June 2008 Archives

Separated at Birth?

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This is Sports Illustrated's Allan Muir:

And this is Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox:

Notice the resemblance? No? How about after reading this:

While every other club was loading up on skill in the first round, the Leafs gave up a pair of valuable assets (a second- and third-rounder) to move up two spots in the first to grab shutdown defenseman Luke Schenn. It was a bold move to be sure, and Schenn seems a good bet to be a stabilizing force on the Leafs' blueline for years, but a defensive-defenseman in the top five? That's the sort of talent you're supposed to pick up with those second- and third-rounders. When you get a chance to draft that high, you have to grab a difference-maker.

Do you know who else had Luke Schenn going in the top-five?


That's right. Every single pre-draft ranking I saw in the days leading up to the draft had Schenn going at or before five. Does this mean that everybody who believed Schenn was a top-five pick is a fucking idiot, or is it just the Leafs?

What's that?

Just the Leafs?

Thought so.

Anyway, get my drift? This is like Cox-by-numbers.

Among the six other players selected by Toronto was Mikhail Stefanovich (98). The Belorussian scored 32 goals in the Quebec League, but left scouts wondering if he has the passion to succeed at the next level. It could turn out to be a high value pick if he gets his head right with the puck, but Stefanovich has bust written all over him.

Holy mother of god. Do you know how stupid this is? Since when are kids drafted in the third round labeled as busts? And, two days after the draft at that? What the...

Seriously, has anyone ever seen Allan Muir and Damien Cox in the same room together?
It might have taken him an extra day, but Cox wasn't going to fly off for his strawberries and cream before leaving a big turd in the Maple Leafs punchbowl. I don't want to get too bogged down in everyday drivel like how Damien conveniently forgot the Anaheim Ducks (you know, the team he spent the first half of the season writing mash notes to) won the Cup a year ago with a big nasty lineup, or that he thinks Cologne is in North America now. I want to focus on his definition of skill. Because here's the new party line, all ready to be repeated by DC and his ilk regularly over the next few years: Luke Schenn isn't talented enough.

"Skill," he'd say, just as he's said it many times before.

Nine teams followed that mantra when it came to making selections with the top 10 picks of the NHL entry draft on Friday night.

One did not.

That team would be your Maple Leafs. While other clubs went for mobile, puck-moving blueliners, slick pivots or speed merchants, the Leafs aggressively moved up in the draft from the seventh to fifth slot to snag Luke Schenn, regarded as a stay-at-home, shut down style defenceman.

Schenn's an excellent prospect, and likely to be a solid player in the league for years to come. If not the Leafs, somebody was going to take him with one of the top six picks.

But nobody would describe him as the next Scott Niedermayer, not even Leaf GM Cliff Fletcher.

"If you're thinking of a guy who's going to go end-to-end with the puck, it's not him," said Fletcher.

Bill James wrote an interesting piece on skill in the 1987 Baseball Abstract. He told a story of a Kansas basketball coach named Jack Hartman, whose teams won tons of games without necessarily looking flashy or impressive. For years, sportswriters complimented Hartman on winning games without much talent, until finally a frustrated Hartman barked "Look, what is talent? Talent is being where you are supposed to be and doing what you are supposed to do." James commented:

What he was saying, in essence, was that you may think that talent is being able to run fast and jump high and stop and start quickly, but I think talent is blocking out on the boards and cutting off the passing lanes and hitting your free throws. You recruit the guys that you think have talent, and I'll recruit the guys that I think have talent, and we'll see who wins.

So does Luke Schenn score highlight-reel breakaway goals? Does he make blind passes that land right on the tape of a streaking winger? Does he do this? No. Luke Schenn blocks out the boards and cuts off the passing lanes. Luke Schenn was rated the best defensive defencemen prospect in 20 years by McKeen's because he's smart, tough, the kind of guy that other forwards hate to face, who coaches change their game plan to avoid.

