Friday, March 26, 2010

All Things Hockey, March 26th, 2010

Gambling is, of course, illegal in the vast majority of our great country. There are of course, some exceptions, including Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since I once wrote a large portion of a column in the Las Vegas airport, and I went to a Devils game last night, I am perfectly willing to declare Obstructed View Sports enough a part of those two states that I can, with a clear conscious, promote sports betting in this space.
With that in mind, most teams in the NHL have about 10 games remaining. It is time to figure out who has a chance to win it all, so let’s break this down power-rankings style, and go 30-1 and take a look at the odds of each team winning the Cup.
Group 1—Off the board, Officially Eliminated
30. Edmonton Oilers- OFF- The Oilers are, as of today, the only team that has been officially mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously you would have no trouble getting a casino to take your money on an Edmonton bet, but no one is going for that one.

Group 2- Why Bother? Out of the Hunt

29. Toronto Maple Leafs- +2 Billion
28. Columbus Blue Jackets- +2 Billion- These two are, for all intents and purposes, eliminated, but for the sake of mathematics, we will make them slightly more viable than the mathematically eliminated Oilers. Since both of them should be gone by the end of the week, we will essentially be a pick your own odds.

Group 3- You must believe in miracles

27. New York Islanders- +2000000
26. Carolina Hurricanes- +2000000
25. Tampa Bay Lightning- +1750000
24. Florida Panthers- +1600000
23. Minnesota Wild- +100000
22. St. Louis Blues- +50000
21. Anaheim Ducks- +20000
20. Dallas Stars- +20000

These guys make up the bulk of the teams that will miss the playoffs, but aren’t all-together dismal. The odds against any of them making the playoffs are long, as they make up 11 seeds and lower, and are at least 7 points out of a spot right now. The Western Conference teams are actually further from the 8 seed Red Wings, but they are getting the slight nod in the odds department, because they are stronger teams, and would have a much better chance to actually go somewhere in the playoffs in a chaotic west, whereas if New York, Carolina, Florida or Tampa Bay sneak in, it will only be to get swept by Washington, New Jersey or Pittsburgh.

Group 4- Uphill Climbers

19. New York Rangers - +20000
18. Atlanta Thrashers- +20000
17. Calgary Flames- +8000

Now, we get into bets that would a, actually be on the board, and b, you might actually take. Of the four teams that are in contention for a playoff spot, the Flames are the one that would seem to have a realistic chance. They are just three points out of 8th, and have an elite goaltender and a pretty decent roster. They could absolutely put it together and make a run if they get into the playoffs. The Thrashers also have plenty of time to grab 3 points on Boston, but they don’t seem to have the talent to make a run. New York will have a tough time getting in, although if they do jump the Thrashers, I like their chances in the playoffs better, hence the toss-up odds.

Group 5- Cinderellas

16. Boston Bruins- +3000
15. Nashville Predators- +2350
14. Philadelphia Flyers- +2100
13. Ottawa Senators- +2000

Now, we are seeing a drastic drop in the odds, from the guys on the outside of the playoffs to the guys on the inside. That is for the simple reason that the 8 seeds are playing great hockey right now, and there has been a bit of spacing at the bottom over the last couple of weeks. The takeaway from this is that, to keep it in gambling terms, the over/under for teams that are currently in to make the playoffs has to be about 15.5, and to be honest, I’ll take the over.
As for the bottom of the bracket, there are a bouple of teams in the 6-8 spots that look tough. Boston won’t get by Washington, so they get considerably steeper odds than the other playoff teams, and are only that low on the “anything can happen once the playoffs start” clause. Nashville just plain isn’t good enough to go deep, they also look to me like a pretty surefire first round exit. Philly doesn’t have the goaltending to make a serious run, and while Ottawa has the five seed, that means (if they keep it) they get Pittsburgh or New Jersey in the first round, and likely Washington or the other one of the Atlantic division teams after that. They don’t have the depth to win two series like that in a row.

Group 6- Contenders. Sort of.

12. Montreal Canadiens- +1800
11.Colorado Avalanche- +1750
10. Phoenix Coyotes- +1600
9. Los Angeles Kings- +1600

These three Western Conference teams are at least a year away. Tippett has done a great job in Phoenix, and Colorado and Los Angeles have overachieved with young talent, but it certainly isn’t their time yet. I could see any of them making it out of the first round, but I don’t see any of them getting further than that.

Group 7- In the Hunt

8. Detroit Red Wings- +1250
7. Vancouver Canucks- +1050
6. Buffalo Sabers- +1000

Neither of these teams could be considered the favorite, but Detroit is the hottest team in the NHL. They probably won’t get higher than the six seed, even if they keep up their torrent pace, but believe you me, no one wants to face the healthy Wings in the playoffs. Vancouver, on the other hand, is thisclose to being among the favorites. I wouldn’t bet against Luongo, and their roster is certainly talented enough to make a run. Same goes for Buffalo, they are right there, and could easily ride a hot goalie to the top. We are getting right into the guys who could win it, starting with this group.

Group 8- The Elites

5. Pittsburgh Penguins- +550
4. Chicago Blackhawks- +450

This may seem low for the defending champs, and it is, maybe, but they have struggled too much against the top teams in the East to consider them a favorite. As for Chicago, as I said, every team has goaltending issues, but without a top defenseman (even one who is a liability in the D zone), the problems bother me with what the Blackhawks have the most. They are also the shallowest team of the serious contenders, and depth seems to usually play a role come playoff time. No one, including myself, would be surprised to see a repeat, or a championship for Chicago, but I think that the next group is a small step ahead.

