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 ovsports@gmail.com), 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.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf

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, NHL.com 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

Projections
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.

Game
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.

Team
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.

Player
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.

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)

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.)

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.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf
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)


http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf
Save of the Week

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


http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf
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.

The State of the Original Nation

2010 is a precarious time to be a Boston Red Sox fan. For so long, the group defined by their likeness to the Chicago Cubs as the undyingly passionate clan that always seemed to come up short. This stigma/identity was driven home in 2003, the burden was lifted in 2004, and in 2007 we appeared to have a downright reversal. Two seasons later, the Sox have what fans wanted for 86 long years, but it has come with a sentimental price tag. Since, let’s be real, St. Patrick’s Day is less about Ireland than it is about Boston and, to a lesser extent, Chicago, there couldn’t be a better day to break down the state of the first team to have a Nation, and the only team deserving of the tag.

It may seem odd, to Pirates, Royals or Reds fans to describe Boston as a precarious place to follow baseball. After all, the Red Sox were one of eight teams to see post season action last season. They won two titles last decade. They sure as hell should contend this year. With that in mind, it is important to realize that I am not saying it is a bad time to be a Sox fan. Far from it. Their situation is better than at minimum better than 26 teams in the Major Leagues. It is a funny team to follow though.

Let’s start on the field. The Red Sox are good. There is even an argument to be made that they could be the favorite heading into 2010. One thing is certain, and that is that the Red Sox will not give up a lot of runs. Daisuke Matsuzaka was signed for ace money, but you would never want him to be an ace. A number 5, on the other hand? Yes please. The rotation of Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Buchholz and Matsuzaka is formidable to say the least, and almost unquestionably the best in the Majors. Behind them, you have a stellar defensive team, and a deep bullpen anchored by a shutdown closer. It is a team that is built to win a lot of baseball games.

It isn’t though, a team that is built to be fun to watch. A 3-1 pitchers duel is great. Once a week. Unfortunately, the 2010 Sox are built to win low scoring games, and that is pretty much that. At the plate, there really are only two or three guys that you might be excited to see, that being Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youklis. Manny’s gone. Bay’s gone. Papi isn’t gone, but he has reached the point where you almost wish he was, while you watch him flail, half a second late, at 95 MPH heat.

Really, what they are is good. It isn’t that they can’t score runs, they have decent hitting throughout the lineup, with guys who could crack at least the .280 mark at all nine spots, but they just don’t have anyone who you would pay to watch. It could be very effective, who knows. Between Ortiz, Martinez, Youkilis, Pedroia, Scutero/Lowrie, Beltre, Ellesbury, Cameron and Drew, there isn’t a bad bat in there, there just isn’t an exciting one either. Even if the Sox are winning this year, hell, even if they are putting up runs, it will be hard to call them a fun team to watch. There are far worse things that a team could be, but the fact is the Sox look a little bit boring at this point.

Then there are the off the field issues. It isn’t that the Red Sox are filled with bad guys, or that they are juicing in the club house, the things that usually make up the problems away from the diamond. The biggest issues that the Sox fans have this year have little or nothing to do with baseball. It is a question that haunts us every time we are confronted by an A’s, Giants or Mariners fan—Are the Red Sox becoming the Yankees?

There is the financial aspect. The Sox are a huge market team, not because Boston is a particularly large market, but the revenue pulled in by the Sox far outstrips most other teams in a sport with a cap that is softer than Ales Hemsky (my last 15 columns have been about hockey, I had to get one NHL joke in). That alone doesn’t make them the Yankees though. Compare payrolls, and there is still a long way to go. It isn’t just the monetary aspect though that has brought comparisons.

Is it assumed that they will put out the largest offer to the biggest free agents in a class? Are the Sox now the fan base that expects to win every year? Most importantly, are they the bandwagon team that everyone jumps behind once the Lakers, Cowboys and Penguins/Red Wings seasons are over?

The first question is essentially an on the field one, however tangentially, and has been answered twice already. First of all, I named 15 of 16 principles for the Red Sox already (the 16th being the bullpen ace, Papelbon). Of those 16, 7 are home grown prospects, and 3 were acquired in a trade. That leaves just 6 free agent acquisitions that will play a role of the Sox, which is 3 less than the Yankees, and 3 less than the notorious huge market-bad-for-baseball-player grabbers the Seattle Mariners.

Also, I stand by my statement that not even the Red Sox can spend with New York. In fact, in 2009, the Cubs and the Mets spent more than the Sox, but to get really “inside baseball,” $201M > $122M. So that’s that (and if it isn’t, the difference is simple to explain. The Yankees can spend money on whoever they like, and if they don’t turn out to be an asset, it isn’t a problem. They can just move on. The Red Sox can throw around a lot of money, but they have to be pretty careful about who they spend it on.) 9 teams spent more than $100m last year, and the Sox weren’t even second. To suggest that they are catching the Yankees in this respect, or that it is a two team race, is frankly ridiculous.

The next two things have to do with the fans, a more troublesome, less simply reconciled faux pas of the new Red Sox nation. In 2003, Sox jerseys probably wouldn’t have outnumbered A’s jerseys in the Coliseum (bad example, they probably would have), but now, they are everywhere, making up the majority of fans almost all of the AL ballparks the Sox visit. The dirty little not-so-secret of Red Sox nation is this. The kid sitting behind you in a brand new Youkilis jersey at US Cellular Field probably would have been wearing a Jeter one ten years ago. Phrases like “B is for bandwagon” run rampant, and really, we have little defense.

If I am going to get into Red Sox fans, though, first I should address myself. I’m not from Boston. I root for the Sharks, Cowboys and Boise State. I get a whole lot of ‘wait, why are you a Red Sox fan,’ and subsequently have to explain myself, before I start explaining the scourge of bandwagon jumpers in Boston.

In 1999, I was an Oakland A’s fan, living in the Bay Area. In the summer of 2000, I left California for Sun Valley, Idaho. I tried to stay with the A’s, but without being near the team, they were pretty uninteresting. Since I started the season in Oakland in 2000, I was able to stay pretty interested for a pennant race, but I started to lose interest almost right after I moved. It didn’t help that 2000 was the first summer that I visited Boston and went to Fenway Park. It was the polar opposite of Oakland Coliseum. Whereas Oakland was overly large, without character, empty, and, frankly, dead, Fenway was small, quirky, packed and most of all, electric, and this when the A’s were a much better team than the Red Sox. I was completely enthralled by the place, and the seeds for change had been planted.

By the spring of 2001, I still claimed an A’s allegiance, but it was harder to actually be an A’s fan. Players were gone, and I just wasn’t as excited about the green and gold as I once was. Still, I stayed with the A’s for that season. For the regular season, though, I was, without knowing it, on the market. I followed Red Sox, Devil Rays, Giants and Cubs box scores, not openly shopping for a new team, but almost without realizing it, looking, because even as they were winning 103 games, Oakland failed to fully capture my attention.

Once the playoffs rolled around, I put the green and gold back on, though, since they were still technically my team, and once the playoffs were on, I could actually watch them, unlike the regular season. Ironically, it was then that the final seed for the switch to the Sox was planted. When Jeremy Giambi didn’t slide. You know the play, probably for the guy on the other end of it, Derek Jeter, who stupidly wandered way out of position, had no chance to make a play if the batter got hung up between second and third, and became the luckiest athlete in the history of sports when a cutoff throw was missed, and he flipped the ball desperately to Posada, happening to catch a slow runner who couldn’t be bothered to hit the dirt in a damn playoff game (that’s how I remember it, anyways).

The thing is, when that series was over (which was basically when Posada’s glove hit Giambi’s calf), I was pissed. But I wasn’t upset that the A’s had lost. I was upset the Yankees had won. My hate for the pinstripes BY FAR outweighed any allegiance at that time (that would change). I already had the latent appreciation and enct for the Red Sox from the trip the summer before. When the 2002 season rolled around, we visited my grandparents in Tampa, catching a spring training Sox-Rays game. I put on the Sox hat I had from the visit for that one, and metaphorically, I never took it off.

(WARNING- the next couple of paragraphs could get defensive)

Some would say that this violates sme sort of sports purity, or that it makes me bandwagon. I would argue that it is perfectly understandable. I was 10 years old when I ditched the A’s, I didn’t even live in Oakland anymore and on top of that, I had only become an A’s fan a few years earlier when we moved to Oakland from Dallas. On top of that, by the 2002 season, the players that I had come to like for Oakland were long gone. Giambi was a Yankee. Tejada was an Oriole. Hell, Ben Grieve was a Devil Ray (a way bigger loss than I can rationally explain). I just didn’t have any connections to the team by the time I switched, so I let go and never looked back.

The allegation that it was a bandwagon jump, or that don’t get the mentality of pre-2004 Sox Nation is ridiculous too. In 2001, the A’s won 102 games, the Red Sox won 82. I switched. In 2002, the Sox won 93, the A’s won 103, and I stayed. The Mariners won 116 in 2001, were on TV in Idaho and were there for the bandwagon jumping. The Yankees also appeared to be in a dynasty, and were the logical choice if I was looking for a bandwagon. Rather, I felt the pain of the Red Sox, in the form of Yankee hate, I loved the atmosphere, the tradition and the hope that they kept, and the Red Sox turned out to be a fit. As for the attitudinal part, I was driven to the Red Sox by the source of their angst, Yankee hate, and I joined the fray at the height of the “curse”/beaten down era. I didn’t have the baggage, but then again neither do most Sox fans my age. If you don’t believe that I get it, say the name “Aaron Boone” around me, and you will.

So a 900 word egocentric detour later, I have established my credentials to talk about Sox fans, and it is a good thing because it needs addressing.

Clearly the Sox have become the focal point for many a bandwagon. The fact is there isn’t really a way to combat this. It is time to move on. We aren’t going to be the cursed, passionate guys who can’t quite climb the mountain anymore, but why should we want to be?

It is a paradox that Sox fans have to live with. For years, the Red Sox wanted to be just another team. Now, they are. The ‘problem’ is that they are good at it. They have a ton of money. They are well run. They have a great organization. When normal teams are successful, bandwagon fans go away. Ironically, the only way to get rid of the guy who doesn’t know who El Guapo, Jim Rice or Carl Yaztrzemski or Mike Stanton were, only knows about Bill Buckner in passing, and likes the Sox because his mom’s second cousin went to college in Boston, is to stop winning. I think we should deal with the bandwagon jumpers. The tradeoff is worse, if you ask me. I can answer questions about being a Red Sox fan from Idaho that I didn’t have to in 2002 if it means we get to play until October every year.

