Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tale of Two Quarterbacks: Smith or Kaepernick?

If you have not heard, the 49ers are in a quarterback conundrum. When starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered a concussion in week ten in the game against the Rams, he was sidelined for the following two weeks. In his place, Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers' 2011 draft pick, stepped up and won tough games against the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints. As we enter into week thirteen of the NFL season and Alex Smith is now cleared to play, everyone wants to know: Who will be the starting quarterback for the 49ers?

In my opinion, I do not think there is any other answer than Colin Kaepernick. I am not saying this because he is definitively the better quarterback or that he was earned the right to start. What I see is that the 49ers are presented with and taking advantage of a unique opportunity. When Smith went down with the concussion, it allowed an opening for the team to explore what they have with Kaepernick. Concussions are tricky injuries, and depending on the player and the severity of the injury, there is more or less pressure to see him return to the field. Earlier in the season, 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley suffered a concussion in a rather brutal hit during the Sunday game against the New York Giants but was cleared to play for the Thursday night game against the Seattle Seahawks. Although Staley had the go-ahead from the doctors to play, some were left wondering how it was possible, or even advisable, on a short week? Staley is a big part of the offensive line and is not easily replaceable (if at all), and there would likely be more pressure for him to perform in the next game. In no way am I making a statement that something insidious was going on, but I am pointing out that it has not been common for players to return after so short a time. When it became clear that Smith was continuing to suffer concussion-like symptoms in the days following the hit, Colin Kaepernick got the nod and seized his opportunity. He had a solid performance that indicated he had the potential to make plays that Alex Smith cannot. I think John Harris of the Overnight Takeover on Yahoo Sports Radio says it best, "Kaepernick can give the 49ers different... and is the type of quarterback who can give defenses nightmares." He was able to utilize Vernon Davis and make some deep throws that Alex Smith just cannot do. When you watched him play, you could see that he has the promise of being a dynamic quarterback. He had been sitting on the sidelines because Harbaugh was still developing his talents and Smith had earned the right to be the number one guy. However, Alex's injury is allowing the 49ers to continue seeing what Kaepernick can do, and what's more is that if things start to sour, Harbaugh can always go back to Smith. The way he can present it to the media is that they decided to "ride the hot hand" who had been Kaepernick but is not any more. What the 49ers have going for them is that they have a great record and playoff birth. If Kaepernick bombs out a game or two, things will probably not change a whole lot for them. They may not clinch the seed that they had wanted, but they are still going to make the playoffs. I think it would be much harder to go the other way. If you go back to Smith but he is not able to perform, there will be far more backlash to then switch to Kaepernick.

The 49ers have to take this opportunity because when Kaepernick was their second-round pick in 2011, it became clear that Alex was probably not going to be the quarterback in the long run. The feeling was that since it would be first-year head coach's first pick of the draft and his being a quarterback guru, this was a significant sign that Jim Harbaugh knew there was something special about that young man. This is the time to see where he is in his development because no matter how he looks in practice, there is absolutely no way to see how he performs in game situations except in, well, game situations. It seems like he is ready, but we've only seen two games. Starting this season allows the 49ers the ability to evaluate Kaepernick and how they intend to make roster decisions going forward.

And yes, this really sucks for Alex Smith. San Francisco has not been a friendly place for him. Although he never lived up to the expectations, fans have never embraced him. The team struggled for many years with him at the helm, but it was not entirely his fault as shown when Harbaugh was hired as head coach. Smith had been with several head coaches and offensive coordinators. It is not so simple to learn new play books all the time, and it was never clear that they all played to Smith's strengths. However, under Harbaugh, something clicked and Smith was able to perform well. He was not the type of quarterback that was going to impress you with incredible arm strength or anything like that, but he knew how to not make those fatal mistakes to get those wins. It was only last season that Alex Smith took the 49ers to the NFC Championship game. Henry Wofford on 95.7 The Game argued that Harbaugh should show some loyalty to Smith because of what he was able to do last year and his 6-2-1 record this season. Wofford has a point, but the NFL is not about being loyal to a guy. If it were, Peyton Manning would probably still be with the Colts. The NFL is about winning games, and Kaepernick is doing just that right now. Wofford also pointed out that it is not fair that an injury can just stunt your career so bluntly. He's right. It is unfair. That's why you get your guaranteed money and hope for the best. It's sad but true.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is expected to make an announcement very soon about the status of the head quarterback. I think he'll be naming Colin Kaepernick as the starting quarterback.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Halloween Hockey League: Zombies vs. Vampires

Happy Halloween everyone! Since this is a holiday that celebrates the ghoulish and there is a lockout, I created my own NHL Halloween league. I read somewhere that the ancient Greeks believed that redheads would become vampires, and that reminded me that during the 2012 All-Star Game, the Red Team (Team Alfie) created the Ginger Line. As I thought about it, there are a surprising number of redheads, gingers, or Day Walkers as Cartman calls them, in the NHL. In fact, you can fill an entire roster if you really try (some players may not be true gingers but have at least a reddish tinge to their hair). Here is what Team Vampire would look like:

            Left Wing                                    Center                                Right Wing
           Daniel Sedin                               Henrik Sedin                       Daniel Alfredsson
          Scott Hartnell                                Eric Staal                              Claude Giroux
     Tomas Fleischmann                    Nicklas Backstrom                      Johan Franzen
           Raffi Torres                                Jeff Halpern                            Danny Cleary

                                    Defense                                                 Goalies
          Brian Campbell             Duncan Keith                       Jimmy Howard
          Christian Ehrhoff          Marc Staal                            Cory Schneider
          Kimmo Timonen           Matt Greene                          James Reimer
          Bryan Allen                   Mike Commodore

This is a very talented team with several Stanley Cup winners and All-Stars. There are many goal-scorers, some play-makers, and scrappers. The defense has both defenseman who can score and those who are non-stat guys that can block shots and turn the puck over. The goalies are even talented. Jimmy Howard is an All-Star, and Cory Schneider is a promising franchise goaltender. Even Reimer has shown some potential. This is a complete team that would be hard to beat.

But what rival could take on this undead team? Well, Team Zombie will, of course! A zombie is described as an animated corpse. While this isn't a zombie team in the traditional sense, this is a group that has missed considerable time due to concussion issues or plain-old horrific injuries. In the NHL, what else can be closer to being dead and coming back to life than a brain injury? Here is what Team Zombie would look like:

           Left Wing                                    Center                             Right Wing
         Simon Gagne                              Sidney Crosby                      Nathan Horton
         David Perron                            Jonathan Toews                   Colby Armstrong
 Guillaume Latendresse                Pierre-Marc Bouchard              Matt D'Agostini
       Max Pacioretty                             Jochen Hecht                          Jay Beagle

                                    Defense                                                 Goalies
               Kris Letang               John-Michael Liles                  Ryan Miller
             Michael Sauer                Joni Pitkanen                       Rick DiPietro
             Keith Ballard                 Steve Montador
             Mike Mattau                  Radek Martinek

Team Zombie features the NHL's Christ-child Sidney Crosby, which will probably lead to my being struck down by lightning, but it is undeniable that he is one of the players who has lost significant playing time due to concussion issues. The team does have some stars in Horton, Toews, Gagne, Letang, Liles, and Miller. However, unlike Team Vampire, they lack the star power throughout the roster. Although when the injury reports were released which inspired jokes that it basically named an All-Star team, Team Zombie clearly does not.

If Team Vampire and Team Zombie were to face off, I would expect a 6-4 win for Team Zombie. I think Crosby would have a great game and get a couple goals and a few assists. However, the Sedin twins would probably give Miller and the defense a hard time. Hartnell and Letang might drop the gloves at some points. After all, the Vampire-Zombie rivalry would be the new Philly-Pitt rivalry. While the goaltenders will make some unbelievable saves, I think Miller would have his hands full with the Vampire roster. The lack in depth would be the fatal flaw of Team Zombie, but it will stay close and the last goals might even be an empty-netter in an attempt to force overtime. And with that, have a happy and safe Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trick or Treat: Sports Pranks

Trick or treat, smell my feet. Give me something good to eat! If you don't, I don't care. I'll pull down your underwear! In the spirit of Halloween, I have compiled a list of sports pranks. A very special thank you to @KevinJ42, Peter in California, and Mark in California for their submissions! Oh, and as far as I know, everyone still has their underwear and there were no stinky feet.


@KevinJ42 submits the hidden ball trick. This is a prank in which the third baseman pretends to hand ball to pitcher, but instead, he conceals it in his glove and tries to tag out the third base runner as he walks back to the base. 


Peter in California submits that Chris Cohen pranked the Warriors for about fifteen years.

Mark in California submits a prank that Charles Barkley pulled on Manute Bol. Charles shows him several food items that are under silver covers. As Bol removes each one to see the food, he finds one with a teammate who frightens him.

