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Bruce Dowbiggin

In Toronto The Leafs Always Fall In Spring: 2024 Edition

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Who knew when we tuned in Saturday night to Hockey Night In Canada that we would be witnessing playoff history. Nay, not just playoff history but hockey history. According to what we saw and heard on HNIC just ONE TEAM played on Saturday. And they lost. It goes without saying that the team was HNIC’s beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

Those of us who’d stuck with the telecast all evening could’ve sworn there was another team on the ice in black and gold. Rumour has it they were the Boston Bruins, but don’t quote us on that. Also, take it as a rumour that Boston’s 3-1 win gave them a 3-1 lead in games over Toronto heading back to Boston for what most expect will be the  coup de grace for the blue and white. Again.

But when time came to discuss the game afterward the Toronto-based panel told us that the Leafs had beaten themselves. Yes, in some hockey version of metaphysics Toronto had transcended the third dimension. The Bruins were like The Fugitive, lurking far out of sight. Brad Marchand had had nothing to do with breaking up Toronto’s neutral-zone speed nor Charlie McAvoy clearing the front of their net. Jeremy Swayman, who he?

Instead the talking heads dissected the loss in shades of blue.

For those who were washing their hair or another vital task on Saturday, the Leafs had more story lines than a season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (insert your joke here), They finally got their migraine-afflicted star William Nylander back in the fold before a delirious Scotiabank crowd who’d probably paid about a $1000 a ticket to attend. But their star sniper Auston Matthews (allegedly) had food poisoning or a gall stone or a tee time next week back home in Scottsdale. Hard to say.

There was also a goaltending controversy, a Mitch Marner controversy and a Keith Pelley controversy (more on MLSE’s new CEO in a moment). And the, you know, 1967 thing. Despite the hysteria of their long-suffering fans at puck drop, postgame analysts hinted the Leafs seemed to be disinterested. Or, to those who actually watched the game, they were schooled by a better Boston team.

By the middle of the second period, despond and a 3-0 deficit had settled on the Leafs. Despite being the ONLY TEAM on the ice their well-compensated stars were bitching at each other on the bench. While Matthews looked glumly at his pals, Marner had a hissy fit throwing his gloves to the floor. Nylander lip-synched a rebuke to Marner along the lines of Grow up, this ain’t junior hockey. Did we say the crowd booed them off the ice after the second period? Yeah, that too.

Which led mild-mannered Kelly Hrudey to scold Marner for a bush-league behaviour in the break. Remember, Hrudey’s the nice guy on the HNIC panel. Where others see an alligator chomping on their leg Kelly sees a chance to get up-close with nature. So the rebuke for Marner was incendiary. By the time they dropped the pick for the third period you’d have thought Bob Cole wasn’t the only person to pass away this week. Gloom.

Making matters worse, Matthews was nowhere to be found. (According coach Keefe, the doctors had pulled him from the game. Whatever.) When the contest ended with a Toronto loss, the postgame chatter was once more obsessed with Toronto’s failings, as if another team were not having its way on the ice. Where was the effort? Where was the intensity promised when Leafs management spread dollars like Easter candy among its Core Four?

Kevin Bieksa, typically the most salty one on the panel, reminded everyone there was a Game 5 Monday and that 3-1 leads have been overcome. But with Toronto’s success in comebacks being nil he sounded like a guy trying to sell you a penny mining stock.

The dressing-room afterward was mint. “You know what, that’s just the way we are,” Nylander said. “I mean we expect a lot from each other, and we love each other.”

“I don’t think there’s any (frustration),” Marner added unconvincingly. “We’re grown men. We were talking about plays out there that we just want to make sure we’re all 100 percent on and know what we’re doing… We’re not yelling at each other because we hate each other.”

Chris Johnston of The Athletic called it the end of the Maple Leafs as we know them. “They’re making more mistakes at five-on-five, they’re soundly losing the special-teams battle, and they’ve transformed from being one of the NHL’s best offensive teams in the regular season to one that can’t score more than two goals per night in the playoffs. Wash, rinse, repeat.”