He's the type of player the Leafs haven't had since the days of Rouse and Lefebvre, who did the nasty work on a team that came closer than any to bringing a Cup back to Toronto; even the best teams of the Sundin era relied inordinately on good goaltending, with  too many riverboat gamblers on the blueline and no lockdown guy to turn to when defending a lead (Yushkevich for a year or two, maybe). Isn't shutting down a Crosby or a Zetterberg a rare, valuable skill, especially now that hooking and holding are being legislated out of the game?  Did high draft picks like Alex Daigle and Todd Warriner have talent and not guys like Scott Stevens or Adam Foote or Vladimir Konstantinov? No, Luke Schenn isn't going to be the guy setting off on end to end rushes.  He's gonna be the guy who knocks that guy on his ass, makes a good first pass to clear the zone, and heads up ice with the Leaf attack. He looks pretty damn skilled to me.

Does Not Compute

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Reader Bim Jenning pointed out the other day that Damien Cox seems to have three templates for his columns:

The Leafs are about to do something:
"Richard Peddie, who rules the Leafs with an iron fist, is about to do something that will make the MLSE board a lot of money and will screw the team over irreparably, and the fans, being idiots, will lap it up like the dogs that they are."

The Leafs do something:
"Richard Peddie, who hates the Leafs and masturbates daily to a big photo of a pile of cash, did something really stupid today that will ensure that the Leafs will never, ever win a Cup ever and still the fans will applaud like the bunch of trained retarded seals that they are."

The Leafs do nothing:
"Richard Peddie needs to do something RIGHT NOW, which is why it's such a shame that he only cares about money and hates the Leafs and the Leafs' fans, who are too stupid to know when something needs to be done - if they did, they'd listen to me and hate the Leafs too."

Cut-n-paste sure is easy, eh Damien?

Pretty much covers the hockey side of things. However, there are those rare occasions when Damien veers outside of the Peddie-sphere to write a column comparing a golfer to a tennis player (as he does today), or spouting nonsense about baseball, as he did yesterday. The baseball nonsense included a rant about AJ Burnett in which Cox trashed the southern charmer based on his W-L record (the pitcher's version of RBIs) and reached a climax with this bizarre paragraph:

Ricciardi and Paul Godfrey probably really began to lose a handle on this thing in spring training of '07 when they out-and-out lied about B.J. Ryan's arm injury, and the faith of local baseball fans was tested more in the fall when Troy Glaus was pinpointed as, if not a steroid user, one who liked to order them in the mail. Rather than face the truth police again, the Jays just helped Glaus never answer the questions about his training regimen.

We ran this paragraph through the Cox Bloc's trusty computing machine (the FISKbot 3000) and it found more than 85,000 things wrong with it. Some highlights include:

1. Gregg Zaun says hi.

2. Does anyone believe that Ricciardi and Godfrey are making major moves based on helping players avoid questions about steroids?
3. Do they not have sports journalists in St. Louis?

4. Why does Cox always use the flimsiest evidence to support his slam-dunk arguments? There are a lot of reasons to criticize JP Ricciardi and Richard Peddie, yet Cox always goes on some bizarre tangent that allows nitpickers like me to pluck out one sentence from a piece and discredit the whole thing.

The FISKbot 3000's fourth point is really the one that gets me. Whether it is citing Conn Smythe's disapproval of Muhammad Ali fighting at Maple Leaf Gardens as an example of the Toronto Maple Leafs glory years, or suggesting that JP swapping one disgruntled and injury-prone third-baseman for another was actually a covert druggie-smuggling operation, Cox never misses a chance to get it all wrong. And for that, we salute him...because we can't fathom having to pick apart blog-posts about whether Tiger Woods is better than Roger Federer day after day.

Tomorrow's News! Today!

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I can't wait to see the idiocy spilling from tomorrow's sports pages after Reed Johnson hit a three-run dinger in today's Cubs win over the Jays. I imagine Simmons' Brainsqueeze will contain something like this:

...J.P. Ricciardi was exposed as a know-nothing fuckwit yesterday as Reed Johnson heroicly led the Cubs to victory over the Blue Jays... Johnson's third homerun of the season came shortly after a gritty error by David Eckstein... Johnson was unable to get his uniform dirty on the Rogers Centre astroturf, but his game-winning homer proved without a doubt that he is a billion times better than useless Shannon Stewart... Stewart has not had a hit in more than a week... and hey, whatever happened to Dave Pratt?

