Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fighting in the NHL

This is my most favorite time of the year as the NHL has started up again. I am still wrapping my head around seeing Vinny Lecavalier as second-line center on the Philadelphia Flyers, but it is exciting to see all the new line-ups and just finally watching games that mean something. But part of my excitement is hampered by all this talk of the hot-button issue of fighting in hockey. For those who are unaware, this is a divisive topic in which there really is no middle-ground. Although I have heard persuasive arguments for both sides, I not only prefer fighting in hockey but I also believe there is a place for it.

One of the best arguments that I have heard denouncing fighting hockey is that it is unnecessary in order to win championships is from Drew Remenda, the color analyst for the San Jose Sharks. He used the Detroit Red Wings as the best example for this because they have the longest consecutive playoff appearances to date of twenty-two years. They have eleven Stanley Cup wins, and they have the lowest number of fights when compared to all other teams in the league. Remenda makes an excellent point, and he is absolutely correct when he emphasizes that the Red Wings win because of their fast-skating and incredible stick-handling. But I'd also like to point out that they also have Todd "I Almost Killed a Man" Bertuzzi on the roster. Jordin Tootoo is perhaps the hired gun of the current group, but he doesn't quite fit the image of an enforcer/pest type. And let's not forget that Darren McCarty, Brendan Shanahan, and Martin Lapointe have been big parts of the Red Wings past. However, the Red Wings are the lone team who are able to have success with this system. They are the outlier. It has become far more the norm to utilize one or two players to be the tough guy on the team. These tough guys are more like pests rather than the enforcers in the old days. These pests are intended to rile the other players, throw down the gloves when necessary, but they have to have a more dimensional game. There has been value attached to players like Brandon Prust, Steve Downie, Scott Hartnell, and Steve Ott. They aren't merely hired guns but have to be able to score or offer something other than pure fighting. Thus, fighting has decreased over the years and hasn't always had the same "I'm going to kill you" feel to every scuffle that breaks out on the ice.

One of the arguments for fighting is that fans will not watch hockey without it. Drew Remenda pointed out that hockey fans will continue to watch the games without fighting, but they would not watch it without scoring. That makes sense, but I think this slightly misses the point. Hockey fans will watch hockey because they love the game. Fighting is like the decorations on a cake. They aren't necessary in order to enjoy the cake, but they do make it just a little bit better. Not every game has a fight and that does not make the game any less enjoyable (well, unless your team suffers a heart-breaking loss or gets completely embarrassed). However, fighting can draw in new fans which is what the NHL desperately needs. I am not saying that people will not become fans of hockey because there wasn't a fight, but when there is a fight, people become far more curious about the professional sport that stops in order to allow two players to duke it out where they stand. Suddenly, hockey becomes all that more fascinating. I remember taking a friend to her first hockey game, and she was amazed, "They can just fight like that?" Yes, yes, they can, and I love it. I have also heard people who have brought a friend who has never been to a hockey game before being fascinated and thrilled by seeing a fight. And I have never heard anyone ever say, "Our team won which was great, but there was a fight. That was awful." I guess there must be some people who feel that way, but I have never met them.

An argument against fighting is that it is too dangerous. In my opinion, this is not entirely true. In the majority of fights, the players might have a few cuts and/or bruises on their face or torso but not much more. They usually do not require any extra attention from the trainers because of injuries. What has brought the issue of fighting back in the limelight is that there was a lot of heated reaction after the George Parros-Colton Orr fight in the Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens game which opened the NHL season on October 1. During the fight, Parros tripped and fell head first onto the ice and was trotted off the ice in a stretcher. It was later determined that Parros had suffered a concussion and was required to spend the night in the hospital. All of a sudden, this fight (which had been their second of the night) reignited the debate. However, I think this is a very poor example that simply focused on the outcome. Yes, the fight technically ended because Parros suffered a concussion. However, he fell. He tripped, not punched in the head until knocked unconscious nor intentionally pushed to the ice. This scenario could have also happened if he had tripped from a chip in the ice.

There is far more danger in the (legal) hard hits delivered throughout the game. Studies have proven that the punishment the bodies of hockey players take from hits is what causes concussions far more than fights. The NHL has taken leaps and bounds as compared to other leagues since Sidney Crosby suffered his concussion in 201. I would even argue that had the player not been the Christ-child of hockey, the league would most likely not have been as tenacious in its efforts to protect its players, if they pursued the matter at all. Not only have the rules changed to eliminate the more dangerous plays (i.e. hits from behind), but how players recover from concussions has also changed. Sidney Crosby was the first professional athlete to dictate his return rather than the organization or trainers to simply medically clear him and put him back on the ice. It was a few months after Crosby was cleared to play that he actually returned because he could tell from how he felt that he was not ready. Trainers and doctors have become more willing to allow players to use their own intuition in an effort to help them recover from concussions.

Furthermore, the Blake Geoffrion story also exemplifies why the game of hockey is more dangerous than fighting itself. For those who are unaware, Geoffrion was a player for the Montreal Canadiens who had been playing for its AHL affiliate the Hamilton Bulldogs during the lockout when he suffered a career-ending injury. During a game against the Syracuse Crunch, Geoffrion was skating at full speed along the boards with the puck when Jean-Philippe Cote delivered a legal hip-check which flipped Geoffrion upside-down and in the process Cote accidentally fractured Geoffrion's skull with his skate. Geoffrion had to undergo brain surgery to remove fragments of his skull from his brain and have a plate inserted where the bone was broken. And this was from a legal hit, an inherent danger in hockey. Another example of how hits are more perilous than fights is the infamous Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty. During a game in the 2010-2011 season, Chara delivered a hard hit to Pacioretty which unfortunately collided him with the stanchion. He suffered from a fractured cervical vertebra and a severe concussion. The hit was deemed to warrant an interference call as well as a game misconduct, and the NHL pursued an investigation to determine if further punishment was necessary. The league ruled that there would be no further reprimand would be warranted because they did not feel Chara intended to hurt Pacioretty and that it seemed that the unfortunate injuries Pacioretty suffered was due more to where on the ice he had been. The league then moved to remove the stanchions from all arenas in an effort to avoid another incident. Although the hit was not within the rules, this injury was incurred from a hit not a fight.

