Saturday, March 16, 2013

Leafs Tradetalk, part 2

The Center Gamble

With the April 3rd trade deadline sneakily approaching, teams are starting to get more active. The Toronto Maple Leafs recently traded Mike Brown and Dave Steckel for a 4th round pick (conditional 3rd) and a 7th, respectively. These trades were purely to open up roster spots for returning forwards Matt Frattin and Joffrey Lupul. 

But can Leafs Nation expected any big deals this 2013 trade deadline?

Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis is in his first year as the boss. This means - whether he realizes it or not - that he has as much job security now as he ever will. Being the GM of the Leafs is an awfully scrutinized position. Unless Nonis' Leafs start winning cups, his success will always be questioned, along with his job.

Nonis' current job security should encourage him to be bold this trade deadline. However, the Leafs have had long stints without two of their top-6 forwards, Frattin and Lupul. An assessment of the true capabilities of this team therefore becomes very difficult. The Leafs have had contender status at times this year; the February 9th 6-0 dismantling of the Habs was as dominant as anyone has been against the first-place Canadians this year. However, the Leafs have been in a funk as of late, losing 4 straight.

Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle likely don't even know themselves what this Leafs team can do.

Currently in 7th in the Eastern Conference, a finish between the 5th and 8th spot is expected, and finally a playoff birth. A first-round win would be a success. Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine this team as a cup contender right now. But they have time. They are the second youngest team in the league (average age of 27.1). This is only the beginning for these Leafs.

Nonis should not trade young pieces or draft picks for a veteran to boost a playoff run. Previous Leafs GMs have had a tendency to do this, and it never works out.

One giant hole still remains, however: first line center. Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Frattin and Lupul form 5 of a solid top 6. Neither Tyler Bozak nor Mikhail Grabovski are capable of becoming a first line center. Kadri might be able, but he's not proven it yet.  The farm system has no one to fill this role in the coming years, either. Joe Colborne and Greg McKegg have shown no indication that they can become top tier centers.

This leaves two options: trade or draft. With the Leafs only getting better, our draft position will only get worse. Finding a stud center at the 15-25 pick range won't be easy. Furthermore, if Nonis can steal a gem late, the player will probably need at least a couple of years to be NHL ready.

 One option remains. Trade time.

Trading for a first line center is much easier said than done. Teams never want to part with them. Guys like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Jonathan Toews are obviously going nowhere.The key for Nonis is to find a standout center before he is considered unmovable. He must gamble on a center becoming elite. This gamble will presumably determine his legacy as GM of the Leafs.

Logan Couture might be a player Nonis should place his chips on. Couture is only 23 and is in his 3rd season. He was a 2012 NHL all-star. His previous two campaigns have been 30-goal years. Through 26 games, he has 12 goals and 21 points. 

The San Jose Sharks currently sit in 8th in the immensely tight Western Conference; 14th place and 3rd is separated by just 6 points. They have not been living up to expectations after starting 7-0. The offense has been in a funk, and they have even been playing defenseman Brent Burns at forward! Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both 33, Martin Havlat, 31, and Dan Boyle, 36, form an aging core. The Sharks have so much depth at center that they usually play Couture, James Sheppard, and Michal Handzus at the wing. A final Stanley Cup push will require a roster shake-up.

The asking price for Couture may be through the roof, in which case Nonis can't be blamed for not trying. But Couture is a restricted free agent come 2014, the same year Thornton, Marleau, Boyle, and Joe Pavelski are all unrestricted free agents. The Sharks would be smart to move someone soon.

The Leafs could package depth, a prospect, and a draft pick for Couture. Could Carl Gunnarsson, Clarke MacArthur, Stuart Percy, and a pick be enough? Who knows.

Couture is an ideal candidate, but he's not the only candidate. Patrick Berglund of the St. Louis Blues would be a project, but at 24 it might be time to see what he's got. He has 13 goals and 17 points in 27 games with 17 minutes of ice time. He likely isn't first line material, but might be worth a risk. Bryan Little is 25, and has yet to produce steady numbers despite his abundant talents. A change in scenery would do Little well. Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier could blossom into first liners, but won't get the chance at center with superstar Claude Giroux there. The Philadelphia Flyers have been disappointing all year, and a shake-up surely couldn't hurt. Could Derek Stephan be pilfered from the New York Rangers? The Rangers have been underwhelming, and with Stephan due for a big payday at the end of the year, the Rangers could consider moving him.

