TORONTO - Coming soon to a bigger picture television screen near you: Brian Burke, Ron Wilson (assuming he’s still the coach) and your Toronto Maple Leafs, the first Canadian team to be involved in the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic.
While it has yet to be announced or officially confirmed, it certainly seems apparent that the Leafs will play the Detroit Red Wings outdoors next January at the University of Michigan.
And what’s surprising about this is that NBC, the American network that puts so much into televising the Winter Classic, is on board with having a Canadian team involved, especially considering that NBC rarely, if ever, features a Canadian team on any of its weekly NHL telecasts.
Burke, no doubt, would be among the stars of a 24/7 broadcast, assuming it’s going to be done again. HBO has not yet confirmed it will be back for another segment of the pre-Winter Classic documentary-reality series. But if it did, Burke would take on the Bruce Boudreau persona, only larger, in a white shirt and without a tie, and from his office instead of the dressing room.
It would be must-see TV, whether you happen to care for the outdoor game or not.
THIS AND THAT
The nickname going around about Mike Cammalleri tells you all you need to know about the traded Canadien. He was known as ‘Me, Myself and Mike,’ which is how a lot of underproducing goal scorers are perceived on teams. They find self worth in scoring and when they don’t deliver, they don’t tend to take it well. See Jason Blake as a Leaf ... As of Saturday, Phil Kessel was fifth in the NHL in points, which was his lowest placing since the season began. He was behind the Sedin brothers, Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux, and they will be very hard to overtake in the second half of the season ... The wondering about Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh dressing room is really nothing new. There were a lot of players wondering about — some rolling their eyes — when it took Crosby so long to come back a few months ago. This is what happens between the injured and the healthy in almost any dressing room over a long period of time. Unless something’s broken and evident to the players, they find it hard to accept or sympathize with prolonged injuries ... The injured goalie, Rick DiPietro, has played all of 47 games in four years for the New York Islanders, winning 14 of them. For that, he has been paid $18 million. All that remains on his contract is another nine years and $40.5 million. If the Isles don’t use the insurance model and push DiPietro out, they could buy out the goalie for an 18-year-period, and all it will cost them is $27 million or $1.5 million a season — providing them a $2.5 million savings against the salary cap.
HEAR AND THERE
So if commissioner Gary Bettman represents the owners and Donald Fehr represents the players in all this realignment debate, who then speaks for the fans? Or sadly, have I just answered that question ... Essentially, the Maple Leafs traded away Viktor Stalberg in the deal with Chicago for Kris Versteeg, which didn’t work out for the Leafs. Then, they traded away Versteeg for a draft pick who won’t be on the team before 2014. Now, they’re looking for a big, young winger with speed who can score — someone, say, just like Stalberg. By the way, another big forward traded away by the Leafs, Jimmy Hayes, who is 6-foot-6, and has scored three goals in his first seven games with the Blackhawks. The Leafs did get draft pick Bradley Ross in that exchange. Versteeg, this season, happens to have more goals than any Leaf not named Kessel or Joffrey Lupul ... Doesn’t this NBA season feel like baseball? A game every day ... One look at Tim Connolly in Buffalo on Friday night in the defensive zone and you understand why it is he frustrates his coaches year after year.
SCENE AND HEARD
Like father, like son: Claude Lemieux’s kid, Brendan, was scheduled to play in the prestigious GTHL Top Prospects game on Wednesday night, only one problem. He missed the game due to suspension ... A Denver Post headline Saturday called Ryan O’Reilly a second-round steal: If you were paying attention, his junior GM, Sherry Bassin, called him exactly that on draft day in 2009 ... It’s little wonder Dan Bylsma is one of the better coaches in hockey. In his playing days, Bylsma was coached by, among others, Bruce Boudreau, Mike Babcock, Bryan Murray, Andy Murray, Dave Tippett and Larry Robinson. And one of his longtime assistants was Paul MacLean ... If I’m voting for coach of the half-season in the NHL, it’s 1. MacLean, for all he’s done in Ottawa; 2. Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis; 3. Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers. PS: MacLean and Dineen both played on Canada’s Olympic hockey team — MacLean in 1980, Dineen in 1984, back before the Olympics became a show for pros ... The excellent sports writer, Gare Joyce, has turned to writing mystery and crime and shortened his byline to G.B. Joyce. His first in a series of novels, The Code, will be released next week. The book centres around a former NHL player turned private detective.