College Football:
I remember hearing this story on a tour of Harvard. This is probably one of the more famous college football pranks of all time. During the big game against Yale, some Yale students mixed up the Harvard tiles to spell, “We Suck.”


During the Chicago Bears training camp, Charles “Peanut” Tillman put Rex Grossman on a dolly and wrapped toilet paper around him. He ran around the field screaming that Hannibal Lector was out. This is the story that first endeared Tillman in my heart.


While with the Vancouver Canucks, Brad “May Day” May with his teammates tormented Matt Cooke. One day Cooke showed up what has been described as what might be the ugliest sweater ever known to man, and the guys took to teasing him a good bit. While Cooke was busy putting on his equipment, May took the sweater out of the locker, and with the help of some of the guys, they taped his number on the back of the sweater and put it up in the rafters. When Cooke came out to the ice, the guys started looking up to try to get him to see what they had done. As he realized what he was looking at, May Day turned to him and said, “Well, your number may never be retired, but that sweater is!”

Brad May went through his teammates’ pants pockets to retrieve their keys while the guys finished practice. He took all the keys off the rings and dumped them in a shoe box. As the guys began to leave the rink to get into their cars, they would stop to reach for their keys. Once they realized that they were gone, the players headed back to the locker room. No one was too happy that they had to find their keys amongst everyone else’s keys. Despite the fact that May put his own keys in the box, he was ratted out and the guys plotted their revenge. At the time, MayDay was driving a BMW convertible. It was a nice day in Vancouver, so he had driven with the top open. The guys had purchased those large tins of popcorn you can usually find during the holidays and filled the car with it. When May went to his car after practice, he had to play it cool as a few teammates were hiding in the bushes trying to get his reaction on camera.

Perhaps one of the most storied pranks is that of Taro Tsujimoto. In the 1974 NHL draft, GM Punch Imlach of the Buffalo Sabres became tired of the long and laborious process of telephoning draft picks and decided to have a little fun. With his 11th round draft pick, Imlach chose Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas. Once the draft had finished, the NHL recorded the pick and printed media guides as usual. However, Imlach did not admit to his prank until training camp was about to begin. There was no Tokyo Katanas and no Taro Tsujimoto. The NHL was not so happy about this, but Buffalo Sabres fans have kept the legend of Tsujimoto alive throughout the years.

I can’t find who the pranksters were now that I’m trying to find them, but there is one LA Kings prank I remember well. Two Kings players decided to prank Brad Richardson after a game. For all games, players are required to wear suits and nice dress shoes. The pranksters took his shoes out of his locker and cut off the bottoms, not completely so that he could put on the shoes and take a few steps before the bottoms would fall out. They waited just outside the locker room, and they were puzzled as Richardson strolled out... with his shoes. From inside, they heard a loud, “What the---?!” from inside. When they realized it was a fuming Wayne Simmonds, the pranksters laid low and ran. I think they mistook Simmonds’s #17 for Richardson’s #15 which were probably right next to each other.

If you would like to contribute, please use the comment box below, tweet me at @SportingAJenda, or email me at Thank you for reading and have a happy Halloween!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A New Home for BobbyLu?

Over the weekend, I saw a blurb that Roberto Luongo might be headed to the Toronto Maple Leafs. This isn't the first time that this rumor has floated around, but the Florida Panthers and the Edmonton Oilers also seem to be in the mix this time. There are some things I like, but there are a lot of things I just don't understand about this move. Maybe I should start with what I do know.

There is absolutely no way that Roberto Luongo can return to the Vancouver Canucks for whenever this lockout ends. Well, they may take him for half a season, but unless he wins the Cup, he will not be returning for the next full season (and even at that it's probably iffy). Why do I say that? No matter the team, the goalie is almost always the player carrying the brunt of criticism when teams lose. There is no difference here. When the Canucks are losing, fans are quick to criticize Luongo's play. And part of that stems from the fact that he carries a huge contract. He still has ten years left on his twelve-year contract with a $5.33 million cap hit. The expectations that come with a contract like that are huge, and in Canada, forget it. The Canucks are expecting to win the Cup, and when they appeared but lost in the Finals in 2011, a lot of fans blamed Luongo. And this past season, when they lost in the first round to the eight-seed Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver fans were calling for his head. To be honest, losing to the Bruins in the Finals was not all Luongo's fault. That team played like they were running out of steam, and it very well could have been because the Western Conference is far more competitive than the Eastern Conference. But there are no excuses, you have to be playing your best hockey when it comes to the playoffs. The Canucks that year just weren't playing as well, and the Bruins were on top of their game. This past year, they entered into the playoffs without one of their best forwards, Daniel Sedin. Luongo was pulled from this series, but I'm not sure that if he was playing at the top of his game that the Canucks still would have won the Cup or even that series. I say this mostly because of the absence of Daniel Sedin, but Kevin Bieksa also wasn't contributing in the way that he usually does. But also, the Kings kicked into high gear and went on a historic run to win the Cup. However, what happened, happened, and the team began reconsidering the value of the Alain Vigneault and Roberto Luongo. When the team extended A.V.'s contract, attention turned to the goaltender yet again, despite the fact that he has a no-trade clause. But the way that the city reacted to the disappointing playoff run, it became more and more clear that BobbyLu was no longer welcome in Vancouver.

Enter Toronto Maple Leafs. This is a struggling team. It should be noted that the struggles aren't just on the ice; they also have some monetary constraints and have had to be creative when it came to making trades and free agents. With Luongo's contract, I'm not entirely sure how this will work, but I'm guessing if the rumors are true that the organization has approached Mike Gillis, then they must have some sort of plan. They have made great improvements over the last few years, but they still haven't been able to make the playoffs despite the promises of Brian Burke. One of their weaknesses is at the goaltender position. They had been rotating between James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson, but neither of them are truly a star goaltender. I think that Reimer shows promise, but I don't know if he will ever be elite. When the team traded Gustavsson to the Jets (Winnipeg not the Tebow ones), it became clear that the Leafs would be in the hunt for a goaltender. It would make a lot of sense that the Canucks are looking to unload one while the Leafs are trying to acquire one. But does Toronto make a lot of sense for Luongo? This is where I struggle. The Leafs are not a Cup-contending team, even if he does go there. Right now, I think they are concentrating on getting into the playoffs more than anything else. But again, he would be playing for a Canadian team who have now made this big trade to acquire him in an effort to inevitable make a run at the Cup. The pressure is huge again. However, I read an article on the Yahoo! Puck Daddy blog by Greg Wyshyski (article here: that points out Luongo could legitimately put the Leafs into the Cup race and that he would be a "savior" of the team rather than a scapegoat. I can see this as a possible scenario, but I'm struggling to accept this as a likely one. I think it will boil down to what the Leafs are going to have to give up in order to acquire the goalie. I believe that Luongo will put the Leafs in the hunt for a seed in the playoffs, but for a trade of this magnitude, I would think you would want a little more. In the Eastern Conference right now, the eighth seed is not going to be enough to make a deep run into the playoffs. If this trade does happen, it will be extremely interesting to see how this team does.

The Florida Panthers are also in the mix. BobbyLu did spend some time with the franchise before Vancouver, so there is some familiarity there. The Panthers made a lot of roster changes and produced a great team that secured a playoff spot for the first time in twelve years. Like the Maple Leafs, this team is not without its financial problems, as they have had to fire their mascot, but this team has already made significant strides to make playoff runs. One of their weaknesses is at goaltender, which makes this trade intriguing, but it is unclear whether they would like to take a veteran or look to their developing prospects. I would think that Luongo might be more interested in the Panthers because they have a stronger team that has already produced results, and he won't have to deal with the intense Candian media and fan scrutiny. But I think it's really a question of how interested the organization is in the goaltender.

Now, here is where things stop making sense. The Edmonton Oilers have expressed interest in BobbyLu. This is the youngest team in the league and has made every effort in developing a team that is not only young but also talented. The aim is to create a team that can make the playoffs for many many years and contend for the Cup. When the lockout ends, the Oilers may be presenting the first line of consecutive number one picks in Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), and Nail Yakupov (2012). The only reason they wouldn't be debuting Yakupov is if they apply the same philosophy that they did with Nugent-Hopkins and wait to see him in training camp to decide if he is ready to play at the NHL level. It was revealed in an episode of Oil Change that Steve Tambellini was willing to put Nugent-Hopkins in the AHL or juniors until he was ready. He did not want to interfere with the player's development. This is an organization that clearly has every intention in getting the most from their draft picks (which have been high because they're horrible) and have faith in the farm system. While they have been awaiting Devan Dubnyk to be that franchise goalie they would like him to be, they have put Nikolai Khabibulin in net. If the Oilers acquired Luongo, they would be severing ties with either Dubnyk or Khabibulin. Let's say they drop Dubnyk, then the team has two veteran goalies, which isn't the end of the world, but unless they are getting something more valuable by moving Dubnyk, it's probably not the direction that the Oilers are trying to go. Like I said, they've been trying to go younger. So if they drop Khabibulin, we're looking at a Luongo-Dubnyk tandem. The problem is this is that they will be in the same conundrum as Vancouver. Luongo is a big contract, so you're going to have to start him. But Dubnyk is a young potential star, if he begins to shine like the Oilers think he will, then you're going to want to eventually start him since he is younger. As a long-term plan, you'll want to go with Dubnyk. However, with the money you had spent on Luongo, you're not going to want him on the bench counting towards the cap, but it'll be even harder to move him since he's older now. I find this rumor to be the least believable, but from what I understand, the Oilers were just interested in hearing some numbers to assess value. It was a sniff, so to speak. However, I still don't understand it for the above explanation.