And no, that doesn’t make us the Yankees. For better or worse, every kid growing up without a team for the last 80 years (without a soul, at any rate), jumped on the Yankee wagon. They passed that along to their kids. Outside of the Tri-State Area, where many a legit Yankee fan resides, Bandwagon Nation still belongs to the Yankees, and a few pink hats won’t change that. We are responsible for some pink hats, for the annoying trend of every fan base labeling themselves “X Nation” (speaking as a fan of Boise State, one of the worst offenders), and we are responsible for…never mind (I still can’t come to terms with Fever Pitch). But we aren’t the first team to swoon in popularity, and we won’t be the last. The fact is, this is an era, and it is one we should enjoy. Bandwagon fans suck. It sucks not being able to retort the bandwagon nation jabs, but it will pass. Real fans, I leave you with this: I, for one, will see you on the other side of this bandwagon era, and we can talk about how great it was together.

Anyways, this is my makeshift Red Sox preview. Last year, I was a bit out on baseball. I was invested in the Sox, I watched plenty of games, and I followed the league much more closely than most. I just wasn’t as excited as I usually am. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the Sox being boring. Maybe it was because I wasn’t playing for the first time since I was six years old (intramural softball doesn’t count—kids, never leave high school). Maybe it was every other story being about steroids. Maybe it was because the Yankees being good. Whatever the reason, it is being put aside. I am back this year. Boring or not, precarious or not, I am ready for 2010. Let’s hope I can stay this excited.

All Things Hockey, March 11th, 2010

It has been way too long since we took a look around the NHL, so I am breaking out the latest edition of All Things Hockey to get caught up. There is a ton to talk about, and I am busy as hell with finals and final papers, so let’s get right into it.


A Bizarre Deadline

I usually take a particular interest in the NHL trade deadline. I wrote columns about it each of the last two years, spanning the entirety of this website. Last year, I wrote a bit of a preview, proposing trades that I thought would help each side. The year before, I ran through the entirety of the deals, giving grades. The drama of teams trying to make themselves better, either for the future or for the stretch run, combined with the endless interest of players changing sides, giving opportunity to judge who won and lost is more than enough to hold my attention. This year, though, the trade deadline was so unusual that it was hard to find too much to say.

First of all, the Olympic break severely screwed up the timing of the deadline. Really there were two deadlines, neither of which served as a full deadline. The first was a roster freeze that took place at the beginning of the Olympic Tournamnet. Just before this freeze, the Devils made what was by far the biggest splash in landing Ilya Kovalchuk from Atlanta. He was by far the biggest prize that would be moved, and was the hilite of the pre-Olympic rush that also saw Dion Phaneuf to the Leafs and Matt Cullen to the Senators.

It turned out that this first deadline would be the one worth discussing. Many, including myself, had expected an explosion of activity in the two days between the resumption of the NHL schedule and the trade deadline. I figured that the two weeks of a freeze would lead to negotiations (which could continue during the break), and deals would be submitted as soon as it was lifted. I was right, but not really. The volume of the deadline was pretty significant. Over 50 players changed teams, but really, there weren’t any headliners. Some of the biggest headlines actually were who stayed put.

When the two day window was closed, the Ducks had played backup goaltender roulette, the Leafs had dumped half the NHLers on their roster, and more mediocre players were changing cities than when the Hurricanes have to play a road game. The lasting image of the day was analysts on the hockey networks reaching in vain for something to say about a Chris Newbery for Jordan Owens or Yan Statsny for Pierre-Cedric Labrie. I don’t want to exacerbate that, so rather than breaking down individual deals, the biggest of which was between Phoenix and Colorado (this should say pelenty about the level of excitement around this), let’s just combine the two deadlines and declare some winners and losers.

5 Trade Deadline Winners

1. Washington Capitals- The Caps, already at the top of the standings in the East, they added Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Scott Walker and Milan Jurcina, all of whom are solid depth pieces, without really giving anyone up. Bonus points for adding WJC hero John Carlson to the lineup from the AHL, something that they would have done earlier if not for the restrictions for playing in the AHL over the break. In a market where there was no top end talent to be added, they did great to add depth, better than any other team.

2. Phoenix Coyotes- Peter Mueller is a talented young player, but he was struggling mightily to reach his potential in Phoenix. A change of scenery will do him well, but to get Wojtek Wolski is a great return for someone who has thus far failed to produce. The Coyotes are one of the big winners, though, because in addition to Wolski, they added 3 players for the stretch, Lee Stempniak, Mathieu Schneider, and Derek Morris, giving up only Sean Zimmerman and Matt Jones.

3. Ottawa Senators- Probably the most surprising of the buyers, as well as one of the most aggressive in this market. Matt Cullen moves at the deadline once again (well, a bit before it, anyways), and is a very underrated player. They picked up another underrated piece in Andy Sutton, although the second rounder they gave up was steep.

4. New Jersey Devils- Unquestionably, New Jersey got the biggest prize of the deadline in Ilya Kovalchuk, but there is a pretty good reason they aren’t higher up in the winner rankings. They gave up a lot in the first rounder, Patrice Cormier, Niclas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya. Sure, these guys together don’t come close to Ilya Kovalchuk, but they gave up four NHL players that they could have had long term. Assuming they don’t botch the pick, that is two or three top two line players, and one or two top 3 defensemen. Again, not enough to offset Kovalchuk, but they don’t get Kovalchuk long term. Kovalchuk turned down a massive contract in Atlanta, which tells me that he wants to test the fre agency waters. If he had any intention of re-signing before he was on the open market, he would have done so when Waddell opened his checkbook. New Jersey will have a chance to retain Kovy, but they will have to go up against everyone else to get him. Still, they got one of the best players in the league, and one that gives them a chance to win it all now, which makes them a winner now, even if it hurts them long term.

5. Atlanta Thrashers- Kovalchuk was gone. They did well to get a lot in exchange. I for one would love to see them grab him once again in the summer rush, then play him with Arshtyukin, a nice pickup, and Bergfors, just to piss off the Devils.

Deadline Losers-

1. Toronto Maple Leafs- Before you all jump off of that thing that looks like the space needle, and the sky dome, let me stress this first. Brian Burke did exactly what he needed to do. He needed to re-buld. The Leafs got a couple of prospects, including Caputi who has already seen time in the NHL. He loaded on draft picks. He got a goaltender that can work with François Alaire. He even got a potential franchise defenseman. He also gave up literally half of their NHL talent for the rest of the season, leaving an embarrassing product on the ice. It was what they had to do, but it still makes them big losers right now.

2. Carolina Hurricanes- They dumped, but they didn’t get that much back for their rentals, and they held on to some assets that they could have moved, most notably Ray Whitney, because of exorbitant asking prices, in exchange for…what, exactly?

3. Buffalo Sabers- They look like a contender, yet they dropped McArthur, a solid player, and picked up Torres, a player along the lines of Scott Nichol and Matt Cooke. That is to say, he is something that rhymes with swoosh.

4. Philadelphia Flyers- They could contend this year, but they have goaltending issues and could use a bit of help on the blueline and up front. They could have done with improvements in all three areas, but they did nothing of consequence.

5. Atlanta Thrashers- Yes, they were winners as well, and yes, they did everything that they could, but come on, they gave up Kovalchuk.

Hope Springs Eternal

Ready for the annual March “there are a ton of teams that have a chance” paragraphs? It seems like every year, we spend time talking about how jumbled the bottom of the standings are, how teams win 3 in a row to go from 14th to 5th, and how a bunch of teams have a chance. With points for regulation ties, a salary cap, division disparity and a host of other factors, it is pretty much inevitable. This year, though, as with many others, it warrants mentioning.

This year, the jumble is to the tune of just 7 points between 6th and 11th in the East. Out west, 8 points take you from the 7th seeded Nashville Predators, all the way down to the 13th seeded Wild.

It is the West, then, that deserves most of the attention. Sure, it is jumbled, but with about 15 games to go per team, there are really only two team in the conference that you could say with confidence will definitely miss the playoffs. That is even more congested than usual, and it means that there are currently five teams on the outside looking in, that could make a run at the post-season. On top of that, the top 6 seem pretty set, with the Aves sitting on a 7 point cushion between them and the going home early 9 spot.

It isn’t the pure numbers, though, that are really impressive about the playoff race. Look at the teams in this mess, and it is hard to believe that 16 of 30 teams make it, and these teams are struggling to include themselves in that. Detroit sits in 8th by 1 point, just 4 out of 10th, having won the Stanley Cup two years ago, and played for it last year. The Flames have been contenders for a while, but sit outside of the playoffs. Same can be said of the Ducks, who haven’t missed the playoffs since the lockout. I wrote earlier, that there was a lot of turnover amongst who was contending, and I am surprised to see that it is largely still there, with teams like Phoenix, LA and Colorado in the hunt for the 4 and 5 seeds, and the aforementioned been-there’s battling for 8th. Same goes for the east, where Boston, Montreal and New York have well known rosters looking for a playoff spot, and Ottawa, and well, just Ottawa I guess, contends for a division title. This is going to make for a great stretch run, and a crazy first round with so much talent around the 7-10 seeds.

Net Negatives

If we are indeed headed towards one of the most wide open cup races of the past few years, and I believe that we are, there is one reason above all else that can explain the chaos in the NHL, and it isn’t the aforementioned cluster at the bottom of the playoff picture.
Right now, there appear to be three dominant teams. Washington, San Jose and Chicago all have more than 90 points, with 97, 93 and 91, respectively. No other team has more than 84. These teams can certainly be caught, but they are definitively the teams to beat right now. This is hardly uncommon. It is pretty much the norm for a few teams to distinguish themselves from the pack at this point in the season.

There is one thing about these teams, though, that I have never seen before. Teams at the top usually share a characteristic, be it depth, top end scoring, rocklike team defense or superstars carrying them. All of those have taken place before. Right now, though, the unifying theme in the Bay, the Beltway, and the Midway is something that you would expect to see at the opposite end of the standings. All three teams have massive, and I mean MASSIVE goaltending issues heading into the stretch run.

It is most obvious in Chicago. Clearly, the Hawks don’t feel comfortable going to Antti Niemi at this point. If they did, they would have at this point. He looks like he has had a good enough season on paper, with a respectable .909 save %, and a very, very good 2.25 GAA. Clearly, though the Hawks see problems. I haven’t seen enough of Chicago, frankly, to say that he is the kind of guy who only stands to benefit from great defense in front of him, although the Hawks should have it (as long as Brian Campbell isn’t on the ice), but that has to be the case. Really, it is difficult to judge goaltenders on their stats, since wins, GAA and save percentage are all heavily influenced by the defense in front of the goaltender, perhaps more so than by the goaltender himself. The only way to really judge a goaltender is to watch him play, see if he makes the saves he should, and a few that he shouldn’t on a given night. If he does, you have a starter. If he doesn’t, you have an issue.

