TORONTO - The two giant trades of the Brian Burke era ó deals for Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf ó have never looked as good as they appear in the early days of this National Hockey League season.
Kessel is playing at a level he hasnít shown before in his professional career.
Phaneuf is doing more than the Leafs figured on when they made him the central figure in the one-sided deal with Calgary. Heís leading, which isnít natural for him, adding significant offence, and making the kind of big hits that can change games.
Kessel, who is anything but a natural leader himself, has been the best offensive and most dangerous player in hockey this first month.
Maybe this lasts. Maybe it doesnít. But it does give indication of what the Leafs front office was thinking upon making these high-profile moves. When Kessel and Phaneuf are the Leafs two best players, and simultaneously are two of the leagueís best, it changes almost everything for a team in need of change from the inside.
THIS AND THAT
Alex Anthopoulos may come across as the boy next door, but he is nothing if not pragmatic. If deep down he believes that trading manager John Farrell to Boston will be in the best long-term interest of the Blue Jays, you can bet he will explore the possibility ... I couldnít get this out of my head watching Ron Washington manage his way out of Game 7 and most of the World Series: The only reason the St. Louis Cardinals had home-field advantage was because the National League won the all-star game ... The most remarkable statistic of the young NHL season. Prior to Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins had scored more goals shorthanded (3) than they had allowed on their penalty kill (1) ... Just like the NHL lockout of 2005, the NBA union leaders and players arenít on the same page right now. The longer the NBA lockout goes, the more games cancelled, the more the battle will be among the players themselves ... Yes, much is going right for the Maple Leafs but coach Ron Wilson canít like these numbers: His team is 24th in goals against, 20th in power play, 24th in penalty killing. Those numbers have to get better ... Only seven of 30 Major League Baseball teams, including Texas, have never won the World Series but 13 of 30 NHL teams have never won the Stanley Cup ... Game 6 of the World Series was not the best game ever played ó but it might have been the most fascinating.
HEAR AND THERE
Chris Pronger has become the Peyton Manning of the NHL. You realize just how valuable he is when he isnít playing ... If you owned a cell-phone company, wouldnít you want Tony La Russa pushing your product in the off-season. ďHi, Iím world champion, Tony La Russa. When land lines arenít working, I depend on my ...Ē ... The question too many hockey people are asking: Would the Montreal Canadiens be having all these problems if Kirk Muller was still on their coaching staff? ... Mike Komisarek takes all the heat but you can make a case heís outplaying Luke Schenn this season. And I wonder, if Schenn is good year, bad year, good year, bad year, does there come a point when you entertain the thought of trading him before the world finds out he isnít what heís supposed to be? ... Arthur Rhodes, who threw his first big-league pitch the year before the Blue Jays won their first World Series, finally will get a championship ring . And considering he didnít give up a hit in eight post-season appearances for the Cardinals, he earned it ... When Rob Gronkowski got caught posing for a photo with porn star BiBi Jones on his bye week, I could hear the words of Jack Gotta, the old CFL coach saying: ďWhy donít they just hunt and fish, like we did?Ē
SCENE AND HEARD
The former heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis, was among the honoured speakers at the graduation ceremony at Wilfrid Laurier University and made a few friends popping in at the legendary Mortyís for wings afterwards ... Missing from the Top 20 scorers in the NHL: Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Thornton. Included in the Top 20: Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kris Versteeg, Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson. It is early ... Hands up, both of you, who were angry when the Blue Jays traded Octavio Dotel away. And interesting to see how important Dotel was for the Cardinals and how little he thought of Jaysí manager Farrell ... Perception is everything: When J.P. Ricciardi ran the Blue Jays and didnít live in Toronto, it offended people. But hardly anyone seems offended that Steve Yzerman is running the Tampa Bay Lightning, while his family remains in Detroit ... Sat in the stands last Sunday for the worst football game ever played: Cleveland Browns home to Seattle. After sitting through that, Iíll never complain about the Argos offence again ... And spent Saturday night at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, watching the Penguins play. Two things impressed: Kris Letang and the best arena food, ever. If there is a 2014 NHL version of Team Canada for the Olympics, Letang has to be a shoo-in on defence.
AND ANOTHER THING
Itís entirely possible that the New York Rangers, with that piece-meal defence, wonít make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Which would mean that high-priced free agent Brad Richards would be on teams that missed the playoffs five of the past six seasons. And this is the first year on Richardsí nine-year contract ... In this waste of an Argonauts season, Byron Parker, the former slam-dunk collegiate champion, has given fans something to cheer about. Scoring a record-breaking ninth touchdown by interception Friday night in Winnipeg is an enormous accomplishment for the popular cornerback ... So there are really two questions with David Booth. One, has he recovered post-concussion? And, two, was he a guy who looked good because he was on a bad team or is he a high-end player? In Vancouver, weíll get the answer to both ... For those keeping track of such numbers, Tyler Seguin was ahead of Taylor Hall in scoring as of Saturday. We donít know if it will last. But it is an interesting beginning ... Whatever book Mark Cohon has needs to be thrown at Winnipeg defensive back Johnny Sears for that awful cheap shot on Argo quarterback Steven Jyles. It was completely unnecessary ... Happy birthday to Joanne Malar (36), Diego Maradona (51), Henry Winkler (66), Chris Stewart (24), Danny Tartabull (49), Adam (Edge) Copeland (38) ... And hey, whatever became of Fred Smerlas?