Brian Burkeís loyal, loud and continual defence of coach Ron Wilson does not stand up to statistical analysis.
Especially, when it comes to the terrible penalty-killing of the Maple Leafs in the three seasons in which Wilson has been head coach.
The Leafs are second-last in the NHL while shorthanded, after finishing last the previous two seasons. If that happens once, you worry about it. If it happens twice, you start to wonder. But if it happens three years in a row, with different players and different goalies, thatís a coaching issue.
In Wilsonís first season in Toronto, his main penalty-killers were Dominic Moore, Jamal Mayers, Luke Schenn and Ian White, with Vesa Toskala in goal.
You can see how that wouldnít work.
Last season, he used Rickard Wallin, Lee Stempniak, Schenn and Francois Beauchemin as his main penalty-killers, adding in Dion Phaneuf and Fredrik Sjostrom after they were acquired from Calgary. That didnít work.
This year, itís been Sjostrom and Tim Brent up front, with Beauchemin and Schenn on the back end, and Phaneufís penalty-killing time all but cut in half by the coach.
To put the Leafsí penalty-killing into historical perspective, its efficiency of 74.7%, 74.6% and this yearís 75.9% rank as three of the four worst marks shorthanded of the past decade.
Surely, if Burke is going to stubbornly stick with Wilson, canít he bring in an assistant coach ó or replace one or two ó who can improve this part of the woeful Leafs?
THIS AND THAT
The Leafs love to say they arenít winning because they are one of the youngest teams in the NHL. But night after night, theyíre losing because Beaucheim or Tomas Kaberle or Mike Komisarek or J-S Giguere or Phil Kessel havenít been good enough or donít compete hard enough. And none of those, Kessel aside, are anything close to kids ... Cliff Fletcher used to say the best way to analyze a team is to take your players and place them in one of three categories: Played beyond expectations. Played to expectations. Played below expectations. If you have too many in the last category and not enough in the first, youíre not going anywhere. And the exercise with the Maple Leafs roster ó try it at home ó indicates so ... The big advantage of Jay Feaster taking over from Darryl Sutter in Calgary: Better quotes ... Still wish they had said that Sutter was fired, not that he had stepped down. Which they asked him to do. Which means he was fired ... On a well-known American baseball website list, accumulating the highlights of 2010, 38 different people or events were mentioned. Jose Bautistaís 54-home run season was not among them. Just further proof Toronto operates in the Hinterland of Major League baseball. What happens here doesnít resonate anywhere else.
HEAR AND THERE
A question to ponder for 2011: How many consecutive years can a general manager miss the playoffs before he is deemed a failure? This will be Year 2 for Burke and Year 3 for Bryan Colangelo. With little signs anywhere that either of those situations are about to change shortly ... Stories that will be around for at least the first half of the year: Wilsonís future in Toronto. Colangeloís contract extension, assuming he gets one. And the status of coach Jay Triano who, like his boss, is on the last year of his deal, but unlike his boss, hasnít heard anybody say heís coming back ... Arian Foster is the latest example of why you donít waste early NFL draft picks on a running back (C.J. Spiller). Foster leads the NFL in rushing and touchdowns scored and went undrafted. In fact, four of the top five backs in the league this season were taken in Round 1 ... A good team just got better: The Pittsburgh Penguins welcomed back Jordan Staal on Saturday night and, for the moment, Iíve got the Penguins and Canucks in the Stanley Cup final.
