Bye-Bye Phil!

Phil Kessel

Good trade.  Maybe even a great trade.  Just over 24 hours ago Phil Kessel was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Fantastic day, in my opinion.  I was going to write this blog yesterday – the day of – but thought I would let the trade sink in for a bit longer.  I also wanted to listen to some of the local radio shows to hear from the fans that call into these shows.  I find a lot of these fans both comical and frustrating. Throughout the last few years most of these fans have been calling for the Leafs to move Kessel and his contract at any cost.  The impatience of these fans was frustrating. The lack of insight these fans exhibited was comical. It is not easy to make a trade in the NHL anymore. Salary caps and no movement clauses play a huge role. The dollar amount of Kessel’s contract was a huge problem under the salary cap. Couple that with his bad reputation and he would not be an easily moved asset! Despite the difficulty in moving a commodity like Kessel, the Maple Leafs pulled it off! Maple Leafs fans should be happy! They had been demanding this for a couple of years now! However, I had a feeling that this trade would not sit well with the folks that call into these shows on a regular basis.  I was not disappointed.


Dejected Leafs Fans

Many of the calls I listened to hated the trade.  Many of the callers thought the Maple Leafs didn’t get enough in return.  ‘Trade Kessel right now!’ they yelled and screamed!  Then the trade actually happens and what the Leafs came out of it with is not good enough! Frustrating!  I have no idea what these fans expected to get in return!  Oh wait, yes I do….the Penguins next 10 1st round picks and Sidney Crosby.  Comical!! The Maple Leafs got a good return on this player, better than what I would have expected…how do these fans not see this?  The elements have been broken down many times all over the media. What team wants an over-priced player with a reputation for being out of shape and lazy on the ice? On top of this, it has been widely speculated that the Maple Leafs wanted Kessel on the next possible train out-of-town as soon as possible. Based on all this, how the hell were the Maple Leafs expected to get anything more than a bag of pucks in return?


Phil Kessel Lockerroom

Phil Kessel scores goals. That is why he has the huge contract, that is why the Leafs were actually able to trade him to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Maple Leafs were lucky to trade him at all. The fact they got what they got in return is damned amazing in my opinion. I like the trade, I think the Maple Leafs like the trade, I think the Penguins like the trade and I think a large portion of Leafs Nation likes the trade. Guess who I think doesn’t like the trade (other than the fans I have been talking about)? Phil Kessel. That’s right. I think Kessel is in a tough spot and he knows it. I heard a brief quote today from Kessel and he said all the right things, but I don’t think he is enjoying the possibility of failing on such a huge level. Over the years many people have speculated that Phil would be happiest when he isn’t the major attraction on a team. He doesn’t like the spotlight. He doesn’t like the pressure of being the #1 guy. He did not like the scrutiny he faced in the hockey-mad Toronto market. He was the big star in Toronto, the pressure didn’t suit him at all. The Penguins are a popular team in Pennsylvania and in the U.S., but they are not anywhere near the popularity of the Maple Leafs in Toronto. Most of the Penguins players are virtually invisible on the streets. That is the kind of place a lot of folks speculated Kessel would thrive in. I don’t think so. I believe he is under the most pressure he has faced.


Phil Kessel

In Toronto, if he didn’t play well or slumped folks would often point at the lack of talent around him being a major contributing factor to his ‘poor’ play.  In Pittsburgh, when Kessel slumps with all that talent around him, who will get the blame?  Kessel.  During games as a Maple Leafs player, Kessel was shown many times curling off to the bench, instead of back checking (which contributed to his horrendous +/- rating).  What is Kessel going to do when he peels off to the bench and gets passed by Sidney Crosby – the best player on the planet – on the back-check?


Sidney Crosby

The three major parties in the trade are the Maple Leafs, the Penguins and Phil Kessel. It would be nice if all three major parties come away from this trade happy, I think the possibility of Kessel’s career being hugely affected will be the most likely outcome. In the trade, the Penguins lose some young, unproven talent. The Penguins don’t even have to pay Kessel’s entire contract! The Maple Leafs will help them with that issue.


Crosby in Warm-ups

The Penguins expect to take a pure goal scorer and surround him with some of the best players in the game. Other than all-star games and World Championships, Kessel has never played with this kind of talent. Kessel scoring a ton of goals makes the Penguins a favourite in the East. What is the downside for the Penguins? Kessel going into a hole and never coming out. However, with the talent on that roster, the Penguins would be able to recover.