Clearly, Chicago has the later, and aren’t convinced that Niemi is a starter as demonstrated by their hesitance to switch to him full time. Niemi has been given the nod for just 21 starts in their 65 games. The other 46 have gone to Christobal Huet, and that has been a disaster. Huet has been the butt of jokes for most of this season, and has a save percentage under .900. He clearly has not lived up to expectations that any team could reasonably have for a starting NHL goaltender, yet they have been hesitant to go full time to Niemi. For that reason, I think that their goaltending woes go as deep as they seem with Huet despite Niemi’s strong(er) showing.
Moving to San Jose, it seems absurd to suggest that the Sharks have massive issues, as I suggested. At least it did a month ago. Then the Olympics happened. Evgeni Nabokov got positively LIT by Canada. I thought that it wasn’t as much his fault as shaky defense by over matched defensemen and forwards with at best a passing interest in their own zone, but it is undeniable that he got shelled in Vancouver. Still, it seems like Nabokov, with a GAA that is second in the league is at least getting the job done.

Coming back to San Jose, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Then the New Jersey game came, and he looked worse (yes, worse), than against Canada. At that point, I pronounced his career over via a text message to a few of my Sharks fan friends. He let in shots that an NHL goalie has no excuse for not stopping. He looked like a goaltender who had no confidence, one who had always relied on aggressiveness, no less.

I may have overreacted a bit. Nabokov played well in the third period a couple of days later against the Canadiens for a win, and even though he only faced 22 shots against a shaky Columbus team, he let up only once, an effort you can’t be unhappy with. Sure, I would take this situation with Nabby over that in Washington or Chicago, but goaltending is about consistency, and it is going to be interesting to see if Nabokov can find that for the rest of the season.

In Washington, the Capitals have three goaltenders in Semyon Varlamov, Jose Theodore and Michal Neuverth. Unfortunately, the old saying holds, that if you don’t have one, you have none. Varlamov appeared to emerge in the playoffs last year, and while his 2.55 GAA leads the Caps, it is only good for 19th in the NHL, which is hardly top tier. A groin injury in December has weakened his claim to the job, but like Chicago, it is curious that the Caps haven’t moved to Varlamov full time. That is because Neuverth is too young to judge, but also too young to rely upon in a playoff run. Theodore has been much like his former teammate in Montreal (Huet), in that he has had a dismal year, and struggled to grasp a starting spot despite leading the team in games played.

What is the takeaway? It is hard to say. Obviously, it isn’t killing these teams, since they are atop the standings right now, but it is hard to take too much confidence in any of these guys. Ultimately, I think it hurts Washington, who scores the most, but lacks the team D to make up for shaky goaltending. Really, though, the effect is that it means any of these teams can be beat (although it doesn’t mean they will, necessarily), and that opens the door for anyone who can get into the playoffs.

Cooke-ing up Changes

The general managers’ meetings in Boca Raton, Florida that are currently under way are seeing one topic absolutely dominate the headlines. That is the controversy over headshots in the NHL, as brought about primarily by Matt Cooke’s blow to Marc Savard on Sunday afternoon.

The Cooke hit was a dirty play that led to a scary situation with Savard lying utterly motionless on the ice. Cooke escaped the wrath of the Boston players only because everyone watching the game, myself and the NESN announcers included, followed the puck to the net, and didn’t realize what had happened to Savard before the replays.

Since then, Cooke’s character has been dissected and dragged through the mud, although for what it’s worth, he did look absolutely shocked and visibly shaken when Savard was lying on the ice. This by no means exonerates him, but it bears mentioning that he didn’t look like a guy who had been trying to injure another player. The hit itself though should be taken separately. Rather than making a clean, hard check, Cooke went for the big hit. Did he mean to hit Savard in the awkward, dangerous manner that he did? Maybe, maybe not. But what he did do was forgo the easy, safe play in favor of the big hit, and with upsetting consequences.

That, along with heightened awareness in all sports, has made the talk of the annual GM meetings the headshots that have taken place this year against Savard and Florida’s David Booth. I said before that I don’t like compulsory penalties for situations that come about, and this seems to be a main holding point in the negotiations about a new rule. Having said that, it is hard to watch these hits and say that there is a penalty too severe. The problem, to me, though, is not the head shot as much as it is coming from behind the player being hit.

Hitting from behind is the most dangerous play in hockey. We know this when a guy goes headfirst into the boards, since it is an obvious danger to the head and neck. Even in open ice, though, coming from the blind side is a play which, like along the boards, leaves the player at the mercy of the hitter. What the hitter does with that opportunity is up to him. WE have an intent to injure rule in our game that says if you use your body and equipment to take advantage and endanger another player, that is a penalty. Why shouldn’t this be a play where similar judgment is used. Forget about headshots, the wording the GMs are struggling with should be simple.
If you are behind a player, and you don’t use prudence in how you attempt to separate him from the puck, whether he gets hurt like Savard, or not, whether it is in open ice or along the boards, you go to the box. For 5 minutes. Quite simply, that’ll learn ‘em.

(I will now stop doing my Bill Waters impersonation)

Keeping International Alive: Way Overdue WJCs

When I got back to Santa Clara following Christmas break, I was completely enthralled (as you can ascertain from this site) with the World Junior Hockey Championships, as I am at the end of each year. When my editor for The Santa Clara (where I write about stuff as exciting as mid major women’s college tennis or WWPA Water Polo, and women’s college soccer is comparatively mainstream) said that he wasn’t sure what he was going to write for the one sports column carried by the paper that week, and asked if anyone had any ideas/wanted to write the column, I jumped at the chance. I told him that I wanted to write about the best tournament you have never heard of. I explained a bit, and he agreed.

Fast forward a couple of days, I am about half way done with the column, having written about 800 words, when I decide it is a good idea to ask him how much space I have.

His answer?

400 words.

When I was writing for the Kent News, and they told me I had 900, it was almost impossible. I like to spell stuff out, go on tangents and basically write long form. The standard newspaper 800 words has always seemed shot to me. 400? That is like an introduction for me.
Suffice to say, once I had cut what I was going to write by about ¾, it was hardly the column that I wanted to write. It is online at http://www.thesantaclara.com/home/index.cfm?buttonPushed=1&event;=displaysearchresults&q;=Jackson%20Morgus (under the questionable headline “beyond a miracle on ice”—obviously not mine), but really, I can’t say that it is a must read. Instead, I decided that I would expand it and post it here. Unfortunately, some things came up (all I can say), and so it never got finished. No matter, as I was putting together this ATH, I decided to dust it off, clean it off and wrap it up. Consider this a time capsule, taking you back to a great moment for USA Hockey. If nothing else, read part of it, then watch the highlights on YouTube to get fired up about the red white and blue again after the Olympics.

(By the way, that intro to the column: 364 words. I wasn’t kidding when I said that you can’t do a damn thing with 400. It is almost pointless. In fact I’ll get 400…now. Count it if you want. Now was #400. It is absolutely nothing.)

It is pertinent to absolutely nothing, but here are my 3 month old World Junior thoughts:

If you live anywhere near Walsh Residence Hall, and heard excited yelling around 7:45 Tuesday night, I can explain myself. Already, what is perhaps my favorite sporting event of the year has passed, and it couldn’t have gone any better. The problem is, aside from a few of my annoyed neighbors, hardly anyone noticed.

As with all years, the first week of 2010 has been action packed, so to speak, on the sports calendar. There were the New Year’s day bowl games that are a time honored tradition, but that’s not what got me fired up. Monday, like the 1,523,815 other residents and Idaho, I was ecstatic for my Boise State Broncos capping of the second 14-0 season in college football history, and while there may have been some yelling involved, that isn’t what I’m talking about either. Finally, the Winter Classic, played at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day, may have been appointment television, but while it is closer (the right sport at any rate), it still isn’t the highlight of the young 2010 sports calendar for me.

Rather, the highlight was a tournament played in the sports Mecca of Saskatchewan, Canada that, unless you follow hockey avidly, you probably didn’t even know about. It was the World Junior Hockey Championships, and my, was it a dandy.

For those of you (most of you) who aren’t familiar with the tournament, let me explain. Every year, starting on Boxing Day, the best under 20 players for their respective nations play a tournament, in order to decide which is the best country on earth (for people with skewed priorities such as mine, anyways). This year, as is to be expected in the world of hockey, Canada came in as a heavy favorite. Canada was stacked. Not, ‘every player is pretty good’ stacked, more like ‘every player has a chance to be a star in the NHL’ stacked. In fact, 15 of the 22 players on the Canada roster have been taken in the first two rounds of the NHL draft, and two of the seven that haven’t will be first round picks in 2010, their first year of draft eligibility. Another, Stephan “I might be the anti-christ” Della Rovere may in fact be the sole of the squad (if you are wondering about the anti-christ line, check out his antics in the USA-Canada game last year, you will understand).

The US had a nice squad, packed with future NHL talent, but one not that stood up to the loaded Canadians. On top of that, Canada had home ice advantage, playing in front of 17000 insane Canucks in Saskatchewan, and where ohbytheway five time defending champs of the World Junior tournament.

The first showdown between the rival nations (ok…the US and Canada aren’t really rivals in anything else, but trust me, they are in hockey) took place on New Year’s Eve. The red, white and blue looked primed to knock off their maple leaf loving neighbors to the north, holding a 4-2 lead in the third period, before the Canadian team battled back to tie it, with goals by two guys who you don’t know now but will in a few years, Jordan Eberle and Alex Pietrangelo. A shootout ensued, with the USA losing not only the game, after Canada went 3-3, but apparently their goalie Jack Campbell’s confidence.

(A couple of notes on the shootout:
1- The USA actually had every right to win that, the first goal by Taylor Hall actually hit the post, before caroming off of Campbell and back into the net.
2- Nazim Kadri did what can, at this point, only be described as the ‘London Knights move,’ which I wrote about before. Are they required to do it? Would he have been ostracized back in London had he just shot top glove? Is Tavares allowed to use it or did he not play there long enough? He didn’t even play with Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane, the ones who have done it in the NHL. I’m confused.
3- When I say losing Campbell’s confidence, I mean DESTROYING it. He was done. You could see it on his face.)

