Thursday, 29 August 2013

NHL Theatre: MLSE takes hockey from centre ice to centre stage

Shortly after being named CEO of MLSE, Tim Leiweke offered the following, puzzling mission statement.

"MLSE is woven into the character of Toronto. The loyal and passionate fans of MLSE's teams want sports championships for this great city. They want excitement on the ice, on the court, on the pitch and on the stage." (quoted by Sportsnet)
MLSE owns the Toronto Maple Leafs (ice), Toronto Marlies (not-as-great ice), Toronto Raptors (court), and Toronto FC (pitch). Where's the stage?

I posed this question to twitter back in April, but no one offered an explanation. I'll just have to figure this one out on my own.

My only guess is that Leiweke accidentally leaked MLSE's plans to acquire the Stratford Festival. In preparation for this (imminent?) acquisition, I thought I'd suggest some hockey-themed plays that should be staged after this transaction is completed.

1. Mike Gillis: "I love you, Bobby. And if it's quite alright, I'll go trade Cory to keep you by my side." 

This modern retelling of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew offers a retrospective on the goaltending controversy that defined the Vancouver Canucks' 2012-13 season.

Cory Schneider is an affable young goaltender who desperately wants a chance to become a starter. The only hitch is that GM Mike Gillis first has to find a suitor for Vancouver's senior starter (and his shrewish contract).

2. Death of a Motivational Speaker

The 2012-13 Edmonton Oilers star in this adaptation of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Head coach Ralph Krueger struggles to accept that his players just aren't the winners he had built them up to be in his imagination. 

After failing to sell owner Daryl Katz and GM Craig MacTavish on his vision for the team, Krueger starts to realize that he's only valuable to the organization as a dead-duck coach who will guide the team toward earning a high draft pick to compensate for their miserable season.

3. Cody Franson: "I want to skate in America. No blocking shots in America. Ice always clean in America. So offer sheet me please, America!"

After waiting all summer for the Toronto Maple Leafs to offer him a decent contract, RFA Cody Franson begins a controversial offer-sheet romance with the San Jose Sharks. The only problem is that the recently-relocated Winnipeg Jets threaten violence against any American teams that try to woo players away from Canada.

4. "Is this the face that drew a thousand PIMs?"

In this updated version of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Georges Vezina is the one who agrees to sell his soul to Mephistopheles. In return, the Montreal Canadiens will enjoy 24 (non-consecutive) years of Stanley Cup championships. However, after they hoist the cup for the 24th time in 1993, the Habs are damned never to taste of hockey's holy grail again!

5. "Oh, wouldn't it be Crosberly?"

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux get into an argument over Sidney Crosby. Babcock considers Crosby to be the best forward in the NHL, but Lemieux insists that #87 is the best player in general. 

To settle the dispute, Babcock bets that Crosby can't be trained into an elite goaltender. Hilarity ensues as Lemieux tasks Dan Bylsma with putting Crosby on the other side of the puck. 

6. Erik Karlsson: "And still I dream we'll sign Alfie. And we will win the cup together. But there are dreams that cannot be. And there are deals we cannot better."

In the wake of Daniel Alfredsson's departure from the Ottawa Senators, Erik Karlsson's production languishes as he spends his days and nights lamenting his jilted bromance. Meanwhile, Inspector Spartacat relentlessly pursues Eugene Melnyk to determine the cause of the supposed financial hardships that prevented the Sens from re-signing their longest-tenured captain.

Outside of the organization, Sens Army decides to blame Leafs Nation for their loss. They resolve to barricade Canadian Tire Centre against anyone wearing blue and white. (Leafs fans simply opt to see games in Buffalo instead.)

7. Toews Andronicus

The victorious Chicago Blackhawks begin the new season with hopes of winning the Stanley Cup again. However, their off season celebrations (Patrick Kane's partying, Corey Crawford's f-bomb riddled speech, and the ritualistic sacrifice of the Bruins' best player) may mire their 2013-14 campaign in a gory, barbarous tragedy.

8. "I Sing the Power Play Electric"

Building on the success of shows that offer behind-the-scenes coverage of hockey teams (e.g. NHL 24/7Oil Change, and Road to the Mastercard Memorial Cup), MLSE brings you the docu-musical Flame.

Tune in to see Flames prospects as they gather in training camp in hope of having a breakout year--and a blockbuster solo! If they can't get hits on the ice, they might as well try to get hits in the musical charts.

9. Is Tim Thomas the mysterious "Angel of Blue Paint"?  

After a slew of mysterious injuries prevent Tuukka Rask, Chad Johnson, and Niklas Svedberg from playing in net for the Boston Bruins, Peter Chiarelli has no choice but to call up Malcolm Subban from the OHL to mind the net. When the 19-year old Subban performs like a veteran starter, rumours swirl that he has been trained by the mysterious TD Garden ghost that has haunted the arena ever since the semi-retirement of Tim Thomas.

This phantom reveals himself to be a real threat when he sabotages games in which coach Claude Julien starts anyone but Subban. After the Bruins win the cup, the phantom tries to kidnap Subban before he can take part in the team's visit to the White House. 

10. Elishastrata

Frustrated that there is no foreseeable end to the Toronto Maple Leafs' cup drought, Elisha Cuthbert convinces the players' partners to withhold sex until the the boys win the Stanley Cup for them. Keeping her compatriots focused on their goal, however, proves to be a much more difficult task than preserving a 4-1 in a pivotal playoff game.  

Monday, 26 August 2013

Jonathan Andronicus: A Classical Approach to Stanley Cup Celebrations

While reviewing material on the 2012-13 NHL playoffs, I was struck by some funny elements in a photo of the Chicago Blackhawks printed in The Hockey News' 2013 commemorative issue that celebrates the Stanley Cup winner.

Here's the photo in question.

Almost everyone in this picture is proudly extending his index finger in order to proclaim, "Chicago's number one!"

The main exceptions are two gentlemen in suits on the left-hand side of the photo.

"We're number two!"

What's going on here? Did someone in the organization forget to clarify that they're planning to use one index finger for supremacy rather than signal "V for Victory" with an index-and-middle-finger salute? Maybe these two men took the "hockey as war" metaphor to heart and reasoned that, since making a "V" was good enough for Winston Churchill, this gesture ought to be good enough for the Chicago Blackhawks.

The inconsistent use of fingers to celebrate the championship is made even worse by Marian Hossa's insulting hand gesture. 

Yep, Hossa, who presumably sees that other celebrants are using two fingers instead of one, seizes upon the confusion to get away with flipping off the camera with the British equivalent of "giving the finger."  

There are many possible reasons why Hossa would exploit this historic moment to taunt Britons. Perhaps he's still bitter over Britain's indifference inaction following German occupation of Hossa's native Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. 

