At the beginning of this road trip (at NYI, Fla, TB, then Phi and Tor back-to-back), getting six points would have been a reasonable goal. With only the Leafs game to go, the Habs have already earned seven points. Al Strachan discusses the trip here.
Let's not congratulate ourselves just yet - if some reports are to be believed, tonight is an opportunity to send Toronto into rebuilding mode. A win would go a long way in bringing out the Leaf Nation's "wait 'til next year" calls a couple of months early; a loss would go a long way in allowing a determined rival get up off the mat. It will be a tall order after a draining OT game in Philly last night. Fatigued as they may be, Montreal has to press and take advantage of the Leafs' depleted blueline.
Also from the Strachan article, Bob Gainey made this comment on Matt Higgins:
"He has talent on top of having discipline," said Gainey of Higgins, the Canadiens' hottest scorer at the moment. "He has a good sense of the game. He can play in all the major situations and in that sense, he reminds me of Lehtinen."
Ah, the Leafs. The mere mention of this oddly pluralized word polarizes Canadian hockey fans. The Habs faithful are #1 in statements such as "I don't care if we [win the cup/make the playoffs/trade Theo] as long as we beat the Leafs." With the possible exception of Senators fans, that is. So why do the blue & white invoke such strong emotions? Let's see...
- Darcy Tucker. There was a famous article a few years ago that named the Leafs as the most hated franchise in the NHL - this was at the peak of the Tucker-Corson-Domi-Quinn perfect storm. Corson is now long gone, and Domi and Quinn have mellowed with age.
- Andy Frost. "This... is... overnight." A celebrity PA man? Does anyone else find this pretentious?
- "Thank You Leaf Fans." I can just imagine the exchange last summer, after the ratification of the CBA:
Bettman: "As a nice gesture to our fans, we'd like to paint 'Thank You Fans' on the ice of every venue. Thoughts?"
Bruins GM Mike O'Connell: "Jeez, Gary! Don't you realize that this will cost us several dollars?!? We're not made of money like the Leafs, you know. Friggin Leafs. I bet they'll even paint extra words, just to rub it in."
Trevor Linden: "Extra words? How will this affect my escrow?"
- Leaf Nation. Leaf fans making the pilgrimage to Montreal, and rooting for the blue & white in the Mecca of hockey?? Sacrilege!
- Stormin' Norman Rumack. Says he: "Wendel Clarke literally carried this team on his back!!!" Someone please buy Stormin' Norman a dictionary. Then tell him how to spell 'literally.'
- The CBC. They are supposed to be neutral. Their broadcast schedule and their commentators reveal otherwise. Bob Cole and Harry Neale wear their Toronto Maple Leafs underoos for every game. At least Joe Bowen makes no bones about his fanship.
- Rangers North. Their team-building style consisted of gobbling up every high-priced vet available. Positively Rangers-esque, only it has worked much better. Until now. After picking up O'Neill, Allison and The Big E(rror), you have to wonder if JFJ has changed his office calendar since 1999. Next thing you know, he'll be investing in dot-com start-ups and asking computer salesmen, "Is this tax software Y2K compliant?"
- They're good. Post-Ballard, and especially post-Fletcher's-Gilmour-deal, they've been damned good.
Yes, the reasons are many, and they are varied. But lately, with their struggles, I have had twinges of... What's the opposite of hate? Love? No, not that far from hate. Less hate? Yeah
Honestly, the Leafy Greens - Kyle Wellwood and Alex Steen - are fun to watch. By the way, I call dibs on the nickname "Leafy Greens." And you must admit, it's fun to watch the Leafs in the playoffs. Who doesn't want to see Leafs-Sens in the first round?
Also, we make fun, but the Leafs players and brass have a tough job. If they displease the media, they are disgraced in the headlines. Of course, if you displease the Montreal media you and your family are disgraced in the media, and reporters will try to find some dirt on your pet dog.
So, to quit rambling, my point is that this Habs fan's hate for the Leafs is abating. I reserve the right to delete this post and never speak of it again if the Leafs win tonight.
On the Silence of the Trade Deadline
I expected more post-Olympic trade action than merely Calgary re-acquiring The Incredible Hulse. Everyone is saying it's due to 1) the earlier deadline and 2) the salary cap tying the hands of some GMs.
I proffer this: it is possible (although remote) that some deals have already been consummated 'in principle,' but the buyers are holding off until latest possible date to mitigate the salary cap effect.
What will happen with the Habs? I have no idea. Nothing major. I suppose some insurance in goal might be useful, but that would have to be a cheap, experienced vet, and I can't think of anyone who fits the bill.
Rumours are only rumours, but the number of times I see Jan Bulis' name pop up in trade rumours/suggestions makes me uncomfortable. Bulis is one of those guys who is more valuable to a team than whatever you could get for him. His strengths are undervalued (in both the trade market and when negotiating salary), but they crucial to winning games.