Small piece by small piece, Brian Burke’s Maple Leafs are getting better.
But for every Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong the Leafs add, what becomes more apparent is just how weak this team is at centre, the most important position on a hockey club, other than goaltender.
Who won the last three Stanley Cups?
Teams with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, David Bolland, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg at centre?
Even when Burke won he had Andy McDonald, a young Ryan Getzlaf and Sammy Pahlsson (playing WAY over his head) at centre.
Nice kid Tyler Bozak is currently the Leafs top centreman. He wouldn’t even dress for the Blackhawks. Pittsburgh would probablty try and move him to the wing.
And after Bozak, the Leafs have the wayward Mikhail Grabovski with a bad contract, the hope, Nazem Kadri, maybe Christian Hanson and maybe John Mitchell.
Not very encouraging.
The Leafs had no interest in free-agent Matthew Lombardi, whom Burke’s Team USA assistant, David Poile, happily grabbed for Nashville.
And after that, the market is relatively bare.
This and that
Two words for Ilya Kovalchuk if he signs with the Islanders: Rich loser ... One word for the Islanders if they pull another Alexei Yashin: Idiots ... Never mind Darryl Sutter losing his senses and signing Olli Jokinen. But giving him a no-trade deal? Who does he think he is, John Ferguson Jr.? ... Interesting to hear Rick Dudley’s take on the Leafs’ acquiring Versteeg from the Blackhawks. “If he goes into a situation where he’s given a lead role, he might be spectacular,” said Dudley, the former Chicago executive now running the Atlanta Thrashers .... Impressive free-agent period for GM Lou Lamoriello, who added quality backup goalie, Johan Hedberg, to give Martin Brodeur some much-needed rest, along with two defencemen of note, the underappreciated Henrik Tallinder and the very solid Anton Volchenkov ... Viktor Stalberg, still learning to play, should fit in nicely with the speedy Blackhawks, without any kind of pressure to perform ... From the team that won the Stanley Cup, seven of the 20 dressed players for Chicago are no longer Hawks. If they bury Cristobal Huet in the minors, that will make eight ... Surprised that Florida GM Dale Tallon, fully aware of Chicago’s cap problems, didn’t make an offer to restricted free-agent defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Hear and there
If GM Paul Holmgren can deal Simon Gagne (who did nothing in the Stanley Cup Final) and turn around and use his salary on a first-string goaltender like Marty Turco or Evgeni Nabakov, the Philadelphia Flyers will have made another major jump forward ... The signing of Alex Auld by the Montreal Canadiens was lame. Never mind that the Habs traded Jaroslav Halak away, but then they had to go out and get a backup goalie who is absolutely no threat to Carey Price. And what does that say about how tender Price is? ... Paying starter money for backup Amir Johnson smacks of desperation for Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors. Johnson played well coming off the bench but he did lead the NBA in fouls per minute played. Doesn’t that indicate he can’t be a starter? ... Wonder how agent Tom Laidlaw explains this to his client, Chris Mason. They turned down a three-year, $11-million offer from the St. Louis Blues at the begining of the season to sign for half of that with the Atlanta Thrashers ... Apparently the new math being taught in Saskatchewan: 12 equals 13 ... And who saw this coming? The old Expo, Vlade Guerrero, putting up more Hall of Fame numbers at the age of 35, leading Texas to the second-best record in baseball .. What’s worse, officiating in the World Cup or the WWE?
