A Proposal for NHL Realignment

The new plan would see the Leafs and Red Wings reunite their rivalry.

With the draft finished, and a highly unspectacular one at that, I figured I’d take a stab at this whole realignment thing. I think the NHL would benefit from the boost a realignment would provide especially with the NBA lockout a seemingly inevitable possibility. So, below I’ve used four divisions (a move the NHL wants to make away from the current six), time zones, and traditional rivalries as my main criteria for realignment. The division names were just chosen randomly and can be fixed in any way people see fit.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CAMPBELL DIVISION
BOSTON BRUINS
BUFFALO SABRES
DETROIT RED WINGS
MONTREAL CANADIENS
OTTAWA SENATORS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
WASHINGTON CAPITALS

NORRIS DIVISION
CAROLINA HURRICANES
FLORIDA PANTHERS
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
NEW YORK RANGERS
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

WESTERN CONFERENCE

LADY BYNG DIVISION
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
COLORADO AVALANCHE
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
DALLAS STARS
MINNESOTA WILD
NASHVILLE PREDATORS
PHOENIX COYOTES
ST. LOUIS BLUES

HART DIVISION
ANAHEIM DUCKS
CALGARY FLAMES
EDMONTON OILERS
LOS ANGELES KINGS
SAN JOSE SHARKS
VANCOUVER CANUCKS
WINNIPEG JETS

 Aside from my horrendous attempts at displaying the divisions in an aesthetically pleasing way (forgive my programming skills), I think the breakdown above is realistically possible (unlike ESPN’s farfetched “what ifs” for the NHL in 2032). There’s no introduction of European or North American teams that don’t exist and there is no contraction of any franchises. The next problem became figuring out a way to balance the schedule. I believe I’ve come up with a system that minimizes almost entirely the imbalanced schedule.

The schedule is broken up based on divisions, conferences, and number of teams per division. So, for the two 7-team divisions the schedules are identical in terms of how the number of games are divided. Let’s start with them and take a team to provide the example. Who better than the Toronto Maple Leafs to show how this works?

So, the Leafs would play each division team four times for a total of: 24 games.
The Leafs would play each non-divisional Eastern Conference team three times for a total of: 24 games.
Then, the Leafs would play each Western Conference team two times for a total of: 30 games.

The Maple Leafs would play 78 games and have a nicely balanced schedule. The one problem? I don’t see owners wanting to lose 2 home games per year. However, I’ve come up with a solution. In order to rectify that the Leafs could have one more game against four more divisional teams. So let’s say they played the Canadiens, Bruins, Red Wings, and Senators one more time for a total of 5 divisional games against those four teams while playing just 4 divisional games against the Sabres and Capitals. In future years the divisional schedule can be altered so that the Leafs play the Capitals and Sabres five times in order to make up for an imbalance.

That would bring the Leafs to a total of 82 games, make the owners happy because they get to retain all 41 home games, and brings the fans an extra divisional game against a traditional rival. This system would work the same in the Western Conference’s 7-team division for any of the teams.

Next, let’s take a look at the 8-team division in the Eastern Conference and see how the schedule would look.

The Penguins would play each non-divisional Eastern Conference opponent 3 times for a total of: 21 games.
Next, they would play each Western Conference opponent 2 times for a total of: 30 games.
Finally, the Penguins would play each divisional opponent 4 times for a total of: 28 games.

That’s a total of 79 games. Again, in order to fix this problem the Penguins could play the Flyers, Rangers, and Devils one more time for a grand total of 82 games. This, of course, would also work the same way for the Western Conference’s 8-team division.

So, there you have it. A simple realignment proposal that sees every team in the league enter your building along with an extra game to promote traditional rivalries and lessens as much as possible travel and time zone changes. The one thing I haven’t taken into account is how to make sure there is a perfect balance of home and away games, but I have to leave something for the board to do. What do you guys think of the proposal?

Note* – 8 teams from each conference would make the playoffs. The two division winners + 2 division runner ups automatically qualify. The 4 remaining playoff spots could go to any team. Hypothetically, you could have 6 teams from the same division make the playoffs. That’s just a proposal for the playoff seeding that was inspired by the CFL.

More Questions Than Answers

Valanciunas has a buyout issue with his European club and might not be able to play next season.

Bryan Colangelo needed to make the safe play in order to appease his critics. He didn’t. That wouldn’t be his style.

