Ghosts of Toronto FC’s Past Laid To Rest

(Image courtesy of Toronto Star)

Sports are a funny thing.

So many people dedicate a large chunk of their lives to watching them with the hope that they can be part of something exceptional. Something bigger than themselves. The reality of only having one winner is that at the end of every season the majority of fans are left disappointed. And yet, you can always find them right back in front of their tv, at the bar with their friends, or at the stadium/arena watching the drama unfold right in front of them. At the end of the day they just want the chance to see their faith rewarded.

Sports are a language of their very own. Players come from all over the world and manage to communicate with their teammates and coaches despite not sharing the same language. Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco probably wouldn’t understand each other if they were talking about weather but watch the conversation shift to soccer and suddenly they’re on the same page. Bradley doesn’t have to speak Italian to let Seba know where he’s going to be, they just manage to find one another. That idea exists in every sport with athletes all over the world and it trickles right down to the fans. The city of Toronto is as diverse as they come and with that diversity you get so many different groups of people that get together and rally around their local teams. It’s why thousands of Raptors fans are willing to stand outside the Air Canada Centre watching playoff games on the big screen. They know that when they grab their jersey and head down to Jurassic Park, they’ll be amongst like minded people that care about the Raptors as much as they do. There’s something special about the shared experiences that sports are able to provide people with.

10 Years ago the Toronto sports scene was abysmal. The Leafs had just started their journey towards the basement of the NHL, the BlueJays had been stuck in a continuous cycle of mediocrity since the 1990’s, and the Raptors were just getting set to build themselves up to respectability. This city needed a hero.

Toronto FC was not it.

From the time Mo Johnston was hired to manage the club on August 22 2006, things went not even close to according to plan. It’s expected that a new club will go through growing pains until it can develop talent and start to win on any consistent basis, but Toronto FC was a laughing stock. The lack of leadership from the front office lead to poor decisions in player personnel (looking at you Torsten Frings) and a grand total of 9 people managing the club (2 of them were on an interim basis) before the start of the 2015 season. I’m sure supporters would love to forget that Jurgen Klinsmann was hired to fix the club, but that absolutely did happen. He failed. Miserably

The first glimmer of hope wouldn’t come until January 2014 when the club announced they had signed England international Jermain Defoe to go along with several other high profile signings. Apparently “All For One” meant very little to Defoe because a year later he returned to England and TFC lost their marquee signing. All the money, the promises, and the talk about winning was once again met with a large dose of reality. It would have been understandable if the fans walked away from the club to go support someone else, but sports fans are nothing if not loyal. It’s hardwired into their DNA

The real turn around came when the team signed Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore to feature in their star studded attack. The 2015 season ended in despair after a heartbreaking loss in the playoffs to Montreal Impact, but TFC had made the playoffs for the first time. Giovinco was also named MLS MVP after posting the greatest statistical season in league history. It was the first bit of success in MLS for the club and it laid the foundation for what was to come.

2016 has been what fans were waiting for all these years. There was a showcase of young players like Tsubasa Endoh, Mo Babouli, and Jordan Hamilton, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore formed a dynamic duo up front, and the back line has finally been stabilized with some key additions in centre back Drew Moor and goalkeeper Clint Irwin. It’s been a dream come true for TFC faithful.

Next week Toronto FC will become not just the first team to play in an MLS Cup, but also the first team to host one. Anything can happen in one game and Seattle might win. Who knows? All it takes is for a break to not go away and you lose. At this point there are no do-overs and no brilliant 2nd leg comebacks. But I watched tens of thousand fans cheering as loud as possible because their team is finally giving them something to cheer about. Winning the Eastern Conference is an incredible accomplishment but the players haven’t put in all this work to be satisfied with just being invited to the dance. They made it possible to feel like 2nd place just isn’t good enough. When you’ve made it this far winning is the only thing that matters. There are no consolation prizes.

Toronto sports fans have been blessed with so many great sports moments over the last two years . The kind of moments where years later you can recall where you were when it happened. The BlueJays have the bat flips, and the walk off wins, the Raptors have buzzer beaters and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and the Leafs have the lottery draft win.

