Pension Plan Puppets: February 2007

Every Leafs fan has an opinion. Here's mine: We are all Pension Plan Puppets. The Teachers pull the strings and we dance.

Monday, February 26, 2007

JFJ Inks Tucker to Good Deal

Don't worry people. That is not the first sign of the apocalypse. JFJ and Darcy Tucker are reportedly putting the finishing touches on a new deal for the feisty winger. This was a divisive topic within Leafs Nation as some wanted to see Tucker traded to cash in an asset at its peak (I was moving towards this view more and more) while others saw Tucker as the sort of jack-of-all-trades that the Leafs needed.

My own trepidation was based on early reports that had the negotiations centred around a 5-year deal worth between $4 and $5M per season. Tucker's injury made him almost impossible to trade for fair value and it apparently helped to depress his demands. The report states that the contract is for 3 (maybe 4 years) at an average of $3M and the no-movement clause that JFJ loves to throw around like tissues at a sens playoff party is non-existent. In its place there will likely be a no-trade clause that applies only in the last year of the contract.

All in all it's a pretty good deal in terms of length and money. Tucker had 19 goals in 39 games before getting injured and was a vital piece of the powerplay. He hits, fights, antagonizes, and fires up the team and the crowd. If he can maintain his style of play and the goal-scoring pace he has set in the last couple of years then this can be looked upon as a third great contract by JFJ (Raycroft and Kaberle being the others).

Here's a nice compilation from the guys at that shows what $3M per season gets you:

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Leafs 2 v. Islanders 3 (SO): Who's a D-bag?

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This guy is a douchebag. Can a Catholic put a fatwah on someone's head? Who will rid me of this meddlesome referee. While not on the level of Gretzky-gate it was nonetheless another atrocious call by the head douchebag himself. If I was a Leaf and he was reffing another game this year I'd take those stripes are targets. Another lost point against an Islanders game that the Leafs for the most part dominated. Bitter Leaf Fan takes a much more reasoned approach.
I was at my sister's play, Nunsense, (HILARIOUS) so I missed the game but read The Star and you'll see that my pet peeve of player's grabbing their opponent's stick and the referees assuming that it's a hook has finally bitten the Leafs in the butt. DiPietro is a cheater and Fraser is corrupt and now the Leafs are in 10th. Flyers are up next and the Leafs need to come ready to play.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Leafs 0 v. Bruins 3: Bogey Team

The Leafs biggest weakness this season and cause of a lot of lost points has been their inability or unwillingness to jump on opponents when given the opportunity. Third period leads were lost when the Leafs did not get the next goal and teams that should have been handled have instead done the handling. Kevin McGran notes that it's a killer instinct that seems, at times, to be missing from the Leafs.

Last night was the Leafs fifth loss to the Bruins. Their games have inspired two of my more despondent posts and it usually boils down to the same problem: The Leafs do not have the high-end creative talent to break down a team that sits back and defends with five men. So much of the Leafs' offence is predicated on a successful forecheck and crashing the net. However, in the games in which the Bruins have clogged up the slot and sat back all game the Leafs have been unable to work to their strengths. How they are the only team to realize this is a mystery but thank God because if every team played the Leafs like that they would have a lot fewer points.

Luckily, the Leafs head back on the road where they apparently morph into one of the top teams in the league (4th best road record). They better find their shooting hands because Thomas is no DiPietro. Thursday night will require a much better effort. On the bright side, that game probably helped JFJ realize that trading for the future is what needs to be done at the deadline.

The Final Word
"It seems like when you're playing well, you're working hard and you do get the breaks, too," said Sundin. "Hockey is one of those sports where you do have to earn your breaks a little bit. Tonight, we didn't."
The Captain sums up the keys to the game.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Tale of Two Razors

The struggles of one Andrew 'Razor' Raycroft this season have been well documented. A promising early stretch that included a great post-game interview after his 8th victory was derailed by a groin injury in November and the ambiguity of his position. However, in 2007 his performance has been on the upswing. Paul Maurice's confidence in the goaltender, he vowed to start him until the playoffs, seems to have given him the self-belief that too often seemed to be lacking at times during the dark days of November and December. At lunch yesterday, a friend was joking that he had really stepped up his game since the brow beating we gave Razor after the Canucks debacle (which cost us a pretty penny to go see as well as a night of trashtalk from the solitary Canucks fan that accompanied the three of us) and we should get some sort of reward for spurring Raycroft to greater heights.