Coach Sheldon Keefe, whose shelf life has about 60 minutes left, was enigmatic in the face of cruel destiny. “You can question a lot of things; you can’t question the effort,” he said.

He’s right about one thing. When this first-round ends in ignominy there will be plenty of questions from Pelley, newly installed at the top of the MLSE pyramid. Such as, why should I keep this management team that teases Waygu beef in-season but delivers ground chuck in the playoffs? It’s long been said that the league the Leafs have been built for doesn’t exist in the postseason. So why keep pretending it does?

For those not in the know, Pelley has spent the last few years dealing with the Saudi’s LIV golf enterprise in his role as CEO of what used to be known as the European Tour. (Insert your barbarism reference) So he’s used to dealing with nasty situations.

Maybe his first act on the Leafs file is reminding everyone that two teams play each other in the playoffs, and it might be a good idea to learn from what the winners are doing.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin . Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Stanley Cup In Canada? All That Glitters Is Not Silver

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For Canada’s glittering NHL prizes, the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, time is short. Having reaped a harvest of top draft picks through persistent losing they now sit atop the NHL, ready for a championship. The Oilers are still in the Western Conference championship series, battling Dallas in what seems like an even matchup. We’ll see.

Toronto, as we know, expired ignominiously in the opening round versus a very average Boston team. Knowing that their window is closing the Leafs fired coach Sheldon Keefe in favour of no-nonsense Craig Berube. But their wobbly balance between offence and defence remains to be exploited by opponents. It is exacerbated by the huge amounts paid to their Core Four Auston Matthews ($13.25), William Nylander ($11.5), Mitch Marner ($10.9) and John Tavares ($11 M).

That was lost in the relief of Toronto signing Matthews last August. Alas, despite Matthews netting 69 goals in the regular season, it was not enough. We suggested as much at the time:

1) While Matthews has yet to prove he can lead the Leafs anywhere but a golf course come May, he remains their best hope for any assault on the 56-year Stanley Cup drought. It might be a stretch to say the 40-plus-goal scorer in the regular season led them to their first postseason series win last April against Tampa. Patrice Bergeron he ain’t. But he didn’t hold them back, either. Not every Leafs star can say that. 

He’s at a point (26) where a number of NHL stars have morphed from stats producers to win producers. Bryan Trottier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Vincent Lecavalier are a sampling of guys who added leadership their tool box in mid-career and went on to multiple Cups. We will see if Auston does likewise.

2) Matthews’ decision to remain in a Canadian city is a huge relief for the league which has recently seen American stars abandon or ignore Canadian cities for the lure of their home country. Indeed, Matthews would likely have gotten all the perks of this deal elsewhere— plus the anonymity of being an NHL player in a city obsessed by the NFL, NBA or MLB. He could’ve maxxed his take-home pay going to one of the NHL teams benefitting from no-state-income-tax. And the NHL would get a huge problem with Canadian fans.

As Canada’s economy wobbles and players have a choice on lifestyle, Matthews’ decision to live in the Toronto fish bowl means that at least one CDN team is relevant. And, let’s be honest, he has a chance of winning the Cup that he wouldn’t in six other CDN teams. If that doesn’t pan out his contract is movable should he desire to move on before 2028.

3) Speaking of relief, getting the deal done is a break for new Toronto GM Brad Treliving. It was he who, as Flames GM, had to negotiate the escape of Americans Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk from Calgary. Had he not been able to retain Matthews in Canada’s largest market it would have not been a job enhancer. Now, he has to find a way to squeeze all Toronto’s glamour boys— hello William Nylander— under the cap and leave room for what they still need. Good luck, Brad.

4) Matthews’ commitment to Toronto means that a number of teams who’ve been delaying bold moves and hoarding trade bait in anticipation of his potential trade or UFA market can now move to Plan B. There were a number of U.S. teams poised to offer the Leafs the moon and stars— NHL version— at the trade deadline or to sign him next summer. This should now signal some activity by teams anxious to deal.