Sidney Crosby Ring

The Maple Leafs did quite well in the trade. They unloaded a huge contract, at least most of it anyway. They got rid of a lazy, out of shape player who refused to play defence. The Leafs also picked up some prospects and draft picks. These elements are crucial to a re-building team. Prospects are always a gamble – there is no way to know for sure if they will become good players – but that is the chance every team takes. In the salary cap era of the NHL, draft picks have become one of the most valuable commodities a team can have.


Shanahan, Leafs President

The Maple Leafs picked up two early draft picks. The 1st round draft pick is conditional on whether or not the Penguins make the playoffs over the next two years. If the Penguins don’t make the playoffs at all in the next two seasons, the Leafs don’t get a 1st round pick, it will become a 2nd round draft pick. I think the Penguins will make the playoffs, they are that good of a team. What is the downside for the Leafs? The goals Kessel scored will not be replaced, not by anyone on the current roster and maybe not on future rosters for the next few seasons. But if some of the prospects pan out, they should recover some of those goals, which should mean a more balanced, deeper offence.



The Kessel trade was the major move the Maple Leafs made during the opening of NHL Free Agency. They signed 26-year-old Mark Arcobello, a small centreman with some offensive skills. A smart kid (Yale) who may just need a break finally. The Leafs also signed Matt Hunwick, a 30-year-old defenceman. Hunwick has bounced around the league and is on the small side. Hunwick skates well and handles the puck well. The Leafs also signed 32-year-old winger P.A. Parenteau. Parenteau is not a huge player, but another depth player. The Leafs re-signed Daniel Winnik and Richard Panik.

Daniel Winnik

Neither player is 1st line material, but are good 3rd and 4th line depth players. Based on last season, both were considered upgrades to previous depth players the Leafs had. None of these players will be superstars on the Maple Leafs roster. This is a re-building club and will need bodies on the bench. Signing elite free agents at this juncture in the re-building process is pointless. A waste of money, as one or two elite free agents will not be enough to make this team a Stanley Cup contender. The salary cap era has forced teams to re-build through the draft, instead of through free agency. Those days are gone. The sooner the crazy fans in Leafs Nation realize that the better. Be patient (and yes I realize 1967 is a long time), stop freaking out every day.

With Clarkson & Kessel gone, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for me. Getting rid of a few more players like Phaneuf, Lupul and Bozak would help my Leafs head a lot. The club is on the right track in my opinion, for the first time in years. And coincidently enough, my excitement level for this team is slowly growing again.

Babs Era Begins!

It has been almost one whole week since the Maple Leafs tole the spotlight from the Argos with their announcement of Mike Babcock as the team’s 30th head coach. What a mess that day was…the sports media went crazy and a certain section of LeafsNation smoked a cigarette about 36 seconds after the announcement. For those of you who don’t know me or don’t follow me on social media (and hey, why the hell would you?), I have a bit of an issue with a certain group of LeafsNation. These are the folks that flood social media and the radio shows after a Leafs win with comments about the team’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup. These are the same folks that will call in after a Leafs loss and suggest a million things they would do to fix a sinking ship. This happens no matter what number of game the club is at in a season…could be game #1…game #32 or game #79. I jumped on the Maple Leafs chat about 20 minutes after the news was announced and there were comments about being ‘a Stanley Cup contender right now’ and ‘start putting Babcock’s statue up’ today!

Bab's Results

These folks make me want to put my head through a wall. I cannot imagine living my ‘fandom’ life on such dramatic ups and downs. The Leafs are a horrible team and very little has been done with the product on the ice, and as much as a good coach can make changes, the players are guys who have to execute night in and night out. Last season’s Leafs club was one of the worst in decades. Babcock should make changes…positive changes….but his changes will only go as far as the players execute.

I like the hire, he is one of the best coaches in the game today (Quenneville is pretty damned good in Chicago). His gritty approach to coaching is what I believe is needed to survive in today’s NHL. Babcock is fully invested in a team during the NHL season, not to say previous coaches weren’t, but Babcock is definitely what many folks call a ‘grinder’. Some folks would definitely be unable to handle the daily stress associated with the constant pressure of the Toronto media, Babcock seems as though he would be able to handle it. All this is personal opinion of course, no way to know for sure until either he hoists a Stanley Cup in Toronto or gets chased out-of-town like the last few qualified candidates. Let’s be perfectly clear however, Babs will not hoist the Stanley Cup with the current roster….no way…no how.
Bab's Normal Look

Ontario-born, Saskatchewan raised…a graduate of McGill University in Montreal…Babcock has coached at just about every significant level of hockey in this country, CIS, CHL, AHL and IIHF. Babcock has won a gold medal as Team Canada’s coach at the 2010 Olympics and has won a World Championship with Team Canada in 2004. Add a Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008 and Babcock is the only coach (so far) to have achieved the rare ‘Triple Gold Club’ in the hockey world (Olympic Gold, World Championship & Stanley Cup).