AND ANOTHER THING
For those keeping track, Alex Smith has won more games, thrown more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions than Tim Tebow in his highly unlikely season, and nobody’s been talking about him 24/7 ... Don’t know what to make of Milos Raonic’s chances, heading into the Australian Open. Two weeks ago, he won an ATP tournament. Last week, he was eliminated in Round 1 ... While there’s been all kinds of speculation about Seattle getting an NHL team — maybe Phoenix — but the longtime GM of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Russ Farwell isn’t buying it. “There’s no rink,” Farwell said. “There’s no one to build a rink. And the (big money guys) have been approached before and always say no.” ... About the early season success of the Minnesota Wild, the Buffalo Bills, the Edmonton Oilers and the Raptors, never mind ... A piece of Sunday trivia you couldn’t live without: The new general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, Ryan Grigson, signed with the Toronto Argonauts in May of 1997 as an offensive lineman. But he never did play a game with the Double Blue ... Happy birthday to Pinball Clemons (47), Drew Brees (33), Rance Mulliniks (56), Ernie DiGregorio (61), Andrea Martin (65), Shane McMahon (42) and Alex Suglobov (30) ... And hey, whatever became of Dave Christian?
JAYS NOWHERE ONCE AGAIN
Friday was a not a great day for the Blue Jays.
Never mind the abrupt landing some had to make on their annual winter caravan in Halifax.
The competitive difficulty came from the trade that sent young fireballer, Michael Pineda, from Seattle to the Yankees, giving New York a stud starting pitcher for about the next decade.
Pineda struck out 173 batters in 170 innings for the Mariners as a 22-year-old last summer and the Yankees, without spending huge financially, did give up projected hitting star, Jesus Montero in exchange.
Pineda is the kind of young pitcher the Jays would covet, had they been able to get into the bidding.
The only match for what Seattle was looking for in a deal for Pineda would have been Brett Lawrie plus more and the Jays aren’t about to do that.
Pineda will make the American League East all the more difficult next summer, a perfect second starter behind C.C. Sabathia.
THE WORD ‘OVERRATED’ IS QUITE OVERRATED
The matter of how you define overrated came up in the wake of the Sports Illustrated’s NHL players’ poll that deemed Dion Phaneuf the most overrated player in the NHL for the second year in a row.
What exactly does overrated mean, anyway? Overrated by whom? Who is doing the rating? Based on the list of players’ chosen, it isn’t so much a matter of who is overrated or underrated anymore, it’s a matter of what their salary is and how it translates to their contribution.
Time was, we judged players only on what they contributed on the ice. Now, we judge them based on their salary. For the record, Phaneuf would have been a logical choice a year or two ago for most overrated player. This year, maybe most disliked. Definitely not most overrated.
THE CFL ALUMNI SHOW
The former CFL quarterback, Mike McCoy, is considered the leading contender to be the next head coach of the Miami Dolphins. What makes this interesting is how many of those with CFL playing or coaching connections are now in positions of importance in the NFL or U.S. College football.
McCoy played for new Hamilton coach George Cortez in Calgary and is currently Tim Tebow’s offensive coordinator in Denver. Cortez coached Aaron Rodgers while at the University of California. Rodgers is coached in Green Bay by former CFL star, Tom Clements.
Among others, Steve Sarkasian and Jeff Tedford, head coaches at major U.S. schools, were former CFL backups and the recently fired, Turner Gill, was a CFL starter. Also from the list of former CFL QBs or QB coaches — Dallas head coach Jason Garrett formerly played in Ottawa.
Only Cortez seems headed in the opposite direction. He loved his job with the Buffalo Bills but is thrilled to finally have a head coaching job at the age of 60.