And the last thing I don't really understand is the timing. Well, that's not entirely true, I get it but I don't get it. Right now, we're looking at a lockout in which owners want to shorten contracts and bring down the ceiling on how much players earn. BobbyLu has a TEN-year contract, which was drafted up by the owners in the first place. I understand that this deal was made a couple years ago and that what's done is done, but if we are to go forward, why is this contract being circulated now? Obviously, there wasn't enough interest before the lockout started, and I am guessing that that is because owners didn't want to take a large contract before the new CBA was in place (though that didn't stop some). But right as owners are trying not to honor the large contracts signed just before the lockout, this Luongo rumor is going around. I don't understand that. I know he can't stay in Vancouver, but why isn't this deal hammered out once the CBA is agreed upon and the money issues are settled? It's not as though the season is about to start in a few days.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How To Spot a Fake Giants Fan or How To Avoid Looking like One

For this blog, I decided to do something a little different. I am not a big baseball fan, but I have listened to enough sports radio to follow what is going on in the league, especially with the home teams (San Francisco and Oakland). What I've noticed is that all of a sudden people you know who were never interested in sports, suddenly become big fans of teams. Well, I've decided to create a truth detector to allow you to figure out if the person you're talking to is a real or fake fan. Of course, I could not do this alone. I enlisted the help of Matthew (@figslee on Twitter) who has been a San Francisco Giants fan since in the womb. A special thank you to him for collaborating with me on this guide.

It's October.  The most exciting time of the year, if you're a baseball fan.  It's time to put all regular season stats and match ups aside and begin the tournament that crowns the World Series Champions.  It's the playoffs and when the playoffs arrive, it is inevitable that people all of a sudden become "die-hard" fans of the hometown team. True fans of the team bemoan this as the bandwagoners seem to grow in numbers. After the Giants won the World Series in 2010, fans, new and old, flocked to the stadium.  After a disappointing season in 2011 in which they failed to make the playoffs, some returned to only paying attention to when the playoffs came around this year. First it should be pointed out that aside from the core pitching staff,  a lot of key changes have occurred for the Giants.  Namely the fact that only two starting position players, Buster Posey and Pablo "Panda" Sandoval (just to remind you why you bought that panda hat), remain from that 2010 World Series winning team.  So here are a few tips to help you spot the bandwagon fans and how to avoid looking like one.

1. Brian Wilson is not an active player. The 2010 World Series introduced the world to Brian Wilson, arguably one of the best closers in baseball. But what really held people's attention is a playoff beard that inspired the slogan, "Fear the Beard." This 2012 playoff, there will be no beard. In April, Wilson underwent Tommy John surgery and has not played since. Thus, not mentioning this player or wondering why the Giants aren't putting him in is probably a good idea. Please leave your Beard shirts at home, thank you.

2. The other memorable character of the 2010 World Series is Tim Lincecum, the Freak. After signing a two-year, $40 million contract and turning down a five-year, $100 million contract before the beginning of the 2012 season, Timmy just hasn't lived up to the extremely high standards that he set for himself, for the majority of this season. There were a lot of theories circulating about why he was struggling so much. Maybe it was the money, a curse of the Giants, his losing a ton of weight, or his laying off the weed. However, he bounced back and is looking to return to Freak form after winning a sudden death playoff elimination game four against the Cincinnati Reds. I only mention this, so you avoid saying something like, "Well, he's been doing this all season."

3. Barry Zito doesn't suck anymore. For years after the Giants signed Zito to a mega-contract, the pitcher was never quite able to live up to the expectations that came with it. However, when Lincecum struggled, Zito stepped up his game and helped the team win. Thus, no lamenting about why he's in the lineup. You can trust him.

4. MELKY Caberera played for the Giants, not MIGGY Cabrera. This is an easy mistake to make if you're the casual fan. The two have the same last name and very similar first names. Miggy Cabrera plays for the Detroit Tigers and won the Triple Crown. MELKY is NOT on the Giants roster, as he had been suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Just to avoid confusion, you should know this.

5. Andres Torres plays for the Mets now. Yes, a lot of you reading this blog or someone you know bought his jersey and loved him dearly, but the Giants have Angel Pagan patrolling center field now.  Matthew would like to for those trying to fill the Torres void to give him a chance because he promises you will love him just as much, if not more. Maybe you can eBay your Torres jersey and buy the Pagan.

6.  Jonathan Sanchez, who pitched a no hitter for the Giants against the Padres in 2009, is also no longer with the team. He was a fan favorite, especially for his bold words and great performance on the last day of the season in 2010 to get the team into the playoffs. Don't be surprised if you hear a surly response to your "where is Jonathan Sanchez?" question; he was traded to the Royals for Melky Cabrera (see number 4).

7.  Hunter Pence is a new face to the lineup, picked up just before the trade deadline this year from the Phillies. What Pence brings to the team is a big bat to address the problems on offense the team has had. He might look awkward in just about every aspect of his game, but he's a really good baseball player. Maybe you can be the first to suggest the appropriate animal hat for the newest member of the team.

Though some of the faces of the team have changed since the magical 2010 World Series run, this 2012 team has a lot of characters to really cheer for.  It is embarrassing to be caught jumping the bandwagon, but this is a guide to help you not break your ankle on the way up. By the same token, this can also help you spot who is trying to pass himself or herself off as a true fan. If you were enthusiastic enough to buy tickets, hopefully this list prepares you in some way to fight off the parking lot jeers and scolding you will receive on your way to true fandom. Welcome to AT&T Park (forgot to mention that's where they play), enjoy the ride.

Monday, October 8, 2012

An Open Letter to Travis Rodgers

Dear Travis Rodgers,
I am a big fan of yours. Your wit and humorous take on sports is entertaining and never fails to make genuinely make me laugh. I really do love your show! However, I'm not such a big fan when it comes to your views on hockey. I realize that hockey is not part of your deal, and I'm okay with that. I know that it hockey fans amuse you like children are entertained by clowns, but I still feel the need to vocalize what the lockout means to hockey fans, or at least to me.

Fans do care about the lockout, and they are upset that the first two weeks are cancelled. It isn't simply about the two weeks, which in all fairness are like you pointed out not entirely germane to a season of 82 games. What fans are upset about is that these first two weeks being cancelled are a big indicator that at least half if not the entire season could be in jeopardy. The last lockout was like the end of World War I. There was a CBA that was signed, but neither of the sides had resolved anything and resentment still lingers. This new CBA that has to be put into place is bringing out those old feelings of hate, and up to this point, the owners have been much like Goodell resisting coming to an agreement with the referees in that they really just don't care about the fans. So when fans are upset about the first two week, they aren't really upset about that but what it means. Right now, all signs point to December as a realistic deadline for the NHL with January 1st being the opening week if there is even any season at all. Fans are coming to the realization that this season is in some real trouble.

I'd also like to point out that while the casual fan may not care about the regular season, hockey fans care about it. I am a passionate Los Angeles Kings fan (and have been one since 2002 so didn't just jump the bandwagon), and I watch EVERY game. If I don't watch it live, I watch it later. What draws me to watch is that the games count, especially in the Western Conference and more specifically in the Pacific Division (which FYI includes the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, and the Dallas Stars). In the last few years, the there are only a few games that differentiate a 3rd place team from the 8th place team in the playoff hunt (and 16/30 teams make the playoffs, not 94%, and yes, because I say so). Not to mention the 9th and 10th place teams are usually a game or two or even a tie-breaker away from the last spot into the playoffs. It is often not guaranteed that a team will make it into the playoffs unless they win their division. And no, hockey people don't just watch in May when the playoffs start. The hunt really begins in February with the mid-season trade deadline and last stretch of games to make it back onto a playoff campaign. A lot of hockey people like to watch because these games are so critical and can be dramatic. For example, a couple years ago the Kings started in 12th place as they entered into a game against the Detroit Red Wings. They went on to win the game, and they took 5th place. However, because the game was in Detroit, and there were other games to be played in the Pacific Time Zone, the Kings ended that day in 10th. I realize that I am not like the majority of other hockey fans, but I watched the other games since they did have an impact on my team and I just enjoy hockey that much.