There are various options for the Leafs to gamble on. Who can be realistically obtained isn't quite clear. What is clear, however, is that Nonis will have to gamble at some point on a first line center. And the time to gamble may as well be now. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Peace? Follow the Children

            A Jewish kid from Kiryat Shmona, a Muslim kid from Rajar, and a Christian kid from Nazareth are all playing hockey together. Words like respect, unity, peace, and acceptance spring to mind when we think about this situation. These kids, however, are thinking of different words: teammates, winning, fun. These kids do not see playing together as a political act. These kids do not discriminate and demand segregated teams. These kids do not utter racial slurs. Language is not a barrier to teamwork. Religion is not a barrier to teamwork. Customs are not a barrier to teamwork. These kids just want to play hockey. These kids are not opponents because some are Jewish and some are Arab; they are opponents because some are wearing blue, and some are wearing red. To these kids, everyone is just another kid. Just another potential friend. Just a human being.

            Interactions like the one described above frequently occur in Israel, the worlds most polarized and condemned country. This particular story takes place daily at the Canada Centre in Metula, the most northern city in Israel. Throughout Israel, Muslims, Jews, and Christians work together. Peace is prevalent

            Peace in the global sense of treaties and deweaponization is extraneous. True peace is not between governments. True peace is between two individuals who coexist without prejudiced hate. The need to categorize and critique each other is killing us all. Let us not fear difference, but embrace it. Let us not judge people by their skin colour or physique, but by their personalities. Let us not hate, but love. Peace is a matter of opening ones heart up to the possibility that variance is valuable. Imagine if everyone was the same. What a boring world it would be.

            In Canada and the United States, Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) is currently in full swing, running from March 4-8. This week is one filled with lies and senseless hatred. Israel may not be perfect, but it is far from an Apartheid state. It is a country where people who differ from each other unite and build something special. It is a country where Jews, Christians and Arabs cheer each other on during hockey games. Yes, there is racism in Israel. There is bigotry is Israel. There are certainly problems in Israel. But tell me a country where there aren’t these things. Students on campuses across North America are tragically unleashing anti-Semitism and stupidity. Our own democratic rules are counter-acting each other; freedom of speech is allowing animosity to be spread. Freedom of speech is allowing people to act on prejudices. The IAW in itself is counterproductive; all it shows is that the Jews need Israel as a Jewish homeland. North America may feel safe for Jews today, but no one knows about tomorrow.

            The innocence of kids should teach us all a lesson; look past a person’s exterior. Search into their souls. Judge a person not by their background, but by their dreams for the future. On this year’s IAW, let us make peace between people. Because that’s all we truly are. People.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Leafs Tradetalk, part 1

Bye Bye, Grabo!

Why Mikhail Grabovski needs to be moved 

Could this be the year? Not for a Stanley Cup, of course, but for the playoffs? 19 games into the season, the Leafs teeter at 7th in the Eastern Conference. They don't seem to have an killer flaw as past years (the 'Monster'goaltending issuesthe Human Pylon, lack of talent, etc). Lines are mixed with both skill-players and pluggers, with everyone having a role to fill. Finally there is a lot truculence (somewhere Brian Burke is pleased...a bit too late though). This team has depth. This team has talent. This team has chemistry. This team competes every night. This is a playoff team (yes Leafs Nation, we've heard this before the past few years). 

Our Leafs have also been able to survive injuries to key players (Gunnarsson, Frattin, Lupul, and Reimer). Gunnarsson is back and seams fine. One can only speculate about Reimer; his frequent injuries are earning him an 'injury-prone' tag, which usually leads to the 'half-price sale' tag. Thankfully, it appears Frattin will be back soon, and Lupul should return around the trade deadline (April 3). They wil return, and will score when they do. However, the Leafs' lines are clustered as it is. This Leafs team is built with Burke's image of 'top 6, bottom 6' forwards. It might be time to make some trades to clean up the lines, shed some fat, and really bring the 6 and 6 idea to life.

Their lines look something like this at the moment:

1st:                   JVR                   Bozak                   Kessel
2nd:              McClement          Grabovski             Kulemin
3rd:               MacArthur              Kadri                 Komarov
4th :                 Brown                Steckel                 McLaren
Scratched: Orr

1st:              Phaneuf                 Holzer
2nd:         Gunnarsson              Kostka
3rd:             Franson                 Fraser
Scratched: Liles, Komisarek

With Frattin returning soon, it appears either McClement or Komarov or both get bumped down a line. When Lupul returns, things will get really messy. If the Leafs want to be proactive, one option makes the most sense: move Mikhail Grabovski.