The US was therefore forced to play their way into the semi’s, which they did with a win over Finland, before knocking off a tough Sweden team and earning a rematch in the finals with Canada, who eased through the Swiss (like a typical Swiss team or cheese, they were full of holes) after getting a bye for winning their pool after the first USA Canada game. Along the way, though, Campbell’s confidence did prove to be shot, and it was his USNTDP teammate Mike Lee who carried the US to the finals. The rematch was on, and while the first game, which was heralded as an instant classic, was ultimately just for a first round bye, this one was for the whole thing. It would be just as good, maybe better.

Both teams came out flying Tuesday night. Unfortunately, the goalies didn’t. Lee and Canada netminder Jake Allan each gave up two goals in the first, and another in the second, making it 2-2 heading into the third. After the third goal, Lee was pulled, and it was once again Jack Campbell between the pipes for the Americans.
The Americans tallied twice early to start the third. All that they had to do was hold on, in order to break the streak and take the gold.

Canada’s immense talent made this difficult. Campbell, eager to redeem himself, was up to the task for the first 15 minutes of the period, making save after save to keep it a 2 goal game. Unfortunately, with just three minutes remaining, Oiler Draft Pick Jordan Eberle (a name hockey fans will recognize in a couple of years, if they don’t already), the eventual tournament MVP, one timed an Alex Pietrangelo pass past Campbell. One thought crossed my mind, along, I am sure, with the mind of every other USA Hockey fan who was around on New Years Eve, both 2008 and 2009: Here we go again.

Sometimes, you can just feel it. Maybe it was because it had happened twice in the past year (approximately), but Canada was buzzing after that goal. If you had given me even odds on who was going to win the game at that point, I would have taken Canada. I would have hated to do it, but no one who had watched the last two USA Canada games could have disagreed.

Unfortunately, I was right to worry. A minute later Eberle scored his second goal, his fourth in two games against the Americans. I barely remember how he scored it. All I remember is a lot of Canadians going crazy, a goal horn and a feeling of fulfilled inevitability. It was déjà vu, another two goal third period lead up in smoke. I was crushed. Defeated.

The US Team wasn’t, though. They hung on, sent it to overtime and after a Jack Campbell save, with the teams tied at 4-4, John Carlson took the puck into the Canada zone 2-1. After a head fake to Derek Stepan, who was charging to the net, Carlson fired it short side, finding twine and giving the USA the opportunity to head back to the locker room and chant about having kicked Canada’s effing ass.

To win was great. To beat a Canada team that everyone who knew about Junior Hockey would have picked was great. To do it in OT was great. The greatest part, though, was that they had done it just when they seemed out of it. To take that game back when Canada had all of the momentum, after it seemed like we had just lost it, was just…great.

So this tournament was great, but I knew it was appointment viewing, one of my favorite events of the year, long before I knew that the United States would pull it out in dramatic fashion. What is it, then, about the World Juniors that is so appealing? There is a lot, but two things stick out.

First of all, this is the only tournament in any of the major American sports that features the best available players, representing their country, in the most important event of their season. The level of talent in the Olympic hockey tournament is staggering. The “Dream Team” in the basketball tournament is great. The problem is, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, despite what some have insinuated, would trade their gold medals in Beijing for NBA championships in an instant. Conversely, none of the players for Canada would have accepted silver had they been given CHL Memorial Cup championships instead, like the USA players wouldn’t trade their Gold’s for NCAA Frozen Four titles (or, if we’re honest, Memorial Cups).

There really is only one tournament that can say this, apart from World Juniors. The soccer World Cup is likely the defining moment of the player’s seasons, but it is neither annual, nor a major sport in America. While it is growing in popularity, soccer still just isn’t up there in terms of interest for Americans.

Add the passion of having a season defined by a tournament, like the playoffs for professionals, with the eyes of the entire NHL on these young players looking to break into the league, and the inherent rush anyone would get playing with for their country, and the result is a brand of hockey the intensity and passion of which is nearly unmatched, even in the NHL playoffs.

There is another thing that is great about the World Juniors, though. Like no other event in the world, the World Juniors give hockey fans a glimpse into the future of a league. Canada’s team was made up almost exclusively first and second rounders. Most guys on the Swedish Russian and continental teams will play in the NHL. Most of the USA team projects to be top 6 forwards. The talent level is insane. You could watch the CHL and college hockey for months, but you wouldn’t match the level of insight gained when you see when the best come together, not for nothing, to face the best.

There is a telling commercial that played during the games. It was of NHL stars, including Ovechkin, Nash, Crosby and Getzlaf, among others, raising their arms after goals. The punch line: “Raise your hand if you got your start in the World Juniors.” Truth in advertizing.

So the USA doesn’t seem care. I did, but we don’t yet. I guess I shouldn’t let that bother me that much, I can still watch the games on NHL Network and online. Believe me though, if you didn’t get angry at Stefan Della-Roverre, be impressed by Jordan Eberle, and go crazy after John Carlson’s goal, you are cheating yourself.

What I Love About…

Sidney Crosby, taken from the last Olympic column. If you read it last week, skip it, but I didn’t have the chance to find anything new for this column, so I’ll just re-run this.

There seem to be two factions here in America, now that Canada has gone back to their igloos, village fishermen and polar bears with a gold medal in the only sport they care about. The first is a sort of ‘good-for-you’ feeling, shared by a lot of sports fans who aren’t so much hockey fans on a day to day basis. The feeling that Canada, which most Americans have always liked, deserved to win on their home soil is certainly shared by many. On the other hand, there is a large dose of Sidney Crosby haterade. Not only do I not buy into this, I actually find it a bit upsetting.
If you happen to be a fan of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, you get a pass on this (I would include the New York Islanders, but as far as I can tell, they haven’t had a single fan since 1994). For these guys, it is a divisional rivalry thing. Personally, I chose to respect, fear and root against special players who are in the same division as the Sharks, but if you want to go all the way to genuine hate (sports hate, at any rate), that is fine with me.

Everyone else, though, you sound ridiculous.

Sidney Crosby only does one thing. That one thing, is do everything right. All the kid wants to do is be the best player that he can be, and win hockey games. Take a look at his career.
As a rookie, the cros was a twice in a generation playmaker (add Iginla to his number and you get the other guy), but not what you would call a pure scorer. This worked alright, especially when Gino Malkin joined him in Pittsburgh, but you could tell that Crosby was never completely satisfied with his role as a setup guy. Still, he killed himself to help his team win games. It is laughable that Ovechkin is sometimes sited by dumb hockey fans as better because “he plays a physical game.” I am the farthest thing from an Ovie hater, but Crosby spends more time in the corner, battling for pucks in a given month than Ovechkin has in his career. Crosby got plenty of help from guys like Malkin and Jordan Stall, but did every single little thing (on both ends of the ice), in leading the Penguins to the cup last year.

Crosby came into the game as an elite talent, but he had found new ways to get better, and to help his team get to championship level. Once they got there, there was only one thing that changed in his desire to get better. This year, he turned it up a notch. He decided that to take the Penguins back to the finals, he would have to be a scoring threat, because, as he said, teams could shut him down as a playmaker (untrue, but don’t tell 87 if you are a Pens fan). He did just that, shooting more, creating more, and racking up a league leading 42 goals.

Less noticeable, but more importantly, Crosby has turned two of what were considered his weaknesses into downright, indisputable strengths. Not just passable skills, but on both counts, league leading statistics. When attempting to find something wrong with the kid as a young player, nitpickers often pointed to faceoffs as something that Crosby could improve upon. All he did was work, and in 2009, he is 11th in the league in faceoff percentage. Same goes for shootouts. Crosby started out his career 1 for 9 in the tiebreaker, but now he has found a move (fake that almost is just a stickhandle to the backhand, back to the forehand to open up the goalie and a quick shot 5 hole), that works for him, and he is second in the NHL with shootout goals, with 6 in 8 attempts this season.

There are two takeaways from this. One is that goons the league over better hope that Crosby is never told that his weakness is that he doesn’t fight enough/isn’t a good enough fighter, because you better believe that if that were the case, he would lock himself in an MMA gym for the summer and come back to break every orbital bone in the league. More importantly, Crosby is, quite simply, the complete package. A supposedly good guy to boot, Sid does everything that you could want on the ice, and if he doesn’t, you can bet he will next year.

Homer Note of the Week–My Take on the San Jose Sharks

I have already rambled on for way too long, given the 15 pages I have to write for Economics and the Poetry (yeah, poetry…) portfolio that I should be getting done right now, so I am going to keep it short and sweet.

I want to remind every Sharks fan that didn’t like what I said about Nichol in the last column that:

a. You probably didn’t like Ehrhoff, and I was right about that one. and

b. This Exists

That’s all.

Save of the Weeks/ Year

I don’t care if he had no idea what he was doing, this stop by Andrew Raycroft is effing incredible. Roberto who?

Goal of the Week

It was a little bit of a difficult week to choose one goal as the goal of the week this time. There were some strong contenders from the likes of Datsyuk, Kopitar and chronic danglitis victim Kris Versteeg. The big winner, though comes to us from our old friend Guillaume Latendresse.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf


Shorter Hockey Thoughts

- I don’t know if the formidable trio of Luca Caputi, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel rolled out as the first line for the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday against the Bruins was the worst first line that the NHL has ever seen, but I have to believe that it is about as low as I have seen for a first unit. I actually like these guys, Caputi has some promise, Bozak has been good for the Leafs, and Kessel is an elite goal scorer. The hard truth though, if you hail from Ontario, is that this is a top line consisting of two guys who started this season in the AHL, and would still be there for about 26 franchises isn’t getting it done. Add that to the fact that Kessel is a pure scorer, not necessarily someone who gets the puck onto his own stick particularly well…yikes.

- Just an ugly game in the Boston-Toronto matchup. The Leafs have about 4 NHL forwards, and the Bruins are missing Savard, Raskk, and Chara, and have had massive scoring issues already this year missing the Kessel/Savard combo. Bad times all around.

- I was going to try to rank all 30 teams in terms of young talent, either under 25 or maybe even 23/24. I feel like it would be fun to look at who has talent coming up, and who may need a re-build in a couple of years. I simply don’t have time though. All these papers are cramping my writing style, and a ranking like that is pretty labor intensive. I might try to get it done next week, when I will be going with the classic Kent School exam, lift, write model (maybe four people get that joke…whatever).

- I swear to god, there are less people in the stands every time I see a Thrasher game. More people show up to the PCHA playoffs than the Predators visiting Atlanta. It was depressing how empty that was.

- How come Chris Pronger gets to play by his own rules? The puck gets chipped past him in space, in the neutral zone, and he doesn’t even think about turning around. He just puts two hands into Kyle Okposo so he doesn’t get burned. I get it that it is the only way he can stay in the league, since he is old, slow, and built to play before the rule changes, but GOOD. GET HIM OUT OF HERE!