There are only two glaring things left that I don’t see on Babcock’s resume…..a Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach and a World Jr. title with Team Canada – both of these are still more than attainable as Babcock is only 52. And of course a Stanley Cup win in Toronto is also not on his resume at this point….cue the insanely rabid section of LeafsNation…….GO BABS GO!

Suh Should Be A Dolphin….I Think?

I have been on the fence about seeing Ndamukong Suh in a Dolphins uniform for a few days now.  Prior to that I was on the fence about the possibility of Suh being in a Raiders jersey this season!  Several weeks…maybe even a few months ago…RaiderNation began getting excited about the possibility of Suh playing for the Silver and Black this season.  I never really gave the idea much thought.  In recent years the Raiders haven’t caught many breaks when it comes to football.  It would be fantastic to see a superstar player like Suh terrorizing AFC West quarterbacks as a part of the Raiders organization.  It would be fantastic to see Suh in a Raiders uniform, helping to bring back some respectability to the club.  As I said I didn’t give it much thought at the time.  The rumours continued among RaiderNation on Twitter, Facebook and other forms like the Raider Nation Podcast.  As I listened and read more I began to believe there might just be a chance Suh could end up on the west coast next season playing for Jack Del Rio.  That began to make me nervous.  First of all the guy is a bit of head case….he takes some stupid penalties that end up hurting the team in the end.  Maybe he would mature and not do some of the really dumb things….maybe he should keep that stuff in his playbook because he would be a real throwback to what being a Raiders play was all about.  The more I thought about the situation the less concerned I became about his play/antics on the field.  More and more I began to worry about how much money Suh was going to get from the Raiders.  As I write this, his is apparently still negotiating contract terms with the Miami Dolphins, and league experts/insiders are saying he will end up being the highest paid defensive player in the history of the league.  Which means a few million dollars over more than a couple of years.  It means a lot cash.  A lot.  The biggest problem clubs in the NFL run into when dealing with superstar contracts is how much is too much?  Having too much money tied up in one superstar limits how much money a club can use to surround that superstar with players good enough to help win a Super Bowl.  It doesn’t always happen…in fact it rarely happens in the NFL.  It rarely happens that one player on either side of the ball can guarantee a Super Bowl win.  Teams eventually have to find players to fit under the salary cap…this is why players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady seem to be forever re-structuring their own contracts so that the club can spread some of that money around for other players.  The more I thought about Suh in a Raiders jersey the more I became worried about how his contract might handcuff the organization.  When word leaked out that the Dolphins were the front-runners for Suh, I was actually a bit relieved.  The Raiders need a lot of players at a lot of positions.  Players that are better than the ones they have trotted out onto the field over the last decade.  That costs money.  Ndamukong Suh on the Raiders means a lot of money doesn’t go to helping a team that is weak all over.  The Detroit Lions have Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson – both better at their position than anyone the Raiders have had in years.  Johnson is arguably the best wide receiver in the game today and the Lions still didn’t do much with Suh in their line-up.  The Lions couldn’t afford to pay Suh what his market worth is so they had to let him go.  The Raiders need to be signing a lot of players in order to solidify their team before they run out and grab a superstar like Ndamukong Suh.

Raider Nation

Raider Nation

We are less than 24 hours removed from the NFL Free Agency period opening up yesterday and the Dolphins have yet to announce the Suh signing as official yet.  It appears they will have to clear out some money by releasing players in order to fit Suh’s new contract under the salary cap.  The Raiders had a ton of space this off-season under the cap, second only to the Jaguars.  Meaning they went into the off-season with a lot of cash to spend on players.  Having the money to spend doesn’t mean thing if it is spent unwisely.  The Raiders need to be better for a long time in my opinion.  Suh would make their defence better this season, and for at least some of his remaining contract.  But that would probably be it.  That isn’t good enough.

In the end, I would love to see Ndamukong Suh on the playing field in the silver and black wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks….but not at the cost it would take to bring him in.