Personally, I think that the change came when Maurice made it clear that he was going to be the starter the rest of the way. Starting with the December 30th game against the senators he has started every game for the Leafs. So I used December 29th to divide the season so far and compared the stats among goalies and compared their standing amongst their peers to their standing for the year-to-date. It's pretty basic but by looking at the tables you can see a few interesting tidbits. Note: Any goalies that are missing have either not played more than 5 games since December 29th or have not played enough games all year to be able to make a comparison.

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Raycroft's GAA certainly looks much better in terms of ranking. The middle is populated with the more consistent goalies, both good (Mason, Brodeur, Emery) and bad (Theodore, Thomas, Budaj), and the bottom shows which goalies have really fallen off the path. With a move from 9th to 28th by Huet it's no wonder the Habs have struggled so mightily. When you are amongst the NHL in shots allowed you cannot afford to hvae a goalie with a sub-.900 save percentage. Also, both of the Sharks' goalies and the Stars' Turco are amongst the big fallers but their respective teams scontinue to push for top honours in the West.

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As with the save percentages, the surprises are found at either spectrum. Huet again suffers the greatest drop much to my delight. Raycroft once again improves on his standing post-December 29th. One of the things that leaps off of the screen is that Hasek is at the bottom of both tables and still has a 12-3-0 record. His GAA combined with his save percentage belie the fact that the Red Wings are among the stingiest in shots allowed which plays a part in their continued success despite Hasek not being in his best form. The biggest combined mover is Curtis Joseph with a 33 spot improvement over the two categories. Any team looking to add a veteran backup for their playoff run would do well to take a look at Joseph. Those are just some of the ones that popped out right away but feel free to add your conclusions in the comments. It certainly looks like Razor has started to play the kind of hockey that JFJ and the Leafs' scouts expected from him when they trade Rask to Boston.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Leafs 4 v. Oilers 3: Symmetry

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The pre-game ceremony was a tasteful affair that allowed each player to receive the crowd's affections. The loudest cheers were reserved for Johnny Bower, who is a regular at the games, and prodigal son Dave Keon. There was a nice bit of symmetry in the Leafs' win Saturday night. On the night that fans were able to cheer a player that had been in a self-imposed exile a Maple Leaf that has only recently begun to receive similar adulation from the Leafs' fan base showed once again that he is a unique talent.

While John Pohl impressed with his first multi-goal game it was Mats Sundin that sealed the victory with an incredible individual effort. I don't know the origin of the saying 'he beat him like a rented mule' but what Sundin did to Staios could have inspired it. In the end the Leafs needed a great save from Andrew Raycroft, who is on quite the streak, to seal the win after Ryan Smyth had deflected a wayward shot with a minute left in the game.

Watching the Oilers' defence struggle to put an outlet pass on the tape of an Oilers' forward (I counted 3 passes in the first period that went for icing) I wondered if some of the fans (read: Sean McCormick) regretted denigrating the Pronger for Kaberle and Steen trade. The season-long lament has been that the Oilers lack a PP quarterback and a puck-moving defenceman and we all know that Kaberle has evolved into one of the best in the league in both categories. Smid is young and still developing but the Oilers could have had Kaberle's prime years at a bargain price. As for Lupul and Steen, the offensive upside might be higher for Lupul but Steen is the much more complete player right now and has matched his counterparts offensive numbers this year.