And casual fans do care about at least one regular season game. Most people enjoy the Winter Classic, the one outdoor game of the year. The NHL has made it into an event and has been successful in attracting even those who may not have even considered watching hockey at all. Hockey fans who usually only watch their own team play will tune in to watch this game. I think the NHL gains viewership with this hallmark game.

I can't argue that the NFL is king because you're right; it is. And the NHL might be vegimite. But it's my vegimite, and as a hockey fan, I just had to say something. We hockey fans care that the first two weeks are gone, and we really do think the regular season is important. This is where all the drama is. Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers had the first eight-point game in 24 years, putting him in the ranks of Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, and Paul Coffey. Sid the Kid tried to come back after suffering a concussion the season before. He played a few games before having to be placed on injured reserve again after a few hits. However, he did return with a vengeance in a game against the New York Rangers (who you would probably be a big fan of since they are the Broadway Blueshirts) and brought to rest the question of whether he would ever be the player he had been prior to the concussion issue. Rick Nash was the biggest player a team could try to steal away from the Columbus Blue Jackets (yes, that team that had been offered all of the New York Islanders draft picks and declined). Nash is like the Tom Brady of the Blue Jackets in the sense that he is iconic of the team and is its best/most important player. Nash had a no-trade clause, but rumors had been circulating that he was willing to be traded. During the regular season, the Los Angeles Kings went from being the worst offensive team in the league during the first half to being in the top fourth in offense and snagging the last playoff spot. The top NHL draft pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers, had his first hat trick (that's three goals in a game) in his third game. Meanwhile, Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, who is one of the team's consistent top goal-scorers, finally got his first hat trick in his 1,161st game. So a lot happens during the regular season that hockey fans love to see.

In any case, I had to get that off my chest. I do love your show, and I enjoy it immensely. I'm sure this little rant of mine will just make you laugh and provide some entertainment, but hockey fans care. And yes, hockey is a thing... to some people, even non-Canadians.

A big fan,

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fantasy Football

I recently entered Grantland's Fantasy Football Contest, and I decided to post my submission. These are my top five picks and one sleeper pick. Hope you enjoy and wish me luck!

1. Arian Foster
Arian Foster is perhaps the undisputed best running back in the league. He rushed for 1,224 yards and 10 TDs and caught 53 passes for 617 yards last year. His value is only going to skyrocket on a Texans team whose only viable wide receiver is Andre Johnson, who has trouble staying healthy. Without a passing game, Schaub will be relying more heavily on Foster. Not to mention, Foster is motivated and determined. Rising from the practice squad to the NFL, he is not about to slack off to be back at the bottom of the barrel. Besides, he has to find a way to pay for those dapper bow ties.

2. Calvin Johnson
If you believe in curses, you will want to stay away from Johnson, since he graces the Madden 13 cover. If you don’t, Megatron is a lock. He set himself among the all-time NFL elite with his 96 catches, 1,681 yards, and 16 touchdowns last year. His production in his five years in the league have already set franchise records and ranked him in league records. Megatron is a hall-of-famer in the making, and a genuine “sure thing!”

3. Ray Rice
Although Ray Rice does not look like the typical running back, he has learned to use his size to his advantage. Last season, he rushed for 704 yards, made 76 catches, and made 16 touchdowns. Over his four years in the league, he has scored 24 touchdowns and rushed for 4,377 yards. Rice is the real star of this offense, no matter what salary demands Joe Flacco makes. With a team that does not have much of a passing game, Rice is the one doing most of the scoring.

4. Drew Brees
Despite the suspensions handed out to the coaching staff and players from the Bounty Gate scandal, there is little that will affect the offense. Drew Brees will be the star quarterback that he has always been, and he had one amazing record setting year in 2011-12. One of the great strengths of Brees and the Saints is their passing game, which is how Brees was able to pass for 5,476 yards and make 468 completions. Looking at the schedule, the Saints face relatively weak defenses and play the majority of the stronger defenses in the Superdome, which is a huge advantage. This will allow the Saints offense to shine, and Brees may throw for another 5,000 yards.

5. Rob Gronkowski
Normally, a tight end wouldn’t crack the top five, but Rob Gronkowski is not a typical tight end. What makes him so special is that at 6’6” and a well-muscled 264 pounds, Gronk is a beast. He is fast and able to shrug off coverage, or just drag them along with him. Last season, he lead all tights ends in receiving yards with 1,327 and set an NFL record at his position with his 18 touchdowns, almost twice as many as the tight end with the second most touchdowns. He has become a dependable target for Brady, especially in the red zone. Although the Patriots have asked him to tone down his off-field antics, he’ll be amping it up on the field.

Sleeper Pick: Terrell Owens
Chances are that Owens isn’t on anybody’s radar, but there is value to adding him to your roster. Yes, TO may love him some him, but over the last few years, he has learned that not too many people feel that way about him anymore. Will Owens stop being the locker room distraction that he has been in the past? Probably not, but he has never been laughed out of the league and have to pull himself out of disgrace. His pride took a huge hit when no teams showed up to see his work out despite the media he had invited, and even the IFL Allen Wranglers seemed to have been happy to be rid of him. Owens has something to prove this coming season. Lest we forget, he did not exactly bomb out in Cincinnati on a team with Andy Dalton at the helm. He had 9 TDs and caught 72 passes for 983 yards. It is not unreasonable to think his numbers might improve with Matt Flynn on the Seahawks. Even at thirty-eight, TO still has the athleticism and skills to contribute, and what better motivator for a narcissist than a bruised ego?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Under Pressure: Quarterbacks Feeling the Heat

A long time ago, Brandon Tierney and Eric Davis of The Drive on 95.7 The Game had an interesting debate on which Bay Area quarterback had more pressure, Carson Palmer or Alex Smith. Now that most of the offseason traffic has subsided, I thought I'd revisit the topic of NFL quarterbacks and the pressures they face with the upcoming 2012-2013 season.

Jay Cutler
I think Jay Cutler may be the quarterback with the most pressure this next season. Ever since da Bears acquired him in 2009, fans have heralded Cutler as the first true quarterback since Jim McMahon. The excitement surrounding the trade was palpable practically coast to coast. However, as hypercritical fans led by the Debbie-downer media figure Jay Mariotti, the honeymoon was over as his faults came to light. Now, I will admit that he faced the most criticism during the 2011 playoff game against the Green Bay Packers when he appeared to have given up on the game due to an injury which most argued wasn't that serious. With that scrutiny, Cutler turned his critics around when he organized training camps during the lockout and played with heart throughout the season. No one ever uttered a skeptic murmur when he was out with a finger injury. (For those who don't know, it sounds weak, but his finger required surgery.)

Those who stayed true from the beginning and continued to trust pointed out that Cutler is very talented (which I wholeheartedly believe) and never had any true receivers. (Yes, Cutler did have Matt Forte, one of the best running backs in the league, but the NFL has become a passing league. If you want to truly succeed and be a contending team, you need a strong passing game.) As Gisele pointed out to football fans everywhere, "My husband can't f***ing throw the ball and catch it too." (If you have no idea who I'm talking about, seriously consider coming out from under that rock A LOT more often.) If Brady can't be blamed, how can we blame Cutler? So in the 2012 offseason, the Bears signed Cutler's former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall. With this trade, comes a silent, "No more mistakes, prove yourself." Now, it should be pointed out that Cutler never made any statements or insinuated that the team didn't have the talent. He didn't have to anyway, considering the media was doing it for him once they came around to the fact that the guy can play.

Although the acquisition of Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell was not an effort to create competition for the position, Cutler probably feels a small bit of pressure to perform well since he could easily be replaced. Is Campbell that talented to steal the number one? No, absolutely not. Campbell lacks the skill to be a true star in the NFL, but that isn't to say that he couldn't lead a team to a winning record and even a postseason. Campbell didn't lose his job in Oakland because of lack of talent. For those who don't remember, he suffered a broken collar bone around the midpoint of the season which lead coach Hue Jackson to make a deal with his former Bengals to get Carson Palmer in an effort to salvage the season. If that deal had not been made, Campbell may very well be preparing for another season with the Raiders. However, his presence in Chicago is most likely a response to the numerous injuries to quarterbacks in the 2011-2012 season, including Cutler. The Bears learned then that they had no viable backup, and they cut Caleb Hanie loose. Unlike the Texans who found some luck with Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates, the Bears weren't able to push threw to make the postseason. Campbell offers that depth, but at the same time, Bears fans have a short attention span and are known to chant for the backup when the quarterback has a bad game (which happens to everyone). I highly doubt to see Campbell get quality time on the field unless Cutler becomes injured, but it is something that might linger in the back of his mind. He's going to have to watch his back because I do not think there is a backup in any position who is not gunning to prove they deserve the number one position.