- Is it just me, or a lot of Olympic goalies struggling since coming back to the NHL? I don’t think that players will have any sort of extra fatigue, but goaltenders, it is possible.

- A perusal of YouTube has PK Subban as a lock to one day join the African-Canadian sports hall of fame, or as it is currently known, ‘Jarome Iginla’s trophy room.’– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Black_Canadians. I hope no one is offended by my pointing out that this is one of the unintentionally funniest pages on Wikipedia. Because it is. I had no idea that Maestro was the first Canadian rapper to have a top 40 hit.
- Andrew Raycroft and Ilya Bryzgalov absolutely disappeared in the shootout Wednesday night. They combined to give up 7 goals a row, something I don’t think I have seen before, before Bryzgalov finally got a hold of one to get the Coyotes a point.

- Good job by the GMs proposing the OT and Regulation wins tie breaker (basically, if two teams are tied, the one with less points from the shootout gets the nod). Without getting into it, it just seems to make sense.
- The Capitals 99 points in mid-March are really impressive, but less so when you look at the rest of the southeast division. Atlanta is second with 66, and they get to play Florida and Carolina all the time. Yikes.

TOP 8 / bottom eight


On the Up

8. Ottowa- Mainly so I can point out that Cheech got sent to the minors…sad.

7. Phoenix- 85 points and an improved roster…didn’t expect them to be on this list. I demand that if they win the cup, Gary Betteman congratulate himself as the owner, only because of how ridiculous it would be.
6. Vancouver- Have more offense with Sedin-Sedin-Samuelson and Kessler-Burrows-Raymond than people think

5. Pittsburgh- Also made themselves better with Leopold and Ponikorovski

4. New Jersey- Scary offensive team, not your typical Devils

3. Chicago- 3 of the best players in Vancouver, Hossa, Kane and Teows were Hawks

2. Washington- Most points, made themselves better…got jumped?

1. San Jose- My goaltending issues aren’t as bad as your goaltending issues.

On The Down

23.Tampa Bay- I don’t like to go 5/3 on conferences, but I do think the East is weaker.

24. Carolina- Trying to make a run, but it isn’t that it is going to be too little too late, just that the hole is way to big.
25. Florida- Despite a hot Vokun

26. Atlanta- Now significantly less fun to watch

27. NY Islanders- Dissapointing campaign for Tavares, but he is only 19.

28. Columbus- Out of it in the West, and going the wrong way.

29. Edmonton- 0 for January. 0 FOR FREAKING JANUARY.

30. Toronto- The standings don’t say so…yet.

Non-NHL Update

We are over 6500 words…come on, the 2000 words on the World Juniors don’t count? Fine. Uh the Frozen Four is coming up in…a bit…

Award Watch

Vezina

Obviously, the Olympics don’t count, but in addition to using that tournament to become a national household name, Ryan Millar is putting up a stunningly good season in Buffalo. Miller leads the league with a .931 save percentage AND a 2.15 GAA. He is slacking in shutouts and wins though, he is 5th and 6th, respectively in those two categories. Loser.

Honorable Mention- Who are we kidding, this is sewn up. Vokun is the only one who can even see Miller, but he won’t get it with his team well out of contention.

Adams (Coach)


Look at the standings, now at the Coyotes roster, back at the standings, now the teams that are behind them, you ask yourself why, but you don’t know. Now look at the stats, find the big scorer for Phoenix, he isn’t there, now you are at the goalies stats Bryzgalov, no. Look back at the standings, wonder how, now look at Dave Tippett. He’s on a horse.
Yes, I just imitated this Old Spice commercial. Sue me.

Honorable mention- Joe Sacco (Col), Cory Clouston (OTT)

Calder (Rookie)

It is Tyler Myers. It just is. Tied for second amongst rookies in points (36), and a shutdown D-man to boot. Unbelievable. He should have been on a national team. I’m glad he wasn’t though. Effing trader.

Honorable Mention- Matt Douschene (COL), James VanRiemsdyk (PHI), John Tavares (NYI)

Norris (Defenseman)

82 Point watch (for explanation, look at Norris in that one): Green 66 points, Capitals 67 games. Still, Green has a good shot, especially because he can be streaky. He is the favorite right now, although there are others lurking, who’s deficit in points will be helped by the fact that they are perceived to be better defensively.

Honorable Mention- Duncan Keith (CHI), Dan Boyle (SJ)

Vezina (MVP)-

I want to say Crosby. He does everything. I would kill to play with him If I was starting a team. He would be the no-brainer first pick. Ovechkin leads the league in +/-, goals and points though. It has to be him. It just has to.

Honorable Mention- Sidney Crosby (PIT), Patrick Marleau (SJ), Henrik Sedin (VAN)

Yet Another Break From Sports; Three Classical Economists

I have never posted anything that I wrote for school on here before. Twice, I have posted things that looked as though they could have been academic assignments, but both were written solely for this blog. I’m a bit hesitant to, but I am going to break that trend. Mainly, I am going to because I think that this last paper, for economics, is worth reading. Econ is my favorite academic subject, but I have never really been sure if I could write about them. I had never really tried to. This is the first thing that I have that may be worth reading, even if you aren’t particularly interested in econ. Hopefully, you will find it interesting, if not feel free to skip it, there is more hockey and mindless video clips coming this afternoon.

Three of the greatest economists of their time, Thomas Robert Malthus, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes were tied together most strongly by a single unlikely trait. These men were very different in the way that they went about the science and philosophy of economics. They did not share a single method of analysis, a similar set of circumstances, a similar conclusion, or even a similar question which they sought to answer. In a general sense, all three looked at the quandary of how to satisfy unlimited wants with very limited resources. It is impossible, however, to narrow down a unifying theme to their work beyond that universal question. Rather, the most pertinent unifying theme between the three extraordinary philosopher-scholars was that the schools of thought bearing their name had at best a shaky relationship with their actual work.

Karl Marx has been credited with the quotation that has troubled his followers, and he has had many, for centuries. While Marx was never financially successful, his ideas of class conflict did attract a level of attention during his lifetime. However, he puzzled his contemporaries and the millions who would later take up what they believed to be his cause when he was quoted as saying “I am not a Marxist,” of the working class spirit that had risen in his name.

Likewise, the Malthusian problem is hardly an adequate encapsulation of the work of Thomas Robert Malthus. The British thinker was the most worldly of thinkers, looking at the current state of affairs, and extrapolating what these things could mean for society. Malthus has been pigeonholed in history as having simply looked at the problem of population and production, but really his analysis went deeper into cycles of production and consumption, with considerable attention given to property, wages and rents. While the dismal analysis that included poverty as a check on population, an inexorable cycle to rival or surpass that of Marx and an opposition to poor relief make up the dark Malthusian legacy, they fail to encapsulate the genius of his analysis. Perhaps most notably, like Marx who came to reject the ideology of Marxism, the Malthusian Catastrophe was not actually proposed by Malthus himself, but rather by writers who followed his work.

A disconnect between first hand philosophies and the schools of thought bearing the names of economists endured to the 20th century, and managed to pester John Maynard Keynes, as it had pestered Thomas Robert Malthus and Karl Marx. In this case, the disconnect reflects that faced by Marx, in that the philosophy bearing his name, Keynesian economics, reflects the philosophies and analyses not of Keynes himself, as Marxism strayed from those of Marx, and instead reflected those of the thinkers that had been influenced by, and proceeded to follow the actual thinkers work.

For Thomas Robert Malthus, the difference between the man and the school of thought is not so much due to Malthusian thought differing from Malthus, but rather only touching on a small portion of what he wrote. Indeed, the fact that the world had too many people for prosperity ever to be wide spread, and that the progress cannot keep up with the growth of population, which is what one commonly thinks when they hear ‘malthusian,’ is not a misrepresentation of what Malthus believed. On the other hand, it only scratches the surface.

Malthus was more concerned with the widening of the discrepancy between population and food production than the difference itself.

Progress in the capacity to produce food would seem to counteract the problem of growing population, but in fact this is the bane of the Malthusian problem. When production increases, so do wages. According to Malthus, with a growth in wealth comes a growth in the birthrate. These do not manage to offset each other, because while the increase in capacity grows in a line, geometrically, because there are more people to reproduce, population grows exponentially, widening the gap between the two. This means that even though progress can increase production, man’s capacity to reproduce guarantees that a portion of the population, and indeed a growing portion, will always be in poverty. People have been eager to extrapolate from this supposition that the population must be controlled at any cost. While Malthus did oppose corn laws and other government hand outs, it is not fair to suggest that he was in favor of things like pruning the lower classes directly, or even birth control and abortion. Rather, Malthus sited ‘moral restraint’ on the part of man in order to deal with the problems brought by population growth.

Malthus’s population problem was hardly the extent of his economic analysis. Malthus also talked extensively about what he called general gluts. It seems contradictory to his problem of population in that it deals with overproduction. Malthus postulates that when there is overproduction, it is impossible to get out of this, because in order to drive up demand, there must be more in wages, but to create these wages more must be produced. This is also one of the earliest critiques of savings in that when there is too much saved up, the savings will be spent on expansion. This does not put money in the pockets of people who can help demand to catch up. This would later be adjusted by John Maynard Keynes.

Malthus’s final point of pertinence was that on rents. Malthus regarded rent as value given to something that had nothing to do with the actual production involved. In other words, the price of rent had nothing to do with actually adding value to an economy. Therefore, Malthus called rents unproductive costs, and stated that only with surplus can rents be paid.

The disconnect between Marx and what came to be known by names such as Marxism, Socialism, Communism and egalitarianism (which have their differences, but arise from the same Marxian capitalistic apocalypse) is very much a clear cut and easy to identify. All of these ideologies are largely based on what will come of a society in which capitalism has been overthrown. While Marx was an extremely potent writer, devoting about 2500 pages to Das Kapital and still more to works such as The Communist Manifesto or Wage Labor and Capital, hardly any of those pages have to do with the result of the working class revolt. Rather, Marx is concerned only with capitalism (somewhat ironically), and the inexorable downturns that will lead to its demise. He specified only that the society would be classless, directly opposing capitalism in that respect, and that society itself would control means of production. Karl Marx, contrary to his legacy as the patriarch of systems that have been seen in China, Cuba and Russia, among others, had nothing to say regarding governments controlling command economies, or even about how the production should be owned.