If that's the case, then Hossa's hand gesture and general giddiness might be meant to express the following sentiment: "I just annexed a British aristocrat's fine silver, and the limey bahstahds in England aren't going to do a thing about it!"

Or maybe Hossa is also trying to do the "v for victory" but accidentally presented his palm in the wrong direction. Either way, this picture raises the following question: Why aren't the Stanley Cup runners-up forced to pose around a "loser's trophy" while holding up two fingers in shame? Don't the Stanley Cup champions deserve a commemorative picture capturing the defeated team as its players wallow in abject despair and hold up two fingers in deference to the champs? I don't see the point in winning if you don't have pictures to commemorate how your accomplishment humiliated the other team.

If I were the Blackhawks, I wouldn't feel fulfilled unless my victory was followed up by a modern-day Roman triumph through the streets of Boston as well as Chicago. The parade would include Bruins such as Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, and Brad Marchand atop floats on which they'll be forced to stand hunched over in stocks. 

I'm pretty sure that half the league and 90% of NHLPA members would get behind making this picture happen.

Parading the conquered team through Boston would make it known to Bruins fans that the Blackhawks have utterly owned their hockey market. 

I wouldn't, however, order the best of the enemy's warriors to be sacrificed as in William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.

Of course, I'd also want part of the Blackhawks' triumph to include Matthew Broderick reenacting the famous parade scene from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And that's why I'm not allowed to plan these things. 

Okay, okay--maybe it's inappropriate to offer NHL champions the rites of conquerors and allow them basically to enslave their enemy as the ancient Romans did. I can see how the United Nations might take issue with those parade plans. (Although they still wouldn't be scorned as much as Tim Leiweke was for drafting a parade route for the Toronto Maple Leafs' next championship march.)

Instead of insisting on every aspect of a Roman triumph, I'd just ask for the circulation of coins commemorating the victory. The US Government should issue some silver dollars that celebrate the champs and allow teammates to flip off the opposition.

Aw, the sweet poor-sportsmanness of victory!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Toronto Maple Leafs' Unsettled Scores

UPDATE August 23: Mikhail Grabovski's signing with the Washington Capitals has forced me to edit this post.

Each new NHL season offers teams a chance to settle scores with various opponents, and the Toronto Maple Leafs certainly aren't short on uneven scores that they should try to balance this year. Doing so will help to shore up their identity as a tough, playoff-calibre team that doesn't shy away from grueling battles on the ice and in the standings.

Some unsettled scores are rather obvious. The "Battle of Ontario" will rage once again this year; any match up with the Boston Bruins will be seen as a chance to pay them back for ending the Leafs' playoff hopes in 2013; and every game between the Leafs and an Original 6 rival will have a long backstory that gives the match gravity.

In terms of personal vendettas, sore feelings between current and former Leafs will ramp up the intensity of certain games. For instance, when the Leafs first play the Ottawa Senators, they will need to prove that they were right in letting Clarke MacArthur leave for Kanata as a free agent.

The Leafs will also need to prove that the Carolinian Komisarek is the same defensive liability as the Torontonian version. If the Leafs fail to capitalize on their unwanted defenceman's shortcomings when playing against the Hurricanes, they will fuel speculation that Mike Komisarek's difficulties since being an all-star player with the Montreal Canadiens were due to deficiencies in the Leafs' defensive systems rather than his own shortcomings.

One personal contest that remains unclear involves the Leafs and non-compliance buyout Mikhail Grabovski. It's becoming increasingly likely that the Leafs will have to show up the disgruntled centreman not by beating his new NHL team but The biggest personal score to settle is between Randy Carlyle and disgruntled centre Mikhail Grabovski. After Grabo's expletive-laden rant following his buyout, simply beating Grabo and the Washington Capitals next season won't be enough to satisfy Carlyle. No, the supposedly stupid head coach will problem only feel vindicated when Tim Leiweke alters his Stanley Cup parade route so that the team can repeatedly pass by Grabo's Belorussian home.

Or they could just have Justin Bieber take a picture of the Stanley Cup while standing on Grabo. 

These are all uneven scores that come immediately to mind, so I've prepared a list of some of the less obvious ones that need to be settled starting in the 2013-14 season.

1. Ending Losing Streaks

In case you just tuned in, the Leafs haven't been a great team for a while. Some say that they still aren't, but I think that we've seen substantial improvement over the last few years. Still, those years of futility have left the Leafs with an unenviable record against a number of NHL clubs.

Here are a few clubs that the Leafs haven't beaten in a long time. In the team's defence, all of these opponents are from the Western Conference, so they don't play Toronto very often. However, the Leafs nonetheless need to beat them to prove that they are playoff contenders.

These losing streaks are listed in order from shameful, disgraceful, and horrendous.

1A. Toronto's offence dries up in the desert

While the Phoenix Coyotes have suffered through uncertain ownership since Jerry Moyes declared them to be bankrupt 2009, but the former Winnipeg Jets have had no problems owning the Leafs over the last decade.

That's right: the Leafs haven't beaten the Coyotes once since their last win on October 23 2003. They won't have a chance to beat the 'Yotes until December 19 2013, so there's no chance of preventing these years of futility from hitting the decade mark. During that time, the Leafs have compiled a record of 0-5-1 against Phoenix. This is the best record among the three teams that the Leafs haven't beaten since 2003.

Of course, we need to add a caveat to that poor record. They Leafs haven't beaten the Coyotes in 10 years, but they've only had a chance to do so in 7 NHL seasons because the 2004-05 was cancelled and the 2012-13 season was restricted to intra-conference play due to lockouts.

Still, the Leafs need to find a way to shutdown Phoenix's forward and break through their defence in order to win. Phoenix has outscored Toronto 29-13 from 2005-2012. That means the Leafs have mustered an average of just over two goals per game whereas the Coyotes have averaged nearly five per game over these years.

This season, the Leafs should send a clear message to Phoenix's roster: "George Gosbee may own your franchise, but we're taking ownership of your net!".

 1B. Original 6 erosion

After playing 639 games against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Toronto Maple Leafs hold a comfortable all-time record of 284 wins, 258 losses, 96 ties, and one OT loss.

That all-time record, however, has been slowly eroding over the last decade. If the Leafs don't find a way to beat the Blackhawks, they'll likely squander their historical superiority.

The Blackhawks last lost to the Leafs on February 12 2003. Since that win, Toronto has put up a record of 0-6-1 against Chicago. They've been outscored 31-19 in that time.

At face value, this is by far the least worrying of the three uneven scores between franchises. However, the narrative behind this match up makes the Leafs' struggles against the Blackhawks much worse. People will likely forget Toronto's inability to beat Phoenix because that match up isn't going to be considered a marquee event in the 2013-14 season. In contrast, every match up between Original 6 teams shines a bright light on any warts that have developed on a historic franchise's record.