Another danger of the game of hockey is blocking shots. Players sacrifice their bodies in order to stop an opponent's puck from finding the net. In a recent incident, Gregory Campbell of the Boston Bruins broke his leg blocking a slapshot during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not an injury due to fighting. Matt Greene of the Los Angeles Kings has been known for using his head in order to block shots. In the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kings were facing the Vancouver Canucks, and in one of the games, the Kings were trying to hold their one-goal lead. Greene dove down on the ice as Alexandre Burrows took a slapshot at the net, but he dove a couple seconds too early. He was completely flat on the ice, and as he turned his head to the right to see where the puck would be coming, he realized it was coming just over his head. As any gritty hockey player would do, he raised his head to stop the puck with his face. He made a conscious decision to stop the puck at all costs because it is the playoffs. Of course, he repeated this same act in a regular season game during the 2011-2012 season, and I'm sure this will not be the last time we will see him do this. Taking slapshots to the head is far worse for your health than any fist coming at you.

To address the issue of whether or not there is a place for fighting in hockey. I believe that there is. Sometimes the fights that occur at the end of blowouts are superfluous, but the majority of fights are intended to rile up the players or to respond to a hit from the other team. Every so often, a team might start a game without energy, and the pest of the team will try to engage in a fight in order to inspire his team to have passion to play. Some critics don't feel that these fights are necessary, but I think if it gets the team going, why not? In an 82-game season, it is difficult to always be running on all-cylinders. If this is going to give you that competitive edge, do it. But where fighting really has a place is responding to the other team. Some teams are more physical than others, but an effective way to limit a team that may be bullying another is to hit back. This sends the message that if you're going to hit us, we're going to hit you back. In a game against the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller felt that Milan Lucic had been too physical in his front-of-net play which ended in Lucic crashing into Miller so intensely that he suffered a concussion. Part of the problem is that the incident reached that height because the none of the Sabres players tried to pick a fight with Lucic to send the message that his antics would not be tolerated. This incident also lead to the Sabres acquiring John Scott and Steve Ott to add toughness to the team. The Miller-Lucic incident is exactly why fighting has a place in hockey. Hits are what causes more physical harm to players than fights, and fighting can limit those more dangerous hits that can lead to injury. Lucic kept rushing the net because no one stopped him.

One last point I would like to make is that this is the beginning of the season. There will be more fights during this time of year as younger players desperate to have a spot on the roster may engage in a fight in order to attract the attention of the coach. Sometimes those players who do not necessarily have the talent to be a top goal-scorer will make up for that with the heart they show by demonstrating that they are willing to drop the gloves for the team. They will literally fight for a spot on the team. For example, Hugh Jessiman formerly of the Florida Panthers engaged in a fight in his NHL debut. He had failed to make the team at the beginning of the season but injuries warranted a call up to the majors. In an effort to make an impression on the coach as a bid to keep him on the team, he fought one of the toughest players on the opposing team, Troy Bodie. Although the ploy did not ultimately work, it demonstrates why some players will be anxious for a fight. Last season, Frazer McLaren of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tye McGinn of the Philadelphia Flyers engaged in fights to begin their debuts with their respective teams in a similar effort to show how they could be useful to their teams.

Although the topic of fighting in hockey will go one to be debated, I strongly feel that it is still necessary to the sport, and I highly enjoy it.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tweets of the Week


Here is this week's edition of Tweets of the Week. Don't forget to tweet (@SportingAJenDa) or email (thesportingajenda@gmail.com) your favorites! Thank you all for another great week of laughter!

@Mike_Danton: What’s with these pro athletes that throw their careers away with murder charges? Geesh ... #Idiots #Oops #FootInMouth #NFL #NHL

@Steve_Dangle: I tried to type in all of Patrice Bergeron’s injuries into WebMD and my computer burst into flames.

@RattoCSN: Now that I know about Patrice Bergeron, I’m thinking Gregory Campbell should have been listed as day-to-day.

@richcluneshow: I’m not gay, but im kind of a lesbian. Enjoy #PrideTO week love #dicky.

@lyndsay6_16: Damn weddings! Damn them straight to hell. I mean, I guess I wouldn’t have to miss hockey for it.

@Hartsy19 (Scott Hartnell): “@cvaloppixox: @Hartsy19 you’re awesome” so is that make out sesh in ur profile pic!!! #xxx

@Patrick_ONeal: I will always remember/miss doing bench interviews w/ Bernier employing very distracting tactics, ie butt massages with goalie glove.

@mstyczen (Mike Styczen): Best twitter response ever via the @CalgaryPolice (https://twitter.com/mstyczen/status/348911260760416257/photo/1)

@BurkieYCP: Remember that time there was a major NHL trade and one of the immediate concerns was his availability for a gay pride parade?

@PinkValkyrie: Damn it! I forgot to practice my “upward facing t****” this weekend!

@JoeYerdonPHT: Why didn’t dude get hooked up with the Wile E. Coyote bat-man suit from Acme? #Skywire

@TonyMarinaro: Chris Nilan: “Patick Kane, I’ll tell ya, I banged him earlier this week”
Me: “Good for u. (Laughs) I am so immature...”

@Mendy87: We Kane. We Shaw. We Crawford. #Blackhawks @darrenrovell

@Willinthe713: In my day, you young whippernsnappers, any pitcher who intentionally walked a guy to get to Albert Pujols had to commit seppuku. Times change.

