How many times have you heard someone speaking of their favourite team utter the sports cliché “they’re three to five years away?”

Now that the Leafs appear to have established a sound foundation through the draft, the logical query for the fan base is how long before we see a Champions parade?

It’s a very interesting request because the beauty of sports is the unknown thus why they play the games. Parity in the NHL is head and shoulders above the other Major Professional Leagues in North America which begs the question, “Who are the legit contenders to win it all?”

The immediate responses usually heard range from, 3-years away, they are “too young”, “need more experience”, “need confidence”, “missing a couple players” and so on. These are nothing more than “white noise” excuses to ease the burden of growing pains, but mostly losing.
Players play a long time before they reach the NHL and the concept of the game has been the same for 100 years. Out score the other team. Period. Granted, the approach, systems, analytics and training have all changed over the decades along with the player that continues to get bigger, stronger, faster and younger.

They say a player is young but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to play the game once he reaches the highest level because since the said player first laced on a pair of skates, he’s adjusted to the level of compete, speed and execution. The challenge is whether the new player can produce at the highest league.

Confidence is not something that just arrives by Fed-ex one day, its earned.

A student can show up for school everyday for a year but when an exam is placed in front of them, they implode. Yet if the student has studied hard and put in the time at the library or at home, the chances of success are accentuated immensely because being prepared is confidence. No different than the player who trains beyond his limits vs. the one who coasts through the summer. Who do you think will have more confidence entering training camp?

Sophomore jinx? The second year player has not forgotten how to play the game but other teams are aware of how quickly he adapted warranting more attention and if not prepared to push his level of compete; teams will adjust to shut him down.
The sophomore jinx is an excuse.

Management’s role is critical because obviously not only must they acquire the players, they must also nurture the team’s progress through the peaks and valleys the club will experience.

If a coach isn’t prepared, how can he expect his team to execute at an elite level game in and out? In today’s NHL, a player can’t hide if the preparation is substandard because as the game continues to get younger, the competition for jobs is at an all-time high and the depth of most organizations has never been stronger.

There is a fine line between the “win now” and “win at any cost” scenario because team fortunes are a bad bounce, break or injury, a shift away.
There is no time frame for a team to win today and yes you must draft well and fill in the holes with roll players. There is a growing curve, no question, but it’s much shorter than it’s ever been. I’m not talking about an instant Stanley Cup Championship because even the most ready team can lose at the hands of a fluke goal or injury but my contention is if a player is good enough to play at the level, he’s good enough to win. But like anything in business it all starts from the top and how management handles the day-to-day challenges and the attention to detail filters throughout the organization. Like losing, winning is contagious.

The difference between winning and losing narrows as the years pass and this past Stanley Cup final witnessed a sixteenth seed as a finalist. So the message is quite simple; anyone can win at any time and the team that wants it more usually wins. That same mantra can apply to everyday life but I’ll leave you with this great quote from Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock that sums it up,

“Never let your talents override your work ethic.”

The level of “compete” in the NHL has never been higher or more promising as team’s gear up for the 100th season a few weeks from now. The league continues to get younger albeit a few of the older signings over the summer may refute that statement but nevertheless. The Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs on the second last day of the regular season and gave the first place Washington Capitals all they could handle; yet a spot in the Stanley Cup dance next year has no assurances. The Leafs a couple of regular season wins or losses from first or elimination weren’t alone with injury plagued teams like Tampa, Philly, Carolina, Florida all knocking on the door; they’ve all upgraded their lineups and will be in the thick of the playoff race this season.

The Western Conference is similar with the Kings, Stars, Jets all improved; remember Stanley Cup finalist Nashville was an 8th seed.

I believe the term for this is parity!