The Leafs have a big week coming up a home date on Tuesday against the Bruins before hitting the road for dates at Nassau Coliseum and the Wachovia Center on Thursday and Saturday. In order to solidify their hold on 8th place the Leafs need to at least win two and one of them has to be the Islanders game. However, with the standings being as tight as they are the Leafs need to win all three in order to keep their chances at a better playoff spot alive.

A helmet tap to the group at Southeast Shootout for pointing the way to ESPN's Elias Bureau feature. Here is one that features the Leafs' captain:
Mats Sundin scored two goals and won 18 of 26 faceoffs in the Maple Leafs' 4-3 win over the Oilers. This was the third time over the past two seasons that Sundin has scored more than one goal and been "plus-10" or better on faceoffs. No other NHL player has had more than one such game over that span.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007


Those four little numbers have become an anchor around the neck of all who wear the blue and white and fervently follow the club. An unlikely cup victory in that year should have been the springboard for further success in the expansion era. A team that had struggled mightily to make the playoffs and were expected to be buried, first by the powerful Blackhawks and then by the two-time defending champions Montreal, triumphed against the odds and brought the franchise's 13th championship to the city.

Dave Perkins of the Toronto Star notes that celebrations were muted because success had become expected (of course he gets the obligatory dig at fans in inserted). The team seemed poised to build on a season that had seen a number of young players emerge as valuable contributors. Having just read '67 (a book I recommend to any fan of the Leafs although it will leave you depressed) I can tell you that behind the scenes Harold Ballard and Stafford Smythe had already begun the process of dismantling the infrastructure that had built the Leafs' dynasty. Coupled with Punch Imlach's deranged hatred of the union and his horrific personnel decisions and the writing was on the wall for a once proud franchise.

Tonight MLSE will honour that 1967 Stanley Cup Championship team before the Leafs take on the Edmonton Oilers. Joe Pelletier at Legends of Hockey has a profile for each player on that team which is worth a read and Reality Check at Eyes on the Prize has a two part look back at the squad (Part I and II).

The biggest news is that Dave Keon will be in attendance at an official Leafs' function for the first time since he left the Leafs after being treated shabbily by Harold Ballard. He is a player that stands out in any conversation with fans that saw him play. His anti-Leaf stance was understandable when it was personal between him and Ballard as no one would blame him for not wanting to help the man who had run him out of Toronto and the NHL after he had done so much to help. However, when his issue moved from his treatment (the current ownership has tried repeatedly to mend this rift) to the fact that his jersey was not retired it became a little self-serving. Whatever JFJ said to get Keon to participate in tonight's festivities (scheduled for 13 minutes it's a good thing that Dryden wasn't part of that team!) it was well worth it.

There have been calls for Stajan to switch numbers and for the Leafs to retire 14. The current policty of honouring numbers is one with which I agree and Stajan, who wears 14 to honour an uncle who passed away from cancer at the age of 22, should not have to deal with the media trying to advance a players' personal battle. Hopefully, tonight the focus will lie on honouring a team that was so quickly forgotten by the Leafs ownership of the period and that the ceremony will inspire the current crop of Maple Leafs to greater heights. Maybe then we can get a similar scene to the one below in colour.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Leafs 4 v. Flyers 2: Fortuitous Scratch

Game Recap

I missed this game but it sure sounded like a doozy on the radio. Between the warm-up and the opening face-off Peter Forsberg got trade to the Nashville Predators. Mirtle has a pretty good take on the trade. Not that it affects the Leafs unless they play the Predators in the final. Boy, would I be upset if that happened now.

Anyway, onto the game itself. The Leafs chased Michael Leighton with 3 first period goals off of the sticks of Carlo Colaiacovo, Jeff O'Neill, and Nik 'everybody hates' Antropov. The Leafs got into some penalty trouble and almost managed to let Philly all the way back but a fourth from Mats was enough to deliver the win and move the Leafs into the 8th and final playoff spot.

Considering the Leafs' dads were in attendance as part of a take your dad to work program I would assume that the flight back to Toronto had a lot of 'DAD! did you see when I hit the Flyer?" "DAD! did you see when I made that pass and it was almost a goal?". Maybe their presence inspired them. Well that or a desire to not get a timeout in front of the other kids.