@CopaCavanna (Alan Cavanna): Yes. This went across the local #clt news :). Can’t make this up. (https://twitter.com/CopaCavanna/status/349365407808897024/photo/1)

@BaileyLAKings: Come on Patrick Kane get your boy a better camera. Disposable cameras cannot take a photo of the cup! It’s 2013 (https://twitter.com/BaileyLAKings/status/349369374093762560/photo/1)

@SoVeryAwkward: That awkward moment in Titanic when Rose says she’ll never let go, and lies. #WorstLies

7. @stephaniejoplin: why am i the only person in a group of girls who remembers to bring money? magically your wallet gets lodged in your tight a$$? funny!

6. @HarrisonMooney: Man, that Letang offer. I can’t even imagine being offered $54 million over eight years and being like, “No. F*** you. More.”

5. @shortsweetkate: White people love instagramming their food.. #fact

4. @TheAlSpencer: I’m getting sleepy damn that last tweet woke up.I guess I’ll brush my teeth Because my dream girl won’t like a funky breath.

3. @Willinthe713: Brian in Boca just called me “Judge Will” in a text asking my thought on A. Hernandez case. I’m...honored??

2. @Kato_Kaelin: I swear I did NOT live in Aaron Hernandez’s Guest House. #havemyowncouch

Monday, June 24, 2013

Tweets of the Week

I have decided to add a new weekly blog that I hope you all will enjoy. I'm going to be doing a Tweets of the Week feature in which I will put together the top seven tweets of the week. Why seven? Because there are seven days in a week... I encourage you to tweet me @SportingAJenDa or email me at thesportingajenda@gmail.com if you have something that would make the list or have found something for consideration. I hope you enjoy! Don't forget to follow these accounts because they are awesome, and let's face it, we all need to waste spend more time on Twitter. You are welcome.

Tweets that didn't quite make the list but were nonetheless enjoyable:



@TheFunkeMonkey: Fine, I just wanna see Chris Bosh devour Newman from Seinfeld. Black market dino DNA doesn’t play, brah. #Velociraptor
@wilw: The Blackhawks power play makes me feel like I’m watching my Kings. Thanks, guys. You don’t need to do that, and I appreciate it.
@DownGoesBrown: This is playoff hockey why do the teams keep scoring goals I’m so confused.
@HockeyBroph: Can you imagine Crawford and Reimer tryimg to High 5 each other?
@HalfordPHT: No, Torts doesn’t fit Canucks “image”. But their old intro vid had Raymond ordering sushi to the tune of a pan flute, so maybe change is OK.
@mayorNHL: Rumored Sutter quotes following the surgery... Coach-What was the doctor’s name?... “None of your business, this isn’t Grey’s Anatomy.”
@BaileyLAKings: Why does lebron call everyone dog. That is an insult... Cats are cool
This tweet really should have have been Tweet 7.5: @DonCherryParody: YKNOW I BET KANE LIKES BEATIN UP THE BROOINS BECAUSE THEIR SWEATERS ARE THE SAME COLOURS AS TAXI CABS
7. @twolinepass: the pats signed tebow so hernandez would have access to a white bronco. anyway have fun on twitter today folks #staysafe #stayhydrated
6. @strombone1: I'M WILLING TO STAY, BE THE BACKUP AND PLAY FOR FREE IF THEY LET ME SIT IN AT EVERY TORTS PRESSER! #MAN #MYTH #LEGEND
In case you need some context, this tweet is from Roberto Luongo's account.
5.@SportsHutch: In honor of Carlos Lee's retirement, I am currently eating nachos and chili cheese dogs for lunch, @SeanCablinasian
4.@TheFunkeMonkey: @TravisRodgers Will you please ask Alex Morgan how its possible that wombat guy is allowed to play on a women's team? Thanks.
3. @bigmeanjohn: @BryanBenway i wish aaron hernandez would give my ex wife a ride sometime...
2. @PinkValkyrie: I'm gonna be such a girl this morning so remind me later to crack open a beer, watch some sports, and scratch my ass. #XX
I love this girl. She and I are so similar. We like and do the girly things but cannot get enough of sports! Don't forget to give her a follow!
1. @TulsaNightCalls: @SportingAJenDa started a FFl u in?
Thank you, Robyn, for remembering me and inviting me to play in your fantasy league. That totally made my week!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Hockey Geek's Guide to the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals

For hockey fans, this is one of the most exciting times of the season. The Stanley Cup Finals are finally here! This is a bittersweet moment as some of the best hockey is played at this time, but it also marks the long wait for September when the season starts up again. For NHL fans this year's Stanley Cup matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins is special because it marks the first Original Six* matchup since 1979, or at least that is how Gary Bettman would like fans to feel. What also makes this year's Stanley Cup winner, regardless of who it is, different from the last nine years is that it will NOT be a new team. That is correct. There has been a new winning team drinking from Lord Stanley's Cup for the last nine years, but that is about to end. The Chicago Blackhawks won back in 2010 when they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Boston Bruins won it the following year as they took down the 2011 President's Trophy** team, Vancouver Canucks. Coincidentally, the Bruins will again be facing another President's Trophy team as the Chicago Blackhawks went on their historic point streak by not losing a game in regulation for 24 games during the regular season. Both teams have changed dramatically since they last won, so let's take a look at how they have changed and whatever really interesting but totally useless factoids we can find.

Boston Bruins
New Additions:
Jaromir Jagr: The future hall-of-famer was acquired by the Bruins from the Dallas Stars for prospects Lane McDermid and Cody Payne along with a conditional pick in the 2013 draft at this year's trade deadline.
Wade Redden: Another 2013 trade deadline acquisition, the St. Louis Blues traded for a pick at this year's draft.
Kaspars Daugavins: He was claimed off waivers from the Ottawa Senators at the end of March of this season. He is now taking the place of Gregory Campbell since his injury.

