There’s been a lot of talk this season about the Leafs’ goaltending battle, about how Johnathan Bernier has risen above James Reimer, taken his (rightful, for many, including, I suspect, Carlyle and Nonis) spot as number one goalie, and established himself as an elite netminder. None of these things are false. Bernier has been outstanding, and is having one of the greatest seasons ever for a Maple Leafs goalie. Reimer has clearly not been as good. As a long-time James Reimer fan, I don’t necessarily like to say that, but facts are facts at this point, and Bernier has been undeniably superior. Lately, however, talk has shifted somewhat to how disappointing James Reimer has been, how the Leafs are not a playoff team without Bernier, how Bernier’s injury is devastating and how Reimer will be traded this upcoming offseason. The parts of this talk which are speculatory, namely the trade possibility, are worrying, and the parts that are opinion are, quite frankly, bullshit of the highest order.
I’m just going to talk about two reasons why people’s, MLSE shill Darren Dreger among them, bashing of Reimer is at best misrepresentation of fact and at worst outright fabrication. The first, the easiest, the most obvious, is that this team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, made the playoffs last year, with James Reimer as their starter. Adding to that, all the talk coming from MLSE before this season was that the team was much better, and as such, it should be easier to make the playoffs with Reimer in net, or without superlative goaltending. Spare me the Dave Bolland injury talk, too. If Dave Bolland is the difference between your team being much better than it was, and it being much worse, you have a massively flawed perception of what Bolland does. He’s a good depth player, great to have, but no more than that.
The second thing that troubles me about the recent turn in dialogue about Reimer is that he hasn’t been bad this year. James Reimer, as of right now, has a .913 save percentage. In most seasons, .913 is right around league average. This year, he ranks 24th of all NHL.com qualifiers. I have two points to make, stemming from this. One minor, one less so. First, if it is true that this has been an “off year” for Reimer, and also true that he is stopping pucks at about a league-average rate, it should follow that he is a good goalie. Second, and larger, people have brought up his GAA, which is over 3, as evidence that Reimer is unfit to stop pucks in the NHL. These people do not understand how GAA works, which is to say that the two factors that go into the GA part of GAA are your save percentage, and the number of shots you face. Shots against are determined almost entirely by the team in front of you. James Reimer has a high GAA because he plays for the 2013-2014 Maple Leafs, who give up shots at a rate rarely-before seen, and certainly never seen from a team with a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Anybody who blames goaltending for this team’s struggles is either wilfully ignorant, or, worse, having the wool pulled over their eyes with regards to the glaring issues this team has in terms of conceding shots.
Darren Dreger said during the game tonight that Reimer will request a trade this summer. He will likely fetch a disappointing return, in part because of the skewering that he faces for being, at worst, an average goalie facing an historic number of shots against. I would not be surprised to see him start for an NHL team next year, and for him to put up a save percentage in the 8th-16th in the league range. The Maple Leafs new backup will certainly be worse than that, and that is not good at all for a team that relies on goaltending as much as they do. It’s a shame, really.
According to Bob McKenzie, the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the verge of re-signing Colton Orr to a multi-year contract. To put it mildly, this is a god-awful idea, and I am becoming convinced that Dave Nonis might not be a very good general manager. This is a move that smart hockey teams do not make, for a number of reasons.
First of all, even if you buy into the idea that “toughness”, as provided by a player who is only capable of playing 5 minutes per game, and who possesses no discernible NHL-level hockey skill, is able to positively contribute to winning hockey games, smart teams know that such players can be found on waivers, making the league minimum. There is absolutely no need to devote any money or term beyond the absolute minimum to such a player, who is easily replaceable by any number of AHL or even ECHL players of sufficient size and temperament.
Of course, real smart teams understand that icing rosters that feature players without NHL-level ability is a good way to lose hockey games. Roster spots are limited, and teams should be trying to get the maximum contribution possible from every spot. That’s not to say, of course, that every forward should be a scorer, because this is obviously not feasible–there are not 360 NHL-level scorers out there. But just because you can’t have 12 offensive talents doesn’t mean you can’t have 12 NHL-caliber players. There is a surplus of guys who possess enough skill to contribute 8 or 10 or 12 minutes per game at the NHL level without getting rolled over by more talented opposition. Good teams fill their fourth lines with players like this, often on cheap contracts with low term. Good teams do not waste spots on players who cannot actually play, and they certainly do not sign liabilities to multi-year contracts.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have pretensions of being a good hockey team. They gave the Boston Bruins a surprisingly challenging seven-game first round series, and were an epic collapse away from winning a playoff round. They have an above-average goalie, one of the very best offensive players in the league, and a solid supporting cast of talented young and young-ish players. They are also, however, about to waste a roster spot on a player who was not talented enough to play in the AHL playoffs. A player who is glued to the bench in the third period of close games, including the last 30 minutes of Game 7, and who cannot ever be trusted to play in the defensive zone. A player who stood by and watched while one of the emerging young players he is alleged to be protecting, Nazem Kadri, got into a fight. A player who only fights in the first period, and only fights other enforcers. A player whose career high in points is 6, in an 82 game season, and who has scored less than 100 points combined, in 14 seasons between the WHL, AHL, and NHL. A player who is easily bested, skill-wise, by any number of players on the Marlies, or available through free agency or waivers, for a lower price. The Toronto Maple Leafs are about to sign a player who makes them objectively worse, and that is just not something good teams do.
