December 6, 2011
What realignment means for the Leafs
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
TORONTO - As a golfer, Ron Wilson admits he’ll enjoy NHL realignment because it means three visits by the Maple Leafs to both Florida and Tampa Bay instead of the current two.
Truth be told, we hockey scribes won’t mind more trips to the Sunshine State, land of coconut oil and marguaritas.
In fact, given the number of Snowbirds who flock from Canada to Florida each and every winter, it will almost feel as if the Leafs have additional home games on the sked when you consider how many Toronto fans attend contests in Tampa and Sunrise whenever the blue-and-white are in town.
Indeed, when you dissect how the new format will effect the Maple Leafs in the coming weeks, there are no shortage of pros and cons.
In a nutshell, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will join the five teams in the Northeast Division — the Leafs, Canadiens, Senators, Bruins and Sabres — in one of four new conferences that will be implimented next season. Each of these seven teams will play each other six times (three at home, three on the road).
The Leafs will meet the 23 teams outside their conference twice — once at home, once on the road.
What are some of the highlights (and lowlights)?
- Sidney Crosby’s Penguins and Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals will come to the Air Canada Centre just once per season instead of the normal two. Demand for tickets when Sid The Kid comes to town will be even higher now, if that’s possible.
- The Detroit Red Wings, an Original Six Rival of the Leafs, will appear at the ACC once per season. Given the geographical and historic ties between these two franchises, it’s about time. Under the old system, the Wings only came here once every two seasons.
- Steven Stamkos grew up in Unionville/Markham as a Leafs fan. Now the Tampa Bay Lightning star gets to plays against Toronto two extra times per season.
- Because the top four teams in each division make the post-season, Toronto’s already heated rivalries with Northeast Division foes Montreal, Buffalo, Boston and Ottawa will become even more intense.
- Under the playoff format, the first two rounds of playoffs pit conference foes against each other, with first meeting fourth and second playing third in the opening round. In other words, a Leafs-Canadiens playoff series (should both teams make it) is more of a probability than it was in recent decades. The two storied rivals have not faced each other in the post-season since 1979.
Like it? Hate it? You have plenty of time to decide.
Now, please, quiet on the tee. Wilson is set to hit.
BOTH HUSTLE AND MUSCLE
The Leafs used their team speed to keep the New York Rangers on their collective toes in Monday’s 4-2 victory at Madison Square Garden. But it was the muscle they exhibited that was the most impressive aspect of their game. Dion Phaneuf’s crushing of Michael Sauer in the third period was evidence that there still is room for clean hits in the sport ... Luke Schenn was throwing around his weight as well. The kid is playing outstanding hockey right now. How ridiculous was it that there were actually calls for him to be traded early in the season when he was struggling. That would have been a huge mistake.
FIGHT NIGHT AT MSG
With Mikhail Grabovski back at home for the birth of a child, Jay Rosehill took his spot in the lineup and immediately dropped the gloves with the Rangers’ Brandon Prust. It proved to be one of the more entertaining scraps of the season, much to the glee of the capacity crowd. It was a fitting venue for the bout, since MSG has hosted some of the biggest ones in the world over the years, including some featuring names like Ali and Frazier ... Judging by the number of outraged fans who e-mailed and tweeted after the recent back-to-back losses against Boston, the popular sentiment of Leaf nation seems to be that Wilson should have dressed Rosehill versus the Bruins on Saturday in order to provide some much-needed muscle against Zdeno Chara and friends. It was obvious that the Bruins were trying to bully the Leafs. It worked.
SEEN AND HEARD
Maple Leafs superfan Mike Wayne’s World Myers paid a visit to the private box where the fathers of the Leaf players were watching the game. Not only were the dads said to be happy to see Austin Powers, they reportedly gave him a Leafs jersey for Myers’ son. No word if Myers, a native of Scarborough responded by converting into character by saying “Grooo-vy, baby.”
Don’t like commenting on officiating because usually the calls go both ways. But on this night, the two minors handed out to Tyler Bozak were cheap ... Bozak’s defensive play is so much better than it was a year ago. His backcheck on Sean Avery in the first period saved a goal after Jonas Gustavsson flubbed a clearing attempt behind the Toronto net ... Speaking of Gustavsson, the game’s first star, give him credit for working his way out of the doghouse. Not many figured he would ... Joe Colborne didn’t get gobs of ice time, but he is very responsible in his own end ... Guess the Leafs were right in being cautious with Tim Connolly and giving him the time he needs to recover from his various injuries. He now has 14 points in 15 games.