Who Has Left:
Mark Recchi: The Recchin' Ball retired after winning his third Stanley Cup in 2011.
Michael Ryder: The right-winger signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars after winning the Cup but has since been traded to the Montreal Canadiens.
Tomas Kaberle: Here is an intriguing signing. The Bruins traded for Kaberle from the Toronto Maple Leafs, who received prospect Joe Colborne, a first-round pick in the 2011 draft, and a second-round pick in the 2012 draft. After winning the Cup, Kaberle signed with the Carolina Hurricanes who traded him to the Montreal Canadiens and is rumored to be a compliancy buyout.
Shane Hnidy: The defenseman quietly retired after fifteen years in the league.
Tim Thomas: This is perhaps the most surprising change to the Bruins roster. The goaltender announced that he would take the 2012-2013 season off but would return the following season. Perhaps he was avoiding the lockout or disliked how the Bruins intervened with his political FaceBook statuses.*** In any case, his rights were traded to the New York Islanders during the shortened 2013 season.

The Youngsters:
Torey Krug: The undrafted defenseman has been clutch for the Bruins and has already notched six points in nine games during his first postseason.
Dougie Hamilton: The ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Matt Bartkowski: The 190th pick overall in the 2008 draft taken by the Florida Panthers but traded along with Dennis Seidenberg in 2010 to the Bruins for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller, and a second-round pick in the 2010 draft. He was also a piece in proposal the Bruins had made to the Calgary Flames for Jarome Iginla at the 2013 trade deadline, which was kiboshed when Iggy decided to go to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Scoring Scenario:
-David Krejci had 23 points in the 2011 postseason. He already has 21 points.
-Nathan Horton notched 17 points during the last Stanley Cup bid and has tied that before entering this year's Finals series.
-Zdeno Chara posted nine points in 2011 and has exceeded that to net eleven points.
-Milan Lucic had twelve points in the last Cup run and already has thirteen points.
-The rookie Torey Krug has an impressive six points in nine games.
-Daniel Paille notched six points in the 2011 postseason and will enter this series with five.
-Shawn Thornton has upped his game since the last run in which he only had a point. He now has four.

Impressive (but Useless) Factoids:
-Nathan Horton leads the B's with two goals, one each in the 2010-201 and the 2011-2012 seasons, against goaltender Corey Crawford. Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, and Chris Kelly each have a goal.
-Chris Bourque is the son of hall-of-famer Ray Bourque.
-This will be Chris Kelly's third Finals appearance in his career. He played in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals with the Ottawa Senators in which they lost to Anaheim Ducks before winning with the Bruins in 2011. Therefore, if the Bruins win it again, he will be two for three.
-Jaromir Jagr has won the Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992. The second Cup was coincidentally against the Chicago Blackhawks. If the Bruins win it again, Jagr will be three for three.
-Jay Pandolfo also has won the Stanley Cup twice but with the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and 2003. He was also a member of the 2001 team that made it to the finals but lost. This could also be Pandolfo's third win, but he would be three for four.
-Shawn Thornton was a member of the 2007 Anaheim Ducks team that defeated Chris Kelly and the Ottawa Senators to win the Stanley Cup before winning for a second time with the Bruins in 2011. Amazingly, this tough guy would also be three for three like Jagr should the Bruins win.
-Andrew Ference has a single appearance in the Finals in 2004 with the Calgary Flames before winning for the first time with the Bruins in 2011.
-Wade Redden has never won the Cup but was on the Ottawa Senators team with Chris Kelly that lost to Shawn Thornton and the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

 Chicago Blackhawks
New Additions:
Michal Frolik: The Blackhawks traded Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman, and David Pacan to the Florida Panthers for goaltender Alexander Salak and Michal Frolik during the 2010-2011 season.
Johnny Oduya: The Winnipeg Jets traded Oduya for second and third round picks in the 2013 draft at the 2011-2012 trade deadline.
Michal Rozsival: The defenseman signed with the team before the lockout at a free agent.
Daniel Carcillo: The left-winger signed as a free agent in 2011 and in 2012 was awarded a contract extension to play through next season.
Sheldon Brookbank: Brookbank signed as free agent in 2012.
Ray Emery: The backup goaltender signed in 2011.
Viktor Stalberg: The Toronto Maple Leafs traded Stalberg along with Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis for Kris Versteeg and prospect Bill Sweatt.
Michal Handzus: The San Jose Sharks traded the veteran for a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft at this year's trade deadline. I would also like to make a special note that he was very impressive against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals. The Lokomotiv tragedy**** in which he lost many friends really affected him and his game, and it was not until that series that the old Hands of Zus came out. If any player would stand out against my favorite him, I am happy for Zus and wish him the best of luck.
Jamie Kompon: After winning the Cup with the Los Angeles Kings, the assistant head coach did not have his contract renewed and joined the Blackhawks. He spent six seasons with the Kings and was a large part of the success of its defense and penalty kill. Chicago's penalty kill has vastly improved, and I give the majority of the credit to Kompon.