The magnitude of the Leafs' history with the Blackhawks will make this stretch of futility seem much worse than it is. Conversely, the Leafs will receive many more commendations if they end this losing streak in the upcoming season because the game will receive much more coverage. Added to that narrative is the fact that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last year.

The Leafs have an opportunity to prove that they have regained respectability by not only defeating an age-old rival that has dominated them in recent history but also by beating the reigning NHL champions. It's time to carpe the crap out of that diem, boys!

1C. Pacified on the Pacific

Currently, the Leafs' worst losing record is against the Vancouver Canucks. The Orcas have lived up to their reputation as killer whales by outscoring the Leafs 45-16 since the 2005-06 season. The Leafs record against Vancouver since they last beat them on November 23 2003 has been a pathetic 0-9-1.

Similar to the situation between Chicago and Toronto, the Leafs' losses to the Canucks receives greater attention in the media. Hockey Night in Canada and other Canadian broadcasters seize upon these sorts of stories behind match ups between Canadian teams. Moreover, a certain Canuck makes matters worse by offering these broadcasters sensational remarks on the Leafs.

Alexandre Burrows once admitted that he hates the Leafs and takes pleasure in beating them every chance he gets. Now you might think that Burrows was exaggerating when he said "hate." However, in that same interview he clarified that he hates the Leafs and Vancouver fans dislike them. Burrows has apparently pondered anti-Leaf sentiments long enough to define his feelings as hateful and those of Canucks Army as mere aversion.

Burrows also confessed that, for no particular reason, he's hated the Leafs since he was a kid. This makes the task of the Toronto's 2013-14 team clear: give Burrows a reason to hate the Leafs. By reversing the trend and thoroughly beating the Canucks from this year onward, Burrows will know exactly why he hates seeing blue and white.

And maybe the Leafs will drive Burrows crazy enough to get these Knight of the Hunter themed tattoos!

2. The Shootout Blackout

Was there anything more painful than watching the Leafs head into a shootout last year?

The problem isn't just that they lost every SO: it's that only one player (the much maligned Tyler Bozak) scored in the second stage of post-regulation play. It's hard enough to win 1-0 NHL games in regulation--doing so in the shootout seems highly unlikely.

By notching a mere 3 goals in 24 SO chances, the Leafs had the worst goals/shots percentage last season (according to The Hockey News' yearbook).

The simple solution here is that other players need to score. Maybe Randy Carlyle needs to put greater emphasis on winning SOs when revising his approach to practices. Maybe players like Phil Kessel need to vary their approach to shootouts in order to score next year.

The best case scenario would be for other players to score AND Bozak to keep producing in the SO.

Scratch that: the very best scenario would be for other Leafs to score while allowing Bozak to net the SO-winning goal in order to counteract criticisms of his contract, cap hit, hairstyle--okay, basically everything he's done has been sharply criticized this off season. By adding SO expertise to his skills at faceoffs and short-handed goals, Bozak might just earn some respect (SPOILER ALERT: no, people will state despise his contract).

3. Colton Orr's incomplete grade

In terms of living up to his billing as an enforcer, Colton Orr has been pretty successful while making his rounds over the years. Orr has fought 25 out of 30 NHL teams. As of last season, Orr had fought the entire Eastern Conference--including the Toronto Maple Leafs when he played on other teams.

All that has changed due to realignment: Orr can no longer claim to have dropped the gloves with every team in the Eastern Conference now that the Detroit Red Wings have been added to the Leafs' division.

I don't know if Orr keeps a list of teams that he has yet to fight. Even if he doesn't, it's likely that he's circled every date with the Red Wings because each one will be documented by the producers of NHL 24/7. Since the Winter Classic is based around hockey's roots, I expect that Orr will try to engage someone from Detroit in a bout of "old time hockey" during or leading up to the Winter Classic.

Hopefully he doesn't try to fight Daniel Alfredsson: the universe might collapse if Leafs fans and Sens fans both cheered on Orr to clobber Alfie!

It's probably best to let Orr duke it out with Al the Octopus.

Monday, 19 August 2013

The One Where Alfie Takes a Break

For some strange reason, Daniel Alfredsson showed up to practice with his former teammates on Monday. He even wore an Ottawa Senators practice jersey just to make things especially awkward. Sure, it'd be worse if he wore a Detroit Red Wings jersey, but couldn't he just wear a generic training shirt? I don't imagine he's endeared himself to Red Wings fans by hanging out with the team that he dumped for Detroit.

I'm not sure how Sens fans reacted to this odd reunion between members of the team and their captain-turned-deserter, but I hope that the following captures what they would say if they could somehow appear on the scene as Robbie Hart from The Wedding Singer.

Robbie Hart: What're you doing here?

Daniel Alfredsson: I told you last night. I realized I was wrong, and I want to play in Ottawa. I can learn to deal with the fact that the Sens are just another hockey team, not a Stanley Cup contender.

Robbie Hart: I don't want you to lean to deal with that. That's not how NHL contracts work!

Daniel Alfredsson: I'll talk to you about this when you're feeling better.

Robbie Hart: Hey, psycho! I'm not going to feel better about this. It's over. So please get out of my Ottawa Senators jersey before you jinx the team and they never win the cup or relocate again!!!

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Lore of the Rinks: the Inevitability and Necessity of Hockey Narratives

The role that narratives play in sports has recently become a topic of conversation among hockey writers. Molly Brooks offers an amusing and insightful comic on the subject, and her work has inspired Cam Charron to offer his own thoughts on the relationship between sporting events and literary and cinematic narratives. While I enjoyed both pieces, I would like to challenge some of the underlying assumptions in each regarding the role that narratives play in hockey.

By "narrative" I mean underdog stories, redemption stories, epic playoff collapses, vengeful hockey fights, age-old rivalries, and everything else that turn hockey matches into stories.

Brown and Charron both suggest that these narratives are things that commentators and fans impose onto games because the human mind desires order. Both assume that literary narratives offer clearly delineated characters and tidy, coherent plot arcs based on the principles of cause and effect. Through a chain of causality, we can trace the conclusion of a plot back to the inciting action. These tales end in a way that pleases audiences (often by fulfilling poetic justice).

The problem with this general understanding of narrative is that it really describes certain types of stories. These include melodramas, romantic comedies, and other genres that often force a happy (albeit absurdly unrealistic) resolution. I'm talking about movie like you, Pretty Woman.

There are, however, many modern literary modes (e.g. naturalism, absurdism) that defy such approaches to constructing narratives. Even earlier writers such as Shakespeare offered plays featuring ambiguous characters, irrational motives, accidental turns of events, unjust actions, and troubling endings. All of these characteristics try to mimic aspects of real life.

Writers such as Samuel Beckett deliberately flout the idea that narratives should be rational and have a purposeful action and conclusion. Waiting for Godot offers no clear beginning or ending. There is no distinct hero or villain, and there doesn't seem to be any purpose to the play as it rambles on. At the end, the audience is left with the sense that Vladimir and Estragon will continue to wait endlessly for someone who may never come.

