Saturday, March 31, 2012

City to City

This originally ran in Cold As Ice, the hockey column I co-write for Popblerd.
Even though they’re located just a few hours apart on opposite sides of the U.S.-Canada border, Buffalo and Toronto are very different cities. One’s a blue-collar burg known for heavy snowfall and chicken wings, the other’s the largest city in Canada known for its cosmopolitan image and gleaming skyline. And in the NHL, Buffalo and Toronto have been heading in opposite directions all season long.

On Feb. 6, the Toronto Maple Leafs were sitting two points out of fourth place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference and were seemingly a lock to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Leafs had won three straight and five of their last six and all looked right in Toronto. And then…they hit the wall.

After that date, Toronto went on a 2-15 skid, a choke of monumental proportions. The team changed coaches in the middle of the losing streak, but it hasn’t made much of a difference and on Tuesday night, the Leafs were officially eliminated from the playoffs yet again.

Conversely, the Buffalo Sabres looked all but dead in mid-February, sitting firmly in 14th place in the East. Since then, the Sabres have gone 14-2-4, shooting up to eighth place in the conference with a big win over Washington on Tuesday. With five games left in the regular season, the Sabres are trending upwards.

The same Sabres fans who were calling for the heads of GM Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff in February are no doubt singing their praises now. Unlike their counterparts across Lake Ontario, who are facing yet another spring without playoff hockey. Toronto GM Brian Burke, one of the most brash and outspoken personalities in the league, is feeling the heat as the boos rain down night after night at the Air Canada Center, where the Leafs haven’t won since—you guessed it—Feb. 6.

The key to Buffalo’s resurgence has been the red-hot play of goalie Ryan Miller, who struggled for the first half of the season but has rediscovered his game. Earlier in the season, the Sabres suffered from a combination of poor play and injuries to key players. Now, the team’s benefiting from Miller’s return to form and unexpected offense from the trio of Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, which has amassed 38 points in nine games.

The Leafs have struggled with their goaltending all season, but seemed to be in good position after Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson got on a roll in January and designated number one goalie James Reimer returned after missing 18 games with concussion-like symptoms and reeled off a couple of shutouts over Pittsburgh and Ottawa, the last one taking place on that key date, Feb. 6. Burke and then-coach Ron Wilson had put together a young, speedy run-and-gun team led by Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul that could put the puck in the net but struggled in the defensive end; the Leafs had the league’s worst penalty kill as of Jan. 1, but suddenly tightened up and went most of the month without giving up a power play goal. The team was far from perfect, but it looked like the playoffs were a reality. Until the Leafs found new and excruciating ways to lose games night after night. Defense-minded Randy Carlyle was brought in to replace Wilson on March 2, but he hasn’t been able to turn the team around—not this season, anyway.

For long-suffering Toronto fans such as myself, this wasn’t really anything new. The Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 and in addition to that 45-year drought being the longest in the league, Toronto hasn’t even made the Cup finals in that span, which is a record. The closest the Leafs have gotten was the semi-finals, which they reached in 1978, 1993, 1994, 1999 and 2002, but of all those teams, it was the 1993 group led by Doug Gilmour that had the best shot at actually winning it all. Until they ran into some guy named Gretzky, who dominated the Leafs in game 7 to send the LA Kings to their first and only Cup final, where they lost to Montreal. Prior to the last lockout in 2004, the Leafs had been perennial playoff contenders for several years but never seemed to be able to get to the next level. Post-lockout, the Leafs came close to the playoffs a few times but since Mats Sundin left town in 2008, the team hasn’t been able to replace both his leadership and his superstar ability.

Buffalo has come much closer to the big prize since entering the league 1970-71, losing in the finals in 1975 and again in heartbreaking fashion in 1999, when Dallas’ Brett Hull scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime with his skate clearly in the goal crease (which at the time was against league rules). The Sabres have had an exciting collection of players over the last several years, including Miller, Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy, but when they’ve made the playoffs, they haven’t been able to get past the conference finals. This year, if Buffalo gets into the postseason, the team could pull off some upsets and shock a few higher-seeded teams.