Raiders Fans

Some Words To Live By…

Originally posted on my Blogspot site, which is no longer active…posted originally on March 13th, 2012

Tennis should only be played on grass or clay.

‘Chocolate’ is the only kind of milk.

Sports is reality TV.

When all else fails – steak medium rare please.

Wings – big, dry and the spicier the better.

Garlic can never be underused – add more garlic!

Microsoft not Apple.

My Canada includes Quebec, but not the U.S.A.

Burgers are king, not franchises.

I believe in the sky, mountains, oceans, prairies, the sun, the moon and the planets.

Mother Earth is everyone’s mother.

I believe in large portions.

I believe in mini-skirts and the push-up bra.

Curling is better than bowling.

Star Wars is better than Star Trek.

I believe in the wrist shot, the clean-up hitter, the 3-point shot, the sack dance and the 400-yard drive.

Newman is evil.

The Coyote should never catch the Roadrunner.

And no, I don’t ‘hate that rabbit’.

The walnut is underrated.

I believe in little green men and George Noory.

George Lucas did screw up Star Wars.

Real grass over turf.

Coke over Pepsi.

Snickers over Mars.

McDonalds over Burger King.

I think Bailey Quarters was hotter than Jennifer Marlow.

I didn’t care if Joannie loved Chachi.

Popcorn should always come with extra butter.

Gretzky should have been called for high sticking.

Hull’s goal was good.

I am fine with the last Soprano’s episode.

David Lee Roth is Van Halen.

Elvis, Morrison and Bruce Lee are dead.

Ice cream is the perfect dessert.

Doc Martins are a running shoe.

It’s Wendel, not Wendy.

I don’t care who framed Roger Rabbit.

Jersey’s shouldn’t be tucked in…ever.

I believe in sandals, bare feet, shorts & t-shirts.

Ketchup & salt are overrated.

Pizza is breakfast, lunch and dinner.

BBQ in the winter.

Cats need their claws.

Top 5 Television Shows…

Originally posted on my Blogspot site on April 20th, 2012…site is no longer active and this list needs updating!

Well, I was driving home, listening to the radio thinking about tv. How weird is that? Anyway, from time to time this blog is going to see me posts random lists of stuff I like or don’t like. It won’t all be lists, but there probably will be a few. So get used to it damn it! And this list is my top five tv shows. This is not a list of the shows I think are the best television shows of all-time, these are my favourite shows of all-time ok? Stop complaining damn it, just read and comment so I can disagree.

1. Seinfeld – This is the one show I can watch any episode of at any time. I don’t get tired of any of the characters, I haven’t seen any one episode too many times and can’t watch it again…I can watch re-runs all day, every day. The funniest show ever, in my opinion.

2. The Simpson’s – The longer this series goes on, the more I think I may have to drop this one from my list. The first couple of season’s are hard to watch, until Groening refined the animation. The seasons where the Simpson’s resemble their Tracy Ullman days are hard to watch for me. But those middle 10 years or so were awesome. Except for most of the episodes that centred around Marge or Lisa…probably my least two favourite characters in that show. An episode from the last 5 years and those Marge/Lisa episodes I generally turn away from. But the others, the Homer episodes or Bart episodes, I can watch all day….and probably have.

3. The X-Files – Nine seasons were done with the X-Files and it was all fairly good. The last two seasons where Mulder and then Scully had reduced roles really hurt this series for me, at least when the series was on they did. But I eventually bought the entire series and watched it from beginning to end. And the last two seasons were not as bad as I remembered. Seasons 1 thru 7 were just awesome. The characters rocked, Mulder’s dry sense of humour I liked, Scully I thought was pretty hot. The other cast members were cool,,,Cancer Man, The Lone Gunmen, Skinner, The Manicured Man….and Krycek…I hate that guy….For the most part I preferred The Truth storyline, but some of the one-off episodes were pretty cool.

4. Magnum P.I. – What a wicked show this was for me growing up. Thomas Magnum lived a pretty cool life, except for when Higgins was pissed off at him, which was most of the time! And he was always broke. But Rick still ran him a tab at the King Kamehamela Club all the time! Magnum got to drive a Ferrari and live in freaking Hawaii! C’mon! And the guy was actually pretty cool. I can watch a lot of Magnum, I have never had an Old Düsseldorf beer though….