Peyton Manning
One of the biggest stories of this offseason was the health and future of Peyton Manning. Thanks to Rob Lowe who started the hoopla with a tweet questioning retirement for Manning, the sports world was running wild about the story. While the biggest story should have been the Super Bowl, the Manning saga appeared to be on the forefront of everyone's minds. After missing the 2011 season due to injury, there became speculation that it was more serious than initially believed, and it was not long before reports confirmed that Manning had had not one, not two, not three, but four neck surgeries. It was unsure whether the Colts would be honoring the contract they had with the quarterback, and there were conflicting reports between the team doctors and Manning's own personal doctors on whether he was set to play. Soon the question of his health allowed an "out" for Jim Irsay, owner of the Colts, to part ways with Manning, and he became the hottest commodity on the market.

There is absolutely no way that any team was NOT interested in the quarterback, but several teams put themselves in the forefront. The Miami Dolphins put an aggressive campaign to recruit the quarterback, even though his name is not Chad, and fans even paid for a billboard welcoming Manning to the city hoping he would choose them to play. The media considered this a viable possibility because Peyton owns a home in Miami or somewhere nearby, and their lack of a viable quarterback is no secret as evidenced by the 2011 season. However, it had been rumored (and later confirmed) that Manning desired to finish his career with a team that would be making a Super Bowl appearance if not winning it. Given his age and the fact that his younger brother is fresh off winning his second Super Bowl which one-ups him, it is no surprise that the very competitive Peyton would make this a priority. Now, the Dolphins 2011 season probably indicated they had more problems than just at quarterback to make a real push for the championship. They were the last team in the league to have a win, and although they looked better toward the end of the season, there is no guarantee that the same troubles will not return. And they did not look that good to be a Super Bowl contender.

The Tennessee Titans invited Manning to a workout, and he obliged. Again because he wanted to end up with a team that would be in contention for, if not winning, the Super Bowl within the next few years, even with the upgrade at quarterback, the Titans most likely have a few too many holes to make a real shot at going the distance. In all likelihood, he may have been doing the due diligence to see the facilities and hear what the team could offer before making a firm decision.

The last team that made a late push for Manning after being unable to sign their own quarterback before the deadline was the 49ers. Despite the fact that the team made a public statement that they would not be pursuing Peyton Manning and would be sticking with Alex Smith, it became an entirely new ball game when there was no signed contract. The 49ers most likely made the statement because like several  other teams, they did not want to publicly go after the quarterback, and when unsuccessful, have to then go back to their quarterback and pretend that they believed in their guy from the very beginning. I would speculate that the 49ers might have delayed putting Smith's papers in order before the deadline so that they would have an excuse to pursue Manning. Just days before the deadline, Smith stated that he and the team were close to an agreement and that it was just a matter of hammering out a few last details. Since contracts often are signed just within the final ticks of the clock, fans did not seem to worry much. However, as time elapsed, the 49ers were quick to invite Manning to a workout, and Smith was on a flight to Miami to workout for the Dolphins.

Now, the team that did end up with much sought after quarterback is the Denver Broncos. You would think that fans would be overjoyed, but that was not quite the reaction. What clouded the enthusiasm? Well, Broncos fans were already under Tebowmania. Although a divisive sports figure, he did turn a disastrous start to the season under Kyle Orton into one that took the team to the playoffs. John Elway was instrumental in bringing in Manning despite the impression he made that Tebow would remain the starting quarterback. Peyton will be entering the season with having to win over some fans who might still be bitter about losing Tebow.

He'll also have to prove that he is still the quarterback he was before his four neck surgeries and taking a year off to recover. And with all the back and forth medical reports about whether he was clear to play, he will have to stay healthy and be the athlete that everyone remembers him to be. No matter how much he works out or practices with other players, you cannot replicate game play. He can be prepped to play, but his timing and some mechanics may not be quite right to produce the plays he had been making prior to his injury. And I'm guessing with the neck there may be some mobility issues that Manning would have to work through or overcome in order to have the confidence to stick his neck out, so to speak, because the position can be vulnerable. I'm not saying that he can't or won't do it because I think he can. Bottom line is, he's going to have to show everybody that he isn't injury-prone or hindered by his injury and can still play at the NFL level.

When Peyton signed with the Broncos, he confirmed my sinking suspicion that he really likes horses. Okay, not really. But when he joined the team, there was also a sense that he was looking to play for a team that would win the Super Bowl in the next few years because at his age he will only have a few years left to play. Being in the AFC West that includes the Oakland Raiders, the San Diego Chargers, and the Kansas City Chiefs, this division is up for grabs and no one quite knows what to expect. However, if Peyton Manning returns as the elite quarterback that we have all known him to be, the Broncos will probably be the favorite to win the AFC West. But we will all just have to watch and wait to see what unfolds.

Mark Sanchez
Up until a surprising turn of events during the offseason following the Manning signing, Sanchez would not have been on this list. However, the astonishing addition of Tim Tebow to the team has created a buzz around the New York Jets. Now, it would be far from the truth to say that Sanchez is a future hall-of-famer or an NFL star quarterback. Although he had a disappointing season last year, I think his years with the Jets has earned him the right to continue as the undisputed number one quarterback for the time being. As long as the Jets aren't acquiring a quarterback who is definitively better than Sanchez, he should be the quarterback.

Although I would like to see Tebow succeed in the NFL, I don't think he has quite proven that he is any better than Sanchez. Tebow still has some development before he can break through to become that star his believers feel that he can be, but he has that allure that keeps his name in the mix. Tebow has made numerous statements that he is happy to the backup, but what else is he really going to say? After leading the Broncos from a dismal beginning of last season in which he started as the backup to ousting Kyle Orton for the number one spot and making an incredible playoff run, he's a had a taste for the limelight. Considering with the way things ended for him in Denver, I'm sure that Tebow has even more drive to prove to everyone that he can be that guy, that all-star that we're all waiting for him to become.

New York might just give him that chance, which is why Sanchez is under the hot seat. It is not unfathomable to think that Sanchez could drive the team down to the field, and when close enough to the end zone, they then might put in Tebow in a wildcat to score. In this scenario, you've got Sanchez throwing for several thousand yards but Tebow with all the touchdowns. When you look at the stats sheet, then what do you do? It could be a formula for success in terms of wins, but do you really have a number one quarterback? And this is probably the better of the scenarios that could play out.

On the other hand, Sanchez is under a high-powered microscope with Tebow waiting in the wings. I'm sure it won't take much for fans to start chanting for Tebow. Sanchez really has to be spectacular to keep the press and fans from critiquing his play, and it might be a matter of time until the team crumbles to the pressure and puts in Tebow. Sanchez is in an unenviable position in the sense that every small mistake is magnified, as the team has a viable backup. He probably has to be near perfect to keep his job.

Alex Smith
I am including Alex Smith mostly because of the intense pressure that is now on the team. After making it to the NFC championship game last season, the 49ers are now even more focused on becoming a consistent Super Bowl contender and winning it in the next year or two. Now, Smith is in no way a star quarterback, but under Coach Jim Harbaugh, he has tightened up his game and not have made the mistakes he used to make. He has not become a star overnight, but in simpler terms, he doesn't suck the way he previously had. Outside of a couple games that he really put on a stellar performance, he's a mediocre quarterback. If Smith can play the way he did against the Saints in the playoffs last year consistently, he would be a top five quarterback, or at least close to it. And a large part of the 49ers success has been their defense, but if the offense vastly improves, this is a team to really watch.

And that's exactly what the 49ers did during the offseason. A hole in the offense was the wide receiver position, and they acquired Mario Manningham from the Super Bowl winning Giants team. This vastly improved the team instantly. Randy Moss might be an improvement to the team as well, but there are questions to his joining the organization, but this could be the right team for him. Moss has had some personality issues with previous teams, but Harbaugh has been phenomenal at getting players to give him everything they can. I don't see Moss quitting on the 49ers like he did in Oakland under Harbaugh's watch. Depth at running back was also a concern, so GM Trent Baalke acquired Brandon Jacobs from the Giants. Gore will still be the undisputed number one back, but Jacobs adds another option and will be able to step up should Gore suffer an injury.

Now, with these improvements on offense, Smith is going to have to continue the progress he had made last season. He's given a lot of tools, so he has to be able to make those plays. He doesn't necessarily have to be better, but he does have to prove that he is not going to regress into the quarterback he had been until Harbaugh. He needs to show that he is not a one-season-wonder, so to speak. Smith has a lot of pressure because not only has the team improved on offense, but he also has to take the 49ers farther than last year, meaning to a Super Bowl appearance. This is a team can say that the end goal is the Super Bowl and really make good on it.

One other aspect that might play into pressure on Smith is the fact that this is a team that missed out on Peyton Manning. Remember, Manning worked out for the team but ultimately signed with the Broncos. Although Smith flirted with the Miami Dolphins during the time the 49ers courted Manning, nothing came of either situation. If Smith's return to the 49ers is not what fans expect, they may begin wishing he left for Miami or Baalke had made a better run at Manning. This might not be a big piece of pressure, but it's probably in the back of fans' minds who aren't shy about letting players know how they feel. At the same time, this was the first season that fans actually expressed something other than hatred for Smith, so I doubt he really cares what fans have to say.