Group 9- The Favorites

3. New Jersey Devils- +350
As of last week, they would have been in the group before this. They cemented their utter dominance over the Penguins, though, a team that they could very well meet in the playoffs, something that cant be overlooked. Watching them twice in person in the last few weeks, though, I saw that the scariest thing is that as great as the top end talent is on this team is, their depth may be their biggest strength. Lines 1-3, they realld don’t have a hole, and their D core is rock solid with Paul Martin back. As strange as it sounds, the biggest question mark really is Brodeur as they head into the playoffs.
2. San Jose Sharks- +325
This seems low, for a team that has had massive goaltending issues the last couple of weeks, and that has had trouble getting it done in the playoffs, but I still think that Nabokov can get it back and be elite. If he does, as good as the Capitals have been, this makes the Sharks the hands down favorites in my book. As for the playoff thing, I haven’t ever really bought into the ‘can’t get it done’ thing. Hockey is hockey, and Joe Thornton doesn’t cease to be skilled at the end of March. They haven’t done it yet, but I still think that the Sharks are as likely to play up to their potential as they are to fold in the playoffs. Also, I am a homer. Sue me.
1. Washington Capitals- +300
Right now, they are a juggernaut. They are going to run away with the President’s Trophy, with a 9 point lead on Chicago as I type this. Having said that, it seems unlikely that they will cruise to the cup with 6-4 wins. As some point, if they are going to win it all, they will need Varlamov to step up. He won’t have to steal games and be great, just be good and get the job done. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, I think that he can. That doesn’t mean he will, or that the Caps can’t be beaten, but it does mean that they are the favorite right now.

Homer Note of the Week- Shuffling the Deck

Three things stick out as the themes for the Sharks since the Olympic break. The first is that Nabokov has been horrible. I covered that at great length the last couple of weeks, and I don’t want to dwell on it.
The second is that they have struggled for the last, say, week and a half. Let’s take a look at that.
They sucked. It is a long season, it happens.
Glad we covered that, let’s move on.
The third thing is somewhat less obvious, particularly if you haven’t been watching the games, only checking scores and stats. Coach Todd McLellan has been very willing to shuffle lines since the three week hiatus. I’m not entirely sure what to think of this.
It is certainly fun to watch the Sharks roll the tables with the best top unit in the game, when Thornton, Heatley and Marleau are paired up. Can that create matchup problems with the rest of the team? Maybe but it also creates a matchup advantage for anyone who tries to counter that particular trio. I would like to see them together, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the shuffle is bad.
The main reason it doesn’t bother me, breaking up the Heatley-Marleau-Thornton, Pavelski-Clowe-Setoguchi combos that looked so good before the break. First of all, I’m not convinced that the shuffle is permanent. I think that, come playoff time, we could very well see those combos, or something similar, back together. There is a method, and a purpose, though, to the shuffling madness.
The first is probably the most common reason for changing up lines, particularly in the NHL, but really at almost any level. That is to say, the Sharks have struggled pretty badly the past couple of weeks, and a well timed shuffling of the lines can do wonders as a wakeup call. That is the main purpose behind this particular shuffling.
McLellan also seemed to have other ideas, though. Two players on the Sharks have had a tough time getting into it this year, and as a result have seen production drop offs. Those two guys were Ryan Clowe and Torrey Mitchell (who hasn’t been the same since the broken leg). What was the second line against the Stars…Mitchell, Clowe and Thornton. Mitchell had a tally against Minnesota, and Clowe looked energized against Dallas.
So that is the second purpose, as I see it. Mac knows he needs more guys on their game as we head down the stretch, and he is trying to get them going with different combos. I don’t know if I’m crazy about the lines that we end up with for now(although I like Couture getting to play with two guys who’s main job isn’t to fight, something he hasn’t gotten much, but the bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter what happens between now and the end of the regular season.
The Sharks are going to make the playoffs, and they will be judged by what they do there. Whatever McLellan has to do between now and then to get ready, he should do, even if it means the product isn’t as good in the mean time.

Section Idea that Probably Won’t Last of the Week- Mailbag

I am, on occasion, inundated with upwards of zero tweets, e-mails and texts asking me hockey questions to answer in this column. Since I want to run this section even though there is no demand for it, I am going to solicit questions from friends and family (or anyone else at, and answer one a week. I will do this literally every single week that I remember and can be bothered to, which should be as much as sometimes. Anyways, as Adam Carolla would say, GET IT ON.

Explain why the Canucks will win the cup. Address Quinville’s tendy issues for him. When did Stamkos become a superstar? Also, maybe an extra on how Mason Raymond is the best player you have never heard of.
- Austin, Ketchum, ID

First of all, Austin, I asked you for one question to answer. That is like 5. Anyways, here we go.
The Canucks won’t win the cup, but if they do it will be because of Roberto Luongo.
Stamkos became a superstar this season.
Quinville should go with Nemi.
I have heard of Raymond, making him ineligible for the best player I have never heard of.
Anything else?
(OK, I guess I could get a little bit deeper.)
I genuinely don’t think that the Canucks will win the cup. I got into this above, and I don’t want to repeat myself. Instead, I will take a look at the reasons they could. Obviously, their chances are on the shoulders of Luongo. The argument for them is that Kessler and the Sedins are capable of being good scorers, and they have a solid D core that can get the job done.
For the Canucks to win it all, two things need to happen. Henrik Sedin needs to be the best player in the series with whoever they are playing, and Luongo needs to be the best goaltender in the world. Both things can happen, but even if they do, I think that the Canucks are a little bit short of being a genuine cup contender.
Sticking with the Canucks, Raymond is certainly becoming a very good NHL player. It isn’t the first time that I have heard him called the ‘best guy you haven’t heard of.’ I don’t know if that is fair, Raymond is a guy that I think most hockey fans have at least heard of, but he is certainly an underrated player. He is going to get 50 plus points this year at just 24. His ceiling definitely is at an all star level.
Moving on, Stamkos is clearly establishing himself as a special player. The 19 year old has a shot to score 50 goals this year, and he finds himself tied with Crosby and Ovechkin with 45 goals coming into tonight’s play. Playing with a rejuvenated Martin St. Louis, Stamkos has made himself perhaps the best finisher in the NHL. He has a shot that is unparalleled, making him a demon on the powerplay, and instincts that get him in a scoring position a few times a game. Stamkos is an absolute sniper, and may well be up there with Crosby and Ovechkin as the uberstars of hockey.
Finally, I really don’t think that Quinville, the Chicago coach, has a goaltending controversy. Huet had been horrible. Antti Nemi is not exactly a Vezina candidate yet, but he gives them the best chance to win at this point. Goaltending is definitely their biggest issue, but I don’t think that there should be any question who they need to go with.