5. Cheers – This show surprised me when I was thinking about this list. I was thinking of all those ’80’s and ’90’s shows that I spent a lot of time watching, and Cheers was the one show that I realized I watched as much or more than any of the others, and its the one show I can still watch a lot of when I think of those shows – Family Ties, Cosby Show, Perfect Strangers, name a few. And I can watch this show from any era – the Coach years, the Shelly Long years, the Woody Harrelson years, the Kirstie Alley years, the old Sam Malone years. This was one of the shows that was able to swap out more than one significant character and survive! Coach was absolutely hilarious and was replaced by Woody Boyd….who was also hilarious. And when Shelly Long decided to leave for Hollywood, I thought the show was done, but Kirstie Alley’s character was great! And better looking in my opinion. Just a really well written show. It may have dragged on a couple of seasons too long, but then again, look at the Simpson’s.

Anyway, that is my top five list of favourite television shows. It surprised me, both in the content and how easy it was to choose. Initially I though I was going to be forced to pour over page after internet page of show titles…..but nope….these five came to me pretty easily. So if I was ever stranded on a deserted island, with electricity, a tv and either a dvd player or a computer, I would just need complete series of this five shows and I’d be fine. With some food. And water. And some other stuff.

A RUSH of Memories….

Originally posted at my Blogspot site on Oct. 26, 2012….site is no longer active

I was at a RUSH concert in Toronto last week. I love that band, I have been a fan of RUSH since I was a little kid. I’ve been listening to that band for something like 30 years. That is a lot of Geddy Lee bass. It was the early ‘90’s the last time I saw RUSH live on stage. It had been way, way too long. Since then I have listened to their music, bought and watched RUSH dvds and watched the band on the internet. My wife and I headed into Toronto, looking forward to seeing a great show. I joked with my wife about seeing all the ‘Fanboys’ roaming around the ACC, geeked out on RUSH. To which she reminded me that I would fit right in with most of those ‘Fanboys’. Which is somewhat true. I’m not what I would call a hardcore RUSH fan. I don’t play an instrument, and I don’t have every lyric from every song memorized. The ‘Fanboys’ I joked, would be the guys air drumming and singing away all night. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that RUSH has ‘Fanboys’. It means the band has obtained a certain status in our culture. It means acceptance in a lot of ways. Growing up when I did, I was one of a few RUSH fans my age.

The RUSH fans were a bit older than me, they had been around when RUSH was touring in the ‘70’s. I was still in diapers in the mid 1970’s, so I wasn’t quite there with the core RUSH fans at that time. I knew very few RUSH fans back in the 80’s and early ‘90’s. Just about everyone knew who RUSH was, which definitely said something about the airplay the band was getting, but very few actual fans. But then again, that was Canada back then, the hard rock seen was in the forefront. There were only a handful of really successful Canadian bands in the hard rock genre. Bryan Adams was huge, but wasn’t my cup of tea. I did projects on RUSH in high school, which led to a bit of ridicule among my peers. Nothing I wasn’t willing to take though. Recently it has been really cool to see RUSH showing up in popular culture. Stephen Colbert had them on his show a couple of years ago now. The movie ‘I Love You Man’ had a ton of RUSH in it. There is a great scene in the movie ‘Fanboys’ in which RUSH is featured as the music of choice in the character Hutch’s van. Even more recently, RUSH is on the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Finally. It is a travesty that RUSH is not already in the Hall in my opinion.

I was told on Facebook recently by an old friend that whenever he hears RUSH on the radio he thinks of me. I hadn’t talked to this guy in decades, not since early high school. That was a cool moment. I take great pride in the fact that I have been loyal to RUSH all these years. Finally, RUSH seem to be getting the respect they deserve from the non-RUSH fans out there. Which brings me back to the concert we were at last week. I was utterly amazed at the RUSH fans we ran into. Geddy and the boys have gone on record in the past saying that the vast, vast majority of RUSH fans they see night after night are guys.