Meanwhile, the biggest question in Toronto is whether Burke will keep his job and return for another season. The saddest part of the situation is there are generations of Leafs fans who haven’t seen their team even come close to winning the Cup; hell, the latest generation hasn’t seen so much as a single playoff game. In Toronto, there’s always next season…to get your heart broken all over again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 220: Never Hear the End of It

Part 1 of my conversation with special guest Jay Breitling as we discuss earworms. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:

- Recorded on St. Patrick's Day at Chez Breitling

- Not referring to Ceti eels from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

- Kumar: Recently haunted by crappy songs from Styx and Foreigner

- The search for Early Dog

- Breitling has memories of the ol' shower radio

- Ronnie Montrose, R.I.P.

- Chloe B. makes an appearance

- Kumar: "Smoke on the Water" banishes most earworms

- Sometimes earworms can be good

- Advertising can create earworms by playing songs repeatedly

- On Jon Papelbon's new entrance music for the Phillies

- Kumar: Crappy soundtrack songs from the '80s return to haunt me

- Scientific research on earworms

- Rebecca Black's "Friday"

- Keith Richards on business acumen

- To be continued

- Bonehead of the Week

Titus Andronicus - Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape with the Flood of Detritus

At the Drive-In - Pattern Against User

Sleater-Kinney - All Hands on the Bad One

Spoon - The Fitted Shirt

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Titus Andronicus song is from the Titus Andronicus LLC Mixtape Vol 1. Download the mixtape for free from the band's Tumblr.

The At the Drive-In song is from the album Relationship of Command on Grand Royal Records. Download the song for free
from Epitonic.

The Sleater-Kinney song is on the album All Hands on the Bad One on Kill Rock Stars. Download the song for free from Epitonic.

The Spoon song is on the album Girls Can Tell on Merge Records. Download the song for free from Epitonic.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


One of the nice things about my job is its fairly stable schedule. I'm definitely a creature of habit and appreciate the normality of it all. But every so often, it's nice to shake things up. This week, I flew to Texas for a quick business trip. Unlike most of my trips, this wasn't to attend a conference, but to meet with some of my company's consultants for some work stuff that I'm not going to go into here.

But the meeting was in Austin, a city I hadn't visited in almost exactly 12 years, when I went to South By Southwest 2000 as part of the Webnoize crew. We had a booth there and while I was working a lot of the time during the day, we definitely made the most of the trip and saw a bunch of bands and ate much BBQ. Prior to that, I had been to Austin a few times to visit my brother when he was attending law school in town at UT.

This time around, I was on my own and didn't have a car, which limited what I could do, but I still had fun. Fortunately, my hotel was two blocks from 6th Street, where much of the clubs and bars are located, so I was able to walk over quickly. None of the great BBQ joints are located in that area; indeed, the County Line, where we consumed legendary quantities of ribs and other items in 2000, is located well out of the city center. I arrived in Austin Tuesday evening and after settling in at my hotel, I ventured out to 6th to get some dinner and ended up at the Iron Cactus, a Mexican restaurant and bar. I had some tacos at the bar and a couple of Shiner Bocks before wandering the street a little bit.

One of the great things about Austin is the music scene, which is non-stop. There are tons of clubs with bands playing rock, blues, country, whatever. Of course, SXSW was the week before, so there weren't a lot of name acts in town. I checked out a blues band for a little while Tuesday night before deciding to head back to the hotel.

On Wednesday, I had a little leeway with my day because I was supposed to meet with someone in the morning and had nothing else on my agenda. My meeting was done by 11 and I headed over to the Casino El Camino, a cool little dive bar on 6th, to grab some lunch. The decor was pretty great, as was the jukebox, which was chock full of punk and Latin lounge music. I heard some Minor Threat, Stooges and other cool stuff while hanging out there. The bartender was a heavily tattooed guy from Vancouver (come to think of it, EVERYBODY was heavily tattooed in Austin. I felt out of place for being such a normie) who said he was probably going to move soon because the place was getting too crowded. He had moved to Seattle in the early '90s but said that heroin and the grunge explosion made it too much to take. The bar was playing an old Star Trek episode, the one where Bones, Spock and Kirk go back to the '30s and meet up with a young (and ridiculously gorgeous) Joan Collins. Oh, and the burger was both HUGE (3/4 pounder) and delicious. I was totally stuffed for hours.