Simmons won't be the only one, and I doubt anyone will mention Johnson's attempt to throw out Kevin Mench at home in the ninth with a throw that came closer to hitting Geddy Lee than Cubs catcher Henry Blanco.

Mike Toth has zero career RBIs

If you are a baseball fan, you have heard old people and sportswriters use RBIs to justify atrocities ranging from Justin Morneau's MVP award to the war in Iraq. "But Grandpa," you always say, "aren't RBIs a very imperfect means of judging a hitter's performance? How can I accurately judge how good a hitter is using RBIs, when this stat relies heavily on the performance of the players who bat in front of him? How is it Bobby Abreau's fault that Derek Jeter is getting on base less than a third of the time this year?"

Well, kiddo. You may may be right...but it turns out you were fighting the wrong battle. You see, RBIs may not actually tell you good a hitter is, but they can tell you how good that hitter will be at telling other people what to do more than 20 years from now when they decide to move into baseball management. At least that is how Mike Toth puts it in his recent column calling for the Blue Jays to turf John Gibbons and hire Gary Carter (?!?!):

Speaking of the Mets, Carter and Gibbons were teammates on the club that captured the 1986 World Series.

But who do you think has the brighter baseball mind?

Carter, an all-star catcher who drove in 105 runs in '86?

Or Gibbons, a back-up catcher with 19 at-bats that season?

Interesting stat: John Gibbons is tied with every other manager in baseball with 0 RBIs this year.

Or how about this one: Terry Francona drove in 143 runs over 10 Major League seasons, good for an average of 14.3 per year. That is why Jim Rice, and his 110 RBIs in 1986, led the Red Sox to two World Series wins in the last four years.

Or, this: Joe Morgan has 1133 career runs batted in. Bill James has zero.

The point being, of course, that Carter's RBI total in 1986 has fuck all to do with why he would or wouldn't be a better manager than John Gibbons, and how bright his baseball mind may be. Honestly, this has to be the worst evidence ever used in the history of ever to support an argument.

I'm Telling

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What is the point of having this blog if Damien Cox is just going to review his own work for us:

"Leaf fans are used to being treated as morons, but this is a new level of insult."

Hell yeah! Except, unfortunately, Damien hasn't turned his withering gaze upon himself. These harsh words are, of course, lobbed in the direction of the man who has pissed in all of our cornflakes - but seems to have left a little extra nugget of something in the bottom of Damien's bowl - Mr Dick Peddie.

Yesterday, while David Shoalts was busy pointing out that waiting a year to hire a good GM wouldn't be the worst decision ever, Damien threw all his toys out of the crib and demanded that the Leafs hire a GM now! Because he wants one, dammit!

After 41 years of losing, the Maple Leafs have concluded after a five-month search that there is not a single person out there qualified and available to run their glorious hockey operation.

Nobody in the entire hockey universe.

So they've decided to make it 42 years and look again next summer.

Damien goes on to criticize the process that resulted in Brylcreem Jr.taking the reins in Toronto while at the same time demanding that the Leafs...um...follow the same process that resulted in Brylcreem Jr taking the reins in Toronto.

Listen, we get it, Richard Peddie sucks. We cheer for this team, and, goddamn, does it piss us off that this man is running the ship. But do you know what else sucks? Reading this same fucking score-settling column every day.

Whereas the aforementioned Shoalts piece analyzed the situation and concluded that it may make a lot of sense to wait until the GM that the Leafs want is available - since the team isn't going to win much anyway, and Fletcher is more than capable as a caretaker - Cox fills his piece with words like arrogance, incompetence and idiocy. This isn't analysis. This is schoolyard. This is Fox News. This is boring.

Bob Elliott turns back the clock to analyze Roy Halladay's latest victory:

This one would have gotten away on the old Roy Halladay.