In the 2016-17 NBA season 13 teams were below 500 and 3 even board; that’s over half the league below 500 or barely even. Toronto won 51 games matching Cleveland’s number of victories, but was embarrassingly manhandled in the playoffs trailing a few of those games to the Cavs by 50+ points! Boston finishing two games better, experienced the same humiliation in the Eastern Final, making a mockery of the postseason. The Western teams didn’t fare much better against Golden State and the landscape outside of an injury doesn’t look any rosier for the NBA also ran’s. The league is a joke and nothing but an 80 game exhibition season for two teams (Lebron James has pretty much stated he’ll go easy during the regular season and save for playoffs).

Major League Baseball defies all logic and who says, “Money can’t buy Happiness” as the rich, continue to get richer. As a player, the logo on the front of your jersey better be one of a half dozen teams with a chance or you’re an innings eater for the big boys. Yes some teams will experience the unexpected lights out season every couple years and expansion of the wildcard chase on occasion make for an interesting September. But by and large 20 teams are done by the end of May most years.

The NFL while the most popular by a wide margin, finds itself in a similar situation as baseball. The field is tilted in favour of the same half a dozen teams year in and out (believe me I know, I cheer for the Bills). The game-day rituals, tailgating, house parties, office pools, gambling, short schedule, games once a week, dwarfs the actual game, unless your team is one of the chosen few. Brilliant marketing has turned Sundays into an event rather than the actual outcome for most of the league, unless you’re in a pool or have action on the game. This is unmatched in any sport.
But it still doesn’t take away from the fact that the product from an entertainment standard is decent, but the disparity between the upper and lower echelons is widening at an alarming rate.

While some may point out that this anomaly will correct itself and the NHL will slip back over time, I’m not so sure that will happen. The NHL continues to expand globally within countries like China who want to introduce the game at the school level of sport (or at least that’s the hope). They will ice a team in the 2022 games in Beijing along with a current KHL participant, a Junior team and a Woman’s team competing in Canada. They are currently hosting a couple NHL exhibition games this week.

The game continues to grow in the USA and the potential is unlimited. The game will always be popular in the obvious European Nations and Russia; if anything leaves the door open for a World League in the future.

Hockey fans have reason to be excited by turning on a game knowing the product is at an elite level for most of the league. Agreed that some teams like Colorado and Arizona are struggling, but the hunt for talent is opening untapped markets worldwide and with prospects getting younger, rebuilds offer hope. Limited expansion along with the league getting younger is creating competition for ice time. And because “young veterans” are losing jobs with the parent NHL team, it’s creating more competition at the minor league level enforcing the depth of today’s teams filtering throughout most organizations.

While the NHL still trails the other Leagues in popularity, the gap is starting to narrow. Fans are tired of selfish athletes like Lebron James or the other stiff Kyrie Irving that was upset he played under 23’s shadow so wanted a trade to be top dog! The domestic violence troubling the NFL, drug issues or even the Colin Kaepernick situation are embarassing and the bumbling antics of their commissioner to deal with these issues, magnifies the problems. MLB has similar problems dealing with the steroid scandals, domestic violence and drugs. The NHL isn’t squeaky clean but compared to the other leagues? They are angels.

Hockey fans enjoy the resurgence and growth of the game we all love and admire. It’s nice to share the game of hockey with new fans or even the casual observer who are finally waking up to the fact they are watching the greatest game in sports.

We are Canadian and don’t like to brag, but we already knew that!

Most of you that follow are aware a major part of our collection which has been deemed to be of “outstanding significance and national importance” by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review has been acquired by the Canadian Museum of History, located in Ottawa. When the official announcement was made last Friday it ended three long, tedious, onerous, stressful and emotional years of negotiations. The response from the masses has been greatly supportive and for that we are forever grateful, however there has been some pushback from Toronto and Ottawa patrons.

The pressing question seems to be Why Ottawa? That’s Senators territory. It’s in Quebec? That’s Montreal! Aren’t these the sworn enemies on the ice? The Museum is located across the river or a driver, wedge (or in my case 2 lost balls and a drop) from the Parliament buildings.