I headed back to the hotel and did some work for a few hours and then started thinking about what I'd do that night. My old friend Joanne had recommended the Alamo Drafthouse as a good place to catch a movie, drink beer and eat a meal, so I checked the listings and saw that the downtown location was showing Harold and Maude at 7 and a trashy '70s classic called Bonnie's Kids at 10. I headed over and caught Harold and Maude, which I'd never seen all the way through but knew was considered a classic; sure enough, it was terrific. The theater has two screens; on the other was Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk With Me, which I actually may have gone to had I known it was showing at the same time. Once I sat down in the mostly empty theater (it filled up a little bit), a server came over and explained the deal: There was a menu from which you could order beer, snacks and full meals. During the movie, you're not supposed to talk, but you can order stuff by writing your order down on a piece of paper and sticking it in a little stand that the server will spot as he or she walks by. I wasn't that hungry so I just had a Lagunitas IPA.

The movie was over by 8:45 and I figured I'd go grab a beer at a nearby establishment called Lovejoys that Rock Piantigini recommended and then come back in an hour or so for Bonnie's Kids. Lovejoys was a dingy little dive bar (even divier than Casino El Camino), but it had a cool vibe and the Rangers-Red Wings game was on the TV, so I just watched the end of that and drank an IPA. I decided to have another and was wrapping it up, fully prepared to leave when a guy walked up to the small stage area and announced that it was trivia night. Suddenly I started helping this group of people next to me who were competing as a team. My knack for useless knowledge came in handy and I helped them to finish in second for the night, and had a couple more beers in the process. Of course, by this point I abandoned any plans to go back to the Alamo. After midnight, I headed back to the hotel since I had to get up fairly early since I was going to be listening to presentations all day Thursday.

Indeed, that's what I did, slightly fuzzy at first but just bummed that I was stuck inside on the nicest day of the trip (sunny, 80s). There was a group of folks there and they were all going to a nice Mexican restaurant that evening, but I had one thing on my mind: BBQ. I couldn't visit Austin without getting BBQ at least once. I had heard about a place called Franklin's that I was considering cabbing it to, but one of the guys I played trivia with the previous night had recommended a new place called Live Oak on the Eastside. It was too far to walk, so I decided to take a cab over. The place was so new that even my cabbie was unfamiliar with the name, although he knew the place once I described it. He even decided to go in and get some takeout. Turns out it's located right in the middle of a neighborhood. I walk in and the place is totally empty except for the dude working there; they close at 8 and all they had left was brisket and sausage, so that's what I ordered. When he asked if it was for there or to go, I was going to say yes, but then I realized that I'd have to hail another cab anyway; since my cabbie was still there, I decided to get the food to go and just have him bring me back to the hotel. It wasn't my ideal BBQ experience, but I was by myself and that seemed to make the most sense. I got a quarter pound of each and some potato salad and a glass bottle Coke, all of which cost under $10. So I head back and the food was damn delicious; my only regret was I didn't order more.

After eating, I watched Rock 'N Roll High School on Netflix streaming via my laptop, and then went to the Alamo for its "Skinemax" showing of Night Eyes, an uber-cheesy erotic thriller from 1990 starring Andrew Stevens (son of Stella and ex-hubby of Kate Jackson) and Tanya Roberts (of Charlie's Angels fame). There were six other people in the theater, and surprisingly four of them were women. The theater host (at both films I saw at the Alamo, a staffer came out to introduce the movie) noted that the film was being shown on VHS and as such looked pretty crappy, but that was part of its charm. He also told us to watch for Roberts' cringe-inducing moment when she tells Stevens to "rape me" right before they have consensual sex, and he recommended we drink whenever there was scene featuring tearaway panties. And then there was the cheesy sax solo that would play whenever a sex scene was about to happen. Hilarious. In addition, the movie had an Indian connection: It was directed by Jag Mundhra, who apparently had directly similarly cheesy flicks in the late '80s and early '90s, and was produced by Ashok Amritraj, the former pro tennis player who went on to become a big-time Hollywood producer (this movie was obviously well before he worked on "big time" movies).

I walked out after the movie onto 6th Street and the place was packed with people, a la Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Guess they close down the streets to traffic and let folks walk on 6th Street after hours on the weekends. Looked like a good time, but I had to get up at 5 and head to the airport to catch a 7:40 a.m. flight back home. Actually it was quick flight to Dallas, and then connecting to a jam-packed flight to Boston. Felt like a sardine on that one, but at least I got to see The Muppets, which was pretty cool.