Despite its purposeful pointlessness, we can still relate to the story as we have all been in situations reminiscent of Waiting for Godot. In hockey terms, this narrative likely appeals to players such as Roberto Luongo, who has long awaited a promised trade that (so far at least) hasn't and doesn't appear likely to happen.

I could offer a list of similar text, but instead I'll focus this post on challenging the notion that narratives are imposed on hockey games, or, as Charron puts it, that fans and commentators "reduce hockey to theatre".

Narratives are not an artificial mode of understanding that we impose upon sports. Narratives are a natural way of perceiving events that develop organically. They frame hockey games whether we want them to do so or not. It's arguably impossible to prevent narratives from enveloping our understanding of most human events, so we should consider them to be an integral part of (not a separate entity from) hockey games. This manner of perceiving events does not reduce but enriches the significance of hockey matches.

Narratives infuriate and perplex us: one team's resounding win is another’s tragic loss or farcical failure. A single player (e.g. Daniel Alfredsson before he left Ottawa) can be a hero to some fan bases and a villain to others.

Despite these frustrating aspects, narratives are indispensable because they make games, seasons, and entire team histories not only memorable (a mnemonic device) but enjoyable and meaningful (a qualitative device): they ennoble teams and elevate players to a heroic status. Indeed, that's why we praise franchises by calling them "storied." This word explicitly recognizes that teams with a wealth of rich narratives are particularly significant.

Narratives Are Inevitable

We can't avoid narratives because they attribute significance to events. Box scores tell us what happened; narratives (whether developed by commentators, players, coaches, or fans) offer explanations as to why that happened and why it is significant. That's why the earliest accounts of human history are myths containing various narratives rather than chronicles that simply catalog statistics.

Narratives make games meaningful. There's little to anticipate ahead of an Ottawa Senators-San Jose Sharks game since there is not much of a history between these teams. Unless either team desperately needs wins to clinch a playoff spot, this sort of game will be overlooked entirely or easily forgotten because it lacks a compelling narrative.

The same could have been said about the Sens and the Anaheim Ducks last year. These teams met in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, but rivalries between finalists often dissipate quickly. (Does anyone seriously consider the LA Kings to be the New Jersey Devils' nemesis because of the 2012 playoffs?)

In terms of Ottawa and Anaheim, however, a new source of contention has taken root. The trade that sent Bobby Ryan from Anaheim to Ottawa will redefine each match up between these teams as a chapter in the story of a young player trying to prove that the Sens were right to trade for him, and that the Ducks were foolish to part with him.

It doesn't matter whether or not Ryan himself feels that he has something to prove. Players don't always get to choose their personal narratives. Phil Kessel, for example, didn't seek the attention given to him after the Leafs dealt significant assets to acquire the all-star sniper. Furthermore, Kessel could give every imaginable answer to questions concerning his worth compared to that of Tyler Seguin, and still the debate as to which team won that trade would persist. Even with Seguin having been recently dealt to the Stars, it's conceivable that someone will resurrect this controversial narrative in order to suggest that Dallas got the most value from the Kessel trade.

Kessel's story offers just one way in which narratives ensnare players--sometimes for their entire careers.

We saw many new narratives begin to take shape recently during the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. One example is the narrative that Seth Jones has embraced: vindicating himself after he fell from the lofty position of the presumptive 1st overall selection to the eventual 4th overall pick. Similarly, Nathan MacKinnon must accept his narrative as the preeminent pick. Being 1st overall brings with it great expectations that players (perhaps, in part, due to this pressure) often fail to fulfill. In a similar way, players (e.g. Bobby Ryan) have had an unwanted narrative foisted upon them simply by being the player drafted immediately after an acclaimed superstar (e.g. Sidney Crosby).

Sometimes players have to accept that career choices come with burdensome narratives that cannot be denied. For instance, the next captain of the Ottawa Senators will have to deal with being called Alfredsson's successor (at best) or (at worst) Alfie's replacement. The player himself won't make such a claim, but his career thereafter will forever be measured against the Sens' longest-tenured captain. Whomever is asked to wear the "c" in Ottawa needs to prepare himself for that eventuality as it will put extra pressure on him from game to game and season to season.

Although often grander in scale, drama can help us appreciate the difficulties faced by players who have to deal with pressures stemming from unwanted, intrusive narratives. In Hamlet, the titular prince is forced into the role of avenger after the ghost (presumably) of his father commands Hamlet to avenge him. If there's anything Hamlet understands better than the revenge narrative in which his life has been ensnared, it's that he is woefully inept at fulfilling such a personal narrative. Hamlet is about as ill-suited for the role given to him as Shawn Thorton would be for the narrative expectations foisted upon a premier draft pick.

It's ironic that Brown refers to Hamlet in order to highlight how art differs from "the injustice, the lack of reason, the mind-numbing dullness, [and] the occasional flashes of sublime brilliance" of real life. These same qualities actually recur throughout and complicate the plot of Hamlet. Indeed, Hamlet's famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy meditates on whether or not a person should suffer through the infuriating accidents of life that repeatedly and pitilessly thwart our ambitions.

Hockey players who have come close but have never hoisted the cup can relate to these depressing sentiments. Moreover, the 2013-14 Leafs will have to grapple with Hamlet-like turmoil as they try to move on from the outrageous misfortune that ended their 2013 postseason.

Will Dion Phaneuf have the necessary levels of truculence and pugnacity required to "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" next season?

Narratives Give Hockey Games Meaning

The most predominant form of hockey narrative is the rivalry between teams that renews each season. These rivalries operate in a similar fashion as Shakespeare's history plays, which recall England's previous triumphs and tragedies. These plays often celebrate the country's glorious past by recalling wars fought between England and historical rivals such as France.

In a similar manner, rivalries offer teams a chance to commemorate resounding wins against, lament lopsided losses to, and anticipate the next match up with age-old foes as the next chapter in the ongoing tale of their team's history.

Randy Carlyle: "Once more unto the crease, dear Leafs, once more; or close the net up with our shot-blocked dead."

Of course, no single game settles the score once and for all: the rivalry continues despite the outcome. An eventful game will become part of the team's history and create new storylines for future contests. Uneventful games will be forgotten. Neither outcome will diminish each fan base's anticipation for the next match up. Since there is no planned end to the NHL, there is no foreseeable end to the conflict among rivals.

In a similar way, Shakespeare didn't write about England in the same way that he did ancient Greece or Rome. He wrote about past Englishmen for his contemporary countrymen. The history plays, therefore, had no definitive ending. Instead, narratives of England's battles with rebels at home and enemies abroad invited Shakespeare's audiences to appreciate the rich history and anticipate the glorious future of their country.