Who Has Left:
Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Akim Aliu were traded to the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) for first- and second-round picks in the 2010 draft, Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, and Jeremy Morin after winning the Stanley Cup. This huge multi-player transaction occurred because the Blackhawks had a major salary cap crisis following their win.
Kris Versteeg and prospect Bill Sweatt were traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Viktor Stalberg, Chris DiDomenico, and Philippe Paradis at the end of the 2010 postseason.
Antti Niemi: The young goaltender who outplayed Michael Leighton of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup win signed with the San Jose Sharks and was a Vezina Trophy***** candidate for the 2013 season.
Troy Brouwer: The defenseman was traded to the Washington Capitals in 2011 for a first-round pick in the 2011 draft.
Tomas Kopecky: His rights were traded to the Florida Panthers in 2011 for a seventh-round pick in the 2012 or 2013 draft.
Andrew Ladd: Immediately after winning the Cup, Ladd was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) for Ivan Vishnevksiy, not to be confused with Visnovski, and a second-round pick in the 2011 draft.
Brian Campbell: On the draft floor of the first day of the 2010 draft, those watching the draft watched the agent for the defenseman on the cell phone working a deal that sent Campbell to the Florida Panthers for Rostislav Olesz.
John Madden: The non-football-related veteran signed with the Minnesota Wild but retired in 2012.
Jordan Hendry: After suffering a significant injury in the 2010-2011 season, Hendry signed with the Anaheim Ducks but has since remained in the AHL.******
Adam Burish: After winning the Cup, Burish signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent. He now plays for the San Jose Sharks.
Colin Fraser: The center was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft a the conclusion of the Stanley Cup win. The Oilers then traded Fraser along with a seventh-round draft pick in the 2012 draft to the Los Angeles Kings in 2011 for veteran Ryan Smyth. Despite my initial outrage at this deal, the Kings won the Cup (so Fraser's second) in 2012, so all is forgiven, because I know Dean Lombardi really cares.
Nick Boyton: The veteran was claimed off waivers by the Flyers in 2011 but has since retired.
Cristobal Huet: Unable to find a position in the NHL, he went to play overseas following the Stanley Cup win.

The Youngsters:
Andrew Shaw: The 139th overall pick of the 2011 draft.
Brandon Saad: The 43rd overall pick of the 2011 draft.
Marcus Kruger: The 149th overall pick of the 2009 draft.
Nick Leddy: The 16th pick overall in the 2009 draft by the Minnesota Wild. In 2010, the Wild traded Kim Johnsson and the rights to Leddy for Cam Barker.
Brandon Bollig: An undrafted player who provides a physical aspect to the Blackhawk's game.

Scoring:
-Bryan Bickell had one point in 2010 but has sky-rocketed in production this postseason with thirteen points already
-Marian Hossa notched fifteen points in the last Cup run and already has fourteen before this series begins.
-The top three in points in 2010 were Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp. This year the top three in points are Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Kane. Despite the changes that this club has undergone, the core has remained intact and on top.

Impressive (but Useless) Factoids:
-Patrick Kane is the only Chicago Blackhawk to have scored a goal on Tukka Rask. It was during the 2009-2010 season.
-Daniel Carcillo last played in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010 with the Philadelphia Flyers against the Blackhawks. This will be his second appearance in four years, and if Chicago wins, he will have one win in two tries.
-Ray Emery was the goaltender in the Stanley Cup Finals for the Ottawa Senators in 2007. With a Stanley Cup win, he will be one for two.
-Marian Hossa has made four Stanley Cup appearances in the last six years. He first made it to the Finals in 2008 with the Pittsburgh Penguins who lost to the Detroit Red Wings. In 2009, he played for the Detroit Red Wings who lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Finally, in 2010, after three consecutive years, Hossa finally hoisted the Cup with the Blackhawks. If Chicago win again, he will be two for four.
-Although the Los Angeles Kings will not be vying for a back-to-back win, assistant coach Jamie Kompon is. After winning it all with the Kings last season, he will be back at it this year.

Preview of the Matchup
The Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks present a matchup of a team of bigger, tougher, and slightly older players against a group of faster, puck-dazzling, slightly younger players. If Chicago can set the fast-skating pace that they love, I think the Bruins might be a glide too slow to keep up. However, the Bruins can deliver some hard hits that can definitely slow the game down. The Blackhawks also have to watch out if Zdeno Chara decides to snipe because we have all seen his All-Star slap shot clocking in at 108.8 mph. Ouch! I think Tukka Rask might be the better goaltender of the two, but I don't see Corey Crawford having a meltdown to become a Tomas Vokoun or a Marc-Andre Fleury, no offense. Rask will have the tougher task of stopping the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and, surprisingly, Bryan Bickell. I am interested to see if Patrice Bergeron will entice one of the Blackhawks to a taste of his hand.******* Both the United Center, where the Blackhawks play, and the TD Bank Garden, where the Bruins play, can be very intimidating places to play. Stealing a road game is going to be difficult. I think the Blackhawks will win Game One because it will be the opening to the series in their house. Game 2 will be all that more important because if the Bruins can steal the second game, I'm not sure if the Blackhawks can steal one at the Garden. I give a slight edge to the Bruins but slightly. Can't wait for Wednesday night for game one!!!

*Orginal Six: Considered the first six teams that made up the NHL. These teams include the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens (yes, I spelled that correctly), New York Rangers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

**The President's Trophy is awarded to the team with the best regular season record in the NHL.

***The first incident involved Tim Thomas posting on his FaceBook page that he had declined to make the traditional White House trip the Stanley Cup winning team makes because he did not believe that the government was leading the country in the right direction. This spurred a lot of discussion as to whether this was professional or not and why he even posted that particular statement in the first place. The second incident involved his posting that he was in agreement with the values of the owners of Chick-fil-A who did not support gay marriage. This was interesting because of the close affiliation between the NHL and the YouCanPlay Project, an advocacy group for gay and LGBT athletes. And of course, this spurred numerous conversations on whether people were pro- or anti-chicken sandwiches. In both cases, the Boston Bruins issued statements that they did not support his statements and that it should not reflect the team's beliefs. I believe there were also some reprimands for Thomas's little rants.

****On September 7, 2011, the airplane transporting the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) crashed. There were no survivors. The team included several former NHL players. It is one of the great tragedies in sports history.

