andrea Bargnani is 15th in scoring in the NBA but youíd have a hard time convincing anybody he was among the Top 50 players ... Discouraging as this may be, the highest scoring single season Leaf since Mats Sundin chose to leave town has been Jason Blake with 63 points ... Three questions: 1) is it worth re-signing J-S Giguere, if only for his leadership; 2)
Could you get Giguere to sign a $1 million or less Marty Turco-like contracts; 3) With the goalie market flooded, will Giguere even get an offer from another NHL team? ... One more Giguere matter: In Anaheim, he watched both Ilya Bryzgalov and Jonas Hiller develop where they have become two of the Top 10 goalies in hockey. Wonder if he places Reimer in that crowd?
Scene and heard
Just how impressive are the Stanley Cup favourite Vancouver Canucks? Well, put it this way, no team since the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens ó with Ken Dryden, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson etc ó has combined to lead the NHL in most goals for and fewest goals against. But with six games to play, the Canucks are first in both those categories ... Weird numbers: At the end of the clutch and grab era, the Detroit Red Wings were the highest scoring team in hockey, averaging 3.28 goals per game. This year, with apparent free flow hockey, the Canucks lead the NHL with a lower total of 3.19 goals a game ... Daniel Sedin is likely to be the only 100-point scorer this season and there isnít likely to be a single 50-goal scorer. Compare that to 1992-93 when there were 21 100-point men and 14 50-goal scorers. That season, Alexander Mogilny and the still active Teemu Selanne tied for the league lead with 76 goals, way ahead of third place finisher Pavel Bure with 60 ... File this away, a hockey name to remember: Joshua Ho-Sang. Saw him at the OHL Cup. Kidís got skills ... If the Raptors end up with a Top 3 pick in the NBA draft, theyíd end up with one of PG Kyrie Irving, or small forwards Derek Williams or Harrison Barnes. And weak draft aside, that ainít half bad.
And another thing
Three things that make my eyes glaze over: 1. Any ownership story involving the Phoenix Coyotes (sorry Winnipeg). 2. The endless micro debate over every NHL hit ó was it a suspension, should it be a suspension, why wasnít it a suspension? 3. Labour talk between millionaires and billionaires in the National Football League ...
How did Ottawa end up paying Craig Anderson four years and almost $13 million when Detroit signed Jimmy Howard for two years and $4.5 million. Arenít they, what youíd call, comparables? Or are the Senators that desperate? ... Is it just me or did Cory Boyd sell himself cheap to the Argos? When run of the mill Canadians like Chris Bauman sign for $140,000 how does one of the leagueís best players end making less than a hundred grand? ... Please get well, Michael Farber. So many people love you ... Donít know how I missed this but until I read it this week didnít know that Phoenix winger Ryan Reaves is the son of former running back, Willard Reaves. And you already knew Phil Kessel is the son of a former pro quarterback of the same name? Wonder just how many NHL players come from a unique football background? ... Happy birthday to Dustin Byfuglien (26), Randall Cunningham (48), Brian Kelly (wonder if he still looks like Howdy Doody, 55), Ed Pinckney (48) and Quentin Tarantino (48) ... And hey, whatever became of Gino Odjick?
Free agent frenzy not for coaches
With the elimination of the two-year playing card, the GTHL essentially freed up kids to play wherever they want each hockey season, without restriction. Free agent frenzy you might call it, minor hockey style, with the kids no longer slaves to organizational rule. But the rule change didnít necessarily free up coaches ó you remember them, mostly volunteer guys. Turns out, the staid old North Toronto Hockey Association, where I first suited up, has taken petty to a new limit, threatening Select coaches from leaving North Toronto and taking players with them, which may be by the book correct on their part, but in the spirit of the new rule is downright nasty. If a young Lebron wants to take his talents and go to Leaside, let him go. And if his father wants to coach him, donít stand in the way of that either.
Max's injuries up in the air
There remains all kinds of confusion and misinformation on the condition of the injured Montreal forward, Max Pacioretty, and that has nothing to do with what Mark Recchi may or may not have said about the injury. Daily I receive notices from fans who claim that Pacioretty suffered a broken neck while being injured in the hit from Zdeno Chara. That is not true. Pacioretty, who was knocked out, suffered a concussion and a fractured vertebrae, described in medical journals as a minor compression fracture, which by the book is treated in six to weight weeks. It must have been less than that because Doctors have told Pacioretty that he can skate with contact in three to five weeks. Had he suffered the broken neck too many talk about, a return this season would be out of the question.
Colangelo deserves a large pay cut
Hereís the tact I would take in negotiating Bryan Colangeloís contract on behalf of the Raptorsí owners: I would get a list of the salary of every general manager in the NBA and I would draw a line after the Top 16 salaries. I would then consider paying Colangelo the same money as the 17th, 18th, 19th most successful GM in the NBA.
Which, of course, is nowhere near his Top 3 salary now.
I would offer him short or long term money but commensurate to what other GMs of non playoff teams are earning. If he turns it down, you say goodbye to him. If he accepts it, you make a deal. But way overpaying Colangelo in light of the Raptors third straight year out of the playoffs is ludicrous, if not misguided.
Would Colangelo overpay a player who had three straight lousy seasons?