Which is still true, at least based on what we saw. But, there were a ton of women at the Air Canada Centre that night. I would guess it was about a 5 to 1 ratio (that being five guys to every woman), which is pretty good. Of those women roaming the halls, I would say more than half of them appeared to be actual RUSH fans. My wife is not a hardcore RUSH fan at all. She likes the band, she appreciates them and has for some time. I’ve known her for most of my life, and so she’s been exposed to RUSH for years because of me. She is a huge music fan, and has listened to her fair share of RUSH without me, but my RUSH fandom has definitely cast a large shadow over her RUSH experience. At this concert, I had expected to see a ton of women like my wife, women who lived with RUSH fans, appreciated the band and had decided to go with their significant other to a RUSH concert. Kind of a mercy concert? So I was surprised to see quite a lot of hardcore ‘Fangirls’ at that show. It was a sign to me that RUSH had expanded its borders so to speak. Having said that, it wasn’t the women I was most surprised at, it was the age of the concert goers that was the most amazing to me. At previous RUSH concerts I was always among the younger crowd which made sense to me, based on the popularity of the band among my peers, RUSH was an older fanbase. I was bombarded with young faces all over the concourses at the Air Canada Centre. Sitting right behind us was a ten-year old boy with his parents. He sat with his ear plugs in and appeared mesmerized by the show. I saw him right up on the edge of his seat a couple of times, which was an absolute blast to witness.

Next to these three people were an older couple (well, older than us at least – they were approaching 50) with her teenage son and a couple of his friends. The teens were musicians and loved RUSH. So three of these kids brought their parents to the concert, the parents had grown up listening to the band but weren’t big fans. My wife and I had a great time chatting with these folks during the intermission. Everyone we ran into was in a great mood and were more than happy to chat away about RUSH. The vibe in the building was just amazing, everyone was there for one reason – to see an iconic Canadian band. The RUSH show that night caused a flood of memories and emotions for me. I watched these young kids wandering around and immediately was reminded of myself and my friends taking the GO Train years ago to watch RUSH at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was such a great feeling of independence back then. We never got into any trouble, we were there to watch the show, we didn’t want to miss out on it in any way. We would get into Union Station, run out grab a street vendor hot dog and a coke, then rush back into to catch a subway up to the Gardens. It was always such a great time heading into Toronto back in those days. Toronto, as reputation goes, is a pretty safe big city and very clean, well….back then it was really safe. Which meant we had almost no fear of being on our own roaming the big city streets. I loved seeing the faces of those young kids last week, getting to experience that same thing I did twenty-something-years ago.

When we got to our seats, we settled in with our giant beers pretty quickly and were looking directly at the stage. The stage show hasn’t changed all that much over the years, obviously there have been some tweaks here and there, but basically it was a RUSH stage. The ACC was abuzz with anticipation, the air was absolutely electric in there. Everyone I looked at had a similar expression…it is hard to describe exactly, it was definitely happiness mixed with glee and a few other similar emotions. There was also a familiarity among everyone. Most of us in that building had been following RUSH for decades. Most of us knew what we were in for. Most of us had been to several RUSH concerts, had watched several RUSH concerts on DVD and had listened to some of those older songs a million times. That familiarity with the band, their show and their music was a great feeling. It was like going home for Christmas. Here I was in Toronto, at the home of the Maple Leafs, about to watch RUSH perform Tom Sawyer. It is a weird yet comforting bond among most RUSH fans.

Not too long after we sat down, the ACC went pitch black inside, except for the faint glow coming from the exit signs around the arena. Then, I got chills and a feeling of utter euphoria as the opening keyboards from the song Subdivisions came screaming towards me, rocked my ears and then bounced loudly off the walls all around me. The crowd came alive all at once, and it seemed like forever, but within seconds the lights blared at us……RUSH & close to 20,000 cheering fans were off on a familiar journey. There we all we, watching a few old friends do what they do best. What a night it was, it was just a great show.

I remember looking next to me at wife early in the show. She was watching the show, smiling away, lightly bouncing in time to the sounds rocketing towards us from the stage down below. I realized, again, how awesome she is. Not many couples can do that. Not many couples have as much in common as we do. Not many couple enjoy each other as much as we do. In that moment, I was in about as good a place as I could be. I would never be upset if I have to go to concerts with only her for the rest of my life. I don’t think I would want it any other way actually.