Let’s be clear about one thing; this is Canada’s National Museum, located in the Nations Capital and has absolutely nothing to do with the Ottawa Senators or Montreal Canadiens. Deb and I carefully examined the many options that were presented to us and all the obvious players were considered. The Leafs were in transition rebuilding the fine product we are about to be presented with in a few weeks. Tim Leiweke’s departure a few years ago certainly didn’t help our process or the movement of personnel during that period, but we did have many conversations. MLSE lead by Brendan Shanahan have been nothing but supportive of our efforts and we have hosted events attended by numerous members of the team including Larry Tanenbaum and Mike Babcock and will continue to work with them moving forward.
The HHOF is in a different situation and a first class group that would have happily welcomed us but they cover hockey globally and that didn’t fit with our objective. Because they have to rotate the exhibits frequently with so many areas to cover, they couldn’t possibly commit to a permanent display. That is basically what the decision came down to.

Our goal is to have a permanent display that focuses on Canada’s contribution, past, present and future to hockey from a Canadian only perspective. We want to be a part of the initiative and continue to help build the program.
Canada has been instrumental in the development of the four major sports (much to the chagrin of our friends south of the border) and while an argument can be made either way regarding baseball, football and basketball, there is no denying hockey and the Canadian role.

How many of you know about the Coloured Hockey League founded in Nova Scotia in 1895 that operated until 1925? It employed 400 African Canadians, was credited with the first slapshot used in a game and allowed goaltenders to leave their feet to cover a puck.

We have a Canadian National Team for the deaf (I’m in process of setting a day for them to visit) along with a league for the blind. What do we know about the aboriginal contribution to the game of hockey? With the demographic of Canada changing, diversity certainly has played a role in the advancement of the game.
The Women’s game has grown organically and internationally; a team from Beijing will compete in the CWHL this year challenging for the Clarkson Cup as the league expands.

The game is much more than the seven NHL teams, the National men and women’s programs; how about the development at the grassroots level?

Our dream to have a permanent site that addresses the game from everything Canadian is very possible at the Museum of History; they have the space, time, location and ingenuity to see this through to fruition. The HHOF has enough to continue their great work on all things pertaining to hockey including internationally covering the Olympics, World Championships and European Leagues.

The Canadian Museum of History should be our version of the Smithsonian. Period. They have as I mentioned earlier, deemed our collection to contain “historical artifacts of National importance.” Researchers, historians and fans alike should have the opportunity to view these items along with hundreds from the archives.

The Museum hosts over 1 million visitors a year; the “Hockey More Than Just a Game” exhibit will draw 200,000 visitors when it ends its 6 month run the first week of October this year. In November it’ll open in Montreal followed by Winnipeg; negotiations with other locations are on going. I suggested to the Museum, Beijing as a possible destination; the game continues to grow in that country exponentially leading up to the 2022 Olympics. During the past NHL final the Chinese TV feed averaged 22 million a game; our networks are over the moon with 4-5 million.

Sadly my dream like anything at this level takes time and the ever present elephant in the room, funding. What doesn’t? A proud Canadian has to start the ball rolling on this initiative and I plan to spearhead this project to find the means.

I firmly believe a permanent display on Canada’s role in sports, lead by Hockey of course, will one day be realized and my collection, which also includes Team Canada artifacts along with numerous historic Wayne Gretzky items, will be the foundation to build.

So have the faith folks and think long term, because nothing bridges the gap of unity in Canada more than Hockey.

As I said in Ottawa on Friday it’s about time we step up and take pride in the great game of Hockey and our contribution, because nothing identifies us more as Canadians or defines us more as a nation.

“All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So I must be on my way
And face another day”

George Harrison’s lyrics, while a little dramatic, sum up how I feel with my collection moving to a new home. The Museum of History in Ottawa has taken over a large portion of Maple Leaf artifacts I’ve accumulated the last 50+ plus years, thus its only fitting I offer my own personal eulogy.

