A letter to Santa
Mr. Santa Claus
North Pole, Canada
RE: Urgent Gifts Request
I am writing on behalf of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.
They don't know I am serving as a middleman between the North Pole and Air Canada Centre. So please be discreet (just like in 1985 when I asked for a pastel Lacoste shirt, the issue of Playboy featuring Madonna and a hat-trick for Greg Terrion).
Without further ado – and with apologies for this urgent but last-minute request – here is a list of gifts those naughty Leafs need this Christmas:
Santa, some math for you to consider: If I had a nickel for every time the Leafs scored in the first period, I would now have 95 cents. Not even enough to buy a waffle! The Leafs have 19 first period goals – second worst in the league. Please wrap-up some early tallies this team can open in the year ahead.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere's GAA is 2.80. That ranks him 29 in a league with 30 teams. Jonas Gustavsson's GAA has now crept up to 3.10, which is 39th. Can you please fill a big box with no more bad goals on the short side? No more shoulda-had-that-ones late in a period? No more three goal outbursts in 57 seconds? Put a bow on some miraculous kick saves. Give these guys the gift of cutting the angles and staying on their feet and not losing focus. Our puck-stoppers need to steal some games in 2011 to atone for their middling start.
Only two Leafs have a plus +/- and both of them are only a +1. Further, one of them is Colton Orr while the other is a fellow by the name of Joey Crabb. I mean, honestly. Kris Versteeg is a -16! That ranks him 750 out of 759 players in this league! Fix this, Santa. Give our skaters the gift of backchecking and picking up their men in the defensive zone.
This team could use an inspirational lecture from Ebenezer Scrooge. What a ridiculously generous bunch they are: Here, want the puck? Take it! Oh, hello opposition winger on the forecheck. Go to the slot. I’ll wait until you’re comfortable. Ready? I’m about to clear the zone by turning my body to the play and backhanding the puck blindly through my legs right onto your stick! Francois Beauchemin alone has 47 giveaways – that's second worst in the league! And third worst is Luke Schenn! Give these guys the power of greediness in 2011. Stop them from being so altruistic.
The Leafs don't take an excessive number of penalties, a small mercy given their PK. But of the ones they do take, too many fall under the scientific classification of "boneheaded." Punching a guy in the mouth for no apparent reason when the ref is two feet away? Tripping a guy in your own zone when the play is miles away? Too many men on the ice? Twice in one game? Really? Santa, as I seem to recall from neurology class, the frontal lobe controls decision-making. Please make a decision to replace certain frontal lobes on this team before it's too late for all of us.
Here's another gift idea based on a simple question: How many Leafs boast a winning percentage for faceoffs when the team is on the road? Exactly, Santa. Exactly.
Santa, here are the sentences that usually tumble out of my mouth when the Leafs have an odd-man rush:
1. "Yes! Here we go! Three-on-one! OH MY GOD, WHO THE HELL ARE YOU PASSING TO?"
2. "Two-on-one! Yes! Home alon—OH MY GOD, IF YOU’RE SITTING IN THE PURPLES, DUCK!"
3. "Oh, it's a four-on-one. OH MY GOD, NOW IT'S A THREE-ON-ONE GOING THE OTHER WAY!"
Santa, give these guys some bifocals that can be clipped under their foggy shields. Hell, kidnap them, throw them in your sleigh and treat them to laser eye surgery. Help them see each other in 2011.
You'd probably have to work this out with Gary Bettman. Or God. But just an idea.
The Leafs have problems scoring. So, technically, I shouldn't be nitpicking the kind of scoring they manage to do every two or three periods. Honestly, on most nights, I’d be thrilled if an errant pass by an opposition player bounced off someone's head and rolled past the goal line. But on other nights, I think: "Where is the dazzle? Why does this team produce so few highlight-reel goals?" I don't know, Santa. If you can't make this team win more maybe you could at least ratchet-up the entertainment value.
A power play is supposed to fill fans with anticipation, not fear. A penalty kill is supposed to feel entirely possible, not like a guaranteed goal against. Santa, the only special thing about these teams is the way they make us drink. I know it’s a lot to ask. But help these magnificent poor Leaf bastards in 2011. They need it. As do we.
I can't believe it’s already Christmas Eve. I also can’t believe I still need to do some shopping. Bloody hell.
Just a final note before I dash into the chaos: Thank you.
When this blog started a few weeks ago, I never imagined so many smart and funny people would suddenly catapult into my life. But that's exactly what happened.
On any given day, your comments are so much better than my posts. On any given day, I never feel cold and alone inside the wind-swept tundra that is Leafs Nation.
To be a Leafs fan can sometimes feel like an exercise in self-flagellation. But your company this season, through the ups and downs (and more downs), has made this exercise seem more like group therapy.
If I were a rich man, I would send each of you a cheque for $1 million and maybe a batch of lemon squares. But I am not rich. And so at the risk of sounding maudlin, I can only offer you a heartfelt thanks.
I snapped the picture above this morning, as an unexpected burst of sunlight poured through my wooden shutters and bathed my tree. Here's to sunny days in 2011.
PHOTO: VINAY MENON/TORONTO STAR