Hockey rivalries and tales of a team's heroes and villains function in a similar way: they offer materials with which franchises and fans can forge an understanding of the team's bittersweet past, present identity, and potential future.

Without such narratives, past and present teams are the same in name alone. The current Leafs are almost entirely unlike Toronto's last team to win the Stanley Cup. None of the players from the 1967 squad are on the roster, ownership and management of the team have changed repeatedly, and the team no longer plays in Maple Leaf Gardens. It takes a narrative to create the sense that the current roster is more than a bunch of guys playing in similar uniforms as past Leafs.

Some Narratives Are Meant to Be Broken

In concluding his article, Cam Charron criticizes the excesses of narratives by mentioning that, at one time, people scoffed at the idea that a European captain could lead his team to a Stanley Cup Championship. It's fair to consider this narrative ridiculous, but it's also worthwhile considering it as one that was perpetuated to make its own end more meaningful and even glorious.

To illustrate this point, I will take an example from history. In the 16th century, Elizabethan England was plagued with fears that Philip II of Spain would invade and conquer the British Isles. At the time, England was a relatively small, poor, and weak country. While the Spanish Empire controlled much of Europe, Elizabeth I's administration struggled to control its own English, Irish, and Welsh subjects.

The major threat to England during this period was the Spanish Armada, which was characterized as "invincible." Interestingly, Spain referred to its fleet as the "Great Armada" or even "Catholic Armada." It was the Elizabethan state the characterized Spain's warships as invincible.

This unlikely narrative, according to Paola Pugliatti, was used to glorify England through propaganda. While England lacked the equivalent of Spain's professional army of seasoned soldiers, Elizabeth I did have a professional, well-equipped navy that was capable of fighting the Armada in defensive battles.

Elizabeth's administration, however, didn't let on that it was capable of fighting Spain on the seas. Rather, ministers such as Lord Burghley referred to the Armada as "invincible" in order to make it seem all the more miraculous when England (aided by some hostile weather) defeated Spain's fleet it in 1588.

How could England do such a thing if its people were not nobler, more heroic, and godlier than the thralls who manned Spain's galleons? How could anyone deny the legitimacy of England and its Protestant queen when God Himself sent malicious weather to sink Spain's ships in order to preserve Elizabeth's reign? These are the sorts of jubilant sentiments that followed England's defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Unfortunately, Elizabethans didn't have the capabilities to produce "Bleacher Creatures" designed after naval hero Sir Walter Raleigh.

In a similar manner, Nicklas Lidstrom is an especially illustrious figure in NHL history because people supposedly doubted that a European captain could win the Stanley Cup. If the narrative had been that this event hadn't happened before but was bound to occur due to the law of averages, then being the first European captain to hoist the cup would seem unremarkable because it was inevitable.

By defying this narrative, Lidstrom became a champion of European hockey players who defied the critics, vindicated non-North American players, and made it easier for his fellow countrymen continentmen to wear the "c" in the NHL. If the league survives long enough, Lidstrom will be seen as the originator of a long line of European captains with Stanley Cup credentials. There's no specific reason why he had to be the first, but the fact that he was will be treated with great significance--as though fate had willed his accomplishment into being.

Artist's rendering of how Nicklas Lidstrom will be remembered as a hockey legend.

NOTE: both Charlie Gardiner and Johnny Gotselig were both European-born players who, at different times, became captains of the Chicago Blackhawks and won the Stanley Cup. These players, however, both moved to Canada as children and thereafter became hockey players. Thus Lidstrom is truly the first European hockey player to win the Stanley Cup as an NHL captain.

Final Thought

Narratives make hockey worth caring about. Without narratives, the game is a rather meaningless pastime that is merely fun to watch. With narratives, hockey becomes a stage for meaningful events that are worthy of being preserved in human history. Furthermore, these narratives--not stats--will be preserved for future posterity. People remember key events in Bobby Orr's, Gordie Howe's, and Wayne Gretzky's careers more so than they recall how each player performed in 5-on-5 in comparison to 4-on-4 situations after a defensive-zone faceoff. Those details sometimes bolster legends, but they are never the focal point in the grand narrative of hockey history.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Chasing Cody: What Does Franson's Every Move Mean to His Contract Negotiations?

Yesterday, my off-season hibernation was disturbed by a blurb preceding a TSN video relating to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The teaser claimed, "Nazem Kadri says he's upset with the lack of progress being made with his contract negotiations."

Like Cam Charron, I immediately thought, "Here we go: Kadri's going to outdo Grabo by blasting the Leafs for mismanaging players." Fortunately for Leafs nation (and unfortunately for bored writers) Kadri gave a rather ordinary interview. He didn't blast anyone, and he seemed rather wise for a young player when he discussed the situation. Basically, he's just biding his time as his agent and the Leafs' brass iron out the new contract.


So the teaser was sensationalizing a rather unremarkable interview in order to get views. That's understandable at this time of year, but I'm not sure if it works. To test out whether or not overstating the significance of mundane happenings garners any interest, I've put together a series of conclusions that can be gathered after stalking Cody Franson for a day.

The wildly speculative rumours listed below do not come from any sources connected with the Leafs or Franson. They are formed solely upon tracking Franson's every move over the course of a single day. (NOTE: this blog is purely fictional and not based on anyone actually stalking Cody Franson, so let's not alert any law enforcers over this blog, K? NO ONE LIKES A NARC!)

7:55 AM: By waking up in his native Sicamous, BC, Cody Franson fuels rumours that he may play in blue and white but his heart is really wearing the blue and green of the Vancouver Canucks.

8:12 AM: Franson pours himself a bowl of "Lucky Charms" cereal. He removes all of the shooting stars. (Possibly a sign that he has no interest in playing hockey in Dallas.)

Speaking of "Lucky Charms," how has there never been an NHL tie-in like the above?

9:01 AM: During his morning jog, Franson accepts pamphlets from protesters campaigning to block the Keystone Pipeline and to abolish the Senate of Canada. (Take that as a rejection, Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators.)

10:06 AM: Franson follows physical with mental exercise. While reading a selection from John Donne's Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, he scribbles the following pun in the margins: "No man is an Islander entire unto himself." 

10:44 AM: While getting ready to run errands, Franson sets his iPod to a playlist featuring only blues tunes by Big Bill Broonzy (or, if you will, Bruins-y.) His selection of music might also mean that he's contemplating a move to St. Louis.

11:37 AM: Franson complicates the previous rumour by repeatedly listening to The Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go?" while driving to Chapters. Listening to Motown would suggest that Franson is interested in joining the Detroit Red Wings, but the song in question implies that Cody might just be feeling some heartache over contract negotiations with the Leafs.

12:11 PM: While browsing books at Chapters, Franson pauses in the children's section to re-read "Where the Wild Things Are" while snuggling a stuffed monster.