We knew the day would come when our succession plan would be executed; kids moving on, retirement, travel and burden of a big house with only two people. We also knew the collection needed a new home and not subject to boxes and storage lockers. Deb and I started the long road 4 years ago and had many discussions with the Leafs, HHOF and a number of corporations. There was talk of a traveling exhibit, permanent home in its own site or even a restaurant. A few real estate agents approached about buying the whole house lock stock and Maple Leaf game used sticks, but wasn’t something that interested us.

A representative of the Canadian museum in Ottawa contacted us a few years ago and wanted to know if they could borrow a Beatles poster we own for an exhibit planned in 2018. Deb followed up (as she does on all requests) and there was some validity to the request, however about a month later another inquiry came about borrowing pieces for a Hockey exhibit in Ottawa, 2017.

We looked at each other and shrugged in bewilderment thinking it was just another strange inquiry we receive on a regular basis. Another email followed a few days later and completing her due diligence Deb thought this may have some credibility, so we invited the curator over to discuss lending a few pieces for the exhibit. When the curator arrived and walked down the steps to “The Room”, to say she was overwhelmed would be an understatement. It’s a look we have seen hundreds of times and never tire of seeing.

The immediate reaction was that they’d like more than a few pieces for the exhibit. As the curator continued touring the Room she questioned what we would do with this one day. We explained we were planning a succession plan and mentioned a few of the establishments we’d spoken too. She casually said, “How about us?”

A few days later we were contacted by The Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa who invited us to the Nations capital to discuss the possibilities of working together. After touring some of the other museums, we had an escorted tour of the archives, preservation facilities, followed by a lunch with the whole team. Needless to say, Deb and I came away very impressed. They stressed the fact I would be an integral part with the project, a permanent display, naming rights and there’d be on going purchases in the future, keeping me more engaged. It’s exactly what I was looking for because my life’s work assembling this historical tribute to the Toronto Maple Leafs should be preserved forever and for all Canadians to have the right to see.

It was an onerous and stressful process dealing with groups of appraisers as every item has to have a Canadian comparative and as you know, most of my items are one of a kind so the challenge was coming to a fair price. Where we were in total disagreement we held back, so hundreds of significant pieces are still in our possession and back in place in the Room.

The final move took place a month ago and to say that was a dark day in the house would definitely be an understatement. Realty set in the next morning when I struck up the courage to make my way down the stairs to look at the blank walls.

I will admit I sat for what seemed ages wondering what I’d just done and if I drove fast, maybe I could head the truck off before it reached Ottawa and send it back.

Realization set in, and I know I’d made the right decision and hopefully millions of Canadians in the future will observe and enjoy the collection in its new home.

My real dream is that some corporation will come forward and create a permanent display that focuses strictly on the game from the Canadian perspective. The HHOF cover the game internationally and does a wonderful job, but there is room for our own museum. Hockey in Canada is not just the pro teams but women’s, the coloured league, sledge, amateur and grassroots to highlight a few topics that should be uncovered.

If Scotiabank can spend $800 million for naming rights to an Arena, why can’t a Canadian Institution spend a nominal amount to preserve our National heritage that defines us as a nation?

I’m sure by now everyone has seen the Matt Niskanen hit on Sidney Crosby that has probably ended his Stanley Cup participation. What I find fascinating is the mixed reviews on whether the hit was dirty or as the experts are saying, “a Hockey play.” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle is in that camp, but I wonder if he didn’t have skin in the game would he have the same view? The Rangers have no issue either and interestingly they are still in the playoff tournament. Caps coach Barry Trotz obviously can’t understand the fuss with the body contact. Keep in mind this is the same guy who wanted Nazim Kadri charged with the Kennedy assassination after the hip on hip body check to Ovechkin the previous series; especially after the embarrassingly academy award fake injury performance by number eight.

You have to keep in mind the talking heads have to be careful not to upset the NHL (Bettman) being to critical of the league, particularly the officials or they may see a schedule of Arizona Coyote and New Jersey Devil games as their lineup next year. Ask Ron McLean what it cost him for questioning the leagues Lord and Master about the stability of the leagues weak franchises.