But last night belongs to Toronto FC.

It was exceptional. A night 10 years in the making

 

Follow me on Twitter @_JaredClarkson

 

Advertisements

Maple Leafs Dress Up As Hockey Team For Halloween

On Saturday night the Toronto Maple Leafs were on the road taking on the Montreal Canadiens and despite it being a little out of the ordinary Mike Babcock let the players wear their Halloween costumes at work. If you looked close enough you wouldn’t see anyone on the team dressed up as a firefighter, police officer, Spider-Man, Batman, or any other mainstream costume. Carey Price dressed up as a brick wall/destroyer of hopes and dreams but that’s completely besides the point.

No, the players on the Toronto Maple Leafs all decided to dress up as a hockey team and this wasn’t a knock off costume that they might have made with scraps from their garage. They were solid in every aspect of the game and really looked the part. The fact that they lost the game doesn’t take away from the fact that they played one of their best, if not the best, games of the season so far. You could tell everybody was having a great time.

Perhaps too great of a time because they clearly forgot they had to work on Sunday…

After putting up such a good effort in a 2-1 loss to Montreal they came out the next night and proceeded to play one of their worst games of the season. For a team that blew a 4 goal lead to Winnipeg, a late 2 goal lead to Chicago, and just got crushed by the Lightning less than a week ago, that’s saying something.

Leafs fans are currently at odds with each other over where they think this team can finish in the standings. Some are willing to go bold and proclaim that this team can contend for a playoff spot while others expect them once again to be bottom 5 in the NHL. And honestly, they’ve been so inconsistent it’s hard to say which group will be right in the end.

Myself, I think the finish somewhere between 20th and 25th. This is a young team that has proven time and time again that they can generate offence and score goals. The amount of creativity that Matthews, Nylander, and Marner display on a nightly basis is enough to amaze even their harshest critics. But they’ve also been forced to lead the way far too often while some of the veterans take a back seat. Defensively this team is either hopelessly lost or just a little confused when it comes to playing in their own end. Not exactly a winning combination.

The difference is we don’t need the Leafs to win this year. It would be nice if they did but it’s not going to happen. Just like no matter how much you might want Nolan Patrick you shouldn’t want them to come in last again by tanking. This is the year we figure out exactly what we have in the young talent we’ve been accumulating. If we were going to tank this year there would be no reason to have Nylander and Marner in the NHL. Why? Because they’re really good at hockey. If we were tanking again I wouldn’t scream at the tv every time Hunwick and Polak step on the ice. I would want them on the top pairing playing against the best players on all the other teams.

You should want the Leafs to do as well as they possibly can. If that means they make the playoffs then we can celebrate because the rebuild is farther along than most of us thought. It will be young players that get us there not an aging core that relies on James Reimer channeling his inner Ed Belfour and making Randy Carlyle look like a masterful tactician. If they do finish near the bottom of the standings then we can at least take solace in the fact that we’re getting another really good young player that we can add to the best farm system in the entire league.

The good news for the Leafs is they’re still young and this core will get the opportunity to grow and learn together. Once Frederik Andersen finds his footing and the team in front of him tightens up on the back end a bit, they will automatically become noticeably better. It’s going to take a long time before they’re contenders but there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to build off of what they did last season and continue to take steps forward. They are not going to be the worst team in the NHL again. They’re too good for that.

Watch the games and don’t get too discouraged about the results you’re seeing on the ice. After surviving David Clarkson as a top 6 winger, Ian White as a future captain, and Raycroft and Toskala battling it out for the number 1 job, we’re much better off sitting where we are now. This organization dressed up as a hockey team for the last 10 years (remember in 2013 when it was believable for a second?) and we’re finally getting the rebuild we always wanted. This isn’t the year the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup but they still have a lot to look forward to. If you ever find yourself upset about the way things are going just sit back, take a deep breath, and remember.

Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are Toronto Maple Leafs.