Andrew Luck & Robert Griffin, III
Eyes will be on both rookie quarterbacks who were the top two picks of this year's draft. Andrew Luck had been a highly regarded college quarterback who was the most NFL ready. He will be the new face of the Indianapolis Colts as they enter into a new era without Peyton Manning. I don't think that he will be expected to do what Manning has done over his career, but fans will be looking to see if he is worthy of that number one pick in the draft. Although there is some pressure for him to do well his first year, I think that there is also the understanding that you never really know how a player will do without a few years of experience under the belt.

The same goes for RG3 with the Washington Redskins. This is a struggling team that is hoping to turn things around starting at the quarterback position. He's reported to be the most athletic quarterback, rivaling Cam Newton, but those are just projections until he hits the field. The Redskins traded up to get the second pick from the Rams, and fans will want to see that this was worth it with his performance on the field.

Drew Brees
With the whole Bounty Gate scandal (and if you have no idea what I'm referring to, you might need to get out from under that rock more often), Coach Sean Peyton has been suspended from the team for the year. Joe Vitt will be the interim coach, but he will miss the first couple games to serve his own suspension. Fans and players will probably be looking at Brees even more to provide leadership for this team. Some people think that Brees will serve as the coach of the offense and in a way head coach for the team, but I don't buy into that. If quarterbacks were to be the head coach of a team, why have a head coach? I think players will be looking to Brees more now than in previous years, but in no way is he going to be a coach. Yes, with all his years of experience, he will be calling plays, but I don't think it will be any different than business as usual. He will have to be the rock for the team, after the rubble that the Bounty Gate scandal has left.

Although I started this blog based on a discussion on whether Carson Palmer or Alex Smith had more pressure, I ultimately decided not to include Palmer because I don't think the pressure is on him. The Raiders have gone through a lot of changes since the passing of Al Davis. The change is far more than just a new general manager and head coach. Davis had been a visionary, and his approach to his team was rather unorthodox. He ran things his way, but with his son, Mark, taking the reins, the Raiders are entering a new era. The approach is completely different, and we are all waiting to see what the future holds. I think there is a lot of optimism for the team since they had a fairly successful season last year. But the AFC West is a division with a lot of unknowns, and the Raider is a big piece of that. Reggie McKenzie is a first-time general manager, but he did play for the Raiders under Al Davis. People aren't sure what to expect from him quite yet, and head coach Dennis Allen had been the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos is a first-time head coach. No one knows what to expect from him either. Because people aren't sure what to expect, I think some pressure is taken away because they aren't necessarily seen to be a true Super Bowl contender. It could happen but it's not something that would make the season a disappointment should they not make it. Palmer is a big piece of the offense since former head coach Hue Jackson was a large part in acquiring the quarterback after Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. But I think Palmer's success will depend largely on the leadership and system that Allen and McKenzie put in place. For those reasons, I did not include Palmer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sports Cheat Sheets: 2012 Stanley Cup Edition

Since my Super Bowl Cheat Sheet posting was so popular, I thought I'd do a Stanley Cup edition. Most people don't follow hockey, so whipping out a little knowledge can go a long way to impress a guy or you like or contribute to a sports discussion. Here's the nitty-gritty.

The Basics
The NHL is not like the NFL in which the championship game comes down to one game. In hockey, two teams play a best of seven (so you have to win four games) series, just like the NBA. The NHL is spit into two conferences: East and West. The top eight teams (out of fifteen teams) from each conference makes it into the playoffs. Series are played out until there is one team remaining from each. This year, the New Jersey Devils will represent the East, and they are the sixth seed from that conference. (Fun factoid: The New Jersey Devils are not in fact devils but named for the cryptozoological creature the New Jersey Devil.) The Los Angeles Kings are the Western Conference team and is the eighth seed.

Also unlike football, the Stanley Cup Finals are not played in one neutral location. Rather, the higher seed gains home ice advantage, and the first two games are played in their arena. Thus, the first two games will be played at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The series then continues for game three and four at the lower seed's arena. Thus, the second two games will be played at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The last three games ping pong back and forth between the two teams. Game five goes back to Newark; game six to Los Angeles; game seven in Newark. Also of note, none of these games will be back-to-back. There will be at least one night off for both teams between each game.

Key Players on the New Jersey Devils
1. Zach Parise (#9): Parise is an American hockey player who serves as the captain of the team. He was drafted by the Devils in the first round in 2003, the same year that Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown was also selected in the same round. Parise is a talented goal-scorer and leads his team by example. This means that he isn't a big rah-rah kind of a guy, though I'm sure he can find the words should the time for that be needed, but his performance on the ice sets the tone for the rest of the team. He plays hard, and his teammates follow his lead.

2. Martin Brodeur (#30): There is hardly anything I can say to even begin to describe the career that this goaltender has had. He was drafted in the first round by the Devils in 1990 and has spent his entire career with the team. Brodeur has three Stanley Cup rings, four Vezina Trophies (given to the top goaltender in the league), five Jennings Trophies (given to the goalie who allowed the fewest goals), and a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year award). At forty years old, he is approaching the end of what is sure to be a hall-of-fame career. It should be noted that no matter the outcome, he is not planning on retiring after this season. So yeah, this guy is really really good.

3. Ilya Kovalchuk (#17): Kovalchuk is a Russian hockey player who is a great goal-scorer and serves as an alternate captain of the team. He was originally drafted first overall in the 2001 draft by the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets). He played for the Thrashers until 2009-2010 season in which he was traded to the Devils and has stayed with the team since. Devils Coach Peter DeBoer gives Kovy a ton of minutes as his offensive strategy, and it works.

Key Players on the Los Angeles Kings
1. Jonathan Quick (#32): Quick is an American goaltender for the Kings who was drafted by the team in the third round in 2005 and has been the most important player for the team. The Kings have had offense struggles (as in they couldn't score goals), and Quick kept them in contention for a win because he didn't allow goals. As opposed to Brodeur, Quick is young at age twenty-six and just embarking on an NHL career. Seeing these two at opposite ends of the ice is something like watching two generations of goalies.

2. Anze Kopitar (#11): Although known as a top goal-scorer for the Kings, Kopitar is perhaps an even better play-maker.. He was drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft along with Quick. Kopitar is the alternate captain for the Kings and is perhaps one of the most talented forwards on the team. He has a great ability to read the ice and make plays. He may not always be the one to put the puck in the net, but he can set up a play to make it happen.

3. Dwight King (#74): King is a fourth-line rookie forward who was a late edition in the season. Read: not a top talent and new to the team and league. Despite the fact that he is so new to the team, King has been playing unbelievable hockey and has found a way to produce offense. He is a surprise for the Kings because he isn't a star and hasn't had much NHL experience. Watch for this player because games are won when the team is running on all cylinders.

Mini Preview
As the first game to this series approaches, everyone weighs in on what to expect. One thing that makes this Stanley Cup final so special is that the Kings are on a historic run. As the eighth seed, the Kings have knocked out the first seed (Vancouver Canucks), the second seed (St. Louis Blues), and the third seed (Phoenix Coyotes) in the Western Conference. This particular feat has never been done before, but coach Darryl Sutter did take the 2004 Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup finals by knocking off the top three seeds, though not in that order. This is also only the third time in NHL history that an eighth seed has appeared in the Stanley Cup finals. Although I contend that the eighth seed in the Western Conference isn't a true eighth seed, as in a team that only barely made it into the playoffs, it is still an incredible feat.

Although the Devils have home-ice advantage, the Kings are undefeated on the road in the playoffs. Both of these teams are highly defensive with spectacular goaltenders with some offensive weapons as well. The Devils may have slightly better talent, but I would argue that the Kings have better depth (meaning players like King are playing well). The Kings have not lost the first three games in any of their series this far, but they have kept their attitude even-keeled. The Devils are a team that have won Cups and know what it takes to win, while the Kings have only been making the playoffs for the last few years after an eight-year drought.

If the Devils are to steal the game, they will need to see Kovalchuk and Parise do what they do and score goals. They will also have to rely on Brodeur to play at the top of his game. Perhaps because of his age, he doesn't always make some of the easier saves but also still has it in him to make the big saves when it counts. If the Kings are to steal this game, they are going to have to capitalize on those chances. Another factor is that the Kings started to lose some of their momentum at the end of the series against the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Finals. They are still playing well but perhaps not at the same level as when they started the playoffs. On the other hand, the Devils have found a groove have been playing very well, in fact better than when the playoffs began. Both teams have had some time off from the last series, so they may come back either ready to play or with dead legs. My guess is that the teams will start off hot and will be one heck of a showdown.