Niskanen and Crosby have history as far back as 2010 when he played with Dallas; Crosby rag dolled and punched him out during one of their scuffles. Early in this series Niskanen well after the play crosschecked Crosby in a defenseless position from behind. Last game he ran Crosby into the goal post following a great setup to Phil Kessel who had just buried the puck behind Holtby.

Ovechkin is another beaut that at 6’3, 240 lbs rarely hits a player head on unless the opponent is in a vulnerable position. His stick slashes to Crosby’s head (from behind) lead to Sid falling unable to protect himself. Niskanen was lining him up regardless, but instead crosschecked Crosby in the head. Was it intentional, cowardly and gutless? Damn straight it was!

Calgary Flames defenseman Denis Wideman received a 20 game suspension for a reaction hit on an official and now being sued by Don Henderson, the linesman in question. Niskanen was staring Crosby dead on, so it was no surprise reaction.

The problem the NHL has is they want to limit fighting but without it, this is the type of cowardly behaviour it’s producing. Players have to be responsible and accountable for their actions with or without the puck. The stick work in the playoffs is probably at an all time high, showing no signs of easing. The conundrum facing the NHL is how to deal with this without creating a double standard for certain players. It’s funny how Oshie’s called non-high stick against Bonino last game was the reversal of last year’s playoff when Oshie feigned a high stick to the face with you guessed it, Bonino the offender. Coincidence? Karma? Payback?

I want to be clear that the NHL playoffs are the most competitive and elite level of play in all professional sports. For further confirmation (if you can stomach it) observe the Raptors pathetic level of compete against a team they tied for in wins during the regular season. The NHL playoff games move into overdrive as each win mounts and the referees allow the players to play the game. Fair enough.

All we fans and players are asking is consistency in the way games are officiated. It’s because of this reason players take more liberties with the whistle away and they don’t have to answer for their actions to another player.

The Penguins wouldn’t need to go far to instill some higher level of compete in the lineup than looking no further than behind the bench. Assistant coach Rick Tocchet a member of the 1992 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburg Penguins was a rugged no nonsense type of player who scored 440 goals over 18 seasons. He could also handle things pretty well with his fists if it was required. Can you imagine if they had Tocchet throw that number 92 Pens jersey over his head for the playoff run? Let’s just say they’d have a better chance of finding Malaysian Airlines flight 370 or Jimmy Hoffa before they’d spot Niskanen or Ovechkin. And Washington energy guy Tom Wilson taking liberties with unsuspecting players, running all over the ice, the only running around he’d be doing is running the Zamboni around his old rink North Toronto.

The point everyone misses about past rugged forwards like Tocchet, Bob Probert, Cam Neely, Marty McSorley, Clark Gillies, Curt Fraser and Brian Sutter to mention a few, was not only that they could fight but they were real good players.
They kept the game honest and that’s what’s missing today; so let’s give the experts the benefit of the doubt when they call a dirty play a “Hockey Play” they really meant to say “Play Hockey.”

“Every Battle is Won or Lost before it’s ever fought.”

That quote from “The Art of War”, attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu dates back to the 5th century. The subtle meaning is not lost on everyday life and in this instance our Toronto Maple Leafs.

In what we Leaf fans enjoyed immensely this season was the emergence of a young talented group, on the verge of becoming a real threat to compete for Lord Stanley’s Prize.

Auston Matthew’s skill set is off the charts; a talent arguably never seen before in the history of the Maple Leafs. Mitch Marner makes plays leaving anyone watching shaking their heads in amazement. William Nylander’s speed, creativity and puck handling is breathtaking at times. Connor Brown scored 20 goals while carrying himself like a seasoned veteran, and along with Zach Hyman, made life miserable for opposing defensemen with their tenacious pursuit of the puck. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner both elevated their games, showing real leadership on defense. The relentless energy of the young forwards brought out the best in veteran players such as Bozak, Kadri, JVR and the addition of Brian Boyle shored up the fourth line but also offered a voice in the room. Fredrick Anderson was the rock in goal that’s absolutely essential to be considered a challenger for the Stanley Cup.