Did Franson choose this book to help him imagine what it would be like to play for the Minnesota Wild alongside Zach Parise and Ryan Suter?

12:41 PM: Franson browses controversial histories of the American Civil War--perhaps in preparation to sign an offer sheet extended to him by one of the NHL's Civil-War themed teams: the Calgary (formerly Atlanta) Flames and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

1:07 PM: Franson meets up with a friend for lunch. Franson orders Tropicana orange juice and (using a flask of Russian Standard vodka concealed in his jacket) mixes up some screwdrivers. 

These actions obviously reveal that the cash-strapped Franson is willing to undertake extreme measures to overcome financial constraints. Based on his surreptitious adulteration of Florida orange juice, it's possible that he might sign a long-term, cap-friendly contract with either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Florida Panthers and then abscond with either team to the KHL.

1:22 PM: Franson orders poutine (Montreal Canadiens?) and pays extra to have Buffalo wings (Sabres?) on the side.

1:30 PM: Franson's friend asks him if he's seen a parodic photo of fellow defenceman Liles following the Leafs' decision not to buy him out in order to free up more cap space for Franson and Kadri.

Franson doesn't get the joke because he's not a fan of Joaquin Phoenix. (Take that as a sign that Cody's just not that into you, Phoenix Coyotes.)

1:36 PM: Franson's friend says that it'd be funny if Cody married a prominent pop star, took her surname, and played hockey from then on under the name "Cody Perry." (Franson's amusement suggests that he might consider the Anaheim Ducks as a good fit for himself.)

1: 43 PM: Franson goes to the men's room and uses a urinal rather than any of the three stalls (or should we say "Staals," Carolina?).

1: 46 PM: While washing his hands, Franson has a moral dilemma.

Should he listen to his conscience and re-sign with the Leafs, or heed his impish id's desire to sign a more lucrative contract elsewhere?

1: 54 PM: Franson is delighted that his friend hasn't forgotten his birthday (August 8th). When he returns from the washroom, he finds a cupcake and a Burger King crown waiting for him. (Too bad you didn't think of courting Cody with a BK crown, LA Kings!).

2:07 PM: After noticing a barrage of tweets asking him what his daily routine means in terms of his RFA status, Franson responds by tweeting, "FOR THE LAST TIME, I'M NOT TRYING TO DROP HINTS ABOUT MY CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS!!!" Thus Cody fuels speculation that he is considering an offer sheet from the Washington Capitals. 

2: 27 PM: After deciding to take in a matinee, the friends settle on seeing the local theatre company's revival of West Side Story.  

It's not insignificant that this revival designed the Sharks and Jets gangs after San Jose's and Winnipeg's NHL franchises.

5:13 PM: On his way home, a nosy reporter pesters Franson about his supposed involvement in a recent Sasquatch sightings in BC. Franson reiterates that he did meet with a Yeti, but his interactions with the abominable snowman were simply a matter of business.  

When Howler the Yeti stepped down from his position as the Colorado Avalanche's mascot, he joined the organization's managerial staff and eventually gained the position of Assistant General Manager.

5: 38 PM: While driving home, Franson sings along to "Our House," "Woodstock," "Teach Your Children" and other songs from the album Deja Vu by (Sidney?) Crosby, Stills, and (Rick?) Nash/Nash(ville).   

6: 21 PM: Franson arrives home, picks up his mail, and discards all the flyers. (Tough break, Philadelphia).

6: 47 PM: Franson sits down for a light meal of Swedish Berries. Does his confectionery meal mean that he's considering the possibility of re-signing with the team he played for during the 2012-13 lockout (Brynas IF Gavle of the Swedish Elite League)?  

9: 28 PM: After some evening exercise, Franson talks to another friend on the phone. The two decide to meet up for coffee tomorrow. Franson, rather tellingly, suggests that they meet at Stan Mikita's (the fictional doughnut shop from Wayne's World) rather than Tim Horton's. 

This slip of the tongue (one that revives bitter memories of Mike Myers selling out his loyalty to the Leafs by setting Wayne's World in Illinois and making Wayne and Garth fans of the Chicago Blackhawks in order to appeal to American audiences) implies that Franson is entertaining the idea of betraying the Leafs to play for the 'Hawks.

Pictured: a re-Canadianized scene from Wayne's World.

11: 17 PM: By going to sleep in his BC residence, Franson further fuels speculation that he wants to be traded to the Canucks. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Remember when Wayne Gretzky and David Copperfield teamed up?

The pseudo-religious observance of the 25th anniversary of "The Trade" has eclipsed another milestone in the history of "The Great One." This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the greatest coif-laboration in the 90s: the teaming up of the golden and raven mullets worn by respectively hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky and illusionist David Copperfield.

Here are the highlights from Gretzky's guest spot on "The Magic of David Copperfield XV: Fires of Passion." NOTE: the title is a bit of a misnomer as this was one of the few specials in which Copperfield didn't creepily hit on his guest star.

The scene begins with Copperfield setting up the premise: "We're in my warehouse with Wayne Gretzky, and he's going to let me tear up his $500 000 baseball card just so I can try to magically put it back together." NOTE: That was not an illusion. Copperfield actually sawed an infinitive in half only to leave the sentence for dead. Apparently he's no wizard of grammar. 

The baseball card in question features former Pittsburgh Pirate Honus "The Flying Dutchman" Wagner (1874-1955). There are few extant copies of this card, which is probably why Copperfield refers to it as "the Mona Lisa of baseball cards." That comparison, of course, is absurd: Lisa del Giocondo (the woman immortalized in Leonardo da Vinci's portrait) was an outfielder who was widely reputed to be more caustic than Ty Cobb when he served in the US Army's Chemical Corps during World War I.

Seriously, Ty Cobb belonged to a branch of the USA Army that was responsible for subjecting the enemy to gas and flamethrower attacks. (Read more here.)

Originally produced by the American Tobacco Company, Wagner's baseball card became valuable after the "The Flying Dutchman" forced the company to halt production. (Wagner detested the idea of kids having to buy tobacco in order to get his card.)

Before beginning the trick, Copperfield asks if Gretzky is entirely comfortable with the plan to destroy and restore his valuable property. Gretzky pumps Copperfield's tires by recalling how Americans entrusted the illusionist with a national landmark. (Copperfield had previously made the Statue of Liberty disappear.)

However, Gretzky also deflates Copperfield's ego by telling him that the card is fully insured. As we all know, having insurance means that you can have others destroy your property and still be reimbursed for the damages. SPOILER ALERT: no, it doesn't. Destroying property to make a bogus claim is illegal. What we have here is documentary evidence of Wayne Gretzky conspiring to commit insurance fraud.

Now you might expect Copperfield to pull the old switcharoo by using two baseball cards--tearing up one and swapping it out for a duplicate. Well, David anticipated your cause for disbelief. He asks Gretzky to sign the card so that we know that it's the same one. (Of course he could have had Wayne sign the duplicate before this scene was filmed, but whatever--magic!)

