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Ulmer's Back In The Saddle

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun is a friend of mine.  We worked together at the National Post.


His columns would start with windswept vistas, far reaching scenarios, a fresh look at some political intrigue and sometimes even a dead on assessment on the state of the planet.

And that would be his lede.

Cam’s brain is about the same size as mine, but his mind was the size of a jet engine.  I lugged around something about the size of a Briggs and Stratton.

With so much to say and such a colourful jurisdiction to mine, Cam resorted to a technique he called “items that may grow up to be columns.”

In that spirit, so will I.

Item 1: The Leafs open training camp in 19 days with a new defence, an intriguing newcomer in goal and buckets and buckets of nasty. The most important story? Put your money on how quickly Tyler Bozak adjusts to live in the NHL. Bozak’s play on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle will be essential since the Leafs’ seem likely to incur more penalties. Many more penalties. The Leafs were 24th in the league last year in penalties but their PK was dead last.

Item 2: It’s the strangest thing, but when you write for a living you come back from a few weeks off with a deeply buried conviction that you can’t do it anymore.  I know plenty of writers who grapple with this. I wonder if accountants return to work worried they can no longer count or surgeons dread the cut after only a few days on the sidelines?

Item 3: The comedians in the movie Funny People aren’t funny. They are tragic and excruciatingly profane. Colourful  language, used well, spices dialogue. Poorly used it has the same effect as an ill-fitting diaper.

Item 4: I only say this to alert female fans or, perhaps, some of the male ones as well:  I don’t know if Viktor Stalberg, the smooth-skating Swedish leftwinger will make the big club this year but if I had that face, my wife would not let me out the door.

Item 5: Now that Justin Pogge, the Leafs’ goalie of the future, is now officially not, tickets are being distributed to form an orderly line of supporters reminding everyone that John Ferguson traded the wrong goalie to Boston for Andrew Raycroft.  There can be no argument; history has proven the deal, which included Mark Bell coming to the Leafs, a complete loss. Still, two modest disclaimers. First, let’s see how Rask plays in the NHL. Second, sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. Ferguson also landed  young goalie James Reimer and drafted genuine prospects John Mitchell,  Nikolai Kulemin, Jiri Tlusty and Stalberg. There should be some currency in that.

Item 6: The thinnest line in existence is the gap between self improvement and self acceptance. Go ahead, write it down.

Item 7: I don’t give a tinker’s damn about Team Canada’s selection camp. It has as much currency to me as So You Think You Can Dance. I will only look up when they cut Dany Heatley. I will grin broadly, as if I won my own private lottery, then go back to the keyboard.

Item 8: Danny Briere, who had 11 goals in 29 games, has four more years and $34 million left on his deal with the Flyers. I couldn’t make that up.  By the way, it should be fun watching Chris Pronger, an old-school guy work with the often tardy and sometimes downright baffling Ray Emery.

Item 9:
I can only hope this is not the year Alexander Ovechkin decides to put his tooth in. The kid is perfect.

Item 10: In terms of difficulty, I would put learning to windsurf right up there with trying to split the atom with a ball peen hammer.

Item 11: Picked my kids out of a sea of returnees from a Britney Spears concert. Pity the exotic dancer, suddenly deprived of stagewear by the economic realities of supply and demand.

Item 12: Potential forgotten men this season: Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers.

Item 13: Already forgotten. Swedish free agent Rickard Wallin whose signing has yet to capture the sporting public.

Item 14: Under the radar move that will pay big dividends. Goalie consultant/guru/savant Francois Allaire. Last year, two thirds of the teams that finished in the top half of the league in goals against advanced to the playoffs. That means 10 of the bottom 15 didn’t qualify. Francois Allaire revolutionized the position. What the Leafs did was akin to hiring Alexander Graham Bell to answer the phone.

Item 15: Heard when I was away that there is a push among fans to get further mileage out of the old-school Leafs logo. Couldn’t agree more but what I want to see is the return of the two stripes on the bottom of the jersey.
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