Instead he chose the 6’11, 240 pound Lithuanian center with a name that Jeff Van Gundy didn’t even bother trying to learn – Jonas Valanciunas (pronounced Val-en-choo-niss).

All reports leading up to the draft had the Cavs favouring Valanciunas with the #4 pick. San Antonio made a late push dangling Tony Parker for a chance to get into the lottery to snap up Valanciunas. None of the lottery teams bit and instead the Spurs traded backup guard George Hill to the Pacers for another name tied to the Raptors all draft in Kawhi Leonard.

However, when the Cavs chose Brampton native Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick there was a sense in the air that the Raptors would follow up with a similar surprise. When David Stern stepped to the podium Raptors fans wanted to hear the name Brandon Knight. A lot expected to hear the name Bismack Biyombo. A very select few expected to hear Jonas Valanciunas. The rest of the Raptor faithful scurried to ironically tweet their anger and seemed to collectively shake their heads that Bryan Colangelo had selected another soft euro.

The questions began to rain down:

Is this guy strong enough to play Center? – Valanciunas doesn’t believe so right now.

Will he even be able to play next season?

The Raptors are drafting another big? What happens to Andrea Bargnani – we aren’t going to trade him???

What is this guy’s ceiling? Is he really anything like Big Z?

And unfortunately for Bryan Colangelo the answers won’t come soon enough. Colangelo has two years to get this team on the right track and part of that process came with this selection. By not making the safe pick Colangelo has hammered one nail into his own coffin.

Brandon Knight fell to the Pistons at #8 (and he certainly wasn’t happy about that). Raptors fans saw him as a long-term solution to the point guard problem in Toronto but apparently Colangelo, and quite a few other teams, didn’t. Knight is going to have a good rookie season in Detroit and Raptors fans will curse Colangelo like they did when Brandon Jennings went off for 55 points and completed a rather solid rookie season himself. At that time fans were upset that Colangelo passed on him but how many would now trade Jennings for Derozan?

The point of this exercise is that none of us know how Valanciunas will turn out. He might end up being a better player than Knight or Biyombo or Kemba Walker. If he does, Bryan Colangelo might not even be around to see it. Colangelo needed to make the safe pick to most likely save his job, but he made the choice that he thought would give the Raptors the best chance to win an NBA title in the future. It’s honourable, risky, and probably stupid. More questions than answers – that’s what it’s like being a Raptors fan.

NBA Draft Tonight at 7PM!

The Raptors are picking 5th and there is an enormous amount of bluffing and posturing leading up to the draft. 90% of the reported rumours won’t happen, but part of the fun of the offseason is dealing with fantasy-type situations. So enjoy it for another few hours before the selections and a few trades are made.

I believe the Raptors will simply pick their guy at #5 and won’t be involved in any other way. Who they pick is completely up in the air right now but it looks like it will be one of Knight, Kanter, or Biyombo at this point. Tune in for what I think is the most exciting draft in pro sports.

Tomorrow we’ll break down the draft and take a look at what the Raptors did.

Categories: Toronto Raptors

The Dog Days of Summer Must Wait

When the NHL and NBA seasons end many wonder what will keep them going through the notorious dog days of summer. This year will be a little different as the NFL still works through a nasty collective bargaining agreement and north of the border college football is hardly revered or followed.

However, this past weekend provided enough entertainment that we can rest assured the official dog days of summer have not started – those will begin in late July.

In Toronto news, Toronto FC is now winless in their last eight games as they conceded a stunning 90th minute free kick to Freddy Montero and 10-man Seattle to lose 1-0. It’s always the dog days of summer for Toronto FC.

The Blue Jays quieted the bats of Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds for almost the entire series but a 6th inning 2-run home run by Miguel Cairo and a botched safety squeeze combined to help the Reds avoid the sweep in the finale.

Jo-Jo Reyes picked up his third win of the year in the series opener as he continues to impress and cement a position in the rotation for the remainder of the year. Brandon Morrow bounced back from a terrible start against Boston to pitch nearly 7 shutout innings picking up the win in the Blue Jays 4-0 victory in the second game of the set. And Carlos Villanueva had another solid effort giving up only 2 hits in 7 innings in the finale. Unfortunately, one of those was the Miguel Cairo 2-run home run and the Jays couldn’t muster enough off of Bronson Arroyo to finish the sweep.