In a moment of unapologetic Canadianness, Gretzky politely protests Copperfield's request that he sign the card because doing so would debase its value. Aw shucks, Wayne, don't you think someone might want your signature as proof that this isn't any ordinary Honus Wagner card but the one once owned by "The Great One"?

Copperfield parries Gretzky's insincere modesty by arguing that the signature will increase the value. David estimates Gretzky's autograph to be worth about $100 (yep, the US dollar was much stronger in 1993--back then Americans used matchsticks made of ivory to light cigars stuffed with Dodo feathers).

Gretzky, always the self-promoter, retorts that his signature will increase the card's value "by at least ninety-nine" dollars (daww!).

Get it? Wayne wears #99!!!

As Wayne enriches the value of the baseball by signing it, LA Kings owner (and co-owner of the card) Bruce McNall tries to constrain his obvious displeasure.

Perhaps the sight of Gretzky's signature reminds McNall how much it cost to trade for and re-sign the superstar player who had not yet and never would help the Kings win their first Stanley Cup. McNall only looks displeased as the card is signed: he cracks jokes when it's being torn up.

Next, Copperfield undermines his expertise as an appraiser by quartering the baseball card and saying, "Four pieces, each worth about $125 000 each only if I put them back together." Let's put aside the fact that you can't cut up a card into numerous pieces and assume that each retains an equal fraction of the value attributed to the whole.

Let's instead look at what Copperfield says: the four pieces are worth X amount of dollars only if they are put back together? No, if they're reassembled, the whole thing is worth $500 000 and the pieces are worthless because they no longer exist! The pieces can't retain value once they've ceased to be. Ugh!

Always outdoing himself, Copperfield immediately offers an even more imbecilic remark when he tries to ease his guests' anxiety. He reminds Gretzky and McNall that their insurance will cover the card's loss if he can't put it back together. McNall (the only voice of reason in this scene) chimes in to inform Copperfield that "the insurance only covers accidental damage; it doesn't cover willful destruction."

It's at this point that the excrement gets real. Copperfield looks straight into the camera with an expression that perfectly captures the sudden apprehension of self-loathing that is commonly experienced by alcoholics during moments of clarity.  He says directly to us, "Well, I guess the heat's on me."

How did this moment not garner Copperfield an Emmy for best dramatic performance?

Copperfield's choice of words are apt given the stakes. If he fails to fix the card, he will owe a lot of money to powerful people. Since Copperfield's warehouse is located in Las Vegas, it's worth remembering a crucial quote, from Martin Scorsese's Casino, that discuses the usefulness of the desert surrounding Sin City: "A lot of holes in the desert, and a lot of problems are buried in those holes."

To avoid becoming one of those interred problems, Copperfield quickly reassembles the card.

McNall is probably thinking, "If only he could make the Kings' roster cohere with such ease!"

So there you have it: the card is restored, right? Well, it's not in mint condition. Wayne, who didn't object when Copperfield claimed that each piece of the card was worth $125 000, suddenly gets wise and tells David that the creases remaining on the card ruin its value.

Luckily, Copperfield isn't just a guy with voluminous hair: he's also an iron and ironing board!

Next, Gretzky petulantly pleads, "That's great, David, but what about the signature?" Oh, you mean the signature that increased the card's value? The autograph signifying that this card is rarer than others because it was once owned by the greatest hockey player ever?

Since Wayne insists, Copperfield calmly removes the signature with as much ease as Gretzky removed himself from the St. Louis Blues. (Indeed, Wayne's signature may have spent more time on that card than Gretzky did in a Blues unifrom.)

Now something unsettling happens. As Copperfield finishes removing the signature, he tells his guests, "Remember: you collect baseball cards; I collect autographs."

 And with that, he peels the signature off, rolls it into a ball, and flicks it at the camera saying, "Name dropper!"

Gretzky and McNall laugh and walk away, carelessly leaving Wayne's valuable signature on the ground. How do they know Copperfield won't return later, iron out the autograph, and use it unscrupulously? After all, he just showed them that he can mangle things and restore them to mint condition, and he even sinisterly admitted to collecting autographs. What are his intentions, exactly?

I suspect that, from this point onward, Copperfield usurped the role of Gretzky's agent by applying the stolen signature to various lucrative deals. These probably include everything from signing "The Great One" to play for the Rangers, and even to shill for products that have nothing to do with hockey.

Exhibit "A" (or, if you will, Exhibit "Tea")

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Next Ones: 6 Leafs Prospects Guaranteed to Infuriate Opponents

To whittle away the weeks before the preseason begins, bloggers have begun discussing the Toronto Maple Leafs' best prospects. Check out these links for lists of the best Leafs's best overall prospects by age or development system.

In order to contribute something different, I've put together a list of the Leafs' top prospects at each position based on (say it with me now) truculence, pugnacity, and belligerence. Yes, Brian Burke is back in Anaheim, but his mantra for the Leafs' team identity lives on through the philosophies of Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle.

These baby buds might not tear up the score sheet, but they will make playing against them a pain in the neck, mouth, eye sockets, shoulders, and pretty much every other body part that can be hit in a game.

(If you're interested in the Leafs' present and past team toughness, check out these links for my All-Scar Team Part I and Part II.)

1. Tyler Biggs, RW

Bob McKenzie ranked Tyler Biggs as the toughest player, most physical player, and best fighter in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. It's unfortunate that TSN pegged Biggs as a player who is most like Colby Armstrong given that the latter was a bust for the Leafs, an underwhelming player later on for the Habs, and now the latest NHL expatriate to find work in Sweden's top league.

Others such as Michael Trikos offer a more encouraging evaluation by comparing Biggs to Milan Lucic.

Biggs will probably end up playing a game that's somewhat better and worse than that of those comparable forwards. He'll be more durable and physical than the oft-injured Armstrong, but he probably won't put up as many points in a season as Lucic has. That's not necessarily a bad thing since (based on his 2012-13 season) Lucic isn't playing up to the expectations set by his current cap hit of $6 million per season.

A player who plays a Lucic-like game but with a lower cap hit would be a huge asset to the Leafs.

As a self-declared prototypical power forward, Biggs won't wow people with finesse. Rather, he'll pull his own weight by getting the ugly, fugly, and gorgonesque goals that players who prefer not to get their hair mussed (e.g. Phil Kessel) will shy away from.

"Gorgonesque goals" are so petrifyingly ugly that the turn goalies to stone.

Next season will probably be the most important in Biggs' young career as he has the opportunity to make himself an invaluable player on the Toronto Marlies. No one wants him to accomplish just that more than Jim Hughes (the Leafs' Director of Player Development). A number of prime roster spots have opened up on the Marlies, and Hughes says that Biggs needs to seize a spot for himself in all situations--5 on 5, 4 on 4, killing penalties, and executing power plays.