Although I didn't have enough BBQ, I certainly packed a lot into three nights in Austin. Next time, I'm definitely getting ribs.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 219: Give 'Em the Boot

Part 2 of my conversation with special guest Ric Dube about bootlegs. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:

- Check out Ric's latest project, Trademark of Quality

- Bootlegs would get bootlegged

- Plenty of boots of concerts from radio and TV broadcasts

- When Napster emerged, bottom dropped out of bootleg market

- U2's Achtung Baby demos were stolen, ended up on bootlegs

- Ric has an early Men at Work bootleg, just because

- The Legend of Norm De Plume

- Pretenders bootleg has song from the Castaways at the end to fill space on the vinyl

- Bands used to re-record tracks on their live albums in the '70s

- Lots of good early Beck boots out there

- Ric: Searching for a long lost Elvis Costello bootleg

- Bonehead of the Week

Fugazi - Merchandise (live at Irving Plaza)

fIREHOSE - For the Singer of REM (live at Ancienne Belgique)

Warren Zevon - Lawyers, Guns and Money (live at The Record Plant)

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Fugazi song is from a show recorded at Irving Plaza in New York on 4/3/95. Download the song for free from the Live Music Archive.

The fIREHOSE song is from a show recorded at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, Belgium on 3/12/91. Download the song for free from the Live Music Archive.

The Warren Zevon song is on from a set recorded live at The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA, on 7/27/78. Download the song for free from the Live Music Archive.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mixology: Ito is Neato

Mixology is a recurring feature in which I take a look at one of the many mix tapes (or CDs) I made over the years. Some are better than others, but all of them are fun to revisit.

Ito is Neato (9/2/95)

It has been just over a year since the last installment of Mixology, mainly because I had run out of mixes to write about. But yesterday I was going through some old bins of stuff that had been stashed away in the attic eaves and sure enough, I found a few more tapes including this choice selection.

The name of the mix was an obvious reference to the judge in the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial, which was at its peak in September '95. A month later, the jury delivered the not guilty verdict that shocked many who felt Simpson was obviously the killer. The evidence was pretty overwhelming, but so was the terrible way the prosecution handled the case.

At any rate, it was a good time for me, albeit one that wouldn't last. I was about to give my notice at the newspaper for a writing position at the healthcare publishing company for which I still work, and was having a lot of fun in general. In the span of a few months, my girlfriend would dump me, I was having trouble adjusting to the new job and my dad's health would get progressively worse. But in early September, I was loving life.

I still dig every song on this tape, to varying degrees. By '95, the grunge explosion of the early '90s (and Kurt Cobain's subsequent death in '94) had begun to deliver its first wave of copycat acts that started to clog up rock radio: Stone Temple Pilots, Candlebox, Bush, et al really brought the suck. Fortunately, I had started branching out with more interesting artists like Morphine, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Elastica, Pavement and The Jayhawks. The original grunge acts still interested me, but what came after was fairly shitty. Fortunately, mixes like this helped me ignore that stuff.

Side A: Ito
Weird-out -
Summer - Buffalo Tom
I'll Stick Around - Foo Fighters
Bed for the Scraping - Fugazi
Execution Style - Mudhoney
More Human Than Human - White Zombie
I'm Above - Mad Season
Ono Soul - Thurston Moore
Waydown - The Catherine Wheel
Act of Love - Neil Young and Pearl Jam
Eternal Life - Jeff Buckley
Serpentine Pad - Pavement

Side B: Neato
Army of Me - Bjork
Long Snake Moan - PJ Harvey
Shimmer - Throwing Muses
Super Baby - Matthew Sweet
Will - Kevin Salem
Din - Chris Whitley
I'd Run Away - The Jayhawks
Free Love - Morphine
Stutter - Elastica
Los Vargos - Green Apple Quick Step
X-Static - Foo Fighters
Trailer Park Girl - Dandelion

Monday, March 12, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 218: Trademark of Quality

Part 1 of my conversation with special guest Ric Dube as we discuss bootlegs. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:

