10 Things I want to see from the Stanley Cup Finals

It is 85 degrees outside, there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and summer is truly upon us here in California.  That can only mean one thing. 

It is time to talk some puck.

Let’s just get this out there.  I don’t want to hear about how this is the matchup that is best for the NHL.  I hate rematches.  Sure, it is great to see Sid and Gino, step up, and get into the finals again, but really, who outside of Western Pennsylvania and Michigan wants to see the exact same finals.  I, for one, am bored of the Wings.  On top of that, I really don’t like redundancy. 

Really, I don’t like this matchup.  No one outside of the rust belt is going to like this series, mainly because we have seen the boys from the Joe in the finals way to many times in the last 10 years, and no one likes when things repeat themselves too much.  I really don’t think that this is the best matchup for the league, despite what some people are saying.

Sure it is good to see Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in the finals, but who really wants to see the same two teams in the finals year after year.  It would have been much more exciting to see a young team like Chicago matchup with the Pens, or the more exciting Capitals, than to get the same matchup again, even though some people seem to think that this is the best matchup.  I don’t, because I like it when things change, rather than just seeing the same thing play out again and again. 

(If you don’t get this joke yet, read the last three paragraphs again.  If you still don’t get it, you don’t have any sense of irony, and should probably look for a new blog that is a bit more lowbrow.)

That aside, I am definitely pumped for the finals, because, well, how can you not be?  So, rather than dwelling on what should have been (Sharks-Bruins, as it happens, is what should have been), I will make the most of what we have.  Besides, it isn’t as though it is hard to do that. 

With that in mind, here are the 10 things that I want to see in Penguins-Wings II.  I would do 20, but like I said, it is 85 and the nearest cloud is somewhere near Reno.  Would you spend all day writing about hockey?  Didn’t think so.

1.      1.  7 Games

This one is pretty self explanatory.  More hockey is better for everyone, plus you get a game seven at the end. 

2.-5.       Stars

This series is all about the big names.  If the big guys are shut down, this has the potential to be a very boring series.  If they step up, it could be the best we have seen in years. 

While I may not be satisfied with the matchup from a jerseys perspective, there is no shortage of players that I can root for.  Four of the top 9 players (by my count) will be playing in this series.  I have never been one to root for players over teams, but if ever there was a time to do it, it is now.   In reverse order (#5 being the most likacitelling- that’s likable, exciting and compelling) here are the guys to watch, and the guys I will be rooting for.

2.     2. Pavel Datsyuk- C, Detroit

Datsyuk can, quite simply, deke like no one else.  On top of that, with all due respect to Zetterburg, he is definitely the most complete player on Detroit.  He is also the second most complete player in the NHL (foreshadow anyone?).

3.       3. Evgeni Malkin- C, Pittsburgh

As I said after Malkin’s hat trick against Carolina that can only be described as magnificent, I will never question number 71 again.  It took me a while to come around on Malkin, and for a long time I contended that if he weren’t on Pittsburgh alongside Crosby, he would be closer to a Jason Spezza or Ryan Getzlaf than a Crosby or Ovechkin.  I was wrong.  He is an absolute force, and while I still have him behind Crosby and Ovechkin, he is certainly a first tier player.

4.       4. Marian Hossa- LW, Detroit

Also known as Benedict Arnold, if you are a Pens fan.  Hossa is certainly at the center of the best story line in the finals.  If you don’t know already, you surely will after it is beat into the ground in game 1, that Hossa turned down an offer from Pittsburg in order to move to Detroit where he thought he had a better chance of winning a cup.

That isn’t why I am interested the Hos though, and certainly isn’t why I will be rooting for him.  Quite simply, I love watching the dude play.  He isn’t the most complete player on his team (he is probably 5th, actually in terms of playing both ends), but he is rivaled only be three others (Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk) in terms of offensive ability.  In November, I saw what I still believe to be the two most talented teams in the league play each other (San Jose and Detroit), and Hossa actually stood out as the most talented player on the ice.  If he were more consistent he would be the best in the world.

Up until last July he was also my favorite non-Shark.  That particular honor can never be held by a Red Wing though.  Now he is third (to Kovalchuk and Backstrom), but only because of the winged wheel on his chest.  Like I said, I just love watching the dude play.

