Tuesday, November 02, 2010


When I wrote about the Leafs social media strategy for the Maple Leafs Annual I focused almost exclusively on their use of twitter, facebook and their proprietary on-line site "LeafsSpace." I didn't look at their actual on-line content.

MLSE, more specifically the Leafs' web-presence, does a few things very well. The Game in Six is one of my favourite features and I love that they put up video of media conferences, post-game scrums and Ron Wilson's newsers unfiltered. While I'm not a huge fan of the more creative videos done by Steve Dangle, I'm not exactly the target demographic and I've got to give them credit for being creative and trying something new.

When it comes to the written content, that's another story. It stinks. I'm talking ancient hockey gloves moldering at the bottom of an old hockey bag stinks.

To provide textual content, MLSE hired Mike Ulmer, a former Sun columnist, to write "blog" entries about each of MLSE's sports properties.

I think it's great that MLSE wants to provide unique on-line content. Let's face it, they are in direct competition for page views with the on-line sports pages, blogs and a handful of Leaf-centric on-line communities. If they're going to get their share of eyeballs, they need to give readers fresh and compelling content and an actual reason to frequent MLSE sites.

Strategically, MLSE is right on target, tactically it's nothing short of a gong show.

Ulmer's recent piece "10 responses to 'plan the parade jokes'" was like a drunken first draft scribbled on the back of a beer coaster, found the next morning crumpled in a front pocket and mistakenly posted to the web. It was about as funny, clever and hockey-centric as a Cathy comic strip.

His most recent entry, a so-called defense of Dion Phaneuf misses the mark worse than one of Dion's patented bombs from the blue line.

I think Phaneuf is what he is: an above average d-man who's throws a lot of hits, blocks shots, has a terrible shooting percentage and is vastly overpaid. If I had to defend him, Ulmer's piece is not the way I'd go about it.

Let's have a look...
1. Dion Phaneuf hasn’t been very good.
Is that so...
Yeah...with an opening like that, let's hope Ulmer is saving his best stuff for last.
2. He can’t hit the net.
Hardly. Only one other defenceman, (Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien) has more shots.
A few problems here.
1. Phaneuf is third in the league in shots behind Steve Montador and Duncan Keith;
2. Having a high shot total and actually hitting the net aren't the same thing; and
3. In point of fact, Phaneuf can't hit the net: he's taken 32 shots and hit the net just 22 times, an accuracy rating that puts him 135th among NHL d-men.
3. He can’t defend.
Well, he’s the ice-time leader on a defence that has lowered its goals against by almost a goal a game, from 3.21 to 2.30. They’re sixth in the league in defence. If he is sabotaging things, he has been very sneaky.
Great points by Ulmer, one downside: Phaneuf's goals against/60 is 3.23, which is nearly one goal higher than the team's goals against average. That GA/60 puts Phaneuf in the lower third of the league - 167 th out of 199 D-men that have averaged 10 minutes or more of ice time in at least 4 games this season. Sure, he's facing some tough competition, but those aren't good defensive numbers.
4. He sometimes takes himself out of position when he tries for a big hit.
Fair comment. Imagine a defenceman wanting to hit someone at centre ice. What is Bob Baun doing these days?
If I was going to defend Dion here, I too would start out by saying that this is a fair assessment of his play, but I might also be tempted to point out that Dion was among the top 10 D-men in the NHL for hits last year and that he's 12th in the NHL to date. He's obviously landing way more hits than he's missing. But maybe that's just me. Can't go wrong with a Bobby Baun joke...

5. He’s peaked.
He’s 25. I don’t think so. I’ve peaked.
Truer words...
6. He will never score 20 goals as he did in Calgary.
Right again. I wonder if it’s because Phaneuf is the focus of every team’s penalty kill. They must be making shin pads of sterner stuff over the last few years because players rush at Phaneuf as if he were a free round of golf.
Phaneuf may never hit 20 goals again and that's ok. How many D-men in the league are capable of putting up those totals? If he can start hitting the net and get close to his career average shooting percentage he should be good for 15 goals a year. As for being the focus of every teams' PK, if that is the case (not sure I believe it), isn't that an opportunity for Phaneuf to put up great assist totals or for the Leafs to adapt to this tactic to revitalize their moribund PP.