The depth of the organization is the deepest in decades, creating competition at each position, putting the onus on the players to perform at the highest level.

After pushing top seed Washington to the limit in the playoffs, the off-season is filled with promise, a rarity in the last 50 years. However as expectations percolate; losing is no longer acceptable as a means to get better. Or is it?

The NHL is fast becoming a young mans league as teams constantly look to upgrade talent, for fear of falling behind the curve. While Toronto was the surprise team of the league this year, no longer will that be the case in the 2017-18 season. And as the young Leafs found out in the post season, the level of compete escalated beyond anything they’d imagined and became targets.

The glaring weakness in the Leaf lineup is on the blue line or more to the point in their own end of the rink. The forwards aren’t big and struggled to keep the puck out of their zone. This is a common problem amongst a lot of teams and one need not look any further than the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburg Penguins, whose Achilles heel is in their own end with small forwards.

The big power forward is highly coveted, with availability scarce; Mike Babcock’s mantra since the day he arrived entails the need for players to have “good” summers, meaning in the gym, eating properly and getting stronger.

“You can’t let your talent make up for your work ethic”

The advancement of the Leafs is ahead of schedule, but they must stay with the plan; keep the young assets and develop from within. If an asset in free agency will fit the need, then by all means at minimal cost fill the hole.

The Chicago Black Hawks, the model franchise for success in the modern NHL, drafted Duncan Keith in 2002, Seabrook, Crawford 2003 and Toews, Kane in 2006-07; they didn’t win until 2010.

Toronto qualified for the playoffs on the second last game of the season but only had one regulation loss less than first place Montreal. The difference between advancing or going home, came down to a couple losses. The point is, advancing into the playoffs will be a challenge for all teams each year therefore it’s imperative the foundation remains solid and the days of “going for it” are extremely risky.

The concern we Leaf fans must prepare for, is that the chance the team gets off to a slow start next season. Remember injuries were limited, a record number of rookies played in excess of 70 games, a number of team records were broken and everything went pretty smooth. The fact that the team has depth will remind players to never take a shift off and do not cheat yourself in the off season. The coach’s strong message for two years is consistent.
No spot will be given unless it is earned regardless of the player’s seniority or draft position.

There are no shortcuts to success and accountability begins at the top with Brendan Shanahan. Free agency will be interesting with Polak, Hunwick and Boyle tough decisions for Lou Lamoriello because the easy move is to sign them; the bold move will allow a younger player from the Marlies to grow into the position.

Elite players find a way to overcome challenges and how quickly the Matthews, Marners and Nylanders adjust to the added attention they will attract next year will determine how successful the Leafs will be going forward. In that regard I feel comfortable that Leaf management has nurtured the expectations of the players the same way they have for us fans.

As it has been said, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” – John D. Rockefeller

“It’s about the team, I don’t think about individual statistics.”

How many times over the years have we heard that line from players in all sports? Or another dandy, “I don’t read the papers.” Now in fairness, this isn’t to paint all players with the same brush because it is quite possible some may indeed not read the papers, simply because they can’t.

It got me thinking a few weeks ago while reading the sports page about the NBA and a few of the players lobbying for the MVP award. Well actually that’s being kind, Houston Rockets James Harden says he’s the best player in the game. Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers had already claimed that distinction while Russell Westbrook was too busy passing off an easy bucket to grab an assist to continue setting a record for triple doubles, to keep his name in the race. He claims he’s the winner regardless. And oh yeah my favourite self-serving athlete, Lebron James was “resting” for the playoffs while his team was in the midst of a losing streak.

Then there’s Michael Jordan at 50, making noise about returning to the NBA because the players aren’t as tough anymore and he’d dominate. In between calling out the self proclaimed “King James” (Lebron) he couldn’t resist letting the world know he was still the best ever.