After a long hiatus...

The Final Word
Andrew Raycroft started his 19th straight game, running his record in that span to 11-5-3. He was at his best in the third, when the Flyers outshot Toronto 16-3.
Razor keeps improving as the Leafs move up the table. Is there a way to play the remaining schedule on the road?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tight Like A Tiger

This post is cross-posted from The Battle of Ontario.

David Johnson at Hockey Analysis has updated his predicted standings. His first installment had the Leafs missing the playoffs by a point and they are still in the same position! The predicted standings have managed to get even tighter.

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SS = Strength of Schedule
FSS = Future Strength of Schedule
PP = Predicted Points

Three points separate 5th from 11th with the Leafs projected to miss the playoffs by half the margin of last year. If this plays out I might jump off the Bloor Viaduct (just joking! suicide is not the solution to any of life's problems except being a sens fan).

What will make or break the chasing pack will be their performance within. Last year the Leafs suffered because they were not taking points from the teams directly ahead of them. Their recent five game streak was another good example of running in the wheel and getting nowhere. Jeff J at Sisu Hockey [a Habs fan but strangely not psychotic. I guess it's beacuse he doesn't actually live in Montreal] came up with this great table (reproduced and updated below) that captures the dynamic present in the grouping fighting for those last precious playoff spots.

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PPG = Points per Game
H = Home games remaining
A = Away games remaining
P = Games against teams currently in playoff positions
NP = Games against teams currently not in playoff positions
BB = Back-to-back games left
DC = Games remaining versus direct competition

Tampa has the easiest schedule remaining but they also have the fewest games remaining against the rest of the group which could leave them in the Leafs' position from last season. The Leafs have the most games against currently playoff-bound teams which is actually a good thing since they tend to play to the level of the competition. Montreal has the most road games left and the most left against non-playoff-bound hockey teams so I guess those cancel each other out. Either way, the Habs will be on the outside looking in.

What might be the wildcard in the push for the playoffs? The ottawa senators. The sens aren't in the table because those jerks will make the playoffs regardless of who they play over the last few games. However, they have 14 games against the above group including two against God's Team so they will have a lot to say about who will emerge from one of the tighest races since...last year with a playoff spot.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Leafs 2 v. Islanders 3 (SO): Pissed Away

Last season the Leafs had a 3-7 OT/SO record and they missed the playoffs by two points. This year the Leafs have 8 OT/SO losses. If the Leafs miss the playoffs then their goaltender's inability to stop penalty shots (12 saves on 20 shots) or the team's inability to score them will once again be the difference between a playoff run or running from the scorn of their fans. Antro and Poni are pet projects of mine but those were two terrible penalty shots. Why not use Kaberle more often after his sick deke against Aebischer? Or use Ian White? Just switch it up for the love of God.

Leafs are in 10th on goal differential but the Habs lost thanks to Eddie Belfour's shutout. Thanks Eddie! Could have used a couple more of those last year. But thanks anyway Eddie, give yourself a billion dollars.

I think habsgood of my new favourite site summed up the two games best:
What a beautiful loose. they go to special training to loose like this.
A special loose indeed.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Birthday Mats!

36 years ago today, in Bromma, Sweden, the 18th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs was born. While it took some time for the Leafs' faithful to warm up to him he is now viewed with the same affection as previous captains. After picking up his 700th assist on Saturday he continues his assault on the Leafs' record books tonight against the Islanders.

I could go on and on about Mats' place in hockey (HHOF) and in the annals of Leafs' history but here is a list of his achievements as well as a couple of commercials and highlights from a pair of recent tour de force performances.