What I Like About- The New Jersey Devils

This may very well be the least likely section ever to appear on this blog. I have never been a fan of the Devils, and in fact I have considered them to be the antithesis of my Sharks fandom for a number of years, the NHL antagonist if you will.
This team, though, is hard not to like. These are not your father’s ‘dump and chase, trap, make Marty look good and vice versa’ Devils team. This is an up tempo, dangerous offensive team, and despite keeping their defensive mantra, with the lowest goals per game against, unlike the 90s teams they also have as much offensive firepower as anyone in the NHL.
Really, it is impossible for me not to like the Devils a little bit, outside of the jerseys that they wear. They have the guy who has long been by favorite San Jose Shark. That is deadline pickup Ilya Kovalchuk, who before this month had been the guy that I needed to see in person, having gotten to see Ovechkin and Crosby. I have had the chance to see him twice in the past month, and he has not disappointed. He is one of, if not the, most skilled player in the NHL, and is a pleasure to watch.
On top of that, a couple of weeks ago, at the end of the Olympics, I said that I never would be able to root against any of the Team USA guys again. That was no joke. Chief among those guys was Zach Parise, a guy I already had trouble rooting against, and since the tournament has become one of my favorite guys in the league. Beyond Parise, Paul Martin and Jamie Languenbrunner are guys who will be and have been, respectively, key members of the stars and stripes squad.
It goes deeper than the two guys. Clarkson is fun to watch. Zubrus is extraordinarily skilled. Elias is great. Marty is, I begrudgingly admit, a legend. Most importantly, they are allowed to play. I never thought I would admit it, but they are terrifically fun to watch, and that is what I like about the New Jersey Devils.

Goal of the Week

I was lucky enough to see this one in person, Tuesday night in North Jersey. It is amazing how fast Parise is able to get from what was a bad pass, to a scoring position, and then to put it top shelf on Mason. It was perhaps the prettiest goal that I have seen in person.

Save of the Week

It was for naught, as the Isles were already down 4 at the time, but Dywayne Roloson gets the save of the week for a beautiful toe stop on the Rangers’ Eric Christienson, after Christienson had made his move on the Long Island tendy.

Hit of the Week

This is the only hit that I am going to talk about this week, and it is legal! Anyways, you always get bonus points for laying out Corey Perry, Sean Avery, or Steve Ott. The Flyers’ Kimmo Timonen got those this week for putting down #29 for Dallas, giving the little prick what he deserves (sorry).

(It was sort of a weak week)

Pass of the Week

Just a fantastic play by Crosby, weaving through the Caps and finding Billy Guerin in a losing effort Wednesday night.

(Video coming soon, is having trouble at the moment)

Shorter Hockey Thoughts
- Great move by Crosby in the shootout against Washington, a game that featured 3 or 4 highlight real goals. Unfortunately, that cemented the Pens as a second tier contender right now. They have to be wondering if they can get it done against the elite teams.
- It is never good when you are surprised that your team gave up less than 4 goals. That is where I am with the Sharks right now.
- No idea if I should call the goal by Sedin where he flipped it over Hiller’s shoulder soft, heads up, flukey, or what. Just a crazy play, and if he meant to do it, an amazing one by Daniel. Or Henrik. I didn’t see which one.
- I have seen Steve Mason twice this year in person, and he has looked terrible both times. He fights the puck, doesn’t look confident or comfortable, and doesn’t give up overtly soft goals, but doesn’t make any big saves either. The Jackets better hope it is just a sophomore slump, as he should be the future of that franchise.
- The Prudential Center is as nice as Newark, New Jersey is ugly. Unfortunately, with less than 15 games left for a great team, in a division race, there were entire sections that were almost empty.
- I’m not sure what changed between the NHL owner meetings and now, but it is certainly a step in the right direction, making sure that hits like the Richards and Cooke ones are punishable for the rest of the season.
- I am currently sitting in a hotel room in Pennsylvania, flipping back and forth between the Cornell-Kentucky game and…Sharks / Stars! Unbelievable! In West Chester! I don’t know how this is happening, or why, but it is awesome. My ghast is officially flabbered. I am borderline speechless, I love this particular Holiday Inn!
- I’m not saying that Todd McLellan reads this blog. I’m not. I’m just saying that tonight against Dallas they have Logan Couture, who I have been pushing to get more ice time all year, is playing with Heatley and Setoguchi tonight, while Nichol is scratched, and Jody Shelly is a New York Ranger. Just sayin’.
- You can’t help but get a sick feeling watching David Booth go down with another head injury.
- I have no idea if a shutout will turn Nabokov around just like that, but it is certainly a great thing for a goaltender that has appeared to have massive problems with confidence the past couple of weeks.

Award Watch

Vezina- Ryan Miller
He is still in the top 2 or 3 for the major stat categories, and has a Buffalo team that doesn’t crack the top 10 in goals per game with 90 points and the division lead.
Honorable Mention- Ilya Bryzgalov, Tukka Rask

Adams- Dave Tippett
Don’t expect the Coyotes to take the division lead like they did a couple of nights ago, going into the playoffs, but Tippett has this team of guys you (mostly) probably haven’t heard of in 4th place.
HM- Joe Sacco (COL)

Hart- Sidney Crosby
He has carried the team when Malkin has been down with injuries. He has upped his game by scoring at an elite pace. Ovechkin has more points, but also more help. I’m giving this one to the kid.
HM- Daniel Sedin, Alexander Ovechkin

Norris- Mike Green
With 71 points and just 8 games to play, Green looks like he will fall just short of becoming the first player since Brian Leetch to score 82 points in a season from the point. He will likely finish above a ppg pace, and will run away with the defensive scoring lead.
HM- Duncan Keith, Tyler Myers

Calder- Tyler Myers
He is third among all rookies with 42 points, and has been a shut down defenseman. I know that is basically what I said last time, but what more could you need to say?
HM- Matt Duschene, Johnathan Tavares

Just for fun, here are the predictions for who will get the statistical awards.

