2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs Season Eulogy

I know that there’s been radio silence from me regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs since Wednesday’s crushing Game 7 loss. Well I’ve had a few days of soul searching and have decided that I’m going to continue wallow in misery because… well… I’m a Leafs fan. Of course there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of this young Leafs team. Forget that noise. All I know is that I’m miserable now and will probably be miserable tomorrow.

For full dramatic effect, hit play on the video above and read to the music.

On Wednesday April 25, 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season, a season that started out with so much promise, had the life extinguished from it far too early. There are many words used to describe the 2017-18 Toronto Maple Leafs: young, exciting, promising. The team finished with a team record 105 points with a 49-26-7 record. They entered the playoffs with the NHL’s 6th best record and finished 3rd in the Atlantic Division. But in the end they were, as always, disappointing.

Read more

If You’re A Fan of the NHL, You Should Hate the Vegas Golden Knights

Why don’t we all give a round of applause for the Vegas Golden Knights. Wow, what a great season it’s been! Proving all the doubters wrong. Incredible. Just remarkable, wow!

Alright, now everyone shut up.

I’ve had enough of all of this “success” and if you’re a fan of virtually any other franchise in the league, you should be fed up too (save for the Penguins maybe, because you don’t have much to complain about). Why? Vegas has single-handedly made the NHL appear as a complete joke and the worst part of all is the league basically did this to themselves. Gary Bettman has to know this, and I’m sure he’s cheering his bag off on the inside for the Sharks to pull off a series win and finally beat this Golden Knights team. Early returns aren’t encouraging for the Sharks. Especially not good after that 7-0 shellacking last night in game one of the second round.

Here’s the thing, everything was all well and good in the early goings of this process. It was a cool story. I’d never experienced an expansion draft as a hockey fan because the last expansion had taken place when I was just three and a half years old (Columbus, 2000). It’s clear the league had seen expansion drafts before, but we had apparently never seen something quite like this because this team was going to be “much more competitive than any other expansion team we’ve seen”. How cute, maybe they won’t finish last. But it was still an edgy pick to even have Vegas finishing inside the top 30 of 31 teams. Why wouldn’t you have them there though. What other precedent did we really have to base things off?  Read more

San Jose Sharks v. Vegas Golden Knights Round Two Preview

For half of the playoff teams, the Cup dream is already over. For the other half, they’ve earned the right to continue battling for Lord Stanley’s Mug. Every squad left in the playoffs accumulated over 100 points during the regular season which suggests we are in for a doozy of a second round. My preview of the Winnipeg/Nashville series will be out tomorrow.

I also have to make note that I am a man capable of eating my words and can admit when I was wrong. I expected to watch two long, bitter, Pacific Division matchups in the first round which ultimately led to a Kings-Ducks semi-final. I was off on all counts as both the Knights and Sharks brought out the brooms and steamrolled their opponents with speed and great goaltending. Let’s dive into the series analysis.

(P1) Las Vegas Golden Knights v. (P3) San Jose Sharks

Season series: VGK 3-0-1; SJS 1-2-1.

Golden Knights Round 1 Recap:  Vegas made the Kings look slower than a Hal Gill breakaway. Their relentless forecheck and ability to stretch the neutral zone was simply too much for L.A to handle. The Golden Knights won every game by only a single goal but it was quite apparent that they were the better team. They received contributions from up and down the lineup as 13 of 19 players recorded at least a point during the sweep. Marc-Andre Fleury (proud owner of the best smile in the world) was also an absolute wall in net. He followed up the best regular season of his career with a heckuva performance posting a scintillating 0.65 GAA and .977 SV% with two shutouts. In reference to the Kings, I have not seen such an inability to score since last weekend when I tried to talk to a girl at the bar – apparently, magic tricks are a bad way to pick up chicks, who knew?  Vegas has been on a storybook ride this season and many pundits (including myself) figured that the playoffs would be a rude awakening for them. The Golden Knights just continued to prove everyone wrong as they executed their gameplan to perfection.

Sharks Round 1 Recap: SoCal prevailed in the battle of California as the Sharks chowed down on the Ducks. Similar to what Vegas did to L.A, San Jose skated circles around Anaheim and exposed their lumbering style of play. Offensive leaders Couture and Pavelski had dominant performances as they both tallied 5 points in the sweep. Even with great showings from those two, it was Martin Jones who was the Sharks MVP of the first round. He was a stalwart between the pipes with a 1.00 GAA and a .970 SV%. The Sharks offense (which outscored the Ducks 16-4 in the series) has really started clicking since the addition of Evander Kane at the trade deadline and they’ve done it without the services of Joe Thornton who has been out of the lineup since January 23rd. The Sharks had arguably the most impressive first-round performance of any team.