5.     5.  Sid Crosby

Sid is, quite simply the best hockey player in the world.  He does everything you could want in a first line center (now that he has started to go to the net and score ugly), and he makes the other 19 guys on his team better by elevating the guys he plays with, and matching up against the other team’s best players.  No one else can do what Crosby does.  Period.

Since there is really nothing else to say about Crosby’s game, there is really only one question that I have regarding 87.  That question will serve as #6:

 

6.      6.  Sidney Crosby’s facial Hair

Did Crosby give up on the playoff beard and shave down to the chin strap type thing, or is he simply incapable of growing hair on his cheeks?  I have looked at countless pictures and I cannot figure it out.  This has literally kept me up at night (actually it was a combination of my being an insomniac and having a cold, but the question did cross my mind while I was lying in bed, so I’m sticking by it).   This may very well be the one thing that I want answered in these finals.  So, to answer the question, I am going to do the only thing that can give me a definite answer.  I’m putting up a poll.  For the love of god, readers, vote and solve this enduring mystery.

7.     7.  Kobe-Lebron

Having read that, you are surely asking yourself two questions.  First, what does that have to do with hockey?  The answer to that is simple. Nothing, but this is my blog and I will write what I damn well please for my 10 things (and besides, I can only think of 9 for this series).  Second of all, you are probably asking why I, as a hockey fan want to see that.  After all, wouldn’t such a compelling NBA Finals take away attention from the real championships?  Yeah, it probably would, but Kobe already got to the finals, and I bet $20 on the Cavs.  So there you go.

8.    8.   Ratings

The NHL has experienced a Bill Simmons induced renaissance this year.  I just can’t help but think that a lackluster final could undo a lot of that momentum.  I have no idea what it would take, but I really hope that we can get a good finals, so that the NHL can gain momentum going into next year (although number 7 would suggest that my desire to see this has a monetary value of between $0 and $19.99.  That is, in fact, not the case.  In reality, I want it both ways.  Is that too much to ask?)

9.     9.  Offense

Come on, who doesn’t.  Maybe we can mix in a couple of physical 2-1 games, but this series has too many offensive talents to not have a few 5-4 games.  The finals are always intense, physical and defensive, but I think it would be great if, for once, the teams opened it up.

10. 10.   Overtime

There is nothing better than sudden death, do or die in the Stanley Cup finals.  Unfourtianately, I am going outside, so there will be no such overtime with this list.

Enjoy the finals, they should be great.

Picks- Column Coming

I am working on a NHL picks column, but I want to be on the record before we get too far into the Conference Finals, so here are the picks, the column will be in the next couple of days.

Chicago over Detroit in 7
Pittsburgh over Carolina in 5
I am on the record.

A Bull On and Off the Mound

I don’t care if Roger Clemens took steroids.  I really don’t.  There is no way that I will be throwing down $20 to buy the upcoming book (supposedly detailing his use), off of amazon.com, and I probably wouldn’t even bother to waste my time reading it if it were free.  I don’t care if there are pictures of Brian McNamee holding up a current newspaper, while injecting Clemens with steroids while A-Rod looks on.  I’m not saying the book wasn’t worth writing, or that no one should read it, I’m just not interested. 

Do I think that he took steroids?  Yes, and he should probably be charged with perjury for lying about it, which is an actual crime, where as taking steroids is a BS crime, like jay-walking or drinking alcohol when you are 20 years old.

There are a couple of reasons for my lack of interest in Clemens’s alleged drug use.  First of all, he is retired.  If it were Johan Santana or Zach Greinke who were alleged to have used steroids, I may give it a look, but only because there would be actual ramifications for Major League Baseball if that were to come to light.  In Clemens’s case, he is out of the game, and seems to have no intention to overstay his welcome and come back, so there is really nothing that can come of finding out if he juiced. 

There is one question that keeps coming up when discussing the supposed ramifications of finding steroid use amongst retired players:  will they get into the hall of fame?  Let me go ahead and answer this asinine question; YES!  For f***s sake yes.  I hate Clemens as much as the next guy (assuming the next guy finds Clemens to be a smug, semi-illiterate douche), but of course he deserves to be in the hall.  Even though he was a backstabbing whore, Clemens was the most dominating pitcher in baseball for almost 15 years.  On top of that, steroids were not banned for most of his playing career.  To keep him out, even if he is found guilty, is stupid.