Richard- Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Marleau

Art Ross- Ovechkin, Sedin, Crosby, Backstrom

Jennings (fewest goals allowed)- New Jersey (Brodeur),

Mike Ratje Trophy (Most Give-Aways by a Defenseman in his Own Zone)- Jay Leach

What I’m Watching For
I have been slacking, and haven’t put anything here for the last few All-Things Hockey editions. It is high time, though, to bring it back as we head down the stretch, and there is plenty to watch out for.

This weekend features a number of nice matchups, including the Sharks going into Vancouver in a battle of two division leaders, and Vancouver looking to keep a shot at the 1 or 2 seed, 6 points back of San Jose on HNIC. Saturday afternoon, the Penguins take on Philly at the Igloo, with the Flyers looking to grab a playoff spot, while Pittsburg battles with New Jersey for the Atlantic division crown. The game with the most on the line though, for the week ahead, would be one with two teams fighting for different things. The Bruins, looking to hang on to the 8 seed, will take on the Devils, looking to surpass the Pens, on Tuesday night in scenic North Jersey. There really isn’t a battle with a divisional or 8-9 seed on the line, so that will have to do as the game I have highlighted on my calendar next week.

I hate to name them again, but it is the Detroit Red Wings. I wouldn’t be that surprised if they got passed by the Flames and missed the playoffs. I wouldn’t be that surprised if they passed Colorado, Nashville and Los Angeles for the 5 seed. I wouldn’t want to face them (and the Sharks would, if the season ends today). It will be interesting to see where they end up.

I haven’t given up on the 82 points for Mike Green yet. He will be interesting to watch. Also, as I write this, it isn’t Crosby or Ovechkin who leads the scoring race. It is Henrik Sedin. It would be huge if he could finish the season at the top. Finally, Crosby, Ovechkin and Stamkos all have a shot to hit 50 goals, in what is a very tight Rocket Richard race. That’s something to keep an eye on for sure.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Crowded at the Bottom

Andy Roddick is a phenomenal tennis player. He has a skill set that compares to that of Pete Sampras. He has athleticism that rivals that of Bjorn Borg. The problem is simply the era in which he plays. His prime has conflicted with that of two of the greatest of all time, Roger Federer and Raffa Nadal. As a result, Federer is often left out of grand slam finals, and hasn’t had the results that you might expect with his skill set. Instead he has been relegated to a rung below the elite tennis players, with the likes of other players who are as good as Roddick, but who’s names I don’t know because they aren’t as charismatic, as American or as married to Brooklyn Decker, and I don’t know anything about tennis.

This is kind of like the 2010 Warriors, and it could cost us my goal of being terrible, getting our uninterested coach fired and picking up John Wall. We should be a great bad team.

Monte Ellis quit on the year before he was even back from his injury. We ditched Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes, Baron Davis, Al Harrington and Jason Richardson from the only playoff team in the last sixteen years, and that was an 8 seed. Our most effective scorer played for a school with less than 2000 kids last year. Our second most effective player was undrafted. 2 years ago. Our center should really be a 4, but we play him there because we have a great college player who’s game doesn’t seem to translate at the 4, and because, hell, Biedrins is 6’11” and we don’t have a better option.

The problem is, in Minnesota, they saw our refusal to sign a star point guard by drafting 2, pissing off one, trading a franchise player for about 3 cents on the dollar, and basically doing the rebuilding equivalent of remodeling by taking everything out of a house, tearing up the flooring and walls, then saying ‘screw it, it is cheaper if we just live with it, and hope that we can clean this mess up as we go.’

The Warriors are only 5 games back of Minnesota in the loss column, but any realistic Warriors fan knows that they have done a much better job of putting an embarrassingly bad product on the floor. They are the Nadal of the NBA.

Then there is the Federer of NBA futility. Really, though, the Nets are more like Tiger without the scandal, Ali without prison and Jordan without baseball rolled in to one, crossed with Lemieux, Gretzky and Jesus. They are that good. At being bad.

The Wizards had a gunfight in the locker room, suspended their most talented player, traded two of their other top players, and they are 14 games better than the Nets! People talk about how John Wall might not fit on a team that has Devin Harris, which is crap. I know it is crap because Wall does fine at Kentucky, and they are a much better team than the Nets.

(This is an exaggeration, but come on…the best scoring point prospect since Iverson can’t start for a 7-63 team? Please.)

Anyways, that is where I stand with the Warriors. They seem deadlocked in the #27 seed, 5 games behind the T-Wolves, but 2 up on the Bullets. It could be worse, especially considering that they only need a top 2 pick to fulfill this goal. The lottery could yet be the savior. At the #3 seed, the Warriors would have a 15% chance of getting the number 1 pick, and a 16% chance at number 2. The third worst team has gotten the number one pick 5 times, although one involved a frozen envelope (little help, David!). We may be in an era with extraordinary competition, but I’m not ready to give up on our chances at Wall or Turner yet.

With new ownership coming next year (the story having been officially broken yesterday), the desire to get an A prospect becomes much more serious. This is not a sellers market, especially in a league that had dire, documented financial problems. That leaves the door wide open for the plethora of wealthy bay area people that would love to put a winner in Oakland. I mentioned it in passing, but the Warriors haven't finished higher than 8th in the past 16 years. They have become a dismal franchise.