The Jays now head to Atlanta to start a three game set beginning tonight.

There’s been plenty of chatter ahead of both the NHL and NBA entry drafts that begin later this week. The main question for the Leafs has been: rebuild through the draft or focus on bringing in some legitimate free agent talent to help make the team more competitive right now. Personally, the Leafs have never given a true rebuild a chance and that’s part of the reason they’ve rarely had enough young talent to remain consistently competitive. Stick to the draft and endure a couple of more years out of the race – it’s not like it’s going to add any more embarrassment to the franchise at this point.

Biyombo is very raw but has a lot of upside - a virtual unknown until February.

As for the Raptors, there is a lot of speculation but it is just that. Bryan Colangelo is letting NOTHING leak as he gets set to make the fifth selection in the NBA Draft. Some of the rumours bountied about have the Raptors trading down, but there have been no indications that they would want to trade up. The Raptors want Brandon Knight, but I don’t believe he’ll be available when they make their selection. The speculation of trading down stems from the fact there aren’t any surefire difference-makers in this draft and since the Raptors are a few seasons away from competing they might as well take a chance on a high upside guy and let him develop overseas – like a Bismack Biyombo or Jan Vesely.

On a final note I’d just like to congratulate Rory McIlroy. I haven’t been rooting for anyone at a major since the heyday of Tiger Woods. There is just something very likeable about the kid and hopefully he can stay grounded and entertain us for years to come.

Thursday Wrap-up

Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff know one thing - it's summatime.

For most people June 21st signifies the beginning of summer. For others it’s when they can consistently put the top down on their cars or pull their bikes out of storage. For me? The end of the NBA and NHL seasons is the true indicator that summer has arrived.

And with summer comes an unbearably slow news cycle with the exception of our beloved Blue Jays. However, considering their penchant for summer blues, it might end up being a rather bitter news cycle as the reality of another season without postseason baseball starts to hit home. But, in this space we’ll do our best to keep the news coming to make sure you get your daily fix.

Firstly, congratulations to the Boston Bruins on a much deserved and long-awaited championship. They fought back from a huge series deficit against Montreal, carried that momentum to their series sweep of the defending Eastern Conference Champion Flyers (expelling their demons from last postseason in the process), and then dug deep to win two very long and grueling series against the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning and the absurdly talented Canucks. So, hats off to the Bruins and their organization. And oh yah – you’re more than welcome for Tomas Kaberle and Tyler Seguin.

Speaking of the Leafs, they very quietly re-signed two key players from last season in the past week. James Reimer, the rookie sensation affectionately and awesomely known as “Optimus Reim” signed a three-year $5.4 million contract to remain with the Leafs. Reimer will be given the starting job and the expectations that go along with a fantastic rookie campaign and 44 years of futility. However, at a price tag of 1.8 million per season the investment in Reimer is small enough to be a gargantuan steal or at worst a fair price for a steady backup goaltender.

Since the departure of Ed Belfour, Reimer and the Leafs are looking for some goaltending stability that was so abundant and taken advantage of for the better part of 15 years in this city. Here’s hoping Reimer doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Felix Potvin or god forbid Andrew Raycroft.

The Leafs also re-signed young defenceman Carl Gunnarsson to a two-year $2.6 million contract. Gunnarsson will be entering his third season with the Maple Leafs and again showed lots of promise in the second half of the season. With the departure of Tomas Kaberle, Gunnarsson benefited from the extra ice time and responsibility recording 3 goals and 13 assists in 2011. Gunnarsson’s next task (along with the entire team’s) is to turn that half season into a full one.

In perhaps the least televised event in TSN’s history Toronto FC played to another dreadful 0-0 tie against the New England Revolution. Toronto FC now have one win in their last ten including six ties which gave them a league best (?) nine ties. I can’t bring myself to speak about the state of soccer in Toronto, or Canada for that matter, but we’ll take a closer look some time next week.

The Blue Jays, buoyed by the reassuringly consistent Ricky Romero, beat the Orioles 4-1 last night. Romero went 8 strong and struck out 12 while the Jays got solo homers from Yunel Escobar, Juan Rivera and a game-clinching two-run shot by perhaps the AL’s hottest hitter in Adam Lind. To note, Frank Francisco picked up the save by not blowing a 4-run lead in the ninth. Way to go Frank!