Trading Grabovski makes sense on so many levels. Kadri has blossomed, but clearly his style of play is made for 2nd lines. Pencil him in there.
JVR and Kessel appear inseparable. However, Lupul and Kessel have great chemistry also. Moving JVR to center would finally give the Leafs the power forward center they've dearly needed, and allows Lupul to rejoin the lineup in a familiar spot. JVR has some history at center, although not much; giving him a month to try and figure it out before Lupul's return makes sense.
Bozak could go to the 3rd line, and be a faceoff/penalty kill specialist. Ditto with Steckel on the fourth. So really, Grabovski has no spot in the lineup. He makes sense as a 1st or 2nd line center; he just doesn't fit the role of a shut-down center, exactly what you want of a 3rd liner.

Financially, moving Grabo would be great. The list of impending free agents for the Leafs to resign include MacCarthur, Bozak, and Kostka in 2013, with Nazem, Holzer, Fraser, Gunnarsson, and Franson all restricted free agents. In 2014 Phaneuf and Kessel will need new deals. Shedding his large contract opens up the possibilites to get cap-creative, and maybe make a move for a big free agent.

Moving Grabo for a decent return could be the hard part. 2013 is the first of a 5 year deal paying him $5.5 mil. a year. In 19 games, he has 8 points. Newsflash: TML overpaid for an undersized, overrated center! However, first rounders should be very coveted this year. This is because this year, any team not in the playoffs is entered in a draft lottery. And the best way to win a lottery is to get more tickets. The draft this year is strong, and stocking up picks would be wise. Grabo for a first is a reasonable asking price for a bubble playoff team or contender. Yet, trading Grabovski for anything decent would be worthwhile; his contract and his lack of place on this team make him expendable.

Phoenix would be a good place to send Grabo. They sit 9th in the West, battling for playoffs. They have tons of cap room (around $20 mil.). They also have terrible centers (Antoine Vermette, Matthew Lombardi, Martin Hanzal). He could instantly become their first line center and would allow Vermette to play on the second unit, a better fitting role. Phoenix could consider moving goalie Mark Visentin, as goaltending isn't an issue courtesy of Mike Smith. Brandon Gormley has never lived up to the hype, and a change of scenery could do him well. If they won't part with anything worthwhile, take the picks.

Anaheim is another option. They have surprised everyone this year, currently sitting second in the West. They would likely listen to talks for Grabo. After Ryan Getzlaf, their centers are weak: Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano. They also have about $15 mil. in cap space; taking Grabovski's contract wouldn't limit future moves. Luca Sbisa could be moved. Maybe even Jonas Hiller, as Viktor Fasth is playing well and Anaheim paid him as such. Hiller may not fit into their future. Similarly as with Phoenix, if no player helps the Leafs, snag those picks.

Detroit, Nashville, Winnipeg, and the Islanders are all other good-fitting options for Grabo. These teams could use an offensive spark, and have enough cap space to be able to work a deal out.

Grabovski should be traded. Soon. Let the team continue to build on their solid chemistry. Make a big deal early. Whether he will actually be moved or not, I have no idea. But if I was Dave Nonis, I would pick up the phone and inquire. It would be the first of hopefully many good things for Leafs Nation this short year.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

People are afraid to find themselves. The results of their search might change them (as if that's a bad thing). But the discovery of the 'real you' is what makes you, well, you. This could be a never-ending journey. And maybe that's the best part.

Taking a gap year is a daunting thought. It is a promise to yourself to take the search for inner self to the next level. The obvious comforts - friends, family, home - spring to mind first. Are you prepared to leave all of these behind, for a short while at least? Then the secondary doubts - school, travel partner, what to do - emerge. These levels of worry build barriers. To find oneself, one must be willing not to worry; one must be willing to try; one must be willing to say not why, but why not. As Nestea says, "Take the plunge". Plunge into this opportunity of a lifetime.

Let's call the first barrier 'The Comforts'. The Comforts are the little things we take for granted. It's your family, your friends, your home. These things make your day-to-day life bearable. These things aren't going away just because you are. These things will wait for you. Of course, death is lurking at every corner; such is life. Prevail and continue on. You will make new friends. You will create new bonds with different family. Materialism will fade away. Do not get stuck looking at your past comforts. Get ready to find new ones.