At one point in the show, I caught myself staring up at Wendel Clark’s banner up in the rafters. Clark is my favourite Leaf player of all time, so I always check out his banner when I am there. For a few seconds I stared at all those banners, Sundin, Sittler, Salming, Apps, Barilko…..I watched them swaying up in the rafters with the light show bouncing off them. Smoke from the few pyro elements of the show were hanging around up there in a haze. Again, memories came flooding back to me, from being a little kid at Maple Leaf Gardens. Back then there were no banners (the owner back then, Harold Ballard didn’t put any up) but there was smoking allowed in the building, and the Gardens always had this low hanging haze of smoke from cigarettes, weed, cigars and pyro. Last week, seeing those banners while watching RUSH reminded me of why I love coming arenas and stadiums. My idols are there. The ghosts of the players who have passed away are all over the place. My memories of players who are now retired are all over the place. My memories of past RUSH shows are all over the place. Being there, live, is so much better than watching games on tv, or concerts on DVD. The atmosphere of the building never accurately comes across on the television. The memories of being there live are intoxicating, while the memories of sitting on my couch and watching it all on tv, is just boring. I sat there, gazing at those banners trying to remember all the times I had sat in the Air Canada Centre or Maple Leaf Gardens watching the Leafs or RUSH. I couldn’t come up with a number, I couldn’t even ballpark it. I grew up watching the Leafs, I grew up listening to RUSH and these arenas were the places I got to actually get up close to these larger than life figures. Larger than life at least to me. I caught myself in a bit of a trance staring at those banners, my mind swimming past memories. I realized how thankful I was to have had the opportunity over the years to be able watch live hockey games and concerts. The show, the venue and the journey to and from can never be duplicated on a couch.

I realized years ago how much RUSH has shaped me, how much influence RUSH and their music has had on me, how much RUSH has meant to me over the years, it flooded back as I sat there mesmerized by the show. I have a history with RUSH, and RUSH has a history with me. We’ve been building and sharing this history for about 30 years now, give or take, I’m not 100% sure of the exact number. Whether I ever get lucky enough to see RUSH again, one thing is for sure, I will be listening to them until my last breath escapes me. And if I do get lucky enough to see RUSH again before I die, I’m hoping and praying my wife will once again be sitting there next to me.

RUSH, what a band, what a show. Thanks boys, it was a brilliant evening, another one I won’t forget.

Hobbit Review….

Originally posted on my Blogspot site on Feb. 26th, 2013…site is no longer active…

Well, it has taken a lot longer than I originally anticipated, but here I am. Back in the Outhouse! I have had a pretty busy time of it kids, so cut me some slack will ya? Sheesh. I have a new baby girl and she has been taking up most of my time, as I am daddy daycare throughout the day. And my job takes up most of my evenings. Anyway, I promise all 2.5 fans of mine out there, that this year the Outhouse will become more of a priority and will become what it was originally designed to become…….outhouse. A golden outhouse….of gold and some……gold.

Ok, on with the ‘blog’ at hand! The Hobbit is finally out! At least the first installment that is! And by finally I mean it came out in December and it is early February. Yes, I am way, way behind schedule. The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey crashed into theatres, at least here in Canada, on December 14th. I went to see it as soon as I could, which was only a day or two after the opening. I saw it again a few days later and then a third time in mid-January. When I first saw Fellowship of the Ring, I remember sitting in the theatre thinking ‘wow, this is a beautiful movie….and freaking awesome to boot!’ I didn’t have those thoughts exactly during the first viewing of The Hobbit. I was really unsure of what I was watching to be honest. I couldn’t make my mind up afterwards, and wouldn’t until at least the second viewing. That feeling scared me a bit. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge Tolkien fan and The Hobbit is my favourite of his works. It was also my introduction to the world of Tolkien, way back in Grade 5. My teacher at the time, Mr. Reid, spent the year reading us The Hobbit. I was ruined from that point on. It was from there I dove into the role-playing game of TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons. I bought fantasy/adventure video games, comic books and novels. So The Hobbit movie was really, really important to me. I was really worried that it wouldn’t live up to the public hype first of all, and I was also worried it wouldn’t live up to the standards I had set out in my head for it. Peter Jackson and his crew had captured lightning in a bottle, in my opinion, once with The Lord of the Rings but I wasn’t sure they would be able to do it again. Now, to be completely fair, there were some aspects of TH in that first viewing that were total home runs, but there were some pretty big question marks in my eyes. Large enough question marks for me that I couldn’t make up my mind about what I honestly thought of the movie. The last time I had ‘similar’ feelings was with the Star Wars prequels. I loved the original series, absolutely loved it….but I have a serious problem with those prequels. The Lord of the Rings is my favourite movie series of all-time, it replaced Star Wars at the top of my list. I never thought that would happen. Jackson’s movies were that good in my eyes, and Lucas had fucked up the Star Wars movies that badly for me as well. I went into the second viewing knowing what to expect, I went into that viewing to look at the movie a different light. I wanted to look for things I may have overlooked and wanted to give the things I was critical of a second chance. I came out of that second viewing feeling much, much better about the movie. Which bugged me. Surprise, surprise. My wife says I over analyze things, well, I may have been doing that with this movie as well. Needless to say, I was still leery of a few areas of TH and they were the same areas I was unsure of after the first viewing. A few areas though I had changed my mind on and was ‘ok’ with them after the second viewing. The third viewing definitely got better for me. For one, I was with my mom. It was a birthday gift from me to her (I know, I know big spender….shut up) and it is always great to be able to spend time with my mom. This third time, I went in with a completely open mind. I wanted to just watch it as a ‘movie’, without any preconceived thoughts or concerns or ‘likes’. So I sat back and just watched Martin Freeman and company do their thing. By the third viewing I can honestly say I like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Do I love it though like I did the Lord of the Rings? I’m not sure, it is close, but I’m still not sure yet. I will say this though, this is a beautiful movie and there are some things I really, really like. But there are a few things I’m still no sure about and they continue to plague me enough that I may not ever be able to say I like The Hobbit movies better than the Lord of the Rings movies. I don’t know if that is because of my fondness for the book or if it is just because the movies aren’t as good.