I said a lot of stuff in jest, but with the ownership story breaking this may be a turning point for the franchise. Nelly was a great coach but the game has passed him by (you need to play defense these days). If an organization like SVSE (Sharks owners), or the Neukom partnership (holds the Giants) that has shown itself to care about putting out a good product, or one of the many Silicone Valley figures with money to blow who can hire the right people, they have an interested market. On top of that, there is a core of good players with Ellis, Morrow, Anthony Randolf and Curry. There is no reason that this can't be a playoff team.

I joked around about losing a lot in the last two columns. I am saying this seriously: The Warriors could turn around, and John Wall or Evan Turner could be the start. Go T-Wolves, Go Nets.

(And with that, I have reached my NBA quota…back to the NHL in the next few days)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Something New with a Full Tank

It is time to try something new. Screw it, while I’m here, it is time to try a couple of things…new. Believe it or not, I have a favorite NBA team. While they have never raked up there with the Sharks, Red Sox, Broncos (they of blue turf, not mile high), or Cowboys, I am indeed, a Golden State Warriors fan. You could have read this blog since its inception, and still have little or no idea that I have ever even seen a Warriors game, and the reason is simple. There are only so many hours in the day, and I have just never cared to follow the NBA like I follow the NHL, MLB, NFL or college football.

That isn’t to say I ignore the NBA. I will catch highlights from SportsCenter. I watch the occasional game when channel surfing, particularly if Golden State is playing. I even have opinions on a few teams and players. So I am going to embrace a couple of things I normally don’t really care for, and the first is the NBA. I am going to follow the Warriors for the rest of the 2010 season. It may seem odd to pick up a 19-48 NBA team in mid-March, but that actually brings me to the second thing I am going to give a try to.

While I don’t hate, but rather could take or leave the NBA, there is something else in sports that I am vehemently against. Losing. Sure, as revelations go, this is on par with coming out as “anti-cancer” or “pro-world peace,” but like everyone else, I have never been a fan of losing. Luckily, if you look at the list above, I have been lucky enough to not have to put up with a whole lot of it lately. By taking on the Warriors as team number five in my fan arsenal, I am going to take on a whole lot more of it. This seems like a bad thing, unless you read the first part of the column and have an idea where I am going with this.

Not only am I going to put up with the dismal ways of the Golden State Warriors, I’m going to embrace them. Obviously, I don’t have a choice as long as I am picking up a team that’s offensive game plan consists of “giving the ball to Monte or Steph and having him hoist a contested three,” and at the same time gives up 111 points a game (at least they lead the league in something!). There has never been a situation where I have rooted for a team to lose before. I have expected it, even accepted it, bit as mad as I may have gotten at the Sharks, Red Sox or Cowboys, I always hope they can pull the game out. Not so, in this experimental venture in to the NBA. I am going to pick up the Warriors and follow them, but rather than rooting for them, I will hope for them to lose.

Of course, I have rooted for teams to fail before. A baseball season isn’t successful if the Red Sox don’t win the pennant, but only a year like last year, in which the Yankees win it all can be considered a complete failure. I wouldn’t mind if the Ducks, as currently assembled with Cory “euro-fighter” Perry and James “scull cruncher” Wisniewski go 0-for- the next three years. This is completely different from that, as I hate those teams. The Warriors, on the other hand, I like. They are still my favorite team.

Nor is this masochistic. Rather, there is reason for my hoping for futility.

In a related story, it is bracket season. Despite an opening round filled with carnage on my bracket (which now contains more red than a Flames playoff game---I’ll be here all week), I am still in contention good with my Kentucky over Ohio State title game, with Baylor and Syracuse filling out the final four. There is one thing that leads me to the Ohio State-Kentucky final, and it is my hard and fast rule when it comes to filling out brackets. When it comes to talent versus experience, I’ll take talent, and I am not picking against the best guards. This year, the best guards, Evan Turner and John Wall are good. Really good. And I want one of them.

Wall is a rare talent, one that I have been somewhat enamored with when I started to check out his highlight real on YouTube 6 months before he even reported to Lexington. Evan Turner is a 6’7” guard who can run the point effectively, is quick enough to guard NBA point guards, and can score almost at will. He is also ‘the villain’ of Club Trillion fame. Wall and Turner are both special guards, but what makes them special isn't their game along the perimeter. Watch the take on Wall, and you can see that he has the size, hops and physicality to play in the lane. Turner, for his part, routinely pulls down 8-10 boards in a game. Guards who can run, shoot and even distribute are a dime a dozen. The versatility that these two bring makes them rare prospects.

So yeah, I want them. Both of them. Obviously, that isn’t going to happen, but we could get one. Sure, there is a lottery, but if the Warriors can just make up just 4 games in the loss column, that would put us in the Wall/Turner range. I know we have guards as it is in Oakland but please, with Wall, you make it work. Right now, all we have is an uninteresting, bad team that isn’t even going to get the chance to be smoked out of the playoffs by a 1 seed.

Is tanking wrong? Maybe, but I’m not really much of a Warriors fan yet, and I want to be. A guy like Wall or Turner, put with Monte Ellis, Steph Curry and…actually, never mind, they would probably still be a few years away. At least we could watch an elite talent, and I might be able to get interested earlier next year.

(In case you don’t believe me, watch this, and tell me the embarrassment of finishing in the cellar wouldn’t be worth it this year. That’s the kid in freaking high school.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

All Things Hockey, March 19th, 2010

It would be great if we could just talk about hockey.

Believe me, I would like nothing more, but the last few weeks have seen so much…crap, so much controversy, so many bad hits and so little NHL action, that they really are the only place I can start this NHL column.

I hate to even mention it, but the fact is, the past month has seen both the best and the worst that the great game of hockey has to offer. The best was simple, the greatest players in the world got together and put on a show for the ages in Vancouver. It was not only as good as hockey can be, but I would say as good as sports are capable of being.