Series breakdown: This series should be a great showcase of speed and skill as both teams have a ton of it. The two goalies were the stars of their respective shows in round one but I am expecting an offensive explosion here in the conference semi-finals. Both teams have potent top lines with a wealth of scoring depth at their disposal. While this looks like a fairly even match-up the biggest advantage seems to be San Jose’s power play. They were electric with the extra man against the Ducks as they converted at a 30% clip (6/20). The Golden Knights have the worst PP of any team left in the playoffs as they only scored on 8.3% of their chances (1/12) against the Kings. I do think that T-Mobile Arena is one of the more intimidating buildings to play in as the atmosphere is absolutely insane. I have been a Golden Knights “hater” so to speak throughout the season but I am jumping on the hype train and starting to believe. As good as Martin Jones has been I think Fleury will be able to outduel him in the cage and make those momentum-swinging saves that have become habitual for the ex-Penguin. I believe this will be a back and forth series with standout performances and tons of drama but I am pushing my chips into the middle of the table and yelling “Viva Las Vegas” all the way to the conference finals.

Prediction: Golden Knights in 7.

Picture credit to NHL.com (https://www.nhl.com/news/golden-knights-marc-andre-fleury-vs-sharks-martin-jones-goalie-breakdown/c-298207468).

Bench Talk Episode 10: Mike Scott’s Emojis

(0:00-18:32) NHL Playoffs
(18:33) Ray’s Red Wings Draft Lottery Simulator
(20:13) NBA Payoffs
(41:54) Toronto Blue Jays Facebook Live Stream Discussion
(44:18) Big 15-5 Blue Jays win + some Luke Maile love
(48:33) The Yankees STINK
(51:57) Sporcle Quiz: Every Stanley Cup Final and Conn Smythe winner since 1980
(58:29) This or That
Pool or Beach
Hot Dogs or Burgers
Campfire or Patio
Favourite Lawn Games

Our podcast is also now on iTunes so be sure to Subscribe, Rate and Review!

David Pastrnak can’t be tamed

Through the first two games of this series, the Leafs have struggled to stop the Bruins offense, giving up 12 goals so far. Specifically, the Leafs have not been able to find a way to slow down David Pastrnak, who now has 9 points this series after his 6 point explosion on Saturday night. To say that the 21-year old Czech has been on fire is an understatement.

Read more

Toronto Raptors Round 1 Playoff Preview

The Toronto Raptors 2017/18 regular season has just come to a close and it has been a historic one at that. With a franchise best 59-23 record, the Raptors clinched the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and the best home record in the NBA. It’s clear a lot has gone right for the Raps this season and much of that can be attributed to the great work of Dwane Casey, the advancement of DeMar DeRozan’s game, the continued high-end stability of Kyle Lowry and the unmatched production from the bench. Because the NBA season as a whole came to an end on Wednesday night, the finishing touches have been placed on all of the matchups for the NBA playoffs that tip off on Saturday.

As the number one seed, the Raptors drew the number eight seeded Washington Wizards. The teams split the season series 2-2 while going back and forth between results in fairly tightly contested games each time (WSH 107-96, TOR 100-91, WSH 122-119 and TOR 102-95). Let’s preview the matchup ahead:

Tale of the Tape

Toronto Raptors

(#1 East)

Team

Washington Wizards

(#8 East)

59-23

Record

43-39

113.8 (2nd)

Offensive Rating

(Per 100 Possessions)

109.3 (14th)

105.9 (5th)

Defensive Rating

(Per 100 Possessions)

108.7 (15th)

+7.78 (2nd)

Margin of Victory

+0.59 (15th)

57.5% (4th)

True Shooting Percentage

56% (12th)

Offense:

The Raptors offensive efficiency has been very impressive this season as it has consistently been at the top of the league. While the Wizards managed to finish in the middle of the pack despite the absence of their starting PG for half of the season. The reality of this offensive matchup is actually a lot closer than I would’ve expected as the Wizards actually have an advantage in three point percentage (37.5% to 35.8%), assists per 100 (25.8 to 24.8) and offensive rebounding per 100 (10.3 to 9.9). But the fact remains that the Raptors simply are the better at putting the ball in the basket. Their two point attempts are converted at a better clip, they attempt more three pointers in their winning formula and are 4th in the NBA in free throw percentage. While there are a few things that are encouraging from a Wizards perspective, we’re talking about a Raptors offense that scored more than the Warriors per 100 possessions this season, which simply can’t be ignored.