Follow me on Twitter @_JaredClarkson

Now Is Not The Time To Panic. That Comes Later

I don’t take losing well and I really don’t like it when the Leafs lose (insert joke about Leafs losing)

Growing up I was rarely allowed to stay up to watch the entire game if it was a school night. I was able to watch the first two periods and then I had to go to bed. But rather than go to sleep and have to wait to find out the score I would either sit at the top step just out of sight or I would listen on the radio. The Toronto Maple Leafs were, are, and forever will be an obsession.

When I was considerably younger the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the 2005/2006 by losing back to back shootouts to the Ottawa Senators. I was considerably upset to the point where my mother had to give me an ultimatum; I could start being less upset that the Leafs were losing or I wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games for an undetermined amount of time. Not watching the games has never been an option for me. Even last year when the Leafs came last I watched approximately 70 games and when I wasn’t watching I was constantly updating my phone trying to find out the score. To this day my schedule is still built around when the Leafs are playing.

At the start of this season I was as excited as I had been in a very long time. This team won’t finish high in the standings but the difference this year is there are young, talented players that make up this roster. My excitement  was validated when Auston Matthews scored his 1st NHL goal against the Senators on opening night. Before the night was done Matthews became the 1st player in the modern era to score four goals in their NHL debut. The Leafs also lost the game 5-4 in OT.

Through the first 5 games of the season the Leafs sit 7th in the Atlantic with a 1-1-3 record. It’s disappointing because they could (should?) easily have at least 3 wins. On Saturday night they had the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks on the ropes and they squandered a 2 goal lead with less than 3 minutes to go. The disappointing thing is it wasn’t a game lost by young players making rookie mistakes. If that was the case it would be somewhat understandable and could be used as yet another teachable moment in this young season. No, this was the veterans that let this one get away from them. Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick were brought in to help stabilize a young blue line. Veterans that have grit, play the game the right way (Polak’s questionable hits aside), are real good pros, or whatever cliche you feel like using.

This is the 1st goal the Blackhawks scored on Saturday night.

https://www.nhl.com/video/embed/panarin-dances-in-for-great-dish/t-277752844/c-45564303?autostart=false                (Courtesy NHL.com)

Now lots of things are happening on this goal.

  1. Kadri gets danced pretty badly by Artemi Panarin. Not great defending but it happens
  2. Leo Komarov doesn’t really pick up anybody in this scenario. Not advisable. Common sense dictates that 5 on 5 there will always be someone for you cover.
  3. Nikita Zaitsev also doesn’t come away looking good. He’s actually in a good position to take Anisimov when the Hawks enter the zone but as soon as Kadri gets beat he comes over to help. He obviously recognizes the mistake because when Panarin makes the pass, Zaitsev turns his head and notices that Anisimov is wide open.
  4. Matt Hunwick is JUST getting into the zone as the puck goes in. On the replay he decides to step up into the neutral zone despite Chicago already going on the counter attack . That’s a pretty awful read from someone who is supposed to be one of the reliable veterans on this team. Are we really sure that Zaitsev is the NHL rookie?

Here’s a still from moments before Richard Panik tied the game late in the 3rd period

hawks-tying-goal                    (Courtesy @Draglikepull)

That’s right. Polak and Hunwick, the two veteran defence man in this group, let two Chicago Blackhawks get in behind them with just under 90 seconds left in a 1 goal game. HOW? WHY?

You can criticize Frederik Andersen for some things early on this season but how is a goalie supposed to make a save when he has two players standing almost right on top of him, and then a third player (Panik) comes and puts the puck into an empty net. That’s right. Not only are the Leafs D not doing anything to prevent Toews or Hossa from scoring, but when Panik picks up the puck seconds later Polak decides the best thing to do is to play  goalie. How was this pairing rewarded for their stellar coverage in their own end?

THEY WERE ON THE PENALTY KILL IN OVERTIME!