Ironically, the Leafs used to be that team waiting for a Toronto Moses to emerge in the UFA market. Remember Brian Burke’s unseemly longing for Steven Stamkos? Even when they got their local guy in John Tavares, the Islanders star was past his peak and has proved a millstone under the Toronto salary cap. This time they get a star in his peak years.

5) Matthews’ league-leading benchmark of $13.25 M. over just four years allows the NHL salary grid to fall in place behind him as the salary cap takes a bump in 2024-25. His deal will be the comparison for the next superstar contract that enters the unlimited FA portal in the future— although his max salary may chafe some stars who match Matthews’ production but have taken their teams deep into playoffs or winning a Cup. Don’t they deserve more? The expected rise in the league cap over the four years of the Matthews deal may help assuage that.

6) Finally— and most amusing— has been the response from hockey sweats to Matthews getting $13.25 M. For four years? To this crew who talk lovingly about The Game, this seems an awful lot to pay a guy for playing a boy’s game. That much? This just in, Matthews is criminally underpaid as one of the Top 10 players in a modern sports league. 

The dizzying $13.25 as NHL No. 1 would make him the 113th highest-paid player in the NBA, the 103rd highest-paid player in the MLB and the 88th highest-paid player in the NFL. As one perspective, Toronto-born Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of OKC Thunder— starring for Canada’s national team— pays about $13.25M per year in income tax.

Sure, there are differences among the revenues of the Big Four pro Leagues But, as we’ve written extensively, the @NHLPA sold out its stars in the 2004-05 CBA negotiations to protect average players and grinders. (Actually, it was a small group of stars pushed by their agents to stab Bob Goodenow’s strategy in the back.) They like to mock the product in CBA talks. 

Limiting the maximum contracts to 20 percent of the cap allows the league to have higher minimum and median salaries than NFL and MLB. (Hands up those people who buy tickets or digital packages to see the third line and fifth defenceman?) And pay lip service that it’s still Don Cherry’s Original Six league. With its cozy business plan there’s been little incentive to push the NHL’s business model beyond more expansion.

Also of note, if NHL doesn’t make its revenue target under this #CBA Matthews and the other players will have money clawed back in escrow. Great deal, huh? None of the other leagues has escrow, a device thought up by an NYC law firm and foisted on gullible NHL stars in secret meetings to break the 2004-05 lockout. Everything since then has been pantomime labour negotiations.

So good luck, Leafs fans. Enjoy Matthews and the star-spangled Toronto lineup. Things could change with the same guys making more money. But don’t hold your breath. 

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin— Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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Bruce Dowbiggin

The Most Dangerous Man In Canada: Emmanuel Goldstein Reborn

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Emmanuel Goldstein was once an important member of the Party but became a traitor. Although he was sentenced to death, he escaped and formed the Brotherhood, an organized body of rebels committed to the destruction of the Party and the party’s way of life.— George Orwell, 1984

For Canadians who think that rising commodity prices, carbon tax increases and corruption of the federal government are their biggest concerns, we have news for them. If you listen to the bien pensants of Canadian media, the greatest threat to the nation is Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

Just sample the ad hominems aimed at the man who has a 20-point lead in polls for next prime minister. “Pierre Poilievre is pretending he doesn’t know how his job works because it makes it easier” (Globe & Mail). ”Why is Pierre Poilievre so angry?” (Macleans) “Canadians deserve better than this nonsense… There’s a difference between passion and churlishness” (Hill Times). And this barb from Liberal member/ House Speaker Greg Fergus’ event :“Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives propose reckless policies that would risk our health, safety and pocketbooks.”

Even the compliments are back-handed. “Canadians don’t seem to hate Poilievre like they used to: Widely despised upon winning the leadership, Poilievre is now winning ‘preferred prime minister’ polls” (National Post). No wonder floundering Liberal leader Justin Trudeau just keeps the hits coming at Poilievere. “Are we a country that looks out for each other … or do you go down a path of amplifying anger, division and fear?” Scary, kids.

Look, partisanship comes with the territory in politics. Nastiness, too. Even in Canadian political coverage. Fine. But this welter of Poilievre loathing comes in the wake of a decade of collective Trudeau amnesia from the self-appointed keepers of the flame in the fourth estate.