Well, that was no fun at all. Despite jumping out to an early lead, the Toronto Maple Leafs got absolutely steamrolled in game one, during the course of which just about every single one of their many shortcomings was made glaringly obvious. Some of these shortcomings, like a general lack of talent among depth players, especially defencemen, cannot be rectified mid-series. Others, however, can be mitigated, possibly significantly, if only Randy Carlyle were willing to make a few changes to his lineup. In that spirit, here are some changes I would make to the lineup, were I Randy Carlyle (I am not).
Change the First: Bench the Goons
I know that much has been made about the Leafs’ toughness this year. The generally-accepted narrative is that the Leafs, because of how much they hit and fight, are difficult to play against, and much of the credit for this newfound truculence is given to Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr. This, quite frankly, is bullshit, and that was abundantly clear tonight. Both McLaren and Orr are objectively bad at hockey. This is a fact. Neither one is talented enough to score at the AHL level, nevermind playing against legitimate NHLers. They got torched by the Bruins third and fourth lines for numerous scoring chances, just as they have all season. Despite this, Randy Carlyle has chosen to dress both goons for most of this season’s games. I doubt their physical play and “intimidation” had a significant impact during the regular season, and I know that they are less than useless in the playoffs. The fact is, almost no one fights in the playoffs. It just doesn’t happen. So what do McLaren and Orr offer? Essentially nothing. Their attempts to fight any Bruin they could grab after a whistle were not only ineffective, but on two occasions Colton Orr actually took a penalty post-whistle. Adding to their irrelevance, the Maple Leafs actually did have a player get in a fight tonight. But that Leaf was Leo Komarov. And he fought while McLaren was on the ice.
To recap: They are bad at hockey. Nobody will fight them in the playoffs. They take stupid penalties. Stop playing them. Matt Frattin is an NHL player. Joe Colborne is fine in limited minutes. Both are significantly better that the two pylons with fists currently making up two-thirds of one of the very worst fourth lines in the NHL. Seriously, stop playing them.
Change the Second: Free Jake Gardiner
I don’t know what it is, but for some reason offensively-minded defencemen tend to face far more criticism than stay-at-home types, even if the offensive defenceman in question is very good, and the defensive defenceman is brutal. Jake Gardiner is certainly a victim of this phenomenon. When Randy Carlyle watches Jake Gardiner, he sees the two turnovers he makes per game while attempting to gain the zone. What he clearly does not see is a player who can, on his own, break the puck out with possession, and who can generate offence effectively. For whatever reason, Randy Carlyle looks at Jake Gardiner and thinks that he his not good enough to play on this defence, the one that gave up the third-most shots per game in the entire league. The one that seems to have no ability to break out at all, and who, with frightening regularity, lose players in defensive-zone coverage. Jake Gardiner would help, there is no doubt in my mind about that. He would not fix all of the problems, many of which are simply an issue of talent, but he would be a marked improvement over Mike Kostka or Mark Fraser or even John-Michael Liles. Free Jake Gardiner.
Change the Third: Fix the Forward Lines
All reports indicate that Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel are quite close. They live together. They hang out together. It seems logical, then, that they would play together, doesn’t it? It does to Randy Carlyle. Unfortunately, Tyler Bozak should not be playing with Phil Kessel, for one simple reason; he is not good enough. It has been well-documented that Bozak is very much not a first line centre, and that his numbers are a product of playing with Kessel. In the playoffs, when your team needs to be at its best, it doesn’t make sense to anchor your best player with someone markedly worse than him, no matter how close their friendship. It is made worse by the fact that the Leafs have two centres who would be better with Kessel than Bozak is, particularly Mikhail Grabovski, who was the only Leaf forward I was impressed with in game one. If Kessel is going to be matched up against Chara and Bergeron for most of the series, it makes sense to play him with a centre who can drive play, rather than one who needs to be carried.