Despite blowing a 3rd period lead in all but 1 of their games the Leafs aren’t actually in a bad spot. Their goaltending hasn’t been great, their defence is horrid, but they are scoring goals and the rookies in the lineup have been fantastic. The biggest issue has been the veteran players not pulling their weight. If we are still in this position after 20 games then there might be a little bit of cause for concern but until then just enjoy the ride. This is a rebuild after all. They tend to take awhile

When Mike Babcock was hired he promised there would be pain and fans thought he just meant last year. They were wrong. We’re just getting out of surgery now and still have to go through post-op and the recovery time. Did you honestly think we could have Dave Nonis run our team and come out of it day-to-day? Not a chance.

Follow me on Twitter @_JaredClarkson

BlueJays/Rangers Brawl Offers Enough Blame To Go Around

When looking at a monumental moment it’s important to look at the context surrounding it. The Toronto BlueJays were on top of the baseball world when they won back to back World Series’ in 1992 and ’93. Nobody could have predicted the drought that was coming but they wouldn’t reach the playoffs again until 22 years later.

The 2015 ALDS did not disappoint.

The Texas Rangers took the first 2 games of the best of 5 but Toronto stormed back to force a deciding game back home. At the Rogers Centre. In the middle of a Canadian October. All the drama of the first 4 games was nothing compared to the 7th inning on October 14th. The bottom of the 7th alone took just under 30 minutes.

It all culminated with BlueJays slugger Jose Bautista taking a 1-1 fastball from Rangers reliever Sam Dyson into the seats in left field for a 3-run homerun. It remains one of the most iconic moments in the history of Toronto sports. Bautista celebrated accordingly with a bat flip that has been cheered, jeered, and everything in between.

Texas did not appreciate it.

Fast forward all the way to last night to Globe Life Park in Arlington for the last time the teams will meet each other this season. In Jose Bautista’s last at bat of the night he gets plunked by a Matt Bush fastball. On the ensuing play he slides hard into 2nd on a ground ball resulting in Rangers 2nd baseman Rougned Odor delivering a vicious right cross to his jaw and the benches clearing.

The Hit By Pitch

Let’s get this out of the way right now. The fact that Texas felt the need to retaliate for Jose Bautista hitting a monster home run in the deciding game of a playoff series is absurd. If they were so upset maybe they shouldn’t have thrown one of the elite sluggers in the game a fastball on the inner half. Jose Bautista has been putting those in the seats for years so do yourself a favour and make a better pitch. Professional sports is full of dinosaurs that still live by the unwritten rules that players should be humble when they accomplish something. Instead we should allow players’ personalities to shine through. If you do something iconic feel free to celebrate it. It’s embarrassing that the Rangers have been sitting on this since October and they still feel the need to retaliate in Bautista’s last at bat of the last game between the two teams. This whole thing should have been over a long time ago.

With that in mind, the notion that what Matt Bush did is somehow related to, or connected to the struggles that he has gone through to get here is disgusting. We should be applauding people that are able to turn their life around and make a positive impact in society. Waking up this morning and hearing people make a correlation between the two is sad. Cliff Corcoran wrote a great piece the other day about what he overcame to turn his life around.

The Slide

Bautista Slide

The slide was illegal. Whether or not you agree with new rules, Bautista started his slide as he got to 2nd and slid right through the bag. It’s pretty hard to look at that and think it’s a good slide. There is a substantial difference between going in hard to break up a double play and trying to take out an infielders legs to hurt them

Jose Bautista has been a great player for the Toronto BlueJays for many years now and I like  him a lot. He plays with the kind of emotion that should exist more often in sports and his abilities at the plate put him in the upper echelon of players when it comes to offence. Unfortunately his emotions can get the best of him when he feels like something hasn’t gone his way. You have to be willing to take the bad with the good and with Bautista the pros certainly outweigh the cons. Regardless, in a 1 run game it did not serve his team well to take it upon himself to seek retribution for being hit by a pitch and he should have at least been willing to deal with the fallout of his retribution. Anyone that watches baseball knows that when a player gets hit (and the team thinks it was intentional) they go out and hit someone to even the score. Bautista was far from the only guilty party involved but he shouldn’t be able to escape criticism. He intentionally used a slide that is currently illegal to send a message to his opponent. He’s not innocent.