The 1999 Halladay would have been bouncing pitches to the backstop after Melvin Mora reached in the first inning when plate ump Bill Miller ruled he'd been hit by a pitch. Halladay argued that the Baltimore Orioles batter had swung.

Now, the run-of-the-mill media criticism blog would carp that comparing Halladay of today to the man of a decade ago, 110 wins and a Cy Young later, is lame and tired. "Hasn't the statue of limitations run out on immature Halladay comparisons?" it would bleat. Here at Cox Bloc, we don't believe it went far enough. Bob should have had the intellectual commitment to pursue that lede to its logical conclusion:

The 1992 Halladay would have stormed off the mound, gotten into his buddy JD's rusty Taurus, and driven around slamming Maximum Ice and cranking Alice in Chains.

The 1985 Halladay would have run upstairs, jumped into his Superman PJs and not even come down from his room to watch his favourite double bill of The A-Team and Mama's Family

The 1979 Halladay would have rolled about on the mound in a miasma of his own feces, bawling uncomprehendingly while grateful Oriole batters circled the bases. Later, a seagull would land on the rosin bag and ravage his tender skin mercilessly, while John Gibbons called the bullpen to get Jason Frasor up.

Whew! The Jays really dodged a bullet there, huh?

Color Me Impressed

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Kyle Wellwood.jpg
Did Kyle Wellwood eat Justin Pogge, Jiri Tlusty, Anton Stralman, Alex Steen, Carlo Colaiacovo and Staffan Kronwall?

Mark Spector seems to think so:

The Leafs organization is bereft of young talent. Toe Blake himself couldn't make a winner out of this club unless some of the highly paid veterans -- the Muskoka Five -- come to play this season. How will Wilson -- after the 20-game mark, when it becomes clear he has inferior talent -- handle the questions when the losses mount?

I know it isn't hockey's version of the Busby Babes, but come on. And, I'm sure Wilson will handle the questions the same way he always has - by being kind of a dick about it. Like in this case:

For instance, we recall asking Wilson once about the benching of a star player. Rather than explain his reasoning, Wilson declared that, if he was going to have to answer for every personnel decision the media should be compelled to dissect the thought process that went into every "dumb question" they asked.

Not quite Norm Van Brocklin ("It was a brain transplant. They gave me a sportswriter's brain, to make sure I got one that hadn't been used."), but this Wilson guy has potential.

Photo: Kyle Wellwood licks his lips in anticipation of having the Leafs upcoming first-rounder for dessert.
First off, sincerest apologies for letting the mittenstringers run wild lately, but both Kim and I have been working more shifts than Gary Roberts in the '02 playoffs.

So it's a real pleasure to return for some rare good news. Now that Feschuk has finished dismembering the corpse of Paul "Nice Guy But Can't Dance" Maurice, the Leafs are about to unveil their new head coach:

 A man known as a bright yet arrogant martinet willing to call out underperforming players.

A man who holds the hockey media in contempt and isn't afraid to cut someone off at the knees in the middle of a playoff presser.

A Canadian coach who apparently hates Canada.

So basically, the Leafs have hired a guy who might just write "RAYCROFT McCABE BLAKE" on a white board between periods, shout, "These guys are killing us!" - and then tell the press about it. Someone who will probably field a Steve Simmons query and ask aloud "Does anybody have any real questions?" within six weeks. And isn't there something kinda perfect about a Canadian team hated by 75% of Canada being coached by a Canadian-born guy who hates the whole damn country? If we're gonna be the villains, might as well be led by a hard-nosed bastard who will make the heel turn official.

If he can bring young players like Tlusty, Kulemin, Steen, and Wellwood along, great. If he can scare the shepherd's pie out of enough players that the Leafs don't get blown out at home bi-weekly, super. It'd be pretty ace if he really does know to run a penalty kill or how to make adjustments during a game, come to think of it. But right now, I'm just excited to pop some popcorn and watch the fireworks. Business, (as Good Ol' JR is fond of saying through a mouthful of ribs) is about to pick up.

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