The second barrier deals with the technicalities: travel partner, schooling, program, ect. Less is more in this category. The less friends you travel with, the less difficulties you will run into. As well, you will get to know more about yourself and your friend of choice than with a big group. Meeting new friends might seem hard, but within no time you will meet kids from around the world. And they won't be exactly like you! That's the best part! They will bring with them new life experiences and a new way of thinking. Descreetly, this will squeeze your bubble until it's gone. In terms of school, just simply ask for a deferral from your post-secondary education. If your program won't grant you one, take a leap of faith and re-apply next year. If you got accepted this year, why not next? Jump this last barrier and you're almost there: programs. There are gap year programs, and they can be great. Research them. If you find one you think you'll like, go for it. The real 'problem' pops up when you don't fall in love with a program. This is a blessing in disguise. Want to become more independent, and answer to only yourself? Then this is for you. Grab a calendar and plan your trip using pieces of programs. For instance, try Marva or Magen David Adom. These programs are for 2 months each, and will provide unparalleled experiences. Being part of a big program has no correlation with these; just apply and be willing to pay the going rate. Not joining a year-long program provides freedom that ensures true growth. It can also have the bonus of being cheaper.

Parents, let your kids do a gap year. Let them find themselves. Let them find out what life is all about. Let the bubble burst. Let life happen. You watched them hatch, and slowly grow in your nest. You protected them always. Nothing was, is, and will ever be more important to you. But now its time for them to fly.

Students, you can afford a year off. Life isn't running from you; you're running with life. Time ticks the same everywhere. What's the difference between getting married at 28 or 29? Making your first million at 31 or 32? School will wait; good friends will wait; family will wait. A gap year might not. Not many times in life can you pause everything and go. No one can predict when an opportunity like this will come again. Don't take it for granted.

And lastly, don't be afraid to be different, to engage change. Don't be ordinary, average, or mundane. Be special. As a friend of mine used to say, "you can't live with the chickens if you want to fly with the eagles". Just go and do it. You won't regret it.

MVPoacher: Peyton Manning

          MVPoacher - Peyton Manning's MVP Candidacy

    Who truly thought Peyton Manning was a more valuable player than Adrian Peterson in 2012? How could the MVP voting have been 30.5 to 19.5 for Peterson over Manning (associated press), or barely a 60-40 split for Peterson? There has to be a logical explanation for looking beyond statistics in a stat-ruled universe, and voting for Manning over Peterson. Lets now analyze how Manning almost stole another MVP.

     First, lets compare their numbers to other top-tier players at their respective positions. A straight-up comparison between Manning and Peterson is tough, because they play different positions, so their stats can't be compared fairly. For instance, Mannings total yardage in 2012 more than doubles Peterson's, but Manning didn't even have the most yardage of every quarterback. Peterson, however, had the most yardage of any running back by far. Thats why a peer analysis makes the most sense.

Peterson ran for 2097 yards, and caught passes for another 217 yards, for a combined 13 touchdowns and a whopping 2314 yards from scrimmage. Comparing his numbers to his top competion tells quite a story.

Adrian Peterson      2097                100%                            n/a
Alfred Morris           1613                  77%                             130%
Marshawn Lynch    1590                 76%                             132%

All 3 of these running backs were influential in their team's success, and had wonderful 2012 campaigns. Still, a quick glance at the stat lines is all that's needed to show AP was in another world than even his top peers. The second and third most productive runners would have had to produce around 30% more from themselves to meet AP! Demand Lynch or Morris to improve their production by 30 percent. They might not respond so pleasantly (expect many four-letter profanities). AP was on a diffrrent planet this year. But how does Peteron's dominance stack up in history?

How about 1984, when Eric Dickerson set the single-season rushing record?

Eric Dickerson      2105             100%                  n/a
Walter Payton      1684              80%                  125%

You read those stats right. Adrian Peterson's 2012 season was more dominant than Dickerson's record-setting 1984 year. Wow.

Now let's check how Manning stacks up to his competition. We will compare Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers, three of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, using total yardage and passer ratings. These stats are the best way to rate a quarterback's performance; how many yards they can amass while still playing smart (statistically). I have selected Rodgers and Brady because they are similarly valued to Manning, all three having won MVPs, Super Bowl MVPs, and their teams each had around the same records in 2012.