Rather, Marx was concerned not with the post capitalist world, but how the current capitalist society would come to an end. The man known to most close to him as “the Moor” believed himself to have discovered a perfectly inescapable reality of history, and willingly extrapolated its future. In the time of Marx’s writing, capitalism consisted of a boom bust cycle far more powerful and sporadic than that of today’s regulated economy. Marx’s inescapable demise for capitalism was a byproduct of these boom bust cycles, as well as the very progress that drove the seeming growth of capitalism.

Before his actual synopsis of the demise, Marx pointed out a number of general problems. Marx proposed that each time technological progress was made in society the class system became more defined. The owning classes, the Bourgeois, as Marx called them, were advanced, while workers were further exploited. This placed strain on the class structure of the economy, and would drive workers together in an adversarial stance against the owners. Marx also rejected Adam Smith’s guiding hand, saying that capitalism was in need of structure and guidance in order to operate efficiently, but that paradoxically, the capitalists themselves operated best when given free range. This too, theorized Marx, would lead to problems for capitalism, as chaos from a lack of planning could lead to crises of supply. These were all problems that were proposed in the frustrated journalist’s early work. His masterpiece, Das Kapital, would spell out the method of how these issues would come to fruition.

Das Kaiptal is a second attempt to answer the question that Adam Smith was the first to ask, namely how does the capitalist system work. It is hard to imagine, though, that they are analyzing the same thing, as their conclusions could hardly be more different. Lost to some who expect it to come to fruition, is that Das Kapital is academic in nature. Marx’s analysis is set not in the real world, but in one of perfect capitalism, without monopoly, government (although in his time this was not a stretch, as the government had little control over economics at the time) or prices that differed from an objects value. Marx clearly views this as close enough to the truth, though, as he sets out to demonstrate the difficulties that were on the horizon for capitalism.

Marx starts with profit, as it plays a key role in the end of the system. If value is equal to the amount of labor in an object, and price is equal to value, profit should therefore be impossible at fair wages. Marx finds the source of profit by saying that in fact wages are not fair. A worker is paid not by how much he produces, but rather how much it takes to sustain a worker. The worker’s labor, though, exceeds that which he needs to subsist, leaving the difference to the owning class in the form of profit. This profit leads Bourgeois to expansion, driving competition in wages, and decreasing profit. Marx refuses the idea that this increase in wages will lead to more supply for workers in the form of increased population, leaving the capitalist looking for a way to regain profit.

His answer come in the form of machinery, which cuts down on labor. The problem is, these machines, like the goods that are sold for profit, are sold where their value equals their price. Therefore, the capitalist pays back any profits that could come from a machine when he buys it in the first place. Forced to innovate by competition, the capitalist has switched from labor, which he can exploit for profit, to machines which he cannot. Therefore, in order to survive (since other firms will switch to machines and take market share if the capitalist refuses to do so), the capitalist must destroy his own profit. The capitalists have therefore started a race towards a finish line of zero profit.

In Marx’s cycle, this alone does not destroy capitalism. Rather, it leads to a downturn (the common bust of the day) when profits aren’t enough to sustain business. Business eventually resumes, too, when machinery becomes idle, workers take lower wages, and enterprise bounces back. The cycle, though, repeats, with bigger firms having taken over smaller firms. When it does, each bust is worse than the last, and eventually, even the biggest businesses are taken out. A monopoly is the result, and the workers rise up to overthrow their now centralized enemy, and that spells the end for the capitalist system, which is replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat, and later pure communism.

Of the three, Keynes’s work most closely resembled what has since bourn his name. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money and the theories within were indeed the driving philosophical influence behind the Keynesian school of economics. At its most rudimentary level, Keynesianism encourages government spending to rejuvenate economies, based on the fact that the economy doesn’t actually have an automatic self correcting mechanism. While this idea was spelled out in The General Theory, Keynesian economics do not explore the depths of Keynes’s work, and they do borrow from other schools of thought.

Focusing on the ideas just of the man, and not the school, Keynes’s theories are simultaneously and paradoxically both simple and complex. In The General Theory, Keynes dives into the minute complexities of investment and business cycles, the effects of interest rates, and the multiplier effect’s influence on recovery to make his points. At the same time, one of the brilliances of Keynes is the simplicity of markets not being infinite and therefore cramping savings’ ability to equal investment, and establishing that depression can be a self perpetuating cycle, which comes to rest at a bottomed out equilibrium.

The details that Keynes uses to get to his conclusions are long and complex, but essentially his theory of depression (he wrote The General Theory in the 1930s) is as follows. When people have excess income, they tend not to save it in the traditional sense of simply holding onto it, but rather to invest it. When there is room for business to expand, this works wonderfully, with businesses hiring more people, creating new facilities, and contributing to economic growth. The problem with this is that when business is poor, there is no reason for business to attempt to expand, and therefore little for people to invest in. The multiplier effect then slows down as people are forced to hold their savings (when people invest their excess income, businesses give these invested savings to other people in the form of more wages, hence the amount of wealth in the economy is multiplied), and the economy slows down. Furthermore, since businesses are unable to create more wages, demand for expansion ceases to rise. The same lack of investment that was caused by businesses not wanting to expand causes a lack of demand for expansion in a self perpetuating cycle.

In his earlier writing, Smith said that it may be possible that the lack of demand for investment would lead to cheap interest rates, which would revitalize the multiplier cycle and get the economy out of the downturn. Writing on the depression in The General Theory, though, Keynes comes to the realization that because the slowdown has decreased wages, the presumed well of investment that would drive down interest rates is not there. That takes away the presumed bounce back. The economy has come to an equilibrium, but one in which it is in a glut with no mechanism for getting out of the recession, which leads to depression.

Having established quite a direct link to the work of Malthus, in that he is essentially building on and explaining his theory that savings can be the bane of economic growth, it is here that Keynes takes himself away from the work of Marx. Karl Marx was quite content to let the system die, and made little effort to suggest a remedy. Rather, he diagnosed a problem, and his solution was to let the system die and start over. The same cannot be said for Keynes. Perhaps it can be explained by the biographical discrepancies between the two, Keynes being successful in business, Marx failing again and again, being forced to live humbly at the mercy of Friedrich Engels, but that is to get away from their works. What is clear is that Keynes does offer the solution to his problem of prolonged depression.

Keynes once again resembles Malthus in that contemporary believers in the capitalist system were shocked by what he had to say, earning their disdain for his radical proposals. For Malthus, few people wanted to hear about how increased death rates were, frankly, the road to prosperity for the living. For Keynes, the realization was that in order to save capitalism, it needed to be less pure. Here is the one similarity of conclusion between Keynes and Marx. Both believed pure and ‘perfect’ capitalism to be flawed and ultimately self destructive. Keynes, though, saw that there was an entity that could stop the cycle. Keynes noticed that government projects, no matter how tedious or even pointless, could have the effect of revitalizing the economy be restarting the multiplication of wages, and driving demand for expanding private sector business. In the 1930s, the idea that government need step in to cure the economy was revolutionary, but indeed Marx noted that tedious pursuits like pyramid building had always had the desired stimulating effect. With that in mind, Keynes suggested government spending almost to no end.

A large portion of both Marx and Malthus’s work was predictive in nature. Malthus’s prophecy of diverging food and population production was slated to carry on into the coming centuries, and Marx’s destruction of capitalism would take place after a cycle had played itself out. In both cases, they were largely wrong. Nothing resembling the laws of an economic society that reproduces past its capacity, or collapses upon its own progress has played out in the Western World. In both cases, there have been developments that could be said to resemble their predictions, but in reality they are of a different nature.

Marx has proven to be wrong for a number of reasons. The first is that he underestimated the veracity with which workers believe that they can become the capitalists. They look at themselves as capitalists in the making, rather than advocacies of the owning class, which keeps them away from a revolutionary spirit. Another, simpler explanation of why this fails to come to fruition is that Marx may simply have misjudged his “laws of motion” for business in which firms are swallowed up, and profits continually dwindle. It is true that some firms are eliminated in bust cycles, but they often pop back up in booms, at a sustaining, or even growing rate. The final point to why we do not yet live in a Marxist world is that his reasoning is based on a pure form of capitalism. We, of course, do not see such pure competition and perfect markets on a day to day basis, and these deficiencies in perfect competition can throw a wrench into all of his reasoning. Furthermore, those in charge of capitalist systems will often move away from perfect competition with government spending and social programs, which counteracts Marx’s projected cycle. Some will point to fascism in Italy and Germany, or communist uprisings in Eastern Europe as evidence that Marx’s predictions may have come to pass, but these can hardly be considered the global scale uprisings, which Marx saw as transcending nations, when working classes came together.

As for the Malthusian problem, it appears that he simply underestimated the level at which production could grow. Advancement after advancement in shipping and in production have made it so that trade and technology can offset the growing population which Malthus correctly identified. In some poorer countries, population has skyrocketed (particularly India and China), and food is a pressing issue. This does not conform with Malthusian ideals though. Malthus predicted such a scenario in the Western, rich world, and indeed that one of the driving factors of the problem would be a rise in wages and wealth driving up the birth rate. This is far from what has come to pass in the poorer parts of Asia.

Keynes, on the other hand, wrote from a different perspective. He was not so much a predictor. He did not attempt to look into the future. Because of his position in the midst of the depression, he was asked for solutions, rather than predictions. Marx was essentially an unemployed writer, Malthus a professor. JM Keynes was rubbing elbows with the leaders of his day. He did not have the ability to say simply ‘this is what will happen.’ Instead he was asked to predict how it could be controlled. If anything, his predictions about ‘pump priming,’ as he called the government stimulation, was seen to be true when wars necessitated government spending, but this was a remedy, not a natural course of action, like Malthus and Marx attempted to draw a map for.

Both Marx and Malthus, then, were able to look into the future with some small degree of accuracy, but both were significantly off as to the conditions that would lead to their predictions. For Marx never so much as considered Russia as a candidate for the start of the communist uprising, and believed that it would tear down national borders, when really it created international tensions. Malthus correctly predicted that population would skyrocket, and that this could create food problems, but he did not see that trade would offset this in the rich world, and he misidentified the cause of the multiplying human race, as in fact wealth has lead to a leveling of population growth in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Another stylistic and interpretive similarity between Malthus and Marx is apparent. Both had a fairly extensive reserve of hard economic analysis. Marx worked extensively on labor theory of value, rate of surplus value and organic composition of capital. Malthus wrote the majority of his pages on topics such as the value (or lack thereof) of rents, general gluts, and the hazard of excess savings. In both cases, though, the economic analysis by the two men was overshadowed by the less mathematical, more philosophical work that brought societal fates together with economic analysis. For Marx, dialectical materialism would be his legacy, and for Malthus, it would be issues with population growth.

