No team was as severely impacted by the National Hockey League lockout of 2004 than the seemingly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs.
Before the year lost to hockey, and without a salary cap, the Leafs had contended for six consecutive seasons under Pat Quinn, averaging 98 points per season and not once missing the playoffs.
In the seven seasons that have followed, the Leafs showed themselves to be the most ill-prepared organization post-lockout, having missed the playoffs every year since and averaging just 83 points per campaign in that time.
So, when commissioner Gary Bettman talks of needing a new financial system to make his NHL work, he isn’t talking about anything that relates to Toronto hockey. He isn’t talking about us, at all. In fact, quietly the owners of the Leafs — Bell, Rogers and Larry Tanenbaum — must cringe every time they hear Bettman’s rhetoric: Their business has never been better while their team has rarely been worse.
Nothing will come of this eventual deal between players and owners that will help Toronto hockey. But the setback can’t possibly be as troubling as it was seven years ago. In truth, the Leafs still haven’t recovered from the lost year and who knows when the real recovery will begin.
THIS AND THAT
In search of something resembling good news, the Blue Jays have to sign pitcher Carlos Villanueva before he gets to free agency. And I wonder, what took John Farrell so long to get Villaneuva into the starting rotation? Wasn’t he the obvious choice after the way he pitched last season? If Farrell’s expertise is pitching, you have to ask why he waited so long with Villaneuva and why he has had so little impact in trying to fix the lost starters, Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez? ... If the Red Sox want Farrell, as the background stories insist, then why not this: Send Farrell to Boston for a player of some consequence and then hire Terry Francona to manage the Jays. So far, after two seasons of Farrell, we’re not sure what to make of him as a big league manager. Francona isn’t perfect, but he does have a track record. When you see what a Joe Maddon does with Tampa Bay, you realize what Toronto isn’t getting from Farrell ... The best players on the Blue Jays — Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie — have one thing in common: None of them were developed by the organization. All were traded for in impressive deals. But in order to contend, don’t the Jays have to have more homegrown talent succeed? And they need somebody to surprise. They have J.P. Arencibia and Casey Janssen, who came through their system. But who else? ... The Jays will go into the off-season unsure of what they have in Romero and concerned about the state of Bautista, who is having wrist surgery. No matter how safe an operation is, this is wrist surgery and a power hitter requires quick flex in his wrists to be successful. Until they see Bautista swatting baseballs, there will be some trepidation about his future.
HEAR AND THERE
So I admit: I was expecting a lot from George Cortez in his first season as head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a lot from Ricky Ray playing quarterback, a lot from Scott Milanovich in his first year coaching the Argos. And so far, not a lot. Cortez looks like another fine coordinator who can’t handle all that is the head coaching job. Ray looks rather average behind a weak Argos offensive line and a truly ordinary group of receivers. And Milanovich has yet to put his stamp on this team that lacks discipline, makes strange in-game decisions and seems too often ill-prepared ... In other news, Anthony Calvillo doesn’t age. He just plays, wins, looks great ... Why the Argos are cheering for an NHL lockout: Last time there was a lockout, they won the Grey Cup ... Heard Angelo Mosca on radio the other day and it got me thinking: Who are the characters of the CFL and why don’t I know them? Where is Bobby Taylor and Mel Profit? Where is Dick Thornton and Leo Cahill? Who exactly am I supposed to care about now that Stevie Baggs has gone south? ... About the Baltimore Orioles being a flash in the pan: Never mind ... So the Tampa Bay Rays are sitting around their executive offices and somebody says: “You know what we need? We need Ben Francisco.” How does this kind of thing happen?
SCENE AND HEARD
Not only did the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup, they led all American hockey teams with donations to a U.S. political party. According to Jeff Klein of the New York Times, the Kings donated $223,200 to the Republican party. That’s twice as much as any team gave the Republicans and four times more than was donated by the Washington Capitals to the Democrats ... Just finished reading The Code, Gare Joyce’s detective-hockey mystery and his first stab at fiction. If you love hockey and want to get inside, and happen to be a detective junkie like I am, you’ll love this book ... It’s 13 days to the official beginning of the NHL lockout which, depending on how long it lasts, will impact whatever legacy Bettman may have as commissioner. Should it go long, he will go down as the least effective long-serving commissioner in sports history ... Other than the obvious, another reason to be curious about Penn State football: Akeel Lynch, who used to run for the Toronto Junior Argos and St. Michael’s College, lines up as the No. 3 tailback as a pure freshman for the Nittany Lions ... A quick personal aside: It’s September. Where in hell did my summer go?