*****The Vezina Trophy is given to the goaltender who plays the position best in the league. It is named after Georges Vezina.

******The American Hockey League, the minor league affiliate of the NHL.

*******In Game One of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks, Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins engaged in an altercation with Alexandre Burrows. The two exchanged words, and at one point, Bergeron put his hand up to the face of Burrows. Bergeron claims that Burrows intentionally bit him, while Burrows defends that the bite was more incidental contact because of the situation. The NHL did not suspend Burrows for the incident because they could not cite intention, and he was allowed to continue the series.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Few Notes on Round Two of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs

I am so excited as the NHL heads into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This year's match-ups are quite intriguing. There are two sets of Original Six match-ups, two California power houses, and rhyming teams.

Western Conference

1. Chicago Blackhawks v. 7. Detroit Red Wings
Here is the Original Six match-up for the Western Conference who are also division rivals. The Chicago Blackhawks dominated the league as not only won the President's Trophy but they also did not allow a single regulation loss in twenty-four games, a first in NHL history. They appear to be the team to beat in the West, and until the Pittsburgh Penguins had their trade deadline frenzy, most experts were already giving the Cup to Chicago. With the offensive power this team has coupled with Crawford's solid performances in net, they will be a very difficult team to beat. All I know is that Marian Hossa was probably praying for Detroit to win because he did not want to be seeing Raffi Torres of the San Jose Sharks, after what happened last year which also coincidentally was in round two...

Detroit has had its struggles throughout the season, and this team is not the usual stronghold that we are used to since the losses of Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom. However, what the Wings have going for them is that they still have the veterans like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Todd Bertuzzi to name a few who have the experience and talent to help this team win. And if goaltender Jimmy Howard can keep top form, the Wings will make the Blackhawks work to get those wins. Almost all the experts had the Anaheim Ducks wiping the floor with Detroit but when that didn't happen and Detroit won game seven at the Pond, Detroit has its mojo going while the Hawks have been sitting around for a week. Yes, mojo is the technical term.

I would also like to point out that these two teams will be seeing a lot less of each other with realignment in effect for next season. Chicago and Detroit will no longer be in the same division and will only meet twice in the regular season but do have potential for post-season match-ups. These two teams have a long history together, and as an NHL fan, it is bittersweet to see these two battle out far less during the season. I realize that the playoffs are what truly make a rivalry, but the regular season drama is also a lot of fun.

5. Los Angeles Kings v. 6. San Jose Sharks
Here is another pair of division rivals, but they will continue to remain in the same division even when realignment takes effect. What is interesting here is that California hockey is becoming an NHL power house. This year all three California teams (Anaheim Ducks also made the post-season) made the cut-off, which incidentally is the same number of Canadian teams that made it as well. However, as we enter round two, only one Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators remains.

These two teams last faced each other in the 2011 post-season in which the Sharks beat the Kings in four games to two in the first round. Both teams have changed remarkably since then, and notably Los Angeles has won the Stanley Cup. These two teams always battle it out, and I would not be surprised if this goes the full seven games. They are often split the season and go 3-3 in their series, but the playoffs are always different. San Jose is coming off a huge series in which they swept the Vancouver Canucks, but the Kings also won their last four games in their series against the St. Louis Blues. Both teams have excellent goaltenders. Antti Niemi of the Sharks has been superb and is a Vezina finalist this year, and Jonathan Quick was the Conn Smythe winner last year with the Kings. The Kings have had some offensive woes in their series against the Blues, but St. Louis is also a complete shut-down defense which may account for that. However, if the Kings cannot find their offensive swagger, the Sharks will easily defeat them. I fully expect Kyle Clifford of the Kings throw-down with Raffi Torres of the Sharks during this series and will be completely disappointed if this does not happen.

Eastern Conference

1. Pittsburgh Penguins v. 7. Ottawa Senators
Just like the Western Conference, we see another one seed playing the seventh seed. This is the rhyming match-up. The Pens versus the Sens. I'm going to be brutally honest here. I am not a huge fan of the Senators, so I am not that familiar with the team. I think Pittsburgh will win this series, but I also believe that they have to win this series. After making the moves to acquire Jussi Jokinen of the Carolina Hurricanes, Douglas Murray of the San Jose Sharks, Brenden Morrow of the Dallas Stars, and Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames, the Pens absolutely have to make it to the finals in order to even begin to think that all that work at the trade deadline was worth it. I am pretty sure heads will roll in the Penguins organization if the Sens take them down. So, I'm sorry Canada, but this is probably not going to be your year... again...

However, the Penguins are going to have to work to beat the Senators. There has been some issue with goaltending as Marc-Andre Fleury has not been what he was when the Penguins last won the Cup in 2009. In fact, head coach Dan Bylsma pulled him in favor of Tomas Vokoun during the last series and is expected to start against Ottawa. However, Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson described how his complex approach to outwitting Vokoun, "You've almost got to make him think that you think that I think what he thinks." If he can do that, Alfie is the smartest hockey player out there, hands down. Despite my doubts in the talent of Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, he has been stellar. I always thought of him as an average goaltender, but something clicked for him when he was traded from the St. Louis Blues to the Ottawa Senators (oddly enough Brian Elliott who was the other player in that trade also went on to outplay his contract). When Anderson faced the New York Rangers in the playoffs last year, I thought he elevated his game because he was up against Henrik Lundqvist, last year's Vezina winner. It is almost like in tennis when you play someone who is better than you. You feed off of his or her level of play and begin to elevate your own game. So I thought Anderson was a bit of a flash in the pan, but he has been able to surprise. If he can continue to keep in his top form, despite Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, James Neal, and company, the Senators have more than a fighting chance.