Those changes in mind, this is the lineup I would go with in game two:
Liles-Fraser (or Kostka, I don’t know which one is worse)
If need be, a defensive forward line of Kulemin-McClement-Grabovski can be used in shutdown situations.
Obviously, this lineup wouldn’t make everything better, but I think it would go a long way to avoid another embarrassment like tonight.
Knowing Randy Carlyle, though, he’ll swap out Kostka for Ryan O’Byrne and call it a day. Fuck me.
Much as real-life, regular season baseball is making its long-awaited return in short days’ time, I make my return to the realm of low-quality amateur internet writing. The former brings me much excitement, the latter doubtlessly arouses similar feelings in you, the reader. While my excitement is directed at the game of baseball generally, there are, every year, certain aspects of the sport for which I am most excited, and this year is no exception. Though my list of specific excitement-stirrers certainly numbers greater than five, I have condensed it to that very number so as to present a manageably-sized hot sports take for your enjoyment. Ergo, I give you Five Things About Which I Am Excited, Pertaining to the Upcoming MLB Season:
a note: to make the videos go, click on them.
Thing One: Giancarlo Stanton hitting all the home runs
More specifically, hitting those home runs incomprehensibly hard, and seeing them travel untold distances.
Giancarlo Stanton is a bad motherfucker. This is undisputed fact. Look at his name. He used to be “Mike”, but “Mike” is a basic name, an uninspiring name, a name that does not befit the kind of baseball-murderer Giancarlo MF Stanton is. See the following:
That was no mere home run. Home runs are mundane, routine, everyday. Giancarlo Stanton destroyed that baseball. He broke it down into its constituent subatomic particles and dispersed them into the Denver twilight. No “Mike” can do that, only “Giancarlo”.
Giancarlo Stanton hits baseballs that hard with regularity both inhuman and inhumane. I am excited for Giancarlo Stanton
Thing Two: Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper is not, by any measure, the kind of shy, unassuming, polite young man fathers wished daughters brought home. No sir. Bryce Harper is exactly what you would expect from a man-child who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, destroyed Junior College pitching at 17, and was a multi-millionaire before he could vote. He’s acutely aware of his own talents.
Luckily for all of us, his talents are quite the sight to be seen. His swing is a show unto itself, all muscle and leverage and testosterone and “fuck you, bro!”, taking offense to the mere thought of letting that baseball get by him. Fuck that. Bryce Harper’s here to rip, and rip he does, and I love to watch him do it.
Bryce Harper plays baseball straight from his freshly-twenty-year-old balls, which I assume are gigantic because I am wont to assume such things about the balls of athletes. He runs as hard as he swings, often with little regard for his own safety, because every extra base fucking matters, bro! His arm can only be adequately described as “holy shit was that throw for real?” (seriously, he hit 96 mph at 16. 16! Are you fucking joking? 16! Not even a pitcher and he did that!). He is “hustle” taken to its most talented extreme.
When I think about Bryce Harper, he reminds me of a baseballing version of young Alexander Ovechkin, supremely talented, more than a little unhinged, barely playing within his own control. For all of Ovechkin’s struggles recently, young Alex was drop-everything viewing, and Bryce Harper is on that level right now.
I am excited for Bryce Harper.
Thing Three: The American League West
There is no division in baseball more fully-stocked with things I enjoy than the American League West, and it isn’t particularly close. Allow me to expand upon the treasures within:
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Money talks, friends, and I am listening. By a combination of opening his wallet as wide as it will go and making the smartest draft pick in recent memory, Arte Moreno has built a lineup around three of my favourite players in baseball to watch. Albert Pujols, the machine, El Hombre, the best right-handed hitter since fucking Hornsby or some shit or maybe since nobody because Albert’s the best and his swing is perfect and oh my god he’s so good. Josh Hamilton, who has come back from rock bottom, from smoking crack to playing baseball so intensely and athletically that you have no choice but to watch in awe of his talent, with some time set aside for wondering what might have been. And Mike Trout. What can I say about Mike Trout? He’s twenty one, and already has one of the best seasons in baseball history under his belt. He’s one of the fastest players in the league, despite having a total fat-guy face and weighing well over 200 pounds. He’s so good that I can’t think of words to describe how good he is, and I’m excited for another season of being reduced to drooling out of my dropped jaw and slapping at my keyboard randomly, formulating tweets like, “Holy Shit Mike Trouufaufdhajsdfngsdf.fdh.fsjkhlssnlf”. He’s that good.
King Felix Hernandez. He is the best. He makes watching the Mariners every fifth game bearable. He is the King.