Ok, so moving on. I really liked the portrayal of Thorin. I didn’t know if it would be an easy task for the movie makers to portray his stubbornness and his lack of faith in Bilbo. They did just fine and Richard Armitage does a wonderful job with the character.

Martin Freeman is fantastic as Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is my favourite all-time Tolkien character and therefore I tend to scrutinize Bilbo’s big-screen appearances a little more. And Freeman is just fine. I have liked Martin Freeman since his early days on the BBC’s The Office and later in Sherlock. Freeman can play Bilbo the rest of his life as far as I’m concerned.

Ian McKellen does a splendid job with Gandalf, however the writing doesn’t allow for much ‘character’ with Gandalf in the Hobbit. It is just not there in the book. McKellen can act though, and he handles it all well.

The rest of the dwarves are ok, however we don’t get to interact with all of them, so future movies will probably be key in this regard. We do get a lot of Balin, played by Ken Stott. This is a great character and Stott seems to be up to the role. Balin is written well enough for my likings at this point. I hesitate to make any real concrete statements about the dwarves though after only one movie. I think when all three are out, I will have to re-visit the entire saga as one big story – obviously.

It is obvious Christopher Lee is aging, but he is able to pull off Saruman well enough, although I sense a bit of frailty in the character, which I am not sure if it planned that way or if that is just Mr. Lee’s age showing through.

The goblins and orcs are all great, the landscape does its thing and the computer-generated landscapes are fantastic. Peter Jackson’s sweeping camera shots were epic in LOTR and are the same with the Hobbit. I thought the pacing of the movie was great, I didn’t feel like I had been sitting in my chair for over two hours. The novel moves along quite quickly early on, and the movie does the same.

Primarily, I have issues with two aspects of this movie. There are others, but these two are what I am still having the most trouble adjusting to. The first is the ‘Pale Orc’ storyline. This storyline is all fabrication and I’m not sure I like the idea. Hopefully it ties in nicely by the end of the saga. Secondly, the Radagast character has me cringing a bit. I am glad the character makes it into the movie and I am glad Radagast has an increased role in the movie. However, I’m not horribly pleased with how his increased role is developed. I have never believed that Radagast is as feeble-minded as Jackson portrays him. I am also not fond of his ‘distraction’ with the orcs to help the Company get to Rivendell. Again, this is fabrication by Jackson’s team. I was ok with most of the fabrication in the LOTR series, but for some reason these two instances have really held my back from the giving the movie a completely fantastic review. I may be looking at this too harshly, but then again, maybe Jackson has gone too far in order to stretch this story over three movies. Time will tell. The last piece that sticks out to me in an unfavourable way is the Goblin King. He appears to me as a bumbler, whereas in the book I ‘read’ him as being much more intimidating and took him as much more of a threat than I see him in this movie.

The one aspect that really stood out to me is Gollum. Andy Serkis and Peter Jackson’s team have Gollum down, I mean – DOWN. When looking at this movie alongside of LOTR, Gollum might be the most complete, compelling and amazing character this team has done. The portrayal of Gollum in the Hobbit is absolutely amazing.

In the end, it is The Hobbit, and it is my favourite book of all time. I may be judging these movies a bit too harshly because of that. But that won’t stop me from enjoying them. At this point I am relieved that they appear to be better than the Star Wars prequels, which I absolutely hated. They almost ruined Star Wars completely for me. But that is for a different rant.