Shaq suggested he was mad at Canadian Steve Nash for winning back-to-back MVP’s in 2005 and 2006 because he was more deserving. Outside of Shaq, these guys may be right, but how about concerning yourself with winning and leave the awards in the hands of the voters or fans? And by the way, let me be the first to thank you for doing your job.

Wade Boggs could be considered the most unassuming baseball Hall of Famer, yet epitomizes the word selfish in sports. Consumed by the notion he had to hit everyday to get paid, rarely would he sacrifice himself, move a runner by going the other way or try to gap a ball late in a game to help his team. I must admit I always thought of him as a great hitter like Tony Gwynn and it wasn’t until his marital problems became public that his self-absorbed behavior was revealed. When he hung on for the MLB minimum salary at age 41, it was simply to get to 3,000 hits.

Alex Ovechkin, star goal scorer in the NHL whoever, I’d classify him as the Wade Boggs of hockey. His team lost 5-3 but he scores two goals and he’s happy (in Boggs case it would be a couple hits). Ovechkin’s lack of respect for the Tampa Bay Lightning after scoring his 50th in their building, with the infamous “hot stick” antics, says it all about this guy. His 3-minute shifts, playing the whole power play, are selfish examples of why he’s a coach-killer and his team will never win. How can a franchise in the USA trade a 50-goal scorer that is the face and draw of the team? They can’t. They’re stuck with this stiff.

We get the point that while it’s great to be a team player and win, it is also about earning a living. When a player negotiates a contract, inevitably his statistics will become a factor in the process. But selfish greed prevails in these circumstances and the recently departed Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion is the poster child for that script. He allowed his agent, who had incompetently misread the market for his client, to turn the fans against management. The public is used to morons like this, but it’s Edwin who’s to blame; he could’ve easily accepted the Jays very generous offer and stayed.

Scottie Pippen once refused to play the last minute of a game because the possible game winning touch wasn’t going to him. The minute the NHL announced it wasn’t attending the Olympics next year, Ovechkin said he was going anyway. Of course he is. He misses one game, suspend him from the league without pay and block him from playing in the NHL. It’s a privilege to play in the greatest league in the world and if so called Great 8 doesn’t like it? Go play in Russia; zero loss. My bet, he’d take the money.

Pittsburgh Penguin’s Evgeni Malkin is another beaut who will take nights off and been known to sulk if not playing with the guys he prefers. The sad part; he’s extremely talented and like all these guys, has become the modern “me” athlete.

Vince Carter, the day of game 7 for the 2001 Eastern Conference final, chose to attend his college graduation that morning. Raptor fans are aware this clown missed the winning shot on the last play of the game later that afternoon.
Two of the highest paid players in baseball at the time, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, once charged fans $5,000 for a meet and greet with them. No, the money wasn’t directed to a charity.

Brett Farve was another one who wouldn’t let go and embarrassingly left the game a washed up has been.
Randy Moss in a career defining moment said, “I play when I want to play.”

We have our fill of jerks that call out teammates and it’s never their fault when things go wrong.

Guys like Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson and Lebron will use the word “we” in losses and “I” for wins.

A lot of these athletes miss the limelight, fan adulation, media and all the trappings that go with fame and that is sad. See Michael Jordan.

Jaromir Jagr defying the dreaded incurable disease A G E, is still playing in the NHL at 47. While noble and a great marketing tool for the Florida Panthers, it’s really about the money. If not, why did Jagr bolt the NHL a few years ago and now decide to comeback if he really cared about the league?

The world will always be filled with guys like above but with pro sports becoming younger, shorter playing careers on the horizon, the selfish self-serving athlete will be hopefully, minimized.

Having said that, most athletes have the self-centered gene to a certain degree. Even the selfless “team first” types are driven to beat the opposition, feeding their own egos. You don’t think players like Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana, Larry Bird or the late Gordie Howe didn’t have egos? They certainly did and it’s what drove them to greatness.