SCENE AND HEARD
If Team Canada coach Dave Cameron starts Olivier Roy in goal today at the world junior hockey championship, what does that say about his faith in his other goalie, Mark Visentin? The New Yearís Eve game against Sweden reminded me of those road hockey games I grew up on. Goalies didnít stop anything and last goal won ... Some of the prominent Canadian womenís hockey players have been Tweeting about the lack of competition at the world junior and wondering why the mainstream media doesnít bash junior hockey the way it bashes the womenís game. The difference: Canada is playing in a quarterfinal because it lost in the main draw. When has that ever happened in a major womenís event? ... One thing I hate about the NBA is that 11 of its 30 teams are playing below .300 basketball on the road. No league has such a large number of terrible teams ... Best things about having insomnia: You get to watch Blake Griffin late at night and early in the morning and see how much better the Vancouver Canucks are than any other team in Canada ... Chris Bosh says he doesnít care that heís getting fewer all-star votes in Miami than he received when he played for the Raptors. And Mr. If-they-donít-see-me-on-TV thinks we honestly believe him?
AND ANOTHER THING
It has to be personal with the quiet Stanley Cup goalie Antti Niemi. Heís 2-0 playing against the Chicago team that let him walk with a .931 save percentage in those games and 6-11 in goal for San Jose against the rest of the league ... Word is Gary Kubiak will be back as coach of the Texans and Norv Turner will be back as coach of the Chargers. Donít know whose word it is, but sometimes, this being one of them, it doesnít make any sense at all ... Does Rafael Palmeiro realize how foolish he sounds with his continual denial of use of performance-enhancing drugs ... I donít have a ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame but if I did, there would be three names on it this year: Roberto Alomar, Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven (and Iím a convert on Blyleven, having been overwhelmed by those pleading his case.) ... Should Baltimore running back Ray Rice get through Sunday, he will become one of the rarest of NFL running backs: He will have finished the season without fumbling the ball once ... After being passed over about a million times for head coaching jobs, wouldnít it be poetry if Greg Marshall ends up as a sensational coach for the Saskatchewan Roughriders ... Happy birthday to David Cone (48), Russ Courtnall (46), Pernell Whitaker (47), Robbie Ftorek (59), Calvin Hill (64), and the former Lou Marsh winner, George Hungerford (65) ... And hey, whatever became of Scott Pearson?
ON TONY PROUDFOOT
On the morning of the 2008 Grey Cup in Montreal, Tony Proudfoot was awarded by the Football Writerís of Canada with a Hall of Fame induction for his broadcasting career. By this time, his more than year-old fight with ALS had taken away most of his ability to speak.
When he went up to accept his award, he made a speech with robotic words emanating from the computer box attached to him. His words: A computer voice. His speech was funny, witty, inspirational and it brought a room of cynics to both laughter and tears.
It is a morning I will never forget and I suspect anyone there would say the same. Tony lasted, persisted for two more Grey Cups and several more awards until time ran out on the last day of 2010. To have known him, heard him, learned so much from him, was indeed an honour.
ON NAZEM KADRI
A little perspective seems to be lacking in the rookie season of Nazem Kadri.
He was sent back to the American Hockey League because he wasnít playing well enough to stay in the NHL.
Thatís hardly news breaking, but the overraction to every breath Kadri takes is stunning on its own. If you look at the top 20 scorers in the NHL right now, eight of them spent time in the minors before making it big in the NHL. And aside from the sure things like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin, others such as Pavel Datsyuk, the Sedin twins and Henrik Zetterberg developed slowly into NHL stars. Nothing happened overnight. If you go back to recent Hall of Fame classes, Brett Hull spent a season in the AHL and Dino Ciccarelli and Al MacInnis did minor-league time before making it big.
Developing the right way is just part of the process and Kadri, least of all, should understand that.
ON TOM BRADY
Tom Brady already holds the record for most touchdown passes thrown in an NFL season.
But that said, what he has accomplished this year with the likely Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots ranks with the greatest seasons any quarterback has ever had. Itís one thing to throw 34 touchdown passes. Thatís regular Brady stuff. But to do that, and have thrown just four interceptions. Thatís crazy good.
The fewest interceptions Joe Montana threw in a season was nine. Same for Peyton Manning. Johnny Unitas once had a six-interception year.
And to think, Brady began his career with the Patriots as the fourth quarterback behind starter Drew Bledsoe and backups Michael Bishop and John Friesz.
Yep, that Michael Bishop.