Unfortunately, each of the two Sundays since the Gold Medal tilt, the headlines, blogosphere and airwaves have been dominated with the dark side of the game. Last week, it was Matt Cooke’s attempted decapitation of Marc Savard, and the league’s embarrassing inability to send an effective message. This week, it was a star player, Alex Ovechkin, who served as the guilty party.

The fact is, I can think of few things that I want to do less than break down a hit and the warranted penalty for the second times in as many NHL columns. Suffice to say, I think the 2 games were fair, although I can see the side that Ovechkin/Budreau took in saying that Campbell may have been at fault. If you compare it to the Cooke hit, which didn’t get one second or dollar in penalties, it was positively saint like.

It points to a larger problem, though. Allow me to be the 500th voice (at least) to say that the league needs to sort out it’s disciplinary system. I understand that it is difficult to do anything in season, and that’s fine. It needs to be priority number one this summer though. In no particular order, here are the things that I think need to be considered:

- Implement my hitting from behind rule, which was that if you make an aggressive, physical play on a player from behind, regardless of the result, it is a 5 minute player. The league can then decide on supplemental discipline from there.

- Suspensions can be judged on a case by case basis. Everything is fair game for review, and the league, be it Campbell, a panel or something else, can decide if suspension is necessary.

- Obviously, the perpetrator can be taken into account on a play like this. Some would say that this would work against both Ovechkin and Cooke, although I would have to disagree with that. Ovechkin has been reckless, sure, but he has never really ran anyone from behind, lending credence to an argument that he was just strong and aggressive in finishing the play on Campbell, not trying to hurt him. Cooke, on the other hand, was trying to take Savard’s head off. That is that. I kind-of-sort-of-maybe-a-little defended him last week, but like so many hockey arguments, Don Cherry put this one to bed. If you haven’t already, watch Coach’s corner for March 13th. He shows a montage that leave no doubt in your mind about Cooke. I am so far out on a tangent here, I can’t even see Sin or Cosine (a geometry joke!), but this is all to say that Cooke’s hit was deserving of three times the suspension Ovechkin’s was, and I have always been vehemently anti-hitting from behind. The relevance being…I forgot…oh yeah, who should matter.

- Having just compared the two,

- Most importantly, everyone needs to know what is being considered for suspensions. It doesn’t need to be airtight, after all it is a human process, and there can be plenty of room for interpretation, but there does need to be some sort of criteria for what you look at. What? I’m glad you asked. The following things should be considered and if they apply, a suspension is warranted.

1. An egregious violation of a rule- Essentially, a bad penalty. Suspensions are essentially given for committing a penalty, really badly. If you slash someone, that is a penalty. If you slash someone in the face, that is a suspendable offense. If you board someone: penalty. Board someone badly enough: suspension. This is the first thing that should be looked at. (Example- Most stick violations, particularly McSorely on Brashears, or Simon on Hollweg…minor penalties taken out of control, warranting further action.)

2. Was there an attempt to injure- If there was, it should be at least one game, probably more. (Example: Cooke on Savard)

3. Was it a play that could be made in the context of a hockey game- Suspensions should be more common, and more severe if the guilty party’s actions had little or nothing to do with the game. (Example: Downie on Crosby…away from the puck and having nothing to do with the rest of the game)

4. Was the play overly reckless- A play doesn’t have to be overtly malicious to warrant taking a player out. If you do something that puts players at risk just by being out of control and showing an utter lack of restraint (especially against players in helpless situation), that can be just as worthy of curtailing action. (Example- All of Ovechkin’s offenses)

5. Situation- Third period of a blowout and you go after someone’s knees? A much more egregious play. Essentially, by looking at when the play occurs, you can get a better feel for the players intentions. (Example- Lapierre cross checked Nichol in the second period of a close game. Clearly he wasn’t just out to goon someone at that point. Had he been, the suspension should have been steeper.)

6. Multiple Infractions- If a hit manages to break multiple rules at the same time, it should probably be considered for supplemental discipline. (Example- Keep reading…)

7. The Player- This is the trickiest part. The player should be considered. They shouldn’t need to make an example of stars, nor should they let them off. I don’t think that consideration of the player should be limited to repeat offender or not though. If a player is in fact a repeat offender, and has been sanctioned before, obviously that should make the penalty harsher. If a player has partaken in a number of boarderline hits, or has a well known reputation as a dirty player, that can indeed be taken into account. These decisions are made by people, not any sort of algorithm, and that should be taken advantage of.

There are probably a couple of other things that you could add to the list, but that is a pretty good basis for what he league could take a look at. Not on the list, crucially, in my opinion, is the result of the play. The result of the play warrants penalty, but if you are going to take a player off the ice for multiple game, what is important is what the player does. So many circumstances go into the level of injury that occurs on a play, that it isn’t fair to make it criteria for suspension. As hard as it may be to separate from the player’s action, it is only fair to try.

Cheapshot of the Week?

Another day another couple of hits to talk about. God I am getting sick of this, but this one needs to be addressed.

Wisniewski’s assault of Brent Seabrook was probably the worst hit that I have seen yet. Malicious, he broke about 4 rules, and he tried to take his head off. It was a joke…an absolute joke, that Devorski didn’t throw him out of the game. He came from the blueline, with his hands up, leaves his feet and slams Seabrook’s head into the boards and gets 2 minutes? Are you kidding me? It was revenge for Seabrook’s (legal) hit on Perry, and was the clearest instance of intent to injure, bar none, that I have seen since the Bertuzzi punch. God help the NHL if these things don’t start ending up in suspensions soon. You know what would be nice? If we knew how it was going to be evaluated, so we could be sure he would be punished. Someone should come up with something like that.

I started this out as a shorter thought, but I am getting fired up here, as I watch it again, and as much as more bad hits are the last thing that I feel like talking about, I need to get into this one. Watch the video. I can’t possibly stress how dangerous, malicious and dirty this is.