The Oakland Athletics, and more specifically Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes. Remember back in Thing Two when I talked about Bryce Harper’s arm? Josh Reddick laughs at Bryce Harper’s wimpy little Johnny Damon noodle. Josh Reddick throws LASERS.
See? LASER (Lawrie was safe, but that doesn’t change my call of LASER)
The A’s also have Yoenis Cespedes who has been the best ever since his ridiculous scouting videos and continues to be the best because he’s really good at baseballing. The rest of the A’s, meh, take ‘em or leave ‘em, but these two dudes, I like the cut of their jib.
Finally, the Texas Rangers have Adrian Beltre. Now Adrian is an incredible baseball player, but that is not what I like about him. What’s special about Adrian Beltre is how much he hates being touched on the head. This is hilarious, and obviously his teammates go out of their way to handle his dome, and, somewhat predictably, he freaks out. These freakouts are wonderful.
For these reasons, I am excited about the AL West.
Thing Four: Aroldis Chapman
You may have noticed somewhat of a trend in these Things, at least some of them. I have a thing for talents taken to the absolute extreme. Stanton’s power, Harper’s presumedly-giant balls and violent swing, Reddick’s arm. All tools which have been realized in absurd ways. My love for Aroldis Chapman results from the same line of thinking.
Aroldis Chapman throws baseballs harder than anyone has ever been recorded throwing them. That’s it. That’s why I love him. Sure, I like that he’s a dominant pitcher, I like his slider, I like that he strikes out everyone. But I love him for this:
Yes, 105 MPH. That was real. That happened. The man can touch 100 with ease, and that scares me and baffles me and excites me simultaneously. The Reds are planning on stretching Chapman out to be a starting pitcher this year, which will probably require him to take a bit off the fastball, but I hope he doesn’t, because comical radar gun readings are one of the things that keep me loving baseball.
Aroldis, don’t ever change. I am excited for you.
Thing Five (The Final Thing): The Toronto Blue Jays
Being from Southern Ontario, and being raised by mentally-sound, non-treasonous parents, I cheer for Toronto sports teams. As the world is quick and gleeful to remind me, these teams have spent much of the last two decades only barely sniffing the jockstrap of quality. The Raptors have been irrelevant since Vinsanity flew south, the Maple Leafs are a topic for another time, and the Blue Jays have been stuck in baseball purgatory, unable to recapture either the glory or the buzz of their early-90′s heyday. As the 2012 season waned, more of the same appeared in store for 2013. But then, all of a sudden, none of the same was in store. The Blue Jays were relevant again. Their busy winter, acquiring every Marlin who matters except Stanton, signing Melky Cabrera, and trading for R. A. Dickey, made them the talk of baseballing circles. For the first time in a long time, there is real buzz about this team as contenders, and rightfully so. By my thoroughly unexpert judgement, they are the third best team in the American League, and barring disaster, there should be playoff baseball in Toronto this fall. And goddamn am I excited.
I am excited to see Jose Reyes hit and run and field shortstop ever-so-smoothly. And also point at donkeys.
I am excited to see Brandon Morrow strike out helpless batter after helpless batter, because he is the best.
I am excited to see Brett Lawrie at his most testosterone-fueled.
I am excited to see Jose Bautista hit jaw-dropping home runs.
I am excited for more Edwin Encarnacion bat flips and t-rex-armed home run trots.
I am excited for Colby Rasmus and his swagger sleeve, even if he isn’t very good.
I am excited for Robert Allen Dickey’s knuckleball to dance into my heart.
I am excited for fans at the Skydome again.
I am excited for a real shot at October baseball.
I am excited for the Toronto Blue Jays, and I’m glad it’s almost Opening Day.
Alex Anthopolous, much criticized in recent days for his delay in hiring a manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, has, by all appearances, pulled off one hell of a trade this evening. Taking full advantage of Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey (Scrooge Mc)Loria and his steadfast adherence to hip-hop’s universal maxim, Anthopolous has reportedly acquired Pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, Shortstop Jose Reyes, Multipositional Fast Dude Emilio Bonifacio, Catcher (and forme Blue Jay) John Buck, and somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4 million. In exchange, the Jays send Shortstops Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechevarria, Catcher Jeff Mathis, RHP Henderson Alvarez, and a trio of prospects, Pitchers Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani and Outfielder Jake Marisnick. An excellent roundup of Twitter reaction to the piecemeal revealing of the trade, as well as forthcoming analysis, can be found at Drunk Jays Fans.
With those details, at least apparently, hashed out, I’m going to offer some of my initial thoughts on the trade, presented in list format for your enjoyment.