Scene and heard
The fact Chris Bosh has turned his free agency into a melodrama which includes an upcoming documentary tells you he never had any intention of returning to the Raptors and he was full of bull for saying so ... Just a thought: But is it worth it for some NHL team to invest one year and not a lot of money in a still viable Paul Kariya? ... Leave it to the New York Islanders to make the weirdest draft pick last Saturday. The Isles selected goalie Cody Rosen of Clarkson University in the seventh round. Rosen played one period for Clarkson as a freshman, letting in three goals. The previous year he was a backup on a Kingston tier-two team owned by his father. This kind of favour drafting, if that’s what this is, happens all the time in junior hockey, but you wouldn’t think an NHL team, even the comical Islanders, would waste a draft pick on a non prospect ... The Tomas Berdych, who knocked out Roger Federer and plays for his Wimbledon championship this morning against Rafael Nadal, is the same chap who ruined the momentum of the 2006 Rogers Cup in Toronto, upsetting Nadal early... It’s too early to make any judgment on Cleo Lemon, Argos quarterback. With bad snaps, little time and dropped passes, it’s hard to determine what Lemon will be: This much we do know, though. He’s no Buck Pierce yet, somewhere close — and Pierce was available in free agency.
And another thing
And where is John Ferguson Jr. when you really need him? The free-agent class of the unsigned includes Carlo Colaiacovo, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Kyle Wellwood, Dominic Moore, Freddie Modin, Owen Nolan and Lee Stempniak, but not the retired Jason Allison ... Were the talent-challenged Argonauts asleep when Saskatchewan waived Marcus Thigpen? How else do you explain passing on him. All Thigpen did in his first CFL game was run back a kickoff and a missed field goal for touchdowns ... Did you know that John Tortorella made it clear he didn’t want Mark Messier anywhere near the dressing room of the New York Rangers in the second half of the NHL season? Doesn’t sound like Messier is about to replace the should-be-replaced Glen Sather any day now ... Rather than televise 14 CFL games on the NFL Network, why not just show the season opener between Montreal and Saskatchewan, over and over? Football on either side of the border doesn’t get much more fun than that ... The suspicion is that Mike Modano, let go by Dallas, unwanted by most, will end up signing at close to minimum salary with the Detroit Red Wings ... A quick confession: I’m becoming a Twitter addict ... Born on the Fourth of July and a Happy Birthday to: George Steinbrenner (80), Al Davis (81), Neil Simon (83), Pat Stapleton (70), Floyd Little (68) and Sid Vicious, also known as Sid Justice and Sycho Sid (50) ...And hey, whatever became of Dmitri Mironov?
Free agent guessing game
The great NBA free-agent dance is on and the misinformation and guessing games are aplenty.
This is part-NBA rumour culture, part new-media in texture.
The race to be first has somehow overtaken the race to be accurate in the reporting world.
In this age of basement bloggers and Twitter and online reporters, the challenge for the consumer in search of where LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are going is made as much by determining whom you trust and whom you believe as anything else.
Never before has the public had so much access to information — with so much of it dubious — and no guide as to who or what to believe in anymore.
This is an open market, like NBA free agency, just not as expensive.
Sure thing golddust twins
What to do with Adam Lind and Aaron Hill?
They were supposed to be the only sure things for the Blue Jays, the building blocks for the future. There was no doubts about their character or their abilities. They had everything.
Only somehow the Jays have gotten through an unexpectedly decent first half of the season without much contribution from either of the Goldust Twins.
An early season slump is troubling. A half-season slump with almost no signs of recovery is more than that.
Next year, the big money kicks in for Lind and Hill.
A Blue Jays team that can’t hit now, can’t afford to have significant investments in two players who look lost at the plate.
Double Canuck MVPs?
Could Canadians win most valuable player awards in both the National and American Leagues in the very same year? Could be.
Toronto’s Joey Votto is already being touted by some as the first-half MVP in the National League.
He ranks in the Top 5 in the NL in home runs, RBI, batting average and runs scored for surprising first-place Cincinnati.
And previous AL MVP winner, B.C.’s Justin Morneau, is having another terrific season with the first-place Minnesota Twins.
Morneau has the third-best batting average in all of baseball while leading the Twins in almost every offensive category.
Morneau has won one MVP and finished second once in the voting — while the 26-year-old Votto has never been a candidate of consequence before.
Halfway through this season, both are serious contenders.