4. Boston Bruins v. 6. New York Rangers
Here is the other Original Six match-up. I am not entirely sure what to expect. If the Rangers can carry the momentum from their series agains the Washington Capitals, this will probably be over pretty quickly. However, the Rangers sometimes seem to lose motivation when it counts the most and the Boston Bruins will capitalize, and this series could be going to a game seven. Both of these teams have had game sevens in their last series that took place Monday night (5/13), so neither team has the benefit of extra rest. However, the Boston Bruins will not be able to leave Toronto until Tuesday morning, so they have the slightest disadvantage of not being able to get back to work as quickly as the New York Rangers. I do not think that this is a huge problem in terms of preparation or any real disadvantage, but it could possibly be a mental block for the players. I believe this series will be physical and nasty. The Mighty Bs play a tough game, but head coach John Tortorella prides himself on making the Rangers a team of grinders, and no, he isn't making a lunch order. The Rangers have slightly more pressure to win because of the acquisitions of Rick Nash, Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard, and Derek Dorsett. I cannot wait for this series to start! By the way, welcome back to the playoffs Rick Nash!

Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Vancouver Canucks v. San Jose Sharks

This is probably one of the more exciting match-ups in the Western Conference. These two teams do not like each other, and fans on both sides bring the heat. I expect this series to go maybe six or seven games to determine the winner. I believe that this will be a high-scoring, physical, fast-paced series. Canucks may be the higher seeded team ranked at number three, but the Sharks are no slouch in the six spot. Both teams have a physical game and powerful offense. They also have the top goaltenders in the league.

One thing to watch for is if goaltender Roberto Luongo starts the series, the Sharks will need to capitalize on his usual cold start. The past two playoff seasons, Luongo has started in the first round against the Blackhawks and Kings. For whatever reason, he doesn't perform at his top level, but he can recover to elite shape that could power the Canucks through the rest of the series if not the playoffs. The Sharks will need to pounce and score early and often, which sounds obvious, but starting hot will probably be key especially because the Canucks also have a very solid second option in Cory Schneider. Not to mention, I believe that Alain Vigneault, Vancouver's head coach, is not afraid to make the switch at net when he needs to.

For Sharks fans, this match-up is probably more favorable because they avoid playing the St. Louis Blues who seem to know exactly how to dismantle the team. Sharks fans should also be delighted in the trade-deadline acquisition of Raffi Torres. Losing Ryan Clowe may not have been ideal because he usually brings that physical presence, but Torres will fill that void. I maintain that while he has made his mark for the team, he probably will not be a long-term solution to replacing Clowe. I expect Wilson to find a player who may have a bit more offensive prowess than Torres does but still have the aggressiveness that Clowe had. Of course, Wilson made the right decision to trade away Clowe because for whatever reason, things were no longer working in San Jose. I would like to see the Sharks get a player on par with a Brandon Prust, Ryan O'Reilly, Steve Downey, or Ryan Malone level. I'm not sure what the contract situations are for those players, but I think those players or those types of players will be targeted during summer's free agency. But back to Raffi, he may have a little more fight in him (if that is possible) to be going against his former team. I think he will be out there doing what he does best, and I think this gives the edge that Sharks need.

I would also like to add that if the Sharks do beat the Canucks in the first round, I fully expect to see Vancouver fire Vigneault. I think he is an excellent coach, but this would be the team's second consecutive first round loss. The Canucks have an intense urgency to bring the Stanley Cup home because Canadians are insane about hockey, and there is going to be pressure to make changes in order to make this happen. After the Canucks won the President's Trophy last season and lost to the lowly eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings (not to mention only winning one game in that series), there were rumors that Vigneault would have been fired then. I speculate that he kept his job for two reasons. The first being that the Kings won the Cup in an incredible fashion. I am not sure that the Canucks lost that series because of his coaching rather than the Kings seemed to find a way to steam-roll every team and go one to only lose four games in the entire post-season to go 16-4. Second, Vancouver was far too concerned with what to do with Luongo. They spent whatever time that was not dedicated to ending the lockout to trying to find a team who would be willing to take on the goaltender's massive contract. The team was geared to promote Schneider to the number one spot, and I would guess that to make the transition smoother for him, they would keep the only head coach he had ever known in his pro career. Of course, Vancouver still has both Luongo and Schneider, and I'm not sure anybody really knows who clearly has the edge in that competition. What is apparent is that if the Canucks lose to the Sharks, Vigneault is not going to keep his job. However, he will probably find a job very quickly and will not be unemployed for long.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII Cheat Sheet

Well, it's that time again! Yep, break out the chicken wings, pizza, and beer. For those of you who like Beyonce (who may or may not lip synch) and those multi-million dollar commercials, there is a football game going on in between all that. Maybe you've missed most of the season or haven't had the time or interest to follow the NFL, but you've been invited to a big Super Bowl party. Here is a guide that will help you participate in conversations instead of pretending that you can't share your opinion because the buffalo wings are just too delicious. This is for guys who have been too busy with work to know what the sports experts (I mean actual experts and am most certainly not including myself in this category) are discussing. Girls who want to impress that really cute guy they like or surprise their boyfriend with some sports knowledge can read this and add a couple of zingers. Maybe you're stuck going to an office Super Bowl party and have no idea what to say. Read this and you might be able to join a conversation or at least nod or shake your head and not just because it seems to be the appropriate social gesture.

The Basics
Let's start with the basics. The Super Bowl is always on Sunday, hence the name Super Bowl Sunday. It might surprise some people, but I have met people who didn't know that football, in general, took place on Sunday. (Of course, there are games on Mondays, as in Monday Night Football, and sometimes on Thursdays and Saturdays, but you don't have to know this for the Super Bowl cheat sheet.) This year the game is taking place in New Orleans at the Merecedes-Benz SuperDome (a dome so indoor football), home of the New Orleans Saints. Although the location of the Super Bowl is selected about four year in advance, no team has ever played in its home stadium. In other words, no team has had home field advantage, though it is a possibility. So in case you were wondering, no the Saints are not playing in the Super Bowl. Rather, the San Francisco 49ers will be playing the Baltimore Ravens.

