I hear the secrets that you keep… when you’re talking in your sleep.
— The Romantics, 1983
TORONTO (Nov. 7) — Lou Lamoriello wearing flannels and a stocking–cap? Almost too funny.
In what other circumstance, however, might a rival National Hockey League executive unearth the thought process of the taciturn Toronto Maple Leafs general manager? Loquacious Lou would deny that he’s alive, if it meant guarding a company secret. As such, an NHL “informant” recently held a drinking–glass to Lamoriello’s hotel–room door in the middle of the night. Apparently, and between loud snores, he heard something like this: “Yes, Brendan, I’m looking. I promise you, I’m looking. We need a shut–down guy on the blue line. Jeez, our club hasn’t had such a player since Tim Horton was traded [to the New York Rangers in March 1970]. That’s a long time ago. It’s at the very top of my ‘to do’ list. I give you my word on that.”
The young, energetic Leafs are trying to play “keep away” against opponents early in the season. The strategy has worked in the past three games — victories over Edmonton, Buffalo and Vancouver. Invariably, however, opposition skaters gain control of the puck and propel it toward Frederik Andersen, who has saved a pile of bacon in the past week. The immediate vicinity of the Toronto goal often resembles a fire drill at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. At some point, a steadying presence — of veteran ilk — will sail over the horizon into a blue and white jersey. As per my covert informant: “Yes, Lou is scouring the league for someone that can help to organize the defensive zone. The Leafs have quickly become one of the fastest, most creative and talented teams in the NHL. But, they aren’t at all difficult to play against down low.”
LOU LAMORIELLO, APPEARING HERE MORE LIKE MARLON BRANDO IN FRANCIS FORD COPPALA’S ICONIC 1972 CRIME MOVIE, IS LOOKING TO PLUG HOLES IN TORONTO’S LEAKY DEFENSE.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Leafs won’t be built in a year.
The addition, this season, primarily of William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Nikita Soshnikov, Nikita Zaitzev and Connor Carrick gives the club a sprightly appearance. Not since Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk, Wendel Clark and Co. were buzzing the opposition goal more than two decades ago have the Leafs been quite so enjoyable to watch. Still, points are being stolen by Andersen — as they were by Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph, Felix Potvin and Mike Palmateer in the club’s brief moments of virtue since 1967.
Before the Leafs can legitimately contend for a playoff berth over six months and 82 games, life will need to become less hectic in the defensive perimeter; the club striking a balance between assault and protection. Were this a simple matter, the Leafs would have figured it out at some point in the past 50 years. That it remains a problem illustrates the difficulty of crafting a front–line team, especially in the salary cap era.
But, Lamoriello won’t give up — even during REM sleep.
ARGOS NEED TO CLEAN HOUSE
Yes, there are still fans of the Canadian Football League in this city; rabid ones, to be precise. Forlorn followers that watched, this season, the worst Toronto Argonauts team since 1981. Given the promise of a new beginning at a wonderful facility (BMO Field), this was a destructive year for the franchise. A 5–13 record, tied for last in the nine–team CFL, and a 1–11 death–spiral in its last 12 games, came as no fluke.
And, that’s why ownership must replace the GM/coach battery of Jim Barker and Scott Milanovich.
The dots to this disaster can be easily connected. Barker and Milanovich, in their wisdom, recruited and then gave away two of the more proficient quarterbacks in the CFL: Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris. Donated them as free agents to division rivals Hamilton and Ottawa while retaining the aging, immobile Ricky Ray. Inevitably, the Tiger–Cats and RedBlacks soared past the Argonauts, while Ray — stationary behind a mediocre offensive line — was lucky to escape with his life. As the losses piled up, Barker, in desperation, made the worst trade in modern franchise history. To acquire middling QB Drew Willy from Winnipeg, the Argos unloaded their best defensive player (halfback T.J. Heath) and their first pick in the 2017 college draft.
This would have been akin to the Maple Leafs — while plummeting to 30th place in the NHL last season — trading Morgan Rielly and their first–round pick (Matthews) for a back–up goalie. Seriously. Imagine if Jhonas Enroth had been acquired for Rielly and Matthews (rather than in unrestricted free agency). Like his father in October of 1970, Justin Trudeau would have invoked the War Measures Act.
THE ARGOS AND COACH SCOTT MILANOVICH ENDURED ONE FINAL EMBARRASSMENT THIS SEASON: A 41–17 THUMPING IN EDMONTON SATURDAY AFTERNOON TO FINISH AT 5–13. IN LOSING 11 OF THEIR LAST 12 GAMES, THE BOATMEN WERE OUTSCORED 429–235, OR 36–20 PER MATCH. TSN IMAGES
What the Argos learned through much agony this season is they cannot “sell” a terrific, new stadium to the exclusion of a reasonable product on the field. Even a competitive club in this tepid CFL market may not fill BMO to capacity. An embarrassing team has no chance. In order to rebound, the Argos need new blood in the executive suite and on the sidelines. Barker and Milanovich had their moments — none better than the 2012 Grey Cup title before a packed house at Rogers Centre. But, they lost their way by making poor choices with the most important position on the field — and then scrambling, dreadfully, to try and compensate.
Toronto will not — and should not — buy another year of the same.
IN THE EARLY YEARS
FROM MY COLLECTION: A look here at contents — and, particularly, the advertisements — of hockey programs in the early years at Maple Leaf Gardens (which opened Nov. 12, 1931). First, the Leafs and Boston Bruins from Mar. 19, 1936 (2–2 tie). Then, the New York Americans’ visit of Mar. 16, 1940 (8–6 Toronto).
PROGRAM EDITOR FRANK J. SELKE WOULD GO ON TO BECOME A NINE–TIME STANLEY CUP CHAMPION IN MANAGEMENT WITH THE LEAFS AND CANADIENS. HE IS PARTICULARLY REMEMBERED FOR BUILDING THE MONTREAL TEAMS THAT WON A RECORD FIVE CONSECUTIVE CUPS BEGINNING IN 1956.
LOVE THE WORDING AT TOP–LEFT, IN THE JERSEY MILK AD: “GET SOME FROM THE BOY AT THE BOOTH.”
IRVINE (ACE) BAILEY HAD NEARLY DIED JUST MORE THAN TWO YEARS PREVIOUS (IN DECEMBER 1933) AT BOSTON GARDEN WHEN DUMPED FROM BEHIND BY BRUINS DEFENSEMAN EDDIE SHORE. BAILEY SMACKED HIS HEAD ON THE ICE AND UNDERWENT TWO LIFE–SAVING OPERATIONS. HE HAD TO RETIRE FROM HOCKEY. A NIGHT AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS FOR HIS (FINANCIAL) BENEFIT WAS THE FORERUNNER TO THE NHL ALL–STAR GAME. BAILEY AND SHORE SHOOK HANDS AT CENTER ICE.
SEVEN BUCKS FOR A 1936 HOTEL SUITE IN MANHATTAN.
NEW YORK AMERICANS WERE IN THE NHL FROM 1925 TO 1942.
NOTHIN’ WORSE THAN THAT “TIRED FEELING.”