Listening to a recent podcast featuring three bonafide Canadian establishment media grandees gave us a hint into what has been remembered and what has been forgotten. It doesn’t matter which three (I’ve admired all three at one time or other.) . They’re now largely interchangeable in their complacent attitude of Keep Calm & Vote Justin. .

The first— and perhaps most significant— thing you get from listening is the blithe acceptance of politics-as-usual in the time of Trudeau the Younger. The collapse of the old order of doing business in Canada since PMJT was elected in 2015 is never discussed in Ottawa’s polite company. Canadians’ distrust in their authorities the past decade is all so much conspiracy talk.

Specifically, there is a black screen where the Truckers Convoy should be. Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley’s found that “there was no national emergency justifying the invocation of the Emergencies Act and the decision to do so was therefore unreasonable and ultra vires”. ( Ultra vires = actions beyond the scope of the law.) In a rules-based society this condemnation of the extraordinary suspension of civil order in February of 2022 would have forced a change in government— if not a self-examination of society.

But, white-washed by the purchased media, Trudeau’s abrogation of the rules of civil society was made to disappear after Justin waved his regal hand. Which made what happened during Covid— the closure of society and the criminalization of dissent— inevitable. You’d think forcing citizens to take an untested vaccine at the risk of losing their job, their freedom, their health (now known to have been dangerous to many) would be preeminent in the discussions.

Nah, it’s all about Pierre the Petulant. The panelists discussed Poilievre as a divisive force, a threat to the Ottawa orthodoxy. None mentioned that the PM, who condemned his own voters as genocidal at the U.N. on the strength of rumours alleging murdered native babies, might have to reckon with his patented falsehoods. No, Trudeau is treated as if he’s Mitchell Sharp.

Blithely dashing off such bias-as-fact CBC’s news writers arm their listeners with information that doesn’t compute in a world that doesn’t work. (CTV News, once a sober option to CBC, is now running a close second in hysteria. CTV hosts regurgitate Hamas death tolls that even the New York Times acknowledges are highly inflated. )

The tell in media complicity is the repeated use of “climate change” as undeniable fact or the “religious right” as a substitute for extremist movements. Echoing politicians who wouldn’t know El Niño from the El Mocambo, highly respected commentators enforce the late-‘90s ban on any scientific skepticism of King Charles or Al Gore as weather wack-a-doodles. Condemning the faithful as conspiratorial (unless it’s Islam) targets a large chunk of Poilievre’s base.

This casual bias is also easily found in your garden-variety CBC Radio newscast. The feckless announcer refers to Ireland, Spain and Norway recognizing “The State of Palestine”. There is not today nor has there ever been a state of Palestine. Palestine was a British imperial construct until Yasser Arafat conjured up this faux-state. Until the 1960s, the people of this region held Jordanian passports. But out goes The State of Palestine to the ears of a gullible nation.

This reinforcement loop is epitomized by the craven re-naming of Toronto squares and roads associated with Henry Dundas and universities named for Egerton Ryerson. A noisy clique pounded home their blatant falsehoods about Dundas and Ryerson through the media portal. Now panelists who should know better pass on the lies as if reading from a restaurant menu.

There are also prerequisite references in newscasts to hot weather elsewhere in the world being attributed to Climate Change by “experts”. Is that Al Gore Climate Change? Michael Mann Climate Change? Greta Thunberg Climate Change? The one where celebrities make predictions that don’t come true but CBC neglects to fact check?

And don’t get us started on #LGBTQ issues which are spoken of on CBC with reverence while Christian churches burning is just the price of doing business with Poilievere. Needless to say that all this agitprop has hardened into casual panel talk by people who used to know better.

How did Poilievere get so hated in the first place? The general public has only recognized him the last year, so any previous impressions were shaped by the PMO and the water carriers they own in the media. When reality met Chrystia Freeland’s mythology, the public was baffled at the gap between the pictures painted for them and reality.

But, being Canadians, most just shook their heads and muddled on. The Left has learned to adjust to that old line, “When the fact becomes legend, print the legend”.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin— Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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