The difference between them and the selfish player today is that those iconic figures let their play on the ice, court and field do the talking.

Youth is not defined chronologically as a stage that can be tied to specific age ranges nor can its end point be linked to specific activities; like a 60-year old dating a 20-something; it’s just a number. I wish!

The youthful Maple Leafs have embarked on the exciting challenge to hoist the coveted Holy Grail; The Stanley Cup. The entertaining team enjoyed a thrilling ride this past season and now after splitting the first two playoff games against the powerful Washington Capitals, return home to a series that’s a best of five. Now what?

Pressure is defined as the force applied perpendicular to the surface of an object per unit area over which that force is distributed; similar to an Auston Matthews snap shot maybe? I noticed while familiarizing myself with the definition of pressure, that age wasn’t a factor or even mentioned.

The point I’m trying to make is all this nonsense about the Leafs playing with nothing to lose and should just enjoy the moment. Does anyone really believe that the players would actually think like that? The difference between them and the average fan is they’ve been the star player, go to guy, player to be stopped, expected to deliver, most popular and so on at every level of competition since childhood. What isn’t pressure filled about that?

Playoffs are an exciting time for all who watch or participate in the sport at any level.

The 60+ men’s league in Markham I play, games look in reverse at times, but come playoffs, you’d think millions of dollars was up for grabs instead of a $5 “Fruit of the Loom” XL- T-shirt.

The adjustment an NHL player has to make entering the playoffs besides competing is the mental toughness to block out the white noise. The added media coverage, fans, family, friends, the guy you haven’t spoken to since grade four looking for seats, are a few examples of distractions that can be overwhelming, no matter the age. It’s thought once the puck’s dropped, it’s just another hockey game or is it?

The game can be equally challenging for newcomers to the playoffs because the intensity level magnifies the further your team advances. The sense of urgency, fluke goals, bad bounces, clutching, grabbing, late hits, shoves after the whistle, guys finishing their checks, are ingrained in playoff hockey and after a few shifts, the elite players will adjust very quickly.

Discipline and confidence define the character of champions who adjust the quickest. The Leafs after some undisciplined penalties seemed to realize the error of their ways as game two progressed, with the confidence level increasing as well. Matthews and Nylander let their talents carry them as the game went on and while Auston didn’t have a lot of room because he was so closely watched, it opened up the ice for the likes of Hyman, Reilly and Gardiner; they can’t cover them all!

There aren’t any bad teams in the playoffs. NHL parity is the tightest in sports with the separation between first and twelfth a meager half dozen wins or so. Ask pre-season Cup favourite Tampa Bay Lightning how they feel? The Leafs gave up 15 OTL points this year (worst in league) and imagine if they had won half of those or protected some blown early season leads? They would have challenged for top spot and before you say it, yes I gave all the other teams half wins for OTL losses; the math still had the Leafs higher.

The window to win in any sport is narrow; the NHL is becoming a very young league and will only get more difficult to qualify never mind to win.

The 1980 Edmonton Oilers who squeaked into the playoffs did upset the mighty Montreal Canadiens who finished as the 3rd seed with 103 points vs the Oilers who had 74. That was an upset no question but was also the coming out year for a certain number 99. Just saying.

Make no mistake, upsets are the fun part of sports, otherwise what would be the point of watching if things always went according to rule? But that’s what whets our appetite as fans. The actual participants have a different mindset than ours.

Players are wired to win and there isn’t a man in the league worth his weight in pucks that doesn’t think once the post season begins his team has a chance to advance.

And as far as the pressure they may be feeling? Legendary golfer Lee Trevino was once asked after he was the first pro golfer to win the Canadian Open and CPGA in the same year if he felt any pressure to close out the Open to complete the feat,

“Pressure?” said Trevino. “That’s not pressure, pressure is playing a $50 Nassau with $5 in your pocket.”