The second reason that I don’t care is also another reason why he should be in the hall.  I am sick and tired of people making it out to seem like the guys who did it clean “back in the day” did what they did because they worked their tails off despite being given the same physical gifts as anyone else.  That is crap.  Nolan Ryan was great because he was born with a million dollar arm, and so was Clemens.  Cy Young never touched a weight in his life, probably never did any sort of plyometrics, drank booze and smoked cigs.  Same for the hitters he faced, for that matter.  Babe Ruth was fat (they also never faced an African-American or Dominican player).  I’m not saying that using steroids is right or fair, but we need to take a step back and look at what really makes a pitcher great before we say that today’s numbers are “tainted.”

(2 side notes on that subject, first of all, this is especially true for pitching.  Sure, training can get you to the next level, but anyone who has seen Rich Garces or Bartolo Colon knows that it is at least 95% “who was born with the best arm.”   Also, if I hear one more person say “pitching was stronger back then” I’m going to throw up.  The number of people playing baseball was less than half of what it is today, meaning there are more arms to choose from, and therefore you have to be better now than you did then to make it.  On top of that, people know twice as much about mechanics, strategy etc, and ten times as much about arm conditioning than they did in the 50’s and 60’s.  The splitty wasn’t invented until the 80s for Christ sake.  I could go on, but suffice to say today’s athletes are better than ever before in every sport.  I can’t believe this is even up for debate.)

Having gotten sufficiently carried away about all that, it is time to bring it back around.  If I am so unconcerned with this Clemens book, and his subsequent interview (which I heard in its entirety on Mike and Mike), why am I wasting 1800 words on him?  Is it just because I wanted to take the opportunity to call him a “semi-illiterate douche”?  Yes and no.  Yes, in that I definitely wanted to take that opportunity, and no in that there is another reason.

I don’t know if Clemens thinks that everyone who follows sports is dumb.  Maybe he does, or maybe Clemens is just a certifiable moron.  Either way, he said something that is a) incredibly stupid and b) borderline insulting when he was on ESPN Radio Tuesday morning. 

Sure, athletes are no strangers to slips of the tongue, but this is not Drew Gooden overcoming a lot of diversity, Mike Tyson fading into bolivian (B?olivian) or Manny Ramirez making his own destination.   What Clemens said made Allen Iverson’s rant on practice sound like a masters dissertation on psychology. 

Clemens was explaining why he never could have taken steroids.  His reason was a family history of heart disease.  Of course there is somewhere between a 100% and 100% chance that this line was fed to him by the PR firm which he freely admitted was the reason he was talking to the press, but it didn’t take Dr. Cal Lightman to tell that he may have been less than genuine.

What Clemens said was this: “our family has a history of heart conditions…my stepfather died of a heart attack.”

What?

Seriously?

One more time.

“our family has a history of heart conditions…my stepfather died of a heart attack.”

Ok, I’ll give Roger the benefit of the doubt here, and…(searching)…(trying to think of an angle)…(reading the quote a 15th time)…yeah, screw that, there is no way I can give him the benefit of the doubt.  Also, who am I kidding, I have no desire to.  Really, it comes down to one of two things, and neither is kind to Clemens.

The first possibility is a little bit farfetched.  That is that Roger Clemens doesn’t believe in genetics.  Okay, maybe he believes in them, but he has an extremely limited understanding of how they work.  Sure, Clemens’s step father was the primary “father figure” in his life, but Roger would have to be pretty dumb to think that this somehow transferred his health issues down to the rocket.  Then again, Roger was dumb enough to think that it was a good idea to go on a nationally syndicated radio show in order to refute a book that had received basically no press, when he was hardly getting any attention because of the revelations about Manny and A-Rod, thereby making it the number one story in the news cycle, and reminding everyone that he is a pompous, arrogant… well I think I have made my point.

Alas, as amusing as it would be for Roger to be ignorant enough to actually believe that his step father had somehow transferred his heart condition, there is a much more logical explanation.  Roger has lived a life of what we will call bulls*** (although you can feel free to substitute the second half of that term in your head as you read this).  You are probably thinking to yourself, of course he has, we know that he took steroids, and he has been lying to us about that for years, but it goes deeper than that. 