AND ANOTHER THING
At the same age (24) the Washington Nationals are shutting down Stephen Strasburg, Ferguson Jenkins pitched 289 innings for the Chicago Cubs. That was one of his low seasons of work: He followed that up by pitching 308, 311, 313, 325 and, at the age of 39, pitched 217 innings in the big leagues. Whatever it is baseball is doing with its young pitchers, it should reference the careers of Jenkins, Don Drysdale, Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. The more they threw, the better they threw, the stronger their arms became ... It wasn’t exactly described this way, but the Pittsburgh Penguins essentially replaced their medical staff because Sidney Crosby wasn’t happy with the care he was receiving ... It’s September and the Leafs don’t necessarily have a first-string goalie or a first-line centre. And because we don’t know when the season will begin, there seems less angst than usual about such matters ... Time was, it took five years to develop a starting quarterback in the NFL. This year, five rookie quarterbacks will start for NFL teams ... On the subject of replacement referees in the NFL, consider this: The regular officials are mistake-laden. Imagine how terrible the second-stringers will be ... If the Friday night game between B.C. and Montreal was a preview of the 100th Grey Cup, then I can’t wait for November ... Connor McDavid, the junior exemption and exception, is wowing people in his early days with the Erie Otters. “I’ve had a lot of players over the years who get you out of your seat,” said veteran general manager Sherry Bassin. “Connor is different. He gets me jumping out my seat.” And that’s not easy for a man awaiting hip replacement ... Happy birthday to Sam Mitchell (49), Lennox Lewis (47), Glen Sather (69), Gerry Cheevers (72), Jimmy Connors (60), Terry Bradshaw (64), Eric Dickerson (52) and Nate Archibald (64) ... And hey, whatever became of Shjon Podein?
THE SCORE FERTILE AIRWAVES
The sale of The Score to Rogers was purely a business deal, but it does assault those who came to love Canada’s foremost breeding ground for budding television journalists.
The list of impressive graduates of The Score include: Elliotte Friedman (below) of CBC, TSN’s Cabral (Cabbie) Richards, Steve Kouleas, James Cybulski and Sara Orlesky (left), Sportsnet’s Tim Micallef, Sid Seixeiro, Tony Ambrogio and Martine Gaillard; and Adnan Virk, now starring for ESPN down south.
And I’m sure I’m missing some names.
That doesn’t include those who worked behind the cameras who are now part of such successful programs as Hockey Night in Canada and Off The Record.
A lot of original thinking at The Score led to the development of original broadcasters. Here’s hoping the corporation doesn’t swallow up that bastion of fresh thought.
THE QB THE ALS REALLY WANTED
When Marc Trestman was the offensive coordinator at North Carolina State, he recruited an undersized freshman quarterback he had high hopes for.
And when he took over as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, he and general manager Jim Popp talked about the future after Anthony Calvillo retired.
They wanted a QB who could come in post-Calvillo and seamlessly take over and succeed in Montreal. Well, the quarterback Trestman recuited at N.C. State eventually transferred for a final year at Wisconsin and wound up as a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks. The quarterback: Russell Wilson will start as a rookie in Seattle this season.
The Alouettes need to look elsewhere for their future.
PAN-AM SWIM MESS
The dates of 2015 world swim championships in Russia, where the best will compete prior to the Rio Olympics, just happen to coincide with the dates of Toronto’s ill-fated Pan-Am Games.
In other words, a minor-league event that nobody asked for and will cost taxpayers a fortune, will have minor- league swimmers on its docket instead of the best of the Pan Am countries.
Negotiations are underway to try and shrink the length of the Toronto swim meet so that those who might participate in both events will be able to do so.
But what is illustrated best here is what the Pan Ams are up against. They are nobody’s first priority. They are a secondary championship which will rarely features best on best.
And we know that before we know what the price this is all going to cost.