One last interesting point is that when Kovalchuk was traded from the Thrashers to the Devils during the 2009-2010 season, he became a free agent the summer of 2010. At the time, the Kings were looking to boost their offense, and Kovalchuk accepted an offer to visit the team and work on negotiations to join the Kings. By the end of his trip, no deal had been made, and Kings fans were disappointed. A few days later, Kovy had been signed to one of the biggest contracts in NHL history, and the Kings organization felt that given the size of the contract he had received, all was fine since they weren't in a position to match. However, it later came out that Kovy never intended to sign with the team. His wife wanted to visit California. That is an incident that never left the minds of Kings fans, and I will expect Staples Center to fill with boos every time Kovy steps on the ice.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

NHL Hot Potato

Right now, the NHL is a big game of hot potato as the trade deadline looms. Rumors are swirling around so fast, high schoolers can't keep up. Here's a brief recap of what potatoes landed where and what it means.

Jeff Carter
This is perhaps the biggest trade that has occurred thus far as we near the trade deadline. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Jeff Carter was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. The Kings have organizational and player ties to the Flyers, Carter's team before he joined Columbus during the 2011 offseason, which inspired the trade. Columbus is a struggling team, despite its bold acquisitions during free agency before the current season to improve the club. It had been rumored that Carter was unhappy with the team and was looking to be traded. Although the Kings are a strong team, they have had numerous problems with its offense and were looking to add some firepower to the team. Although the Kings had been rumored to be targeting Rick Nash as their first choice, the club eventually came to terms on a deal for Jeff Carter. Although he is a top six forward, I strongly believe that the Kings overpaid for Carter when they dealt over top defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick. If LA didn't have Drew Doughty, perhaps the top defenseman in the league, Jack Johnson most likely would be the featured star of the defense. These two players would have been a fair trade, but giving that first-round pick just seems too much. Time will tell whether Carter can add that offensive power that LA so desperately needs. Johnson will be a much needed star on the Blue Jackets, and he will most definitely improve the club.

As a result of this trade, the Kings signed veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell to a two-year extension and recalled Slava Voynov from their minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Voynov has spent a good chunk of the season with the Kings as the go-to defenseman during roster injuries after impressing the club with his play when Drew Doughty was out with a concussion, I mean upper-body injury, early in the season. Voynov will likely be groomed to fill Johnson's absence, and while I am unsure of his contract, I am positive that he will be receiving a hefty promotion in the near future should he continue to improve his game.

Another ripple from the Carter trade is that Kings are rumored to be shopping their captain Dustin Brown and possibly their back-up goaltender Jonathan Bernier. Although Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi has since declined that Brown will be on the trading block, it seems that most experts are inclined to take this as a soft "no." Johnson left a large hole in the defense, and it would not surprise people if Brown were moved in order to fill that void without having to rely so heavily on inexperienced players such as Voynov. To echo E.J. Hradek's plea, Lombardi better be sure to get a LOT for Brown, since he totally overpaid for Carter. Teams rumored to be interested in Brown are the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. Brown would be a good fit for these teams because he brings a lot of grit to the team as one of the top hitters in the league but also has a knack for scoring. He may not be a top six forward, but he can provide a physical presence on the ice, which the Rangers and Flyers are known for. Not to mention, these are teams with some star players, so I hope that Lombardi could pull for a Marc Staal or Dan Girardi from the Rangers or Andrej Meszaros from the Flyers. I would really hate to lose Brown because he has been such a leader in the locker room and provides that physical dominance on the ice, but if he is going to be traded, these are players I wouldn't mind seeing joining the team.

As for Jonathan Bernier, the Los Angeles Kings should not even think of moving Bernier unless they are trading for another goalie. The Kings have a strong goaltending duo, and I would hate to see them split up for the time being. Part of the reason is that while Quick is an All-Star goaltender, he isn't a workhorse, like Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. Quick is like Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, they need a break every now and then. Quick can get on a cold streak, and he doesn't bounce back as well. When he isn't playing well, he needs to be on the bench, and he can't be playing a huge majority of the games. From years past, it was clear that Quick is the type of goaltender who needs the occasional night or two off. This makes it essential that the Kings have a quality back-up goaltender. Right now, Bernier is that guy. Could the Kings get an upgrade? Sure, but I wouldn't do it now. The Kings still have a lot of games coming up, and having a key back-up is going to be essential if they even have a chance of getting into the playoffs because right now solid D and stellar goaltending is what is winning them games.

Hal Gill
Although the trade for Montreal Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill (and a 2013 fifth-round pick) for Nashville Predators forwards Blake Geoffrion and Robert Slaney (and a 2012 second-round pick) isn't the splashiest trade, it has huge implications for the upcoming offseason. During the All-Star game last month, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter let it slip that it is uncertain whether or not he will be returning to the team at the end of the season. It has not been a secret that the Predators are facing financial difficulties with their roster, no one had imagined that Suter would be on the chopping block. Early in the season Nashville signed their star goaltender Pekka Rinne to a seven-year $49 million contract. This was essential since this team lacks more offense than even the Los Angeles Kings, though that has changed slightly as of this season. When you think of the Nashville Predators, you think monster D, like the 1985 Chicago Bears. This is a scary defense, but their weakness is their offense, which has prevented them from playing deep into the playoffs.

The Preds also boast star defensemen in both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, though it is unquestioned that Weber is the team's #1 man as he also serves as the team's captain. However, the financial situation in Nashville will only allow for one star defenseman to renew his contract during the offseason. Suter seems to be the odd-man out in this one. When the Predators signed Gill, this only seemed to confirm that Suter would be on his way out. Although, ESPN posted a picture of Gill to announce the trade and captioned it: The Predators traded for Hal Gill today. Is that enough to convince Ryan Suter to re-sign in Nashville? Maybe I should put the trade in terms that ESPN might understand. You're not going to convince Tim Lincecum to sign a long-term deal with the Giants isn't to sign a veteran pitcher. What you would do is sign a big batter, like Pagan and Cabrera apparently. This brings me to my next point. Well, Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash is available, and the Nashville Predators who are in desperate need of a top goal-scorer to make a sincere push for the Cup have a top defenseman who will be available. I'm not sure if Nashville is on his list, but this could be a trade that we might be seeing in the offseason.

New York Rangers
The New York Rangers have not been making any splashy moves, but it is interesting that they have made a couple of trades. On February 3, the Rangers traded forward Eric Christensen and a 2013 seventh-round pick for Minnesota wild forward Casey Wellman. Yesterday, the Rangers traded Wojtek Wolski for Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Vernace and a 2013 third-round pick. While the Rangers traded away depth forwards (which in a team like the Rangers you can certainly do because what line isn't productive these days), they have received players that come with much smaller contracts. Although these aren't exciting trades, the moves appear to be a way for the Rangers to play with the salary cap in order to make room for another contract, like say Rick Nash. I'm not sure if the Rangers is a team that Nash is extremely interested in, but I would assume it would be because they have a very good chance at the Cup this season. He may end up as a rental, but I think he'd rather win the Cup than worry about longevity on any given team, since, let's face it, he wouldn't be "unemployed" so to speak for long.

Marek Zidlicky
This trade seems to have taken quite some time to hammer out the details. Everyone knew that the New Jersey Devils were extremely interested in acquiring Minnesota Wild forward Marek Zidlicky, but it was a surprise as to what they paid in order to attain him. The Devils traded defenseman Kurtis Foster, forward Nick Palmieri, forward Stephane Veilleux, a 2012 second-round pick, and a conditional 2013 third-round pick. You can think of this as a four-for-one deal since the 2013 pick is only contingent on the fact that the Devils make it to the playoffs, at which point they'd probably be happy to be without it. It seems that Minnesota might have gotten the better of this deal, but it is important to point out that the Wild received a couple players who show great potential and prospects. You can't put a true value on the players since you're not exactly sure what you're going to get, while you know exactly what type of a player Zidlicky is. This is a trade that will work out nicely for the Devils, and it will most likely work for the Wild who seem to be in a state of transition. Remember, this is a team that traded away star defenseman Brent Burns and top forward Martin Havlat to the San Jose Sharks, defenseman Cam Barker to the Edmonton Oilers, and forward Andrew Brunette to the Chicago Blackhawks. Although they had a very hot streak to begin the season, they have turned ice cold. Perhaps shaking things up once again might be exactly what this club needs.

Tampa Bay Lightning
After a rather successful 2011 season that lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Eastern Conference Finals, the 2011-2012 season has been rather disappointing. It seems that the Lightning are going to have to get on a long hot streak to even eek into the playoffs this year as they currently sit twelfth in the Eastern Conference standings. What seems to be their biggest downfall is the goaltending situation. Staying loyal to Dwayne Roloson who took them through the playoffs, the team decided to make him the number one goaltender for the season. Well, the forty-two year old is the oldest player in the league, and it is showing. When a goaltender starts to falter, he falters fast and hard, and Roli the Goalie is a case in point. As a Kings fan, I already knew their back-up goaltender Mathieu Garon was nothing more than a back-up. He played a strong game towards the beginning of the season, but he lacked consistency. The Lightning are going to be in the market for a goaltender at least in the offseason if not now.