- Check out Ric's latest project, Trademark of Quality

- Powered by BBQ

- TMOQ doesn't have actual bootlegs, but features essays about them

- Bootlegs comprise anything not released by a record company

- Jay: Discovered bootlegs and imports in record stores in the '80s

- Ric: First boot was a Springsteen live set from '81

- Jay: First boot was a Zeppelin live box set

- Both sound terrible

- Ric: Most bootlegs he owns are of The Replacements

- A lot of originally bootlegged 'Mats B-sides have turned up on official reissues

- Jay: Bought Prince's Black Album in late '80s from bootleg tape vendor at UNH

- Ric made cassette sleeves in early '90s for bootlegs with manga images

- Ric: Recorded bootlegs at live shows

- Also sold VHS tapes

- Jay: Had a list of bootlegs for sale in early '80s

- Used to get bootlegs from the old Rockit Records stores in '80s and '90s

- Ric: Pitching your bootleg wares to record stores

- Now there's countless boots available for free online

- To be continued

- Bonehead of the Week

Mission of Burma - Red (live on WERS)

The Minutemen - One Reporter's Opinion/Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing (live at The Blue Note)

The Dirtbombs - Ode to a Black Man (live at The Blind Pig)

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Mission of Burma song is from a live set recorded at WERS-FM on 9/21/80. Download the song for free from the Live Music Archive.

The Minutemen songs are from a show recorded live at The Blue Note in Columbia, MO, on 5/12/84. Download the songs for free from the Live Music Archive.

The Dirtbombs song is on from a show recorded live at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI, on 7/15/05. Download the song for free from the Live Music Archive.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Hit It and Quit It

This originally ran in Cold as Ice, the column I co-write for Popblerd.

The current saga of Peyton Manning, the surefire Hall of Fame quarterback who’s planning to continue his playing career despite a serious neck injury, certainly resonates with fans of the NHL. Not so much the specific injury, but the situation. When is the right time for an athlete to retire?

The NHL has seen several versions of this scenario play out in recent years. Most notably, the case of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, the league’s best player, who has been out of action for more than a year with concussion issues. He returned to action briefly in November and lasted eight games before taking a few more hits to the head and shutting it down again. Crosby has been biding his time until he feels right again and has been cleared to return as early as this weekend, but one wonders if the 24-year-old, who has already won a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal, should just retire instead of risk another serious brain injury.

The NHL has lost many players who were forced to retire or take long absences over the last two decades because of concussion-related issues: Eric Lindros, Pat Lafontaine, Marc Savard, Chris Pronger, and Keith Primeau, among many others. Hockey is a full-contact sport played at high speed, and its players are faster and stronger than ever before, which can lead to intentional and unintentional collisions that result in concussions (and that’s not to mention the occasional fight). Sure, the players are clad head to toe in bulky helmets and pads, but a hard hit just ends up rattling a player’s brain around in his skull, regardless of the helmet.

In the last few years, the NHL has targeted so-called head shots, assessing penalties or suspensions for hits that are deemed to be directed at a player’s head. Awareness of the issue has been raised, even if the number of incidents has yet to decline. Some argue that the equipment itself is to blame; most players didn’t wear helmets until the ‘80s and anecdotal evidence suggests there were fewer concussions when players went helmetless. Of course, back then, players would play through concussion symptoms and not admit that anything was bothering them.

Even now, that bravado creeps into the game. The NHL has a set protocol that teams must follow if a player is suspected of having a concussion. But in December, Toronto’s Colby Armstrong waited nearly 48 hours before informing the team he was feeling nauseous from a collision. More than likely Armstrong, who has missed substantial amounts of the last two seasons because of various injuries, didn’t want to be sidelined again and kept his mouth shut, but it was obviously a foolish decision.

Another sad example is the story of Boston’s Marc Savard, a talented forward who in March 2010 was the victim of a nasty blindside hit by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Savard recovered in time for the playoffs a month later, but the following January, he sustained a second concussion in a game against Colorado and the team shut him down. More than a year later, Savard still has not played another game and likely won’t ever again, although he hasn’t retired yet.

The concussions sustained by Crosby, meanwhile, have placed renewed focus on the issue. Last season, the Pittsburgh captain was on his way to the best regular season in several years until he suffered hits to the head in games on January 1 and 5. The concussion symptoms he suffered drew even more scrutiny to the seeming preponderance of hits to the head in the league.