It’s also worth noting that after everything, BlueJays reliever Jesse Chavez still ended up hitting Prince Fielder in the next half inning.

The Punch

https://vine.co/v/i0hBlhWJ5hd/embed/simple

This is the part where I criticize Rougned Odor but first I have to say that he throws a pretty great right cross. Say what you want about the guy but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cleaner punch landed in a baseball fight. However, all of that toughness went out the window when he smacked Bautista on the head with his glove. The punch itself was a good one though.

Rougned Odor has a history of starting fights with other players in his career and he also has a history of utilizing some questionable at best slides when sliding into 2nd. That’s a fact. I’ve said it earlier but there is a difference between sliding hard to break up a double play and intentionally trying to hurt another player.

The fact that he has a history of doing what Bautista did, and arguably worse, makes it a little bit strange that he got so upset about it being done to him. You either accept those slides as part of the game or you don’t. His reaction had nothing to with the fact that those types of slides are now against the rules. It was the fact that Bautista did it to him, and not other way around. His history of throwing punches on the diamond also makes you wonder if perhaps he wasn’t looking forward to this as soon as Bautista reached 1st.

While I think throwing punches in baseball is unnecessary and I don’t think the whole thing needed to come to blows (remember that this all stems from something that happened in the middle of October) this wasn’t a sucker punch. There’s a shove, Bautista reaches his left hand out towards Odor, and without being inside Jose’s head it looks like he’s cocking back his right hand to throw it. Odor just threw his before he got the chance. This wasn’t an example of one player jumping another and hitting him . It was two players in a fight. A stupid, ridiculous, and unnecessary fight. Just because Bautista lost doesn’t mean he wasn’t in the fight.

The Aftermath

At the end of the day there isn’t just one person that deserves blame. While I have no issue with the bat flip itself, Matt Bush shouldn’t have hit Bautista, Bautista shouldn’t have slid into 2nd illegally, and Odor shouldn’t have punched him in the face. Perhaps the umpires also deserve some blame for not keeping things under control.

This should have been over a long time ago and instead it escalated to the point where the benches cleared and punches were thrown. Hopefully now everybody can finally move on and put it behind them. We don’t want this turn into Fight Club because everybody knows you don’t talk about Fight Club

Follow me on twitter @_JaredClarkson

Auston Matthews Is Just One Piece Of Giant Leafs Puzzle

5. 6. 8. 13

Close your eyes for just a second and picture where you were at 7:11 PM on April 30th, 2016. If you’re anything like me you were sitting in front of a tv watching the NHL Draft Lottery show on Sportsnet. What you may not realize is at that exact moment, the Toronto Maple Leafs fortunes were trending in an unmistakably upward direction. The general public just didn’t know it yet.

Coming into the 2015/2016 season Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock had promised fans that there would be pain and he was completely right. Even the most diehard fans had a problem getting through all 82 games. There were more than a few hopeless nights but as the losses piled up the fan base was more content than they had been in a long time. The team was losing on the ice but behind the scenes the pieces were being put in place to ensure that this time, the pain of defeat would be followed by the joy of success.

Brendan Shannahan, Lou Lamoriello, and the rest of the front office have put together the Leafs deepest, and most talented prospect pool the organization has seen in decades. William Nylander is down in the AHL leading the Marlies on what hopes to be a deep run in the Calder Cup playoffs and Mitch Marner is averaging just over 2.5 points in the OHL playoffs with the London Knights. Those are just the most high profile names. You can add Kasperi Kapanen, Jeremy Bracco, Dmytro Timashov, Connor Brown, Travis Dermott, and Scott Harrington and you still haven’t listed everyone. The Leafs are making a puzzle but they’re missing some of the pieces. It seems like they’ve been perpetually looking for a #1 centre and the goaltending has seen it’s fair share of ups and downs.