Awards & achievements

  • Swedish Champion in 1990.
  • First European born player to be drafted first overall in the NHL entry draft.
  • Named to the Elitserien World All-Star Team in 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1998.
  • Named to the World Championships All-Star Team in 1992 and 2003.
  • World Championships' Best Forward in 1992.
  • Named to the Canada Cup All-Star Team in 1991.
  • Named to the World Cup of Hockey All-Star Team in 1996.
  • Played in the NHL All-Star Game in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 (injured) and 2004.
  • Named to the NHL Second All-Star Team in 2002 and 2004.
  • Named to the Olympic Tournament All-Star Team in 2002.
  • Gold medal at the Olympic Tournament in 2006.
  • Achieved 500 goal plateau on October 14th, 2006.
  • Achieved 1,200 points on December 26th, 2006.


  • Currently holds the NHL record for most overtime goals with 15
  • Longest serving European captain of an NHL franchise in league history
  • First Swedish player to reach the 500 goal milestone
  • Most career assists by a Swedish hockey player
  • Most career goals by a Swedish hockey player
  • Most career points by a Swedish hockey player
  • Most consecutive 70-or-more point seasons (13) (excluding the shortened 1994-95 NHL season) (shared with Wayne Gretzky)
  • Most assists in a period by a Toronto Maple Leaf (3) (tied with Darcy Tucker)
  • Fastest overtime goal- 6 seconds (tied with Alexander Ovechkin and David Legwand)
  • 38th highest career points
  • 31st highest career goals
  • 2nd all-time in goals scored for the Toronto Maple Leafs


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Leafs 5 v. Penguins 6 (OT): Grit and Determination

Game Recap

Due to some problems that Hockey-Recap has run into the format for the game recaps will revert to it's original form. Thankfully, Hockey-Recap will return for next season because his stats page was one of the better creations on the net.

Anyone that missed this game missed one of the more exciting games of the season as well as a national coming out party for one of the game's great young talents. Jordan Staal scored a hat-trick, including the OT winner, and showed that the Calder race is probably being run between Penguin teammates.

The bright side of the game was that the Leafs managed to get a point from a game in which they were trailing 3-0 at the halfway mark. I am sure some of the fairer-weather fans had packed it in at that point but the Leafs stuck to their game plan of dumping it in and using their size to get their cycle going. The Soviet Bloc got the comeback rolling as Antropov scored the opener on a nice feed from Ponikarovsky from the side of the net. Mats knocked in a loose puck after some good forechecking resulted in a good scoring chance for Antro. Fleury made the initial save but it trickled behind him and was slipped in by Sundin.

The newly formed Redemption Line of Devereaux-Kilger-Battaglia chipped in with two goals as they constantly harried and hassled the Penguins defence into a number of turnovers and used their size and strength to match the top line's ability to control the puck in the offensive zone.

At the end of the day, the Leafs picked up a valuable point, regulation losses should be viewed as anathema, from a game in which it would have been easy for them to pack it in. It could have been two points if Bryan McCabe didn't break rule # 1 of defence - don't flop on your stomach within 6 feet of the net - but you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Wild And Crazy Ride

When I last posted the Leafs had just won their first game in a run of five straight road games with a solid performance against the Carolina Hurricanes. Since then the Leafs have returned home the proud owners of a 4-1 record on their travels. The key to their success was the continued great goaltending of Andrew Raycroft (he won the Battle of Ontario 'Name' Game) and a new dedication to discipline. It is no surprise that in their four wins the Leafs gave up four, two, three, and three powerplays while giving up eleven powerplays in their only loss.

While getting ready for tonight's rematch with the rampant Penguins let's take a stroll down memory lane and check out just how the Leafs vaulted themselves back into playoff contention.

Leafs 2 v. Rangers 1: Razor Sharp

Razor put together a 37 save performance to keep the Rangers off the board. Aaron Ward laid a dirty, late headshot on Alexei Ponikarovsky but he replied by opening the scoring for the Leafs. Mats Sundin scored the winner on a brilliant Ian White long pass.