There's an outside chance that Biggs will earn a spot on the Leafs, but it'd be more realistic for him to prepare to work hard with the Marlies in order to make himself indispensible.

2. Ryan Rupert, Centre

As a London Knights fan, I was delighted when the Leafs picked Ryan Rupert with in the 6th round (157th overall selection) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Rupert, whose 5' 9" stature makes him tower unripe corn stalks*, won't be known in the NHL as an enforcer. He's more likely to be a fourth-line pest than a brawler. Brian Burke recognized this reality when he described Ryan and his twin brother Matt's style of play as "surly" rather tan pugnacious or truculent. 

The Ruperts likely learned such behaviour from the security guard at Budweiser Gardens, home of the London Knights.

Rupert fits the mold of an undersized agitator like Brad Marchand to a lesser and greater extent. While he lacks Marchand's scoring ability, Rupert's feistiness makes Marchand look as cuddly as a grumpy Care Bear. Both Ryan and his twin brother Matt are hated by opponents in  the OHL for three simple reasons: the Ruperts beat them along the boards, in brawls, and on the score sheet.

Pictured: Marchand after a teammate scratched the paint on his cloud car.

Rupert will nettle opponents with his aggressive play and clutch scoring. In the 2013 playoffs, for example, Rupert was nearly a point-per-game player as he tallied eleven goals and nine assists in 21 games. If he can translate even a bit of that prowess to the NHL, he'll help eke out some unlikely points with his fellow bottom liners with the Leafs.

Of course, Rupert is a number of years away from playing in the NHL. This is a good thing since the Knights host the 2014 Memorial Cup. The team's guaranteed spot in the playoffs will benefit Rupert by providing him with further seasoning as a high-stakes scorer and defensive forward.  

3. Brad Ross, LW

Brad Ross has been a bit of a disappointment so far in his pro career, so I'm not giving giving him the MS Paint treatment. That kind of tough love is the least I can do to motivate him. It's also the most I can do as I have no power to influence prospects.

In his final two years with the Portland Winterhawks, Ross scored at above a point-per-game rate. He also notched more than 160 PIMs in both seasons. His ability to make an impression via racking up points and dishing out contusions has made scouts such as Dave Morrison and many hockey writers compare Ross to Darcy Tucker.

Ross can be excused to some extent for his lackluster 2012-13 season as a crowded roster and a broken wrist made it difficult for him to secure a spot on the Marlies. Kyle Cicerella attributes some of Ross' difficulties last season to problems with adjusting from playing in the top six in major junior to the bottom six in the AHL. That excuse works for now, but Ross needs to acclimate himself to succeeding as an agitating grinder since he doesn't project to be a top-six player with the Leafs.

Ross did prove that there's more to his came when he began putting up some points after returning to the Marlies after a conditioning stint in the ECHL. Like Biggs, he should be able to stick with the Marlies lineup next season as many veterans have left the organization

However, whether or not he will make the most of this opportunity is uncertain. Signs that Ross might not live up to his billing as the next Darcy Tucker appeared in the prospect camp ahead of the 2012-13 season. Ross was noticeably less than his usual agitating self during scrimmages. When asked why he was off his game, Ross explained that it's awkward to harass players who will be teammates in a few weeks.

And, of course, the last thing that Brian Burke and the rest of Leafs management would want is to see prospects fight each other during camp

4. Petter Granberg, D

Petter Granberg is the most decorated prospect in the Leafs system. Granberg has won gold at both the World Juniors and the men's World Championship tournaments. He also won the Swedish Elite League's championship last season with Skelleftea AIK.

As a shutdown defenceman, Granberg is often compared to fellow Swede and Leaf Carl Gunnarson--except that Granberg plays a more physical, aggressive, and meaner game than his compatriot.

Granberg stands 6' 3" tall, weighs 209 lbs. and feels no pain. He hails from Gallivare, a town in Sweden that is 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle and known to have "an astronomically high incidence of congenital insensitivity to pain." That means residents often do not register painful stimuli, which is a handy mutant ability to have when blocking a shot or absorbing a hit.

We can safely say that Granberg offers the closest thing to having one of the X-Men play for the Leafs. Of course, comparisons to the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day are also acceptable.

Here's how Granberg's body responds to damage received from blocking multiple shots.

5. Andrew MacWilliam, D

Since Granberg is almost a lock to make the Leafs' blueline within the next few years, I'm going with a dark horse candidate for my second selection.

To call MacWilliam an unheralded prospect is a severe understatement. The 7th round selection (188th overall) at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft has been all-but written off by analysts. As a defenceman with limited offensive potential, MacWilliam earns his keep by mastering defensive positioning, hitting everything that moves, and fighting. Less generous assessors of his potential have referred to him as the least likely to succeed among the  Leafs' "coke machines."

MacWilliam, however, has a highly influential defender within the Leafs organization. Jim Hughes not only speaks highly of him, but calls others to task for overlooking the former captain of the University of North Dakota's NCAA hockey team. 

In an interview for, Hughes pointed out that Alec Brownscombe had overlooked MacWilliam when discussing the Leafs' most noteworthy prospects. 

Perhaps Hughes' confidence is misplaced, but he seems certain enough to wager his own integrity on MacWilliam's ability to perform.  By saying that MacWilliam has "the pro mentality" and complimenting other aspects of his game, Hughes is putting his own credibility on the line for the underrated defenceman. 

I imagine that these compliments are strategic--a maneuver to enhance competition and cultivate an elite mentality among the Leafs' defence corps. If so, Hughes shouldn't be ridiculed as Brian Burke was for being boastful. By showing a bit too much confidence in order to offset those who disregard MacWilliam, Hughes shows that he's willing to stake his own reputation on the team's depth players. That's an admirable quality to have in the person who is responsible for the development of those players.

6. Drew MacIntyre, G

Goalie fights are so rare that it's tough to say which net minder in the Leafs' system will become the feistiest. The organization has made my selection even tougher by releasing their underachieving back stoppers (Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya) following the 2012-13 season. 

That means I have to pick among a group of goalies with whom I'm unfamiliar. 

With that in mind, I'm going to make the safe bet and pick Drew MacIntyre as the Leafs' scrappiest goaltender. As a journeyman goalie who has bounced around the AHL and ECHL, MacIntyre is well- conditioned to fighting for time in the blue paint.

However, what's most impressive about MacIntyre is his ability to defy the laws of time and space like Neo from The Matrix. Check out this amazing behind-the-back-glove-save that MacIntyre executed last season with the Marlies.

If we could only upload highlight reels of the best saves in NHL history into his brain via headjack, MacIntyre could become the best goaltender in hockey history quicker than it took Keanu Reeves to learn Kung Fu.