The HarBowl, Super Baugh, and Bro Bowl
The biggest story circling this particular Super Bowl is that this is the first time in NFL history that two brothers have coached the two competing teams. John Harbaugh is the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and younger brother Jim Harbaugh is the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. This has ensued such nicknames as the HarBowl, Super Baugh, and Bro Bowl, so if you have heard these terms before but weren't sure what they meant, now you know. There will probably be a lot of talk about the brothers throughout the broadcast of the game, and you should also know that their father, Jack, was also a NFL head coach. Their mother's name is Jackie, so I guess they really love "J" names.

3 Things to Know about the 49ers
1. Colin Kaepernick (#7): Although Alex Smith began the 2012-2013 season as the number one quarterback, he was sidelined after a concussion sustained in Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams. It was then that Jim Harbaugh decided to put in Colin Kaepernick and never looked back. Since then, the offense has been making plays that it probably would not have been attempting with Smith at the helm. If you want to read a bit more about the controversial switch at quarterback, you can read my previous blog: http://thesportingajenda.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-tale-of-two-quarterbacks-smith-or.html. (Like how I self-promote? :) Without getting into too much detail, you can agree that it sucks for Smith to have brought the team to this point only to be injured and no longer a vital part of the team (let's face at this point he's a high-priced bench warmer). You should also know that no is outraged at the switch because the Kaepernick era has been amazing (they are in the Super Bowl), and he is so popular that his jerseys have outsold any other jersey in the entire NFL.

2. The Defense
The 49ers have one of the best defenses in the league. Until Harbaugh, the organization had a defensive-minded coach to help groom this into the beast it has become. Watch for these players to sack Joe Flacco (the quarterback of the Ravens), force fumbles and interceptions, and stop the Ravens offense in their tracks. This is something good to chime in on because a lot of people will be talking about the 49ers offense. You can say something like, "Don't forget that the offense can't do anything without that shutdown defense." It's okay that you don't totally know what it means, but others will be impressed or at least seriously consider your input.

3. David Akers (#2): David Akers had been one of the top kickers in the NFL in the 2011-2012 season, but he had a bit of a drop-off this past season. Before the post-season, the 49ers brought in another kicker, Billy Cundiff, to possibly replace Akers. From time to time, at least on local Bay Area radio, there has been controversy at kicker. If you hear this, just angrily state, "You know they're KICKERS, right?" Then walk off in dramatic fashion. This is such a non-story. Yes, the Super Bowl could come down to a field goal, but the truth is the game should never have to come down to that. If you're going to win a game, you should do it outright. The Stanley Cup is not won in a shootout, so the Super Bowl should not be won by a field goal.

3 People to Know on the Baltimore Ravens
1. Ray Lewis (#52): Ray Lewis is perhaps one of the best linebackers of all time and almost assuredly a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Before the post-season, Lewis announced to his team and to the world that he would be retiring at the end of this season. The timing of his declaration could not have come at a better time. Lewis had been sidelined for the majority of the season due to injury, and the team squeaked into the playoffs. When he made his retirement known, the team rallied around behind him to make sure he would be playing in what will be his last Super Bowl. This has been a great motivator for the team to give it their all for their teammate who has meant so much to not only the organization but also to the sport of football.

However, the latest story to break during Super Bowl media week, is a controversial one. Sports Illustrated reported that Ray Lewis had been linked to using deer-antler spray, a performance-enhancing drug (PED), that is banned by the NFL among other pro sports organizations. Apparently there is a particular type of deer that has antlers that grows faster than anything else on earth (okay, slight exaggeration), and it carries a hormone that allows for this growth. Scientists have extracted the hormone to put it in a spray for athletes to use to advance healing and increase strength. It's okay if you don't understand the whole story because it is completely bizarre. All you really need to know is that Lewis has been accused of using a strange PED which he denies having used.

2. Ray Rice (#27): It will not be hard to spot Ray Rice on the field because he is a small running back. In fact, during the season Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt was heard taunting, "I've had burritos bigger than you." I'm not really sure where Watt gets his burritos, but I would think Chipotle or some chain is getting that in ad campaign. Rice may be the smallest guy on the field, but he is FAST!!! He is one of the best running backs in the league and knows how to use his stature to his advantage. The 49ers defense are going to have to concentrate on shutting this guy down to win.

3. Joe Flacco (#5): Joe Flacco is the quarterback of the Ravens. He's not the impressive quarterback in the league, and many thought he was ludicrous to make salary demands a year or two ago. His agent was stating that Flacco was a top five quarterback, but almost any NFL expert would disagree. However, if Flacco wins this Super Bowl, he may be getting that huge pay day he has been wanting. Further, he may change how he is viewed in the league. I would argue that rings do not automatically make a quarterback better, especially because the Ravens also have one of the best defenses in the league and could very well win the game not by what Flacco does as much as what the defense does. I'm not saying that I would dismiss Flacco, but I'm skeptical that he would all of a sudden be so much better after a Super Bowl win. If you see someone who gets high on Flacco, you can always remind them that David Carr has a ring and Dan Marino doesn't.

So here is your cheat sheet to the Super Bowl! San Francisco 49ers are taking on the Baltimore Ravens down in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz SuperDome. The Harbaughs are the first brothers to be coaching opposing teams in the championship game. You got to know a bit of each team. Just remember what's really important, hockey is back! Sorry, I couldn't resist. So print this out and pass them around to your friends. Have fun everyone! If you have more questions or want to share your stories of success, you can always tweet me @SportingAJenda or email me at thesportingajenda@gmail.com.