Sunday, April 10, 2016


Last night's season-ending loss to the New Jersey Devils ended another season of frustration and failure for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is the latest example of the Leafs' lack of success: they have qualified for the playoffs only once since the lock-out year of 2005-6.

Yet, last night's loss seemed to merely close the chapter on a long process of rebuilding. The Leafs have somehow managed to create a feeling of optimism among their fans and media, based on a stated project of turning the entire franchise around and moving in a new, professional and ultimately successful way. Consider the following:

Last night's loss secured thirtieth place in the NHL's standings for the Leafs: absolute rock bottom. How can this be a measure of success? By securing last place, the Leafs have given themselves the best odds in the NHL's entry draft lottery. The last time the Leafs had the first pick over-all was the year they selected Wendel Clarke. He went on to have a solid, if not spectacular, NHL career and served as the Leafs' captain for many years of good success. A first over-all pick is by no means certain for the Leafs, but the worst they can do is select fourth over-all. Their odds of gaining a top level young player are excellent and this player will become another keystone in the rebuilding programme.

The drive to last place was highlighted by the play of several young players who were called up from the Leafs' AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. At one time, there were a dozen Marlie call-ups in the Leafs' roster. Their play was encouraging, and many of the players showed that they are now NHL ready. In particular, William Nylander, the Leafs' top pick two drafts ago, seems ready to take on a permanent role in the NHL.  The core of young players, many still teenagers, will become the core of the Maple Leafs in the next two or three years.

In addition, consider that the young Marlie players will now return to the AHL team to join them in that team's playoff run. The Marlies have dominated the AHL the entire season, including the period when so many of their good players had been called up to the Leafs. Now that Nylander and company are back with the Marlies, the AHL team figures to have a long run in the playoffs, perhaps even a championship run. Nothing is certain in sports, of course, but a championship run for the Marlies would be a tonic for the entire organization, which has not tasted championship champagne for decades. The young returnees bring with them some valuable NHL experience with them. While the AHL is a good league, it is not the NHL. So, logic dictates that the NHL experience will put these players in a good position to do well in the lesser AHL.

Should the Marlies win the Calder Trophy as AHL champions, it makes the path the Leafs need to take that much clearer. Winning begets winning. Thus, a solid core of Marlies players will be promoted to the Leafs, forming the new core of the NHL team, bringing with them the swagger gained from victory in the AHL and necessary for the confidence needed to take the Leafs to a higher level.

Some good luck in the draft lottery could mean the Leafs will select first over-all and pick up a potential star player. Austin Matthews is the name most often used in this context, although it must be said that he has had very little experience at high-level hockey, either junior or professional. Nevertheless, the possibility of acquiring a good future star is there for the Leafs. Add to that the fact that the Leafs have 12 selections throughout this year's draft and the opportunity to re-stock the Marlies with eager, young players when the Marlies' core is promoted will ensure a continuous stream of young players to the Leafs over the next several years.

There is also the option of picking up players via free agency, and this has been discussed often regarding Tampa Bay Lightning star player Steven Stamkos, the team's captain and best player, who will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Stamkos is only 26 years old and could become the Leafs' captain and anchor for many years to come. But prudence should be exercised here. Stamkos will command a huge salary and this will take up much of the money the Leafs will need to develop the many young players they currently have and will acquire over the next several years. Money becomes the problem for the franchise in this case. The Leafs may be advised to follow their strategy of the last two seasons, and sign veteran journeyman players to one-year contracts, asking them to fill in gaps in the line-up and becoming mentors to the young players who will be in the organization for longer periods of time. The cost of the journeymen will be light, and the obligation to keep them will not exist. It is a solid strategy and in some cases a good player emerges, such as Leo Komorov or P.A. Parenteau.

So, for a thirtieth-place team, the Leafs have done quite well for themselves. During the last quarter of the season, they played entertaining and sometimes winning hockey. It is quite feasible to imagine the management toasting the end of the season with some nice sparkling wine for a job well done: they should save the champagne, however, for the ultimate prize. If they wait long enough, the bubbly will taste very, very fine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


The recent death of Rob Ford and his subsequent funeral has raised some awkward questions. Certainly Ford's death from cancer at age 46 was tragic. No person, no matter what one may think of him or her, deserves to die so young or from such a horrible disease. Cancer is a terrible disease that destroys lives and families. We grieve for the victim and commiserate with the families and friends, especially when the victim is young and leaves small children behind. The sooner we find cures, the better. We all agree on that.