One, then, can hardly be blamed for thinking that the pertinent question would indeed be that of which philosophy is correct. Unfortunately, even to say that only time can tell would be incredibly optimistic. Indeed, in the scale of a single lifetime, not even time can give us the answer to the enduring questions of financing, laboring, producing, distributing and consuming. All three of these thinkers looked at this constant query, and gave their take on its fate. One gave an explanation and a solution. Two saw the system as inexorable. They asked differing questions to the same end. All three revolutionized the way that people look at a seemingly mundane world of production, transaction and consumption.

All Things (Olympic) Hockey: Part 5, Wrapping It Up

This hurts. It sucks. Losing always does.

The United States falling in the gold medal game to our rivals to the north was tough, as losing goes, too. I have been recapping games for you here, but I don’t need to do this one. The world was watching. It was all over ESPN, NBC, and even found its way on to news sites like NYTimes.com or CNN.com. One in three people with their TVs on were watching the game as it was played, calling in to question the judgment of 2/3 of America. In Canada, that number was 4/5, so I really see no point in a blow by blow. The game certainly didn’t disappoint on the ice, unfortunately, that’s exactly what the result did.

It was easy going into the game to say that it was all upside. I had told myself that the tournament had been so great that even if Canada maintained hockey dominance, I couldn’t end it upset. I told myself that I had known that the USA was a long shot, and that silver would be a great finish. I knew that the tournament had brought hockey to the forefront of the sports world. And I told myself that I had seen the greatest hockey tournament of my life, 34 enjoyable, great games of the 41 that were played, and that really, we were all winners. All those things were true, and I couldn’t have asked for a better game in the finals. All I do is watch hockey when I have fee time between October and June, and between the last two Sundays, I saw the two best hockey games I have ever seen. Unfortunately, by the time Crosby went Miller time and put the USA on ice, I was convinced that the USA not only could win, but would win.

I knew Canada was better, but we hadn’t lost yet in Vancouver. The team was resilient, and more importantly, despite what some had thought coming in, they were damn good. 120 minutes of even hockey isn’t a fluke, the USA could play with Canada. When they went down a few minutes into overtime, all the rationality of not being disappointed, thinking that everyone was a winner after the greatest tournament I have ever seen, and realizing that silver was a great result for USA Hockey was crushed by the anger brought about by seeing Corey Perry hug Chris Pronger having just won the gold that should have returned to the USA after 30 years (this hug really happened, and when it did, I really wanted to cry).

What had been elation on facebook and twitter moments before when Zach Parise had tied the game, was replaced by Crosby hate which I reject, anguish which I shared and disparaging remarks about Canada being Americas hat, which I refrained from, but fully endorsed. On the ice, it was one of the best games I have ever seen. I can’t possibly say that I feel cheated, and I’ll get to those things, but it was still a tough reminder that in sports there are two things. There are no moral victories. No matter how rational you are coming in, there is only winning and losing. One is great the other hurts.

The Olympic hockey tournament couldn’t have been better. I couldn’t be prouder of team USA. Bobby Ryan, Jack Johnson and Ryan Whitney play for a division rival. Brian Rafalski, Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner play for teams I have grown up resenting. I will never be able to root against any of them, or anyone else on team USA again. There are a plethora of great things that I can take away from the Vancouver Olympics, but right now, all I am getting is that we lost. The greatest player alive ended the greatest tournament I have ever seen, and right now it sucks.

There were so many things to like about the Olympics, whether you are a diehard hockey fan, a big sports fan with a passing interest in the ice, or even a casual sports fan that tunes in only to check out the Super Bowls, March Madness’s and National Championships of the sports calendar. As someone who started to preview the Olympic hockey tournament last February, and routinely writes about the NHL, it would be impossible for me to sum it up from a perspective of something other than a diehard fan, and as someone who lives with hockey every day, one of the most fun things about the tournament was that for once, hockey was the center of the universe.

It can be frustrating being a hockey fan in America. ESPN will relegate NHL highlights to the last few minutes of SportsCenter, or go months without putting it on the front page of ESPN.com. That certainly wasn’t the case during these Olympic Games. Hockey has always been there with American media, but you wouldn’t say that it has ever quite been a mainstream topic. Once Team USA made it clear they were poised to make a run, though, America seemed willing and eager to follow them, and the sports media followed suit.

Hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike were checking scores, watching games online or on tape delay, even as NBC was trying to tell us that the Olympics were for our mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends by showing an endless array of figure skating and ice dancing, the most insufferable of all so called sports, in addition to a plethora of women’s events surrounded by ads for Tide and Vicks, or ones proclaiming that ‘To their moms, they will always be kids.’ ESPN was putting previews and scores on the front page. It was the main attraction for talk radio. NBC was even forced to give in, eventually, moving the USA-Finland game to live, and carrying the Canada-USA game both live and with limited commercials, in order to show all the action.

It isn’t just conjecture and insinuation, either. The ratings for hockey were huge. Almost as many people tuned in to MSNBC to watch the USA beat Canada as watched Obama get elected on the most prominent liberal news source. 27.2 million people watched the USA-Canada final in the United States, along with 80 percent of Canada. Not 80 percent of people watching TV, but 80 percent of the population, or 26.5 million people (this is perhaps my favorite stat, that more Americans watched than Canadians, although the 80 percent is astounding). Essentially, hockey was as big yesterday as it has been for 30 years since Carter and Brezhnev decided to forgo nuclear war and the USA beat Russia in the battle of Lake Placid, to put it lightly, to win the cold war and ensure the triumph of capitalism and freedom for the world over communism and dictatorship.

Even if the American numbers would have been just as high against Slovakia (they wouldn’t have been, although judging by the Finland numbers, they still would have been huge), the viewers were treated the best team in the tournament, America, against the best players, the Canadians. Someone said that if you don’t enjoy that, you don’t enjoy hockey. I would say that you don’t enjoy sports.

Does that mean that the NHL will now turn around and do numbers that beat the BCS and regular season football all the time? Of course not, but it does mean that come playoff time, or Sunday afternoons, some of the 50 million plus that checked out the games will come across the NHL and say, ‘hey, it is Ryan Miller,’ or Sidney Crosby, or Patrick Kane, and stick around, when they would have changed the channel before. That’s because people like hockey. Very few watch it, say “I’m bored,” or “that sucked,” and never want to go back to the game. Usually, the reaction of sports fans watching hockey is at worst that they don’t get it, but more often, that they want to watch more. The problem for the NHL has never been a bad product, but rather under-exposure. While a little familiarity from a popular Olympics may not turn around hockey as a TV sport, with an NBA lockout looming, it can’t be a bad thing. And who knows, it might be enough to boost the game in the USA after all, even if it is just a little.

I mentioned women’s events and figure skating—and the effect that they have on ratings—above, and wanted to clarify my thoughts on that, as well as put my take on the NBC coverage out there.

Women’s events should absolutely be in the Olympics—not the figure skating, but the women’s events like hockey, skiing and Speed Skating for instance–, but to covered and hyped to the extent that they were? Come on. I can name three women’s skiers, two snowboarders, and a speed skater. The only males I know that don’t play hockey are Shaun White, since he has been bouncing around for a few years, Bodie Miller because he used to be the best, and Apalo Ohno because…well I’m actually not sure what his appeal is, but he keeps getting jammed down our throats. I’m not being a misogynist, only pointing out that it is a fact that men’s events push more boundaries, are faster, and are generally more exciting, yet they receive significantly less coverage. The reason for this is pretty simple.

Unfortunately, the networks know that sports fans will tune in, so they go out of their way to bring in other audiences that could lead to a big number. This emphasis is misconceived as being because women and non-traditional fans watch more. Instead, it just means that they need to be pandered to more, since their viewership can be had, and will push ratings to greater heights, but it is harder to court. This leads to a paradox in which the core audience is neglected, in order for the network to attract its largest possible audience. You can’t blame NBC for it, but it is rough if you are a sports fan.

One thing I can blame NBC for, though, is the tape delays. Many people have pointed out, similar to the point above, that the primetime show does huge numbers and should be kept as it is, even if it is taped footage. I completely agree. I watched most of my stuff online, and was uninterested in the pageantry (that’s what it was—sports don’t have judges) that was emphasized at night. The problem is that there is not a single reason that I have heard or can think of, in the vast and rapidly expanding GD universe, that events occurring at noon, 2 or 3 in the afternoon shouldn’t have been live on NBC.

When many of the live events were taking place, in the afternoons, NBC’s typical programming includes repeats of soap operas, the Bonnie Hunt Show, something called a Wendy Williams show and the abortion known as the Ellen Degeneres show. I know, because I am in the gym most days at this time, and there is usually at least one TV on NBC. Every time I see Ellen dance in front of her audience like the dorky, phony loser that she is, before she sits down, and fails to be funny with guests I could not possibly care about, I hate humanity a little bit more, and that is the so-called ‘highlight’ of the slate of afternoon vapidity that they refused to cancel, or even move to one of their cable networks. Yes, I am losing my temper, but it is well freaking justified. If you try to tell me, NBC, that those are better programming decisions than showing the Olympics while they happen, and that this is a valid reason for not showing me a life freaking hockey game, I will fly to New York and take the cast of 30 Rock as hostages.

I forgot what I was talking about. God I hate dumb executives…

One more thing, speaking of dumb executives. If you are a casual sports fan who, like millions of your countrymen, tuned on the game on Sunday to check out some hockey, enjoyed it, and now want to watch a bit more, you have no idea where you can watch it. I’ll answer the question for you it is on N-B-freaking-C, the network you were watching, and it is on every Sunday, but you didn’t know that. Why not? BECAUSE NBC DIDN’T SHOW ONE GD PROMO FOR THE NHL ON NBC! NOT ONE! IN THE ENTIRE TIME THEY WERE DOING THE BIGGEST RATING THEY WILL GET IN MONTHS, FOR A FREAKING HOCKEY GAME THEY DIDN’T STOP AND THINK, ‘HEY, MAYBE WE SHOULD LET PEOPLE KNOW WE HAVE MORE OF THIS.’ NO I WILL NOT TURN OFF CAPS LOCK. THIS IS EGREGIOUS. IT DEFIES LOGIC. I LITERALLY DON’T KNOW HOW TO DESCRIBE HOW STUPID THAT IS.

People have said that the NHL may not see any sort of significant boost from this tournament, which to me is a load of crap. I have a number of friends who have cheerfully told me that Sunday was a bad day for the NBA, because they are now in on hockey. If I am wrong though, I will know exactly why.

