Training camp. A time to work out the kinks and prepare for the ardruous grind ahead. Everybody has a different routine. Alex Steen works on his initial burst while Matt Stajan tries to strengthen his upper body. Kyle Wellwood thinks about getting that refrigerator magnet installed, while a team of technicians remove Carlo "Monty Burns" Colaiacovo from his hyperbaric chamber and transport him, via Canadian Forces escort, to the ACC. Mats Sundin ponders the merits of bacon and eggs vs herring waffles until well into the afternoon, at which point he is no longer hungry.
It's no different for the mittenstringers. The key thing to work out as early as possible is to establish the meta-narrative of the Leafs season, be it (from past seasons) MLSE incompetent, Quinn can't coach, fans have unrealistic expectation, team can't win the big one. Once established, this meta-narrative can serve as the one column they crank out every three days all season, with a few minor alterations to keep it fresh (1967, Jeff Finger sucks, etc.) This saves time. With so much change over the summer, the usual suspects are having a bit of a harder go this year, although I am sure they will settle happily into some variation of "Leafs suck and you are a waste of cells for watching them" before long. Witness today's effort from Working Class Howard. He opens with:
The '97-98 Leafs, under head coach Mike Murphy, had trouble moving the puck beyond centre-ice and were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL [194 goals in 82 games for a 2.37 average]. The club was also a victim of shaky goaltending, as Felix Potvin had lost much of his swagger and confidence. Murphy, therefore, deployed a trap-lock system designed to keep the puck out of the Toronto net, and the attack was non-existent.
He then compares Murphy to Quinn, previewing perhaps an article about the new coaching philosophy. However, the whole argument breaks down faster than Monty Colaicovo taking a regular shift:
It is Wilson's objective to ensure that the talent-thin Leafs are among the top defensive clubs in the league and if he pulls it off, he'll end an alarming trend that has lasted for more than 30 years. Not since the late Roger Neilson coached the Leafs in 1977-78 [I was 18 years old], has the club embarked on a season with a defense-first posture.
Contradicting himself within three paragraphs? Apparently it's going to take Howard a few weeks to get his Ctrl-V skills back up to par. Also, apparently Pat Burns's tenure was a swashbuckling era of no-holds-barred firewagon hockey, which makes sense with Bill Berg, Peter Zezel, Mark Osborne, Bob Rouse, and Jamie Macoun in such prominent roles.
The rest of it, a player by player breakdown of the 08-09 QUEST FOR FAIL is too dull to bother with, although Howard tips his hand as to who his whipping boy is going to be this year. In a textbook demonstration of why "journalists," who are "professional writers" with "access" and "insight" are vastly preferable to bloggers like ourselves, who rouse ourselves from our opium stupor to glare blearily at what could be Hockey Night In Canada, could be Spongebob before typing up our latest mishmash of stupid amateur amateurism, WCH writes:
NIKOLAI KULEMIN: The Great White Hope of the Leafs will try to fill part of the abyss created by innumerable flashes-in-the-pan over the decades.
flashes-in-the-pan create abysses? This reads like A Brief History Of Time translated by a drunken badger.
Expect to see a strong, two-way performer come out of the Russian hockey program. The Sporting News has this assessment: "A hard-nosed, hard-skating winger, Kulemin could be ready to make an impact as a checking-line forward. At 6-foot-1, 183 pounds, he is strong along the boards and could blossom into a solid 15-goal scorer.
Here it is folks. One of the more intriguing Leaf rookies in a generation comes along, and to analyze his prospects Howard forgoes:
-watching him in practice or rookie games
-interviewing people within the Leafs organization
-talking to his scouting contacts around the league
-bending the ear of Russian hockey league coaches, players, or journalists
in favour of pinching a quote from a publication renowned for giving about as much space to hockey as I give Phil Collins on my ipod. Here's a preview contest of my own. Counting last week's kickoff column, how many times will Berger write '1967?' We'll keep track and the winner gets a prize.
Feel the excitement! Only 211 days till hockey season is over!