5.6.8.13

At 7:11 PM on April 30th, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced to a room of team representatives that the Toronto Maple Leafs were the winners of the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery. Everyone outside that room would have to wait until after 8pm for Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly to announce the winner on live TV. The Leafs had found, maybe not the final, but easily the biggest piece of their rebuild.

But who’s name are they going to call?

It’s difficult to say with 100% certainty that the Leafs are taking Auston Matthews with the 1st overall pick this summer but it’s largely considered to be the consensus among among the people that really matter. There is the odd contrarian that thinks Patrick Laine should be the player that puts on the jersey (not a lot is being made of the fact that whomever they pick will be putting on the new jersey the team is unveiling for their centennial season) but the odds of it being anyone other than Matthews are so slim it’s almost not even worth mentioning. He’s the big, highly skilled, potential cornerstone 1st line centre that the Leafs have been craving since Mats Sundin packed his bags and moved west to play in Vancouver. Matthews will be the 1st overall selection in June and will most likely break camp with the big club. He’ll have to earn his spot but he shouldn’t have a problem doing that.

Aside from his obviously elite skill level, the other thing worth pointing out is that the Scottsdale, Arizona native (how cool is it that he’s from Arizona?) has an added level of maturity than some of his peers. Being a late ’97 birthday means that Matthews will have celebrated his 19th birthday before the puck drops on the 2016/2017 season. He’s only 6 months younger than Mitch Marner but because he was born 2 days after the cut off for the 2015 draft, he had to wait an extra year. Rather than spend that year in the NCAA or the WHL with the Everett Silvertips controlled his rights, he elected to turn pro and spend the season in Europe playing for the ZSC Lions in Zurich. The Swiss League might not possess the cream of the crop in terms of talent but it’s still a professional hockey where he had to battle against men as opposed to players similar to himself in age.

Winning the draft lottery is a giant victory for the Leafs. The team made tremendous strides this past season towards learning how to play the game with structure and discipline and the last place finish was not indicative of their progress from the year before. Adding another elite player provides Mike Babcock with another weapon to deploy  throughout the regular season but while the 1st overall pick is an important building block that will help the rebuild, it only represents a single puzzle piece. Any talk of this being the piece that turns them into a playoff contender is far too premature. There are still holes that need to be addressed, and will be over time.

If you’re a Leafs fan don’t feel bad about celebrating this win and don’t let anybody tell you that this pick doesn’t matter. Not all wins take place on the ice. For years the Leafs lost in the front office and behind the bench long before the puck was dropped. After everything this fanbase has been through it deserves to celebrate a big win. Pretty soon you’ll get to cheer on Matthews wearing the blue and white but at the end of the day; He’s a puzzle piece. A really, really important puzzle piece

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Bernier To Undergo AHL Conditioning Stint

On Monday I wrote about how Jonathan Bernier was struggling mightily for the Maple Leafs right now but you should still be cheering for him to succeed. You can read that here. That same night Garret Sparks went out and made history becoming the first Leafs goalie to record a shutout in his NHL debut

Today the Leafs placed Bernier on a conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. So what does it mean?

For Jonathan Bernier

According to section 13.8 of the NHL CBA

“Unless a Player consents, he shall not be Loaned on a Conditioning Loan to a minor league club. Such Conditioning Loan shall not extend for more than fourteen (14) consecutive days. The Commissioner may take whatever steps he deems necessary to investigate the circumstances under which a Player is Loaned on a Conditioning Loan. If the Commissioner has reason to believe or determines that the Club has used the Conditioning Loan to evade Waivers, or otherwise Circumvent any provision of this Agreement, he may take such disciplinary action against the Club, as he deems appropriate. The Player shall continue, during the period of such Conditioning Loan, to receive the same Paragraph 1 NHL Salary, and be entitled to the same benefits, that he would have received had he continued to play with the Club.”

A few things stick out from this.