Although the Lightning have quite a few young guys on their roster, the Lightning have been using the trade deadline to acquire draft picks. On February 16, the Lightning traded veteran forward Dominic Moore and a 2012 seventh-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for a 2012 second-round pick. The following day, General Manager Steve Yzerman traded veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina to the Philadelphia Flyers for forward Jon Kalinski, a 2013 second-round pick, and a conditional 2013 fourth-round pick. On February 21, the Lightning then traded forward Steve Downie to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Kyle Quincey. They then traded newly-acquired Quincey to the Detroit Red-Wings for defenseman Sebastien Piche and a 2012 first-round pick. Clearly, the Lightning are preparing for some rebuilding or perhaps acquiring assets to later trade. Off the top of my head, the Edmonton Oilers are a team that are in the process of rebuilding and have been extremely interested in draft picks. It's possible that the Lightning are looking to acquire Nikolai Khabibulin as a back-up goaltender since I'm fairly positive that the Oilers are not looking to trade their rookie goaltender Devan Dubnyk who has been showing great promise while learning the ropes under Khabibulin's tutelage. Who knows, the Lightning might just be preparing to draft players who will work in their 1-3-1 scheme.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Battleship: the Rick Nash Edition

For those not in the know, the biggest story in the NHL is the game of Battleship in which the prize is Rick Nash. To give some context, let's back this up to the 2011 offseason. In order to make a move to push the club into the playoffs, General Manager Scott Howson acquired forward Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers, defenseman James Wisniewski from the Montreal Canadiens, and forward Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal from the New York Rangers. While these were major moves that many felt would be enough to put the Blue Jackets in contention for maybe a 7th or 8th seed, the club has managed to pummel itself all the way down to the bottom of the Western Conference. In the first fifteen games of the season, the team had only salvaged two wins. With the trade deadline looming, the Blue Jackets leaked out that their star player, Rick Nash, is on the trading block. All this is very unofficial, of course.

Who is Rick Nash?
When you think of the Columbus Blue Jackets, you think Rick Nash. He's about as iconic for this franchise as Brian Urlacher for the Chicago Bears. Nash was drafted by the Blue Jackets and is in his ninth year with the club. He has served as the team's captain for the last four years and has made five All-Star appearances. In fact, since Columbus will host the 2013 All-Star Game, Nash was probably secretly excited that he would not only be selected but would captain a team and be able to draft players as he had seen Daniel Alfreddsson do in Ottawa and Eric Staal do in Carolina in previous years. In any case, that dream is pretty much long gone. In terms of more personal achievements, he has won a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics on Team Canada. An incredibly accomplished player, he has become a consistent 30+ goal-scorer and leads his team in points. Although he has not lead the Blue Jackets to a Stanley Cup and has only appeared in the playoffs once in 2009, Nash is one of the elite players in the league who one may argue has not quite reached his potential given the fact that he is on a struggling team. Shortly after the team's playoff stint, Nash inked an 8-year extension for $62.4 million. Of course, he put a no-trade clause in his contract, but it is unofficially known that he would be willing to waive the clause provided that it be a team of his choice.

Given the fact that Nash is such an elite player, there is no club that is NOT interested to some extent in him. Howson reported that people just started asking about the availability of Nash, which is laughable because I highly doubt that GMs have nothing better to do than go on a fishing expedition for a status check on presumed "untouchable" players. In any case, Howson probably wanted to make a trade with clubs more desperate than him, but Nash's no-trade clause allowed for him to be a part of the decision as well. He has a hypothetical list of teams he would be willing to be traded to, but no one actually knows what teams are on the list but have presumed that they are Cup-contending teams. So I don't really see Nash going to the Islanders or the Oilers any time soon.

This is why I refer to the Nash situation as Battleship. You've got Nash and the Blue Jackets with a list of teams and players they are targeting. On the other side, you've got all the other teams trying to figure out how to match what they have with what Howson and Nash have. I want to stress that it is entirely possible that this game could be a draw. Nash is a huge piece. Remember, he's the captain and face of the team. He can score like crazy and offer a lot to a team. So if a team is interested in him, they're going to have to give up a lot. At least a top forward and possibly a draft pick or a prospect, depending on the major feature of the trade. At this point in the season, moving players who are such an integral part of the offense is dicey. Hockey is a game that relies on trust and chemistry. Many players have been teammates for years and have developed somewhat of a comfort level with one another. They can sense each other on the ice and can make plays. If you bring in Nash and send out a top player, the chemistry is disrupted, and production could suffer. It's a risk that a team without any playoff hopes would be willing to take because they would have nothing to lose, but Nash is rumored not to be looking at those teams. A team that is currently in the playoff hunt probably won't be willing to make such a drastic change to a roster that didn't require a player like Nash to get to that point. Acquiring Nash in the offseason is more appealing because the players would have offseason training and such to get acquainted, and the coaching staff would have time to create lines that would be most successful. I think this is the more likely scenario, but anything is possible.

Los Angeles Kings
One of the rumored front-runners in the game of Battleship is the Los Angeles Kings. However, as of tonight, the LA Kings are no longer in the hunt for Nash... at least for now. After all, who knows what rumors will be spinning around by the time the offseason rolls around? General Manager Dean Lombardi traded forward defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick for Columbus Blue Jackets forward Jeff Carter. As a Kings fan, it pains me to say this, but this is probably one of the worst trades I have seen, and I hate it on so many levels. While I loved Carter in Philadelphia, he's had a lackluster year in Columbus. He might fit nicely with former Flyers teammates Mike Richards and Simon Gagne (who is still on the injured reserved list), but there is no guarantee that he will produce. And I'm not sure if Howson was trying to get revenge on Lombardi for the whole game-clock incident from earlier this year, but Columbus is the clear winner in this lopsided trade. Jack Johnson is arguably the best American defenseman in the league, and Carter is a top six forward but not a top three. I'd say trading for R.J. Umberger might have been more on par with the Johnson trade. Even trading the two alone would have been slightly lopsided. But then a first-round pick on top of that? That's giving a lot.

What also bothers me is that Jack Johnson is an integral piece of the defense, a defense that is stellar. The problem that the Kings have and are desperately trying to solve is offense. Yes, Carter might be the piece to kickstart the offense, but I don't think that trading away a major piece of the defense that is working is not a good idea. I feel like there is now another hole in the team. You now have to rely on Slava Voynov to improve, and improve quickly, and all the other defensemen to step up their game even more than they already have. I would have much rather traded a couple depth players and a pick or not even take Carter at all.

This trade also indicates to me that Los Angeles was not on Nash's list. There had been a rumor that he did not want to go to the Kings, and this deal seems to confirm this because the Kings were looking to obtain Nash or Carter. I believe that it became a matter of parting with either defenseman Drew Doughty or goaltender Jonathan Quick, and Lombardi had made it clear that they were not on the trading block. While I find that Nash coming to LA is highly unlikely, anything is possible.

San Jose Sharks
Most likely because I live in the Bay Area, the Sharks have been rumored to be a top-contender for Nash. Supposedly, there had been talks and the Blue Jackets wanted forward Logan Couture. General Manager Doug Wilson made it clear that Couture was not on the block, and it is unclear whether Columbus countered that or all talks were dropped. However, I really don't see the Sharks making a move for Nash right now. I do think that Wilson will try again during the offseason if Nash is still available. The Sharks are most likely not intensely interested in Nash because they aren't as desperate as the Kings to fix their offense. The Sharks still have plenty of firepower with forwards like Thornton, Marleau, Couture, and Pavelski. While they might be looking to add more depth in the forward position, I don't think they'd be interested in a Nash-caliber player because of what they might have to give up in order to obtain that player. The Sharks have a great core of top six forwards that have great chemistry on the ice. To dismantle that with a major trade would be foolish considering they currently sit on top of the Pacific Division, though Phoenix is nipping right at their heels since they tie in points.

Even in the offseason, I'm not sure that the Sharks would be interested in Nash because they still have some problems on D that need to be addressed. While I'm not sure how things would work out in terms of cap space and such, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sharks aggressively pursue Ryan Suter in the offseason. In all likelihood, the Predators will not be able to resign Suter as they will make Weber their top priority. Suter would be a great asset to the Sharks, but the two sides may not be able to meet in the numbers game.

New York Rangers
In my opinion, the Rangers are the true front-runners in this game of Battleship. They have depth in the forward position, and they may decide to make a radical move to increase that offense that last-year had been so lackluster. If they have the cap space to acquire him, they might make the move. The Rangers are very likely to win the Cup, and at that point, the team will be dismantled during the offseason anyway because of cap issues. If they can afford him, this is a very likely move. The only hesitation I see is chemistry. The Rangers have come into a groove, and their chemistry is obvious. I can see a pause because they are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference, and they didn't need Nash to get there. I don't see how Nash would not want to be a part of this team, but it's just a matter of whether the Rangers can afford a little gamble.