Some critics buried the Maple Leafs even before last night's season-opening game against the Ottawa Senators got under way.
Not regarding myself as a hockey expert on early season predictions, even though I have been writing about the Buds for a few decades including the years when they won four Stanley Cups during the 1960s, I consulted qualified experts for their opinion of the 2007-08 Leafs.
Neither of the two experts -- both former Leafs coaches -- rushed to condemn the current lineup. They are a lot smarter than some of the silly critics.
My first expert was Red Kelly, former superstar with the Leafs and Detroit Red Wings and owner of eight Stanley Cup rings, four with Detroit and four with Toronto. The other was Pat Quinn, predecessor of the present mentor, Paul Maurice.
"It will be a fight for the playoffs," Kelly said. "They certainly have a chance to make it what with a new goalie (Vesa Toskala) and last year's netminder (Andrew Raycroft), as well as a couple of new players. You can't tell after a few exhibition games how things will turn out. We just have to wait and see how the team will jell."
Quinn, who turned down opportunities to join as many as three NHL teams since leaving Toronto, also was cautious in his assessment of the Leafs' immediate future.
"I haven't really studied the team's roster," Quinn said. "I know they were running hot and cold during the exhibition season, but I also know that (Jason) Blake is a competitive player whom I have seen a few times. I think he will help. But to pass judgment on the team at this time would be unfair."
What about your own career, I asked?
"I hung around some IIHF officials who were in Vancouver recently," Quinn said. "I wouldn't mind taking a coaching job overseas. But, I guess, all the jobs are taken. As for NHL teams, I turned down the Bruins' coaching offer, as well as consulting jobs with Dallas and New York Rangers."
Some critics and yahoos could learn from the two experienced coaches. Others may suffer leg injuries from jumping on and off the Leafs bandwagon. I have faith in players such as Mats Sundin, Tomas Kaberle, Vesa Toskala, Darcy Tucker and the young brigade.
BORJE THE MODEL
Former ace Leafs defenceman Anders Borje Salming was the model for the internationally acclaimed Swedish graffiti artist Johan Wattberg, who recently produced 31 original graffiti-style paintings of the star blue-liner.
Ten of the 31 paintings were unveiled in Stockholm and sold within an hour. The remaining 21 were unveiled at Toronto's Hockey Hall of Fame Tuesday and are offered for sale. Information on purchasing the paintings can be acquired by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I first thought this was a crazy idea, but I have seen Johan Wattberg's paintings and like them," Salming said. "They are not normal paintings. I like it that he goes his own way."
Salming always did.
DISA AND DATA
Congratulations to Joe (Holy Mackinaw) Bowen who has been exercising his lungs for 25 years as Leafs TV and radio broadcaster ... Bob Stellick, the voice of the NFL in Canada and president of his marketing and communications company, is very proud of his 16-year-old son, Robert Jr., who made the Belleville Bulls junior hockey team. Unfortunately, he suffered a separated shoulder in training camp but should be able to rejoin the Bulls in two weeks ... Bowling's Walter Heeney is beating the drums for five-pin bowling's 100th anniversary celebration during the 2008-09 season. They are planning to honour Tommy Ryan, founder of the game, by sending a bowler across Canada, driving to 100 bowling centres in 100 days. Five-pin bowling was ranked fourth in a CBC television production of the top 50 Canadian inventions of the 20th century. Only the light bulb, insulin and the telephone fared higher ... The women's soccer World Cup was a television bonanza for TV networks in Brazil and Germany. Rede Bandeirantes in Brazil reached a rating 15 points, three times above the average for an entire Sunday, and German channel ZDF achieved an audience of 9.05 million viewers, representing a market share of 50.5% ... Argonauts quarterback Michael Bishop will visit Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank today at 10 a.m., in support of the Purolator Tackle Hunger food drive at Saturday's game against the Edmonton Eskimos. The Daily Food Bank is located at 191 New Toronto St, (off Islington, north of Lakeshore) ... Soccer ace Sam Blais of Algonquin College is the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association's female athlete of the week. Her male counterpart is Mike Aigbokie of Humber College.