1) The Jays just got better. Like a lot. Seriously so much better, guys.
The immediate impact of this trade on the Toronto Blue Jays is massive. Johnson and Buehrle probably start the season as the teams number one and three starters, respectively, though an emerging Brandon Morrow may end up as the team’s best pitcher. Ricky Romero is pushed down to the four spot, and in all likelihood J.A. (call me “Jay”) Happ will take the fifth starter’s role. In an ideal scenario, this means no more shitty Aaron Laffey or shittier Joel Carreno starting games for this team.
In terms of position players, Reyes is the player who will have the biggest impact on the team. He should start at Shortstop on opening day, and lead off, marking a fairly significant upgrade over Yunel Escobar’s performance there last season, when he was terrible, or even the season before, when he was quite good. Buck and Bonifacio should be no more than backups, with Bonifacio being a capable player in both the infield and outfield. Buck gives the team the ability to trade one of their catchers, be it him, J.P. Arencibia, or top prospect Travis D’Arnaud, in order to shore up holes at Second Base, Left Field, or First Base.
2) Speaking of Top Prospects, the Jays kept theirs
That this trade was made without the inclusion of consensus top catching prospect in baseball Travis D’Arnaud is impressive. That it was made with only one of Justin Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez, and Noah Syndergaard is incredible. That the player included from that list is the one with the lowest ceiling is a coup. Nicolino is a very good prospect, ranked fifth in the system by Marc Hulet at Fangraphs, but he still ranks behind Sanchez and Syndergaard, with Hulet noting his not-exactly-elite velocity and lack of projectable big-league out pitch as potential flaws. The Jays also included Jake Marisnick (ranked 6 by Hulet) in the trade, but Marisnick’s ability to make consistent contact has not often manifested itself at the minor league level, and at this point his value is as a very athletic dream, rather than an immediate contributor to a contender. Not saying he’s not a guy I want around, but he is the kind of guy who’s tools might not ever actualize, so it may be for the best to get value for him when the opportunity arises.
3) Speaking of value, people usually talk about value in terms of money, and money is something Jeffrey Loria likes a whole lot, often at the expense of being an even remotely tolerable human being
Apologies for the awkwardly-segued heading, but I don’t see you writing this. Point is, Jeffrey Loria likes money, and really doesn’t like spending it on things like his employees without tangible benefit to himself. Loria is the crook that drove baseball out of Montreal. He’s the dickbag that blew up a World Series-winning team in 2003 because he didn’t want to pay any more than he had to for his players. He’s the miser who, on the promise of building a contender, conned the taxpayers of Miami into building him a stadium, one which opened this past season. The opening of the stadium was accompanied by a shiny new roster of free agent acquisitions such as Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. And now, less than a calendar year after the ribbon was cut on the stadium, Loria is blowing up the roster again. All because it doesn’t serve his economic interests to build a winner. He got a stadium on the cheap. He can sell the team for more than what he paid for it, winner or not. Why spend more than he has to?
For more accounts of Jeffrey Loria being a bottomfeeding shitscammer, check out Deadspin.
4) On the topic of money, Rogers has money?
Long-berated for their tight pursestrings, Blue Jays owners Rogers Communication have made a significant financial investment in this trade. I don’t want to do the math right now, and the information is pretty easily available, but suffice it to say that mouthbreathers can no longer use Rogers’ unwillingness to spend as an excuse for poor performance from this team. They’re willing to spend like the big boys when the opportunity is right, and that is damn encouraging.
5) The Bad Side, or, What if Everybody Gets Hurt Real Bad?
Lost in the excitement of the deal is the glaring reality that the two most significant pieces acquired by the Blue Jays come with track records of injury trouble. Johnson had Tommy John surgery in 2007, and made only 9 starts in 2011 due to shoulder inflammation. He made 31 starts in 2012, and was effective, though not to the same degree as his pre-2011 performances. Reyes missed nearly all of the 2009 season and was hampered by leg injuries through 2010 and 2011, though he did appear in 160 games in 2012.
It is important to consider that, while both are in their primes, there is a non-zero chance of one or both missing significant time this season, beyond the usual chance of injury undertaken by any baseball player. That said, the chance to acquire two potentially elite players in their primes, while retaining elite organizational depth and control of your top prospects is a chance that a team needs to take, should it present itself. All considered (albeit briefly, and by a thoroughly unimpressive baseball mind), I would consider this a significant win for the Blue Jays. Does it make them contenders? Not necessarily. There are still significant holes to be filled through trade or free agency, and the team is still without a manager. The trade does, however, set the Jays up much more nicely for potential contention than they have been in many years.