Meanwhile, some have suggested Crosby not risk his health any further by playing. It’s a difficult position to be in. If you were Crosby and had the skills to be the best player in the game, would you walk away so easily? Putting aside the fact that Crosby is earning $9 million this season (his contract runs out in 2013), wouldn’t you want to exhaust every possibility of resuming your career before you called it quits? Then again, would you want to risk playing hockey when one hit could leave you incapacitated for the rest of your life? These are the questions Crosby is wrestling with on a daily basis, and it’s a position that nobody envies.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 217: Dirty Water

Part 2 of my conversation with special guest Mike Heyliger as we discuss the whole New York vs. Boston thing. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:

- Check out Mike's blog Popblerd

- It's all about efficiency

- NYC's got the advantage for things to do after 2 a.m.

- Everything closes up early in Boston

- Jay: Mid-week club shows are tough when you have kids

- Green Day's ready for Vegas

- Boston has a ton of great small rock clubs

- NYC has a better assortment of R&B and hip hop shows

- The undeniable greatness of The Roots

- Duran Duran's long and winding career

- Mike had the Duran Duran board game as a kid

- Mike: Rudy Giuliani cleaned up NYC in early '90s

- The Northeast has a certain intensity

- Boston's a good place to live

- Beer's a whole lot cheaper than in NYC bars

- Bonehead of the Week

Torche - Kicking

Brendan Benson - Bad For Me

White Rabbits - Temporary

Sun Kil Moon - Sunshine in Chicago

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Torche song is on the band's forthcoming album Harmonicraft on Volcom Entertainment. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) from TorcheMusic.

The Brendan Benson song is on the album What Kind of World on ReadyMade. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at

The White Rabbits song is on the album Milk Famous on TBD Records. Download the song for free at RCRDLBL.

The Sun Kil Moon song is on the album Among the Leaves on Caldo Verde Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Mr. Wilson

As I've expounded on in this space many times in the past, I'm a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. I've been rooting for the team since I was 4 years old, and most of those 40+ years have been painful to watch.

Of late, the team has sucked with a vengeance, having not made the playoffs since 2004, but things were looking up this season. The team had a lot of young talent, James Reimer appeared to be the number 1 goalie they haven't had since that last playoff run and I dared to dream they might actually make the postseason. Reimer suffered a concussion early in the season and took a while to get back, but the team held it together and as recently as a month ago, they sat in pretty comfortable position in the NHL's Eastern conference.

And then the bottom fell out. The team has lost 10 of its last 11 games and is currently five points out of a playoff spot. Secondary scoring has dried up, the defense is porous and the goalies have no confidence. Finally, after fans repeatedly called for coach Ron Wilson's firing, GM Brian Burke pulled the trigger last night, canning Wilson and replacing him with former Anaheim coach (and Leaf d-man in the late '70s) Randy Carlyle. Burke and Carlyle won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007, and although there were some complaints that Burke should have promoted Marlies coach Dallas Eakins (who has the Leafs' farm club playing well and is familiar with many of the team's young players), I like this choice. Carlyle is tough and demands a lot from his players, and he's a winner. Of course, a coach is only as good as his players, and the Leafs still have a lot of holes on defense and in net.

Wilson was in his fourth season with the Leafs and the team hadn't had so much as a sniff of playoff action. It's certainly not all his fault, but clearly whatever he was doing wasn't working. The Leafs' special teams have been erratic at best and mind-blowingly awful at worst. He just never seemed to click with the team or the town. It was time to move on.

With 18 games left in the season, the Leafs still have a shot at the playoffs, but only if they completely reverse the slide they're in. The odds aren't good, but I'm glad Burke at least made the decision now instead of dragging it out. Carlyle was in a similar position in Anaheim this season, with the team starting slowly and replacing him with Bruce Boudreau. There's talk that Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul, who came over from the Ducks last year and has had a career resurgence, is no fan of Carlyle's, but hopefully those two can work out their differences.

The Leafs are in Montreal tonight for Hockey Night in Canada, which is about as big a stage as you can have to debut as Toronto's coach. Should be interesting. I'm still not getting my hopes up. I know better.