If only the Jays could play the Orioles 162 times a year we might be on to a cure for the summertime blues.

The NBA draft is in a week and frankly I’m sick of it already. The Raptors will take one of these players if available: Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Jonas Valanciunas, Enes Kanter, or dark-horse Jimmer Fredette. I have no idea who it will be and neither does anybody else. I’ll see you on June 23rd for the only draft that I can actually sit through.

Enjoy the weekend folks because there ain’t much going on besides a weekend series in Cincinnati for the Blue Jays where Joey Votto is going to look to smash against his hometown team.

Interleague Play – An Achilles Heel

June 15, 2011 1 comment

Alex Gonzalez was traded for Yunel Escobar last season as the Jays found themselves as sellers once again.

A 9-game road trip through Cincinnati, Atlanta, and St. Louis followed by a 6-game home stand culminating in the return of prodigal son Roy Halladay on Canada Day weekend, will determine whether or not the Jays are sellers or buyers come the July 31st trade deadline.

That may sound like an overreaction, but currently sitting 5 games back of the wildcard and 6.5 back of the red-hot, division-leading Red Sox, there is little room for error.

The Blue Jays are 115-132 (.466) all-time in interleague play. That’s good for 4th worst all-time in the American League only ahead of the historical minnow Tampa Bay Rays, Royals, and Orioles. This season the Jays are 1-2 in interleague play, losing a weekend series to the lowly Houston Astros which most notably began the precarious trend of blowing late game leads.

Traveling to the National League, whether it be to the unfriendly confines of Citizens Bank Park in Philly or the unpredictable Coors Fields in Colorado, has been season-killing in years past. Last year the Jays finished interleague play at 7-11 while the Red Sox (13-5) and Yankees (11-7) capitalized on the recent dominance of the AL to widen the gap in the AL East. Notably, the Rays finished interleague play with an identical 7-11 record, but dominated in the AL East winning the division with a 42-30 record. The Jays obviously didn’t fair as well at 39-42.

If the Jays are going to continue to be mediocre against AL East opponents outside of Baltimore then they’ll need to improve their interleague record. It’s an 18 game season that the Jays need to dominate if they wish to make up any ground in the race for the wildcard. However, if they continue to struggle against NL opponents they’ll soon find themselves in a familiar position – out of the race by late June.

It won’t be an easy task as the Reds, Braves, and Cardinals are all in division races of their own. The Jays will then return home to face the surprisingly competent Pirates before an emotional weekend with the NL-leading Phillies. They’ll follow that stretch with a trip to the abyss that is Fenway Park followed by a weekend series with the Indians before the all-star break.

This 21-game stretch, and specifically interleague play will determine if the Jays will be looking to buy or sell come the trade deadline. If history is any indication we’ll soon be looking for the next Alex Gonzalez for Yunel Escobar deal.

Top 5 Famous Toronto Victories vs Chicago

June 14, 2011 2 comments
View from the famous Chicago Millennium Park

View from the famous Chicago Millennium Park

In honour of my recent visit to the windy city, I decided to compile a list of famous victories that Toronto teams have scored over their brethren to the midwest. These two cities have never really had a rivalry, but there’s been some very interesting moments between them. Let’s take a look.

#5. Toronto Maple Leafs vs Chicago Blackhawks – 1983 Regular Season 

This one was a bit of a stretch, but the big game history between Toronto and Chicago is surprisingly thin. However, this game happened to be a record-setter – the five fastest goals scored between two teams (1 minute 24 seconds). Now, imagine the momentum swings in that one. 5 goals in 84 seconds! The scoring started late in the second period when Toronto’s Gaston Gingers scored at the 16:49 mark. Chicago would reply with 3 goals in 30 seconds before the Leafs John Anderson replied 31 seconds later.

That wasn’t the end of the scoring either. The Leafs would go on to win the game 10-8 in one of the most bizarre momentum-changing games in Leafs history. There’s really nothing else to note of that season as the Leafs were mired in a 16 year Stanley Cup drought in the forgettable decade that was the 80s.

Ok, on to the good stuff.