In fact, bulls*** isn’t exactly the same thing as lying.  A Princeton professor summarized the difference by saying:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bulls*** requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bulls***er, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”(Frankfurt, 1986)

(no joke, he even wrote a paper…here it is, I swear I’m not lying, or even…nah, that would be too easy)

Does this not sound like a perfect description of the last 10 years of Roger Clemens’s life?  He retired, only to come back and sign with another team not once, not twice, but three times.  Was Clemens lying?  Not really?  Was he telling the truth?  No.  The fact is, when he said he was retiring, he was just bulls***ing.  It wasn’t that he was deliberately not telling the truth when he said that he was gone; he was simply unconcerned with whether or not it was true.  I am convinced of this.  You can have a change of heart once, sure.  Twice, even.  But three times?  I, for one, am not buying it. (I, for one, am also aware that I use that phrase too much)

This is the saddest part about Roger Clemmens’s career.  The entire time that he was playing in the Majors, he could have cared less about the fans.  Obviously, I don’t know how he actually feels about the people that pay his salary, but almost everything that he has done suggests an utter disdain.  Clemens left Boston, and never looked back, signing with their most bitter rivals just a few years later.  After that, he retired, as a “Yankee,” only to weasel his way into an Astros uniform.  He couldn’t have been happier to play in front of the hometown fans, the only base that didn’t, on some level resent him, the only fan base that was really happy to have him, near his family no less, so when he came back out of retirement he… well, actually he signed with the Yankees because they offered more money. 

To Roger, telling fans that he was never involved in steroids was never a big deal.  It didn’t matter that it probably wasn’t true, because he didn’t have enough respect for his fans to feel as though he owed them the truth.

Saying that he had a family history of heart problems, when the examples he gave were either not related to him (the step father), or occurred after his alleged steroid use began (his brother, who, according to Clemens “had a heart attack in his 40s”), the fact that there was no way that this was a legitimate excuse never even occurred to Roger, and if it did, he probably dismissed it.  He wasn’t lying, he just didn’t care, and that is much worse.

Housekeeping

I have a bunch of notes to get out there, and I don’t want to bury the column going up later today, so I’ll just throw all of them out there right now. First off, I need to address the NHL Playoffs and my declaration that I was picking up a new team. First of all, the response was a bit underwhelming. 10 people voted and 3 people sent me messages. In the end, the Caps won, but not by a convincing margin. Because of the lack of volume in the response, I decided to go with my gut, and adopt the Vancouver Canucks. Three days later, and before I finished my column explaining the decision, the Canucks were eliminated.

With that, I’m out. I’m chalking up the playoffs as a complete failure, and watching without emotion for the rest of the year. Sorry.

Next on the docket is my playoff picks column. You may have noticed that the round 2 picks never went up. To all of you degenerate gamblers who rely on my picks (yeah right), I am sorry. I am going to start a conference finals picks column as soon as the Game 7s go final tonight. I do want to go on record with my round 2 picks (I don’t think you will have trouble believing their honesty once you see them)

I had:

Vancouver in 6

Detroit in 5

Boston in 6

Washington in 7

(clearly I didn’t cheat that…)
Third thing to get out there, I am now officially writing for the Santa Clara, having had my first piece published today.  What I am doing there is reporting, and as such it bears little resemblance to this blog.  I really don’t think that what I’m doing there is all that interesting, and unless i write something that I feel like I absolutely need to post, I probably won’t post any of my work here.  Having said that, if you know me, or just want to see more of my writing, you’re more than welcome to check it out.  It will all be posted on www.thesatnaclara.com (click on “sports”).  If you are asking “but will this make it so that you can’t update this page as often as you do?”  I will assume that you are being sarcastic and chuckle while being inwardly insulted.
Finally, there ore gonna be a bunch of things jumping up here, fear not.  I have a topical column that was supposed to be kind of a quick reactionary sort of thing, but exploded into almost 2500 words (I actually cut it down a bit), and that will be up in the next day or so.  After that, like I said I will have an NHL Picks column once the games are done, so in the next few days.  As for next week, hopefully I will have something to say about my upcoming weekend (although I don’t want to step on the toes of that one), and I am working on a monster Sharks column…so look out for all of that.