Leafs 3 v. sens 2 (SO): 'Name' Game

This game pitted Razor against his jumped-up opposition Ray Emery for the right to the sharp nickname. Both goalies had outstanding games but in the end the Leafs' tender emerged victorious thanks to his brilliant performance in the shootout. Leafs Nation invaded the Bank (including yours truly) and proceeded to outcheer and outjeer the hometown's fans as they shrank back in the face of our deafening roar. O'Neill and Sundin gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead heading into the third but the Leafs wanted to provide some drama. They allowed the sens to send the game to a shootout befor John Pohl beat the goalie formerly known as Razor with a nice backhand.

Leafs 2 v. Blues 1: Defence First

By all accounts the Leafs won this game with solid defence, clutch goaltending, and just enough offence. This gave the Leafs a chance to clinch their first 5-0 road trip in franchise history. It was not to be but this 4th straight road win and 5th straight overall put the Leafs not only within two points of 8th place but within striking distance of 4th in the Eastern Conference.

Leafs 2 v. Predators 4: Missed Opportunity

The Leafs missed a great chance to topple one of the West's top teams as a lack of discipline and shoddy refereeing torpedoed their chances at victory. The Predators are faster than greased lightning but the Leafs were generally able to hold their own. The line of The Soviet Bloc and the Captain were dominant. They held onto the puck at will and only some timely pokechecks, saves, and blocked shots kept them from putting up more than one goal.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

If Life Were Like That...

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I wouldn't be writing a blog and I wouldn't need a VISA because I would just pay for everything with cash. In the grand tradition of internet tagging fun I am responding to Sherry's invitation to the BoO to partake in a little bit of make-believe (which pretty much sums up a Leaf fan's existence) and imagine myself as an NHL player. E at A Theory of Ice has a roundup of some of the answers so far in what has become an interesting insight on the personalities behind the blogs. Since I am looking at a deluge of snow outside my window now is the time to daydream:

Team: God's Team. The Toronto Maple Leafs for the uninitiated.

Uniform Number: 22

Position: Right wing on the top line - might as well dream big.

Nickname: Most inappropriate for printing but probably Hector.

Dream Linemates: Dougie at centre and Wendel on the wing.

Rounding out the PP: Kaberle and Mats

Job: Finishing Dougie's passes and riding shotgun to Wendel.

Signature Move: Cutting in off the wing and ripping a wrist shot high on the glove side. It might miss, it might get caught, but when it goes in, oh boy!

Strengths: Size, speed (In this alternate universe I still have the speed from my youth), and silky smooth hands.

Weaknesses: The Flamingo, Cherry would hate it but I would make up for it by teaming up with Wendel for the most fighting majors by linemates in NHL history.

Injury Problems: I'm fine, stop asking me. I wouldn't tell you anyway!

Equipment: Same as now but I would make Bauer bring back the Supreme 3030 Stiff Flex. Sticks need to be heavy!

Nemesis: I would be Old School. Anyone without a Maple Leaf on their chest would be my enemy.

Scandal Involvement: 'Sean, I have no idea how Elisha ended up in my hotel room but she is most definitely not the Girl Next Door.'

Who I’d face in the Stanley Cup Finals: Since I would only be able to break the sens and Habs hearts in the first three rounds I would have to settle for one of the teams from Western Canada. I'll go with Edmonton.

What I’d do with the Stanley Cup after our victory: A month-long 5-city tour of the other Canadian NHL cities to share the moment with the Leafs legions of fans. Features of the trip would be Queen's We Are The Champions being in heavy rotation, large billboards of the Cup presentation being put up in highly visible areas, and an (Insert Canadian team) futility counter in front of each of the five arenas. Yes, if the Leafs win the cup I will be releasing a lifetime's worth of pent up rage.

Would the media love me or hate me?: They would love my grit, heart, Old School approach to hating everyone not on my team including any former teammates that would dare to leave, and my frequent dalliances with Hollywood's leading ladies (McAdams, Johansson, and Snow, Oh My!). Plus I would be a quote machine.

This should be a fun exercise for the boys during the break before the Name Game. I will tag Ninja, Bitter Leaf Fan, Wardo, J. Bluebud, and Andy and Matt in the hopes that they'll keep the game alive.