But the behaviour of surviving members of the family, specifically Doug Ford in this case, creates great concerns. Consider these items:

First, when the death was announced, Doug Ford appeared visibly shaken and upset and asked for privacy for the family. Totally reasonable and appropriate for him to do that. Then the arrangements for Rob Ford's funeral became known. The former mayor would "lie in repose" for a period of time so that supporters could pay their respects. Also totally reasonable and appropriate. Then, a service would be held at St. James' Cathedral and a "celebration of life" would follow. For the third time, this is totally reasonable and appropriate.

But a strange thing began to happen. In that time period, people and publications began to pay tributes to the late mayor. Even the Toronto Star got into the act, as though trying to offer some belated apology for its aggressive reporting of Ford's time as mayor. We heard about all Rob Ford's "great accomplishments" and that he was a "man of the people". To many, it became more than a little uncomfortable to hear and read tributes which lionized a man of questionable accomplishment and even more questionable character. All of this may have all fallen into the "don't speak ill of the dead" file, and, again, it's reasonable to do this.

But, during Doug Ford's eulogy to his dead brother, the magic phrases came out. He ended by assuring one and all that the Ford's work would continue and that the so-called "respect for taxpayers" would not end.  And, just like that, Ford politics ruined what could've been a mature, newly defining moment for Ford nation. No, the grieving family was once again plunged into the petty politics it specialized in. In the "celebration of life" that followed, the political phrases continued. In doing this, Doug Ford took the unfortunate death of his beloved brother and turned it in a campaign launch. He tried to rationalize all the over-the-top rhetoric and elaborate funeral ceremonies by saying that "Rob would've wanted it that way." Thus, the Ford brand remains alive even though it's main standard bearer is dead.

Second, a news item yesterday on CTV ( a news outlet that has been somewhat sympathetic to the Fords, unlike the Star or CBC ) showed a very interesting and bizarre report. The image was of Doug Ford striding into Queen's Park to meet his old friend, Lisa McLeod, for a "coffee". Ford seemed surprised at all the media present and tried to look ingenuous and even a little coquettish. CTV made it known that Ford had alerted some media outlets that he was going to visit McLeod, so the media crowd that greeted him at Queen's Park was not unexpected. It came out in the photo op that Ford was seriously considering running in a Scarborough by-election under the Conservative banner. This caught new Conservative leader Patrick Brown by surprise and left him back-peddling rather clumsily. McLeod tried to act the innocent bystander, saying she would support her friend in whatever he would do, including running for Rob Ford's old council seat when it is declared vacant. The whole thing was a carefully orchestrated "media event" that merely kept Doug Ford's smiling face in the public's eye, and kept fanning the fires of his obvious political ambitions, among the most fiercely partisan in Ontario.

Rob Ford has been dead for only two weeks. He has been in his grave for less than that. But the circus of Ford nation continues. Grieving family? Needing privacy ? Visiting an old friend ? All these stretch the bounds of credulity.

The Fords will never change. They are well dressed hillbillies and they need to go away. They are exploiting the good will generated by the unfortunate death of a family member. They are keeping alive the myth of the Ford family brand. They should let Rob Ford truly rest in peace. Leave his widow and her two small children to get on with their lives without cringing at the buffoonery of a crazed brother and uncle who can't leave things alone. Enough of this shameful activity.

Friday, April 1, 2016


As Paul Simon wrote:

"These are the days of miracle and wonder,
And don't cry, baby, don't cry"

The chorus from "The Boy in the Bubble" echoes a very human refrain. We are constantly fearful of the world we live in and the future we face, but we live in a world of amazing technological achievement. How can we do so many amazing things, yet live surrounded by so much hardship? The chorus seems to suggest that all will be well, that all problems and issues will be solved if we put our faith in the "miracles and wonder". Still, we course onwards, lurching from one problem to another: and we wonder if there is any direction, anyone in control. If we can compare our progress to a bus ride, we seem to be riding ever faster and faster, barely under control ... and we wonder: who's driving this bus?

We, in North America and Western Europe, live in a world of plenty. We have enough to eat, have shelter, clothing, medicine, and expect our children to become educated and live safe, productive lives. We have so much, and we can create more. Yet in so many parts of the world, people suffer terrible privation and have little to guarantee survival. Bare survival and subsistence has been the case throughout history. But privation continues into our current time. How can that be? Surely if we can create comfortable, safe and healthy conditions in our world, we can do the same for others: yet, privation continues unabated.

It's easy to blame the situation on those who, according to our sensibilities, exist only to create evil and chaos. We see armies marching towards us ready to inflict terror and suffering . We grow afraid and suspicious. We claim that the suffering we see in the poor regions of the world grow out of the uncivilized and violent races of people who inhabit these regions. "Life is very cheap there", we like to say in some kind of mantra of complacent superiority. It's easy for us to sweep it all under a rug of denial and contempt. They only know how to destroy and create suffering, we tell ourselves. And they want to bring that to us.

