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.

 

Kessel.0

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.

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.