Yardage: Brady-4827, Manning-4659, Rodgers-4295
Passer rating: Rodgers-108, Manning-105.8, Brady-98.7

So what does this tell us about Manning compared to his peers? Manning was no better stat-wise than Brady or Rodgers this year! Therefore, compared to their respective peers, Adrian Peterson was immensely more valuable.

     "But Daniel, you didn't discuss the most important stat: wins!" some Manning-lovers may argue. No, I haven't...yet. But I will now!
The Peyton-led Broncos went 13-3 in 2012, best in the AFC. The Vikings, with AP leading the charge, went 10-6, enough for a wild card birth. It would seem that Peyton has an advantage here. But he doesn't. Football is a team sport. One player cannot guarantee success. Luckily for our purposes, neither Peterson nor Manning affected their current teams success last year (Peterson was hurt all year, as was Manning, and Manning was with the Colts). As well, the roster of both teams from 2011 to 2012 did not differ too much (except for the Broncos signing Manning, of course). Therefore, a fair comparison of value would be to look at each team's records from 2011 to 2012, to track the win impact of each superstar.

Broncos        8 - 8           13 - 3             +5 games
Vikings         3-13           10 - 6             +7 games

Both players drastically altered the fortunes of their teams. But again, AP is more impressive. Remember that the Broncos play in probably the worst (and therefore easiest) division in the NFL, the AFC West. Meanwhile, the Vikings play in likely the best division, the NFC North. The Broncos would have had much more difficulty obtaining 13 wins in the NFC North. When wins are discussed, the edge yet again goes to Peterson in drastic fashion. In any fair statistic comparison, Peterson comes out on top.

     "But Daniel, you didn't consider the 'intangibles', which are way more important than stats!" Fair. But discussing intangibles creates answers backed by opinions and gut, and not by fact. Its not easy to put one man higher than the other. Even still, my gut says AP yet again.

Discussing whose 'story' is more impressive isn't worth anyones time. They both returned from horrendous injuries to put up outstanding numbers. They both lead their teams to regular season success that neither franchise was familiar with. Manning had to get used to new surroundings in Denver. Peterson had to deal with Curtis Ponder. Both men were true sportsmen this year, battling back and through difficulties the whole time. Anything less from these ultra-competitive athletes would have been surprising.

However, the Broncos without Manning, and with Tim Tebow, were still division winners in 2011, and likely would have again been this year. The Vikings, even with Peterson, were not expected to be a playoff team in 2012. This bodes well for Adrian's claim to most valued.

When discussing who was more clutch, Peterson again seems to have the advantage. In a must-win week 17 matchup with the Green Bay Packers, Peterson had 201 total yards and 2 touchdowns. It was the type of performance the Vikes needed. It was the type of performance that creates legends. It was the type of performance that makes someone the MVP. With 1:54, at the Packers 41, the season on the line, AP got the ball 4 straight times. Most teams would be hesitant to give it once to their running backs in this position. But the Vikings were smart enough to put their fate in their best player's hands. AP delivered, as he had all year. The 4 runs produced 37 yards. AP had 26 yards on his final run, with just 24 seconds on the clock, and out of field goal range. That final run set the Vikings up for a chip-shot field goal to win. They hit the field goal. They won the game. They made the playoffs. The game clinched MVP for AP.

The chances that Peyton would come back from injury and be questionably the greatest quarterback in the league was low. The chance that AP would come within 9 yards of breaking the single-season rushing record was laughable. It was about as unlikely a thing to happen in the NFL for the last decade. The only people that maybe thought he could do it were Adrian and his mother. Adrian Peterson's 2012 season is one of the finest seasons a player has ever had. The MVP should have been unanimously Adrian Peterson.

     The stats say Peterson. The intangibles say Peterson. So how could someone vote for Manning? What's the rationale?

The only sensible reason to vote for Peyton over Peterson is much deeper than stats or intangibles. Its something inside all of us. Its our desire to see an athlete be great, and then to call him the greatest. Its our hope to one day tell our children, "You should've seen him! He was the greatest!" This is why people vote for Peyton. He has a certain Manning mystique. We watch him, and believe, no, hope, that he is the greatest ever to throw a pigskin. We know there's a demand for the stats to prove this. And two things prove pro sport greatness like nothing else: championships and MVPs. We can't help with the championships, but we do decide the MVP. So voters do their best to ensure greatness: they vote Peyton Manning for MVP.

But maybe he isn't the greatest. He wasn't this year. That title belongs to Adrian Peterson.