So, we denigrate all of them. And when the terror comes to our shores, we thrash about, looking for a solution. Since we are the "superior" societies, we decide that the only way to solve the suffering and end the evil is to show how strong we are. We mobilize our forces and unleash our technological superiority. We react the way we have reacted for centuries. We cry "havoc" and let loose the dogs of war. This will surely bring the evil ones to destruction and cause those who starve and suffer to become free from the violence and privation and to love us for saving them. And when those who are victims of our bombs and bullets look at us with anger and hatred, we are surprised. "How can they not love us?" we think. "Don't they know that we are trying to save them, to set them free?"

It is sometimes tempting to think that we are in control. By carrying the fight to the enemy, we keep violence, terror, famine, disease, and privation of all kinds at arm's length. Every few years, an element of the horror breaks through to attack us where we live, and this creates fresh terror. We react, we attack and we feel that, somehow, we are winning, although the comfort that should naturally come from winning never seems to be close. As long as the terror is based far from home, though, we feel somewhat safe. We can draw a breath of relief: we sleep at night, although a little fitfully: we can turn our attention to ourselves. And we decide to live crazily, since the terror is only held at bay and can't stay at bay for long.

We seek to live happily. We strive for all the good things that our modern lives can provide. We gather as much as we can, for it could all vanish tomorrow if we are not careful, if we are not vigilant. We believe that by working hard, we earn the right to acquire more. It is ours by right, because we are so intelligent, so virtuous, so entitled. And when we have achieved our goal, we strive to gain more. We see this as our reward for our hard work: the more we gain, the more it proves that we are good. Life becomes more meaningful with the more we attain. And who knows? If the foreign evil ever visits our shores, we might lose all we have gained: better to get more and enjoy it now before it's all gone.

And with material gain, there comes a price. The more we produce, and the more we acquire, the more we discard. We have so much and we cast aside so much. But, with the increasing waste, we develop a unique ability to not see it. We can ignore it because it is taken away from our immediate environment and put elsewhere. But it doesn't really go away. It lingers, like the evil we sought to destroy and contain in foreign lands. The problem is not solved, it is merely swept aside ... for now. How soon before the waste and evil and suffering and privation visits our shores permanently? How much time do we have to come up with a solution?

We like to think that we have the ability to make the important decisions that are needed to provide the solutions. After all, it was we who created all the wealth. It is we who are superior and live such beautiful lives, full of money and material things. Surely we can depend on ourselves to think our way out of the morass. But we are foolish to think this way. Our world has made us venal, and selfish, and subject to temptation. We willingly put ourselves in the hands of a "craven media" who ignore or distort the truth we do not want to see. We are "drunk on popular culture" and think that what we see and hear is the truth. We want to be entertained and kept deliberately silly and immature. Why? Because it's fun. And it allows us to continue as we have always done, not responsible for the consequences of our actions.

We kid ourselves. We believe that, if we are patient enough, if we can keep the bad things at bay, if we can enjoy our little smug and acquisitive world for a few more years, then the solution will be at hand. Technology will be our saviour in the shining new future ahead. Our machines will solve all problems, stop old age and disease from spoiling our lives, end war and hunger and suffering. A brave new world awaits: just live long enough and the machines will save us. Machines are perfect, they do not grow old or sick and they do not fall prey to the temptations and pitfalls of the world we have created. They will save us and will, eventually, become us. And what then? Who will we be? Is there hope for humanity as we ride to the future?

 Decisions made now will have long-lasting effects for generations to come. We look to our leaders for wisdom and guidance. Our leaders must make the right decisions.We can put our faith, as we always have done, in our ability to build things to improve our lives. Or we can realize that these things come with a huge price. Our leaders must find a way to balance technological gain with preserving all that is good about us and our world. Are our leaders up to the challenge? Are they even thinking about this?

The decision they have to make is actually quite a simple one. They must decide if they believe in the innate goodness of people, or if they believe that such a thing doesn't really exist, and that the pursuit of material gain, economic growth and technological progress are the most important goals. One must hope that they have the wisdom to realize that there must be a balance between humanity and gain. They must come to understand that nothing happens without a price being paid. If we pay the price intelligently and without harm, then gain is good. But if we ignore the price and blindly keep moving forward at breakneck speed, heedless of the cost, then we are doomed. Our leaders hold humanity's future in their hands.

And so it goes .... we hope for a victory over all the sham, drudgery, greed, war, suffering and the headlong rush into a technological future of oblivion. We hope we can make good decisions and create a wonderful new world. We hope that our journey forward will be a good and safe one, full of promise and hope. We hope for a good ride.

There's only one problem .... who's driving this bus?

We'd better find out soon. Without a driver, we'll end up going over a cliff. That is not a desired outcome .... for any of us. We need a good driver ... or else the consequences are ....