7. Why doesn’t he just pass on the powerplay?
To Tomas Kaberle? Seriously, you have a team with a hole in the middle you could park a Hummer in. The first two pivots have one goal between them. Naturally enough, the power play has fallen to the bottom third of the league. The penalty kill is 11th. Let’s see, one special team requires scoring, the other defence. Phaneuf is a mainstay on both teams. It’s like I say about the Almighty. If you are going to blame the Man for the bad things, you have to credit Him for the good. It’s called the Theory of the Divine Defenceman.
Oh snap. I hope Kaberle's dad doesn't read Ulmer's blog. Or maybe Phaneuf could pass to one of the forwards since the other team are supposedly keying on him and taking away his shooting lanes. Just a thought.
8. He’s not a good captain
He didn’t look bad 10 days ago.
Meh. I'm not in the room. I wouldn't have put the C on his chest but I doubt that letter has anything to do with Phaneuf's inability to hit the net with his shots, make better passes on the PP or with his propensity to chase other players behind his own net.

9. He hasn’t scored.
Also true. Here are some names: Nik Lidstrom, Duncan Keith, Bryan McCabe, Dan Boyle, Shea Webber, Mike Green, PK Subban, Ed Jovanovski and Drew Doughty. None of these players have scored more than one goal. I have always said if you’re going to fail, don’t fail alone.

I'm surprised Ulmer didn't go with the "Hey, Sheldon Souray is in Hershey" defence here. As for the other d-men Ulmer listed, they may only have one goal, but it's still one more than Phaneuf. Many of them are putting up points - Lidstrom has 10 assists, Keith has 11. Few of them are getting paid $6.5 million either. Phaneuf's has just 2 goals in 36 games as a Leaf, how does that compare with the company Ulmer's put him in?
10. He keeps shooting wide.
Well, there aren’t too many places to put the puck when a six-four defenceman is sprawling in your way. Compare Byfuglien again. He has a directed 7.7 shots at the net a night: that’s a combination of shots, misses and shots that are blocked. Phaneuf has directed 9.3 shots. It’s tough to criticize a player who is second in the league in shots by a defenceman for not hitting the net. You can fault him for an elevated shots attempted figure, I suppose, although I always thought the idea was to direct as many shots at the net as possible.

Anyone else think we've covered this already? That maybe Ulmer couldn't come up with a 10th complaint so he recycled a variation of his 2, 7 and 9 complaints? Why go with a criticism that immediately reminds me that Phaneuf has just 2 goals in 36 games as a Leaf, was 129th in shooting accuracy last year and is down to 136th this year?

If I was going to write a defense of Phaneuf, I'd look at the Leafs' improved PK, the Leafs ability to limit shots this year, and maybe penalties drawn vs. taken. Something that plays to the guy's strengths. Oh, and access - Ulmer writes for the Leafs. Maybe he hasn't posted his Bruce Dowbiggin mandated $10K bond, but you'd think he might get a quote or two from Phaneuf's team mates about what Dion does well; a line from a coach, GM or scout or even from guys who don't like to play against Phaneuf. Or you could go with the Bobby Baun joke.


  1. Ulmer reads like someone I'd have eviscerated on the Leafs message board when I was 15... which was around the age that I realized most message boards are a waste of bandwidth.

  2. I think Ulmer just takes four or five numbers, fires them into some kind of generator and pushes a button that says "Put words between these"

  3. Paul Steckley10:00 a.m.

    Can we really expect much more from someone on the payroll of MLSE?

  4. Anonymous10:41 a.m.

    You're a shitty writer with a shitty blog. And you want this professional, experienced, entertaining writer to be fired because you want his job? Pathetic.

  5. Anonymous - Thanks for the great feedback. The last thing I'd want is Mike Ulmer's job, I'd have to write about the Raptors and Toronto F.C. - two teams and sports I could care less about.

    What I would like is something, I dunno, clever or insightful from my favourite hockey team and their staff writers. Perhaps that's too much to ask.

  6. Great article in the annual, by the way. Not sure if I dropped by to mention that yet. Thanks for the subtle mention in there of the Vintage Leafs blog ;)

    Also: Ulmer sucks.

  7. Anonymous12:58 p.m.

    The last time I checked Byfuglin is a forward, not a defensman. Does this guy even know hockey?

  8. Less than 12 parsecs2:04 p.m.

    If Ulmer qualifies as a "professional" and "entertaining" writer, we've solved the Big Mystery about the MSM's audiences disappearing.