First, the Perry hit, which big bad James was retaliating against. Seabrook did essentially what everyone wishes that Cooke had done to Savard. He had a chance to hit Perry from behind, but he waited, hit him shoulder to shoulder just after he played the puck, and made a good hard hit. Yes, I once joked that you should get half a goal rather than a penalty for attacking Cory Perry (wait, no I didn’t, what is the opposite of joking?), but even under these rules, Seabrook wouldn’t have gotten anything for the hit. Sure, Perry went in hard, but it is hockey, and Seabrook did nothing wrong.

Then there is the Wisniewski hit. I don’t know where to start. Ok, go back to the video, and set it at the 16 second mark, 2 seconds before the hit at :18. Find Wisniewski in the frame, which goes out to the top of the circles. He isn’t even in it yet. Now watch him fly in. He already has speed when he enters the frame at the top of the circles, and he does 2 crossovers to gain speed between there and the hit. That alone makes it one of the worst charges that I have ever seen.

Moving to phase two of Wisniewski’s grand slam of douchebagery, when he makes contact, Seabrook has yet to make contact with the puck. Plain and simple, that makes it an early hit, and susceptible to a 5 minute interference call. A major seems odd for interference, but read any recap of the Kronwall hit on Martin Havlat in the playoffs last year. This is the same play. Seabrook played the puck a good second and a half earlier, but as Wisniewski comes in and attacks him, the puck is being wrapped hard behind him.

The triple leg of the goonery comes in the form of intent to injure. Clearly this is retaliation for the Perry hit. It has nothing to do with the play, as Wisniewski is ignoring said play to get a run at Seabrook. All he is trying to do is get his revenge in the form of taking Seabrook out, the very definition of intent to injure.

Moving to the next step, we have (spinning the wheel of cheapshots)….boarding! Wizniewski runs Seabrook into the boards from about 2-3 feet, basically the definition of the call. Moving on.
Number 5 (grand slam may actually have been generous), is roughing. The easiest way to get a roughing penalty is to stick your hands to an opponent’s face when you hit him. Coaches teach from a young age that if the ref sees you put your hands up, you are probably ending up in the box. Wisniewski flies in with his hands up, driving them right into Seabrook’s chin.

The sixth offense is the problem de jour with the NHL right now, an attack to the head. In fact, this was the result of the play, as Seabrook left the game with what was called an “upper body injury.” I’m not a doctor, but judging by his dazed look and the way he went down, I’m giving it between a 100% and 100% chance that it was a concussion. I would actually like to thank Wisniewski here. He heard people (such as myself) saying that it was the blind side head hits that were dangerous. He wanted everyone to know that you can goon someone in the head in an egregious manner from the front. Point well taken. Thank you, James.

Number seven (I honestly don’t know how high I will go, I am just going to keep typing until I run out of problems to point out with the hit), was the high stick. Watch the play, the stick is the first thing to make contact with Seabrook. I know that poor James didn’t mean to high stick him, he was just trying to turn his head into a pancake against the glass, but hey, you are responsible for your own stick.

Moving on to the eighth problem I have with the hit, he left his feet. Attention Ovechkin haterade drinkers (sorry, I have been listening to John Calipari), this is what it looks like to illegally hit someone by leaving your feet. Wisniewski jumps before he gets to the player he is hitting. Has Ovie done this, yes. Does he ‘every time’ as some have asserted? No. Wisniewski does, and it is dirty.

Going for nine…screw it, you get the point, I am so sick of talking about cheapshots.

(But I’m not done…and the Ducks’ announcer said he was selling it! HE SAID HE WAS SELLING IT WHEN HE GOT ASSULTED BY WISNIEWSKI! EFFING SELLING IT! MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE. Good, I needed another reason the hate the Ducks. Wait, no I didn’t, I had this and this and this and this and this. God, I hate the Ducks. I need to see Cory Perry looking devastated after being beat by Ryan Kessler again to settle down. There we go.)

(Nope, still not done. He also said it was a hit to the head of Perry. No it wasn’t. It was a clean hit, shoulder to shoulder. The game has real headshots, like the one a few seconds later, that we need to get rid of. Don’t f*** it up for the rest of us by suggesting that reasonable hits are headshots and belittling the case that they need to go. I don’t like to resort to name calling, but this guy deserved it. Moron. You too, Wizniewsky. Douche. A more minor name calling, too, to Paul Divorski, and this one is going to be old school. You, sir, are yellow. That’s right, yellow, for not making a stronger call.)

Homer note of the week:

In the words of the trainer with the funny accent from Miracle, “This has gone on long enough.”

After the New Jersey game, it appeared that Nabokov had started to regain his form, putting up solid efforts against Columbus and Montreal. Since then though, (also since I posted that the Sharks had goaltending issues) he has been absolute GARBAGE. A sieve. I have always liked Nabby. I have always enjoyed the fact that he wasn’t technical, but got hot by being one of the best athletes in the league, and certainly the most aggressive goalie in the National Hockey League. He is finished.

I haven’t looked up his nunbers since that game. I don’t want to, and I don’t need to. I watched the games. He has been a soft goal machine. Nothing kills a team like a bad goal. It swings more games than anything else in hockey, since it changes the scoreboard, obviously, but it also kills any confidence and momentum that a team had. Since the Olympic break, the Sharks have been a little bit mediocre, and have had to come from behind in the games that they have won. That is why. I have seen Nabokov give up goals on more unscreened shots from outside of the slot than I ever thought I would. It has been utterly ridiculous.

You have to believe me, it pains me to tear down Nabby like this. I really want to see him get it back. Sure, the main reason is that the Sharks probably aren’t getting a cup with Tyson Sexsmith or Thomas Greiss, and trading for Jaroslav Halak is no longer an option. That isn’t the only reason though. I like watching Nabby make sprawling kick saves. I like watching him literally skate through screans to stop a shot from the point at the hash marks. I like that he talks a little bit like Borat. I even like that you never know if you are going to see an unbelievable shutout on a good night or 2 soft goals on a bad one. I really, really like that when he is on, I would take him over Luongo, Miller, or anyone else. The problem is that there have been a lot of the bad nights, and the bad nights have consisted of more than 2 soft goals.