  1. Jonathan Bernier had to consent to the assignment. He could have refused but given his current situation it was best to go down to the Marlies, play really well, and wait to be recalled. The Marlies play 3 games this weekend and then are off until they play another 3 in a row starting December 11th.
  2. Bernier can only be in the AHL for a maximum of 14 days so he will have to be recalled no later than December 16th
  3. He is entitled to both the salary and benefits he would receive if he were still in the NHL

Garret Sparks

For Garret Sparks this is basically a dream scenario. At this time last year he was riding the bus down in the ECHL playing for the Orlando Solar Bears (best name in sports?) and now he’s in the NHL. He’ll get at least one more start tonight when the Leafs play the Winnipeg Jets so hopefully he puts together another good effort. Reimer is nearing a return and expects to play tomorrow night. At the very least Sparks can continue to enjoy earning an NHL salary along with the other benefits of being a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

As far as the actual team is concerned this doesn’t really change their short term plans. James Reimer is this teams starting goalie and will play the majority of the games moving forward. They really didn’t have a choice but to get Bernier playing in an environment where he can have the most success. That wasn’t going to happen any time soon at the NHL level.

Long term there will be some difficult questions to answer. Reimer is set to become a UFA and Sparks will be an RFA, leaving Bernier as the only goalie of the three with a contract going into next season. It would be perfectly fair for Reimer to be looking at a deal similar to the one Bernier currently has at $4.15M and if the Leafs can’t get him to sign before the trade deadline they at least have to entertain the possibility of moving him for draft picks.

Agree? Disagree? What would you do with Bernier? Tweet me your thoughts @_JaredClarkson

Garret Sparks Perfect In Historic Debut

(Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com)

Record books are written in pencil so that people like Garret Sparks can come in and rewrite them. They aren’t meant to last forever.

Last night Garret Sparks, the 22 year old rookie goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs, stopped all 24 Edmonton Oilers shots he faced to become the first Leafs goalie to ever record a shutout in his NHL debut. When he found out after the game he was so overcome with emotion that it brought him to tears.

For a guy that was playing in the ECHL just last season it’s understandable why the emotion of the moment got to him. He’s been through pretty much everything you can go through on his way to the NHL.

Brian Burke drafted Sparks in the 7th round, 190th overall back in 2011. Not many players drafted that late even make it to the NHL at all. That in itself is a testament to the work that Sparks has put in to get to where he is today. According to TheScore, just over 19% of players taken in the 7th round between 2005 and 2010 made it to a single game in the NHL.

Once he graduated to the professional ranks from the OHL he managed to have a solid rookie campaign with the Toronto Marlies while also playing 10 games in the ECHL. Last season he battled injuries, and when he was healthy, he couldn’t find work at the AHL level so he played all but 2 games in the ECHL. That’s when he turned his game around.

“As a goalie, I find that my strengths are my size, flexibility, and ability to read plays as they unfold. Coupling those strengths with strong pushes from point A to point B rather than dramatic slides has greatly changed the way I play, and greatly increased my control.”

That quote is from an article that Garret wrote this past February for a website called faceoffcircle.ca. I highly suggest you check it out as it goes into incredible detail about the work that Sparks put in to reinvent his game as well as explains why it helped him.

The Leafs season has been tough so far. James Reimer has given the team some good stretches of play but for the most part the fact that they’re hovering around last place tells you all you need to know. They’ve been better than last season but there’s still a long way to go.

Moments like last night make it just a little bit easier to stick with the rebuild. Every so often you need a reminder that all the losing is going to be worth it in the end. There are players on this team that can be good additions to a contending team

Last night Garret Sparks’ performance wasn’t just good. It was historic

-Another bit of history for you. According to NHLdrafter.com since 1998 Brian Burke has been a part of 14 drafts as an NHL General Manager. Garret Sparks is the first goalie selected by Burke in the draft to play a game since 2002 and the first to win a game since 1998.

-Mike Babcock said last night that if Reimer isn’t healthy enough to play Wednesday against the Jets Sparks will get the start

-Joe Bowen’s call during the final seconds of the 3rd period

Follow me on twitter @_JaredClarkson and tell me what you thought of Sparks’ NHL debut