Edge: Raptors

Defense:

This is fairly similar to the breakdown on offense, the Raptors find themselves in the top five and have for the course of the regular season and the Wizards are somewhere in the middle. Simply from a personnel standpoint I see the Raptors combination of bigs (Valanciunas, Ibaka, Poeltl, Siakam) causing the Wizards some issues. The Wiz are one of the few teams that consistently lean on a classic style centre in Marcin Gortat, but Valanciunas is quite capable in that matchup, as is Poeltl. But looking deeper, the Wizards lack the size and defensive presence to really scare me away, unless they’re planning on sending out a heavy dosage of Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. In that case, be my guest.

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 5.44.30 PM.png

Jason Smith averaged 3.4 points per game in 8.6 minutes per game this season…this is hilarious.

Anyways, in a small lineup the Wizards do possess some defensive length and athleticism in the form of Otto Porter, but the Raptors boast a very long and capable defensive lineup that has allowed them to average the 12th highest defensive rebounding percentage and second highest blocks per game while holding opponents to the third lowest effective field goal percentage. The Wizards aren’t in the top 15 in any of those categories.

Edge: Raptors

Projected Starting Lineups

Kyle Lowry

Point Guard

John Wall
DeMar DeRozan

Shooting Guard

Bradley Beal
O.G. Anunoby

Small Forward

Otto Porter
Serge Ibaka

Power Forward

Markieff Morris
Jonas Valanciunas

Centre

Marcin Gortat

Bench:

ESPN’s “FiveThirtyEight” put out a short clip fairly recently that focused in on the Raptors second unit’s dominance, it’s kind of crazy how much of an impact they’ve managed to have on both ends of them floor when the majority of the players are sophomores that have been developed within the Raptors organization. They have now formed themselves into the feared #BenchMob and have even campaigned for a shared 6th man of the year award. While that won’t happen, I’ll still take this group over Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre and company .

Edge: Raptors

Star Power:

These two teams have fairly similar foundations in that they’re both built upon the leadership of All-Star guards. The matchups of Lowry/Wall and DeRozan/Beal will determine much of how this series plays out. John Wall has been injured for much of this season as he’s only appeared in 41 games in the regular season due to injury, but when healthy he’s a player that has the ability to be the best player on the floor in this series.

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 4.01.28 PM.png

The main (and maybe only) critique of the Raptors is their All-Stars not providing All-Star production in the playoffs and based on the past couple years of playoff appearances, those comments can certainly hold some weight. While the Raptors are quite reliant on their top two players to provide offense, the Wizards lean on Beal and Wall even more so and with that comes a great deal of pressure as well. The reality is that these are probably the two best backcourts in the East and a high quality matchup at that.

Edge: Toss Up

Conclusion:

Looking at this matchup from a numbers standpoint it’s pretty clear that the Raptors should be the favourites. I mean to be honest, it’s a 1 v. 8 matchup, you shouldn’t even have to look at the numbers to come to that conclusion. But for years the narrative of the Toronto Raptors playoff mishaps and let downs have been built up to the point that us Raptors fans can never shake the seed of doubt in the back of our minds…even as the team with the second best record in the NBA.

On the other hand, this season’s edition of the Raps second unit has the ability to spell the starters to a certain degree more than they have ever been able to in the past, so I feel that if Lowry is to struggle with his shot they will still be able to roll. And with that, these Raptors are the better TEAM and possess more depth and defense than the Wizards, which I think will eventually wear the opposition out. Wall and Beal certainly have the ability to win games if/when they take over, which I think they might for game or two, but I’m confident that the Raptors will come through and advance past the Wizards.

Prediction: Raptors in 6

Schedule: 

Saturday April 14th @ 5:30pm in Toronto

Tuesday April 17th @ 7pm in Toronto

Friday April 20th @ 8pm in Washington

Sunday April 22nd @ 6pm in Washington

Wednesday April 25th TBD in Toronto

Friday April 27th TBD in Washington

Sunday April 29th TBD in Toronto

 

I know we shouldn’t really look ahead, but this isn’t an encouraging trend:

Leafs versus Bruins: 2018 First Round Series Primer

Before I get started, let’s just get this out of the way:

In 2012-13, Toronto’s top ten in ice-time were: Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk, Cody Franson, Nikolai Kulemin, Carl Gunnarson, Mike Kostka, Nazem Kadri and Mark Fraser. Of that list only Bozak, JVR and Kadri remain and in completely different roles. It’s been five years. I’m over it. Apparently the trolls aren’t over it.

Regardless of the “4-0 sweeps” brackets filled out by homers from either side, this will be a tough series that will hopefully go seven games and be as entertaining as possible. For anyone trying to make sense of first round battle between the NHL’s 4th and 7th seeds (just how dumb is this playoff bracket format?) I’ll break down the matchup bit-by-bit and try to piece this thing together. Read more

« Older Entries Recent Entries »