#4. Toronto Maple Leafs vs Chicago Blackhawks – 1993-94 Game 6 Conference Quarter Finals

The Leafs had opened the season with 10 straight victories continuing their momentum from a breakout 1992-93 season where they were one game away from the Stanley Cup Finals. However, a tumultuous season was ahead capped by another frenetic playoff run. In the 1992-93 season, the Leafs defeated the Red Wings in the first round in one of the most memorable playoff series in Leafs history (click to get chills – “oh unbelievable”). However, you’ll be hard pressed to find many Leafs fans that remember the first round series in the 1993-94 season.

The Leafs were heavily favoured against the Blackhawks and promptly won the first two games of the series at home. However, the Blackhawks fought back to tie the series in Chicago that included a heart-breaking overtime win in Game 4. The Leafs returned home needing a win in Game 5 if they had any plans on repeating their playoff success from last season. Felix Potvin came up big once again and the Leafs held on to win 1-0 in a hard-fought affair with Mike Eastwood scoring the only goal. The Leafs would go back to Chicago and finish the series in six games backed by the 3rd 1-0 shutout win of the series.

The Leafs playoff push continued on with an incredible seven game series against the young San Jose Sharks. The Leafs completed a heroic comeback in Game 6 in San Jose and returned home to win it in 7. The Leafs were heavily favoured to reach the Stanley Cup Finals and took Game 1 of the Conference Finals against the Canucks. However, they’d drop the next four to continue their Stanley Cup drought.

#3. Toronto Blue Jays vs Chicago White Sox – 1993 ALCS Game 5

The Jays had taken a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALCS after winning both games in Chicago, but momentum had completely shifted when the White Sox took games 3 and 4 to tie the series 2-2. Game 5 would also take place in Toronto because of the 2-3-2 format making it a must-win for the Blue Jays before heading back to Chicago for Games 6 and 7.

The Jays turned to ace Juan Guzman who like in Game 1 did not disappoint. Guzman went seven strong innings and gave up only one run before turning it over to the bullpen to close it out. On the other side, White Sox ace Jack Mcdowell was pinged for 3 runs and never made it out of the 3rd inning. The White Sox bullpen helped stop the bleeding, but it wasn’t enough to keep Chicago in the game. In the 9th the Jays turned to closer Duane Ward who promptly gave up a 2-run shot to Robin Ventura to make it a 5-3 game. Ward recovered and struck out Bo Jackson to close out a famous Game 5 victory for the Jays.

The Jays regained momentum in the series and headed to Chicago for Game 6 where Dave Stewart threw another solid game and the Jays used a 3-run ninth to add a little breathing room to their slim 1-run lead. The Jays would win Game 6 and the series and eventually their second World Series in as many years.

#2. Chicago Blackhawks vs Toronto Maple Leafs – 1962 Stanley Cup Finals Game 6

It had been 11 years since the Maple Leafs had won a Stanley Cup and the infamous “Bill Barilko” curse was on everyone’s mind. Barilko famously scored the winning goal in the 1951 Stanley Cup against the Montreal Canadians. That would be the last goal he would ever score as later that summer Barilko mysteriously disappeared while on a fishing trip. The curse stated that the Leafs wouldn’t win another cup until the remains of Barilko were found.

In 1962 the Leafs returned to the Stanley Cup final against the defending champion Blackhawks. Led by famous names Frank Mahovlich, Red Kelly, and Tim Horton the Leafs would win the series in six games after nearly blowing an early 2-0 lead in the series. Tim Horton assisted on the game-winning goal setting up Dick Duff after an incredible end-to-end rush. The Leafs would go on to win 2-1 and lift the Cup for the first time in 11 years. Three weeks later the remains of Bill Barilko and the plane wreckage were found.

Perhaps the curse was transferred to the Blackhawks who wouldn’t win another Stanley Cup until last season – a drought of 48 years.

#1. Toronto Raptors vs Chicago Bulls – March 24, 1996

It was the Raptors inaugural season and the Chicago Bulls were the best team in basketball. The Raptors were mired in the struggles that all rookie franchises encounter finishing the season at 21-61. However, on March 24, 1996 the Raptors would score one of the biggest victories in Toronto sports history.

The Bulls were led by Michael Jordan and would eventually finish the season with an NBA-best 72-10 record. One of those losses would come to the expansion Raptors in a thrilling 109-108 victory where Jordan’s last second shot was waved off as he released it after the buzzer. The video does more justice than my words ever could and the fans at the Skydome that day were fantastic.

It’s somewhat fitting that the most memorable victory came in a Little Giants kind of way. It’s rather poetic don’t ya think?