Sunday, June 25, 2006

John Ferguson, Jr. makes a big splash on draft day

News Items

#1. Toronto Maple Leafs trade top goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for goaltender and former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft

#2. Leafs draft Jiri Tlusty with the 13th overall pick

#3. Leafs draft Kulemin with the 44th overall pick in the second round.

I really don't know whether to rejoice or cry over the Tuukka Rask/Andrew Raycroft deal. To me, Rask was the brightest star for the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many Leafs fans figured that one of Rask or Pogge was expendable, but projecting goalies at such a young age is a tricky business. Rask definitely had more upside, and I had him penciled in as the best hope for a Leaf's cup in the next ten years

Picking up Raycroft is gutsy move by JFJ. It's really a make-or-break move for John Ferguson, Jr. My cynical side thinks he made the move to save his own hide. If the Leafs don't perform well next season, he's gone, so he might as well mortgage the future in hopes of icing a team that at least squeaks into the playoffs next season. But, if Raycroft busts and continues his lousy play at the start of the next season, JFJ could be gone within the first 25 games of next season.

To JFJ's credit, there were many reasons that Raycroft may have had an off-year last season. Raycroft's agent convinced him to hold out at the beginning of last season. He didn't play much in the lockout the season before. Boston got off to a rough start, and a goalie's psyche can easily be rattled. Raycroft is only two years removed from an amazing Calder trophy-winning campaign, and sources have said that he really wanted to play for the Leafs. A betting man would wager that Raycroft trains hard over the summer, and comes back hungry to show that he can return to the form displayed during his rookie campaign.

At this point, The Leafs have already committed to Raycroft. They might as well commit him to a long-year contract now before waiting until his asking price rises again with a return to form next season. This is a bet the farm move by JFJ, and he might as well go all in. I'm hoping Raycroft is open to a 4 year contract in the 2 - 2.4 million dollar range, which would put the Leafs in a solid financial situation, allowing them to lock in a legitimate #1 goalie at the lower end of the salary spectrum for almost half a decade.

The fact that the Leafs have a potential legitimate #1 goalie for next season makes me happy in one other sense. We are nearing the end of the Mats Sundin's career, and this move should signal to Sundin that the Leafs organization are committed to icing a competitive roster next season. With a low-cost #1 goalie, the Leafs should be able to sign McCabe, a #3 D-man (McKee, F. Kaberle, Kubina), and a legitimate first line winger or two (Elias, Samsonov) for Sundin.

I'm stoked that the Leafs managed to nab Jiri Tlusty and Kulemin in the first and second rounds. Tlusty is really the top guy I was hoping the Leafs would be able to secure with the 13th overall pick, and I was ecstatic to hear that they got him. I consider both picks to be absolute steals. Both players are hard-nosed, skilled scoring forwards that may be ready to step right in and contribute for the Leafs next season. Kulemin played on a line with Malkin and Ovechkin during the World Championships to give you an idea of the caliber of player the Leafs managed to pick up. Kulemin's stock rose quite a bit this season.

All-in-all, a good day for the Leaf's organization. My heart initially dropped to the floor when I read that Rask was. Upon reflection, I've accepted the trade for Raycroft as a calculated risk that the Leaf's GM took in the best interest of the future of this organization. If Raycroft returns to form next season, and the Leafs manage to pick up a few key free agents, Sundin may have one last hope for a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.


Further Musings of a Casual World Cup Fan

Wow, the refs really let the Netherlands/Portugal match get out of hand. 16 yellow cards were called, which ties a World Cup record. The 4 red cards handed out set a new World Cup record. Players frustrations boiled over, and there was plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving, which As a relatively new fan to soccer, I was impressed with the level of friendly play and sportsmanship displayed earlier in the World Cup, but there has been none of that displayed since the knockout round begun.

The winning goal by scored by Beckham was a thing of beauty. Beckham admitted that he didn't play very well today. After scoring the goal, Beckham was seen throwing up on the field, so he obviously wasn't feeling his best. But, when the game was on the line, Beckham delivered a perfect bending and dipping strike over the wall, catching the bottom right corner of the net.

I was very impressed with the play of Rooney in the second half of England's 1-0 win over Ecuador. Rooney had at least 4 or 5 impressive runs, and was the most the dangerous offensive threat I've seen so far in the World Cup. He was unlucky to not come away with at least an assist in the match.

It's very unfortunate for Portugal that they will be forced to play in the quarterfinals against England without their star player, Deco. It's rather unclear to me why he was kicked out of the game. The Netherlands player was upset because he accused Deco of wasting time by picking up the ball. He ran up, grabbed Deco by the arm, spun him around, and threw him on the ground. And, yet, somehow, Deco picked up his second yellow card and got kicked out of the game.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

The World Cup from the eyes of a casual fan

It looks like Germany has this one wrapped up. They're up 2-0 at the half, they've dominated the scoring opportunities, and the ref just sent Swedish player Teddy Lucic off on two weak yellow cards. I couldn't believe they kicked a player out of the game for sticking his hand out to slow down a player at mid-field. I recognize that a foul should have been called, but that was a terrible reason to kick a player out of a playoff match. If Sweden can score one early in the second half, things will get interesting. Otherwise, it's hard to stay excited. It's always nice to see the host country stay alive in the knockout round, as hometown fans add an air of excitement to any match.

It's too bad that so many of these games are played during the workday. I've taped a couple games, and watched them when I get home from work, but it's tough to get through the day without accidentally overhearing how the game went.

I was hoping for a good result from the US soccer team. Given how high they were ranked
at the beginning of the tournament, winning a couple games in the knockout stage would've given a chance for the sport to gain some media exposure here. After the 3-0 loss to the Czechs, the US played well enough against Italy to keep their hopes alive, but they couldn't get the job done against Ghana.

I'm looking forward to the Argentina-Mexico game this afternoon. Outside of that, the Brazil-Ghana and Italy-Australia games intrigue me the most.