I hope he gets it back, I really do. But the fact is, there is definitely something lost that needs to be gotten back, and it needs to be before the playoffs.

Pass of the Week

It is the New York Islanders rookie, Johnathan Tavares, who gets the nod in the first singular week award (exams man…lots of time). This is a beauty, no look pass that may have been a shot. Either way, it was a great look for an assist. Enjoy.

Goal of the Week

Did he fan a bit? Yes. Was it a fairly soft goal? One could argue that. Was Joe Pavelski’s spin-a-rama the goal of the week? Absolutely.

(Damn, I conduct a hard hitting interview on myself)

Save of the Week

Flower takes it home this week, with a phenomenal sprawling paddle save on Brad Richards.

Hit of the Week

I have made it clear that I love Ovechkin, love the way he plays, and don’t think that he is a dirty player. Having said that, let’s throw the haters a bone this week and give the hit of the week to Patrick Kaleta, if for nothing else than laying out a player that has 4 inches and 40 pounds on him.

Shorter Hockey Thoughts

- What an absolutely incredible third period in the game between the Sharks and Predators. It was a relatively slow 4-2 game with the Predators in the lead heading into the final frame, and according to Pavelski after the game, McLellan let the boys know that what they had given was an unacceptable effort. Quick Manny Malhotra and Dany Heatley goals made the final 15 minutes much more interesting. It would be Joe Pavelski that would put the Sharks ahead, taking a turnover and putting it shelf on Rinne. Shortly thereafter, the Predators tied it at 5, in what would only serve as a warm up to the scoring. Pavelski put the Sharks right back up, chasing Rinne with the Sharks 4th goal of the period. It was an early contender for goal of the weeks, with Pavelski spinning off of Ryan Suter, and firing a backhand off the tail end of the spin, through Rinne’s five hole. Patrick Marleau then sniped Dan Ellis off of a 2-1, putting the Sharks up 7-5. It was all capped off, when Jay Leach fired one into the empty net from the far blueline for his first NHL goal, the Sharks 6th of the period. The end result was NHL history, with the Sharks becoming the first team to win 3 in a row, while trailing after 2 in all three.

The only negative for the Sharks (Nabokov wasn’t great, but the 5 are fairly excusable on the 45 shots), was that after the game, Dany Heatly said “I scored 2 freakin goals and I was only the third star, so yeah, you know, I’m a little pissed off right now.”

- Washington, the federal government that is, not the Capitals, may step in to save the playoffs for DirecTV. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Federal Communications Commission is launching a probe into how they can protect consumers when disputes between providers and channels that can keep the channels off the air. This is particularly pertinent to hockey fans who have direct TV for its HD center ice package, which is not available on cable, but do not receive Versus with the satellite provider.

- Just an unbelievable choke job by the Blackhawks on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. Credit to the Flyers for playing for the whistle and getting two in the last 2:06 to win, but that was a classic choke job by the ‘Hawks. All 5 guys thought that they were headed to OT and quit on the play before the Pronger goal. It is worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet though.

- Gary Betteman said on his radio show (yeah, he has a radio show), that they do everything possible to get West coast teams on the Sunday NBC game by showing them at eastern teams (the time slot is at 12:30 ET, so they can’t play in the western time zones). This week, the game was Washington at Chicago, an eastern time zone team playing in the central zone. It is a good matchup, but makes Betteman look (accurately) to be full of crap.

- I don’t mean to sound…mean, but I just can’t watch sled hockey (the Paralympics were being pimped this week by USA Hockey). I saw 2 minutes of a game, and it just made me sad. Sorry.

- In a week where Ovechkin got all of the attention for hurting Brian Campbell, Steve Downie (the little rat) got away with trying to shed the knee of the best player in the NHL. The excuse being made for Ovechkin and Cooke is that they were making ‘hockey plays,’ although in both cases it is debatable. There is absolutely no way that you could argue that Downie’s play was anything other than an attempt to remove Sidney Crosby’s ACL, and he should have been suspended for it. Downie is a little punk that tries to fight (and gets speed-bagged) every time that he gets hit (like against Ovechkin, clearly has issues controlling his emotions and made an inexcusable attempt to hurt someone else.

- Good job by the NHL,opening the door for supplemental discipline on blind side hits immediately. It would be difficult to instantaneously implement a penalty, but to at least have the threat of suspension looming should detour some unnecessary hits.

- I said last week that I was going to look at an under 25 ranking. I started, but it is way more labor intensive than I have time for at the minute. I started it, and I will try to get it done, but it is more of an offseason undertaking.

TOP 8 / Bottom Eight

On the Up

8. Buffalo Sabers – Ryan Miller.

7. Vancouver Canucks – Roberto Luongo.

6. Winnipeg Jets – Dave Tippet.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins – Sidney Crosby.

4. New Jersey Devils- Ilya Kovalchuck

3. San Jose Sharks – Joe Thornton

2. Chicago Blackhawks – Kane and Teows

1. Washington Capitals - Guess who.

On the Down

23. Anaheim Ducks- Take that James Wisniewski

24. Tampa Bay Lightning- A couple of years away

25. Florida Panthers- Missing Jay like NBC at 10:30

26. New York Islanders- Tavares has struggled as of late.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets- Not even inspiring enough to explain why they are uninspiring.

28. Carolina Hurricanes- Looked like they were making a run, but they gave up too much at the deadline.

29. Toronto Maple Leafs- Showing signs of life, but still the worst roster in the league.

30. Edmonton Oilers- A mistake not to have them in the cellar last week. They are terrible without Hemsky.

That’s all I have the legs for today. I’ll do awards next week. And hopefully talk about actual hockey.