I will now take a five mile walk to calm down…

Having ranted for about two thousand words about how great the 2010 Olympics were, I probably don’t need to tell you that I am strongly in favor of the NHL returning to the Olympics in 2014, by going to Sochi, Russia. Gary Bettman has refused thus far to commit to such a scenario, but he simply has to send guys overseas. First of all, because not one player has said that they don’t want to travel and represent their country, and some have gone as far as to insist that they will, if they are released from the league for 2 weeks or not. There is more to it than that though.

A lot will be made in the run up to the decision to go to Sochi or not, of the fact that Bettman works for the owners, and that the NHL doesn’t see a dime from the Olympic Games. The thing is, as a commissioner of a major sports league, your job goes a bit deeper than your financial responsibilities to the owners. Your responsibilities do, anyways. Sure, protecting the interests of the owners and the league can come first, but they shouldn’t be the only concern. Growing and protecting the game should certainly factor into decisions made, especially if there isn’t a significant downside, and I am sorry, but a condensed regular season with a 3 week break is not a significant downside.

Beyond that, the premise that the Olympics don’t help the NHL is shortsighted. If anything, the NHL needs to work with their partners (coughNBCcough) to ensure that it does help. You cannot convince me that having the best players in the world, on perhaps the biggest stage in the world, does not help the game of hockey. It is too good, and too exposed not to at least make people more aware of the game. People will say that the games didn’t help the NHL, but people talking about hockey helps the NHL. Period. Sure, the USA-Canada final in an NHL city is about as good as it can get from the standpoint of North American hockey, but that hardly means that significant momentum can’t be built for the sport even if the result is less perfect.

There are some detractors that have nothing to do with the NHL, usually by referencing the 1980 games, but these premises are fairly easy to reject. An argument that some people have voiced is that the Olympics were somehow more pure when the athletes were amateurs. I couldn’t disagree more. Ask the IOC how the Olympic baseball tournament has gone. Without pros, the Olympics essentially become a second rate event. That, not having professionals, is what would fly in the face of the Olympic spirit. The Olympics are all about bringing the best athletes in the world together (as well as the best curlers), in order to see which nations are dominant at these sports. In no way would restricting access to the games to those who are at the top level make this a better tournament. It would make it a lower level of play at best, arbitrary at worst. As for the 1980 argument, that was a perfect confluence of circumstances. No one can say anything about the 1984 or 1988 tournament other than ‘the Russians probably won.’ One of the first sporting events I can remember, however vaguely, is the 1992 Lillehammer Olympics. I was 3, but I remember watching with my parents. Not once, as far as I can tell, did we watch hockey. 1980 will never happen again, and to try to replicate it is shortsighted.

Generally, I like to refrain from blaming ‘the media,’ in the general sense, as one. This is hard to detect, since I do it all the time, just know that I have an urge to write about something stupid that I hear all the time, let’s just say twice a day, by way of an estimate, but usually stop myself. During the Olympics, there were a lot of things that gave me this urge. Here are a few of them.

- People kept asking themselves, in previewing team USA, if a ‘repeat of the Miracle on Ice’ could take place, and the USA could take gold. I don’t even need to explain how stupid this is, but just for fun, had the USA decided to send their world junior team, and the Russians sent their national team, and the USA took gold, that would be a repeat of the miracle on ice. But only if the Russians were playing for China. And people in America actually realized how evil the Chinese government actually is. Everyone knows this by now, but there were still plenty of morons trying to play this up, and they need to be called out.

- Later, I heard a lot of people talking about the United States’ upset of Canada. They were responding to the hordes of media saying that this victory compared to that of 1980. They were rightfully calling out all the people saying that this was just as big a win for USA Hockey. There was a problem, though. No one was saying this. They were responding to people that they had made up. Sure, plenty of people were comparing the game to the 1980 tilt, but not one was saying it compared favorably. To a man, people agreed that it wasn’t as big an upset. Still, the media felt compelled to point out that these people (who I stress, are imaginary), kept saying that this was the same, and correcting them (even thought they didn’t exist).

- A third 1980 thing got to me. We get it. It was the greatest thing in the history of hockey, nay sports, nay human history, nay the universe. Listen, I have seen Miracle 2,864 times. I own the documentary. I have found the entire game online and watched it multiple times. I even read The Boys of Winter twice. I know that the most interesting story wasn’t Eruzioni, or Ralph Cox getting cut, but Herb Brooks playing nice with his archrival at Wisconsin, Bob Johnson, because he was afraid Johnson wouldn’t let his son Mark play in the Olympics for Brooks. Just thinking about this, I want to watch Miracle again. Having said all of that, can we just agree to move on? I’m not saying completely. We should show clips when Johnson is coaching the women’s team. We should run a piece or two on it on anniversaries, and at least once an Olympics. What bothers me, is that everything that USA Hockey does gets brought back to it. I don’t want to forget about the 1980 games, but I am ready to move on.

- This one is less about incompetence and making stuff up, and more about my competitive disposition. I listen to Leafs Lunch, an hour long talk radio show out of Toronto every day. I don’t listen because I care particularly about the Toronto Maple Leafs, but rather because I enjoy good sports talk radio, and Leafs Lunch is one of the few high quality shows with a focus on the NHL. I would recommend it to anyone who likes hockey, as Darren Dreger is perhaps the best reporter in the NHL, and provides a great league wide view. Last Thursday, the day after the red Maple Leafs smoked out the Russians in dominant fashion, they opened the show in an…aggressive…manner.

Here is the link, take a listen for yourself (you have to scroll down to get to the February 25th show).

(If you didn’t listen, the show began with Queen’s We Are the Champions, before guest host Brian Duff proceeded to declare the tournament over for the next five minutes. You really need to listen to get the full effect, though.)

Now, bear in mind, that this was not Monday’s show. Canada had not only not won the tournament yet, they hadn’t even made the championship game yet. Even if he was trying to make a point, the whole thing came off as sort of infuriating. After I listened to that, I wanted to take the ice for the United States, who had just beaten the Canadians, a team that had only played one game in which they looked unflappable.

The podcast is great, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes hockey, but this got me a bit fired up, because Duff completely trivialized two strong teams (Slovakia and America). Then again, he was right, although Canada didn’t exactly roll to the title like he predicted, with one goal wins over Slovakia and the United States.

- Not one person on ESPN, ESPN Radio, ESPN.com or NBC pointed out how great it was that the second leading goal scorer in the tournament was Norway’s Tore Vikingstadt. Seriously, his name is Tore Vikingstadt. That is way better than Fedor Tyutin, the current league leader in awesome names, and may even be good enough to surpass Jeff Beaukeboom as the greatest hockey name of all time. Seriously forget the trade deadline, my one hope for the Sharks is that they sign Tore Vikingstad. He did score 4 goals in four games against America, Canada, Switzerland and Slovakia, three of the top four teams in the tournament. Would I buy a Tore Vikingstad Sharks jersey? I am pretty broke, but I don’t think I would have a choice. I don’t know what the transfer rules are for the DEL, but we need to at least inquire about the Hanover Scorpions’ (Vikingstad’s current team) interest in Scott Nichol or Brad Staubitz.

(And you’re right, this had basically nothing to do with the media, I just wanted to point out how awesome Tore Vikingstad is. He is my new favorite player.)

There seem to be two factions here in America, now that Canada has gone back to their igloos, village fishermen and polar bears with a gold medal in the only sport they care about. The first is a sort of ‘good-for-you’ feeling, shared by a lot of sports fans who aren’t so much hockey fans on a day to day basis. The feeling that Canada, which most Americans have always liked, deserved to win on their home soil is certainly shared by many. On the other hand, there is a large dose of Sidney Crosby haterade. Not only do I not buy into this, I actually find it a bit upsetting.

If you happen to be a fan of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, you get a pass on this (I would include the New York Islanders, but as far as I can tell, they haven’t had a single fan since 1994). For these guys, it is a divisional rivalry thing. Personally, I chose to respect, fear and root against special players who are in the same division as the Sharks, but if you want to go all the way to genuine hate (sports hate, at any rate), that is fine with me. Everyone else, though, you sound ridiculous.

Sidney Crosby only does one thing. That one thing, is do everything right. All the kid wants to do is be the best player that he can be, and win hockey games. Take a look at his career.

As a rookie, the cros was a twice in a generation playmaker (add Iginla to his number and you get the other guy), but not what you would call a pure scorer. This worked alright, especially when Gino Malkin joined him in Pittsburgh, but you could tell that Crosby was never completely satisfied with his role as a setup guy. Still, he killed himself to help his team win games. It is laughable that Ovechkin is sometimes sited by dumb hockey fans as better because “he plays a physical game.” I am the farthest thing from an Ovie hater, but Crosby spends more time in the corner, battling for pucks in a given month than Ovechkin has in his career. Crosby got plenty of help from guys like Malkin and Jordan Stall, but did every single little thing (on both ends of the ice), in leading the Penguins to the cup last year.

Crosby came into the game as an elite talent, but he had found new ways to get better, and to help his team get to championship level. Once they got there, there was only one thing that changed in his desire to get better. This year, he turned it up a notch. He decided that to take the Penguins back to the finals, he would have to be a scoring threat, because, as he said, teams could shut him down as a playmaker (untrue, but don’t tell 87 if you are a Pens fan). He did just that, shooting more, creating more, and racking up a league leading 42 goals.

Less noticeable, but more importantly, Crosby has turned two of what were considered his weaknesses into downright, indisputable strengths. Not just passable skills, but on both counts, league leading statistics. When attempting to find something wrong with the kid as a young player, nitpickers often pointed to faceoffs as something that Crosby could improve upon. All he did was work, and in 2009, he is 11th in the league in faceoff percentage. Same goes for shootouts. Crosby started out his career 1 for 9 in the tiebreaker, but now he has found a move (fake that almost is just a stickhandle to the backhand, back to the forehand to open up the goalie and a quick shot 5 hole), that works for him, and he is second in the NHL with shootout goals, with 6 in 8 attempts this season.

There are two takeaways from this. One is that goons the league over better hope that Crosby is never told that his weakness is that he doesn’t fight enough/isn’t a good enough fighter, because you better believe that if that were the case, he would lock himself in an MMA gym for the summer and come back to break every orbital bone in the league. More importantly, Crosby is, quite simply, the complete package. A supposedly good guy to boot, Sid does everything that you could want on the ice, and if he doesn’t, you can bet he will next year.

I can’t really buy into the whole ‘it would have been good to win, but I’m happy for Canada’ thing. USA Hockey is right there with the Sharks for me. World Juniors are my favorite part about the holidays. I started thinking about the Olympics a year ago. I know we could have won, and I really wanted gold for this team. The fact is, though, that it is fitting that Crosby, the best player in the world ended the tournament with the greatest players in the world.